Germany 1986 An American's Memoir Part II
And the older German man smiled at me. At the next stop, he and his wife got off the train with their shopping bags in hand. A somewhat unkept gentleman, a bit on the hefty side, got on board and took a seat close to mine. He was carrying what an American would refer to as a "gym bag" - it was oblong, made of heavy cloth, and had straps on either side with a zipper down the middle. It became readily apparent to me that this bag was not for carrying gym clothes, but rather it was a tote-along beer bag. And several cans were sticking out the top and one appeared open.
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This man, and I never did get his name, looked decidedly unkept - his hair was bushy and his clothes were a little wrinkled - he hadn't shaved in maybe three of four days. After about ten of fifteen minutes, he spoke something to me in German. I looked at him and said "Ich spreche kein Deutch" - I don't speak German. He smiled and sat his beer bag down on the floor. He raised both of his hands and extended his two index fingers in what would end up being the universal sign for "gun," and said, "Boom boom - Sind Sie Soldat?" or are you a soldier? And of course I answered that I was not, but he continued to speak to me in German and smile, and motion with his hands. It was quite the one-sided conversation. Now my new travelling friend was drunk - if you hadn't already guessed. And what do you do? Do you ignore the man? I mean seriously - this is his country after all - I am just passing through, a mere visitor, a tourist. So I motioned at one of the cans of beer in his sack. He looked at me, pointed to the beer can, then pointed back at me, then paused for a moment. Well the next thing I know he is pulling the tab off this can of beer and sticking it in my hand.
After about another fifteen or twenty minutes, I looked over at him; he was out like a light snoring peacefully with his head cocked in a very uncomfortable position. And I don't remember exactly how long his slumber lasted, but I do recall the moment he woke up. He snapped to as if being called to attention, looked out the window at a passing sign, and started to, well, swear to himself. And even though I didn't understand a word he said, it dawned on me what had happened - he had missed his stop. So at the next station, he smiled at me, said something, and with a wave of his hand, he was off the train.
A sign for Braunschweig flashed by my window, and the train began to slow. I couldn't believe it - was I actually here? Twelve hours of anything has a way of wearing down the soul. My train came to a full stop and a buzzer sounded. I was here - here at last. I stepped down onto the train platform and looked around. Behind me I heard a familiar voice.
"High stranger..." It was my friend Catrin, and in tow, was an older man - her father. We hugged and I have to tell you, it was good to hear English again. And I regret to this day not taking my German studies more seriously. But some things just click with certain people. For one reason or another, French came very naturally to me. German was a bear that I was never able to tame.
Braunschweig is actually east of Peine so in effect, my train overshot my ultimate destination; the road back to Peine would be a back track in other words. And all that Americans have heard rumored about the German Autobahn is true - it is a free-for-all for drivers. There are no speed limits and traffic regularly rolls along at over 90 mph. And that was a bit unnerving - at first. But as with everything else, you get used to it. You may never feel 100% safe, but when you are travelling along at 90 mph and another driver passes you, you begom to realize that speed, like many things in life, is a relative thing.
We pulled into Eschenstrasse 64 and it was way past dinner time. But in Northern Europe during the summer, the sun doesn't set until after 10 pm so you have the impression it's much earlier than it really is. In other words, it's 10:45 pm yet you'd swear it's 7:30. We walked into the house. By American standards, the home was large - I am guessing over 2000 square feet. Mr. Schiller, Catrin's father, was a steel company engineer. And apparently he had done quite well for himself.
A table of food was laid out in the dining room, and God - I was hungry. I hadn't eaten a thing other than a sandwich I packed the night before I left and of course that beer. The table was decked out in a fine linen tablecloth. Mrs. Schiller had apparently been cooking all day long in the kitchen. And the food came forth in waves - it was like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. She made the most amazing pork dish; thin, tender cuts of pork were wrapped around oinion and some other vegetable and it was delectable. And yes, most things do taste better when you are hungry, but this dish was truly heavenly. And then there was the beer. It may be a stereotype, but Germans do drink beer and they drink a lot of it. Everyone at the table including the 85 year-old grandmother was drinking beer. I have never considered myself a light-weight - I can hold my alcohol with the best of them, but I was clearly out-gunned. After two or three beers, I was done - I couldn't have found my butt with both hands. And so it was off to bed. Tomorrow would bring other adventures.
Please look for Part III of Germany 1986: An American's Memoir coming soon.
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Part I of this article Germany 1986: An American Memoir
- Germany 1986 - an American's Memoir
In the summer of 1986, I travelled by train from Paris, France to Peine, Germany. At the time, Germany was still divided by the Cold War. And Peine was located in the West but very near what was then the East...
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