Traveling and Living in Germany
When I arrived in Germany at 15 years old during 1968 as an American military dependent, I was in store for many adventures. I hadn’t wanted to go when my step dad received orders to report to Wiesbaden Air Force Base. But later, I was glad I did, because I would have missed out on some of the best memories of my life.
Since we were in a foreign country my parents decided one of us should learn how to speak German and I was selected. I took the class at my school, General H. H. Arnold High School, in Wiesbaden, at that time the largest American military dependent school in the country.
This turned out to be harder than expected since at my last school in California I had just completed 2 years of Spanish. My poor German teacher had a heck of time getting me to quit forming sentences in half Spanish and Half German, with a little Japanese thrown in from also living there for a time. However, I learned enough to get around and communicate with the locals and read train and bus schedules.
Our parents made sure we saw as much of Germany and neighboring countries as possible taking us on many tours and sightseeing trips like the Rhine River cruiseand Frankenstein . Not the Hollywood version, but in a real, small town called Frankenstein which wasn’t on the usual tourist maps.
In the meantime, I had met a German boy about my age, Heinz, and we became fast friends. Heinz spoke better English than we did and that was a big help to us during our stay in his country.
While my parents took us to many usual tourist spots, Heinz took me places I could see the daily life most Germans lived. We did a lot of bicycle touring through mountains and little towns off the beaten path and I learned a lot. One thing I learned is there are six different dialects of German spoken in Europe and if you aren’t fluent in German, which I wasn’t, conversations can become very confusing and sometimes you may inadvertently offend someone. This happened to me while Heinz and I were on a city bus.
What to see in Germany
Respect For Elders
To understand the situation, you need to know Germans have a deep respect for their elder citizenry. An older Gentleman boarded our fully loaded bus and stood holding an overhead hand strap. The old-timer glared at me for a moment before launching into a tirade of German, some of which I wasn’t familiar with. What I got out of his verbal attack was something close to “The seats were really nice”. But that didn’t make any sense! Meanwhile, everyone on the bus was staring at me with amused smiles. I replied in German they were indeed nice seats. He continued to stare at me menacingly until he disembarked, at which time he launched another verbal assault. There were more snickers and smiles from the passengers.
Confused, I asked my friend why the old man was so upset. He didn’t want to tell me, so I prodded him until he relented and explained. Apparently the man didn’t know I was an American and had asked why I didn’t stand up and give him my seat. This was expected behavior from a younger person. So, I learned a valuable lesson in common courtesy that day.
Heinz also took me to many of his high school functions such as sports meets, dances and places where I also met many of his friends. On this note let me comment, I never met anyone who supported Adolph Hitler…they will quickly change the subject if brought up!
I also discovered Germans are family orientated and love sports activities. In fact, many are members of local sports clubs. On weekends, families out for a walk or cycling are common sights. I became a member of a few my friend belonged to such as a weight lifting organization, swimming club and a race walking team.
I spent a lot of time with Heinz’s family and went many places with them. I often ate at his house and became fond of his mother’s cooking. But, German meals differ somewhat from that of most Americans.
For instance, it’s rare they cook an evening meal. Supper is often a simple affair usually consisting of whole grain breads, cold cuts, cheeses and fruits. It was strange eating sandwiches without mustard, mayonnaise or other condiments. And drinks are served at room temperature because they believe cold beverages are bad for digestion.
In spite of this don’t get the impression the German diet is all health foods. Anywhere you go you’re bound to find local sausage shops. Germans are famous for their large variety of different sausages, such as knockwurst, bratwurst, Wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten to name a few.
Germans also consume a lot of alcoholic drinks. In fact, wine is common at meals and is even served to children. By the way, the Germans don’t suffer the alcoholism rate America does.
Their world renowned beers are much stronger than normally available in the United States, usually around 12% alcohol. Their well known wines are a major export. At that time the legal drinking age was 16.
For all of Heinz’s assistance we also took him along on many of our family outings. We once invited him on a camping trip along the Rhine River. We drove our car packed to capacity with drink coolers, barbecue grill, large family sized tent and a ton of food. When we arrived at our destination we found the site to be a bicycle camping ground. Many Europeans love to tour by bicycle and the camp ground was dotted with tiny, multi-colored nylon tents. Cyclists, by necessity, travel light with only the bare essentials. We received a few odd looks as we unloaded our huge store of gear.
Our camp took shape as we pitched our big tent, fired up the large grill and began preparing lunch. We watched the neighboring campers as they lit their tiny styrene fueled cooking cans. Soon, our charcoal was ready and Dad threw some hamburgers on the grill. Shortly, the delicious aroma of grilling meat began drifting across the grounds. Campers began peering out of their tents to see what was on our menu. Eventually, a few started milling a little closer to get a better look. One of the braver ones came over and began a conversation with Heinz. By this time we had made a few big American sized hamburgers piled high with lettuce, tomatoes and the usual fixings. Dad offered a plate to our new found friend which he hungrily devoured with delight. He had never had an old fashioned American barbecue.
Other’s gained courage and started trickling over. We generously gave them all a plate and had a great time talking and comparing notes about our different countries, while Heinz translated for us. The meals they had brought remained unattended and forgotten.
Following our meal we kids wandered off to explore the river bank where we found a group of other kids. They happened to be from London, so we were able to converse a little easier. But their British accents were somewhat difficult to understand at times and vice versa. They said they planned to visit America someday, but then most Europeans say that.
I wonder if our British friends ever visited the United States. If they did, I hope they didn’t end up in Boston, Texas or the deep south. If they thought they had trouble understanding us…imagine the load of trouble they would have had with those dialects!