Category Archives: meander

The Wall is History!

Would  you like to know what it was like to have lived behind the Berlin Wall?  If you want to experience a film version of East Germany, you could watch one of these movies:

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, Torn Curtain (Der zerrissene Vorhang) from 1966.  Julie Andrews & Paul Newman are the stars.  Can you imagine Mary Poppins behind the Iron Curtain?  Just kidding.  Andrews plays a very normal sort of woman whose professor boyfriend (Newman) defects to East Germany.  Very interesting…


Night Crossing (Mit dem Wind nach Westen), a Disney movie from 1982 based on a true story of two families secretly making a hot air balloon to cross the forbidden border.  I mistakenly thought that, because it was a Disney movie from the early ’80s, it would be appropriate for children.  Well, it wasn’t bad, but there are a few scenes which were too intense for our TV-less 7- and 9-year-old girls.  Still, we felt like this movie was a good introduction to a major part of the not-so-distance history of the area in which we now live.  (If I remember correctly, the actual balloon is now on display at Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie Museum.)

view from the reichstag, berlin

Definitely NOT for children is Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others).  An excellent, Oscar-winning, German movie from 2006, it is nonetheless really rough to watch and is only for “mature” audiences.  This movie gives one a very good idea about how things were in the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republic;  GDR:  German Democratic Republic) where no one, not even one’s own spouse or child, could be trusted.  Spies, distrust, power play, secrets…not for the faint of heart.


Good Bye Lenin! (2003) is a comedic look at the dramatic events surrounding the end of the GDR.  Recommended, although not for children.

Mrs. Ratcliffe’s Revolution:  a British comedy drama from 2007, and Sonnenallee:  a German comedy drama from 1999.  I would not rate these films as highly as the above-mentioned, but they still provide interesting perspectives.  Again, not for the kiddos.

jewish holocaust memorial berlin

This morning our church service was a time of thanksgiving and rememberance.  We celebrated the fact that 25 years ago on this day the Berlin Wall “fell”.  I was only 13, an ignorant American “middle schooler” at the time, so I had nothing to add to the memory sharing.  On the 9th of November, 1989, I think I watched the news; I have vague memories of Reagan, Gorbachev, the Brandenburg Gate, the masses of people at the wall…, but it was not something that impacted me personally.  Then.

Today, however, living in the former East Germany (GDR/DDR), I am extremely thankful for the peaceful revolution that took place 25 years ago.  I am thankful for the many Christians and churches in East Germany who prayed and peacefully demonstrated.  I am thankful that God answered their prayers.  (You can read about some of those stories in Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace.)  I am thankful that my husband, who grew up so close to the Berlin Wall that he often had tanks from the American Sector driving down the street in front of his house, did not have to fear for long when the uncertain news arrived that the Wall was open.  It was indeed a peaceful event.

This morning, we sat in the sanctuary together–former East Germans, former West Germans, Polish and American citizens–all current residents of the former DDR/GDR, worshipping ONE God in a unified country.  Thanks be to God!  No, I did not experience living in East Germany, behind a guarded border, trapped by my own country.  But now, living among those who did, I celebrate with them the freedom and peace that began 25 years ago today.

ice cream, Trabi, Trabant, East German, DDR, GDR
At our favorite ice cream place, we did our own spying here with a secretive snapshot of three men reliving the East times in their DDR (GDR in English) officers’ uniforms with their DDR Trabant auto (affectionately called “Trabi”).



no great expectations for aldwin underweather

zossen, german town

If you’ve ever read a Charles Dickens’s novel, then you know who they were.  Three men:

  • the tall, lanky one with a light-hearted disposition…possibly due to a lighter than average brain?
  • the gruff, garrulous man who stands proud and talks too loud
  • the sad, short fellow who’s grown old before his time

The three stood there in the uneven, brick courtyard, watching us as if we were the circus come to town.  True, we were hauling a rather large, rundown circus-like wagon (I think it was military, actually).  And now and then we probably spoke some nonsensical language.  But we were equally amused by this trio, staring for all the world like they had never heard it’s supposed to be rude.

Perhaps I stared rudely as well, for the memory of them still makes me chuckle.  I felt I had stepped into 19th Century London and would soon meet Oliver or David Copperfield running around the corner.  These three were certainly not the main characters but definitely among the intriguing cast with names befitting their personalities or idiosyncracies.

Later, we learned to know these real men only slightly better, but even such trivial knowledge is essential when choosing a name.  The long, skinny one was simple, but jovial.  He looked out for his buddies in honest friendship, and one could see he had a compassionate heart.  I suppose as Dickens I would have called him something like Hartley Goode.

The one who seemed most together on first glance was the hunter in his dark green felt hat and coat.   At least, he continued wearing his formal German hunter’s attire although he had most certainly been stripped of any rights to actually own a gun anymore.  He spoke formally, but with much ado about nothing.  He patronized his companions.  He played the chivalrous gallant, but he was obviously a cad.  I think I am a forgiving soul, but when I see someone taking a dump in my vegetable patch, I begin to think ill of him.  Therefore, Herr Hunter, I dub thee Sir Ludwig Filtherton.

hunter's stand germany

And last but not least, I would call our neighbor and fellow tenant (the only one whose real name I actually still know) Aldwin Underweather.  The poor soul.  He, too, had a kindness, a goodness, a gentleness about him as his friend, Hartley Goode.  They all drank too much; they were all alcoholics, but he was trapped so deeply in his addiction that he looked like hopelessness.  As I remember the story we were told…ever since The Wall came down, he had been unemployed.  He was still a young man–not much older than Ange and me, but he looked decades older.

dry grass reeds

Some law in Germany states that when an occupied building changes hands, the new owner has no right to ask the current residents to leave.  This makes some sense, but the crazy thing was that the two people still renting apartments on the property my in-laws bought were still paying East German rent!  I think it was something ridiculous like 20 bucks a month!  Lucky for them.

old east german apartment

Well, when Ange and I started renovating one of the apartments in the newly purchased, old building, we soon learned to hold our breath when walking past Aldwin Underweather’s small rooms.  His apartment, beneath the one we renovated, reeked of beer, filth, and B.O.  I sometimes worried that he would leave a candle lit and burn the house down, but mostly we felt sorry for the guy.  Except when we couldn’t help but laugh at him.

Like the time he came home drunk, couldn’t manage to fit his key in the door, so instead tried to run up a plank to his window with running commentary.  We were courteous enough not to peek out the window, but we sure did snicker under our covers in our bedroom just above his window.  I’m sure the sight must have been Charlie Chaplinesque.

giant padlock, provence

Then one day he came to our apartment, afraid.  He was obviously hallucinating.  We tried to help him.  His family (yes, he did have family in town) tried to help him, too.  He spent a short amount of time in a clinic to dry out, but that sadly did not last.  Eventually, he did move out.

We even see him now and then at the next village’s grocery store.  A bag of empty brown bottles to return for “Pfand” (the deposit).  A new crate to take home.  He looks so old, so old.  I’m surprised he’s still alive.  I don’t know what happened to his friends.  But he is still around.  Still an old man, as he was ten years ago when he was young.  He’s used up, worn out…  Someone has paid the price for him.  I wish he could see that and be renewed.  Then, he would be given a new name; I wonder what it would be?

“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all…”

Emily Dickinson, XXXII

 crocuses, springtime


cold toes, cold shoulder

Three challenges greeted me in my new life in Germany.

  • One, communication.  (However, I must mention that I had a much better time of it than many foreigners, considering the fact that I had and have a live-in translator!  What a blessing!  Especially when it comes time to fill out government documents.  Yikes.)  (Challenge:  in continual state of improvement.)
  • Two, cold floors.
  • Three, the cold shoulder.

In the United States of America, I was accustomed to carpeted floors and central heating.  In Germany, I soon developed a major problem I had only experienced one other time in my life:  during a few cold months in the Loire Valley of France when I was in high school.  How strange, that Europe can change one’s toes so drastically.  Yet, there it was.  My poor little toes were dying.

Apparently, my extremities need to stay warm.  I have a serious case of Raynauds’ Syndrome so my digits don’t dig a big drop in the mercury.  The problem was that I did not know I was suffering from Raynaud’s so I did not know how to prevent it.  Now that I know, I have to try to keep my tootsies (and fingers, to a lesser extent) from becoming too cold.  If once they suffer, oooh, do they itch and burn.  If it gets to bad, it really hurts.  If–as was the case before I knew what my problem was–my toes remain too cold for too long, the tips start to turn purple, blue, black…bad news.


In both France and Germany, I spent a lot of time on wood or tile floors, sometimes with an unheated storey of the house beneath them.  In both places, a person was most comfortable wearing many woolly layers and even a hat to stay warm–indoors.  In Germany, the house then was, as ours is now, heated by stoves fueled by wood.  This makes for a lovely atmosphere, but that lovely atmosphere is quite confined to a small radius near the blessed heat source.

old stove, Haut-Koenigsbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, France
view of an old stove in the Haut-Koenigsbourg Chateau, Alsace-Lorraine, France

My Floridian grandparents have a German neighbor who was appalled to hear reports of a German abode without an indoor toilet.  True, most Germans have very modern, often luxurious bathrooms in their (often quite modern and luxurious) homes.  My in-laws happened to lead a different lifestyle in which an indoor bathroom had not yet become priority.  So…although their hospitality was warmly welcoming, during the cold months we lived with them, I grew to greatly appreciate indoor toilets and showers.  (Oh, how I adore a hot shower.  A good shower will most likely be a post theme one day.  That’s how much I love them.)

Now, I’ve always been a girl who lives fairly simply…not being terribly high-maintenance, not requiring much luxury.  I soon realized, however, my pioneer spirit was not as real as my romanticized view of an old-fashioned life.  I opted for a bucket in our upstairs bedroom to avoid night-time trips in the snow or rain or freeze to go to the bathroom.  The positive side of the outhouse was the plastic seat; it warmed up quickly.  The less pleasant aspect was fiddling for matches and trying to light a candle in the dark.  That and, of course, a person’s strongest sense in that dark place being the olfactory one.

At any rate, roughing it was good for me.  The only real problem was that my toes took a turn for the worse.  This, however, familiarized me with the most-excellent German health care system right off the bat and reconfirmed how brilliant my husband is at coming up with solutions.  Heated insoles!  To be fair, I don’t use them like I should, but he did come up with the salvation for my poor tootsies.  (Challenge:  under control.)

father and son walking in field

I mentioned before that relationships were not a problem, but that is not entirely true.  The relationships we already had were indeed fine and dandy.  Meeting new people and making new friends proved to be a challenge, my third big challenge.

I went to a small, Christian, liberal arts college in Kentucky where we greeted each other with hugs.  I went to a big, southern university where each year the students celebrated “Hey Day”.  “Hey!” was a friendly greeting shouted out to someone as you passed on the sidewalk, not an exclamation like, “Hey! Get off of my toe!”  More like, “Hey, ol’ pal!”  Yet, a person did not even need to know the other’s name to smile and yell, “Hey!”  We were just so friendly, you know.  Perfect strangers greeted each other with big grins just to show kindness and solidarity with humanity, I suppose.

Willkommen in “Dunkel Deutschland”.   Welcome to “Dark Germany”, as our friends from a different area of the country once called our particular “state” of Germany.  One thing a person quickly notices driving the local streets is that almost every yard has a wall or fence, and almost all windows are covered by these firm blinds that roll out from the ceiling.  Why such privacy?  Well, consider the history.  Former East Germany.  The DDR (GDR).  Neighbors were encouraged to spy on each other (not to mention family members on their families).  And before that this was prime Hitler territory.  Distrust, anyone?

I arrived in the former East with a smile, a cheery wave, a hospitable “Hallo!”  (I soon realized I couldn’t say “Guten Tag” with just the right emphasis so I stuck with the fairly universal “hallo” instead.)  My jovial salutations and matching expressions in Brandenburg met with the cold shoulder.  No response.  At times, not even eye contact.  What I found to be worse, though, was when they initiated direct eye contact with no communication to follow and then just went on their way as if nothing had happened.  Sometimes Ange and I would be walking down the dirt road behind our property, approach another couple out for a stroll, smile and greet them, know they heard us, know they saw us, and receive absolutely no recognition that we encountered them.  How bizarre.

What I find most tragic in this whole cold shoulder syndrome is that I’m succumbing to it!  I, who once smiled at everyone I passed on the street, do not do so anymore.  I notice it most of all when we return to the States.  My manners, my hospitable southern charm, even my basic human friendliness thaw a bit, but they seem somehow incapacitated.

I know, however, that not every foreigner is as weak as I.  A dear friend from England had such a charismatic, bright personality that she managed to make friends with all the service people at the mall near the Autobahn.  It is possible to retain one’s good-natured attitude.  Am I so easily swayed?  Do I become all things to all people out of respect for their customs?  To fit in better?  To avoid ridicule?  Because I’m lazy?  Because I’m a chameleon?  Because my own personality is not particularly strong, making me something of a reed swayed by every passing wind?  I didn’t even notice it was happening until I had changed.

One aspect about living in Germany that makes it difficult to exude surface-level friendliness is a culture of formal and informal relationships.  As in French, with the formal Vous and informal tu, German makes use of two forms of you depending on whether one is speaking with someone in a familiar fashion (the informal du) or on a professional level (the formal Sie).  I am not very good at being polite here.  One of my first big mistakes was saying du to our postman.  He promptly responded by addressing me with a very emphatic Sie.  I do wonder how many people I have offended.

This formality may have its place, but I find it stifling.  Do you know how long it takes before one feels like she can ask a slightly personal question?  Even asking, “What do you do for a living?” seems too personal.  When I taught at a German school, I did not learn any of my fellow teachers’ first names until I had been working with them for over a month.

Still, after years of living here, I can honestly say that Germans can be friendly, and some don’t even mind if I rudely push immediately into using the informal.  I’ve come to simply begin a conversation with, “My name is Cara.  Oh…is it okay if we use ‘du’?”  I guess I’ve decided I’d rather be considered a rude American than lose time I could be getting to know someone.

Coca-Cola, Berlin wall
Coca-Cola’s Berlin wall, encouraging informality?

And the people in the town have either come to accept us or realized we’re not going anywhere.  Most respond in some fashion now when greeted, but–sadly–I sometimes don’t really acknowledge a passerby…because it appears to not be culturally necessary.

Talking with other Germans who have moved to this area from other parts of the country, the concensus is clear:  our little portion of this varied land is fairly unique in its (at least surface-level) unfriendliness.  Very friendly people live here, too.  It just takes longer to find them…after a long season of “Sie” and “business only” talk.  I suppose I need to be patient.  After all, the Wall came down in my lifetime.  I’m thankful it’s just the cold shoulder and not the Cold War we’re dealing with now.  (Challenge:  Hey, du!  How about some cold ice cream with a friend who’s determined to thaw a shoulder or two?)

ice cream, Trabi, Trabant, East German, DDR, GDR
At our favorite ice cream place, we did our own spying here with a secretive snapshot of three men reliving the East times in their DDR (GDR in English) officers’ uniforms with their DDR Trabant auto (affectionately called “Trabi”).

I don’t like beer, and Germans eat too much pork.

(An aside…before I continue with the three challenges in my “new” life…)

This is what Europe looks like, right?

Le Bonhomme, a quaint village in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France
Le Bonhomme, a quaint village in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France
Haut-Koenigsbourg, a restored castle in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France
Haut-Koenigsbourg, a restored castle in Alsace-Lorraine, France

Growing up, I always had a longing to go to Europe.  The fairy tales, the castles, the misty green landscape, Shakespeare, the romantic accents…all enticed me.  However, Germany, though certainly a country in Europe, never intrigued me much.  Before visiting Germany for the first time my main associations with this country were the following:

  • beer
  • more beer, served by buxom beer maids
  • Lederhosen (short leather pants with H-shaped suspenders worn by yodelling sorts)
  • sausage
  • Nazis, Hitler, concentration camps, WWI, WWII, and other evils
  • an unelegant language
  • Birkenstocks

That’s about it.  The only thing I liked on the list were Birkenstocks.

Well, I have learned a few things since moving to Germany:

  1. Love of beer is not a prerequisite to living here (although a water fountain or a simple glass of tap water is harder to come by in public places than I’d like).
  2. I have never been forced to attend Oktoberfest (a world-renowned party that actually begins in September), which I assume is why I have managed to avoid buxom beer maids.
  3. I have never knowingly met a person wearing Lederhosen (although a local grocery store currently has an advertisement for a pair for only 80 Euros!  Is that a good deal?).
  4. One can develop an affinity for sausage–if one does not dwell on origins and details of production.
  5. Unfortunately, history cannot be reversed and corrected, and evil still exists–and will continue to threaten till the Lion and Lamb can coexist in peace.  Until then, Nazis and Punks (sometimes only physically distinguishable by the color of their shoelaces) duke it out on the streets.  Hitler is dead, but concentration camps are a stark reminder of the horrors he and his followers unleashed on innocent victims (lest we forget).  The World Wars have left their marks all over this land in bombed-out ruins and haunting memorials.  And again, we must remember so we can try to keep such hatred, such evil, from becoming so powerful.  (Last year, Ange and I watched a documentary of Hitler’s secretary reminiscing.  It seems she and others involved were extremely ignorant and blinded to the evil they were perpetrating–not only on those they fought against, but also on their own countrymen and women–in delusional world Hitler concocted.  I am thankful for the Berlin Jewish Museum and Holocaust Memorial, places that attempt to show the madness and confusion of the tragedy through their architecture and form while educating us about the historical facts.)
  6. (Please, see my “Schneckenhaus: Snailhouse” post regarding the language.)
  7. My feet are still very much at home in Birkenstocks, and here they cost less!

Yes, I have learned a few things about my preconceptions.  And, as it is with most prejudices, I pre-judged based on lack of information.  After personal experience with this particular European country, I can truthfully say that Germany has much more to offer than we Americans often realize.  For instance,

  • bakeries with hearty bread and delectable cakes in almost every town
  • a very varied countryside–carefully preserved (unlike much of the USA’s exploited natural areas; Germany is smaller so they must protect the gifts they have more responsibly than we think we need to in our excess of space from sea to shining sea)
  • a culturally-rich capitol city (Berlin, we have heard, has more pubs than London, more museums than Paris, and more bridges than Venice!  Plus, Berlin has a very low cost of living for a metropolis.  Rather inviting, no?)
  • Spreewälder pickles!
  • a satisfying health care system (Sometimes I wonder if we were supposed to move to Germany to avoid becoming bankrupt in the States after my personal series of hospital visits, unusual medical tests, and THREE C-sections!  Never a word from our insurance; never an extra penny paid for my treatments!  Wunderbar!)
  • Milka chocolate bars
  • and more…which will most likely be revealed as I continue to reflect.

Ah, yes…and I have only just begun to explore.  The journey continues.  I am still here, and the dawn of each new day brings a fresh start, new experiences, new perspectives.

Haut-Koenigsburg, France, castle

“The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

~ Marcel Proust


schneckenhaus: snailhouse

snail shell, child's handHave you ever moved somewhere without having a home to move into?  Just picked up and ventured forth like Abram and Sarai before they received new names.  Knowing it’s right, but not knowing exactly why–except you have to do it because it is right. 

We had it much easier than the aging Abram and Sarai.  We were young, adventurous, and–perhaps most importantly–we had family to stay with until we found our own home.  It wasn’t the first time I had moved blindly.  After finishing graduate school, I began my new job without a home of my own.  The school secretary, generous, compassionate Lorraine invited me into her home until I found the right place, requesting only that I pass the kindness forward one day.  And in Brandenburg, Germany, we had kindness shown us again when Ange’s folks welcomed us into their home until something worked out…something that took longer than anyone thought or wished.  Thankfully, our patience was only tried by expectations while we waited on fairly comfortable terms compared with years of wandering deserts.

Still, a wait it was.  Until a home of our own could be, we settled in with my in-laws.  After hearing stereotypical nightmares about actual in-laws from actual friends, I am extremely grateful to have a pair I get along with swimmingly.  Relationships were not a hardship.  There were, however, three things that made my new life challenging.  One will suffice for now:  communication.

  1. Language.  Obviously.  I knew only a few basic words and phrases in German.  Communication is SO important!  Sure, I could speak English with my American husband and his parents, but almost everyone else…Well, let me just say that the former East Germany put more emphasis on Russian than English.  In Berlin it was, and is, the case that almost everyone you run into will want to show you how great their English is–even if you insist on speaking German!  They just keep rolling out their beautiful display of English language learned in schools that often put an emphasis on it from day one.  Out here in the boonies, on the other hand, there still pervades a certain ignorance among some folks.  Consider the following:

My blonde-haired, blue-eyed sister-in-law and I (pale as a peeled pear) were browsing a local second-hand store when we overheard a conversation between a few men.  The youngest complained to the others about those Turkish immigrants, meaning Rose and myself.  Since Turkish immigration is a hot topic in Germany (in a similar way to the Hispanic/Latino immigration debate in the States), one would think it might be rather obvious to this young man that we did not look at all Turkish, nor were we speaking Turkish.  The Turkish language resembles our American English, um, not at all.  To the trained ear, I suppose?

So…I felt rather lonely.  I would wander through the aisles of grocery stores, taking my time, familiarizing myself with typical names and prices.  The most important word–I thought–to know in this particular situation was “Entschuldigung,” meaning “Excuse me.”  I soon discovered, however, that Germans do not easily take offense at a casual bump, a too-close-encounter into “American-sized” personal space, or an intrusion into their line of vision (as in my shopping cart and I pass between a woman and the shelf of canned oily fish she is perusing).  I, having been raised mostly in the South and Midwest, learned to be a lady of good manners, oozing pleases and thank yous, excuse mes and sorries, at the slightest possible requirement.  Such requirements are rather rare in Brandenburg, Germany.

Browsing Aldi, Lidl, or any other staple, discount German grocery store did not allow for very many verbal interactions.  Now and then, however, miscommunication or lack of communication caused embarrassing moments in the checkout line.  One spicy, petite cashier with a big pile of blonde curls about chewed my head off for trying to request a cardboard box to put my groceries in; I had seen my mother-in-law do so every time she shopped.  How was I to know Aldi had instated a new regulation?  Or had I simply not said what I thought I had?  Another time, I was physically led out the door of a store as other customers stared, and to this day I have no idea why.  All I did was ask for a little paper time-keeper thingy you have to put in your windshield to show how long you’ve parked in certain parking spaces; yeah, I still don’t know what it’s called.  Which is probably why they threw me out.  I’ve never gone back to that store.

Sitting around the stately old dining room table at Angelo’s folks’, I could carry on a conversation in English, but their family had lived in Germany for so many years that German had become their main mode of communication.  Especially when the foster children joined the gathering, the room filled with laughter I could not honestly share because, not only did I not get the punchline, I had no clue what led up to it.  It felt like my ears strained to hear when the volume was adequate; my brain ached to separate individual words from a conglomerate of garble and try to unscramble them into some kind of meaning.  After awhile, I would silently slip outside, sit on the step, and talk to cats.

At first, German sounds harsh.  To me, in the beginning, a casual talk between two friends might sound like the typical Nazi guard yelling orders at the prisoners in all those movies.  Whenever I had heard one-sided phone conversations before I knew any German at all, I assumed there was always an argument in the works.

Ange always said I’d come to appreciate some aspects of the German language; it was hard to believe him at first, but he was right.  Sometimes the matter-of-fact way two, three, name a number of words strung together into one spaceless phrase of a word astonishes, yet practically states a precise meaning.

Gemeindemitgliederversammlung, for instance.  What an insane word!  One word made up of three different words combined to be “church member gathering”.  But it says exactly what it is and avoids spaces, which simply clutter the page, don’t you think?

German even has cute words.  Don’t believe me?  Schnecke.  Pronounced “shnekka”.  Snail.  We wouldn’t dream of saying, “Snail, dear, would you please pass the salt?”  But Germans use snail as a term of endearment because the word is just so darned cute.  (By the way, I realize the irony of a snail getting near salt.  The example refers to a person being called “Snail” like “Sweetie” or “Honey”.  Just so we’re on the same page.)

And then there are those words that you just throw around like “genau” (pronounced “guh-now”…”exactly”.  “Genau” just jumps from the back to the front of the tongue and fits so many situations.  Just like this.  Genau.

Ah, but even though I have lived in Germany for almost ten years, I have yet to master this grammatically nightmarish language!  Die, der, or das?  Which article should I use when?  THE!  Such a wondrously simple article, applicable in every instance!  No, I fear I shall never master the German articles.  Not only do different nouns receive a different article depending on the noun’s prescribed femininity, masculinity, or neutrality, but the article changes again if applied to the same noun used grammatically differently.  For example, the article before a noun used as a subject may very well change into a different article when placed before the same noun used as an object.  Even though I was an English major, I will never master grammar in German.  I’m pretty sure I don’t even want to.  Which makes me empathize more with my many former students who loathed grammar lessons.

No, I am not fluent.  I never will be.  My 8-year-old corrects my German.  But I have learned to place my verb accurately most of the time–often seemingly illogically, at the end of the sentence–oh, the suspense!  I have also come to appreciate the language (sans articles), and–most importantly–I have learned to communicate.

The world is a friendlier place when understanding takes place.


a chilly welcome

When we arrived in Germany, the month was September (spelled the same in both English and German–how friendly!).  I was used to September being a lovely transition month…from summer to autumn.  When we stepped out of the airport into the Berlin chill, though, it reminded me more of an early November day.  We actually had to build a fire in the stove at Angelo’s parents’ home to stay warm.  Since then, I have come to regard September in Germany as an off month.  Sure, there will be some lovely days, but the typical German September in my recollection is uncomfortably cool and moist, which must be rather awkward for the pubescent month since it is often rivalled by big brother October who tends to appear with more pleasant temps and scenes such as these…


But September 2003 introduced me to a seeping chill that penetrates the bones and sends one to a cozy, firelit corner to drink tea, read a book, and tuck that afghan tighter ’round the hunched shoulders.

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away, —
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone, —
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.

~ Emily Dickinson, XLV of Part 2 (Nature)



In less than a month, I will have lived in Germany for ten years.  So often time seems to fly by, but when I think about those last months in the U.S. of A.  . . .

  • when I unabashedly (although involuntarily) wept in front of my students, their parents, and my fellow teachers…boy, was I a mess!  (I HATE crying in front of people because my nose and eyes get all red;  so unattractive.)  I guess I really was sad to be leaving them.
  • when we organized our first and (so far) last yard sale on our lovely log cabin’s screened-in porch, and I, in a desperate attempt to get rid of most of our belongings, sold everything at the 1982 prices I seemed to recall from my parents’ yard sales…(I mean, where do you buy ANYthing for a quarter these days?  That was probably my average price.  I think I was a bit loco at that stage of our moving process.  At least we had happy customers!)
  • when my most handy of husbands built a crate that was approximately a cubic meter in size (3x3x4 feet), and we crammed all of our most treasured possessions into said scrawny quarters for a long journey over the Atlantic without us.  Dear friend, Lash, joined my Angelo in putting his back into the effort to haul it out on a pitiful pallet hand-truck, down a long and bumpy driveway, then down an even longer and bumpier alley, and onto a delivery truck waiting at the main road–with a less than spectacular freight lift up to the trailer.  (I’m sure our sweet landlords were grateful when it finally left their garage.  They were so generous to us, Cade who spoke beautifully slow Southern and offered her citrus-tinged sweet tea, and Tom all white haired with a knowing twinkle in his eye.  After working with my dear husband on building the screened-in porch out back of their treasured, two-century-old log cabin, Tom commented on how Ange might make some mistakes, but he always figured out how to fix them.  I loved the delicate Forget-me-nots sprinkled amongst Cade’s blooms; they were so special to her, something from her father once-upon-a-time.  They hosted a group of 20-somethings for a Bible study in their refined, pink parlor, and one evening–after some heated debate–Tom told us, “I knew better than to get involved with your generation.”  That same parlor hosted our families as we gathered for a pre-wedding time of prayer and blessing.  My sister-in-law-best-friend-Maid-of-Honor, Rose, and I slept in their guest bedroom the night before the hot July wedding, and the first wedding pictures of the day were taken on their staircase and in their garden.  What blessings, Tom and Cade.  They even let Ange sleep in their basement when he came to visit me.  And, lo and behold, there he stayed until we married and he moved into that fantastic cabin with me.)
  • when every single nook and cranny of my “Lily” white car became the home to every other single thing we had to take with us that didn’t fit in the crate.  And Ange and I drove around 20,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) from our first home in Asheville’s gentle mountains to visit all the relatives and friends we could manage to see before flying across the ocean for who knew how long for who knew what reasons.  It was a grand road trip fueled by Wendy’s Frosties (unavailable in Germany) and surely worthy of Steinbeck’s treatment.  From Florida’s Spanish Moss panhandle, up along the East Coast to the rainbow houses along Charleston’s shore, with a special detour on the ferry out to the sliver of an island called Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to D.C. to chill with one of our favorite friends who happened to be studying one of my least favorite things at the time (parasites!), and up to NY to sample the lush green and waterfalls and good food of Graham & Amy’s Cornell.  Then we veered left to go back to our roots, mine not so distant, Ange’s folks’ further back.  The midwest, heartland, breadbasket, flat, boring-to-drive-through-unless there’s a thunderstorm or sunrise/set prairies with their amber waves.  More precious time with family.  We put in a hardwood floor there.  And we journeyed out to the rugged Colorado Rockies for a camping adventure with my folks where Ange caught fish for us to eat around the campfire.  Oh, there was much more!  A wedding!  Chicago swing dancing and jazz!  Singing along to “Puff, the Magic Dragon” with Peter, Paul & Mary (musical childhood memories) in concert!  Hugging all my grandparents!  Reminiscing with my Eddy B gals from college!  Before we left, people warned us that a lengthy road trip might be rough on a young marriage–stuck in the car mile after mile with the same person.  No problem.  And, although we honestly did not see the irony, appropriately, we read Leon Uris’s hefty novel, Exodus, as we drove. 
  • when we wound up back East in Philly at Angelo’s brother & sister-in-law’s place, we discovered we didn’t even have room in our flight luggage for what we still had in tow.  So a box we’ve never retrieved stayed there, and we soon found ourselves in a NY airport on 9/11, two years after the horrific events had occured.  It was a quiet day to travel.

In less than a month, I will have lived in Germany for ten years.  So often time seems to fly by, but when I think about those last months in the U.S. of A. … Well, right now those memories seem like an age rather than a decade ago.  I suppose it’s because I’ve experienced so many different things since then; in a way, I changed worlds, and in the process, I think this new world–the “Old World”–has changed me, for better and for worse._MG_7633_1