Friday, July 29, 2011


I have just returned from a wonderful evening in which I was taken out for traditional Odenwälder supper (the Odenwald is the region in which I'm living), and I had to write something about it, and about yesterday.

Yesterday I was in Mannheim, at the National Theater, because I had spoken with Linda Johnke, and she invited me to see a show there, since she works at the theater. The show was called Standbild Mannheim, where people from the city were invited on stage for one minute, to do whatever it was they pleased. It was an interesting concept, and although most of the acts were pretty monotone, there were some really unique and neat things, as well. It was also free, which is always appreciated. :-D But the most interesting part of the evening was the two minutes during which I was under the impression that I was going to be one of these citizens on stage. I had nothing prepared, of course, and didn't know what I could do to fill a minute (singing "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today" from Avenue Q actually only filled about 18 seconds, and I don't know many songs longer than that which don't last well over a minute). However, while I was eating dinner in a little canteen with Linda, the dramaturg came in and started talking with Linda, and asked if she knew anyone who would want to get up on stage. Linda naturally pointed to me, and I said sure (but of course), and she said, "Then you have to come with me. Now." And so we walked rather quickly to the theater, to find out that the sound checks, etc, had just finished, and that we kinda had to book it, only to then see the person whose place I was supposed to fill. Someone had been missing, and so they were looking for another act, but she showed up, in the end, so I didn't get to go on stage in my first week in Germany. Sad :-( The show was fun, though, and it was a blast getting to know Linda.

Tonight both Linda and Jutta Meyer, a wonderful lady who also teaches at the Martin-Luther Schule, wanted to take me out to eat "ein typisches Oden
wälder Abendessen," and so we just combined, and all went out together: Linda and her husband Mick, and Jutta and her husband Bernd, and me. It was fabulous. We went to Linda and Mick's favorite place, where Jutta and Bernd had not been before, and Mick ordered for me, though I pretty much already knew what I was getting. I had already heard of kochkäse, though I really had no idea what it would be like when I got it. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it was a dish of more or less half-solid cheese when I got it, with a plate of schnitzel and potatoes and sweet onions, and melted rather nicely over the schnitzel, and I suddenly discovered that whatever it actually was, it tasted heavenly. I loved it. It was one of those meals where even though you know that if you keep eating you'll be over-full, you can't resist the siren-song of those delicious last few bites.

With the meal, Linda and Mick and I drank about two pitchers of apple wine (and I think Jutta had a glass), another tradition from the Odenwald, and mixed it with a little bit of carbonated water, or just a tiny bit of limonade (very lightly sweetened lemon carbonated water), or just drank it straight. And of course, we couldn't leave my first traditional Odenwald meal without a little schnapps, so the four of us who weren't driving had a shot, three of us drinking Odenw
älder Bub, an herbal schnapps, and I'm not sure exactly what the other one was called, but it was made from plums and tasted a bit like umeshu (Japanese plum liquor), only less sweet than the last umeshu I had. It was, all in all, an extremely delicious meal, with wonderful company, and lots of laughter and warmth. I cannot think of a better way to end my first week in Germany. Thank you, so much, to Linda and Mick, and to Jutta and Bernd. :-)

And now, to sleep.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Arrival and First Days

Well, I arrived Sunday evening after a trip from Chicago to Frankfurt, via Dublin, and am glad to be on the ground. Romy Schuster picked me up at the airport and brought me back to Rimbach, due to the lateness of my arrival; the trains to Rimbach don't run very late.

The first day was pretty busy, arranging all the things I needed to get started here; Romy was once again a great help, driving me around and helping me register with the government, make arrangements for my health insurance when my job starts, sign the contract for the apartment and get me a bank account. It was slightly overwhelming, all the information coming my way. We also signed for my keys to the school, and had a quick tour through parts of the school. The rest of the day I mostly spent getting used to my apartment, and also the town. I cooked my first meal here, and thankfully it was successful. This is my first time living completely on my own, so I was a little anxious as to how I was going to do with such things. But there's a supermarket very near my apartment, and my neighbors are very nice, so I think all will be well.

Today was a little bit more of an adventure. I had skipped the first day of my language course yesterday, and unfortunate necessity so that Romy and I could get everything done that first day, and so today was my first time taking the trains to Heidelberg. It was interesting, to say the least.
When I first went to buy my ticket this morning, the machine told me that I couldn't buy the ticket I wanted, because the trains didn't run to that location, so by the time I had figured out the ticket I actually wanted, the train I needed to take was just starting to pull away from the station. That was rather frustrating, but thankfully my neighbor saw me and stopped by on her way out, and we talked briefly, and she explained that I could use my ticket on the next train. I thanked her, and waited, and got on. I had to switch trains in Weinheim, and there I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the train I needed to switch to was 35 minutes late. Keep in mind, I was already late to begin with.
So the train finally arrived, and while there was some little confusion at the Academy, I managed to get into my class with little enough trouble. It went very well, and my teacher complimented me on my German, which was a little surprising, since it feels like I've forgotten so much. I got plenty of opportunity to practice later, though. The class itself is mostly teens, though evidently one guy is about 22, and we have one woman who I think is in her fifties, maybe even older. Some are from Switzerland, which I find a little amusing, and some from Slovakia, Russia, Spain, and Georgia. It's an interesting group.
The trip home was more trying than the first. While approaching Weinheim, our train stopped as usual at Heddesheim, but there we were told the train wouldn't go any further, and that we were to disembark and take a bus. We got off, but the bus never came, at least any bus bound for a location near Weinheim. We waited for about two hours, some people getting taxis or calling friends, until finally another train came by; evidently things had cleared up in Weinheim. I don't know exactly what happened, just that there was some kind of accident. One person said someone had jumped in front of a train, but I don't know. While we were waiting, it started to rain lightly, and thankfully I had my umbrella with me (For those of you who haven't seen it, it has a sword-handle instead of a normal umbrella handle; my class got a kick out of it). I was standing next to a girl who had none, so I moved a bit to let her shelter under my umbrella somewhat, and introduced myself after a few minutes. Turns out she graduated from Martin-Luther Schule in 2009, and had Kate Olson as a teacher, and had also met Devin Horne; I can only assume she also knew Laura Schaefer, as well. We chatted a little bit, which gave me a much needed opportunity to brush up on German small talk, and parted ways two hours later in Weinheim.

I am told by many that the German trains are usually not so bad, and I have faith that they aren't, but it has been a crazy introduction to the Deutsche Bahn.