Angela Merkel spoke in Freiburg this afternoon. Our teacher abbreviated our pause so we could make it to the Münsterplatz in time. Obviously, I didn’t understand the speech, but it was still fun to see.
Very sadly, our flat hasn’t had Wifi since September 1. We haven't been able to FaceTime with our sweethearts in the US much at all. Thankfully, on the weekend, we get to take over Errol’s office and gorge on internet time. Vinnie apologizes for her unanswered fan mail. She’s furiously trying to catch up.
Written last Saturday, 9 September.
France two weekends in a row? Yes.
I can pretend to be a glamorous jetsetter, but I’m home on Saturday night in my pajamas sucking on ice cubes.
Today I toured the medivial fortress Le Haut Koeningsbourg and then traveled further into Alsace for an afternoon in Colmar.
Both destinations were beautiful, and the history behind the area of Alsace is facsinating.
Our tour guide in Colmar told us that her grandfather was born Heinrich, married as Henri, listed on her aunt’s birth certifcate as Heinrich, and died as Henri. His hometown was German, French, German, French. She explained that Germans see the town as so French, and the French always comment that is seems so German. I thought it was lovely.
I vistited the impressive art museum (Musée Unterlinden), but the highlight of the day was lunch. I first walked by a Colmar charcuterie shop and thought to myself, “If only Lauren was here. She could order me something delicious..” Ten minutes later I retraced my steps and went in with my total lack of French. “Trois” is as high as I can count in French so I pointed and ordered three scrumptious cheese sticks wrapped in cured meat. If you’re wondering if I sipped the olive oil out of the container at the end, well, yes, yes, I did.
The sun came out today. It was glorious. It was much appreciated after a cold and wet week, The kids had ice cream bars at the park to celebrate the first week of school. Thom and Vinnie reported they played outside at school for two hours. All good things.
Keys have never been an area of strength for me. My childhood home wasn’t locked so I had no experience with house keys until I moved into the dorms. You’d think this wasn’t something you need a lot of practice at, but, apparently, I do.
Our current living situation requires three unlockings to get inside our flat. I also lock and unlock my bike several times a day. My confidence was growing about this whole key thing.
Then, yesterday, I could not, for the life of me, get my bike lock open. Class starts at 9.15, and it was 9.12. My inner dialogue of “you can do this” and “you’re going to be late” didn’t help. My classmate was (successfully) locking his bike next to me.
“Eric, I can’t open my lock. Would you try?”
Somewhat thankfully, Eric also could not make it budge.
He offers to lock mine up with his, and we go into school.
I then remember that Errol borrowed my bike last night. The light is broken on his. Was there a link between this and my lock problem?
Errol used his lock the night before and left it in my bike basket. No operator would be able to open his lock with my keys. Such a relief to learn my incompetence wasn’t to blame.
It’s easy to suspect user error when your confidence is wrecked. My self-esteem has taken some hits since the move. It’s tough to leave an environment of effortless understanding to one where you hope a picture is involved to help navigate a situation.
I see and hear words but comprehend nothing. The worst is when someone is looking me right in the eyes, speaking directly to me, and I have no idea what they’re saying. I’m slogging away in immersion class and hoping the kids will soon be able to help.
I struggle with transitions. Big and small. Headphones help. Shout out to my incredibly talented friend Beth: her album gives me such a lift.
Enjoy Beth's music too.
Germans know how to first grade. Lavinia and her fellow six-year-olds began their formal German education with a lot of fanfare. The older elementary students greeted their new classmates with songs and each one was assigned a veteran to show them the ins and outs of the school. Vinnie was welcomed in English by another little girl. Errol and I feel really good about the language situations at the kids’ schools and are especially grateful for spots at Oberlin.
Parents of the first graders were asked to bring our children and stay for the program. This was all in German, but it was good to know which faces belong to faculty and staff. Vinnie’s teacher is lovely and looks like a volleyball coach--always a good sign.
Then, there’s the Schultüte. This cone of gifts and treats is put together by parents and grandparents, and we saw some pretty fantastic ones. Vinnie decorated hers on her own, but Errol and I did a decent job filling it. She was so excited for the reveal. At the playground this afternoon, Vinnie wore her new satchel and packed it with candy. I’m glad she is aware of this unfailing method of making new friends.
As I was leaving the house this afternoon, Errol asked me to grab a few things from the grocery below my gym. Per evidence from my German test this morning, my short term memory isn't what it used to be.
“Could you send me an email or text that?” I asked.
“Hold on,” he said.
30 seconds later he was back with the list on real paper. Touched by the old-fashionedness of it all but worried I'd lose it, I biked into town.
I didn't lose the list. I got everything on it and more. As I was contemplating how I was going to manage three bags of goods on a bike, I realized I didn't have my credit card.
This is never a good feeling.
It's even worse when this problem must be faced in an unfamiliar place.
The good news was that it was still light out. I kept reminding myself of this.
I emptied my three bags on the cement near the bike rack. No Card. I repacked it all and headed back in the building, down the escalator, while rehearsing in my head, “Haben sie mein Kreditkarte?
Sadly, even though I had bought my groceries less than ten minutes earlier, the cashier that checked me out was gone--his lane closed.
I hovered near the other cashier. A few minutes go by. She finally glances my way:
“Hallo! Sprechen Sie Englisch?” (pitiful smile)
“Verkäufer…(points to abandoned lane) Er hat mein Kreditkarte?” (makes the international symbol for telephone) “Could you call him?
She nods, talks, and continues to work the register remarkably quickly. German grocery cashiers are amazing.
Only a minute passes, and I see my handsome cashier walk confidently toward his former post. He looks at me reassuringly, opens a drawer, and hands me my Visa.
I'm so relieved and grateful. I feel like this emotion could not be expressed with a foreign “danke schön.” I give him my most appreciative girl from south-central Nebraska face and say, “Thank you so much.”
All three boys started their German schools today. The twins had nothing but positive remarks, and Thom gave it a 7 out of 10. He raved about the food. New social situations are harder for T to navigate due to his limb difference. Here’s hoping these children are as accepting as almost every other child Thom has encountered in his ten years.
Vinnie went to school with me while Errol was occupied with the twin first day duties. She was a hit with all my 20 year-old classmates. We rode our bikes on the streets of Freiburg in spitting rain amongst the trams and cars.
I experienced my first Sunday in Freiburg. It’s very different. In my experiences in Nebraska and New Jersey, Sundays are used to get things done. Church in the morning but afternoons were spent running errands: trips to the grocery, Earl May, Builders’ Warehouse, Target.
In Germany, most stores are closed. Every Saturday feels like there’s a storm coming: “Do we have enough eggs? Bread? We can’t go to the store until Monday.”
The park was overflowing, and we saw so many families and couples on bike rides together. Is every Sunday like Fathers’ Day here?
With a tip from my teacher, I decided to haul the family to the village of Endinger for lichternacht--a festival of lanterns.
The kids were tired, Errol didn’t want to go, but we went anyway! It took two streetcars, one train, and one bus to reach Endinger. When we arrived, bellies were filled and spirits lifted. Everyone was a fan of the flàmmeküeche, and Errol commented that Nomad would have cost twice as much.
Lee especially loved the live music, and I caught him rocking out to a great cover of Route 66. He definitely got his kicks.