Thursday, September 17, 2009

South German Adventure Part One: I like to watch them eat their breakfasts

In July of 2005, I visited a dear friend in Germany. For the purposes of this story, I am going to call her Wiebke (pronounced VEEB-kuh). That is totally not her name, but that was the reoccurring female character in Neue Freunde, the same German textbook in which Jens ist mit dem tollen Moped gekommen!

I stayed for three weeks, and in that short time, Wiebke and I traveled all over Germany. We spent time with her family in Hamburg and at her apartment in Bremen. We went to Berlin and Cologne (Koeln). We based much of our travel around where she had friends we could visit. That is how we ended up in this particular section of Southern Germany--Constance.

Wiebke had not seen her friend Jens in a year, possibly more, but she liked him a lot and spoke highly of him. He seemed very nice in the e-mails he sent, in which he wrote of borrowing his dad's Mercedes in time for our visit. He told us that Constance was a border town, and maybe we could go bike-riding in Switzerland. Remember how I mentioned a few posts back that I never learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid? Wiebke told him this, and he said, "That's ok. We'll give it a try!" I remember at this point that either Wiebke or her mother said, "Es gibt viele Bergen in der Schweiz!!!!" in a very urgent tone of voice. ("There are many mountains in Switzerland!!!!") I said, "Well, I'll give it a try." We all agreed it was fine, that there were plenty of things to do in Switzerland besides ride a bike.

Traveling is exhausting. How sitting still and occasionally dozing can be so tiring, I don't know, but it is. After eight and a half hours on the ICE--the fast German inter-city German train--we arrived in Constance. When we exited the train, Jens was waiting for us on the opposite platform. I still remember my first glimpse of him, waving to us with his whole arm and sort of hopping a little so we could see him. He had a big, friendly smile, and he reminded me a little of one of my friends from home. A gawkier version--which isn't meant as an insult to either party. He had dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and was wearing a white poet shirt tucked loosely into black pants.

We met halfway in the tunnel under the platforms and he led us to the parking deck where he'd left his father's Mercedes. I think he even offered to carry the lighter of our suitcases. Smiling, he opened the car for us. Wiebke sat in the passenger seat and I sat in the back. The two spoke rapid German--at this point, my third week in Germany, I had a pretty good command of the language, but Jens spoke very quickly and with an accent I wasn't used to. I frequently couldn't understand him. He drove slowly toward the exit, and Wiebke, with Jens's parking deck ticket in hand, jumped out of the car to pay at the machine.

At this point, Jens turned around to face me in the backseat. "So, Sarah..." His demeanor suddenly changed. His face contorted, his voice--and I am not making this up--dropped an octave, almost to a growl, as he said to me, "Du lernst Fahrrad."
This translates to, "You will learn to ride a bicycle."
"Ich werde versuchen," I replied. ("I'm going to try.")
"Du lernst Fahrrad."
He did not have time to elaborate, because at this point, Wiebke arrived back at the car. They smiled at one another. I smiled. We exited the parking deck, back into the bright summer sun. Constance is a beautiful city. Jens drove quickly, a bit erratically. Red lights flashed above our head and car horns serenaded us as we rode up the hills to his apartment building. Everyone chattered pleasantly and I wondered if I had imagined our exchange in the parking deck.

Moments later, Jens was giving us a tour of his apartment. It was a large studio, on the second floor of the building. One entered through a hallway with a great big storage closet on the right. Straight ahead was a bathroom. Next to that was a kitchen--small, but separate from the living room. The rest of the apartment was the living room/bedroom, and it was huge. There was a huge set of sliding glass doors leading onto a spacious terrace. Sunlight poured in from the windows.

As soon as we arrived, I went to use the bathroom. While I was there, Jens and Wiebke had a brief conversation, the contents of which I would not learn until later. So, I won't share it with you until later.

Wiebke went into the bathroom, and Jens led me into his living room and out onto the terrace. It was magnificent--the terrace, the apartment, all of it!
I made some remark about the brilliant view he had of the city of Constance.
"On a clear day," Jens said, "you can see the Alps."
I squinted. It was sunny and I had no idea what he meant. Was this a clear day? There were no clouds in the sky. Where were the Alps!?
(Now that I live in Portland, I know exactly what he meant. On some days, I can see Mount Hood from my bus stop. When I drive home from work, I always look cheerily toward Mount Hood as I cross the Ross Island Bridge, and then I look for Mount Saint Helens, a little lump to my left. Only once was it clear enough that I could see Mount Saint Helens in detail. However, many days--some of them sunny, like during our horrible heat wave--there's this weird haze and it's as though Mount Hood never existed.)
Jens informed me that today was not one of those clear days. While I was squinting, trying to turn some distant clouds into the Alps, he talked.
"I like living here and having this view, all these nice houses," he said.
"Uh huh," I replied. This sentence was completely normal.
"I like to sit out here in the mornings and look at all the people. I like to watch them eat their breakfasts, read the paper..."
"Uh huh," I said, wondering where this was going.
He continued, and I saw a flash of that same troll-like malice from the parking deck return. "I have this nice view and they have to look at this UGLY TOWER where I live!" He laughed.
Wiebke arrived on the terrace at the moment, much to my relief.

"So! How about dinner?" Jens went back into the house and produced a plate of broetchen, meats, and other things. Wiebke and I had eaten on the train and were less hungry than he was. The three of us sat at a table on the terrace and chatted. At some point, Jens asked if he preferred we speak English or German. Jens had studied abroad in both New Zealand and the United States and was very proud of his fluency in English. I was put off by the parking deck experience and had trouble understanding his speedy German, so I said that I preferred English and didn't speak German very well. (I actually spoke very well at the time.) Wiebke looked surprised, but withheld comment. From this point, English was the language spoken while I was in Constance.
Wiebke and I finished eating before Jens, but remained on the terrace, the three of us talking. At some point, Wiebke suggested we get out our knitting projects, so we had something to do with our hands. (I had just taught Wiebke how to knit on the train.) We took our projects out of our purses and started working, still talking to Jens.
Suddenly, the two commenced speaking rapid German that I could not understand. Jens barked something at Wiebke and she, looking wounded, slowly lowered her knitting needles. I continued to work, not really sure what was going on.
Jens turned to me and said, slowly, in English, "I don't like it when you girls knit." He paused. "It makes me...aggressive."

To Be Continued.


LS said...


stay away from anyone using the word agressive about themselves and not about some dog or wild boar... just a suggestion. You write so well, by the way!

Sarah said...

Thanks! Mainly, I'm using this blog to try to improve my writing and get feedback--so that's very helpful! Also, I'm always uncertain about how stories I tell verbally will translate to writing--when I'm *trying* to be funny.