Sunday, February 8, 2015

Stumbling through Deutschland.

I lived in Germany for 2 years between 2006 to 2008 in the scenic Taunus area near Frankfurt am Main in Hessen. After living in suburban Michigan USA for 20 years my husband was suddenly asked by his employer to move to their facility in Germany. Maybe some would not have jumped at the chance to uproot their lives like I did but I was so stressed with my job at a local law firm and was actually looking for a legitimate way to escape so that was my window of opportunity. I wasn't really expecting any adventures but I will tell you that I ended up feeling like the silliest person in Deutschland but the luckiest person on earth! So we put our  Michigan house up for rent, took the whole household, the kids and the dog to Germany.

On our house hunting visit to the Taunus, we were staying in Mainz so my husband took me on a cruise up the river Rhine for a few hours. I'm not sure if it was because I was so tired from my job or whether it was the jet lag but it was so beautiful it was like a dream.
After starting in the Alps by the time the river Rhine enters Germany it carves it's way through the most fairytale like scenery I have ever laid eyes on with picturesque villages, walled towns, and
absolutely spectacular scenery as well as some very old legends such as the one about a Rhine maiden called Lorelei.
Lorelei on the Rhine

At a bend in the Rhine near St. Goarshausen there is a rock on the eastern bank of the river which is about 380 feet high. There is a strong current and the rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents in the past. Lorelei is also the name of a female spirit and Rhine maiden which is a
character in popular local German folk lore. It is said that the Lorelei would sing and lure the sailor on the boats to go mad and then they would lose control of their vessel which would crash on the waves. There is a statue of a naked girl sitting on a rock by the river bend commemorating the legend of the Lorelei. We also went to a restaurant called Unter Den Lindern in Assmanshausen, a beautiful village on the Rhine. The food was fresh, local and delicious.
The house we chose house was the first one we looked at in Falkenstein as it was really quick to get to the children's school located seven minutes away in Oberursel. Konigstein, the town where we were to live was like a little fairytale village with forts and castles and buildings that were built centuries ago. Actually I lived in the little hill village of Falkenstein on the slope of the Feldberg, the mountain that loomed over Konigstein.
Burg Falkenstein
Imagine looking out of your kitchen window and actually having a ruined castle to look at as you did the washing up! The castle in the main town of Konigstein was built in the 12th Century and was set on a thickly wooded hilltop. The town is on the old trade route between Frankfurt and Cologne, a part of the Frankfurt Rhein main urban area. Konigstein is also a "climatic spa" which means there are thermal "bads"or baths which come out of the ground. Koingstein is incidentally one of the wealthiest towns in Germany because of the European Central Bank located in Frankfurt and Konigstein is one of the favorite places for wealthy bankers to live.
Königstein im Taunus from the Castle.
The village where our house was located was Falkenstein which also had a castle and going up there to look at it became a daily habit of mine. Once there you got the most breath taking view of the Main valley across  to Frankfurt and beyond. On a clear day professional photographers would come from miles around to take photos of Frankfurt.
The house was a really well designed 4 storey German house owned by a Frankfurt banker. The owner's mother told us she built a brand new house on the land where her grandmother's house used to be.  She herself grew up in the northern German town of Lubeck, famous for it's Niedregger marzipan sweets. I was really comfortable and happy there for our 2 years of Expat life in Germany. We must have cared for the house well because I was informed by a letter written in German by Mrs. Z that if I ever came back to Germany I could live in that house again!

Maria Mull was our next door neighbor and guarded us like a Mother hen. She told us all about herself, her childhood, her life and about the little town where we lived. Maria would bake us plum cake or Pflaumenkuchen, with plums from her garden, bring me little posies and generally look after me. I think Maria felt a little protective of me because one time she caught me talking to another neighbor and told me not to talk to the "Hexe" the English translation of this word is "Witch!" Our houses were very close to each other along with just a handful of houses which discovered later were all owned by a family of lawyers who hated my landlady. They were located in a valley and Maria would watch ever move I made. One day I woke up from a mid day nap and went out side and Maria was watching me and the first thing she said to me was "Hast du gutt geschlafen?" or "did you sleep well?"As we lived in the valley it means all my neighbors knew I'd had a midday snooze!

One really smart decision was to take advantage of German lessons as my husband's company offered to pay for to help us feel a little more assimilated to the local community. I went to Berlitz in Escborne which was a few miles from my home. I soon got stuck into my German lessons and looked forward to seeing my two German teachers Regine and Angelica. I started off shakily and spent a lot of time speaking English to my teachers which was really good fun but one day things fell into place and I was unstoppable. I was so obsessed with learning the German language that I felt like by brain was on fire!

What a great feeling to be able to read the signs on the weekly offers at Tenglemanns or  Edeka, the local grocery stores! The reception I got from local Germans was incredible! The dentist complimented me, my landlady was so impressed and I loved conversing with my neighbors and teachers. People were so complimentary and encouraging and I really excelled. Even though the lessons were paid for by most of the multinational employers a lot of the women decided not to carry on with the lessons and would ask me why almost a year and  half after I arrived in Germany I was still taking lessons. Well my answer came in the form of a few of my friends asking me to help cancel or make appointments at the hairdressers or the dentist or doctors. I loved being able to help them. One of the most amusing things to happen with my new found German language capabilities was my utter lack of confidence when a very testing situation arose.

On the way to picking up my older daughter from Frankfurt airport I was driving around looking for a place to park but not able to spot a parking building when I suddenly realized the Polizei were behind me with flashing lights. My heart sank and my thoughts were Oh shoot, what the heck am I going to do now?
After stopping and getting out of the car I immediately said to the policemen "Wass hab ich gemachkt und konnen wir auf English bitte?" What have I done and could we speak English please? The policeman heartily laughed his head off and said in German "Warum mussen wir auf English  wenn so Sie gutt Deutsch sprechen?"Why are going to speak English when you speak such good German? That was the point when I started to laugh hysterically because he had just complimented my German but I had absolutely no confidence in my German abilities if I had to talk my way out of a traffic ticket!
I kept repeating "Ich verstehe nicht" meaning I don't understand and ended with the policeman saying very sternly "Sie durfen nicht!" You may not drive in the taxi lane! He let me go but not before I humiliated myself by driving past one more time and I waved at him and he laughed and shook his head at me!
Frankfurt Am Main

Another day I had a run in with a bucket on the way to my German lesson. I decided to get some petrol  and as I drove up to the tank I saw a bucket and mop in front of my car. I filled up and then drove away. Suddenly I realized my car was really dragging so I pulled into a side street. I was wondering why there was a really worrying scraping sound coming from under my car. As I bent down to see what was under the car a young man pushing a stroller turned up and asked me what was the matter. This time I decided to skip the German and said there's some thing under my car! When we looked, I realized to my mortification that I had run over the bucket and mop at the petrol station and dragged it about a mile down the main road. The young German guy pulled the bucket out from under the car and said' I'm glad to see you are driving  German car!" which was really funny because although I was driving an Opel which is a German name, the car was a General Motors an American company! I just replied "Oh yes, of course thank you so much for helping me!"
I then drove away thanking the young man profusely and went back to the petrol station, parked around the corner and sneaked the bucket back and put it behind the petrol station building and hurriedly drove away feeling like a complete idiot. I'm sure the people at the petrol station wondered how the bucket got there and why it was all squished.
One of many castles on the Rhine
Konigstein Castle
 Germany was a brief experience in the scheme of things but I had so much fun, met some incredible people, learned so much about Europe, living in a new country and mumbled and stumbled "Auf Deutsch" to get out out of embarassing situations. I loved the rivers, the beautiful towns with their amazing castles, churches and cathedrals to name just a few things and the German countryside that took my breath away. I am grateful for this chance to live in this exciting European country.

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