Germany… a country that tells its children a fairy tale in which two children are left in the woods to die, are almost cooked and eaten, and then heroically murder an old lady. Sums it up, really.
I recently arrived in Freiburg im Breisgau. My first impression is that this is a city that seems to have confidence in spades, even if I don’t fully understand the people here. Not just because the German language is an enigma to me. It is my intention to change that. The man sitting in the seat next to me in the train had lived in Freiburg for years and relayed following experiences: ‘When I moved to Germany, I only spoke English but, frankly, Germans use so many English words that I’m practically fluent in German now. There is nothing a German loves more than to prove his foreign language skills. I sometimes wonder if they don’t trust their native language.’
Despite living in Germany for years, this man still speaks no German at all. I consider that an outrage and I don’t wish to follow his example. It is my intention to find a German language instructor post-haste.
I am staying in a hotel near the so-called Minster (a cathedral in the centre of the city). Ask not for whom the bells toll, just know that they toll regularly and loudly. It is at this hotel that I learned my first German word, namely ‘gediegen’. It translates roughly to ‘dignified’. That is how the receptionist described the interior of the hotel. The walls of my room are covered with wood panelling and the bed is an old-fashioned four-poster with a quite comfortable mattress. The light is particularly gentle as the lampshade is a beautiful shade of amber. The whole hotel is like a cave that smells lightly of bee’s wax and biscuits. I suppose that fits my image of ‘gediegen’.
It has been my experience that the people here will address me in English without prompting. I haven’t been able to utter so much as a ‘Guten Tag’, not that I would do that outside of the hotel anyway. It is a poor soul whom is so visibly cosmopolitan as to address strangers in the street. After breakfast on the first day, I asked at reception if there is a possibility of arranging German lessons. The receptionist looked at me with eyes that I could only describe as perplexed. I feared something may have gotten lost in translation but as I tried to explain the situation further, the receptionist waved off my protests and answered thus: ‘We’ve never received such a request. However, I will ask around and we will see what we can do. I’ll update you in the afternoon.’
And so, I went exploring the city. I visited the central market at which local farmers sell the most deliciously fresh products. Their pride practically radiates from their wares. I decided to buy a Brezel with butter. Not bad! I went into a restaurant serving German cuisine. I came in expecting lederhosen and beer but what was the first thing I heard? A waitress greeted me in flawless English. I had the pleasure of trying the local wine which is really quite good and learning another new German word; ‘Schäufele’ this time. Although I couldn’t quite master the pronunciation, I ate every bit of the pork shoulder with a ‘Kloß’, a sort of dumpling indigenous to these parts. It was surprisingly good.
While I ate, I listened to the chatter around me. When the residents of the city speak amongst themselves in their dialect, it is delightfully musical. There is a harmony of voice, facial expression, and language that reminds me a bit of cockney rhyming slang, not that I understood any of it. It was a bit like Cockney rhyming slang in that way.
After this little culinary trip to Baden (the name of the larger area), I wandered into a book shop. Three floors of books, notes, and people enjoying the aforementioned. To my embarrassment, I must admit that I spent most of the time there in the English section. I decided to purchase Golo Mann’s ‘German History of the 19th and 20th century’ (in translation, of course) in hopes of learning more about the teutonic people.
I trust that, in my absence, you aren’t doing anything that I wouldn’t do,