As the title suggests, Jack is in Germany this month and so we’ve dedicated our October series to sauerkraut, hot blondes, and hilarious heavy metal bands.
This piece of memoir comes from Maggie.
When I was fifteen I went to Germany on a school trip for a month with two of my best friends Ellen and Kate, and ten other students. We spent a week in Berlin then each did a homestay with a family in a small town outside of Frankfurt.
Here are nine things that happened…
1. I went into a McDonalds in Berlin and saw fruit and yoghurt on the menu. I asked for ‘gemuse und yoghurt, bitte’. The lady looked at me strangely, so I repeated myself. My student co-travellers laughed. ‘We don’t serve vegetables and yoghurt,’ she said in German.
2. My homestay’s family lived in a very neat house with two cats. I stayed in an older brother’s room who had gone to work at an airport out of town. On the wall was an A3 laminated picture of two gummibears (gumibärchen) having sex. The doona cover was red and brown and I had my own PC and desk to check my hotmail account.
3. I developed a crush on a boy in my temporary class, Thomas. He was tall with short blonde hair that he spiked into a little peak. I had bleached blonde hair with a vegemite stripe of regrowth down the centre. On the last Friday night before I flew home, we went ice-skating and held hands. In the car on the way home, he took off his pink polo shirt and gave it to me as a memento.
4. As it turned out all the girls our age in Germany wore g-strings. Someone told a story about how her homestay would fold regular knickers into a thong if all her g-strings were in the wash. Sometimes at school a brave young thing would wear hers just above the waistband of her jeans, the fabric light against ever-tanned European skin.
5. One weekend Kate’s family took us to the Black Forest to see snow and make snowmen. Her house-mum made fresh bread rolls that morning and packed them up for our lunches. We sat in the boot of the car, looking out at the white, and the rolls were divvied up. The ones that Kate and I were handed hadn’t made it to the oven, and were still stretchy and white. Kate and I were given ski outfits that were remnants from the 80s. Everyone else’s looked cool.
6. School started somewhere near seven in the morning, but we got to go home before two for lunch. We’d get up in the dark to catch the train, and we’d eat breakfast when we got there in the huge hall with white lino and fake trees. My host-mum asked me what I liked to eat for school lunches back home, and I said salad sandwiches. When I unwrapped my lunch the next day, I had zucchini and capsicum on rye.
7. Students at school in Germany were adults. When they graduated some were nearly 20. The girls in the highest grades wore knee-high boots and short skirts to class, and could light up outside when they felt like it. They kissed each other on the lips when they said hello, and chatted and smoked in the cold, stubbing their buts on the concrete playground tables when it was time to go back to their lesson.
8. Everyone in my host family wanted to practice their English when I was there, so I barely spoke any German. They asked me about the beaches back home, if it was ever cold, and what my parents did. When I was asked questions, usually in English, I would attempt to answer in German. My go-to phrase was ‘ein bisschen’. This meant ‘a little’. ‘How did you sleep?’, ‘Would you like more fish?’, ‘Do you speak much German?’ — could all be answered with ‘ein bisschen’. It served me well.
9. One day I came home from school to one of the cats, Max, napping in my suitcase. I needed something from under it, so I tried to pick him up to move. Max stood up and looked at me, then slowly released his bladder on the belts coiled in the corner of my bag. I went downstairs to explain this to host-mum. She laughed, ‘Oh he must be sleepy.’ My brown belt still has a stain.