I came to Germany with a half-full suitcase, a UgaBus branded backpack and a mountain of stereotypes.
“Those guys are racists. They’ll make you feel like the first piece of sliced bread, unwanted.” I doubted this one.
“Their sense of humor is like rotten eggs. It’s smelly. You’ll be walking on egg shells everyday. No one has time for jokes.” I chuckled at this one.
“Ah, the Germans! They don’t give two shits who you are. They’ll give you their piece of mind.” This, I wanted to experience for myself.
“You might find it difficult to survive in that country if you can’t speak their language. Man, prepare to be ignored.” I learned one sentence to keep me going; Entshuldigen Sie, meine Deutsch ist nicht gut.
“You guy! You’re going to swim in beer. Just don’t come back home with a beer belly. Germans drink beer all day.” I had no comment on this one.
I got here three weeks ago, landed in Frankfurt and hopped on a bus to Bonn. This was it. I was ready to face this new challenge with fresh stereotypes flowing in my mind.
What have I learned so far? Germans don’t understand the concept of common sense. It doesn’t exist in their vocabulary. You explain yourself with facts, figures and where necessary, pictures. To have anyone’s attention, you’ve got to quantify and justify your claim. Your work needs to have detail. When for example you say “Men are trash”, you need to put all your building blocks right. You’ll have to arrange your ducks in line making sure you back whatever you say. Why and Why not are questions of equal importance.
A gymnasium isn’t that sports facility you might be thinking of. It’s a secondary school that prepares academically minded teenagers for university education. You won’t guess how I found this out.
It started when my housemate, Christian, and I took the wrong route from the Konrad-Adenauer Gymnasium bus stop on our third day in Bonn. No, that’s not where it started. Let’s rewind.
We’d taken a walk through the main landmarks of Bonn. Bonn is undeniably Beethoven. We’d seen the iconic monument of Ludwig Van Beethoven at Münsterplatz. If you don’t know who Beethoven is, I won’t hold it against you. He is one of the most recognized composer’s in the world. He is a treasure and a source of pride to Bonners. Yeah, that’s what people who live in Bonn are called. Bonners. And yeah, I’m a Bonner.
If Beethoven was a flag, he’d fly outside every Bonner’s house. If he was food he’d be a delicacy and if he was a drink, every drinker would choose him as their poison of choice. He’d be an official language if he was a language. Bonn is Beethoven.
We walked between buildings from medieval times blending in with modern architecture on both sides of the path to get to Beethoven Haus, the actual birthplace of the legendary composer. It is complete with a theatre and a museum with relics of the main man. I waved at his old viola that he played as a kid in 1780. It was gracefully lying in a glass casing Its fret board looked strong and the curved body of the instrument remained whole. It looked as good as anyone’s favorite flower. There were hand-written letters in calligraphy of old, one dated 29 June 1801. Because meine Deutsch ist nicht gut, I didn’t understand the contents of those letters.
It was on our return from this excursion that we took the wrong turn. And when Christian saw the gymnasium, he thought that was it. He’d found a place to work-out, a gym. Hehehe. That was before he discovered that a gymnasium in Germany is a high school. He’s now on a quest to look for a real gym.
I’ve moved around Bonn and attended a Stadtgartenkonzerte, a free music concert outside the University of Bonn. I’ve had an afternoon tour of Cologne, with the over 750 year old Cologne cathedral being a massive attraction. I’ve seen the love locks on the bridge over the Rhine River. I’ve spent a weekend in the small town of Attendorn with its enormous forest cover and large man-made lake that has a cruise boat making rounds on it with tourists. Although I felt at peace in Attendorn, I found the tranquility of the town of Bad Münstereifel, a town with a population of about 8,000 people, was unmatched.
It’s an ancient town that’s inside a sturdy wall which was completed in 1300. The wall is high and so old you can see the sweat of the men who built it sticking out with pride. It has four entrances. Many centuries ago, including in the medieval times, the town charged toll fees for travelers crossing from one end to the other.
There’s a river that flows across it. It looked like a stream to me. Take a glance at the picture I’ve up there. That’s the river. Do not look at it and think, “Is that a real river?” An artificial lake was built to store and regulate the flow of water. That thing that looks like a stream has caused havoc before. It has flooded a few times, which the worst flood happening in 1818. In one place is a cross made of stone. It is a memorial that was planted there on 2 May 1818.
A family lived in a house on that site; a man, his wife and son. Their son would run around and play with other kids in the neighborhood. His wife stayed home and cooked. He worked to bring in the bread. They shared a love that everyone in the neighborhood admired. They were the ideal couple. Then one unfortunate night when she was ill, the river broke its banks. A flood covered the town. Houses were filled with water. You’d have to wade your way through with strength from above.
The man wasn’t able to carry both his son and wife at the same time through the flood. He tried though. The speed of the flow of water felt like a waterfall. His wife struggled to wade her way out of the water-filled house. His son couldn’t swim. His wife held on with tears that were getting washed by the water. She urged him to take their son out of that crazy water. Other people were screaming for help. Their voices could not be heard. The sound of the raging river swept their cries for help away.
The man waded through the water and took the little boy to safety up a hill. He ran back for his wife, swam against the tide. But it was too late. She had been carried away by the angry river. Their house was no more.
That left him powerless and his heart was in pain, the pain that gets you teary. He wept, terribly. He dropped his head and fell to his knees when he got to the hill and wept some more. He asked God why He allowed such ungodly things to happen to him. He couldn’t be strong at that moment. Sadness filled Bad Münstereifel for many weeks after that flood. Many families lost their dear ones. In memory of his wife, the man planted a cross in the place where their house was. And that cross stands to date with words in Deutsch that I can’t yet read.