Friday, December 01, 2006

Velcome to Der Deutschlandischness

Insomnia isn’t as fun as it sounds.

My nose has been stuffy, so I have been taking Sudafed, which is the only thing that works without putting me to sleep. Just the opposite, in fact.

Unfortunately, my personal Sudafed side affect has been heightened to an extreme degree lately that I have had to give it up.

When I try to sleep after taking Sudafed during the day, my mind will go into an endless loop of whatever was in my head when I went to bed. This used to last a few hours, but this week it has gone on all night.

If you have read this blog before, you might guess that my last thought will inevitably be some sort of worry, real or imagined. Last night I tried to derail the unwanted thoughts by trying to construct a blog post about a time in Germany twenty-four years ago. Turns out a lot of it is gone now. Which is a pity because it was a good story and you would have gotten a kick out of it.

Here’s what I remember.

When I was a sophomore in college, I was invited to participate in a guinea-piggy program of immersion language study through a partnership program between the University of Oregon and Universität Tűbingen (founded in 1477, newbies) in Tubingen, Germany (Deutschland for you Deutsche sprechers).

Since we were the first group of students to be offered this program, it was soon clear that they had not worked out all the kinks yet. First, they did not arrange for travel to and from the program. It was left to the students to transport themselves to a pick-up spot in Stuttgart. This is akin to telling kindergartners to meet you up at the zoo for the class field trip. We scattered. Some spent a month wandering through the Mediterranean before the program started, some came into Germany early to hang out in the beer halls of Munich, and some just went to Berlin to heckle the (pre-glasnost) East Germans. I, being a small and timid creature, made arrangements to land in Frankfurt and be at the Stuttgart rendezvous about three days later. By myself.

Second, it was soon clear that the professors from Tubingen University had expected students with a better grip on the language than those sent to them. Our group all had two solid semesters of first-year German under our belt. That means we were still working out why the hell every noun had to be feminine, masculine, or “neuter.” Actually, I’m still not over that. But still, we could barely say “Ich liebe dich” without giggling.

I remember being completely shocked when, as I was in the Frankfurt airport trying to figure out how to get a rail ticket into town out of a vending machine, a well-meaning Ger-man told me that the machine was “kaput.” You mean they really say “kaput?” The thought would have been hilarious if I hadn’t been so terrified.

Cut to a small, frightened creature trudging through the streets of Frankfurt, looking for Moselstrasse (Mosel Street), where my well-meaning mom had booked a room in the Hotel Ambassador through her local travel agent (sight unseen, oooooobviously). It sounds like a likely place for young international travelers, right?

Turns out it wasn’t.

It was getting dark. I finally asked a nice policeman to direct me to the Ambassador Hotel on Moselstrasse. He gives me a very odd look, asks if I really want to go there. I say yes. He gives me directions and tells me to hurry before it gets dark, because it’s not a very nice neighborhood. Oops. Well, I’m committed. Off I trudge.

It was once a very grand hotel. Not so much by the time I walked in. I was smack dab in the middle of Frankfurt’s red light district. Working girls were lined up on the street and posed in second story windows. Windows without hos had x-rated pictures in them.

For a small, easily frightened girl from Vernonia, Oregon, it was too, too much. But it was dark, I was tired, my duffle weighed a ton, and I was here. I checked in, declined a ride up in the elevator with some leering men, spend my last bit of energy tugging my duffle up the stairs, had a private panic in my room, and went to bed.

In the morning, school children with little school book packs were marching past the naked-lady pictures in the windows on the way to school, and a few of the working girls were now lounging in doorways, wishing them a good day. I snapped a picture and went down to breakfast. Which was delicious.

The rest of the semester was slightly less panicky.

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