Thursday, August 24, 2006
I met this morning with a friend, "little Mikey K," (I suspect he hates it when he's called that) who will soon be leaving to go to college in Scotland for a year. He's a pretty smart guy (okay, extremely smart), much younger than me needless to say, and he got some whizbang scholarship or something to do this. Pretty cool.

There is no real comparison between what he's doing and the memories it brought up for me but here they are anyway.

The summer of 1981 was between my junior and senior years of high school. I had taken three years of German in high school and a German exchange student stayed with my family for a couple of weeks the spring of that year. That summer, I had the opportunity to go to Germany along with other students from my school. I stayed with the boy who had stayed with us.

I think that we U.S. students were kind of brats while we were there. School was in session for the Germans at the time and we tried attending classes with them. Problem was, we really didn't speak German very well and it was pretty useless for us to go to their classes. I think we only went for one day.

Everything about their school (and, in fact, a lot of things about the trip) seemed very surrealistic. I remember the morning we were in a classroom sitting on the desks and just talking and then we all (including the German students) went outside and bought green grapes in white paper from some street vendor. I am not sure I ever saw a real "class" going on at their school. Things seemed extremely relaxed. Yet they all seemed much more scholastically advanced than we were.

I was probably one of the better German speakers among the Americans but that didn't mean much. As the result, one time when several of we American students were out together, they voted me as the one to have to try to get some information from a particularly dour looking German woman we encountered. I recall trying my best German but apparently making no sense at all when she just looked very confused at me and said "Would you please speak English?" One of my favorite German words was the word for "horse". I suspect I was using it a lot as I tried to talk to her.

I remember seeing a car accident happen one Saturday morning as we were going to a train museum. That may still be the only car accident I have ever witnessed that I wasn't involved in. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (I have a bad habit of hitting stationary things ... I have never hit a moving vehicle. Parked cars better look out though.)

I remember being on the autobahn ... and the Reeperbahn, the former being Germany's infamous "no speed limit" highway system, and the latter being Hamburg's infamous red light district. I just looked up "Reeperbahn" on Wikipedia to check my spelling and apparently now you have to be 18 to walk this rather seedy street.

One Saturday afternoon, the guy I was staying with took me on a train ride quite a ways outside of Hamburg to visit a friend of his. It was in a huge old house with very little furniture. It seemed more like an institution than a house. Once there, I quickly got bored and decided to take the train by myself back into the city. I got off the train in the city and started wandering around a bit.

I remember walking off to the edge of a park and seeing a large group of people together. Several hundred. It looked like a rally of some sort so I approached it to try to find out what it was all about. Even with my limited German, I was quickly able to figure out that it was an anti-American rally, targeted at President Reagan in the midst of our European military build-up which eventually led to the end of the cold war, the fall of the Soviet Union, and probably in part the re-unification of Germany as well. I didn't hang around the rally for long. I sort of hung my head low and slunk away.

Starting with the trans-Atlantic flight over, a lot of our trip seemed to revolve around alcohol. On the flight over, they served us all little baskets with crackers, cheese, and a small bottle of wine. I was sitting on the plane next to our teacher advisor who asked for my wine. I had never drank alcohol in my life at that point I don't believe so I gladly gave it away.

I never did quite figure out what the drinking age was in Germany at the time. It may have been 14 but, whatever it was, no one really cared nor paid attention to it. This caused some in our group to go a bit, shall I say, overboard. I rarely saw our host students imbibing. Our little group probably could have drank them under the table though.

I remember only having one small sip of something. (Of couse -- maybe that's the issue -- I don't remember much!) It was called Astel Wasser as I recall -- a mixture of lemonade and beer. It was sort of tasty.

I remember that this was the first summer after Lisa and I had met and started dating. I missed her terribly and we wrote letters back and forth. This was waaaay before email, of course.

The big souvenirs we brought home were leather coats and vests. I still have my vest though it hasn't fit me for years. And, most of the guys brought home switchblades which we hid in our luggage on the way home, unsure of how legal they were to bring into the states. (Yikes -- I am not even certain how legal it is to have one today!) I remember hiding mine inside of my umbrella. For some crazy reason, that seemed to make sense at the time.

Anyway, those are some of my memories. Like I said, my little high school exchange trip pales in comparison to what Mike will be doing. I wish him the best. He has a true and well-deserved opportunity of a lifetime. I am sure he will make the most of it. He may want to keep his head low if he runs into any anti-American rallies. And, if there's a person sitting next to him on the plane who wants his bottle of wine, Mike should just keep it for himself.

  posted at 11:07 AM  

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Michael K said...

I'll drink to that.

Thanks Todd.


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