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Munchner Kindl – Munich’s Logo

We are home. Two months of Germany has, for the time being, satisfied our appetite for foreign experiences. Now is the time to catch our breath, to process our exploits, to sort through our memories.

Immersing one’s self in a foreign culture is undeniably exciting; the senses are all on high alert – different sights and sounds in every direction. But returning home has something to recommend itself too. Topping my list of pleasant sensations once our plane landed in the USA was the soothing familiarity of American speech. I was certainly not chauvinistic regarding the language thing – few people have ever pursued the acquisition of a foreign tongue with more diligence than I during our five weeks in Munich – and yet, I must admit to a certain sense of relief to once again be among my own kind; to no longer have to strain to understand the people on the street; to know that I am at least the equal of those around me in the use of language.

Mary’s objective for our German trip was a little different than mine. She had never set foot in Europe before. I think she just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well now she knows. She lived and walked among the Germans for two months. She saw a fair number of castles and cathedrals. She hiked alpine trails. She mastered the Munich subway and sampled the dizzying variety of German bread.

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Mary by the Alpensee

I spent a good deal of my youth in Germany so this was more of a reacquaintance than an introduction for me. My general impression is that the Germany of today is a lot richer than the Germany of the 1960s that I remembered. Standard-of-living wise, Germany is on equal footing with the United States. I was able to visit many of my old “haunts.” Some had changed very little – some were unrecognizable.

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Heckenmunster – one of the old haunts

My dream of improving my command of German to the “comfortable” level can only described as a disappointment. Despite five weeks of intensive instruction at a language school and countless hours of home study, I am still a long way from mastery. I never expected to speak flawless German. My goal was to be able to understand the “gist” of what I heard and to be able to communicate, however crudely, my own thoughts and desires. With regard to understanding in particular, that never happened.

That is not to say there were not bright moments in my pursuit of German. I remember one day stopping to talk to a man who was installing cobblestones (stone work is another passion of mine.) This fellow spoke no English (unlike many Germans) so our conversation, of necessity was 100% German. We must have talked for a good fifteen minutes. During that time I learned quite a bit about cobblestones and their installation. Not only were facts communicated but also a fair amount of humour managed to make its way across the language barrier. At that moment, our little encounter seemed like vindication for all the study that had preceded it. As I walked home that afternoon there was a spring in my step and a smile on my face. The song from Brigadoon, Almost Like Being in Love, came to mind:

What a day this has been
What a rare mood I’m in
Why it’s almost like being in love.
There’s a smile on my face
For the whole human race
Why it’s almost like being in love.

Alas, such moments were the exception rather than the rule.

This trip taught us something about ourselves and how we take our pleasures: it is the little things in life that comprise the bulk of “good times.” Grand moments and spectacular sights are well and good but they can only be absorbed in small doses. After a week of flitting from one tourist attraction to another we put the brakes on and adopted a more normal existence. We established a home base, first in Immenstadt and then in Munich, from which to explore our surroundings. For Mary, especially, such mundane tasks as grocery shopping and strolling the city’s streets provided a familiar but satisfying routine.

It never ceases to surprise me how quickly I accept my immediate surroundings as the “normal.” When we lived in Germany, I actually found myself thinking that the German way of doing things was normal: bakeries are to be found on every corner, cars drive very fast, litter is non-existent, German is the language of the street. Now that I’m back in Chelan, the old familiar ways have crowded out most of the German: the air is cold and dry, the supermarkets are huge and well stocked, and everybody speaks that wonderful language I know so well – English, wonderful English!

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