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In Germany All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt

May 17, 2010

When I moved to Germany in 1984, I didn’t even know how to say, “Guten Tag” or the preferred – “Tag”. Granted, I was moving to Germany from Greece, where oddly enough there had not been strong demand for my nascent German speaking abilities. Moving from Crete to Mainz, West Germany (back when there was an East and West) involved various forms of travel not limited to:

  • boat
  • plane
  • Datsun 210 Station Wagon

There might have even been a train ride or ten. The route we took – as dictated by the geo-political climate of the era – went something like this:

Ferry to Athens – possibly a ride in some sketchy cab to another Port to catch a boat to Italy – Up the shaft of the boot with some scenic stops involving blown glass and water tasting of windex – cross into Austria sans mention of The Sound of Music with a stay in hotels featuring Ikea-ish furnishings and lamp shades resembling Devo hats – cross into Germany and being dazzled by the BMW factor in Stuttgart and eventually finding our way to Mainz-Bretzenheim (one of the 15 districts in Mainz) where we would call home for a couple of years.

Mainz-Bretzenheim was idyllic and probably far more boring than I recall; our neighborhood boasted spectacular public transit taking me to far off and amazing places such as Karstadt and Kaufhof, which were big department stores and unlike their American counterparts, they were not known to pipe Muzak through the sound system.

Despite being dazzled by Chagall windows, downtown shops specializing in the finest official Duran Duran licensed merchandise and boutique workers preternatural ability to guess your size within seconds of entering their stores – thus leading you to a well stocked rack of clothing in your size, REGARDLESS of what it was and without judgement – I longed for the untold glories of a place simply known as Ausfahrt.

Every moment on the Autobahn meant the potential to finally pick any exit and find myself headed for Ausfahrt. Yet, we never seemed to get there. This would haunt me for weeks upon my arrival in Germany, that is until my Host Nation class, taught by the incomparable Frau Horne.

Frau Horne was German Lady glamorous, which is to say she dressed exactly like a politician’s wife – tartan skirts, stiff leather stacked heel boots, starched oxfords and an assortment of knee length textured cardigans. She also favored large tortoise shell oval glasses and had a smart blunt bob.

She rarely spoke English, though hers was flawless.

I was nervous that first day of “Host Nation” – a terrible class nearly ever DoDDs school subjected its elementary students to. Basically, its curriculum presupposed students desired nothing more ambitious for their experience in another country than directions to its bathrooms and train stations. Though to DoDDs credit it was always taught by a citizen of the country. Though most of them were married to Civilians working for Military or socialites of some note. I can’t remember who Frau Horne was married to, but I do remember that she scoffed on picture day when the photographer’s assistant handed me one of those ridiculous plastic combs.

She pushed the assistant aside, dug into her leather tote and produced a wide tooth comb. Within seconds my ponytail – which over the course of the day had liberated itself from the holder – had reverted to its 8am freshness.

Anyway, the first day of “Host Nation” Frau Horne walked around the half circle of desk – I was in sixth grade – and began prattling in German, which nearly none of us understood. I could sense she wasn’t asking anything complicated – possibly favorite colors, foods or how we liked Germany. Then she stopped talking at us and began talking to us.

She started with me. She smiled. “Tag. Wie heißt du?”

I got nervous. I looked around the class; they looked nervous too. I smiled and replied, “Ich wohne in Mainz!”

This was not the right answer.

She smiled again, “Du heißt Ich wohne in Mainz???” I could hear the italics in her voice.

Months later, once I had learned my name was not in fact “I live in Mainz” but Angie and I could effectively communicate this auf Deutsch I decided to ask Frau Horne if she’d ever been to Ausfahrt.

She responded in English, “Fräulein Angie (I really liked being called that), ausfahrt is not a place. It means exit.”

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. IrishUp permalink
    May 17, 2010 4:01 pm

    lolololololol! Great story!

    Apparently German teachers in Deutschland are nicer than their counterparts here. During our first year, we had to read a Brothers Grimm tale. I picked “The Six Swans”. In my first essay auf Deutsch, I miss spelled “sechs” – the way it sounds. Each of which was highlighted and read aloud to my 7th grade class. Yep, there were approximately 150 instances of the word “sex” in my 2 page summary. The words “Klasse, fangen wir mit Ihrer Hausaufgabe an” still make me hyperventilate.

    This also reminds me of my sister, who once commented to me that it seemed like an awful lot of the people on “The People’s Court” were related. The Litigants seemed always to be in front of Judge Wapner.

  2. May 17, 2010 6:43 pm

    Even though i was raised in a family having some German ancestry and an Uncle who spoke and read German fluently, i had no idea what Ausfahrt meant either until i got to the end of your post. The punchline in your story is even funnier than the mental image of what the word meant. In addition to having a funny blog, i liked the funny link (from your comment policy) describing what “Derailing” is. I’m cracking up. i don’t have umlauts (sp?) on my typewriter, dont know how to spell it, and don’t know the English translation, but your post made me feel Gamutlich (sp?).

  3. May 17, 2010 8:25 pm

    Ausfahrt sounds like something that makes you have to open the windows.

    I really enjoyed the story — even after I figured out where it was going, the ride was still fun.

  4. leavingnormal permalink
    May 18, 2010 12:13 am

    One ex Prime Minister of Australia called Australia, ‘the arse end of the earth.’ I remember almost pissing myself laughing when he said that because, well, geographically it kinda is. I’m an Australian and first thing that came to mind when I saw the Ausfarht sign was ‘Australia’ and ‘fart’. And when you explainedthe meaning, I thought not only ‘exit’ but ‘exit to Australia.’ Snarky, I get great enjoyment from your site.

    Love your deconstructions of Homicide: LOTS, btw.

  5. badhedgehog permalink
    May 18, 2010 4:49 am

    Hee!

    I’m fondly remembering my German teacher Frau Schleh and her calf length skirts, stacked heel boots, puff sleeve blouses and permanently worn Seabands (she suffered from vertigo).

    I passed my German exam, but I can barely remember any of it. No practice since then. But I can tell you which prepositions take the accusative case.

  6. May 18, 2010 5:06 am

    @Irish Up:

    I picked “The Six Swans”. In my first essay auf Deutsch, I miss spelled “sechs” – the way it sounds. Each of which was highlighted and read aloud to my 7th grade class. Yep, there were approximately 150 instances of the word “sex” in my 2 page summary. The words “Klasse, fangen wir mit Ihrer Hausaufgabe an” still make me hyperventilate.

    Do not get me started on “The Sex Swans”. LOLOL. I am crying reading your comment. We are fellow travelers.

    @Panty Buns:

    Even though i was raised in a family having some German ancestry and an Uncle who spoke and read German fluently, i had no idea what Ausfahrt meant either until i got to the end of your post.

    It was one of those moments that sticks with you. I have never forgotten the way my hopes and dreams were dashed in an instant with the realization I had Mary Janes that would never see the inside of an Ausfahrt dining establishment. Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad I could give you a few chuckles 🙂

    @leavingnormal:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting and the kind words for the H:LOTS episode. I’m rolling them out again and if the creek don’t rise and the crops don’t fail, we’re gonna get to season five in less than three weeks.

  7. May 18, 2010 5:09 am

    Ausfahrt sounds like something that makes you have to open the windows.

    I really enjoyed the story — even after I figured out where it was going, the ride was still fun.

    Thanks, Redlami! Yes, Ausfahrts definitely sound like something that would not be welcome under a blanket.

  8. May 18, 2010 5:14 am

    @badhedgehog:

    I’m fondly remembering my German teacher Frau Schleh and her calf length skirts, stacked heel boots, puff sleeve blouses and permanently worn Seabands (she suffered from vertigo).

    I do believe some of my style was influenced by the parade of age appropriate fashionable German teachers I had growing up. Frau Langa was probably around 70 and she shut down Sophia Loren cloud hair/tinted glasses with the upside down handles, Khaki heavy knit matching sets and rust colored stacked heel boots any day she cared to rock them. She also looked a lot like Maggie Smith! Frau Horne looked like Anna Wintour, except she didn’t care for floral prints or dainty jewelry – and you know, was really warm.

    I passed my German exam, but I can barely remember any of it. No practice since then. But I can tell you which prepositions take the accusative case.

    It’s like when I’m trying to conjure up some Deutsch I can’t tell my Der for my Das, but when I’m listening to people gibber on and trying to formulate suitable responses to them (in English) I do a lot better. though whenever I’m at a loss for conversation I go back to the basics:

    Where is the train station?
    Does the engine make a funny noise?

  9. bowmansinbavaria permalink
    May 18, 2010 6:22 am

    What a wonderful story! It made me laugh.

    I’m an American currently living in Bavaria with my family, but in my former life, I taught German in the States. I always looked forward to teaching the verb fahren to my students. The reactions were always wonderful: “Er fährt…? It means, he drives? It doesn’t mean, he farts?” The looks of disappointment were priceless, when my students learned that fahren wasn’t as, uh, interesting as they thought.

    And when we first moved here, my husband was constantly giggling as we drove along the Autobahn. “Look. The sign says Ausfahrt. AusFAHRT!”

  10. May 18, 2010 9:33 am

    Hahahahaha. The vagaries of foreign language learning. Was your dad/mom in the military?

    Awesome. I’ve never been to Germany, but we should go someday. The husband is 2nd generation German Jewish and still has many odd ticks like the need to be EVERYWHERE 5 minutes early. And a deep fondness for sausages of all kinds.

  11. May 18, 2010 11:45 am

    awww! so sad and funny at the same time! i have less than zero desire to ever be associated with the military, but i do envy my cousins who lived in scotland, england and africa (i don’t recall the country, sadly. nigeria possibly.), all before they were in high school. i’ve only left the continent once, to visit them, and i really want to travel. it’s just really hard and expensive!

  12. May 18, 2010 12:39 pm

    Infamous – it was weird being associated with the military but not being a part of it. My parents were both civil servants and so it was an interesting experience seeing all the military industrial complex up close and personal.

    Yeah, travel was/still is really expensive, but sooooo cheap if one is attached to a government agency in a foreign country. We’d take packaged “hops” for like 69 bucks and end up some place like Austria or Italy. It was pretty surreal.

  13. May 18, 2010 9:02 pm

    It’s like when I’m trying to conjure up some Deutsch I can’t tell my Der for my Das

    Me too. I’ve forgotten most of the genders of nouns I learned in high school German. I still remember a fair amount of vocabulary, though. My favorite German word is the one for gloves, “Handschuhe” (I don’t know how to do the umlaut), which literally means “shoes for your hands”. That’s poetic.

  14. May 19, 2010 9:49 am

    To do an umlaut, you can type in the ampersand, the name of the letter, followed by “uml” and a semicolon, like so: ü — the result is ü.

  15. May 19, 2010 12:39 pm

    I spent a month in Germany when I was 16. When I saw the post title and the image I went “Oh, I know EXACTLY where she is going with this.”

    You’re sure we aren’t the same person?

  16. May 19, 2010 12:42 pm

    I spent a month in Germany when I was 16. When I saw the post title and the image I went “Oh, I know EXACTLY where she is going with this.”

    You’re sure we aren’t the same person?

    Did you long to feel the sun-hidden-behind-overcast skies of Ausfahrt tickling your face? I love how many people have felt this way too. It’s nice not being the only one!

  17. tantekoo permalink
    April 12, 2011 2:34 am

    This is an old, old post… but you mentioned Frau Horne, and DoDDS, and, well… YES. Incredible electric JOLT of OMG THAT WOMAN I KNEW HER. She was one of my teachers, too, in Mainz; your post brought back a whole host of memories, all of them awesome, and describing her style as “German Lady Glamorous” might possibly have been an understatement.

    Not knocking you, just saying.

    Excellent story, too… but then, you tell damned good ones. 8)

  18. April 13, 2011 5:39 pm

    @Tantekoo – when were you there? I was in Mainz in ’84!!!

  19. tantekoo permalink
    April 28, 2011 3:17 am

    @Snarky– We were there from ’82 to ’84, so we overlapped!

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