Day 1, 2009:
My host family greeted me with bear hugs and a beautiful bouquet of flowers at the airport. The shock–from landing in an entirely different country, speaking a language I didn’t grow up with, and living with a family I had never met–finally hit me and left me awkwardly speechless for most of the car ride. Beyond being absolutely wonderful and warm people, my host family was so…tall. I believe the shortest person, my host sister Charlotte, was 5’8″. Verrückt (Crazy)!
I followed Clara, my other Gastschwester (host sister), to her high school, Melanchthon Gymnasium. A Gymnasium is a type of high school that runs from 5th to 13th grade (if I remember correctly, but correct me if I’m wrong). Final year students such as Charlotte have to take the Abitur (final exam) before moving onto university. The Abitur, or “Abi”, contains all the grades of the student and essentially dictates what major students are allowed to study in university. 1 is the highest grade possible for a Gymansium graduate, which means you can become a doctor. Anything below a 1,3 or 1,4 on your Abitur and you can basically forget about every becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Rough.
The celebration at the end of testing probably parallels the intensity and competitiveness of Gymnasium: this was probably the craziest party I had been to at that point. Water guns filled with beer, fights with balloons filled with beer or water, streamers, DJs blasting electronica/house music, live bands jamming to Tokio Hotel, drunk soon-to-be-graduates dancing and singing sloppily on stage, and a smokin’ BBQ. In short: college.
My favorite part of their Gymnasium was an abandoned streetcar that the students had refurbished and turned into a cafe serving drinks and snacks during recess. Genius. The outside was decorated in graffiti and paintings, while the inside retained the rusty, antique quality of the old streetcar. After spending a good hour or so meeting all of Charlotte and Clara’s friends, I followed Clara to choir practice. They sounded so good! Their set list was West Side Story. 🙂
The sun was barely setting at 6pm, which was when we took the U-Bahn (subway) to the Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof (main train station). From there we took the classic and ever-romantic choo-choo-train all the way home: Roßtal-Wegbrücke. Roßtal-Wegbrücke is about 25 minutes from the heart of Nürnberg. Basically in the countryside. Bayern (Bavaria) is breathtakingly idyllic: green pastures and wheat fields, small ponds lined by trees and a quaint bench at the edge, rolled up bales of hay with cows roaming about. We chugged past tiny, brick houses, with potted flowers on the balcony or fresh laundry breezily dancing on a line hanging by the window. Cobblestone streets paved the way to houses several hundred years old, with bakeries sprinkled in between. They even had their own history museum!
I can’t lie about feeling slightly uncomfortable about our house being next to a cemetery. But if I was to spend a month here, I couldn’t let superstition get the best of me! They had a huge backyard blooming with flowers and fruit trees (peach, apple, cherry, lemon…etc.). They even had blueberry and blackberry bushes! Clara showed me to my room, which was the only room downstairs in the house. Everyone else lived upstairs, where the kitchen and bathroom are located. My room was so adorable and quaint! A fully-stocked bookshelf, a small table with a silver teapot, cup, and silver tray. Soft pastel colors–lilac and mint green–decorated the room. There were no curtains shading the window, but the rose bushes outside hopefully saved me from giving outsiders a peepshow…
For dinner, my Gastmutter (host mother) made Pfannkuchen. They’re the German equivalent of crepes and delicious! I smothered mine in Nutella and homemade jam that Clara’s grandmother made from the berries picked from their garden. What a huge selection, too! Raspberry, strawberry, peach…something to dream about. And then my Gastmutter brought in something I–to this day–have not been able to forget and doubt I ever will: freshly-picked strawberries. Nothing like the lipstick red ones in the US; these were half the size and very pink. More like raspberries than strawberries. But boy were they the absolute sweetest and most delicious strawberries I’ve had in memory. You could pop them in your mouth like M&M’s. Paired with the strawberries was Schlagsahne, German whipped cream. Schlagsahne is more liquid than the one familiar to Americans, and much lighter. What a perfect meal.
My first day ended with watching Friends and Grey’s Anatomy with Clara and my Gastmutter, while we all sipped on one of the 30 varieties of tea my Gastvater (host father) has in the kitchen cabinet. I feel like I should also add that their kitchen is essentially my dream kitchen: knotty, wooden shelves and tables, cookbooks stacked high, sugars and spices of all kinds hanging around, home-grown vegetables on the window sill…