hospitality.

Today was good. I woke up setting an alarm so that I could meet Sylvia.  I was awake and expecting her at 9am, she sent me a text saying she would be there at 10am, and didn’t show up until 11am.   Not that I had anything to really be doing haha.  I cleaned my pollen filled room as much as I could with my antibacterial ‘wet ones’.  I also read over my rent contract looking up words that I didn’t know.  Then I read over everything about my cell phone, once again looking up tons of words I didn’t know.   Sylvia and husband showed up [he had a long pony tail and gotee, reminded me of a western cattle rancher/hippy] and dropped off a huge container with sheets, towels, water, coffee that isn’t really ground up [im confused at how it works], a coffee pot, two coffee mugs, a TON of silverware, a bowl, a pot for the stove and a decorative sign with a picture of a donut on it with a message that translates as ‘We could always share everything, but then we’d only have half the pleasure.’ I didn’t really know what to make of that. But anyway, what a dear! It was like Christmas.

Herr Neumann had given me a telephone number, actually a handy number, of one of his collogues daughters.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with this, do I call, do I not? Right after Sylvia left, I received a call from a Frau Ulrika Ahlars.  She explained that she was the colleague of Herr Neumann, and that Linn was her daughter who was 14.  She invited me over for lunch, dinner, and a bike ride… basically whatever I wanted to do.  I told her I wanted to explore around the city a little bit and then I’d give her a call back.   She was very nice on the phone, and I stood there thinking about all the hospitality I had received in the first 24 hours of being in Magdeburg.

I started out for the city center a couple miles a way, didn’t really know where I was going, it was kind-of cold out, and I suddenly didn’t feel like walking 4-5 miles in total.   Plus the city and campus is eerily empty still.  So I settled for the same store I went to the night before, which was only 4-5 blocks away.  There I bought a desperately needed garbage can, Kleenex, masking tape, a notebook, a dust rag, a some floor duster sheets, butter and cheese.  I carried all these things back in my garbage can bucket.

I got back to my room and decided I wanted to take a nap, which turned into an entire afternoon activity.  My floor was totally dead, I hadn’t seen or heard anyone all day.  I decided I should really make something of the day and called Ulrike back.  She said she’d be there in 15mins to pick me up and we could go have coffee, maybe go for a bike tour of the city.  It was 4pm.  We decided on a corner to meet and she asked how she’d recognize me, I said I was tall and had brown curly hair.  When I got in the car, she told me that was a perfect description haha.  In the back see was a 6 year old girl named Lela.  If I only had the fluency of a 6 year old.  This car ride was short, we swapped chit-chat, Lela wowed me with her English counting skills [even though she forgot 10], and within a few minutes we were at their house.

It is so interesting to me how much we supersize everything in America.  The house we pulled up to was a normal looking size house you would find in Oak Park or East Town in Grand Rapids.  Ulrike explained that they were only renters, and that the first floor was theirs.  They had only been living there since August.  I went inside to meet Linn, who was 14 years old, and Ali, the dad/husband.  As Lela was giving me a tour, I could tell that they had moved from a bigger place into this one.  But even so, there was plenty of room.  The girls each had their own room, a living room/dining room area, two bathrooms and a guest bedroom/office.

I could tell this was going to be like my host family experiences in the German Interim I had stayed at in January 2008.   Too much German for my brain to handle, too much good German food forced on me and repetitive denials of my offer to be helpful.  I talked in the small kitchen until the drizzling of chocolate on the dessert bars was finished.  It was clear that she really knew nothing about me, or that Herr Neumann had given her little details.  She assumed I was studying at the Hochschule were they both are professors.   Looking back, it still baffles me at how kind she/her family was to let a perfect stranger into their home for the night and be so generous with everything. We sat outside and had kaffee und kuchen [coffee and dessert].   She assured me that my German was very good, and that she was impressed because most Americans come here and don’t know the language at all.  But this still doesn’t erase the countless times when I understood everything that was said, wanted to make an intellectual comment and completely was at a loss for words.   I am very good at smiling though and that usually gets me through these moments.

Ulrike and I went on a bike ride.  We went through an area that was still greatly affected from WWII.  There were tons of empty, run down apartment buildings and an area where all the buildings were totally in ruins.  It was weird.  Then it started to downpour.  We decided to wait under this bridge.  We waited for over 30mins, talking the entire time.  I really liked talking to her because she speaks at a rate that I can fully understand, and when I don’t know a word is very good at explaining it.  Her daughters talk almost too fast for me to understand.   I had this same experience with two of my previous host families.   The rain still wasn’t letting up, so we decided to just go for it.  We rode a couple minutes in the rain, and then it stopped! When we got back to the house, Ulrike wanted to give me all new dry clothes, but mine weren’t really that wet so I declined.  My pants were however very dirty, and she insisted that I bring them back tomorrow for her to wash them.  I feel almost guilty accepting offers like this!

We had a great typical German dinner with all different types of bread and cheese, little tomatoes with mozzarella cheese on top, raw veggies, and strawberries.  And they forced a beer on me.

With the clock approaching 9pm, I assumed that dinner would be over.  But no, an hour and a half later with Lela in bed, we were all still talking.   Ulrike decided to start cleaning up, but insisted that Linn and I stay talking.  We did for a long time, but I was getting tired and feeling a little imposing at this point! Ali gave me a ride home, but only after another showering of gifts: an awesome map of Magdeburg, scissors, a sharp nice, two brötchen, coffee filters and ground up coffee.

Tomorrow it is Ulrike’s birthday and most of their extended family is coming over to visit and have lunch.  I am to call them as to when I want to get picked up and come hangout, and maybe go on a better bike ride into the city center.  The one we went on today was  mainly along the river and up to the Hochschule where she teaches.  If the weather is nice out, I might just walk.

Some of my floormates were around cooking dinner when I got back, so I stayed and chatted with them for a while.  I told them about this awesome family, and they responded it’s because I am American.  I was thinking, uh no, it’s because they are awesome and I guess Herr Neumanns word is solid.  They might be going to some sort of fabricated beach atmosphere/bar with a pool tomorrow.  Problem: I somehow forgot my suit? I don’t really know how though.  I want to go, but I don’t know what to make of this family gathering that I am expected to be a part of.

I stayed and talked in the Kitchen with ‘Fatso’ while we cleaned the dishes, and then we went to Fabio’s room with 5 other students and played the old school computer game WormsII, where you are a team of worms and you use artillery to kill the other teams worms.  I’m pretty sure they were all doing weed.   So goes it in Europe.

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3 responses to “hospitality.

  1. I am so happy that you have made such good connections with such hospitable people. And BTW, it’s ok if you keep on blogging long posts! I am sure that not only “Parents” but also your friends love reading all about your journey! Do you start work on Monday? Hope your first week goes well. Love, dad.

  2. As you can tell, I’m getting caught up on all of your news today.:-) (Exams are graded, and I’m waiting to hear about any senior failures–hopefully none–but other than that, I have nothing pressing on my agenda, although there’s plenty to do!)

    What a great family for you to get to know! You are not giving yourself enough credit, however, because I think the connection you’re feeling with them also has to do with who you are as a person.

  3. Vetter Shawn D.

    I’m much more familiar with Worms Armageddon. Sounds like a fun day!

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