Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Germany is Wunderbar!

Dear Georgie,

You are wondering what it’s going to be like to live in Germany. Well, you are part German! My family came from there.

My grandmother on my father’s side (your great great grandmother) emigrated from Germany and settled in Colorado. Here is a photo of my father (your great grandfather Frank Figge) visiting his German cousins in 1963. They were so glad to see us! Maybe you’ll get a chance to meet them too!

Granddaddy and I lived in Nurnberg (sometimes spelled Nuremberg) for three years. He was a lieutenant in the field artillery in the neighboring town, Fuerth.

For the first year, our best year, we lived on the second floor of a German house. We had a little bedroom under the eaves, a living/dining room with a sofa bed, a tiny tiny kitchen with a two burner hotplate, and a tiny bathroom – plus a balcony. When Elizabeth was born, we rented an additional bedroom, and Herr Gerner (Mr. Gerner, Herr rhymes with “hair’) raised the roof of the apartment to give us more room.

Our landlords, the Gerner family, lived on the first floor. They had two little girls – Susannah and Gertie. When Elizabeth was born, they gave her a dolly, and we named her Susannah. (It’s not a coincidence that we have another Susannah in the family). The Gerner girls did everything that little girls do – played with dolls, went to school, went to church, got yelled out by their mom, and so on. They helped teach me to speak German.

We called their mother Frau Gerner, meaning Mrs. Gerner. Frau rhymes with “how.” She worked hard to keep the house nice and clean, but their little dog kept messing it up. I can still hear her telling him – Strubili was his name. "Strubili! Bist du ruhig! (Be silent!)"

Herr Gerner had his own business, and he was very handy with tools. “Machen machen, Immer Machen,” he would tease Granddaddy. That means “always be doing something, always be busy.” He liked to work in the garden and fix things around the house. He laughed a lot and was lots of fun. He always urged us to eat, and eat more and faster. At Sunday dinner, the first one finished got to say “Koenig” (pronounced kuh-nig, King). Herr Gerner was always “Koenig.”

We were the only “Amerikanerins” (Americans) on the block, but the neighbors were nice and friendly.

Granddaddy had a big huge American car, a white Chevrolet Impala convertible with red leather seats. The Gerners were very proud to have that car outside their house! However, it wasn’t easy to drive it through the narrow village streets. Once I took Frau Gerner and the girls for a drive in the countryside. At that time I could speak almost no German, though I did know “rechts” (pronounced recks, for “right”) and “links (pronounced like it sounds, for left). She sat in the backseat and leaned over the front seat, pointing and saying “Geradeaus! Geradeaus” (ge-rah-duh-ows). I finally figured out that meant “go straight.”

On Sunday, the Gerners would go "Spazieren gehen" (shpots-eer-en gay-en), which means to take a walk in the countryside or to "go see another space."

Oh what good times we had! I was so sad when it was time to move to the Army base. I didn’t get to see the Gerners very much after that, but I did have some other good German friends. The women were Girl Scout leaders, and their husbands were Boy Scout leaders. Scouts were called “Pfadfinderinnen.”

These women were full of adventure! They had fondue parties – beef fondue and cheese fondue. And Christmas decoration making parties. They were really clever with Christmas decorations made from straw.

Once, for Fasching, our German friends had a Middle East party. (Fasching is Germany’s Mardi Gras. Everybody – adults too – dresses up in costumes, and the parties last for weeks.)

They wanted me to come as a belly dancer. I was much too shy then for that so I wore my blue leotard and put a skirt over it and sort of shimmied around. The party was held in a brand-new house that had just been plastered but not painted. They painted the walls with camels, and pyramids and hung a brazier (a charcoal cooking fire) from the ceiling. It was VERY elaborate! And then everyone had to pretend they were desert travelers and tell a story.

It was a great party but the cleanup was more difficult than predicted!

How did we speak to them? They knew a little English, not much. At first we used “pidgin English,” a few words here, a few words there, a lot of gestures and acting out. It’s amazing what you can convey with your hands. I also went to the language school for soldiers and my friend helped me practice. Granddaddy didn’t get to go to the school, but by listening carefully he was able to understand what people were saying. So many words in German are like English words. Milch is milk. Schwimmen is swim. Tanzen is Dance. Name (“NAH-meh”) is Name. Tochter is daughter. Gut is good.

Speaking of schools, when German children start school in the fall, their mothers give them cornucopias filled with candy! To congratulate them for beginning the new school year! The paper cornucopias are on sale in every stationery store.

Speaking of stores, I loved to shop in Nurnberg. They had such cute things! Clothes and knick knacks decorated with ladybugs, or shamrocks, or chimney sweeps, or little ground hogs. Germany is the land of cute. “Hubsch” is the German word for that or “Nette” or "Susse" (sews). If we gave Gertie a little present she would say “Susse” delightedly. The best shopping of all is at Christmas, when the village square has a special “Christkindl Mart” or Christ Child Mart. There are wonderful things to eat – sausages and gingerbread and roasted nuts – and buy. Germany is a magical place at Christmas.

We have fond memories, but they are from long ago (1962 to 1965). Click here for a modern account of a boy's life in Germany.

Mit viele Umarmungs (with many hugs) und Kusse (kisses)

Ich liebe dich (I love you)

Grossmutti (Grandma)

P.S. Wunderbar means wonderful!

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