I had my first German lesson in 1977 in a green Dodge Dart in the parking lot Lilburn Middle School, Lilburn Georgia.
Several weeks prior to that life-shaping event, my family had moved to Atlanta, GA so my mom could complete a degree in medical records administration at Emory University.
My father had taken a sabbatical from his teaching job, and, much like the Clampets moving to the 90210 zip code, we had loaded up a U-Haul with as much as we could cram into it, and my five person family made the horrid drive to Atlanta.
In August. In a car with no air conditioning.
The only highlight of that interminable drive? Tasting my first Skittles at a rest stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (I hate that candy now, but back then it really was a rainbow of flavor.)
Moving from a small town in Minnesota to an outer ring suburb of a large southern city was no picnic for a nervous lad like me, and I was harassed mercilessly on the school bus as a "Yankee faggot." Just riding the bus was a huge trauma for a kid who had never lived more than six blocks from school. No one ever let me sit down with them, and the bus driver, for his part, would scream at me "Put your ass in a seat!" Ah, southern hospitality...
Rather than put up with my tears each morning, my father started bringing me along when he dropped my mom off at the Tucker, GA bus top for her ride into the city. After my mom was on her way, we would drive fifteen minutes through mushrooming strip malls and dwindling stands of pines to Lilburn. (My sister, Erin, who was much braver than I, rode the bus to elementary school each day without incident or complaint. Even third grader lesbians don't take crap, it seems.)
My mom's schedule meant that we arrived at my school a good forty-five minutes before the doors opened, and because my classmates tormented me if I waited with them outside for school to start, my dad and I sat in the car together each morning and killed time as I struggled not to vomit from anxiety.
Finally, my dad decided that if had to spend that time with me each day, he would make me learn something. So each morning we we did lessons from See it and Say it in German.
From a pedogocial standpoint, it was a pretty miserable little book, but through its crude drawings and simple sentences, I learned to ask people if they ate bread with butter, go to the cinema, or work an office. I liked making the funny foreign sounds, so we kept up our lessons all year.
Little did I know that I would end up majoring in German, live in Germany and Austria for several years, and wind up thirty years later as an ABD Princeton-dropout Germanist working as an information architect at a huge company where I never use my German in any capacity at all.
All this is but a preface to stating that I'm extremely excited that in May I'll have a chance to "recharge my German batteries" during a two week vacation with Darren in Cologne and Berlin.
It's unfathomable to me that I haven't been to Germany in fifteen(!) years. Six years ago Darren and I spent a fantastic week in Vienna, Austria, where I had lived for two years, but I haven't been back to Germany since 1993.
Berlin, which has grown explosively since the Wall came down, will be nearly unrecognizable to me, I'm sure, but I can't wait to explore the city with Darren, who has never visited Germany. (And he's the one with German heritage, not me.)
I've already started dreaming in German again. Apparently my brain is bracing itself for the trip. (I think that's damn cool, actually.) I can't wait to get there and start making those funny sounds again.
I'm sure the Germans have missed me. And who could blame them?
PS. Extra credit to anyone who can tell me the correct gender for the German word for bench, "Bank."