On a recent Sunday afternoon, I entertained special visitors as we engaged in a delightful combination of cultures, languages, and generations – exactly my kind of social gathering.
Jody Randall-Collins, former student and fellow traveler from our years at GHS, brought Roman Linde, a young German fellow she had been hosting for several weeks while he helped with the German classes at Graham. I also invited Bronwyn Walker, a 2018 graduate of Urbana High School, whom I have been tutoring for several months in preparation for her move to Germany at the end of the summer.
We swapped stories of past travels, discussed possibilities for Bronwyn to study at a German university, and compared teacher preparation here and there. Roman explained that later this year he will be an independent “Referendar” in a German school for eighteen months as opposed to the customary ten-week period most American student teachers spend in their cooperating teachers’ classrooms.
The afternoon ended too quickly, with Jody and Roman leaving for further travels and Bronwyn off to her baccalaureate. I was left with memories of a wonderful get-together and recollections of three decades of summers spent in Germany.
It is not unusual, however, for me to long for those summers at this time of year; I have spent almost as many Junes in Germany as in America. But as I turn the pages of the German album in my mind, I quickly flip past the castles and cathedrals I saw. It is the little things of daily life in Germany that I so dearly miss.
I lived with Ingrid and her family in three different villages near Springe: Bredenbeck, Bennigsen, and Völksen. At each home, the flowers I loved grew everywhere – in flower boxes at the windows and on the balcony as well as in the garden.
My absolute favorite floral display was at the house in Bennigsen, its walkway to the front door lined with rosebushes almost always in glorious bloom when I arrived. I also always appreciated a second celebration of the peonies appearing in Ohio around Memorial Day, when I saw their German cousins in the form of Pentecostal roses, known to the folks in Springe as “Pfingstrosen.”
Although I traveled to Germany mostly during summers, occasional chilly evenings there in the north were warmed by an item I still miss: the thick, cushy “Federbett,” known to us as a feather tick. The bedding item ensured deep sleep – and when housewives aired them out on the sills of open windows, there was no more picturesque sight.
Although we have our choice of several local farmer’s markets during the summer months, I still miss the open-air market in Springe set up in the town’s pedestrian zone on Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings. There I could buy a substantial bouquet of roses for under ten dollars or choose from an array of fresh-from-the-garden fruits and veggies.
Early June in northern Germany was strawberry time, much like at home. Oh, those fresh berries and the cakes they filled – topped with mounds of fluffy, white “Schlagsahne”! Yum!
It was also asparagus time, and Ingrid brought home the French version available from the marketplace or any number of roadside stands. She transformed the mild, white asparagus into delectable soups or cooked it to serve on a silver platter with thin slices of ham and butter sauce. Now that is something to miss!
I was probably the happiest, however, with the simplest of foods. I still yearn to begin the day with a German “Brötchen,” a roll crusty on the outside and soft inside. It provided the perfect platform for a smear of German butter, slightly sweet due to its lack of salt.
These tiny, tasty breads were plentiful in bakeries, but also in bakery-café combinations known as “Konditorien.” There one could choose a piece – or two – of cake from the bakery side to enjoy on the café side or even outdoors in front of the establishment.
There is nothing better than savoring a cup of coffee at an outdoor café – with friends or alone, for an hour or an afternoon – the perfect spot from which to observe the passing scene and to feel the unique European tempo of life so different from our own.
From that up-close vantage point, I watched people hustle to and from quaint, little shops: the butcher shop, the stationery store, the bank, and for a while a Woolworth’s right there in downtown Springe!
I watched kids on their way home from school. Some walked on the part of the sidewalk reserved for walkers, while some biked on the “Radweg” section of the same sidewalk. Others wore city bus passes on cords around their necks for easy accessibility. I even miss the “Ampelmännchen” in the traffic lights, figures of little men in demonstration of standing still and waiting or stepping forward to cross the street.
There are so many more pages in my scrapbook of favorite German things, but I have reached my word limit. By way of conclusion, I will say that I pay total and unwavering allegiance to the United States, my homeland, the place of my birth. But I share my heart with a second country, thousands of miles away, where I always felt welcome and comfortable and charmed by the little pieces of daily life I still long for and miss.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.