Bad trip in Germany, good learning experience

Bad trip in Germany, good learning experience

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American Annabelle Baptista's train journey from Heidelberg to spa town Bad Homburg takes several unexpected twists and turns involving schnitzel, two nuns and a broken ticket machine.

After several minutes of repeating ‘Bad Homberg’, ‘Baaad HaammBORG’ as if something were lodged in my throat, the train clerk riddled off several stations with some dubious uniformity of sound.  I chose one and proceeded like a shot arrow toward my target. I prayed the clerk had a good aim.

I was leaving Heidelberg for a spa weekend.  It was my first outing without a guide or interpreter, namely my husband.  The sky was heavy; the clouds were stacked up against one another, dark and forbidding. After an hour on the train I got off to stretch my legs and have lunch anticipating my arrival at the spa.

Photo © Funky Tee

 Bad Homburg

The train station restaurant had not been redecorated since World War II.  I felt like a gnome in the Bavarian forest (Bayrische Wald); the solid mahogany table was so high my feet didn’t even graze the wooden floor. 

After 10 minutes, I reminded the bartender of my role as paying customer.  He decided to take a break from his second job--holding up the wall--and threw a white cloth diaper rakishly over his left shoulder.

I said, “I see you’re very busy.” Then, I realised he probably didn’t speak English well. One of the first German words I'd  learned was 'busy'.

Beschaftig?” I said smiling quizzically. The only other patron let out a dry laugh.  I rolled my eyes.  The proprietor or waiter meandered over with the menu. Appreciating the fact that I was going to miss my train, I ordered the only thing I recognised; the Schnitzel. And even though it is listed Schnitzel with Brotchen or little bun: it is not a sandwich.  Schnitzel is the Popemobile of pork; it arrives with ritual, stands on ceremony (and takes at least thirty minutes to eat).

I arrived in Bad Hamburg four hours later. However, I had learned another edifying lesson.  In Germany, unless you’re eating at the gas station, it is not pre-cooked, and ‘fast’ is something only a Buddhist monk would do.

The spa

The spa was a labyrinth.  I kept going out and returning to the locker room as if I were stuck in a revolving door. Also, everyone was nude. After 15 minutes in the dressing room tying and retying my towel, I finally managed to casually drape it around my waist in a carefree manner, but I couldn’t get past the fact that I was an African American woman in a red bathing suit in a room full of Germans walking around in the buff. I had to re-learn how to relax in my own skin.  (After exploring the spa, I found the pools for people in bathing suits.)

The trip back

Three relaxing days at the spa later, I headed home. I had almost missed the train because of a broken ticket machine. We were in Frankfurt before two ticket agents got on the train, which reminded that I didn’t have a ticket. Shortly, I found myself explaining to the ticket agent that the station machine was broken and that I'd assumed there was a ticket machine on the train. Two nuns who had been at the Hamburg station with me didn’t have tickets either, and somehow that was comforting.

Photo © Wikimedia Commons


The ticket agent was shaking her head up and down as if saying yes, everything was okay, when she asked for my passport.  She then handed me a 40-dollar ticket, which she explained to me in English, was "not a ticket". So I asked “Do I have to pay this?” Then I asked again if she spoke a little English.  She handed me the 40-euro thing, which, we agreed, was 'not a ticket' and said that they would check out my story about the broken machine.

Disconcerted, and badly in need of fortification, I went through the train station to the nearest bar and pointed to an unknown cognac and got a double from the bartender who said “for you, four euro.”  In the US the price would be fixed, served with the same anonymous hospitality to everyone. I thanked him profusely for his kindness.

As I was riding the ICE train back home, relaxed from my spa weekend, the foreignness started to fade as familiar markers returned.  I had wanted to ask why the nuns didn’t get ticketed.  But it seemed too selfish; a terrible question.  I imagined those nuns waiting for me at the Gates of Heaven and saying derisively, “Do you have a ticket?”



African American Annabelle Baptista-Baumann lives in Dilsberg, Germany,  with her German husband.



Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons; Funky Tee

 



to pay this?” Then I asked again if she spoke a little English.  She handed me the 40-euro thing, which, we agreed, was 'not a ticket' and said that they would check out my story about the broken machine.

Disconcerted, and badly in need of fortification, I went through the train station to the nearest bar and pointed to an unknown cognac and got a double from the bartender who said “for you, four euro.”  In the U.S. the price would be fixed, served with the same anonymous hospitality to everyone. I thanked him profusely for his kindness.

As I was riding the ICE train back home, relaxed from my spa weekend, the foreignness started to fade as familiar markers returned.  I had wanted to ask why the nuns didn’t get ticketed.  But it seemed too selfish; a terrible question.  I imagined those nuns waiting for me at the Gates of Heaven and saying derisively, “Do you have a ticket?”


African American Annabelle Baptista-Baumann lives in Dilsberg, Germany,  with her German husband.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons; Funky Tee

 



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