Between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, I went to Germany for about six weeks to visit my parent’s oldest son. He was stationed near Heidelberg in the Army.
I flew out of Toronto, Canada via Lufthansa Airlines. I really like this airline, it had really great food. They fed us croissants for breakfast and a Toblerone for a snack. It was a really long flight and I am glad that I am an avid reader, as I was able to pass time reading. They must not have had rules about unaccompanied minors back then because I was only fifteen, flying alone and had no escort.
It was fascinating in the Mannheim airport. They had Humvees and soldiers with Uzis patrolling the airport. This was pre-911, when people could walk you right up to the gate in the US, so being surrounded by all this security had me awe struck.
I had no problems with customs, although years later I realized that they never stamped my passport with an entry visa. I wonder if this would have been a problem had I been stopped anywhere while I was visiting.
Germany was a very, very nice place. I loved the old castles and buildings.
I visited a beautiful Luisen Park (municipal park) in Mannheim. It had beautiful gardens and a butterfly house.
Bertchesgaden is where Hitler had his special hideaway, the Eagles Nest. On one of my outings -I liked to walk around by myself a lot – an older German lady told me that all the marble in the hotels had been mined by Hitler. She whispered his name as if to apologize for his existence.
I had several encounters like this with many German people. Even if they couldn’t speak English, they would try very hard to communicate with me and to show me that the days of Hitler were over. For a young Black American, I was treated with tons of respect.
I have heard people say that Germans were rude. I never once experienced a rude German, but I saw a lot of rude American screaming “sprechen sie English” to Germans. I saw many Americans being very demanding that German speak English in their own country. Most Germans DO speak English and the ones that didn’t, would work hard to communicate, until they were met with this level of disrespect.
So when I hear Americans say that people were rude in a county they visited, the first thing I ask is if they leaned the language before they left. I have found that Americans think that the world is an extension of America and everyone needs to speak our language and act the way we deem appropriate. I haven’t been to Europe in over 20 years, but I somehow doubt Americans sense of entitlement has diminished.
The house I stayed in had chickens next door. I think this is where my love of urban farming developed.
The food was amazing too. I loved trying new German dishes like weinerschnitzel and bratwurst with bröchen. And I could drink beer! That was definitely a plus!
It’s ironic that despite men with Uzis and neo-Nazis that were supposed to
be roaming the streets, the only racial issue I had on the entire trip was returning to the U.S., crossing the border from Canada.
My mother had come to the Toronto airport with her other biological daughter, who was now a grown woman and had recently gotten married. I was in the backseat and they were in the front. When the customs agent asked why my mom had been in Canada, she told him that she had gone to Toronto with her one daughter to pickup her other daughter from the airport. The agent looked at mom and then her daughter and the me and asked ME (a kid) for my passport!
This was back in the day when you could cords back and forth into Canada without showing an id and by just answering the questions “citizenship? Why are/were going to Canada? Do you have anything to declare?” I’ve crossed that border hundreds of times and have never been asked for id beside that time.
Despite my US customs agent thinking I was a possible illegal immigrant, I feel blessed that I have been able to travel internationally. This is not something I attribute to being adopted, though. Ironically, I found out later in life that my birth mother and her adopted mother visited the exact same area of the Bavarian Alps, only two years prior to when I was there. She apparently went back to Europe a few times and took her son that she kept there as well.
As for me, I did return later when I was in college. This time visiting different places that impacted my life like Dachau Concentration Camp, but I won’t jump ahead in the story that far yet.
Returning from Germany late, I wasn’t able to play soccer that year because I had missed too many practices. But I wouldn’t have traded this experience for a season playing soccer or anything else. Sports and school activities were the central focus of life in Rushford. As I continued on my high school career, I was very, very involved.