A colleague has invited me to his home for a barbecue, and I want to take flowers as a hostess gift.
During my walks this week I have seen a flower shop, just one street over. Even though it was past the shop’s posted hours, the owners welcomed me this afternoon. I believe the owners are a married couple and their daughter helps them run the place. On a scale of English ability, the dad was a 2, the mom was a 5 and the daughter was a 9 – obviously the strongest of the three. I won’t recount the exchanges that led me to these scores, but through it all they learned why I’m here, where I work, etc. The father said something to the daughter, who waved it off … but then the mother piled on. Turned out they wanted her to ask me about applying for a job at the company where I’m working, could I help her? I said I would return with some information.
While the mom prepared a lovely bouquet for me, the dad peppered me with questions through his English-speaking daughter. Where am I staying? What have I seen? What did I do today? I recounted my successes at the waschsalon, and he asked, “Why did you go to that one?”
“It’s the only one I know,” I answered. When he learned of this, he shook his head. He mentioned that a better, closer option is found in a neighborhood south of the watertower. Unexplored territory.
Soon my bouquet was complete. The mother handed me a second, much smaller takeaway: a white rose, twinned with babysbreath and accented with a ribbon. A small gift for me. Schoen [nice].
Second on my shopping list was a full-sized ironing board. The hotel had kindly provided a table top ironing board. This proved far from effective.
One of the nice things about staying near der Planken is there are shops galore, including the Mannheim equivalent of Target / Bergner’s / Macy’s. Someone at work tipped me that Kaufhof Galleria was the place I sought. I found the right department and there was a lovely display of ironing boards, conveniently shrinkwrapped.
I have found it helpful to look up a word before shopping. This reduces stress and confusion for
everyone involved. Google Translate revealed the word for ironing board is bügelbrett. I approached the cashier and was prepared to deliver my best bügelbrett pronounciation. I had practiced all the way over. But she spoke better English than I do.
I tucked the bügelbrett under my arm like a surfboard and set off for home.
Walking through the Turkish Quarter, I checked my shopping list and at the top was “a fan.” How do you explain a fan to a non-English speaker? Fortunately, I’ve discovered, there is usually one person who can speak enough for translation. I employed my unique skills of pantomime to the
shop owner, who enlisted the help of his daughter. She sat behind the counter and pointed to an oscillating floor fan near the shop’s doorway. She explained I could buy one and assemble it.
Could I just buy this one? I queried.
She evaluated this option with her father. He said yes and quoted a price.
He unplugged the fan, wrapped the cord around the neck of the fan, and held it out to me.
So it was that when I crossed the Marktplatz to head back to my hotel, I was the woman carrying the fan.
The key to packing for a 3-week trip is to pack for a 1-week trip, and spend time at the laundromat. The staff at the hotel pointed me to a facility on the edge of the downtown area. If there’s one thing I planned well, it was laundry accessories (one of the great inventions of our age: the Tide packet). So today I made my way up “S,” crossed the Marktplatz and plunged into the heart of Little Istanbul.
Everyone was out enjoying the gorgeous morning, shopping, talking, eating. It was about a 20-minute walk to the Schnell und Sauber [Quick and Clean] but it passed quickly because of all the sights and sounds. These did not stop once I arrived at the waschsalon [laundromat], which had a brisk business for a Saturday morning, with many wash machines taken by a man and woman. This couple appeared to be washing every article of linen they owned.
In hopes of learning the ropes, I watched them for a while. I studied drawings posted around the grimy room. I burned up expensive data on my smart phone trying to translate words I saw posted in the payment area. In the end, I had to ask another patron, a harried woman, how to do it. She knew enough English and could point effectively, so learned how to pay for a load and how to turn on a machine. I never quite mastered the dryer; I think its settings were “damp,” “slightly less damp” and “still somewhat damp.”
The only signs I could figure out were “no drinking” and “no loitering,” and it wasn’t hard to comply. There was nothing to do there and no surfaces that would allow computer or writing activity. I read, but mostly watched the pas a deux as the couple folded their large collection of bed
I also tried not to touch anything around me. I’ve never thought so much about disinfecting myself from a place designed to get things clean. It’s a testament to my thirst for new things that I left with a sense of accomplishment. The Schnell und Sauber lived up to its name, pretty much: I had clean clothes for the week ahead, even it if took most of my Saturday morning to make that happen.
I flew out of the new, beautiful international terminal, sweetened by a free pass to the Delta Sky Lounge. I really got a lot done, even with hordes of kids entering in hour two. Apparently they’ll let anyone in an airport lounge these days. My plane trip was remarkable only in that I sat next to the
quietest man with the largest bladder. If you’re in an aisle seat, as I was, that is a seatmate made to order.
I arrived in Frankfurt and caught the high-speed train to Mannheim. It thrills me every time. It’s so simple, so efficient and so reliable. (Those are three words you never hear associated with Amtrak.) My hotel was a 10-minute walk from the train station, and you do re-evaluate your packing choices when you are pulling your enormous suitcase down the main street of a city for 10 minutes.
My hotel, chosen for me by my colleagues, was perfect in every way: compact but bijou. I settled in, unpacked everything, and then had to lie down … just for a few minutes … Eventually it was time for a shower and a walk in the lovely evening.
I wandered around, no destination in mind, and found myself in an open-air restaurant within earshot of church bells. Another one of my favorite things about Germany are church bells. They peal regularly, a wonderful sound. I walked through the Marktplatz and took some photographs, and watched the tram go by. The Euro 2012 football** tournament is on, so everyone is out and about, waiting for the match to begin. What a lovely start to this trip.
** As we say in America, soccer; as they say in Germany, fussball (pronounced “foosball”)