Brötchen and Handball: Our German Stay-Cation
We’ve been in Germany for more three weeks, and our spoken language skills have progressed to the point where we can order dinner and drinks in a restaurant (confirming that things are meat-free as needed), handle travel on the bus and train (including reading the many signs indicating the once-mighty German rail lines are running late again), decipher pop songs on the radio (and Adam Sandler movies), and make (limited) small talk. I can also rattle off most fruits and vegetables and kitchen verbs, thanks in large part to cooking several dishes from a German recipe book. But the true test of our German skills is tackling the morning visit to the local Bäckerei for fresh breakfast rolls (Brötchen).
We are staying in a fairly small town in Bavaria where they speak a dialect that is more relaxed than the Hochdeutsch (“high German”, or standard German) we learned in school. Our interactions with the staff at the local bakery, while cheerful, have been a bit challenging. It’s a matter of expectations and adaptations and effective listening. If we get there early enough and the bakery is fully stocked, it’s easy enough to order “acht Kürbiskern Brötchen” (eight small pumpkin-seed rolls…the best kind!) and keep it simple. But if we get there too late or it’s been a busy morning, the wooden racks get a bit bare and we have to get creative: perhaps a loaf of multi-grain bread instead, or maybe a different kind of roll or something else all together. And while I have words for some of those things, I don’t have a working vocabulary that covers them all.
This morning, before heading to the bakery, M and I walked over to M’s uncle’s garden, one of many well-tended plots along the Main River. We harvested ripe tomatoes, zucchini, and peaches, including one I plucked and ate fresh from the tree while we were still in the garden. We lugged our produce back into town, stopping at the bakery for the coveted rolls. By the time we arrived, inventory was low, and we could only see two of the rolls we wanted, not eight. We took our chances and ordered four Kürbiskern rolls plus four “other rolls” (said auf Deutsch)…which prompted a dreaded follow-up question (“Normal or with seeds?”)…which I actually understood and answered. And with that, four more seeded rolls of all varieties were added to our bag. Less than €4 and a friendly “Tschuss!” later, and we were on our way home, ready to enjoy our bounty.
Two years ago (heck, two weeks ago), I wouldn’t have been able to sail through that transaction with such confidence and ease. The longer we are here, the more comfortable we are with the language and with our own abilities to use it. Improving our German was one of the main goals of this visit, and we’re happily progressing down that path.
Our Brötchen success was on the heels of another German tradition: handball! Last night, we attended our first-ever handball game, watching the semi-pro team from M’s family’s town in its home opener for their new season. Handball is an interesting game, fast-paced and physical and fun to watch. It’s hard to describe, but it seemed to me a bit like water polo played on land in an indoor arena…or perhaps like lacrosse played without sticks. After watching one game (in which the home team was victorious), M announced his desire to move here and join a rec league (which made us realize it’s just a few more years until we could join an Over-40 league…yikes!). We spent the evening looking at apartment listings, researching visas, and quizzing M’s cousins on German curse words. I’m going to need to learn a few more of them if I’m going to effectively heckle the refs at M’s handball games… -J.