I was really lucky to arrive in Germany when I did because it was May and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Every day was nice and sunny. The normal working schedule gave you weekends off which I always took advantage of. My first weekend there I decided I would do some exploring, and what better place to start than Kitzingen, the town that would be my home for the next two years? I got up early and headed out the front gate. I had no idea whether to go left or right once I got outside of the gate so I decided on left. Kitzingen is a small city of about 20,000 located right on the Main River. There were two small bases in Kitzingen – Harvey Barracks and Larson Barracks – which were located on opposite sides of the city. Larson, where I was stationed, was on a high hill overlooking the eastern part of the city and the surrounding area. The view was impressive and as I walked out of the gate I just could not help standing there, admiring it. I snapped a few photos and continued on. I really didn’t know where I was going so I figured I’d just start walking in the direction that I thought the main part of the city was. It didn’t take long to realize I was headed in the wrong direction as I was on a street with a bunch of houses. There was one house where the family was outside washing their car. At the time the US military members stationed in Europe had license plates on their cars that said “USA” on them and looked different than the host country license plates. So they were obviously American and I got directions from them on how to get downtown. The first thing I ran into was the local soccer field. Man, it was awesome. It was so much nicer and well kept than most of the fields I grew up playing on in the US. I watched some local kids playing for a while then continued on towards the center of town when suddenly there appeared before me a huge, funny looking medieval tower. It wasn’t very fancy, mostly just tall, round, and made of gray brick with a pointy, dark orange top. What made it funny looking was that the top part was crooked. The tower itself was perfectly straight but the pointy part at the top leaned. It was actually pretty amusing to see. I’d always heard stories of the famous “German efficiency” but looking at the tower I surmised that the term must have originated sometime after the middle ages. Kitzingen itself had a slight medieval feel to it. It was obvious that the city was very old and, due to its location right on the river, had probably been part of the wine trade that once dominated the Main River. One thing that really stood out to me were the paintings and illustrations on some of the houses and buildings. I had never seen anything like them and laying eyes on them immediately made me realize that I was indeed in a different country. It was like something you’d see in a history book while you were studying World War II history in school; there were drawings, paintings, and words written in the old German style. There were strange letters we didn’t have in the US, weird things that you couldn’t tell if it was a “B” or an “F” or maybe an “S”? I was loving it. This was the reason I joined the army and came overseas. To learn about other cultures, their languages and customs. And yes, even their alphabet. I hadn’t even started Head Start yet so I knew next to nothing about Germany and its culture. Fortunately I found out rather quick that most Germans speak at least a little bit of English. Many are practically fluent. I figured the main reason was because of the presence of the US and British military bases, which I’m sure had an influence on what the average German learned both in school and in their everyday lives. Whatever the reason, it sure was convenient to someone who had just arrived in country and was trying to find his way around. I found the Germans to be extremely friendly and helpful. The bases in Kitzingen had been there many years and I’m sure the locals had learned to appreciate the American presence there and many of the older folks I met were especially welcoming. The younger generation, who didn’t grow up during the Cold War, didn’t seem to think that the American presence was needed but, at the same time, didn’t really seem to mind that we were there either. In my two years in Germany I can safely say that I never encountered a single German who didn’t like Americans and didn’t make me feel welcome in the country. It helped that from day one I knew how to act in a foreign country. I didn’t dress like a tourist or in a manner that screamed “Look at me, I’m an American!” like others did. I came to Germany with the attitude that I was a guest and should try to act like one. I’ve always respected whatever culture I was living or traveling in, no matter how backwards or wrong I may have thought certain aspects of it were. For just as I wouldn’t take too kindly to someone from another country coming to the US and criticizing everything about it, it would be wrong of me to do the same to anyone else. When you have this kind of attitude, the locals tend to treat you better and are usually much more friendly and helpful. And that makes it so much easier and enjoyable to travel and experience other cultures. You also have to have a sense of humor about things and be able to adapt to various situations.
My first day in Kitzingen was uneventful but it served as a good primer to exploring bigger and better things. There’s not much in Kitzingen for a tourist to see but I enjoyed looking around and taking in the new culture that I would be living in for the next couple years. I stopped at a little coffee shop to get a cappuccino and noticed that the Germans served their cappuccino topped with whipped cream rather than frothed milk. It was one of those little cultural differences that always interested me.
After a couple hours of walking around I figured I’d seen everything and headed back to the base. On the way back I happened to glance down a side street and noticed a little sign jutting out from the second floor of a building halfway down. It read “Sports Bar”. “Well, well, this is exactly what I need!”, I thought to myself. I popped in to check it out and it was empty except for a young German guy watching a car race on the television. The World Cup was rapidly approaching and I needed to make sure that they would be showing the matches. The guy spoke very good English and set my mind at ease by informing me that yes, they would be showing all the matches. So I left and headed back to the base ever more eager to experience a World Cup living in Europe.
(Stay tuned for Part 17...)