The night before last, I got a call from Ralf, a German who had stayed in the US with my aunt when he had studied abroad a few years earlier on an exchange program. It turns out that, by happy coincidence, he lives in a small town about 20 minutes from Tübingen, in the village of Glems, population about 1000.
Anyways, we had been trading emails back and forth trying to figure out when to get together, and we finally worked things out, so he agreed to come pick me up after he got off work on Friday night and we’d head back over to Glems and get a few drinks. He was picking me up late, 11PM, because he worked the second shift, so the plan was for me to just stay the night over there and he’d bring me back the next morning.
After a fun time trying to describe where I live given that I don’t really know any street names around, we got into his small Audi and headed back to his village. It was a fun drive; I’ve always liked the German countryside with its rolling hills covered with scraggly apple trees and small farmhouses surrounded by massive stacks of firewood. It quickly became clear that his village was really small, as we wound our way through the curvy country roads, passing one small town after another. Eventually we got to Glems, and went inside to pick up his sister.
A quick note about language here. Both Ralf and his sister, who had also studied in the US, in Wilmington, NC, spoke excellent English. Normally when speaking with someone for whom English is not a mother language, you have to watch what you are saying, because (American) English is so filled with idiomatic expressions that non-native speakers quickly get totally lost, especially seeing as they were almost always taught British English, which is much lighter on the idiomatic expressions. This wasn’t so with these two. Both spoke excellent conversational English, and I had no problems speaking freely without having to pay attention and make sure that they weren’t getting lost. Their German however, was another story. They grew up in an area that speaks a very strong dialect of German, Swabisch. To imagine how different Swabisch is from Hochdeutsch, the normal German and the type you are taught in school, think about English Cockney. Ever seen the movie Snatch, with Brad Pitt as the gypsy that had to have subtitles because his accent was so thick? Or ever ridden in a London cab? That’s cockney. It, and Swabisch, are so different from their “normal” mother languages that even natives have a hard time understanding it. They saw the baffled look on my face when they started speaking German and quickly laughed at their accents, and tried to speak a bit more Hochdeutsch for me so I could understand and get some practice.
We headed off to the bar, the Hirsch, probably the only bar in town. This was by far one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to. It’s not a secret that I’m not a fan of clubs or “party bars,” places with flashy lights, loud music, where the entire point is to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible. I’d much rather find a quieter place to sit around with a few friends, drink a few beers, and have some good conversation. This place fit the bill entirely. There were probably 15 people clustered around three tables, all just hanging out and talking. There wasn’t even really a bartender, just a guy that sorta worked there and sat at the tables too, talking and having a good time. If someone needed something, they’d call his name and he’d go get it for them, then return to sitting and talking. Some people didn’t even bother with this, and would just get up and go behind the bar to get another beer when they needed. Everyone knew everyone else, and people would freely walk from one table to another. I was sitting at a table with Ralf, his sister, and several friends of theirs. Most of them spoke some English, but aside from the occasional thing that them or I couldn’t get out in German/English, we spoke in German. It was good practice for me, and things went surprisingly well. At the end of the night, when we were the last ones there, the bar owner joined us at our table, and we kept on talking and carousing until five in the morning.
All in all, it was one of the best times I’ve had here. It was excellent to get out with some real Germans, hang out and talk and drink some good beer. We’re planning on getting together again when I get back from my Prague/London travels over the next couple of weeks.