A few days ago I got super gutsy and decided to brave the mean streets of Germany all by myself. Ok, it was a Wednesday afternoon and I wasn’t going anywhere near the Autobahn so maybe it wasn’t the most daring thing I’ve ever done, but I was still nervous. I had 3 goals in mind for my trip; 1. Vacuum my car. 2. Find a grocery store so I could buy bread. 3. Get a little more comfortable driving on German roads.
Thankfully, the day before this less-than-gutsy drive, my husband had driven me all the way up to the carwash and made a brief reference to the machine in which you insert your Euros in order to get tokens to run the vacuums. Otherwise I might have made the ridiculous mistake of actually trying to insert my Euros directly into the coin slot of the vacuum. To my dismay, I arrived to find that the token machine was covered in long, compound, 37-letter German words, so with my head cocked to the side in a feeble attempt to boost my understanding of the German language, I stood staring at it for a few minutes before inserting my 2€ coin and hoping I’d done the right thing. I had. Whew! Two shiny tokens came out and I got to work.
By the time I was finished, I was sweaty and ready to crank up the air-conditioner while I searched for a grocery store. My husband and I have gone to the grocery store together many times, but the insanely complicated layout of German roads means that after several trips, I still had no idea how to get to one of the 4 or 5 stores we frequent even after being here for 7 weeks. I ended up driving down a very unfamiliar road, all the while, still sweating, and I decided two things; 1. My air-conditioner was obviously broken, and 2. I was certain I needed to turn around and try another road. Finally, I found a place to turn around, and also decided to push my a/c button. As it turns out, the a/c is OFF when the light is on and it’s on when the light is off. Good to know. Leave that light off… like all the time. It be hot up in hur the last few days, and I’m American! Leaving the windows down and sunroof open just doesn’t cut it!
I was finally cool, on a familiar road, and feeling more confident when I learned that my car is a tad wider than I thought. I learned this when I smacked into a curb. Hard. I hit it hard enough that I pulled off the road. I turned off the car (it’s a German thing. You never EVER leave your car running for any length of time unless it’s in gear or about to be), and I checked my tires. No damage. Not even a mark on the tire or hubcap to indicate that it had touched the curb. Don’t know how I managed that.
In my Toyota I drove in the States, the doors automatically locked when you took the car out of park. My new car doesn’t do that, and I was a little uncomfortable driving through the big bad country of Bavaria with unlocked doors. So, before I started my car again I decided to lock all the doors from the inside and then start it.
Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. BAD idea.
Sirens. Loud, police-car-like sirens erupting from my car. Make it stop! Oh Lord, make it
stop! I frantically turned off the car and pushed the lock and unlock buttons on the key
fob. It only lasted a few seconds but it was like an hour to my ears. My heart was pounding, my stomach was in my throat, and my hands were shaking. I’d just hit the curb and sounded my alarm. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. I wanted to try again tomorrow. But I’d told my husband I’d try to find a store to buy bread for our dinner and I hate that he works 10-12 hours a day and still does all the shopping. So now that my car has tags I needed to learn my way around and stop being such a chicken about driving alone. I needed to press on.
I took a few deep breaths, started my car again, and soon came to my first roundabout (nailed it)! All the while, mind you, I’m keeping track of each turn I make because finding a store is only half the battle… actually finding my way back home is the other half. Finally… finally I see a REWE. I parked in the back of the parking lot so as not to have to deal with traffic when I was ready to leave, pried my shaking fingers off the steering wheel, and went inside.
I approached the register with two items, put them on the conveyer belt, and said, “Hallo!” when it was my turn. The cashier smiled and said “Hallo!” She rang up my items and then said, “Ba da da da German German German la la la.” I quietly replied, a little embarrassed, “Oh. Um. I’m sorry. I only speak English.” She gave me a friendly smile and nodded her head, but didn’t say more other than “bitte” when she handed me my receipt. Oozing with pride due to my knowledge of the following two, extremely basic German words, I said, “Dankeshön! Tschuess!” and thought to myself, “YES! I can do this! I can shop alone in Germany!” Then I proceeded to the bakery inside the store. I poorly asked for einz zoigbrot, but she understood. She must not have even realized how completely stupid I sounded because she wrapped up my bread, smiled, and said, “ba da da da German German German. La la la.” “Oh. Um. I’m sorry. I only speak English.” She then looked at her boss, said more German words and her boss says to me, “You. Like. Any. Thing. More?” “Ah. Nein, danke. This is all.” Because I like to speak Ginglish. To which she kindly replied, “1 and 69 euros.”
I left the store and noticed the Döner (doo-neh) truck in the parking lot. Döner is a popular Turkish dish that can be found all over Germany. I’ve wanted to try it for a while but it was 4:00 PM so I shook off my mother’s voice that kept saying, “You’ll ruin your appetite for dinner,” and I approached the truck. The cook had his back to me and said, “Hallo, bitteschön!” Even more stupidly than I asked for the bread, I asked for “einz… doan-air…. normall…. bitte.” He slowly turned around, raised one eyebrow, and said, “eh?” Eh hem… “Einz… doan-air… normall bitte.” I could see that he kindly suppressed a chuckle, and after a few painful exchanges, we determined what toppings I wanted and I paid. It was awesome, by the way. Like a Greek gyro on crack. I didn’t think gyros could be any better, but let the Turks take a stab at it and you’ve got something truly magical.
Feeling accomplished, I decided to head home, and thankfully, I got back safe and cool without hitting any curbs or sounding any alarms. My biggest problem is knowing the speed limit. It is rarely posted unless you’re on the autobahn in which case the limit is posted every few kilometers which is lovely. In town, though, you just have to know the rules, and they’re something like this…
When you enter a village there’s either a yellow sign with black letters indicating the name of the town or there’s a green sign with yellow letters. If it’s green, it’s an “Open village.” This means you can continue going the regular speed limit of 100 km/h unless otherwise posted. If the village sign is yellow with black letters, it’s a closed village and it means you have to go 50. Then when you leave the village, there’s an identical village sign with a big red slash through it to let you know you’re leaving the village limits and can resume the normal speed of 100. Personally, I think it’d be much better just to post a freaking speed limit sign already, but it’s all good! Let’s confuse all the foreigners! That makes for safe driving conditions!
All in all, it was a good trip, but I was nervous the whole time. It was necessary though.
I HAVE to get used to driving here, and I’d prefer I actually get comfortable with it,
too. But my car is clean and we had bread with our dinner that night so YAY! 🙂