Island living isn’t so hot;
Or how good my German really got
One Guy’s Opinion
By Guy Thompson
Now this was different. If we didn’t get off the train, we’d end up on a boat. And then we’d end up in Denmark.
It was the last day of September twenty years ago, and we had arrived in Puttgarden on the northeastern tip of an island in the Baltic Sea. From Puttgarden, the train cars are literally loaded onto a ferry and carry on into Denmark.
The island was Fehmarn and, to be completely honest, it remains to this day a name I can’t say right on the first try. I’ve tried. When I meet someone from Germany and they ask where I lived at over there, I always get a completely blank look when I try to say “Fehmarn.”
But my host family’s name was easy enough – Mackeprang – and their home sat on the north coast of the Island That Shall Not be Pronounced Correctly by Me.
How far north are we talking here? Denmark was visible from their fields. Well, a smear of land across a channel could be seen and we were told that this was Denmark.
This was also the first time that I would be sharing a host family. Chris, the exchangee from Colorado, and I were staying with the same family.
Back in June, I would have thought this to be a fine idea. I would have preferred it, actually. Back in Frankfort am Main on June 13, I had written how disappointed I was that the three of us with the program weren’t always going to be close to each other.
If that hadn’t been written in ink, I would’ve gone back and erased that bit.
Not that Chris wasn’t a nice guy. He was great. Funny and smart. Smarter than me by a fair amount. He had graduated from MIT, a really great school for really smart people. (On a funny side note, “mit,” in German, is “with.” So he had a great sweatshirt that, to the Germans, just said “With.”)
We got along just fine, too. We had toured Berlin and had a blast.
It was, in a lot of ways, like having an older, more successful brother coming back home. You think you’re doing great, until everyone else has something to compare you to.
In this case, I had been feeling pretty darn good about my German. I could tell someone what I had been doing in Germany so far, in German, as well as describe various sights and activities. True, my grammar was horrendous, and I got a lot of blank looks on some words, but this was real progress from the three words I had known in June.