Friday, December 12, 2014


I was in Germany for a week and so won’t go step-by-step I’ll just give a summary of what happened. My first morning I noticed that there was a traffic circle directly by my hotel (you could see it from my room.) I guess I can’t escape the dreaded circles even when I travel. I had to walk to my friend’s house – it was pretty far and steep and I was tired when I got there. My friend was working and so I hung out with her mom – who spoke a few words of English. That night my friend came home and we went to the Dortmund Christmas Market. I have been to Christmas Markets before, but never to Dortmund’s which has the “Europe’s largest Christmas tree” even though it isn’t one tree but a collection of little trees. I had a good time at the Market mostly from the food I ate there -  I hadsome roasted cashews and had the first potato pancakes in years. They were so good, but very hot.

Friday morning I took the Hop On/Hop Off tour of the city. It was very dark outside (even though it was around 11 am) you couldn’t see much out the windows.  It was a way to spend a few hours without walking.  That night I went back to the Dortmund Christmas Market with another friend and her dad. He was trying hard to speak the few English words he knew and got overly excited when he learned I spoke Russian as he had learned it back in Poland.  He bought me the best sandwich I have ever had – it was ham and white cabbage. I also had a little gluhwein for all my friends and family that had asked me to before my trip.

I should mention the hotel. I had never heard of Tryp before, but it was the closest hotel to my friend's house - in the middle of no-where. It said it was a 3 star (a European 3 star) which is more like an American 1  maybe 2 star. You had to get a code everyday for the Internet (and pay to use it) and when I was trying to get the code one day an Indian guy who didn't seem to speak English or German thought I wanted to check-in and kept shouting "no rooms" to me. I had to try and remember what little German I knew (I only took 4 months of it when I lived there) and tell him I had a room (Zimmer) and wanted the Internet. I don't know how you can mistake Internet for Room (or Zimmer) but this guy did. He was the night manager and should have been the janitor or something where he doesn't have to deal with people as he didn't have basic understanding of the hotel or its guests. Luckily the rest of the time there were other, more intelligent employees who understood and helped with everything. Their breakfast (which was included in my price, but usually you have to pay for it) was really good too. It was a mixture of continental and American.

Sunday I went to my friend’s house (the one whose dad spoke Russian) and had a nice meal and conversation. My friend’s mom had made roulade which was so good and then we talked about everything and anything in a mix of German, English and Russian – it was a good time.  Afterwards we went to some park to see different things lit up with Christmas lights. It was rainy and chilly so we went up to a tower they have there. The tower has a restaurant that revolves while you eat. We were just going to get something hot to drink, but decided to get a quick bite. By the time we were done (I forget how slow European restaurants are) the lights were mostly all turned off. We walked around a little more and then left.

Monday I went with my friend (the same one from Sunday) to Wuppertal. I had never heard of the town before, but she worked there. We took the train and when we got there I got to eat Doner Kebab  - it was pretty good. Of course there were so many other choices which I’m not used to as there are limited food choices where I live. My friend works in Wuppertal and so knew the town well. We took the “floating train” roundtrip, went to a Catholic Church, tried to see a Synagogue that was burnt during Kristalnacht in 1938 (but the museum was closed that day) and walked up a very steep hill. We also went to a cool Christmas Market where they had a petting zoo – at first the animals stayed away from me, but by the end they were fighting to get near me.

Tuesday I went with my friend’s sister and mom to Oberhausen. I hadn’t heard of that place either, but there was a big mall (with lots of American stores as well as many weird-sounding English names – I guess they wanted to act as though they were foreign.) We walked all over the crowded mall and in the nearby Christmas Market.  Afterwards my friend met us and we ate at Ikea (I had Swedish meatballs) and then went to a store called “Metro” where I got my Haribo.

Wednesday I went with my friend to her work. She drives to disabled people’s houses and helps them. It was interesting to see the different disabilities and how Germans treat them (I had already seen how the Russians and Americans treat their disabled.)

I got to meet many interesting people on my trip. There was one woman in a wheelchair who invited me to her Holiday concert, but I wasn’t going to be in the country then. Then there was a woman and her husband. The husband went to see some European Soccer Championship game that night with the local Dortmund team (the BvB.) His wife liked to talk (of course only in German.) She was very interested in seeing my driver’s license and other personal documents and US Dollars – she had never seen any before. I like collecting world currency and so gave her a crisp $1  - by her reaction you would have thought I gave her something made of gold. She had a very  cute German shepard that we got to walk - although we walked her something like 6 miles roundtrip in the pitch-dark. Another person I met was a teenage boy. He was very energetic and tried to use what little English he knew – and I tried what little German I knew. It was fun. Even though it was cold outside we went to a small store and got some ice cream.

The people above were people that my friends knew. I am still amazed that so many ordinary Germans (especially those 40 or younger) do not speak English - even basic English  They say that 54% of Germans know English, but I guess they hid them from me in Munich, Dortmund, Wuppertal , Oberhausen and Cologne and I got the 46% that didn't - the same thing happened in Munich in 2010. I understand that I was in Germany and should try to use German as much as possible, but you would think that people working in airports, on trains or on buses and in tourist sites would at least have basic English skills. The majority I dealt with didn't. I know that sounds a little arrogant, but I would expect travel and tourist sites in the US to have staff that can speak French, Spanish, etc. And so English in the rest of the world.

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