Monday, September 21, 2009

Finden Ciocia Zosia

[ Finding Ciocia Zosia ]

Friday at school was agony, sitting at my seat and waiting for the day to be over. It was as if I was back in the second grade anxiously waiting with my Halloween costume on in class at Wass Elementary School for the festivities that would take place later in the day. Sitting in German class was no different, with the windows open welcoming a cool fall breeze into the room, crunchy leaves already paving the sidewalks, and my packed backpack, not filled with books, but instead clothes and some toiletries for the weekend. I was ready to go.

I think that I have already addressed my unfortunate relationship with public transportations, so I must admit that I was a little nervous at the end of the school day realizing that I had to utilize the bus system for a few stops to Johanneskirsche - the center of downtown Saarbrücken - and take that city train to the Saarbrücken train station. From there I had to get onto another train and take a short 13 minute ride for a mere 2 Euros to the next city over and meet my carpool at the front of that train station. Easy enough if you have it all planned out... but after school I only had an hour to do it all. Feasible, but one mistake and everything would be pushed back.

The journey to St. Ingbert hauptbahnhof [ the train station ] had me antsy, and I still had to run into town and buy some flowers for Ciocia Zosia - banking on the fact that I make it to her in one piece [ I hadn't met my driver yet...]

Luckily, the flower purchases and the preliminary travels went alright. I actually did miss my train to the next city - I didn't realize that it wasn't going to be the name on my train [ That would obviously be the final destination of the train , Chris, not you... ] but the next one came in only a few more minutes, and I made it to St. Ingbert on time.

Once I was there, I gave Ciocia Zosia a call - I was now leaving a bit later than my ride with Agnes was going to be, so I told Ciocia I would be late - and after a bit of waiting, the red vehicle with Ralph and another rider pulled up in the red Mercedes A-Klasse. I shook hands hello and thanked him once again for the late call and addition of me in the carpool.

I really will never know how good their English was, or if they even really knew much English at all, since in the car we spoke only German [even when I fumbled on words or a grammar structure, the definition or correction they gave me was auf Deutsch ]

I actually really enjoyed the challenge. The setting was obviously awkward for me - I was in a car with complete strangers and couldn't really speak too cohesively with them for 5 and a half hours - but I think I kind of thrived off of the awkwardness. It had that bit of foreignness and "what-the-hell-am-I-doing" kind of feeling that gives you a bit of adrenalin for embarking on a bit of an adventure.

We chatted about random things, my background coming to Germany, Munich, site seeing in Germany, the elections, and then a little about studying in University. I was proud to follow along in the conversation and add some thoughts here and there.

Once we were talking about my plans for the weekend, we talked about me staying with Ciocia Zosia, and how ... I really didn't know how she was related to me... let alone what she looked like. The only thing she told me was

"Krzysiu, halb stunden anrufen, ok Krzysiu, halb stunde von hauptbahnhof, rufen, ok Krzysiu."

Which was pretty much grammatically incorrect German telling me to call her a half hour before arriving at the train station. I did not exaggerate how many times she said my name.

[ That is how old I was - on the left - last time I saw Ciocia Zosia - Apparently I called her Ciocia Wosia, and it has stuck until today! ]

I later found out that Ciocia is actually the daughter of Babcia's sister... which makes her an older cousin of my Mom... which then makes her my 2nd cousin? ... I don't know... At least with my family, a lot of people can be Ciocia's or Wujek's.

Once we were at the train station, I chipped in my money, shook hands - Danke- thank you, Viel Spaβ- have fun, [Viel Glück - good luck for me]- and I was heading into the hauptbahnhof really not knowing what was going to happen next.

The train station was intimidating at best. It was a huge station, and the warehouse-like terminal had many trains coming in and out from the dark entrances way down at the other end. All around me were so many people - and so many languages - scrambling around, even though it was past 10:30, since it seemed everyone was also picking someone up or arriving from somewhere else abroad to come to the Oktoberfest.

I walked to the information desk and stood there where Ciocia told me to wait for her. Now who am I looking for... a short Polish woman... because that is going to make everything easier for me. I had no idea what traits to even look for [ with my school and traveling, and the time difference, there was a bit of a mix up with my mom scanning an old photo for me and me seeing it in time...]

I decided to call Ciocia Zosia back.

"Ich bin hier, Krzysiu! Gdzie Jesteś?" [note the switch from German to Polish]

At this point I did a three-sixty, and about 10 yards away at most was a little Polish woman, with a short, sandy "Babcia-fro" [ as my brother and I like to call it ] talking very loudly into her cell phone [ Gdzie Jesteś Krzysiu?...]

I walked up to her, she caught me on the phone too, and we laughed that we were talking to each other only feet apart. After big hugs and kisses, we rushed along to catch the metro back home [ I didn't know she needed that half hour to ride the subway to me, let alone that she didn't have a car OR a drivers license?! ]

We were already having a great time chatting - I was amazed at how much we were talking about with our very bad German, but the stories and topics were just flowing out. Once we made it to her apartment [ she showed me her "Auto", the pun was that she unlocked the bike from the fence ] and I lauded her that as a 64 year old woman, she is walking, biking, sometimes running [ we had to catch that next train! ], and climbing stairs always around town as if she were half her age.

Her apartment was very tiny - only about the size of my entire family room that serves as a makeshift bedroom for me in Saarbrücken - with a small bathroom, bedroom, kitchenette and dining space. She also has a nice walk out balcony with some growing herbs and a view from the 5th floor where she lives. Nonetheless, it was perfect for her.

Possibly what was more perfect was our great evening chatting, skyping with Babcia and relatives back home [ Look at who I am with! ] and best of all - homemade PIEROGI!!!

Lucky me!

It is going to be a great weekend! Oktoberfest in the morning, and a great Ciocia to stay and enjoy it with.

[ aka - organized carpooling with complete strangers ]

The past week at school, all the talk has been about Oktoberfest and the grand opening coming during the weekend. During my initial weeks in Germany, I learned from my family back in Michigan that I had a relative from my Babcia's side of the family that actually lives in Munich - Ciocia Zosia [Ciocia is Polish for Aunt]. I knew that she had come to the states for a few months when I was - ... wow -three years old, but, honestly I couldn't even put a face to the name. I decided during the week that I was going to pull off a somewhat spontaneous trip and go to Munich for Oktoberfest - after all, how could I pass it up. I was living in Germany for a year and had to visit the biggest festival of the year, and on top of that I had contacts there to stay with.

The first step for planning was traveling. The other Americans were all also planning trips to Munich, but ran into issues with places to stay, which all seemed to be booked well in advance. Reluctant to give up the big plans, they all decided to make the trip into a big 26 hour stint and go from the night train at 1 AM on Saturday till 3 AM on Sunday - no sleep, and a lot of partying. Viel Glück...

Since I had Ciocia Zosia to stay with, I looked into some other options. The trains were near booked, and very expensive in addition, so I looked into something else. I had heard about mitfahrgelegenheit [ roughly translating to opportunity to drive together - so essentially carpooling ] which was a website finding strangers that were planning trips, and if they had open seats, they would charge you a relatively cheap price to chip in for gas. It is actually a very sensible idea to get rid of traffic on the roads and use less gas emissions from cars. I didn't realize the small bumps along the way that it would cause however.

I called up Ciocia Zosia to share with her that I was finally coming to visit her in Munich. Her German was probably only a few months more progressed than mine, even though she has been there several years, but since my Polish is near non-existent now for casual conversation, German had to be our language for speaking. She was very cute, saying my name Krzysiu - Chris in Polish - at least 20 times during the short call, but it made me so excited to visit her. With the language challenges, I knew it was going to be fun.

I had a place to stay - now for getting to Munich. Early in the week I emailed this woman named Agnes asking for a 25 Euro ride from Saarbrücken to München [Munich]. She sent me an email the next morning saying of course, and I figured everything was set and sent back a ' Thank you - see you on Friday' response.

So on Thursday night, rather late after our excursion to Saareguemines, I decided to call up Agnes and make sure that everything was ok for the next day. She answered the phone and I began speaking in German and introducing myself. She responded back in German with a hesitant tone:

"Ahh, Chris... I never heard back from you... I wondered what happened, ya that seat is taken"



I was at a complete loss and shocked. So dumbfounded and completely mortified that my entire weekend plans were shattered that the only thing I said back was... "No"

She responded, Auf Deutsch of course;
"What to you mean nein?"

It took me a few moments to collect myself and stumble out what I could with some coherent Deutsch. I asked if she read my email response, and she hadn't checked her email for the past few days, leading her to believe that I backed out and my seat was open since I didn't call her.

The only thing running through my head at this point were German expletives... I guess I have picked those up rather well by this point...

My entire weekend had just gone down the drain and it was my fault. I should have called her and planned it that way - I now learned the hard way. I apologized for the misunderstanding and hung up. It was after nine.... is this too late to call in Germany and ask for rides? Too late to wonder, I was already back online and calling random strangers - I had an entire weekend planned ahead of me!

I was actually so nervous and panicked, I think I was sweating a little as my heart pounded - let alone could I actually think in German. Ring... ring.... Hallo?

Literal translation of what I might have said...

"umm... hi.... my name is Chris... Crachiola. this is mitfargelegenheit - ja, for... I mean, from that. Have you still a room for me tomorrow? Still going you to Munich?"

I was on a mission, my head was spinning and grammar was not my friend at the moment. Some people understood the bastardized language I was speaking but politely responded that everything was full. [ of course they are... it is after 9:30 on the night before people are traveling to Munich...] I seriously called the entire list of about a dozen numbers. I was on my last number - Ralph.... the number was ringing. It was as if glancing left to my St. Christopher medallion, the patron saint of travel, on my desk hailed me with a blessing and good fortune.

"Ja, Ich kann dir mitnemen"
sure I can take you.

there was an open seat! He just told me to look for his red Mercedes A-Klasse the next day at the St. Ingbert train station. [essentially a compact car... preparing me to be cramped. But I wasn't complaining. It was a ride. the trip is still on!]

[That St. Christopher necklace was back on my neck ASAP and was staying with me the entire weekend. The traveling hadn't even begun].


[ Saareguemines ]

It is not everyday that you can go and say “Hey, I am goin’ to France today after school.”

Being here in Saarbrücken, however, not only are we just kilometers away from the border, but our public transportation passes can get us there with no strings attached! At the end of the Saarbahn train that goes through the city – and we can jump on whenever we want with our cards – is a small town in Lorraine, France called Saargemünd [ Saareguemines in French]. It is only about 20 minutes away, and I still find it incredible that afterschool I can just cruise on over to France if I really wanted to.

So the other day after class a few of my classmates and I decided to enjoy the afternoon and check out some of the many cafés, patisseries and shops in the small, quaint French town. We hopped off the train, and once through the station, I was introduced to the small town that definitely displayed itself as not being German anymore. With the French signs everywear, iron fences, pillars with bushes and flowers and then narrow streets of shops and cafés in the background, it was very reminiscent of France. Not France, as in the image of Paris, but one of France with little thatched roofed buildings, and cozy nooks with plush flowerbeds.

I was loving it, and it amazed me further that, once we cruised around the streets and even stepped into a few bakeries, the language around me was French – To which anyone would say , well duh Chris, you are in France. But this was just minutes over the border, and to have this distinction was pretty profound to me. My friend Jennifer who speaks French very well mentioned to us that she actually has to repeat herself a few times since she learned Parisian French, and this was a dialect heavily influenced by its Germanic speaking neighbors.

Now, it would be quite impossible to introduce a post about Saarguemines and not address the absolute heaven that it is for carb-lovers. The windows of bakeries, next to cafés followed by a patisserie tempts you from perfectly iced cakes to lumpy, but humbly appetizing escargots – like a cinnamon roll donned by the name due to its mimicking shape of a snail shell. We would walk in and out of the shops, and I think we made the bakery owners all very content with our very enticed ooh’s and ahh’s. With Jennifer adding a little bit of French in, it seemed that we stole the bakers hearts.

In fact, once we finally found one comfy café to lounge in, we began to chat with the store owner, a little French-Turkish woman, behind her shelves of baked goods. We actually learned (through bad German on everyone’s attempts, and a bit of translation from Jen’s French) that she was Muslim and was fasting for Ramadan. I have so much respect for her that she is able to work in a PASTRY SHOP of all places and manage to still work with a huge smile on her face when she must refrain from eating from sunrise to sunset – incredible. Well, we all ordered a few huge croissants, seriously the size of boomerangs, some plain, some filled with great marzipan or dark chocolate, and found a table.

It was later in the day, past the rush time for the café, and I think our little connection with the woman swayed her to find a liking for us Americans, probably foreign guests they don’t usually see in this part of town. She filled our bags with extra pastries, brought out this other chocolate roll to sample, AND proceeded to serve us some tea as well. She was so nice and I definitely would like to go back and visit that same little café again.

[ In the words of Liz: Alles Klar - everything is clear now]

After a bit more walking around town we checked out some more shops. There was a great Italian shop with fresh pastas and meats and so many great ingredients. What I loved about the shops were how small they were, with little isles only big enough for one person stacked to the ceiling with goods. The other aspect of the city that with uniquely French was the tradition of small specialty shops. There was the cheese shop, permeating its smelly wonders to the street, right next door to another bread shop with baskets of baguettes and then finally a butcher with windows of fresh and dried meats.

The butcher was actually pretty funny since he didn’t speak English, but decided to greet us with a Good Morning, when we came in and he knew we were Americans. It was late afternoon, but he definitely got the laughs out of us. After some tart and bread purchases for home, we were all completely satisfied with are little – yet still very close and surprisingly cheap! – adventure to France. I only have a few weeks left in Saarbrücken, and I definitely want to visit at least one more time.