I started travelling from a young age. When I was but a wee lad my Dad often had to travel for work. Sometimes his contracts would be for an extended period of time and that’s how a four-year-old me found himself growing up in Germany. My first experiences of school and childhood were not in my native language.
What follows is not so much a detailed account, more a scattered mess of erratic bullet points recounting some of the surviving memories from my time in Germany.
One thing my parents had to decide upon arrival at our new home was whether to send me to an English-speaking school or to a regular German-speaking one. They chose the latter option as they thought it would give me a boost in language learning. So it was that I grew up speaking English with my family and German with my friends.
Of my time in kindergarten the distinct image of a playground with a colourful see-saw springs to mind. Rather than milk I remember being given a mug of warm black tea at break times.
Growing Up In Germany (with English)
Of course things can’t always go smoothly when you’re existing in a social sphere constructed of your second language. On one occasion I remember bawling my eyes out to my dad because I had lent an exquisite, jewel-covered toy sword to my friend but had (somehow) managed to use the German for “give” instead of “lend” and so when I next went to his house I was devastated to find that he had pried loose all of the jewels. I probably would have been even more upset if they’d been real.
There was another incident that may also fall into the language error category, but could probably fit into the you’re a dumbass one just as easily. A group of us children, plus parents, were playing on a heavily snow-swamped hill, taking turns to slide down it in pairs on a plastic toboggan. At the bottom of the hill there stood a barbed-wire fence. The way to avoid any dangerous entanglement with this fence was to jump off of the toboggan before reaching the bottom. Now, I’m sure this had been explained to me but all I remember is my partner leeping off and for some reason me not moving. I sat there and ploughed face-first into the barbed-wire while my Mum’s screams echoed around me.
Luckily, my tender face-podge was exactly equal in height to the space between the wires. My collar was cut and my hair was torn but otherwise I was unscathed.
Don’t Fear The Reaper
Going on from the tale of my close shave I did have another brush with death in those short years.
At the age of five I started going to Primary School. It wasn’t far from our family’s apartment but it was only natural for my mother to walk with me to school for the first few weeks. After that she started to walk behind me, each day leaving a larger gap between us. One day she just didn’t leave the apartment and there I was, walking to school by myself!
Then one day I was late for school so I hurried in a frenzied panic down the usually peaceful street towards my school. In my haste I was deaf and blind to the world around me which meant I didn’t see the bright red motorbike speeding up the street I was about to cross.
Fortunately the driver saw me and tipped the bike onto it’s side while trying to slow down. The vehicle span like a pin-wheel, skidding across the ground towards my tiny legs. I felt it tap the back of my left heel as our paths crossed, but no further damage was done to me. I glanced back to see the driver limping away from the crash. My mind’s sole focus was on getting to school so I shot him a quick “Sorry” and darted away.
When I finally burst into the classroom, red and sweaty, my teacher was not best pleased. My head was so clouded and fuzzy that when she said “Just sit down!” I did. I sat down. Right there on the floor next to the teacher’s desk at the front of the class. It took her a couple of minutes before she double taked and added “In your seat!”
Oh, and there was this other time at school where I was pretending to be a bee and gave myself a nosebleed by smashing into a window.
Coz, you know, I was a bee.
The Crime Spree
Something else I always think about when I think of my time in Deutschland is my first and only journey into the criminal underworld.
I had this friend whose house I often visited. I wasn’t really sure if I liked this kid that much but he had this convincing way about him, or rather I had a gullible way about me. A considerable perk of going to his place was that he had toys. A lot of toys. I was certainly jealous of this and one day I decided to ask him how he had managed to amass so many. He said he would show me, and so after school one day we went to the toy shop.
He asked me which one I wanted the most and I pointed out a glittering Transformer. He said “Okay, just put it in your bag.” I didn’t understand at first but he went ahead and grabbed a different item and shoved it into his bag. It wasn’t long before I saw the wisdom of his actions – if I took the toy, I would have the toy. So with a few nervous glances and a moistened palm I grabbed the thing and roughly shovelled it into my backpack.
A day or so later I was climbing the steps to my classroom. I looked up to see my teacher, the headteacher, and my friend, standing there waiting for me. They did not look happy. It seems the toy store owner had called the school when he saw us, quite blatantly, taking those toys. I believe an agreement was made that the school would not tell our parents if we returned everything we stole. I still recall sitting in the back of my teacher’s car, clinging to the single Transformer with guilty fingers, and looking over at the other boy who had a massive bag full of toys. It was clear that I was the cause for the downfall of his pre-pubescent criminal empire.
The Simple Things
One thing I’ll never forget is my mum’s awesome birthday cakes. And when I say awesome I mean awesome. I’m talking sea-serpents that reared up out of the ‘water’, crazy alien heads, and more. For me there was one cake in particular that really blew my tiny mind.
At the time I was heavily in to Cowboys and Indians. I had Lego, Playmobil and small plastic figures all in that theme.
On the morning of my something-th birthday I ran into the dinning room only to find an old west style fort standing on the table. Attacking the fort was a score of arrow-firing Native Americans and defending the ramparts was a number of rough-n-ready cowboys. With innards of sponge cake and a coating of chocolate icing it was the perfect scale to match my plastic figures. There’s a photo of this marvellous spectacle somewhere but I’m afraid I can’t find it so you’ll have to settle for this crude re-creation.
The Important Things
I couldn’t spend all this time waffling on about my time in Germany without talking about the most important and life-affecting thing that happened there.
I got a sister.
When she was born I remember feeling excitement. Excitement over the new Transformer that my grandparents had given me (yes, I love Transformers). Eventually I came to understand what my sister was and that she was an important part of my life.
I remember being creeped out by her dolls that had those eyes that would close when you tipped the head back. I remember spending what seemed like months playing with her in an old cardboard box (of course in our minds it was much more than that). I remember pushing her off the arm of the sofa so that she fell, cracked her head and we had to go to hospital. I remember her tiny body cradled in my mother’s loving arms.
I know that she’s a real person now with her own life and worries but sometimes when I look at her I still see the sweet little girl I grew up with in Germany.