Lessons from the Hauptbahnhof

Today was day four of my German culture class. Our instructor, Havi, has an interesting background that includes acting and being a tour guide in Rome for three years. These colors in her character have really made our lessons enjoyable and I’m sad that they are over except for a tour through Alstadt (Old Town) on Saturday. She’s taking us there via three modes of public transportation so we can really know the system. She will also point out recommended restaurants and give us a history of the area, among other things. I’m really looking forward to it.

For class today, we walked to the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) which is the train station and hub of public transportation in Heidelberg.

Havi showed us how to use the ticket kiosks on the street along the way, how to read the schedules outside and inside the train station, where to go to find out about vacation trips on the train, and all while learning more about the culture. I now know where to go and how to check out trips to take when visitors come (Paris or Vienna anyone?). It was priceless schooling.

Inside the Hbf

Also while at the Hbf, we grabbed a light lunch at one of the bakeries inside. I had a soft pretzel with cream cheese and chives sandwiched in the middle. It was probably my favorite thing I’ve eaten in Germany so far. So delicious! (I’m sorry I didn’t take a picture. I will be back for another sometime.)

Learning about the ticket kiosks today, it’s no wonder Alan and I were confused on my first day here. For one thing, the English translation does not make sense. But now we know and I can get around on my own a lot more comfortably. And I’m getting used to the stares. Germans are a curious lot. It is said that the natives can tell an American by their shoes. I don’t see anyone wearing Danskos around here so I’m a dead giveaway. With all the walking they do, they really should make them available.

On the subject of stares, Havi had a perfect teaching opportunity today at the train station. She was showing us where the platforms for the trains were. There was a large group of people together who looked like family on one platform and then various individuals scattered along the nearby remaining platforms. The group had a few children who were being very loud and possibly even arguing with each other while the adults looked on. This went on for a few minutes.

Havi gathered us together and whispered, “The group of people are Turkish. Do you see the Germans? They are appalled at the children’s behavior.” And sure enough, all 10 or so of them were staring in disbelief. Havi said Germans would not stand for such acting out.

She explained that children start Kindergarten here at age 3. They are not taught to read or anything very scholastic, but are taught how to function socially–how to greet people, how to sit quietly, to be polite, how to set a table, all social graces that are customary for the culture. By the time they are in school, they are ready to learn. They know that they are there to learn and there are little to no behavior problems.

This also feeds into the crime rate. The very low crime rate allows for the children to wander around town by themselves, ride the strass to and from school, mom’s will leave their baby in a pram (stroller) while they go into a little shop or a quick trip into the bank. This is also why they are amazed at Americans. They hear about our children going to school with guns. Some old men think that all American children do this and so they are afraid of Americans.

And yet, they are a country of contradictions…

They are not afraid to let their children walk through town and ride public transportation alone, but they often have several deadbolts on their doors. They have everything organic and treat massage and spas as health related rather than luxury, but the air is thick with pollution because of the cement plant and smoking and cigarette vending machines are everywhere. They are private people, but they are not timid about butting in line or taking off their clothing at outdoor pools or by the river. Prostitution is legal, but the women are covered by the government health plan.

It’s true that American’s–and LDS people like me for that matter–have our own ways that seem odd or hypocritical to many. Getting to know others who are not like us is always an invaluable education. Having a Christ like love for others while doing so is one of the best tests of being human. Now that I think about it, that’s probably our underlying purpose while here in Germany.

Because you know, it wasn’t luck that brought us here.

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