Monday, January 30, 2012

Our Helpful Neighbor

The night we arrived in Germany, only a few hours after getting to our apartment, we heard our doorbell ring. We opened the door and our neighbor that is directly below us, Gertrude, introduced herself. We of course, introduced ourselves in turn, and she said that if we needed anything that we could certainly ask her and that she'd leave us to settle in.

That Saturday night, Gertrude came to our door once again and asked if we were free to join her for coffee on Sunday afternoon. We had no plans, so we told her that we'd be very happy to join her. She mentioned that many member of her family live in the United States and that she's been there quite a few times herself. She also mentioned that she also relishes opportunities to practice her English. This was refreshing for us, since there were less people than we initially anticipated speaking English.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and we made our way down one level to Gertrude's apartment. She ushered us inside and asked us to make ourselves comfortable. We had brought some toys for Brady to play with and were ever mindful that he wasn't getting into something he shouldn't. She had asked the night before if we both drank coffee and since I don't, she made a pot of tea in addition to coffee. She also explained that it is traditional for Sunday afternoon coffee, to have cake and whipped cream. She went on to tell us that her version of coffee is very informal and explained that a formal Sunday coffee would mean that we would not be allowed to serve ourselves, and that the hostess is not allowed to leave the room.

Gertrude is fond of children and had fun playing with Brady (he was a little nervous when we first got there, but warmed up to her quite quickly). We were constantly telling him to calm down and not to touch things, but Gertrude told us to relax and that she was keeping an eye on him as well.

We sipped our tea and coffee over cake and got to know each other. Gertrude told us that she had traveled with her husband abroad to Saudi Arabia for work. They were there two years and she admitted that for several months she was homesick. She also told us that she was forever grateful that some of the women took her around and showed her where to go in the area. Because of her experiences, she understands my situation, being in a place where I don't read or speak the language. She also takes it upon herself to help newcomers settle in and find the shops that they need or anything else about getting around. It's almost like a "pay it forward" attitude and I am grateful and know I would do the same.

She asked about our shopping experiences so far and to that point, we were pretty stressed about it. We had the Aldi's around the corner, and I had gone with Andy the day before, and come home very deflated. There was very little variety and I was nervous about how we were going to survive. Besides pasta and some meats, we had eaten Nutella on bread for several lunches. We had gone out in the car that Sunday looking for other markets, but since almost everything is closed on Sundays, we weren't able to look inside any of the ones that we'd found. Gertrude told me that she would be happy to take me to the butchers and another market, called Rewe. She said that it had much more variety, although Aldi's was good (and in most cases cheaper) to get the basic staples of milk, juice, bread, cheese, etc.

We happened to mention that we had acquired German cell phones, but were still without internet and the last time our family had heard from us was on the plane before takeoff in DC. She instantly insisted that we must call home using her phone. We told her that we couldn't, but she said that since so many of her family lives in the States, that she only pays a 3 Euro per month flat rate to make calls to the States from her landline. That information made us feel a little more comfortable about taking up her offer and I called my parents who weren't expecting to hear from us until Andy made it to work that Monday morning. We chatted a while longer about other miscellaneous things such as the Bahn (train) system and how to get around. When we left, she told me that she would stop by the next morning to take me to the butchers and the Rewe.

So, last Monday morning, we went out (in the rain with the stroller, yikes). To get to the area where the butchers and Rewe were, we had to go through the nearest S-Bahn (above ground train) station. She pointed out which trains go through and stopped at the machine to buy tickets and showed me how to use it. We walked through the other side of the S-Bahn station and a couple of blocks to the butcher. She was able to translate to the woman behind the counter for me. I was able to get some turkey lunchmeat sliced for lunches and the woman behind the counter gave Brady a rolled up slice of turkey to eat. Gertrude also showed me an area in the shop where they have hot food. They had small rotisserie chickens, hamburgers, and other lunch-type items. I got a hamburger for Brady to eat for lunch that day (he left behind a few bites and it was DELICIOUS).

We walked back towards the S-Bahn station where the Rewe is located. It was much larger than the Aldi's and was set up more like a grocery store. I was able to get apples, bananas, tortilla wraps (to use with the turkey), and a few other staples that we needed that day. I made plans to go back to get more food when I had Andy with me.

We walked back to our building and Gertrude and I made a few plans to meet up again in the next few weeks for her to take me on the train into downtown. It's supposed to get much colder than average (40 degrees is average and the forecast is showing 20 degrees the rest of this week), so we may have to postpone because that's a bit too cold to be outside for very long, especially with Brady. We are so fortunate to have a good neighbor, who speaks very good English, and is very kind to show me the ropes around here.

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