I tried hard with German, but we just never had a good love affair. I started learning about two years after I started French–in third form, and my teacher, a Scottish lady named Miss McKay, whose native Glaswegian accent was thick but whose French and German accents were pure, was the same for both. Now, I mention her, I remember she walked with a distinct limp, as if from a broken leg. But, that aside, she was a great teacher. I was not a good student of Deutsch. I never liked the guttural sounds, compared to the lyricism of French. The cases and declensions also knocked me over. Years later, when I had to learn Welsh and later still Russian, those features didn’t knock me over, and were part of the fun. Words that mutate in the genitive, all of that stuff. But, something about mein bruder and meine schwester didn’t a happy family make. Maybe, it was something about my teenage years. Who knows?
Germany is a place where I’ve had some strange experiences. It was where someone first asked to touch my hair. The sweet-looking old lady had me and my then-brother-in-law rolling in stitches, as she stared and then built up courage to ask, and I complied. Germany was also the only place I’ve ever been robbed, when someone broke into my car overnight, while I slept. But, that aside…
Despite my language struggles, I loved visiting the country, especially the south, and I started with Freiburg, in the Black Forest.
Admitted, I was at university when I first went and being able to drink beer along with loving much of the food I found in different places made for happy times. I enjoyed seeing history preserved in everyday settings, like town squares that were pedestrianized. Funnily, I also loved Germanic regimentation: alles in ordnung. I remember the first time I was crossing a road and the pedestrian light was against me. I stepped out when I saw a gap, as you would in England, then I heard “Nein! Warten sie!” I looked back at the old lady with the shrill voice, and saw the eyes of all of Germany glaring at me. ‘Stupid!’ is how I felt; ‘Reckless’ is what they were implying, as they all waited dutifully for the light to change.
Other trips to Germany let me visit the financial hub of Frankfurt, in central Germany, and I got to see a slightly different place, where migrants from Turkey and the former-Yugoslavia had settled and given different flavour, literally to German life. I visited Berlin, after it had become the capital of a united Germany, and tried to put this former crossroad of the Cold War and its physical wall between eastern and western Europe and the world into the context I had seen in the former Soviet Union. The way the Berlin quickly regained its cosmopolitan flair was indicative of the release of much suppression.
Years later, I had to wonder what might have happened if Germany had won the World Wars, and British colonies might have changed hands. Königstrasse…Bahnhofstrasse, maybe street cars…Mercedes Benz and BMW cars taken for granted…loving the umlaut as well as the omelet…Jamaica would have been different…and Jamaicans? When I learned years ago about the ethnic Germans living in Jamaica’s Seaford Town, I pondered what if many more had arrived in the mid-1800s, to compensate for the free labour black slaves used to provide.