Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My German Life: Emotional Breakdown

I knew it was coming. I mean, eventually the rosy glow would wear off and we'd be seeing life in Germany through plain old every day glasses. We'd been doing well without a car, the new world of public transportation was fascinating and exciting at first. The thrill of riding buses and streetcars has been exhilarating not only for the kids, but for me as an adult, trying to understand the systems and navigate them. I was even beginning to think I'd rather not have a car, hopping on a strass is so fun and you get to people-watch the whole ride without having the stress of driving.
Last week I finally took the driver's test. Our car was due to arrive this week from its long cruise across the Atlantic and it was time I stop procrastinating and learn the German street signs. I took it, and failed it. Of course I was very upset that day but since it has something like a 70% fail rate I decided not to beat myself up too much. Okay, I'll just be honest, I failed both the written and driving tests in Oklahoma and had to beg Georgia to just renew my old license. So I wasn't expecting to pass a test in a different country right away.
This week I had to go back and take the test, and the only reasonable way to get there was to ride my bike. I have not ridden a bike since 1998, the summer before I went to college. So when my husband got my bike all ready to go and expected me to just hop on and hit the streets, it scared me to death. Bike riding here is serious business. Germans take classes and get licensed to ride their bikes when they are pre-teens, which makes sense considering they are riding on the roads with cars and following the same rules. After a couple of practice runs around my kaserne, I was finally feeling ready to hit the real streets. So this week I followed Joel over to the licensing office on my bike. We crossed bridges and intersections, weaved off the bike paths and into car traffic and made it through a roundabout without dying. I know that sounds totally dramatic, but right before we left Oklahoma, a guy we knew was riding his bicycle one day and a woman in a minivan hit him and he died on impact. For me, biking is a seriously risky mode of travel now.
But I have to say, I absolutely loved it. Riding through Heidelberg with the sharp October wind biting my face was both terrifying and exhilarating. I don't think anything has excited me this much in years. Even the rides at Hershey Park and Disney were no competition. The fact that I could in fact get mowed down by a strassenbahn made it all the more thrilling (Apparently this happens a lot over here; it's a very popular method of suicide, so the strass drivers don't feel bad if they hit a biker because they figure that's just the way he or she wanted to go down).
Not having a car is the strangest experience and yet it has been so liberating for me. There are, however, the inevitable moments where you wish so very much to be part of that privileged class that is jetting around in their heated automobiles. Like the other day, when I carried a very heavy box (it contained a bike trailer for the kids to ride around in) from the bus stop to our apartment. I carried it as far as I could, gave up, ditched it on the side of my road, retrieved the stroller from my house, loaded the box onto it and pushed it, cursing, all the way back to our place. I was really angry at all the people who watched my struggle and never bothered to stop and help me. And then there was today, when Helen and I tried so hard to catch the last bus to the PX, and because of her potty issues and tantrums and a thousand little things, we just barely missed it. I even waved pathetically at the driver as he pulled away without me; he stared off in the other direction in a very German sort of way, as if to let me know my problems weren't his problems.
I snapped at Helen that she made us miss the bus, and she broke down into tears. She wept and wept and when we arrived back at the apartment, she made a big show of running out into the street and wailing, "Bus! Bus! Bus!" I picked her up and held her, tried to explain that we missed it, but it really was okay. She cried some more and I felt like crying too; we had been defeated. She finally cried herself to sleep in my arms and I placed her in her bed.
Life's like that. Missed connections. Loss. Lots of weeping for what you think you've missed out on. But I don't believe I've really missed out on anything. We may have had an emotional breakdown, and my love affair with life in Germany may be waning, but what is the truth? Life is still rich and full of surprises, regardless of the setting or the circumstances. Tomorrow will yield its own treasures and as for today, well, we just received notification: Our car is here! We can pick it up today! The transportation gods have smiled on us.

PS. I did pass my driver's test the second go around :) I am finally licensed to drive in Germany.


  1. Congratulations on passing your driver's test!! And so glad your car has arrived!
    Love you!!!! MOM

  2. Congratulations on having passed your driver's test and having your car arrive. Now you can leave behind the thrill of riding a bicycle in German traffic. After your tough day with the streetcar and having to comfort your daughter, I am impressed by your upbeat attitude; I'm not certain that I would be able to see the silver lining so quickly.
    John G. Morris

  3. Dr. Morris,
    The silver lining is this: My car has arrived; it's a 2009 Mini Cooper (which was the dream car I always wanted) and it's silver, no less :)
    I can be a lot more positive knowing I can jet around in that baby.

  4. While I'm never been a car person (I know that admitting that lack means I must have recessive male genes), I can appreciate how the arrival of your new toy helps take some, if not all, of the sting of your recent tough day away. Good for you. And may I add, though it's a mysterious imperative to me, "zoom-zoom." But be sure to take the Autobahn.

    John G. Morris

  5. "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself." - CS Lewis
    I wish you knew how much I love reading your written words. It's a slice of your heart which I treasure...oh and enjoy the the cooper, it was made for europe.

  6. These were good words for me to hear Kim..."life is still rich and full of surprises, regardless of the setting or circumstance." I know DC is no Germany, but sometimes the things that are different (even something as small as commuting, public transportation, etc) wear on me and you miss the ease of home, but your words are a good reminder to soak up the little "surprises" everyday. Thanks!

    Congrats on the test, by the way!

    Amanda B

  7. I should tell you that when we moved to Colorado I was so nervous about taking the driving test and the stress of the move, that I made Jay go take the test first and come home and highlight all answers to the questions in the study manual. I guess I cheated.