I remember that when I lived in Berlin for a year as a student ten years’ ago, I approached every conversation as a language-learning opportunity. Like a hungry caterpillar, I would gobble up more and more words whether talking to taxi driver or a philosophy professor. Earnestly, I would take mental note of unknown words, and later, decipher them with the help of my increasingly tatty dictionary and note down their meaning in a little blue notebook with the dream of my language skills suddenly and miraculously transforming into a beautiful, fluent-in-German butterfly.
But how lazy I have become after nearly five years of expat life. I only noticed this the other day, when visiting my husband’s family in Hesse. For the first time in ages I found myself thinking in the middle of a conversation “what an interesting word.” When looking up said word’s meaning later, it struck me how rarely I get a thrill from simple, but educative and revealing, exchanges. And what a shame that was given that I have a genuine interest in language structure and did study German (and History) at university after all. Continue reading →
The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne Sosse. Continue reading →
Towards the end of my October visit to Austria and Germany, my wife and I drove to Bad Nauheim in the state of Hesse, about a half-hour drive north from Frankfurt am Main. When I told Germans why I was going there, I usually got chuckles in response.
Today the spa town of Bad Nauheim (pop. 30,365) is famous for its effervescent salt baths, special medical clinics, and what the Germans now call “wellness.” In the 1920s the then luxury resort town was popular with the rich and famous (Marion Davies, Albert Einstein, Lillian Gish, William Randolph Hearst). In 1891 the future US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt even spent time there as a child with his family. But Bad Nauheim and neighboring Friedberg are also known for something else: Elvis Presley’s military years in Germany. I had earlier done some research on Elvis in Germany when I first wrote an article on the topic for the German Way.
Elvis lived in Bad Nauheim from 1958 to 1960 when he served in the US Army. Unlike most G.I.’s in Germany at the time, Elvis lived off-base, first in hotels, later in a rented three-story villa. I wanted to take some photographs of various Elvis landmarks in the region called the Wetterau (named for the Wetter river), as well as get a feeling for the place where Elvis spent 17 months of his life when he was still in his early twenties. As I walked through the streets of Bad Nauheim I couldn’t help thinking about the kind of expat life Elvis had in Germany. We stayed at the beautiful hillside Johannisberg Hotel and Café Restaurant overlooking Bad Nauheim, where Elvis had once caused a furor with his presence. He drove his sporty BMW 507 up the same winding road we took. I was driving a rented BMW 118 diesel. (Not quite the same thing, but at least it was also a stick shift.) Continue reading →