The rain on the Northern European Plain

Every morning before getting dressed, I check the thermometer on the living room window and look outside to see what the weather is doing. Ever since we moved into our apartment five weeks ago, I have been surprised only three times. The thermometer always reads 10 degrees Celsius (about 50 Fahrenheit), and the sky hides behind a smooth gray cloud bank. It always looks like it’s about to rain, though it only seldom does. This weather has held steady for five weeks. Morning, noon, and night, it is 10 degrees and fully cloudy. It’s so constant I feel like I live at some warped version of the equator.

But I have had three surprises. Twice it has been 10 degrees and gloriously sunny. On those days we went to the park and walked around outside all day. And then last Tuesday came the best surprise so far: It snowed! The thermometer read exactly zero, so it was a spitting, sleeting sort of snow, but the precipitation was undeniably white and verging on fluffy. I took the long way to the subway to stay out in it the longer.

That snowy day turned out to be a really rotten one in German class though. Of the eight of us, we have two students who don’t know enough yet to function in level 2B. One student is way to good for our level, but refuses to move up because he is totally enamored of the French engineer in our class. (That’s actually really cute. The good German speaker, Andrei, is a 19-year-old Romanian who wants to study engineering at Berlin’s Technical University. The object of his mostly platonic affection is Michael, a French engineer who would like to work in Berlin but is for now unemployed. Both of them live here with their girlfriends. Andrei and Michael have a fascinating romantic, yet asexual, flirtation. It would be heartwarming to watch except that their giggling and shenanigans get in the way of my learning. Were I the teacher, I would separate them in an instant.)

But to get back to the snow. I was frustrated with my classmates and with myself for my stupid mistakes. Of course I know how to conjugate “to speak” in the regular past tense, even if it is irregular. So, I burst out of school back into the healing snow. It’s not like dear old Syracuse where the sun always managed to come out as the snow fell to turn everything sparkly, and no snow was accumulating on the pavement, but I always get a thrill from snow, and that was the beginning of the day’s turn around.

I walked home from the U-Bahn along another creative route that makes me feel like a neighborhood insider. Slush was building up on the bridge over the S-Bahn tracks and I mushed my boots about in it for a bit. Then I turned down a block that is usually totally deserted. Today, though, two young Asian women with fancifully colorful umbrellas were trudging up the street, bright spots in the snowy murk. I tend to look exceedingly friendly, I think, so people often stop me for all kinds of reasons. I was not surprised when the pretty umbrella girls hailed me. I figured they must be lost because why else would anyone be walking here? They unleashed a pelting of German at me from which I thought I gleaned that they were from Korea, that they were theology students, and was I interested in something I couldn’t understand but at this point one of the girls scrounged around in her bag to for something that looked to me like a notebook? I must have gotten their hopes up because I was listening so intently, mesmerized by my own near-ability to comprehend, except that I missed the key piece of info. The girl stopped talking and I realized it was time for me to reply, but what was the question. “Sorry, but my German is not very good,” I said. (I can say this perfectly, which is very confusing for people.)
The young Koreans smiled indulgently, asked me where I was from, and tried again in German. Was I interested in die pehbeh. Hmmm. We’d been standing for some time in the sleety snow, and the girls were holding their lovely umbrellas over me. “I don’t understand “pehbeh.” I finally said. “The Bible,” they said together, in English.
“Oh, die Bibel!” I said, delighted that I’d almost had a successful interaction in German. “Not at all.” And I strode off home to a mug of hot chocolate and Sherlock Holmes.

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One response to “The rain on the Northern European Plain

  1. I had a very similar experience in Salt Lake City, where the Mormons bring young Korean girls to approach people to discuss the bible. It surprised me, but seems to be a business model for the religion. Not sure what the young people get out of these missions. I hope german gets easier for you!

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