What is the probability that my German second cousin’s high school teacher would be the one traveling German teacher I would have the courage to speak to as he checked out groceries in my line at Winn Dixie?
Pretty slim I bet, huh?
Well, it happened!
The year was 1973 and I had plans to travel to Germany and visit a second cousin. I had no idea her teacher was on a tour, or even that he was in Florida, but he was and he was in my line at Winn Dixie where I worked as a checker. But not only him, there was an entire group of Germans in my line and I was not the only checker that day. In Cocoa Beach, I had the slim chance of ever having the chance to practice my German. Spanish, sure, but German…not likely. I was learning German in high school but I had only 1.5 years of it under my belt and little confidence. As I noticed this group of Germans, I wanted to talk but I was pretty shy about it. There must have been at least five that were in my line talking and as I helped each one, I struggled internally to speak in German and practice but I felt really dumb. Finally, there was only one guy left and it was now or never so I said, “Guten tag,” or “Hello”…and we went on from there.
“Oh hello, do you speak German?” he asked.
“Yes, I do, I speak very bad German, but I wanted to say hello to you.”
“Your German is very good,” he said.
“I am going to travel to Germany this summer and visit with my cousin.”
“Oh really? Where does she live?”
“She lives in Andernach.”
“No kidding? Andernach? I teach in Andernach. What is her name?
Now, you have to understand, I am thinking, No way, no way this guy is from Andernach and no way is he her teacher but we keep talking.
“Her name is Kristin Degenhardt.”
“She is my student. I teach her history class in Andernach and right now we are having a teacher tour of the US.”
A line like mine years ago.
I finished checking out his groceries and he lingers at the foot of my checkout counter. I am processing this situation with fascination realizing that either he is telling me the truth or he is a fantastic liar.
“I would like to take you to dinner tonight, if that is possible.” I blink. All of this conversation is in German and his English is weak at best and my German is marginal.
“Well, I would need you to speak to my parents and they would need to approve.”
This was in 1973 and I had no cell phone. We did have a pay phone up front near my register so I dialed my parents and they asked to speak to him. They spoke and my parents asked for him to come by the house that evening so they could further vet the situation and dinner was on.
I was still amazed at the probability. And looking back I am surprised my parents allowed him to take me in a car, alone, and out to dinner. This man was 40 years old and I was just 17. He came by the house that evening and got along famously with my parents and not sure I remember what was said but he got their blessing and then I was going to take him to the most local of seafood places, a place on the river on a pier where you could feed the catfish that collected under the pier pilings for scraps…and it was fun to feed them. The food was traditional southern fried seafood with cole slaw and hush puppies. But, it was local and he wanted to order shrimp but he was asking for prawns but back in those days shrimp were not referred to as prawns from where I came from so he drew me a picture on a napkin. It was pretty funny. We had a nice visit and the evening was fine. Soon he dropped me off at home and the next time I would see him would be the day I go to school with my cousin, because in Germany they keep going to school through most of the summer.
The day I went to school with Kristin and we sat down in this teacher’s class he was going to give a slide presentation of his fabulous trip to the US. This was pretty surreal as you can imagine. There I was sitting in a class in Germany with my cousin and looking at photos of his trip and to Cocoa Beach, my home town. What is the probability? I have asked myself of this many times over the years. But this is not the end of the story.
That weekend we are set up for some tour of the area and Mr. Teacher and his buddy are going to pick us up. The other guy looks to be about the same age as Mr. Teacher and my cousin and the teacher climb into the back of the BMW. And I look at this other “old guy” next to me and think, “Hmmm.”
We drive along looking at this or that when I turn around to ask Kristin something and what do I see? Kristin and Mr. Teacher are totally going at it in the back seat. Wow! I guess the Germans really press the boundaries. I look at the other guy next to me driving and he looks at me and smiles. I am thinking he probably is wondering if this American is as hot as her cousin. I am very uncomfortable. I have a boyfriend back in the US and no, I am not interested in 40 year old men. So I speak up.
“Just so you know. I have a boyfriend back in the US and what is happening back there (and I point) is not going to happen up here (and I point to him and I). Okay?”
He smiled and nodded. Well, I am sure he was probably a bit disappointed.
Later, I asked Kristen about what I saw. She told me they had been seeing each other for some months and shacked up in the little inn on the edge of her little village. She also did not give a shit what the villagers thought about it. Wow, she had some balls for a 17 year old girl.
Now, when I say village, it was a small village to the north of Andernach. It was a tiny place with an inn near the train station and you had to travel to Andernach to do the shopping or attend school. The village was mostly composed of tiny cottages and Kristin’s family was one of the wealthier ones in a big modern house.
That week I got to go with Kristin on a Rhine boat tour with her little brother’s class and some of those villagers, who were parents of some of the other little kids in her brother’s class. The day before Kristen had sewn for me a skimpy halter top and we wore them on the cruise, and I matched it with a flowing full length wrap around skirt. I am sure our braless halter tops where not the only things these village women were whispering about. I could see in their faces there was something to talk about with my cousin and I am sure that my being an American added to their suspicions. In comparison, I was pretty innocent.
During my last week there, my cousin’s family was able to take Kristin and I to Leuven, Belgium and we had run of a flat that belonged to some university professors who were on holiday and who graciously let us stay. We spent the week walking all over the town and exploring and it was great fun.
The trip to Germany that I had dreamed of all my life was pretty amazing and this is only one of my stories. The circumstances about meeting her teacher were highly improbable but very real. The memories linger in my mind to this day. Someday, I hope I get back to Germany, but I have lost touch with my cousin Kristin. The good news is I have another cousin who lives there and I could visit with her, so get ready Ursula, someday I will return!