My First Words of German in Germany

It was July of 1980 when I stepped off the plane at Rhein Main Air Base in Frankfurt, West Germany. I was a US Air Force Security Policeman and my orders showed I was to be stationed at Hahn Air Base. Rhein Main was the entry point for just about every member of the American armed forces serving in country.

I was just an18-year-old kid. I’d studied German for 4 years-three years in high school and my one year of college-and I was anxious to sink my teeth into the language. This was not the classroom, but real life and I could hardly contain my excitement.

I’d been to Tijuana, Mexico many times, but being a native of Southern California, it no longer seemed like a foreign country to me. This would be very my first trip away from the North America continent. Finally, I would get a taste of Europe.

I was directed to pick up my bags in the baggage claim area and head out to a waiting bus that would take me to Hahn. I did as I was told and headed out the terminal doors into the Germany sunlight. I paused briefly and looked around at my new surroundings.

“Wow,” I said out loud, “I’m really in Germany!”

I continued walking until I reached a bus with a short, balding, middle-aged man standing next to the door. He greeted me with, “Willkommen.”

“Willkommen” is the German word for “welcome.”

I was so nervous that I almost jumped of my skin. I wanted to make sure my first words of German were perfect.

I cleared my throat, then replied to him in German with great excitement. The man was taken aback and a shocked expression immediately appeared on his face. And he had good reason to react that way. You see, my reply to him was, “Auf Wiedersehen.”

“Auf Wiedersehen” is the German word for “goodbye.

As soon as the words slipped out my mouth I knew I had made an awful blunder. But it was too late. The deed was done. We both understood the awkwardness of the moment and we had a great laugh.

And those words will go down in history as my first words of German in Germany.

He took my bags and loaded them on the bus. But that wasn’t the end of this German comedy of errors. I would soon learn that I was not supposed to be stationed at Hahn Air Base as my orders read. Instead, I was supposed to be stationed at another base thirty-five miles away. So, I was shuttled to my actual base after spending a weekend at Hahn. Not the most ideal beginning to what would be almost 4 years stationed in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. But there were other wonderful memories and I’ve always treasured them.

I returned to Germany in May of 2011, and I quickly learned it’s not exactly the Germany of my youth. The Cold War has long ended and there is no longer an East or West Germany-just one Germany. And I’ve decided to stay for a while as I work on a few writing projects. And since I’m in the state of Hessen, I have to get used to the Hessisch dialect, which often looks and sounds nothing like the German of my youth. But even after 22 years away from the language, I’m sure I’ll learn to adapt. I just have to remember when to say hello and goodbye.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *