A Language Moment in Germany

My German reached its peak in January, 1988. I’d got to the point that i could limp along in it while i was stationed there in the mid sixties, and then i took two semesters of it at the university in the late sixties while i was sitting there blocked on my master’s thesis. Then in the early eighties when i was driving a limousine, i listed myself as German-speaking because i spoke it well enough to give tours and got a good deal of practice that way.

When Allen died in August of ’87, a friend at the time suggested that we take a trip to Germany, and in preparation for that i took a conversation class at the Goethe Institute.

The trip was interesting, if for no other reason than that Germany had changed dramatically since i’d left it, and in the 22 years i’d been gone, most of my favorite places in Frankfurt were altered beyond recognition. The IG Farben building, that Bauhaus marvel where i’d worked, was now behind a tall fence with gate guards unpersuaded by an American passport.  The Kafé Konditorei Stark, acclaimed for its ineffable Sarah Bernhardt Torte, was now a Mexican restaurant.  The Kafé Wipra was now a McDonalds.  Gasp.

Still, there was a moment so boffo that it made the whole trip worthwhile.  I was innocently walking down the street – well, more or less innocently since i had just come out of a gay bar – when i was accosted by a Japanese man who blurted, “Do you speak English?”

Hmmm. Hadn’t known i was carrying a sign. And then realized that he was inquiring plaintively rather than accusingly and moreover, that he was desperate.

When i cautiously admitted to having some English, his relief was gratifying, and he poured out his woeful tale. He was in town for a convention with a group of fellow businessmen from Japan. And being Japanese, everything was arranged for the group. Unfortunately, he had certain needs that could not be satisfied with the group, so he’d given them the slip by claiming to be ill, letting the rest go off on some tour while he supposedly rested in hopes that he could rejoin them for dinner.

And as soon as they were out of sight, he made a beeline for an area noted for its gay bars.

Alas, there was one problem he’d not taken into consideration. He spoke no German. And his English was strongly accented. So nobody could understand him, nor he, them. Meanwhile, as the clock was behaving in the most inexorable fashion, his desperation increased.

So out of charity i took him back to my room.

I have to say, it’s rather nice to be totally, thoroughly, and overwhelmingly appreciated.

And besides, he was quite handsome.

room with a viewMeanwhile, a room with a view onto Noe Street

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