We first met over lunch in Hamburg. Lucinda had moved to Germany to carry out research for her PhD and then stayed when she was offered a job at a German university. A few years later, she met and married Helge, who grew up in middle Germany. Lucinda is energetic, vivacious, has a great sense of humor, and she is a true erudite. For two hours we touched on subjects ranging from our backgrounds, to German culture, to our current studies and our current lives. It was refreshing to talk in English… I felt overwhelmed with how much of the language I still needed to learn when I got to Germany. Lucinda is from the United States, so German is her second language, though she speaks German very well. She was happy to accommodate me in speaking in English — I needed a break from "thinking in German."
When I didn't get any satisfaction from the people at Smith, I decided to strike out on my own. I responded to ads online for rooms for rent, and Lucinda helped me with the wording on the responses. I had one interview with a woman living alone who wanted to take in a boarder, but she decided on someone else. No one else responded. It was all very discouraging.
I visited Lucinda and Helge on several occasions. One night, Lucinda mentioned that there was an apartment upstairs from them that was empty most of the time. Their landlords lived on the first floor of the house, Lucinda and Helge lived on the second floor, and the third floor had several finished rooms that the Kaisers used when their children and grandchildren came to visit. Lucinda said she had mentioned my dilemma to the landlady, and Frau Kaister felt really bad for me, but she also didn't want to give up their upstairs space. It was decided that the Kaisers would like to meet me.
Long story short… it was an instant hit, my rapport with Frau Kaiser (and later with Herr Kaiser). They decided to let me use three of the four rooms, saving the room with the double bed for their children to use.
The train station nearest the university
So, I packed up my belongings from the dorm and moved it the nearly two hours on the train. I moved everything in two trips. I arrived at Lucinda and Helge's on the day they were going away for the holiday weekend… it was Easter. In Germany, Easter starts on Friday and lasts until the following Monday. That means the stores are closed for all those days. When Lucinda and Helge left, they gave me the key to their apartment, but I didn't know that their door locked automatically when you shut it. So, for the weekend, I was upstairs with none of my belongings, except for the clothes on my back. Frau Kaiser lent me some money to go buy something for that night and the next day. That night, as I was going to sleep, there were fires burning all along the Elbe River. Germans celebrate the evening before Easter by burning wood and trash from the previous year. In olden times it was thought to ward of evil sprits, but nowadays it is more a way to bid the winter farewell and welcome in the spring. I thought about walking there, but I felt a bit demoralized by the mistake of locking myself out of my own belongings. I also didn’t want to walk alone in the dark.
My new home (top story)
When I finally "settled in" to my apartment, it was absolute bliss. The house was built in the style of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) with flower gardens all around. I did my homework on a small, round, white table, set up in front of the open front window, overlooking the street, where I could see the huge anchor in the front garden, a reminder of Herr Kaiser’s seafaring days. If I looked out the back window, I could see the Kaiser’s Laube (tea house) in the back garden. In Germany they don't use screens in their windows, and being on the third floor, I felt like I was living in a tree house. Besides all this, the commute by train to the university was half an hour instead of an hour and I had an instant "community" with Lucinda and Helge and the Kaisers.
My new bedroom/living room
To be continued…