My grandfather lived with us briefly on the other side of our house, after his divorce from my grandmother in the 70's. But he didn't speak German! He always had a love for Switzerland and claimed our ancestors were from the Swiss Alps. Maybe he learned this phrase from the TV show, Hogan's Heroes, or from his German grandfather.
But it was my sewing teacher, Mrs. Felshau (Edelweiss Stitchery in Oxford, NJ), who started my lifetime love of the language. She would say a few German words here and there—I couldn't get enough. I was around age 7.
I also had some tutoring with my classmate's mother who was born in Germany.
Not surprisingly, when I was able to choose a language course in the 9th grade, I chose German. When a meeting was announced for anyone interested in being an AFS exchange student, bells went off! My girlfriend, Jessica, and I attended that meeting. Jess did a summer in Australia and I did a year in Austria during my junior year of high school. The fee was $4600—I paid half and my parents paid the other half. Today, the fee is $15,350. Yikes! That does not sound affordable for someone from a middle-class family. So sad.
I was the last exchange student my host parents would have. My host mother loved the U.S. and played Elvis in her kitchen. She loved traveling and spent 6 years in Italy before marrying my host father. Her Italian and Austrian cooking and baking was out of this world.
Her other students were from Seattle, Kewanne (Illinois), and San Antonio. She visited all three in the early 80's. She loved that trip. The student before me was Suvi from Finland. Suvi fell in love with Gustav and they have two boys, "Klein" ("small") Gustav and Anton.
My host mother, "Mutti" (German for "Mom"). Her close friends and family called her Annemie, short for Annemarie. Much of our time was spent in the kitchen. Mutti always had music on. Either the local radio, Elvis, or Italian opera.
Typical scene in the living room. Only two TV channels available during this time.
Mutti, Vati, Sven, Wolfgang
Mutti and me. I'm wearing a Liz Claiborne sweater, a gift from my Grandmother that my brother brought me at Xmas when he visited me in Austria. ♥
Sven and Klein Gustav, Suvi's son.
Wolfgang and Sven
David came to visit me for Xmas!
My host brother, Wolfgang
My host mother and her sister-in-law, Helga. I loved them both.
Mutti even taught me how to knit!
Mutti even taught me how to knit!
Sven and me painting.
Suvi (exchange student from Finland who ended up marrying Gustav), Gustav, little Gustav, Mutti, Vati, Sven, and Wolfgang.
By Christmas time, I was really picking up the language, especially when it was just normal every day chit-chat. It was difficult during the first few months, though. I remember my host mother asking one morning, "Bist Du ausgeschlafen?" If you translate this literally, it means, "Did you sleep outside?" I thought, "What the heck is she asking? I didn't sleep outside!" Thank goodness for my dictionaries. Yes, I did get enough sleep. ♥
Wolfgang visited me for 2 months during my senior year of high school.
My parents and me. Not sure why Mutti and her cousin Brigitte are not looking at camera. :/
I turned 30 in Europe. I visited Mik in Antwerp. Pic here is me and Mutti on a visit across the border to Hungary. I wanted to order the goulash, but Mutti wouldn't let me. (It wouldn't be as good as hers, she thought.)
Two pics above are in Hallstatt.
Two pics above were taken at Wölfbauerhütte in Gmünd.
Kleinsasserhof with Margit.
One of my favorite places to visit in Austria. (Travel tip - they are closed during some winter months)
Sept. 20 - turning 30 in Antwerp! Mik made me the best photo calendar of her work.
I joined my parents and niece, Tarissa, to Europe. We traveled to Germany, Austria, and Italy. My family got a taste of Mutti's cooking. :) We've never tasted better goulash or lasagna.
Four pics above are Venice
Dinner in Belluno, Italy
Maternal Great Grandparents' house in Vodo Di Cadore, Italy (Village called Peaio)
Cortina, Italy - Tarissa, Mom, Wolfgang
Back in Trebesing, Austria: Gustav, Suvi, and me
Tarissa on the hanging bridge
Vati and Mutti
Lunch in Gmunden
Upon learning that Mutti's health condition was getting worse, (she was suffering from cancer), I booked my trip immediately.
Mutti and Suvi
Me, Suvi, Gustav, Vati
Lunch at Maria in Hohenburg: Wolfgang, Vati, Mutti, Mutti's brother Erwin, and me
Dinner at Gustav and Suvi's
Email from Margit on Nov. 17th:
(She was practicing her English!)
It is very nice to hear from you ! How was your trip? You can see I am learning by doing. And I have to learn a lot!!! Yesterday I met Annemie in a shop and she told me that she is very sad that you are not here. Hope you feel well and wishing you all the best! Margit
I hugged Mutti goodbye and said, "Ich liebe Dich." Mutti passed away on February 3, 2007 at the age of 69. Vati called me with this sad news and asked, "We can still be friends, right?" I was taken aback by such a statement and said to him, "You are Dad - you are family - of course!"