Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Profiles in Moral Cowardice

As most of you know, I´ve lived for the past month and a half (minus the hospital stay, of course) with a `host family` in a small, isolated village near the larger village that I teach in. This has come to an end. I´ll explain the reasons below.

This family--I´ll call them the Goebbels (not their real name)-- offered me a room in the basement in return for €220 per month. When I moved in, they showed me my bathroom and my toilet, and said that I could also use the living room and the kitchen. They offered to take me with them when they went grocery shopping in town. They even threw in a hot lunch every Sunday.

Soon after I moved in, I realized that my kitchen and bath weren´t private at all. Instead, I had to share them with the Goebbels´spoiled teenage daughter, Helga. (Not her real name.) But, the rent was cheap by American standards and all utilities were included, including satellite TV, so I let this slide.

A couple days later I noticed that my TV didn´t work. Then, Magda Goebbels expelled me from the living room. Things improved a little while I was in the hospital and for a short while afterwards, but about a week ago the situation began to deteriorate rapidly. Magda consistently `forgot` to ask me if I´d like a ride when she went grocery shopping, and a couple of times I ran out of food.

It was 4 p.m. last Sunday and nobody had knocked on my door to tell me that lunch was ready. I thought this was a little weird, so I asked Josef Goebbels what was up with the situation. He became very angry and hissed at me that while they invite me to lunch sometimes, it wasn´t a standing invitation. --I had the impression that the cost of lunch came out of my rent! I silently cursed the Goebbels family as I reheated yet another TV dinner.

Since I can’t carry anything that I can’t put in a bag, I can´t actually cook—I’m stuck nuking things for the time being. The Goebbels’ kitchen is set up in such a way that I couldn´t get my TV dinners from the microwave of the table, so I had to eat them at the counter. This worked for a while because they let me push chairs from the table to the counter and then back again. –Actually leaving a chair at the counter was, of course, strictly forbidden. It might get in some able-bodied person’s way.

Wait. It gets worse.

Just as I was about to pop my Monday lunch into the microwave, Helga informed me that I was no longer allowed to push the chairs around the kitchen. Theoretically it could damage the wooden floor. –Of course, I’d been doing this for two weeks and the floor was perfectly fine, but whatever…

So, from now on I’d have to eat my hot meals standing. On one leg.

That was the last straw. Out of desperation I told the music teacher about my situation on Tuesday morning. “I feel so, so sorry for you,” she said. Then she left.

She returned about a half hour later. It turns out that she lives within 200 meters of the school and is on good terms with some neighbors who operate a small bed-and-breakfast. She asked them whether they’d be able to put me up for 220 Euro a month. They said yes. So I went over to look at the room.

It wasn’t a room. It was an efficiency apartment, fully furnished. Private bath and shower. My own kitchenette. Twin beds. Fully functional television and radio. No stairs to climb. Access to a washer and dryer. All utilities included.


Magda walked into the kitchen on Tuesday evening as I was eating my dinner. I probably looked pretty pathetic, balancing on one leg, half-leaning over the counter, shoveling food into my mouth. Most people would have offered to bring me a chair. Magda didn’t say one word to me.

First thing Wednesday morning I informed the bed-and-breakfast people that I would take the room, and that I’d be moving in as soon as possible.

But there was still one problem. I was terrified of the Goebbels'.

This was not unwarranted. Mr. (Josef) Goebbels had yelled at me on a few occasions and sneered at me on several others. And as for Magda… Well, a lot of the teachers at the school are afraid of her, too. She has a reputation for getting extremely nasty when, for example, teachers confront her about Helga’s little habit of cheating on tests. The principal describes Magda as a “miserable beast.”

I was prepared for shouting. I was prepared for them to demand that I pay for the entire month of November—despite the fact that, without a rental contract, they couldn’t force me to do so. I was prepared for the possibility that they would throw me out on the street immediately—I even smuggled my valuables to school Wednesday morning just in case!

When Magda brought me my mail Wednesday evening, I forced myself to tell her.

“Good,” she said, without a trace of emotion. “We wanted to change that anyway. It was too awkward. Our other tenants were much more self-reliant.” She uttered this last sentence as if I had a weak character as opposed to a broken leg.

To preempt any attempts to extort a full month’s rent from me, I offered up front to pay for the first week of November, despite the fact that I would only be present for four days. I asked her to bring the vacuum cleaner downstairs so that I could clean my room before I left. “There’d better not be any spots on the carpeting,” said Magda. “We just installed it.” I assured her that this would not be a problem. Then I packed my bags.

When Magda came for the bill, she wanted it exact to the penny—it came to something like 52 Euro and 67 cents. (I found this odd, since I volunteered to pay for three extra days!) Then she said, “Bye-bye! We won’t see each other anymore.”

As if I’d seek out further contact with her and her miserable family.

When I hobbled upstairs later that evening to take a phone call from a German friend, Josef gave me a look that I generally reserve for unexpected piles of dog filth. I greeted him with a cheerful “Good evening!”

Fear quickly turned to loathing. These people wanted to me to leave, but instead of calmly explaining the situation like rational adults, they strived to make my life as difficult as humanly possible so that I’d be forced to flee! Profiles in moral cowardice, indeed.

The thing is, if Josef or Magda had approached me politely and asked me to seek out a new place to live, I would have understood. Helga was born with a chronic illness which no doubt is very stressful for her parents. Having a tenant with a broken leg was too much for them. Unfortunately, the Goebbels aren’t much for showing consideration or even courtesy to anyone beyond their small circle of relatives and close friends. True, they visited me at the hospital. But my boss was keeping tabs on this, and it may have been just to keep up appearances. Josef and Magda aren’t popular at the school, and I get the impression that they’re not exactly pillars of the village, either.

After the latest debacle, all the teachers at school are completely disgusted with them. At least half a dozen offered to help me move. (The move took place on Thursday afternoon. The English teacher and the music teacher hauled my bags in their cars while the school secretary actually rode my bicycle from one village to the other! The geography teacher lent me her suitcase to make everything easier. Afterward, the music teacher bought me dinner.)

And it’s a good thing for the Goebbels family that my parents are on another continent, because I think my mom was about ready to rip them a new orifice.

I’d call them swine, but pigs are actually intelligent animals and can be as friendly and personable as dogs if properly trained. I’d call them vipers, but snakes are just following their instincts—they don’t have malicious intentions.

So instead I’ll call them what they are. Unfortunately, what they are is not printable in a family-friendly blog.

Well, I suppose you can’t expect much from people who take their decore tips from Martha Stewart’s latest book, Decorating with Dead Things. (Morticia Addams keeps a copy on her coffee table.)

Seriously. I’m not talking about a trophy or two here, folks. There are at least twenty skulls and pairs of antlers in the house—and those are just the ones in the parts that I had access to. Pelts all over the walls, too. Including one that bears a very disturbing resemblance to my little dog, Layla…

I have nothing against hunting, but plastering the walls of your house with body parts strikes me as morbid. (Jeffrey Dahmer stuffed and mounted things too, folks!) I suppose that excessive trophy-collecting corresponds to a certain mentality. One in which it is far too easy to treat other living things like pieces of furniture.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Adrienne your adventures with the Goebbels sounds like the makings for a bad movie. With deer season approaching I could send these people plenty of hides, horns and bones to enhance thier decore. Glad to hear that so much support from the other teachers.


3:11 PM  
Blogger christina said...

what a f*cking bitch...all of them! you should have kicked them all with your good leg, then wacked them with your crutches, and to top it off, spilled food all over the new carpet!!!!

but really, i'm glad you're somewhere else now. you don't deserve living with such...pieces of shit.

(sorry for the language)

2:47 AM  
Blogger Ada said...

Yep, I´m really glad to have moved out. The teachers were all wonderfully helpful, and everybody asks me how I like my new place. (Answer: It´s great!) Rick, if you want to send the Goebbels family assorted inedible animal parts, you have the address, but I wouldn´t waste your money on the shipping charge!

And Christina, I understand about the language... that´s pretty much what I wanted to say to them, too! But really, I just kind of feel sorry for them. Apparently they have all the moral and emotional maturity of seventh graders. It can´t be easy to go through life like that.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could tell I was pissed, eh? I've never actually ripped anyone a new orifice, but it sounds tempting with them. Really, though, you're in a much better situation now, and for that I'm grateful. Love, Mom

11:14 PM  
Blogger Ada said...

Yes, Mom, it was pretty obvious that you were pissed off! And I was too, of course. At times I was so angry that I was literally shaking. But now I´m in a much better place, able to relax some more and be more independent. By the way-- I made my first pot of macaroni and cheese in two months yesterday! The kitchen is small enough that I didn´t even have to carry it to the table-- I just picked it up and set it down again. It was delicious, of course-- thanks again for the care package!

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classifieds for our community. Buy, sell, trade, date, events... post anything. Adquity Classifieds.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classifieds for our community. Buy, sell, trade, date, events... post anything. Adquity Classifieds.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, sorry about the bad treatment. But I really don´t understand the Goebbels-comparison.

Don´t you think, it´s a bit undifferentiated? Especially for a kind of teacher?.

4:09 AM  
Anonymous Prusak said...

You ARE a FUCKING ignorant stupid AmeriKKKunt bitch whore slut nigger-lover! You go to Germany and you expect to call the shots? Typical Ameri-CUNT! Go forbid you follow the fuckng rules of the host family! God forbid you have any respect for the tradional German culture and way of life in thier OWN FUCKING COUNTRY, in their OWN FUCKING house! GET THE FUCK out of Europe, dumbass American NIGGER. You probably suck NIGGER dick!

9:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hm, the last comment seems a little biased. probably one of your racist students.

7:07 PM  

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