First Day

After a while, we found ourselves getting hungry, so we began looking for a restaurant, which would serve something that we could recognize. My college German classes were great for grammar, but I was wishing we had spent a little more time on practical things like menus. Finally, we spotted a policeman and, trusting in my marginal German, decided to ask for his recommendation. He answered in something that sounded like German, but was unlike anything I had ever heard back at Canisius. It turns out that he was speaking in the local dialect, called Hessian, which caused a failure to communicate. After another try or two at conversation, we started to attract other pedestrians, who were curious about why these American soldiers were confronting one of the local cops. Soon, we had a small crowd talking in Hessian, each contributing their own bit of confusion to the situation. By this point, we were starting to get nervous. Then, one man walked up and asked us in perfect English if he could be of help. We were young, green and ignorant, but we weren’t stupid. We jumped at his offer.


We explained our search for a good restaurant and he said he was on his way to get something to eat himself, and would we mind if he joined us. We figured that the worst thing that could happen would be that we pay for his meal, so agreed. That was the best decision we made all day.


He led us to a nearby restaurant, which was a type that Germans call a Gasthaus or the English a pub, and after getting seated, proceeded to translate the menu for us. To this day, I don’t exactly remember what I had for my first German meal, but would like to think that it was Wiener Schnitzel, which is still one of the first things I order every time I return to Germany. This is a cut of milk fed veal, which is pounded very thin and in the process gets stretched large enough to almost cover a normal plate. It is then dipped in a batter and fried in a pan. Then the crispy, brown delicacy is presented to you accompanied by fried potatoes and a glass of the best beer on the planet. It still makes my mouth water just to think about it.


While we enjoyed our introduction to German cooking, our benefactor told us his story. He was from Berlin, which at the time, was divided into four sectors, French, English, Russian and American. His home was in the Russian or Communist sector. This was before the erection of the infamous Berlin Wall, so travel within the city was considerably easier than afterwards. He was a journalist and was vehemently opposed to Communism. His mistake was that he wrote about it in his articles for one of the local papers. He was eventually arrested, tried and imprisoned for his indiscretion. After a time, he was released, but was blacklisted and kept under surveillance. He somehow managed to make his way out of Berlin, through East Germany, which surrounded the city, into West Germany and finally ended up in Frankfurt, where he continued to write his anti-Communist columns. His experiences had made him very pro American, which is why he was so quick to help out three young GIs.


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