In 2003, I took the biggest trip of my life. I moved to Stuttgart, Germany for three years with my mom and dad. My dad is a Marine and he got stationed at Patch Barracks, which is one of three American army bases in the area.
We traveled a lot in those three years. We were regular tourists, going to Paris, Rome, Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Corfu, and countless other places. With all the traveling and experiences, living in Europe and constant trips became the norm for me.
It was no big deal to go to Austria and snowboard for a day or two. We lived off base in a small farming village called Filderstadt. Because of the constant traveling and being immersed in German life, I was able to experience so much more than the regular tourist, who only comes for a few weeks or a month.
I learned about the people and the customs in a personal way. Our neighbors became close friends to us and welcomed anyone who visited us with open arms. The whole neighborhood was great, especially our next door neighbors.
On our left were Lucy and Jochim, an older couple from northern Germany who spoke the German I learned in school called Hochdeutsch, or High German. They also spoke a tiny bit of English. We went over for coffee and cake a couple times and Lucy made ‘Amerikanerin Kuchen,’ which was really just cheese cake.
The neighbor on our right was an old woman who I called Oma (grandma in German). She had lived in Stuttgart all her life and spoke German in the local dialect called Schwabisch. It was hard to understand her because Schwabisch is so very different from Hochdeutsch, but despite the huge language barrier, she became a close friend as well.
She gave us lots of fruit and made us sweets and cakes. I remember helping her clear the snow off her walkway once. We didn’t talk much, but we communicated a lot by just doing something together.
Less than a minute’s walk from our house was a Biergarten, a traditional German restaurant. We became very close with the family who ran it. They spoke some English so we were able to talk to them about America and T-bone steak, which they couldn’t serve because of mad cow disease.
I remember we once bought them a T-bone steak at our American commissary on base. The husband was super excited and he promptly grilled it. They loved our dog, who they called Felix because he reminded them of another dog they used to play with.
There was also a Turkish kebap restaurant near by that we frequented. The family that owned it gave us a lot of free food. The husband of that family used to make a heart with two pepper slices on the pizzas he made me, always telling me in his Turkish accent, ‘I do thees because I lofe you!’ These were just some of the friends we made in the village.
Filderstadt was surrounded by fields, our house little more than 100 yards from them. During New Years, the Germans would set off fireworks right in our street and the fields. During Christmas, we got carolers dressed in Santa suits singing German Christmas carols to us. Completely unprepared, we dug for mints and our American chocolate to give them.
In the summer, I used to be able to go around the city or to base by myself on the S-Bahn (a German subway). Sometimes, I would take a bus from the S-Bahn station to the base. Other times, I would walk the 20 minutes through the city and by the Autobahn to get there. I could take all the time I wanted, going through the stores and walking through the park.
Living in Germany was wonderful and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to really experience Europe. I loved my neighbors and my small town. I enjoyed the customs and the city. The perspective I got was that of a German. By living in a different country, I came back to the United States as a third culture kid.
I attended a small American Department of Defense school in Germany, something not many people can say they have done. I visited the places in my history books and came back to the U.S. a new person. My world is so much bigger now because I had an intimate and personal view of a different culture and a bigger world.
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