Monday, October 11, 2010

Hope for Tomorrow

When people find out that I moved from America to Germany, they incredulously ask, "Why?"
Of course, it makes me like I am a fool. But there are reasons. One of those reasons is in the hospital now. Probably two of the reasons are at the hospital right now.

Asmus's father, Friedrich, has been struggling against a variety of ailments for about three months in a variety of institutions and his wife, Margot, is at his bedside hoping he will eat some of her energizing vegetable soup and get better.

I have had few long-term relationships, so I have little experience supporting people who do not share my DNA. Add to that, dealing with a foreign health care system and I am lost.

Hospitals, like everything in Germany, are much quieter than their American cousins. Also, there is much less privacy. As ridiculous as curtains are, they do supply patients with a semblance of alone time. Friedrich's rooms have not been equipped with this faux wall. He does not have the best hearing, so I try to talk loudly but not too loud. I want to say something interesting but not too personal.

The worse thing is that you can never find a doctor. But Asmus's family is much more patient than me and is in control, so I do nothing. I guess that's good because my poor German would immediately turn into aggressive and mean English.

Things are pretty stressful. Good news comes and bad news immediately takes its place. I am more comfortable with constants. This roller coaster ride of sickness is especially draining. However, out of all this pain the brothers are talking to each other more and old friends have strengthened bonds.

I just show up with bananas and try to be perky.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Semper Vigilans

Yesterday afternoon, there was a terror alert for Americans in Europe. The more my life changes, the more it stays the same. I remember New York after the 2001 attacks and weeks terror alerts that morphed into a malaise. This time I have skipped the four stages and went straight to acceptance. Actually, I think I live at acceptance.

There is a level of trust in Germany that I have not had since I moved to New York. In New York, I was constantly on the lookout for robbery, murder and rape.

Never let anyone walk behind me at night.

No direct eye contact on the subway.

Never carry more money than necessary.

Always walk where there are groups of people.

Never leave any thing alone in public places.

Notice everyone around you; try to remember some detail.

In a bar, take your drink with you to the bathroom.

After September 11, I added Be wary of unattended backpacks to the list.

Even though, Germany has much less crime than New York, I have been living my life here on Orange Level Alertness. For example, I have not known the pleasure of taking of a steeply-discounted train trip from Kiel to Hamburg with strangers.

In Germany, Deutsche Bahn, the national rail system, sells a land ticket. This pass allows travel unlimited travel for one day throughout a state, or land. The land ticket is good for five people. A while back, someone clever and cheap discovered that they can get a really cheap ride if they asked strangers to chip in for the ticket. Now it is commonplace for strangers to accost you when you are buying a train ticket.

People who met around a ticket machine are suddenly travel partners. While these new partners only have to sit in the same car, that is too close for me. I am not giving money to people I don't know, I am not talking to people I don't know and I am certainly not sitting near people I don't know. I always wonder whether I should assume a backpack at McDonald's is a threat or the property of someone who forgot napkins.

For those who worry about my safety, know that I have been obsessively worried about my safety since April 2000 without breaks.