Many years ago I made a last-minute decision to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair, only to discover that the closest hotel available was more than 100 miles from the city. Fortunately, my travel agent had a solution. She would call her best friend Bruno in Frankfurt and see if he could arrange for me to stay with a local family. Bruno said he would see what he could do.
After a few hours, he reported back that he had gone door to door looking for someone who would let “his best friend in the whole world” stay with them during the Fair. And one family, the Prehlers, a couple in their fifties with a teenage daughter, said yes, they’d be happy to put me up for the equivalent of $25/night, including breakfast and dinner. How could I possibly turn down an offer like that?
And so it was that just days later, after a white-knuckled taxi ride from the airport, I found myself standing on the doorstep of a small home on the outskirts of Frankfurt, waiting for the door to open. I had little fear that there would be a language barrier. I had had two years of scientific German in college and had brushed up my skills with a suitably small phrase book before falling asleep on the plane.
But when the door opened and Marianne began speaking, I knew instantly that I was dead wrong about my skills. Machine guns could not have kept pace with the words that came rushing from her mouth. I knew there was a “hello” and a “welcome” in there, in much the same way that machine guns sometimes use tracer bullets to help them hit their target, but the rest just whooshed by me, umlauts dancing before my eyes, ringing in my ears.
I guess my reaction gave me away, because Marianne abruptly stopped and called for her 13-year-old daughter, Annette, who was fluent in English. Annette quickly set everything straight and served as translator throughout my stay. When she was at school, however, the Prehlers and I made do with hand signals and acting out, which at times was priceless. I will always remember the way Josef described a particular cheese, Kӓse mit Musik, which though tasty, produced an astounding level of flatulence.
I will leave it you to create your own image of how he described the cheese’s effect.