In an attempt to tackle several items on my to-do list at once, I joined a Sportsverein (Sports Club). In my mind there is nothing more positively German than becoming a Vereinsmitglieder (club member). There are over a half a million clubs in Germany, the largest being the soccer clubs. There are usually varying levels of participation as well, from active to passive membership, there is something for everyone. From sports to culture, they have clubs for everything you can imagine. Generally the city website will have a fairly extensive list. In my current city, there are clubs for model train enthusiasts, for preserving the local culture, for soccer, gymnastics, skiing, theater, and music, just to name a few. The larger the city, the more clubs you are going to find there.
In theory this would get me more involved with the local community, I would be out of the house several times a week, and I would get regular practice speaking German. All of which were things I was anxious to increase. Since moving to Bavaria, I’d become somewhat of a homebody during the week. I’ve kept myself busy around the house, and running the children to and from school and other activities, but I’d rarely taken the time to get out of the house alone. As a result, my confidence in speaking German was diminishing, causing me to speak less in public, which in turn actually was causing my language abilities to atrophy. In Baden Württemberg, my weekly event without the family was folk dancing. I regularly engaged in social interactions in German, which increased my confidence, which increased my ability to speak and understand German. It was time to re-engage and get back on the upward spiral.
After examining the options available, I chose the Verein which seemed to have the most activities. The club I chose has chess, bowling, tennis, table tennis, soccer, skiing, and Faustball, whatever that is. Each section had a separate membership fee, so we picked one to begin with. The children and I are now active members of the Gymnastik, Fitness, and Turnen section.
The children are happily attending Kinderturnen (children’s gymnastics), and I have a choice of classes, to include Pilates, yoga, Zumba, step aerobics, kickboxing, and Nordic Walking. Since I am not known for being particularly coordinated in English, and I have a bit of anxiety about attempting to practice anything where the delay in my translational ability is apt to cause me physical harm. I decided to start with Nordic walking.
Like most things I’ve attempted in Germany, it wasn’t nearly just as easy as showing up for a walk in the woods.
Three weeks ago, I made my first attempt to join the group. The Nordic Walking group meets at 9 am in the parking lot of the hunter’s cabin. Easy enough, it’s on the edge of the forest not too far from my house. I arrive promptly at 9 am to an empty parking lot. On closer examination, I realize that I am not at the Hunter’s cabin, but at the clubhouse for the local shooting club, the wrong location. Truly, who would have thought that one small German town had two locations dedicated to firearms?
The next day at Kinderturnen, a fellow member kindly gives me directions, which I try simultaneously to quickly translate and visualize on the ever-so disjointed map in my head. Basically what I understand sounds something like this: leave here and turn left, there’s a forest there, it’s in there.
On the way home, we take a quick detour to the woods. I figure it can’t be too difficult to find a parking lot in the middle of the woods. Wrong again. You see, nearly every hundred meters, there’s yet another road, leading to different trails in the same woods. I was fairly certain she said it was on the right-hand side, which eliminated half of them. In this lengthy stretch of wood, that still left quite a few options. Hopefully, it will be the only one with cars in it next Monday.
The following Monday morning I leave the house early enough to arrive on time, but not so early that I’m the first one there. I drive through the woods slowly, there are no signs marking the hunter’s hut, apparently it’s just one of those things you know. Instead, I am looking for cars – and people carrying Nordic Walking Poles. About 5k in, I see something that looks promising. I pull in, park my car, get out and look around. I try not to appear too shocked, but I’m not sure this is the right group. The schedule didn’t say anything about a senior’s walking group, and not one of these half-dozen ladies can possibly be a day under 70. I take a quick surreptitious look around for someone closer to my age. Finding no one, I approach the ladies, who look nearly as surprised to see me. Expecting to find a work-out group, I am dressed in running clothes. These ladies are dressed for a morning walk in the woods. I am pretty sure that I won’t be needing the water bottles I have strapped around my waist. I’m thinking I’ll be lucky to break a sweat, let alone work up a thirst.
Then the group leader arrives. I think I now know what ski instructors do in their off-season. This guy looks like half of the ski instructors I’ve had in Europe. Which as an aside are not all young students. Three of the four ski instructors I’ve had were significantly older than me. Two of them looked exactly like the gentleman standing in front of me.
We form a group and do a couple of stretches. At this point I’m still a bit uncertain, but before we leave, another person in my age group arrives. We head into the woods, and the chatter begins immediately. These ladies have been doing this a while, and it is apparent that this is not only and exercise group, it is the Monday morning gossip session. We are walking at a snail’s pace, a good distance behind the leader, eventually a pocket opens up and I squeeze through quickly putting some distance between myself and the rest of the group. As I catch up with the leader he begins to talk to me. He realizes right away that I’m not German. Probably because I’m not properly dressed – German’s are always properly dressed for everything. But he tells me in a seemingly shocked voice that he can understand me fairly well. We chat for a while, and he tells me he’ll be turning 80 next year.
We continue through the wooded paths for an hour, walking approximately 5.5 kilometers. To my great surprise, I actually do feel some effects from my efforts. We stretch again, and as we head to our cars, they ask me if I’ll be back again next week. I tell them that yes, I think I will, and they seem genuinely happy to hear it. Later that week, the lady who gave directions asks me if I found it alright. I tell her that I did, and she shrugs a bit adding conspiratorially, they are a bit old aren’t they?
It’s my third week now, and I think I am already an accepted part of the group. I arrive a bit earlier this week, since I know where I’m going. We have a few different faces today, but it’s pretty much the same ladies. The group leader tells us we’ll be taking a different route through the woods, and when we set off, he waves me forward. We chat amiably until we get to the first path crossing. He turns to me and asks me where this path goes. Completely perplexed, I just look at him. Apparently he is under the mistaken belief that I have some idea where I am – other than a forest path in Bavaria. His eyes twinkling, he turns to ask the other ladies. It turns out we are standing at the junction of the path we took the week before. Last week, the trails we took were large and fairly well-groomed, this week however we are going through the forest. The leader turns to look at me, shakes his head and tells me I am improperly dressed for such an outing. The woods are apparently full of very dangerous ticks and I appear to be dressed as a veritable tick fest.
As we continue along our walk, my leader stops to point out berries, trees and flowers to me, asking me if I know what they are. I have told him I was from New York, which must be like telling someone you are from another planet. Although I come from a small town in Upstate NY, where I assure you we have berries and trees, I am pretty sure he thinks I’ve never been in the woods before. We come across deer licks, and trees damaged by wild boars, and at EVERY intersection we stop to discuss our location. This particular point amuses me particularly because I don’t know where most of these roads are when I’m not in the woods, and I only recognize a few of the town’s names. I find that I am not the only one that doesn’t know our exact location most of the time, and I am duly impressed with the extent of his knowledge of the woods. Although, truth be told he could tell me just about anything, since I am translating everything from German to English in my head and plotting it on my very faulty internal map.
Today the leader gently scolds me not only for wearing the wrong clothes, but also wearing the wrong shoes. I will most assuredly fall and break my ankle in the shoes I am wearing. I make a quick promise to dress properly next week. Over the course of the walk, he also takes time to correct my walking form, which will ensure I am breathing properly and using the correct muscles. Although the Germans have a reputation for being forthright to the point of rude, I really don’t find this to be true. Not once was I made to feel truly chastised. On the contrary, I feel as though they must actually care that I get this right if they are willing to correct me, and continue to teach me new and interesting facts about the woods around us.
Nearing the one hour mark, he turns and tells me we keep going “schnelgedaus”. Then he asks me if I understand. I tell him no, and he translates it to “schnell gerade aus” which means quickly straight ahead. I ask him if he’s speaking Bayrisch, and everyone within earshot chuckles. We continue quickly straight ahead, and he points to another trail. Again, he asks if I know where we are. I begin to shake my head, but this trail does look vaguely familiar. He smiles and tells me this was the trail we started off on this morning. We’d come nearly full circle back to the beginning.
I neither broke my ankle, nor did I come home carrying any ticks. I did however receive several bramble scratches and stinging nettle irritations around my ankles. Next week, I’ll head his advice and wear my hiking clothes.
Walking through the woods early on a Monday morning is probably one of the best ways to kick off the week, and I am so pleased that I found this walking group. While it wasn’t the group that I anticipated, it is providing me with what I need. I am getting out of the house regularly, I enjoy the company, I am practicing my German more regularly, and I am getting a bit more comfortable with the Bayrisch dialect. Well, that and I know if I go out alone, I’m just lost in the woods.