It can seem unwelcoming coming to a country where every door is already locked for you. You’re instantly locked out of culture, language, community, a sense of place or direction.
And it doesn’t help when you lose your keys.
Most house doors in Germany lock automatically, meaning if you leave your keys inside you’re locked out. I learned this the hard way when I took Sherlock for a walk and left the keys in my Airbnb, closed the door behind us and instantly smacked myself on the forehead.
Josh was out of town.
Markus, the Airbnb host, was in France.
The other flat in the house was unoccupied.
No one was working in the office downstairs.
The house was empty.
All I had with me was my phone and Sherlock. It was a windy and cold evening and I planned on stepping out for a quick walk and didn’t think I would need a jacket. Funny how you instantly notice the weather once you realize you’re trapped in it. I messaged Markus to tell him what happened and he suggested I climb the house and go in through an open window. So here I am, in a foreign country alone with my dog, not speaking any German, living at a stranger’s house, attempting to climb the roof. It may have looked a little suspicious.
I went into the garden and picked up the first ladder I saw, a traditional type with stable footing and a platform on the top for a paint bucket or tool-set. I propped it up, taking care to make sure it was even and wouldn’t shake, and started climbing. When I reached the top, I realized there was no way I would make it to the roof without a decent sized jump. The ladder was too short. I spent a while on top of the ladder weighing the pros and cons of just jumping instead of trying to find another way to the roof. But then I decided I much preferred my brain inside my skull and not on the ground below, thank you very much. So I took the ladder back to the garden and I found a taller one. This one was so large, I think I took out some tree branches carrying it to the house. It leaned heavily against the house but it lacked the stability of the first ladder.
Let’s be real here: climbing that thing was freaking me out.
There was so much extra ladder at the top of the roof that I would either have to keep climbing the ladder to go over it, or jump from the ladder onto the roof and risk the ladder falling to the ground leaving me dangling by my fingers. I spent a good 20 minutes just going up and down the ladder assessing the situation and psyching myself out. The Gryffindor in me said to just go up really fast and jump to the roof. The Ravenclaw in me told me that way could break something or leave me stranded.
I needed help. I needed someone to hold the ladder. So now I had to psych myself out to use my broken German to ask a stranger for 30 seconds of help. That’s all I needed. 30 seconds to get up the ladder to get my keys. So I spent 20 minutes convincing myself to go next door to ask a stranger for help. In Denglish, I explained my situation and the neighbor came and held the ladder as I climbed up. With a “dankeschon” to my helper, I was on the roof and through the window, keys now in hand. I messaged Markus and told him I survived the climb, and he replied, “It’s solving problems which makes life interesting. It was a joy.”
In my last post, I talked about feeling like Frances, coming to this country and being the ridiculous American woman. I definitely don’t have my act together. I definitely don’t know what I am doing. Most days, I can’t order from the backerei properly, and honestly anything that has to do with Euros stresses me out.
I feel locked out, but I figured out how to fix that:
I have a ladder.
Each rung is a step I can take to reach Germany, and German culture. To feel more at home and immersed. Language will be a big step.
- Being comfortable buying something.
These are all steps on the ladder.
I have to take it one step at a time.
I can’t do everything at once. It takes time to get acquainted to a new job, house, city, country, anything. I have to take it one step at a time. It will be hard, and I can’t see the end game very clearly, but it’s better than being out in the cold.
I have to ask for help when I need it.
I know that I have support, I just have to ask for help when I need it. In Germany (and probably most places), people will not help you unless you ask for it. On one of our first days here, we saw a woman crash while riding her bike and no one helped her. She didn’t ask. But there is always plenty of support (sometimes too much) if you need it. You just need to be brave enough to ask.
I have a story.
Think of the great story I’ll have of what I’ve accomplished (it’s even a bit funny in hindsight).
I’ll never forget my keys again.
For real though. Those things are glued to my hand.
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