zone boundary

I learned a lot from her.

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Copyright © 2007, Michael M Wayman

I decided that I was wrong, I really did need to learn another language other than my mother tongue. Something new, a language and culture that I didn't know anything about.

But how? School was just impossible, too many in the class and teaching material supplied by Napoleon. Before I could ask, my Mother said “Night school, try night school! But you will have to wear sunglasses to learn in the dark.”

I went to the Adult Education Service, they offered many languages, but only one. All the other language courses had not enough students or were Spanish and full. I had to get a letter from my school, a dispensation, as I was under age. So with one evening a week I started German.

Some hope! Three hours a week and the homework were just too little. However I bumped into Miss Kirschbaum in the street. She was an old lady, who lived at the top of the street, I remembered talking to her every few months when I was collecting door to door.

She was always kind to me. Didn't she come from Austria, wasn't she Jewish, hadn't she been a teacher? I told her that I was learning German, but that I was not making much progress. I asked her if she would help me.

I learned a lot from her. She was pleased to help me, I think that she was lonely, she liked to speak her mother tongue again, I did some small repair work in her house and sorted out her garden.

I still went to the evening class once a week, I had paid for it. At the end of the school year in June the teacher said that I would have to go to Germany if I wanted to learn more. Yes, that was good enough for me. No, I was not taking the examination, I didn't want the piece of paper.

Miss Kirschbaum agreed and took out a map of Germany and spent hours telling me about the various parts of the country. “Oh, but you can't go there. That's the zone.”

On the first day of the summer holidays I caught a train for the first part of the journey to a little town in Germany. I got a job in a “school for trees”, a nursery for shrubs and trees. The work was hard, but I was fit and I talked to the other guys, as best I could. I did learn something, one speaks a better German in this part of the country.

At the weekend I caught a bus to a village called Hitzacker on the river and on the other side of the river was the zone. There was a high wooden platform on the bank where you could get a better view of the other side, the zone. Someone insisted that I borrow his binoculars, I could see the soldiers with their sub-machine guns marching up and down. “It's the zone!”

When I got back to the town I went to buy some chocolate from Aldi. Someone had told me that Aldi was cheap, a discounter. Everything was cheap, nothing had a price tag on it, everything was in brown cardboard boxes.

Every time I stopped to look at something a woman asked me to read the labels to me, she had forgotten her glasses? I could just about pronounce the words, whatever they meant. Always the same woman, perhaps she was Turkish, perhaps she couldn't read.

Notty was working the cash desk. Notty spoke perfect German to the customers, though I don't remember her learning it at school. Notty took my money and my chocolate. “You won't be needing that. The supermarket is closing now. Meet me in a few minutes in the market square!”

After a few hours waiting in the Marktplatz Notty came and informed me that I was taking her out that evening. We went to a restaurant called Wiener Wald and ordered fried chicken. Notty quickly ate her meal and started on my plate. Afterwards we went to my place and I tried very hard.