Editor’s note: The following is the second in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the May 19-25, 2010, issue.
By Marjorie Stradinger
Andrea Jean Laemmel left her Minnesota small town for college, then followed her dream to go to Germany, where she met Thomas. Moving back to the States, a brief time back at home, she and Thomas married, and moved to Connecticut. Andi’s still following her dreams, maxing out her comfort zone.
“I went to school (in Germany) for three months,” Andi said. “Phenomenal roommates. We hit it off, took an English course together through Cambridge University in downtown Berlin, living in this great apartment, totally fun, of course.”
“Was there still emotion about the wall coming down?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” Andi said. “Derogatory terms…we can’t print. The Eastern side wasn’t up to date. They’d lived in a black-and-white world, and when the wall came down, they saw color.”
“Pleasantville,” I said.
Andi left the last piece of maple-walnut cake we shared at The Whistle Stop in Windsor, Conn. I ate it.
“The East Germans had lived in a sheltered world, had survived on brown coal mining—not up to standard,” Andi said. “Now, the West came in and completely eliminated it to pull them up to standard. Leipzig went to 25 percent unemployment.”
East Germans felt disrespected, offended. Many wanted it the way it had been.
Andi’s Swiss roommate returned home. Beth stayed in Berlin.
“I had two more months on my passport,” Andi said. “My instructor knew somebody who had an English school in Leipzig and could probably get me an interview. I was on the train to Leipzig, an hour-and-half southeast of Berlin.”
A German exchange student who’d lived with Andi’s family offered her apartment in South Leipzig.
“Strange coincidence,” Andi said. “The apartment was dark…artistic, not a happy place. My friends came to Leipzig…getting me together in my horrid town that I didn’t know. I was scared speechless. We figured out where the school was.”
No money, needing a work visa, apartment, registered address, documents, and insurance to get a visa. Most apartments were bare. Everything had to be installed.
“I found an ad with ‘WG’…good because there was a kitchen already installed,” Andi said. “It meant the people in the rooms were all staying. I started moving my stuff in and thought, ‘Oh, I’m living with you people, I think.’”
It was a large, three-bedroom in the north, close to the school.
“I bought a bicycle for 30 euros,” she said.
“Like a literary character!” I said.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I took whatever could fit in my suitcase, put it into the basket, rode across town, ran up five flights, dumped my basket, ran back downstairs, did the whole thing over again, until I had everything. These people were laughing…what’s this crazy woman doing?”
Overwhelmed, still no bed, her roommate, Norman, knocked on her door, and tried to speak English.
She explained: “Hilarious. Finally, ‘One moment.’ He came back with a sleeping bag. I thought, ‘You’re my hero.’”
Finally, it all started to happen—she got the visa, was learning the system, making money, paying back her parents. She got a futon. And she and 12 friends from different countries relaxed in local bars.
“It was awesome,” Andi said.
Visiting Beth in Berlin one weekend, she received a text invitation to a concert from Norman—a George Michael concert (on film) at the opera house. Beth encouraged. Norman met her train, stowed her bag in a locker; they met Thomas and Kati. Andi assumed they were together, but Kati spoke English, mentioning her boyfriend.
“I thought, ‘Thomas isn’t with you. Good.’ I was very attracted to him,” she explained. “He had no English at all. My German wasn’t as good as I thought. We were trying to communicate…went dancing, then skinny dipping in the lake.”
“As in naked!” my mom’s jaw dropped.
“Everybody does that in Germany. It was July.”
“Qualms?” I asked.
“Absolutely, but I had to get over it…fun, crazy night,” she said.
Next day, hiding in her room, self-conscious, a knock on her door, a text from Thomas. He arrived. They were inseparable from that day. First date, he showed her Leipzig, but she’d seen every tourist attraction.”
“He laughed. I knew so much about Leipzig,” she said.
“Kissing?” I asked.
“Yes. My heart was racing,” she said. “I was falling in love. That great, wonderful feeling I’d never felt before. It was just perfect.”
Thomas, an apprentice electrician who wasn’t making money, decided to be a police officer. He was finishing high school, college, working. Andi’s teaching blossomed.
“You dated two years while you taught English in Leipzig?” I asked. “When did he propose?”
“That wasn’t as romantic,” she said. “My sister called. She was pregnant. When I told Thomas I was leaving, he was so angry: ‘I didn’t want to fall in love with you…it was a summer fling, yada yada…now what are we doing?’ I said, ‘I’m going home. You’re more than welcome to come with, but do this for you. I will not take responsibility for your dislikes, your homesickness.’ A lot of emotions go with moving abroad. I didn’t want that responsibility.”
“Afraid of losing him?” I asked.
“It was the risk I had to take,” she said. “I needed to go home. I got the ticket. We were fighting a lot. I thought this might be the end.”
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
From the June 2-8, 2010 issue