My Life at Age Twenty-Five

Gaenseliesel fountain in Goettingen
Gaenseliesel fountain and pedestrian zone near the University of Goettingen


Twice I took the train from Germany to Paris, France, and had adventures there. There was a rumor that you could apply for an "early out" from the Army to go to college. I had already graduated, but I applied to go back to college. When the Army rejected my poorly composed application, I was so annoyed that I cleaned it up and re-submitted it with an even earlier separation date -- which was accepted. So I flew from Frankfurt, Germany, to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was separated from the U.S. Army. Then I flew to Seattle. Second Love did not take me back into her life, so after seven months in Seattle I flew to Europe to spend the rest of my life in Germany. It lasted four months.

I tried to just disappear from Seattle by buying a one-way airplane ticket to Germany, but when I arrived at the Olympic Hotel to take the airport shuttle to Sea-Tac airport, Dr. James R. Naiden was taking the same shuttle to fly to his post-Lakeside School job at Southern Oregon State College, so I was not able to sneak away. Plus, I had confidentially shown my one-way ticket to Aardvark's brother, telling him, "You would never do something like this." When I got to the airport, Aardvark's brother Bruce was there, purportedly to say good-bye to me. But when the boarding of the plane began, Bruce got on the plane with me. I told him that he had better go back into the lounge, but then he revealed that he had bought his own ticket, and he flew to Europe with me, parting ways in London. A Seattle woman sat with us who was basically running away from her husband. She claimed to be related to the famous composer Schoenberg who wrote tonal music.

In London I had to pay a little extra money to continue flying to Frankfurt. Then I took a train up north to Hannover, where I wanted to live because they spoke the best Hochdeutsch ("High German") there. Around four or five on an April morning, I was wandering around Hannover looking for a place to stay. A German police car cruised by and looked me over, but did not stop me. I had arrived unwittingly in the middle of the yearly Hannover Trade Fair, with thousands of visitors from all over the world. When it got light, I found a building where a landlady was renting out rooms to participants in the Handelsmesse, or Trade Fair. I ate breakfast with a bunch of German businessmen in suits. The young man on my left said that he worked on Rationalisierung at his company. So I, too, went to the famous Hannover Trade Fair.

At one exhibit, a Swede was talking English with a Russian from the Soviet Union and pleading with him for help in obtaining some precious commodity like diamonds. I felt like a spy listening to them.

I arranged to rent an apartment in Hannover, and I went to the Arbeitsamt or "Work Office" in search of a job before I even moved in to my apartment. I was ushered into a room where an elderly gentleman sat high up behind an enormous desk or pulpit. To help me find a job, he asked me a series of questions. When we got to my date of birth, the old gentlemen stood up very ceremoniously, leaned over the large furniture, extended his hand for me to shake, and said in German that we who were born on that particular day of that particular month needed to stick together in life. He ordered me to stop looking for a job, to get on a train and to go further south in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and become a student at the University of Goettingen. The idea instantly appealed to me, because it was congruent with at least one of my major ambitions: to live in a fool's paradise; to be a perpetual student; and to sleep my life away like Garfield the cat. So I cancelled my apartment rental and I got on the train.

The Georgia Augusta University was on a semester schedule, and a new semester was about to start. I had brought with me my high school diploma and my university diploma, but the matriculation officials wanted to see only my high school diploma, of which they required a certified photocopy. I also had to prove knowledge of the German language. I showed them my U.S. military document with my Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) "35F2LGN" which meant "Nuclear Weapons Electronics Specialist" with an added designation for "Linguist - German" after I had passed an Army test of my knowledge of German. In Lower Saxony, tuition at the university was free -- for which I was and am most grateful. I found a low-rent student room on the outskirts of town with Frau Traute.

Suddenly there I was, taking Latin and Greek classes again, and exploring the town of Goettingen. There was a famous sculpture in the center of town, the "Gaenseliesel" or the statue of Liesel feeding the geese. In America, many books about science had pictures of that statue, because Goettingen was a world-center of theoretical physics in the nineteen-twenties, and that statue would be featured in photographs.

Gravesite of Carl Friedrich Gauss
Gravesite of Carl Friedrich Gauss at Albani Cemetery from Wikimedia

On Sundays, I would take a walk and sit in a certain park where there were gravestones. One day I glanced down casually at the closest gravestone to see who was buried there, and it said, "Friedrich Gauss", whom Sister Miriam used to tell us about in our Blanchet High School physics class, and whose name the U.S. Army made use of when it taught us soldiers how to "de-gauss" a magnet.

In the commercial area of Goettingen, there was a little sign pointing to an upstairs office representing a defunct German university that had ceased to exist when East Prussia ceased to exist. The name of the university was... ach, bitte... the University of... not Heidelberg, not Tuebingen... let me get back to you.

One day in a bookstore I asked a clerk how to get to the border with East Germany, because I wanted to cross over it. The lady was quite agitated and said that one could not cross the border ohne weiteres or "without further ado." She was right, because I narrowly escaped getting arrested. On a Sunday I took a bus as close as I could get to the border and then I started walking. At a not-yet-open inn I paid for some sandwiches to be made for me. When I finally reached the Iron Curtain, or the border between West Germany and East Germany, there was barbed wire fencing and obviously a minefield with a sign that said "Achtung! Minengefahr!" or "Attention! Danger of mines!" I did not want to walk through the minefield, but I tried to pry loose a hammer-and-sickle emblem of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) to take home as a souvenir. As I walked along the border, at some points I could see East German guard towers in the distance, and I tried not to do anything that would cause the guards to fire on me with machine guns. Apparently I was actually crossing back and forth between East and West Germany, and I was walking below some fancy estates up on hills on the West German side. I soon learned that some one made a phone call about me and ratted me out. I came eventually to a highway that marked the border between Niedersachsen in the West and Thueringen in the East. It reminded me of Second Love's father, who called me "Thedric" and gave me thuringer sausage to eat, and showed me how to make lutefisk. As I continued on my way, a little green German police car stopped beside me and its sole policeman occupant gave me a very stern warning. He said that if I walked over the next rise, I would be arrested, because a complaint about me had been telephoned in after I was observed crossing the East German border over and over. They were planning to detain me with "Festnahme zum eigenen Schutz" or "detention for my own protection". I explained that I was a student from America and I just wanted to see the Iron Curtain up close. Officer Friendly understood my viewpoint and he actually gave me a ride in his patrol car to a safe place where I would not be arrested and I could catch a bus back to Goettingen. So I came in from the cold.


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