In August 2015, I left Paris after a month of fieldwork to do some travelling in the low countries. One of my best college friends and her husband, who was in the German Air Force, were living in Bedburg-Hau, a pastoral Rhineland community outside Kleve. I had a couple of days to spend out in the country with them before returning to Amsterdam to fly back to the States. This turned out, by the way, to be a wonderful coda for a month of work abroad, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
In order to get to Kleve (where my friend’s husband, whom I had never met, was planning to pick me up, I needed to take one train from Amsterdam to Nijmegen, then quickly transfer to a bus that crossed the border, rode through some suburbs and into Kleve’s small bus depot. Because I had no cell phone service outside of France, and there were no evident sources of WiFi in the plaza where this stranger had apparently (hopefully) been dispatched to pick me and my bags up, I stood around on the curb next to Kleve’s quiet railroad depot. I debated going into a bar full of elderly locals to try to get a WiFi signal or use their phone to call my friend, but I didn’t speak any German and I was worried my ride would roll by, not see me, and return home to the countryside. So, I waited there, occasionally pacing around the traffic entry, naively hoping that every car that approached was the one sent to get me. I don’t remember how much time passed, but it felt like an eternity. ‘This is how our parents used to travel,’ I figured, wondering how many hours people whittled away waiting for rides in foreign countries in the twentieth century.
I eventually got restless and wandered over to the opposite side of the street, trying to get a read on whether this bar was worth trying to drag myself and my massively heavy suitcase into, hoping someone wouldn’t start yelling at me in German. As I would find out later, this pocket of the Rhineland had little use for English. They didn’t entertain many tourists from the UK or USA. Right as I was about to step inside, I saw a car roll up with a young man in a Red Sox cap on. “Are you Tyler?”
We got acquainted on the drive over to pick my friend up from her new job (the reason she had to send her husband to come pick me up). My friend and I shared a big hug and the predictable platitudes about how many years it had been since we had last hung out in Boston or Syracuse or wherever our paths had last crossed (probably Syracuse). We excitedly caught up as we got back to their gorgeous duplex house in Bedburg-Hau, both of them telling me about the sleepy life in the Rhineland. I asked my friend how she had adjusted to German life, and what was so different from that of the US.
What happened next is up for debate, as I don’t remember exactly how it happened. The important element was that it happened.
My friend’s husband interjected, “you should show him the video!”
My friend lit up; “Oh god, the video! Ty, have you ever seen ‘Supergeil?'” I hadn’t. Apparently, ‘supergeil’ is German slang for cool/hip/fun/etc. We sat down in their living room, they turned on their TV, and this was what happened next:
After the commercial ended (and I had taken a moment to compose myself), I told my friends “If I ever get to teach a class on the Geography of Europe, that’s what I’m going to start with on Day One.” Last week, I got to make good on this promise to a class of 40+ at the University of Tennessee, and now I have shared this with you. YOU’RE WELCOME.
If you’re interested in the story/demystifying what you just saw, you can read up on Friedrich Leichtenstein here.