This one belongs to my husband. It’s really best experienced watching Joe’s facial expressions as he tells it, but it’s a classic even without them. (If you speak German, don’t ruin it for the rest of us, mmkay? And if you don’t know German, don’t Google it, because you’ll ruin it for yourself.)
In 1988, back before the Berlin Wall came down, I took a trip with a college class to what was then West Germany. We visited East Berlin (how I got out of East Berlin is a whole ‘nother story in itself), but we spent most of our time sightseeing across West Germany. We were based at a conference center in Hanover, so each night we’d come back to our rooms for sleep before heading out early in the morning for that day’s journey. One day we had entirely free with no scheduled excursion, and I decided to visit the historic town of Goslar.
I Eurailed it to Goslar, knowing that I’d only have six hours* to explore the town before I had to get back to the train station and catch the train to Hanover. So when I left the Goslar train station on foot, I made sure to note what street it was located on.
*[Wynn: This is Typical Vacation Joe, by the way, wanting to see absolutely everything even if it is at whirlwind pace. Me, I like to go wander a museum after I’ve had a good four hours to recover from the flight, check out a bookstore downtown, walk the streets and ponder what it might be like to live in this location over an iced latte, if such is available. Not Joe. He’s a drill sergeant with a bunch of lollygagging recruits: “Diamond Head closes in ten minutes, maggots! I’m not leaving without seeing Diamond Head, and I’m not coming back tomorrow when it’s open again. So MOVE IT!” (That actually happened.) Deciding what we’re going to do and how much we’re going to see while on vacation is often a negotiation as complex as that for the Treaty of Paris.]
There was a large street sign ahead of me, reading EINBAHNSTRASSE. Even with my limited German, I knew “strasse” meant “street.” So, okay, the train station was on Einbahn Street. Great. I had my bearings.
I crossed a bridge over a stream, going uphill toward the historic districts. I enjoyed the city, particularly the pastry shop (at this point in the trip I was thoroughly sick of the cold cuts the tour company was feeding us), but kept checking my watch to make sure that I started heading back to the train station to catch my train. When time got short I started walking back toward where I thought I might find the bridge and Einbahn Street.
Then I came across a street sign saying “Einbahn Street” and pointing to the left. I followed the arrow on the sign for a block or two, and then saw another Einbahn St. sign with an arrow that pointed to the left again. Huh, I thought, I could have sworn I would have to go back across the stream to get to the station. Maybe it’s a detour? Maybe it’s like the 90-degree turn Route 11 takes in downtown Pulaski, back home. So I followed the second sign too.
A block farther on, I saw the detour sign again, Einbahn St. this way, again pointing to the left. Frustrated and getting worried about the time, I stopped walking. This was stupid. I was now heading 180 degrees from the direction I’d been walking before, and my train wasn’t going to wait on me. I had to figure it out and get back to the bridge.
I understood just enough German to be dangerous. I knew that it’s proper usage in German to stick words together like Legos, in order to make compound words. All I had to do was break Einbahnstrasse into its component parts and translate the bits I did know. Okay, that was easy. “Strasse” I knew. And “bahn” I knew too, from the Autobahn: path, track, highway. And “ein” –
The light burst upon me. I’d been following every One Way Street sign all over town.
I headed downhill to find the stream, ignoring all street signs. There was the bridge, and there was the train station, thank God. I made my train with three minutes to spare.