Saturday, October 22, 2011

On the Road Again... in Germany!

24 June 2011  <-- No, I'm not still in Germany.  But I promised someone I'd post this story "someday" and thought it was about time I got around to it!

Many of you know I had the chance to "relearn" driving a stick shift, on the right side of the road, and driving REALLY fast, in Germany the past four weeks.  Add this to culture shock, negotiating a new location in a different language, and four intense masters classes, and I kept pretty busy during my time there!  My housemate and I were staying outside of town a bit and the walk to class was about 50 minutes... so it was nice some days to have a motorized alternative!  My first experiences driving a stick were in Tanzania, on the left side of the road (shifting with my left hand...), and had some adventurous results.  So I was more than a little nervous to get behind the wheel in Germany!  But after a few "refresher" lessons I was feeling more secure.  I even emailed the person whose car it is to tell her how well it was going the first week!
Then one night, on our way home from a game night with classmates, I couldn't get the car going.  It stalled, then stalled, then stalled again.  And again.  x10.  A guy from class came by and gave me a few tips, which should have helped.  But it stalled again right away.  At this point I was TOTALLY frustrated, and extremely thankful that my housemate was patient and a "go-with-the-flow" person.  But it was also 10:30 at night, and evidently Germans don't do late nights.  Not in this town.  As in, you don't make noise after 10pm or before 7am.  So out comes the lady from across the street, in an effort to help me.  She speaks about three words of English, which is about my level of German.  And somehow, she communicates that she's going to drive us home. 

What?  I don't know how to politely say no, but "NO!"  I can do this.  I should be able to drive a car 10 minutes and get us home.  I got us to the game night even when we had to turn around 10 times because we didn't have good directions.  This was RiDiCuLoUs!  But she told her husband to follow us with their car, got in the driver's seat, and took off with us in the back.  I was totally embarrassed the entire way home but couldn't do anything.  Except, of course, think about how insane this was and how I should be able to drive a silly car down the road.

The “helpful” German lady parked the car in the parking area for our apartments, but she put it in a place that blocked another car from getting out.  I didn't bother having her readjust because I wanted to get back in the car before I went to bed... you know, that "get back on the horse" idea.  So after hiding out for about 10 minutes till the couple was gone... (they really were great and they totally didn't have to go out of their way to bring us home!  It was just, well, extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing for me along the way...), I came back out to start the car and put it away.  Except, the ignition wouldn't start when I turned the key.  No sound.  Not one iota of anything.  After several tries, and alternating between wanting to laugh and cry and giggle hysterically in frustration... I went inside to get my housemate.  We were sure it was a dead battery, but we were still blocking the landlord's daughter's car and she couldn't get out in the morning.

Then we got a fabulous idea.  It's a small car.  We're two fairly active women.  So we rolled the car back, and tried to push it up the driveway between the two of us.  It, uh, didn't work out as well as we had hoped. :(  I guess we underestimated the pull of gravity on a car trying to roll down a slight hill.

Hmm.  Plan B.  (Or maybe E?)  A friendly missionary family that lives right next door happened to still have their lights on at 11pm that night, and we were able to knock on their door to ask for help.  The teens helped push the car up and the mom offered to jump it the next day.

Cue 11am.  The mom invited me over for iced-coffee and to chat for a couple of hours.  Just because.  She's awesome.  Then we headed out to jump-start the car.  (After she got on Google to check the proper order for hooking up the jumper cables, of course!  Glad I'm not the only one who needs car help at times.)  We let the car run for a few minutes, then planned to drive around in a loop for a while to recharge the battery.  Unfortunately, as we went up a hill, I didn't downshift quite enough, and the car stalled.  It wouldn't restart, or even make a noise.  I backed off the street (thank goodness for gravity this time!) and the mom came back with her car to jump start me again.  Then we tried the main road to get the car recharged.  Faster = better, right?  But we had to go up a street to turn around at one point, and the car stalled again.  We jumped it, then it stalled again.  And again.  Seriously!  This time I was ready to just get the insanely-infuriating car back to the owner's garage and MAYBE deal with it again in a week.  or so.  If I had to.  After another jump-start though, we finally got it back.  At which point, the family offered to loan me an extra bike to ride to class the upcoming week.  They even made sure it had a bike lock with a key I could use.  Which was really sweet.  And (deep breath) I was feeling very much relieved.

After sharing my story the next day after church, a couple of people from the school (who are much more proficient at manual car-driving than I!) came and got the vehicle to bring it to the school.  A maintenance guy spent the next day trying to charge the battery… and finally concluded it was shot.  A new battery was put in.  And I had a couple of days to realize that maybe, just maybe, I could do this driving thing.  And so we began again.

Thankfully, I think the battery was a big part of the problem (along with some operator error, of course).  I still stalled out occasionally the next 2 weeks… but this time, it was 4-5 times a week, and not per day!  I even drove it on the Autobahn in Switzerland for about an hour and a half one day coming home... and was was feeling pretty good about my accomplishments!

me. in the car. on a much-better day!

I’ve actually discovered that driving a manual is pretty fun… and I've heard driving a stick is actually a good deterrent of theft in the States as many thieves don't know how to drive them!  However, I need to weigh the pros and cons before purchasing another vehicle again some day.  My mom continues to remind me that driving a manual limits your ability to hold a milkshake in one hand while you drive with the other, and this is a serious predicament to consider.  We'll see what rules as most critical - fun driving, or milkshake-drinking ability - when the time comes!

1 comment:

  1. i remember that car!! your picture of it is making me smile. =) thanks for writing this story... it's more horrifying (and more hilarious!!) than i remember.

    hope you're doing well. miss you over here!