In September, I started a new German class, meeting once a week for conversation at the local Volkshochschule (community college). This class is interesting, as it is a much larger range of ages than my first class (where I was one of the oldest students and most people were preparing to enter the local university) and a much larger range of backgrounds. In practice, it leads to situations like this:
– It is the day before Halloween. We are discussing our Halloween plans (Halloween is new here – I will have a more detailed entry about this later) and the Turkish woman (wearing a full hijab and a large coat that could pass as an abaya) says in a very self-righteous tone that she does not celebrate Halloween, because she is Muslim. We move around the table some more, disclosing more plans for parties and trick-or-treating, until we reach the woman from Afghanistan. She says, “Eh, we take the kid out for candy, there’s no harm there.”
– We are discussing the Villa Hügel, a landmark here in Essen. It was built by the Krupp family, whose industrial empire became the ThyssenKrupp company – notable mostly in the US for elevators, but also a producer of steel and many other industrial products. One of the students keeps asking questions like “Were the Krupps Jews?” and “Were the Krupps friends of the Jews?” I want to answer these questions with “The Baron Krupp was a Nazi who was convicted and sent to jail after the war.” Unfortunately, I am not sure how to say this politely, and without using the word “Nazi”, which I suspect is verboten for what should be a light “Konversationskurs”. I settle for pointing out that the Krupp factories in Essen used Jewish slave labor during WWII, and leave it at that.
– We are playing a game of 20 Questions – it turns out that a lot of a “Konversationskurs” consists of playing the kind of games you played as a kid to stave off boredom during long car rides. The Korean woman in the class is up, and she says she is thinking of a man. Someone immediately yells “JACKIE CHAN!” with the expectation that it is the correct answer. There is a pause as the rest of us are horrified, and then hysterical laughter for several minutes. We have to explain that Jackie Chan is Chinese, not Korean, and there is a difference between the two.