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Definitely Out There


GERMANY | Wednesday, 17 July 2013 | Views [608] | Comments [1]

I met Anna in New Zealand, in a rather sleepy city called New Plymouth on the north island. Hailing from Germany, she'd been traveling for months (seven I think?). We'd spent a night drinking with a big group on the roof of the hostel, the group dwindling down until there were just the two of us.

No, nothing happened, but I'd definitely made a new friend. Months later, I'm in Berlin and I realize I know someone in Germany! So I look Anna up and she's just outside of a little place called Weisbaden. Now, due to my tremendous inability to make good plans in advance and some obligations on her part, I wasn't able to see her before I went to the Netherlands.

So instead I saw her afterwards, haha. She was working at this enormous summer camp for kids (430 of them) and she had a spare tent with my name on it. So not really knowing what to expect, my train (which I reckon knew exactly what to expect for its future) pulled into Weisbaden HBF around 5:30 in the afternoon.

Anna and her boyfriend picked me up and drove me out to the camp, located around a soccer field, near a wood. The kids had already left for the day and as the staff was eager to inform me, that meant party time!

In no time at all, a cup of Frau Roscher (a local brew composed of apple wine most locals add coke to) and a plate of fresh food was plunked in front of me and a campfire was sparked. Amidst swirls of German chatter, refills pressed into my hands, and the occasional cry of "Palleta!" As another pallet was thrown on the fire, we proceeded to have a good ol' time in the German style. Oh! There was even a fire show, which was hilarious and awesome all at once.

The next morning, breakfast came at 7. It was one of the roughest mornings I'd had in a long time. These people are dedicated. Now, when I was a kid I spent years at summer camp - first a coed camp, later at the Boy Scout camps that doted the Oregon landscape. I'd often wondered what it would be like to be a counselor - working behind the scenes, and yeah, we all knew they partied. As an unofficial and in no way responsible for anything temporary camp counselor shadower, I've got to say these people put their heart and soul into it. I was barely able to drag myself up out of my tent, but the men and women were already up, joking, laughing, and ready for the kids.

Which was good - nothing was stopping those kids. When the buses pulled up it was like a ravaging hoard descended upon the camp - which was fitting, given the theme. This year we were Vikings! Which meant playing lots of Viking chess, building a longship (no, really, though it was totally not sea-worthy), and building a small village (I can only assume to plunder later in the week). In the morning I got to shoot some arrows, then did some wrestling (in which I lost to a girl about half my weight - she was a scrapper), and went on a nature walk. Later in the afternoon I hung out with one of the counselors as she kept tabs on a couple dozen kids running around and playing with various outdoor toys. At one point one of the guys donned a bunny suit and proceeded to be chased by approximately six hundred small children with murder on their minds - I for one would never have had the guts, but he never lost his smile, even as they tackled him and proceeded to smother him with their tiny bodies.

I was somewhat at a loss with all of the kids. Beyond never having much experience with tikes and not being super comfortable with them regardless, I was experiencing a somewhat disorienting reversal to a common phenomenon on the road. Usually the younger the locals are the more likely they are to speak English - in Asia especially it seemed like every kid spoke fluent English, whereas all the adults just kind of shrugged apologetically. In Germany, they have years of English in schools, and as such all of the teens and twenty-somethings spoke great English (and we had some fun conversations about language, let me tell you), whereas all the children during the day spoke pretty much none - their English classes hadn't started up yet. So I had quite a few conversations with kids throughout the day where they would say something long and complicated to me in German, genuinely interested in who this strange foreigner was and where he'd come from (midway through their camp), and I replied in English that I didn't have the faintest clue what they were saying because I only spoke English. At which point they'd look at me like I had two heads and say something in German that I presume translated to "What? I can't understand you, I only speak German!" Then we'd repeat this exchange two or three times (seriously, kids just don't give up). Eventually a counselor would step in and help out - "He says he likes your shirt." "Tell him I say thanks." Weirdly enough, in a country where just about everybody spoke great English, this was one of the few times in my trip I felt the most caught out in the dark because I didn't speak the language.

They set up a long moonwalk bouncy catwalk kind of thing and the kids and adults all took turns bouncing down the stretch. I even hopped on, pulling a couple moves like the long stride, the front-flip bounce back to feet, and the almost-break-my-neck roll. At one point the announcer (because they even had their own PA system) called all the counselors out by name for an impromptu councilor silly walk-off.

When the kids finally left, it was a bit more subdued. Anna explained to me that a lot of the counselors have a kind of one day on, one day off schedule when it comes to late night partying, much to my great relief. I was already exhausted, and I'd only been doing this for a day. So it was a relatively uneventful night - except for the shower party.

Oh! And one more little gem - at some point in the night a girl wandered up to me and said, "What do you call it when you take a group of children on a walk in the night through the woods so that you can scare the crap out of them?" To which I had to reply, "I think you just say we're taking a group of kids on a night hike to scare the crap out of them." AND SO WE DID! Every year the counselors come up with incredibly elaborate schemes to terrify the kids (no joke - this year they rigged a harness so they could pull one of the guides straight up in the air twenty feet so that she'd seem to get snatched right in front of the kids) and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, somebody from the previous night must have blabbed to the kids they took out that night, because when the guide disappeared amidst hair-raising screams the kids kept on calmly walking down the path, seemingly unperturbed. Or perhaps they just breed them that ruthless and bad-ass in Germany, I don't know.

The next morning I was slightly more prepared for the ungodly hour we all got up for. Everyone had asked/demanded/cajoled me to spend another couple days or even just finish out the last week of camp, but I'd already spent more time there than I'd planned. I genuinely wish I'd spent more time at summer camp. The Germans had put everything I'd known as a kid to shame and fulfilled just about every expectation of what I thought it would be like to be a counselor. I really wanted to spend another day, especially after they added me to the roster as a special guest - it was a truly heartwarming and welcoming stop on my trip, and one I am deeply thankful that I tripped into.

Anna drove me in to town that morning and helped me every step of the way onto the train to Brussels. As we bid goodbye I told her I'd learn German for next year - we both knew it was pretty impossible. Even now though, I feel summer camp calling me back.

Tags: friends, kids, summer camp



Paul, You attended the NaNo write in at the St. Helens Library. I was the early grandmotherly arrival. Wished now that we could have listened to you speak too. You have wonderful adventures and stories. Thank you for sharing.

  Cathy Dec 10, 2013 1:34 PM

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