by Beth Barnett
Getting lost in beautiful Heidelberg, Germany. Oh what fun!
The route to the military hospital was engraved in my mind, so I thought. I drove into Heidelberg, a town near my home in Southwest Germany. I got off on the right exit, but it looked unfamiliar. I drove slowly down the town streets, making sure I wouldn’t miss my turn. I drove there two weeks prior and found the hospital no problem. I was grateful it’s illegal to honk horns in anger in Germany, and I knew if someone made a rude gesture I could remember their plate numbers and turn them into the friendly German Polizei liaison at the Military Police station on base. It’s great to know the rules of the road, even if I couldn’t find the one I needed.
Is this the right turn, I thought, as I pulled into the left turn lane at the light. I looked off to the left for the signal to turn down an unknown road, for the light at the intersection was blocked by a truck. I was glad these signals were built with small cars in mind. In America, the only way I would know of a light change was when the elephant in front of me finally groaned to life.
I turned on this narrow road that was obviously built before cars ever graced the streets and looked for a way to turn back around. This was not the way I went last time. I’m not on a priority road, dagnabit. I had to yield right-of-way to all traffic coming from my right. The next road to my right read “Einbahnstraße” (one way), in the wrong direction.
I turned on the next street and vowed to take the next right to get back on the main highway. I noticed a slight incline as I winded my way up the road. The beautiful 17th century stone wall that encircled the beautiful Schlöß (castle) started at the upward curve. Up, up, I drove along this narrow street, with luscious green forestry on my right and the wall to the left. Down, down, is where I needed to go. The anxiety sawed at my nerves.
On the next road to my left, I managed to turn around. I turned onto an unmarked brick road. This was the center of the old town before modern technology came in and corrupted Heidelberg. This was quaint, but I was still lost. People walked down the middle of the street, and the dilapidated town square lay ahead. This was when I finally realized that I was in a pedestrian area. Nobody said anything loud and offensive to me because they knew by my license plates that I was just a crazy, lost American that probably wouldn’t ask directions anyway. I rolled down my window and asked directions of a woman who made eye contact with me. I’d been in this country five years, and found that speaking the language, instead of hiding in my American military niche, would take me anyplace I wanted to go, including the military hospital I was desperate to find. That day I was driving down a road that I wasn’t supposed to be on. I was what the radio announcer would call a Geistfahrer (Ghost driver).