Every September, some of our neighbors put together a block party – a Hoffest – which more correctly translates as a “courtyard party”, which makes sense, since it’s held in one of the four courtyards of our building. Everyone in the building is invited, whether they live or work here. We all bring some food or drink to share, someone brings a grill, someone puts up balloons. Our first year here, we went, and we made an effort to meet people and connect, but being new and knowing almost no German, it was daunting (although we did get a very neat tour of the hidden catacombs below our building). Last year, we were on vacation in early September. But last Friday we got to go to our second Hoffest, and it was a great success.
It was really lovely, and our comfort and ease with our neighbors and with the language were a striking contrast to last time. We ate, we socialized, we met new people. The kids ran around and played, made new friends and ate too much cake. We stayed for hours and visited with our friends and neighbors. Last time, I remember gritting my teeth and smiling anyway and getting through it. This time I chatted and smiled and left because it was getting late, but I had a few more people I wish I’d gotten to talk to. It was exactly what a neighborhood party should be, and we were definitely a part of it. It felt so normal . . . that it actually felt strange. We’re so unaccustomed to not fitting in and being on the outside that being included was odd (but so very nice).
We feel pretty well accepted here. We’re still “the Americans”, but we’re no longer “the new people”. We still don’t speak a lot of German, but we don’t have to begin every conversation by asking if the other people speak English. We have friends here, we know our neighbors. It is so nice, and normal, and comfortable. It seems like a little thing, but it’s a milestone I wasn’t sure we’d ever reach.