From the beginning, camping in Germany was unique. We packed vans and sped down the autobahn the day after Roger and I arrived. While passing pastures, wind turbines, and small towns, Anne shared that a friend of hers had been to a communist camp for teenagers around the same campground. Jeff speculated that the campgrounds had probably also been used by the Hitler youth. My mind reeled about the kind of facility we would be using. The campground, however, did not appear dark, torturous, or even suspicious. It was simple, spacious (for our purposes), and quite beautiful. Roger pointed out that it looked as if we were surrounded by Christmas trees.
Anne and I set up a tent for me to sleep in and the rest of the American crew moved in to nearby apartments. Sleeping outside, with the teenagers and young adults, helped me to earn points right away. The first teenage girl that I met said: “Good, the Americans always sleep in the apartments!” After a few cold nights, I wasn’t sure the camaraderie was worth it.
Most days began with loud alternative music, 6 soccer fan horn honks, and breakfast. The young adults running things blared the music to wake up the campers. Sleeping among the campers meant enjoying that gentle wake up call. The horn was enjoyed by all, and often. 3 blasts meant that you had 5 minutes to get to the next event. 2 meant 2 minutes. 1 horn blast indicated that you should be there. Finally, breakfast was pretty typical for Germany: rolls, various kinds of sliced meat, various cheeses, jam, and Nutella. The Nutella in Germany is twice as good as American Nutella. This may account for the constant battle for the jar, among teens and adults alike.
After breakfast, the teens got ready for what was labeled the “Mental Time.” This was a basic service consisting of worship and a short Bible message. Following the message, teens would split up into small discussion groups with the German leaders.
Following the small group time, teenagers split into small classes for English. As a team, we had assessed the English speaking ability of each teen on the first day and grouped them by skill level. Roger and I taught the most advanced groups. This meant that we didn’t ever need to speak in German. These kids were naturally more talkative with our team, leading me to see the importance of learning German as well as I can. If I really want to be able to converse with an array of German teenagers, I have to be the one attempting to connect with them, in their language. I don’t want to be limited to interacting with those who are willing to leave their comfort zone for me.
The English lessons were fun and uncomplicated, for my class level at least. Unanimously, the day we talked about emotions and made our own Mr. Potato heads was a favorite lesson. Together, we discussed more complicated emotion vocabulary. We then used food products to portray these emotions. I was completely amused until I realized that wasting food this way was very anti-German. This concern was soon resolved, as the spuds were collected for making our next meal. I don’t know who had the privilege of eating my spud (Hans Peter), but I hope he tasted as pretentiously assured as I made him to be.
After a quick lunch re-fuel, the adults headed up to the sport fields to prepare for battle. We set out cones and gathered gear while the teens warmed up. The sport I refereed was flag football. I spent my days counting downs, being the physical field marker, counting to 5 Mississippi, and blowing the whistle for touchdowns.
The teens rotated between Softball, flag football, and lacrosse. They played 3 to 5 games a day. Being that the games were 45 minutes long, you would think that nap time would be worked into the day. No way! Not DASS Camp. When asked why the camp leaders were proceeding with games in the thick rain, Jonathan replied “because we are German!” No naps and no rain delays.
After the games, I made my own nap time. The teens, still full of energy, played soccer, volleyball, and 9-square until dinner. After dinner, we gathered around the camp fire for worship and a short message. The teens yelled out page numbers for their favorite songs. It surprised me how many of them were eager to sing the English versions.
One night, I was given the chance to share at the camp fire. I was asked to share my testimony. What I hadn’t anticipated was the fact that I would need translation for the teens that didn’t yet know much English. So, I narrowed my story down to the meaning of the Inside Out song lyrics in my life, which we had just sung. Roger spoke about being blessed to be at camp and being thankful.
Overall, I really enjoyed this camp experience. I think we all had a lot of fun. One of my greatest rewards was seeing the huge smile on the face of a teen who originally didn’t seem excited to be at camp. He sat out of the games the first couple of days. In the end, his team won a gold metal for every sport! When saying goodbye, I put my hand on his shoulder and said “you are the most improved player this week.” His response: confusion. After his friend translated for me, he smiled wider than I had seen yet, blushed, and thanked me.
In some ways, this experience felt familiar and comfortable. I approached the week as a student. A participant, not a leader. In many ways, this was the greatest challenge. As things began to feel more familiar, I became eager to jump into a leadership role. Yet, this wasn’t what I was there for. I was there to learn and to help. Whether I liked it or not, the language barrier kept me in this position. I had great opportunities to get to know the teenagers and the young adults, but the English being spoken by the German teens was often basic. I wasn’t capable of discussing spiritual matters with the teenagers in German and they didn’t seem proficient in the English vocabulary needed for that kind of conversation.
Jeff and Anne thanked me and Roger for coming and mentioned that they couldn’t have done this without us. We were very short on the American staff needed for teaching English and running the games. The German young adults, however, really ran the camp. They were fantastic! I was impressed with their faith and their commitment. I look forward to working with this team in the future.
Favorite Camp Moments:
- Getting to know teenagers and staff during meal times.
- 9 square volleyball. An adaptation of 4 square that you should all try.
- Hanging out with the leaders on the side lines. Here are the team cheers:
“Nobody beats the Cowboys!”
“Janky Yankees give you spankies!”
“Make some noise Iroquois!”
“Rest in peace, we’re the Cherokees” (Originally “Rest in peace Cherokees! I mentioned that this wasn’t a threatening cheer)
“Ramalama ding ding dong!”
“Cardinals!” (Most creative)
- The staff baseball game. I had a couple of good throws and got on base twice.
- Singing around the campfire. So much warmth on cold nights.