Sometimes I make decisions that I know future me won’t like. I do this because, although these are things I really want to do, I’m also a massive wuss and will wriggle out of doing something scary if I can. So I make plans and pay for flights so that future me can’t wriggle out of the thing I decided to do, no matter what. One such decision was moving to Austria.
Have you ever made a bold decision to go on a rollercoaster because it seemed like it would be fun at the time, and then seriously regretted your decision as soon as you were strapped in and the car started to pull away but it was too late to get off?
Welcome to Rohrbach.
While my new friends skipped happily off the train and into Linz full of hope and years of German classes, I hopped onto the platform feeling apprehensive. This was where I was expecting to be met by Eva, the woman with whom I would be living in Rohrbach. She was going to pick me up and take me to the house in her car. Imagine my surprise, then, when not a little old lady but a robust man called my name across the platform – “Ennie?”
I had never seen this man before. I didn’t know his name. I knew Eva had a husband, but wasn’t expecting to meet him so early on. How did I know it was really him? I had texted Eva earlier and she had specifically said she would pick me up. The man came over with a trolley for my suitcase and a kind face and I decided I was just going to have to trust that he was who he said he was. (For future reference, ‘having a kind face’ shouldn’t really be the deciding factor as to whether or not you get in a car with a strange man.)
Luckily, he was Eva’s husband after all. His name is Willig and, as I found out over the 1 hour car journey from Linz to Rohrbach, he was born in the same house I would be living in during the second world war, and though he had travelled a lot since, he’d never lived anywhere else.
Disclaimer: It’s entirely possible that none of this is true and I’ve completely misunderstood the German, and not necessarily due to my lack of German skills. Everyone told me before I left and I didn’t listen – Austrian German is not German. Willig said “yoh” to me about 30 times before I realised that he was saying “ja” in an accent. It really is a grim state of affairs when you can’t even understand the word for “yes”. Rohrbach has a particularly strong accent – I imagine Willig sounds to a German like a proper Wes’ Coun’ry Farmer does to a Londoner. As we got further away from Linz and the surroundings became more and more sparse, it began to dawn on me that, as with so many things in my life, I’ve managed to make things unnecessarily difficult for myself. Typical.
Stepping into my flat was like jumping into a time machine back 50 years. The entirety of my flat is a throwback to the 60s, except for the leopard print sofa which is a bit more 80s. As with any bare room, it felt very empty and uninviting when I first arrived. There were fat black flies buzzing lazily around the windows and there was no wifi. Even though Eva took me shopping in the afternoon for some groceries (stopping on the way to give loaves of bread to her sister and daughter, of course), I wasn’t feeling very much at home by the evening. Everything in the shops had been way more expensive than I had expected (4€ for a tiny pot of honey!? 3€ for 3 peppers!? Oh my life) and, having not slept more than 5 hours at a time in the past… well… ever, I was exhausted. I collapsed into bed, too tired to put the sheets on and feeling thoroughly deflated at 8.30pm.
My new home, post-unpacking, feat. more space than one person could ever need
I slept solidly until 12pm the next day, except from half an hour at around 4am when I was awoken by a mosquito whining incessantly around my head. Something had to be done. As I was feeling better after my sleep, I got out of bed and unpacked properly. Everything looked immediately better and I felt more at home. Then I went back to the supermarket and bought coffee and fly spray. On my return, I went on what can only be described as a murderous rampage and killed every fly I that dared cross my path (and there were a lot of them).
Next, coffee. I obviously didn’t know how to use this machine…
…so I did the only thing any self-respecting 22 year old would do and called my mum, who texted me a step-by-step guide on how to use it. Then I sat and drank my coffee to the tune of hundreds of flies dismally buzzing their last buzzes, before sweeping them all up in a dustpan. I was feeling so good about everything that I even went for a run and managed to hold a 45-minute conversation in German about What I Want To Do With My Life (granted, I did more nodding and “yoh”-ing than actual speaking, but it still felt like an achievement).
The next day I headed to Linz on the train because, having run around the entire village in 25 minutes the day before, I had confirmed what I already knew – there is nothing to do in Rohrbach. Added to this, I still had no wifi. Instead, Emma, Bryony and I went for a wander round the Uhrfahr market and fairground on the bank of the Danube, and then headed back to Bryony’s accommodation where we all settled down to plan our first lesson for the following day.
I left Linz with an introductory powerpoint about myself and England and feeling happy, if a little damp (it had drizzled all day). Given that I hadn’t actually been asked to prepare anything for my first lessons, I was feeling smug and ahead of the game with my introductory powerpoint, a feeling I’ve only ever had once before way back in 2012 when I turned up to a seminar having actually read the set text in its entirety.
I’d thought I was prepared – but nothing in the world could have possibly prepared me for what was to come.
To be continued…
(Love me a good cliff hanger, I do!)