“The Fourth in Frankfurt”

The Question: While in the confines of a foreign country, what can one do to celebrate America’s Independence?

The Answer: Commemorate in one’s own special way.

As an American in Frankfurt, Germany, it was incumbent upon me to sing songs of patriotism and wag my tail in celebration of my beloved country’s independence on July 4th. Although the setting was different—stuffy trains, foreign smells, and ubiquitous Germans snacking on dry bread—the mentality was the same. It was the fourth of July, a time to celebrate America.

Friday, July 4th, 2008.

I found myself lacking the Fourth of July essentials: fireworks, barbecues, ballgames, family, friends, and public drunkenness. And, it was a regular workday to boot. But the decision was made almost instantaneously to let this serve only as a minor impediment. I would begin my morning commute imagining a Boston Pops performance with a spectacular fireworks display on the Esplanade. The child in me would have to surface in order to create a magical Fourth celebration—in my own head. I was off to a decent start, too, when halfway through my commute I realized that not a single soul on the U5 train was sharing my enthusiasm. Wax mannequins had more life than some of these people. But I needed to remember that this was not America, and that July 4th meant nothing to these folks.

The emotional trauma of having to work on this sacred day eventually subsided and I found myself with a leftover chunk of time in the late afternoon to do as I pleased. I wouldn’t be gearing up for the traditional cookout at a friend’s house, or the crazy boat party with my one friend that acted like a drunken pirate by shooting bottle rockets out of his arse, nor would I partake in an evening fireworks celebration. Instead, I was on my own with all of forty euros in my pocket, a chip on my shoulder, and nowhere to celebrate.

Step 1: Find something/anything to do:

Head over to the Zeil, Frankfurt’s shopping boardwalk that’s jam-packed with people who can’t walk straight, reckless pigeons producing copious amounts of pigeon poop, and surreal-looking beggars. That’s exactly what I did.

The objective was to keep busy, just enough to curtail any feelings of sadness associated with the separation from America’s Fourth of July festivities. So, in human fireworks-like fashion, such as your classic jumping jack, I hopped from store to store and even back to some of the same stores, looking for the holy grail of birthday gifts at an unbeatable price and a shipping profile that matched the weight class of a pack of gum. Much to my chagrin, the search lasted a couple of hours, only to end with me being close to throwing an adult tantrum due to the overzealous crowds and my unconscionably unoriginal buying decision.

Step 2: Pick up some goods at the supermarket:

On the way home, I made the mandatory Fourth of July grocery store items purchase, and since there’d be no grilling, my list was modest: frozen pizza and a new orange-flavored German beer. I even added an extra pizza baguette to the mix for good measure. Now I’d have something to work with for the evening’s celebration.

Step 3: Listen to a patriotic song:

I chose the ever-popular “God Bless America.” YouTube offers many different artists’ rendition of this powerful anthem. For some extra cheese, I watched the ending scene in the movie The Deer Hunter, which features a heartfelt sing-a-long of the song. “Here’s to Nick.”

Step 4: Watch the Red Sox vs. Yankees game:

This was the cherry on top to a somewhat bland Fourth of July celebration. But it is something to be cherished and remembered, solely for its personal touch. We ate baked pizzas, drank chilled orange beer, and sat on our butts for several hours, indulging in the wonderful television experience that was the long, somewhat bizarre—one player’s attempt at a ball that bounced out of his glove and then took a brief nap on the wall before falling onto the grass for a hit—sporadically exciting, and always entertaining match-up between baseball’s two great rivals. I reminisced about past Independence Day celebrations as the lady by my side struggled to keep her eyes open. And in between, I’d throw in a comment or two about my love of baseball. I’m sure she would’ve had more fun filing her nails instead of listening to me blab, but I really didn’t care. It was the Fourth of July, and it was my right to celebrate everything American, regardless of where I was in the world.

Comments

I'm sure that people of many cultures find leaving their beloved traditions behind find very difficult when they first move America. You can relate to their feelings of loss....even I could.

Food is the one denominator that draws people in. Somehow if we share food, and the people, we find that we have more in common than we don't.

When are fireworks used in Germany? Exactly what did the orange beer taste like? How has Kathleen settled into America?

It sounds like you celebrated the 4th more than most Americans, anyway. If nothing else, you've learned to understand what people have left behind. The word "homesick" really does mean something....you miss home and what you knew. It's not fair for people to say they hate the place they moved to. Adjustments have to be made all around, although when I look back over the years, I do think my mother felt like she didn't belong in either place, even though she did have citizenship in the U.S. Yet I was definitely American b/c of my father, school just living here from birth and paternal grandparents.....but a part of me was always British, too. The generation either born here, or those who come at an earlier age, settle in much easier.

Did you hang our flag? Pizza and beer (although I wonder about orange beer) were good food. I think most people are proud of their country after they leave, although the circumstances may be better in the new country. I admire people who emigrate....it's not easy unless you're very young. Yours, Lenora.
 
Fireworks in Germany are used in full force on New Year’s Eve, otherwise know as Silvester. It is absolute mayhem, people igniting things left and right in large crowds! And the orange beer was quite tasty, actually—just a fruity orange flavor to it, but not overwhelming.

That’s a bit sad about your mom, not feeling like she belonged in either place. But I can certainly understand it. I felt that way myself at one point, though now I do feel like America is where I belong.

Kathleen is very adaptable and has that to her advantage. She could easily be mistaken for an American, with no detectable German accent whatsoever and habits that are in-line with American women her age. She’s been here 12 years now and I really think it took her no less than a year to really settle in, although she does miss Germany at times and wishes she were closer to her family.

Ah, the flag—alas, I did not raise it while there, though I have an American friend who lives in Sweden and does just that every 4th at his lakeside vacation home.
 
My small town has a small town version of the July 4th parade. And a local tradition is to place your lawn chairs, days in advance (or even weeks)...to reserve your best spot for viewing, preferably with a scrap of shade. Hundreds of chairs, various types, line the state highway, also called Main Street.

But I don' t go to those parades any longer. Which is fine.

I'd often wonder why can't the band actually play a whole song, while walking past the primary block. No, the band is very quiet, they might start up again, blocks away. Huge gaps between "floats" happen but its not the Rose Bowl. Its old cars, the local wilderness advocates who hike, maybe pet dogs dressed up, a few horses. Some local dignitary.

My ex landlady used to show up with her mule, and give mule cart rides. Mabel.

My ex landlady is no longer with us, but Mabel, is rumored to still require special feed.

We had a really good time one year on July 4th, down in the bigger town, down the highway.

But we had brought our dog, and I hadn' t entirely realized it would be so crowded, so we somewhat avoided the primary parade route there.

Until the muskets went off. And I was taking a break on this bench when the brigade of muskets fired off, about two blocks away and my dog, about seventy pounds of half wolf, is terrified of gun fire (his mother never came back one day).

The huge dog proceeds to climb onto my lap and started burrowing to get behind me and the bench. My dog is having a Dog Panic Attack.

Eventually, things calmed down again, and I discovered that Karaoke was happening, right there in broad daylight, in a little park.

My family drug me away, the way I am often informed that no, we cannot continue to just sit here on benches and enjoy odd random people bursting forth in song, with a microphone.

Wish I had grabbed the mic. I could sing still, back then. I did not realize that some years later, an illness called ME, would take my throat and voice.

You can sing inside your head, however. A skill I still work on and enjoy.
 
I love this recounting of your 4th experience! And ME, it’s taken a lot from many of us, but we make do with what we’ve got left, I suppose.
 
I love this recounting of your 4th experience!
well, this triggered a ridiculous litany of July 4th memories.

Your right, its very significant. If nothing else, the Americans get into big trouble on July 4. Blowing up fingers, starting wildfires (I put one out), and shooting off loud things.

Fireworks are almost totally illegal in my Land of Flame and Drought. But if you pull into the city limits of a small farm town nearby, its lined with Fire Works For Sale, associated with various fund raising enterprises. Oh, Boy Scouts, the Rotary, that type of thing.

Blowing up fingers, starting wildfires, shooting off loud things....right. Very civic.
 
well, this triggered a ridiculous litany of July 4th memories.

Your right, its very significant. If nothing else, the Americans get into big trouble on July 4. Blowing up fingers, starting wildfires (I put one out), and shooting off loud things.

Fireworks are almost totally illegal in my Land of Flame and Drought. But if you pull into the city limits of a small farm town nearby, its lined with Fire Works For Sale, associated with various fund raising enterprises. Oh, Boy Scouts, the Rotary, that type of thing.

Blowing up fingers, starting wildfires, shooting off loud things....right. Very civic.
well, this triggered a ridiculous litany of July 4th memories.

Your right, its very significant. If nothing else, the Americans get into big trouble on July 4. Blowing up fingers, starting wildfires (I put one out), and shooting off loud things.

Fireworks are almost totally illegal in my Land of Flame and Drought. But if you pull into the city limits of a small farm town nearby, its lined with Fire Works For Sale, associated with various fund raising enterprises. Oh, Boy Scouts, the Rotary, that type of thing.

Blowing up fingers, starting wildfires, shooting off loud things....right. Very civic.
This made me laugh.
 
Hi Cloudy Skies......I hope you're feeling OK. We haven't heard from you for awhile now.

Well, I don't believe any celebration anywhere could top to the one given the Queen for her Silver Jubilee. Just beautiful, but it must have been very tiring for everyone involved. Good entertainment....and plenty of oldies around singing songs that had been requested. Too bad the Queen missed most of it. Yours, Lenora
 

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