Who Knows How Far – Kaffee und Kuchen with guest Anne Kroehn
by John Clarke
Who knows how far learning a language will take you?
The guest speaker at the last meeting of the Barossa German Language Association’s Kaffee und Kuchen was Anne Kroehn. The Kroehn family arrived in the Barossa Valley from Prussia in the 1850s, and life for them had centred on the St Petri Church in the Eden Valley. By the time Anne began school all that remained of their German heritage were a few German sayings and traditions; the language had been lost.
From her first German lesson in primary school Anne loved the language, and that love grew as she progressed to Faith Lutheran School. She became the School’s first exchange student. For a young, inexperienced girl the prospect of six months away from home and family was both exciting and daunting.
In July 1989 her adventure began. She arrived in Hamburg and was met by her host family who lived in Barsbüttel 20 kilometres east of the city. August is the time of long school holidays in the Northern Hemisphere, and no sooner had Anne arrived than she was off on a family holiday, visiting parts of Germany, France and Switzerland.
School in Wandsbek, Hamburg was very different from schools she had experienced in the Barossa Valley. There were no school uniforms, and it was far less formal; her instructor even took her to a cafe for a coffee.
But her main education was outside the school room. Her host mother had been born in Berlin immediately after World War II, and she had harrowing stories to tell of that troubled time of political and geographic division, of that time of chaos and rebuilding. Anne before had had little interest in politics, but politics took on a vivid life when on 9 November, 1989 the Berlin Wall ceased to be a barrier and East and West Berliners surged towards each other and embraced. Anne’s host mother was able to meet again relatives who had been enclosed within Berlin’s Communist sector. Anne saw joy on people’s faces greater than she had ever seen before.
Since that six month exchange Anne has been back three times, most recently in 2018 with her two daughters when they were able to experience a Hamburg Christmas with the host family who have remained her close friends.
In 2018 Anne had completed a diploma in German and a Commerce Degree at Adelaide University, and for a time back in the Barossa she worked at Maggie Beer’s farm shop, where she enjoyed conversing with German tourists in their language. Her career now is in banking, and while her knowledge of German so far is not being utilised, she is grateful for the opportunities and experiences that have followed those first German lessons in primary school.
The next Kaffee und Kuchen meeting will be held at the Langmeil Centre, 7 Maria Street, Tanunda on Monday, 28 August at 1pm.