In the backyard of the milk bar (

Vehicle for love letters in 2000: “SchülerVZ”

Photo: Picture Alliance / Julian Stratenschulte

As a teenager, I was an exchange student for three months in a city of 6,000 in central France. Opposite the only college, the high school, was the city’s main employer: a giant ironworks that employed more than 50% of the population. All the buildings in the city were very yellowed and there was a slight metallic smell everywhere. At first I still thought it was an illusion, also because “my” exchange student with whom I lived there said that she “didn’t notice anything.” But in the end I realized it was like The Truman Show: she just didn’t know any other way.

The reason my exchange student clearly opted for hosting a German woman was because she liked to listen to Tokio Hotel and Rammstein the most. Her favorite Tokio Hotel song was of course »Through the Monsoon«. Her favorite Rammstein song was Mein Herz brennt. Lying on the bed under the posters in our room, she sang loudly to both of them in gibberish. She spoke hardly any German and I spoke French. I liked her whole family very much. All three children had American names – I got along particularly well with my seven-year-old “brother” Te-di, Teddy, like a teddy bear or a one-euro shop.

My exchange student had a boyfriend who only wore his father’s military uniform, which was way too big. His mother owned the only bar in town, and we used to spend there almost every day after school – because she gave us glasses of milk which she poured over with cassis syrup. The only problem was, in the yard, on the way to the bathroom, my exchange student’s boyfriend’s dogs were locked in cages. They walked like predators all day long and every time they passed them they barked insanely loud and stuck their horrible mouths through the bars.

To this day, I remember their ruthlessly icy, bulging eyes and foam on their angry lips. Wild animals. I tried not to drink too much milk with cassis syrup because I didn’t want to pass by them. I trusted them in everything. My exchange student and her boyfriend loved each other very much, but they fought every day. Sometimes, when things were going particularly bad, he threatened to let the dogs go at her.

The only question that the hostess of the milk bar was asking was whether I already have »fine copainwould have. In response, he regularly howled into my increasingly salty milk with cassis syrup (sometimes also with “menthe” – peppermint). My “fine copain«I was in Germany and every day I ran to the always empty shopping center in a small town where there was the only internet cafe to get mine»fine copain«Write long declarations of love in» SchülerVZ «. I was very afraid that in my absence he would fall in love with another, nicer girl – and then I cursed myself for those thoughts that I suspected could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, a curse (des oracle), change.

It was only a few days after I left a small town in central France that the metallic smell was gone as well. Sometimes I still think that the iron dust has settled somewhere in my body and that is why everything that glows attracts me magnetically. My French hardly improved during my three-month stay as I hardly spoke to anyone – I put my energy into futile (German) love letters to which I only responded sporadically »fine copain«To» SchülerVZ «. Sisyphus quest.

I still regularly waste energy, time and just love boys who feel overwhelmed by it. Maybe I should be a little soulless. Or with a metal mouth, like wild animals in the backyard of a milk bar.

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