Frau Jung was our landlady and downstairs neighbor during the several months in 2001 that we lived in Germany. We communicated in different languages, but we managed to do a pretty good job of pointing, gesturing and smiling, so we somewhat understood each other, most of the time.

Richard and I did not, however, understand the German recycling laws. They were complicated, requiring precise separation of cans, glass, paper, compost and numerous other categories. Just separating glass bottles wasn’t enough; you were required to further separate them into different containers for clear glass, brown glass and green glass. Once every other week was gelber sac day, when the special yellow bags used for cans were picked up for recycling. Frau Jung was constantly reprimanding us for mixing in some recyclable items with our trash. Then one day she really busted us.

Shortly after Richard left for work, I overheard him in conversation with Frau. I peeked out the window and saw that she had him opening our neatly tied plastic garbage bags, as she re-explained how to separate things for recycling. I wanted to rescue him, but was afraid if I went downstairs, she would make me go through bags of garbage too. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but one thing I knew for sure was that I needed to find a better way of learning the recycling laws than going through our garbage bags regularly with Frau. I went to the Town Hall the next day and picked up a pamphlet on recycling laws. Although it was of course in German, it did contain enough pictures that I could understand. I became the family recycling expert; Richard had to check with me whenever he had something to throw away, then I would smugly point to the appropriate bin.

At the many fests in our town, wine and beer were served in real glasses. We were required to give a deposit that was refunded when we returned our empty glasses. We both appreciated not being served in throwaway products that are prevalent at American fests. Those paper and plastic cups create such tremendous waste, since they are typically merged with other trash instead of being recycled.

When Frau Jung learned that we were celebrating our anniversary, she brought us a gift package that contained a bottle of wine, a set of towels for one, a polyester tablecloth and a plastic wallet. The wine was so old (not aged, old) that the cork disintegrated when we tried removing it. Likewise for the wallet; it had a 1971 calendar inside. Nonetheless, we appreciated the sweet gesture and were touched by it. She was an avid recycler, even when it came to gifting.

On the day we moved, she gave me a hug and a bag of Gummi Bears for the road. The Gummi Bears were gone in a few hours, but my respect for and practice of recycling remains strong today. And I think endearingly of Frau when I recall the image of sorting trash with her at Fabrikstrasse 9. Danke shon, Frau.