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November 11, 2010 | German

Lederhosen, Greenwich Village

I visit a charming establishment on Grove Street.

My friend Jill recently told me she and her husband like Lederhosen, a German restaurant and bar on Grove Street in Greenwich Village. I need more German practice, and more New York German sights, so mid-afternoon yesterday I decided to run down there and check it out.

Lederhosen Bar Area, Greenwich Village

Lederhosen Bar Area, Greenwich Village

When you go to a bar at 5 p.m. on a weekday, usually it is not too full. This is a good sign, I think. If New York were full of people drinking at 5 p.m., we would not be a very productive city.

I planted myself at the bar, and the bartender brought me a menu. As I ordered my usual seltzer water, I realized that, while he seemed like a pleasant person, he was not German. In response to my inquiry, he told me he was the only person there who didn’t speak German. Hmm.

I asked if the owner was German. Yes. I asked if the owner was around. Yes.

I found said owner sitting at a corner table. His name is Dirk Martin, and he and his partner (Uli, a friendly woman I didn’t meet until I was on my way out) started Lederhosen in 2004.

Dirk Martin, Lederhosen Owner

Dirk Martin, Lederhosen Owner

Dirk grew up in the German Democratic Republic and came to the U.S. in 1995, six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He didn’t speak any English when he arrived. He speaks plenty now, but I told him about my language project in German anyway. He—politely, but I think also genuinely—said it sounded very interesting.

We then enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion, lasting about an hour and a half, on his business, his employees, Germany, the United States, and the young Germans who come here looking for Broadway stardom, find themselves handicapped by their accents, and return home disappointed.

Probably 35 to 40 percent of my conversation with Dirk was in German, and the rest in English. I find this switch to English is hard to prevent when the other person’s English is better than my German, which, to be honest, is nearly always the case when I meet a German person. They speak damned good English. Although I try to forestall the German-to-English switch, I do not always succeed. 

A Mural to Drink To

A Mural to Drink To

Selma Speaks German Plus Four Other Languages

Selma Speaks German Plus Four Other Languages

In the back part of Lederhosen were rows of Biergarten-style tables with a mural replicating the kind of landscape you might see were you sitting in a Biergarten in Germany. I found it a clever backdrop.

While loitering, I enjoyed a fascinating conversation in German with a witty and pleasantly irreverent employee named Selma. She is from Namibia, but lived in the former East Germany herself for a number of years. (According to my supplemental research, more than 400 Namibian children made a similar move from Africa to Germany in the years between 1979 and 1989.) I would like to know more from her, but this is something I should ask about in English, to make sure I don’t mess up the explanation.

Selma speaks German, Afrikaans, English, and two tribal languages. Impressive. She is now learning Spanish. This is the kind of person I love to meet: someone who already speaks a bunch of languages but is not done yet!

Comments (2)

Jill • Posted on Mon, November 15, 2010 - 8:38 am EST

Ellen!

Superb reporting! I’m glad that you had such a good experience at Lederhosen.  You didn’t mention if you ever had anything to eat, but the lunch wurst specials are delicious!

Jill

Julie • Posted on Mon, November 15, 2010 - 7:07 pm EST

I hear the wurst is the worst in that place, in the Michael Jacksonian sense of something being “bad.” Meaning it’s good!

Did you know that the Dutch make fun of Afrikaans? It sounds like baby talk to them. I have two Afrikaan friends who speak it and I find it utterly charming.

You would probably be able to pick it up pretty easily as much of the words are Germanic. But whatever you didn’t recognize you could simply look up in a woordeboek.

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