When asked what nationalities are in my family, I will always start by saying German. I am fifty percent German, if not more. My interest in my German heritage has grown over the years, as I learned more about my family on my father’s side. My great-grandfather, James Riddleberger, was the U.S. ambassador to Austria; over the course of his career he met Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also heard Hitler speak before a large crowd (he was not impressed).
My father lived in Austria for two years with the ambassador and his wife. They refused to speak English to him and when he returned to the U.S., he had forgotten how to speak English.
The German language has always interested me. It is said to be an ugly-sounding language, as opposed to the romance languages. But after six years of French, I wanted to take a different approach, even if it meant that I had to take a language when I could have placed out of the requirement. I wanted to learn it to honor my family, to better understand where they came from. I wanted to share something with my father’s parents and maybe even remind my dad of the language he spoke for two years. The German language is a way to connect with my family.