What No One Told Me
Heidelberg, Germany 1969

Deon Matzen

© Copyright 2021 by Deon Matzen

Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash
Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash.

It was autumn and my sister and I were off to Europe for a grand tour, more like modest, but still a great trip for two young women on their own. I had been working for about three years after I had graduated from college and had finally saved enough so I was treating myself to a trip, to a special vacation. I had only signed up for group transportation and hotels with breakfast through a travel agent in the building where I worked in downtown Seattle; airfare, hotels and various modes of transport from city to city as I had planned to visit the sights and places I wanted to see on my own, not all the touristy places normally visited on tours.

My sister had just graduated from high school that spring. My folks asked me if they could send her to Europe with me as a graduation gift. I said that would be great. She started packing in June, the week she got the bright red suitcase and the ticket, and I waited until the week we left in early September. I think she must have packed and repacked a hundred times over the summer. I packed once and called it good.

After we had been traveling for a couple of weeks, we came to the town of Heidelberg where the famous Red Ox Inn is located. Heidelberg is a very old town, lots of old stone buildings, some cobblestone streets and, in the inner city where we were staying, a very old world feeling, with castles, old stone bridges, a beautiful river. The weather was probably normal for that time of year, but it was very grey and cold with intermittent rain squalls.

That evening we were supposed to meet some American friends at the Red Ox for dinner. We had met these friends while traveling and we had all agreed that eating at the Red Ox Inn would be a great place to meet again during our travels and have a wonderful meal together. It was a rather eclectic group with a wide variety of interest, ages and backgrounds. Several were my age, but quite a few were older, some retired. There were probably twenty of us who managed to show up for the dinner.

Before the appointed hour and after a day of running around, seeing lots of sites, my sister and I returned to the hotel to clean up, change our clothes, reapply makeup and, in general, got ready for a fancy dinner at a special restaurant. Since the rain was coming down pretty heavily, I opted to wear my full length, black velvet raincoat. We also grabbed our umbrellas.

Back then, at night, Heidelberg was a fairly dark, unlighted city. Since it was September, it was almost dark when we set out. We caught the articulated bus that the hotel concierge told us would take us within a couple of blocks of the restaurant. Neither of us spoke any German, but some Germans did speak English. After a good deal of fretting, asking the driver, who didnít understand us, and some of the passengers, we managed to find out what bus stop to exit the bus. By the time we exited the bus, it was dark and raining pretty hard.

Now we needed to find the inn. I remember the locale was a small, tree lined street. The trees were enormous and dripping. They also added to the darkness of the surroundings. We wandered up and down the block, looking and looking for the small bronze plaque, which we were told would be in English that was supposed to be on a door of our destination. As it was so dark and pouring down rain, and we didnít have a flashlight, a good thing to have in these situations, we had to peer at every door on the side of the street we were told the restaurant was located. Umbrellas didnít help with the visibility, blocking what little light there was and the view even more. We must have traversed the block six times before we located a small plaque about the size of a recipe card that was our intended destination, The Red Ox Inn. The main sign for the restaurant was in German, of course, and up near the second story of the building, somewhat lost in the tree branches and our umbrellas. I wouldnít have recognized the words anyway. Now I know better, and we should have asked the concierge to write down the restaurant information on a card in German so we could show passersby where we were headed and receive a little guidance. Instead, no one on that street spoke English and people were few and far between because of the rain. The restaurant didnít actually front on the street with no windows visible from the sidewalk, but was down a hallway toward the back of the building. There was no window in the door as well.

I must say it was an impressive place and still is, though I cannot vouch for the food now. (http://www.roterochsen.de/welcome.html) The menu sounds delicious and it would be a place that I would seek if I were in Heidelberg today. It was built in 1703, originally as a residence, but has been a restaurant for several hundred years. It was noisy and boisterous, quite crowded, lots of tables and many separate rooms which probably existed when it was a residence. Paintings and etchings hung everywhere on the walls. There was hardly a square inch of wall showing. Around the ceiling on a plate rail were scores of tankards and steins and other memorabilia on display.

When we entered the place, our coats and umbrellas were taken from us just inside the door and placed in the coat room by an attendant. My sister and I walked down a long hallway following the maÓtreĎd who carried our menus. We then took a rather circuitous route to our group through several rooms and around a many tables, and because we were late, to the place where our friends were already seated.

What no one told me, and I didnít discover until a started to sit down, was that I had lost my skirt! I was walking around in my blouse and slip without a care in the world! Yow, where was my skirt? You know that feeling that you sometimes have in an emergency where you feel your heart will burst and you can hear its beat in your ears? Probably because all the blood ran to my face, blushing intensely. A severe moment of panic! I hadnít even noticed it until I sat down and put my napkin in my lap.

I had been wearing a bright, multi-colored printed top and skirt when I left the hotel, but when I looked down now what I saw was beige with lace trim. Yeow! No one had said anything. My sis was sitting next to me and I leaned over, frantic, and said, ďIíve lost my skirt!Ē She just laughed until she looked down and realized that I really HAD lost my skirt. Then she really did laugh.

We ordered, the appetizers came, the salad, the main course and so forth. The food unbelievably good, we had the venison and the wild boar with potato dumplings. Wonderful and a joyous evening that I wasnít going to allow it being ruined by a little thing like walking around half dressed. I tried to focus on the food as there was nothing to do to correct the problem at that point. However, I racked my brain trying to figure out how I had lost my skirt.

It had fallen off.....it did have an elastic waist.....but wouldnít I have tripped over it?

I had gone to the bathroom before leaving on the bus, perhaps I had forgotten to pull it back up? But women donít pull a skirt down to use the toilet, they pull it up.

I had forgotten to put in on when I got dressed? I would have thought my sis would have noticed if I had tried to go out without it. Although you never know.

Where could I have lost it? And worse still, knowing I had lost it, how was I going to get out of the restaurant without folks noticing?

Somehow I actually managed to enjoy the meal. We enjoyed the conversations with friends and discussed our travels since we had seen one another. I am not sure how much I focused on the conversation, but the evening went well and we lingered quite a while at the table. I had kept my rather large linen napkin wrapped around me during the meal, my non-skirt under the table which was covered with a long linen tablecloth.

Toward the dessert course, my sis and I came up with a scheme that would get us out of the restaurant and back to the hotel without embarrassment. Sis would go to the coat room and ask for both our coats and return to the table so I could walk out modestly. Whew! That would solve the problem and I could relax and enjoy this unique experience of eating at the Red Ox Inn.

At the end of the meal, I placed my napkin on the table. I was smoothing down my shirt tail in hopes that it wasnít obvious that I wasnít wearing a skirt when I felt a bulge. The blouse and skirt were made of a lightweight nylon tricot, great for packing and travel but which had a tendency to have a lot of static electricity. The lining of my coat was nylon to add to the static. During all the walking back and forth in the block outside, trying to locate the restaurantís door, the skirt had ridden up and was smoothly tucked up under my blouse tail.

I started laughing hysterically. I told my sis and she was laughing out loud too. Our friends looked at us like we were crazy. When we told them the story about my fretting all evening about losing my skirt and that no one had noticed and how embarrassed I had been, the group burst into laughter too. Tears were running down our cheeks we laughed so hard. Even folks from adjoining tables looked at us like we were ďthose weird Americans.Ē A couple of the guys said they were sorry they had missed that sight.

I pulled the skirt back down and we left the restaurant with my pride and modesty intact!

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