Yesterday, I was on Toytown Germany, an English speaking forum for expats. I used to read it all the time when we lived in Germany the first time. Those were the days before Facebook, and I found it had a wealth of information for English speaking non-Germans. I still like reading it sometimes, because a lot of the people who use that forum are from Europe and aren’t affiliated with the U.S. military. They offer interesting perspectives and insights that my countrymen can’t deliver.
So anyway, I came across an interesting thread from 2011. A woman calling herself Gutgenug was living in Hesse, in a town called Heppenheim. Her husband was in the Army and she worked for the Army herself, at an installation that has since closed. Gutgenug’s story was an amazing one… and she had a few skeptics in her midst. I must say, having lived in Germany for awhile, I believe what she writes. I especially believe that she works for the Army because she has mastered the Army writing style.
Back in November 2011, Gutgenug wrote that her next door neighbor was suing her because she used incense in her house. This man, who, along with his wife, was a chain smoker, claimed that the incense was “offensive” to him. He also didn’t like that she was using candles in her house. He called the police on her several times a week. The police would come over and talk to her. When she later called the police on him, they would hang up on her. She got so freaked out that she had anxiety attacks and didn’t even want to leave her house.
Now… this would be bad enough, but over the weeks of her very long thread, she described increasingly bizarre harassment from this man. She claimed he set up an industrial sized fan, which he aimed at her house and ran for hours. She even shared a picture of the fan, the kind of equipment one uses to quickly dry paint or carpeting. She wrote that he climbed their fence and took down her windchimes. According to Gutgenug, he would purposely block them in their driveway and surveil them as they went about their daily business.
I started thinking about all of the neighbors we’ve had over the years. Some of them were annoying. I’m sure we’ve annoyed people, too. I have never encountered anyone quite as psycho as this lady’s neighbor was. I kind of hope some of what she wrote is made up… because just reading about some of his tactics was raising my blood pressure. It’s hard to believe that the local police would do nothing to help her, either. According to her, she actually had to call someone at the Army installation in a position of high authority. That person had connections with the German police and they had to go jerk a knot in the people running her local police department.
As the matter continued to escalate, the neighbor brought criminal charges against Gutgenug for filming him. She was actually filming the fan he kept aiming at her house, but he was apparently in the film and evidently, that’s against the law. He allegedly told her she and her husband should go back to America, since Germans didn’t want us here. And he supposedly is “better” at using the law to harass people, so she should just give up and leave.
Later, it came out that her landlord used to be friends with the neighbor. They are both handymen and now compete for business. Some people speculated that perhaps the neighbor was getting back at the landlord by driving out his tenants. By the end of the thread, it was revealed that the guy had driven several other families out using the same tactics and the local police reportedly didn’t care.
As interesting as the story was, I was even more intrigued by the solutions people came up with, a lot of which included their own stories about Nachbarkrieg (neighbor wars). One lady wrote about how one of her neighbors had committed Ausländer Unfreundlichkeit by calling her “Ausländer Schwein” (foreign pig). It’s against the law to insult people in Germany. The neighbor also called the police on her for having people over on a Sunday. When she opened the door to the police, she wrote that she almost fainted, because she was afraid something had happened to her kids. Actually, it was just the neighbor harassing her for having company that was too “loud” on Sunday. When the woman’s German husband went to mediation, the insult was brought up and the neighbor was quickly shamed for resorting to personal attacks. In the end, everything was settled amicably, and the troublesome neighbor moved away.
Another person suggested screaming at the guy in English. As tempting as that sounds, it also sounds like the kind of tactic that only works if the other person is in their right mind. It sounded to me like this woman’s neighbor, if he was the way she described, was not quite sane. He seemed to have a lot of time on his hands, as well as the imagination on how to creatively drive someone up a wall. And one guy suggested finding a large person to beat the living fuck out of the guy. Of course, he also mentioned that taking that approach might make the legal issues even worse.
Complicating matters for Gutgenug is that she was raised in an abusive environment. Having been brought up by an abuser, she has issues with anxiety and is passive. I got the sense, having read her post, that she may have served in the military herself. I would imagine that if she was, in fact, a veteran, she probably had some trouble with the job. I don’t know this from personal experience, but I think it would be difficult for a woman to climb the ranks if assertiveness is an issue. Also, I was a little surprised that if she had all of these anxiety issues, the Army let her come to Germany in the first place. Before people in the military are assigned overseas and allowed to bring their families, they usually have to go through EFMP screening. EFMP stands for the Exceptional Family Member Program, and it’s intended to identify people with special healthcare or educational needs so that they don’t get sent someplace where their needs can’t be met.
I had to undergo that screening myself the first time we moved to Germany and, because I had been treated for depression and asthma, was forced to join the program. Fortunately, my husband’s command didn’t have a problem with it and it was a non-issue for us, but I know other people have had assignments cancelled over EFMP issues. It sounds to me like Gutgenug’s problems, if known to the Army, would definitely warrant being put in the EFMP. I ranted about my own experience with EFMP. But anyway… I have also learned that in the military, when it comes to things like EFMP, a lot comes down to who you know, who you are, and who can “unfuck” things for you.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about German passive aggressiveness. That post is mostly about a couple of recent legal cases within Germany that involved two different men who were covertly trying to kill people. One man was a handyman who had issues with his neighbor and booby trapped her firewood. Another was a guy who just wanted to see what would happen if he poisoned his co-worker’s lunch. Although there are not nearly as many weapons here as there are in the United States (where the harassing neighbor guy might have been shot for his shenanigans), it’s easy to see that pissing someone off in Germany can lead to repercussions that may be just as sinister as being blown away.
In any case, it looks like Gutgenug eventually went back to the States. Her landlord was placed on the “no-referral” blacklist, and the housing office was no longer allowed to refer Americans to his home. It made me kind of sad to read Gutgenug’s story. I really enjoy living in Germany, for the most part. Yes, I’ve run into some true assholes here, but none any worse than people I’ve met in my homeland. And among the assholes are many wonderful people who are helpful and kind. It’s hard to be so far from home and, I’m sure, being in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language fluently and the natives are doing their best to mess with you, is extremely stressful. Life is short and no one has the time for that. If it had been me, I probably would have just moved out, but if Gutgenug’s story is for real, then it does at least sound like the situation was dealt with at last. Kudos to her for that. Not everyone has the courage or ability to fight back in these situations.