Saturday, November 10, 2001

German, American speak the language of collecting

Prize Possessions

By Marsie Hall Newbold
Enquirer contributor

        Who: Steven J. Schmidt, 49, of Fort Thomas; husband, father of two, Fort Thomas police chief, student of the German language and loyal e-pal.

        What: An assortment of German memorabilia with an emphasis on police items sent to him by Franz Simon, a 40-year-old highway policeman in the state of Hessen, Germany.

        On display: A police hat, uniform shirt, sweater and training shirt from Hessen; postcards; patches; and a selection of German-language publications.

        A small, small world: “Franz e-mailed this police department in June of 2000 requesting a patch for his collection,” Chief Schmidt explains. “I not only sent him a patch, but e-mailed him in return in German.”

        “That's not to say I'm fluent in the language,” Chief Schmidt chuckles. “It took a bit of dictionary work. He e-mailed back and we've been pen pals ever since.”

        Guten Tag: “When we first started corresponding,” Chief Schmidt says, “we had to decide what language to use. Since neither of us is fluent in the other's language, and we both need the practice, Franz came up with the idea of doing our e-mails and letters in a combination of German and English.”

        Comic relief: “My biggest problem with German is grammar rules,” the chief says with a sigh. “But I'm learning. I've been interested in it all my life, but for the most part I am self-taught. Now I'm in three different German classes. That's kind of funny because it is the only class I ever failed in high school.”

        “Franz has been sending me German-language comic books,” he says with a grin. “Believe it or not, they have really helped me pick up the language. I guess you could say that they are on my level.”

        Mirror images: “I'm a few years older than Franz,” he adds, “But it is amazing how much we have in common. He lives in the Rhein-Main area near Frankfurt at the river Main. Franz is also married, and he and his wife, Ute, have two children that are close in age to mine.”

        “Considering the language barrier and the distance between us,” Chief Schmidt muses, “I think that it's fascinating that Franz and I found each other. If not for the Internet, we would never have become friends. I'm not sure when it is going to happen, but I'm looking forward to the day when we meet in person.”

        Share your prize possessions with Marsie Hall Newbold by mail: c/o The Cincinnati Enquirer; e-mail:


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