Born in 1965, Heike Haddenbrock grew up in Germany and currently resides in Copley, Ohio. She met her husband in Germany, who had gone to an American university and wanted to pursue an MBA in the United States. They moved to Nashville, Tennessee. She worked from home for a German automotive newspaper as a foreign correspondent. Her husband works for Goodyear and their relationship has given her the opportunity to travel throughout the country. In Dallas, Texas, she met teachers of a German Language School where she worked for a brief period. She is currently a teacher and the principal of the German Language School in Cleveland.


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Haddenbrock, Heike (interviewee)


Parcham, Deborah (interviewer)


Cleveland German-American Oral History Project



Document Type

Oral History


34 minutes


Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:00] Sure.

Deborah Parcham [00:00:02] It is November 18, 2021, 7:33 p.m.. I'm Deborah Parcham and can you say your name?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:12] Heike Haddenbrock.

Deborah Parcham [00:00:13] Thank you. Can you tell me your date of birth?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:18] Okay. It's ... [19]65.

Deborah Parcham [00:00:22] Thank you. What's your hometown?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:27] My hometown? You mean where I grew up or where I live now?

Deborah Parcham [00:00:32] Let's start with where you grew up.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:34] Where I grew up? OK. That is Bonn in Germany, the former capital of Germany. That's where I grew up and that's where I'm from. And I live in Copley, Ohio, now, south of Cleveland.

Deborah Parcham [00:00:44] Is that where you were born as well?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:46] I was born in Bonn, yes. Mm-hmm.

Deborah Parcham [00:00:50] Why did you leave?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:52] Why did I leave?

Deborah Parcham [00:00:53] Yeah.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:00:54] I met my husband in Germany, and he said that– He had already been to college here in Alabama. He's German, too, though. And he said that he wanted to get his MBA in the U.S. so he wanted to go to college here. And then he asked me whether I would go with him. And I said, OK, but then we need to make this official. So we got married. And then four weeks later, we moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and he went to the business school at Vanderbilt for two years.

Deborah Parcham [00:01:31] How old were you?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:01:32] I am 56.

Deborah Parcham [00:01:34] I meant how old were you when you met your husband?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:01:36] How old was I– OK. I was 32–

Deborah Parcham [00:01:40] Interesting.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:01:41] When I got married and moved to the U.S.

Deborah Parcham [00:01:43] Can you tell me more about what that process was like of moving to the U.S.?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:01:50] Well, it wasn't easy, because I had– I went to university, I went to college, and I got a degree in translation and I had a job and a career, and so it was not easy for me to just give all of this up. But the idea was that we would just live in the U.S. For two years and then return to Germany. And now you see me 20-something years later. So that changed, but we basically just– We thought we would be back. So we basically just moved here with like two suitcases and a box full of books that we had shipped here because we just didn't want to leave the books behind for some reason. So that is all we had when we moved here. So and then we moved and my husband started college here. And I worked from home. I worked for a German newspaper as a foreign correspondent. So I was writing articles.

Deborah Parcham [00:02:56] Can you remember the name of the German newspaper?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:02:58] Yes, it is a trade magazine for the automotive industry called Neue [00:03:04][?]. [0.0s] And I worked for them because I had worked in the automotive industry for eight years. This is where I worked as a translator. So what I did when I came here is I did interviews with tire manufacturers and then wrote articles or I translated articles for the magazine and then, you know, send it over. So now you think this is completely normal. But you have to understand, in '97, this was a big deal that you could work from home and sit at a computer all day. And I had a fax machine and would fax the articles to the magazine and things where you laugh nowadays. But it wasn't that easy to work from home, I have to say.

Deborah Parcham [00:03:52] Can you tell me more about the kind of work you do now?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:03:54] Yes, I am the principal of the German Language School in Cleveland, and I also teach there. And it's a community-based nonprofit language school that is being supported by the German government. And the kids, you know, the youngest ones are like four years old and the oldest ones take exams that they can use to study at a German university. It's the language requirement that is needed there. So this is a big deal. And I also teach the class, the highest level for the kids that take that exam I just talked about. And then I also teach a third grade class. We have two locations. So the third grade kids, I teach at the Novelty location and the others are at the Lenore Park location, which is in Olmsted Falls. So that's my job. And I also work for an organization. It's a nonprofit organization of all the German language schools in the U.S. It's like the umbrella organization, and I'm on the board there and organize like an annual conference for teachers for them and so on. And I just returned from that conference a couple of days ago.

Deborah Parcham [00:05:08] So when did you get started with that kind of work?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:05:11] Um, you know, my daughter was– We moved around a lot because my husband works for Goodyear, and he's been transferred to different locations all the time. And we lived in Dallas, and my daughter was two and a half years old when I met another teacher of the German school of Dallas. So there's a German school there as well. And they were looking for teachers. So I decided they asked me and I decided to teach this and I brought along my daughter. And then after I taught there, I moved to Cleveland for the first time and I discovered the German school here. And I worked there as a teacher for a year. And then they asked me to be the principal. And that– And I did this for a couple of years and then they transferred my husband back to Dallas. So I moved back to Dallas and I asked the school whether they could use me as a teacher again, and they said, Well, we need a principal. So I was the principal of that school for two years. And then they moved us back to Cleveland and I became the principal again at the German language school, Cleveland. So it really all started with just being a German teacher in back in Dallas.

Deborah Parcham [00:06:26] Did you ever come to the United States before you moved here with your husband?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:06:30] Yes, I did, actually. When I– After I got my college degree, you know, I got a job and it was a nice one. And I, for the first time in my life, actually had money. And my best friend also, you know, went to college with me. And she also had a nice job. So we decided we wanted to travel around a lot as long as we could because we didn't have we were married yet and was no family and so on. So we traveled around the world. We went to Africa a couple of times and we went to Mexico and we went to the U.S. and we traveled here for four weeks, all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast. And when we got on the plane, we both agreed that it's a nice country, but we really don't want to go back again. That was it. So, yeah, I've been here before. (laughs)

Deborah Parcham [00:07:26] So was it different coming back with your husband? Like what made you decide to stick around here?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:07:34] You know what? I– It was very different. Yes, I– I just decide– I just knew that it was important for him to come here. And since I had a degree in English, I thought I will not have a communication problem. It's just for two years and it might be a nice experience. And the thing is, I had lived in England for a year before and attended a university there for one year. So I wasn't afraid of being abroad for a while and staying abroad and I loved the experience. But when I arrived here, I was suddenly staying at a one bedroom apartment by myself all day long. My husband was busy studying and everything. And in the beginning I thought that was the biggest mistake I could possibly make. And I had no friends. And it was tornado season, so that was– There was a year when there was a really bad tornado in Nashville that destroyed a lot of buildings, and that scared me a lot. So I wasn't happy. But then my husband came home and he said, there's this club for international spouses at Vanderbilt. So for women like me. And he said, you should go there. They have meetings once a month. So I went to the first meeting. I was so nervous, I didn't know what to expect. I had no friends. I was and I could not believe that I turn into that person after being such a confident young business woman. But I went there and I met another lady and women from a lot of different countries, and we became friends and we met all the time. And then my whole life changed and I thought it was a great experience. It took me six months to understand the American English because I had learned the British English and I had lived there and and Nashville might not be the best place to start. (laughs)

Deborah Parcham [00:09:23] (laughs) I would probably agree with that.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:09:26] So it honestly took me six months before I realized when I was sitting in the car, oh, I just understood that entire commercial. I guess I can understand everybody now. Yeah. So it really honestly took me six months to adjust, but then I was really fine and I enjoyed it. And then unfortunately, after two years, we moved to Akron for the first time and so I had to start from scratch again. But then I wasn't that scared and afraid any longer, and it got better with each move. So yeah.

Deborah Parcham [00:09:56] Can you tell me more about your own childhood in Germany?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:09:59] Yes. I grew up in a in a very small town, a village of 900 people outside of Bonn. Um, I– None of my parents or my uncles and aunts, none of them had a college degree. So I actually was the first one to go to college along with my cousins. And so that already was a big deal. And I, my parents were always working, so there wasn't really a whole lot of time that I spent with them. And it was hard for me because I went to a gymnasium, which is like a high school in in Bonn. And so I didn't really have a lot of friends in that village. And it was so it was a little hard. But when I went to college in England for a year, that was already sensational. Nobody had ever done that going abroad for a year. So you can imagine what everybody was thinking when they heard that I would move to the U.S. So I'm kind of, and it still is until this day, kind of the celebrity in that village when I come from, you know, and I'm not the German there, I'm the American there, which is funny because here I'm the German, so. (laughs)

Deborah Parcham [00:11:10] Um, I have a question. (laughs)

Heike Haddenbrock [00:11:13] Sure. Just whatever you want to ask. I wonder what else–.

Deborah Parcham [00:11:18] Do you remember any– do you have any experiences of being like, I don't know, of facing any kind of stereotyping, prejudice, because of your experience as an immigrant or as a German? Anything like that?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:11:37] Yes, I mean, I did, as you can tell, I have an accent. I never got rid of it. And so as soon as I open my mouth, people look at me in that. And if they're, you know, most of the time they either ignore it or they ask, Oh, where you from? And that is completely fine. But I have to say, I lived in Texas twice, and I just did not feel as accepted, you know, in society, as I feel here. So I remember a time when my daughter was little. I went to some kind of store and I said something. And then the guy just mocked my accent. He just imitated it. And my daughter was like, I don't know how old she was, seven or eight, and she was absolutely furious. And she told him– I mean, she was born in Arkansas, by the way, so she could not be more American. But she told him, I think she was so right. How dare you make fun of my mom? But I had several situations where I just felt, I don't know whether left out is the right word, but I felt different. I felt like I didn't fit in. Like in Dallas, for instance, I was a part of this women's club and they played cards and they never treated me the same way they treated everybody else in that club. I could just tell I was different. So and unfortunately, my daughter had some bad experiences as well. I mean, she you know, she has parents and she you know, people, you know, kids made fun of her on the school bus and so on. And she was called words that I don't want to repeat (laughs), but, you know, she, you know, for a long time she, she felt embarrassed and then she realized that that's stupid, honestly, that that wasn't the right thing to do. And now she's proud of her heritage. And actually, she's a senior and she wants to do a major in Germany. Now, that is a 360 degree turn for her. But yeah, she went to drama school for 15 and a half years, I mean, for a long time. So she speaks German very well and that was good. But there are always situations where I feel like I don't belong and I have a feeling, though I feel, though, that here in Cleveland, it's– This is home to me because I know so many people from different countries here. It's like a melting pot. And I really do not stand out at all. And so I have to say that, I mean, I haven't felt like that in a long time here. You know, so, but it's not easy. It's not easy. It's– Because the thing is, the problem or the thing is that you do not completely belong to this society, but you also do not completely belong to the German society. So you can go there every summer. But as I said before, you're the American. Yeah? And the other way around, you're still the German.

Deborah Parcham [00:14:27] So when did they start to see you– You said the,y like when you go to Germany, they see you like the American. When do you think that change kind of happened?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:14:39] I think it happened like, not the first two years or so. I think it happened after. And it is absolutely not that I have an American accent or that I act differently or look different really. But it was just after two years or so. I remember one time when my cousin, who lived here for one year as an au pair, she saw me after, I want to say, after like three years or so. And she said to me, Oh my gosh, you're so American. And I thought, What does that mean? You know, why do you think so? But she thought that because she lived there for a year, she could tell. So it's– I don't think it's right, but it took a couple of years. But it's– I just find it interesting, you know, when they ask me about politics or something like that, that they– I remember, you know, that they think that I decided all of this and that I'm part of the government or whatever (Deborah laughs) and make decisions and, so why did you do this or that? And I'm like, well, I didn't decide this. It wasn't my decision. But still, what are you thinking over there? You know, so it's, it's strange. It is strange.

Deborah Parcham [00:15:48] What kind of– Do you have any German traditions, music, food, anything like that, that you try to keep up at home here or anything like that?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:15:57] Yes, we really do. I mean, we have– We made a point, you know, or we decided when my daughter was born that we would only speak German at the house because we wanted her to speak the language. And we honestly kept all the German traditions. I mean, I cook German. I still do until this day. I you know, the Christmas decorations are from Germany. Easter decorations are from Germany. And. And then the thing is, the German school really helps because they they teach the kids of the German traditions. So she was always exposed to this. And. Yeah. And I think in the end, I think for a while she probably hated all of this. Or the friends thought, That's very strange that you do this, that you do that. Like, for instance, Christmas, we open our presents on the 24th in the evening and she doesn't do it any other way, but when she tells her friends, they're like, Oh, that's wrong. You can't do that, you know? So these things have never changed. And it was just interesting because when my daughter was two and a half years old, she went to preschool for the first time for like two days a week for a couple of hours. And although she had lived in this country, she didn't really speak much English. So the first two weeks she was kicking and screaming because she didn't understand anything and she didn't want to do anything and she didn't want to speak English at all. And after two years, after two weeks, she slowly decided, okay, that's what it's going to be now. So I'll speak– I try to speak their language, and then after a couple of months, she spoke in fluently because when the kids are two and a half years old, they're like sponges. They and now it's, it's, you know, the opposite. We go to Germany every year and she speaks it fluently. She knows the relatives and everything. And she can really– She could live in Germany by herself and she would be just fine. But it used to be the opposite, you know, when she was little. So it's interesting.

Deborah Parcham [00:17:57] It's a very beautiful language.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:17:59] It is, but it's hard to learn. So we always, we always told her, you know what? You're lucky that you don't have to learn it because it's hard to learn, but you just learned it from, you know, from scratch when you were little. So and she doesn't have an accent, which I find interesting. No American accent at all, which is good. You know, we worked hard to accomplish that. (Deborah laughs) But, um.

Deborah Parcham [00:18:22] Do you have any knowledge of the history of your parents' background or any further family history or anything like that?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:18:29] Yes. I mean, my whole family– My family comes from the area around the Moselle, the river which is a small river next to the you know, that close to the Rhine. And from what I know is they were farmers and teachers. And I have an uncle who actually did some research. And what he did, he went to the churches in Germany in that area and could find relatives in the books at church so he could trace our family back to, in the 1700s. And they were, as I said, mostly farmers and teachers. Interesting enough. But we are from that area. You know, both parts of my family are from that area. So and I do know, though, that I have one great grandmother who was who was French. That's all I know. And because of that, her son spoke French fluently. And during the war, one of them was an interpreter for French. So there you go. But that's as far as you know, my family goes, we're all from that small area there between Bonn and the river Moselle.

Deborah Parcham [00:19:45] Were you raised, if you don't mind me asking, were you raised in a religious household or anything like that?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:19:51] Yes. My whole family is Catholic, and that whole area near the River Rhine is a very Catholic area, Roman Catholic. It was– You can see a lot of the Roman traces there because my hometown was founded in I think it was, I don't know why I know this, 34 after Christ, so very old. And so it's Roman Catholic. And the thing is that, for instance, when you build a house, sometimes you find like Roman coins or parts of Roman vases and stuff like that in the soil, which is very interesting. And there's a huge Roman museum there as well. But religion was very important at my household and in that village too. The whole village would meet—I think it's a little different now—but it would meet at church on Sunday morning. So.

Deborah Parcham [00:20:49] Would you say religion is still an important part of your family? It's something that you brought over here, anything like that?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:20:56] I think it still is in my family. It has changed a little bit. Unfortunately, a lot of the young people are not interested in religion any longer in Germany, but it still is in my family. And we have a couple of religious traditions or whatever you want to call them, and I pass them on to my daughter. So there are certain things that we do, you know, that she doesn't know any other way. And she's obviously she's Roman Catholic as well, but it is still very important in my family. Yes, I can say that.

Deborah Parcham [00:21:29] Well, I know. The United States, especially southern parts of the United States, that you said you've been, are often very largely Protestant. And I was wondering in that vein, have you had any moments of, you know, feeling, I guess, kind of prejudice in that specific regard or any other kind of a culture shock, I guess?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:21:52] When I lived in the South, you mean?

Deborah Parcham [00:21:54] Or any other place? Not necessarily.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:21:55] Yeah, I do think that, I mean, we have actually lived in the South for a long time before we moved here back north. So I can say, you know, we lived in Tennessee, we lived in Arkansas. And, you know, I don't know whether you would consider Texas the South. I don't know. But it's– I have to say that being a Catholic was a little different there. And I found it hard, for instance, in Arkansas or in Tennessee to find a Catholic church. So I stood out a little bit and I understood pretty quickly that religion was very important there, but it was more like Baptists or Southern Baptists or something like that. And I– There were a lot of things that I could not understand at all why you would do this. And so that really was a culture shock to me. As far as religion is concerned, I can certainly say that, yes. So it was really interesting or nice for me when we moved to Cleveland for the first time where I realized, oh, there are the Catholics, that's nice. The churches, yeah. So I have to say that, you know, as far as that is concerned, I found it a bit extreme sometimes, religion, and just different.

Deborah Parcham [00:23:17] Were there any other kind of experiences that kind of led to a bit of a culture shock or anything like that?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:23:24] Um... Yeah, I'm sure I need to think about this. The first thing that– Coming back to religion, the first thing that I realized was that people openly talked about religion. In Germany, your religion is considered a very private thing. You don't talk about it that openly. And that was very strange to me. And other than that, I had a hard time finding or having friendships with American people. I had no problem having friends from all over the world. But I found the Americans in the beginning superficial. I had the– I had the feeling that they're not really my real friends, that I couldn't go there if I had a problem or so, and that they wouldn't help me. Later on, it turned out that, in my opinion now, that it isn't true. And– But in the beginning I thought it was, it was superficial, which wasn't, you know, some are. But I think you can always find good friends here as well. So I think it's a prejudice, honestly. You know. And other than that, it's– You know what? On the one hand, the cultures are relatively similar. On the other hand, they're completely different. And I just realized that what I do say now is whenever I go to Germany, people say, Oh, those Americans are so superficial. And whenever you go to a store, they say, Hey, how are you? They don't really want to know it. And then I always say, you know, I when I go to the store in Germany, I see people with long faces that really don't want to help me. I'd rather have somebody smile at me, be friendly and ask me how I'm doing than looking at those faces. So think about it. What do you want? You know? Yeah. That's a big difference between those two countries. So, for sure.

Deborah Parcham [00:25:20] You said you grew up in a really small like village, what was– Like, can you talk more about what that was like?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:25:27] Yes, it is– You do grow up very sheltered in a way because everybody knows everybody and you always have somebody sitting at home was visiting you. And it's not that people tell you they're going to come. They just show up. Yeah, you never know. You always have, you know, people always bake cake. People always have coffee somewhere. And you just come and you sit and you talk. But it was very sheltered. But on the other hand, it was– It was a little different because the only way for me to say I don't want to say to get to a civilized place, that's not true to a civilized, but to be in a bigger city. And the real city was, you know, I had to catch a bus and I was just lucky that I went to this high school in the city so that I was more surrounded by this. I had to walk through the city center every day to get there. But when I was home, you know, we. How should I say them? You know, when I went with my bed, with my friends when I was a child, we would play in the woods, which is run to the woods and play there. And then we went home and it was dinnertime. So. And in some respects, that hasn't changed yet. Yeah, it's very different. It really is. And the thing is, for the first eight years of my life, I lived in that big city. We had an apartment, but then my parents decided to build a house in my father's hometown in that village. And that's when everything changed for me. So that was very different.

Deborah Parcham [00:27:12] Did you grow up just kind of– Did you grow up speaking English or did you learn it on like an older point in your life?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:27:23] Yeah, I– I have an older cousin. I'm an only child, and I have an older cousin who was– She's eight years older than me. And since we all grew up together in one village, we were really like sisters. I saw her every day and we were always at my grandma's house or, you know, I was at her house or she was at mine. So when she started learning English, I mean, she was– I think she was like 11 and I was three. I could, I mean, I could not really think I was two. No, she was ten and I was two, so I could hardly speak German. But she taught me every English word that she learned in class. So we actually have a recording of me singing an English song like Good Morning, Mr. Miller, or whatever it was called, that she taught me before I could really actually sing a German song. So my relatives thought that was terrible, but I really had an interest in the language. And so she would teach me a lot of things. And when I was ten years old, my parents sent me to London for two weeks because they had friends there. So they basically just put me on a plane, which was very unusual at that time for a child to do by himself or herself. And I stayed with that family for two weeks in England and then in London. And that really taught me a lot. And I really discovered very early how much I love the language. So I read everything I could find in English and, you know, and it took all those English classes. So I had like English for nine years. Um, when I went to college and I knew I wanted to, to study it more. And so I got a degree in English, but it started very early. My first English song was when I was two years old. Yeah, but the thing is, foreign languages play a different part in Europe. I mean, especially when you live in Germany and you're surrounded by other countries. I mean, you drive for 2 hours are you want to play on a train for 4 hours, which is what I grew up in here in Paris. So wherever you go, I mean, you only drive for like 2 hours or a couple of hours and people speak another language. So we just in our eyes, it is very nice. You know, it's very much necessary to learn other languages. And I went to a you know, to this high school, or to this school in Bonn in this big city and, you know, I started learning English there when I was in fifth grade. And then in sixth grade, I also started learning Latin that I had for five years. And then in seventh grade it was French, and then in 10th grade it was Spanish for three years. And I continued with all those languages. And I was– That was nothing unusual at all. It's, you know, it's different.

Deborah Parcham [00:30:13] So what do you think has been the hardest language to learn?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:30:17] The hardest for me– Later on when I went to college, I also added Italian to the mix and that I found extremely difficult. But I think the problem that I had is that French and Spanish and Italian are all different, but still also similar. And I started mixing them all up. And so when I added Italian after a year, I thought my language, I just can't do it. It was so difficult. So, you know. Yeah.

Deborah Parcham [00:30:49] Outside of Germany and the U.S., what's been your favorite country you've visited?

Heike Haddenbrock [00:30:55] I think South Africa, I have to say, because I went there with my friend for the first time because his sister lived there and I just absolutely loved it. And I love the– You know, I love nature there. I love the people there, and the animals and everything. So when– After we had been there for the first time, we decided to visit her again the following year, which we did. And we always traveled around a lot. And then after that, we decided to visit Namibia. Namibia is, you know, the country right next to South Africa, and we stayed at farms there and it was just so different. And I just love nature there. And then I went there again to Namibia and then again with my parents, and then I went to South Africa with my husband for our honeymoon. So, you know, South Africa, I think is my favorite place for sure. You know.

Deborah Parcham [00:31:52] I mean, before we wrap up, do you have any experiences, just anything you feel you've learned, particularly because of your experiences traveling to all these different places that, you know, you want to share.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:32:07] Yeah. I really do think that traveling in general is very important because it gives you an open mind and it widens your horizon. And I think that it helps you accept other cultures enormously. So we always made a point, for instance, with our daughter as well, to teach her that. We've traveled a lot with her as well. We took her to Germany every year. I do think that in nowadays, society accepts the acceptance of other cultures and respect is the most important thing. So I think if you ask me what is the one thing that you've learned, then I think that's it. And I really realize that when I go to Germany, when I go to my tiny village there, the open mind and the respect is not always there because I have just never left that village. So I think that's important nowadays. So that's what I've learned from all of this for sure.

Deborah Parcham [00:33:09] Nice. Thank you. Um, if there's nothing else, I think that about covers it. Thank you so much again for doing this.

Heike Haddenbrock [00:33:17] You are very welcome. And I hope– I wish you a lot of success with your project.

Deborah Parcham [00:33:21] Thank you. I don't– I'm just turning the audio file in. (laughs)

Heike Haddenbrock [00:33:24] That is wonderful. And that is probably the most important job of all of this. Right?

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