“Wilkommen!” With that greeting, remembered from the remnants of my college German, I welcomed Guenther Haberman, FIFA referee, to the 1990 Dallas Cup youth soccer tournament.

Guenther, a native of Weissensee, East Germany, had had very few opportunities to experience life outside the Eastern Bloc and was tremendously excited about his first visit to the United States.

We, the Halstead family, had never hosted any Dallas Cup participants and were equally excited about this new opportunity. As we struggled to communicate with each other, gestures replaced words and pantomime became the order of the day.

But little by little, relying upon pocket dictionaries and great patience, we began to share information about ourselves and our lives.

Guenther and his wife Sigrid are the parents of two teenaged children and enjoy many of the comforts of the middle class. Their lives and future seemed secure. Little did they know that in less than a year, East and West Germany would be reunited and their worlds would change forever.

That first year offered my family a close-up look at the life of a “typical,” upper-middle class family under Communism.

To learn about another culture, not from books and films but from interaction with one who lives in that culture daily, is the ultimate educational experience. I am grateful our family had that opportunity.

That first visit in 1990 sparked a friendship that has transcended language barriers (my German is still awful and Guenther speaks no English) and physical separation.

Guenther returned to the 1991 Dallas Cup and not surprisingly, our Communist friend was espousing the then-acceptable Social Democrat philosophy. By 1992, when he and his wife Sigrid arrived for the American Dallas Cup XIII, Guenther was a raging Capitalist.

I never imagined that volunteering to act as a host family for the Dallas Cup could affect our lives so greatly. To experience through the Haberman family the human implications of the reunification of Germany and the demise of Communism has been the opportunity of a lifetime.

Last year, more than 1,000 volunteers worked to make the American Airlines Dallas Cup a resounding success. Each of those volunteers has similar stories to share and friendships to cherish. If you have time to help, please call the American Airlines Dallas Cup office at 387-4477.