I’ve come a long way since I first moved to Germany in the early eighties, not just in terms of miles but in my change of attitude. Communication is the key, I say, and now that I can easily speak the language it certainly makes life a lot easier. When I first came here I was dipping my toes in a new sea, getting a feel for the mood and very aware of the differences between the places I had lived and my new country.
To be honest, if it hadn’t been for my boyfriend and his group of eager-to-speak-English friends I would have felt lost. One underestimates the power of language and the ability to communicate. I had to learn how to fit in here. Many years have passed since then. Happy memories of me and my pink bicycle cycling up to the Schlosspark in warm sunshine, sitting under a tree with a book, pen and notebook and a flask of coffee, headphones connecting me to my Walkman. Yes, it was a long time ago. I always had an English book from the local library nearby. What was I reading back then? Anything and everything, as long as it was in English. Anais Nin’s Diary, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, The Letters of Evelyn Waugh just to mention a couple. Oh yes and Raymond Chandler. I doubt if I would have read his books before that but I really enjoyed them.
A couple of years later we moved to the U.S. More wonderful adventures. One child and five years later we returned to Germany. This time life was different, more serious. I didn’t want to be here. I found it hard settling in the village. I missed the friendly Americans. Somewhere along the way, I have adapted. In fact, I realised that I have lived here longer than anywhere else. My first four years were spent in London, fourteen years in Ireland, the rest in Germany and the U.S. with spells in Tuscany and the Channel Islands. Speaking about spells:
I’m under the spell of:
The local markets–My favourite thing to do here is to go the weekly market. Such an array of flowers, vegetables, a sea of colour. I love chatting to the funny farmer who sells little bunches of flowers and always has a joke to tell. Most of the vendors are robust, no shrinking violets here; after all, they’ve been up since the crack of dawn, week after week, sunshine or hail. When I can figure out how to do it, I’ll add a picture of the market.
The fact that there’s such a demand for English. So, although most the younger generation have a pretty good command of the English language, there is always plenty of work for those of us who want to teach, whether in a language school or on a private basis.
The variety in dialect, culinary delights and landscape. It’s quite a big country so there’s always a lot to see. You can travel from the rustic Lederhosen Land in the south to the Baltic or the North Sea, visit the yearly carnival in Cologne where Germans really let their hair down, to the former east zone and delight in the architecturally rich cities of Quedlinburg or Dresden.
Traditional cafes and restaurants. Although the country is swamped with the usual chain eateries, Germans have managed to maintain their own cultural identity. In every town you will find restaurants that serve excellent and affordable local food.
Efficiency. For the most part, things work pretty well here. Bins are collected weekly–blue (paper), yellow (plastics), brown (compost) and black (the rest). Buses and trains generally run on time. Yes, a theme of efficiency runs through the land–this can sometimes be a double-edged sword but I’m concentrating on the positive here.
Oodles of public holidays. In fact, holidays in general. Although it doesn’t affect me personally, most German workers have six weeks holidays a year. Added to that are numerous religious holidays. Did I mention that Germany is a pretty religious country?
There’s always something going on. Every village has it’s Schutzenfest once a year–I’ve never been–don’t ask me! Germans are great drinkers and love any excuse to party. Although there are regional differences, I’ve been to Wurst Fests, Fisch Fests, Spring Fests, Jazz Fests, Pre-Lent Fests, Hooray We can Eat Sweets Again Fests, The Neighbour cut his Hedge Fest, The Farmer got a Wife Fest. Don’t quote me on this. But seriously, there’s something called an Alte Schachtel Fest for women who reach a certain age and have not yet married–I think it is 25. There is also a similar one for fellows who have managed to escape the institution of marriage. I think they have five years extra before they are forced to celebrate this event. Whoever said Germans have no sense of humour.
Yes, humour. I once went on a bus trip to Prague with my German friend. She had me in stitches. Granted we were probably locked in our own Silly Zone but laugh we did. We laughed even more when we arrived at the hotel a couple of hours later. Everyone was starving and the staff of the newly-opened hotel couldn’t cope with the bus load of Germans. The Germans couldn’t cope with the lack of efficiency. Picture some of the guests rolling up their sleeves to help. It was endearing and embarrassing, hilarious and mortifying. Sorry, I veered off subject.
Frugality. I’m constantly surprised by their handling of money. You’ll rarely see them flaunting their treasures. They take their money seriously, no squandering here. I have witnessed the most blatant acts of penny pinching at work.
Creativity. I love the way Germans present things. Whether it’s a little gift bought in a local shop, a rose bought from the florists (oh, did I mention the fabulous florists?), a cake made by your best friend…I could go on and on. They have the knack and have the ability to dress up the simplest thing and make it look marvellous. I was almost moved to tears that first year in Germany. My work colleagues, two older ladies, had decorated my desk with a beautiful little lilac Viola, a lighted candle and my exquisitely wrapped present. Did I mention the time I almost set the office on fire? No more candles for me that year.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my first blog. I welcome your comments.