It feels like yesterday that I packed a few boxes full of clothes and books in my dad’s car, and left to Germany. I remember the customs officer who stopped me on the border with Switzerland and asked me where I was going with all that stuff. “I’m moving to Germany,” I said.
It was exactly one year and a half ago, but to me, it feels forever. I came to Heidelberg full of the enthusiasm I always have when I’m going to discover a new place. Also, there was a romantic relationship that started a few months before that made me thought that maybe a crazy, unstable girl like me would have benefited from having a strict, German boyfriend. It turned out the German partner was not rigid at all, rather friendly, cuddly and adorable. I cannot say the same about Germany. The country itself didn’t win me over, but it taught me quite a lot about myself and gifted me with some beautiful moments.
This is a short list of 4 negative sides and 4 positive aspects of my personal experience in Germany.
The first stumbling block I met has been the language. I never really had a happy relationship with German. I studied languages in high school, and German was always my less favourite subject. It probably didn’t help the fact that we changed a ridiculously large number of teachers, a fact that conditioned my learning process. And let’s be honest, I’ve been in love with English since I can remember and my effort was 100% dedicated to the language I loved rather than to the one I disliked.
On the other end, as soon as I started the relationship with a German guy, I focused on the language and did my best to learn it quickly. Once in Germany I also joined an intensive course that allowed me to have classes 4 hours per day, 5 days a week. Because I was extremely dedicated, I was also adding a pair extra learning hours in the afternoon.
But I have to admit that after 5 months I got a bit demotivated. Once I understood that my improvement was slow, and my appreciation of the language (now kindly called by me “the language of the devil”) was far from enhanced I gave up. I was able to survive at the bakery, on the train, at the supermarket and that was more than enough for me. Also, I needed to get a job, and I couldn’t join the language course any longer. Some of you might point out that with a German boyfriend it should be easy to learn the language. True, it should. But for us it was normal speaking in English because we met in England, we watched movies and tv shows in English and simply never tried to speak in another way. Wrong decision, I know.
Now let’s talk about the weather. Actually, do we really have to? What is your idea of the German weather? How do you picture it? Before I came, I thought I was not going to experience such a big difference compared to the weather of my hometown. I was born in the north of Italy, really close to the Alps, in a place renowned for the rainy weather. I was moving just 500km away; I was basically on the other side of the Alps, not a big change.
And again, I was wrong.
It has never been a problem of temperatures, rather a problem of the depressive grey sky (plus rain) that transformed the months between November and April into a never ending “I want to kill myself” days. People who think that weather doesn’t affect people’s mood have never lived in such a country. I close the topic with one of my German boyfriend’s favourite sentences: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Whatever!
To make the atmosphere even more saddening was the fact that on Sunday everything, I mean every single shop and supermarket is closed. So what do you do on a winter Sunday in Germany? You stay at home, drink a hot tea/chocolate and cuddle on the couch with your partner. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It does if you are not forced to do it every single week for months. And just hope you didn’t forget to buy milk and chocolate the day before because that could really affect the perception of your relaxing time.
Last but not least I want to talk about the people. This is a delicate topic, and I’ll do my best to treat it nicely. So, another confession, I am not crazy about Germans. Done, I said it. I obviously like some of them. I mean I dated one for nearly two years. I liked his family and his friends, and there are also the guys I worked with for 6 months. I truly love them, as much as I love the other Germans I met while travelling. They are a bunch of open minded, friendly and down to earth people.
But I moved to Germany after spending a whole year in Australia, surrounded by the most informal and sociable people you could ever imagine and that probably influenced my perception of Germans. In these 18 months, I missed those smiles that you exchange randomly on the train, those little informal talks you have with people waiting for the public transport next to you, those invitations to hang out you get from people you met the day before. It has been tough for me to bond with locals in Germany and I feel it’s extremely hard to conquer their trust and friendship.
Now, enough with the bad. Let’s talk about what I’m going to miss about Germany.
I’m going to be predictable and start with one of the myths about this country: Germany is an organised place. Hell yeah! Do you need to register your residency? Simply go to the dedicated office, and you’ll be done in less than 15 minutes. Do you need to move around by public transport? 99% of the time it will be reliable, punctual and clean (just a bit expensive: 2,50 Euro for a single ticket in Heidelberg). And I could go on and on, but you get the point. For an Italian used to deal with endless bureaucratic problems this was a piece of heaven.
Then there are bicycles.
I was born in a touristic place, a nice place where if you don’t have a car, a scooter or something like that you are simply screwed. And no, you can’t even go around by bicycle because the distances between towns are important, and you put your life in danger riding where there are no cycling lanes. Germany is, like the Netherlands, Denmark and so on, a paradise for cyclists and it took me three days to become addicted to my bike. Riding in Heidelberg is easy, safe and quite enjoyable. Okay the rain caught me a few times while I was on my bike and that was not exactly pleasant, but I am going to miss my rides, even the ones from the supermarket while I was carrying huge bags of food back home. And on those famous Sundays when everything is closed, and the sun is shining, going on a bicycle tour is the best idea ever.
Now we can talk about the food. No, I’m not going to tell you that German food is awesome. Come on I’m Italian, and extremely proud of our culinary tradition. Also, I’m vegan so not exactly a big fan of sausages, pickled roasts and schnitzels. But, I have to admit that I am absolutely crazy about German bread, and I have no problems saying that in my opinion is the best in the world. I could indulge on Bretzels, Laugenstange, Kürbisbrot or Pumpernickel every single day of my life and I got used to having a German style breakfast/brunch with bread, spreads and veggies quite quickly. I also want to reassure all the fellow vegans; German supermarkets are excellent, and you’ll find plenty of vegan options.
Last but not least I need to talk about another delicate topic, integration. Another admission I’m not proud of, I used to hate Germans because of their history. I learned about World War II, concentration camps and immediately felt repulsion for the country itself and the people who let Hitler kill so many people. I was young, naive and probably a bit shallow. Once I started dating my boyfriend, I waited a few weeks before I had the courage to talk about this theme with him. One evening, I asked how teachers dealt with the subject in school and what is the perception of Germans on what happened at the time. His reaction touched me deeply. He explained to me how his generation has been raised, how they learned about those events and how difficult it is to be proud of being German because of it. I could feel his shame, his guilt, his torment and that day I promised myself not to talk about it ever again. Nowadays Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world after the USA, and the country is doing its best to welcome immigrants and integrate them into society. I surely admire Germany’s approach, and I hope one day Italians will get inspired by it and stop consider immigrants just as thieves, rapists and dishonest people.
That’s it, people. I could obviously go on for hours and tell you more about this country, but I don’t want to spoil it entirely for you. Go and have a look for yourself. And if you want to know how I judge this experience, I can tell you that overall has been great. Now I’m ready to pack my stuff again. There is so much more I have to see.