I moved to Munich from London in 2000 and to Cologne in 2003. Why? It’s the usual story: I fell in love with a German, had kids and at some point Cologne started to feel more like ‘home’ than London. My two kids are bilingual but German is their stronger language. I wouldn’t say I’m completely integrated into the German culture. I’m an ‘in-betweener’: not completely at home in Germany, nor back in London, where I feel like a hillbilly from the sticks, I don’t get the jokes anymore, I’m overawed by the brash new glittering skyline and amazed by the fabulous shops.
What’s on my mind at the moment? Brexit of course. I’m not allowed to vote, having been out of the country for over 15 years (another reason to feel like an ‘in-betweener’ – I can’t vote here or there). I’m tired of the whole situation – the way the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ camps are polarizing the nation and inciting hatred – by the death of Jo Cox the labour MP – and by the fact that this vote is only happening because Cameron promised a referendum in order to win an election.
Novelist Robert Harris wrote on twitter recently: “How foul this referendum is. The most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime. May there never be another.” It truly has brought out the worst in people.
What tips would I give to newcomers to Germany? Learn the language as quickly as you can. You’ll feel more comfortable, you’ll make new friends and ultimately you’ll be happier. At the beginning it will drive you crazy. Actually, it will always drive you crazy because unless you grow up here you’ll always question the logic behind Deutsch. Why is a table masculine and a chair feminine? Why is it ‘das Mädchen’ and not ‘die Mädchen’? Why Is Everything Capitalized Godammit?
How do you learn the language? Immerse yourself in it. Listen to German radio, watch German TV shows with the sound up loud – especially funny stuff. Anke Engelke made me laugh before I even knew what she was talking about. Read German children’s books. Take a lot of courses. Find people willing to put up with your crappy German and spend lots of time with them.
Also – learn about German bread. It’s a very serious business here.
There are bakeries everywhere. There’s one on every street corner. Sometimes there’s a bakery directly across the road from another bakery. They all do a roaring trade surprisingly. There are regional differences to bear in mind too. The most beloved bread product is what the Brits call ‘a roll.’ In Bayern it’s a Semmel, in the southwest a Weckerl, in the Rheinland a Brötchen. Make sure you’ve got the right name for the right region or you’ll be treated with the kind of distain only Germans know how to bestow.
The longer you spend in Germany the more time you will find yourself discussing the pros and cons of different bakeries and their various types of bread, rolls and pastries. You’ll get used to it.