I moved to Munich from London in 2000 and to Cologne in 2003. Why the hell did I want to move from London to Germany you may ask. It’s the usual story: I fell in love with a German, ended up in his hometown, had kids and now I’m stuck here for good (probably). My two kids are bilingual but German is their stronger language. My smallest one is creating a hybrid language by translating everything directly from German into English. I’m an ‘in-betweener’: I’m not completely at home in Germany, or back in London, where I feel like a hillbilly from the sticks, marvelling at the fashions, overawed by the brash new glittering skyline and amazed by the fabulous shops.
What’s on my mind at the moment? Obviously the Brexit. I am 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). But I’m sick of it all now anyway – the way the ‘Remain’ and ‘In’ 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.” I agree. It’s brought out the worst in people.
What tips would I give to newcomers to Germany? Learn the lingo 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 saying. Read German kids books. Take a lot of courses. Find people willing to put up with your crappy German and get drunk with them.
What’s my relationship with bread? Good question. The German’s are crazy about bread. Luckily I had some forewarning. Back in London a German colleague discovered a bakery in Liverpool Street Market that made authentic German baked goods; from proper Brötchen, to Eifelers, Graubrot, potato bread, even sauerkraut rolls (be warned – they give you terrible gas). She organized a weekly delivery straight to our office. At the time it all seemed so novel and mildly amusing. Then I moved to Germany and realized that bread is 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, and two shops down there’s another one. Yet they’re all doing a roaring trade. And of course everyone insists that their local bakery is the best. Bringing home a simple bread roll can kick off a barrage of questions: Is it bio? Is it crusty on top and soft underneath? Is it moist and fluffy on the inside? Is it a light golden colour? Is it still warm? Does the bakery bake on the premisis or bring in pre-made rolls and heat them up? Is there just the right amount of ‘give’ when you gently squeeze the brötchen? Does your mouth have a veritable orgasm when you eat it? Enough already! It’s just a bread roll people! That’s pretty much all I’d like to say about bread.