10 things I quite simply love about Germany
Matthew Shaw is a student of French and German at Lancaster University and is currently spending his year abroad working as a Language Assistant in South West Germany. Here are his top ten reasons why Germany is such a great place to live!
From the warmth of Christmas markets to the unwavering jolliness of Karneval, Germany is a right old wheeze. I’ve been here many months now and as my experience draws to a close, allow me to sum up Germany’s undeniable greatness.
1. The language
90% phonetic frivolity, Konjunktiv I/II, umlauts and all with the promise of that much anticipated verb after half an hour of intensive listening. Due to post World War de-colonialisation, German really can’t call itself a world language. That said, from “Moin” to “Mohrschn”, it’s rich and diverse.
Who doesn’t love the literality of Sehenswürdigkeiten (things worthy of seeing – monuments)? No room for pluralities of meaning here. Or the long ones: Heizölrückstoßabdämpfung (Heating oil recoil absorber). And where would we be without a prolongued “Tsssccchhhüüüsss” at the end of each working day? Kurz und knapp, the German language is one of exclusivity. A gehobene Sprache with a certain musicality about itself, German provides the daily grammatical gymnastics we hate to love. Oder auch umgekehrt, gell?
Getting around in Germany is a real joy. The all-mighty Deutsche Bahn receives a lot of stick, let’s be fair. Who remembers the Wise Guy’s song?
Say no more. Nonetheless, I personally find everything to run like clockwork (when they’re not striking, that is, at which they really are getting as good as the French of late).
A smooth network of regional and high speed ICE trains connecting the whole country has made for some wonderful travel opportunities for language assistants such as myself with a bit too much free time on their hands. The Straßenbahn will be sorely missed upon returning to the UK and even the buses manage to run on time, which is a far cry from those in my home town!
The British bus driver’s week includes hours of prolonged personal contact with each group of passengers as they aboard the bus in the most carefree manner imaginable, in the rain naturally, as if they have all the time in the world and then proceed to fumble about in their bags and coat pockets for two pence coins with which they can then airy-fairily pay their fare. Germany has this sorted: a quick hop-on, hop-off system which requires you to have already taken care of any necessary charges beforehand.
Main roads and motorways are uncluttered and fast moving…sorry, I meant to say breakneck speed – Hockenheim racing-track style in which the speed limit presents itself more as a target. And the life of a cyclist…well – easy! We are a much more respected breed of traveller with our own right-of-way, designated lanes and without the need to sheepishly curb crawl to avoid near-calamity on our ever-fashionable Myra Gulch, Wizard of Oz style bikes. Fast, efficient and generally well organised; it’s just German really, isn’t it?
“Svenkju for tschoosing Deutsche Bahn tooday”? Well, you’re most welcome Germany. It was a pleasure.
3. World harmony
One may read this and think I’m going down the recycling route. And yes, I’m now very well versed in the nature of Müllvertrennung and the gelber Sack. That said, I’m thinking more along the lines of the get-up-and-go attitude which seems to live in the heart of many.
Picture the scene: trekking in a remote woodland area of high altitude with towering trees and castle ruins overlooking rivers and quaint houses in the Odenwald, on a hot sunny day. Herrlich!
Family weekend activities seem to centre on simply being at one with nature. Similarly, homes tend to be less, well, showy and more earthly and practical; the modern day mud hut. Kids will still find amusement in running around in a forest with a self-made bow and arrow. UK lacy curtains with extravagant floral patterns find themselves replaced by nice, practical, grey roller shutter blinds made of bullet proof material. Wooden floors are much more common, fireplaces either non-existent or fuelled by self-sourced, chopped tree logs and then there’s the obligatory shoe rack, with footwear regimentally ordered before the front door, suggesting the need for our speedy retreat back to man’s natural habit; as if no sooner have we come indoors, we should be getting back out there again – und zwar sofort!
4. Cleanliness, order and charm
Look around you on the streets…there is no litter. Litter bins have an exciting four-hole option awaiting us, forcing the unsuspecting traveller to play some kind of informed, intellectual guessing game before depositing his or her rubbish.
When I returned to my apartment in Germany after a two week Easter break back home in England, only to find that the tram tracks were being ripped up, I accepted this as a vital step toward aesthetic and functional improvement - unlike in the UK, where the work usually goes on for several years and is regarded as a huge inconvenience by all affected. What's more, Germany understands that not every patch of green, unoccupied land requires a monstrous, sun blocking, view obstructing, serenity destroying housing development. The whole country is graffitied, granted, but I can overlook this. It’s “art” nonetheless and part of a youthful vibe, don’t you know?
5. Gesellschaftliche Engagement und soziales Zusammenheitsgefühl
My experience may be considerably different to that of others, but I find the Germans to be incredibly welcoming. If an English person enthusiastically proposes that “you really must come round for a meal some time!...we’ll do a curry together and then watch that new film release”, you almost certainly know that this will never happen in a million years. If a German family invites you round, they will expect you bang on time, in sensible dress, clutching wine for a nice relaxed conversation on sustainable environmental development. And as for the British “eat it on your lap in front of the TV” method…around the table is the only option here. We can spend the evenings in our room right, browsing social media? Wrong! Get yourself to choir practice and then off to book club.
Tip: Get involved and go beyond your comfort zone.
You won’t regret it! Some of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had here emerged out of a positive answer to the “should I, shouldn’t I?” question. Say, yes!
I said “yes” to joining a choir at my school and went on to partake in weekly choir practice (and the regular wine drinking, nibbles consuming session), all accumulating in a live performance in a spectacular church just before the festive period.
I said “yes” to a member of staff shouting at me across the staffroom shortly after my arrival in Germany as to “whether I was any good at football?” and “did I want to play for his team?”. Following this, we continued to meet weekly.
I said “yes” to a letter delivered to my school, asking me to come along and partake in a meeting being organised for all language assistants in the area by some group I’d never heard of. I went on to enjoy fully paid excursions for the duration of my time here; from meals with mayors to receptions at the European parliament in Strasbourg.
Germans are friendly! Take it from me. But don’t always expect them to make the first move. Get out there!
Germans don’t seem to delegate, defer and pass the buck all too often. Phrases like, “Das kann ich ja reparieren“, "du schaffst das" and "ich glaube, wir kriegen das hin” are commonplace. Things work here. They’re reliable and durable. Enough said. Life runs like clockwork. If it outdated, it gets replaced; if it’s broken, it get fixed; if it doesn’t exist, it gets invented. Everything has its own solution and corresponding paperwork. Complete perfection. The system is infallible. Your problem will be sorted.
Trying to bring down the German state would be as easy as cooking Christmas dinner in a wax oven. If ever there was a secure place to start a new life and build a career, it’s here. And nor does Germany push everyone towards the British model of “university is the only route to success”. Apprenticeships and training courses of the like are to be found here in greater number than many other places in the EU - to which Germany is the bailout fund for suffering members and Mrs. Merkel may as well take over as president.
The concept of soziale Sicherheit is of great importance. Look no further than their fool proof - though overzealous - insurance policies, in which I wouldn’t be surprised if even insurance policies had their own insurance.
I don’t know what you think but I’d say that Germany has a certain reserved nature. They’re good, they know they’re good and they don’t need to tell people about it. Many argue that the British are the masters of subtle hints, standing their ground against German directness.
Although the German people may be slightly more ready to talk of personal accomplishments, the country itself is rather laid back. While Paris with the Eiffel tower impresses with its grandeur and as a symbol of industrial and capital prestige, German cities boast a low key, cosmopolitan moodiness together with a practicality of living, which, all in all, suggests confidence but not arrogance and I have to say, I quite like it. Get you Germany.
This gets a mention of its own. Forget English Luftbrot, which can be pushed in on itself from either side like a piano accordion, before disappointingly reflating. From Bratwurst from morning to night, to the one million and one ways to prep a spud, Germany has it covered.
The food is hearty and in my opinion, eating habits healthier than in Britain. The beer is mighty fine, and then there’s the Leberknödel, Saumagen and whatever else. If water dare be still when I return to England! I won’t suggest that I wake up every morning and eat multiple sausages, a Laugenbretzel with cheeses and hams, all washed down with a pint of Apfelschorle, because I don’t. No time for all that. Eating in Germany is a time consuming activity. So bid farewell to the ready meals and “Hallo” to good home cooking.
10. A breath of fresh air
Someone once said to me that German culture is not all too different from that of the UK. I disagree entirely.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many things in Germany, which I really couldn’t care for. Their trashy TV schedule for a start (minus Tatort) and their fine mastery of bread and beer, sorely juxtaposed with a none-too-pleasing herbal attempt at a good British cup of tea. What's more, we have the marmite concept of the weekly Sunday apocalypse. I could go on.
That said, there is more to this place than just Lederhosen and a love of David Hasselhoff. Deutschland is to be loved as a whole. A year of my life spent here opened my eyes to new experiences and changed me as a person. I now no longer see Germany as “foreign” but as a second home. Discover it for yourself! To the people of my year abroad. I salute you.