Posts Tagged Germany
The regular reader has seen me writing a few posts about Germany. I left Germany in the summer of 2001. I failed German university in statistics, then worked for Hewlett Packard for a while, then pretty much finished my “pre-diploma” at a different University before moving to Aberdeen. This was it. Without knowing then, I left Germany for good.
A first class degree in engineering and an MBA with commendation later, paired with part-time jobs at university, halls of residence, schools and as a bouncer, I moved to London. After 8 years in Beckenham, we moved to Hassocks where I believe we are now settled until at least retirement. I give it at least 24 or more years.
I have arrived. I settled. I am now in the place my parents where when I grew up. After 12 years in a foreign country I still haven’t lost my accent. Most probably I never will. I am a foreigner after all. I took on some Scottish expressions my English co-workers don’t even understand, and I speak to my boys in German. We visit Germany frequently, I worked for a German company that was sold to an American one, and I speak some German at work. But I think, dream, live and work in English. England, the United Kingdom, London, Hassocks, is my home.
At my last trip to Germany something slightly unexpected happened. Normally when I am in Germany I feel a bit apprehensive, a bit uneasy. Not so much better, but I compare a lot. I realize that the German way of living is better. Better house insulation, better quality food, more restraint or control of one’s life, eating more healthy. German houses seem warmer than British ones and people seem healthier. This is not necessarily true and over the years I have noticed that actually I am very happy where I am. So on my last trip I realized: I don’t need to compare anymore. This is a huge step!
Germany is a country. Yes, I grew up there, but generally speaking they are doing what they are doing. They think they got the better technology, quality houses etc.
Britain is another country. Yes, I live there, but generally speaking we do what we do. We think we got a few things figured out that the Germans haven’t.
You see where I am getting at? I could go on. For the past 12 years I have compared Germany to Britain. Now I stopped. I don’t care anymore whether things are better or worse as long I am happy where I am. And I am. Our family is. We are! Very happy indeed. So it doesn’t matter whether I go to Germany, Italy, Turkey or Spain when leaving Britain. One advantage is that I speak the language in Germany. Another nice things is that Germany is a beautiful country and I have never really noticed it because I was too busy comparing. But when visiting it, when showing the boys where Daddy is coming from, it is easier to communicate. I became British really.
What about the history?
What about the history? I wrote in a Sunday Column the other day that I watched a BBC Four documentary about a person that survived the Holocaust and his children researched his last steps after his death. Six Million and One was available on BBC iPlayer. It had me in tears several times as thanks to their dad’s diary of the concentration camps, they, as a family, grew closer. They had different opinions about the things that happened though.
I don’t feel guilty about that anymore. As far as I know my generation of Germans have closed that chapter. With all respect we agree that it was wrong and should never be repeated. But it just doesn’t make sense to dwell on it.
One thing I learned from the documentary was that I need to make sure that I ask my dad, as I asked my granddad and grandma, to tell me their story. To even out any misunderstandings, any grief, any unhappiness before they die. Whilst we have a chance we should use the chance to say “I love you” to our parents, grandparents, siblings, partners and children. I think that is something very important to do.
On the other hand there is something else. I watched old movies from Germany, hobbyist footage. It made me sentimental as it showed the Germany I left and I still associate myself with. It showed the circumstances after the war, the winter of 1947 when a lot of people starved to death. That was 65 years ago. But it still shows pictures of my childhood and things I grew up with in the 80ies and 90ies. The cars, the attitude, the sentimental signs, the way the Germans drink, celebrate and have a good time.
I guess I don’t have those associations in the UK. I didn’t grow up here but stepped into a life at a certain point: I was 24 when I came to the UK. A good time to adopt, being adventurous and try things. I suppose I did. I loved Aberdeen and enjoyed living as a young couple in the suburbs of London. Now, living in the country side, being able to almost let the kids run around freely in the village, is nice. That is where I belong and what I enjoy. We got the family home, living the family dream I suppose. Trautes Heim, Germans would say.
We haven’t it all figured out yet as a family. We are still learning, making wrong decisions, making good decisions. But it doesn’t matter anymore whether I am from Germany or not. It doesn’t bother me that I know Germany is more advanced in certain things than Britain. Neither does it make me proud if Britain is more advanced in other things. I don’t watch the football but probably would cheer for the Brits rather than the Germans when it came to it. I might even prefer England over Germany, but given my wife’s Scottish heritage, Scotland would probably be my favourite team. There we go again….
I can now safely say that I closed another chapter in my life. That doesn’t mean I forget my heritage or dismiss my roots.
I love you, Germany.
I don’t mind you anymore or any less, and I do enjoy visiting you. But quite frankly, it isn’t about where it is better or worse. Let’s celebrate the difference, the uniqueness.
Amen and Peace.
I have been in Germany with the family this week. A train to the airport, a “funny” train between terminals, a slightly delayed plane (as a family we haven’t had a travel where the plane was on time yet), an ICE train and a small train before Opa picked is up. 9 hours of travel. The boys loved it, were behaved and the ICE train even had a compartment for families. A luxury journey.
It was my dad’s 70th birthday, an occasion to meet the family, the kids to play and bond with their cousins, and all of them to bond with Oma and Opa. We had a good time. We drank lots of wine as we stayed up late chatting away and catching up. Normal I suppose. We enjoyed it. There is a lot of things happening in the family. My brother is building a house, dad got his first ever smart phone. Lots of great food, home cooked meals, fresh rolls (Brötchen) and lots of play with old childhood toys.
The other occasion of course was Rohan’s 2nd birthday, hence the celebration as birthday twins was for 70+2 birthday So lots of attention was given to our wee one as well.
Up to a few years ago I wrote a lot about Germany and my love hate relationship. I think that has now passed. I moved on. I actually enjoy coming back as I don’t compare Germany any longer to what I have. Yes they have nicer trains, warmer and better insulated houses, higher quality in a few day to day items, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I am very happy and content with the life I have, and I moved away from trying to be 100% perfect. I like to think so anyway. I feel like I moved on. I found my own purpose.
Despite that I am not sure whether to speak German or English, to feel at home or not. But as opposed to former visits I just embraced things I enjoy. Like the above mentioned rolls and home cooked food that took me back in time. I can let go. I can and actually do enjoy my time in Germany now. The journey back in time becomes a nice journey. I believe that over the last few years I have settled, embraced what I have and was able to let go and focus on the positive things in life. My outlook is positive in all aspects of life and that is what I focus on. Here and Now. Positive!
Also I was able to switch off from work. I relaxed, felt like I was living at home again where everything is taken care of. Hotel Mama with unlimited wine, food and fun. No worries. At the birthday party I met with friends of my parents who have been some kind of mentors for me over the years. Contacts that helped me grow up and understand the world. People who have seen me through all my stages of life but the last 15-20 years. This is difficult to comprehend I found. Those people used to baby-sit me, nurse me, comfort me, teach me or were just there for me. Now they are 70+ enjoying retirement and grandchildren. They of course loved to see our kids and how I got on in life. Whilst my parents keep them updated, it is nice to personally touch base with them. Again, a much more pleasant journey than anticipated. I actually look forward to going back to Germany again.
My dad used to be a teacher. In 1995 he got the chance to build a new school as a principal. As one of the guests pointed out my dad’s career and reputation as a teacher is amazing. He pushed himself to help others, to progress and have more influence. I suppose that is where I got my drive from and my urge to help others, to help develop others. My drive to succeed, take on new projects, seeing them through and coaching younger people to progress in their life. I guess I learned a lot from you, dad, and never realised it before. Maybe you taught me much more than I have ever realised before. I just hope I will be able to be such a good teacher for my two boys also.
On the fun side: I must look like my dad too. Asking Colin who the person on the picture above was, he said “daddy” not hesitating once. Since then he started noticing slight differences and it is “Opa”, however there is a slight resemblance, wouldn’t you think?
It was nice being back home. My wife and I managed a night out, ate some nice Gyros and we showed C the fresh fruit market. The weather was beautiful with snow and cold winds but it limited us in doing too much. So we just spent the right amount of time in Detmold, hoping to go back for longer maybe next year in the summer. The journey back seemed quick with two brave boys pulling through to the end. They fell into bed being absolutely exhausted. C was still recovering from all the input he received by the weekend. We just chilled out.
I went back to work on Thursday. Lots to catch up. Lots to do. Back to the grindstone. I am back in my routine. Kind of anyway. A few pints with the Hassocks crew on Saturday night and “our home cooked” food Friday and Saturday. It is good to be home. It is good to be settled. We are not creating the memories for our boys for them to experience what I did this week. The circle of life I suppose.
A good week comes to a close. Thank you Oma and Opa.
At a recent trip to Germany I was astonished to find a yellow box on the station concourse. This was the area where smokers were allowed to light up. As if smoke would be contained
This week I finished Kofi Annan’s autobiography. One of the closing sentences were ‘A Swahili proverb holds that “You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail”‘. I like and dislike this quote.
On the one hand the proverb tries to tell me that if the wind is blowing in one direction, there is nothing we can do. On the other hand it says to change direction to make use of the wind. Then again it tells me, whatever the wind, just go with the flow, don’t go against it. Do you see where I am coming from?
I like to go with the flow. Enjoy having my sail in the wind and make progress. That’s fun and easy even. I also like to go against the wind. Stir things up, question rules and challenge people. I cannot just turn around and go with the wind. Not my style. Of course wind can never always blow in your sail, so sometimes you go through rough or unpleasant rides. Way of life. Am I missing something the proverb wants to tell me? Do I look too deep into it?
Anyway. Annan’s book was good. A good summary of his work and thoughts, challenges and successes. However, it seemed written a bit in a politically rather than personal manner. Guess that was to be expected from a man of his calibre.
Then I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman from the Brighton area who, same as me, has lived abroad for the past 13 years. And his conclusion, after all that time in Germany, was that he can’t stand the British way of life. Just like me! Only vice versa
When mentioning that to a friend from another country, I got told it is the same for her. This leads me, based on my small sample, to the following conclusion: if you voluntarily leave your country to adopt a new way of life in a different culture, there are two motivational directions:
- away from the current, soon old culture
- towards the new, soon daily culture
This leads, in my sample, to a love hate relationship with your current or old culture. I dismiss certain “German” attitudes and don’t like their way of dealing with things. However, in my case, I love the Britishness and culture here in the UK. Additionally, at least in my case, I find it nice to look back at my childhood and German values I was brought up with. This will always be home for me. But in regards to business or day to day stuff, I adopted the British culture to be “the right one”. Funny that. This would explain a lot of things
On Wednesday I attended a function, an event from a new potential hobby of mine. A group looking to help others in need, a charity if you like. It was a sit down dinner, discussion and to my surprise no alcohol. I really liked that. I attend another function next week and keep you posted on developments.
Thursday was a fun day. I got soaked going to the train station. At the train station the trains were cancelled or delayed by more than an hour. A train had broken down on the tracks just outside Hassocks. So I ended up working from home, getting loads of admin done, studying on the back of our sales training, exchange with the US office and general strategic stuff. I love those days. In the afternoon I popped out to get my hair cut and I spent lunch building “fire stations” with my boys. With Colin being “confined to quarters” with his chicken pox, he appreciated someone else playing with him. I ended up working much later than normal but I don’t mind that really.
However, this week was slow. Not work wise but more me feeling slow and tired. My wife has a cold and I woke up every morning with a sore throat being really tired. So some bug must have got the better of me. Nothing major, “man flu” enough but not too bad. Just this tiredness and exhaustion….but I shouldn’t moan. With feeling physically exhausted there was no running. No exercise. Just a massage on Saturday.
On top of that our fridge is about to die. We aiming to change the kitchen layout to accommodate a non build in fridge, e.g. if we were to replace the one we have with the same dimensions we pay an arm and a leg for a low quality fridge. Not a long term sensible solution. So my wish to buy a nice mountain bike might have to be pushed back for a few months until we recovered from this expense. The joys. Life
To conclude I had a fantastic weekend. I spent lots of time with the boys. Brighton, Sea Life, shopping, swimming, friends around for pizza. And I had another night out on Hassocks. It turned out to be a major piss-up so I was glad to leave when the shots were coming out.
Never mind Getting old.
Have a great week everyone.
Now a full summary of what happened over the last 10 days. We were in Germany for a week, driving over there in our “beast“. Of course we are back in time for Halloween of course
Firstly, we drove the whole way over: the garage said that the journey should be safe and we arrived in Detmold (my home town) in good time and with two well behaved boys. Actually, we managed to get there quicker than anticipated, with only one break on the main land.
We also did some shopping. Winter clothing for Colin: a new jacket and trousers. I got an autobiography of Ben Becker: a German actor and singer I admire. Colin got some more toys, and Jen got some kitchen toys. The joys. We didn’t get much for Rohan though but maybe next time. He instead got more cuddles than ever from Oma & Opa, and to be honest from almost anyone he met.
I visited my old school teacher who is now the principal of my old secondary school. It was an enjoyable two hours chatting about life, teachers, working hours, differences of cultures and general chit chat. I really enjoyed it and was glad he took his time, as this helped me to link back to my school days. Thank you. It is interesting to reflect on school life “from the other side” Also, as he lived abroad before, he could understand my thoughts about the fatherland and I recommended him to have a look for articles about Germany I wrote on here.
On Saturday we had a family reunion. Oma, or Ur-Oma, was there (she is now 91 years old) and most of the family from both my mum’s and my dad’s side. It was fantastic. Good chats, catch ups and I realised how important family actually is for me. It is good to see that most members of our family decided to have kids, to live a “normal” life and things are like they have been for generations. Of course everyone is an individual: different views about the virus Colin had, about kids leaving to play versus being supervised, extra food (or treats) to spoil the kids or just giving them what is being served. Different attitudes, ways and stages in life. But underlying there is a familiarity in the family. A “looking back” or “looking up” and admiration to Ur-Oma or grandparents in general who were the enablers, rich or poor, for a great big family and future for us and generations to come.
I never thought that I felt that way. Even just staying with my parents in Detmold, I realised how important Oma & Opa are for Colin & Rohan. For me to have 5 minutes to myself, for my wife to have a proper lie in, and for the kids of course to be spoilt. And Oma & Opa loved it too. Every minute of it. Meeting them for the first time in their own home. I believe we need to see them more often there. Family is great!
Sunday saw the reunion with one of my two oldest and closest friends. One who I met not short of 20 years ago in a holiday in Tuscany. The other one from high school who I shared a lot of memories with. Again, every day in Germany was like closing a chapter. Seeing someone and enjoying time with them. Talking about the old times, evaluating what one still shares after so many years. That is fantastic. It is like opening a book, reading the history in it, then closing the book and moving on. I don’t mistake that with “saying good bye”. It is moving on: more like opening a new chapter, a new book, and writing a new piece of history, the future. I guess I am all grown up now, the “Detmold Stories” are closed. They are the past.
On my list of things I want to do before I die, a Reinhard Mey Concert has been quite high up in the list for many years. So over a year ago, I got two tickets to see him in Bielefeld. Finally on Monday I went. Originally I wanted to go with a friend but he couldn’t come due to work commitments, hence I took my mum who truly enjoyed the evening.
Reinhard Mey is a German song writer/singer and I love his lyrics. Cynic yet pushy for a better Germany, a fairer place for everyone. He is coming up for 70 years old but his social commitments are still strong: he donated the evenings’ income to a local charity for disabled people: Bethel. He sang old and new songs, and some which I have listened to for over 20 years.
I loved it. I loved it because it took me back to a Germany I know, a Germany I identify with. Reinhard is my parents’ age and has similar views. He just expresses them differently. And he is right. He uses German sayings to critically examining the current state of politics and society. A very enjoyable evening, finding more closure with my Germany.
Regarding the list of things I want to do, whilst never really put in writing, I think going to visit Tibet and Lhasa as well as visiting the vine yards in South America are on the list; also, I would like to do something big for charity, e.g. making a sustainable difference. I am confident I pick that up in a later post at some point:-)
Tuesday we went to the local market in Detmold, then met a friend for lunch and another one in the evening. Quite a busy day. Colin and Rohan (and Daddy of course) had a cold with a cough and a slight temperature. The boys were sick too and gave us some worries. We took them to the doctor to get them checked out on Wednesday. Not being insured, or only through the European Union, costs you a small fortune for medications abroad. The joys.
But we got over it and spend another nice family day in Detmold with Oma and Opa before we drove back to Beckenham on Thursday. Again, only one stop but I needed to have a shut eye. The illness, the days in Germany made me tired, and I was glad that Jen took over to drive in the UK. Maybe flying is the easier option, we shall see.
Once home we had a nice take away, bottle of wine, nice shower….just good to be back home. The cats were waiting too.
That sums up most of my week. With both boys still being sick and me suffering from man flu, the weekend was quiet. Relaxing, trying to get fit and making plans for November. I don’t believe November is already here.
Have a good one.
PS: If you haven’t seen it on Twitter, Ocado managed to properly piss me off on Friday. They called me 20 minutes after the delivery slot was due, then couldn’t deliver at times convenient for me. I believe after what we went through this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We will try Tescos again and of course Waitrose.
It has been over 10 years when I left Duesseldorf airport in Germany to go to Aberdeen, Scotland. My ambition was to finish a degree in mechanical engineering and then come back to Germany to continue my career in sales. However, things happened differently.
I was born to parents that were themselves born during the 2nd World War. My grandparents hid from the Nazis as much as they hid from the Russians. My parents grew up feeling the guilt of Germany being responsible for mass murder. This guilt, this burden, was passed on to me. I guess with my parents born just at the end of the war, and me being quite a late child, I was one of few within my generation that had this burden passed on to.
In 2006 we visited my fatherland. The worldcup was on and people in my generation were cheering for Germany. I was impressed. The majority of people in my generation were born to parents just after the 2nd world war. They carried less burden and freed themselves by being able to host an international sporting event. It was cool again amongst Germans “to be German”. To be proud of heritage and “Germaness”. Not of course of the “dark shadow”.
When I lived in the UK between 2001-2006, I believe I missed a transformation in Germany in those years. A transformation of becoming a nation, and a new “profoundness of being German”.
But years earlier, the dark shadow was lingering over myself. It was not ok to say that you were proud to be German. I didn’t like or understand that. Why can’t a 20 year old boy in a country with a bad history, which happened over 50 years ago, be proud of his country? I didn’t have anything to do with Hitler and the lot. I am not a Nazi or right wing. I really was questioning how much I could bear to live in my fatherland if I wasn’t allowed to love it.
My fatherland had changed from feeling guilty to feeling proud. The new “burden-less” generation took over and allowed for a world cup that hosted not only soccer games but became a “coming out” event for Germans to be German.
In the meantime Volker became more British. More open to new things and I started to forget about my fatherland. I didn’t forget about the heritage, the black shadow, the salvation from it in my own terms as well as freeing myself from stigmas I was carrying. Between 2001 and 2006 I not only transformed to a new life but also closed a life and chapter behind me. I grew up and became me: in a new country.
The new me was proud to be German but didn’t like living in Germany any longer. I couldn’t imagine going back to a country where I wasn’t allowed to say what I felt. So for me, I decided to stay in the UK.
I became who I am today, and with my wife being British, I feel very integrated into this society. I like Britain, with ups and downs, and have two boys for whom we decided to grow up in England. I am at home in Britain, this is somehow my new fatherland. If of course one is allowed to have two fatherlands? I chose to come here.
I still have my accent. I still speak German whilst with a slight British accent And of course my English isn’t perfect. I also work for a German company. However, I see my current set up as being very international with a very experienced, international (German) boss: a unique setting.
It almost sounds rude that I don’t want to live in my fatherland any more: But I think it is a difference in cultures. Plus the fact that I probably never really got over the fact that my fatherland changed without me. That people moved on whilst I have been stuck in 2001. And based on that, I lost the attachment to Germany, the interest and identification. It is just another country. They now pay with a currency I never dealt with in my life before. It has changed a lot, and it changed without me. Maybe we can agree that both my country and I moved on independent from each other.
I am not bitter; I am not stateless or without a fatherland. Still, in my own rights, I value German heritage and love what I identify as being “Germany”. This “Germany” is different to most people’s Germany. These are pictures of my grand parents and their stories of clean rivers, green countrysides, honest, proud and hard working people.
Maybe people will understand that I cannot identify myself with the Germany that is any more. It must be similar to people after the reunification that lost their identity. I am surely not the only one.
In Britain I have found a new home, a country I am happy in. A country where my family and I can live and enjoy life.