A German New Year

Frankfurt, Life

With the first day of 2013 in its final hour (at least it is if you live on CET) it seems like the perfect time to share my experiences of my very first German New Year.

After gathering at a flat in Frankfurt for drinks and nibbles, myself and four friends chose to brave the city centre and head out to the River Main. An uncharacteristically warm (by December standards anyway) winter’s night we took the short bus ride into the centre to see what it is that the Germans do to welcome the new year.


Fireworks on the riverside. Frankfurt am Main.

There are few words to describe the atmosphere we experienced as made our tentative way along the riverside. It was one of merriment, awe and high jinx as you might expect on December 31st. It was also one of adrenaline, bangs, whooshes and slight fear.

Apparently, a German New Year’s Eve involves explosions and alcohol. Lots of them.

You see, the German law on fireworks and their use in public appear to be somewhat different to that of the UK. While London Borough Council will have, no doubt, meticulously spent months planning the capital’s traditional Thames firework display, in Frankfurt firework displays are left to the general public to co-ordinate.

If you turn up to the banks of the River Main at around 11pm on New Year’s Eve, or Silvester as the Germans call it, you will be greeted by many a reveler, armed with copious amounts of alcohol and a good handful or five of fireworks.

Midnight celebrations.

As we were cheerily dispatched by the bus driver nowhere near a bus stop, we stepped into the throng. Right next to a taxi parked up at the edge of a cordon, blasting out dance tunes. We walked further down the water’s edge and it was at this point we discovered why people had warned us against venturing to the Main on Silvester.

At every step we found ourselves dodging people, discarded bottles and, slightly more worryingly, fireworks.

And this is the thing about New Year’s Eve in Frankfurt. There are fireworks everywhere. And the majority of them are in the hands of the inebriated. British heath and safety execs would be having a field day (and the Fire Service would be horrified!) as multiple fireworks are set off far too close to gathered crowds.

This all results in a strange mix up of excitement, celebration and fear as fireworks go off all around you. As you stand there (seeking protection from the nearest tree – because if you’re near a tree, you’re safer right?) you find yourself trying to figure out where to look – not just because of the spectacular display of fireworks going off at random all over the place, but also because one of those fireworks could be heading straight for you.

All in all though, it was a great night, unlike any other I’ve ever experienced either in the UK or Germany. And while I’ll steer clear of bringing my own fireworks next year (just too much room for error and injury) I still think I’ll venture to the Main to see in 2014. Happy New Year!

Life in Germany: All patriotic

Britain, Britishness, Culture, Frankfurt, Germany, Olympics

Perhaps it’s because I decided to leave England in the year the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (although I do keep accidentally referring to it as her Golden, sorry Ma’am) and the year London hosts the Olympic Games, but since I landed in Deutschland I feel as though I have become more patriotic. I will fiercely defend my homeland against anyone who has a bad word to say about it. In fact, I recently virtually slammed my own brother (via social media) for being “typically British” and ergo negative about our Olympic preparation efforts to give one example.

This isn’t to say that I wasn’t patriotic before I left the UK. It just seems to have come through all the stronger now I’m no longer a permanent resident of the motherland. And, although I have always been a champion of the Royal Family, now, they are the iconic symbol readily available for me wherever I am in need of a Great British fix. If we were ever to loose our monarchy I would be distraught. Yes, I know they cost us money. Yes, I know they are archaic. Yes, I know they don’t really carry much political clout, but to do away with our Royalty is to remove one of the few synonyms of Britishness.

Sure, there are events in British history that some people would rather forget; things that even make me balk at the idea of being associated with Great Britain. (The way we treated the people of the countries we took to be part of our Empire for example.) But I’m 99% sure that there are things in any country’s history that the people of that nation would rather were buried and forgotten. Some of these events are more recent than others.

The iconic “Broom Army” photo tweeted after 2011’s
riots as people took to the streets to clean up.

Watching the Olympic opening ceremony my heart swelled with pride at the fact that my home country had pulled off something that amazing. (In fact watching the opening ceremony is what has encouraged the thoughts for this post). Alright, some of it was typically British in humour and style and probably fell by unnoticed by those watching who weren’t British. But the Queen jumped out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig as 007 – that was a stroke of British genius! Aside from the quirks, what the ceremony did was unite the UK. The current scenes of the Olympics in London is a far cry from the scenes on the streets of Britain last summer. Both, however, have united a nation.

Certainly for me, living in another country has served to make me feel even more staunchly patriotic than I was in the UK. Although I hope never to the extent that I will refuse to learn and adapt and accept that other nation’s culture and language. Perhaps it is strange that it has taken uprooting myself and living in a foreign clime to realise how British I really am, but then again, perhaps what I needed to fully identify my sense of being a Briton was to emerge myself in a culture vastly different to what I knew and was familiar with.

Life in Germany: A visit to the British Consulate

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, Germany

It’s been an eventful few weeks of life in Germany since my last post, involving broken elbows (not mine), lost passports (thankfully also not mine) and seeing some beautiful German countryside as my train zooms through it.

Last Wednesday I accompanied a friend visiting from the UK to the British Consulate in Dusseldorf in order to secure an emergency passport for her return home.
Beautiful German countryside
on our way to Dusseldorf

Let me explain how we came to need an emergency passport in the first place. A few days prior to our unscheduled trip to Dusseldorf my friend, Charlie, lost her bag, presumed stolen, in Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof. The Frankfurt British Consulate office informed her she could get an emergency passport to travel home on. However, only the Dusseldorf office would be able to issue one.

Bright and early Wednesday morning (after I had convinced staff at Charlie’s hostel to let me in and wake her up at 5am using a muddled early morning mix of Deutsch and English), we boarded an IC train and started our journey across Germany.

Some hours later, Charlie and I arrived in Dusseldorf Derendorf and attempted to find the British Consulate. In a way that only Charlie can, she accosted a man who alighted at our stop and in the strongest English Midlands accent first said, ‘Sprechen Sie English’ and then before the man could fully give his response, Charlie launched into ‘Do you know where the British Consulate is? Passport problems you see.’ Thankfully the man obliged, explained how to get to the Consulate and bid us good day.

She can go home!
Charlie with her Emergency Passport.

The Consulate itself is an understated building. The only clue this was the Consulate was the four Polizei standing outside and the Union Jack hanging slightly limply from its flagpole. As we approached, a darkened (and probably toughened) glass door opened and a cheery but serious German guard greeted us. Once he established we had an appointment we entered the building where we were ordered to hand over all electronic items, our bags were searched and a metal detector was run over us.

And to be honest, that’s all there is to say on our trip. Our time in the Consulate wasn’t especially interesting being as it involved form filling and a lot of waiting, but she got her passport! So on that note, I’ll sign off for another day. Tschuss!


Life In Germany: A cinema trip to see Avengers Assemble

emigration, film, Frankfurt, Germany, Reviews

It’s a rare occasion when, still emerging from your oversized cinema seat, you mentally consider your next viewing of a film moments after you’ve seen the last of the end credits roll off the screen. But then it’s also rare a big, and let’s face it, hyped, blockbuster movie comes along to inspire that overwhelming desire.

In fact I can think of only a handful of times I’ve walked out of the cinema, wishing I could re-live the last two hours of my life. Titanic (the James Cameron version first time round in 1998) was one of those, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey another. Bill & Ted is a classic case of cult 90s film. For Titanic I claim a pre-teen obsession with Leo DiCaprio and misguided judgement on what a ‘timeless’ movie actually is.
On Friday I added Avengers to that handful.
Avengers. Now that’s a film definitely worth every cent tipped out of my purse and onto the cinema counter to pay for a mildly extortionate ticket. A ticket that allows me to sit in a large public room with a big screen and lots of people and wear two pairs of specs (contact lens and my eyes have a love-hate relationship).
In case you don’t know, Avengers is the latest blockbuster in the run of Marvel Studio films, and the culmination of Kevin Feige’s original plan to have four separate superhero franchises (The Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Ironman) and then pull them all together into one epic action superhero movie. It is, in short, every comic book fan’s ultimate dream.
Director Joss Whedon (probably most widely known for his creation of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer), has created a funny, clever, jaw-dropping and generally mind-blowing movie based on the simple plotline of ‘a selection of superheroes must save the world together’.
It helps if you know the superheroes back stories, or at least the idea that they have each emerged from their own set of comics and movie(s). But, even if you’ve no idea what Marvel is, the brilliance of the script will entertain with its comedy and action and the 3D graphics will amaze. Plus, there’s enough reference to previous encounters with each superhero to give you a basic grounding that will get you through and suck you into the story.

In fact, the only thing that was even slightly disappointing in my viewing of Avengers was the unexpected interval. Apparently in Germany it’s commonplace for a film that stretches into the two hour region to have a short interval mid-movie. The film is cut, the curtains swoop in front of the screen and the lights go up.

Having never experienced this in my life before I did, for a good few minutes, wonder whether in fact there was an actual problem with the film and how long it would be before we were offered free tickets to return to another showing. As those minutes passed, it became clear everyone else had been expecting this moment. ‘Do cinematic malfunctions have a high frequency in Germany’, I wondered? ‘No’, my German companions confirmed, ‘we just have breaks in long movies’. Right.

In the 48 hours since I saw Avengers I have tried to understand this concept of a break mid-movie, but to no avail. I really can’t see the point in cutting the action mid-scene. Sure, it has benefits, not least to the cinema who no doubt hope punters will leave their seats and shell out on snacks but really, when I’ve paid, let’s face it, a lot, to see a film, I don’t want my viewing interrupted. I can do that at home with the DVD.
However, the strength of Avengers is perhaps proven by this pause mid-movie. I doubt there are many films that can truly withstand a break in the adrenaline rush and excitement in the way Avengers did. It’s a cleverly put together film that will have you enthralled from the very first second and leave you on the edge of your seat until the credits are over. And refreshingly for a 3D blockbuster, it doesn’t rely on 3D and CGI to be its ultimate selling point. This has the added bonus of meaning it should be just as great in 2D and will translate well to DVD.
So, if you only see one movie in 2012, make it Avengers. Preferably in 3D.

(Just check first to see if there will be an interval. Great if you have bladder issues or are liable to need more snack food – not so great if you like to spend your cinema time fully immersed in the film and dislike surfacing before the last of the end credits has rolled.)

PS I don’t own the above trailer in anyway. It was posted by MarvelUK youtube.com user. You can check out the original here.

Life In Germany: Challenging perspectives

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, future

The longer I live in Germany the more I discover how ingrained my British culture is. I guess, though, it’s hardly surprising considering ALL my years of life thus far have been predominantly spent in England.

I’ve lived in Germany for almost two months and that time has opened my eyes to how tied my thoughts and perceptions of the world are to a British sensibility.

Before I moved I thought I was quite accepting of other cultures. In school and at university, despite living in predominantly white middle class areas, I’d had friends with all kinds of national backgrounds; Nigerian, Singaporean, Chinese, French, German, Indian, Greek, American, Welsh, the list goes on. At the time I thought I was embracing my friends’ cultures. But now I live in a foreign country I realise what I accepted was an Anglicised adaptation of their culture. I had an expectation that if you moved to my country you should speak my language and do things the way my country and culture dictated. However, somewhat naively, I had not considered that this notion should also work in reverse.

Now, to use an English idiom, the shoe is on the other foot. Let me give you an example, I would not expect someone in England to approach me and ask if I spoke German, Spanish, Urdu but yet I am fully prepared to ask someone in Germany if they speak English. This is the resounding impact of my British upbringing. Having realised this, I have a completely different perspective on the people I meet in my day to day who look at me slightly vexed and say “Nein” as I utter “Sprechen Sie Englisch bitte?” These people are pertaining the same expectation I have in my country of origin. Simply, “if you live in my country you should try to speak my language”.

And so while I will not renounced my Britishness, I am prepared to be more Germanic in my day to day – as I’ve already expressed in this blog, I am trying to master the German language as my own.

I draw the line at adopting the German’s version of tea though.

Please send supplies of Tetley and Yorkshire!

Life in Germany: Not all plain sailing

Culture, Frankfurt, Hope City Church, Life

Since my last post some unexpected things have happened.

Firstly I found myself jobless after nearly three weeks in the foreign country I have chosen to call home for the next year or so. Secondly, I was also potentially homeless.
What happened? I hear five concerned voices ask as they read. I could, at this juncture, go into some epic tale telling the woes of a English aupair, who struggled with a family who knew not her mother tongue. That however, would be a fabrication of fiction. The truth is, as is often the case, a little duller than that.
As previously mentioned, the little girl I had been charged to care for over the next three months did not know any English and I, for my part, had extremely patchy German with comparatively less knowledge about Deutsch than Eurozone politicians have on how to solve the international debt crisis. However, despite the challenges, I was confident that, given time, the child and I would eventually form a bond that bridged our language barrier and actually end up conversing in a glorious mix of German and English. I might not have been being terribly realistic I know, but I was willing to give it a shot.
This was not to be. Three weeks into aupairing, just as I managed to win over the girl and place the first foundations of our wonderful bridge, the mother tells me she fears the challenge of language between her daughter and I is too big to overcome. Another childcare solution would be found and I was free to look for another job and she would be willing to give references.
With that one sentence not only was the job that bought me to Germany gone, so too was the home I had planned to live in until my flat became available.
Most other people would, I suppose, accept defeat, move back home and try again later. I, however, am not most people. Instead I’ve chosen to believe that somewhere out there (are you paying attention Germany?) my perfect job awaits. And the housing thing? Well it just so happens that wonderful friends of mine from the UK who have also moved to Germany have a spare room. Sorted.
No one ever said living your dream was easy.
Germany, bring it on.

Life in Germany: Ist gleich England. Almost.

Culture, Frankfurt, Hope City Church

Would you believe I touched down in Germany ready and raring to completely immerse myself in German life, German culture and hopefully to at least gain an understanding of the German language a mere three (ish) weeks ago?

These weeks have simultaneously felt like an eternity and yet have wooshed passed in a flash of coffees, German verbs and cake; not to mention the wurst, kase and brot! In that time, whilst I still frequently have a blank look on my face as someone talks merrily away to me in Deutsch, I have to some extent gained a grounding in a language I could only before butcher everytime I opened my mouth. (That’s not to say I don’t still destroy it – I continually deal with Germans looking at me in incredulous disbelief after I’ve said something. And the little girl I look after tells me I don’t know German – which, ironically, she says in German.)

Hopefully the title of this post translates, roughly as “Life in Germany: It’s the same as England. Almost”. And really it is. I think I was all prepared for something completely and utterly different but actually, it’s not all that far removed from English life.

Have you ever seen so many varieties of Heinz sauces?

Sure, there are differences; driving on the right, (multiple) bins in train stations for all sorts of waste and attitudes towards smoking.

In Germany it’s much more acceptable to light up and cigarette advertising is prolific. In England, I forget the last time I saw an advert for cigarettes or any adverts where cigarettes featured in some small way. Here it’s hard to go more than a few 100 metres without bumping into something promoting smoking or cigarettes. You can even buy your ciggies from vending machines on the street! In the supermarkets by the tills where in England you’d find sweets and chewing gum and other ‘last minute buys’ you will find cigarettes and little miniature bottles of booze alongside the confectionery.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve never even SEEN a bin in an English train station except maybe in a quintessentially old English village in the backwaters of the countryside where it may quite conceivably be the ONLY public bin for miles. I’ve also never seen so many different Heinz sauces in one place, which a brief trip to the local store recently revealed. It was eye-opening, let me tell you. I didn’t even know half of those sauces existed!

I guess other people’s experiences might be hugely different, but for me, aside from wondering first thing in the morning what the strange language going on around me is, Germany isn’t as drastically different as I perhaps imagined it would be. Culture is all about “the way we do things ’round ‘ere” and I’m sure, as time wears on, more differences will arise, particularly when the time comes for me to brave things on my own. At the moment I am blissfully unaware what is a typical German trait and what is a quirk of the family I’m living with.

So for now, I’ll embrace the little differences and oddities that have cropped up into my everyday life and, at least for the time being, I’ll not be too upset about swapping my tea for coffee. I’d been going off tea anyway.

Hello Germany, I’m here!

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, Hope City Church, Life

I made it. I actually made it.

Four (quite long) days ago I stepped off a plane and made my way to the Arrivals lounge of Frankfurt International Airport. There I was greeted by three Germans, ready to welcome me into their family for the next three months.

I type this in my new home in the middle of the German countryside watching Fireman Sam, or rather Feuerwehrmann Sam. It’s not quite how I remember it growing up as a child in England. Sam et al appear to have turned into Pontypandy’s super rescue A team; not only putting out fires and saving kittens from rooftops but becoming Pontypandy’s coastguard too.

I should probably point out that I’m watching Feuerwehrmann Sam on my own. Anna, the five-year old girl I’m here to look after for the next three months, is at Kindergarten. The TV is on to try and ease the eerie lack of noise in my new home (and also to help with my learning the German language.)

Everyone warns you moving country is a big deal, but no one quite prepares you for the change!

And it has definitely been a change. Taking everything I want for my life in Germany, and using only a plane to take it, somewhat limits what can be packed. Despite moving house over 12 times in the last eight years, I’ve often failed to clear out unwanted items; habit, time and personal nature resulted in me chucking most of what I own into the back of a car and hoping for the best.

This time, packing a Ford Feista to its gills was not an option. This time, I had just one large suitcase, one small suitcase and a handbag (thank God for BA’s generous hand luggage allowance!). This time, my whole life had to fit into 46kg give or take a few hundred grams.

I’m a natural hoarder (a gene I’ve inherited from my father who would keep anything ‘just in case’), so ruthlessly going through my clothes created THREE bags of items I no longer wore, and several pairs of shoes that had seen significantly better days. Not to mention the collection of general things I no longer used, picture frames, cables, jewellery, little gifts from people I’d never opened, unburned candles, endless toiletries I didn’t need. However even after getting rid of several bags worth of items it took me days to make everything I wanted/needed to fit in my suitcase. (And we’ll just not talk about the small collection of items I’ve wistfully left in England with the plea to anyone coming out to visit to bring an item or two with them…)

Now the drama of the cases is over and done with – well until the next move – the next challenge is settling into German life, learning the German language and not forgetting to drive on the right (so far I’ve not actually got behind the wheel of a car though so that’s not such a problem).

I do, however, really miss breakfast cereal.

2012: Time For A Change

destiny, emigration, Frankfurt, future, Germany, Hope City Church

Over the last few months this blog has somewhat been lacking posts and for this I apologise. It is not because I have become slack at blogging. Far from it in fact. For the last few months I have found myself writing, editing and running blogs for others (most notably Anya 17 and Hope City Frankfurt). Only thing is, between that and holding down two part time jobs, it left me with no time to write in my own blog (although with probably only six readers in the whole wide interweb I doubt my ramblings have been missed too much!). But now it’s 2012, it’s time to pick up the old keyboard and screen and start over. 

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions (mainly because I am abysmal at sticking to them), but for me, 2012 presents a long-awaited beginning which should at least be documented in the semi-permanence of the internet [purely for it to be lost in cyberspace and then one day rediscovered by some unsuspecting hacker who probably hasn’t even been born yet, you understand].

The dawning of 2012 marks the final steps towards probably one of the biggest and slightly more mental decisions of my life. In a matter of months, nay weeks (job, flights and accommodation permitting), my pale little English face will soon be finding home amongst throngs of German ones as I set up life in Frankfurt.

Yes, at 26 bizarre and wonderful years of age, I am going to leave my mother country and attempt to live in a land where to be honest, I can hardly order a coffee and my ability of asking for cake with it involves saying “Kanne Ich……….. [long pause as I point widely]…die kucken?” (Apologies to anyone who can actually speak German and is aware of the shocking language assault I just performed, please bare with me.) 

It might seem like a mad, hair-brained idea (my mother is less convinced it is now following several lengthy discussions about it over the last ten months) but I’m a believer of destiny and calling and I’m as sure as I can be that moving to Germany is part of an incredible plan for my life. Sure, if you’d told me three years ago that this is what 2012 would look like, I’d have probably thought you were, well, not altogether there, shall we say?

It certainly wasn’t part of my original life plan dreamt up years ago when, aged about six, a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. In that version of my life, I was probably the secret sixth member of the Famous Five, grew up on the dark Heathcliffian moors and could talk to any book character I pleased. Or I was a secret mutant human, part of Xavier’s school for the gifted, best friends with Bill and Ted and able to ride any horse I wanted. I probably also told this teacher I wanted to be a jockey or a vet or a Thunderbird or something. I definitely never imagined living in another country (living in fiction was enough, obviously). Not until I was 13 at least and began to harbour desires of being a journalist in the Big Apple a la Sex In The City (although I had no idea who the heck Carrie Bradshaw was) did my life plan ever consider a bit of healthy emigration.

But now, now I’m actually alive in 2012 and it isn’t some ethereal, slightly futuristic number given to a year in the distant future, now, I’ve come to realise that my life plan doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I live in the destiny I’ve been called for. I cannot wait to live in Germany no matter how daunting it may seem. There’s only one go at this life so I might as well give it my best shot and take the bull by the horns. 

You’re welcome to join me for the ride.