Keine Gelegenheit versäumen – don’t miss your chance …

Blue notebookI remember that when I lived in Berlin for a year as a student ten years’ ago, I approached every conversation as a language-learning opportunity. Like a hungry caterpillar, I would gobble up more and more words whether talking to taxi driver or a philosophy professor. Earnestly, I would take mental note of unknown words, and later, decipher them with the help of my increasingly tatty dictionary and note down their meaning in a little blue notebook with the dream of my language skills suddenly and miraculously transforming into a beautiful, fluent-in-German butterfly.

But how lazy I have become after nearly five years of expat life. I only noticed this the other day, when visiting my husband’s family in Hesse. For the first time in ages I found myself thinking in the middle of a conversation “what an interesting word.” When looking up said word’s meaning later, it struck me how rarely I get a thrill from simple, but educative and revealing, exchanges. And what a shame that was given that I have a genuine interest in language structure and did study German (and History) at university after all.  Continue reading

A German Epic

Of the many cultural highlights I enjoyed while living in Germany, an Abo (subscription) to the local Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra was definitely one of my favorites. We regularly attended concerts featuring world-class musicians at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, an impressive concert hall with phenomenal acoustic quality. The Stuttgarter Philharmoniker were unafraid to present the audience with challenging works, ranging from traditional to modern, and regularly impressed me with unique combinations of styles during each performance.

One of the most memorable performances I attended there was of the music to the 1924 Fritz Lang silent film “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Rache” (Kriemhild’s Revenge, the second of a two-part epic; part 1 was “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried“; music by Gottfried Huppertz) . The orchestra played the score, mostly in the dark, while the audience watched the black-and-white film on a large screen in front of the auditorium. I was blown away, both by the story and by the orchestra.

Having never heard of this epic tale, I began asking my German friends about it, and many of them had learned it in school. Das Nibelungenlied is an old epic poem, whose manuscripts date back to the 13th century, the authorship of which is unknown. Consider it along the lines of The Iliad and you get the idea. I found the movie so fascinating that I wanted to read the story for myself. While my German is fluent, and I often read German books and regularly read the newspaper and magazines, I knew I couldn’t handle mittelhochdeutsch (German from the middle ages) in poetry form. Happily, there is a contemporary author who has crafted the tale into a novel, and I found his book Hagen von Tronje, by Wolfgang Hohlbein, easy to follow and very enjoyable to read.

Another form of the tale which I have yet to experience is the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, a series of 4 epic operas that loosely follow the story of the Nibelungen. In fact, the German title is Der Ring des Nibelungen. This is another form of the tale that I am not sure I am quite ready to consume, although I might enjoy the attempt.

I can highly recommend either the 1924 silent film or the novel format of the epic as a good starting place for learning this mythical tale. Don’t worry – you won’t feel like you are back in grade 10 Literature class, and there is no quiz at the end. The benefit is in your deepened understanding of German cultural references (Yes! They regularly reference this tale when referring to things like the Nibelungentreue, and have done so throughout history).


Ten Reasons Why You Should NOT Become an Expat

I’m the last person to discourage anyone from choosing the expatriate life, but…

Kranzlereck, Berlin

The new Kranzlereck viewed from the terrace of the Café Kranzler in Berlin. Could YOU be sitting here one day soon? PHOTO: Andrea Goldmann

There are some people who simply should not leave their familiar home territory. Expatriates meet these people all the time. They are the ones who constantly gripe about their adopted country and its people. They seem to be constantly unhappy, and they make you wonder why they ever left home in the first place.

Of course, not everyone becomes an expatriate by choice. Some people end up in Germany or another country because of a military, government, or company assignment. But most people have a choice, even if it’s someone being sent on an overseas job assignment, or a student who wants to study abroad. Continue reading

Fluent in Denglish

Denglish: If you are an expat in a German-speaking country, you’re probably pretty fluent at it. It’s the combination of the two languages of Deutsch and English, and your fluency doesn’t really depend on how good your German or English is. Or even how committed you are to improving your German. Or how disciplined you are speaking one language with your kids, if you have kids. The fact of the matter is is that you often might not be able to to think of the passendes Wort for whatever you are trying to say quickly enough. Then both languages start to collide into one another in your brain and maybe oddly enough a latent language that you might have once spoken or learned like your high school French unhelpfully pops into the mix, and then the easiest way to express yourself is to just use the German word you were just trying to übersetzen. Akin to what Hyde has written regarding the Death of the German Language, employing Denglish certainly doesn’t do your German any favors and leads to the deterioration of your English, encouraging a lazy linguist. Continue reading

Confessions of an Expat TV Addict in Germany

VPN options for GermanyThis is the most honest way to introduce myself to German-Way readers,

Hello, my name is ebe and I am an expat TV addict.

It’s true. Despite living in Germany for several years, I still watch American TV every day. As a writer working from home, I have the freedom to tune into the squabbles of various housewife franchises, observe the zombie apocalypse and evaluate cooking competitions any time I want. And I want.

It’s comforting in this strange life abroad to hear those familiar accents discussing things I understand. Unlike German politics, the best Fleischsalat or how to help the refugees in Oranienplatz, I have opinions on TV. It helps me stay connected to that life I left behind and keeps me in the loop with my stateside community. Continue reading

Expat Tip: Buy an E-Reader

I am a self-confessed bookworm. Books are a significant part of my life, and no day is complete unless I have spent part of it reading. Moving to Germany in 2000, I spent years on the hunt for books I could read. At first, devoted as I was to achieving fluency in the language, I read German books. I started with children’s books that I had read during elementary school, and read the German versions of them. The prose was straightforward and the sentence structure was simple enough for me to follow the story, and I kept a dictionary handy for new vocabulary words. I progressed to young adult fiction, and eventually adopted the newspaper. I will admit that I only read one or two entire books in German each year. Despite fluency, I still find reading more relaxing in my native language.

Prices for English books are shockingly high in Germany, and I could rarely justify paying them, except in the hope that I was either fulfilling an immediate literary need or helping to support a local bookstore. Once started selling English books, I ordered often (and shipping on books is free!). However, the selection of English books on isn’t the same as on, and I wanted the selection from across the pond. For years, my English-speaking friends and I swapped and borrowed from each other’s libraries, although our tastes never perfectly aligned. I was delighted to come across Sarah’s suggestion for, and managed to trade a few used books on that platform. Now that the world has digitized everything and is ever more global, however, the e-reader has opened up new avenues. Continue reading

German – from Berlin to rural Hessen

Being a Yorkshire lass at heart who, despite many years in the south of England, has never managed to say a ‘barth’ instead of ‘bath’ or ‘grarss’ instead of ‘grass’, I am sympathetic to local dialects. In London, I loved hearing true cockneys with their staccato banter in taxis and across market stalls. And now, living in Germany, my interest persists, though admittedly in a somewhat limited way: so far I’ve only really been exposed to Berlinerisch (which I hear daily) and Hessisch (which I hear when we visit my parents-in-law close to Frankfurt am Main in Hessen).

The Berlin dialect – ‘Berlinerisch’ – is a melting pot of linguistic influences, much like the history and culture of the city itself. In it, you hear traces of High Germany, Saxish, Yiddish, Dutch, Slavic languages and French. It is littered with words from all of these sources. You hear ‘Bredullje’ instead of ‘Schwierigkeiten’ for ‘troubles’ from the French ‘bredouille’, and ‘Bulette’ for a small beef burger, also from the French; ‘Kiez’ for neighbourhood has Slavic roots; and the Yiddish ‘meschugge’ instead of ‘verrückt’, meaning ‘crazy’.  Continue reading

Expaticus germanicus: An Expat Species Catalog

A few years ago our co-blogger Geoff wrote about two types of expats: integrated and non-integrated. Those who adapt and blend in, and those who don’t. And for the point he was trying to make that was quite adequate. But in the meantime I have discovered a much wider scope of types or subspecies under the species we shall call Expaticus germanicus, aka the expat in Germany.

Of course there are as many kinds of expats in German-speaking Europe as there are expats. Every expat situation is unique. However, that won’t stop me from identifying various types of English-speaking expats in Germany by various characteristics. But before I begin, I want to quote one of my favorite German authors, the Berlin-born satirist Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935):

Neben den Menschen gibt es noch Sachsen und Amerikaner, aber die haben wir noch nicht gehabt und bekommen Zoologie erst in der nächsten Klasse.” (“Besides human beings, there are Saxons and Americans, but we haven’t had them yet. We won’t cover zoology until the next grade level.”) – from “Der Mensch” (1931)

Tucholsky wrote “Der Mensch” as a schoolboy’s essay that begins: “Der Mensch hat zwei Beine und zwei Überzeugungen: eine, wenns ihm gut geht, und eine, wenns ihm schlecht geht. Die letztere heißt Religion.” (“Man has two legs and two convictions: one when things are going well, and one when things are going badly. The latter is called religion.”) For some reason this short essay by Tucholsky popped into my head when I began to try to classify expats. Unfortunately, I’m not as good a writer as Tucholsky, but I’ll do my best. Continue reading