I received a reminder in my inbox today from my co-blogger Hyde calling to my attention that I had missed my Monday deadline to post here on the German Way blog. This was another casualty of my most recent move. In case you haven’t been keeping up with my personal expat saga, my family and I just moved to Essen in North Rhine Westphalia having left the small Swabian city, Aalen, where we had lived a total of seven years as a family.
For long time readers of this blog, if it seems like we are always moving that’s because we have indeed been moving cities, in some cases countries, every two years since 2010. Since our repatriation from the United States back to Germany in 2012, I have moved house every year since then. Glancing at my Facebook account, I said to my husband, “I seriously post a picture of a moving truck every fricking year.”
Conceptualizing the move from Aalen to Essen was difficult at first. I had only ever lived in one German city in one distinct region. I was concerned that in my new city I would be grumpy when encountering differences since I kind of expected everything to be the same in Germany. In some ways, I felt like a bigger overseas move say to Hong Kong or Buenos Aires would have been better in terms of managing expectations. In another country, I would at least expect really different and encounter really different. I knew that moving from Schwabenland to the Ruhrgebiet would be kind of different to unexpectedly different and was more worried about the unpredictable culture shock from a regional move.
As I had heard repeatedly, especially from my husband who is from the Rhineland, the culture is quite different up here compared to the more traditional south. One of the most distinct differences is that people are friendlier here. I never felt like the people in Aalen were ever unfriendly to me. In fact, I always said that people were extremely civilized, exchanging a “Grüß Gott” to others they passed on a walking trail or on a neighbourhood sidewalk. But it was always Sie und Frau So and So, and it would often take my foreign friendly American intiative to start friendships with other mothers in kindergarten or wherever else. Meanwhile, within our first week here in Essen, several mothers both in the school and kindergarten have approached me to introduce themselves and say that they have heard a lot about my daughter from their daughter and would my daughter like to come over and play or join their Turnen (gymnastics) group? This is all with first names and du from go.
The other glaring difference is the actual volume of people. Being a big city/people person, it was easy for me to feel lonely and almost listless in the Swabian Alps in spite of the close friendships I had developed and constant company of my children. But, now being in the most densely populated region in Germany, I feel an almost foreign bounce in my step as I walk anonymously down the streets of my new city. I’ve been enjoying the stimulating, creative buzz from the endless people watching on PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. Instead of the normal two to three degrees of separation in Aalen, there is no end of people to meet here where a cluster of German cities converge. The sources as well as the people are a plenty: the American Women’s Club of Düsseldorf, Kids’ Club of Essen (the English language playgroup), and of course kindergarten and school. Even my husband’s company seems to be more social having its own club for executives.
I am still observing and experiencing the pros and cons of where we live now, but there is no doubt in my mind that this city girl has arrived in her new home.