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. Continue reading
Sometimes I feel like we’re living in another decade in the past. The other day when I was looking at eltern.de, the website for Eltern (Parent) Magazine, there was an ad for the new Volkswagen Sharan model. The Sharan now has an electric sliding door. Although I’ve only recently submitted to the fact that minivans might be relevant to me, I seem to recall that this feature has been around in the minivans sold in the U.S. for a while now. This thought made me think about other aspects of our village life.
As I’ve blogged here before, my husband and I live in a small city in the southwest of Germany. I liken Aalen (population 66,503) to a large village rather than a small city.
My family and I shop regularly, every Wednesday and Saturday, at the local market, where we buy our fresh vegetables, fruit and poultry. Often, we run into friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. We buy our meat at our favorite butcher, where we are greeted by name, and usually buy our bread at the excellent bakery closest to us. But if I need white bread to make stuffing, for example, or prefer the house specialty of walnut bread at another bakery, I’d go there or if I want to buy my kids organic soft pretzels and raisin rolls, then I’d go to yet another bakery. In this respect, we are spoiled for choice. And I think we are spoiled by the fact that these small shop establishments are still very much in operation thriving from the business of our fellow “villagers” who place a high value on quality food. Continue reading
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Weisswurstäquator (white sausage equator – these sausages are particular to Bavaria). If you haven’t, it’s the line that divides the north of Germany from the south, and it runs just south of Frankfurt. (Writer’s Note: this border is open to interpretation.)
Since my college days, I’ve had a number of very close friendships with Germans. They started with my husband, who comes from Mönchengladbach, and another friend of ours who comes from Meerbusch, also in the Rheinland. While studying in London, I lived next to a woman, now my first born’s godmother, who is from a village north of Hamburg. She introduced me to our good friend who comes from a village outside of Bremen. And I studied with and later became flatmates with a half American/half German guy from a village near Kiel. We’ve known each other for years and have attended each other’s weddings. Funny enough, all of these German friends were decidedly from the north.
After about ten years or so of knowing each other, I shared the happy news with these friends that I was finally marrying my German sweetheart, and he got a job with a lens making firm. When I told them where the lens making firm was, in a town called Aalen somewhere one hour east of Stuttgart, they were shocked. Any joy that I was moving to their home country was greatly overshadowed by the horror they were trying hard to contain; I was moving to the south, and I was moving to Schwabenland. To them, southern Germany might as well have been another country, an inferior one at that, and Schwabenland was where their countrymen spoke one of the most disliked dialects in the Bundesrepublik.
I decided to depart my single, independent life four years ago when I moved to Germany to marry my now husband. It involved making a lot of significant changes in my life all at once including learning German, leaving a metropolis of the world (London) to move to the metropolis of the unheard of Ostalbkreis (Aalen), leaving gainful employment, and moving in with someone for the first time in my life. But what surprisingly overwhelmed me the most during this period in my life was learning how to drive in Germany. To clarify, I had already obtained my driver’s license at the age of seventeen, but as an American, I was only ever required to drive an automatic car. However, I had always wanted to learn how to drive stick shift, as we call it. In fact, it was among my top three goals while living in Germany (the other two being learning to speak German and becoming more comfortable riding a bike). I had always considered being able to drive a manual car to be a good life skill to learn so was happy to have an impetus to finally do so.
I didn’t think it would be so hard. My new husband found a driving instructor for me, and I figured that after a week’s worth of lessons, I would be driving myself to my daily German classes at the Goethe Institute in Schwäbisch Hall, a good hour’s drive away from Aalen, in no time.
I’ll cut to the chase now and say that this was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. Continue reading