Döner Kebab and Deutschland

912MpAVgGzL._SL1500_While on a recent college visit with some students from the US, the topic of German food came up. We’d already experienced many culinary delicacies on our way, and they wanted to know what my favorite was. One mainstay came quickly to mind: Döner Kebab. This got quite a few skeptical looks. “Isn’t that Turkish?” one of the students asked. Yes and no, I said, and the explanation says a lot about modern Germany.

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Who am I, really? Talking Identity with German Freshmen

IMG_0317I’ve been living in Germany for 4 years now, three of which I’m spent teaching first year students at a private university in Cologne. More than anything else, this experience has taught me humility; I realize now just how thankful I should be that I’m not 19 anymore. Teaching at the university has given me the opportunity to speak to thousands of kids, most of whom exhibit a curiosity bordering on incredulity when I tell them I’m from Chicago, a reaction that I still can’t really understand. More often than not, their general interest in my background sparks a conversation about our two countries, the most interesting parts of which relate to how my students see themselves and their country.

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Schäl Sick: Life on the Wrong Side of the Rhine

kalk postHere in Cologne, people tend to scrunch up their faces a bit when I tell them I live on the “other” side of the Rhine. And not in Deutz, close to the river and the city, but Kalk, deep into the hinterlands of the Falsche Seite. Kalk is a neighborhood with a reputation for criminality and limited opportunities, some of which is deserved. But when you look deeper, it’s not hard to see why more and more people are abandoning the Old City, Belgian Quarter, and Ehrenfeld for the bright shores of the right bank.

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Bureaucracy and the formalities of moving to Germany

From the outset, I am going to give you a disclaimer. I don’t profess to know everything about German immigration. But for the past few months, I have been working as a relocation consultant for expats moving to Germany for large multinationals. I accompanied them to the Ausländeramt and filled out any number of forms for them. So here is what I know.

The two situations I have dealt with in recent times are expats moving from countries that do not require a visa for entry into Germany. This applies to Americans, for example, and also to South Koreans (and many more, I am sure). Those people can enter Germany without a visit to the consulate in their home country and without filling out any paperwork. However, in order to work, they need an elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel (eAT). This also applies to people who enter with a visa. I have had transferees from Russia, for example, who required a visa. At home, they have to fill out paperwork to apply for a  temporary visa. When they arrive, they have to apply for the eAT as well, and if they are allowed to work, they receive a Fiktionsbescheinigung, which they can hand in at work. Remember, I have only been working with people who are here to work. I can’t vouch for the way this works for others. Continue reading

What’s in a Name

As an American, it would never occur to me to make a distinction such as “German” vs. “German national,” but it’s one that I’ve encountered while living in Germany. Not only would I never think to draw such lines, I find them offensive. It’s a debate that hits close to home as my husband and I have lived seemingly parallel lives as second-generation Koreans. The difference though is that I was born and raised in the United States, and he in (then West) Germany. More than geographic though, the greater difference is that I grew up in a culture where I was eventually (in the ‘90s when multiculturalism discussions were de rigueur on college campuses) encouraged to embrace my American identity as both an American citizen and an ethnic Korean. Meanwhile my husband considered himself Korean rather than German for a long time, and he wasn’t the only one. It wasn’t until his late twenties, when he and his family were in fact allowed to become German citizens. While he has since resolved his internal debate comfortably calling himself German, it’s the external one that continues. Continue reading

Save our Deutsch! Can the German language be saved by a sentence in the Grundgesetz?

If you’re an American expat living in Germany, you’ve heard this debate before — in the U.S.

It’s such a simple little sentence that some people want to insert into the German constitution: “Die Sprache der Bundesrepublik ist Deutsch.” (“The language of the Federal Republic [of Germany] is German.”) Who would have thought that five German words could provoke such a debate? This quote from Berlin’s Tagesspiegel sums it up pretty well: “Die Idee der CDU, die deutsche Sprache im Grundgesetz zu verankern, hat eine heftige Diskussion ausgelöst: Läutet der Beschluss einen ‘Anti-Einwanderer-Wahlkampf’ ein oder die Rettung der deutschen Leitkultur?” (“The CDU’s idea to anchor the German language in the German constitution has set off a vigorous discussion: Does the resolution herald an ‘anti-immigrant campaign’ or the rescue of the German core culture?”)

When the German language gets mixed into German politics, the results are rarely good. Continue reading