10 Things No One Tells You Before Moving To Germany

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1. Bomb Evacuations will become a regular occurrence to the point where you don’t even get worried about it any more.

2. In at least the first year, if not longer, your mood will depend entirely on whether you were able to successfully order something at the bakery in German

or not.

 

3. Meeting up with friends in foreign countries for the weekend will become totally normally as will going to a different country just to go to the beach.

4. You will become addicted to either CNN International or BBC World as they are the only English language channels broadcasted in Germany.

 

5. You will find yourself thinking teenagers buying crates of beer at the supermarket is totally normal.

6. You will start to refer to the seasons by what food is suddenly available eg Spargel season and more importantly, you will begin to get excited about this.

7. Your supermarket suddenly stocking a different brand of Peanut Butter will totally ruin your entire week.

8. After about 18 months, your English will become peppered with German phrases and you will find yourself forgetting English words.

9. Even when not in Germany, you will find that going shopping on a Sunday is unthinkable and if you actually do go shopping you will treat the event like you are visiting an alien planet.

10. You will learn the hard way that the advice ‘Everyone speaks English there’ you received before you left is completely and utterly untrue.

What do you wish you had been told before moving to Germany? Let me know in the comments.

Weekly Wrap-Up

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 This is a new section looking at the interesting, hilarious and odd things I have discovered in the previous 7 days.

Culture

With the death of Lauren Bacall this week All 16 of the Icons Name-Dropped in Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ are Now Gone. The only upside to this is that music video still looks incredible 24 years on, which is something that can be said about very few music videos.

Do you have a question about death that you are afraid to ask? Well, Ask A Mortician is here for you. This You Tube channel run by real-life Mortician Caitlin Doughty will answer every question you had about death, even some that maybe you never really wanted to know the answer to.

Germany

Understanding Germany – This is a blog that all expats living in Germany should be reading as it explains the sometimes bewildering and impenetrable German society, culture and politics. This blog is written by a born & bred German so you know you are getting the inside scoop rather than an expat’s take on it.

Humour

And that’s why you should learn to pick your battles – Everyone needs to learn to pick their battles in life, but somehow I think that being married to Jenny aka The Bloggess would result in hilarious consequences no matter what battles you picked.

Language

Get Germanized – A You Tube channel looking at German language and culture. The videos about German culture are a little gimmicky and sometimes over the top, but the German lesson and slang videos are solid. However, where this channel shines is the German word of the day, which is only available to Facebook & Twitter fans.

 

 

Alma maters, Opera Houses & Tigers

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This is Part 2 of the photos I took whilst visiting family & friends in Australia.  If you missed Part 1 you can find it here.

After spending some time up in Newcastle visiting family, I headed down to Sydney where I lived for 15 years to visit my friends. Whilst there, I paid a visit to my beloved alma mater Sydney University.

The Quadrangle is the most famous part of Sydney Uni and for good reason, it is just gorgeous.

I spent quite a lot of time there in my four years at the University.

I also made sure to visit some of Sydney’s most famous sites

And some of its historical places like The Rocks

I then went somewhere I have not been in years – Taronga Zoo because to be honest, I love photographing animals, especially when they are this photogenic

As always I have many more photos than I put up on the blog, so if you are interested you can check out the Sydney Uni album, the Sydney album and the Taronga Zoo album on Flickr.

 

 

Beaches, Sunsets & Humpback Whales

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After returning to Germany after visiting my family and friends in Australia almost a month ago, I have finally gotten around to uploading and sorting through the photos that I took whilst there.

My hometown of Newcastle, where my parents still live, is a beach town and home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in Australia.

- Bar Beach

 

Newcastle Harbour is also the world’s largest exporter of coal and my parents, who have an apartment right on Newcastle Harbour, spend quite a lot of time on their balcony watching the ships sail into and out of the harbour.

- A ship coming into the Harbour at sunset

 

They also have a great view of the Newcastle skyline

 

And of the Queen’s Wharf Tower that is affectionately (or not so affectionately) called the B.D.  You can probably guess what B.D stands for.

 

Whilst visiting my parents, we spent one day up the coast at Nelson Bay on a whale watching cruise.

We saw the locals just hanging out

And of course, we saw the main attraction, humpback whales.  I took hundreds of photos all perfectly lined up, just to get hundreds of photos of the sea as I could never get the timing rights when the whales breached.  This is a photo I just snapped randomly.

It did require some straightening up and cropping as it was snapped so randomly that nothing was set up. There is lots wrong with the photo technically, but even with all its faults, I just love it. Watching the whales out on the ocean was just such a wonderful experience.

And here is a photo of one of my favourite Australian birds, the Rainbow Lorikeet, just because.

 

If you are into photography or just want to see more of my photos, you can take a look at the Newcastle photos and the Nelson Bay ones on Flickr.

More photos of Sydney including the Taronga Zoo are still to come!

 

 

 

Humid Hamburg

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English: Drops of sweat

Photo credit: Wikipedia

High humidity is not something people think of when they think of Hamburg, Germany. Rain, wind and fog is what Hamburg is known for.  To be honest, it’s rainy, windy and foggy here for about 9 months of the year at least. However, when (and sometimes if) summer arrives, it arrives with its friend High Humidity.

The humidity has been sitting between 70-90% for the past three weeks plus and I’m getting really sick of it.  I am sick of every morning when I arrive at work having to wipe the sweat off my face and neck with a handful of tissues and having to deal with them being completely sweaty again 30 seconds later. It should be noted here that my office is not air conditioned and since it is west facing it resembles a sauna every day from 2pm onwards.  I’m also sick of standing on the train during my morning and evening commute feeling the sweat dripping down my back. Now some people look gorgeous sweaty, but not me, I’m just one big hot mess of disgusting-ness.

I’m looking forward to Autumn with its crisp foggy mornings with a desire as big as my desire to see the next Avengers film (Trust me, this is a desire of epic proportions).  Please tell me I’m not the only one.  Please reassure me that there are those of you out there that can’t wait to break out the sweaters, winter coats and boots.  This summer can’t last forever, right? It has to be over soon.

Is It Hard To Learn German?

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Image from page 58 of "Henn-Ahn's German ...

“Henn-Ahn’s German grammar” (1888). (Photo credit: internetarchivebookimages)

The question I most wanted an answer to when I first moved here only knowing a handful of German word was ‘Is it hard to learn German?’ After almost four years here I have a definitive answer. Yes and No. Trust me on this, all will be explained.

Firstly, no, German is not hard to learn.  That is it is not harder to learn than any other foreign language.  Every single language has an element or elements about it that are difficult to master and German is no different in this respect.  In fact, English speakers are at an advantage when learning German because of English’s Germanic roots. You will learn lots about English when you start to learn German.

However, yes, German is hard to learn but not for the reasons you might think.  German is hard to learn because any foreign language is hard to learn, especially when you are an adult and are learning your first foreign language.  I was in my mid 30s when I first started learning German and trust me, the adult brain can be quite resistant to learning a new language.

German is also hard to learn because of the amount of time you need to dedicate to it.  When I first moved here I thought that doing 3 hours of lessons a week plus living in Germany would mean that I would just pick it up. That most definitely did not happen. 3 hours of lessons per week was nowhere near enough to get vocabulary and concepts to stick in my mind and just because I lived where German was spoken did not mean I just absorbed it through some osmotic process.  Whilst living in a German speaking country gives me lots of opportunities to learn German, if I don’t actively take up these opportunities and devote time to them, I’m going to learn very little. In order to learn a language you need to fully immerse yourself in it. You need to speak German regularly, watch German TV, listen to German radio, read German books and write regularly in German – and all this takes time out of your daily life. The people that ‘pick up’ the language quickly are the ones who are devoting a large chunk of their day to learning German.

Learning German is also tough on your ego and in ways that you could not previously imagine it would be. You need to be 100% okay with making a complete and utter idiot of yourself and having people abuse you for not being able to express yourself properly.  Don’t think this will not happen to you.  It will and it will happen regularly and it takes a hell of a lot of mental strength to deal with it. You will give up on learning German multiple times. I know I have.  I have gone months at a time without any real effort in learning the language simply because I was tired of having to deal with it all. I wanted and needed to go back to my little English-only cocoon to recover and regroup. The important thing is not to stay in that cocoon forever.

The hardest thing about learning German is not learning the vocab but is devoting the time needed and having the mental fortitude to withstand the frustration along the way. If you can do this, you can master the German language. I know I am still on my way there.  I don’t spend a large chunk of my day doing all the things I should. Yes I do read German books and watch German TV shows, but I don’t do this every single day nor do I speak German as much as I should and I definitely don’t write regularly in German. Therefore after almost 4 years here my German is only in the functional to conversational range and my written German is abysmal. That, however, is all my doing and is not a reflection on how hard German is to learn.  I choose to put in a limited amount of work and therefore I get back limited results.

So is it hard to learn German?  Yes and No.  If you devote a large amount of time and effort to learning it, then no, German is not hard to learn, but if you don’t or if you get discouraged and give up along the way, then yes, it is hard to learn German.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts On Returning To Australia

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I just recently arrived back in Germany after a 2.5 week holiday in Australia spent visiting my family and friends (photos are coming!).  It has been 3 years since I was last in Australia. Three years in which I have grown as a person and have been changed by living in a foreign country. Also it has been three years since I spent more than 3 days in an English speaking country. Therefore this visit gave me a lot of food for thought. As some of you know, I’m adverse to making set in stone plans for the future, but I’m not against thinking about the future and where I would be the happiest.

I expected to find some aspects about Australia hard to deal with, although some of these where unexpected. I most certainly did not expect to spend the first three days in Australia physically cringing when I heard the Australian accent. The broader it was, the more I cringed. I did expect to find prices expensive but not as expensive as they actually were for certain things. I also did not expect to feel such hatred against the current Australian government. I dislike them but I didn’t expect that I would be yelling at the radio or TV every single day. It was not good for my stress levels.

I missed my friends more than I realised.  If I lived in my perfect world, I would relocate them all to Hamburg in a heartbeat. My friends can put my shit in perspective more quickly than anyone else I know and without them even realising that they are doing it. I really need to put more effort in staying in contact and sharing the mundane rather than just the ‘important’ stuff and only over Facebook. As much as I love Facebook for staying in contact with everyone, and it does a pretty good job at that, it doesn’t allow the depth of contact and sharing with my friends that I realised was missing.

From sitting down with my friends and sharing the mundane it made me realise that my life is not in Australia. At least not in the medium term. All of my friends are doing it tough in some way despite the vast majority of them being in well paying jobs and with no kids. Hearing what they need to either sacrifice or go through to make ends meet in Sydney made it clear to me that the quality of life I have in Germany is far superior to what I would have in Australia. I knew that on some level but my time there really drove it home. I came back to Germany totally assured that my life is here for the foreseeable future.

That said I do need to go back to Australia more regularly. Three years between visits is really too long.  I’m not sure my bank account could handle yearly visits, but I think every two years is do-able. I have such wonderful and amazing people there that I want to keep in my life for as long as possible. I can’t expect that they can visit Europe so whilst I can afford to travel to Australia every couple of years I need to do that.

I also need to bring some balance between what I see as my Australian self and my living in Germany self. This point is hard to verbalise but I need to have touchstones to my home culture in my daily life to keep me balanced and not feeling so disconnected. By the same token I need to keep putting down more roots here in Hamburg and becoming more integrated. This is not something that is going to happen overnight, but it is something I need to keep actively working on rather than becoming complacent about it. I have incredible people in my life here and I need to keep working on those relationships and strengthening them.

My trip back home was really important to help solidify some of the thoughts that have been swirling around my head for some time and making things seem clearer. I feel I am on steadier ground than I was before I left. Every so often I need a jolt to make me realise the things that are important to me and this trip did that.

 

How Easy Is It To Find A Job In Germany?

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English: Flag-Map of Germany EU

English: Flag-Map of Germany EU (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the questions I get asked most frequently from family, friends, acquaintances and readers of this blog is about how they too can come and work in Germany. Considering how much I love living and working here I’m happy to promote Germany as a great country to live and work in but finding working here may not be as easy as people think it is going to be.

Here is my take on how easy it will be for you to find a job in Germany.

Do you speak German?

If you do and you are highly skilled in your field then finding a job in Germany will be relatively easy for you, regardless of whether you are an EU citizen or not.  Germany is very welcoming to highly skilled immigrants, especially those that already speak German and by speak German I mean have at least a business level German or are fluent. If you can only string a couple of sentences together then your German will be deemed ‘not good enough’ and you will need to go and join the English-only speaking folks.

If you only speak English then, unfortunately, things become really limited for you. The huge bulk of English-only speaking expats work as English teachers or in a bilingual (German/English) pre-schools (with kids aged up to 6 years). If teaching English or taking care of kids is not for you, then the outlook looks less bright for you.

Are you an EU citizen?

So you don’t speak German and are not willing to teach English but you do hold an EU passport. Things are a little brighter for you than for the folks that don’t have one. There are jobs around that only require knowledge of English.  These jobs are on the rare side, but since you hold an EU passport you will be a front runner for these positions than those that don’t. It is much easier and cheaper to hire someone who can already legally work in Germany than go through the bureaucracy of getting a work visa for a non-EU citizen.

Are you highly skilled?

So you don’t speak German nor do you have an EU passport, but in your field you are one of the best. Especially if you are an engineer, scientist or IT specialist then Germany wants you and in fact you qualify for a special type of work visa that will allow you to get permanent residency much faster than the average non-EU worker. Jobs may still be hard to find, but if you have the right skills you will find something, but it may take a lot of searching and time. You aren’t going to just walk into a job unless your career field is extremely specialised.

Does your current company have an office in Germany?

Welcome to the world of the internal company transfer. Most English speaking expats that don’t teach English are in this category including myself.  We really are the blessed ones. We lucked out by getting a job in a global firm in our home country and now the company wants us to or are willing to let us work in Germany. We don’t speak German nor are we necessarily from an EU country, but that doesn’t matter.  The majority of the people in this field are on a fixed term contract of about 1-3 years before they have to return back to their home country but some of us are here permanently or until we decide to return back to our home countries.

Don’t fit into any of the above categories?

Don’t give up.  You may not be able to move to Germany in the short term but don’t give up on your dream. If Germany is really where you want to be, you will find a way to make it happen. Start learning German, up-skill and/or look for a job with a global firm in your home country that have an office in Germany and encourages internal transfers. You may need to wait 2-5 years to make your dream a reality, but you will get there. Good luck!

 

The information above comes from my own personal experiences and stories told to me by other expats working here, so I’m willing to bet that not everything here is 100% accurate nor applies to everyone looking for work.  Also, the above is just concentrating on people coming here to work and not those that want to or have studied here or those that come as ‘trailing spouses’ or have married German citizens and are looking for work.  You guys are in a whole different category that I readily admit that I don’t really understand. The best way to determine if you are eligible to work in Germany and how easily you can find a job is to contract the German Embassy in your home country. Those guys are the real experts and should be your ultimate source of knowledge. What I’ve written above is just to give you an idea of what your chances are to find work in Germany.

For those of you already working in Germany, do you agree with my assessment? Or have I gotten something wrong? Please let me know in the comments.

The Most German Thing I’ve Ever Done

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I had been back in the country for just over 24 hours when I did the most German thing I’ve ever done in the almost four years I have lived here – I attended a public viewing of the World Cup Grand Final Match between Germany and Argentina at Heiligegeistfeld. Me, my friends and 50,000 other people crammed ourselves onto the field where they hold the Hamburger Dom Volkfest to watch the match on the giant screen.

An extremely small portion of the 50,000 fans that were there.

We braved torrential rain and idiots that thought that bringing an umbrella to a place where they were barely room to breathe was a good idea, but our patience paid off when the whistle blew and the match began (thankfully the rain had stopped by then).  This was when my education in being a German football fan begun.  I was taught football cheers, what to do during a penalty kick and the importance of knowing everybody’s name on the team, mainly so you can participate in some of the cheers. I learnt the importance of surrounding yourself with good people who are gracious enough to answer all your questions and crazy enough to buy everyone standing around them a beer & then not accept any payment.  Then when the match winning goal was scored, I learnt how to celebrate a World Cup win German-style.  It involves a lot of jumping around, hugging strangers, letting off flares and fireworks and singing this song.

It’s called “Oh wie ist das schön” and the lyrics are really basic: “Oh, wie ist das schön! Oh wie ist das schön! So was hat man lange nicht gesehn, so schön, so schön!” (Oh, how great! Oh how great! Haven’t seen something like this for a long time, so great, so great!).  It needs to be sung about a hundred times with decreasing levels of understandability as everyone gets drunker and drunker.

When not singing “Oh wie ist das schön”, they then launch into Super Deutschland Olé

which has the challenging lyrics of Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Super Deutschland Olé, Super Deutschland Olé, Super Deutschland Olé!

Germans, despite their uptight image, really know how to party and have a good time. Never has this been so on display as it was when the match was ended and the Heiligegeistfeld public viewing crowd spilled out onto the streets. The singing was still taking place and people were randomly congratulating each other and high-fiving passing motorists who were not so much passing as they were crawling down the street which made high-fiving much easier and less of a risk to your life. I must admit I did take part in the high-fiving part of the celebrations and the singing even though I was stone-cold sober thanks to my lovely alcohol intolerance.

I think I choose a pretty good occasion to get into the public viewing of World Cup Football rather than watching it at home or in the pub.  Knowing how much fun it is, I will definitely be going to more public viewings the next time around.

 

Go On, Confuse The Goldfish

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Last week I travelled down to Luxembourg with my fantastic theatre company, Hamburg Players, to compete in FEATS (Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies), a four day one-act theatre competition for English language theatre companies in the EU (except UK & Ireland). This was my very first FEATS and to be honest I’m was not sure what to expect.

Getting to Luxembourg was an ordeal, 13.5 hours in a mini van with a bus driver whose driving skills were questionable at best and so unfortunately we missed the first play on the Friday night. Our late arrival was to have ramifications further on down the line that resulted in half the group’s tickets being cancelled for the following 3 days of performances for reasons that weren’t really explained. The whole organisation of the festival was not the best and lead to some incredibly frustrating experiences. Fortunately the wonderful people I was with have a way of transforming negative experiences into things you can laugh about, this included the renaming of the Hospitality Desk to the Hostility Desk thanks to the rudeness of the staff when the desk was actually open. Then there was the official FEATS party on the Saturday night which was held at a tennis club that could only be accessed by a non lit pathway. To help the party goers stumbling around in the dark find the place, they put this sign on the pitch black pathway.

Actual size

The only reason we even saw it is that a bunch of us had our iPhone torches turned on. This sign became a running joke of the rest of the festival.

The plays performed at FEATS were a real mixed bunch. Half of the twelve entries were self-written and most, unfortunately, failed to make the desired impact. The saving grace of the event was the adjudicator. After every night’s performances she would read out her thoughts and comments on the night’s offerings. She was blessed with the gift of making great constructive criticism about even the weakest of the plays and often pointed out elements that I missed or would not have thought to describe in the way she did. It was an absolute pleasure listening to her and I learnt so much about stagecraft.

Our group didn’t perform until the last night which made a somewhat nerve-wracking wait. Our entry was the European premier of David Auburn’s newest play Amateurs. Even though I am most definitely biased, the performance was truly amazing and I was very honoured to do my small part as the sound technician. We came away with 1st place and also Best Actress, making it a very successful FEATS.

I can’t wait for next year when FEATS will be in Hamburg and hosted by my theatre company. We have so much work to do before then, but I can’t think of a more awesome group of people to do it with.

*Post title comes from my favourite line of dialogue of the whole of FEATS from the play The extraordinary revelations of Orca the goldfish
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