Aaaaaaand we’re back!
After more than three months (gasp!) of silence, I thought it would be a good idea to let you all know that Seb and I are in fact very much alive. I know, I know – disappearing like that is appalling blogging etiquette. And we’re sorry for that. Really, we are.
As it turns out though, the whole moving continents thing has been slightly more demanding than initially thought. Drama, delays and paperwork disasters, we’ve endured it all. But here we are, finally settling into our new lives and making amends for this unfortunate period of neglect. Today is nothing but a very broad overview, but we promise that more intricate stories of our day-to-day lives are indeed on their way.
So. Germany. Where do we even begin? Despite copious amounts of homework and research (pedantic recycling procedures, good neighbourhoods to live in etc etc), there will always be some things that take you by surprise. Some surprises have been pleasant – like an entire aisle dedicated to frozen pizza in every supermarket! – while others have not. All in all though, moving to Frankfurt has been a refreshing and painless transition. I have yet to have a self-pitying shower sob, which is a pretty good indication that all is going well.
“But seriously,” you ask. “What is Germany really like?”
Well, unfortunately our German experience has been somewhat limited so far. Seb and I both live and work in Frankfurt which, as I have been told, is completely unlike the rest of Germany. Of course we’ll travel a lot more once we’ve actually acquired some furniture and it’s not freezing cold outside, but for now this is it. I have become oddly attached to this place though and have even observed a number of parallels between this city and my beloved hometown, Joburg:
- First of all, both are the super corporate, money-making cities of their respective countries.
- Both are perceived by the other cities to be a little bit rough, ‘ugly’ and uncultured.
- And lastly, the actual residents of both cities know the previous point to be completely untrue.
One thing that Joburg doesn’t have on Frankfurt, though, is a pretty river running through it. And one thing that Frankfurt doesn’t have on Joburg is size. Someone called Frankfurt the ‘World’s Smallest Metropolis’ and they really weren’t kidding. A casual stroll from the western suburbs, through the CBD to the eastern side of town takes little more than an hour.
While some find the petite size of the city to be limiting, Seb and I both enjoy being able to walk or take a 10 minute train ride to just about anywhere. Of course, we do miss our cars (Seb a lot more so than me), but the walking culture is such a treat. Not only does it help us burn calories from all the baked goods we’ve been throwing at our faces [German bakery post to follow soon], but I’ve also realised how much more of a city you experience on foot.
But aside from the excellent transport, cheap internet and abundance of bread and pastries, there are a number of other differences between here and home that neither of us had quite anticipated:
Crappy banking. FNB, how I wish I could cradle you tenderly in my arms and never let you go. Germany may be on the forefront of many advancements, but banking sure isn’t one of them. Opening a bank account happens strictly in person, after booking an appointment sometimes many days in advance. But don’t think you’ll be walking out of your appointment with a cheque card in hand. Nope! You’ll be sent your card a few days later by post, followed by its PIN in a separate package a few days after. It’s rough, guys. So rough. Also, their ‘credit card’ is basically just a card that lets you buy stuff online. The full debt, all of it, gets deducted from your cheque account at the end of every month. But now that I think about it, that’s probably a good thing.
Grocery shopping. The idea of big supermarkets where you can buy everything aren’t all that common here, so most shopping is still done at small grocery stores or the local butcher, baker and so on. This is actually rather charming, but at times the lack of variety and time required to find everything can be frustrating. Also, Woolworths, I miss you. I miss you so much.
Then, of course, is the absence of bag packers. This in itself wouldn’t be too much of a problem, if it weren’t for the fact that cashiers view every customer as a chance to beat their current item scanning Olympic record. The panic you feel as an avalanche of canned tomatoes hurtles towards you is a very real thing, but it pales in comparison to the shame of holding up the queue. To avoid the mean-spirited stares of disgruntled co-shoppers, I now simply chuck all my groceries back into the trolley and pack them into bags outside.
Drugs. Drugs happen everywhere, but in Frankfurt it’s a lot more open than we’re used to in SA. Drug addicts are viewed as ill rather than as criminals, and a whole lot of clinics are around to prevent the use of contaminated needles. The supportive approach is great, but watching people shoot up in the train stations isn’t pretty. Which reminds me….
Train stations. Actually, just Hauptbahnhof, the main one. Coming from the comparative luxury of the Gautrain, I guess I thought German stations would be…cleaner? Hauptbahnhof has many cool things – like shops that are open on Sundays (a rarity) – but passing an actual human turd on a stairwell and the aforementioned drug usage is, you know, not great.
Housework. It can be said, with a fair amount of certainty, that this is the reason why blogging and photography has fallen to the wayside. The thing is, we knew it was coming. We knew that our South African privilege was reaching its end. And yet it doesn’t quite hit you until you’re physically bent over the bathtub, retrieving a soapy hairball from the drain. Cleaning has literally become our lives. Whenever we think we’re done, there’s something more to do. And when that’s done, we’ve passed out from exhaustion. On a positive note, I have managed to overcome my fear of dishwater floaty bits, which has to count for something.
Winter. I was prepared for the cold, yes, but not so much for the dark. Even with daylight saving time, the sun only thinks about rising at 8ish, and by 4:30 it’s gone. Not that you see much of it in between with the almost constant cloud cover anyway. On the bright side, the autumn colours here are absolutely breathtaking; and I love how the whole city flocks outside at even the slightest hint of sunshine. It’s nice. Really nice.
So, on the whole, life here has been pretty darn swell. Of course, we have a lot of German to learn, sausages to eat and places to see before it truly feels like home. But for now, we’re off to a good start.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a load of washing to do. Tschüss!