Two years ago I spent three months in Germany as an exchange student. Right now, my sister is in Germany on the same exchange program. As a result of this, I have been thinking a lot about the time I spent in Germany. The following is a letter which I wrote while still in Germany, however, because it was so long, I never finished typing it into the computer and so it was never sent. Enjoy!
Germany! What do you think of when you hear the name? Do you think of cold and snow, of Christmas trees and Lebkuchen? Or do you think of beer and wine, of bratwurst and bockwurst and knackwurst and just about every other sort of wurst imaginable? For me, Germany has always conjured up images of dark, shadowy forests, of rich chocolate cakes and of unknown relatives living so far away. My imaginations of Germany had also always been filled with snow, cold and many people all speaking German. And of course one cannot forget the castles nestling in valleys amongst the deep blue lakes and dark green trees!
Germany: 356,970 sq km, official language: German, consists of 16 Bundesländer, capital city: Berlin, Chancellor: Angela Merkel. These facts are what one could call the most important information about Germany. Yet there is so much more! Around every corner something new, some new quirk, new scenery, new technology, new people and a new culture. I have now spent almost three months in Germany. In three months one can see a lot, experience a lot and learn a lot. For me, Germany is no longer merely a country of dark forests, chocolate cakes, snow castles and unknown relatives. No, Germany is so much more than that…
My first impression of Germany was from a train window. On an almost four hour trip from Frankfurt to Hamburg, the train sped through the colourful autumn landscapes, and unfortunately my consciousness sped with it. After an exhausting 12 hour flight, the gentle motion of the train lulled me to sleep!
Meeting my host family, adjusting to the climate and to driving on the other side of the road, cycling, going to school in Germany, catching trains and busses and eating new and strange foods: I don’t think three months have ever flown by as fast as the past three! In total 80 days away from home, separated from family and friends, alone in unfamiliar situations, these have been 80 days in which I have learnt an unbelievable amount! I think that the most important thing to remember when participating in an exchange program is your attitude. If you go into a new experience with a positive attitude everything becomes much easier right from the beginning! I have tried to keep a positive attitude all through my three months here. I haven’t always managed – I have become depressed, homesick and frustrated, but if everything had been moonshine and roses, I wouldn’t have learnt anything!
For me, the best thing about coming to Germany is that I have learnt to know God better. Here, far away from family and friends, far also from the distractions of home, I have turned to God for succour. I have trusted, and now I know that God is good.
During these three months here, my German has improved dramatically! I can know hold a conversation in German, I can write a letter in German and I can understand most of what people are saying. My German is not fluent, perfect or without Rechschreibfehler, but it’s getting better every day and will D.V. continue to improve once I’m back in South Africa!
Most of the time I have spent here in Germany has been at school. At first I found the school system very strange. My first day at school, all the teachers kept asking the students questions and the students answering, instead of the students asking the teacher! After a while however, I found that the teachers do actually teach the kids, not only ask questions. Most of the teaching is done through questions though, that way the learners really find out things themselves, instead of having all the information spoon-fed to them and they merely have to spit it out again when required! I found this really good. In South Africa we also do the “find it out yourself” thing, however, most teachers haven’t really grasped the concept yet. “Find it out yourself” should mean “find it out yourself” and not “be told what you’re supposed to find out yourself, perform a little experiment, look through a microscope or write an essay and then Wow! you’ve found it out yourself!”
Water is in abundance in Germany! I find it fascinating, sitting in the train, all the fields that seem to have water on them. Drainage ditches abound and mini rivers run next to most fields. In the north, water becomes a problem as there is too much water! Along the coast dykes have been built to keep out the water, however in the winter sometimes the water breaks through the dykes and then the people living in the area have a problem! Many of the houses have also been built upon little humps – in the flat countryside it is really funny to see all the houses, each standing on its own hump.
Water can also be useful though! Most of the houses have rainwater tanks that collect the rain. Most washing machines run on rainwater and the toilets are flushed with rainwater. Strangely enough, in this country where there is so much water, the Germans are a lot more “save water” conscious than we as South Africans in our dry country are. ( In fact, the Germans are a lot more “save everything” conscious than we are!) When showering, you don’t just shower, rather, when you aren’t actually using the water, switch it off! (And then back on again when you want to use it again!) Save electricity – don’t leave lights on when you’re not in the room ( and it’s dark a lot of the time when I feel it should actually be light!) Don’t leave the radio or the TV or the computer on if no-one is using it!
The amount of recycling done in Germany is unbelievable!!! eg. Rubbish sorting: There is a dustbin for bio-degradable stuff (brown), for paper (blue) and for general rubbish (black). Plastic stuff gets put out in a yellow plastic bag and glass bottles get taken back to the shop where one gets money for them! There is an idiom, something about counting pennies and pounds, but I can’t remember it. Anyway, it fits in this situation. In SA, we need to concentrate on the small things before we can fix the big things. Small things like these which the Germans have got down pat…
Eating in Germany is a very different thing to eating in South Africa! The main difference is bread. Bread in South Africa is bread! You can choose between brown or white and if you’re willing to pay a bit more you can get fancy health breads. In Germany, there are so many different types of bread I haven’t been able to try them all! What we call bread in South Africa, is dismissed as toast bread, unfit to eat unless it’s been toasted! And if all the different types of bread aren’t enough to satisfy you, then you can try all the different types of Brötchen (buns). Normal, brown, seed covered, cheese covered, fancy shapes, cinnamon covered, anything and everything – you name it, they’ve got it!
The Germans eat a lot more cold meats than we do in South Africa. Breakfast and supper both consist of bread/toast/Brötchen, eaten with cold meat, cheese or, although not usually in the evenings, jam. Honey is also popular and Nutella is widely beloved!
Lunch is the hot meal, and usually vegetables dominate. In South Africa meat is king, but here in Germany the humbler vegetable has the scepter firmly grasped! The ubiquitous noodle is the greatest threat to the vegetable however, as it is eaten almost as much. What advantage can the vegetable find over his slowly advancing opponent? Looking around wildly as he is forced to retreat he spies a loophole and grabs it triumphantly! “You may think you’re great and amazing, O Noodle, but I, the Vegetable, am greater than you! You cannot be eaten alone, otherwise you become boring, however vegetables have been enjoyed alone for centuries and will remain so. Noodles need at least a sauce or a little spice to make them appetising! Retreat before me, I am greater!”
While in Germany, I have become a handball fan! When I think back on the first time I saw handball, my impression was that it has a lot of similarities to rugby! However, having seen a lot more of it, I know it is a lot less violent than rugby and a LOT more civilised! Okay, ja, the players do shove one another around a bit at the goal circle, but they don’t intentionally jump on top of one another like rugby!
I am a fan of THW Kiel, Turnverein Hassee Winterbeck. They are a team based in Kiel. Their main opponents are Flensburg Handewitt, a team based in Flensburg. Owning to the fact that both teams have the same sponsor, they both wear the same colours – black and white (although Flensburg also wear a bit of yellow sometimes.) THW’s logo, nickname and mascot is a zebra. THW is a German team, but is however mostly made up of non-German players! Names like Karabatic, Szilagyi, Kavticnik, Sedarusic and Andersson mingle with German names such as Klein and Fritz on the team. Despite this, the only language permitted at team practices is German: newcomers just have to learn! Even the trainer is not German and even he has to speak German!
My host sister and I went to watch a game in the Ostseehalle in Kiel. After the game, the players retreat for a quick shower and most of the spectator stream down onto the court to wait for the players to return. When the team come back, each of the player is quickly surrounded by a group of fans, eager for autographs. What I found particularly amazing, was the patience and good manners displayed by the fans. You stand in amongst the crowd around a player and wait patiently for an autograph. There is no shoving, pushing or fighting.
When we were there, half of the court was being used for autograph signing, and on the other half some of the team were sitting on the floor relaxing. The fans stood quietly, not crossing the designated line, not shouting or complaining, waiting until the players should feel like autographing. And the players also didn’t make the fans wait too long!
At this point my letter came to an end, as I had never had an opportunity to finish it off properly. I will now attempt to provide some sort of closure…
Yes, Germany means a lot to me. I have reason to call it my second home. Yet, I was born in South Africa. And despite all of South Africa’s problems, this is my country and I love it. God placed me here, and here is where I will stay!