Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friendly Saturday: Heidelbergerin

Hello one and all and welcome to the world's first Friendly Saturday. (Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?) Despite the temperature plunging from 32˚ to 19˚ overnight, thanks to the unrelenting humidity it still feels incredibly warm here. And it's about to get even warmer... as I have one hot blogger for you today: introducing Heidelbergerin, who blogs just up the road from me in the beautiful town of, you guessed it, Heidelberg.

Heidelbergerin enjoying a wine with Mr Heidelbergerin. How cute are they?!

Name: Heidelbergerin
From: Born and raised in rural Iowa, went to university in Chicago, and then lived and worked in Boston for six years
Now in: Heidelberg.
Since: As of next month we’ll have been here 5 years
Interests: Food, travel, music, embroidery, first names, learning to sew a bit...

…hang on a minute, Heidelbergerin… what do you mean, “first names”?

It’s kind of a dorky hobby but I’m very interested in what people name their children in different places and during different periods of time, the origins of the names, and how they come in and go out of fashion. Usually when I go to a new country my big souvenir is a name dictionary from that country. Shortly, I plan to have up a new blog just for name stuff. This topic pops up on my blog once a year when I compare the most popular names in Germany vs the US.

Wow – I had no idea there was such a hobby! So what names are hot Germany right now?

Depends on the source - unfortunately Germany doesn't collect official name statistics so it's just done by hobbyists. I usually use beliebte-vornamen.de and their data says Leon and Mia were the most popular names in 2010. Both are popular in some other European countries too so they're not especially German!

They don’t sound traditionally German, you’re right - bring back Fritz and Gunther, I say. But I appear to have digressed before we've even got started. So... first things second: how did you come to be here in Heidelberg?

My husband is a scientist. He got his PhD in Boston and then needed a post-doctoral position. Generally, for a post-doc it’s not really a normal job application process, but one looks around at individual labs (at universities) and applies to a few they think are doing interesting work, then asks if they can work there. In the end it came down to moving to Germany or staying in Boston, and we decided to shake things up a bit. In the end this may be a slightly dangerous move career-wise, but it was such a good move life-experience-wise.

I spent a day in Heidelberg early last year on a Dietz Family Excursion: As a university town, I remember it being young and lively and additionally very pretty indeed, but my memories of the day are largely coloured by the small breakdown I had in a café while trying to answer follow-up questions from our waitress about the hot chocolate I’d ordered - not a single Dietz came to my rescue. There may have been tears. Tell us, how is it to live there?

Heidelberg is a very nice place to live – first of all, you can’t beat the natural setting with the river valley opening onto the plain and the green, forested hills. It also has some of the best weather in Germany, especially in the spring – a season I think I never appreciated as much in the past as I do here. There’s a huge American presence so if you need to find an English-speaking doctor or something, there’s usually an option. Heidelberg can start to feel small, conservative, expensive, and stuffy, especially if you’ve lived in a city before – but Mannheim is only a 15-minute S-Bahn (train) ride away and it has a much bigger variety of shops and restaurants, everything is cheaper, and everyone just seems a little more laid-back.

It’s great to have another town closeby so you can reap the benefits of both – I would make similar comments about where I am, with the lively university town of Mainz just across the river to counterbalance beautiful old Wiesbaden's, er, "calm". What else do you appreciate about your German lifestyle?

Germany feels much more relaxed to me than the US. It’s less flashy. I feel less pressure to consume and spend. Stores are closed on Sunday and this gives you an excuse to just sit back and do as little as you want. I’ve been sick a couple of times and I’m glad it was taken care of quickly and simply by insurance and not dragged out with months of notices from the insurance company trying to get out of the charges (this happened to me in the US). I like the respect for family and vacation time that allows people to not work themselves to death, combined with the proximity to lots of different countries to explore. All of this, and the country is just beautiful, too.

Heidelberg by night.
And it really is beautiful – I honestly had no idea just how beautiful before I visited the area I now live in. I always just imagined Germany somehow being… well, certainly not with a lot of rolling hills, green forests and glistening rivers. What preconceptions about Germany have you had challenged since you moved here?

I think the only big negative preconceptions about Germans that I had before coming here were that they were very closed people and that Germany was really bureaucratic. Well, the second one is true, and I don’t have much else to say about that! The first one is a bit harder to pin down. I think they are quite closed, but not to the extent that I expected. I find the Germans who are the most willing to make friends with foreigners are the ones who are married to foreigners, the children of one foreign parent, or who have spent more than a year in other countries (which country doesn’t seem to matter).

I guess that makes sense. Certainly I have fewer German friends here than I do other nationalities but for me, I put it down to the fact that my German hasn’t been up to scratch for making them! What other preconceptions did you have?

I expected Germans to be liberal in the way we use the word in the US – in favor of social systems to help people, health care coverage for everybody, and tolerant of different kinds of people. What I didn’t really realize is that the social safety net here is not some progressive thing, it’s their tradition. Being what we think of as liberal is actually just a way to be conservative here.

As for tolerance, I was disappointed. My first big shock in that regard was one day in class in Mainz when I was pretty new (when I arrived, I did a master’s program in epidemiology). A fellow student - a very educated, curious female doctor - said to me, “There’s a street in Berlin where EVERYTHING is in Turkish – all the signs and the shops and restaurants and everyone speaks Turkish to each other!” I thought she was describing this to me as a cool thing – I was feeling homesick for the kind of city where I could wander off to a Chinatown or K-town or Little Italy or SOMEthing – but immediately I realized from her expression that that wasn’t what she meant. It was a complaint, and she was waiting for my expression of horror. To discover that a young, urban, educated German could find an ethnic neighborhood a Very Bad Thing left me really taken aback. I don’t think this was particularly a preconception I had but just something I didn’t think about before moving: I expected a large town with a great, internationally-respected university to be MUCH more diverse and was pretty shocked at how white it is. It never occurred to me to expect Germany to be so white.

I was shocked about how white it is here, too - and I am genuinely aware of it every day. We do have a lively Turkish quarter in Wiesbaden and it's filled with fab shops and restaurants and I've personally never seen anything of the sort of trouble that's reported to take place in Berlin, where social problems in conjunction with immigration have (allegedly) caused significant issues. [Very quick background for those not up on Germany’s immigration situation: In the 1960s in order to solve Germany’s labour shortage (and as a plus, help out Turkey with their unemployment levels), Germany invited thousands of Turkish people over as “guest workers” for a few years… but were somehow surprised when they tried to send them back early and found many of them had had families and happily settled. 50 years on there are approximately 4 million people of Turkish origin living in Germany (according to Wikipedia) and there's an ongoing debate about immigration and integration which was inflamed last year with the publishing of a book by Thilo Sarrazin in which he blamed the inferior genes of the Turkish people for the decline of German society. Angela Merkel didn't approve of the book but nevertheless declared that multi-culturalism in Germany had failed. In the midst of this ongoing debate today, Germany is also contemplating trying to resolve the problem of its shrivelling population by getting some foreign skilled professionals in. End of German immigration briefing.] So... Heidelbergerin, have you come across much intolerance of this kind in your five years here?

The attitude comes up sometimes, but of course there are also plenty of Germans who aren’t intolerant. I guess my big surprise is just that you can find it among young and highly educated people which would be an unusual demographic in which to find intolerant attitudes in the US. I think it’s just cultural difference. German society is very orderly and trusting (for example – how rarely bus tickets are checked). In order to maintain it this way, everyone in society needs to believe that everyone else thinks the same way they do about the rules and how things should be. I think when people come in from other cultures and don’t seem to fully integrate, people are afraid those foreigners might not see things the way they do or follow their rules. Then they worry that it will undermine their trusting, orderly society. American society has forever been a patchwork of people from different places. It isn’t very trusting and orderly at all, except in rural areas – where you can still find plenty of negative attitudes toward non-integration. We expect people to learn functional English but if immigrants set up their own neighborhoods, I think most of us care more about what new, interesting thing they are contributing to our society (dim sum!!) than whether they’re becoming just like us.

Mmm... dim sum. It’s obvious that you have great respect for many aspects of how German society functions.
What else do you admire about the Germans?

Their loyalty to their friends is very admirable, though on the down side it prevents them from making new ones. I admire their clean, low-crime society. I admire they way they care about each other through social programs despite not seeming to care about each other much as individuals. I love that they are horrified at the idea of someone being bankrupted just for getting sick, or someone getting their insurance taken away right when they need it most – at the stressful time of losing ones job.

Do you feel an affinity with Germany, the people and their culture? Does your own culture back in the US feel a bit alien now when you visit?

I actually had a strange experience in Berlin four years ago. While visiting the Reichstag building, the tour guide showed us a sculpture in the courtyard which said “Der Bevoelkerung” – “to the population” – and she explained that it was meant to include everyone living in Germany, including foreigners. I suddenly felt a strange wave of patriotism wash over me – patriotism toward Germany. Of course in daily life a lot of Germans might not agree with the sculpture’s sentiment but I don’t think I could have felt the way I did if I didn’t feel some kind of affinity toward Germany. We have picked up some German habits. When I go to the US and see people breaking rules in public, I have to stifle the urge to tell them to stop.

Haha that's hilarious. I haven't gone that far, but as I think I've said before I have awful trouble crossing roads now without the help of the little green man. Talking of crossing roads, have you traveled about much whilst you’ve been here? What have been your highlights?

In Germany, my favorites have been the atmosphere in Berlin, the vineyards in the Mosel Valley, the little wine-making towns in the Pfalz, the booze forest near Ottenhoefen in the Schwarzwald, the churches in Nuremberg, the half-timber house details in Goslar, the big cliffs and little towns in the Rhine Valley, the tea and china on the North Sea, the painted houses in the Alps. Outside of Germany: the sense of history in Rome, the food and beer and views in Prague, the pubs and ruins and landscapes in England, Scotland, and Wales, the incredible natural setting of Stockholm, the pannekoeken (Dutch pancakes) in the Netherlands, the Istrian coast in Croatia, and last but definitely not least the incredibly friendly people in Ireland! My biggest piece of advice for those who have been in Germany for a while - but still feel like they don’t know any German - is to travel to another country where you really can’t read a thing – like Hungary (unless you’re Hungarian). When you come back German is like an old friend!

And I'm sure it's happy to have you home!

Thank you, lovely Heidelbergerin, for a fab interview. It's amazing the variety of topics we manage to cover in these things. If you would like to read further about Heidelbergerin's adventures (or learn more about first names!) then please do visit her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter and, just you check out how modern we are today, Google Plus, where she's CNHeidelberg.

Next week's interview will be with the hugely talented, Munich-based Julie Galante who blogs about her expat life over at Zurika. Yippee!! In the meantime, I hope you all have wonderful weekends, wherever you are. Me? I'm off for a cold bath.

Photo credit: all images by Heidelbergerin

Friday, August 26, 2011

Just call me Unreliable Dietz.

Due to circumstances of the fun, surprising and massively unforeseen kind, Frau Heidelbergerin's (yay!) Friendly Friday is postponed until tomorrow (which is particularly annoying since I was working on it at 5 o'clock this morning when I couldn't sleep).  And by tomorrow I do mean tomorrow, not "in two months" like what happened with Papa Scott.  Apologies.


In the meantime, why don't you kick back, have a nice cup of tea/Pina Colada and read about Yvonne the cow, who's made a daring escape from a German abattoir and is very much on the run.  I think I love her.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's for supper?

Well, since you asked, it's this fine fellow: locally grown, steamed for 13 minutes and slathered in butter and salt flakes.

Again.

The trouble with me and seasonal eating is, as soon as something first makes its annual appearance I get totally overexcited and consume it day and night for the duration of it's availability.  That does at least prevent me, however, from wishing away the weeks until the next fruit or veg comes into season: last year, corn on the cob was a fantastic distraction from the eagerly awaited pumpkins.  This year, however, those big orange balls of joy have turned up early.  I'd feel very wrong tucking into one in August - this week's very humid 34˚c is definitely not pumpkin-eating weather - so, more than happily, I'm sticking with my sweetcorn.
Hello, yellow friend... and a very swift goodbye *smacks lips*

Monday, August 22, 2011

A night at the 36th annual Rheingau Wine Festival

"Wine is the finest embodiment of the spirit of nature. That's why it is celebrated anew every year in Wiesbaden."
Leaflet for the 2010 Rheingau Wine Festival

Saturday evening at the Rheingau wine festival
I think I've mentioned before that the Germans know how to party; well, they also know how to drink. I can't really imagine an admission-free, 9-day wine festival taking place in your average UK town centre: set up 100 stalls offering over 1,000 inexpensive wines on Sutton High Street and I imagine a national state of emergency would be declared after about 45 minutes. During the course of Saturday night at the Rheingau Wine Festival, however, I counted precisely 2 policeman and they weren't breaking up a scuffle or trying to manage crowds; they were chatting casually with a wine producer, presumably discussing wine. (We did also spot a couple of casualties, but they were grey-haired chaps in good spirits who'd probably been there since opening time and they were being gently pushed homewards without too much difficulty. Albeit one on a stretcher.)

A few more words from last year's promotional leaflet (I didn't get hold of one this year):
"If you leave the car at home... your visit to the Rheingau Wine Festival promises to be a relaxed and unforgettable experience."
Well, lucky for us B and I don't have a car, besides which the wine festival is walking distance from our flat, so on Saturday evening we wandered into town to catch up with some friends - including Shoegirl and Otomcio - over a bottle of Riesling (or two).

For someone who knows very little indeed about wine in general, in the last year I've learned an awful lot about the German white (and not just how to pronounce Gewürztraminer). Of course I still feel like a complete idiot in the company of knowledgeable sorts like the Wine Rambler, who I had the pleasure of meeting whilst I was in London last week (more on that trip to come), but my hugely enthusiastic father-in-law is doing a fine job of trying to educate me, and a good thing too when we live in one of Germany's 13 wine regions.

My taste has changed quite dramatically since I arrived here: when we sampled wines for our wedding at the end of 2009, I was concerned that the white we decided upon would be too full of flavour for me and my British counterparts. I need not have worried, it went down a storm, but my point is that I've gone from finding a dry Riesling too sweet (it was Peter Jacob Kühn's 2008 Classic - heavenly, though his bottles have now pretty much doubled in price since he won himself a contract with Deutsche Bahn last year*) to being a sucker for the late season wines that are sweet enough to give you a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Anyhow, I'm not going to try and describe any of the wines I had on Saturday night because I'll only sound like a fool: I'll simply say I really am spoilt to be living here. My favourite of the evening was this, from one of my father-in-law's favourite wineries, Weingut Künstler, conveniently the only bottle I remembered to photograph:

It's white, and it's wine: it's white wine! And only about 9€ a pop.
I only took a couple of photos on Saturday night and they're mostly of our party looking a bit worse for wear (heavily pregnant friend excluded), so I'm going to cheat with the rest of my pictures: when I came to write this post I found another post from last years festival hiding in my drafts, so I'm going to steal a couple of pictures from that instead.
A half-full glass of Classic 2008 and a glass of something else, both from Peter Jakob Kühn.
My father-in-law bought this for me last year because he thought I'd like the bottle. I did. And I also very much liked what was in it.
There's not only wine available at the wine festival (though you'd struggle to find beer), there's lots of live music too and the food on offer is marvellous: huge slabs of pork stuffed with a handful of melt-in-the-mouth onions into a fluffy white bap; vast plates of mozzarella, cold meats, fruit and olives; pretzels as big as your head. And if you're willing to queue for half an hour at the most popular stand of all, you can pick up a generously-sized paper bag full of freshly-sliced and deep-fried salty, crunchy potato crisps drenched in a heavily garlicky yoghurt sauce. Heaven.
Small snack with your beverage, ma'am?
Last year on our five visits to the festival (it runs for nine days; I decided that an enthusiastic attendance was key to integrating into life here) we did a much better job of wandering around and sampling local wines from a variety of producers: this year, we sat with our friends, enjoyed the warm weather and buzzing atmosphere and people-watched contentedly from the same spot all evening. I do regret not having had a good wander around to see what was on offer this year but after returning to our flat for a danceathon with some friends (and a selection of interesting hats) that went on well into the early hours of Sunday morning, there was no way we were making it back there yesterday afternoon. Still, it's not like we have to wait a whole 364 days till we can do it again: there's another wine festival across the river starting next week. Although at this point, I'm not sure I'm quite ready for that.


*to learn a little bit more about Peter Jakob Kühn's biodynamic winery have a look at the Wine Rambler's review of the 2007 Oestricher Doosberg.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sca-sca-scaffolding.

Don't be distracted by the heavenly blue sky.  LOOK WHAT'S OUTSIDE OUR RUDDY WINDOW!!
Yesterday morning we woke to an awful lot of banging outside our flat.  It sounded, first of all, happily distant (four floors down), but it quickly grew louder (three floors down) and louder (two floors down) and more and more annoying (the floor beneath us) until it became really very irritating indeed (level with our flat).  Wandering into the living room I then noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a couple of (not entirely unsightly) topless men outside our living room window, hammering proudly away at their impressively speedily erected scaffolding.  


I was briefly enchanted by the cage with which they had wrapped around the steel platforms and ladder, which I presume is there in order to prevent unruly Germans hauling themselves up the side of our building in the middle of the night, but this morning I was mainly thoroughly put out that they have (partially) wrecked our beautiful view.  It's all very well and good someone wanting to clamber up onto our roof - I suppose there's good reason for it - but it would have been nice if someone had told us I wasn't going to be able to dance around the living room to Boney M during the coming days/weeks/months should the mood take me.  Well, not without an audience.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friendly Friday: No Apathy Allowed

Well, there vanishes yet another week of my life spent staring at a heap of books, attempting to write an assignment about something genuinely fascinating that I can't quite get my head round. Wretched education.

I thought I'd allow myself a vaguely well-deserved break in order to welcome to Friendly Friday the lovely Mandi of No Apathy Allowed, who I have been stalking for just over a year now. Mandi's been blogging for just about six years, if I've done my maths correctly, and her blog is filled with tales of her adventures in New York, Hamburg, Bremen and now Berlin; her stories frequently complimented by her truly gorgeous photographs. I have to admit I'm more than slightly envious of her camera skills. Anyway... on with the show!

Mandi demonstrating a distinct lack of apathy in sunny Scotland.

Who: Mandi
About: Public health geek. Runner. Photographer. Traveler. Social activist. Coffee fanatic. Book lover
From: Originally from Seattle, but spent about 6 years in New York before coming to Germany, so as much of a New Yorker as a Seattle-ite
Now in: originally moved to Hamburg, now splits her time between Bremen and Berlin
Since: 2008

Welcome to Friendly Friday, Mandi First things first: what brought you to Germany?

My German partner (known on my blog as mein Schatz) (honey/sweetie) and I met while we were both living in New York. Two years later, after his contract was up, he returned back home to Germany to start a new position. We decided to give a trans-Atlantic relationship a go, and were personally responsible for keeping the Air Emirates route between New York and Hamburg financially afloat. Lucky for us, after two years of traveling back and forth, I received a pretty sweet fellowship that set me up to join mein Schatz in Hamburg and conduct independent research for more than a year. With a generous stipend, language lessons, and lots of travel within Germany, that fellowship was just the ticket I was looking for to make my move abroad. It was a great way for me to settle into German culture, get my foot in the door career-wise, and of course, be with mein Schatz. I’ve been here ever since!

And 'here', these days, is Berlin, right?

Bremen is where I’m working on my PhD and spend the better part of the workweek. But Berlin is where I consider home and where I share a fabulous apartment with mein Schatz.

But you originally arrived in Hamburg…?

After spending two years in Hamburg, my fellowship was over and I began looking for PhD programs within Germany. There were only a few in my field, and unfortunately, none of them were in Hamburg. Bremen, however, is only about an hour away and offered me a nice doctoral fellowship. So last September, I began splitting my time between the two Hansestädte. Then this past spring, mein Schatzs job took him to Berlin, and my weekend commute increased from one hour to three.

Mandi's first German home: Hamburg (although presumably she didn't live aboard this little dazzler)

Crumbs: I love travelling by train, but that's quite a journey to make every week! Having said that, as far as train rides go, Deutsche Bahn have an excellent reputation - well, outside Germany, and particularly in the UK, where our public transport is absolutely dire. As a frequent traveller, would you say it's well-deserved reputation?

Well, coming from the US, it’s hard not to have a totally skewed perspective on the situation. Compared to Amtrak - which only runs a handful of routes, is usually expensive, doesn’t take seat reservations, and is certainly not set up to efficiently move people from one city to another –Deutsche Bahn is a dream. There’s a train to just about anywhere you could imagine going, they run regularly, and they’re generally on time. Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s always so ideal. I’ve certainly endured more than my fair share of delays (especially on Sunday evenings), strikes, lost reservations, and overcrowded trains – but on the whole, I think it all balances itself out.

Even though the number of breakdowns I've experienced is entirely disproportionate to the number of journeys I've been on, I have to say I just love long-distance train travel here. Everything's always so clean and comfortable; I will never tire of the compartments and dining cars; and I'm a total sucker for little things like the in-carriage screens that tell you what time you'll arrive at the next stop and how fast the train's going. But Frau Train Geek digresses... you’ve been here three years now: how are you finding it?

I have to say that I feel pretty at home in Germany and I really enjoy my life here. In Bremen, I have a lovely little office and fun colleagues who don’t mind listening to me speak German with an American accent. In Berlin, mein Schatz and I are currently settling into a new apartment, which means we’re spending a lot of time looking for good deals on antique furniture, since we now have 20 more square meters to furnish than when we lived in Hamburg.

It's amazing how many metres you get for your money here - we're still haven't finished furnishing ours! How does life in Hamburg compare with that in Bremen and Berlin?

Hamburg, I think, will always hold a special place in my heart. That’s where I learned German, got a feel for the culture, and started feeling at home. The city is beautiful and has a gorgeous harbor, which reminds me of Seattle. In my mind, Hamburg will always be what I measure the rest of Germany against. Bremen, on the other hand, is the smallest city I’ve ever lived in during my adult life, and it kind of feels that way. But to be fair, I spend most of my time in Bremen working, so I’m sure I haven’t quite discovered all its treasures yet. Whereas Hamburg reminds me of life in Seattle, Berlin energizes me like New York did. There is simply so much life and culture in Berlin, and I love taking advantage of it all I can.

I bet, and I'm most envious: having moved from huge, sprawling, buzzing London to little old Wiesbaden, I really miss that sense of Things Going On. What have you been getting up to in Berlin?

Back in May, we went to a friend of a friend’s art exhibition. And just recently, there was a Fotomarathon, which had us running all over the city photographing according to specific themes. (Snooker in Berlin and TQE also participated). Also, we’re constantly going to concerts because there are so many great venues and performances going on all the time – from Digitalism at the Astra Kulturhaus at 3 a.m. (now that required some extra caffeine) to Morissey’s over-before-dark show at the Zitadelle.

The Mauerpark, Prenzlauer Berg, occupies an area previously enclosed by the Berlin wall - one strip of which remains as a monument.

Wow. Well, I think we've got Alphaville playing this weekend ;) It seems that everything I hear or read about Berlin these days is around how wealthy folk moving to now-fashionable areas are pushing out the artists and creatives; how the city that was once so edgy, alternative and ultra cool is turning into a tourist playground. From your personal experience, are there still plenty of underground cultural/artistic goings on?

I have heard from artist friends, that while Berlin is certainly inspiring for their art, it’s more difficult to make a living from it here than other places (like New York). You literally trip over artists and installations in Berlin, so to stay on the cutting edge of the art scene, some believe Leipzig is where the real action is at, rather than Berlin. I, of course, can’t speak personally too much to the topic, but I pretty much assume that if I’ve heard about an event, it’s probably not underground anymore.

Leipzig, huh? Well, you heard it here first. Or at least, I did. So, aside from all the fab things you get to get up to in Berlin, what else do you find pleasing about life in Germany?

There’s so much that I enjoy about living In Germany… I enjoy living car free and having access to an efficient countrywide train system that lets me travel almost anywhere I want to. I enjoy the fact that every city of reasonable size has a functioning public transportation system that people actually make us of. I also like that no one here seriously debates whether everyone deserves to have healthcare or not, it is simply a given. Oh, and I love the saunas in the winter too.

Saunas in the winter, and SO many outdoor pools for the summer. Heaven! So what do you find most challenging about life in a foreign country?

Of course, living in a foreign culture presents its challenges. At the beginning, it was mostly about the language, so that’s what I spent a lot of my time thinking about. These days, it’s rather coming to the realization that there will always be some things I’m just never going to understand about German culture, and that that’s okay.

Oh, go on then… such as..?

Like the formal ‘Sie’ and informal ‘du’. I mean, I get it grammatically, like when, where, and with whom I should use the two, but it’s the hierarchy and separation inherent in addressing someone formally or informally that doesn’t make much sense to me. This separateness is so embedded in German culture (less so in the younger generations, of course), just like my wanting to be familiar and call everyone by their first name is so embedded in American culture. So I’ve come to peace with simply respecting the way it is, without necessarily truly understanding it.

At the other end of Mandi's 3 hour commute from Berlin lies lovely Bremen.
I understand where you're coming from there: though there may of course be differences between working sectors, for me, having worked for so long in the UK in offices where we would all call each other by our first names - even as a minion addressing the Director-General - it still sounds funny to hear B referring to his boss as "Herr X". But if there are some things about living in Germany that you have learned to accept, are there other things that you have adapted to - or that have changed you?

Through the process of learning German, which is the first foreign language that I’ve had to figure out, I’ve definitely become more patient with myself and more tolerant of my mistakes. I realized there was just no way I was going to be able to learn and improve without just putting myself totally out there, mistakes and all. Not a small feat for a perfectionist!

From one perfectionist to another, boy do I understand that! It wasn't until I stopped worrying about mis-declining an ending and just went for it that my German really started to improved. And I continue to pity the poor people who are subjected to me butchering their language. Along the same theme of change, one final question: as an American, has living in Europe altered the way in which you perceive the States?

Obama was elected during my first year in Germany. Healthcare reform also took place while I’ve been here. I’ve always been politically and socially active, and even more so during the Bush years. So now it’s hard to be so far removed when I still feel so responsible and still want to have a voice in the discussions over what’s happening at home. But at the same time, I’m thankful for the distance and the perspective it offers. I’m thankful that I’m not immersed in the poisonous atmosphere of US politics. While it’s totally frustrating to see my home country divided over issues that make no sense to anyone in Europe, I also think that maybe as an American living abroad, that’s what I can contribute to the conversation – a fresh perspective of how it could be, of what we can still become.

And what a wonderfully positive note on which to end. Mandi, thank you so much for taking the time to take part in Friendly Friday, and if your commute day is Friday, may you have a lovely trip back to Berlin today!

You can follow Mandi's north German adventures on her blog of course, as well as on Twitter; and you can admire more of her beautiful photos on Flickr. Meanwhile, Friendly Friday is going on a short hiatus whilst I nip to London (I love that I won't pause to write this assignment, but I will break for a holiday. Got my priorities right there.) So anyway, things might go a bit quiet here for the next couple of weeks but Friendly Friday shall return on 19th August. Until then... may the sun shine for you all this weekend ☺

EDIT (AUGUST 17): There's been no way I could have had a chance to do a Friendly Friday whilst I've been in London so the next interview will be the 26th August instead!

Photo credit: all images by Mandi at No Apathy Allowed