It took less than a day after arriving in Germany until I was again confronted with a German peculiarity: the obsession with sunlight. It was Saturday around noon, we had just arrived the night before, and I was discussing with my stepfather the option of taking the car and drive to a beautiful park in Potsdam. And one of the things we had to think of was the time: we needed to leave before 2pm so that we would arrive around 3pm, because we would need at least 2 hours to walk through this park on a warm and sunny November day. We had to calculate backwards, because at this time of the year the sun already sets at 5pm, which means it gets dark and (really) cold. My stepfather said: “We need to leave before 2pm because of the sun” and I remembered when a Brazilian visiting Germany once told me: “Germans are obsessed with sunlight!” Yes wer are. And for very good reasons.
In Berlin the new year doesn’t start in January, but when the sun is warm enough so that people can sit on the sidewalks and have their coffee (and beer) outside the Cafés and Kneipen (bars). And the year ends (at least the fun part of the year), when it gets too cold to do the same. There is a whole infrastructure and an industry to help, make this time as long as possible: wool blankets and now illegal outdoor gas heating systems are only two things to mention.
The face of Berlin really changes once it is warm enough to sit outside: suddenly the city becomes lively and happy, friendly and sociable. The contrary happens each year in September or October, when the last warm days are celebrated: people take every chance to enjoy sitting outside with sun in their face and a coffee in front of them. It is like the end of summer, when it is clear that it will be the last day with temperatues over 30 degrees, because the weather forecast announced a sudden drop and rain for the next days. People enjoy these days in a melancholic way, knowing that there will be 8 months until they will be able to do this gain. Today, in November, mainly smokers sit outside, wrapped in warm clothing. And seeing this everyone understands that smoking is indeed an addiction.
After having lived in Brazil I understand how absurd this obsession with sunlight must seem to many people, where sun is not an issue and temperatures even less. Even on the contrary: in Brazil it is often the sun which keeps the people from going outside. In the summer people prefer indoor are air-conditioned rooms and spend their time inside shopping malls or a nice and cool bakeries. If you want to enjoy the sun, you go to the beach or a lake or to the rooftop swimming pool of your apartment complex. And even there, still wet from your last jump into the water and with an icy beer in your hand, it is sometimes simply too hot. You do not sit in the outside area of a café (which hardly exist anyways).
But trust me, when sunlight is only available between 8am and 5pm and most of the days are spent in a dimly gray – as it has been for the last couple of days – you are truly looking forward to some sunny days. A winter depression is a common medical phenomena which sometimes is treated with a daylight lamp, covering all the spectrum of natural light. And this is why many Germans are obsessed with sunlight. Simply put: there isn’t enough of it (even though Germany is covered with solar panels, which are hard to find in Brazil, but that is a completely different story).
I’m on vacation. And I’m back. Back in the cold. Back in the old. Back in the winter. Back in the wealth (unfortunately not mine). I’m back in Germany. And it has been the coldest flight ever, maybe TAM wanted to prepare me for the late autumn in Germany, which feels so much colder than I remembered. As a result I got a cold even before I landed in Germany! And overwhelmed by too many impressions, here is only a quick list of things that struck me as odd in good old Germany.
In the Brazilian summer you have to cool down to survive. And since it is summer in Santos most of the time, going to a store, the shopping center or taking the bus (or plane) means feeling the cold breeze of air condition. In Germany on the other hand the outside temperature in Frankfurt was 7 degrees. Entering the airport I felt the familiar warm breeze of a heating system. Such a relief.
I remember how strange it seemed, to not throw toilet paper into the toilet in Brazil and in all the Latin American countries I have been to. Because, you know, the toilet usually handles stuff quite bigger than toilet paper, so why not throw this in there? But since I am and adaptive person, I learned to throw toilet paper into the small trash can beside it. And today, after living in Brazil for a year, it feels strange to not care about this anymore and throw the toilet paper into the toilet.
Houses in Germany usually have a central heating, where warm water is produced for the heating in the rooms as well as for shower etc. What a pleasant surprise it is to open the water at the kitchen sink (or in the bathroom) and feel warm water running over your hands. Especially nice when it is damn cold on the house.
In general Germans don’t have the best reputation for being friendly. We like to blame it on our honesty, but the truth is: it is more complicated. A lack of humor has also a role in it. And, let’s face it, a general unfriendliness of some Germans (there are regions where people are amazingly friendly). An example? When boarding the plane to Berlin in Frankfurt, I was in one of the first groups to board the plane (because I was sitting in the back). But there were a bunch of people standing in front of the gate and it was not quite clear, if they were standing in line or not. So I asked a woman “Excuse me, are you standing in line?” I received not only a furious look back but also the words: “No, I am just standing in the way quite stupidly.” And she was. And I don’t know if this was meant to be funny, but the aggressive undertone was quite remarkable.
The Berlin Air
It is said to be special and people usually refer toe the city atmosphere, which is fascinating indeed. Despite the fact that the city has been overrun by moneymakers and international cooperations for some years which are trying hard to transform the city into one of the boring pieces of global consumerism. But there is in fact something special about the air too. You can smell this even on the airport: it’s a hint of fir trees on a sand soil, from the big woods, that surround the city. Wonderful.
Germany is known for cars, beer, football technology, Hitler, chocolate, wine and many other things. But one of it’s main features is bread. Really! You don’t find such a variety of awesome and healthy types of bread anywhere in the world. In even the most simple German bakery you will find not only the white baguette-style bread or rolls, that you can find all over the world, but at least a dozen types of bread and rolls. And cakes. And sweet stuff. It’s a paradise.
© Copyright for the picture by mike hancock and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Funny questions when you move abroad
Some funny conversations I had in the last weeks with friends and colleagues who are not so familiar with living abroad: „Will you keep your email-adress“ was one of my favourite ones (of course I will). Will you keep your mobile telephone number (yes). Will you have internet in Brasil (doh – of course). All this made me wonder, because to some people Brazil still seems to be an unkown third world country filled with jungle and beaches, and not the worlds 6th (or 7th) biggest economy. It is a very big country with a lot of social problems, but it is often equally, in some ways even more „modern“ or „developed“ than Germany. And so it was not only funny but also quite interesting, to be thrown back into the Stone Age for the last couple of days we stayed in Berlin. This Stone Age was called: Lichtenrade.
Stone Age is the absence of internet
Lichtenrade is the central-south part of Berlin, and it is where my mother lifes and where the house of my grandmother is situated – the place we were living for the last days in Germany. Lichtenrade is not the Stone Age per se, but the lack of things we like and use a lot – like decent cafés or the internet – felt very oldfashioned. Additionally the city of Berlin decided to renovate the two major routes to the south of Berlin at the same time (U6 and S2), so that it took us more that one and a half hours to get anywhere in the city from our temporary residence.
But most stone-ageish of all felt the internet situation. While my parents use the internet for about five years (at least partly), they never cared about internet. DSL1000 is what they have and because of the gap between the two houses the wireless was often painfully slow, if not non-existent. This was even worse, since the place we stayed in didn’t have decent mobile network connection and therefore internet on our phonses worked neither. And you need to miss the things you use in order to unterstand, how regular you are using them: an online education program with videos – almost impossible to watch. Youtube also not possible. Even loading emails could be a timeconsuming effort. Since my wife and me use the internet quite frequently, we had do negotiate times, when one of us could use the internet by him- or herself.
But Internet Service Providers are the real Stone Age in Germany
And then came the last two days, where the phone provider of my parents decided to finally to something about the bad voice quality of their telephone line. Deutsche Telekom sent a text message reporting success, only the crackling noises in the phone was not gone – therefore the internet connection was dead. I tried for some hours and called different support hotlines, where the best answers reminded me very much of living in an underdeveloped country: „what you describe is technically not possible“, I was told after I replugged some of the cables as I was told by the support worker and he didn’t get the result he wanted. Then I was told „the problem is, that I can’t access the system right now we are having computer problems – could you call back in an hour?“. If this doesn’t feel like Brazil, I don’t know what would!
Our solution to the lack of internet felt also very Brazilian: after talking to my parents and the neighbours, we managed to get internet access at the house of our neighbours, where we finally and nervously did the check-in for our flights (they had internet but no printer so I had to print our boarding passes in a file and go back to my mother’s place to print them). And this is how despite of the felt Stone Age and with the help of friendly people we managed to find a way out. Brazil (and internet) – here we come again.
Addition1: The previous text was written in Germany but since there was a lot to do in the last couple of days, I couldn’t put it online. Since we are in Santos the situation feels a little stone-age-ish again: I have wonderful mobile phone connection, but a limit of 10MB per day (20 if I pay an additional 50 centavos, which is about 15 cents and therefor ok). Wireless we have only sometimes, via some obscure, slow but open (and possibly dangerous) connection called INTELBRAS. The strange thing in Brazil is, that a lot of places have wireless, but you do not want to sit in a cafe with a laptop. Nobody does that and I suppose the reason for this is, that the latop might get robbed way to easy.
Addition 2: Germany really is an underdeveloped country when it comes to internet service. We had our line up and running within 2 days, wireless router installed and the tv set up, all done by the provider. And after some initial problems (a technician showed up within 24 hours at our home – unbelievable in Germany, where some problems take months to solve) the internet is running fine.
It is always amazing to see your life and/or your appartment dissapearing in boxes. This time, I hated it, I wanted to feel free and get rid of everything, that did not feel especially valuable. Of course it is never as easy as this. And so the questions I dealt with in the last days of our Berlin time have been “aveia machine – yes or no?” – with “aveia machine” being the portugenglish version of what in German is known as a “Flocker”. At this point I would like to thank my friends who were willing and so friendly to not only take many of my books, gave them a new home and will maybe enjoy reading them – you saved me at least another three four boxes.
The big and saddest goodybe
Some crazy days, this Octobre. First my grandmother was brought to the hospital and despite the doctors telling us, that we’d better start saying goodbye to her, she was getting better. Straighout she told my mother: „I did not want to die yet“, and I admire her determination. Back in her nursing home and with the nurse who had already helped my grandfather to pass away peacfully she changed her mind, said that now she was ready to go and passed away in her sleep a day later. And this has probably been the hardest of many farewells, that are happening right now. But it all started with my last day at work.
A friend asked me, how good it feels to be out of work and as an inspiration he also sent me this video.
A big cake and gummibears for the future
I have to admit, after the decision to leave work was made, the last weeks in the office had been a bid hard, when it comes to motivation. But I did want to hand over my work and my small department well to my successor, so there was quite a bit to be done. Funnily I had my last meeting with the sales-force of our company at 2pm on my last day, while my official goodbye-party would start at 2:30pm (it had been a Friday so people start to leave for the weekend early and I did not want to stay there for too long myself either). The meeting went well, at least I guess so, I can’t really tell, because my last day of work has basically been a long party, and to be honest: I did not care so much about this last meeting.
The day started with a big cake and presents at my desk, some flowers and more presents later. It ended when various bottle of champagne were emptied, some goiabada was eaten (while the Caju-juice and the Guaraná surprisingly were not finished by my now ex-colleagues). I did not expect a real party and I am still surprised by all the good wishes and heartfilled goodbyes which I received. And I realized, that it is different, if you leave the company to start a job somewhere else, or if you leave to move to another country: I had to answer the same questions about 30 times (do you already have a job? No – do you already have an apartment? No – What will you do over there? I don’t know yet) and to my surprise almost all my colleagues said something similar about my plans: that they thought, what I will do is awesome, that they admire my courage and that they themselves would never do the same… I also found this quite amusing.
Now two weeks into the unemployment (or rather the self-employment) life I have to admit: I like it. It’s exiting to start something new. I thank my former colleagues for the five years and many good experiences and the opportunities to learn a lot. And I must also warn you – I might be back in half a year telling you, that moving to Brazil was nothing but a big mistake. But I am looking forward to making this experience.
Germans are a strange people. This may not be news to you, but it needs to be said. And it is news to Germans, because we Germans tend to think of ourselves as the most rational and easy to understand people in the world. We also like to think of Germans as being direct and honest, that we always say out loud what we think. And it is true, that we will tell a business-partner (or a friend), that what he or she just said is a bad idea, because …. Or we might say: “I don´t think this will work, but maybe we can make it different.” it is not meant to offend or insult, as many (maybe most) cultures would understand, it is meant to help. Just cut the bullshit and say what you mean – that´s german, right? (German is also the language which sounds as if people are having an argument or are about to start a figh, but that´s just the way we talk and not the point here). To sum it up: there is this image of Germans to be (painfully) honest, (stupidly) direct and (boringly) rational. And we are, in a way. But if you think this is everything, I would recommend you never drive a car in Germany.
People are different, when they drive a car. Driving with my wife in Brazil is the best way to learn portuguese swearwords and insults, even though she is pretty much friendly and relaxed outside the car. She is nevertheless a Brazilian, so it can be expected of her to blow off steam here and there. Maybe it tells a lot about a people, how they behave in traffic: there are many videos of road rage from the US, Australia or Russia on the internet. That also fits a clichee. But what about traffic and drivers in Germany? Of course, there is the Autobahn, but this thing only works when everybody drives somehow safe. And compared to many southern countries we tend to drive according to the rules indeed: stopping at red lights and only using the horn in emergency situations. But here comes a very peculiar thing.
If you drive a car in Germany, there is a good chance you might encounter something like it happened to me this morning. I was driving on my motorcycle to work on a nice, sunny and warm summer morning. Not far from home I have to take a left from one street into another. It´s a T shaped intersection, where I turn left and since there was nobody except me and a car in the street I wanted to turn into – the right of way was obviously mine. (We have the rule that “right goes before left” as long as there are no signs indicating otherwise.) Being on a motorcycle I drive defensively nevertheless, so I looked at the driver of the car to make sure, that he had seen me. Then I turned left. But this driver did not stop to let me pass. The car was rolling into the intersection slowly, and I had to make an extra swerve to avoid collision. At my swerving the driver realized, that he obviously underestimated the space I needed to make this turn, and he stepped on the brakes and stopped the car immediatly. I looked at him again and the most natural thing (and maybe what I expected) would´ve been to see him smiling and waving his hands in a kind of “sorry” way, and everything would´ve been fine. But he did not. In fact, the driver sat in his stopped car, not moving, trying very much not to look at me at all, but rather sat absolutey still, staring straight ahead. Only when I cleared the way, life went into him again, he checked left and right and continued his way, just like I did.
I have seen this peculiar behaviour many, many times on german streets and I call it the german guilt-absentism. For example: a car is blocking an intersection, because the cars in front of it didn´t move far enough for him to clear the intersection. Other cars approaching and honking, but the driver in the blocking car does nothing but stares straight in the very childish attempt to ignore what is happening around him. Imagine this scene in, lets say, Brazil: either there would be nothing happening, because this is the way they drive. Or people would be shouting at each other, waving their hands: “hey move your car!”, “and where exactly shoud I move it to, you moron?”. Things like that. But in Germany you can experience the power of denial behind the steering wheel: if I don´t look at it, all of this is not happening. It´s this childish way of trying to ignore an unpleasent situation by doing as if nothing happend, even though everybody around knows exactly, what happened.
I find this reaction most peculiar an interesting, and it says a lot about Germans. Our government is openly and with false arguments trying hard to destroy the relationship with the countries in the European Union, the basis of Germany´s growth and wealth in the last decades. Our chancelor (Teflon-Angie) is either blatenly lying or openly populistic in her choices. Every person capable of thinking can understand this. But Teflon-Angie still has high approval-ratings, because most people are too afraid to look at the mess, that she (and therefore we as the voters) are producing. Maybe it will all go away if we ignore it?
And it is far but not a very far stretched to think about how the holocaust could happen in a country like Germany. Of course there was a kind of brainwashing by very strong social movements and so on. But when after the war people were asked, many responded: “We did not know! We did not know, what terrible things were done to Jews.” Even back then everybody knew, that ignorance is a choice, that every person could´ve known, if they cared enough to find out. Today this is more true than ever: everybody who wants to know, can know. Ignorance is a choice. And this is one more (sad) truth about Germans: never underestimate their power of denial – not only historically, but also on an everyday basis.