Living in Germany: Ten Years Later
Time inexorably rolls forward and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. That’s why I prefer to measure milestones based on accomplishments rather than chronologically. For example, I didn’t care about turning 30 but cared about graduating—that’s what I saw as a watershed moment in my life. This time around though, I’ll make an exception because this could be seen as an achievement within an ongoing event: I’ve been in Germany for a goddamn decade. On June 16 2009, that is, ten years ago today, I landed in Frankfurt am Main on flight LH 469 (still got my boarding pass) directly from Portland, Oregon, with nothing more than a backpack and the intention not to board my return flight.
Ten years later, I find myself sitting in my room here in Hamburg trying to put together my thoughts about this first decade in Germany and whether I should celebrate it. I guess a decade is more special than nine or eleven years, even though this year has been marked by the uneventfulness that comes with stability—as opposed to last year.
Still, it’s been ten long years here in Germany. That’s longer than I lived in the USA—the country of my birth—and more than half the time I spent in Mexico. That’s a decade of my life, and I guess just because of that I waited to take a look at my life here until now instead of doing it last year.
Well no, actually there was another reason, but the timing was a bit of a coincidence. Earlier this year, I went back to Mexico for my sister’s wedding and did a bit of traveling there. My idea, after seven years without setting foot there, was to get to know the country as a tourist because, being from there, I always focused on the negative. But then again, so many people go and fall in love with the country like I’ve done with others that I thought I was probably doing something wrong. So that’s how I approached Mexico, and what do you know: I had the time of my life there!
After I came back I had a similar epiphany regarding Germany: Could I rediscover the country like I did with Mexico? Was it time to reconnect with Germany? After all, Germany is kind of home now too: Spending the lion’s share of my adult life here has obviously had an effect on the way I see things and maybe even behave. I went to university here, and I’m fluent in the language. And beyond that: Germany was my first love—way before Poland and Ukraine.
Just recently, a friend and I had the idea to go on a road trip through Germany to get to know the country a bit better. I will write a post about it soon, but I’m mentioning it because the timing couldn’t have been better. You see, reconnecting with Germany (like with Mexico) involved, or rather required, traveling. Having been here for so long, Germany now feels familiar and predictable—and is therefore not particularly exciting. That’s why at some point I started traveling to other countries and stopped exploring Germany—a sign that the country had become “home.”
While crossing Germany from East to West, I visited places that had been on my list for ages, and felt like I did back in 2004 and 2009, when the country was new and I was discovering all those places I had only read about. And I came to the conclusion that Germany is a cool fucking country.
I like living in Germany, even though I of course constantly wish I were in ten other places at once—which I guess comes with traveling. Sure, Germany is a tough nut for foreigners regardless of how integrated you might be. That holds particularly true for the North, which even other Germans find unnecessarily impersonal. And then there’s the bureaucracy, the weird opening hours and the non-existent customer service, but I digress… Point is: Living in Germany was my dream and project ever since I first came here in 2004. That became a reality 10 years ago, and even though it hasn’t all been fun and games over here as a non-EU citizen, I feel incredibly lucky that my dream actually became true—the problem is that I often forget about it and take it for granted.
So looking back on these ten years I realize that I took on a pretty tough challenge coming here as an exchange student with the intention to stay but no idea how to do it; that working two jobs while studying full-time and obtaining both my BA and my MA from one of Germany’s top universities is something I’ll always be proud of; that I’m glad I’m not in the USA right now even though I love that place; that my life is here in Germany now. Well, maybe not just in Germany but in Europe. I also had the chance to live in southern, eastern, and northern Germany and experience the regional peculiarities of the country.
I realize that I’m glad and thankful to be living in Germany and not elsewhere and, most importantly, that if given the choice I would get on that flight from Portland all over again.
So you know what? Being here for a decade was a good reason to celebrate. After all, living in Germany that long is an accomplishment in and by itself. I don’t know what the next ten years have in store for me but I will definitely be more appreciative of the experience.
That being said, I’m going back to Ukraine for a full month next weekend.
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