Life in small-town Germany : Part 1
WHERE IN GERMANY ARE YOU LIVING IN AGAIN?
I‘m growing comfortable living in a little German village called Hermsdorf. To the uninitiated, it’s somewhere in the state of Thuringia, where the nearest bigger cities would be Jena and Gera. Leipzig and Erfurt would be an hour away while Berlin a mere 2.5 hour drive.
Still lost? Me too. I knew nothing about Hermsdorf before I got here.
It’s so small that if you want to hang out with friends, you either meet in the nearby Globus Supermarket, at McDonalds (their coffee isn’t THAT bad) or at a friend’s. Last I checked, there are about less than 9000 residents. I can count the amount of bars and banks with my fingers and apart from a train station, a few more grocery shops, a Town Hall and a library (currently stocking less than 15 English books), there is really nothing more here. Taking a walk here means wandering into the fresh-smelling woods, skip rocks on the frozen lakes and hunt down for the elusive Magic Faraway Tree.
It’s been almost than two months now and friends think that either I’m debatably insane or very in-love.
Yes, I admit I am both but also, I’m just relishing the experience of small-town living. Hailing from a crazy metropolis like Kuala Lumpur (and having lived in London, Singapore, Perth and Melbourne), this is experience is exotic–and god knows how much the feelings of ‘foreignness’ can stir the soul of a traveller.
It is also the perfect place for a writing retreat and for picking up German. As you know, if I were to live in Berlin or Frankfurt, I could probably get away with speaking English everywhere but not here. Here, you either speak German or you stay lost in translation.
SIGNING UP FOR GERMAN LESSONS AT A COMMUNITY COLLEGE
And as I foresee that Germany will become a place for me to settle for a while, what better way to get the latest village gossip than to actually communicate with others in German?
Yes, German is a tough and harsh language. Yes, I might sound like a cat strangled. Yes, I can kiss my half-assed French proficiency goodbye. Yes, knowing Italian and some French doesn’t make German any easier but you know what, the German language can also be logical, intelligent and sexy.
Chris agrees because every time I speak German with him like a 4-year old, he looks at me with desire and affection (or was that him feeling sorry for me?).
And because, the Hermsdorf is so darn small, I have to train travel 20 kms into Jena to attend a twice-a-week A1 German course at the Volkshochschule (VHS).
It’s sort of a community college that offers integration courses to anyone interested at a very affordable price (96 Euros for a 10-week course, 3 hours per week). For the first two lessons, Chris accompanied me to school.
To my delight, my class is tiny. We are a group of six from different countries and it is small enough for everyone to have a chance to ask questions or to practise speaking. Andreas Müller, my German teacher, is an affable fellow who introduced himself as an ex-football player in the first league and a world traveller. He says F*ck at least every 15 minutes and is fluent in both Spanish and Russian. He also makes fun of me living in Hermsdorf. “Streets? You mean Hermsdorf has streets?” is his favourite quip when he asks me, “Wo wohnst du?” He teaches German grammar with sarcasm and lame jokes. It works: we laugh and the language suddenly becomes less intimidating.
After a two lessons, Andreas tells me about a yearlong intensive course that I could take at IIK-another Language Institute in Jena. It’s 5 hours of German a day, 5 days a week. Eat German. Breathe German. Sleep German.
To many, this may sound like torture but if I truly wanted to discuss politics with Chris’ grandfather in German by this year’s end, then my current course wouldn’t suffice. Also, if I am keen on extending my stay in Germany (legally of course) then taking this intensive course will help me get a long-term residency visa.
I was thrilled to hear that.
It seemed like the best decision I could make for now so, how do I get in?
Check out the Part 2 of this post to find out.
Have you lived abroad? What were the challenges you faced? Share with me your stories at the comments section below!