Germany has been my home for over a month now. I finally have my tram pass, bank account and name on the town roll call. I am a resident, but by no means a local. The fact that I’m a foreigner is all too familiar to me. Daily, insignificant things break the illusion that I entertain at times: that I can already function as a German speaker in my everyday life. Moments such as being unable to help an old lady choose detergent in the supermarket when asked wash away my self-assurance instantly. However I am slowly getting to know another side to the country that isn’t always noticed by tourists.
When we think of Germany a huge array of stereotypical images seem to persistently appear: lederhosen, beer, impeccable efficiency, curry-wurst, and a distinct lack of humour. More than a month into my new German life and I have encountered all of these stereotypical images in various forms, however the complete polar opposites of each have been just as prominent.
The Canstatter Volkfest: the Schwäb’s answer to Oktoberfest. It is smaller, entertains fewer tourists and is pleasantly situated an hour away on the train from my town of Karlsruhe. Lederhosen and Dirndls completely took over this once traditional agricultural event, now known to foreigners at Stuttgart’s beer festival. The Bavarian outfits have recently been hugely commercialized throughout the country despite each area of Germany having its own traditional dress; in Stuttgart all walks of people were showing off one or the other. These festivals really do exercise the commercialized image of Germany that dominates our general perceptions. The natives around me were simultaneously proud of their country and revelling in the cheesiness of it all. Imagine a huge beer hall, with around 1,000 people drunkenly dancing arm in arm, on top of wooden benches, singing the words to well known German songs at the top of their lungs, whilst consuming litre after litre of beer. All at 2pm in the afternoon. Germans have no sense of humour? The whole scene was utterly bizarre and brilliant; the smiles, laughs and ridiculous dancing that took over the beer tent were testament to the fact that they sure as hell don’t take themselves too seriously. No sense of humour? Unfriendly? Anything but.
Germany is the land of beer. The beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) is one of the oldest food laws in the world and states that only four ingredients are allowed in the production of beer: water, barley, hops and yeast. I am seriously thankful to those Bavarians back in 1516, as the results are delicious. Essential vocab learnt; noch mal bitte, meaning one more please.
A trip to the local brewery completed and every variety of the local brew tested. Whether or not this is really getting to know the local culture is questionable; however it sure does seem to be a central aspect in the lives of many locals here. The beer gardens are a hub of activity on sunny days with students, locals and tourists all joining together in this stereotypical, yet authentic activity. One of the most rewarding aspects of my time here so far has been the sense of familiarity that I am slowly gaining in this new culture. It has not been long, granted; however everyday incidents and experiences are giving me more insight then I could have ever imagined.
Images by Ellie Kutylowski