When my husband and I moved from New Zealand to Australia at the beginning of 2013, a number of people asked me whether I could imagine moving back to Germany one day. My answer at the time was something like ‘maybe, but it needs to be a big city, I couldn’t go back to Bamberg [my home town]’.
When we left Australia for Germany 3 months ago, many people I met in Germany looked at me in disbelief and asked ‘why would anyone want to leave Australia?’ or ‘why would you come to Germany when you can live in Sydney, near the beach and with constant summer weather?’ and ‘so why does one move from Sydney to Bamberg?’
Having just completed the our first 3 months in Germany/Europe, I decided it was time to take stock and to let people know, what it really feels like.
Yes, I loved New Zealand and I loved Australia, but I only now really appreciate my home country as a place to live. Over the 11.5 years that I spent overseas, I enjoyed my visits here and everything Germany has to offer in terms of food, nature, outdoors, culture, architecture, history etc.
But I didn’t quite appreciate the smaller things. They became most obvious to me when I lived in Australia. Probably because we were in Sydney, together with 4.5 million other people. And we lived right in the middle of it all.
What I missed in Australia and what I have now found again in Bamberg is a lifestyle which includes the following:
- Quiet Sunday – Sundays are a day of rest, where people don’t work, don’t make noise, but rather spend time with their families and friends, have a nice meal, stroll through town, go on a road trip, a hike or do other outdoor activities. Drilling holes in the wall, mowing the lawn, getting drunk – all those aren’t really acceptable Sunday pastimes here and I like it that way. Some people go to church. Others ride their bikes 🙂
- Bike lanes – Oh this is a big one. There are bike lanes almost everywhere in town, especially on the big roads. And cars don’t park in them or drive over them or even come close to them. There are also special cycle ways out of town which keep you completely away from the road for most of your trip. You’re often separated by grass, bushes, trees, sometimes by a couple of meters, and sometimes you’re so far from the road, you don’t even see or hear cars. On my commute to work I have bike lanes for about 50% of the ride. I could have them for almost the entire ride, but it wouldn’t be the most direct or fastest route and when you ride 60km to work you don’t have the luxury to take detours…
- Feldwege – literally translates as ‘field ways’ or ‘field paths’, these are small access roads and paths that farmers use to get to their fields. In Australia and New Zealand, pretty much all the farmers own a small/large/giant piece of land with their house somewhere in the middle or at the edge of it and fences all around it. In Germany, most farmers live in small villages and have their fields scattered throughout the countryside surrounding this village. No fences. It’s awesome. It means you can walk, hike, bike, cart wheel through the country side, along fields of sunflowers, corn, wheat or broccoli; through forests and along rivers, without trespassing. Those paths are there for you to use and enjoy. Yes, every now and then there are private roads and even private forests, but I would say about 90% or the land can be ‘strolled through’. And that’s something you can do on a Sunday…
- Bakeries – now I haven’t been a big bread eater since moving to NZ/AUS, mostly due to the quality of baked goods available there, but partly also because bread doesn’t make me feel awesome, so I kind of ignore it. Not now though. I am back in Brezel country and I love it! The pretzels are so delicious!!! That’s pretty much the only baked stuff I eat. Normal buns don’t feature on my table because I don’t have any occasion to eat them :-). But when we have dinner at my parents’ house and they bring out the freshly baked Turkish pide bread, then there’s no holding back. White flour, water, salt and yeast in all its glory. Give it to me!!!
- Nature – it may sound ironic to some of you, but I have access to so much more nature here in Germany than I did in Australia. Yes, over in Sydney I lived in the city, but there were beaches, the ocean and the National Parks I rode to. However, it was always an effort to get there, simply because Sydney was soooo big. I often missed being out in nature, because it seemed so far away. Now, however, I ride along fields (see above) and through small villages and towns on my bike commute twice a week (i.e. during 4 rides). On the weekends I jump on my city bike and Paul and I ride to the local park, along the river. Or I take my road bike out for a little spin and go exploring. Or I go for a run around our neighbourhood. Within 5min of walking I reach the fields of the local market gardeners who grow all sorts of vegetables.
- Family and friends. Of course, this is the most important reason why we moved here, but it becomes so visible for me in the small things. Like going over to my parents’ house for a chat on the weekend, or for a stroll into town for ice cream at the end of the day. Catching up with my childhood friends who are still my closest friends has been great.
My longest friends, whom I have known since we were 18 months old, is still a dear friend of mine. She has a 2 year old daughter and I finally got to meet her for the first time last weekend. I have missed 15 children being born in my family and circle of friends since I was away. I missed weddings and funerals, birthdays and other celebrations. And now I am back and I can be part of it and celebrate and laugh and cry with those closest to me.
I had a bunch of great friends in Australia and of course I have friends and my husband’s family in New Zealand. But there is something different about your own family and about those old friends who you grew up with. I’m glad to be back 🙂
In my day to day life there are other things that give me bliss:
- We had a cool penthouse apartment in Sydney with a view of the city skyline and fantastic sunrises. That was special.
Now we live in an apartment in a house which is 110 years old, with beautiful wooden floors, a great cellar and an attic with potential… I love walking barefoot over those floor boards, sitting at the table in our kitchen and hanging up the laundry on a long washing line so the sheets flap in the wind.
- On my ride to work I come past a small farm, about 6km from work, where 4 Haflinger horses graze in the morning sun – seeing them fills me with joy.
- When I drive to work, I get to watch the sun rise slowly over the fields and lakes by the side of the autobahn.On my way home, it sets on the other side. And when I take the exit to Bamberg and come off the motorway, the first hint of town I see is the hill with the castle where we got married 4 years ago. And then I know I’m almost home.
- When I get up early on the weekend to go for a training ride, the streets are deserted – there is literally no one around (I think they are all still asleep?). It’s so peaceful and the only noise that breaks the silence are the church bells from the various churches scattered around town.
- On Friday mornings, the bakery in the house next to us bakes their specialty cakes and they smell so amazing, it almost makes me go mad. I’ve never tried them (they’re not vegan) but I love the smell that hangs in the air.
- When I go for a stroll through the old town and the town centre, I can literally walk from one end to the other in 15min. If I walk slowly.
So what’s the essence of it all?
What I left behind was a big city with something happening all the time, where you can never get bored. Sydney is stunningly beautiful with a harbour that sparkles in the sunshine like someone tipped out a million diamonds. There are beaches for every taste and the weather is something no one should have a reason to complain about.
There are lots of jobs and opportunities, with lots of money and the chance to ‘live a little’. But things are expensive and ‘living a little’ is easiest when you’re on a double income without kids.
What I gained is life in a pretty, small German town, which has everything you need, easy access to nature and you can pretty much get by with just a bicycle for getting around. I work in a larger city with a reasonable commute and free parking next to the office. Rent in Bamberg compared to Sydney is, well, how do I put it… We pay a lot less. Life is cheaper, taxes are higher. There is a good health care system, good education and to me it seems that the country in general is very caring.
It may be a long drive to the nearest beach, but that’s okay. I get 6 weeks of annual leave.
I believe that we can achieve our desired lifestyle much more easily where we are now. We can actually afford to buy property in town without maxing out every available loan and enslaving ourselves to a mortgage. We can live on a single income if we have to. And we can live in a small town while still having access to desirable jobs.
Would I do this move again? Definitely!
Would I recommend this move to others? Absolutely! Even if you don’t speak German, there is a high chance of finding an exciting job and career in the tech/data/IT industry over here. Germany has many regional tech hubs, not just Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or Hamburg.
It’s exciting to see the many talented people who work here and create, develop and invent new technologies, processes, designs and solutions for their customers all around the world.
In the past month since I have joined EXASOL I have met a number of very highly skilled and educated developers and engineers who create our super-fast in-memory database. They are driven to continuously improve our product and achieve even better performance.
It’s a bit of a new world for me, this database business. Previously I’ve only dealt with the visualisations that come out at the other end. But it’s time to get my hands dirty and see what’s under the hood. That’s my goal for the next few months, to get a better understanding of the technology and how things work. It’s exciting, a bit daunting and it means learning a lot of new concepts and details.
Aside from that I also want to learn more about doing business in Germany. I’ve worked in NZ, and I’ve worked in AUS, but this is my first corporate job in my own country, so I’m looking forward to working in Germany with Germans in German. And yes, I have book-marked a dictionary page because I have not yet fully regained command of my own language.
Let’s see what this country has in store for us…