Tag: Düsseldorf

Germany: One Year On

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Nürnberg old town

It’s strange to think that I’ve been living in Germany for more than a year now. I feel like this time has flown by in the blink of an eye! But my initial reaction to the country still hasn’t changed – I really love living here and the Germans make life so easy.

Here are some German situations that I don’t even bat an eyelid at anymore:

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Cologne Cathedral

Open invitations

Something that constantly surprised me at the start (and I admit, it still sometimes does) is that I got invited to everything. I must have been used to people being more exclusive and ‘invite only’ with their gatherings, because I found that Germans were the complete opposite – so warm and welcoming.

Dinners, barbecues, birthday parties of a friend-of-a-friend’s, it didn’t matter; I was invited along to them all. Even if the person that invited me was the only person I knew there and I felt like I was gate-crashing the event.

It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t speak German – time and time again I found that the whole group at the gathering would completely switch to English for me, even when talking amongst themselves. I was baffled. And totally charmed. Way to go Germany for making the Hobbit in the room feel completely welcome!

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Lüneburg

Street harassment…or lack thereof

One of the very best things that I have experienced since being in Germany is the lack of street harassment.

The pure joy I feel every day at being able to walk the streets day or night and not be whistled at, honked at, catcalled out of car windows or shouted at by leering men passing by is so damn great. And literally all of these things are what I had to endure on a daily basis even just walking down my own street back home. But this surprises no woman – we have all been through this and continue to go through this public victimisation regularly.

Of course, bigger cities in Germany may be a different story, but this is from my personal experience living in a small Bavarian city. It’s so nice to know that in some places, everyone can be left alone to walk, run and bike in peace.

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Old town of Heidelberg

Jeans are the uniform

If you don’t know what to wear, put on your jeans and you’ll fit right in. This is what I would have told myself a year ago when I was fretting about what to wear to a birthday party that I’d been invited to out of the blue.

In Germany, jeans are the uniform. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many people in jeans until I came here! I would say that everyone dresses in a very practical manner. If it’s winter, you wear jeans and a jacket and if it’s summer, you wear jeans and a T-shirt.

You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you go out in shorts when it’s only (gasp) 20 degrees…this is from experience. (Although I’d be in shorts even at 15 degrees back in NZ).

I’ve also always been used to dressing up when going out, even just to have a drink at the bar, but here, there is no such unwritten social rule. So jeans and a T-shirt to the bar it is – and I ain’t complaining!

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Oktoberfest in Munich

The customer service is so bad that it’s good

It’s always been said the Japanese and Germans get along well because they have some cultural norms in common, but boy, customer service is not one of them!

If you walk into a shop and get a greeting from the shop person, that’s a good sign, but the majority of the time you will be ignored, or grudgingly served like it is the last thing that they want to do. I’ve been in places where the shop assistants are openly chatting across the shop to each other and ignoring customers. A friend once said to me that his bank bluntly told him that there is no customer service there.

This would normally be regarded as a bad thing…but as an introvert, I absolutely love it.

I’ve always just really hated being spoken to in shops. The worst case scenario was when clothes shop assistants would follow me to the changing rooms and call through my door asking if they should bring another size…and I cringed every time. But here, I’m left totally alone to do my own thing, at my own pace, without the weird pressure they put on you to buy something. It’s a godsend, I tell you.

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The old post tower in Hamburg

Supermarket Master Packer (SMP) status

I never realised that the bag packers at supermarket checkouts were a luxury…until I came here and saw that no such job description exists.

When you’re at a German supermarket, you have to have a plan of attack before you go to the checkout because this is war…a war between you and the checkout operator.

They zap your groceries through as fast as greased lightning and if you’re not ready to bag your items just as quickly on the other side, you lose the fight and hold all of the next customers up, your groceries mixing up with theirs. I know, I’ve been there. The horrors. So here’s what you do:

  1. Load your groceries onto the conveyor belt. Make sure your heavy items go first and your fragile, easily squished items like tomatoes and bread goes last.
  2. Get your fabric tote bags ready and open (come on, you’re not paying extra for plastic bags).
  3. Have your wallet at the ready. Preferably nestled under your armpit for quick access.
  4. Start bagging your items as soon as they get zapped, alternating items between your bags so they will each end up with an even load. (You’ll gain a few extra seconds every time the checkout operator has to weigh your vegetables/fruit and look up the price of the bread you’re getting).
  5. Pay quickly with cash (and not all with small change).
  6. Smile, wish them a good day and walk away with your finely packed groceries and know that the battle has been won. (A big explosion goes off behind you and you keep walking in slow motion without looking back).

 

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Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in Düsseldorf

What do I miss?

As I’ve mentioned before, the one thing I’ve really missed since living in Europe is good (and affordable) Japanese food. And Indian food. And Thai food. And Vietnamese and Korean and Chinese food.

I’ve found that a lot of Asian cuisines tend to get lumped together here, under the umbrella term of ‘Asian Fusion’.  And even then, it’s usually just low quality Chinese food with some Thai curry options and a side of suspicious sushi. If you’re lucky enough to find a proper Japanese restaurant with real Japanese cooks, it’s likely to be upmarket and very expensive. (Unless you go to Düsseldorf. Yes please!)

I just really, really miss these different cuisines! Of course bigger cities will have more authentic Asian restaurants with reasonable prices, but there’s not much hope out here in the smaller ones. It makes me realise how spoilt for choice we are in New Zealand with our melting pot of different eateries on every street corner!

 


So, did you like my post about some of my German experiences?

Any other expats got something to add to the list? Let me know!


 

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Düsseldorf: Delicious ‘Japan Town’ And Europe’s Biggest Buddhist Temple

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EKO House of Japanese Culture

When I told people that after Switzerland, we were going to Hamburg via two nights in Düsseldorf, people scoffed: “Düsseldorf. What are you going to do in Düsseldorf?

They couldn’t believe we would use precious family holiday time in Germany to stay in Düsseldorf for two whole nights. But we knew something they didn’t. We had a hidden agenda with Düsseldorf…a hidden Japanese agenda.

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Gateway into the temple and gardens

Düsseldorf is located on the Düssel and the Rhine rivers and was a city long known as an international business and financial hub. Something that is less known about the city is that Düsseldorf has the biggest Japanese community in Germany (about 11,000 residents) which is also the third largest in Europe – after Paris and London.

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It is also home to the biggest Japanese Buddhist Temple in Europe, with an adjoining study and event centre called the EKŌ House of Japanese Culture. After getting a little lost in the sleepy suburb of Niederkassel, with some local help we finally found the front gates to the place…only to find them locked.

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Stone basin to wash your hands (the kanji says ‘pure water’)

My family were disappointed, to say the least, after coming all of this way and finding it closed. As they started walking away, I obnoxiously pushed all of the buttons on the gate intercom in frustration. A loud buzzing sound suddenly came from the gate and we blinked in surprise as the doors swung open. We were inside – with the whole place to ourselves!

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The temple gardens

The whole complex was built in 1993 and is well maintained as they host a number of Buddhist festivals, tea ceremonies and events every year.

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Düsseldorf also puts on a Japan Day every year around May or June and it is the largest festival of its kind in the world – attracting more than a million people. They have Japanese food stalls, kimono fittings, Japanese musicians, calligraphy and always finish off with a fireworks show. (I’m determined to go to this year’s one!)

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Since the 1950’s, Düsseldorf has housed more than five hundred Japanese companies and the workers and their families include both temporary and permanent residents.

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Lines of patrons waiting for Kushi-tei of Tokyo Grillhouse

The main Japanese quarter in the Düsseldorf city is called Immermannstraße, a long road lined with Japanese book stores, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bakeries and even a Japanese hotel called Hotel Nikko. Before going there, I was envisioning a typical China Town sort of street overflowing with tourists, food stalls and noise but this ‘Japan Town’ was completely different. If you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t even realise it was there.

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A shop dedicated to just Onigiri – I was in HEAVEN

This Japan street came alive out of necessity to the Japanese business workers, so everything was practical and functional – not a tourist trap at all. Walking the streets and hearing Japanese people go past made me feel like I was back in Japan. We had lunch at a ramen place called Takezo, which had the best ramen I’d had in a very, very long time.

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Japanese Consulate General on Immermannstraße

The problem with living in a tiny town like Passau is that there aren’t many Japanese people living here, which means I can’t get my hands on Japanese food or products – something I was used to getting easily in New Zealand. So I’ve craved for Japanese food since being in Germany. Like really, really badly. So badly that my mum has had to send me Japanese food products like udon and curry packs in the mail from NZ!

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Japanese kindergarten

Düsseldorf also has a Japanese school, supplementary school and even a kindergarten. I really wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the vibrant Japanese community of Düsseldorf. I went to Japanese supplementary school when I was younger too, but that was in Christchurch where we don’t have a fraction of the Japanese population!

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Even though people doubted our choice in going to Düsseldorf, we were so glad we did. We all had the best Japanese food and shop experiences that we’d had in ages and it was most definitely on our list of travel highlights! I want to go back just to eat there!

 


So, did you like Düsseldorf’s Japan Town?

Would you like to visit here too? 


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