Editor’s Note – Natasja is a Belgian from Brussels, who came to Munich in 2014 – with a then 5 week old baby and a 3 year old toddler. Together with her half mexican husband, they made Munich “home” for three years. She recently moved with her family to the other side of the globe, and now lives in Seattle, USA. Natasja had a hard time adjusting to Munich – but even a harder one leaving it, and wanted to share her thoughts with other expat women, giving some hope and perspective! A fitting close to 2017, her article brings into focus all the good & bad of what living in Munich means.
This story begins in December 2014… a time when I hated Munich. I hated the way the houses looked, I hated the rudeness of the people, I hated hearing German everywhere. I even hated the snow at some point.
Fast forward 2 and a half years… July 2017. I sat in a hotel room, overlooking the city I had so disliked. It was my last day in Germany (in Europe!) and I cried non-stop for three hours, while my son was in school, my daughter was napping, and my husband was supervising the loading of our moving container. I hadn’t had crying spells like that since my mother had died. It was the first of many to come.
What had Munich done to me? How could it be that a city which had refused to feel like home for so long, was -and still is- making me more homesick than my own hometown?
Let me start, of course, with what I had hated the most.
What I perceived as rudeness, the fact that everyone thinks they’re a police officer, the way nobody does small talk or opens up or, to me, smiles. At least, that’s how I saw it. In my defense, I had some “incidents” during those first months. A U-Bahn driver yelling at me, because I had jumped on the train last-minute to get home to feed my screaming 5-week old baby. An Oma, calling me rude for putting down my groceries at the check-out, because she wasn’t finished yet. A woman yelling at me because I didn’t give her shopping cart “priority of the right” in another supermarket. I can go on.
The moms at our new German preschool were not exactly welcoming either. The girls at our local bakery were exasperated because I couldn’t quickly tell what I wanted during their morning rush hour. I knew that my sensitive soul would never feel at home in this city. But… -oh yes, there’s a but-. Within a few months, I had a social circle of like-minded expat moms. I had the best pediatrician I ever had, who accepted I came from another culture where things were done differently. The girls at the bakery learned our names and spoiled us with free Quarkbällchen at every visit. All the handymen showed up on time and did a professional job. Every public service I had to go to, gave us priority because I had kids. And my German teacher was a pretty cool lady who had done her part of expat life in my hometown.
To be honest, I never really got close to any Germans during my time in Munich. Though that was just beginning to turn around in the months prior to our move. One of the bakery girls hugged me (!) and told me she was pregnant. I discovered German men could be as flirty as their Italian neighbors. One of the moms said yes to a spontaneous (!) playdate, and we happily chatted the whole time (in German!) while our kids tore the place down. Another preschool mom, a doctor, spontaneously came to our help when one of the kids fell sick during those hectic packing weeks. And the queen bee of the fashionista moms complimented me on a cardigan. Victory!
The Bavarian culture
This is one the one thing which made my eyes roll like nothing else. Coming from a country that can at best be cynic about itself, I didn’t get it. When ads for dirndls showed up on my Facebook feed, I got frustrated. Oktoberfest, Biergartens…what was so great about it? Wasn’t it just getting drunk? I didn’t understand how Germans could so proud of themselves and glorify what seemed at best silly and most of the times, superficial…
Now I realize that I was seriously prejudiced against anything German. And it took an American to force my guard down. I was literally dragged out to Biergartens, Christmas markets, Dults, and eventually even to the Wiesn. She made me buy a Dirndl and finish my first Mass! She made me look closer and by doing so, I saw the charm.
Of course, our goodbye party was held in -where else- a Biergarten. That one picture I have in my Dirndl is the sexiest ever made of me. My kids have Lederhosen and Dirndls. My time in Germany made me embrace a culture far different than my own – and it’s one of the things I miss most now.
The city of Munich
“Die schönste Stadt der Welt”? Add another eye roll, with a sigh on top. What was so pretty about it? All those wide streets, just leaving me exposed and vulnerable. I missed the narrow, winding little streets of my hometown. All those house blocks with tiny windows. Not one single family home within the city, but all huddled together in overpriced apartments. And boring! So boring! I was used to riots, smashed car windows, in a steaming melting pot from countries all over the world. This wasn’t a town – it was a big village! Even the tidiness and cleanliness got on my nerves. And who in their right mind would ride a bicycle when it was freezing outside?
My eyes finally completely opened during our last year, when it became clear we would leave. Even my hometown got on my nerves when I compared it to Munich. In the meantime, I got around on a bike, loving it so much I would get on it even in the pouring rain or at freezing temperatures – with the kids. The parks and nature you can find within the city of Munich are, to my knowledge, unique in the world. You can swim in a river that flows through the town center! Try explaining that to anyone. People smoking in outdoor areas are annoying but the air quality, in general, is one of the best compared to other cities. And it doesn’t smell of pee or dog poo everywhere. As for safety, you can go out with your friends until the small hours of the morning, and just grab the next bus, tram or Ubahn without feeling unsafe.
I could just go on and on. It is true, I hated Munich. But now I know she was just playing hard to get. I ended up loving her more than I wanted, and now she has left me heartbroken.
Here I am now, on the other side of the world. People ask me where I’m from, and I will often say “Germany” first, adding “originally from Belgium” afterward. I ask myself where I want to move back to, my hometown or Munich, and I just don’t have an answer. I don’t feel as strongly for my new home, as I did for Munich: neither love nor hate. I know I will leave this place too, at some point and I never want to feel again like I did when I looked at Prinzregentenplatz one last time.
So, if you are new to Munich, or maybe not so new – don’t despair. Go on and rant about all that gets on your nerves, just like I did. But also try to imagine, even if just for a few minutes, what if you had to leave it? Not to return home but to move to yet another foreign place. What would you miss? And don’t be fooled. I swore one thing I’d never miss was the German food. Five months later, my kids are still begging for Brezn’, Quarkbällchen and Gelbwurst. I definitely could use a Helles right now. Or make that a Glühwein or 2 – it’s the season, after all.
So Happy New Year, lovely ladies in the most beautiful city in the world – get out there, enjoy the falling snow and the atmosphere in the markets which are still open. Drink it in until you stop feeling your frozen feet and let this city grow on you. Believe me, it will.