Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Leaving the Village

Counting today, I have two days left in my village. Friday morning I'll take a train to Hannover to go to a friend's wedding, and then next Tuesday I fly home (out of Berlin).

I'm ready to leave. The Lausitz is beautiful, sometimes breathtakingly so, like when I walk along the paths through the barley fields at sunlight... but it isn't home. I love Germany, but I'm not crazy about eastern Saxony. To be perfectly honest, I didn't like living here very much. I've been too lonely. But, still, I think that living in a rural village for a year was a good experience. Now I'll try to tell you something about what it was like.

Since November, I have lived in a village of about 1,000 souls, part of a Gemeinde (like a township) consisting of 15 villages, with a total population of around 5,000. The village I live in is by far the biggest in the area. It includes, among other things:
-an elementary school and a secondary school
-two bakeries
-two butcher shops
-a couple of small, diner-type restaurants
-two tiny grocery stores
-a shoe store
-a doctor's office, a dentist, and a physical therapist
-one fast-food place (Turkish)

But it also includes chickens running around in people's yards, the occasional sheep or goat, a couple of cows, a handful of horsedrawn carriages proceeding down the main street on Sunday mornings, massive vegetable gardens in every yard, and fields of barley, wheat, and rye in between the residential streets.

At least half of the residents seem to be over 50. If you wanted to get rich in this village, you could open a store that stocked Kittelsch├╝rzen, a kind of flowered smock favored by German grandmothers. There are also some families with young kids, but virtually no one between 18 and 35.

Most of the residents were born in this village, or in one of the smaller surrounding villages, and have lived here all their lives. They prefer their own company and are suspicious of 'outsiders' of any kind, including Catholic Sorbs from the next Gemeinde over and mountain people from the Oberland south of Bautzen. Foreigners are viewed as locust-like pests who descend to take their jobs. Dark-skinned foreigners are viewed as 'dirty.'

A small group of Neo-Nazis likes to congregate in front of the school where I work around dismissal time. The local administration claims they can't do anything about this, since the boys are former students and there is, they say, no proof that they are Nazis. --I don't know what the litmus test for Naziism is, but seeing as these kids have shaved heads and wear racist T-shirts, listen to racist music, put anti-foreigner posters and graffiti up on a shed belonging to the elementary school, and shout 'Foreigner!' at me when I walk by them, I don't see how it's possible to come to a different conclusion... But, around here, they would probably have to march through the streets bearing posters of Hitler before anyone would admit there was a problem.

East Saxony is to Germany what the rural South is to the US, complete with it's own Good Old Boy network.

The widespread xenophobia and racism seems almost comical once you consider that, to my knowledge, I am the only non-German person living in this town. There are also two Turkish guys who work at the fast-food place, but they live somewhere else (and I don't blame them). I have never seen a non-white person in the village. (And, despite what the locals think, Turks are white!) I frequently go months without seeing a black person. Then, when I do, I can't help but stare. And grin. After months of uniform paleness, a bit of diversity is very refreshing.

I have lived in this region for only 10 months total, but I already know almost all residents of my village on sight. When I see someone new (which isn't very often), I wonder who they are and what they're doing here. Going to Bautzen is sometimes overwhelming, because of all the new people.

It seems that I'm starting to absorb aspects of the local mentality. This scares me. I like the countryside and the peace and quiet. The mentality-- not so much.

It'll be good to go home.


Blogger Mike said...

Safe travels on your journey home, fraulein

8:41 PM  
Blogger Ada said...


FYI-- 'Fraulein' is only used for kids under 16 or so. For adult women, use 'Frau' regardless of marital status.

But don't worry, I didn't take offense! (I'm not a REAL German.)

5:37 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Sorry, my knowledge of German is limited to what the Nazis say in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, christina pointed me to your blog, so i read a few of your entries. your experience sounds interesting. i am thinking about doing something similar in europe or japan in a year or two. but right now, i am a TA in the states and getting my masters. i would be interested in emailing, but i don't want to post my address. my blog is also linked to christina's if you ever want to read or comment. have a good vacation, and good luck in hamm!

8:48 PM  
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