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GERMANY EXPLAINED

‘How 10 years in Germany has changed me’

Communicating openly with others, becoming sporty and embracing a balanced life - Germany has had a huge impact on Shelley Pascual. Based in Passau, the Toronto native lists some of the crucial ways she’s changed after a decade in ‘Schland.

'How 10 years in Germany has changed me'
The Bavarian city of Passau in spring. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pascual.

On a February’s day 10 years ago, I landed in Germany on a one-way ticket from Toronto with a suitcase (actually, a backpack) full of hopes and dreams. I vividly remember feeling excited yet nervous when I arrived at the Braunschweig train station. What if I didn’t find a job? What if the relationship I was pursuing didn’t work out? 

I never thought I’d spend the majority of my adult life here and move to four very different German cities. I didn’t think I’d launch my career here, tie the knot here, learn to speak a second language, learn to swim, learn to drive a manual vehicle, buy my first vehicle, the list goes on!

Having experienced countless milestones and challenges over the past decade, I’ve come into my own and grown confident and comfortable in my own skin. While it’s tricky to put into exact words, in this piece I take a shot at explaining how Deutschland has shaped me into who I am today.

Identity and quality of life

Naturally, my identity has been shaped by my adopted country. While I believe I’ll always identify as Canadian, in many ways I feel European, and sometimes even German! This is a concept that’s hard to explain, but one I’ve found other foreigners abroad can relate with. 

It’s like I don’t feel I fully belong in Canada, even though I was born there. When I visited Toronto for the first time in 3.5 years last Christmas, I felt this intensely. But then again, I don’t feel like I fully belong in Germany either.

Filipino roots, Canadian by citizenship and not quite German. Shelley Pascual holds a photo of herself on 'Doors Open Day' in 2017.

Filipino roots, Canadian by citizenship – and not quite German. Shelley Pascual holds a photo of herself on ‘Doors Open Day’ in 2017. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pascual

READ ALSO: What I’ve learned from five years of living in Berlin

Still, after working and paying taxes in Germany for so long, it’s hardly surprising that its society and culture have shaped my world views. I’m the proud owner of a vintage moped from East Germany. I also formerly reported on Germany’s news with The Local in Berlin.

What can I say? I’m a hardcore Germany fan, despite all the things that get on my last nerve about living here (see @berlinauslaendermemes). And I’ve been very vocal about the reasons why I’ve stayed.

The scales are tipped in Germany’s favour when it comes to quality of life. Whether in Passau or Berlin, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of being able to hop on my bike and ride not just for leisure, but to get to work or run errands.

Workers take their vacation days seriously here and this has no doubt rubbed off on me too. It’s the reason why I cannot fathom how and why the standard paid time off Canadians get is a mere two weeks. 

While the work-life balance topic in Germany lags behind Scandinavian countries, it’s still lightyears ahead of North America. Only as a member of German society have I learned how much a balanced life and living to work (rather than working to live) means to me.

Open communication and no longer prudish

Another key way in which Germany has influenced me is that it taught me to communicate openly and honestly with others. Germans are known for their directness. Rather than beat around the bush, they simply get to the heart of the matter it’s sincere and fine and generally accepted.

A mural on a building along Queen Street West in Toronto.

A mural on a building along Queen Street West in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Shelley Pascual

But this openness is very different from the culture I grew up in. Whereas my younger self would shy away from sharing my opinions and shove important topics under the carpet, today that no longer aligns with my values. I try to always keep it real with myself and others.

Speaking of openness, I’ve also gotten on board with the German ease toward nudity. Before you get any ideas, let me explain. While I’m by no means an avid sauna goer, long gone are the days I covered myself up in women’s changing rooms.

Growing up in Canada, in changing rooms at gyms and swimming pools I remember people try to cover themselves up as much as possible. The culture is just much more prude. Now, though, I’m used to a society where FKK exists and people are at ease with nudity and actually find it quite liberating.

The ups and downs of bilingualism

Another crucial change is that moving to Germany prompted me to learn German. The fact that my in-laws don’t speak English was a big motivator in the beginning to learn their language. It was ideal that Braunschweig was the first city I moved to as well, since back then you couldn’t really get by there without speaking German.

After about two years, I’d gotten my German to a level where I could get by in daily life, make small talk and even make friends. Still, even today I have ups and downs with deutsch. And it’s precisely these experiences which I’ve benefited greatly from. 

A German dictionary. Shelley has learned a new language in her time in Germany.

A German dictionary. Shelley has learned a new language in her time in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

As other language learners know, speaking in any language which isn’t your native one requires vulnerability. At times, too, it can be humbling.

Just the other day at work, I suddenly realised I was the only non-native German speaker in a call. So I pushed myself to speak German, even though I’m used to speaking English in a professional setting. Naturally, I worried whether my colleagues would notice my mistakes. 

Yep, I’m still self conscious about my German even after 10 years. On the one hand, I feel guilty for not being at a near native level with it. But on the other hand, my current B2 level is sufficient for living a full life here.

Besides, it must be decent enough if I’m able to learn yet another language in it. Right now I’m taking an A1 Italian course at the Volkshochschule, and the language of instruction is German.

It’s cheesy but true: I’m proud of my bilingualism. Not only has it helped my brain become more healthy, complex and actively engaged, it’s also definitely been the key to connecting with Germans, German culture and ultimately integrating into this country.

Love for sports and the outdoors

Would I have become as active and outdoorsy as I am now had I stayed in Canada, or moved to some other country? I guess I’ll never know. One thing’s for sure, though: of all the German cities I’ve lived in it was in Munich where I truly discovered my love for the outdoors.

I’ve come to feel most at home in southern Bavaria, probably because I’m meant to be close to the mountains. With the Alps less than an hour’s drive away from Munich, during the pandemic lockdowns I went on dozens of hikes in the Bavarian Alps. In the summertime I learned to stand-up paddleboard and paddled in nearly all of the lakes close to Munich.

READ ALSO: 10 of the best hiking day outs from Munich

Now, based in Passau, there are endless opportunities for sports enthusiasts like me, what with the Danube river, the Inn river, Bayerischer Wald National Park and the Austrian Alps all at my doorstep! I know I’m lucky to live so close to natural wonders.

Picturesque Passau.

Picturesque Passau. Shelley fell in love with the Bavarian outdoors. Photo: picture alliance / Armin Weigel/dpa | Armin Weigel

This privilege has actually made me reflect on my childhood and how little time I spent in nature. This explains why, back in December when I visited Toronto, it was important to me to visit provincial parks in the area which I’d never been to before. 

Resilience

The fact that Germany has kicked me in the butt several times has no doubt shaped me. Did I mention I was once literally booted out of the country? Or that I’ve nearly given my left rib to the Ausländeramt so that they could process one of my work visas on time?

Living here as a foreigner isn’t without its frustrations. The country’s love of rules and bureaucracy still has not grown on me, and likely never well. But each hurdle I’ve overcome has made me that much stronger.

Even though I’ve flown back to Germany from Toronto’s Pearson airport many, many times now, each time is just has hard as the last. Although I choose to live abroad, that doesn’t mean it gets easier living so far away from family and close friends.

Another major disadvantage to #expatlife I’ve found has been making friends. Other internationals you meet constantly come and go, and I’m one of them. Loneliness can be very real. 

Ultimately, I can’t complain because I’ve chosen this life. And I know both the pros and cons about living here have helped me grow. Germany has made me a tough cookie (on most days, at least).

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

I don’t know who I would’ve become had I not been in Deutschland all this time. But I do know that I’m happy with (and might I add damn proud of) the person I’ve become. In this way, I’m thankful.

For all I’ve benefitted from living here though, I actually don’t imagine I’ll stay forever. If the day I leave Germany does come, I might just have to write a piece then explaining why and how another place managed to steal my heart.

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RENTING

From nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can’t) do on your balcony in Germany

When the sun is shining, there's nothing better than spending quality time on your balcony in Germany. But you may run into some problems with the neighbours if you don't follow these rules...

From nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can't) do on your balcony in Germany

If you happen to live in any German city, you’re probably used to fitting most of your outdoor living onto your balcony.

They may be slightly smaller than your average garden, but it’s amazing how versatile they can be, from hosting friends for dinner and drinks to testing out your fledgling plant-growing skills.

Of course, this being Germany, there are a set of rules that you need to follow in order to stay on the best possible terms with your neighbours. 

Here’s how to make the most of your balcony this summer while avoiding awkward conversations or even visits from the police. 

Naked sunbathing

Legend has it that the English poet William Blake and his wife used enjoy sitting out in their garden stark naked pretending to be Adam and Eve. 

But while nude biblical scenes may be all well and good in a Lambeth garden, German law unfortunately calls for a slightly more conservative approach.

That doesn’t mean that stripping off on your balcony is necessarily forbidden. However, you do need to consider whether the neighbours might see more than they want to while you’re catching some rays. 

As is generally the case with rules for what you can and can’t do on your balcony, the law says that you’re more than entitled to take off your clothes in your own private space – but this shouldn’t impact your neighbours. 

To get around this, you may want to put up a screen between you and your neighbour’s balcony, or even go full Adam and Eve (William Blake style) with a strategically placed plant or two.

Another option is position your sun umbrella so it blocks your neighbour’s view – just watch out for any gusts of wind that may strike at an inopportune moment.

READ ALSO: What are the laws around nudity in Germany?

Sex

If al fresco sex is your thing, you’ll once again need to make sure that the neighbours don’t accidentally catch sight of what’s going on. Obviously, getting a report filed against you may dampen the mood somewhat.

The same applies to making loud noises or even having some “intimate” time in front of a window that people can see into. In the worst-case scenarios, both can be grounds for a police complaint. 

Barbecues 

Participating in Germany’s unofficial national sport – Grillen – is technically also allowed on the balcony, but there are some rules to know.

The first is that you should avoid open flames and any kind of BBQ that doesn’t come with an actual grill. 

If you can, you should also try not to send a billowing cloud of smoke over to your neighbours’ windows or balcony while you’re cooking up a storm. In the worse-case scenario, you could face a fine for excessive smoke under the Emissions Control Act. 

Barbecue on the balcony

A barbecue with burgers and vegetables. People who want to have a barbecue on their balcony should watch the smoke. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Beyond Meat | Beyond Meat

That means an electric grill might be preferable to an old-fashioned coal barbecue.

Certain states and districts also have rules about how often you’re allowed to barbecue outside. In Berlin for example, twice a month is considered reasonable. It’s also a good idea to alert the neighbours beforehand if you’re planning a grill-fest anytime soon, and some regions require this by law. 

The other thing to note is that some rental contracts have clauses that ban barbecues on the property or even just certain types of barbecue. So be sure to read the small-print in your Mietvertrag (rental contract) to ensure you don’t accidentally break the rules.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Germany?

Parties 

There’s very little better than sitting out on a warm summer evening sharing a drink with friends – but you may wonder how much socialising is considered too much.

The good news is, you’re perfectly entitled to invite people over and have fun in your own home, and you certainly don’t need to whisper the second you go outside.

That said, German states do put in place a legal Nachtruhe (night-time quiet) period between 10pm and 7am, so you may want to turn the music down or take the party inside during these hours. 

Once again, it’s also considered polite to give neighbours a heads-up before inviting a big group of people round, especially if it’s going to be a big event like a birthday party: most of them won’t begrudge you a bit of extra noise on a special occasion, but it’s always nice if they know what’s going on beforehand. 

Smoking 

Surely no neighbour would begrudge you a quick ciggie on the balcony once in a while, right? Right.

In principle, you’re perfectly allowed to smoke on the balcony. Once again, just be mindful of the neighbours, who may not be that pleased if a cloud of smelly smoke blows over their way. 

CCTV

Depending on where you live, you may have considered installing a CCTV camera for a bit of extra security. But is this actually allowed under German privacy laws?

Yes and no. 

In Germany, everyone is entitled to protect their own residence and property with video surveillance, but this should exclusively record what happens on the property.

That means you can have a CCTV camera pointing at your balcony that can record any trespassers, but it shouldn’t record people and areas outside of this remit – so you certainly can’t use it to spy on your neighbours or record what’s going on in their private space. 

Decor and plants

When it comes to turning your balcony into your own personal oasis, you pretty much have free rein. Whether you want to try your hand at growing tomatoes or fancy hanging a banner for your favourite football team, it really is up to you.

The only thing to watch out for is that you don’t obstruct your neighbours’ view or install anything so elaborate that you end up damaging the brickwork or the integrity of the balcony. For this reason, snap hooks and dowels are a no-no. 

Fairy lights and other light features are absolutely fine as well, although your neighbour does have the right to demand they get turned off at 10pm if they’re disturbed by the light pollution at night.

A Ukrainian flag on a balcony in Wilmersdorf.

A Ukrainian flag hangs from a balcony in Berlin Wilmersdorf. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

It’s a similar state of affairs with wind chimes, which may constitute a noise disturbance if your neighbour happens to dislike them. Once again: communication is key. Check with them beforehand if you’re worried your musical decor may be considered a nuisance. 

On the plant front, pretty much anything goes, apart from ivy and other climbing plants. These tend to be a problem because their roots can damage the brickwork. 

You’ll also need to make sure your plant pots are relatively secure and won’t fall down onto the street in heavy winds. And, it should probably go without saying, but spraying your neighbours in the face with a hose every time you do some “watering” is not considered very neighbourly. 

As always, common sense should be the order of the day: a few drips of water or stray petals from your plants on your neighbour’s balcony can’t be helped, and as such, they shouldn’t be a problem. 

READ ALSO: ‘The pandemic made people want to grow stuff’: How a Berlin balcony project led to a chili revolution

Hanging out laundry

If your balcony is big enough, you may want to hang your clothes on a rack out to dry on your balcony.

Although it seems harmless enough, it can actually be forbidden if that is written into your rental contract. As with everything in Germany, check the fine print in your contract before you go hanging your underwear out to dry in the wind. 

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