The school holidays have finally started in Baden-Württemberg. We are as relieved as the kids. Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the two southernmost states in Germany, are always the last ones to break up. In other areas of Germany they have already been off for four weeks and by the time it gets to be our turn, everyone is really ready for it. The girls now have six weeks off and will not go back to school until mid September. The last few days of school involve various days out, parties and parents’ evenings. It turns into a bit of a marathon and we are just happy it’s all over. Continue reading
Well it’s been a busy week for would-be terrorists and murderers. Over the past seven days there have been four separate attacks in Germany – all of them by migrants. Donald Trump has helpfully noted that Germany let them in and so should expect no less. The details and motives of all the attacks are becoming clearer every day but they were a mixed bag. It started a week ago in Wurzburg – a 17-year old Afghan refugee injured four people with an axe before being corned and shot dead by police. Then we had the Iranian youth in Munich, who was actually born in Germany, shooting nine dead. A day later a young Syrian refugee killed his girlfriend with a kebab-knife (the UK press insists on calling it a machete) and injured a couple more before being arrested. And later that day another Syrian refugee blew himself up and injured others in Ansbach.
So, how do we feel living in Southern Germany after these attacks? When the news broke of each attack, the immediate conclusion is “these must be ISIS terrorists”. The attacks in Munich and Reutlingen, the only lethal attacks, now seemed to have nothing to do with islamic terrorism. The other two certainly look like they were. But on the whole things feel just the same here and even though we have 100 Syrian refugees living in Schönaich.
Last summer when tens of thousands were arriving in Munich on a daily basis and Angela Merkel made her “Wir schaffen das” (we’ll cope) comment there was a sense of solidarity in the country. Germany of course always feels that it has something to prove and this was a tall order but a good opportunity to show the rest of Europe how open and tolerant the country was. And by and large Germany has coped remarkably well. Meanwhile in the background, Merkel was working feverishly with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants coming into the country. She was also criticising the building of fences on the so-called Balkan Route but at the same time probably breathing a sigh of relief that the flow would slow down and it wouldn’t be Angie’s fault. The policy has worked and the number of migrants now arriving is about 15,000 per month compared to ten times that amount just a year ago. Interestingly about 5,000 are returning to their country of origin each month – and a further 2,000 are being deported.
I feel that the high level of optimism and the will to prove that it can be done was at a peak last year. There was a national sense of rolling up your sleeves and getting things done. I don’t think the “terror” attacks have changed this but I do believe the events in Cologne at New Year did take the sheen off things. In case you can’t remember, a group of about a thousand young men from North Africa and the Middle East gathered in the square in front of the main station and intimidated and abused several hundred young women. The clash of sexist traditions with an open and liberated society was a shock. The police and local politicians then fed the fire by apparently trying to play down the situation – possibly for fear of being labelled intolerant or racist.
In a similar vein there have been isolated incidents where an Imam has refused to shake the hand of female politicians or teachers “for religious reasons”. These incidents have led to a slightly tougher attitude. It shouldn’t be a problem to insist that treating men and women equally is “non-negotiable”. Anyone who is not prepared to accept that can’t realistically expect a future in Germany. Such statements are becoming more common and politicians from all parties feel like they are on safe ground.
In my home town with a population of roughly 10,000 there are over 100 refugees. Apart from seeing a few of them get the bus every now and then, most people will not have noticed any difference. The ratio is one per every hundred residents which is roughly equivalent to that of the country as a whole. For the time being it all seems to be less dramatic than the press would have us believe – I’ll keep you posted.
I’m sitting on the terrace on Sunday morning and have just had a good read of the newspapers. The papers are mainly occupied by one story. Last Friday evening an 18 year old German/Iranian youth shot 9 people dead in Munich and injured several others. Shortly afterwards when confronted by police he shot himself. Much to the disappointment of the anti-immigration lobby, it seems he was not an islamic fundamentalist.
One of the things I always tell people when they ask me what I like about Germany is that it feels very safe here. It’s a good safe place to bring up a family. I stick by that – although we probably live in about the safest area within a safe country. I dare say that there are some rough parts of Berlin where you might be a little more careful about locking your car.
When I first moved to Germany I lived in a tiny village called Seeg, about 5 miles from the Austrian border. If you want to know what the countryside is like around there just watch Steve McQueen trying to jump the barbed-wire fence in The Great Escape – it was filmed nearby. When I arrived, in 1991, it was like taking a step back in time. This was a small Bavarian community where everyone knew each other and kept an eye out for each other. As a young man it could be a bit irritating that my neighbour knew more accurately when I had got home last night than I could remember myself – but I suppose it keeps a village safe. After a while, I got into the village rhythm of live too. Every morning I would leave my flat – without locking the door – and drive the short distance to work. There I would park my car, and leave the keys in the ignition. Everyone else did too. You often see people in American films trying to find a car to steal by folding down the sun visor until some keys drop out. No need for that in Seeg back then. Just jump in and drive away.
In Autumn I would often drive to Italy over the weekends to go paragliding with friends in a place called Bassano del Grappa. It was only four hours away and on a clear day you could see Venice from the top of the mountain. A few of us would meet up at a car park just over the Austrian border and then all get into one car for the journey and leave the rest parked up over the weekend. I can remember once getting back on a Sunday evening and finding out I had lost my carkeys. After a frantic half-hour rummaging through various bags and looking under all the seats in the other car I suddenly noticed something. My car key was still in the driver’s door – the keyring occasionally glinting in the headlights of passing cars. The irony of that particular weekend was that our van had been broken into in Bassano. Although luckily not much was in it because we knew that thieves targeted the area.
It’s not just the break-ins though, I also feel that the overall propensity for violence is lower here. It seems strange that a country which unleashed unimaginable brutality on millions last century would become a peacenik haven but perhaps that is the reason itself. Germany still wants to show that it is a reasonable, grown-up, sensible folk. You see it in the politics and the depth of debate that takes place before any military action is taken – Germany is never going to enter a war by accident. This same attitude trickles down to everyday life too. Violence really is a last resort. I can’t remember seeing a fist-fight in Stuttgart in the last 10 years. Ariane saw two drunks taking swings at each other (and broke it up to the amazement of her friend) a few years ago but that’s it.
Of course, things aren’t quite as relaxed as they were back in Seeg 25 years ago. We lock up our houses and we lock up our cars. We still lose the keys every now and then but old habits die hard. But on the whole, it feels safe here.
Which brings me back to the events in Munich two days ago. It does seem that if someone gets it into their head that they really want to shoot a few people and puts the work into finding a gun and ammo, then there’s not much you can do to stop them. We can only hope it doesn’t happen here and if it does, then hope that the police react quickly. In the case of Munich it looks like the police did an excellent job. Within an hour the city was more or less shut down. Apparently there were 2300 police and special forces personnel on the the job very quickly. I don’t know if they helped but it was reassuring to see so many mobilised so quickly.
I was also really impressed by the information and instructions the police released. At times like these the news channels all go into hysterical mode and get anyone they can who happens to be near Munich babbling inanely into the camera. The police made a point of not speculating at all and just telling everyone to stay inside. The Munich Police press officer has since become a bit of hero for his no-nonsense calm style. When they were absolutely sure that the shooter had been killed, but were not yet exactly sure of the circumstances, he told the press that the shooter “had died as a result of violence” (it sounds less dramatic in German). A journalist immediately butted in and asked “what exactly do you mean by that?”. The press officer answered “that means he didn’t just fall over and die”. Lots of other questions were thrown at him – mostly suggestive. Again he answered coolly “the only way to answer those questions is for me to speculate. And that would be highly irresponsible.” The journalists were horrified at the thought of having to go back to the stone age of only reporting actual facts.
The events in Munich on Friday and in Turkey last week have overshadowed the Brexit news. In today’s papers there is barely a mention. May’s visit seems to have gone down well and Merkel has been doing her best to calm things down and spoke of a friendship between Britain and Germany. Now that Trump has been nominated and is making all sorts of provocative statements about terror in Europe, the whole Brexit affair looks a bit dull by comparison. That’s probably a good thing and mean that I might get to talk about something else next time I am out in the evening with friends.
I enjoyed myself yesterday. The weather was very hot again, but as usual this year the next cold front was forecast and thunderstorms were expected in the night. It had become so hot and sticky that everyone was quite looking forward to the next cool-down. But first thing in the morning the weather was perfect. For a change I didn’t walk to the bakers but decided to take my bike. I have discovered a new secret pleasure… cycling without a helmet. Continue reading
I have just got in from an epic test of patience – my eldest daughter’s “Musical Parents’ Evening”. I got through it quite well, I thought, even though just a week a go I was at my younger daughter’s musical parents’ evening. Each one lasted just short of three hours. They don’t do things by halves at the girls’ school. But before I get onto the details let me quickly explain how the school system works over here. Continue reading
From about friday lunchtime onwards any business calls or e-mails you receive may well end with the sign-off “schönes Wochenende” – have a good weekend. Because so many people go to work early here and the labour laws are very employee-friendly, a huge percentage of the working population are no longer at work on a friday afternoon. I usually work normal hours on a friday, but I join in the fun and wish everyone a schönes Wochenende from noon onwards anyway.
Well it turns out that so far this weekend has been “schön”. We had arranged to meet some friends of ours at an amusement park about an hour north of here. Normally going to an amusement park is a mild form of torture for anybody sane over the age of 25, but today wasn’t so bad. The weather was perfect, the kids looked after themselves and the place, Tripsdrill, is quite spread out between meadows and vineyards in the countryside just outside Stuttgart. The amusement parks in Germany are certainly a lot easier to stomach than Euro Disney. I made the mistake of going there with the family a few years ago. What a nightmare. Non-stop happy Disney music all day and the most healthy food we could find was a hot-dog in a spongy bun. The children’s menu in the evening was Pizza – with chips. At Tripsdrill, things weren’t so bad. We even managed to find a restaurant that served salad.
In the middle of the park, there is a large grassy field where people sit and have picnics and have a rest from the rides and attractions. As the day wore on the kids seemed to have more fun doing cartwheels and playing a silly game which involved hiding coins in the grass than actually going on the rides. A large stork also provided some entertainment by wandering around and picking up scraps of food. Quite a few of the pic-nicking families were largely comprised of women wearing hijab headscarves. It’s a sign of the times that even in such an incongrous setting (near the entrance to a ride called the Gsengte Sau – racing pig) that nobody gave them a second glance. It seems so normal now.
We had agreed to meet our friends at 10:30 which meant that we had to leave at 09:30. With this in mind, I decided to boost my popularity rating at home by doing an early-morning shop at our local village supermarket. I did a quick google search and found out that the supermarket, Knittel, opens at 7:00 on a Saturday. I imagined that it would be very quiet and so set off in high spirits, unaware that I was about to experience a hitherto unknown side of Schönaich weekend life.
It seems that the more mature residents of Schönaich also pick early Saturday morning to do their shopping. I was surprised to find the car park clogged with vehicles which were either badly parked or manoeuvring very slowly indeed. I eventually found a slot in which I was nearly able to get my door open enough to exit my car. But as slow as my fellow shoppers were in the car park, they were switched-on and aggressive once they got behind their shopping trolleys.
One of the quaint things about Knittel is that the staff in the fruit and veg department pick out the goods and weigh them for you – like proper grocers used to do. It’s a bit strange in a supermarket, because everything is within reach for the customers and the staff just punch in a number and stick a ticket on the the bag just like we are used to doing for ourselves. Anyway, it lends the shop a bit of olde worlde charm and should make a pleasant change. I say should, because it doesn’t actually work out like that. At least not on this particular Saturday morning. The shoppers around me were all hard-core grocery shoppers and they seemed to be on good terms with the supermarket staff. So while I dithered between the vegetables several other shoppers managed to butt in front of me. A couple of times the staff already knew what the customers were going to ask for and started loading up tomatoes before I had a chance to squeak “errr… actually I was here first”. I have been overlooked a few times trying to get served at a busy bar, but not being able to impose myself over a group of pushy elderly ladies at the fruit and veg counter was a particularly chastening experience. Things could only get better. Surely.
Wrong. Next up was the cold meat counter. By this time my nerves were frayed, but I was heartened to see that there was at least an orderly queue at the counter. I positioned my trolley diagonally so as to make absolutely sure nobody could get past me. But this time I needn’t have bothered worrying about people pushing in, the problem was that the queue was barely moving. The hopped-up fruit and veg shoppers had now downshifted into “social mode” and were taking ages to select their cold meats and catch up on local events by chatting to the butchers staff. I’m an impatient shopper at the best of times but this was almost unbearable. It occurred to me that this Saturday morning shop was probably a key part of the weekly ritual in earlier times when the working week was a lot longer.
On Thursday evening I had made a quick visit to our local Penny discounter supermarket to get some emergency supplies and was amazed that the youth in front of me was using his bank card to pay his bill of 1.54 Euros. At Knittel, though, things couldn’t have been more different. My fellow shoppers were strictly cash customers. Normally, that should speed things up. However, if you pack your basket (in many cases an actually wicker-basket) first, and then get your purse out, and then insist on finding the exact change, then things slow down a bit. Oh well, patience is a virtue.
Eventually, I paid swiftly using my bank card and headed for the car park. In the meantime someone else had parked next to me but I was able to get the passenger door open and climb across and after doing a fifteen-point turn exited the car park and headed home. It was a tough start to the weekend, but since then everthing has been “schön”. Let’s see what Sunday brings.
What a scorcher! A boiling hot, lazy Sunday rounded off the weekend. The thermometer touched 33 degrees C and it was just too hot to do anything. The kids disappeared off to the open air pool and the adults slobbed about in the shade at home. The most strenuous thing I did all day was watch the final hour of the Tour de France. Later on I took Mum on a bit of drive around Schönaich and we had a look at the “Neubaugebiet” (new building area) on the outskirts of the village. Continue reading
I had a couple of very pleasant rides into work this week. The weather has taken a turn for the better and it has been dry for nearly a week now. Sunny, but not too hot with a light easterly breeze. The normal high-pressure summer weather we would expect but which has been elusive so far in 2016. The trails in the forest have completely dried out so our bikes roll just a little easier and, what with the Tour de France being on at the moment, the hills seem a little flatter than normal. Ariane was getting into the spirit of things a couple of days ago. I could see she had the bit between her teeth on the descent and as we approached the left/right combination that I like to think of as “the chicane” she stuck her left knee out like a motorcycle racer. Here we go again, I thought. Continue reading
A very boring week I’m afraid. So much to do at work that my brain is too tired to write in the evenings. The press has gone quiet since the Brexit feeding-frenzy last week. And now we are half way through Portugal vs. Wales – more boredom. Even the weather has been a bit boring, no thunderstorms or heatwaves for a week now. Continue reading
Another very busy week, with not much time to blog I’m afraid. It’s not so much the time needed to sit down and write as the time needed to think of something interesting to say. But it’s Saturday morning now, I am up early but it is chucking down with rain so I don’t fancy a round of golf and even the stroll to the bakers is not particularly tempting. So I have set myself up on the patio (there is a dry, covered corner) and will try and get some words down before the family wakes up. I quite like being out here in the rain. I have wrapped myself up in a sleeping bag and am enjoying that cosy camping feeling you get – warm and dry in the tent while the storm rages outside. Continue reading