“We laugh loudly, we tell stories, we make jokes, we are occasionally late (and its OK), we greet strangers, eat colourful – well seasoned food, we drink intense wine and we dance with soul” twee Swanepoele
South Africans differ from Germans in multiple, glorious and fascinating ways…this is the general perception considering German precision, German cooking, German Beer, German football and German humour to name but a few. Germans generally appreciate privacy and punctuality, they value time, work hard, rarely hand out compliments yet has a strong sense of community which can occasionally be witnessed during local festivals and community events.
Living in Germany means living in in the center of Europe, both Geographically and economically which is in stark contrast to our home country on the Southern most tip of Africa.
We find ourselves living in a beautiful Villa South of Stuttgart in an area know as Baden Wurttemberg, to be more precise, Neuffen – a typical German countryside village enclosed by the most beautiful hills covered in mystical forests, vineyards and green pastures. This area is known as the ‘Schwaebische alb’ named after the ‘Swabian Jura’, a mountain range in Baden Wurttemberg extending a glorious 220km. Our fellow villagers are generally referred to as ‘Swabians’ known amongst other Germans as hard working, wealthy, extremely focussed on cleanliness, exceptionally proud and having a distinct German dialect.
“Sprechen Sie Deutch?”
After a tedious and to be frank, quite strenuous 3 months of German Language learning in South Africa I find myself misunderstood and honestly perhaps a little disappointed in my language learning skills. Sure there are some similarities between German and my home language, Afrikaans, but the dissimilarities seem to be outweighing my Afrikaans grammar and repertoire. To complicate linguistics, German is quite clearly not a standard language as one would imagine but can rather be described as an umbrella covering a multitude of diverse German dialects, varying in vocabulary, phonology and syntax. These dialects are traced back to the different Germanic tribes and are typically regional. Many German dialects are so distinct that speakers of these are barely understood by someone who knows merely Standard German. As a result, I have found comfort in a combination of German and English commonly known as Germanglish, understood (literally and emotionally) mainly by tourists and foreigners. Germanglish is generally well accepted since 95% of all Germans speak ‘German’ as a first language and clearly realize the complexity of their mother tongue.
Food for thought…
Aside from language, food probably contributes one of the most essential experiences of any culture. Oh how the smell of freshly baked pancakes remind me of church bazaars, boerewors takes me back to school sports events and lazy Saturday afternoons with my family while a ‘Melktert’ in the oven sends my senses back to my grandmother’s warm kitchen. Every culture brings with it some specialities, a certain scent, a story, a reason and remembrance. Food carries with it some history, it heals, it’s art, it has seasons and personality and it certainly brings people together. As two South Africans we have inherited a love for South African cuisine which is a delightful combination of fascinating influences from native South Africans, European travellers mainly Dutch, German & French and perhaps most distinctly the Indo-Asian influence better known as the ‘Cape Malay’ influence. We love colourful dishes, rich sauces and well spiced dishes with a great variety of taste sensations.
Germans seem to keep it simple.
They are bread masters. I often find myself staring at a selection of their daily breads, baked fresh every morning in local bakeries, the enchanting smell of fresh bread travelling around every street corner as to wake the town. This is uncommon in South Africa where bread is generally sold in grocery stores and perhaps home baked per occasion. Germans furthermore love pork and are without any doubt the leaders when processed sausages come to play. These well spiced sausages come in various shapes and sizes, they are often associated with a specific region and enjoyed with characteristic complimentary dishes. Potatoes are offered with merely every meal in a variety of ways – they are keen on potato salad according to regional traditions and potato Knödel which is in a way similar to a dumpling served commonly with a meaty stew in some regions.
German pastries are colourful, laced with cream and decorated with bright fruit typically glazed with a subtly sweet gelatine. These pastries, are far less sugary, rich and moist compared to our traditional South African sweet favourites like the ‘Malva’ pudding, ‘Tipsy’ (Brandy) tart and ‘Koeksisters’. To my realisatation it seems though that exquisite spices and chillies have been a distant prospect to German traditional cooking styles. Definitely intrigued by the history and cooking customs in this culturally rich country, I still find myself searching for more spices, bored with local meat, indulging in foreign vegetables with bright colours and cooking at home, filling the villa with the same scents and aromas that take us home.
What is dine without the wine?!
South Africans, like Germans, tend to be quite patriotic. This is especially true when one considers the general wine preference in each of these two countries. Living in South Africa meant enjoying local South African wine with rich color and distinctively bold flavors, these wines also tend to be slightly higher in alcohol content compared to the wine I am offered in Germany. Living in Germany means I suddenly have easier access to wine from all over Europe – yip, where wine was first discovered and enjoyed thousands of years ago. Wine making skills and knowledge has been passed on from generation to generation, even on a smaller scale. It is quite common for locals who are interested, to ‘rent’ a piece of land which house established fruit trees or a few vineyard rows. The fruit then, is the property of the person renting (and subsequently looking after) the trees or the vineyard. I am extremely fortunate to be able to take a walk through the local vineyards overlooking Neuffen every afternoon. Not a day goes by where there’s not a person pruning vineyards or spending time under the luscious fruit trees. These grapes are used to make local wine which the community enjoys together, sometimes at long wooden tables in the vineyard with friends and family. My love for South African wine is securely rooted, I am convinced one can taste “home” with every sip. I must confess though that witnessing the passion, pride and community associated with German wine making kindled a respectful flame in my own patriotic heart.
When winter comes to Germany.
Winters in Germany are quite intense for born and bred South Africans whose typical reference to winter is the occasional winer frost, butter yellow, mild sunshine and a light Jersey when the sun makes way for nighttime. Snow is relatively uncommon in South Africa and although the days are shorter during winter time, it seems like a fair trade between day and night. I remember arriving in Germany for the first time during winter wearing a coat and boots considered decent winter attire back home. Needless to say, my South African blood instantly froze leaving me red faced and numbed at all my extremities. The Germans are geared for these extreme conditions though and live by the saying: “es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur falsche Kleidung“ (there is no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothing). During the winter months our forte now is snowy days, freezing nights, grey sunshine and daylight time which seems depleted before the sun had a chance to properly stretch his legs. Icy cold winters are spent mainly indoors, cooking up a storm, enjoying intense red wines and occasionally strolling about in the winter wonderland which surrounds us.
Though unfamiliar and in multiple ways completely different to where we are from in Africa, one needs to recognize and appreciate the things we have in common with this remarkable nation in this beautiful country. Every day spent here adds to our adventure, the story we will one day look back onto and call our life.