A Calculated Risk - Moving to Germany

A Calculated Risk - Moving to Germany

For those moving here for work, school or other defined opportunities I envy you. Of course, it takes you and only you to make the decision to get on that plane. However, all the arrangements and your future is probably already secured. It must be nice. I imagine a world where things are arranged, guaranteed and provided by someone else. Be it an agency, an employer, the admissions department or the military ... they will dot your i's and cross your t's. I pity anyone who falls outside of that category. The person looking to start a new life. The civilian just trying to see something different. The newfound adult fresh out of studies looking for work and a living. Germany makes us suffer and instead of being a moveable feast it is all a calculated risk. Most of us don't make it. And there is no one trying to understand why. In this I want to put my sentiments aside and ask the real questions so that the business of moving here doesn't have to be risky at all. 

First let's talk about me ... because I moved to Germany for love. 

I had never been here before. The former architecture student and romantic in me assumed all would be lost in time. I would be moving to a land of castles, gardens, bauhaus and mid century modern dreams. Most of my life I had avoided big cities, mass transportation, hustle and bustle. So in my ignorance I thought Germany was the place to completely escape all of that. I also forgot about the history - both past and present. I didn't even think about the language or the fact I would be required to learn it to do virtually anything. And the ways from the mentality to the bureaucracy were all lost upon me too. I was completely unaware and had no idea of what to expect. My husband to be at the time tried to prepare me providing antidotes, books and websites. I instead decided to wing it. So I arrived with a fantasy of a fairytale town, with a faux English speaking accent and zero expectations about anything else including the weather. The reality took several months to hit as I spent most of the summer of our arrival in my father in laws 70,000 population village. I was in a bubble of farms, festivals and nothingness and then we found our apartment ... in Köln.

Now I adore Köln keyword now. But I had to grow to love it as it was nothing I wanted for me, my marriage or my unborn children. Köln is small but busy, congested, grimy and hard. While my apartment was the epitome of loveliness I couldn't stay inside of it 24/7. I had to go to offices and Amt's. I had to navigate its many rings, allees and bridges. I had to embrace riding trains and walking at minimum two kilometers a day. I got lost and I still do almost three years later. I had to learn the language which meant Deutsch, Hoch Deutsch, Turkish Deutsch, Denglish, British English, African English, Berliner and Karneval/Kölsch. So I had not one but three language classes at the local VHS and a riveting year of forced Integration. It also took me two cities and ten months to get temporary residency. In that I was only granted one year which was a nightmare for getting health insurance, applying for jobs or doing much else. So eventually I became purposeless and in direct service to whatever Germany asked me to do. In my opinion, Germany was really asking a lot of me and taking a toll on my acclimation, my marriage and my well-being. I stayed sick, my husband and I were never happy and I couldn't even take a drive without passing a 1300 question test. I was marooned as my husband is one of them too and he kept telling me "don't fight the system". He has been in the German military his entire life so even he had no idea what the system even was. 

So like many others I was being pummeled and I wanted to give up and go back to the states every single day. However, he was my reason for being here. I was pissed. I was resenting my marriage. And there was no one I could say this to especially him.

Yes, I could have totally done Germany better. I did it all wrong. And for that I personally suffered for an unduly amount of time. I have heard of plenty of people going at this alone who have had great experiences or worse outcomes than me. At least in all of the above I had my husband, I made some friends and I was supported. But most of the people I encountered with stories of success or failure really had no one to turn to. I met people fleeing war, orphaned adults and people having to start completely over who wound up having stellar outcomes in their journey to German citizenship. I have met students who don't have places to live or money for food who showed up to class daily and put their best effort into integrating. For a long while I honestly expected for Germany to roll out a red carpet for me because I was American and I married one of their own. It never occurred to me I had to earn my place and that what was being asked of me was a challenge for the better. Unfortunately that message got blurred in some terrible interactions and situations which may have been avoided had I known better. But the reality is the transition from abroad to German isn't intuitive. So it would have nice to have been told, guided, prepared and assured. I just sometimes wish I could do things over returning to the 1950s post war. I would have married my German flyboy. Then he would have returned back home to Germany with a photo of me in his shirt pocket. Once he got settled, he would send for me. I would then pack my valuables in a hope chest and come fully prepared to start a new life. In the months between our wedding ceremony and my arrival I would have learned the language, studied maps and sent many letters to inquire about work. So when my ship docked my husband would be there with his entire family, the neighbors and my mistress. This would have been ideal and then everything else would have fallen into place.

But that's not how this works; that is not how any of this works. 

What is happening is people like me are coming without expectations or being sold a dream in regards to an easy life, free education, good healthcare, high pay and English everywhere. And while the latter sounds great it isn't accessible to us all and a lot of it simply isn't true. So it can be very hard to find a way and make it through believing that all is available to you in Germany. As well as the notion you can have it all without knowing the unwritten rules or getting through impossible red tape.  You would think there would be a universal guidebook or at minimum a grass roots organization trying to facilitate processes easier. There are the handful of expatriate NGOs which appear to be in the pockets of tax avoiding Drump supporters aka those escaping their messes. But there isn't a resource that is truly looking to help all immigrants try their luck at Germany. Maybe there is no incentive for helping people navigate the process of immigrating and integrating. Maybe there isn't a clear cut way so agencies do not want to get in the arena of misinformation. One thing is true there is no road map and everyones experience is different. And that reflects poorly on the strange admiration others have for German efficiency. Because there simply isn't any in regards to moving here and that sort of makes Deutschland the wild, wild, East. America has its problems but the average immigrant there can navigate the processes when done legally. And regardless of whatever route they take most survive and succeed. But in Germany most outsiders I meet are telling me goodbye in coming weeks.

Since arriving I have often felt like people who were supposed to be committed to helping others were simply against us. And although my husband was always by my side it honestly didn't matter to the civil servant in front of us. There was zero preparation for this sort of reception and even my husband was put off by it. He had told me how wonderful and accepting Germany would be for me and even in our first days everything was unraveling before his very eyes. There is no one minding the front when it comes to this. There are no resources to voice concerns or complain. In the moment grievances such as tears and verbal altercations are frowned upon and sort of fuel the fire. There just isn't a recourse for the voiceless in Germany. While other countries offer enclaves of like experienced people who have organized into collectives, unions and agencies who offer support it seems like Germany has virtually none. So when I tell others my story and they ask who is helping us they are often left speechless that a country as large as Germany is lacking. Frankly, alles is put upon ones shoulders, necks and soul trying to stay the course to whatever leads to citizenship. And eventually for a lot of us we question why would we want to be apart of a society that makes us grovel to contribute. I tell anyone interested look into France or Spain first. I suggest they extend their education, learn to speak German fluently or simply reconsider. I don"t encourage because there is no way for me to express the numerous reasons and risks that come into play because ... Germany. I wish I could be more transparent but I also do not want to be completely negative. I just cross my fingers for the next people entering into this rat race. What I can say is know what you are getting into and weigh it against what you can offer, withstand and endure. But I will keep fighting for a space that can give you real options so you can save your energy for the hoops.