Comparing

It’s always dangerous to compare. One’s joy can be thieved by the very act of drawing together two things and attempting to find which one comes out best. But I love a bit of danger (sometimes I open the wine before it’s dark outside) and being between two countries means the urge to compare is a strong one. And, really, quite therapeutic.

There are a lot of things I love about Germany but of late I have really been thinking about the key elements of my lifestyle there, because ultimately, should you be fortunate enough to have the choice, it’s lifestyle you live somewhere for.

Sydney is a stunning city to live in. Fantastic weather, beaches, restaurants and bars, universities, the harbour, and coastal holiday towns but a couple of hours away. It’s difficult to compete with, even if it is hideously expensive, a real estate buyer’s nightmare, has dreadful public transport, and to earn enough to enjoy the fantastic restaurants, bars, cafes and shopping, or indeed pay rent or the mortgage, you live to work, not the other way around.

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So, when choosing to live in a city or country that is not the one of my birth, I am up against a long list of sun-coloured pros, which means I have to dig deep to find the things I love about the competing location. As I wrote a few days ago, I have recently realised how much I love my life in the competing location – Germany – and here’s why:

I walk a lot. Master of the mid-sized city, German cities of 250,000 people are so wonderfully livable. They have excellent public transport, bike lanes aplenty (not that I use them) and walking is both a pleasure and easy. In Kiel, we’d walk to our grocery shop. I walked to work. I walked to the harbour, to the parks, to restaurants and wine bars. A car, for me, in Germany, isn’t a necessity. In Sydney, you can’t get by without one and you drive everywhere. Because you have to. And that means sitting in the most appalling traffic and paying formidably expensive tolls ($6 one way, on one of our roads) day in, day out.

Public transport. If I can’t walk, I catch a bus. Busses are on time, lovely and clean and always tell you where you are going. In bigger cities there are U-Bahns and S-Bahns that are frequent and punctual. We complain about the DB, but it is generally an excellent system that means you can reach anywhere in the country, by rail. God forbid you rely solely on public transport in Sydney – you will never get anywhere, and spend a fortune doing it.

Travel. We’re in the middle of Europe. A drive pops us into one of nine entirely different countries. We can cruise to Scandinavia. It’s a little over an hour’s flight to London. Flights don’t cost a fortune or take twenty hours. Travelling is easy, relatively inexpensive and, so very luckily, part of life.

Cost of Living. It is, flat out, cheaper to eat, rent and exist in Germany. Yes, you get paid more in Australia, but the level of expense that you become accustomed to is ridiculous, and you’re more likely to accept an indecent price as normal, pop it on the credit card, and inch towards an unsustainable budget.

Healthcare and Insurance. It’s a good system, and Lord knows I’ve used it. A lot. And I’ve always been well looked after and barely out of pocket.

Free Education. When it comes to educating my future children, I know they will have access to very good schools, and a university education, for free. (And yes, I still say ‘free’ despite the very small semester fees that have recently cropped up in German universities, because it still beats $20,000+ per degree in Australia).

Weekends, Feierabends and Free Time. The 24/7 culture, that seems to pervade the USA, UK and Australia, hasn’t quite reached Germany, and I think one’s lifestyle there is all the richer for it. Everything is closed on a Sunday in Germany. The day is for spending at home, or with your family and friends. Often, Friday afternoons are ‘Feierabends’ – you clock off work early and enjoy the afternoon and evening, instead of staying at work until 8pm, or answering emails at home until after ten. You can if you want to, but overall, it simply isn’t expected or encouraged.

Germans also value free time. Along with the French, they’re one of the European countries that clock up the most hours of free time in a year. They also have one of the highest number of holiday days (on average around 25, depending on where you work).

The weather. Okay, so just spring and summer. And maybe parts of autumn. This is a stretch, but … the winters are so long and gross and generally depressing, they make spring seem like a gift from the Gods. The flowers rush out, the birds suddenly return, and everyone beams at each other for no reason at all. Summer in many parts of Germany are lovely and warm, and if you live on the coast (as we shall!) summers are almost as laidback and beachy as they are in Sydney. And autumn, well, you know – leaves turn red and crunch underfoot, and for a while, it’s all quite cinematic. But then, winter comes …

 Why do you live where you live? What do you like about it, or miss about your competing location?

17 thoughts on “Comparing

  1. Doing exactly the same at present Liv, comparing. Do we want to remain in Australia where the sophistication is higher maybe but the lifestyle is so much faster? Australia, where all your lifelong friends live, or do we want to move to NZ where the people are so much friendlier and still have time to have a nice little chat with you, where the country’s scenery offers such diversity, where the summer weather is so much more pleasant than it is in Australia, a country where you can go on so many gorgeous bush walks without fearing the appearance of snakes?I guess all these decisions are made at any one stage of ones life – I would have never had to “decide” about this 20 years ago, I knew my place – there was no doubt in my mind. But 20 years on, different stage of life, different values, different situation and the whole picture changes. The beauty about all this is, it is OK to make changes, it is OK to move to different things in life – that what makes it all so interesting and exciting.

    1. Ahhhh Ards, I will be VERY interested to see where you and Stew end up and why. I can see the pull of NZ, I really can, and I do not envy you in making that decision, as much as it is a lovely one to make … it’s also a tricky one. I love that you had no doubt in your mind when you came to Aus, but thirty years later is a new story. Never boring, eh?

  2. It sounds to me like you have grown quite fond of Germany, your gripe with the Weather I can understand perfectly well though as even most natives are not very fond of it (at least not of Winter and the latter parts of Autumn).

  3. Oh, the comparisons. Sometimes people assume I love Chile more than the US because I talk about it all the time. There, I love the clean, efficient metro; the cheap, high-quality wine; easy access to world-class hiking AND beaches; and the general warmth or “buena onda” of people. But here, I really enjoy the fact that all of our public bathrooms are free; we have central heating; we have much better opportunities to expand our social circles outside of the people we grow up with; and I very rarely get catcalled on the street.
    What we really need is for someone to invent something faster and cheaper than airplanes, so we can jet back and forth whenever we want.

  4. Quite a while ago I watched that nice BBC documentary of the UK journalist Justin Rowlatt trying to live in Germany for a while as a typical German and it made me think a lot about if I should stay in Germany or leave my home country (you can watch the BBC documentary on youtube; just look for “Make me a German”).

    If not being happy here before, I was after thinking for a long time. I’m still not sure if I’ll stay here forever, but I will definitely stay in central or northern Europe.

    I will try living abroad for a few month next year but I’m quite sure that I’ll prefer staying here “a few more” decades. Although I’d love to move to a country with less winter!

    1. Less winter is really the only thing (apart from friends and family) that would boot me out of Germany. I just have to time my holidays around avoiding Jan/Feb!

  5. If ever I can kick the States, I would love to spend 2-3 years in a variety of countries. I’m making more money in NYC that I’ve ever made in my life, but OMG this city kills me. JUST KILLS ME. All of the qualities of life you raise are high on my list as well, but I think I sacrifice them out of sheer Americanism. We can’t help ourselves.

    1. Ahhh yes. But if you get out of it, you might make the switch to another mindset/way of doing things surprisingly quickly!

  6. I agree with pretty much everything. My boyfriend and I have recently been having really hard discussions about where we want to settle. I love Germany, I really do, I don’t necessarily want to stay in HH forever, but everything you mentioned and more is a reason why I definitely want to stay in Germany. Everything here just seems to work without too much hassle.

    Boyfriend wants to live by the sea though so not quite sure what will happen with that one, not a lot of surf-able coast in Germany 🙁

      1. Ah you’d be surprised! He’s in Timmendorf or Damp if Denmark isn’t working 🙂 I actually suggested Kiel as I could probably still keep my job and commute into Hamburg for at least a while. One day I hope to go freelance though which will give me/us more flexibility. Meh, mal schauen.

  7. Liv, as you could realize in this winter in Germany, winters can also be (almost) like spring here concerning the temperatures. We “owe” this very mild winter to the very cold winter in the USA + Canada this year, meterologists explained this phenomenon on TV, looks like the mild climate caused by the gulf stream gets even improved by cold winters in North America. Moreover you should not forget that Germany + even the Scandinavian countries have the gulf stream before their “front doors” – the USA + Canada can’t enjoy the climatic advantages of the gulf stream in the winter + if a mild/warm high has been developing in Portugal/Spain in the wintertime it can easily reach Germany via Southern France, Burgundy + then Southern Germany, avoiding the barrier of the Alps. Even spring can be mild or warm in Germany – BUT if the spring is too mild/warm you can bet that the German summer will probably be rainy + inconsistent + even occasionally “chilly” in a certain way, so spring must noit be too mild/warm in Germany. So you can’t generalize the weather conditions in Germany, cold + grey winters a NOT a must here. We did have summers here in the last 20 years when the summer was lasting from May to early October – but of course this doesn’t occur every year. The German healthcare system is – not only in my opinion – one of the best in the world. There was a fee for universities for a shorter period of time – but it was abolished in most German states when the coalitions of social democrats/greens/left party came into power again in the state governments/parliaments. Coalitions Christian democrats + the neo-liberal FDP actually introduced a fee for university students + caused mass protests of students in the end. This system of fees was not so exaggeratedly expensive as in the USA – but it was already enough/too much for many students in Germany.

  8. My second home of heart is Namibia. I missed a bit of Germany when I lived there and miss a lot of Nam now living again in Germany. I miss the sun burning my skin and warming my heart, the colors, my friends and their real friendship, the nature, the open wide, the warmth of the people, the meat, the down-to-earth-way of life, the blue skys and massive desserts, the mountains, the dry rivers and the sensation when rain makes the lilies bloom, the ocean, the crayfish and Savannah dry, I miss the smell of grass, sand and sun, driving on the left hand side, the dogs on every yard. Sometimes my heart aches and I have to return. But there is one, really just one thing that really makes Germany the winner: freedom. The freedom for me as a woman to go on my own wherever I want. However I want. By foot, by bike, by car, by public transport, it just doesn’t matter, it’s my choice. No security reasons to be cautioned, no question if I will arrive safe somewhere, no thoughts about where to park my car safely, whom to meet to join my way. I just can go everywhere on my own. I can sleep with open windows, I don’t have to grab my bag tightly under my arm beware of pickpockets. I can cycle home in the middle of the night. My friends can walk home and I don’t have to worry about them. This kind of freedom we have in Germany I realized just when I lived in Namibia where you have to think about all of this whenever you leave the house and when my friends told me about life in Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, NY and some other countries. And everybody can say whatever he thinks or feels. You are asked about your opinion and people bear up with it – or start a discussion, fair enough. Most people have work and earn enough to afford some pleasentries, that also makes free. Germany may have less sun, more grumpy people, more Spießigkeit, but if you watch precisely it is a very free country – that’s what I love.

  9. I recently came back to Europe, well… England, from America. I’m so happy to be back, Germany and England (specifically the middle of those two countries) will always be home to me and your list really has a lot of the same points. Despite having a driving licensce and access to cars one thing I have most definitely learned is I *need* public transport and the ability to walk. Plus either a Beergarten or Pub that I can frequent easily. Now if only I can get the Army to send me to Westpfalen next year things will have worked out perfectly!

    On a similar note, I’m trying to save up for a quick trip to Melbourne to visit family before I start my new job, my first visit since 2007 and only my third visit overall. Really exited!

  10. A little late coming to this post, as I’ve just discovered your blog again. Having been away from Australia for 9 years now (7 in England) & 2 in Canada, I honestly thought I would have given up making comparisons to being in Australia. The truth is I’m not sure I ever will.

    For me Toronto is my life now. I’d be liar if I said I didn’t think about Australia (I’m from Brisbane – but I couldn’t go back there) or England (specifically London) every day. Its just the level of thought & comparison subsides over time. There are days when I think what the hell am I doing here – those days came in February & March of this year – but for the most part, I’m now starting to think what would it take to move me away from here.

    Toronto as a destination is tragically underrated and amazingly diverse. To me it mixes the diversity of NY with the feel of Chicago and the Art & Music scene of Melbourne. Add in there a growing food & drink scene and you have one great city. Then there’s the Canadian Spring, Summer & Fall, Universal healthcare, an hours flight to NY, Boston and what more could you ask for.

    Right now I can’t imagine leaving. Toronto offers me everything I need, health wise, financially, socially & culturally. My alternative is to move back to Australia, but what it boils down to is financially I’d be moving backwards. I’ve had a lot of friends move back to Australia in the last few years and it pains me to see them, despite having good earning potential, struggling to make a dent so to speak – working to live – essentially needing a mortgage just to pay the crazy rents in Sydney. I just can’t bring myself to do it, not to myself or my wife.

    So for now, I’ll just bask in what I believe is one of the greatest things around – a Northern Hemisphere Summer.

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