Whenever I fly back home to Germany, there are several constants that greet me, let me know in the event there was any doubt, that I am headed in the right direction. It starts at the gate of whatever country I am flying out of. Immediately, I spot the Germs. I can’t quite put my finger on how they are so visually identifiable – to say ‘functional clothing’ and ‘sensible shoes’ feels too easy. As does noting the statistical likelihood they will be in possession of a rucksack. But there is a solidity to the Germans, that sets them apart from the other nationalities at the gate. Really, I suppose, it is a familiarity. Something about them gives them away, quite like the tall lad who sat next to me on the plane, pulling out a lunchbox packed with a ham sandwich and bakery treats, gave him away. (Have you noticed Germans are real snack packers? They seem to take sandwiches everywhere.) The same way, I suppose, that I knew the woman who launched herself at me in the flight attendant galley and relieved me of die Lüdde in one fell swoop was an Aussie. Aussies launch into conversations with anybody and everybody, it’s a special skill of ours.
Another constant, and I love this one, is the friendliness of the Federal Police at passport control. Their warm smiles as they greet you and politely ask for your documents. The possibility shimmering in the air that they might even ask you how you are. The atmosphere of trust and general pleasantness. It just makes me feel part of things, you know, like I belong. Especially after a long flight, especially considering I am en route home – I am calling the country I am attempting to enter home, stop looking at me like I am trying to sneak in and single-handedly unravel the fabric of German society – their good humour is like a balm to my weary soul. Welcome home, I always murmur to myself, as I spring through the gates, my very non EU passport clutched in hand. Behind me the next poor sod steps up and greets the booth with a winning smile, passport proffered.
Stepping out of the airport, it is invariably worse weather than the place I flew in from. Another constant. It is almost always colder, and most times, a deeper shade of grey. The needle like rain and impossibly grey skies in Düsseldorf that welcomed me when I flew in from Greece in 2010, seemed to set this precedent. It was September and I was confidently dressed in leggings and a long singlet. In the car I pulled on a thin cotton cardigan and had the shivery realisation my suitcase contained horribly, horribly insufficient clothing. These days, I am going home to a completely sufficient wardrobe, but I am almost always clad in leggings, a long singlet and a thin cotton cardigan. Why not pack a coat and boots for the return home? My suitcase is invariably full to bursting with other things acquired on the trip – like a tea set that once belonged to my Nana – and I am not yet, and perhaps never will be, an organised, practical Germ. (Here I will also confess to losing die Lüdde’ socks on the flight and carrying her out of the airport with nackten Füßen. She was swaddled in a pashmina, fear not.)
And the final stalwart of returning home to Germany, is the grocery shop. In each and every aisle, I give thanks for the cheapness of German supermarkets. Nappies for 5.75€, not $30 (Singapore, I am looking at you). Abundant cheese for a couple of euro, not upwards of $9 (Australia, don’t deny it, your cheese prices are criminal). A bunch of lovely flowers for 3€ (have you also noticed that German cities seem to house at least one florist per fifty inhabitants?). I trot home, my canvas bags filled, and feel very smug about the layout of Germany’s mid-size cities that negate the need for a car to perform the most basic tasks. I fire up a heater or two, roll out the Hausschuhe, and make a pot of tea with my teekanne mit kerze.
Cool weather, cool Federal Police, cool grocery prices. Home and hosed.