Germany and I really first got to know each other in autumn. It was a cold and drizzly September when I arrived from a summer in Santorini. I was brown, Germany was grey. I had canvas ballet flats, Germany laughed at me. The seasonal change was in full swing, fitting, because as was my own change, one I was chasing with that kind of energy particular to your twenties. My first apartment in Germany was on an Allee in Münster, lined with huge trees that had turned by the time we moved in. Before winter blasted in that year, freezing and snowy, autumn was grey and gold. It was a season of my life that set the scene for where I find myself now.
Perhaps that is why I always feel quite nostalgic when autumn comes. (Although nostalgia follows me around like my own shadow these days, more so since the children were born; in them I see every second of my past, and the cruel swiftness of time. This pairing is a terrifying insight, a lovely sadness, and Vorfreude for all that awaits – a tumult of feeling that will never leave me.) As the chill and the fog creep into the mornings, and the smoke into the afternoon air, the sense of another year coming full circle is palpable. I could, I suppose, dig further back, into my childhood, when autumn meant Easter and summer’s fire regulations loosening so people could light their bonfires without worrying about starting a bushfire. I remember the cold air of the Southern Highlands, where we spent the Easter holidays for a few years running. I remember Mum pulling out the flannel pyjamas. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about this time of year that seems as if the world is giving you a few months of kindness. Perhaps it goes gently on us, because winter awaits and winter is not kind.
It seems like the leaves changed overnight this year. Driving just the other day, I suddenly realised the lush green of summer has gone and in its place are rust and olive, red and yellow. I don’t know when that happened. Perhaps I was distracted, for overnight, too, people brought a change to the way things will work from now on. As we prepare for the cold, for the slate skies and naked branches of winter, so too are we preparing to fight a particular way of thinking this country has tried so hard to leave behind. There was no kindness last weekend, or less than we thought. Less than we need. There was, simply, proof of fear, proof of resentment, proof we will always have a long way to go.
And keep going we must. People ask me a lot if we will ever move to Australia and as my children get bigger, and my roots here thicker, I always respond; life here, while the kids are young, is good. Education is better. Neither my husband nor myself need live to work; our work-life balance is healthy and the culture here encourages that. We have chosen to raise our children here because we can give them more here, even though I have days when I miss Australia so deeply it’s as if part of me is there, waiting for me to go back. We have chosen to raise our children here, because we love it here – the country, the people, the ideas, the way of thinking. The 87%.
And so, as my Dad always says, ‘here we are, where are we.’ Here we are, as this half of the earth prepares for her Winterschlaf and her people prepare to do battle with a pervasive, insidious way of thinking we thought had been left behind.
It is never, it seems, left behind.