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.
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?