How it All Began

In honour of Heimat now being available in ebook form, I thought I would share an excerpt of it with you all. This is taken from the introduction essay, previously unpublished, ‘How it All Began’. This essay summarises how the hell I came to be where I am. Somtimes I have to reread it to remind myself.

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What drove an Australian without a lick of German, who had never owned a ‘proper winter coat’ in her life, into the rainy, snowy, rule-loving, meaty arms of Deutschland? Good question. Excellent question.  I still, to this day, can’t really answer it because I don’t know if we ever really know what we’re doing in our early 20s, no matter how convinced we are that we do. But I can try and explain. For one thing, Germany isn’t London. For another, as a – very young and very inexperienced – writer, I was looking for stories. I needed a big, unexpected, unusual plot twist in an otherwise very lovely, rather uninteresting life. I wanted things to write about and I thought that by digging out my roots and dragging them, coiled and dirty, into a soil entirely different to that which had nourished them for 25 years, I would find precisely that. Tales and morals and lessons learnt, characters and tragedies I could put onto paper, weave into a narrative. And I had two added benefits; I didn’t really know precisely what I was doing – oh what we can do when we don’t know what we’re doing – and I had a warm, solid, unconditional home to return to, should my little body grow aweary of the great world.

Moving to Europe after my studies was a foregone conclusion – I come, after all, both from the generation of nimble feet and instant gratification, and from a country of people who turn up with broad grins and a cold beer in every corner of the world. I had, of course, done my six month ‘backpacking’ (without, admittedly, a backpack) stint around Europe and the States following university, and soon after lived and worked for a summer on a Greek island. I wanted more. I was ripe for a grand gesture, something more interesting, more daunting. A bigger shock to the system. The UK, London specifically, as an English speaking European country that had disgorged my ancestors on Sydney’s shores all those years ago, was the most obvious, but I ruled it out almost immediately on the basis it was already chock full of Australians, many of them old school friends. ‘I live in London’ had become, and indeed remains, interchangeable with ‘I come from Australia’. I needed something more, something European, still, and thus conducive to weekend jaunts across borders, but something a touch more daring. So, you know, I went with Germany.

While my family’s connections with Germany go back 160 odd years to a minuscule town in Baden Württemberg, a more recent one laid the foundations for what has become a lifelong relationship with the country – an exchange student. Hailing from Münster, he slotted into our family like my parents’ long-lost son and over a decade, our families went back and forth, visiting each other. During my backpacking stint, I spent two months in Münster drinking Jägermeister and being terrified on the Autobahn. And so it was Münster that I returned to in the autumn of 2010 after another mercurial summer spent working on the island of Santorini, making cheap cocktails for cheap backpackers. The old North Rhine-Westphalian city of churches, with its grand old palace turned university, cobbled Altstadt, and millions of bicycles ridden by the immaculately groomed Münsteranians, was the first setting of the grand gesture, the plot twist.

I thought it would be so easy. So seamless. Uni degrees and Working Holiday Visa in hand, I was anxious to set sail, ready to be on the move again. I had a few wonderful friends there, one in particular I would flat with on a big, leafy tree-lined boulevard. I even had prior knowledge of the town I was moving to, knowledge albeit somewhat eviscerated by nights out on Liquor 44 and milk. All that was left was to become fluent in the language, land a wonderful job and become, overnight, a bilingual ingénue tapping out a cult blog and a bestseller simultaneously in cafes on cobbled streets.

Read more …

Heimat as e-book – 3.99€

Heimat softcover – 12€

Heimat hardback – 20€

Heimat on Amazon

Heimat – The Book

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Comprising the first five years worth of essays and blog posts from my German adventure, Heimat is a collection of stories, ideas, and meditations on all of the dust you kick up when you move countries, when plans and expectations go out the window. It is about relationships; with countries, with people, with ourselves. It is about the Germans, their beautiful country and being quite foreign within it. It is about having a Heimat and finding another on the other side of the world.

The German word ‘heimat’ doesn’t have a direct English translation. We use the word ‘home’ and imbue it with tone, or rely on context, or say it with hand over heart. It’s rather fitting, really – a lot of things about my German life don’t have direct English translations, like house shoes and the sport of recycling. The idea of there being a home you carry in your heart, the one you feel the closest to, understood by, is an idea I find myself profoundly drawn to. My daily life is a constant exploration of the idea of home, this sense of belonging to and connection with a place that we can feel whether we inhabit that place or not.

I left home, and my Heimat, when I was 25 – home being my home country, where I was born, where I spoke the language – with a thirst for something different. I had a six month Working Holiday Visa in my pocket, and two words of German, and no idea how long I would stay. Five years, three cities, a marriage and soon to be two babies later, I am still here.

I thought I would be writing about the life of a smug Australian in Europe; minibreaks in France, meeting pals in London, gadding about in gorgeous boots and hats as the weather cooled and my merlot turned to mulled wine. I thought I’d only be in Germany for a little while, and then I’d move on, ever the glamorous, if inexpensively dressed, nomad.

But Germany stuck. Its people, its way of life and all of those odd little quirks, stuck. What I actually wrote about was the long, often lonely process of adjusting to life in a new country; about being foreign; cross cultural and long distance relationships; linguistic misunderstandings and mishaps; about the idea of home and what goes into creating one, while you miss another so acutely. And I wrote extensively about the Germans, people who came to be my friends, my neighbours, my colleagues, my bosses, my students, my husband and my family. I wrote with, as the Germans say, one eye laughing and one eye crying, because the truth of the matter is, this business of leaving one home to create another is so very, very bittersweet.

Heimat contains over 60 essays, that move in chronological order and cover life over 5 years in four cities. Some will be familiar pieces to long-time blog readers, although many of the previously published posts have been reworked and extended, and some will be brand new. They are my favourite pieces, hand-picked. I hope you love them too.

HOW TO ORDER

Heimat: Notes from an Australian in Germany is available as a paperback and hardback.

Europe, UK, USA, Canada

You guys can order direct from epubli and they will ship your copy, fresh off the press, directly to you!

Paperback edition: 12€ + sending costs

Hardback edition: 20€ + sending costs

Australia & Asia

We need to talk. Unfortunately epubli doesn’t ship to Asia Pacific (yet!). But fear not. I can easily sort out as many copies as you want/need. Just email me at livhambrett@gmail.com with ‘Heimat order’ as the title and we can go from there. No worries.

Bulk Orders

This option is perfect for gifts, or for stocking the shelves of your shop, or just if you want to own an enormous amount of copies (understandable).

  • 10 % ab 25 Stück // 10% off the total price when you order upwards of 25 copies
  • 15 % ab 50 Stück // I won’t keep translating, I think you get the idea …
  • 20 % ab 100 Stück
  • 25 % ab 250 Stück
  • 35 % ab 500 Stück
  • 50 % ab 1000 Stück

What I Know About Germans

If you don’t own a copy of this illustrated little guy, then snap one up today. The same bulk buy discounts apply.

NB. ENGLISH SPEAKERS HAVE THE OPTION OF CHANGING THE LANGUAGE ON THE EPUBLI SITE!

Writing Elsewhere

I am over here doing the completely unordinary thing of balancing work, an increasingly active baby, and the childcare relay, all of which is very boring to read about (or at least far better writing about it is found elsewhere) and means very little time to write on my beloved blog.

However. That does not mean that I haven’t been writing. Oh no, no, no. Die Lüdde’s naptime has rarely been so productively used as it has these past couple of weeks.

If you don’t know it already, get acquainted with SisterMag asap. It is a journal for the digital lady, created by two sisters in Berlin. The current, summer issue is an absolute stunner, and you can read it for free in German and English. Flick through to around page 149 or so, and there you shall find an article by me, on the history of picnics. It was a lot of fun to write, and it looks, can I just say, beautiful in the mag. Read it in German here, and English here. (No I did not write it in German, or translate it. That was left to the professionals …)

I have also collaborated with Expedia of late, and written about three unforgettable experiences for their new site, TRIP. Read about Santorini’s ancient Akrotiri here, museum hopping in Berlin here, and walking through Australia’s magnificent Daintree Forest here.

And there are the dulcet tones of an awake baby I hear. Enjoy this horrendous ‘summer weather’!

An Encouraged Habit

When I first came to this country, I carried with me several books squeezed into my suitcase that had sand in their spines and pages made crackly by the hard Mediterranean sun. I had appropriated these books from the ‘take one, give one back’ shelf at the hostel where I’d been pulling beers over the summer, prior to landing in rainy Düsseldorf to begin the German adventure. Of course, I hadn’t necessarily ‘given one back’ because I cannot bear to give books away, even the truly awful ones. I had, to be quite candid, simply staked out the shelf from my position behind the bar, and every time a different coloured spine appeared on the shelf, I would slide over, suss it out and if I liked the look of it, slip it into my bag. I never saw anyone else at that book shelf, although a big, pink Candice Bushnell disappeared with alarming speed, so there must have been someone else participating in the book stake out as well, or at least someone who needed a plane-read and Candice fit the bill.

Upon arriving in Münster, I sussed out a couple of bookshops in the city and quickly realised paperbacks, like wine, in this country are far, far less expensive than they are in Australia. 8€ for fresh, crisp new novel, 3€ for a classic. I began to feed my habit with relish. I went on crime binges – Germans love crime, they fill the shelves – barely finishing one before I was back in the bookshop ringing up another. I couldn’t believe books were less than 10€, just like I couldn’t believe a completely drinkable bottle of red hovered around the 3€ mark. My book collection grew. The torn, sandy, crackly books purloined from a hostel shelf in Santorini, were joined by new, straight-backed novels with barely-cracked spines.

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Then we moved to Weiden. The bookshops in town were a little smaller, their English sections smaller still. I had read a lot of the books they offered. I turned to Amazon, where the selection was vast, the delivery speedy and the price tag of a second hand book always around 3€. I chewed through series and authors. There was something about receiving these used books, as if the baton was being passed on to me and these wrinkly-spined copies were now finding a final resting place on my shelves. Next to the sandy, crackly ones and the straight-backed ones with barely cracked spines.

Our first time living in Kiel, I discovered a ‘take one, give one back’ shelf at work, and both a  discount bookshop and a big shiny Thalia just around the corner from work. I took (and gave two back this time) and bought and read and my collection grew bigger still. Reading, a once pricey habit to support in Sydney, was now one I could feed on as regular a basis as I needed.

Back in Sydney this year, I pulled all of my books out of storage and purchased extra luggage to cart them back over to Germany. Of our nearly 100kg of luggage that came back to Germany with us, at least 40kg of it were books. Books from home and other travels that now rub covers with the Greek ones and the Münsteranian ones and Amazon ones. Books from high school and university and birthdays that I was never going to let go of, because I can’t throw books out, nor give them away.

This time in Kiel, we have moved within a stone’s throw of three book Antiquariats, where I can regularly binge on 2.50€ paperbacks. Book Antiquariats, purveyors of second hand books, are seemingly beloved by Germans. But of course they are because – and why has it taken this long to sink in? – because Germans love books. They love reading. There seems to be room enough for the Amazon buyers, the big shiny bookshop buyers and the Antiquariats. There are huge tables of books at the monthly flea-markets, little tables outside of shops otherwise completely unrelated to books (like the little fish shop down our street). Here, in Kiel, I can buy as many books as my little heart desires. Reading isn’t an expensive habit, it is an enabled one, it is an encouraged one.

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This weekend I went into one of the Antiquariats  near us for the first time, cheating on my regular (although the current English shelf at my regular is a little depleted, so I had reason). It was floor to ceiling books. Books papered the walls, were stacked precariously along the crammed aisles. The owner sat, reading, behind a table covered in books, using an old computer that was balanced on a few books, its mouse resting on a hip-high stack of books. To see him, we had to peer over a mountain of Brothers Grimm dictionaries. The bookshelves themselves were so high, stools were scattered about to reach the top books, but I don’t think even then I’d manage. We bought three books for 9.50€. You wouldn’t get out of three Fritz colas at a cafe for less than 9.50€, with tip.

For all of our differences – we can’t agree on what constitutes good coffee, for example – Germany and I love to read. We love an abundance of books, old and new, available at every turn, for a fair price, or indeed no price at all if we’re talking about the ‘take one, give one back’ system, my abuse of which has led SG to come to the conclusion (while he was reading The Book Thief) that I am the book thief. But I have not thieved for some time (weeks, at least) from the communal work bookshelf. The only books left are in Spanish, and besides, I have a new source to burrow into. Along with the man behind the mountain of Brothers Grimm dictionaries.

Ich mach was mit Büchern

Ich mach was mit Büchern is a bookish, writerly website with something of a cult following here in Germany. Founded by Leander Wattig in 2009 (who also ran the Autoren Runde at this year’s Leipzig Book Festival, which I participated in) it picks the brains of all manner of writers about their work, their habits and how they work with books.

Today you may see a familiar mug on the site – and I must confess, I did not answer in German, I answered in English and it was translated. As gorgeous as my German is …

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On Your TV

I popped across to Berlin a couple of weeks ago, to take Deutsche Welle up on their kind invitation to film an episode of Insight Germany. Insight Germany is a program from Deutsche Welle’s English speaking stable that ‘explores the unique perspectives of people who have come to Germany to live and work.’

My episode is airing tomorrow. It was huge fun to film and I realised just how much I use my hands when I speak, so I apologise in advance if them waving about during the interview is distracting. The host, Michaela, and I spoke at length about the book and the various impressions of Germany I have written about, including why I remain baffled over the popularity of Spargel.

So, where and how you can see it:

Global broadcasting times – for those with Deutsche Welle on their TV

Livestream online – for those who want to see it IMMEDIATELY. It will be broadcast on Wednesday, April 30th at 4:15 pm UTC, 18:15 German time.

Online link to the episode – for those who will watch online. This link goes directly to my episode.

The show’s website and episode list – in case you want to check out other episodes.

So, there you go. I hope you enjoy watching it and if you do (watch it, that is … actually, watch it and enjoy it) I’d love to hear from you. And I believe you can win a copy of the book, so that (alongside my hands) is an even further incentive to watch!

And, because the weekend was so gobsmackingly beautiful, a couple of photos:

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A Short Guide to Volunteering in Germany

There are plenty of things you can do in Germany, as a foreigner wanting to live here. Sure, it’s easier if you’re an EU citizen – less paperwork, no visa renewing, indeed no visa at all, I think? – but us non-EU citizens also have options too. Germany generally sets the hurdles relatively low (lower than Australia, anyway) as long as you’re within reach of an industrial photocopier to make sure you have ten copies of every single document pertaining to your German stay.

This week I’ve written a piece for Young Germany on volunteering in Deutschland. Last week I wrote about the Voluntary Social Year and Voluntary Ecological Year that can be undertaken  for 12-18 months by German citizens, EU citizens and non-EU citizens, who are under 27.

(But that) of course begs the questions – what if my reasons for volunteering are not solely to find a vocation? What if I’m over 27? What if I want to volunteer for a period of time that exceeds eighteen months? Perhaps you’re after something more flexible, or part time, or in positions outside of the social and environmental sectors. Options abound for those looking to volunteer in Germany, both as a German citizen, EU citizen, or non-EU citizen, through a variety of organisations. You just need to know where to look.

Does it matter if I don’t speak German? How do I find organisations in my city? Read on to learn more about your options when it comes to volunteering in Germany.

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But Why Was It So Popular?

So we had a grand old time in Leipzig at table number ten, discussing how a blog post became a book. I chirped away in what wasn’t necessarily German, it could indeed have been any language really, it could have been Hungarian. In fact, I think it was Hungarian? My genuinely bilingual (possibly tri, you know how this Europeans are) partner in crime, Evi from epubli, deftly untangled my garble and fielded questions about digital publishing, or indeed stepped in to translate when I tied myself up in knots trying to get the verb in the right form (I think most of the time I forget about the verb entirely and left it off – this is what happens, German, when you put the flipping verb at the end of a sentence, people forget to use it.) Anyway, a couple of photos are over on Facebook if you’d like to pop across and have a look.

Our table participants at the Autorenrunde were all writers, both published and emerging, budding memoirists and novelists, some had just sold an MS, some were looking to self publish. There were several bloggers and several more looking to start blogging. Essentially, we were all in one big, similar-looking boat, frantically rowing trying to find the sandy shore of writerly success.

The questions were quite varied. Many focused on the ins and outs of self and digital publishing, some were about blogging itself – how often, on what topics, indeed how do I set up a blog? Is it worth blogging if you want to write a book? But one question kept coming up time and time again and it involved the slim little book What I Know About Germans. How, the participants wanted to know, did a list of things about Germans go viral? How did it wind up with nearly 200,000 collective Facebook likes and shares, thousands of tweets and hundreds of comments. What made it worth turning into a book, a book that people are actually buying?

Tja, good question. We weren’t able to go into too much detail about how or why WIKAG did what it did, but it was such a pertinent question on the day, I thought I’d give my two cents today (and trust me, I’ve thought about this a lot).

The Theme + It’s So Positive + Germans Can Laugh at Themselves

Really, the theme. Germans. But who wants to read over 100 things about Germans? Well, Germans do, for one, and there are a lot of them, plus a couple of German speaking neighbouring countries keen to see what a foreigner thinks (and also keen to disagree on any of the too-positive points). Germans also have family and friends all over the world, or have married non-Germans who are seeking to understand their strange Germanic partner’s habits a little better. There are also large amounts of descendants from German immigrants, particularly in the states, who found reading about current German culture extremely interesting, and connected with several of the points.

Germans themselves are deeply interested in how they are perceived by outsiders because they are deeply certain it’s almost always going to be negative. One of the things I hear the most from readers is ‘this list is so positive,’ or ‘this list is too nice’. I have even been accused of brown-nosing once or twice, although there isn’t a brown nose to see when I lose my temper about wild queueing and the fact that wherever you go in Germany only one bloody Kasse is ever open. Post office, supermarket, H&bloodyM.

I think a lot of Germans approached this list thinking, oh yeah, bring it on, we’re boring and humourless and punctual (true). But what they actually read were generally positive things, specific to their daily lives, as seen by a foreigner. It was fun, well-intentioned, sympatisch. And perhaps for some, if comments and emails are to be believed, the first time they’d read something about their culture and their people, quite like this.

Germany is Pretty Cool Right Now

There has been a big interest in German culture for the past couple of years, and I can speak especially for English speaking countries. How does Germany do what it does economically? Why are they so good at football? Berlin, perennially cool even when it isn’t, is a magnet for creatives and jostles with bloggers and artists and musicians from English speaking countries, who are sending word out that Germany is the place to be. Media in the UK alternates between running WW2 stories and naming Germany 2013’s most popular country.

Books on Germanic adventures abound. My pick? Simon Winder’s Germania. It is hysterical.

The Structure

As far as the internet goes, most people clicking around at work are looking for things that are easy and fun to read. Lists are easy to read. They speak to the average internet user’s short attention span, and can dole out large amounts of information without making the reader feel like they’re wading through words.

So, there you go. Enjoy your Monday.

About the Traps

The 2014 Leipzig Book Fair has kicked off and a marvellous opportunity has arisen out of it this year for me and a certain little book. This weekend, I’ll be there presenting What I Know About Germans at the Leipziger Autorenrunde, at a roundtable discussion on “Vom Blogartikel zum eigenen Buch – Über erfolgreiches Selbst-Marketing im Social Web”. There are so many wonderful things being discussed at this particular event – check out the full program here – and I believe you can still buy tickets here.

And if you haven’t bought your illustrated paperback copy of What I Know About Germans yet – why not? Buy it here in euros, or here in pounds, and have it delivered, freshly minted, to your door.

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Stuck for vocational or academic inspiration or direction? Keen to undertake work that makes a difference and contributes to society? Or perhaps you are interested in spending a year in Germany, to learn more about the country’s social services sector, improve your German and gather valuable professional and philanthropic experience. The Voluntary Social Year may be for you.

I’ve written an article on the German Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr) which you can find over at Young Germany.

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A Little Christmas Tip

The postman rang the doorbell at 9 o’clock this morning. It is difficult to begrudge him when he does this on a Saturday, because it only means he is bearing a parcel and parcels are always good. The parcel this morning contained ten copies of this:

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I struggle to know what to write about this book, largely because it’s always odd to write about something you have written, so I’m not quite sure how to proceed … but I do want to say that this book is so much fun. Josh Bauman’s illustrations are fantastic. He has given me exceptionally good legs (and I do appear on numerous pages, joining in or checking out the Germans) and there is such warmth and humour and detail in his depictions.

If you want to get this for Christmas, may I suggest you order it now? The paperback takes between 8-10 days, and Christmas is in 9 (10, if you celebrate on the 25th) so you better get to it. Of course, there’s also an ebook version, if that’s more your cup of tea.

Order it here in euros, or here in pounds. And check out its own little website here.