So, after having experienced the first snow-fall in Kiel, I guess I can say I am really resident here now. I still like it (well, when it is not snowing). I may have said this before, also it's not that big of a surprise but to me it makes it very clear once again that country borders are just lines on the map which shouldn't be attributed too much meaning: Northern Germany is much similar to the Netherlands than it is to Austria or southern Germany. Now, the definition of Northern Germany is of course dependent on where you are and who you ask.
I once asked my roommates (because I really didn't know and was genuinely interested), which was the province south of Schleswig-Holstein. Hamburg, was the answer, so I learned that Hamburg, besides being "the city" people here refer to, when they say, the go to the city (Kiel then is not a city, apparently) is also a province. Fine, so what's south of Hamburg? "Bavaria" was the answer. Since my roommates have a very nice sense of humour I didn't think much of this, but later I heard other people say the same. Of course, they do know that there is still some blank space between Bavaria and Hamburg, but what they want to say is that everything south of Hamburg is southern Germany.
But somewhere in central Germany they might still tell you, they are Northern Germany. Not that it is important to absolutely define Northern Germany but it is quite obvious that you can't think of Germany as one country with one culture. I for my part know that I am living in the north when it is still dark outside at 8 am and already dark at 4 pm and the day of the winter solstice, the day that we've all been waiting for for so long (only most people get the exact date wrong) is still a month away. [You can tell by this sentence when I started to write this blog and by that guess, how long it often takes me to finish one - which also explains why they always turn out so long. Anyways, I was really busy with school work over the last weeks but the winter solstice was actually this morning - so happy new year to everyone!)
But houses here look a lot like in the Netherlands, and so do whole neighbourhoods. And sometimes, when I am lost in thought, I still sometimes think, I am back in the Netherlands. Now the problem with this is, that then I start talking Dutch - or I want to, and I can only just stop myself. Actually, what I said about building styles is also true for language in a way. I try my best to speak understandable high German when talking to locals (unless I am speaking in English, which luckily I do a lot in my master's program). Of course, I can't hide my accent, and I was very happy, when I was accused of having and "Alpine" accent, when talking German. That was really nice. Somehow it made me very happy, that I was judged just to be from the southern part of the German speaking region and not identified as an Austrian. I am not ashamed, of course, to be Austrian, I mean, I didn't choose my nationality. Just like no one chose to be Syrian or Moroccan or German. But I prefer for people to know the region I am from rather than the country, which doesn't define me half as much as the region.
Anyways, so I was talking about the language. Dutch is in many ways very similar to northern German language. Which means that, when I try to talk in that language, I tend to use some Dutch words just by accident. And funnily enough most of the time the Dutch words I use are just being ignored, while the Austrian German words or phrases I use are never understood. As if I was talking Chinese. So I only slowly start to learn which parts of my native language are not understood by Germans. Even though they are pronounced perfectly well. The thing that I refuse to understand is that I can understand everything the Germans say, even if I wouldn't use the words or phrases, I still know what they mean or have learned them long ago. Of course there are TV shows from Germany broadcasted in Austria and a lot of books are translated into German German rather than Austrian German and so on, but still, how come that I understand everything and they don't understand me?! And then suddenly I get somewhat protective about Austria and I stand up and say that I am not German. Well, I mean I would always proudly say that I am not German, but sometimes I even admit that I am Austrian, just to make a point. And I explain what I mean when I am saying something and continue to say it anyways, because I don't want to be assimilated.
Other things I worry about on a daily basis are mainly transport issues. Of course, I have lived in the Netherlands for long enough to be used to good public transport and bike lanes everywhere. I have also lived in Mexico for long enough to be used to public transport that gets you anywhere you want. And I have lived in rural Austria for long enough to be used to be entirely dependent on a car - which, by the way, is part of the reason I prefer to live in a not too rural place.
In Kiel, there are a lot of bike lanes and bike paths. Only they are not always well identified. In the Netherlands they are just always red, so you always know as a cyclist, where you have to go. Here it's not like this. Even in parts of the town that I know somewhat already I still sometimes bike in the wrong place, just because I only notice too late, that I should have gone somewhere else. Luckily cars and pedestrians are usually quite understanding (or they don't have any choice but be that). Kiel is not Miami, if you don't bike very carefully you don't necessarily get run over immediately.
Still, there are some funny things to note about traffic in Kiel. One is that people rely on cars much more than I am used to for a small city. In Innsbruck everybody I know bikes or takes the bus, same for Utrecht and Amsterdam and in Mexico most people don't have a driving license so they just use public transports (and some bike in Mexico City but usually only as sport and not as a means of transport, similar to Miami). Here a lot of people have cars and also use them frequently. I can partly also understand why, because busses to where I live are fine but if it's the weekend or after 8pm sometimes I am faster if I walk and almost always biking is the fastest option although it is quite dangerous when it's freezing or snowing. There are bike paths almost everywhere, as I said, and there are also a lot of cyclists. It is nothing compared to Amsterdam, of course, but if you get to university at 8 or 10 am there is a noticeable rush hour on the bike path and then it becomes obvious that existing bike paths are not really fit for the reality of bike traffic in Kiel. So many times people also bike on the pedestrian lane, which is usually much wider than needed whereas the bike lane is usually very narrow and does not provide space to pass by other cyclists. This means that often you have to pass other bikes on the right rather than the left side. Which is not quite safe, but you get used to it. Of course, there would be better ways to solve this, but instead of improving the bike paths, the city of Kiel rather invests in billboards telling cyclists to be so kind as not to bike on the sidewalk. Well, there are also people who believe that building big roads and then putting speed limits there will effectively slow down cars. Maybe city planners should be obliged to use a bike once a week, so they understand what they are doing wrong.
Anyways, there's more to that. Now, of course, when I come to a new place, I always try to find out about the ways of life there. Because what is written in laws does not normally represent normality. For example in the Netherlands there are some places where other cyclists will actually get mad at you if you stop for a red light so they can't pass. Also for example in the Netherlands almost all cyclists always have lights (in Amsterdam more than anywhere else). This for the simple reason that police frequently checks your lights and if you don't have any you have to pay a fine of 60€, I think, which is about twice as much as you would spend for lights. So I also got lights, when I lived there, and ever since then I have always had lights for my bike everywhere because I must honestly say it is much safer. Here in Kiel, on the other hand, having lights on your bike doesn't seem to be so important. Which is bad, because also street lights aren't the best (especially for sidewalks and bike paths), so it actually is really dangerous if you bike at night without a light. Talking about that, mine was broken after the snow and I didn't know how to fix it (it's the new technology I just don't know). Luckily there is a bike self-repair center here in Kiel, where you can go, use the tools they have and they will help you with everything. So I learned how to fix my lights, the chain and my breaks and my bike is as good as new again. Love that! Just like there are many other cool things here in Kiel like the package free store (like the one that opened in Innsbruck recently), and a project for homeless and long-term unemployed people. Actually Kiel is really cool, in case I haven't mentioned that ;)
Okay, but what I was actually going to say is: so I get to a place and observe what people do. Do they follow traffic rules, and how much? Do they greet each other and how? How do you talk in a shop? All of these things are in the end what makes up the culture of a place. And I have a personal theory that the revolutionary potential of a place (or country) can be judged by how much people obey traffic rules. If this is true, then Kiel probably has a revolutionary potential of just above zero. Now, just with language, I don't think that it is always necessary to absolutely blend in, it is only important to understand the local customs and why some things are or are not done. For example there may be perfectly valid reasons, why cyclists stop for a red light. So I do too, always, unless I know the crossing very well and I know it is not necessary to stop (or when I am in a hurry). And sometimes I still stop if other people are waiting too. I don't really know why. The most important one I could easily run every day is actually set in a way so that even if you ignore the first red light you still have to wait for the next one 100 meters further down, so it doesn't help you much at all to run it. But if I am in a hurry I still will, now that I know that there is almost never a car and if there is one it drives very slowly. In general, car drivers are certainly much more responsible than in Miami but they are really just average European. Some are really nice and careful, while some are just as annoying as car drivers would be: parking on the bike lane, turning while someone is crossing the street, driving too fast… I never get to the university without any car-problems in any case.
For the rest, I really notice that I live in a village rather than in Kiel. If you go into a shop, people are always really friendly and talkative. I know, I said this about Kiel in general at the beginning, and compared to some other places it is true too, but it is even more true on the outskirts. We are officially part of Kiel but we are just a little village. Since my football club got all new training suits, everybody playing for the club also wears them sometimes so we recognize each other even though we don't know each other. It really helps to produce a community feeling.
Outside that community of where I live, where I am just anonymous like in Bad Aussee, I have made an astonishing number of friends in a very short time. Most are from my master's program, naturally, but I also mainly become friends with them if we also meet somewhere else, like in sports. For my part, I know that I really arrived in a place when most of my days are spent hurrying from one place to the next. I am not someone who is normally late, but sometimes my schedule is so tight that I am now. And when, on a busy day, I get a text message or email asking if I have time to meet, and instead of saying the truth, which is no, I agree, squeezing my schedule even more and making my life much harder but much fuller at the same time. I think I have said before, that I am really happy to be able to play so much sports now that I am here. Well, next to football and floorball I now also started climbing. Yes, I know, and yes, it is flat here. But the university of Kiel has a climbing hall, which the university of Innsbruck cannot boast with. And no, I do not miss the mountains, I just thought, now is the time, and so it was! I love it, and my schedule gets much tighter, meaning that I spend a lot of time with nice people doing something I like, which really should be the goal in life I would say.
And for the official reason why I am here, currently I can't say too much. Much as expected, some of the classes in the first semester are very boring, but some are also really interesting and I get to work on exactly what I want to work on. You just have to pick the right courses and then it's fine. In this context I also have some good and bad news: the bad news is: the real change will take its time to come. The good news is: it's on its way!
And one last thing about the time of the year. As I said, up here in the north, it's quite dark these days. And of course Christmas is around the corner. People around the world get crazy about this holiday to very varying degrees. Here they put up an amazing amount of Christmas lights in their gardens. I think they look really ugly, as they do everywhere, but here it kind of makes sense, because the dark days become a little less so in a way. And maybe that is also the real reason why they put them up. I don't know, they are also crazy about Christmas, of course, and I can't put into words how glad I am that I don't have anything to do with that. Even better: for the first time ever, I have Muslim friends, who don't celebrate Christmas and for once I don't have to sit alone at home on the holidays because everybody else is with their families. The downside to that is that I have less time to do my work for my courses, but well, you have to set priorities. The climbing hall is closed during the holidays so not much else to do ;)
Oh, and one more last thing: the weather is really nice, if it stays like this I will be perfectly happy with the "winter". I am afraid it will still get cold and then I will have to see how biking in the snow will be but I hope for the best.
And the last last remark: While I still like Kiel as a place to live and study I still feel appalled by the very idea (and more so by the truth) that Germany now officially takes part in a war they have no legitimate reason to join. And much more about the fact that there were no mass demonstrations when they announced it. And then I feel like I want to be somewhere else. But then, I also know that Germany is not much worse or better than other countries. And I remind myself that change is on its way…
In this sense I wish you all happy holidays, happy New Year and an optimistic view for the future.
PS: there aren't really a lot of photos from around here yet, because I spend most of my time in front of the computer, playing sports or climbing or socializing. I will upload some as I get more… The picture with this blog is of a war memorial around here, to remind us all of the dark history that we don't want to repeat!