Tuesday, 25 March 2008

German Impressions

I've just got back from my Easter weekend in Germany and I thought I would write a little about my impressions of the Germans and Germany.

I had a conference/workshop in Darmstadt for a few days and then I headed off first to Heidelberg and then to Munich. The conference was really awesome, small, only about 20-30 people, who were all doing the same thing in this highly specialised field. So that meant that everyone was interested in all the talks, which certainly makes a change from the usual conferences. Because it was so small it was also really easy to chat to people over coffee and ask them different questions about their work, this is one thing that I think I will miss when I change jobs. I really enjoyed chatting to, generally, intelligent, interesting people about work they were really motivated by. I hope my next job has this aspect of academia, because I really did enjoy it.

My first impression of Germany is that it was cold, this is a photo of me outside the conference building during one of the morning coffee breaks, and yes that is snow, and yes it is meant to now be officially spring. Everytime I have been to Germany (a whole 2 times this year) it has been about 5 degrees colder than Paris, now that could just be that Europe goes through a cold snap everytime I go over there, but it means that I now always imagine Germany as freezing cold.

My most overwhelming impression of the Germans I met in my travels was that they really like shouting, particularly at tourists. That was the thing I really disliked the most during the weekend, never knowing when some serving person would start shouting at me for something. If only I knew what I was doing wrong I could try and not do it again, but it seemed to be fairly random when the next outburst would occur. One of the strangest incidents was when I was walking around a museum and I start to go into a room I'd already been into and the attendant comes up, tells me I've already been there and that I should continue on the other way. I then make the mistake of taking a few steps the wrong way (I wanted to see for myself that I had really been in that room), the attendant then shouts at me that I have to go the other way until I hurry the way he was pointing. There was to be no short-cutting at that museum, you were going to see every last room, and you were damn well going to enjoy them!

When I was in Munich I was also a little startled by the sheer numbers of old people, and I'm talking over 80 old, not merely over 50. There were hardly any people under 40 and the ones that were seemed to be tourists. I was sitting in a restaurant eating lunch and I notice that easily 90% of the patrons were well over 80, I didn't realise Germany had such an old population, and since there were hardly any kids I don't know who is supporting these thousands of oldies. The last off-putting thing was the proportion of freaky old men in Munich, it is true I did spend a bit of time around the main train station, a real magnet for freaky people, but there was definitely a higher proportion there than elsewhere. It was as if when the men hit 50 they all take out a subscription to Dirty Old Men Monthly for the fashion advice, that was actually a bit scary at times especially on the trains and when combined with their shouting.

Germany was nice though, it was good to experience another, completely different, culture for the weekend, though I'm sorry to say Germany that I think I prefer France. I will be posting some of my adventures later, I did see some lovely scenery and castles, I just think it takes longer than 4 days to get used to the German ways and perhaps start to appreciate what I currently see as their freaky ways.

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