I must admit that I have been visiting Germany over the years before being posted as Ambassador in August 2017 and finding myself living here.
As such, I would not exactly consider myself a novice in terms of having a feel for Germany, nor would I say that I had a distant and detached preconceived idea of the nation. My views about Germany had been cumulatively shaped over the years by visits to the country and interacting with Germans. This however changed considerably after living here for almost a year.
The first perception to be dispensed with was that Germans had an exceptional sense of humour quite different from other parts of the world. I was initially reluctant to crack jokes for fear of not eliciting the desired reaction, but soon realised that I share the same sense of humour as many Germans I come across all over the country. Many outsiders also erroneously hold the opinion Germans take themselves too seriously, without realising they possess an arsenal of self-deprecating jokes and have the self-confidence to poke fun at themselves.
The general elections and the marathon
Before living in Germany, I was not fully appreciative of the extent of its consensus system in politics and formation of government. I arrived on the eve of the 2017 elections and witnessed the extended period of negotiations before a coalition government eventually emerged. I was equally taken aback by the casual approach to election day itself when I realised the Berlin marathon was taking place on the same day, yet it did not seem to have affected voter turnout or disrupted either process.
I knew Germany to be the land of Porsche, BMW and Mercedes, a very wealthy country. Yet this impression was somewhat altered by the bescheidenheit- modesty of Germans. I have come to understand that this prevailing sense of decency is to a large extent driven by a concept of commonwealth or German body politic that supersedes individual interest. For this reason, I find 'Gemeinwesen\ to be one of the most interesting German words I have come across.
Germany is a European melting pot
The more I travel across Germany, the more I notice the similarities with my home country Nigeria, in terms of sheer size and diversity. Nigeria is a nation of 923,000 square kilometres made up of 36 states with vegetation ranging from Sahel Savanah to grassland, to woodland, to tropical rainforest and then finally coastal mangrove swamp. The contrast in some of Germany’s 16 states as I traverse from Usedom on the Baltic sea to Baden-Baden on the fringes of the Black Forest cannot be overstated. Each state or region has its idiosyncrasies and character influenced by generations of history, migratory trends and the rise and fall of empires and states. To think that Garamante (Tubu) from Chad once dwelled along the Rhine and Danube rivers and around the black forest region during the Roman Empire while the Hanseatic city states subsequently traded far and wide is simply mind blowing.
Only after one contemplates such diversity would one appreciate that Germany is truly a European melting pot, as revealed by the French, Italian, and Czech hints in surnames, to mention but a few. Yet in spite of all the diversity, the common German identity remains beyond the language. I used to think the German language was by and large the same, albeit with different dialects, until I visited Switzerland after having spent quite some time in Germany and, even my untrained ears could detect the clear difference in intonation and diction.
I have been visiting Frankfurt and its airport stretching back to the seventies when I was a youngster, but only became aware of the city’s seeming perpetual transience after I moved to Germany. A city with a population of some 700,000 that more than doubles during work hours is truly remarkable. It is even more remarkable when one takes in the fact that 180 different nationalities mingle within its boundaries.
“The biggest surprise was the summer heat”
Perhaps the biggest surprise since coming to Germany was the summer heat, even though I am made to understand this summer was exceptional. On a recent trip, I left an overcast Abuja to return to a much hotter Berlin, the same city where I walked on a frozen lake six months earlier. This to me put paid to further speculation about global warming and climate change. My impression was that I would not need an airconditioning system in Germany but that has changed, as I will need more than one, as well as a swatter to dispense with the teeming wasps when dining alfresco.