Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Day 0 - Rocking in Fort William

"Are you going to a rock concert?", the old lady asks me.

I stare at her. She stares back.

"Why?", I ask, but really I want to say something like "Why are you so prejudiced? Why do you assume every young person to be a punk, a rebel, and something entirely different from yourself? Why do you care where I'm going?" - but I don't.

"Well, I just...", her voice trails off, she's clearly embarrassed. I look down on myself. Brown walking trousers, a simple blue T-Shirt, walking boots and then there's the big trekking rucksack next to me. I definitely don't look anything like someone going to a rock concert. Maybe to a music festival, but why would I be wearing the heavy boots for that?

"I'm going walking in the Highlands", I explain, and suddenly the little old lady couldn't be friendlier.

We are standing at Stirling  bus station, and we have been doing so for quite some time. The bus is late, 25 minutes, we were told, but I've been here for 45 minutes and there's still no sign of any bus. At some point, I ask at the office, where some really unfriendly people tell me that the bus won't be coming. Oh, and we could have taken that other bus to Oban that left ten minutes ago. Thanks for telling me now.

So I take a bus to Glasgow, and there change for Fort William. The route the Citylink bus takes is stunning; it seems to follow the West Highland Way for quite some time, judging from the amount of people with big rucksacks we are passing. There is still some snow on the mountains around us, not just on Ben Nevis, but also some of the smaller munros.

Having arrived in Fort William (four hours later than planned), I start my search for Piotr's house. I am couchsurfing with Piotr, a really nice guy from Poland, together with a guy from Hong Kong and two Franco-Canadian girls. We have a really nice evening, filled with lots of interesting discussions, and later on we have a barbecue in the midge-surrounded garden. We're all too hungry to wait for the food to be ready, so we just eat the freshly barbecued food while standing around the grill.

Read more about my East Highland Way trip here.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The teacher

There are no official statistics on the number of German nationals living and working in Scotland, but the German consulate in Edinburgh estimates it at 40,000 people. One of them is Kerstin Pfeiffer, who is teaching German at Heriott-Watt University in Edinburgh. After living in Scotland for more than eight years, she has no desire to go back to Germany. “I am rooted so deeply into Scottish earth now, I am here to stay,” she explains. She studied English back in Germany, and did her PhD in medieval drama at the University of Stirling, while teaching German at the same time.

When she first came to Scotland, she planned to stay for a year. But when the year came to a close, she decided to linger here a little longer. She likes the openness and relaxed manner of the Scottish people. She likes how unbureaucratic Scottish life can be. She likes how informal and welcoming people communicate here. And then there are the highlands, just half an hour away, where everything is calm and quiet, where Kerstin Pfeiffer can relax and enjoy the beautiful Scottish countryside. Now, in her mid-thirties, she feels like there is nothing that could make her decide to move back to her home town in Rheinhessen, a rural wine-growing region in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

However, when asked about her feeling of national identity, she makes it clear that she is not just from Germany, but, more specifically, from Rheinhessen. “In our area, local patriotism and pride in our heritage is still very strong,” Kerstin Pfeiffer explains. She enjoys being able to speak her local dialect there without raised eyebrows and pitying glances. And really, if she has to identify herself as other than from Rheinhessen, she would say that she is European. “I only say 'I'm from Germany' when people abroad ask me about where I come from. It would be too much explaining otherwise.”

Kerstin Pfeiffer enjoys living in Scotland. But there is one thing she could do without. “Sometimes I feel afraid walking home on a Friday evening because there are so many extremely drunk people on the streets,” she tells me. Even though she comes from a region splattered with vineyards and wineries, the Scottish binge drinking culture is something she had not seen before.

In a recent YouGov survey commissioned for the annual Anglo-German Königswinter conference, 40 percent of Brits and almost as many Germans questioned thought that the attribute “drunk” applied to the British population. In stark contrast to that, only very few individuals thought that German people could be described in the same way. Germans who had visited Britain in the past were actually more likely to describe the British as “drunk” than those who had never been to the UK.

But other than the fear of drunken Scots, Kerstin Pfeiffer has so far had nothing but positive experiences in Scotland. Sometimes, when she tells other people that she's from Germany, they tell her about their favourite currywurst-stalls and long nights in a Bavarian Bierzelt (beer tent).

The student

“I don't mind the weather,” Johannes says. “Really, I don't. It's what you make of it.” Johannes Butscher is 22, and has been living in Scotland for almost two years now. He studies Politics at the University of Stirling, and is currently running as a Green party candidate for the local council elections. He chose to study in Scotland because of the free university education for European students, and because of the high reputation a British education enjoys abroad. He is not alone: Twenty percent of all students in Scotland come from abroad, three percent more than the British average.

According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), there are currently more than 16,000 German nationals studying in the UK. The only other European country sending more students to the UK is the Republic of Ireland.

Germany has one of the most mobile student populations worldwide, with students being encouraged to go abroad from an early age. The German government wants at least half of students to spend a term or more abroad, and consequently ensures that funding and supportive programmes are in place. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) currently sponsors 55,000 individuals a year to give them the possibility to go abroad during their studies.

Johannes Butscher likes the Scottish people for their friendly and open demeanour. “People here still have a sense of pride in their country, a kind of positive nationalism, and I really enjoy seeing that,” he says.
Nationalism is seen with one sceptical and one worried eye in Germany. Even though the 2006 Football World Cup has had a major impact on national pride and the confidence to admit it, many Germans still feel uncomfortable with the black-red-golden flag portrayed anywhere else than on official buildings. There is a fear of the spark of national pride growing into something bigger, something fearsome, something, that has happened once and should not be repeated.

Even though the younger generations of Germany see this in a more relaxed way, the suspicion is still there. “Germany is not yet ready for nationalism,” says Johannes. Instead of being proud to be German, he is proud to be European. Like Udo Seiwert-Fauti, Johannes considers himself to be a citizen of Europe. He shows me his passport. On the cover, it says in big golden letters Europäische Union, and in the next line Bundesrepublik Deutschland, federal republic of Germany. Even on a passport cover Europe ranks higher than Germany.

But even though he feels very European, his standards, he says, are German. “I grew up with the trains system and bread there, and when I compare those features of daily life to the ones in Scotland, I think we can be proud of some of them.” One thing Johannes Butscher doesn't like about Scotland is the overflowing alcohol consumption. He puts it down to a lack of confidence. “Here, people seem to need alcohol to have the courage to be themselves”, he muses. “I think people here are insecure about their identity, about who they are and about who they are supposed to be.”

He misses drinking alcohol in a way that is more about enjoying the taste than about drinking as much as possible in as little time as possible. Once he gets started on the things he misses, it's hard for him to stop. “Think of the food in Germany – it's healthier, tastier, and not everything is fried. And there's only one tap in the bathroom instead of two. Things like that make life so much easier.”

The correspondent

A while ago, I wrote an article about three German people living in Scotland for university. It's marked now, so I guess I can publish it here. Say hello to Udo.

Udo is from Europe. He was born in Europe, he lives in Europe, and he plans to die in Europe. He is so European that most British people's hair would stand on end.

For Udo Seiwert-Fauti, it was just by chance that he was born in Germany. But while he could not change anything about his place of birth, it was his decision to spend ten years of his life living in Scotland. Udo is a journalist. And for some time, he was the only German journalist reporting from Scotland.

In 1998, the first members for the newly built Scottish parliament were elected and a whole country was on move towards devolution. There was a lot of coverage in the British media. There was little to none by German broadcasters. Udo Seiwert-Fauti, back then working at a German radio station, saw his chance. He gave in his resignation, packed up everything and moved to Edinburgh. He had the chance to experience history being written and he took it.

As the only German correspondent in Scotland, he had a monopoly on special relationships. He knew the first Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar in person, and once he had entered the parliament building, he was instantly known as the “German correspondent”. When the Pope came to Scotland, Udo-Seiwert-Fauti was invited as a Scottish citizen, not as a German.

For ten years, Udo Seiwert-Fauti lived in a semi-detached townhouse in Edinburgh south. He knows the Scots, and he knows the Germans. He has a unique view on both cultures, and he feels at home both in Edinburgh, in his village near the French border in Germany, and in Strasbourg, from where he currently reports.

In 2008, he had to return to Germany mainly due to his financial situation. But he still returns to Scotland several times each year. “I'm always looking forward to the friendliness of the Scots. It's nice when the lady at the checkout has time to actually talk to you. This never happens to me in Germany.”

A new beginning

This is going to be a blarticle. Do you like that word? I do. It sounds soft and cushy and cute. It sounds like something that can be moulded into many different forms. Perfect.
I am studying Journalism, so I won't always be writing in a - if it exists - blogging style. Instead, a mixture of articles, opinions, experiences, blagging, blogging, bligging. And if you're asking yourself, what does that mean - your best guess is as good as mine.

So, what is it going to be about? Well, I'm German, I feel European, and I live in Scotland. That's a good point to start at, don't you think? I have been living in Britain for three years now. Quite some time to get to know the British. And after living in Stirling for two years, I think I also know the Scottish. At least I think I do. Until I am surprised by something like deep-fried mars bars all over again.

I should probably warn you: There might be mistakes. English isn't my native tongue, and no matter how hard I try, there's always some tiny mistake that slips through the net. So, sorry in advance. Get over it.