By Sandeep Joshi
Sandeep Joshi is a German Chancellor fellow from India, currently on a research stay in Germany, sponsored by the Alexander von Humbolt Stiftung.
The late morning sun shines brightly in my eyes, as I wake up. Squinting and struggling to open my eyes, I get up. “Ah, the first morning in the foreign land…”, I murmur to myself as I step over to the window. A bright, clear day with such… wait a minute, what the hell is that? The streets are swarming with weird, one-legged and three-eyed alien-like creatures, marching around in all directions; some on foot, some on bikes. I grab the window-sill for support, as my head spins from the shock.
“Achtung! Das ist die Radfahrspur.”, screams one of them to another, whizzing past him on a bike through a red-coloured road strip right below my window.
Trrrrrrrrrrrrrriiinnnn… My alarm goes off, waking me up in reality, out of this weirdly spooky dream. This is actually my first morning in Deutschland. I had arrived last evening in Berlin and then took a train to Mannheim, my home city for next 1 year. I had boarded from India last morning with the excitement of a toddler, looking forward to being in Europe. Many friends and colleagues, as is customary in India, had given their unsolicited advice about Germany and Europe, despite never themselves being here in their lives. I listened to almost none of them. “How hard it could be! Just don’t say Sieg Heil in Germany and one will be fine..”, I always said to myself to calm my nerves about being here.
As excited as I was, being first time in Europe, I was underwhelmed by the lack of any activity in Berlin. Almost everything was closed on a Tuesday evening. It was a public holiday, the Day of Reformation, I was told. Not a convincing explanation for me as I was too used to the never-ending hustle and bustle of Indian cities. “So lesson 1, nothing opens on a public holiday in Germany.”, I made a mental note as I proceeded to take my train from the massive and impressive Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Damn, I have seen so many airports less impressive than that! The train ride was comfortable and uneventful. I reached Mannheim late evening and went straight away to bed.
A coffee and a quick shower later, I was ready to go out and get some breakfast. It was an uncharacteristically bright day for early November, I would learn later. A short stroll into the city centre and I notice something is not quite right. Everything is closed here as well. And there’s almost nobody on the streets. “Did something terrible happen while I was asleep? Did Trump or the Rocketman hit the red button?”, ominous thoughts invaded my mind as I quickly checked the news feed on my phone. A perfectly normal day for the world, I learnt. I saw a bakery door open and quickly rushed towards that.
“Wir sind heute geschlossen,” The lady cleaning the shelves announced as I put my first step into the doo
I stared at her with a blank face.
“We are closed today.”, she said understanding that I knew zero German.
“Why?”, a stupid question came out of my mouth as my mind struggled to understand what was going on in this country.
“It’s a holiday.”, she didn’t bother to lift her head up.
“But that was yesterday!?!”, I insisted, driven by the greed for some famed German bread.
“There was no holiday yesterday. Today is holiday.”, I could comprehend she was annoyed.
I stepped out, defeated. “Good old Google to the rescue”, as I transferred my confusion to the Google search bar on my phone. A few minutes of searching and I learnt that what was a holiday in Berlin yesterday wasn’t a holiday here. And today’s holiday here called All Saints Day, wasn’t a holiday in Berlin. “God! Is it going to be just as complicated for 1 whole year!?!
What have I gotten myself into.”, I sulked as hunger pangs kept reminding me I had to find breakfast notwithstanding arbitrary German holidays that follow you wherever you go.
The trusted Google came in handy once again as I learnt that a Cafe in Hauptbahnhof (the main train station of the city) was open on Sundays as well. I headed over to the cafe. What a relief it was to see people going around at the station while I had my breakfast. “Could totally relate to Robinson Crusoe”, I said to myself as I nibbled on some fresh Croissant with coffee.
I spent the rest of the day rather uneventfully, surfing the internet in my room. But I had learnt enough lessons already about life in Germany, which are going to be mighty helpful in coming times. So, to sum it all up, so that you don’t have to learn the hard way, the way I did, here’s the life lesson: