The German World – through His Eyes

Be careful what you wish for: When Pouya and I decided to relocate to Germany we were telling our friends that it would be an adventure. It’s surely been adventurous, but maybe not the adventure that we had associated.

  • Schorle!

The first word he perfected was “Schorle”, that is the German’s drink of choice: Juice mixed with sparkling water (that kind of sparkling that makes you burp immediately). After a few weeks in the country of Schorle, he was “Schorle’d out” and now we have been trying to order tab water – something that still seems to be an offense in German restaurants, which is funny given that German water is pretty clean on a world scale.

  • Amt!

The first world within the German world he detected was “Amt”, the public administration. When he registered in the town of Aalen the lady behind the counter asked him if he had already registered for “GOA”. He was a little confused since we will be traveling to Goa, India later this year and he was wondering how that lady possibly knew that. Goa, however, is the local trash agency, also called the trash-mafia. Trash is a serious matter in Swabia.

  • Wochenmarkt-Bag

Last weekend he came home in the morning from the baker. Since we’re living in the middle of town we can watch the crowds walk towards the local produce market on saturdays. He dragged me to the window and told me that he has a hypothesis: You are only an eligible member in the Aalen weekly market when you are carrying a wood braided basket. And he was right, every one was carrying the same bags.

  • No!

No, there is no good customer service here. No you cannot return something after 2weeks. No, there is no services that offer convenience services. No, the concept of good enough is not present: You do or you do not and if it is not built to last forever it shall not be build at all.

We are currently in Canada. At Thanksgiving dinner a family member asked Pouya what he thinks is so different about Germany, how this small country is able to compete on so many levels globally. And he told a fascinating and complex story of a nation that values work-live-balance, efficiency and incremental improvement.

The adventure in my head has little to do with what reality currently provides. Administrative craziness knows no boundaries and I have no more conniption fits to give. Yet, there are also wonderful things: weekends with friends from school, great healthy food, enough time for sports&family

It has been five years in the United States and I slowly understand I have hit a point of no return: I am the one who has changed and now experience the country with a different mindset. It is hard to discuss this with Germans that have not left as they think I am pissing on my home turf or think of myself as deserving more when openly admitting that I am struggling with being in Germany. The concept of home is something many of my international Fletcher friends have redefined for themselves and I am currently doing the same. It certainly helps to do this with Pouya whose eyes are open to the small things that I am sometimes not able to appreciate anymore.

This is us last week at the Munich Marathon where we both ran a 10k race – at freezing temperatures.



Let me be honest: I love my job, but I am struggling! 


I guess they call this culture shock

It has not been four weeks since I landed in Frankfurt. Usually there is a period of enthusiasm, then the most threaded valley of tears, and then you cope. While my period of enthusiasm for my new role at Zeiss, content planning and analysis for digital corporate communications (first results will be visible very soon) is unbroken, my enthusiasm for this country has stopped with the bike shop owner in Aalen telling me that he isn`t sure whether road biking really is for woman.

Before I begin my vent: A disclaimer (My complaints are the results of high expectations)

Before I will be sharing many of my observations over the next couple of days, let me disclaim this: I was born & raised in Germany. This means that I am expecting to feel home in my home country. When in the US, or in Spain, in India, in Dubai things seemed weird, people awkward, chauvinistic, politics insane, I vented, but really it did not affect me emotionally, because – at least that’s what I thought – the motherland is sane and well. And while this country is stunningly beautiful, which I haven’t really appreciated as much beforehand, there are many things I am observing that make me feel very much not at home, not belonging. And that sucks for me right now. But, I guess, at least all of you will learn a lot about Germany through my lens.

Let’s jump right in: There is no separation of church & state in this country and all of a sudden this really bothers me! 

I just saw on my first paycheck that I am paying taxes to the church. YES, I was christened and confirmed in the protestant church and that means that I am paying eight (8!!!) percent of my income tax to the church. A church that still refuses same rights for all marriages. You can opt out of the church. However, opting out of church costs a fee and can only be done in person at municipal community where you are registered. Obviously, as we know – most likely a global phenomenon – municipal communities are open pretty much three hours a day, their employees – in Germany lifetime employees of the state – are not the most enthusiastic workers and the three hours collide with every normal person’s working hours.

If you are opting out of the church there are severe consequences

Maybe not severe as in the clergy will hunt you through the streets and declare you evil, but modern world severe as in: You will not be able to get married in a house of god nor will you be able to have your child christened. Yes, now it is time for me to face these questions: How important are these things to me after all? I do not know yet.

Sunday – Funday

Since I already touched upon the churchy subject, let me get my thoughts about sundays out of my system. You cannot do anything on sundays! No supermarket, no shop, no mall, no nothing. Granted, the Southern German region is different than Berlin. However, most shops here close their doors on saturdays around 2pm. That is has become a little bit of an issue for me, since I am so used to starting my weekend with a longer bike ride saturday mornings. Obviously, the sunday is a German tradition.  Often have I told Pouya how much I miss sunday afternoon “Kaffeetrinken” / coffee and cake with the family. For a moderately busy person the leisure sundays seem quite constraining.

Speaking of fundays: The beer nation with no beer variety

Countless times have Americans told me how much they dig German beer. While it certainly is an acquired taste I really have fallen for strong, hoppy IPAs (Sip of Sunshine, my American Northeastern friends) or really tart Sour beers. While Germany has uphold the rule of the Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law: beer is only beer if it is brewed in a certain way with certain ingredients) that limits the choices you have. Hefeweizen, Lager, unfiltered. That is it. Sure, there are a thousand Hefeweizens, Lagers and unfiltereds. Still, though, that’s pretty much it. Funny how this nation remains on the global beer throne; reputation is king, I guess.

Complaints are not all I have to share with you

My self help “The How of Happiness” book which I can truly recommend to anyone states that the determinants of happiness are fairly easy: 40% is genetic predisposition (yap, you’re either born a clown or a grumpy cat), 50% is your inner attitude and 10% is outer circumstance. The 10% basically suggests that you will not be happier with 10lbs less, living in a mansion or retired, at least not permanently. The 50% are the interesting part. And that is what I want to finish with.

I am here

I am living with my colleague Petra (the apartment search will be subject of another post, too good to spoil it…), I was welcomed back with a bouquet of flowers, lots of hugs and kisses at work and at home, I have not once had a tummy ache since I have arrived (thank you, EU), and I have most likely produced 10times less trash on an average day because Germans prefer real glasses, silverware and ceramic instead of plastic or paper everything. I refuse to state that I have returned, that I am settling, that I am back. I am here! Working on a job opportunity I have never dreamed of, accompanied by a partner who will most likely develop a Swabian German accent (oh boy!) once he starts learning German in August, six weeks of paid vacation, a company that values work-life-balance and family time and lots of stories to tell.


My first soy cafe latte in Germany. Würzburg has a vibrant hipster scene. From what I have heard an oatmilk chai is a favorite here…


And for lunch: Milkrice with cinnamon and sugar 😉


The view from Würzburg’s Marienbridge: a good destination for sunday fundays where a glass of wine costs 3dollars.


Würzburg’s streets


My flowers and new desk (and, more Swag)





Enough Courage to Come Home

The day I quit my job I called ata cycle in concord and made an appointment for a bike fit: your body gets measured, the data then gets fed into an adjustable bike and while you’re biking the computer spits out recommendations like saddle height. A couple of days later I picked up a white framed, pink handle barred carbon dream. And I named it Tharros, which is the ancient Greek word for courage.

After a couple of hundred miles in New England, Dubai, Germany and Canada (not all of them on Tharros), I have decided to do my first triathlon this summer. And I will do this one at home. After now four years in Boston I am literally taking my courage and moving to Germany. Almost four years ago I wrote a post titled “Danke, Carl Zeiss”. Since then I have been in touch with colleagues, working as a student during grad school, following company news, stayed in touch with many of my former colleagues. And, you’re probably guessing it already, the story continues: I will be joining the Corporate Zeiss Communications team at the beginning of June, ending my funemployment sooner than I would have thought.

While I will leave a great network of friends in Boston, I am more than excited to write that I will be accompanied by the man who has become my partner, wonderful friend, reliable accomplice and travel mate. Pouya will move to Germany a little later this summer, ready for lots of Hefeweizen, sausage, climbing the Southern German mountains on his bike, learning German (little does he know that he will most likely end up speaking with a heavy Swabian accent) and probably also becoming familiar with German neurotics.

I am leaving you, as always, with some funemployment impressions:


Yearning for German Christmas Traditions

Yesterday, December 6th, is Nikolaus. The only day I voluntarily cleaned my shoes. Why? Because – that’s the tradition – children put their clean boots in front of the house the night before December 6th, hoping that St. Nikolaus will reward them for having been on good.

As a strong believer that you shall never fully grow up Nikolaus continues to be a very special day for me & my family in December. This morning I woke up to so many Nikolaus messages from my whole family and yesterday I picked up a package filled with Nikolaus goodies from my Mom, just in time.

Yet, this 2016 Christmas season feels somewhat more intense to me. I was lucky enough to have my first warm Christmas wine, a real German Marzipanstollen (sweet bread with Marzipan, raisins and powdered sugar) and roasted Almonds at the Christmas market in Toronto last week and it felt a little bit like home.

I have not been home for one full year. Funny enough, my chronic complaints about Germany and some cultural features slowly turned into a romantic yearning for everything German & christmas, and I indulge in it (I even had a bread with Nutella for breakfast the other day). Obviously, this might change the moment I touch ground in Frankfurt.

I also have a feeling that this desire has to do with the fact that I will not be returning to Germany alone…and I am extremely excited to show Pouya my Germany during this very special season, including watching Sissi (a trilogy on the Austrian Habsburger queen Elizabeth in the 19th century), drinking lots of calories like spiked eggnog and hot cocoa with rum and eating Goose.

Meanwhile, until we land in Germany, I will hopefully be able to enjoy first snow and lots of seasonal adventures in Boston.

Millions of Germans use social media to speak up against nationalistic sentiments

In the face of the refugee influx in Germany, you can currently observe a lively debate between people expressing skepticism all the way to right extremist opinions regarding the  refugees and those welcoming refugees. And it seems as if the German people are waiting for somebody to speak up, so they can support them.

24 Hours ago, two young TV starts Joko&Klaas (known for the show “Circus Halligalli, in which they send eachother around the world to do crazy and funny dares) published a video on Youtube, stressing how important it is to speak up against Nazi sentiments. They address the video directly to those people who have expressed antagonizing sentiments against the refugees or openly supported the nationalistic attacks. They tell them very clearly and boldly that they do not want any of them to watch their shows anymore, that refugees are welcome and that they condemn any attacks on refugees.

With the headline of the video “Das wird man wohl noch sagen dürfen” which is a very commonly used expression meaning “people should be allowed to say this”, they intend to give many people a taste of their own medicine. During the past several weeks, many people started arguments against refugees by saying “I am not a Nazi, but…” or “One should be allowed to say that…” only to make a point that exactly resonated with nationalistic thinking.

Joko & Klaas have posted their video on Youtube, tweeted about it, posted it on Facebook. After 24 hours, the video has almost 2Million viewers, it received received 53,000 thumbs up, 2500thumbs down and there are currently 7000comments on Youtube.  It was already shared more than 75,000times on facebook and their hashtag #mundaufmachen is among the most trending Twitter Hashtags currently.

Two aspects of this viral phenomenon are worth mentioning:

(1) The strong social media support for this video shows that people are willing and eager to speak up in order to welcome the refugees and oppose any nationalistic sentiments.

I have downloaded this morning’s tweets that were produced from 05.30 – 09.30am (Central European Time). Unfortunately, Twitter limits the amount of tweets downloadable for analysis, so I ended up with roughly 2000 Tweets that contained the hashtag #mundaufmachen. Those tweets have an outreach of in total 70Million Followers. In this network you can see that people not only share the link to the video and the hashtag, they also address Joko&Klaas directly. A rough look through the content of the tweets suggests that the tweets are overwhelmingly supportive of the video.

This is how a Twitter network looks like. Every dot is a tweet. A circle around the dot means that people just tweeted something with the hashtag #mundaufmachen. If there is a line, they addressed someone, using @. The read dot is Klaas’ twitter account, showing how many people addressed Klaas in their tweets.

Twitter analysis by Franziska Schwarzmann


This graph is showing all those tweets that were directed at Joko or Klaas or their show’s account Halligalli and that were sent by people that have more than 1000 Followers. The most common hashtags that were used besides #mundaufmachen were #refugeeswelcome and #heidenau (which is the name of the small town where nationalists attacked a refugee camp).

(2) Whenever there is a nationalistic comment about this video, people are speaking up in favor of it. Even if the tone is not always the right one, social media channels serve as a platform for many people to express themselves without too much effort.

Ostern und Reflektion über interkulturelle Missverständnisse

Ich wünsche Euch allen ein wunderschönes, sonniges Osterfest!

Ostern ist hier nicht. Zumindest nicht so wie zuhause. Karfreitag ist kein Feiertag, es gibt keine bunt bemalten Ostereier und der Lindt Goldhase trägt kein Glöckchen. Für mich ist das interessant, weil ich daran festmache, wie sehr Deutschland christliche Feiertage lebt, wohingegen in den Vereinigten Staaten keine religiösen Feiertage eine solche Dominanz haben. Man kann hier alle Feiertage leben und auch Gemeinschaften finden, die das tun. Aber man muss nicht.

Karfreitag war trotzdem dieses Jahr besonders für mich. Mein Professor für “International Investment Law” unterrichtet gemeinsam mit Professoren von der Harvard Law School und Brandeis University ein Seminar für internationale Verhandlungen (Program on Negotiations). Das Programm wird bald auch digitale Elemente enthalten und eine Gruppe internationaler Studenten ist Teil eines Unterrichtsvideos und ich durfte die Deutsche Perspektive vertreten.

Eine der größten Hürden in internationalen Verhandlungen sind internationale und interkulturelle Missverständnisse und in Vorbereitung auf das Video ist mir aufgefallen, wie viel ich hier lerne über meinen blinden Fleck und wie oft ich missverstanden werde. Ich werde in den nächsten Wochen ein paar Anekdoten und Lehrstunden mit Euch teilen.

Die Beziehung zählt, nicht das Ergebnis

In Indien und vielen südostasiatischen Regionen läuft ein einstündiges Meeting so ab: 30-45 Minuten erzählen sich alle gegenseitig über ihre Familien, ihr Befinden und dann erst gehts ans Eingemachte. In Deutschland beginnt ein Meeting um 08.00, um 08.01 haben alle Kaffee, ab 08.02 geht es um den Inhalt des Meetings (außer vielleicht montags, wenn kurz die Bundesliga-Ergebnisse besprochen werden müssen oder der Tatort durch den Dreck gezogen). Was für mich als zeiteffiziente Herangehensweise gilt, wird in internationalen Gruppen so verstanden, als wäre ich nicht an den Menschen am Verhandlungstisch interessiert, sondern nur an einem schnellen Ergebnis.

Die Deutsche Direktheit, vor allem im Probleme ansprechen, wird international oft als Arroganz verstanden. In meiner Zeit an der Uni habe ich mit Studenten aus der Türkei, USA, Indien, Holland, Syrien, Kamerun, Brasilien, Chile, Nepal, Pakistan, Korea, Griechenland, China, Japan enger zusammengearbeitet und für mich kultiviert, zu Anfang anzumerken, dass meine Art oft als sehr direkt empfunden wird. Viele haben mir positives Feedback gegeben. Und das Interessante ist: Ich ändere mein Verhalten nicht, aber es wird anders wahrgenommen, weil ich signalisiert habe, dass ich mir Gedanken darüber mache, wie andere Nationen und Kulturen funktionieren.

Ich verabschiede mich mit einem Sonnenaufgang und einem Sonnenuntergang aus meinem geliebten Boston.

Boston_Sunrise Boston_Sunset


You cannot please everyone – my interview with Professor Everett about German Energy Policy


This gallery contains 1 photo.

*** ATTENTION: Shameless self-marketing *** In September, I published my first article for the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation’s blog. It asked why there is no Silicon Valley in Europe and was also published in the Huffington Post. However, when I told my non-German-speaking … Continue reading