How it happens in 4 parts.
My brain processing power is being used up elsewhere, so here’s a more lighthearted article that still features a list, but on a more personal note. I have been living in Berlin for a little more than four years now and while I still hang onto my Asian and Singaporean identity, I can’t help but notice the ways in which I am slowly becoming Germanized. Obviously this is not a bad thing. It is always interesting to see yourself alter your habits in small ways that could actually add up to pretty big ways in the long run.
Here are a few changes that I have noticed:
When it comes to being Asian, food is everything. So when you notice more bread creeping into the diet, it marks a shift from the usual staple diet of noodles and rice. For Asians, even if we might tout having a variety of breads, it is actually the same white soft sweet bread, just dressed up with different toppings or fillings.
Red bean? Kaya? Fish floss? Still basically the same white bread. For Asians, the best bread has been found. It is white, it is soft, and that is that. It is basically only a competition between the whitest, softest or fluffiest.
Now with the Germans, they have over 300 varieties, made from wheat to rye, oats, millet and more. They come with different textures, like coarse, rustic and crusty, which are textures completely foreign to the Asian bread palate. Then you have pretzels, and small rolls with different exotic seeds, and dark, dense pumpernickel bread for the evening. There is even a German Institute for Bread, which announces the annual German bread of the year.
My latest obsession? A fig and walnut combination from Rewe, which goes great with cheese.
The same can be said for my growing appreciation of cheese and wine. Since moving, I have definitely improved my vocabulary on both these matters, also being slightly more aware on the cultural associations and occasions on which both are being consumed. But I can’t say much more on this because this Asian stomach still can’t digest the amounts of cheese and alcohol to qualify as an expert.
That said, the reverse can also be said on noodle education. I wager that the average European has only a surface understanding of the culinary depth which is noodles. The Italians have done a good job on pasta education, because we all know the difference between spaghetti, linguine and angel hair by now. What we lack is noodle education, the fine, hair-splitting difference between 1mm and 1.5mm rice vermicelli, glass noodles and mee sua.
And that’s what I start my list with. Bread.
Bicycles are big in Asian countries like China or Vietnam, but where I come from, cycling is strictly a leisure or professional sporting activity. That means that the only times you actually cycle is as a child around the neighbourhood, picking up a loaf of bread for mom, or whatever ingredient is missing from that night’s dinner. The other times would be on the weekends and at a dedicated cycling zone such as a park with your family.
Now that I am living in a city with dedicated and fiercely protected bicycle lanes, cycling has become integrated with my daily life. Often, it is simply the fastest and most efficient way to get from A to B. I now cycle to commute about an hour a day with my son in tow. I have also cycled to bars and clubs, but I discourage you from cycling drunk.
I have yet to ascend to the cycling levels of the average German, who can invest upwards of €2000 in their bicycles — the engineering feats that they are — and carry said bicycles up five flights of stairs.
By the way: Fast, free exercise and friendly to the earth. Bicycles are one of my favourite inventions and I feel that more cities should adopt cycling as a serious mode of transportation.
Again, not a big deal if you experience seasons anywhere else in the world. But coming from a mono-seasonal place where it is basically summer all year round, having seasons is a big change. It’s like having four acts instead of one monologue on the stage of life every year, replete with costume changes.
The scenery changes, people’s moods change, and as a whole, seasons have helped me deal with the very notion of change. And transitions. And how all things, even the coldest winter, do eventually pass. I mean, you can live perfectly well without seasons, but the joy I’ve found includes looking forward to white asparagus in spring, watermelon and stone fruits in summer, and chestnuts and pumpkins in autumn. I don’t know what gets harvested in winter.
Seasons clearly mark the passing of time in a cyclical fashion which is poetic, beautiful and poignant.
“Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur schlechte Kleidung.”
Which also brings me to the next and last point: Wardrobe changes. In Singapore, the large majority owns two kinds of clothes — clothes to work in and clothes out of work. Basically also, weekday clothes and weekend clothes. Some people look like their constantly working when they wear polo tees or heels on off days. But that’s just me.
Now with Berlin’s weather, wardrobe management is a fine art. You might naively think that it is simply a matter of being hot or cold. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are incredible shades and nuances of weather that requires you to have variations of every item because of wind and rain. Now instead of being merely hot or cold, you will need to take account being drizzled on under any condition as well.
Let’s take socks. To cover you for every kind of weather under the Berlin sky, you will need the options of ankle socks, mid-length-socks, thick thermal socks, stockings, leggings and thermal leggings. And those are just socks alone. For one person. In a household.
Then you have jackets and all the different permutations, so that you have a light cover in case it rains in summer, a mid-weight one if it rains in autumn, and heavy-duty one when it rains or snows in winter. And I haven’t begun on the other accessories, like hats, scarves and gloves. Now God help you if you also plan on being fashionable on top of being functional.
Which is why I own a pair of fingerless, colorful woollen gloves. What was I thinking? Obviously black, waterproof and fat-thick is the default way to go.
When it comes to owning an all-weather wardrobe, I am definitely still struggling, with my solution somewhere between layering, Uniqlo and being too cold or too hot 20 per cent of the time.
I’ll let you know if and when I hack it.
The above are just some ways that I have found myself assimilating to the German way of life, and that is not even taking into account the deeper cultural and psychological shifts that come into play when you learn and speak the language, build a community around you or have a child go through their education system and more. But just by eating more bread, cycling and being exposed to seasonal weather, I find myself drifting several degrees away from my former rice-scooping, wheel-swerving, slipper-clad Asian self.
Thanks for reading.