CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
Just because you live in Germany doesn’t mean you have to give up your other cultural interests. Maybe you grew up bilingual, or you just love foreign film. It could be that you’re looking to broaden your horizons, or decide where to live next. You can still study Japanese, or brush up on your French, or learn to cook an amazing curry in Germany. You don’t have to survive on pretzels alone!
I have a degree in Spanish and I taught Portuguese for years in the US. It took me quite a lot of hard work to learn those two languages, so I had some very mixed feelings about moving to Germany and basically having to start over. When you add a new language to the mix, it’s easy to forget the other ones you know, and it’s sad to give up on something you worked so achieve. Luckily, I can still get plenty of contact with the cultures I studied because Germany has become a very international place.
One of the most beneficial parts of exploring these other cultures in Germany is the shared immigrant experience. You’ll meet people who (just like you) are trying to balance their backgrounds with this new place, and people who share a genuine interest in learning.
These are some cultural contact opportunities I’ve found in my three years here.
1) Take a course at the Volkshochschule.
The Volkshochschule (VHS) is a kind of community college that offers serious continuing education, but also a wide variety of fun courses in languages, cultural topics, and cooking (a favorite of mine). Our local VHS offers classes on just about every international cuisine you could think of. You could learn Thai cooking, vegetarian Italian cooking, Sushi, wines of Europe…the list goes on and on. Two years ago, I took a class on Feijoada, a classic Brazilian dish, and met both Germans interested in Brazil, as well as some nice Brazilian ladies who were co-teaching the class. It was a low-key, fun evening (would also be a great date night), and nothing brings people together more than cooking and eating together.
2) Go to a festival.
Most large cities have a significant population of immigrants. Stuttgart, for example, holds an Indian film festival every year. There’s a French Week, too.Munich has an African week. The first step is to find out how to spell the name of the language or country you’re searching for in German. Googling “Spanish” won’t get you very far, because it’s written “Spanisch” in German. Once you find a festival’s page, it’s often bilingual, so you can select the language you know (or google translate it if need be.)Be sure to check the local newspaper’s website for festivals and group meetings as well. That’s how I found the Spanish club my neighborhood.
3) Take a dance class.
You can learn Irish dance in Berlin and Lanstuhl or Salsa in in Nuremberg. Apparently, Stuttgart hosts the largest European Forró festival (a Brasilian folk dance). Even if you’re not great at dancing, it would make a fantastic story to tell people at parties. Most dance schools offer one or more international dance styles, and much like food, music and dancing really bring people together.
4) Go to a bilingual church service.
There are Russian Orthodox services in Nuremberg, for example. Or you could observe Catholic Mass in Spanish in Stuttgart. Even if you’re not religious, or you practice a different religion from the service, it’s a chance to hear the language you enjoy and to meet new people.
5) Join a club.
Lots of cities have partnerships dedicated to connecting German and other cultures. These are usually called a “Verein” or sometimes a “Zentrum.” These are usually the clubs that put on the exciting inter-cultural festivals, but that’s not all. Many offer language courses, presentations, readings, film screenings, concerts, children’s programs, small libraries, and a variety of other services. Some clubs offer casual evenings at a restaurant where people can just chat and get to know each other. Here are some examples : the Deutsch-Türkisches Interkulturelles Forum in Frankfurt and a Chinese Initiative in Heidelberg.
6) Go to an exchange or a language night.
In my part of town, there is a Spanish evening once every two weeks where both Germans that have learned German and native speakers of Spanish hang out in a room together and talk. If you prefer one-on-one, you can contact a cultural center about posting an exchange offer. List your contact info, your native language, and then the language you want to exchange (for example, English and Spanish), and post it on their bulletin board. Then you meet up for coffee with someone and speak for a half hour in your language and a half hour in yours.
7) The internet!
Of course, you can read in the language of your choice online, as well as view videos. Beyond that, there are plenty of facebook groups, meetups and other services that can help you find the cultural contact you need. Some will even help you set up a Skype chat with someone in another country. This is the last resort for people too busy for coffee or in towns too small to have cultural centers that offer events. My advice is that if you have the resources, then get out there and get some in-person contact!