Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cultural diversity in Germany

A taste of Africa in Ludgwigshafen

Roman material culture in Cologne

Approximately 24 hours after I set foot in Germany for the first time this century, I was effectively served notice that this vacation would not (just) involve the usual sights and experiences that many leisure travelers to the country can expect to have. For, as it so happens, what my German friend and host had lined up for my first evening out in her town turned out to be... an African fair!

After first having dinner involving dishes such as fried sweet plantains (yum yum!) and a chicken curry concoction (that also had plantains -- these ones more regular potato like in flavor -- in it), we spent some time surveying the arts and crafts that were on display and up for sale. And since attendance at the event was on the sparse side (because, my friend suggested, the evening had been on the rainy side and it was a week night), we ended up having plenty of opportunities to also chat with the stall vendors -- one of whom told us he was originally from Senegal (like Patrick Vieira!) but currently a student at the local university; another of whom, a Kenyan woman who had lived for several years in Germany, I got to practice my Kiswahili with.

On a further linguistic note: It was interesting to hear lots of French and English being spoken as we wandered about checking out the African fair. At the same time, my definite sense was that most, if not all, of the Africans at the event were people who had decided to make Germany home. (And, as unlikely it may seem to some, they would by no means be the first Africans to have done so.)

At various other times during this German vacation, I would get still more evidence that many people of varied cultural and geographic origins had settled in this part of the world over the years and centuries. For example, in Cologne, physical proof of it having once been part of the Roman empire abounds -- seemingly miraculously when one considers that the city was bombed in 262 separate air raids (including a notable 1,000 bomber attack) during the Second World War. (And lest it be thought that I only learnt about the horrors wreaked by the Allied forces, my German friend also took me to visit sites -- notably the remains of a 12th century mikveh ritual bath and Jewish courtyard in Speyer -- that provided poignant proof of the lengthy settlement in the area of a people that the Nazis sought so virulently to wipe out.)

On a lighter note, we also dined on a selection of meze at an ethnic Turkish restaurant one evening, came across another multi-cultural fair while strolling about Heidelberg, one in celebration of immigrants from territories as diverse as South Korea, Ethiopia and the Ukraine -- and, in the small German town of Schwetzingen (with a population of less than 30,000), visited a palatial castle built by a nobleman known for his love of the English language as well as German whose grounds include gardens in the English and French styles with features such as a "mosque" and "Chinese bridge" that speak to the nobleman's fascination for the East.

In short: I was witness to more cultural diversity in German than I had expected; and came out of this recent vacation having learnt quite a few new things about the land and its people -- even while also having had had a really enjoyable time throughout. So... yes, count me in as a believer in the adage that travel broadens the mind (and, no, it doesn't have to loosen the bowels in the process!). :)


ewaffle said...

Sounds like a lovely trip--and at the risk of being presumptuous, a real "YTSL type trip" with a lot more happening than on a vacation taken by someone less indefatigably curious and energetic.

Sweet plantains are so yummy. They are a staple snack in large parts of the Caribbean (where I think they were introduced by slaves from West Africa) and throughout the Caribbean diaspora.

Looking forward to more reports on Germany.

YTSL said...

Hi ewaffle --

Don't think you're being presumptuous at all in suggesting a YTSL type trip... this not least since your idea of a YTSL type trip sounds great (to me)! :)

And sweet plantains are indeed yummy but my favorite Tanzanian meal involved the more potato-like plantains grilled along with goat meat, then cut up up into sections and served with salt, lime juice and pili-pili (local chilli peppers). Mmmmmm... my mouth is watering at the memory! ;D