Small town, big village

When my hubby first mentioned that he had a great job opportunity in Ulm, Germany, I started looking up the city to see if i could live there. I found out that Albert Einstein was born here, that it has the tallest church steeple in the world…and it has a population of only 175,000! OMG! What was I going to do in such a small town?! Moving from Singapore to Toulouse, France (pop 800,000), already seemed like  I was moving to a big village then, but there was of course the added “oh la la” of well…moving to France! Moving to Germany just seemed to have all the inconveniences, like having to learn yet another language (my 4th), the foggy cold weather…and the pop of only 175k whom some friends had warned me were as cold as their weather!

So it was really a huge surprise when I arrived to find a warm, friendly and helpful people, starting by my elderly Swabian neighbours who arrived with chocolates for our kids on the 2nd day of our arrival, to welcome us to the neighbourhood, to other neighbours who heard us speaking French, and wanted to practise what little French they knew with us! This general friendliness is to be found everywhere we go in this little town but what surprised us the most was how helpful they were! You couldn’t open a map in the street before someone stopped to ask if you needed help. And as they are always observing and listening to your conversations(!), they will not think twice about giving you helpful advice if you are unsure about something! This can of course annoy some people but I am just amazed each time that they would take their time to help someone out.

Just today for example. I was late for my tour of the modern art museum, which was part of a series of tours to learn how to be a spectator in modern art. When I arrived at the museum and asked for the tour, the receptionist led me to a museum guide, who brought me 3 floors to join my tour. He then came back 5 minutes later with a stool for me to sit on as I hadn’t realised I needed one! I was amazed and touched.

Other amazing things that surprise me of this little town is how they try their best to integrate foreigners, and the women especially! Now I must explain that Germany is the first country I have lived in and know of, that give special treatment to women. They have special parking spots not only for drivers with kids but also for women drivers! I thought it was quite pejorative in the beginning, thinking the parking spaces must be larger or something, but in fact, it was for safety reasons. You only had women parking around you!

They also have a women’s academy, with courses mainly in the morning, for women only! It seems that when you have young children in Germany, it is frowned upon if you go back to work! So there are a lot of women who are free in the morning, when the kids are in school. This was a huge change coming from France, where women frown upon you if you wanted to stay home with the kids and not go back to work!!

Anyway, getting back to the integration of female foreigners. Having finally the time to attend courses and lectures in whatever subjects interested me, it was frustrating I couldn’t do so because I couldn’t speak German fluently. But something incredible happened. This little town of 175k, decided that they wanted to help women, who didn’t speak the German language, integrate better into society, by starting courses available in English! They knew that German was not an easy language to learn and not speaking the language meant some women might feel alone at home while their husbands were working, so they wanted to help these women get out of the house and meet people they could share common interests with.

Obviously this was not my case as I have been lucky enough to have made such great English speaking friends, but it was so nice to be able to attend lectures in English, and by coincidence I had decided to started learning about Art just before they offered courses on Modern Art in English so the timing was perfect!

So are all small towns so accommodating, or have we been really lucky to fall upon a rare gem? Whichever the case, my hubby, who is from Madrid, is now in love with living in small towns and can’t envisage going back to a big city, and neither can I.

frauen akademie
At our first English lecture at the Women’s Academy, on the Students resistance in Germany during Hitler’s reign.

This photo made the local papers as they reported on the event!



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