So, over six months in Germany now; is there anything I miss from the UK? Well, yes, a few things:
Family and friends. They are still only a phone call away, or a Ryanair flight away, and it is not as if I was dropping around their place every week before, but it does feel that they are still a long way away. Thank goodness for Skype!
Hills. Most of North East Germany is flat, flat, flat. The highest hill in Brandenburg is 201m high. Now, the flat landscape is good for cycling, but for getting high and seeing the lie of the land it is almost impossible to get a perspective of the countryside. The only hills in Berlin are artificial; built by the Trümmerfrauen from the bombed out ruins of the city. Yes, I miss a Kinder Scout kind of ramble, but on the other hand, wherever you roam in the forests and wildernesses of Germany you aren't affronted with carelessly discarded coke cans and crisp packets.
Cheese. Cheddar, Wensleydale, Cheshire, Stilton, Red Leicester, Cornish Yarg, Sage Derby. Why English cheese can't make it over the channel weiss ich gar nicht. Maybe it's an EU thing and the Swiss and the Dutch have stitched up the market on behalf of Gouda and Emmental I don't know, but please please please send me a decent tasting cheese asap. Danke schön.
Pickles. Pickled onions, Branston pickle, piccalilli, pickled beetroot even. Why don't the Germans like pickling? After all, they seem to like sauerkraut by the ton-load. Spreewalder pickled gherkins (=cucumbers) seems about as close as they get. And try and get malt vinegar for your chips .... Oh yes, and proper chip-shop chips please. With mushy peas, curry sauce, and potato fritters!
Marmite. Germany has more breweries than any other country in the world, yet they haven't hit on the idea which Burton-on-Trent did and recycle the spent brewing yeast as a delicious paste (and a god-send to vegetarians trying to get that umami fifth taste). Yes, you can buy Marmite here if you have the cash to throw around. That's why everyone visiting our house from England has to bring a jar of Marmite or else they sleep in the dog-pound. You have been warned!
Different Flavoured Crisps. I never thought I'd miss cheese and onion or salt and vinegar flavour crisps, but actually I do. Curiously the most popular flavour crisp here is paprika, which despite in the UK they have everything from prawn cocktail to port and stilton flavour (and cajun squirrel, and fish and chips according to a Walker's crisp competition running at the moment) crisps, there is no paprika flavour! Actually, paprika is quite nice, so ...
The English Language. When you have to get your linguistic head into gear for speaking and understanding the lingo in order just to ask for a haircut, yes it can feel like you are a long way from home. Many Germans speak English adequately enough that you can make yourself understood, but it's not like you can have a discussion about the immutible nothingness of existence in a post modern context or something. Okay, I don't have the English myself to do that but you get the idea; ordering a cup of tea is okay, anything more complicated and one has to resort to sign language and it makes you feel like a moron. I will just have to work at improving my German I guess, but I'll never be as good as forty years practicing and learning English. Which leads me on to ...
Books. I love reading. Anything. I'll read the cornflake packet if there's nothing else. To make the process less of a learning experience and one of total immersion, I would prefer to read a book in English. But books are so expensive here, whether in German or especially in English. There are no Waterstones, no 3 for 2, and few remaindered book stores. And yet every third German on the S-Bahn seems to be reading a book, and even a small village like Basdorf where we live has two Buchhandlungen (book shops), so it can't be that German culture is book-unfriendly. I think perhaps they value book-reading more, and are prepared to pay the cost for quality literature. Which probably explains why I have never seen a Jeffery Archer book in the shops.
Television. But I miss only a very few programs. TV in Germany is just as bad as in the UK, though at least has the benefit that it might be mindless drivel, but at least it gives you an opportunity to improve your German vocabulary. And with programmes like 'Wer wird Millionär' you can improve your German cultural knowledge (curiously we can rarely answer even the 5o Euro question, but the 32,000 ones are better). Plus presenter Günther Jauch is much funnier than Chris Tarrant. Indeed, there is a nice feeling when sitting on the S-Bahn that you can be sure that nobody else on the train has the faintest idea who Noel Edmunds or Jonthan Ross are. However, they would be able to say who Stefan Raab and Oliver Pocher are, so swings and roundabouts.
Sunday Shopping. It can be a pain when you realise you have run out of milk on a Sunday and the shops are all closed. It can feel a bit like English Sundays in the Eighties. Not that that's a bad thing; a day of quiet and rest is good for die Seele whether you are religious or not. Strange not being able to at least go to a garden centre though (or even mow your lawn, never mind put washing out!).
Hmm, and that's about it. I sometimes miss my car, say when I need to cart a lot of stuff from OBI (sort of like a B&Q), but generally the public transport system is so well run, and cycling so easy, that I can quite well do without one.
What I am glad to do without from the UK still tips the balance: litter, drunkenness, identical high-streets, shuttered-up shops, party politics, terrorism-measures, rain, and Jeremy bleeding Clarkson!