As I have mentioned in the earlier post, in spite of possessing preliminary knowledge of the German language, I had zero experience in having conversations in German when I landed in Hamburg.
The first time I used my German, was in a supermarket. And it was comfortably straightforward. You see stuff you want to buy and put it in your basket. Not much language skills required. In fact, I must admit that my grocery shopping visits have vastly enhanced my German vocabulary. I know so many more words now, as compared to the time I first entered a supermarket. Then comes the payment part. You try to understand German numbers and figure out how much you’re supposed to pay (or cheat by looking at the screen in front). Then you politely wish a pleasant day to the person behind the counter and that’s it.
Next came the official stuff, getting the Meldebescheinigung (from Rathaus) and the Aufenthaltstitel (from Ausländerbehörde). I would try to write a dedicated post on all the paperwork required from booking the long term visa appointment at your concerned German Consulate and getting the residence permit in Germany. For now, we will just think of these as something all long-term (longer than 90 days) immigrants in Germany are required to do. At both these places, I survived with my broken German. I wasn’t very happy with what I spoke and later kept thinking of better ways to say it. But, this was a big deal for me. It gave me the confidence to pursue the language further and not give up.
Within the first week I realized that supermarkets or shopping trips were not enough. I needed to speak more. I needed to meet people and speak with them in order to improve my German.
I checked online and found a lot of stuff on the official website of Wedel (a lovely riverside city on the outskirts of Hamburg, the place we presently call home). I saw that they have a lot of options for community groups where you can meet other immigrants and locals, and speak to them on random topics. It is a wonderful initiative by the local administration to help immigrants feel more welcome in the city and mingle with others.
Some of the events I’ve checked out in the last one month are:
- Frau Insel at Stadtteilzentrum “mittendrin” – This is a weekly group talk for women from all backgrounds, ages etc. and takes place every Monday afternoon. You can chat to different people about different topics over some lovely coffee and cake.
- Wilkommen Cafe at The Evangelical Community – This is a relaxed weekly group meetup for locals and foreigners and takes place every Tuesday afternoon. You can enjoy fresh coffee and cake, you can play games and have discussions on random topics.
- Fraufrüstuck at die Villa – This is women-only weekly breakfast buffet (costs 2 Euro) and takes place every Wednesday morning. This is a great opportunity to mix with locals and foreigners over breakfast and discuss day-to-day life.
- Dialog in Deutsch at Stadtbücherei – This is a moderated round-table discussion for foreigners who want to improve their German skills. It takes place every Friday afternoon and gives an opportunity to discuss over various themes while working on your language skills.
- Welcome Breakfast at AWO Treff – This is a buffet breakfast arranged every 2nd Tuesday of the month and is a wonderful place to meet locals as well as foreigners and talk about various topics.
I was not very sure of what any of these would be like when I ventured out for the first time. I didn’t know if my language skills would be up to the mark, or if I would be able to have meaningful conversations in German. Then there was also the social inhibition, a quaint voice in my head whispering, “Why join a random group of strangers to talk on random topics? Why not just ‘Netflix n Chill’ at home?
After this one month, I am very glad that I did step out of the house. Even though I am very new here and would be in Wedel just for a few months, and not permanently for now, people welcomed me in their little groups with open arms. I have met friendly locals and also people from all around the world. I have talked to students, working professionals, housewives etc.. I have heard moving stories from some of the refugees who fled war in their homeland. I have had discussions on topics like religion, culture, food, science, entertainment etc. with like-minded people. And I have definitely improved a little on my German skills. With the language, one important thing I have realized is that, just learning at home or reading from books is not enough. You need to practice what you’ve learnt. You need to talk with real people on a daily basis to get better at it. People have been kind enough to listen to my half-cooked sentences and have been helpful in correcting my mistakes. I have also greatly benefited by adding new words to my vocabulary almost daily.
My main aim of looking up these groups online was to improve my German speaking capabilities. I have also thoroughly enjoyed meeting new and different people from different parts of the world. The best part is that anyone can just walk in and meet people or have discussions here. It has definitely made me more confident with the language and is also a great change from the daily routine. I hope to continue frequenting these groups and integrating with the society.