I am Romanian but my mother is a German ethnic who learned Romanian in school and speaks perfect German (I don’t!). I grew up listening to her weekly phone calls in German, with my grandfather, and all her friends telling me “You have your mother’s German genes with those blue eyes and blondish hair”. I watched Formula 1 and always cheered for Schumacher, and supported the German teams in all sport events where Romania was not competing (which were a lot) because “mommy is German”. I had to always spell my mother’s name whenever I had to say it to someone and reply with “Yes, my mother is German.”
So even though I grew up in Romania and never even visited Germany, there was always a sort of heritage I felt I was carrying with me – it was written on my ID card, in the section called “Mother’s name” and it was somewhat engraved in my features – blondish, blue-eyed girls are not that common in Romania. It sort of floated around me, with little hints and reminders from time to time.
I didn’t learn German as a child. I always felt like I had time to do that and that I will do it at some point just because language is such a big part of belonging and understanding a culture – a culture I kept hearing I am related to in a way. And also, I always felt a bit guilty for not making an extra effort to show my mother that part of her heritage is going further, that her roots are not being forgotten with a Romanian family name and half German children who can’t even understand her when she speaks her mother tongue.
I sometimes thought of what our lives would have been like if my mother, like most of the German ethnics living in Romania, had left after the Revolution in ’89 and relocated in Germany.
But that’s about how far it went for me. I think I never fully internalised what I heard time and time again – that I am half German.
Until last year when a fortunate turn of events landed me in Munich, the heart of the region my mother’s side of the family actually comes from. I’ve been living here for a year now. My German is still very bad, but it’s better than the -1 level I started with.
The 1st of July was the anniversary of my “romance” with Germany. And as crazy people (such as myself) do, I did a small recap of the past year, pros and cons, lessons learned, good times, bad times, people I’ve met – you know, those things we assess and always think we’re going to do better in the next year.
But somehow, the things on my review list are not the most striking thing about this year. My biggest take away from it is that I now find it easier to understand why my mother did things in a different way than all other mothers I met and very different from my dad as well. It’s interesting how a small community – isolated from the home land – as the one my mother grew up in, preserved so well their mentality and attitude towards how things should be done.
I always thought my mother is a bit cold because she is not the kind to drown you in public displays of affection or endless declarations of love. She’s a DO–er, a practical, ambitious mind, but the most sensitive person I’ve ever met. She shows her love through actions, taking care of our family more than she ever took care of herself. With three children and a husband who can’t cook for the life of him, it wasn’t an easy task for sure. But she does it perfectly.
She will not praise her children to the whole neighborhood or anyone willing to listen. Her pride in her children comes from our accomplishments, not just because we are. Her love for us, though, does.
She will criticize you when you mess up, but she’ll do it in a constructive way, with arguments based on facts and experience, so that you can grow and be better, because she always believes you can be the best version of yourself if you work at it. But she will not sugar coat criticism and as much as you might hate it in the beginning, you know she’s right.
Everyone says Germans are cold. They’re not. Just as my mother, they are practical people, who love structures because it’s what helps them not waste time on useless things. They are DO-ers, perfectionists and they show their love or passion through respect and actions, not an overflow of compliments, flattering or excessive politeness. This is not because you are not good enough for them, or because they look down on you, but because they simply don’t see the practicality of it.
I realise that my childhood and being raised by a German mother is what ultimately helped me adjust better here than in other place I experienced before. And my genes, I have to admit, helped a lot with blending in, camouflaging myself into a local, at least when I don’t have to speak. I don’t look like a foreigner and while this can be frustrating for some people who feel they need to have a physical mark of their origin imprinted in their appearance, for me, it made things easier.
In the past year, even though I never aimed for it, I discretely explored a bit more of this small heritage I’ve always carried with me, and identified some of the German things about my identity, incorporated them more into my conscious self – things which have been passed on to me through the education I received, and things I’ve rarely been aware of before. And probably the most relevant proof of this is that I’ve noticed how I’ve slowly switched from “My mother is German” to “I am half German”… in the making, anyway.