I started a German class last week at the local Volkshochschule. There are eight people in the class, including me, and they hail from a variety of exotic locations: Madagascar, Vietnam, Poland, Russia, the Phillippines, Turkey, Egypt. During introductions at my first class, the young Egyptian looked me hard in the face and asked me, quite pointedly, "Warum bist du hierhier jetzt gekommen?" (Why did you come here now?) What is implied in that question is the belief, held by many, both Germans and non-Germans, that the USA is so amazing, so wonderful, so full of opportunity and freedom, that you would be daft to leave. And now, of all times, now-with a new president and cabinet, a political climate seemingly ripe for change, in a place full of so much promise, why now?
Both Stefan and I have faced this question over and over from friends, colleagues, family, and even strangers. It is difficult to answer without describing the US we know and love--full of opportunity, yes, and openness, but also flawed. The place where basic healthcare is out of reach for many; where bigger is always better, even if it destroys the planet; where one of the foremost tenets of the legal system is to protect people's individual capital, be it actual or potential. The place where maternity leave is guaranteed but not paid, where social benefits are a joke, yet treated like a precious commodity; where prejudice is not tolerated publicly, but seeps insidiously throughout the social and economic system. As they say, the grass is always greener...
But we did not come to Germany because of the flaws the American capitalistic system. We decided to come long before the election and well before the financial crisis became so apparent. We really decided to come here to give our daughter a chance to know her German family, especially her German grandparents, who are 70 (Kurt) and 74 (Thea). In fact Thea had her 74th birthday today and we all went over there to celebrate with Kaffee und Kuchen. Oma's sister Rita was there, as were Onkel Gerd and Tante Monika. Eris--who is the first child in the family in a number of decades, and who is the only grandchild for Kurt and Thea--had the cuteness volume turned right up to eleven. As I stood in the dining room peeking through the partially closed door to the foyer watching Tante Rita (who is in her 80s) and Oma chattering away with a very happy toddler, I remembered why exactly we came here. And I am glad we didn't come any later.
From left to right, Kurt (Opa), Thea (Oma), Gerd, Eris, Stefan, and Rita.