An Irish student’s perspective of student life in Germany
The first thing my new German housemate asks me is neither my name, age nor nationality. “Hast du Hausschuhe?” he asks pointedly, shaking his head when he sees my runners. In a country where jaywalking is treated as heinous an offence as first degree murder, I should have known that wearing outdoor shoes in the kitchen is Not Permitted. I take in my new surroundings in the apartment I’ll be calling home for the next year as an Erasmus student in Leipzig. The floor is sparkling, the shelves are arranged neatly and the sink is empty. “Is this really a student’s apartment?” I ask myself, incredulous. It is- just a German students’ one.
Student accommodation in Ireland often leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve been in houses where mould on a wall became so widely accepted that it was eventually recognised as an artistic feature, where stacks of bacteria ridden cups multiply more rapidly than the speed at which rabbits reproduce. One house I ended up in some night had neither cups nor glasses, but one of the tenants did kindly offer me a ladle from which I could drink my whiskey and coke.
It didn’t take me long to realise that none of the aforementioned scenarios would unfold in my new, gleaming German apartment. Its cleanliness was ensured by the implementation of a cleaning rota, adhered to with military precision and reinforced by the fear of the passive aggressive comments which would circulate in the apartments’ group chat should one not complete their duty correctly or punctually.
Us Irish students all too often get a bad name in the press: residents complain about our noise levels, we get sick in doorways, we steal traffic cones on nights out, we wreck the houses we rent. The very term ‘student life’ is all too often vilified, conjuring images of pot noodles and bottles of Tesco vodka to mind, where fun is at an all time high and responsibility is at an all time low. While it’s not fair to tarnish all students with the same brush, there are plenty of us who aren’t exactly model students.
The German students I live with seem like well behaved secondary school prefects in comparison. They rarely go out during the week for fear they would be tired in college the next day. Ever punctual, they always come to class at least fifteen minutes before its scheduled time, bright eyed and enthusiastic. The concept of someone arriving to class late, hungover and donned in tracksuit bottoms is just unfathomable.
One of the first things I remarked on when I started university here was the utter lack of a college bar. However, I soon noticed the casual manner with which the German students carried bottles of beer on their way to class. Physics book in one hand and a Weissbier in the other, why would they want a bar on campus when they can get beer in the shop? The only time I see people drinking in college at home is during RAG week, albeit without a shred of the nonchalance nor composure exhibited by German students.
When December came, the famous Leipziger Christmas market began in all its snow capped, eggnog infused grandeur. With chins tucked into scarves and snow boots laced up tightly, rosy faced locals would come en masse to meet up with friends for a Gluhbier or some gingerbread after a long day’s work.
In the midst of all the festivities and possibly influenced by a cup or two of mulled wine, one of my friends suggested that we celebrate Christmas by partaking in some Irish tradition. And so it was decided that we’d complete the age old custom of The Twelve Pubs of Christmas. Because we didn’t know that many people, we decided to go all out and dress up in costume for the occasion.
Having decided that I’d dress up as an angel, I headed into a discount store where I purchased a halo and a set of feathery white wings which I informed the cashier were for my niece. (I don’t have a niece.) One of my friends dressed up as a Christmas tree, draped in tinsel and baubles. To the fire hazard of us all, she attached various sets of fairy lights to her jumper. These were judiciously removed after the third pub. Another girl opted for the classic Mrs Claus option, sporting a cutesy red Christmas jumper, dangling bauble earrings and a slash of glittery red lipstick. But none of these outfits were even comparable to what our friend Ellen wore. She had dressed up as the Virgin Mary herself. With a halo fashioned from aluminium wire and a blue cloak billowing behind her, she turned the most heads each time we walked through the door of a pub. Our conduct, however, was far from what you’d call immaculate.
In German pubs, instead of heading straight for the bar a waiter will come to your table to take your order. This formal approach doesn’t exactly suit the layout of Twelve Pubs and we were unsurprisingly met with a few raised eyebrows. The waiters would evidently become even more displeased by the rules we had established for the night, such as feeding the person sitting closest their drink, swapping shoes with someone else and conversing in a foreign accent- rules that have been long since accepted by Irish bartenders but rules that could easily be interpreted as the behaviour of psychiatric patients on the loose to an unknowing German waiter.
Seeing locals react to our Irish pub crawl proved very entertaining. “Was ist das??” I heard a middle aged woman ask her friend as they emerged from a restaurant, her tone a mixture of alarm and bewilderment, abruptly stopping in her tracks to stare at us. To be fair, if I had spotted a group of rowdy Irish students dressed as if they had just fled from a nativity scene screeching Irish rebel songs along the streets of Leipzig I would have asked myself the same question.
Our antics went on until the small hours of the morning. In a stroke of sheer miraculousness, my angel wings had survived the night unscathed. My dignity, however, had not.
By no means does that night represent what German nightlife is usually like. Generally speaking, going out is a very casual affair, usually beginning with a few beers at home followed by a trip to a bar or club. While extortionate drink prices force Irish students to pre-drink at home, often to the point of unconsciousness, drinks are so cheap in German bars that it makes more sense to buy drinks out. This is great, meaning everyone can drink at their own pace while drastically lowering the likelihood of an inebriated, slack-jawed paralytic having to be sent home in a taxi.
German dress is also an altogether more laid back affair. You can easily get away with not bothering to change out of what you’re wearing, the most ubiquitous go-to outfit among young young people being a t-shirt and jeans. Obviously, if you’re in Berlin, black attire is the unwritten dress code.
Seeing how relaxed the Germans were about their fashion choices was an immense relief to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love dressing up. However, I often find getting ready to go out in Ireland exhausting. The wanton realm of Irish nightlife calls for girls to wear six inch vertiginous heels, causing them to teeter around precariously like a young giraffe who’s just learned how to walk, while promoting the darkest shade of black eyeshadow causing the wearer to resemble a class of some wild raccoon.
While the habits and customs of the Germans initially took a while to get used to, I soon settled into the local way of life. Despite some cultural differences, the Krauts and Paddies actually have a lot in common: they both love a good sing song, complain frequently and both are partial to a bottle or two of beer. If you’re feeling somewhat kaputt after a German night out however just don’t expect to be able to find a breakfast roll anywhere.
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