Tale of a transplant

Got your running shoes on? Good! Maltese transplant Veronica Stivala takes us on a jog through her new neighbourhood and introduces us to a slice of Bavarian culture

Writer and Editor of Maltese culture magazine Encore, Veronica Stivala takes us on a jog through her new home of Neuperlach, a neighborhood in Munich, Germany. As we jog together, she tells us about the changing seasons, musing about the differences between Neuperlach and her former home in Malta. How long has she been in the neighbourhood? Three weeks, with a caveat.

You’ll be wondering about the caveat. You see, while I have officially been living in Neuperlach, Munich for three weeks or so now, I’ve been coming here for two-and-a-half years since I first met the man who is now my boyfriend. Munich is the capital of Bavaria, Germany’s southern state, renowned for its beautiful lakes, countryside and, of course, its beer festival, the Oktoberfest. I have come to know the neighbourhood of Neuperlach quite well, although, because I am still constantly exploring, I still find myself surprised by new routes, new buildings, and new weather scenarios.

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Neuperlach is a residential neighbourhood, outside the city centre, populated by families and older people and home to the offices of a few businesses, like Siemens. The first thing that struck me about this area were those tall peach, yellow, and red-coloured apartment blocks, and they continue to be a useful landmark for when I return home, for when I get lost (thankfully not so much anymore, don’t worry!), or a bright contrast against the grey sky or a bleak white snowscape. I am used to generally brighter, sunnier days, having spent most of my life on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta. With a reputed 300 days of sunshine a year, I struggle with the recurringly overcast days of Neuperlach. These apartment blocks painted the colour of sunshine really do help as a temporary solution to tide me over until the sun reappears here.

The buildings are so neat – everything is neat in Germany – and each set of apartments are perfectly situated around a perfect square of grass, populated with perfectly tall trees. Did you know that beneath the grass is an underground car park? How sensible! As we exit the apartment block to start our jog, listen closely. I like to take in the surrounding sounds, or should I say, the lack thereof. It’s so peaceful here that all I can hear is the gentle breathing of the wind, the faint rustling of the leaves, and the occasional chirping of the neighbourhood birds. I won’t get over romantic here though, as the chirping sometimes becomes persistent squawking from the big, black crows that have made the trees their home. You too will soon be annoyed by their squawking.

 

Here is my favourite haunt in Neuperlach: the beautiful Ostpark (East Park). It’s a small park and so sometimes I even jog the same route twice in order to get my kilometres in. But I never cease to be drawn by its simple beauty. Undulating hills, a few sprawling lakes with their resident ducks and swans, and a tiny wooden bridge keep me coming back. I often come across fellow joggers, parents pushing babies in prams, some teenagers giggling together, lean cyclists clad in luminescent gear and an elderly couple aiding their stroll with Nordic walking poles. I know I’m halfway through my run when I reach the garden part of the park with its circles of seasonal flowers. Behind the mounds of colourful petals lies a staple of the Bavarian life: a beer garden.

 

Michaeligarten is a quaint beer tavern with its typical rows of long, wooden tables and accompanying benches. As the warmer months approach it will get harder to find a spot here as the benches quickly fill up with cheerful patrons who come for a pint of Helles (a light beer) in a Maßkrug (a stein). I find it amusing that at the slight sign of sun and warmth, the barbecuers and nude bathers also emerge – so far, thankfully, mutually exclusive of each other. Despite the similarity of both my home country and Bavaria, as being rooted in Catholic tradition, there is a wide divide when it comes to public nudity! I admit, I like this comfortableness that the Germans have with themselves. As a former British colony and an island that has generally been subject to so many cultures, we Maltese tend to pick and choose our idiosyncrasies. So apart from the lone public offender that once jumped out at me from behind a bush in Malta, we tend to keep our privates private. Have I shared too much?

Although summer is around the corner, I am still thawing out from the snow. You’ll have to forgive my childish excitement, for I come from an island where the temperature never drops below five degrees, and even that’s a rarity. Even though I incessantly watch the snow fall from my window, nothing prepared me for the mesmerising bleached landscape I met with once I stepped outside. Snow has the capacity to mute the world; the cars creep by, and passersby trudge through the 10cm-thick snow. Even the familiar pathways have been buried and the handyman has come out with his snow-clearing cart to clear at least the most necessary paths for us. I remain impressed by the efficiency of this man who seems to be waiting to help the neighbourhood at the fall of the first snowflake. When it rains in Malta we often stay inside – the weather improves so quickly, it’s really not worth getting wet. Unlike yours truly, Munich is familiar with the snow and I already have a number of favourite winter escapes. The enchanting ice-skating rink, just by Ostpark, where I could skate a few rounds around the rink, followed with a warming glass of glühwein.

 

But I’m still a newbie here and I don’t have enough friends yet to share my pictures with or even to discuss the weather with. My German isn’t good enough to understand the newspapers yet so I can’t help but feel distanced from a country used to nature’s wild behaviour. It’s quite unsettling to find oneself distanced from what feels like everyone when you don’t speak the language well. Thanks to my German lessons at least I’m not afraid to linger too long at a shop, lest the shop assistant speaks to me, or even reply to the person at the bus-stop’s comment about the thick snow or first sign of spring.

Whatever the season, I have found some spots that I have made my second (or maybe third?) home. There is The Dicker Mann, a traditional, cosy Bavarian restaurant with its eclectic country style interior, where you will be served by a waiter or waitress in typical Bavarian attire: tracht (breeches and braces for men, and a pinafore dress for women). You have to try the Käserspäzle, the cheese noodles. For times when I want to sit and read, or work at my laptop, I’ll head to the Eisblüte, with its brightly coloured interiors. Mismatched, cheerful furniture stands against its yellow, purple and pink walls. And the proprietor is equally cheery and friendly. He might compliment your watch or your bracelet. You’ll enjoy chatting to him, I know. And on warmer days, you have to try the vanilla ice-cream. I do love winter in Munich, but I can’t deny my Mediterranean blood and I must admit, I can’t wait for summer to come, when the flowers will bloom and the lakes will be warm enough for me to swim in and to just sit on the nearby grass with a picnic, and a good book.

 

Veronica has been caught performing with puppets made out of sponges, old tables, and chairs, rapping as a bearded 50 Cent, and is also rumoured to have been a spy. A literature graduate, she loves reading stories, writing them, and bringing them to life, be it as an actress, director, or producer. Veronica is Editor of culture magazine Encore, the first of its kind in Malta, the tiny Mediterranean island from where she hails.

This article was originally published on www.culturestories.co