Ken Lambeets – also known by his pen name 'Belg aan de Waal' – recently moved from Brussels to Nijmegen to strengthen the Vox editorial team. He will write about his experiences over the next few weeks. Part 6: Germany.
Are there things I miss about my old hometown? Yes, of course. The friends, the gastronomy and the proximity of France, to name but a few. The self-evidence of the twice-monthly trip to Paris. Just an hour and twenty minutes by train and a few Metro stops later you were enjoying a croque monsieur in La Select, where Claus, Campert and Hemingway once ruled the roost. From there, Lyon, Avignon and Bordeaux were just a stone’s throw away. Then on Sunday evening, a quick glass of red wine in Le Terminus before getting back on the train to Brussels from Gare du Nord.
Since I’ve been living in Nijmegen, France is a good bit further away. But, to quote Dutch football legend Johan Cruijff, there’s an advantage to every disadvantage: if I climb the Berg en Dalseweg from the city centre to Tivoli, I only have to catch my breath for a moment before crossing the German border at Kranenburg. And I get this real feeling of being on holiday, even if only because of the yellow road signs, the obligatory ‘Welcome to Germany’ message from my Internet provider or the vast expanses of cakes in the shop window of the local Bäckerei. After a nice ride along the Dutch-German border, I steer my trusty bike into the Kartenspielersweg, straight through the middle of the Reichswald, where the birds sing in High German.
In Nijmegen too, our eastern neighbours are never far away. I regularly hear students and researchers conversing in German in the university corridors. Their compatriots, the ones you see meekly following a guide with a flag through the city, are much older. They’re expected back a little later on their yacht of impressive proportions, on which they sail down the Rhine. Wandering along the quay (Waalkade) past the ships, I picture myself on board, enjoying a tasty frankfurter while the pianist plays a cheerful tune. Sadly, my girlfriend refuses to join me on a four-day cruise on the Rhein Prinzessin at any time in the next fifty years.
Will Germany become my new France? That might just be the case. Since I moved to Nijmegen, I’ve been mistaken for a German twice, but that still feels better than being served in English in Amsterdam. Given that my German is dreadful, I’m considering buying a book of basic grammar again. It could come in useful on day trips to Emmerich, the Roman settlement in Xanten or Kleve, which was apparently one of the major spa resorts in Northern Europe back then.
I’m even looking to the eastern neighbours in a culinary sense. The Belgian gastronomer in me has always thought of Germany as a beer desert. I mean, we Belgians don’t brew our beer according to a centuries-old law (Rheinheitsgebot) which makes three-quarters of the ale interchangeable. But since recently hearing a jolly Brabander ordering a German beer with, by way of excuse, ‘we don’t have that in our pubs’, I now always recommend Weizen beer to Belgian visitors, as an example of all that is good in Nijmegen.
And slowly but surely, I’m strengthening my connection to my new neighbouring country. Who knows? It may some day end in marriage. On one condition: that the treacherous German national football squad, the Mannschaft, do not knock Belgium out of the world cup, because that would definitely put us back to square one.