Silvia Ziegler on Deutschland, on Berlin and on Faith

It was in one of Berlin’s cute cafes that I had my first German breakfast, which is far from a U.S. breakfast with cold cuts, veggies, and brotchen. Where’s the grits and eggs? Not here in Germany!

But it’s where I met Silvia and her husband, Claus when I first arrived to Berlin. I learned things about Germany and my own American culture that I didn’t know. I could talk to Silvia for hours. She’s an awesome friend and she too likes to talk about the deeper things in life. A civil servant, Silvia is a foreign officer, and she’s a great person to talk about German culture and identity.

Here are some thoughts on Germany from a German:

AP: Culture-wise how does the North, South, East and West parts of Germany differ from one another?

SZ: Actually the differences go beyond that: Every small region claims its own peculiarities. The Swabians are supposed to be very economical- almost stingy with their money. The Saxons like to invent things. People from the Coast have a reputation to be rather stiff and tight-lipped, with a very dry sense of humour. I think there are a lot of stereotypes really, but they diminish and are less important as people move around more frequently.

AP: How would you sum up Germany pre and post Reunification in terms of faith? Was there more so a sense of active faith in God in Germany before the Wall?

SZ: My answer to that is limited as I have never been to East Germany before the fall of the wall. However, my understanding is that during the Communist era your faith was very likely to cost you something – many believers were not allowed to go to university or follow the career they wanted. So, in East Germany you either were all-in for Christ- or all out. And going to church definitely was not encouraged.

In West Germany it was far easier to be a luke-warm Christian. Religious Education was a compulsory subject at school, and at least in the countryside till the 70s / 80s, your neighbours expected you to go to church on Sunday. However, when religion becomes mainly a tradition, it tends to get very hollow, and I believe this is the very reason many people eventually stopped attending church at all.  It never was about a personal relationship with Christ.

AP: What’s one misconception or stereotype that you wish the world would get straight about Germans, and stop believing?

SZ: I think it’s that military thing that still comes up every now and then. Germany isn’t a militaristic nation any more. Few people I know received any military training. Military service stopped being compulsory several years ago, and even before many guys opted for conscientious objection and did went into social service type jobs instead.

AP: Through your job in the Foreign Office you learn a lot about foreign countries – how do you describe your own country in 2015?

SZ: Hm, I see a tendency in Germans to be grumpy and complain about things. We tend to take good things for granted like: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to protest, rule of law, gender equality, a social welfare system, high ecological standards, drinkable tap water. Unfortunately, in very many parts of the world, these things are not the norm, whereas we lack appreciation for them.

AP: Berlin is an ever-changing city. There is always new construction going on. What’s one thing that you think this city needs?

SZ: A new airport ;-)  I heard some people suggest that Berlin give up on the building site in Schönefeld, and start building again from scratch, which might be cheaper and faster. In my opinion, then we are pretty much done building-wise; I think the city should keep its green areas!

AP: You were posted to China for some time. What was your experience in the Far East?

SZ: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow- mindedness,” is a quote ascribed to Mark Twain.  I think there is a lot of truth in it. Living in the Far East definitely opened my horizon to a very different kind of thinking.  One example: We were young professionals then and more than one of my Singapore and Malaysian Chinese friends mentioned that they had given their whole first salary to their parents – to thank them for raising them and paying their education. I have never heard something like that from my Western friends. And then, of course, there is the whole thing about “losing face”, different approaches to society, work, and food.  – I like the pictographs of a Chinese artist, Liu Yang, for a simple explanation of the differences, click here.

AP: When you hear the name Jesus what comes to mind?

SZ: Grace and abundant grace- extended by God to us, but also calling us to extend grace to one another.