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Frankly ... integrated
Travelling Like Canned Sardines

Two queues of vehicles are standing on a highway. Some people have left their cars while waiting. There are mountains in the background.
Numerous cars are stuck in a traffic jam on the A13 highway near the San Bernardino Pass on Easter Monday. Some drivers have even abandoned their vehicles due to the waiting time. | Photo (detail): Jörg Carstensen © picture alliance / Jörg Carstensen

Summer holidays will be starting soon in many parts of Germany. For families with roots abroad, says Sineb El Masrar, this may mean a long, cramped ride to their homeland and back.

By Sineb El Masrar

In 1975, Rudi Carrell, a Dutch entertainer who spent most of his adult life in Germany, once asked warbingly, “When will it really be summer again, a summer as it used to be? With sunshine from June to September. Not so wet and Siberian the way it was last year.” That was back in the 1970s, and today my Generation Y sings along to those lines just like the Boomers did then. Which just goes to show that, despite all our different backgrounds, we’re actually far less divided here in Germany than we think. When it comes to summer and the weather, most of us can grumble away together quite marvellously.

Summertime means time to travel, and here in this part of the world we’re also masters in the art of grousing and griping about travelling. As I write these words, my friend is busy poring over her pupils’ report cards, for which she needs her colleagues to send her the grades. But some of them are master procrastinators, so this can prove a bit of a challenge sometimes – even though they’ll finally get six weeks’ vacation too after the report cards are done. Well, it’s actually only five and why teachers of all people, with all the holidaya they get, should be worn out by their profession is something I might try to explain in a subsequent column. This one is about travelling and what summer bodes for so many children and adults.

Reliving Old Memories

Just after the peak of the COVID pandemic, some are off to faraway lands, others to nearby mountains and lakes. Still others will be heading to their family’s homeland, a long-standing tradition among so-called “guest workers” and other immigrant groups, especially those from (Eastern) Europe, Turkey and (North) Africa. In the past, most of them drove the whole way, packed in, depending on the amount of kids, like sardines. This summer, since the introduction of the nine-euro-ticket for a whole month of travel on local and regional trains anywhere in Germany, even trains have become rolling sardine tins: damp, warm and awfully cramped. While this may be a new experience for some, it brings back old memories for others.

Grumbling about travelling is a typical German habit, but it’s also widespread among those who experienced long, cramped rides as kids. They didn’t know any different for at least a decade because their parents were in a save-it-all-for-the-homeland mode and simply packed the kids in like sardine manufacturers in a tin on four wheels and drove the whole family from A to B and back again in the car.

Keeping Cool is an Acquired Skill

Nowadays, if you’re on the train or plane to Turkey, Morocco, Italy or Lebanon, you’re bound to find some German residents with roots in those countries sitting or standing in front of or behind you and grumbling away. They’re annoyed about the check-in or service, the late – or overly punctual – departure, the landing or customs clearance at the border. Maybe they find venting a good outlet for their travel anxiety. The thought of getting away at long last fills them with great joy, to be sure, but even greater anxiety. And nerves and anxiety, like stupidity and ignorance, know no geographic origins.

Keeping cool, on the other hand, is an acquired skill and maybe we all live in a place where it still needs plenty of practice. Because getting upset only puts you in a bad mood, which all too often, alas, rubs off on those around you.

The sky is growing dark as I finish up these lines. It’s going to rain. And I love it, this changeable weather in Germany. Just another summer as it used to be.

“Frankly ...”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Sineb El Masrar, Susi Bumms, Maximilian Buddenbohm and Marie Leão. Sineb El Masrar writes about migration to and the multicultural society in Germany: What strikes her, what is strange, which interesting insights emerge?