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Ask any young, backpacking Kiwi at Auckland International where they’re going and you’ll find most are London-bound. Whether they’re travelling through America, stopping in Hong Kong, or traversing Europe, Old Blighty is the ultimate destination for the great Kiwi OE. But even New Zealanders haven’t escaped the bubbling uncertainty of Brexit. Now happily settled in Cologne, Ally Koehler provides some insight into life as a Kiwi in Germany.


After the third month of applying for a Certificate of Sponsorship only to be pipped at the post by those whose points were higher, I knew I couldn’t carry on with my sanity intact. Two years beforehand, staying in the UK beyond my tier 5 visa wasn’t even a consideration. Now, it seemed like everything I’d ever wanted was being held just out of reach.

Unfortunately, it was poor timing. Not since 2015 had the demand for Tier 2 sponsorship certificates exceeded supply and even then it was only for one month. Once my visa had expired, National Health Service (NHS) professions were removed from the quota. If I’d only had a few months more, it could’ve been a different story.

Things I would leave in the UK included my boyfriend, my flat and the life I had forged as an editorial consultant for brands with marketing budgets beyond anything I’d ever had to play with in New Zealand. It’s safe to say I was less than thrilled about the impact of a decision I hadn’t made. But life has a way of opening doors if we’re willing to walk through them

From the UK to mainland Europe

In the time between leaving the UK and getting my first flat in Cologne, I thought about returning home after a bit of travel. I half-heartedly considered a move to Canada and entertained thoughts of Amsterdam. But Germany was the only place that really resonated, and my first thought was Berlin.

I have some baseline German, due to years of Deutsch at school. But to my angsty teenage self, Germany may as well have been the Moon; I was not the most enthusiastic student. With its thriving start-up scene, Berlin seemed like a real option. Adverts for English content creators were easy to find. I immediately started applying.

Somewhat ironically, had it not been for social media, I may very well have ended up sitting on a beanbag or exercise ball drinking black coffee, tapping away for a company claiming to be “the Netflix of the travel industry”. Maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad, but where I am is so much better. A Facebook message from a friend linked me to a digital editor position in the space sector with the words: “Hey! Isn’t this what you do?”, and things started to look up.

Long story short (ish), I got the job! And it took me to Cologne. Strangely, in all my trips to the land of beer and Beemers, it’s somewhere I’d never thought to visit.


The only language you can drink

If you travel to Cologne without having heard of Kölsch, you will within moments of arrival. Brewed only in Cologne and served in tall, cylindrical 0.2L glasses, the light ale flows at every brauhaus and drinking tallies are kept on coasters.

Nearly every social event I attended during my first few months in the city revolved around the bubbly beverage. But it’s much more than the local brew, it’s also a dialect and culture.

Known as “the fifth season”, Carnival is when Kölsch culture truly shines. So far I’ve only witnessed the warm-up day that marks the start of Carnival season at 11.11am on 11 November, but even then every man and his dog was dressed up, drinking, and singing Kölsch songs. This year, the “crazy days” run from 28 February to 5 March and I’m told, even at work, costumes are compulsory… Prost!

Shrugging off stereotypes

I’m ashamed to say that when I moved to Cologne, I had a few preconceived ideas about German people. They would be standoffish and humourless, but on time and right up with the latest innovations – I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Here cash is king, everywhere you go. You can pay by card at the supermarket and larger retail stores, but don’t be surprised if your card is worthless plastic in most other places.

I’m told cash lets you keep better track of your spending and Germans have a strong affinity for privacy. In a country where people think nothing of stripping naked with strangers at the sauna, the contrast does seem odd.

In my experience, the people of Cologne have been nothing but open and friendly, though the Auslanderbehorde (immigration office) staff have been quite trying.

When I first arrived, I moved into a shared flat with a Cologne local. It went without saying that I was invited to drinks, festivals and activities with her friends as she helped me discover the culture. My German colleagues have been exactly the same, to the point where I feel I am standoffish.

Despite all this, a few stereotypes do still ring true. In general, Germans are big fans of sausages, potatoes and punctuality. However, never set your watch by a Deutsche Bahn train, you will always be left disappointed.


Planes, trains and fast lanes

I thought for sure, when I moved away from London, that I’d moved away from frequent flights and low-cost transport. In fact, Cologne is just a 55 minute flight back to the UK capital, with regular flights and trains to other places.

In the next month alone I’ll be heading to Berlin for a netball tournament, The Netherlands for a work function and Finnish Lapland to (hopefully) see the northern lights. And, as much as I complain about DB’s punctuality, local trains will take you to Bonn, Aachen, Eifel, and numerous other quaint German villages that feel like Grimms Brothers’ fairy tales, in minimal time at low cost.

Going back to those Beemers, I’ve also had the pleasure of travelling on the Autobahn since my arrival. Quick tip, if you’re a passenger, don’t opt for the backseat. Carsickness is very real.

Final thoughts on a Rhine-side city 

From its striking gothic cathedral to its Christmas markets, beach clubs, Carnival and Kölsch culture, Cologne’s a city without affectation, made for living. The longer I stay, the more it reveals and although leaving Britain wasn’t solely my choice, I’m so pleased I remained in Europe.


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Ally is a Kiwi based in Cologne, Germany, where she works for EJR-Quartz as digital editor at the European Space Agency’s Astronaut Centre. Before making the move to mainland Europe, she lived in London for two years. There she worked on editorial content and strategy for a range of global brands, drawing on the communications skills she gained and honed in the mighty Manawatu.


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Part 12