If I’m sounding a tad more Teutonic today it’s because I recently - and rather unsuspectingly - took part in an integration ceremony. I have now an urge to barbecue nine months of the year and buy jars of Nutella large enough to hold all my written correspondence with German bureaucracy. Other side effects include worsening of pre-existing syntactic complications, also commonly known as the inability to write sentences containing less than three subclauses or syntactic non-linearity, together with an increased belief in the all-healing powers of homeopathy.
It all started with yet another letter from the unending sea of paper that life in Germany entails (I have yet to reconcile this epistolary enthusiasm with the equally Teutonic fondness for forests). This latest missive congratulated me on passing the so-called German language test for immigrants and invited me to a ceremony where two very official sounding officials would hand over my certificate. The letter also encouraged me to bring along my children, who would be freed from school upon the presentation of said letter. Since my progeny currently amounts to zero I wondered if it would absolve my fiance from attending his pre-planning planning meeting instead. Though, like most children, he would probably sit at the back and play during the whole ceremony. And I don’t want to take his iPhone away.
I had no choice but to attend the event sans better half and non existent quarter halves. Thursday afternoon thus found me in a chalk-smelling mossy green locale in Antonstrasse’s Volkshochschule, together with the 20-odd other recipients and their children, partners and other assorted family members. I was one of the few people, it seemed, that had arrived without an entourage, a camera, or a recent visit to the hairdresser. I had already gathered that I wasn’t part of the usual demographic, not only was I the only female there dangerously close to her 30s without descendants, I was also in the rather lucky situation that I did not need the certificate for visa reasons, nor would it have any effect on my professional prospects. My posts might often give the wrong the impression, but I was there just for the love of German. I’m a professional linguist, I can’t live in Berlin and not learn the language. Yet there are many people that don’t - hence the integration courses. All the people gathered that Thursday in room 305 had successfully completed such a course. The only non-compliant element to be found, much to the chagrin of the representative of the integration ministry, was the sound system. Microphones rarely want to integrate.
We all waited patiently in our seats while I tried to discreetly eyeball the cake table. A couple of babies started loudly protesting, perhaps also piqued by the lack of Hanuta bars (Danish butter biscuits at a German induction ceremony? I thought I was there to be integrated, not the other way around) While I pondered the symbolic ramifications of baked goods, the integration ministry delegate successfully integrated the microphone. What followed was a predictable speech on the importance of language to German society. Partly catering to the linguistic level of the attendants, partly to hammer the message home, her rhetoric was littered with keywords such as “society”, “community”, “common language”, and “increased opportunities”. She reminded me of a nationalist Buddhist monk repeating a particularly cherished mantra. We were then serenaded by a capella version of the national anthem. I really wanted a Hanuta bar. We were called individually to receive our certificates. One by one we went up and were handed a red rose and our certificate by the two official looking officials. I also found out why so many of the recipients had been to the hairdresser. We were meant to greet the suits and then have our picture taken sandwiched between them as a memento. I had not been coiffed nor did I have a photogenic baby to accessorise my certificate and rose. Merely my awkward smile. If I had known in advance that the pampers count was going to be this high I could have borrowed one - I live in Prenzlauer Berg after all. For an integration ceremony I was feeling rather out of place.
The capella group reappeared and gave us a Spring hymn, for which they received some
integration singing roses. Then the teachers were honoured with some more red buds too. Maybe Interflora was sponsoring the event. I would have preferred Hanuta. We all politely clapped. Then people broke off to get some tea, Turkish tea, coffee and decidedly non-German biscuits. Alas, I had another appointment, and left with my rose and certificate, soon to be accompanied by an integration Ritter Sport.