Saturday nights at our house are simply crazy. My roommates have a natural talent for getting me tipsy very quickly, even though I am German and beer is basically running through my veins. I was aiming for a hangover-free Sunday, my roommates, however, intended otherwise. By 10 p.m. one of them was already out, as in out-cold after funnelling an entire bottle of wine. So, I was left having drinks with a bunch of girls I didn’t really know. Let’s call them Tory, Ashley and Harper. We were keen for a round of beer-pong, the stereo played Bob Marley.
To be honest, drinking lots of beer is probably the best stereotype a culture can have and is surely one of the things that Kiwis and Germans have in common.
”We’re Germans, Germans, and we hope you like Germans, too.” – Bob Marley
In a small group, like this one was, I tend to introduce myself to everyone, to get the awkwardness out of the way. As soon as my accent gives me away, I am bombarded with two or three German phrases that my opposite picked up from either a fellow exchange student, Rammstein or Arnold Schwarzenegger (although he is Austrian, the accent is comparably funny). What surprised me though is that Ashley and Harper took German in high school. I understood why Japanese was offered down here; Japan is relatively close to New Zealand. But if I’d dig a hole in Auckland and go straight through our earth’s core – I’d come out somewhere in southern Spain (close enough to Germany). So why in the world would you teach German on the other side of the planet?
The First Immigration Waves
It all started in the 19th century. In contrast to the British Industrial Revolution, Germany’s was delayed by more than 50 years. Back then Germany wasn’t even one country, it was divided into nearly 40 small patches of land (principalities). Agricultural land was basically all they had, well, it was owned by field generals who’d divide and “lend” parts of it to local farmers (feudalism). With that system, the farmers automatically became the lowest societal group, hardworking but poor, and lacking rights. Some brave Germans escaped to Britain, and from there journeyed to the other side of the world.
Most of these farmers came from Germany’s flat lands (such as my kiwi professor’s wife is, too) – the North, East Germany, modern Poland (Prussia) and Bohemia (Czech Republic, Slovakia). It is believed that nearly 10,000 farmers, businessmen, as well as other educated Germans escaped to New Zealand during that time. Among them were intellectuals like Ferdinand von Hochstetter – the first geologist in NZ who mapped the Auckland Volcanic Field, Ernst Dieffenbach – New Zealand’s pioneering botanist who firstly ascended Mount Taranaki, and Johann Franz (John Francis) Julius von Haast – geologist and initiator of the Canterbury College.
What followed were a series of settlements, Pūhoi being the most famous one, situated north of Auckland. The second wave of German immigrants followed the gold rush in the late 19th century. Soon there were German settlements filled with workers, traders, crafters all over the country: in Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury, Westland, Otago and Southland. Some of them even worked on the railway constructions near Dunedin.
Locked Up in East Germany
Germans were generally accepted due to their education and craftsmanship. Immigration stopped with WWI and was not revived until the 1930s when many Europeans were seeking refuge from the Nazi-regime. The most recent wave seems to have something to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, thanks to David Hasselhoff (actually that’s just a stereotype, too) because some of these locked-up East Germans were apparently “Looking for Freedom” elsewhere. My (East German) dad was actually a soldier at that time. He was stationed the day after the wall was opened. Proving his stories are ridiculous pictures of him peaking through holes in the wall, grinning like a newborn baby to the West-German audience. I love these pictures and without the fall of the Berlin Wall, I couldn’t be down here today or anywhere over the eastern European horizon.
Anyhow, after the wall was down it was time to work, as you know we Germans love to do, in order to re-establish a country. Over the next decade or two, the East and their outdated communistic models would aim to catch up with the capitalism of the west. Some of the freshly-freed East-Germans emigrated to places like New Zealand, others, including my parents, stayed to celebrate Germany’s reunification a year later on October 3rd, in 1990.
Reunited, Economically Stable, and Still Leaving
During the last 27 years, Germany became one of Europe’s economic leaders because of its central location and wealth of resources, but also through the people’s diligence and discipline. As a consequence, bureaucratic processes are often very complex (in my experience, super annoying), lots of land is paved with asphalt and the social pressure of having a successful career is accordingly high (#firstworldproblems).
All of that and more is making a lot of Germans very unhappy. They feel overworked, burnt out and worry about their retirement. Some just simply seek an easier lifestyle, preferably with more sunshine than in Central Europe. In fact, Germans love a shining sun in all of the country’s 16 states (maybe that’s the reason why the Oktoberfest starts in September). They particularly like the sun that shines in the unofficial 17th state, Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Middle Sea, that is literally overrun with drunk German tourists and immigrants. I haven’t been to Mallorca and probably never will but I am tempted to call New Zealand Germany’s unofficial 18th state.
You can basically find Germans anywhere in the world; they like wandering through deep forests, climbing high altitudes and exploring the unknown, but we seem to especially enjoy doing all of that down here or Down Under. In Central Europe, everything is very tight, and everything is easy to reach, almost 24/7. So maybe German immigrants and backpackers prefer New Zealand due to its isolation, wilderness and remoteness, where no one can reach them and where bureaucracy is a little looser than at home.
Just in Dunedin, I’ve met fellows staying in Abbey College and Clyde Street, I’ve heard many German backpackers on the street, and served other Germans in the Indian restaurant I work in. When we went to Elephant Rocks in Central Otago, I saw some German wannabe-free-climbers, my professor here told me that is wife was from Bremen and I’ve met lots of Kiwis that have German ancestors. Recently, I saw posters for New Zealand’s German Film Festival by the Goethe Institut in Wellington. On top of all this, Tory proudly told me that her first time having sex was, of course with a German exchange kid. Germans are effin’ everywhere.
Might German Politics Cause A New Wave?
Some people have become very frustrated with the European politics recently, especially people of the countryside who feel unheard by the government and/or fear the consequences of the refugee crisis. As a result, Europe experiences a revival of right-winged parties, in the Netherlands, France and unfortunately, also Germany.
In fact, the German election was just a day after the New Zealand one (23.09.2017), and the right-winged party moved into parliament, the first real right-winged party since WW2. Sadly, it is also the third strongest party and seems to be splitting the country. However, this party as a strong opposition may be beneficial in terms of motivating the traditional parties to work hard on real problems (globalisation and its consequences for the environment, digitalisation, etc.), but may also risk distracting them and might amplify hate and fear instead. One thing is for sure, it is going to be Merkel’s last and most important term as chancellor.
The New Zealand counterpart, not as radical and right-winged but surely as rabble-rousing as this oppositional force in Germany, is a guy named Winston Peters and his party New Zealand First. Looking at the results of the very recent 2017 election, his party might not seem as important as National (46.0%) and Labour (35.8%) but it’s 7.5% become vital in terms of upcoming coalition forming since National and NZFirst have a history and so do Labour and the Green Party (5.9%). It is almost certain to say that whoever NZFirst “chooses” to bond with, will definitely form a majority.
Kiwis adopted the German parliament system called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) back in 1996 and since then fulfil it every three years (Germany every four years).
Are those reasons why so many Germans immigrated to New Zealand – better career opportunities, less bureaucratic strictness, and more individual freedom? Yes, sounds reasonable. But is the emergence of Europe’s right-winged movements catalysing a new wave of German immigrants? I cannot really predict that but I am certain that it plays only a tiny role in the entire globalisation process. All I believe (and I hope I can say that for any immigrant anywhere) is that New Zealand mostly benefits and has benefitted from the Germans, such as it did from John Francis von Haast and fellow scientists, such as it did with Germany’s political methods, such as it did with the workers, traders, craftsmen and women that came over here, and such as it did with certain romances between Kiwis and Germans. At the end of the day, we all (and any immigrant anywhere) are in the pursuit of happiness.