How Germany changed me

How Germany changed me


norman lebrecht

August 29, 2019

Our violin diarist Anthea Kreston is about to say goodbye to Berlin:

“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.” – David Sedaris

I always wanted to live in another country for a stretch. And even more so when I had children – I was lucky that Jason thought the same. We had toyed with the idea of one of us getting an orchestra job for a couple of years in some gorgeous sea-side town in Spain or Italy, the children running in the water and the 4 of us enjoying long, rustic meals. And, I had always loved the Artemis Quartet. Ok – Berlin is a far cry from a house clinging to a cliff, fishermen hawking their catch on the piers. But it has all the exoticism and “foreignness“ a person could desire. It’s a German String Quartet in Berlin. And so, when I won the position, it was like two perfect worlds colliding. I didn’t think of it as a stretch, though – I went all-in. I didn’t leave a box of stuff in a friend‘s basement, or my dining room table in a storage space. We packed a suitcase each, sent a small amount of sentimental items (books, artwork), and made for ourselves a brand new life.

It changes you, permanently. Maybe that was what I was looking for, in some way. This time next week, we will be back in the USA, after a 4 year whirlwind experience. We jumped off the deep end, all together, and we are all better, stronger, more compassionate humans. Here are my take-always.

Family: We said goodbye to family and friends. Not the kind of goodbye, like, “see you next weekend”, or “hey – why don’t we have New Years at our house this year?“. Goodbye, like “let’s see how finances go – we will try to come see you next year, or in two years“, and “next time I see you my nephew will be 3 and I have never met him“, and, on several occasions, e-Mails such as “please give everyone at the memorial my best wishes“, or “I am so thankful the surgery went well“ were written. Those things cannot be undone. Those people cannot be seen taking their first steps or have their hands held quietly. The flip side is that I could never imagine being as close as I am with Jason now. My daughters‘ relationship to each other has a magical, magnetic intensity. Jason will never write the words “I just wish I hadn’t missed so much of their childhood“. I might write that, but I won’t, because what the three of them created together is something so close – I don’t even know what they are talking about half the time. And it’s good. Really good. And those long-distant relationships? Sure, some faded, but the ones that stayed became stronger, deeper and more important.

Cultivation of Endless Patience: My god. The paperwork here. Just to give you a taste. For my German taxes there is a per diem which splits each day you are away into three 8-hour chunks. If you don’t have the paper ticket for the s-Bahn, you can’t deduct your travel. It literally takes me 40 hours to get it done every year. And every facet of life seems the same. The work visas, the drivers license, the registration with the police and social security, the lines and waiting rooms with rows of white plastic chairs and small, high windows. But it all ends up happening, somehow. And I have become more patient. And I let things wash over me. And I am more creative with solutions. The funny thing is – just yesterday our long-term visas came through. After nearly 4 years and over 10 denials. Go figure.

Language/Culture: Its been increasingly more fun to hack my way through a German conversation. I was never fearful, but recently, I have found a lightness. My colleague once berated me slightly in rehearsal “you know, you can’t just turn a noun into a verb because you think it’s a good idea! There are rules!“. My kids are good at German. And they are also kindof German. Well – they aren’t exactly American. They don’t know what a turtleneck is. I think Jason is amazing. I hear him in the studio, teaching cello lessons in German, laughing and going faster and faster every week. We will keep it up. We have fallen in love with some parts of German cuisine – perfecting our Pretzel recipe and already planning on trips back in the summers. My secret away-from-home guilt meal is Spätzle mit Käse and a huge beer. With those crispy onion bits on top. The culture – honestly, it still confounds me regularly, but so does American culture.

Loneliness/Guilt: The guilt of taking Jason away from his family, his career, his ocean and mountains, his friends and his beer. The loneliness that he experienced – the isolation in every way. He became a single father in a foreign country with 2 week‘s notice. My guilty feelings can’t go away because those things are irreplaceable. My loneliness on tours, my struggles, which I didn’t want to put on Jason’s already full plate. My guilt at ever even having a personally rough time, after pulling my family so far away. Writing a weekly diary became a foundation of my health – it kept me grounded and gave me the tools to process my life and decisions.

Definition of Home: It went from a place to a feeling. Home is now within us – it is solid and forever.

Core Principles Developed: The big things in life are more clear and defined than they ever could have become if we hadn’t taken this leap. Passing these principles on to the children – fearlessness, desire for adventure, generosity, embracing the new, feeding your passions, never giving up – not searching for success, but for knowledge and fulfillment.

And so – we are forever changed, and for the better on all fronts. We, all four of us, now know that there are no boundaries to life – to courage and a willingness to learn and grow. Go out there, and grab life!

image from Babylon-Berlin



  • Gustavo says:

    Well observed.

    It gives us hope.

  • Alexander says:

    I wish you to find your home where your heart is. Having experienced friendship both in American and European ways I only can say the cultures are different .
    Have nice days of your life and see ahead , always 😉

  • Couperin says:

    I don’t know why this strikes me as kind of hilarious. Like, after for years, they soon sounds like annoying Americans, perhaps? Why did they even want to live there?

    • Couperin says:

      Apologies for hastily a typed comment riddled with typos. Her entry, while on the surface seems very positive and enlightening, also sounds very self-absorbed. That’s all I meant.

      • Michael says:

        Of course it’s self absorbed. It’s about her and her family’s experience. I think it’s ok to be self absorbed once in a blue moon, don’t you? Or be careful with your opinion or it may come off as self absorbed.

      • Bruce says:

        Is there someone else she was supposed to be writing about?

        (Of course you are aware that NL invited her years ago, when she was preparing to move to Germany, to write posts to Slipped Disc about HER life and HER experiences, and HER thoughts & observations about HER life.)

  • Brettermeier says:

    “The guilt of taking Jason away from […] his beer.”

    No, no, no. You brought him TO beer. 😉

    • esfir ross says:

      Mind of teenager- dream of working in Spanish coastal fishing town orchestra! How this middle age people planned to provide for family? You took away Jason from good job as university teacher and brought him to beer. Now back to ruin. Good luck to get normality in your life.

      • Brettermeier says:

        What a rude person you are.

      • esfir ross says:

        Try to get degree in music-hard to get a teaching job in reputable music department without diploma

      • a colleague says:

        well, maybe that’s what they wanted to do with the family. why the snarkiness about Jason? His choice. if you, Mr. Ross, can’t be positive about this, then i suggest you butt out of this conversation. Ms. Kreston and family, you’re doing great! Keep going!!!!

    • Anthea kreston says:

      Hahahah. Sooooo true. As people came to the house to pick up furniture or kitchen items, I would hand a bottle beer or two to each person – we had somehow gotten quite a nice selection in the cellar…..

    • Charles says:

      Those of us in Oregon might disagree.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    “please give everyone at the memorial my best wishes”

    Is that normal to say?
    “my respects” “my condolences” “my deepest sympathy”
    …my best wishes

  • Is the long-term visa still good or was it only for if you kept the Artemis job?

    Is it Germany-only or good for the whole EU? If you got the Spanish-orchestra-on-the-sea would it be good for that?

  • Ingrid says:

    How wonderfully thoughtful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nice Try says:

    Ok, another 1100 words about your kids… and seriously? “Go out and grab life”? Wow, now that somebody’s mom who plays in a string quartet wrote that, I can really take the initiative I need, to seize the day by not reading anything by anyone’s mom about their damn kids. I guess you just post any old thing on this blog now? I mean, if you actually read this stuff I have some Lorem Ipsum you’ll find riveting.

  • John Rook says:

    Four years abroad in this profession is neither unusual or long but I’d imagine you’ll have problems re-adapting to some elements of US life and thinking.

  • Julian says:

    Sounds like you took my book, The Meaning of Life, A Child’s Book of Existential Psychology, very seriously. I see you’re continuing to follow your cord. Keep at it! The meaning will come from the experience, but you seem to already know that.