14 Sept 2011 - Not a Singaporean soul in sight. That was Amy Kiesgen’s experience when she moved to Munich in 1994 after marrying her German husband. As hard as she tried to look for Singaporeans living in the area, her search was futile.
“When I first went to Germany, I didn’t have anybody,” recalls Amy. In the year she arrived, she went to the Singapore embassy in Bonn and was told there were only 200 Singaporeans in the whole of Germany. “No wonder I cannot find any Singaporeans in my area,” adds Amy. Since then, the number of Singaporeans staying in Germany has grown. Now, Amy reckons that there are over 200 Singaporeans in Munich alone.
Although the Singaporean community in Germany is a lot larger now, she still wants to help Singaporeans make an easier transition to life in Germany and to build a community there. So, she got the help of a fellow Singaporean, Lee Sha’ari who is staying at Muenster, to start a blog, Singaporeans in Germany, in July this year. A facebook group of the same name has also been set up. The blog contains recipes contributed by Singaporeans, like chwee kueh, pulut hitam, and random but useful pieces of information, like where to find durian in Germany. “It’s created by Singaporeans in Germany, and it’s by Singaporeans for Singaporeans in Germany,” says Amy.
The Facebook group is a no-holds barred marketplace of some sort: members offer tips on how to go about life in Germany without losing sleep over the inability to speak German, suggestions on where they can attend German classical piano concerts, where to find local fare and even, where to get a schoolbag.
Response to the online platforms has been very encouraging. At last count, there are already 268 members on the Facebook page. “I found one girl in Munich and managed to find one in Cologne. She’s been staying in Germany for over 20 years and she’s so happy to find this group. She said: ‘I didn’t know. I’ve been here so long. I was looking for Singaporeans for so long until someone told me to join Facebook and join this group.’ She was very excited.”
Since setting up the online platforms, Amy has managed to find four other Singaporean volunteers apart from Sha’ari to be administrators for the platforms. They are Aslinda J. Oelbauer and Diah Ohlmeyer who are staying in Munich, Hatijah Nuss in Cologne and Rahimah Tamam-Brillowski in Hamburg. These administrators are also active in organising gatherings, the most recent ones being the Hari Raya potluck party and mooncake potluck party. “One of our Facebook members organised a Mooncake Festival at her place on 11th September and she invited most of the Singaporeans in Munich. She brought lanterns and mooncakes over (from Singapore) for the party,” enthuses Amy.
Amy is no stranger when it comes to participating in events for overseas Singaporeans. When the Overseas Singaporean Unit portal was set up in 2006, she took part in its forums. Through it, she made a few close friends. She also volunteered for Singapore Day 2009 in London, an annual flagship event the Overseas Singaporean Unit organises for overseas Singaporeans.“People ask me, ‘Amy, you are not stationed in UK, why do you want to volunteer? I said I like to volunteer. I just want to be part of the team. And that’s what I did. I even dragged my cousin who’s staying in Düsseldorf to volunteer. We are the only two Singaporeans in Germany who volunteered.” Last year, she organised a pledge-taking ceremony in English and German to celebrate Singapore’s National Day in Munich and was featured in the TODAY newspaper back home.
However, her enthusiasm has led some people to question if she has a political agenda. Her attempt and zealousness to build a community to help fellow Singaporeans has caused suspicion. “People think I’m very active and some think I’m a PAP spy. But I’m not,” clarifies Amy.
The mother of two is a housewife in Munich. In between managing the online platforms, tutoring her 12-year-old son, she cooks up a storm in the kitchen. Satay, laksa, Hainanese chicken rice, Hokkien mee, mee siam, thosai are just some of the local flavours that have made their way to the dining table. According to her, whipping up the delights are not a problem as the ingredients are easily obtained in the Asian markets in Munich.
Amy comes back to Singapore every year to visit her family. When asked what she misses most about Singapore, a faint but visible smile breaks out as she seemingly recollects her memories of living in Singapore. “Food. Lifestyle. Our society. We have four races here and I miss how we interact with one another. ” She adds: “The laws here are more straight-forward. You have to follow the law. If you don’t, you get it. I like it this way.”
Setting up the blog and Facebook page is just the beginning. On her plate are plans to hold a mini Singapore Day in Munich and start an official organisation for Singaporeans in Germany. People baffled by her enthusiasm may ask, “Why?” The answer is simple: she is happy to help fellow Singaporeans.
By Yee Wei Zhen