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Culture

German Life under a South African Sun

Lured by warm climes, pristine beaches, a striking backdrop and German beer, an increasing number of Germans -- not necessarily equipped with a return ticket -- are heading to Cape Town in South Africa.

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Life is good down south.

A leisurely read of the tabloid newspaper Bild while nursing a wheat beer and chomping on a fried sausage might sound like paradise to some Germans. But take the same scene and add a bright sun, warm surf and rugged mountains, and you'll have light-starved Germans drooling at the thought.

The latter is precisely what more than 100,000 Germans enjoy most of the year, every year, in Cape Town, one of South Africa's most beautiful and relaxed cities. They are permanent refugees from northern Europe's cold and grey and they're leaving their stamp on the city. Cape Town now hosts a thriving array of German bookshops, car dealers, travel agencies, schools, bakeries and pubs.

These immigrants joined each year by another 100,000 Germans who regularly flee the Teutonic winter to spend the summer soaking up the South African sun. Besides them, another 140,000 visit Cape Town for briefer periods throughout the year. At times, South Africa's second city has more Germans than mid-sized German municipalities like Bielefeld or Bonn.

Everything just round the corner

Kapstadt Atlantischer Ozean Paragliding

Cape Town is one of the world's most scenic spots for paragliding, drawing enthusiasts from around the world.

Ralf Erdner, who came to Cape Town ten years ago, knows why he stayed on. "You take one step out of your office and you're practically on vacation. 20 minutes to the next vineyard, five minutes to the beach, ten minutes to the waterfront. It doesn't matter if I want to hike, dive, sail or play golf -- everything is very affordable and just a stone's throw away, without traffic snarls and with sun," he told Deutsche Welle.

In addition to Cape Town's climatic and culinary charms, the city's property prices are very affordable. In the past six years, the number of German property owners in the region has continually risen, especially since a charming Cape-Dutch country house costs about the same as a fashionable apartment in Hamburg.

Business and property interests

Erdner's own company in Cape Town, International Business Network, advises German investors on legal, economic and tax issues.

Erdner said his work had changed over the past few years. "We used to have a huge number of people who came from Germany and wanted to buy a holiday home. And then we had those, who said, 'I want to live for six months in Germany and six months in South Africa.' They wanted to make the best of both summers," he said.

Once one German decided to start a business in the country, the floodgates opened as others jumped on the bandwagon.

"A whole new trend has actually stemmed from it now, so we now don't have as many property buyers, but rather more middle-sized companies who come here," he said.

A city for romantics?

German migration to Cape Town has a long tradition. Germans, along with the Dutch and British, have been flocking to South Africa's southern tip since the 17th century, a fact that's reflected in names of local towns such as Hamburg, Frankfurt or Heidelberg.

Many Germans also fought alongside the Boers, South Africans of Dutch or Huguenot descent, against the British colonizers. Migration from Germany slowed during South Africa's apartheid regime and only picked up again after President Mandela was elected to office following democratic elections in 1994.

Stefan Hippler, the priest with the German-speaking Catholic community in Cape Town, said many Germans view the city romantically.

"Cape Town somehow seems to be the dream of sleepless nights for many Germans, even for many pensioners. It's become a bit like a promised city where people can be happy."

But happiness isn't all that Cape Town is about. It may be largely insulated from the crippling poverty and misery seen elsewhere in Africa, but the paradisaical atmosphere is occasionally shaken by reports of crime and burglary. Warring street gangs can draw bystanders into their paths.

Bavarian sausage and sunny fun

However Germans working in the hospitality industry in Cape Town aren't that much bothered by the city's darker side.

"One gets used to it," said Susanne Funk, a German immigrant who runs a bed and breakfast at the foot of the Tafelsberg mountain. "You get to grips with the feeling that it's more dangerous here. And for me personally, all the positive experiences are so overwhelming lovely that I don't think about going to Germany."

Bayreuth-born Wolfgang Ködel, who ensures that his German guests get enough beer on tap in his pub, is proud that he's been able to create a slice of Bavaria in Africa, complete with the region's music and food, including grilled pig's knuckles. "I would say that our Bavarian sausage here in Cape Town is at least as good as in Munich," he said. "Naturally most of the guests come because of the beer and we brew our own here."

With all that hearty German food topped with enough sunshine and surf to go around, it isn't hard to understand why Cape Town has become such a hot destination--either permanent or part-time--for Germans.

Funk sums up the feeling: "I look forward to my vacation in Germany. I can really enjoy it because I know that my return ticket says 'Cape Town.'"

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