KATIE Cole has lived in Gütersloh, Germany for the last three years. As her family’s time there comes to an end, she’s been reflecting on her experiences and what she will miss…

There have been lots of changes during my time here. Many ups and downs, swings and roundabouts – adventures and trials, incredible firsts and lasts, heartbreaking losses and the life-changing arrival of our son who ‘surprised’ us a year into the posting.

There are images I have permanently inked into my mind. From the beautifully clean streets and amazing scenery to pumpkin farms and parks that have formed the backdrop to many happy playdates.

I have so many photographs of these things, often uploaded onto social media for the rest of the world to bear witness to, but in truth I don’t need the pictures. They’re etched in my memory and there they will stay forever.

But Germany is more than aesthetics. I have found its people to be lovely and welcoming. From the lady in the bakery that gives my four-year-old a cheese roll every time we see her – possibly to shut her up – to the staff in Lidl who smile politely at my awful, broken German and the nice gentlemen who work for Babcock and gaze at me blankly as my English sarcasm washes over them.

I have never encountered any rudeness or xenophobia and have always felt included.

What I will take away is the sense of community and camaraderie. I’ve made so many special friends. I think almost everyone who has lived within the BFG community would say the same.

In three years, I have seen many people come and go – often like a turnstile, one in, one out.

I’ve said goodbye to people that I know I will never see again, despite good intentions, and I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime, forged in shared experience.

Being a spouse to a military employee can be challenging, unpredictable and the extended absences are hard.

But those challenging times often reveal the true nature of a military community. Everyone pulls together and helps no matter what.

“What I will take away is the sense of community and camaraderie. I’ve made so many special friends. I think almost everyone who has lived within the BFG community would say the same.”

Families here have proven themselves to be so much more than neighbours. They have been my friends – kept me going when a deployment feels never-ending, helped me take care of my children and provided advice and solace during difficult times.

They are lighthouses and anchors, bridges and steppingstones, ports in storms and windbreakers of unshakeable quality. Strangers in a foreign land looking for common ground with others to share the burden that persistent change can invoke.

When we moved into our first quarter, I anticipated cliques of women, a hierarchy and perhaps even some sort of archaic initiation process.

What I found were people who welcomed me as one of their own and showed me the ropes without question or judgement. Just a lot of laughter and a lot of wine.

Of course, there are cliques, in a situation where people of all varieties and walks of life are put together, and I appreciate that my experience may not reflect that of others.

If I had to give advice to anyone who can’t seem to find their tribe, I would say go ahead and be the friend you want to find.

You have to put yourself out there, get involved and put in what you expect to get out. Friendships don’t always come knocking on your door – unless you have me as a neighbour who will just show up and invite myself in. It’s not easy when you’re new but it’s so worth it.

It’s small, every day kindnesses that add up to great friendships – the cups of tea and playdate invitations.And as we prepare for our next posting, I’m excited to meet new people with stories to tell and knowledge to share. There’s always someone.

As the powers-that-be send us in different directions to tread different paths, the point of this note is to offer my thanks to all those in the BFG community who have made my time here so memorable.

The brilliant teachers, the men and women on the gate who greet me every morning and make me laugh; the Naafi workers, med centre staff, admin folk and the soft play friends.

The BFBS presenters whose voices have provided a sort of linguistic island in a sea of language I don’t always understand. To all of you, you’ve been wonderful.

To all the friends I have made here, as Rick famously says to Ilsa in the final scene of Casablanca “we’ll always have Paris”, to you I give my heartfelt thanks and say: “We’ll always have Germany”.

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