Decorating in Germany – Would You Give it a Go?

The route into the trade can take many forms – we don’t all go on to an apprenticeship straight from school. One of our members, Will Loughman had a slightly different path to follow before he became a decorator, proving you never quite know what you’ll be doing, or where you’ll be doing it…

Having served in the Army for 14 years, in January 2015, the time had come for me to start life as a civilian in Germany. My first 6 months were as a house-husband and then in June I started driving HGV’s for a living. It took me about 14 months to realise this wasn’t for me, I was working far too many hours, nights as well. The whole point of leaving the army had been to spend more time with my family – I’d felt like more of a long lost uncle to my youngest son as opposed to his dad.

I decided to enquire about doing an apprenticeship as a trades person – at this point I was still unsure about which trade I wanted to do. My apprenticeship would be 2 years rather than 3 and I would start in the second year. As I was settling in Germany and my German reading and writing were to a fairly low standard I didn’t fancy becoming a spark (I’m not gay) or doing anything too technical. So I applied to 2 companies in the small village we live in. One was a tiling company, the other a painting and decorating company. After quite a few weeks of waiting for a response I had given up hope and went to a landscape gardening company where I was pretty much guaranteed a placement.

However, after another couple of weeks the painting and decorating company finally got in touch! This was it, the chance I had been waiting for. After a short interview with the boss I got offered the placement ahead of a couple of young whipper snappers, I was over the moon. August 2016 soon came around and I finally started my apprenticeship. I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest. Like I said my German speaking and writing skills weren’t very good and it showed from day one.

“Will can you get me this?” I’d look at them like they had 2 heads, desperately trying to work out what they wanted.

Then there was college, I arrived on my so-called “first day” and booked in at reception. Going back to school at the age of 33 after 17 years of working was all a bit daunting. Maths had always been a struggle taught in English, well that got worse – the way they set out equations and the symbols they use over here are completely different to the UK!

Politics was another lesson that we did on a weekly basis, (the Germans are quite big on this topic for some reason – I’m not.) To start with I kept getting into heated discussions with the teacher – I’m not some young school leaver – I’ve travelled the world to a degree and have a lot of life skills and experience which have shaped my opinion on things. No way was I going to be denied my freedom of speech and sit feeling patronised. Eventually she realised this and we now get on really well.

Back to day-to-day work my new colleagues were really accepting and patient with me to be fair. I have to say that the Germans are not morning people and no one really talks or smiles until our breakfast break at 9 am, where copious amounts of coffee and rolls containing raw mince and onion are consumed. I was a bit naive as to what being a painter and decorator here involved. I don’t know exactly what you decorators in the UK do day to day but over here we cover a lot of different things, from floor laying, wallpapering and painting, plastering (although not very often), plaster boarding and insulation.

Slowly but surely I started to find my feet and was getting the hang of things – although I am known for regularly cutting off the end of my middle finger with a Stanley knife when trimming the ends of wallpaper.

Last year was really tough, I started to feel homesick and it felt as if everyone was against me, I hadn’t realised at the time how big the leap I had made going into the German market and trying to learn a trade was. Everything started to get on top of me. I’d been sat in a customers house and could feel myself welling up, I nearly burst into tears (not like me as I very rarely show any emotion) I knew at this point something was wrong. I messaged the wife and poured my heart out, I was homesick and struggling to integrate into what seemed an alien world (the Germans don’t have a sense of humour like us Brits and are fairly private people.)

I went to the doctors and got some advice, basically if I didn’t sort myself out they were going to start me on anti depressants and counselling. No way was I going to start taking happy pills. I started taking vitamin tablets and talked to the wife more about how hard I’d been finding the course along with the pressure of learning a foreign language.

After a few weeks I started to get back on track and my understanding of things within the trade became clearer. I’ve pretty much got the homesickness under control now although I do have days occasionally where I want to give it all up and return to the UK. In the mean time I have been pressing on, learning and developing my skills. I love the job and enjoy giving people ideas and listening to feed back from customers. I have approximately 4 months left of the apprenticeship before doing my practical and theory exams in June.  I am pretty confident that I will pass the course, and I look forward to many years to come as a painter and decorator. All in all it’s been a challenging experience so far (one of the toughest I’ve ever faced) but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I hope you enjoy reading my story – the photo’s are from college so if the work looks out-dated, we don’t get a say in what we do, it’s pretty much scripted out for us – we just get to choose colours. The photo with the logo on the wall was made using a projector and drawing the lines onto the wall and then painted free hand, we also mixed all the colours ourselves!

So, what do you think? Would you be able to learn a trade in a country where you didn’t speak the language? Learning a new trade is difficult enough if you do understand the language, fair play Will for sticking at it, maybe you’ll let us know how you get on?  

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