Americans in Germany 1: From Lawyer to Writer

Ann-Marie Ackermann giving a tour of a murder site in a small German community.

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Reunification of Germany, the Flensburg Files will be providing stories of Americans who found their way to Germany and have since considered the Bundesrepublik home. Many stories have been collected of Americans who decided to try their luck with Germany because of the need for something new. Some of them are interesting enough for you to read, share with others, and if you are dying for an adventure, want to move over to a place laden with history, culture and beautiful landscapes. 🙂 These stories and interviews will be posted during the month of October in addition to the continuing series on the 25 Reasons to Love Germany and the Quiz Series on the German states.

FF 25 Logo

Our first story in the series looks at an American who used to make a living as a lawyer in the United States. Yet, her heart fell for Germany, not only because of her father originating from the country, but also because she found romance with a German. For many years, she has made her home in Bönnigheim, which is located near the Neckar River south of Heilbronn in Baden-Wurttemberg. There, she’s a writer and translator, while enjoying her life with her husband and children. Here’s more on how Ann-Marie Ackermann rediscovered her roots by returning home to Germany. Note that this is the same person who was a guest writer a few weeks ago (her book review you’ll find here):

Question 1: What motivated you to move to Germany?

It was love…. I fell in love with a German and married him. The move overseas wasn’t as much as a shock as it might have been for other Americans. I’m first generation American and my father was from Germany, so I grew up with exposure to the German culture and language. And I love the country!

Question 2: You went from being a lawyer to a writer. Why this change?

In Germany I would have had to repeat law school. Not only does Germany have different laws, it’s based on a different legal system – the civil law system instead of the common law system of England and the United States. Law school just wasn’t practicable while I had small children underfoot. So I started a small translation business from home, translating academic articles in law and psychiatry.

Question 3: What books and essays have you written since living here in Germany?

No books, but a number of my translations have been published in English. I’ve also written about birds in German (I’m a life-long bird watcher) and have had about a dozen articles printed in magazines and an academic journal. I had a German newspaper column too. And I’m the English text editor of a German ornithological journal.

Question 4: You have a blog on history and mystery, esp. when focusing on the disappearance and death of King Ludwig II. Are you a big fan of mysteries and if so, why?

I’ve loved criminal law even when I was a kid. That’s one of the reasons I chose to study law. And working as a prosecuting attorney only honed my interest.

While researching an article about birds, I discovered a 19th century murder in my adopted German town, referenced in a forestry journal. The murder was solved almost forty years later in the United States. That  makes the case unique in 19th century German history. As a former prosecutor, I got interested and started researching, thinking I had the basis of a great article for the Germans. When the assassin’s archival trail led me to Robert E. Lee, I knew I had a great story for Americans. I have a book contract with Kent State University Press and the book will come out in 2017.

All in all, historical mysteries offer intellectual challenges that modern true crime doesn’t. They aren’t as sensationalist. The blood has dried and it’s the mystery that remains. And 19th century detective techniques are easier to understand than modern ones. That makes them especially appealing.

Question 5: Are you a fan of Tatort or Polizeiruf 110?

Nope! We don’t have television. I’ve watched BBC’s History Cold Case, starring forensic anthropologist Sue Black, on the internet. It is a perfect example of the kind of television show I love: science meets historical mystery.

Question 6: What places in Germany have you visited since living here? Which ones would you recommend and why?

My favorite German cities are Freiburg i.B., Stade, and Trier. All offer some history and have a charm of their own. I also love the Alps and the Wattenmeer for their nature.

Question 7: What difficulties have you encountered while living in Germany?

Navigating the German bureaucracy is quite a challenge. I particularly hate doing my taxes in German. Was it Mark Twain who wrote that a German tax return is so long you could wallpaper your living room with it?

While researching for my book, I had to learn to read the old Gothic handwriting the Germans used in the 19th century. That wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad I did. It’s fascinating to read old documents in the German archives. Learning local history has made me feel even more connected to my German town.

Question 8: If someone wants to live in Germany, what advice would you give him/her before embarking on this adventure, speaking from experience?

Language is the key to any culture. If you master the German language, it will open so many doors. It’s best, in the beginning, not to befriend Americans. If you keep your social circle exclusively German at first, you will learn the language so much faster. And it will help you make lasting German friendships.

You can find more information and stories of crimes, history and other interesting items through her website, which is: Subscriptions are available. From an author’s perspective, there are many aspects she has discovered that should at least be mentioned in the classroom to raise interest among the students. This is what spending time in a foreign country can do to a person: to discover the talents that had been locked up for years while at home, only to be set free when in a different place. Ackermann’s talents is a writer and apart from enjoying her short story narratives, many of us will be looking forward to her first novel on a rather mysterious crime to be released in 2017. Keep your eyes open on some more hints and facts pertaining to this theme. 🙂

Leaving Bönnigheim, we will head to the cities of Memmingen, Jena and Potsdam, where a unique set of hometown heroes decided to leave their roots to make their homes in Germany. More on that in the next article/interview.

five years flfi

2 thoughts on “Americans in Germany 1: From Lawyer to Writer

  1. Interesting, and I fully agree on the language learning tips – also, buy a few children’s fairy tale books, you learn simple phrases very easily that way.


  2. Nirodaigh, I also read children’s books when I first began to learn German. One was called “Die Nacht der Weißwurst-Vampiren.” Who can resist a title like that? The language in children’s books is much easier to read and perfect stepping stone between introductory German lessons and adult German literature.


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