Bonn In our GA-English series, we talk to members of Bonn’s rich and engaging international community. Today, Matthew Sonnicksen tells us about his life, what brought him to Bonn and what he likes about living here.
Part of what makes Bonn so incredibly unique and attractive is its large and engaged international community – of which we are all a part. During our time here, short or long, we are all keen to learn what we can about German culture and habits, and maybe even learn to speak the language – if we can get our tongues around all those syllables. Of course it is more fun to go out and explore with others and many of you have already met up with transplants from your home countries, or made friends with your German neighbors. What’s always amazing is that one can talk to ten different people from ten different countries or backgrounds and their perspectives will always be different.
In this new GA-English series, FIVE QUESTIONS, we hope to give you a little glimpse into our diverse international community. This month, we talk to Matthew Sonnicksen, who is 41 years old. Asked what he does for a living the Chicago native laughs: „My nephew asked me a few months ago what would I be doing if I could do my dream job and it dawned on me that I am doing my dream job. I am a musician and a Storyteller. On the music side I perform as a singer-songwriter under the name „MätSāNiksen“.“ His other projects include being the frontman of The MadSonix who play people’s favourite hits from film and television.
„Last year a highlight was headlining Bonn Fest on the Marktplatz for example“, he says. „Beyond that I play as a session guitar player with various singers and musicians, a sub with Marley’s Ghost ca 10 times a year throughout Europe, have a regular gig in the GOP Piano Bar, and lead the Beatles Singalong concerts with my colleague Jean Lennox.“ As a storyteller he performs at various schools or adult functions or ties it in with his solo concerts. Additionally, he leads workshops with students on Storytelling to promote language. Sonnicksen: „I believe storytelling as an educational tool is impressively powerful. I am working on a handbook in German for teachers and I also lead workshops and seminars on how teachers can use storytelling for their teaching.“
He has „two wonderful sons“ who he absolutely loves raising. „They have two cats. I love animals but my apartment is too small for pets.“ He plans to have a dog again someday as he says he grew up with dogs. The father-of-two’s hobbies include playing board games, reading, hiking, cooking, or reading about languages. „My favourite city in the US is San Francisco, but I love Chicago where I grew up and Atlanta where I worked as musician.“ I love travelling and do not do it nearly enough. In terms of food, I love everything. I became a vegetarian a year and a half ago but I love all types of food except for olives. Everything else is a go! As for drinks, it’s funny. Americans do not do sparkling water but i have come to love it. A slightly chilled bubbly water to me is about the most refreshing thing you can drink. I am also a coffee junkee. I love coffee, even crappy coffee is great.
1) What brought you to Bonn and how long do you plan to stay here (and how long have you been here already)?
I came to Bonn in 2006, the year Germany hosted the World Cup. I planned to stay for a year or two. I came to teach English and then move on to China. I ended up becoming a father and will stay at least until my sons finish school. Once my first son was born I switched from teaching English to adults to working at an English primary school. Over time I’ve transitioned to doing predominantly music, storytelling and storytelling teaching.
2) What do you like to do in your spare time?
It’s funny this spare time thing. As a free-lancer the concept of spare time becomes a bit murky. You really have to consciously distance yourself away from your work or you’ll always answer that other email or text. I’ve been with my boys in the US for the autumn holidays and have had no roaming data or Wifi most of the time. It’s been brilliant! Outside of work I spend a lot of time with my boys. I love reading with them, hiking, biking, or just hanging out and watching Netflix, Mr Bean, or Modern Family. I love to read and normally have at least two books going.
3) What part of the lifestyle here has been easiest or most challenging to adapt to?
For a long time I got around mostly by bike. I really dug being able to do this. I found everything being closed or not being able to do yard-work on Sundays a breath of fresh air. Going to the doctor when I’m sick and not worrying about bills or receiving paid parental leave is the way it should be everywhere. I love that people are so active outdoors here. I’m not a fitness nut. But I like that people walk a bit more here. The degree to how unfriendly people are to each other in public in Germany on the other hand is still something I have a hard time coming to grips with. People tend to call Americans’ friendliness superficial which maybe it is in some cases sure, but it is still a more pleasant way of interacting. But perhaps Anglophones are in general a bit more positive. Irish people are even chattier with strangers than Americans. In England the person at the checkout calls you “love”. Everyone says thank you to the bus driver when they get off, even in London. Germans tend to be more sceptical. They’re hands-down loads funnier than the stereotype. But they do see complaining or “nörgeln” as a basic human right (Grundrecht).
Another plus to German life is that teachers are paid decently compared with other countries. However, the schools are embarrassingly underfunded here. That is something else I get aggravated about on a regular basis.
4) Which season of the year is your favourite in Bonn and why?
It’s funny, there was this German joke about „summer being my favourite week in Germany“. That may have been true. I find the weather mostly ok. I miss a really cold and snowy winter. Autumn in the Siebengebirge or in the Eifel is simply gorgeous. Overall, late spring to Alt-Weiber-Sommer is probably my favourite season.
5) What’s your best insider tip for people living in Bonn?
As for Insider Tips, I’m not sure if I know anything that isn’t way above the radar. Hmm, my favourite Karneval’s Party is Sunday in Namenlos. Pie Me in Endenich has amazing food and coffee, Mirrorball is a super cool store to shop for vinyl or drink an espresso and talk music shop with the owners. In general, I would say Bonn has a lot to offer. Take advantage of the some of the many amazing things a city of this size makes available. So many people are dedicated to providing interesting offers that one should really explore them. Whether it’s comedy at the Rheinbühne, or free concerts in the Stadtgarten organised by Hans-Joachim Over or free to cheap concerts in the Mausefalle, there’s often several things happening even on a week night. Take some language courses at the VHS, brush up on German for free or tips at the Tannenbusch House, take some art courses at the Alanus Werkhaus. Whatever you’re in to, get out there and check things out.
Find out more about Matthew’s work with Storytelling at
Or check him out on a Friday or Saturday the GOP Piano Bar or on December 7th in the Mausefall where he and The MadSonix will be celebrating their 8th birthday.
(Interview: Mareike Graepel)