For residents of Seoul, Namhae County is even farther away than Busan. But the area draws in a constant flow of tourists nonetheless, thanks to its unmatched collection of special villages. Travelers are attracted not only by the beautiful scenery of Hallyeohaesang National Park but also by the artists’ villages of poets and painters, farming and fishing villages where crops are grown on terraces and boats set out daily, and the foreign village that brings a taste of the German lifestyle and culture to Korea. Indeed, Namhae German Village in particular offers a chance to make unforgettable memories in a unique setting.
With a mountain behind it and the sea to the front, Namhae German Village presents beautiful scenic backdrops from multiple vantage points. The first is the contrast of the red roofs of the houses seen from the village observation platform, with the sea waves beyond them. The other is the clean and peaceful village looked upon from the coast.
The white walls and red roofs, the spacious plaza where all the roads meet, and the tall clock tower combine to immerse visitors in the scene of a real German village. As tourists walk along the simple, uncluttered gardens, they can imagine the diligent villagers’ daily routines, keeping their lives and surroundings neat and tidy.
Most of the residents are former miners and nurses who went to work in Germany from the 1960s through the 1980s. During this time, over 20,000 Korean miners sent their earnings from Germany back home. This money served as a basis for the economic development of Korea, which lacked foreign currency in those days.
Beginning in 2001, Namhae County of Gyeongsangnam-do provided the former miners and nurses with a foundation for their new lives after retirement, while also developing a tourist attraction in association with the neighboring artists’ village and other local resources. The returning miners and nurses built German-style buildings with the materials they had brought from Germany, and have since maintained the traditional culture and way of living with which they became familiarized over the decades, giving the area its unique identity of a “German village in Korea.”
The village museum shares the stories of the lives of the miners and nurses in Germany, as well as their struggles for survival as they labored in a faraway country. It’s easy to imagine how difficult their lives were, facing a language barrier and discrimination. Still, the villagers seem to cherish their old memories no matter how exhausting their lives were back then. A small version of Germany’s Oktoberfest, held in the village every October, is a strong testimony to the residents’ feelings. Drinking beer, grilling homemade German-style sausages, and singing together with visitors, they enjoy the feast without ever asking about each other’s backgrounds. They’re happy enough just to share their fond memories of Germany once more in Korea.
Written by Kim Moonyoung
Illustrated by EEWHA