Anne and Fabian Pattberg have known Sønderborg for a long time, and when the German couple longed for more nature and better living conditions, they decided to move 600 km north to the town centre.
Copenhagen, London, Düsseldorf and now Sønderborg. German couple Anne and Fabian Pattberg have lived in several big cities and consider themselves European rather than German – and now they have settled in Southern Jutland. The family’s relationship with Sønderborg spans several generations, but Anne and Fabian could never have guessed that the town would become their new home.
“We have both lived in Denmark before, but at the time we had no idea that we would end up living here permanently. It was during our studies at CBS in Copenhagen, where we were both studying International Studies. Anne was doing a Master’s degree and I had just three weeks left of my exchange for the Bachelor’s programme. A mutual friend from Austria introduced us. We met in Tivoli and immediately fell in love,” says Fabian.
Anne from Flensburg and Fabian from Bremen decided to get married a year after they first met. The couple, now aged 47 and 48 respectively, have a 10-year-old daughter, Lola, who currently attends Sønderborg International School.
“After we got married, we lived in different places in Copenhagen. I knew for a long time that I wanted to pursue a career in sustainability, but at the time there weren’t many jobs available in the sector for recent graduates. England, on the other hand, was particularly proactive in the field. At the time, Fabian was writing his Master’s thesis and was able do this remotely, so we made the decision to move to London to build a life and career there. We loved it!”, says Anne.
Travelling involuntarily back home to Germany
In London, working life was lived to the full and the couple enjoyed their time there. Anne landed her dream job at Camelot plc, where she managed the sustainability department for several years. Fabian also started his career focusing on sustainability at E.ON in the UK. He was responsible for the company’s CSR policy. Before long, he had also started an online forum on the same topic. However, life changed abruptly for the couple.
“The financial crisis hit the UK quite hard and then I became ill with thyroid cancer, so we decided it was time to make a life change. This was after 12 years abroad. We were also thinking about starting a family. My parents’ health was not good either, so the rational decision was to move back to Germany”, says Anne.
“We moved home for health insurance, to be closer to family and for better opportunities for jobs and salaries. But we found it hard. We enjoy experiencing new things. We love to integrate deeply into new cultures, understand our surroundings and really get a feel for life beyond the German border,” adds Fabian.
In 2011, the couple moved from London to Krefeld near Düsseldorf, where Lola was born two years later. Anne was headhunted for the consultancy PWC in Düsseldorf and travelled extensively around Germany to visit her clients. Fabian also worked hard to take over his parents’ business.
The coronavirus pandemic opened the couple’s eyes
Life in Krefeld was not so easy for Anne and Fabian. They dreamt of being closer to nature, less traffic and a better education for their daughter. Anne put a lot of energy into her work, but she also wanted to spend more time with Lola, and found that the two worlds were incompatible. So in 2015, Anne decided to become self-employed. Yet the couple still weren’t happy. The entire region was packed with people and green spaces were nowhere to be found.
“We spent the last two years thinking about where we could move for a better life. The UK was obviously a stupid choice because of Brexit. We are Europeans first and foremost, and we should maximise the many benefits that this brings to our lives”, says Fabian.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it opened the Pattbergs’ eyes to working remotely. The couple’s self-employed status had grown to the point where they could work from anywhere in the world. It was on the way home from a summer holiday in Blåvand that Denmark came to mind.
“I remember it clearly. We were in the car travelling between Esbjerg and Kolding. We thought: why not Denmark? When we got home, we looked at a map. We knew we wanted to look in the south of Denmark, so that we would be close to Germany. Before long, we had booked another holiday, this time to Skelde near Broager. Now we had to experience Denmark afresh,” says Fabian.
During their holiday, Anne, Fabian and Lola were visited by their friends and family from Germany and they explored selected towns in southern Denmark. With their penchant for urbanism, their dream was to find a house in a town where school, work and culture were all within walking distance.
“The feeling was there right away with Sønderborg. The town, which is surrounded by open countryside, is picturesque. There are large companies here and the infrastructure is excellent. It doesn’t matter whether you want to travel by foot, bike, car, train or plane. It’s everything we could ever want,” says Anne.
The dream house appeared
The family then needed to find the right house in Sønderborg, so they sought information from the municipality’s relocation service. They had their first meetings with Kreditbanken. If the dream house were to materialise, the family were in a position to move quickly. As they lived 600 km away, being organised in advance proved to be an advantage.
One Friday afternoon in May 2021, Anne received a notification on her mobile phone – a promising new house for sale in Sønderborg.
“Merethe from Home in Sønderborg showed us the house on Asylvej, and I was sold on the spot. I kept quiet, waiting for Fabian’s reaction. When we reached the first floor, he asked Merethe what it would take to get the house. Merethe said ‘You just have to raise your hand’. And we both did it at the same time, followed by a big laugh,” says Anne.
The first test of life in Sønderborg started when the house purchase and banking arrangements had to be finalised. The family received great help from both Kreditbanken and the Home estate agents in Sønderborg. Anne and Fabian continue to experience a high level of friendliness and goodwill among people in the town. They feel connected here.
“In Sønderborg, we had an immediate sense of feeling at home. Our neighbours are kind enough to help with Lola and they are like family to us now. And Lola is doing really well – at school, but also in handball, gymnastics and at art school, which she does as an extracurricular activity,” says Fabian.
Today, the family have been living in Sønderborg for almost six months, and Anne and Fabian are pretty certain they will stay. They enjoy the nature, the short distances and watching Lola make friends and immerse herself in her many interests.
Several times a week, Anne and Fabian commute the short distance to Flensburg, where they both currently have an office. Fabian has taken over and streamlined his parents’ business, which sells and supplies technical training equipment to the German military. Anne still runs her own successful consultancy business giving advice on the sustainable transition, ESG (Environment Social Governance) and communication.
“We both travel abroad from time to time to visit customers either in Germany or elsewhere. With the airport in Sønderborg, and with Billund and Hamburg close by, it’s never a problem. We also often travel by train. These trips are very relaxing,” says Fabian.
Sustainability is important to Anne, and not only in the context of her job. It’s also one of the reasons why she loves Sønderborg.
“So many things are better in Denmark, especially the modern digital infrastructure. We are also proud of Sønderborg’s target to be carbon neutral by 2029. We are very keen to follow developments when it comes to the green transition. One thing is for certain: the town is doing its absolute best,” says Anne.