As the year comes to an end, so do our four years living in Germany. It’s been an eventful and exceptional experience to say the least. The amount of memories and experiences we’ve crammed in during this period could fill a lifetime. We landed in this country due to an opportunity that came up with my husband’s company. We had grandiose ideas of two thirty-somethings working our bums off overseas so we could travel the world on a whim…but that’s not what happened. We were greeted instead with a different route; an almost instant surprise pregnancy resulting in a healthy baby boy and all of the joy and challenges that come with being a newly single-income couple with a new addition..far away from anyone or anything we knew. It has been a constant educational experience in trial and error as we attempted travel with a little one on a very limited budget in foreign lands, but I think we did a bang-up job and really made it count.
There are a few things that have been in embedded in our lives that may never fade. I’ve been jotting them down over the past few months and decided I could sum them up in ten topics. When I say “German”, I mean southern Germany and primarily Baden Württemberg since that’s where we live. I’m sure folks who have lived here can add a few to this list, so please, add away!
1. German Traditions & Festivals
From leaving the boots out on St. Nicholas day, Silvester Bleigießen, to dressing up in costumes more elaborate for Fasching than for Halloween, we’ve embraced and experienced a handful of German traditions that will continue to be a part of our lives long after we’ve moved back to the states. The festivals celebrate just about anything you can think of including cabbage, onions, wine, fish, Christmas, seasons, and it’s Germany…so beer is a given.
2. German Foods
Mmm, Semmelknödel, Käsespätzle, Glühwein, Feuerzangenbowle, Dampfnudel, and the seasonal specialties that only come around once a year like Kürbissuppe and Spargel-EVERYTHING…the vegetarian dishes I’ve discovered have been far from healthy, but tasty and definitely memorable. My son used giant, soft pretzels to gnaw on when teething and has grown up eating wurst, crepes, and German fest-food nearly every other weekend of his little life. I will never forget about cheeses, quark, and yogurts, either. Love, love, love!! There will always be a place in my heart and tummy for all of these.
3. Big Boy Rules
I have fallen head over heels for the common sense “big boy” rules of Germany. Basically, “don’t be a dumbass”. So many things are legal here unlike America, and the things that ARE illegal are punished heavily and don’t happen nearly as often as in America (ex: drunk driving, take a train! Call a cab! ANYTHING but drive!). You are expected to act responsible and not abuse your freedoms. Much is “at your own risk”. Be an adult, know your limits, and again…don’t be a dumbass. Not to say the country is without its fair share of crime and dummies, but I haven’t seen it to the extent as I have in the states. For example:
- It’s legal for your passengers to enjoy a road beer, but obviously NOT the driver. This has the potential to make road trips much more entertaining.
- Open containers are legal and no big whoop. Buy a beer or glass of wine at your local festival and walk the kids around to the rides. Don’t get hammered or let your kids drink, unless they’re 16.
- No need for cops trolling the streets looking to ticket you (although they do occasionally set up shop to catch folks on cell phones) they simply install cameras on the highways, street lights, and hidden in cars to catch speeders. Don’t speed.
People aren’t generally sue-happy the way they are in the states which allows things to be much more fun. Local pools have massive high dives, water slides, bars, and allow horseplay and pool toys like balls, floats, etc. People are expected to act a certain way and again, know their limits.
Oh, the German playgrounds! Mostly made out of wood and metal and always awesome. In our neighborhood there are five playgrounds within walking distance and they are all unique. One has a zip line, one has an in-ground trampoline, they all have climbing walls and fast, steep metal slides. Most have recycled tire and metal chain pulley systems for the kids to haul sand up and down, and another is all stone and wood with water pumps. This one is a Wasserspielplatz and allows kids to pump out water, use or create levees, dams, and water displacement tools to route water to different parts of the play area and splash away their cares while barefoot or nearly naked, depending on how hot it is. There are no age limits or age restrictions, there are no rules about how to play with each device, and no instructions on how to play.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of imbibing from time to time and what better place to do so than Europe?! Not only is alcohol served nearly everywhere without quarantineing the drinkers into a cage or a special 21-and-up-zone, but the prices are more affordable than water or soda in many places (as I realized when pregnant. My waters or juices were often costlier than my husband’s beer). I’ve attended wine hikes, wine biking, wine tastings, multiple wine festivals, beer festivals, beer bikes, breweries, toured the oldest sparkling wine cellar in all of Germany, and had the privilege of purchasing bottles of wine from Italy, France, Austria, Greece, etc. at our local grocery store for only a few Euros a bottle! Not to mention every single child-centered place we have taken our son to sells beer and wine, which we all know is sometimes a lifesaver. For all involved.
6. All Inclusive Pricing
Sometimes I don’t like to think or calculate too much, especially when dealing with my squiggly baby/toddler after missing a nap or a meal. Germany (along with most of Europe) makes this really easy with having taxes and service included in retails shops and in restaurants. As a former server, the restaurant part was really hard to grasp and I still tipped fairly high when we first arrived which drove our German friends a bit batty. I think I have finally mastered when to tip and when not to, and when to simply round-up for good-to-decent service. I love going into a store and knowing the price I’m looking at is exactly how much it is. Or going to an ice cream shop or stand and buying my son a snack or treat for exactly 1 Euro, or a beer for exactly 3 Euro. It’s easy, it makes sense, why can’t we do this in the states?
Speaking of embedded, there are some things that can never be unseen. There are very few restrictions on nudity in Germany and that was apparent the first week we moved here and decided to try out our hotel’s pool. Not 10 minutes after we got in and started chatting with another American couple and their two children did another man, naked as a jaybird, dive right on in to start doing laps. The eyes of the parents and their kids darted around so quickly I was scared they might pop out of their heads. I’ve become used to road-side (and ski-slope-side) peeing (men will pull over on the side of the road and take care of business), numerous FKK resorts, saunas and spas which do not allow clothing, co-ed locker rooms at the pool, and naked kiddos swimming happy as can be at our public pools. Being raised as a prude American, it’s hard to shake it when you see folks walking along the poolside in their birthday suits, but they seem so comfortable and to me, it’s admirable. I tried the nudey thing here when I was about 9 months pregnant at our local spa and it took me a while to get up the courage to take off my robe. Once I did and quickly waddled myself into the pool, I did feel a bit freer and the anxiety started to fade as I realised not one person was staring at me as I had envisioned in my self-made-worst-case-scenario. I wish the comfort of being nude in public would have rubbed off on me more (no pun intended), but with the American-styled body-shaming I grew up with, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It doesn’t bother me at all to see it although it is still a surprise when I do, but I don’t think I have shed all of my insecurities.
Oh! How I will miss this! If ever I could have created a town, it would be like a typical village in Germany. Most all of the villages have a city center that is typically cobbled for pedestrians-only, surrounded by protected forests with seemingly endless biking and walking/hiking trails. You can bike or walk to neighboring towns through the forests and the bike trails are so extensive and protected that you can avoid ever being on a major road if you wanted to. This is definitely my favorite thing about the way towns are built and is especially comforting having a child. I can take my son out for hours and never worry about a car crossing our path as we bike and play along these protected trails. I also love that the time of year or the age of a person has nothing to do with whether they are out and about. I have seen little old ladies biking in the snow, riding on scooters through town (yes, scooters as in a skateboard with a stick to hold on to), and little old men biking up hills with crates of groceries on the back of their bikes. Young, old, professional, school-aged…they’re all out biking, nordic walking, and enjoying the fresh air year-round. One of my favorites by far though is the multitude of Kletterparks. A MUST do when living over here and I will miss these so very much!
I don’t think I need to elaborate much on this. Europe is extremely easy to navigate once you get a few trips under your belt. Every airport has a train, public transportation is a breeze, countries are so close together, and it’s much cheaper to travel internationally or within-country than it is in the states. We were able to visit over 20 countries in our four years here from Turkey to Finland, and able to experience so many different cultures.
Recycling is something I’ve always done because I grew up in Northern Virginia and spent the majority of my life there and in southern California. Recycling is pretty standard and I’ve always done it, but Germany does it more than any place I’ve lived to date, which is excellent. Yes there are still the bio (compost) bins, paper, plastic, and all of the rest…but the glass and plastic containers (including glass yogurt jars and some wine bottles) have what’s called a “pfand”. It’s not substantial, but it has changed the way we’ve purchased beverages over the last several years. Glass bottles of beer, water (we have become a sparkling water household), and even wine can be purchased in crates. When you return the crates and bottles for your next purchase, you get a nice little printed receipt from the machine which covers your pfand and crate fee for the next purchase. It’s a smart and eco-friendly system that has become part of our weekly routine. Bottles are cleaned and refilled and it’s a huge faux paux to toss a bottle (plastic or glass) in the trash. Get that pfand and save the planet!
Bonus Perk – KINDERGARTENS!! Read up on that, here.
I say this a lot, but I feel as if I can’t express enough how grateful I am for this entire experience. We are coming back from Germany very different people and I feel like the differences are mainly positive. I will never forget to acknowledge how fortunate we are in so many ways, but there were also rough spots throughout the years. We experienced new life, death, sickness, emotional and financial strain, the shedding of happy tears, sad tears, and many lessons learned. I’m leaving Germany while being more humble, aware, grateful, and compassionate. Yes, and of course a little bit woeful. I’m sure I’ll add onto this list as the weeks before we leave become shorter.