** I started this post the day before we left. I know you know what happened. Life. Traveling got hectic. PCSing got in the way. The transition was a hot mess.
Here is the completed post. Now that I have been back stateside for almost 3 weeks, I will write another with the stuff I didn't realize I missed about Germany.**
As I check off my final To Do list before we are no longer expats, I am trying to process all the things I know I will miss about living in
Europe Germany. Today is our last FULL day in Germany, as tomorrow we start our trek back to stateside living. I'm feeling excited for the new chapter in our lives, and yet there is something sad about closing this chapter. Of course there is the usual of leaving friends you made, and the ever stressful actual move and relocation.
But it's more than just the usual PCS jitters.
I lived in Germany. I lived in Europe. I
am was, and perhaps will always be, an expat. There is something so rewarding about living abroad and experiencing life through different cultures. It was overwhelming and remarkable, and truly eye-opening. I have learned more about my country, my beliefs, my understanding of the Old World, and I have truly learned how to live like a European.
At this point, all I can say is Thank You. Thanks to everyone who made my years here special. Thanks to my husband for the special sacrifices he made to make this European tour possible- it cost him more than he bargained for. Thanks to all the people I met along the way that made my time here so memorable. I will miss it, and here are some of the things I believe I'll miss the most.
So without further rambling- here is what I think I am going to miss the most. We'll see if that remains the same once I get home. Here we go (in no particular order):
Yes, it's really clean here! That's not to say there aren't slums or dirty areas, but by and large European countries are pretty clean. The cleanest countries we visited were Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
I wondered about why this phenomenon doesn't exist in America, and it came to me after a visit to NYC: the recycle program in Germany.
At first I thought I was going to lose my mind trying to figure out what went in which bag, bin or sack. There are blue bins, black bins, glass bins, recycle bins and brown bins- and that's just what I was recycling. There are pfands for bottles and places to recycle glass- of course by color. It's cumbersome, at times frustrating (especially when your bins are full and it's still 5 days before pick-up), and more importantly it's the LAW. Just in case you didn't know, Europeans (specifically Germans) are all about following the rules.
Getting back to the cleanliness- people not only follow the rules of recycling, but they take pride in doing so. You will see the Fraus out on Saturday sweeping their front steps and even their curbs. You don't see people working on their vehicles in their yards, leaving oil spills and old unusable tires in their lawns. And you never see people fling trash out their windows in cars. Hell you don't drive down the autobahn and see roadside trash. Come to think of it, you never even see road gators, dead animals or unidentifiable road kill. Unheard of.
As a result, shit stays clean and I love the clean living!
2. Beer and all things bier.
So I'm gonna put this in print, and admit to it. I was NOT a beer drinker before coming to Germany. Now I LOVE beer. Delicious German beer! Delicious Belgian beer! It's really a toss up which I like better. Either way, I'm a beer drinker and proud of it!
German beer is a food group here. It has history, class and goes well with everything. Germans make beer drinking look like an Olympic sport, and they are more than happy to share with anyone willing to sidle up and train your liver. Germans pride themselves in their beer making prowess. So much so that there are laws on the books from the 1600s that guide beer making principles. That my friends is the true art of beer making. Bier is good!
And of course because beer is good and plentiful, it's inexpensive. Now stateside inexpensive beer is usually crappy beer. Not here. Here you can purchase a beer for about 1 euro for a half liter bottle, and it's actually good beer. In many restaurants beer is cheaper than cola (soda), if that tells you anything.
I will miss the lovely biergartens and the ability to sit and "linger" for hours with a beverage, friends and enjoying the great outdoors. I will miss all things bier. Thanks Germany for making me a believer.
3. Fest, Fests and more Fests.
Germany, and as much as I can tell from my travels, Europe as a whole loves to "festival". There are wine fests, Easter fests, music fests, fall fests, and so many other festivals. You can literally find something to attend virtually every weekend. It's a celebration of everything from life, to seasons, to harvests to ancient celebrations of towns, to the celebration of foods and drinks.
I didn't attend one festival that didn't entice and appeal to every one of my senses. The sights of the beautiful landscapes and smells of the tasty food. It all comes together in such a wonderful way that it leaves you wanting more!
Of course the most world renowned festival in Germany is Munich's Oktoberfest, and that is a great example of festivals done right. However there are so many other festivals that are smaller in size but grander in scale and amusement. Some of the others area the international beer festival Bierbörse, which an amazing traveling festival that showcases beer from all over Europe. There are also Easter markets, which aren't huge markets, but they sell some of the most amazing hand-painted eggs you will ever come across.
Probably the best part of festivals in Europe is that they are FREE! Yes, I said the magic words. Every fair we attended was free of charge. You can walk around and enjoy the festival at no charge. The only thing you pay for is food and drink. Don't get me wrong you can spend a small fortune eating and drinking your way through a festival, but that's the point right? You want to try every food stand and drink all the beer and wine you possibly can!
All I can say is that while we do the festival thing in the states, we don't seem to be able to incorporate the food, the drink and the ambiance that Europe has mastered. Perhaps as we age as a country, our festival-ness will mature as well. Which leads me to my next point….
4. Old-ness of Old World living… and the Pride that goes with it
They say age is nothing but a number, and while that may hold true for the dating scene, that adage is completely unfounded when it comes to the history and culture of a region or country. Europe has age, experience, and history in spades.
I've always loved history, it's my thing. So when we found out we were moving to Europe, specifically Germany, I was elated about the prospects of learning more history. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get to visit so many cool places. I don't think I fully grasped the concept of 'old' until we visited cities who celebrated their 900th birthday, or had Roman ruins, or even a 2,000th birthday in 1984! The oldest city in Germany, Trier,
was is one of my favorite places to visit and take visitors. It has an awesome pedestrian walkway lined with shops on either side. The cathedral and basilica are sites to behold, and the most amazing thing is that is was heavily bombed during WWII and has been rebuilt to feel older than the remnants of that devastation.
This age is only rivaled by the pride that Germans, and Europeans at large, have for their villages, cities and countries. You see this pride in the way they care for their cities. How they care for their public spaces, and create public spaces that everyone can enjoy. From comprehensive bike trails that traverse the country, to walking trails that provide countless hours of exercise and entertainment, their's is a deep seeded pride for their surroundings that unfortunately don't see everywhere in America. They sort their trash and recycle not only as part of the law but as part of their environmental awareness. You will see the pride they take in their personal possessions and how they care for their things. And this pride doesn't stop with their country and possessions, but in how they carry themselves and how they act. Germans will be loud and rowdy, but in a bar or in a drinking tent. You don't often hear Germans being rowdy in a group. You almost always hear Americans coming down the street. Germans don't go out in sweats and sneakers, that attire is for the gym or working out- maybe it stylistic or maybe it's about pride in appearance. Culturally there seems to be a greater sense of "this is ours and we take care it", and that translates into almost everything they do.
5. Wine: Taste, Price and all things Wine
Wine is cheaper than water. I'm guessing because not only can we drive about 30 minutes to the local Cora and buy French wine for next to nothing, but Germany does a pretty bang up job of producing it's own fantastic wine. Most people associate fine wine with France, and their wonderful Bordeaux wines. Or even Italy with their magnificent Pinot Grigio, for the white lovers, or one of my favorites Sangiovese. However, I would be doing Germany such a disservice if I didn't mention her wine region along the rivers Rhine and Mosel. Some of my favorite German wines are Rieslings and Dornfelders. Of course I can't speak of wine in Germany without mentioning glühwein.
Now onto to prices.... when I think cheap wine in the states, the back of my mouth waters and I get the distinct urge to throw up Boone's Farm or Arbor Mist. (No offense to all the Farmers and Misters out there who still call that fine wine.) However, in Germany, or Europe, wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good, no not good-great! It's just the way it is.
Now take this heavenly grape elixir of the gods and give it a festival, and well you have the making of two of the best things: wine & festivals. What more can I say about this? Great taste, great price, and celebrations- winning!
6. Pace of Life
Germans have an automatic reset button- it's called Sunday. Sundays are reserved for quiet, peaceful nothingness. You can't do work or really make noise on Sundays. The countryside is quiet and tranquil. Going for a Sunday drive means you aren't competing with trucks as they are not allowed on the roads or to work on Sundays (special permits withstanding). Nothing but a quiet peaceful country.
When we first got here I didn't appreciate, hell I didn't like it. But after learning to work around the store closures, you really start to enjoy the idea of the easy button, the reset that comes with being forced to do "something" else on Sundays. We learned to go out on walks, hikes, runs, bike rides, or just enjoy each other's company. Who knew, right?
Now this different pace of life isn't reserved for one day of the week. Germans, on the whole, work hard during their business hours, which are much less than American business hours. They also take what seems like, a ton of time off. You can walk down any pedestrian strasse, at any given time, and there will be boat loads of people shopping and just generally out and about. It's more like what you would experience on the weekends stateside. I can't really put into words how their version of work hard and play hard is different than ours, but somehow in the execution of this mantra, you get an overall different pace of life. It's slower without losing it's efficiency. It works for them and after living here, it worked for me. Paraphrasing Bubba, that's all I can say about that.
Sixteen countries in less than 3 years. Two Mediterranean cruises- one with the kids and one without. I'm not bragging, just trying to show you how much traveling you can do in a short time, and yes we we were on a budget. So much to see and experience. Never enough time. The traveling opportunities are without a doubt amazing! Sadly, I know people who hardly travelled at all in the two plus years they have been in Germany. I can't fathom not exploring, not getting out to see all Europe has to offer. I know, no questions asked, I will miss it dearly.
8. Bäckerei, Bakeries and Baked Goods
It's a Christmas miracle I'm not going home 50 pounds heavier. The baked goods in Germany are fantastic! You can find a bakery in almost every village, and it's a cornerstone of village life. Opening bright and early, many times before the bright even started, and closing just around mid afternoon. Awesome deliciousness just emanating from it's shelves! Breads, donuts, pastries, and always fresh. My favorite was Johanisbeeren pastry, which is currants. What's it taste like? It's a little bit tart, a little sweet, and totally delicious!
9. Amazing Food
Pastries. Bread. Rolls. Strudel. Schnitzel. Pork Roast and all things pork really. Wine. Rest stop food. Yes I said rest stop food, but that is a separate item all together. All of it is just amazing! In the almost 3 years in Europe I did not sit down to a meal that was awful or worthy of being sent back to the kitchen. We ate tapas in Barcelona, stuffed grape leaves in Athens, escargot in Paris. All of it phenomenal, and I'm not exaggerating. We either truly lucked out every single time or our palates were so indiscriminate that everything tasted yummy! Either way, I tasted my way through Europe and loved every minute of it.
10. Rest stops worth the stop.
I joked with my mom when she came to visit, if she thought we could bring the German concept of rest stops back to the states. We laughed because there is no way I can see any American paying to use a public restroom. That being said, it's the best 70 euro cents you will ever pay. What are you paying for you ask? A clean bathroom. One that has an attendant keeping up with the tp, sinks and overall hygiene. Some bathrooms are high tech in that they include a self-sanitizing toilet! In all my travels I think we stopped once at a rest stop and were disappointed. Mind you it was more disappointment at the long lines than anything hygiene related. On top of clean, usable restrooms they have wonderfully fresh cappuccinos made- made by a real person, and tasty freshly cooked meals. It makes stopping at a rest stop to eat worth the money and time! What a novel concept. Imagine the money a US company could make if we improved our rest stops? Oh and to boot you get a 50 cent rebate receipt that you can use on your purchase. Cha-ching!
11. Autobahn and Left Lane Passers
Driving has been such a pleasure, especially at speeds of 130-140 kph, which loosely translates to 80-90 mph. Speed is just one of the pleasures of the autobahn. The actual conditions of the road are equally wonderful. They either pave them under the cover of night or just know how to pave the hell outta some roads. If you have ever driven in NYC you know that can loose a small child in the city's potholes. Germany doesn't have potholes really. Perhaps an occasional rough patch road, but by and large they are smooth, especially the ones in our neck of Germany. The A6 and the A62 are marvelous for opening up the Beamer and listening to her purr at 100mph. Aaaahhhh!
Now let's talk about the courtesies of driving. Apparently, in every country, the laws state you pass in the left lane and stay in the right for cruising. Who knew that this could actually work if enforced? People TRAVEL in the right lane and PASS on the left. They actually only use that left lane to pass! Again, German efficiency. I wonder how I will cage the my beast of a car with top speeds of 70 mph in the states. *chortle*
12. Health-centric culture
From an amazing amount of biking, hiking and walking trails, to a diet that centers on fresh food, Europeans have a different view on healthy habits. While my impression was that they smoke and drink more than we do, it seems they are healthier. Perhaps all walking and biking coupled with a different way of preparing foods, just adds up to a healthier lifestyle. Maybe it was the lack of fast food options? I don't know, it's just a healthier lifestyle. I do know I will have to work to maintain this healthy living. The question is how much work will it actually be?
13. Unapologetic Christmas
This is short and easy. In liberal Europe they are unapologetic about Christmas. You don't say Happy Holidays in fear of offending someone with a Merry Christmas. You don't Happy Hannukah people or happy whatever else they celebrate. It's Christmas and they celebrate it with Christmas markets, parades, lights, Saint Nick, food and wine. It's the most wonderful time of the year! You want to understand more, check out my post on Christmas Markets.
14. Pedestrian walkways and street cafés
A delicious pastry. A fresh cup of coffee or better yet a cool beer. People passing by on their way to this store or that place. All of this happening before you as you sit and take it all in from a sidewalk café. I know many American cities are joining in on this awesomeness of summer, but the mild German summers make this extra special. You can sit for hours and watch the droves of people with their well groomed and well-healed pets, and just take it all in. It was one of the quintessentially European things to do, and if you have never had an opportunity to do this- it's a must! Many of these street cafés are located on these large pedestrian walkways lined with shops, bakeries, restaurants and many other enticing-to-the-senses locales. It was just so nice to sit and just soak it all up.
I know I will probably be able to find street cafés stateside, I'm just not sure how many and of what caliber. I guess we will see.
15. Lingering restaurant stays
Dining in any European restaurant is an hours-long experience. I remember sitting at a Thai restaurant for over 3 hours, and that was after dinner. There is no rush to get guests out of there, or to even get you served. When you enter the restaurant they will get you menus and drinks but there is no sense of urgency to hurry up and take your order. You never feel like there is a rush to get you in and out, turn over that table. At one German restaurant they actually kept count of our beers by writing down hash marks on the backside of a coaster! Talk about the honor system. Dining is a true affair of food, drink and leisure! You can stay for hours after dinner, have as many drinks as you want, and just be with your family and friends, enjoying your time together. It's what dining should be, and how enjoying the tastes of food ought to be accomplished.
I am sure there will be other things that I miss about Germany, but for right now these are tops in my head. I'll be sure to update this if other things pop up or become more apparent as the "You're back in the USA" game evolves.