I remember the flight over ----- eight hours of pure, unadulterated bliss....and by "bliss" I mean that creepy, glazed-over insanity I imagine Hannibal Lecter experiencing if he came face-to-face with Anne Hathaway's perfectly porcelain complexion.
Eight hours. Two crabby adults. One puking toddler (did I mention she has motion sickness?). No idea where we were going or what our new place would be like. Another yearlong deployment looming in the future. A whole new world to learn...and not the kind you find on the back of a magic carpet. No Aladdin and puffy, blue sleeves. Just creepy, glazed-over insanity.
I wasn't very prepared for the move. We weren't given much time to think it over, really. Aaron was told Germany was his next duty station, so away we went. I knew a few vital words in German...hello, goodbye, please, thank you, bathroom. That's about it. I had one of those pocket German books.....but aside from that, I was absolutely one of those ignorant Americans who strolls into someone else's country with little understanding of the local culture, language, or social norms. Ahhh yes, Jen. The Queen of Wingin' It.
I learned fast.
BE CLEAN. I once witnessed an old lady bent over in the street, plucking grass out of the cracks in the pavement. She was still there when I passed her on my way home, quietly pulling the green blades by hand and then shuffling over to drop the pesky invaders into a lawn bag of doom. Littering was an absolute sin. Cars were pristine. I'm not exaggerating. The beautiful Peugeots, VWs, and Audis I'd walk past in town were honestly all pristine. An owner's manual, an emergency kit, and perhaps a phone charger.....that was about it. Like a rental car. They didn't have
In the spring, summer, and fall, they'd walk out to their gardens and gather ingredients for the day's meals. They had to hoof it in most instances ~ many of the homes were old, build close together like townhomes. Instead of yards, they had a section of town dedicated to plots of gardening space. The plot owners would build sheds to house their tools and then walk out to their plots everyday to tend their gardens.
Shopping everyday. Walking everyday. Making a social event out of it, stopping and standing on the streetcorners, talking amongst each other and nodding as I passed by with my eyes wide open, trying to imagine my life the same way, wondering if I would find it exhausting or peaceful.
Recycling was mandatory - they segregated things by color and material and size and molecular makeup...just kidding about that last one. But it was still intense.
And the windmills. I loved the windmills. They were everywhere. I could see them from my apartment windows, spinning all the time, gathering wind power and dotting the hills for miles. I loved this part of Germany....the consideration they gave to the planet.
ROUTINE. Steadfast, slow, but always predictable. I would find the same group of people at the same outdoor cafe day after day. The flower shop, bakery, drugstore and ice cream shop...all owned and staffed by the same people. I felt like I was in a story sometimes, looking for Mister Brown-Shoes-In-Front-of-Bank, or Missus Dachshund-With-Pink-Leash. I would worry about the regulars when I didn't see them, wonder if they were ill or on a trip. Jen the creeper.
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD. They didn't mess around. They were good at their trade and knew it well. Family businesses often spanned generations.
I remember my car broke down once. I took it to a Toyota mechanic a couple towns away. The owner and receptionist were course, rough, and scared the crap out of me. But DANG did they do a good job with my car. They were affordable, knowledgeable, and the car is still running like a champ. It's in my garage right now.
Very serious business style....slow to make decisions, carefully examining every angle. Very detailed, thorough, and proud of it. This isn't to say they worked their lives away. Quite the contrary.
At least once a month, the German calender had a four-day weekend. Holidays were plentiful and work hours, strict. You didn't work for twelve hours straight and you certainly didn't ask a new mother to head back to work six weeks after delivering a baby. The work-life balance was incredible...as were the parties. Those four-day weekends I mentioned? They were usually accompanied by some sort of festival. A festival for a saint, or a season, or some guy who did something for the town. Each festival was soaked in Hefeweizen and music, large, doughy pretzels and standing tables. As with work, when it came to cutting loose, I found the Germans didn't mess around.
DINING OUT LIKE A BOSS. When Americans go out to eat, they expect to be seated and served pretty quickly. They like server attention - more bread, more water, here's my order, where's my entree, give me my check. Waiting is no good. Not the case in Germany.
After about 7PM on any given day of the week, you can spot groups of five or six people sitting together in a dimly-lit corner of a small pub, drinking beer, eating, laughing, talking. They'd sit there for hours and hours, savoring every bite, soaking up the chance to relax and enjoy each other. Servers didn't come to tables unless beckoned (took me a minute to figure that one out).
The food was heavy ~ a plate with breaded pork (there's the schnitzel!) and mushroom sauce, noodles, fries, bread, and vegetables. Potatoes, the best pumpkin soup I've ever had in my life, creamy cheesecakes and liquor-smothered ice cream. It wasn't just eating...it was living. One of the best experiences I had in Germany was with one of my dear friends....we "did the German thing" and went out to eat, just the two of us. We spent hours just talking and laughing, enjoying each other and enjoying our meal, people-watching, making fun of crazy sculptures on the restaurant windowsills...I'll never forget it. An unexpected moment of pure life.
I lived there for a little over three years. I love the serious, steady nature of the country and feel so privileged to have spent time there. I miss the Autobahn every day. My appreciation for Target has never been stronger and my German still sucks. I am an American through and through, but boy do I love me some Germany. If you get the chance to go, grab it and get ready to relax.