Friday, October 18, 2013

Living in Germany: More Than Just Schnitzel

Immediately after Aaron and I married, we moved to Germany. He was an active Army soldier and I was a new mom with anxiety and a strong, strange attraction to anything made by the Keebler elves.  ***fudgestripes!!***

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 my a console stuffed with straw wrappers, chewed gum, and weird, tar-like squishy stuff. No food particles or CDs or coffee mugs or random business cards. Clean. For driving long distances. That's it.




BE GREEN. Walking, gardening, recycling, and windmills were a way of life. So there's me, driving three blocks to the commissary to get $200 worth of groceries to last me two weeks. And then there's little old Mother Teresa, trucking along with a flowery cotton bag, returning with broccoli and meat wrapped in parchment. They'd walk, everyday, from their homes to the town center to purchase fresh-baked bread for dinner.

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.





Jen
jen@jenniferludwigsen.com


19 comments:

  1. A great reminiscence of Germany. What a beautiful place and what beautiful lessons. I will definitely add it to my bucket list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! It is a pretty incredible place. I loved visiting there...but like I said....Target is pretty precious to me and they don't have that kind of convenience over there! Thanks for reading :)

      Delete
  2. I love Germany and all of your pretty pictures! It is much different than the US, some good ways some...annoying ways. But it is different. Enjoy the culture, landscape and people...and find a Target substitute :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! It was a wonderful experience I'll never forget. I sometimes find myself wishing America had a but more work-life balance, like Germany, but then I remember how I love midnight tacos from TBell......:) Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  3. Such beautiful photos. I've wanted to visit Germany for some time. I hope I make it there someday. A member of my book club moved there with her three children when her husband was transferred there. Her comments were- she can't buy macaroni and cheese, she had to wait all day with three children for a doctor to see her son who had a sore throat to never have her name called and she had a hard time explaining why her new neighbor and friend laid out topless at the park.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is so funny...her comments are spot-on! The medical care is very different and luckily, I was able to maintain some sort of normalcy in that area by sticking with the military clinics. The mac-and-cheese reference is so true...I had family send me care packages brimming with food I couldn't find there! And as for the topless people - I saw a lot of them. Topless, pantless, ya know, whatever they were feeling that day....and then there were the "rest stops" on the side of the road.....just a big open field where people would drop trou and just let 'er rip. Took some getting used to! Thanks so much for reading!

      Delete
  4. Your stories sound much like my husband's life in Berlin!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a totally different world! Thanks for reading :)

      Delete
  5. I was stationed in Germany as well, in Heidelberg. I enjoyed my time - but did miss things like Target or heck, any store not on the kaiserne open on Sunday or after like what, 6 oclock? LOL - it was peaceful, and I actually miss the recycling. It was so easy and kept the taking out the trash everyday at a minimum. I miss the patchwork of the farms while driving on A5 or A6 ... *sigh*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Or the way the hills would be lined with vineyards and crops....you could see people almost perpendicular to the ground, picking weeds and hand-harvesting vegetables. It is a beautiful, beautiful place! Thanks so much for reading!

      Delete
    2. I always wondered how that wine would taste, having grown right next to the highway. LOL - hey, waste not, want not!

      Delete
  6. Sounds beautiful. Both of my parents were in the Airforce and stationed in Berlin, where I came into the picture. They left when I was 6wks old so I have no memories but photo albums full of pictures that fit your description. I'd love to go back some day with my Dad so he could show me around. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be incredible, not only for you, but I imagine for your dad as well! I often think about how it would feel to again walk the paths leading through town ~ I miss the ice cream and the quiet and the clean very much, but perhaps the hardest thing to adjust to was the driving. I loved it over there....here, not so much! Thanks for reading and I hope you someday get to take that trip!

      Delete
  7. Sounds amazing! I haven't been for years, but my fiance is originally from Germany so I would love to travel there soon or at least when we have kids.

    AJ | TheAJMinute
    @TheAJMinute

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi AJ! You would love it....it's such a relaxed, old-soul culture. I've studied history but never really appreciated how old Europe is, how long the buildings have been there, how much has happened on the land. One of my favorite towns, Trier, has an entire underground city running underneath it. It dates back to some insanely old time period (I want to say Romans??). Just to know I was walking over something like that was exhilarating! I truly hope you get the chance to go.

      Delete
  8. Jen, Susi here form BocaFrau, featured at SITSgirls today. I HAD to stop by after reading your comment. Reading this brought tears to my eyes and an ache to my heart - homesickness for sure. That was my life for sooooo many years and boy, there are days I miss it so much, especially raising three kids. I wish, they could run outside all day and just play and be kids.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Susi! So sweet of you to stop by on your special day!! :) I am sorry I made you homesick but happy I represented your country well enough to generate fond memories. I remember missing America so much when I was living overseas and I can't imagine how hard it is for you to be split between your homeland and your current land. Even though they aren't living in Germany, I truly believe your kids are lucky to have you as you carry Germany in your heart. The quiet peace and simple happiness is a part of who you are and translates to your babies everyday. So lovely to hear from you and thank you so much for reading! :)

      Delete
  9. Hi! I found your blog on SITS. Where were you at in Germany? I live in Germany now :-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've always wanted to go the picture you paint is so dreamy...and the photos?? To die for! It truly sounds like it was a wonderful time over there.

    ReplyDelete