This post is about things I have noticed in my month of traveling around Germany. Mainly these are differences between the States and Germany that I observed when I was there.
OBSERVATION 1: When the outside is cold, the indoors stay warm.
I was there in the month of October and the weather was mostly cold. And… Here I go.. You know how, in the US, when you go into a coffee shop, restaurant, store or an office, you find that the air conditioner is on? Nine out of 10 of those places are freezing. It does not matter if it is in the winter or summer, it is going to be cold. I have heard theories that say that businesses do not want clientele to get too comfortable, so they gently freeze them out. Well, I have determined that all those businesses that do that in the states… suck. They all suck and can go run themselves into the ground. Here is why I say that.
In Germany restaurants, cafes, trains, subways, restaurants are warm. When you go into the restaurants and cafés it is warm and there are often coat racks for you to hang your coat and be comfortable. You do not have to wear your coat indoors for survival like you do in the USA. Also, in the subways and on the trains it is generally warm so you do not freeze while waiting for public transit or riding on it. I find this feature of Germany to be very good. It is a fantastic idea to have coat racks for coats, scarves and hats for people hang their clothing because it is warm. In fact, it is very pleasurable to be in a restaurant when you can think clearly while talking to people. It is amazing and we should adopt this practice in the USA.
Observation 2: Doors in the south open and close opposite of what they look like they should
While in Dachau, Munich, Kochel, Bad Tölz and Benediktbeuern I noticed (and so did my wife) that if it looks like you should pull the door open, you actually have to pull it open. If the door looks like you should push it open, then it is really a pull door. I do not know why this is. It seems that you should push the door when it is sunk back into the doorframe as that doorframe is stationary. However, you actually pull the door when it looks like that, and the doorframe comes out with the door. Then if you seem to need to pull the door as there is no obvious doorframe, you actually have to push it and as it opens you see there is a big frame attached to it on the outside. It must be an older design. We got used to this after a few days and a few towns. Then we arrived in Freiburg. Those doors are nothing like that. If it looks like you pull, you pull. If it looks like you push, then you push. So, we had to get used to normal doors again. It was all a lot of fun. I should have made note of the push/pull signs (drücken/ziehen) but those words sunk in my head a bit late in the trip. The door confusion made for some good laughs.
Observation 3: You need change for everything.
We were at the train station in Munich and we had to use the restroom. Well, not without change. Two things come into play here- the first is when your bladder is full and you have a heavy backpack on, you do not think so clearly. The second is I did not know the word for change or coins. So, once I found out that word, I went to a police man and asked him in perfect German where the coin machine was. The problem with this is he felt no need dumb it down, so he answered in perfect German… and I did not understand him as my German is not perfect. He pointed a direction, I thanked him and headed that way. I saw no machine for coins. My wife and I both looked and looked. We were sweating, our bladders were full and we had not slept well on the flight. We became more irrational and desperate. We started asking people in English and managed to find people who did not speak English. Before, when we wanted to speak German, the German people would just speak English to us. Not now. Not in our time of need. Finally, someone spoke broken English and informed us that you get it from a dude running a cash register. There was no machine. Good Lord!!! We were very relieved, to say the least.
Other things you need coins for are lockers, buses, tips to servers and of course, more bathrooms. Always take change with you. Always.
Observation 3: Many people sit outside at cafés and restaurants, no matter the weather, and they enjoy it.
When it is cold outside, people do not hibernate inside of cafés and restaurants or their homes. They go outside. Maybe not everyone, but way more people in Germany go outside than I have observed while growing up in the United States. The restaurants and cafés often had more people outside on the patios than they did inside. Some places even provided blankets for their patrons who sit outside. The patrons use them, then when they are done they fold them up for the next person. The cold weather and precipitation did not deter people from sitting outside. I loved this feature.
The picture on the left shows several people in sitting outside of a café in Münster. It is important to note that the individual with blonde hair is not Donald Trump. The picture on the right shows many people sitting outside in Munich. In both places it is in chilly October.
Also in the cold weather people go window-shopping, walking and playing in the parks. These things happen in abundance on chilly days that would keep most Americans in doors. People in Germany get out there have a good time together regardless of the weather. I have not yet determined if this is due to tradition, custom, a sense of community or something else. We gladly took part in this as it felt very natural to be out amongst the people. It is a sense of unity with other people that would otherwise be obstructed by having a house-cat nature. My mentioning of window shopping leads me to observation # 5.
Observation 5: Window Shopping
Window shopping is different in Germany than it is here. It seems to happen on
Sundays when the shops are closed (I could be wrong). We noticed in a number of cities that there is a lot of effort put into the widow the displays. I cannot recall which cities, specifically. I believe I noticed this to a greater degree in Freiburg, Münster, Murnau. We were going into shops on Saturday and in every window there was one or two people changing the window displays. Whether it was a set of mannequins, or a rustic shelf with shoes and boots, or art and decorations, there was someone in the window meticulously decorating and setting it up better than I have seen here. They were spending a lot on it time as if it was there mission. I cannot see that happening in a shopping center in the states. That would mean paying someone spend time on something that is not immediately making money. Here in Portland, Seattle, Boise or Los Angeles they might have someone spend five minutes on it, then have them hurry to sweep the floor or run the cash register. It seems that in Germany setting up window displays for window shopping is as important as selling, so they will have someone put a hefty amount of time and effort into it. It is a real art.
I can recall this most clearly in Münster. We going to the different shops in the city center. I was mesmerized by the amazing stores and their devotion to men’s fashion. There were whole stores dedicated to men’s clothing, or whole floors dedicated to it, while the other floors were for women’s clothing. The clothing was all good quality and it seemed like there was an endless amount of ideas for fashion. As we were exiting one shop and on our way to the next, that’s when we started noticing the people in the windows setting up the displays. The displays did not just show merely the items and prices, but they also seemed to say “look what I can make with these items. Look at this display and how it catches your eye. Look at how composition and combination of these items is so interesting and pretty that it can distract you from the items themselves.” It is a tradition or custom that I will enjoy to the fullest when I return to Germany. With all the other people window shopping it feels like a group activity. This group in particular is everyone.
Observation 4: Everyone smokes everywhere
You see people in the USA smoke. Sure. They are not allowed to do it on patios of restaurants or within three meters of a door of any building. In Germany I noticed they smoke everywhere.
At the biergarten in Munich I saw a cook frying some food. He then said something to his colleagues and walked out of the kitchen, out the front door and then over to the open window right outside of the kitchen. He was one meter away from where he was cooking. He lit up a cigarette and chatted with his colleagues as they cooked. It was no big deal. Meanwhile on the public tables in the biergarten, customers were smoking. This one, that one, them, all smoking. The servers came and handed them their beers. My wife found this to be amusing and she was trying to discretely take pictures of people smoking at the tables. She wanted to show these pictures to our friends in the USA, because they would never believe this without pictures.
These photo credits go to my wife who was questionably stealthy when taking these pictures. I like the one on the right. This guy looks like an actor from the TV show Mad Men taking a smoke break between filming takes. This would never be allowed in the states. I kind of like it the freedom they have in Germany. I do not smoke, but it became a feeling of comfort and differentness from what I was used to.
At a bakery in Cologne I saw a baker walk out the front door. She held the door open for me as I entered. I looked back out and she lit up a cigarette and leaned against the side of the doorframe. Nobody bats an eye at this. It is totally normal. Those are just a couple instances.
I saw hundreds of Haderlumpen folks in lederhosen and gals in dirndl’s smoking right outside the train station in Munich. This was in early October toward the end of Oktoberfest. I saw cigarette machines in the oddest places. In Kochel Am See I saw a cigarette machine in the ally of an apartment complex. That is so random.
I saw two soccer matches in Germany. I saw Preußen Münster and people were smoking in the stadium. The police outside the stadium were smoking and chatting with the fans. The other match was at the Allianz Arena where we watched FC Bayern. Everyone was smoking and having a great time. If I recall right, some of the police in the stadium were smoking as well. It looks like great fun. Were I a smoker, I would have been in heaven. I must say that all the smoking did not bother me or my wife. However, I am not hoping the USA will adopt this practice, but I am happy to experience it while traveling.
Observation 5: Traffic is quick and it is safe.
You have heard that autobahn has no speed limit. Well, it does during some small stretches, but other than those short stretches of road, the rest of the autobahn throughout Germany has no speed limit. I was driving a Ford Fiesta. Big mistake. Or, little mistake. I was cruising at about 90 mph (I don not know how fast that is in km’s- I forgot) but at that speed my Ford Fiesta was shaking. Then we would suddenly get passed by VW’s, Mercedes, Skoda’s, bigger Ford’s, BMW’s and others. They were seriously going anywhere from 110 mph to 130 mph. It was alarmingly fast and blissfully fun to watch. I dreamt of having a bigger car so I could join them in flight. Next time I will get a bigger car. I found that driving a Ford Fiesta is more like driving a Ford Siesta. The car is more for snoozing and lounging than it is for the driving on the autobahn.
Traffic was also fast in the towns and rural areas. While driving through Kochel Am See, I observed pedestrians everywhere. There were kids running around, there were older people with the nordic walking sticks, there were moms with strollers, people with dogs… I guess I can sum this up by saying there was enough people that one should be cautious and drive slow. Nope. It was like like Formula 1 through the town. I was going a safe speed that we would drive in the USA when traveling through a town with lots of pedestrians. When I drove that speed, the cars were all riding close to my bumper, so I sped up. They also sped up and were on my bumper still. So, I sped up more and I felt alarmed by the velocity I had to maintain in order to keep them off my tail. I was hoping and praying that no one would dart out into the road in front of me. That is just the thing. Let me talk for a moment about pedestrians in traffic.
Pedestrians in Germany do not dart out into the street as they do here. This seems to be why the cars go quick in some of the populated areas. The pedestrians stay out of the road, they follow the rules and they stop at the lights and do not cross until the signals say they can cross. The cars follow the rules and they stop at the lights and let the pedestrians cross the street. Pedestrians go at their turn and the cars go at their turn. Everyone follows the rules and the result is efficient, safe, fast, orderly and fun. I would like to see this practice adopted here. I have been waiting for the signals at the crosswalks in the USA for my whole life. Maybe that is because my mother is German and my father a policeman. I do not know. It was ingrained in my head from a young age. But, in Germany I felt like order had been restored to the earth when I saw people waiting at the crosswalks. Part of my soul had found its home. This practice cannot be adopted here in the USA anytime soon because Americans wait for nothing. That is part of their beauty and their vulgarity.
Observation 6: There is an art to ordering coffee, but not to making it.
(this section is long, but if you are looking for coffee comfort, it’s worth it as I show what to do and what not to do.)
I did not know that coffee could be so different in another country. I thought that the one thing all countries had in common was drip coffee. This drip coffee consisting of hot water drizzling through coffee grounds in a filter that eventually fills a pot of coffee. You then pour some coffee from that pot into a cup. You can add milk, sugar, or whatever. I learned that this is called a Kaffee Normal or a Normaler Kaffee. The word normal means just what it looks like: normal. However, do not be fooled by this normal thing as it is as elusive in Germany as healthcare is in the USA.
I will tell you what they do for drip coffee momentarily. First, I must set up my disappointment with my thought process. You would think that the country that birthed the Melitta Pour Over drip coffee maker would have some drip available in plenty of places, whether it be from a machine or the pour over. So, at a train station I went in to McDonalds (I had tried other places and found none) and I saw a Kaffee Normal!! Yesss!! I ordered it as it was clear from the pictures they would do just what McDonalds does in the USA… make filter coffee. Well, dang it all. I was completely wrong! It was like all the little bakeries and cafés… it was an espresso shot that they just keep running water through until it fills up the cup.
They run water through espresso grinds until it fills up the cup. This is called an over-extracted espresso shot, or a wrongly made coffee. This is coming from a career barista of 15 years. I have worked in some amazingly good coffee shops and with impeccable coffee roasters in my years. I have competed in coffee making, taught how to taste coffees and discern its country of origin, I have worked the coffee bar and earned high praise. With all the efficiency and beauty that Germany has, this is their vulgarity that I liken to the USA’s disregard for the crosswalk signals. I am shocked that they have not yet figured out that there is a ratio of grinds to water that produce a palatable flavor. Here is what learned about finding good coffee in Germany.
Search the internet for third wave coffee in whatever city you are in. While all coffee in Germany is equally bad, the third wave coffee of Germany is exceptionally good. I mean, you can find some mediocre third wave shops in the USA that are satisfactory if you search the internet. In Germany, if you search that and find a shop, you will find that the coffee shop you find is not into being mediocre. The shops I found were incredible and better than most shops that get high praise in the Pacific Northwestern United States. Take for instance The Barn in Berlin: they went above and beyond with their drip coffee. Your coffee comes with a card that has a written description of the farm, the country, the growing process, the roast profile and sometimes even about farmers themselves. Below is our morning coffee spread at The Barn. Hats off to their coffee sourcing, roasting, presentation and principals. I say principals because they did not have sugar for the coffee as the farmer’s work and the roaster’s work needs to be unaffected.
When you visit the high end third wave coffee shops in Germany the quality will be higher than you might normally go for in the States, but if you go for less then than that high quality, you will find sorrow, torture and the destruction of your tastebuds. Choose wisely. You will end up trying the “cappuccinos,” “Kaffee Normal’s” and such from the automatic machines that are everywhere. Then, once you find a good shop, your faith in God will be restored. You will jump into holy water because you are so happy!
Another place to get palatable coffee is on the trains when going from city to city. The workers come by with a cart containing coffee pots! It is not amazing, but compared to the common coffee Germany has to offer, it is hella fantastic.
I praise Germany for so much and wish to adopt much of their practices here in the States. However, their common coffee game has to stay their. Anyone in the USA who wants to do that kind of coffee here… I banish you to the hinterlands of Alaska or one of the Dakota states.
For a list of places with excellent coffee in Germany, I will put that in another blog post that will likely be titled something similar to “Coffee in Germany.”
Observation 7: Acknowledgment of wrongs and social progress going forward
When it comes in horrendous acts that changed the entire country of Germany, continent of Europe and the entire world, if Germany was involved in this act, they will let you know and they will own up to it.
I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It haunting, big, hard to describe and very thought provoking. Germany keeps constant reminders of their actions in hopes that they will not repeat such a history. Aside from that memorial I saw an acknowledgment of Germany’s use of slaves from Africa. I found it stunning as the United States is still feeling the effects of its use of slaves. There is still tensions between the northern and southern states. It is very complicated. Germany has addressed the issue, mapped out where they pulled their slaves from, they make the statement that it was wrong and they carry one with that reminder. The memorial I saw was in Berlin. I feel as if this kind of reminder should be in every state capital in the US.
In visiting the Germany History Museum in Berlin, I mistakingly thought I could spend about three or four hours there and move on. I was very wrong. I spent about ninety minutes in the part about ancient Germany and the development of the German language. I did not know abut the huts, the tanks, VW’s, videos and further acknowledgments and reminders of wrong doings by the German country. They follow that up with turns for the better that display hope, innovation and positivity. I have spend a couple more days in that museum so I can better report on the subject.
Observation 8: Dialects
Dialects- Holy Smokes!!! In South Germany I heard a few different dialects that were different from each other. There seemed to be a dialect in Munich that was a bit more discernible than some of the dialects I heard further in the south. I got used to hearing the dialect in Kochel Am See while visiting my family. I spoke to the people at the hotel, the bakery, the restaurants and so on. My family spoke to me in High-Germany, but sometimes would then slip into their dialect. In Benediktbeuern they spoke slightly different than Kochel Am See. I could not believe it! Then visiting my mother’s school from her childhood at Schloss Hohenburg in Lenggries, I head another variation of German different than the others dialects I heard in Bavaria.
We left Bavaria and drove to Freiburg. In Freiburg the German was a bit easier to understand, but I still heard some things I did not understand and I was told was their dialect. We drove to Alsace, France and there I heard the legendary dialect that is, like most European dialects, unwritten. This dialect was the hybrid of French and German. I did not get to hear a lot of it as we used German to get around and everyone spoke it back to us. They spoke French quite a bit, but we did not speak French. From time to time I heard that dialect in passing, but not nearly enough. I liked how it sounded.
Freiburg, Cologne, Münster and Berlin had their own dialects, but they were all more like High-German with a bit of flare. The US has not been around long enough to develop such different dialects. That will take us another hundred years or so, but with this current technocratic society, social media and the quick spreading of language and slang, I am not sure dialects will stick around in the US. Most likely these anomalies in the language will become fads that spread through social media and then they will fade as fads do. Europe has had centuries to develop dialects before globalization, the internet and social media had an effect on it. The US has not had the unique luxury of time. It is its own dialect from its British roots, but it likely will not progress that far as far as regional dialects are concerned. There are urban and rural tendencies. There are northern and southern tendencies. But, film, television and social media are quickly homogenizing language. We will just have to enjoy what Europe has brought to to the table in their dialects and learn what we can.
Observation 9: Behaviors
Friendliness: People in Germany seem to be less friendly. If you expect this, then you will be pleased with the way treat you. They are right to the point without the awkwardness of english small-talk. It is amazing! Small-talk has always annoyed me. In Germany you need not worry about where small-talk might take you. It takes you nowhere, or too far. Here is what I mean; if you are in a conversation with someone that starts out with small-talk, they will likely not be interested, but if you form a bond, the conversation can then evolve into heavier conversation with substance. This is where Germans seem to thrive. This is not where most english speakers thrive. Most english speakers tend to use small talk as a barrier between feeling the awkwardness of silence and the awkwardness of having to share too much. Germans use directness to avoid the awkwardness of small talk. Once they open up, they get downright real! In this situation, english speakers (especially Americans)* tend to retreat a bit. On both sides of the nationalities this comes across as an affront to their social sensibilities. Germans find this to be shallow because when they are ready to really talk, that’s when the english speakers (mostly Americans)* want to retreat. And on Americans find the directness, shortness and stand-offishness of Germans to be rude, even though it is not.
*I say mostly Americans because that is who I am most familiar with. I have observed this in British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealanders as well, but I do not converse with them enough to know if that is normal like it is with Americans. I mean no offense to Americans, especially since I am one.
Greeting: Another behavior I noticed is the greeting. I noticed the mostly in Bavaria, but to a certain degree I saw it everywhere. I went into a café in Bavaria at about 10:00am to get an espresso before I headed to the bakery. When I walked in I saw the woman at the counter smiling at me and suddenly a thunderous greeting from the about six men sounded at me like a loud amplifier. These men all had beers and seemed thrilled at my arrival. Their greeting was a loud “Servus” that made me kind of jump. When I looked at them they all raised their glasses to me. I was thrilled. This did not happen all the time, but if people were sitting down, they tended to greet or say goodbye when they left or you left. If they were in line or waiting to be seated, they said nothing.
Hospitality: The hospitality that people have in Germany is remarkable. At the Bayern Munich vs Augsburg match, the people in our section took us under their wings and taught us the songs, what to expect in the standing section, what cheers to yell for certain players and what to do to have the most fun. They did not even know us. As soon as they realized it was our first match, they brought us into their experience. It was like this all over Germany. Except for at Einstein’s Coffee in Berlin. That barista was not nice to us and he was not nice to his colleague. I hope she spills coffee on his sneakers for revenge.
Conclusion to the Conclusion
I love the United States of America. I am very comfortable here and I can make a good life for my self. I sometimes wish my mother would have moved back to Germany when my brothers and I were young so I could have grown up there, but then I might not be able to marvel at its differentness from the US. As it stands, which is as a foreign country to me, I love Germany. The observations I have made have left an impression on me. I plan on continuing my relationship with Germany and learning more about its otherness. I have been to a number of countries, but none has latched itself so firmly to my liking as Germany has. I am born to an American and a German parent. I have known both of them, but to meet Germany is like meeting an unknown family member. I have much to catch up on with the orderly, fashionable, beer captain of the world.. I can’t wait!
I love Germany and I conclude that if I cannot adopt the practices of Germany here because no one would follow, then I shall have Germany adopt me.