I’m a little late getting around to this, but somehow it has now been more than two years since Marianne, Schatze and I hurriedly packed our belongings and hopped on a plane bound for Germany. Not much, and yet many things, have changed since then…
Marianne’s job, the reason we were able to move over here in the first place, has changed from a government employee to a civilian contractor. And while she still works at the U.S. military hospital, and still gets to help the military and their family members, she now works in a completely different therapy clinic, with completely different patients: she no longer works specifically with hands, but now works solely with TBI patients, which requires quite a different skill set and approach. Much credit to her for a) making a change that would allow us stay over here longer, and b) for just hopping from one speeding train to another, without missing a beat; she continues to impress.
As for me, I still work at Netbiscuits, but the company recently went through a pretty dramatic, and traumatic, downsizing, one I was quite happy to have survived. But 39 friends and co-workers were not so lucky. Many of them have had to move to other geographical regions to find work, and nearly all of them speak German fluently. So finding work would have certainly been a lot tougher for me. And with this downsize, came a role change for me: my team was shuffled redefined, now supporting a completely different product, so there is much for me to learn as well.
But with all that shake-up, we both still work more-or-less in the same place, we still live in the same place, and we still have the same cat (now 17 years old, Schatze is still bounding up the stairs each night to cuddle and watch TV with us).
Quite naturally I think, we were initially bewildered and beguiled by our new homeland. Everything seemed so new and different, at the same time exciting and intimidating. We soon found ourselves completely enamored with the people and much of their way of life.
Happily, all of the things we immediately fell in love with have remained dear to us: we still love Weihnachtsmarkts and Glühwein; we still love BBQing and hanging out in our back yard; we still love driving on the Autobahn; we still avoid as much of “Little America” (as this area is sometimes called) as much as possible; we both still get an occasional chuckle from the word Ausfahrt…
Sadly we both still rely far too heavily on Sprechen sie Englisch, bitte?… We have tried a couple classes, we have tried independent study, and it just will not stick. Our last consideration is a private tutor; we shall see.
Also quite naturally, I think, after a bit of time passes, we have also come across a few things that we’re not so crazy about, too… Such as:
- The German culture holds very tightly to the concept that Sunday is a day of rest, so nearly all businesses are closed on Sunday. Some restaurants might open for dinner, but all gas stations, grocery stores, etc. will be closed all day. Sunday is also a “quiet day”, which is actually quite nice, but also means no mowing the yard or anything else that makes loud noise. This means everyone has to do everything they need to get down on Saturday… Which tends to make for mad-houses! This philosophy can actually be expected if you look at the German calendar, which starts on Monday and ends on Sunday, so you can easily see how Saturday would almost feel like the last workday, and Sunday, as the final day of the week, when you would rest. But personally, after working all week, some times I would rather rest on Saturday, then use Sunday to start getting ready for the upcoming week. At any rate, that’s the way it is, so that’s the way it goes.
- While I cannot hardly complain about the number of holidays I get working for the German economy, it is frustrating that some of my holidays (which I read as “day-off from work”) fall on Saturday or Sunday. Where the American system might let the holiday happen there, we would get either the preceding Friday, or following Monday, off of work; here, I simply lose that holiday…
- But by far the most frustrating thing we are still trying to come to grips with, and maybe it’s because it runs so counter to everything else we have come to expect from the normally orderly German people, is the complete and total lack of respect for “the line”… Where Germans are typically meticulous about passing on the left then moving as far-right as possible, or about keeping their house and yard in order (they even sweep the sidewalks and gutters in front of their houses!), when it comes to queuing up for the bus, or at the bakery counter, or any-other-place-where-people-have-to-wait-for-something, it becomes a horde… So we simply learn to “gently” maneuver ourselves into our proper place, and “go with the flow”…
But these new-found frustrations also come with new-found loves:
- While those Sundays do mean that we cannot get some of our chores down when we feel like it, they are also fantastic days to be out-and-about: The Germans are rabid about their walking and hiking, and Sunday is the chief day to do it! There are hiking trails all over the countryside here, and regardless of age or weather, on any given Sunday, you will see individuals with their dog, couples, even entire families, dotting the hills and horizons, out getting their fair share of exercise & whatever weather Mother Nature has decided to offer that day. It is pretty impressive and inspiring.
- And when one finishes that Sunday hike, one partakes in another new-found, newly-in-love-with tradition: kaffee und kuchen… This is mostly for the older crowd now, it seems, but “since Marianne and I love tradition so much…” we occasionally participate… :-) This ritual happens on Sunday, somewhere between 14:00-16:00, at your favorite Konditorei oder Bäckerei (and thanks to the gracious German neighbors that introduced us to this tradition, ours is Café Schäfer (what up, Schaefers?! :-) )), where one surveys the pastry counter, carefully selects exactly the right pastry for today, then sits and waits for it, and the accompanying hot beverage, to be brought to your table. Then you sit in wonderful bliss, enjoying the relaxing sweets with friends and/or family. Or by yourself, I’m sure, would also work just fine… ;-)
- Which connects nicely to another new-found love: German desserts. Though we discovered this one pretty quickly, we have really come to love it as time marches on. We often hear Americans complain that the desserts here are not sweet enough, but that is exactly what we have come to love! The desserts are not too sweet, they are simply perfectly sweet… No, sorry, if you disagree, you are simply wrong… ;-) But seriously, for a country often thought of as Bier und Bratwurst, the pastries here are as good as anywhere, they never have that sickeningly-sweet taste, and never have that chemical-sweet taste you can only come to recognize in American foods after you’ve been away from it for a while.
- The last item I will add to this list is not related to any of the above-mentioned items, but goes back to one of our earliest loves: the Autobahn. While we still greatly love the freedom and personal-responsibility the Autobahn provides, and while we are both still completely blown-away at how the culture passes on the left, then shifts as far-right as possible as fast as it is safe to do so, we have come to recognize more and more that some drivers will jump into the passing lane seemingly without even looking… I will grant you, learning to drive at 130-160kph and properly gauge when it is safe to pass is not easy, especially when cars in the passing lane could be approaching you at speeds of up to 180-200kph or more… But more than once I have been driving (fast-ish) and had people pull out in front of me where I had to practically slam on the brakes… This has proved frustrating enough (and nerve-wracking enough), that for the most part we have slowed our speeds down to more match the slower traffic. And while this makes sense, and is safer… it just isn’t as much fun… But again, there it is, so there we are…
And so that brings to close another update of our lives living in Germany. Friends, family, we miss you all dearly, and think of you all often (regardless of how infrequently you actually hear that from us, we know we suck at keeping in regular contact…). We are having a great time, and it will end over here one day, bringing us back home, but until then, we are still having a blast traveling and getting to know all the various cultures, foods, people, and places here; it is magical how different we all are, and yet how absolutely identical we can all be: a smile and a laugh is exactly the same, no matter where we’re been.
So, a few of you have come to visit, but so many more have not. If you can make the way, we have plenty of space, and would love to be your host. While we are not in one of the hottest tourist locations, we are pretty central to several destinations that could be easy day-trips, and we’re obviously happy to tour around as much as our work schedules allow. We’re also quite open to traveling elsewhere and meeting people, if you find yourself heading somewhere close, but not exactly here…
Okay, enough for now, alles Gute, tschüss!