Some Thoughts on Consumerism

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You know what’s a funny thing? I heard or participated in a similar version of what I’m about to write about around 3-4 times in the past week. And to be fair- it’s kind of opened my eyes a little bit to something that I had felt, but hadn’t articulated.

Here’s how it all started…

I, and a couple of friends were having a conversation about some of the differences and struggles about living in Germany as compared to living in the United States. A question was posed: “On your weekends, what did you do?”  My friend and I sat there for a couple seconds, wondering if it was rhetorical or a trick. “Uh, watched football?” “Ran errands?”  We responded. “Exactly. We watch TV and we shop on our weekends.” We hesitantly agreed and then the magic happened…”We have to realize that there is more to the world than Walmart”.

“We have to realize there is more to the world than Walmart”.

Maybe it’s not Walmart, maybe it’s Target (be honest- it’s probably Target), maybe it’s Nordstrom, or Marshall’s/TJ Max’s, maybe it’s boutique stores. You can interchange Walmart with just about any store and come up with what fits you and a true statement. And with a lot of these stories we have the ability to do this 24/7. The internet has made the possibility of shopping literally wherever, whenever  I mean, how many times have we all just “amazoned” an item?) and often times stores then try to compete with that by staying open later on weekdays and opening up all weekend. We are also consuming high levels of media. In homes, TV’s tend to be more on than off, we are almost always on our phones in some way, not to mention computers and tablets.

This boggles my mind. How is it that we manage to spend our free time doing these things? How is it that we are so inundated with this idea that we need to buy all the things, watch all the things, be a part of this lifestyle that we forget that there is so much more to life. There is more to the world.

I’ve been 100% guilty of doing this. I was someone who spent most weekends at home, in my comfiest chair, TV on, book in hand, phone never too far away. When we would leave the house 60% of the time it would be to go to a store of some sort. Oftentimes a trip to the grocery store would also involve a trip to the Target shopping center. I bought a lot of things on Amazon (some we needed; most we didn’t “need”) for the convenience. We had the option of just clicking and buying whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. So, why not do that?

Have you ever heard…”Go into Target for one thing, come out with a dozen other things and not the thing you needed”? THIS. This is what I’m talking about. The idea that just going to Target to do a quick shopping run and buy ALL THE THINGS and this is the cool norm now? That’s wrong. Whether you can afford it or not, there is more to life than just one big long shopping trip.

When we moved to Germany things were vastly different.

For starters, there are a lot more outdoor markets in the different regions. Fresh produce from right down the road is always available for purchase. Fresh seasonal flowers (some of which you can cut yourself) are around. In town grocery stores are smaller than they are in the States and have smaller carts/are intended for smaller trips. The festivals tend to feature more local artisans than not.

Stores close EARLY (and I mean like anywhere from 5-6PM) and are all always closed on Sundays (except for Shopping Sunday which happens every couple months). Life here is focused on the in-person connection. Meals last for hours at restaurants, allowing people the time to really forge connections and conversations. There are not a lot of people that you see on the phone while out in public. It’s a vastly slower pace of life, without that massive jump to buy. There are a lot more outdoor activities, from hikes to biking to canoeing to paddle boating.

There is also a much bigger focus on travel here. Most people spend their “free money” and savings on traveling, seeing new places and learning about new things. We’ve quickly caught that travel bug and that is where a lot of our budget goes toward. We have been finding that we did not actually take enough weekend trips previously and how easy those types of trips really are.

It’s such a different way of life and one that I’ve really found loving. I’ve quickly settled into this slower pace lifestyle. My shopping has been cut down quite a bit (due in part to convenience and in part to just general shipping times for online shopping) and I’ve really found myself evaluating a couple of lifestyle choices. I’ve been wanting a bit of a change for a while and Germany has kind of given me the push to make that change. These are changes that I want to keep whenever we do go back stateside as I find them to be such positives and something that I think more people could benefit from.

We need to make a point to spend less time shopping, less time watching TV, less time lounging in our own home, and more time getting to know our world. Putting the digital world aside on the weekend and living in the real world. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with watching TV, or having the occasional trip to the shops (beyond grocery shopping), but the way that we have started treating our lives in the States is kind of scary to think about.

Is the 24/7 convenience of being able to shop nice? Yea, but how many times are we really needing that convenience? Is this something that can wait till the next day? Better yet, is it something that we really need or something we think we need because of the mentality?

Let me know your thoughts on consumerism as I’d love to have a discussion about it. This is something that has been itching in the back of my mind, this difference in culture and mindset, and I’d love to speak about it with others!

Almabtrieb 2019

There is an annual event here in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (basically in the alps) that came from humble origins and has turned into a large festival. There are several throughout a couple week time period, in different locations, all involving cows.

The Almabtrieb is the cattle drive from the alpine pastures to the valley barns. During the summer months the cattle herd will feed on pastures in the alpine regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. When Autumn starts to come around there is one drive for each area of towns to bring the cattle down to the valleys and back to the barns of their farms. Over time, these cattle drives have turned into large festivals, with the cows being “dressed” in wreaths and crowns, and the towns and villages coming out for a grand party. During the festival (which involves a lot of craft booths, drinking, food, and music), the cows are herded right through the center streets for all to see. They typically have large bells to signal their entrance and at the one we went to, they used the fire department bell to signal movement, so there is no chance of missing the cows.

I’m going to breakdown our experience and then I’m going to give a couple of tips that I found helpful when we went in case you get a chance to go…

This year we got to experience an Almabtrieb in a little town called Reith Im Alpbachtal in Austria. It’s about a 3-hour drive for us that is really pretty. Austria itself is a gorgeous country, it’s on my favorite spots we’ve been. In terms of the festival itself, there was a lot! It was much bigger than I was expecting with a lot more people. The streets are blocked off (obviously) and lined on each side with booths full of small businesses, food, and drinks.

The cows themselves are adorned with crowns and bells at the start of the drive and then paraded through the street.

I don’t think that this happens at every Almabtrieb ( I know of one person who has attended one where they didn’t “dress the cow” as they call it), but I think it is at most of them. There isn’t any rope or barrier, so you will actually be right next to the cow as it walks down. The herders walk alongside the cows to make sure nothing happens and to keep the cows moving along.

Once the cattle have been through the streets you may be able to go see them in the pasture. I would encourage you to do this as they are able to rest and the bells no longer sound obnoxious in the close confines of the streets, but rather like beautiful wind chimes in the mountains.

This particular festival had several forms of entertainment between these street performers, a whip performance, and different bands that alternated throughout the festival and throughout the day.

We stopped and bought cowbells, food, and did a little wood project sawing off our own souvenir.

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My tips/things I learned:

  • Staying the night isn’t essential. Obviously this tip really only applies to those who are in our area of Bavaria/Germany or if you are going to be traveling through the area. We are early risers as it is, and I didn’t find getting up a little bit earlier to be that bad. I also didn’t see that it was so bad of a drive for a trip. If you want to stay in the area for longer you certainly can, but I didn’t find it necessary just for the festival.
  • Be prepared for crowds at just about any Almabtrieb you go to. This has turned into quite a tourist spot and a full-on festival, so there will be a crowd. I found it to be fairly manageable, although I felt a little bit better that we went as a group rather than just me with both boys by myself.
  • Bring Euro. Most festivals here in Europe do not take cards, so Euro is essential. How much will depend on what all you want to get, but I would definitely bring more than you would think you would need. The booths are full of local hand-crafted items (my favorite way of shopping) and all of the food and drinks are delicious.
  • Arrive a little early to scope everything out and get into the festival mood. The festival that we went to opened at 10AM, but the cows were not to come through until about 12PM. WE used the couple hours to do a little shopping, let the kids run that pent up car ride energy off, and find the best place to sit once the first alarm sounded. There are actually several groups of cattle that come through, so if you miss the first round it doesn’t mean you won’t see any. We actually ended up seeing two or three herds come through by the time we headed to the pasture ourselves. They come through in bursts throughout the afternoon so you can eat, or shop in between as well or just enjoy the ambiance of the festival.

Overall, we had so much fun and I would honestly recommend that anyone and everyone attend. It is such a cool cultural thing to experience and the kids still haven’t stopped talking about it. So, if you’re visiting around this time of year (any time mid-September to early October) make sure to look up the Almabtrieb schedule.