Germany and America: Differences, Similarities, Comparisons

We’ve been back in the states now for almost 6 weeks and I think that, while not completely back in the swing of things (we’ve only just recently gotten to our final destination and our new home), I think we’ve managed to settle back into the US. At least enough so that I feel like I can share what that adjustment was like and how keenly I noted the difference between the two countries. 

First and foremost, I feel like I should note that I don’t necessarily think that either country is better than the other, though I do want to say that if we had the choice to go back to Europe I would in less than a single heartbeat. I think that there are benefits and losses to each, and it’s ok to acknowledge that of both countries. With that being said, I can say with fairly good certainty, that at its heart, there is really just one fundamental difference of life that every other difference can be attributed to: Way of Life. 

In the United States, we place a lot of emphasis on THINGS and APPEARENCES. There isn’t anything wrong with this- well maybe there is, but that’s a topic for a whole other conversation- it’s simply how it is in our country. Think about it, a lot of our standard activities, a lot of our social media, revolves around some form of store or shopping. We often will just “stop over at the store” or do a “quick Target run”. 

Everything is “bigger and better”, and we are constantly in a battle to have the newest, shiniest thing. Again, this is just how our society operates. Along with that, we have a rapidly rising sense of instant gratification. An “I need this, and I need it now” attitude that is then catered to by a late-night closing or even 24-hour shopping society (and this isn’t even stepping into Amazon or overnight delivery). You want to get the newest game? You can buy it at 12:01AM at your local super store on release day (pre Covid of course). We never have any concern of running out of something because well…we can just go out and get it, no matter day/time. 

Finally, in the US, we are a country of “go, go, go”, getting in and out as fast as we can, on to the next thing before we have fully finished the first. It’s a never-ending cycle that permeates every second of our life. Our day runs through before we’ve even realized that the end of the day has come, and there are times when we can’t even recall what we’ve actually done. Think about your day…we go, go, go get everyone up in the morning to get to school/work. At work we go, go, go to get an endless list of tasks done. Often times we would take lunch at our desk, quickly nudging a bite or two of food in our mouth before we have to get back to it. Or maybe your lunch consists of a quick trip to the shops to pick up some things or to peruse the shelves. Then, the workday and school day ends and it’s go, go, go to various activities for the kids OR home to quickly whip up some food. Maybe your too busy for even that, grabbing a drive through or quick meal in between activities. If you go out to dinner, it’s go, go, go through dinner with barely enough time to enjoy your family/friends’ company before the bill arrives and it’s time to go. Go back to the house, maybe now you take a little bit of time for yourself or family, with a show or a book or something of that nature. By that point, we are all so exhausted that…well the day is over, and we are left wondering…what happened. 

All of these little things tie into our basic way of life in the US. I’m not saying this is wrong, in fact there are some benefits to it, the ability to just run to the grocery store whenever, not have to worry about stores closing or anything like that, it’s just a different way of life to Europe. 

This is not the case in Germany. 

In Germany the number one emphasis is quality of life. The quality of your social experience. What you are doing, rather than what you have. The value is placed on who you are, how you spend your time, where you go, rather than anything else. It’s a society that thrives on the connection with people, everything from dining out to traveling to pumping gas is all about person-to-person connection. It’s not infrequent to go out to eat dinner and be at your table for 2-3 hours, for the wait staff to not bother you or you having to flag them down when you need something. There is no such thing as pay at the pump, you take a ticket into the gas station where you are greeted with fresh baked goodies (like a full bakery) and a wide variety of snacks and magazines to choose from before paying for gas. Every interaction comes with a smile and a conversation, rather than a brush off and rush out. 

In the smaller towns/communities, you’ll find smaller neighborhood style grocery stores that stock fresh, in season, regionally produced fruit and veggies. When you are looking at meat departments, it’s all fresh (seriously fresh), locally sourced, and the common ground meat is a cow/pig combination. It’s so fresh, that often times in malls you can walk right to a butcher shop in the mall and select your cow meat that’s hanging in the back, clear glass view, cold area. It’s an experience for sure, but a great one to have. Basically, you can always expect to have locally sourced, fresh food options. Even the frozen sections tend to be somewhat local and fresh, rather than the processed options we are all used to in The States. 

Another thing that is different is often times, German’s will buy less, but better quality. Sure, you have big box stores in every city, but you’ll often find many more boutiques with better offerings and more unique/cooler designs. This is because the Germans tend to value quality of quantity. They don’t need the next greatest thing because what they bought previous has lasted quite a long time already. Consumerism isn’t as much of a “thing” over there as it is here in The States. 

Another difference is that life is largely lived outdoors. In Germany there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothes (seriously- this is very much a thing). On any given day, in any given weather, you will see people outside. They’ll be hiking, riding bikes, rowing, enjoying what the earth and nature has to offer. I don’t think that there has been a time where I haven’t seen people outside and being active. There are parks for kids everywhere, and these are sturdy, use in any weather jungle gyms. And when the weather turns even the slightest bit sunny, EVERYONE heads outside, from the youngest babies to the oldest citizens, you’ll find them soaking up that sunshine. 

Finally, in Germany their work/life balance is vastly different. Maternity leave is much more a thing in Europe already than it is in The United States, but in Germany you have much more vacation time, longer lunches, and an overall healthier boundary between work and life. I feel like there are some things in this area in particular that The States can learn from. There aren’t nearly as many “workaholic” types of situations and there is annual paid vacation time and such. Much more than what is offered in The States. 

More than anything else, I miss that the value is placed on your quality of life, rather than the quantity of your life. 

A couple fun little differences for you to end this post on a happier note; there is no central air in the majority of the houses. That means no AC. Heat is by radiator system and throughout the year you have to open the windows several times a day for certain lengths of time to air out the house. I’ve already said it, but pay at the pump is not a thing there, you take a ticket (or remember your pump number) and head into the station to pay. Most places are cash heavy and do not take card (including those fun markets), so don’t leave the house without it! Most stores close by dinnertime (unless you’re in a bigger city) and, everything, short of churches and some restaurants, closes on Sunday. You have to plan to have everything you need before Saturday or you’ll be waiting till Monday. Since restaurants may in fact open on Sundays, they are typically closed on Monday or Monday and Tuesday. In terms of eating out at restaurants, Water costs money (there is no such thing as “tap” or “table” water, you will buy bottles if you ask for Wasser at a restaurant) and most of the water is actually sparkling- you have to be specific if you want flat water. In addition to water, more often than not, ordering alcohol will be the cheapest drink option.

Obviously the history of Germany (and of Europe) is much older and more vast than America, so you are able to see castles and towns that pre date the beginnings of our own country. Travel is also…different than it is stateside. Obviously you can country hop all throughout Europe (in a non Covid world), but there also different modes of getting to places (you can choose car, train, or plane).

I think that basically covers most of the differences I noted between Germany and America. Truth be told, it just boils down to way of life and if you’re open to how they live, then you can adjust really fast. If you have any questions, or anything to add, just let me know!

Adjusting to America

We’ve been back in America for about 6 weeks and I can firmly say that we’ve adjusted about as much as we are going to. We’ve had a couple of moments of culture shock, but by and large it seems like just stepping back into a life that we could only just barely remember. I wanted this post to kind of serve as just a highlight of some of the things that we’ve noticed or dealt with since moving back from Germany. Some of it is personal observations, some of it is going to be Covid-19 related (as that’s what we are currently in the middle of), some of it is going to be random. 

I will say, I do have a whole separate post in the works about some of the big differences between the two countries, so drop by for that one when it comes out in a few weeks. 

One of the biggest things to adjust to in coming back to the US is just the convenience of it all. You don’t have to worry about hitting the stores before they close, or reaching out to friends/neighbors on that inevitable time that you run out of something and the stores are closed. There is NOTHING wrong with this (in some ways I like how it fosters a community), but it is nice to just be able to get what you need exactly when you need it. 

Another aspect of convenience is in terms of big box stores. It’s nice when you are able to do all of your shopping in one store, rather than making lots of little purchases at a variety of different stores. That is actually something I missed in some ways (although I didn’t miss picking up random things that were not needed simply because I walked past them thinking “oh well we will need that at some point” or “oh that’s cute”). 

In strict relationship to Covid-19, it’s been really nice not to have to schedule an appointment or worry if a store is open due to restrictions, we can just run over to whatever store and do what we need to. Of course, masks are required, not much of a difference there, but the fact that stores are even open is a new thing. Not commenting on the merit of that, just on what we experienced. 

In terms of reverse culture shock, I once again experienced culture shock in going to the grocery store. For some reason going to Walmart or Target didn’t bother me (there are big box stores in Germany that we did go to), but the grocery store was massive in comparison to my little neighborhood grocery. I walked up and down the aisles in shock trying to figure out what we needed and where to find it. It was an experience to say the least. 

One other thing, that is partly just being in a new place (in terms of NY specifically, it wasn’t so bad in KY where we’ve been before), but also partly different is just driving and getting gas. First up, getting gas in Germany involves going in to the station market to pay. It’s not a pay at the pump situation and often times, some gas stations will have their own cards that you can use to pay. Also, the speeds and driving rules are different enough in Germany that, coming back here and driving has been a little strange (and no- I’m not just talking about the Autobahn, just in a general sense). I didn’t feel it as much going over to Germany, but definitely did coming back. 

Otherwise, we’ve gotten to a point where I feel like we are feeling “normal”. I feel like there are benefits and drawbacks to each country, BUT, in all honesty, I would go back to Europe in not even a single heartbeat. 

Leaving Germany

January 17- I don’t really know how this post is going to go. I have no idea how to even begin, when to begin, how to process my feelings and then write them out, no ideas. So, I think I am going to treat it a bit like a diary of sorts. A dated registry of my feelings every so often (I’m thinking maybe two or three of these dated bits) as things happen or what not. I hope that this turns out ok and that it ends up being a good representation of this move. It could also end up being totally bad…if it is, then I’m sorry. My goal is to have a bit of a “part 1 on the road home-leaving” followed by a “part 2 on the road home-adjusting” that will be up in March. And if you’re reading this, then I’ve succeeded. Maybe. 

So, we are about a couple weeks out from our flight back to the US. Our home has been packed up, crated, and is slowly making its way to the shipping facility to be shipped back. It’s been a tense time between trying to corral two very curious, very active little boys, track what the movers are doing, handle schoolwork, and just keep sane. Getting your entire house packed up and emptied out slowly (this was done over two days) makes a move even more real. The second day we were all cooped up in our Master Bedroom and walking out to things being wrapped and then later to a completely empty living room was…a bit heartbreaking. 

I’ve spoken before about how much of a home and life we’ve made here in Germany. This is one of the first places in our moves that has felt…so much like home. We’ve made a little community for ourselves here and while we’ve known this move was coming since summer, this moving day kind of…came all too fast and all too final. Germany has taught us and given us so much. We’ve learned how to live a slower, less complicated life; how to be a bit more “go with the flow” (ok, ok, 2020 and Covid really taught us that); how to actual live life, rather than plod through it. We’ve seen history in ways we couldn’t imagine, been to places we’ve dreamed about, and we’ve been able to learn and grow as a family. We’ve made some incredible friends, a best friend who will forever be in my heart. I’ve found some new facets of myself and a little piece of our family’s heart will always remain here. 

And now, as we are about to start cleaning our house, making the last of our meals, and getting everything together for the last shipment of stuff consolidated, and really look at leaving, I’m getting that antsy anxious feeling. That feeling that says, “C’mon let’s just get on with it already”. The whole, just rip the Band-Aid off, feeling…except just break my heart instead. 

January 29 – Today was our move out day. Out of all the days that we have had to prepare and adjust to this move, today was the day that it decidedly felt real. We loaded the massive van we rented, did a final walk through ourselves (due to Covid) and then drove away. I had a tear or two (or a sob fest) as we drove the route towards base one final time. There was a finality to this. Previously, we could almost fool our brains into thinking that this wasn’t coming, wasn’t happening, that we were just doing things (don’t ask me to explain the psychology of it because I can’t). But driving away that final time, knowing we were done in that house, that we were properly leaving was hard. 

February 4 – Well, the road hasn’t been easy the past 48ish hours, but we are finally on a plane heading back to the USA. We were supposed to be on a plane 2 days ago, but due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the planes were not coming or going, and we ended up in a hotel without our luggage for that period of time with all of our fellow travelers. Thankfully everyone’s spirits were high, the hotel did an exceptional job housing us all at the last minute (and feeding us, keeping us informed as the changes kept coming, etc.), and on the last day we had a bit of free time between our arrival at the terminal and our security time, so we could go purchase some clothes or anything else we might have needed at that point (we did have a grocery a short walk away, so simple things were able to be purchased on the first day). 

Needless to say, having this experience of leaving, changed my reaction to finally boarding the plane and now, writing this while in flight. I thought that I would have some tears, some sadness at leaving a place that had come so close to home for me, but instead I was filled with excitement at the thought of actually boarding the plane and heading home. I had said my farewells to everything and everyone in preparation for our Tuesday flight, and now, after all the delays, I just wanted to go. 

So, not the way I had thought I would end this post, but here we are. I think that this was a way for me to be “ok” with leaving Germany. Maybe “Germany”/A Higher Being/The Universe/Whatever you want to call it thought I needed a little push to leave and this was how that happened. I’m still feeling a bit emotional at leaving, but mostly what I feel is relief to be leaving this limbo that we’ve been in.

Auf Wiedersehen für jetzt Deutschland.  Wir werden dich vermissen und die Erinnerungen und Freundschaften schätzen, die wir geschlossen haben.  Bis zum nächsten Mal.

Kurbisausstellung Ludwigsburg – An Autumnal Weekend

When you talk about Germany in Autumn, about moving to Germany or visiting, people usually talk about Oktoberfest, seeing the leaves turn in Bavaria, watching an Almabtrieb, or the gray, foggy, rainy days. BUT there is a festival that occurs September through November (or into December) every year that is quite the show to see…the Kurbisausstellung Ludwigsburg, or Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival. This was the final piece of my Autumn in Germany trifecta and I was so happy that we were able to get to make it this year. 

To start with, this festival is the largest pumpkin festival in the world. It is hosted on the grounds of the Residential Palace of Ludwigsburg and boasts over 450,000 pumpkins (600 varieties). Pumpkins are used from everything to display, carving, eating, even rowing in (although due to Covid-19 this did not happen in 2020). Most of the pumpkins are grown locally in the district, however all are from within Germany. 

I don’t really have a lot of history on the festival itself, but rather sharing what made this so much cooler than just going to a pumpkin patch for a day. There are basically two things that set the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival apart, the food and the sculptures. 

Every year there is a theme set for the festival and it sets the tone for all of the pumpkin sculptures. For the year 2020, the theme was “Music”, so we saw sculptures of famous musicians (check out the Kiss tongue and Beethoven), various musical instruments, and musicians themselves playing instruments (that DJ was MASSIVE). The sculptures are constructed using pumpkins, locally sourced wood, and locally sourced straw. That was one of the things that I really admired about the festival, the idea of locally sourcing materials- it’s a great way to boost local produce and reduce waste. 

Most of the walkways are laid with wooden paths and the route to take is somewhat easily laid out. Once you walk through the entrance and the first set of gardens, which contain bred pumpkins and a few carved sculptures (don’t miss those!), you are in the main “sculpture garden”. This was where we saw most of the sculptures (although there are plenty spread throughout), various activities (except the regatta, which is held up on a higher separate end) and where a good majority of the food and shopping vendors are. You are able to not only purchase pumpkins and pumpkin related food/drinks (I’ll get into this later), but you are also able to purchase a selection of local items AND various items featuring shots of the current year sculptures. 

While the pumpkin festival is the main focus of this time at the Palace, you are able to explore the full gardens and see all the little nooks and crannies, such as the fairy-tale garden. The Fairy-Tale Garden offers an adventure all its own with its historic play spots, fairytale renderings, and boat and train rides. We had a lot of fun wandering the enchanted pathways and stopping to see all the fairytales come to life (note- these are more along the line of the actual Grimm Fairytale style, not the Disney rendition). 

As you walk through the garden you are led through to the castle (part of the Fairy-Tale Garden) and then led back towards the Large Bird garden. Everything loops back around, and you find yourself back in the main sculpture garden (if you choose to loop around). It’s a beautiful tour of the gardens and a nice way to spend the day. 

Now, the second draw of the Pumpkin Festival…all the pumpkin food items. From pumpkin seeds to pumpkin pesto to pumpkin drinks, the festival is a foodie and/or pumpkin flavor fiends dream. I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of pumpkin flavoring, but I was game to try whatever and came away with a couple of new things.

For lunch we got the Penne with Pumpkin Pesto and the Pumpkin Spaetzle with pumpkin and cream sauce. My husband really like the Spaetzle and I LOVED the pumpkin pesto. So much so, that I picked up a jar to take home with me. We both opted to drink the sparkling pumpkin water, which was less of a hit ( I couldn’t finish mine). Too much pumpkin flavoring in that, I’m more of a hint of pumpkin kinda gal. To take home and try I picked up a black tea as well as the sparkling Pumpkin Wine, which I heard SO MANY people talk about and knew I had to try. Will report back as to whether I enjoyed both of those. ***Update- I really enjoyed the Pumpkin Wine- will be ordering a full bottle of that***

Finally, on the way out of the festival we were able to see the largest pumpkin contest. This contest is normally open to breeders all over the world, but given the pandemic, this year only included Germany and Austria. There are several categories, but the winner this year was a pumpkin weighing 745 kilograms (1645lbs!). It’s a massive pumpkin and you are able to check it out, along with second and third and other notable entries at the front of the palace. 

On the whole, we loved our time at the Kurbisausstellung Ludwigsburg and I’m so glad we went. This is a must-see event that runs every year September through November (and sometimes into December weather/pumpkin/pandemic providing). Ludwigsburg also advertises another adventure farm festival at Jucker Farm to check out as well, so maybe add that to the list as well. 

Welcome to Our Home – Living and Dining Room

I think I’m finally ready to share our Living and Dining Rooms! I’ve been putting “finishing” touches on these rooms for almost forever and, while they may not be exactly as I would like them (there are things that I want to eventually replace post Germany and a few things that still need to be added), I feel like they are ready enough to be shared.

So…welcome to our Home: Living and Dining Room Edition.

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We’ve veered a little bit off of our standard pathway and I’ve finally managed to insert some color! We really love the look of darker furniture as a baseline, which you’ll see running throughout our entire house (for reference on our other rooms I’ve shared: office/library, kitchen), and one of my goals was to inject a little bit of color. I also wanted a rug, which we haven’t done before (as we’ve always had carpet). The other big change that I made was with the artwork on our walls. I decided against putting up family pictures (I am going to do a gallery wall going up our stairs for these), instead choosing to use pictures I’ve taken from our various travels.

Let’s talk about the actual Living Room. Our couches are from American Furniture Warehouse (in Colorado) and are part of a system of a full recline living room. Every seat can recline (although one recliner is blocked) and our loveseat is actually one that has the “center console” and built in cupholders. They are quite comfy overall and have served us well. The throw pillows and covers are all from IKEA (Pillows, Lumbar Pillow, Blue Pillowcases, Mustard Pillowcase) and the blankets are from various different stores collected over the years.

The end tables and coffee table are all incredibly old and I have no idea where they originally came from. I’ve accented on each side with a family picture and a plant from our local grocery. We have a lamp in one corner (as I’m not the biggest overhead lighting fan) from Ikea (HERE). Above the couch are pictures from our trip to Fussen, Germany and Neuschwanstein/Hohenzollern.

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Pulling out from the couches we have this gorgeous rug from Ikea (HERE) which is one of my favorite purchases and what kicked off bringing color into our home. I wanted to make a bold statement to go against the darkness of our couches and furniture and this gave me the perfect opportunity to strike that balance without going overboard. I love the varying blue toned shades, but also the pop of Mustard Yellow.

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Sweeping around to the main wall of the living room, the DVD case stands against the wall in the corner, with the TV aligned center of the actual Living room area, rather than center of the wall. Above that is a painting from my husband’s service. Also, on the wall we have our Coocoo Clock and the kids only cabinet of toys that is allowed in our Living Room. This was probably one of the biggest most recent changes in our home, all of the kid’s toys are now up in their room. They are allowed their matchbox cars and a couple other small toys in our Living Room as well as a selection of books. Eventually we will be getting a small bit of seating (it’s actually The Nugget that we will be purchasing-so not quite “seating”, but when not in use I plan to have it look like a little couch area) for the boys that will go in between the TV and the cabinet. This change has been absolutely incredible for our home and has led to a much calmer Living Room space.

IMG_5634Turning towards our Dining Room, we’ve got our small little dining room table. This is another really old piece in our home that will be probably replaced post Germany, but it has served us really well. It fits perfectly into this little nook and while we don’t eat as many family meals as I would like, we are still getting a lot of use out of it. On the wall above the dining room table are pictures from our travels once again, this time of little café’s that we’ve stopped at. We also have our Shot Glass cabinet, which is something that my husband loves to do for our travels.

 

 

 

And that is pretty much it! This is the last bit that I’ll be sharing in regard to our home, but I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little look into the house we’ve turned into our home.

 

 

Life in Europe – 1 Year In

Where to even begin with this post?! I mean, seriously…where do I even start? It’s been a year. We’ve been here a year. Well technically it’ll be a year on Friday, but still…a whole year. It’s hard to wrap my mind around.

A year ago, we stepped on a flight leaving out of Baltimore (after a flight from KY to MD) and into, at the time, the unknown. 8 hours later (or something like that) we stepped off the plane on a whole new continent that we hadn’t been to before, in a new country, ready for a new adventure. And an adventure it has been.

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Our first 5 months here consisted of living in a hotel, traveling (A LOT), and trying to learn our way around the customs and traditions of Germany. Things like stores being closed on Sundays, paying for restrooms, paying for water at restaurants, the dinners out that last hours, and driving as fast as we “like” on the autobahn (which isn’t as true or fun as you would think) were all new to us. After 5 ½ months in a hotel apartment, we got a house. A spacious 3 bedroom + to make all our own (well except for no painting, no major construction, etc.). We spent the rest of the year “settling in”. A year later and I feel like we finally feel settled, feel a part of our little community, have good friends that we can count on, and have things figured out.

And traveling. We’ve traveled more in the past year than I think we have in the span of our lives. We’ve learned more history, more culture, more information in the past year than ever before. We’ve seen the not so good parts of history up close, seen the gorgeous scenery of several countries, and have had one incredible trip after another. This first year taught us, more than anything, how to adapt, how to go with the flow, how to work with what we have. And, as much as it may seem like an “on the go” lifestyle, we’ve really slowed down in a way. We’ve stopped and smelled the roses for lack of a better phrase. We’ve taken so much more time as a family, exposing not only ourselves, but our children to different ways of living. One of the most incredible things was my older son telling us, at 4 years old, about The Colosseum and what used to happen. At 4 years old.

We’ve traveled to 11 countries, visited 14 castles, we’ve seen more churches than I can even count, seen the Tulips in The Netherlands, the Tower of London, the Dachau Concentration Camps, the filming locations for The Sound of Music, The Pantheon and Ancient Rome, and so, so much more. We’ve been to Oktoberfest, a whopping 7 cities (some of which had multiple within the city) Christmas Markets, and numerous cultural festivals and events. We’ve really tried to be involved and be a part of the culture in Germany. To celebrate with them, mourn with them, understand their history, culture, and what is important to them in life.

Even with all of that, we are still just living our life. We live our everyday lives. My husband goes to work in the morning, our oldest is starting school (just preschool, but still), both boys go to playgroup, I read and write every day, and we chat with friends over coffee or dinner. We just happen to be in Germany. I think this might be when I just get mind boggled the most. When I’m making that afternoon cup of tea or curling up in the evenings with my family. When I look at my backyard and it hits me…we are in Germany. This is when I count my blessings.

It’s hard to believe that we have our “home” days. That we aren’t always out adventuring, discovering new places, seeing more and more. I think that’s kind of the strange assumption that is made when you see someone who is able to move to a foreign country for a few years- that they are always going to be traveling. But that is just not the case for us. For us we have to have that down time. Not only do work and our boys make that a necessity, but it’s also just a quirk to us. We are homebodies by nature and so we usually need to have a little bit of home time in between all the travel, and it can’t just be a couple nights. Plus, there is adventure right in our backyard. There is so much to do and see right nearby us that it makes our home time weekends still full of fun.

This first year in Germany has been an adjustment, a whirlwind, an adventure. I can’t wait to see what the next two bring us.

I Didn’t Give Germany A Chance

Untitled Design 7When we first started tossing around the idea of moving to Germany it felt surreal. The concept of actually living in Europe wasn’t something I could have wrapped my head around. I had been to England and Scotland when I was a baby, but Europe was this distant dream that I dreamed for a long time, but never really thought would be able to be a reality.

When we got orders, it still felt surreal. I couldn’t believe that this dream I had would be a reality. That we would be so blessed. The concept of being able to travel Europe, to go to all these countries was just too good to be true. Incredible. I thought of all the sights we could see, all the countries we would visit.

And I’ll be honest- I treated Germany as simply a location. A central spot that we could then travel out of. Not as a place to explore beyond a few historical landmarks. I knew about Germany, knew its history, it’s big cities, some of its culture (like Oktoberfest), and that was about it. I focused solely on EVERYWHERE else we could go, all the other things that we could see, all the dreams that would no longer be just dreams.

I now realize how much of a mistake this was.

Germany is stunning. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own spots ,it doesn’t have troubles, but I definitely should have thought more about everything that we could do within its borders, rather than just looking outside the country. There is so much to see here, so many little holes in the wall spots that no one really thinks about that are just stunning. A lot of the little towns are old world quaint and each has its own history. Take Tubingen (HERE) or even Weltenburg Abbey (HERE), we had considered these both a nice little day trip, but both are so perfectly European and German, and I loved it. This was something I hadn’t really thought about when we got orders. The history here goes back much further than I had even anticipated (yep, I’m naïve) and there is a never-ending number of things to do and places to see.

And, since we can’t ignore the elephant in the room…Germany has such a way with its own history. They have quite the history here, quite the troubled past, but they’ve managed to settle with it. One of the things that has stuck with me in our time here so far is how they handle their own history. They don’t hide behind it; they don’t bring it up time and time again. They acknowledge what happened, they acknowledge the hurt and pain that was caused, they punish those responsible. They take steps to make reparations, they don’t destroy everything relating to their own history, choosing to make the most incredible memorials that I’ve seen out of the pieces. The Berlin Wall Documentation Center, The Berlin Wall, The Eastside Gallery, Dachau Concentration Camps, Nuremberg Rally Grounds, Nuremberg Court House…the list goes on. All of these places are landmarks, marking down what happened for everyone to see. They’ve made changes, they’ve learned, anyone who visits these places learns. They move forward.

We can all take a lesson from that.

Not to mention just the sheer amount of history here. In a city right near us they are excavating bodies from Roman times and have a set of Roman archways from… It’s incredible to think that some of the places that we see have that much history.

We won’t even start to get into the culture of this country. Festival season is such a fun, warm and welcoming time, not to mention the season we are about to go into…the most wonderful time of year. The way of life, the idea of a slower pace. We live in the countryside (something we’ve been wanting for a long time) and the number of animals and crops that we see daily is something else. It’s been an incredible bit of time and one that we are looking forward to continuing for the next couple of years.

I’ve found a true home in a place that I hate to admit that I discounted. I figured it would be a home base for everywhere, but we’ve really made a home here in such a short time. I won’t discount a place again.

 

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!

Tübingen – A Day Trip

On our weekend away we had a free day in between the castle’s we had planned on seeing. We decided to spend this free Saturday in nearby (to where we were staying) Tübingen. Tübingen is a university town in Baden- Württemberg that is full of old-world charm. My favorite bits happen to be what it’s known for: cobblestone streets (full crooked, tight, bumpy cobblestone) and the traditional timber homes that line the streets.

Tübingen has a very long history (dating back to the 6thor 7thcentury), although the first time there is any official notice of the town involves the town’s castle: Hohentübingen (this is Germany after all – and everything involves castles). Tübingen formally became a city in the 1200’s and “shortly” after that (about 30 years) a monastery was established by the Pope. In the 1400’s the Collegiate church was built AND the Eberhard Karls University was founded. This particular university is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe. The university continues to make a name for itself as one of the biggest universities in Germany and the biggest source of income for the city’s residents. Tübingen has also been a spot for quite the political history being involved in The Thirty Years War, Kristallnacht during WW2, being a center of the German Student Movement, being a part of Protests of 1968, and having student ties to a terrorist group (The Rote Armee Fraktion).

A quick fun fact for you: Tübingen’s Altstadte is one of the few completely intact Altstadte’s in Germany. It was not destroyed during WW2, which allows a visitor to get a real glimpse into what the city would have looked like throughout the years.

We visited Tübingen on a grey rainy day, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We started out our day walking through the Market Square (Marktplatz). This market square also holds the Town Hall (Rathaus). The day that we went happened to be the day they were holding their Regional Market, so we got to sample a wide variety of goods, including a home made from scratch fresh pizza and Birnensecco ( a locally made pear prosecco). Both were delicious. We also got to peak around the stalls for local handcrafted goods including floral, produce, clothes/crochet/knitted goods, and different salami and cheese products. It was a fun little start to our day (and provided us lunch). This to me was just the European/German experience.

From the market square we wandered up to Hohentübingen to peak around the castle.

By best guesses the castle was originally marked in the 11thcentury, but was completely demolished and rebuilt in the 1500’s. In current day the castle holds the Museum Alte Kulturen, which was opened in 1997 to the public. There is also a section in the castle covering the advances that were made in the realm of sciences- this castle held one of the first biochemical lab worldwide, and talks about DNA. The rooms cover both modern-day sciences, as well as artifacts and the discoveries made at this particular location.

4FF8A7E4-9755-4D36-A77A-DF1F69F12EB0.JPGFrom the castle we wandered back down the street to stop once again at the market to pick up some food/drink and take a little break. Once refreshed (see above for what we ate) we headed over the St. George’s Collegiate Church (also referred to as Stiftskirche).

Dating back to the 15thCentury, this is one hell of a church. Fun fact: this church was one of the first to convert to Martin Luther’s Protestantism, although it still has several Roman Catholic features. We wandered through the main church, then paid a slight fee to head up the church tower. In this particular church, as long as the bells aren’t actively ringing, you are able to walk up the numerous stair steps to get an “eagle eye” view from the tower.

Not only is that an incredible view, but you get to see how the bells actually work from the bells themselves, the weights at the bottom, and the gears that make them ring. Looking at the bells it is actually incredible to think that a long time ago, people actually rang the bells themselves without the benefit of the gears.

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The view from the top really can’t be beat as you get a great 360 view of Tübingen and beyond. You can see the Marktplatz, the Altstadt, the river, the Schloss and so much more. It was worth the very slight fee to pay to be able to see the red roofs, the people milling about, walking along the cobblestone. We made it down the stairs just in time to hear the bells sing in the afternoon. They played beautifully and rang through the entire city.

Finally, we headed down to the Necker River. Crossing the bridge, you can get a view of the brightly colored historic homes and businesses, along with Holderlin’s Tower.

Holderlin’s Tower was the home to poet Frederich Holderlin and is a popular museum and destination. We took a little stroll on part of the Neckar Island (Neckarinsel). On the day that we went they were having their Rubber Duck Race (which we missed by about 30 minutes), so the little Island was packed with various exciting activities.

And with that final stroll our day in Tübingen came to an end! I think this little town might top my list of favorite towns in Germany so far. It is very close with Fussen (which I loved) and may edge it out of that top spot.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Tübingen though our eyes! Honestly, I hadn’t really heard too much about this town until we were in the area, but I feel like it should be on a travel list if you are wanting that German town experience.

 

A Bavarian Weekend – September 2019

The last weekend in September we got to do several different local cultural things. There wasn’t enough to do a single post for each event, and since they all occurred over the same weekend, I figured I would condense them into a single “Bavarian Weekend” blog post. We had so much fun and I am excited to share these two events with you.

The first event we attended was at the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Regensburg Germany. This was a light show that was displayed against the Regensburg Cathedral (known as the Dom St. Peter or Regensburg Dom, the second being the most common name, in German) and it depicted the history of the cathedral and church. This cathedral isn’t the original church, as the original church burned in 1273. This was the third fire and this one rendered the church a complete loss. Thankfully, Regensburg was able to rebuild and build an absolutely gorgeous cathedral. In 1869, the two towers of the church were finally completed, and the light show we attended was to celebrate 150 years of the completion of the towers.

 

We ended up seeing the light show twice as my husband was not able to go with us on the first evening. Setting the history of the cathedral aside, the show itself was absolutely incredible. To have a) the backdrop of the cathedral (which is incredible as it is), b)the musical choices which matched perfectly with the feelings in each section, and c) the sheer enormity that must have been creating and engineering the light portion of the show. It was an experience that we will not be forgetting anytime soon.

With the end of summer/beginning of Autumn it becomes festival season here in Germany. Obviously there is the Almabtrieb (which you can read about HERE) and then Oktoberfest (blog post coming next week), but there is also a little holiday called Erntedankfest. Erntedankfest is the German Thanksgiving or Harvest Festival. It is celebrated at the end of the Harvest season typically on the first Sunday in October. This year the official date was October 6, but one of the little towns semi near us held their festival on the last Sunday of September.

The holiday/festival is intended to give thanks to the gods for a good, bountiful harvest. There is almost always a mass or church service at the start of the festival, that can also have a procession during the service through the town. There will also always be “bounty” at the center of the church and town square. This bounty highlights a “Harvest Crown” made of wheat and a large amount of produce from the season.

The practice of Thanksgiving, or a Harvest Festival, can be dated back to the Ancient Roman Empire (!) and is practiced all over the world with slight variations based on climate, region, and even religion. Fun fact: in 1934 Thanksgiving became an official holiday in Germany occurring every year on the first Sunday after September 29.

The Erntedankfest that we attended was in a little town in the heart of Hops Farming. They had local performers for music and dancing (although we didn’t get to stay long enough to see a lot of the performances), as well as food and drinks. We treated ourselves to a meander through the craft booths seeing everything from handmade mugs, handmade wood carved items (with him carving in front of us), to jewelry, and dirndls. Each of the booths were decorated with over harvested hops, which added such a nice touch, and spoke to the local farms. Everyone was dressed in their best (which was lederhosen and dirndl’s) and we simply soaked up all of the culture. There was an air of gathering, freedom, and happiness to this festival.

We treated ourselves to a giant pretzel (which was a struggle to eat split between 5!) and I treated myself to a couple new mugs. We had glorious blue skies and sunshine and it was just a really fun way to end the weekend on a high note. The kids loved seeing all of the booths and dancing along with the music.

And that was our Bavarian Weekend! I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these cultural events through our eyes.