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.

Life in Europe – 6 Months In

How has it already been 6 months? 6 months ago, we were being driven to the airport by our family, working our way through multiple security checkpoints, two different airplanes, a long layover and two flights to arrive in Germany and start our international living. We had no idea what would come or how our lives would change, but we were ready for that adventure.

It’s safe to say that 6 months in, this move has been nothing short of an adventure. We’ve made the most of almost 5 months of hotel living, made the most of learning the culture (still learning!), attempting to begin to learn the language (have a long way to go on this one), and are homing in on what travel looks like for our family. We’ve almost finally gotten settled in our house, made some new friends, and are embracing that “European” lifestyle.

When we got off that plane we jumped right in to our new adventure, choosing to travel as much as we could – 7 countries already!- and be out of our hotel, and later house, as possible. This isn’t a place that we wanted to choose to stay home, as we would normally, but one where we wanted to experience everything possible.

I figured something that would be fun today, 6 months in, would be to reflect on some of the things that I’ve learned or that have surprised me at this stage of our move. Living in Germany is just similar enough to our westernized culture, but still different enough that there is a little shock to the system of moving here. I will say though; I don’t think I really experienced a true “culture shock” until I tried to do a full grocery shop on the local economy. I’m getting better and better the more I go, but those first couple trips were rough.

Before we get into the “surprises”, I just quickly want to say that I didn’t entirely expect how beautiful it is here. It is absolutely gorgeous just about anywhere you go and we cannot get enough of getting outside and exploring even just the little towns near us. The area is full of country roads, with little towns, and fields of crops all around. The agriculture scene is huge in our area and we also have a fair share of animals around as well. We love it here and can’t stress that enough.

To start this off, we are going to chat about Water Closets…or restrooms. Yep, something I don’t typically talk about, but it’s a bodily function and something we all need. You pay to use public restrooms here. Not necessarily all of them (for example a lot of stores and restaurants will often times have a restroom for the guests), but if you stop at a service stop off the Autobahn chances are you’ll have to pay the .70Euro charge to use the restroom. The nice thing is, at least for the service stations, you pay the .70 and you’ll get a .50Euro voucher to use in the station itself. The bathrooms are also very well maintained, so I don’t mind paying the slight fee for them.

*I will say- the one exception to the “paying for the bathroom” bit is changing rooms. A lot of service stations will have an entirely separate room for changing babies that can be used free of charge. Don’t think you can get away with using it as an adult, often times they are locked so an attendant is needed, or they don’t have a toilet, just the changing station. But also, just don’t be that person. From a mom, please don’t be that person.*

Another thing that is, I think, unique to Europe is the no rush eating out. When you go out to eat here, the emphasis is placed on company and quality of time spent at the restaurant, rather than hurrying you through the ordering and eating process. Often times dinner lasts several hours, and you only see your waiter intermittently to serve you the food and drinks. It’s a very relaxed feel and you could sit at your table for as long as you’d like. It’s something we have gotten used to very quickly and something that we really actually enjoy. You get a chance to enjoy your meal, your company, and it just makes it so much more pleasant. I don’t know how we are going to go back to the states and back to being rushed through our meals.

Also- in regard to eating out, be prepared to pay for water and to find that in most cases ordering alcohol is cheaper than water (or even soda in some cases)! The beer is, obviously, very good here, and sometimes even getting a glass of wine or prosecco can be less costly than having a bottle of water. Also, at your typical German restaurants expect to find meat and potato’s to be the brunt of your menu and dining experience. One final dining experience, your portion size will be quite large. While we were in the hotel, when dining in the hotel restaurant, often times I would simply order the main meat portion, no side and they would put together a miniscule side salad for me (because they thought there was no way I was only eating a giant portion of Wiener Schnitzel).

It’s a real blast to eat out here because of the experience (and the food IS delicious), but just be aware of what you are really getting yourself into J

In Europe, Germany especially from what I’ve been seeing and hearing in travelling, there is a high emphasis on recycling and taking care of our planet. Germany is actually a very very clean place. You don’t see a lot of litter about, trash cans are cleared out frequently, and you can tell that it is very well maintained. The cleanliness aside, Germany is very focused on sustainability and what is best for our planet and environment. A perfect example of this is the windmills, solar panel farms, and recycling program. We recycle EVERYTHING. Just about the only bits that go into the trash are food waste and Kleenex/dirty paper towels (rare in our house) and such. There isn’t a lot that actually goes in to the trash and subsequently the trash only gets picked up twice a month! Think about that for a minute. We have a total of 5 recycling bins (that’s what our family uses the most of, some families can have upwards of 7 or more if need be) and we run to our sort center every couple weeks. It’s been a real good lesson in learning what we may be don’t need to waste and where we can do better in our own home with re-usable goods.

Europe is very much a family friendly, outside adventure style country. There are a lot of walking areas, parks and pools for full families are in an abundance, and everyone, in Germany in particular, have really loved the kids. There is always some sort of a hike, cruise, bike, athletic event going on in the good weather and even if there isn’t something going on, there are plenty of places that you can explore outdoors for yourself. I’ve been really surprised at not only how many there are, but how many are actually family friendly and have activities for old and young alike. We’ve found so many options that we can do with the kids, where they can also be kids instead of being told to shush all the time.

Something else that Germany in particular is famous for is its festivals. There is a festival of some sort always going on it seems, and they celebrate everything from the German American partnerships, to religious holidays, to random just because days, to Octoberfest (in September). The festivals are great ways to jump right in to their culture as food and alcohol are a big part of life out here (not the only part, just a big one). The festivals will be anything from a little food festival with different vendors, to full on carnivals with rides, food, drinks, and music. It all depends, and it is quite a lot. We’ve loved the couple that we have attended and look forward to going to many over the next couple years.

I know there are so many other bits that I want to touch on, but I think I’ll have to save those for another post! In our short 6 months here, we’ve already managed to do so much, and we still have so much more that we want to do.