On November 30, 1997 when my plane landed in Hannover, the third I’d boarded during that trip, and I gathered up my five suitcases and headed for my new home, I never really thought so far ahead as fifteen years. I knew I was here to stay and yet I never pictured myself that far into the future. Maybe it was because I had so much to learn and get used to that seeing myself much past Christmas was too overwhelming for me.
But I have learned a lot in my decade-and-a-half in Germany so let me share some of it with you. Because you never know. Maybe one day you’ll pull up roots and move to Germany too.
1. Be prepared to get asked very often from your non-Germany family and friends “Why do Germans worship David Hasselhoff so much?”. They don’t. He’s actually the subject of as much snickering in Germany as he is in the US or anywhere else. But there’s just one thing: he did have a hit song in Germany twenty-some-odd years ago. Which brings me to my next point.
2. The German public has, at times, atrocious taste in music. It blows my mind how a country that could produce Handel and Beethoven can make crap like David Hasselhoff singing I’ve Been Looking For Freedom into a chart topping hit. Or this gem:
There’s a story behind that song that would go into details you probably wouldn’t get if you don’t live here. Just suffice it to say it’s a prime example of how Germans can get fixated on some sort of amusing event and run it into the ground until it’s no longer funny. For whatever reason, novelty songs and one hit wonders can make it big in Germany, which may explain why I eschew German radio.
3. If you’re sensitive to nudity, Germany may not be the place for you to live. I wouldn’t call myself a prude but the amount of bare boobs and butts on TV alone is staggering for someone who came from the United States. Actually I don’t notice it now but fifteen years ago it took me by surprise to see a naked ass on a margarine commercial.
4. Hospitals are among the most unprivate places I’ve ever been in Germany other than a gym locker room. You’ll be in a room with two or three other patients and curtains between the beds? Not happening. Now all that aside, if I were ever truly seriously ill or injured I’d rather be in Germany than anywhere else. I fully appreciate living without any fear that illness or injury will bankrupt me. And I love my doctors.
5. At first Germans can seem humorless and stiff. Unfriendly. I have learned though that Germans have a fine sense of humor – it’s just that what they find funny differs from what most of us are used to. Once you get used to how Germans think, you can understand their humor better. You may not find it all that funny yourself but at least it won’t seem completely alien. And perhaps I’ve been lucky but I have encountered relatively few unfriendly Germans in comparison to the ones who have been perfectly pleasant. And that brings up the next point.
6. Germans take their friendships seriously. It’s true that they don’t call everyone they know their friend, and when they do, it means something. I don’t call a lot of folks in Germany my friend, but those I do I literally would trust with my life.
7. As with anything else, Germany has its good and bad sides.
- Bureaucracy and paperwork. They’ve made it into an art form.
- Lack of air conditioning although after a while you do see that it’s mostly an impractical luxury.
- Even if they are such lovers of order, Germans cannot seem to get through a grocery store without blocking up aisles and banging into you with their baskets.
- Don’t look for free drink refills. It’s a rare thing in Germany. Heck, many fast food places make you pay for packets of ketchup and mayonnaise.
- Graffiti. It’s everywhere. And not even clever stuff.
- Germans have not fully come to terms with co-existing with other races and cultures. I’ve noticed improvements over the years but there’s still a long way to go.
- What is called artisanal bread in America is just called bread in Germany because fresh bread from the bakery is a staple. It’s pretty inexpensive as well. And it’s found everywhere. I may have to drive two miles to get to a gas station but I live within a five minute walk of ten bakeries.
- Plentiful, easy-to-use public transportation. And even if we complain about Deutsche Bahn, we at least have a nationwide rail system that’s generally quite reliable. I’d rather take a train to most places in Germany than drive my car.
- German beer. Do I really need to elaborate on this?
- The orderliness of Germans. People point to this as being a somewhat undesirable trait of Germans, mostly when there’s a rule they’d like themselves to break, but orderliness ends up making things just run more smoothly in Germany, keeps things tidier and, frankly, keeps others from shitting on you with abandon.
- Germans love their animals. It’s a bit weird to see at first, but it’s not at all unusual to find someone with their dog on a leash in a department store. You’ll even see them under the tables of some pubs and cafes.
- You can find wonderful festivals and celebrations all over Germany. Whether it’s Oktoberfest, Karneval, the Weihnachtsmärkte, or assorted city and village festivals, there’s always a party somewhere, and you’re welcome to join in.
- Soccer, or as they call it, Fussball. I didn’t know a thing about soccer when I moved here but I’m a diehard fan now. And I watch a ridiculous amount of it any given week of the club season or during international tournaments.
I moved here for love and to marry my husband but I didn’t expect to fall in love with Germany as well. And just like the person you love, you know their faults and strengths and become protective of them. And that’s how I feel about Germany after all these years. It drives me mad sometimes or makes me angry but I find myself defending Germany from those who may not know or understand it. And I’m able to see and appreciate the sometime subtle things that make it a wonderful place to live.