We have officially less than a year left of living in Germany, which has me thinking of all the fun we’ve had over the past two years. I wanted to compile some ideas, especially for other military families who are looking to make the most of their time in Germany.
I have heard people say they love living here, and I’ve heard people say they hate it. It really is a choice we have to make and an attitude we choose to have. Hopefully, we choose to take advantage of the many unique opportunities, and to approach the whole thing as one big learning experience. Sometimes this choice is hard, because we want our American comforts and familiar faces (and language!). But when I take in the beauty around me and appreciate the differences of culture, I realize how much I’ll miss this place one day.
Here are a few practical tips for anyone looking to bloom where they’re planted in Germany:
Learn to live seasonally, as the Germans do.
- Eat the bakery goods that only roll around once a year. Currently, we’ve been in “Zwetschgen” season–plums! So the bakeries are full of different pastry treats that boast plums as their star ingredient. But before you know it, they’ll be gone! So you eat them while they are available. Same goes for Fasching donuts in January or February.
- Cook with seasonal fruits and veggies. You can either choose to be frustrated by the lack of certain foods at certain times of the year, or you can experiment and have fun with the wonderfully fresh foods that are available. For the most part, German grocers have everything you need, but I have occasionally had a difficult time finding things like fresh beets, celery, sweet corn, and kale. Yes, the commissary probably has these things. But I think it’s more enjoyable to cook with the seasonally unique items, when I can. For instance, last year I learned that hokkaido pumpkins (a fall staple in German grocery stores) are delicious and don’t have to be peeled at all!
- Have fun at all the festivals! Germans have a festival for everything, and each season is celebrated in its own way. We have attended a local Fasching parade, where the costumes and floats are extravagant; multiple Volksfests in different towns, which can be as simple as a row of food stands or as entertaining as a state fair; the large pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg; and of course, several Christmas markets, which dazzle with their twinkling lights and magical aromas (I will be posting in more detail about the Christmas markets later this fall). There are also Easter markets and Oktoberfest. These all make for fun, memorable experiences.
- Bring a good coat and warm boots. Or be prepared to buy them as winter approaches. Everyone’s happier when their toes aren’t freezing, right? We think it’s so funny that the Germans keep wearing their jackets through the summer…That is only sometimes necessary. Ha!
Become a tour guide (figuratively).
- Get comfortable with public transportation. At first, it is definitely uncomfortable. But if you make yourself do it a few times soon after you arrive, it will become an old trick and you’ll love how easy it is. It took me a long time to figure out how to get the cheapest tickets from the kiosk at the train station… So I usually just went up to the counter, where the clerk could help me get exactly what I wanted.
- Find your favorite local shops. Whatever you are interested in, there is probably a shop nearby for you. I have loved perusing a fabric shop just down the street, a map shop, a basket shop (where the man is often making baskets by hand!), a trachten shop (where you can discover all the German traditional clothes), and a few antique warehouses.
- Carry Euros on your person, always. Germans use actual money (coins included!) much more than we do in America. Most places do take certain credit cards. But a few do not. And almost everyone pays in cash for their bakery goodies and gelato. Be prepared for those spontaneous stops!
- Learn the basics of the German language. I wish that I had put more effort into this one. But even a little effort will go a long way. Spend an afternoon learning how to pronounce different letters and letter combinations. That way, you can order from a menu, or at least try. From my frequent grocery trips, I have learned the basic numbers and food names, which is quite helpful. Also, don’t be discouraged when the lady behind the bakery counter looks at you thoroughly confused. It happens to all of us. The more language you know, the easier it will be to navigate various situations, driving included.
- Create a local tour itinerary. This might sound odd, but personally it has really helped me feel like I belonged (at least, temporarily) in this foreign country. Make a list of all your favorite places in the area. For Tex and I, we have a few different lists–one of places within easy driving distance, one of all our favorite spots in our favorite Bavarian town, and one with slightly more distant places for day-trips. These lists include everything from castle ruins and monasteries, to scenic overlooks and the best schnitzel restaurant. Also, I often include some of my favorite shops, discussed above. Now, what to do with your itinerary is totally up to you. I have enjoyed learning some of the details about the different places and taking our various guests on tours. It has been fun to feel like the expert and to experience “old” things anew with first-time visitors. These lists also provide excellent date night (or friend date) inspiration!
Spend time outside and soak in the natural beauty.
- Go on daily walks. There’s a chicken farm that we love walking to on warm evenings. There’s a forest path just around the corner. There’s currently a flock of sheep grazing in the pasture down the road. These are the kinds of things you find on casual walks about the neighborhood. What’s not to enjoy?!
- Forage for berries and bouquets. I don’t even have kids, and love doing this! I think it would be even more fun with a crew of youngsters. Throughout summer months, wildflowers are plentiful; this was the year of poppies! Even in the fall and winter though, you can get creative with little bush branches and things. Obviously, you have to be more careful picking berries… But we did our research, and have collected wild blackberries, cherries, and tiny plums. Note the word “wild”–you don’t want to be picking things out of people’s gardens! If you don’t feel comfortable picking wild ones, go to a local berry farm in the summer; it’s a super cheap and fun way to stock up on strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries.
- Take exploratory bike rides. This has been our very favorite way of experiencing the German countryside. Germans take their bike trails seriously–there are so many! Not only is it good exercise with all the hills, but it is also a sure way of discovering rural surprises. Our longest ride yet was 21 miles of terrain we mostly had never seen.