A Military Wife’s Guide to Enjoying Germany

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.

I must admit that the fall leaves are gorgeous around here.
  • 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.
One of the big Christmas markets in Dresden
  • 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!
This is what a German winter looks like…

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.
Antique-shopping is so fun here!
  • 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!
One of the many places where we pay in coins– a 500-year-old sausage kitchen.
  • 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!
Favorite castle with a view

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.

Bavaria in Bloom

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Branches heavy with lilac pour over fences, little white blossoming trees dot the edge of the forest, and every imaginable shade of green covers the rolling hills. The trees in Bavaria in the spring are stunning. This is also the season of bright yellow fields of rape flower (from whose seed canola oil is made) and of fleecy lambs grazing in the valleys.

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Being forced to stay home so much in the past couple of months has also forced me to more deeply appreciate the “common” things around me… Though, in Texas, I would never have called any of these things common. Last weekend, we biked to a nearby dairy, and today I foraged for blossoms in the forest. How very common.

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The truth is– Tex and I often talk of how much we will miss these outings, the traditions, and this scenery when we do move back. We are very thankful for the opportunities we have while we are here. May we and you make the most of where the Lord has us today. Even in the common moments and places, may we be able to see the beauty which is the handiwork of our good and perfect God.

A German Easter Tradition

Why hello! I pray that y’all are healthy and smiling. And just in case you aren’t doing the latter, this post is for you.

Regular walks in the sunshine have been helping to keep me sane, during this time of social distancing. And the other day, I took off on an Easter egg hunt… But not just any Easter egg hunt.

The Germans (or at least the Bavarian Germans) have this delightful tradition of hanging Easter eggs on trees around this time of year. The trees are typically a small dead species, with buds just beginning to appear. The eggs are usually colorful plastic, often patterned and occasionally hand-painted.

I think this is such a lovely way to celebrate Easter and Christ’s resurrection. It’s a tradition that I have begun this year, and hope to continue once we are back in the U.S. I ordered my eggs from Amazon.de along with some colorful paint pens and went to work!

Penny-Pinching in Strasbourg

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In October, we took a little camping trip over to the Black Forest and spent a day on the other side of the border in Strasbourg, France. I expected Strasbourg to be very German. And it is… But it certainly has a French feel too. Anywho, I thought I would share what we did and how we pinched a few pennies along the way.

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Crossing into Petite-France

Penny-pinching tip #1: Take your car. And take your tent. This has become one of our favorite ways to travel in Europe. We have camped in the Wachau Valley of Austria, the Netherlands, and now the Black Forest. Camping does not have to limit you to outdoor activities (though that is something we enjoy). A tent can also be your base from which to explore the bustling towns of Europe. Heck, you can still pack a nice sweater or a dress. I’ve done it. Europeans tend to pamper their campgrounds, which does annoy me sometimes, but I know a lot of people might prefer it. There are also Airbnb campsites, which is what we did this time. And we ended out spending for two nights probably half of what we would have spent on one night in a hotel. As an added bonus, you get to take in all the beauty of nature.

Additional advice: Park at park-and-rides in larger towns and cities. And then take advantage of the tram or bus system. This is usually cheaper than paying for parking in the city center… and less stressful, in my opinion.

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We happened upon this lovely church, after getting caught in the rain.

Penny-pinching tip #2: Go out for one big traditional meal, instead of three meals a day. This is a tip we also implemented in Ireland. I would especially recommend making lunch your big meal, because menus tend to be cheaper. So real question– how do you get by on one restaurant meal per day? My answer– bring snacks from home to tide you over and/or go to the grocery store and cook for yourself. On our Black Forest trip, I made these pumpkin energy balls, packed some homemade biscuits, and brought along a couple other snacks. So breakfast was covered, and the snacks pretty much got us through lunch (I must admit that they were supplemented by a few “pain au chocolats” that we picked up from a bakery as soon as we got into Strasbourg).

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Mouth-watering French pastries

The meal that we ordered that night in Strasbourg still makes me laugh. One of the must-have regional dishes is called “choucroute,” French for sauerkraut. It’s ironic because we live in Germany, the land of limitless sauerkraut, and yet on our little excursion into France, what did we order? Why, choucroute! I have never seen such a massive pile of sauerkraut. They served it warm with a few different pork cuts and potatoes. It was quite hearty and delicious.

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You might not be able to tell… but there is a huge pile of sauerkraut underneath the meat!

Alternative to PP tip #2: Street Food! This is another of my and Tex’s favorite ways to eat plenty without breaking the bank.

Penny-pinching tip #3: Be a low-maintenance traveler. This is one that I am still working on… Ahem, yes, I did ask Tex to buy us some [DELICIOUS] lemon shortbread cookies at a specialty cookie shop. But honestly, it is not very difficult to spend an entire day just wandering the streets of a lovely European town, without spending money. Soak in the architecture, even of commonplace houses. Feast your eyes upon bakery displays. Walk on into that beautiful cathedral or through that peaceful park. Be a person who can appreciate things without having the thing. I’m preaching to myself here.

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Strasbourg’s charm did not disappoint. We promptly found the cathedral, which was stunning. It actually may tie (with St. Peter’s Dom in Regensburg) for my favorite cathedral. I am so glad that we decided to wait in the long line to go inside. Entry was free! We meandered through the streets surrounding the cathedral. All kinds of signs and banners decorated one of the streets, and countless bakery windows were filled with every manner of sweet treats and breads.

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Inside the lovely cathedral

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These beautiful stained-glass windows!

Next, we decided to visit the most famous and historic part of town, Petite-France. Half-timbered houses, adorned with flower boxes in the windows, lined the edges of the canals. We strolled over cobble-stoned footbridges and gaped at the quaint beauty surrounding us.

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Half-timbered buildings and canals in Petite-France

Those are all the penny-pinching tips that I can think up right now. Hopefully, I’ll have more soon ♥