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!

The Big Summer Recap

It has just been flat too long since I last posted. We have traveled a lot, and, obviously, I have written but little. While part of me hates to skip so many of the colorful and delicious details, Tex suggested writing a quick recap of our recent trips to catch myself up. So here goes.

Southern Italy—February

We hit the “trullis” of Alberobello, the white-washed walls of Ostuni, some interesting seafood in Monopoli, a pretty sea-side sunrise in Giovinazzo, and the ruins of Pompeii. Oh, and Tex learned to drive like a true Italian (in a tiny Fiat).

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Trulli houses

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Mt. Vesuvius in the background

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Pompeii

Prague—March

This was a wonderful trip over spring break with Tex’s sibs. We visited the Clementinum library where we got the best view of the city, tramped across the Charles Bridge, and took a fancy dinner cruise along the Vltava River. And most importantly, we ate as many trdelniks as our poor tummies could possibly fit.

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Stunning Prague skyline

The Netherlands—April

I keep telling everyone that this was my favorite place yet. We walked through the waterways and windmills of Kinderdijk and camped near Delft, where we shopped for the iconic blue and white dishes, followed by a day of biking through the rainbow fields of tulips. The last day, we headed down through Belgium for a stop at the Waterloo battlefield.

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Kinderdijk windmills

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Blossoming tulips

Spain—June

I spent over a month studying “abroad” in Spain to fulfill my foreign language requirements. It was an unforgettable experience of Spanish culture. Not only did I discover my favorite Spanish dish, pisto con huevo, but I saw my first (and probably only) bullfight. My class visited the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita in Cordoba, and La Rabida (where Christopher Columbus embarked on his journey to the New World). Tex came to visit for a weekend too! I showed him around Seville and took him to eat tapas in my host family’s neighborhood. We also hopped onto the train to Cadiz for a day at the beach.

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The Alcazar gardens in Seville

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Bull vs. Matador

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From the Don Quixote Trail in Toledo

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Celebrating Corpus Christi in Toledo

Rome—July

As soon as my family arrived, we all took off for an Italian adventure. To name the big sites, we saw the Colosseum and Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican. But I’m also pretty sure that we saw everything else, walking almost 12 miles on one of the days 🙂 And, we had what could have been the best pizza in my life. Another day was spent in St. Francis’s town of Assisi, where we gawked at the mystical, medieval basilica. And finally we stopped in Florence to see the Duomo and the rest of the lovely city. And I can’t forget to mention our pit-stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the middle of a torrential downpour!

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Our first glimpse of the Colosseum

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Assisi

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The Duomo

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Bonus picture: Berchtesgaden

Berlin—August

This was our latest little trip and our first time to the German capital. We visited the outstanding Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, where the Ishtar Gate of Babylon has been reconstructed. And we also made a stop at Checkpoint Charlie, before going out for… Korean BBQ. Ha!

I can hardly bear not sharing more stories and photos from each of these adventures. But for now, it will have to do.

We send our love to our families and friends back home. Thanks for reading!