10 things I love about Germany
South African writer Charlotte Otter writes about what she loves most about living in Germany, which includes walking, the importance of family, and holidays.
This has been brewing for some time, and will be followed shortly by 10 Things I Find Weird About Germany. I have lived here on and off for seven years now, can speak a passable version of German in which I totally ignore the grammatical ramifications of gender. I have many friendships that are conducted only in German, and can go to a dinner-party and have grown-up conversation all night long, only occasionally having to say, “What’s that thing? You know to stop the babies? Abortion? No. Yes, yes, contraception, that’s it.” I think this qualifies me as an expert sociologist.
So here are the things I love:
Last week, two friends and I took our combined gang of nine children for a walk in the Pfalz. We parked towards the top of a hill and walked at a slowish pace through beautiful trees, now and again glimpsing the blue distance of Alsace Lorraine. The bigger children ran ahead, and the smaller ones lingered, picked up stones and plucked wildflowers. We passed many happy hikers: very sporty ones kitted out in full regalia, some kids in lederhosen and gingham scarves (I kid you not: they looked adorable), and large gangs of pensioners (known as the Renntner Safari). It was safe, beautiful and fun. Our walk led us to a …
Germany, Berchtesgaden: Kühroint Hütte: So you've been hiking 10 km through the mountains.. what do you find? Why a beer garden at Kühroint Hütte of course!
When you walk in the forest or up a mountain in Germany, it is seldom necessary to pack a picnic because your walk will automatically end at a Huette (hut), where you can purchase cheap and delicious food. I once went for a long autumn walk with a friend in the Black Forest, where we were surprised by some unseasonable snow. We turned a corner and there was a warm and cosy Huette, selling amongst other things, hot chocolate and large hunks of Black Forest …
The best baked cheesecakes in the world are made all over Germany, including right here in our little dorf. Sometimes I ponder my Nigella cookbooks and consider whether I should get round to learning how to make a cheesecake. Then I think, why bother, I could just stroll to the nearest bakery and buy myself an enormous slice of tender, crumbly, blandly sweet, cheesy-but-not-too-cheesy cheesecake. The best place however to eat cheesecake, or any cake for that matter, is in a German …
4. Coffee shop
For the amazing range of cakes, obviously, but also for the coffee – dark, rich, aromatic – and the quaintness. Once you get used to it, you start to find the languid service very relaxing. Languidness extends to the customer too: if you wanted to, you could order a mineral water and sit for four hours reading your book. No-one moves you on, no-one even looks at you, and when you want to pay, you usually have to track the waitperson down to some small dark nook where s/he’s texting/reading/flirting with the chef. Then the onus is on you to give him or her a …
5. Very small tip
Having come from lands where 10 to 15 percent is standard, even if the service is execrable, it is gratifying to be allowed to hand out very small tips for very small service. It is expected that you round up a bill of €3.70 to €4, or €24 to €25. Having ignored you for four hours, the waitperson will make a …
6. Very friendly farewell
On your arrival in shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, you have to accept that you will be roundly ignored. Once you learn that this is not personal (and certainly not that they can sniff you are foreign and want to ignore you), but realise that it is a game and short of lying in someone’s path so that they trip over you, you have to make yourself noticed. The opposite is true when you leave any establishment: you will be wished a nice evening, a good night’s sleep, a pleasant weekend, greetings are sent to your spouse and children – for there is nothing Germans love more than …
Family and children are very important in German society. The birth-rate is dropping here for reasons I explain elsewhere so kids get a lot of attention. When Ollie was a newborn in a pram I couldn’t get from home to kindergarten without being stopped by an assortment of grannies and neighbours who wanted to admire him, discuss his feeding and sleeping habits in detail and mention that he had a runny nose and perhaps his feet were cold. Children are welcomed and their idiosyncrasies are expected. They are allowed to be children and are not required to be strange little over-polite mini-adults. This means they can sometimes be hard to tolerate, but I like a society that welcomes childishness. There is also enormous kindness to children: when I go into town with my kids, I never have to worry about giving them a snack first because I know we will come out from the grocer’s with a piece of fruit she’s given them, from the bioladen with an organic biscuit and from the butcher’s with a lovely piece of …
I don’t go for over-processed meat much, but if it’s your thing, you can get scarily white or uniformly pink sausages that probably taste delicious. What I love is thin slices of air-dried Black Forest ham, similar to the prosciutto or Serrano that you can get on the rest of the …
So one of the reasons I love is Germany is that it is close to great places like France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Alsace Lorraine is about an hour’s drive away and I regularly have a shopping day to Strasbourg with my girlfriends. On the way home we stop at an enormous French supermarket, and stock up on French essentials: mussels, yogurt, the beautiful Alsatian sparkling wine called cremant, saucisse, gherkins, mustard and mayo. All delicious, and redolent of wonderful …
One of the best things about living in Germany is this: 30 working days’ leave. Shall I repeat that for my American friends? 30 DAYS! A few years ago, Thomas had the choice between a great job in Germany and a great job in the US. His criteria were different, but it was the German holidays that swung it for me. This means we can have a decent holiday back in South Africa once a year and if we’re lucky a European vacance too. It also means parents can take time off just to spend at home, or attend a critical kindergarten function without getting funny looks at work. Germans believe holidays are essential, that without them, workers cannot do their jobs properly. And if you don’t take your yearly leave, you are regarded as slightly odd. So we do our best to comply.
[ Expatica published Charlotte Otter's '10 Things I Find Weird About Germany' on 7 January 2011.]
'Charlotte Otter is a South African freelance writer and apprentice novelist who has lived in Germany for 12 years. She has written a crime novel set in her homeland and has plans for a series. Charlotte blogs about writing, reading and living in Germany at Charlotte's Web (www.charlotteotter.wordpress.com)'
Photo credits: Michael Wifall; Mohamed Yahya
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