10 Biggest Surprises About Germany
Before arriving in Berlin we actually knew very little about Germany. Our entire decision to take our 3 month break in the country came after spending just one day (a 14 hour layover) in Frankfurt this past Spring. Berlin itself was never even a part of our original travel plans, but as we began to look for a city to call home for a bit it kept coming up. Everyone we met went on and on about how amazing it was so after looking at the affordable rents we decided to give it a shot. Little did we know that we would fall so deeply in love with Berlin as a city and Germany as a country.
Luckily since we went into the situation with very little knowledge about the culture, people and landscape it was easy to be surprised everyday by a new discovery. Here are just a few of our biggest surprises from Germany:
10. Germans recycle with a vengeance
The attention paid to recycling in Germany puts the US to shame. Even at a high level the efforts being made to make the country as ‘green’ as possible is quite impressive. To start with in most people’s homes you’ll find a 4-5 can system that breaks the garbage into the following categories: biological waste, paper, plastic, glass and ‘everything else’. Unlike in the States where only the ‘hippies’ give recycling that much attention, pretty much everyone in Germany makes sure their trash is properly sorted. In addition to the effort made on the part of the citizens, Germany takes a great approach to corporate waste management called ‘polluter pays’. This basically means that it is the responsibility of the company who provides the product or packaging, not the government, to ensure that the items are properly disposed of after use. Add to that the fact that you can take your used glass and plastic bottles to the supermarket where a reverse vending machine of sorts will process the bottles and then spit out a coupon that can be redeemed at the checkout counter. I think they have a pretty good system!
9. Germany is REALLY green
Literally everywhere you turn there seems to be a park or green space in Germany. In Berlin alone there are more than 2,500 parks/gardens covering more than 1/5 of the city in trees! The great thing about all of these parks is that, at least in Berlin, it means that pretty much everyone has a park within 2-3 block of their house.
While it’s a shame that for about 5 months a year it’s a little too dreary to really take advantage of them you can bet your ass the Germans milk the good weather for all it’s worth. On any given day you can see children playing, cyclists taking advantage of the paths that connect the city, couples relaxing on blankets or groups of friends sharing lunch and some beers. We were lucky and had one of the largest parks in the city just down the street, Volkspark Friedrichshain. Adam took full advantage of the space and did almost all of his running there. Then on the weekends our favorite place to go was Mauer Park. On Sundays the park would be pulsing with energy and laughter thanks to the amazing flea market, spattering of musicians and, of course, Bear Pit Karaoke.
8. There are laws (that people actually follow) about being quiet!
It’s no secret that I hate ‘people noise’. I have never minded the sounds of a city, but people yelling or blasting their music drives me up a wall. Well, here in Germany there are actual laws about being too loud and, even more, people follow them! Apparently in many German cities a quiet environment is taken so seriously that politicians even address the ‘issue’ in stump speeches and debates. There is ‘whispering asphalt’, ‘Nachtruhe’ (night silence) and laws dictating when construction or loud yard work can be done (NEVER on Sundays). Even in situations where no laws are being broken people will actually shush each other. Like the one day we were on the S-Bahn and these teenage girls were being so loud and obnoxious and this old woman actually reprimanded them.
7. German Bakeries
This surprise may be something that is unique to us, but we never knew Germany was known for its bakeries. I had always assumed France had corned that market and that the Germans focused on brats and sauerkraut (which they also do, and they are also delicious!).
We first learned about ‘German Bakeries’ while traveling through India and were perplexed. But sure enough, when we got to Germany there is a bakery on EVERY corner serving the most delicious breads and sweets. Adam’s favorite is the poppy seed danish.
6. Germans have the most well behaved dogs on the planet!
When it comes time for us to finally get a dog I want a German dog. Not necessarily a German breed but one that has been trained in Germany. Never in my life have I seen dogs that can move with their owners throughout the city, rarely on leashes, acting perfectly. They don’t bark, they never stray and they couldn’t seem to care less about other dogs or people. Maybe there is a German doggie boarding school in San Diego.
5. I like beer
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think it will be my first drink of choice, but the beers in Germany have shown me that there are some varieties I actually like. My whole life I have hated the stuff and avoided it at all costs. But the ‘dark beer’ and the fruity varieties are a welcome change to the beers I had tried at home. Adam said it best when he remarked “It’s not that you don’t like beer, you apparently just don’t like shitty American beer”.
4. Their English is better than yours
EVERYONE in Berlin speaks English (along with 2-3 other languages) so as a result a lot of expats that move to the city never pick up German. We took a 4 week intensive German course (at SprachSalon) and it was nearly impossible for us to practice outside of class. Even in smaller towns like Weimar, where most people say they don’t speak English, they almost always do. We found that without fail every person we met thought their English was ‘nicht so gut’ but it was often 100x’s better than what they were willing to give themselves credit for. Plus everyone has been SUPER friendly and have humored us as we have tried to practice our pathetic attempts at their language.
3. There are memorials to the ‘Murdered Jews’ in almost every city we visited
Before coming to Germany I had assumed that the Holocaust would be something that would be a bit of a taboo subject and not often discussed. But to my surprise there were monuments, memorials or museums in nearly every city we visited devoted to the subject. The most famous of course being the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Our surprise was not that they existed but rather the fact that they were so prominently displayed and encouraged as important stops on visitors’ itineraries.
2 You can drink EVERYWHERE
It is so nice to be able to sit in the park on a sunny afternoon and enjoy a nice beer or sip on a glass of wine. In the mood for a movie? No problem you can drink in the theaters as well! And the best part is everyone acts like adults. And, with the exceptions of late weekend nights which is true in any big city, you never have to deal with drunk idiots! It’s like a glimpse into how wonderful the US could be if everyone could grow up and be responsible. I’m talking to you San Diego…I want to drink on the beach!
1. We LOVE Germany (especially Berlin)!
If the winters weren’t so miserable I think I’d be safe in saying that Adam and I would be moving to Germany. While we didnt get the chance to explore as much of the country as we would have liked, everything we saw we loved. Weimar and Eisenach were charming and quaint, Liepzig was filled with amazing music, Frankfurt was the model of a clean efficient city and Berlin…oh what can we say about Berlin?
Berlin has a soul like we’ve never seen before in a city. The art, music, energy & variety fills you with the desire to take it all in. Money doesnt drive Berlin. Everywhere you turn there is free music or art and we took advantage of it all. We definitely plan to return to Germany to explore the other regions we had to skip, but we also know that we will find ourselves back in Berlin one day!