This seems cliche, but it really seems like it was yesterday when I landed in Germany, lugged my giant suitcases on the S-Bahn, and began my journey. These days, weeks, and months have gone by so fast that I am desperately trying to avoid thinking about how quickly the coming days weeks and moths will go by. But, now that I am about halfway done, I think it is a good time to do a recap of what life in Germany has been like so far.
This is my third time in Germany, and my second time in Berlin, but actually living here has opened a window (literally) into the various minutiae of German life and culture that traveling here never could. So, here are some of my reflections on what’s different, what’s the same, and what is really just strange.
German stereotypes that are absolutely true: They really, really love beer.
Germany and beer are probably synonymous to most people who have never visited, but to those who have, it is has to be unilaterally confirmed. There is not a single hour of any day where there is not a German drinking a beer, somewhere. My 8am commute to school? German man drinking a Pilsner in a cafe with breakfast. Going home for lunch at 12:30? The same. After my night class gets out at 7:30? No doubt.
This obviously is a stark contrast to the American alcohol culture that I am used to, but to them I don’t even think they would qualify beer as alcohol culture, just regular culture. In fact, beer is so deeply intertwined with German culture and German identity that beer has a separately gendered article from all other alcohol. Wine and spirits are gendered feminine (die Rotwein) but beer is grouped in with food staples like bread (das Brot; das Bier).
German stereotypes that are absolutely false: Nobody wears Lederhosen.
A wildly common misconception that I have learned in my time here is that many people think German culture is monolithic; that everyone has a pair of lederhosen or a dirndl in their closets ready to break out and bring to big beer halls at a moments notice. That picture of the traditional Alpine farmer from the Ricola commercials is exactly that: Alpine. That type of German culture is really contained to Southern Germany and the State of Bavaria, and only translates North as an export of Southern culture. Northern Germans do not claim it as their own. Another way to understand it is with its parallels to American cultural differences. People in Boston, New York, or Philadelphia would get gawks on the street if they walked around in cowboy hats and cowboy boots, but if you did so in Oklahoma City or Cody, Wyoming, nobody would think twice. Despite this; many non-Americans think Americans are all lasso-touting cowboys (or fat, dumb, and lazy–but that is a separate issue).
Outside of the cultural stereotypes, there is a whole swath of things that come with living in a Germany that I never would have even thought of.
First, some differences in basic hygiene activities:
- Germans are very particular about their bathrooms. When you take a shower, you have to open a window, no matter the weather. If you don’t, you have committed a capital offense punishable by deportation. (Obviously kidding, but they really make it seem like that!). It is really hard to get used to being freezing cold on purpose every time you step out of the shower.
- Germans, for the most part, do not own dryers. If you are washing your clothes, you are hanging them on the drying rack for a day or so. No more burying your face in a warm laundry load fresh out of the dryer. Instead, its a constant battle with the first law of thermodynamics and the general temperature of where the drying rack is, waiting so very impatiently for the clothes to dry.
Also, some differences in how you feed yourself:
- I am truly, truly blessed to be living in a place like Berlin that has the diversity in cuisine that it does. Furthermore, I am truly blessed to be living in a place like Berlin where I can feed myself as cheaply as I do. Full, hearty, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners can all be purchased for less than five euro. However, there are some differences, especially as Berlin is an entirely cash-based place. If you do not have any cash, you are not eating–simple as that. Rarely any food places have card machines, and even if they do they will make you feel terrible for having them bringing it out. I have visited multiple other European countries while I have been here, and none of them are as cash-based as Germany. It is wildly frustrating when you’re out of cash late at night and the trustable ATMs are all closed, but in theory, it’s a little better for keeping track of your finances.
- German kitchens tend to be very traditional. When I say “traditional,” I mean that the only guarantees are a stove, oven, and sink. Microwaves, toasters, and dishwashers should be considered luxuries. Not having a microwave has certainly made me a better cook, and not having a dishwasher has certainly made me a better cleaner.
All in all, I am thankful for all these differences, as it has made me step out of my comfort zone much more than I would have had to somewhere else. Halfway through, I think I am pretty acclimated. I certainly miss long showers, microwaves, and paying with card, but it really has started to feel like home here. After a weekend away in Paris, I got off the S-Bahn and saw the Brandenburg Gate all lit up and breathed the same sigh of comfort and relief I do when I see the Boston Skyline at home or City Hall at school. After a month and a half of adjusting, there is one thing I think I can say with certainty: Ich bin ein Berliner.