Soooooooo, we made it to Munich! And Munich happens to be fecking adorable! It’s taken me almost four weeks, but I’ve finally found the Germany from the postcards! It comes complete with family-friendly beer gardens, picturesque little A-frame houses with views to the Alps, lusciously verdant riverside pathways, and R’s sister’s gorgeous little family. Munich’s the first place I’ve discovered where I’ve had even the hint of the thought, ‘I could live here.’ Not that I intend to, but I’m glad I got here, I’m glad R let me share in this little adventure.
Now, I’m well aware that I have a habit of talking more about relationships and revelations and universal concepts rather than giving satisfying traveler updates… And I barely take pictures… So the following short exploration of my experience of German culture is aimed at answering the question that people are understandably asking me – ‘So, how’s Germany?’ I claim absolutely no authority other than my own experience. I haven’t researched any of these things and, as they always say in the fine-print ‘Experiences may vary.’
Without any further ado, may I present you with ‘German Culture in 6 Handy Dots Points.’
1. – Friendly Little Germans. –
The general consensus amongst the majority of the Germans I’ve spoken to is that Germans aren’t that friendly. Even though they’re talking about their own people! What the?! Every German I’ve spoken to who’s been to Australia says that Australians are friendlier than Germans. Locals look at me like I’m a bit special when I delightedly exclaim ‘Every German I meet is really friendly!’ Ha! I enjoy messing with the status quo… And it’s actually true! The vast, vast majority of locals I’ve had interactions with have been incredibly friendly or, at the very least, very helpful!
2. – Bread. (And cheese.) –
Germans are very proud of their bread. According to them, nowhere else, and especially not Australia, does good bread. I have managed to ascertain that the general consensus on what constitutes ‘Good bread’ involves loaves of such weight and density that you could build houses with them. As for the claim that Australia has no ‘Good bread’, I call ‘Bullshit’ – I was quite regularly tormented with bricks masquerading as bread in my childhood. The average German visitor to Australia obviously just doesn’t venture into the hippy bread lines – some of those raw, sprouted, fermented, ancient grain type monstrosities optimistically labelled ‘Bread’ would give any hardcore German pumpernickel a run for its money! (As an aside, I saw packages of ‘Party Pumpernickel’ in the supermarket the other day… And it made me giggle. Party pumpernickel! Paaaarrty PUMPERNICKEL! Ha!) Cheese is also considered of utmost importance. Bread and cheese (and sausage) is pretty much considered a meal. Being a vegan celiac in Germany is probably not the best way to make friends.
3. – Public transport. –
Apart from being surprisingly expensive, and not air-conditioned, German public transport within the cities is pretty damn comprehensive. For the two weeks I was in Berlin, I never waited more than 12 minutes for a train, and that was at almost midnight. During the majority of the day, on the main inner city lines, there was a train every 6 minutes. I can see why so many people don’t have their own cars – public transport and/or a bicycle is so much more convenient. (On the subject of bicycles – There are a heap of them, and it’s not a legal requirement to wear helmets, so almost no one does. I’ll leave you to your own conclusions about that.)
4. – Language. –
It’s true, almost everyone here speaks at least some English. Heaps of them apologise for their perceived lack of fluency, but they’re all better at English than they think they are. My inferiority complex at not being able to speak the mother tongue of the land I’m in has abated a fair bit… But I’m still really aware and appreciative of the extra effort that has to go into any conversation in order for me to be included in it. I’m also still REALLY glad that my mother tongue is English! We saw a family at the train-station this morning who didn’t speak German or English and it made me give up a little prayer of thanks for the fact that English is currently such a dominant global language. Even simple things like the train announcements being given in both German and English make a world of difference, even if I’m not actually listening to the announcements, it just makes things feel easier.
I keep discovering German words that English has stolen and, like a proud parent, being amused at our bastard, yet incredibly creative language child. ‘Kitsch’ and ‘Kaput’ are two examples that spring to mind. My current favourite German word is ‘Schmetterling’, which means ‘Butterfly’… And, for some illogical reason, I have decided it’s very amusing when growled menacingly under one’s breath. No, I don’t know why either. Scccccchhhhmettttterling!!
5. – Recycling. –
Unlike the majority of Australia, Germany still offers a refund on bottles returned. And it’s a decent one – 25 euro cents per bottle. (At today’s less than fun exchange rate – 37 Australian cents.) This makes collecting bottles from rubbish bins a fairly lucrative exercise. (Especially considering the fact you can buy a kebab for two and a half euros – ten bottles returned and Bob’s your uncle!) I’m still getting my head around seeing perfectly normally dressed people picking through rubbish bins! While I’m never going to join the rubbish picker brigade, the recycling refund is something I definitely support. Australia used to have a much wider scheme, (Back in the late 80s at least!) we’re a bit remedial in this area at the moment! (We are, however, going fantastically in the ‘Not having to pay to use the toilet’ stakes! It cost a whole euro to use the toilet at the train station the other day! Seventy cents at the truck-stop on the way from Berlin, and 50 cents today at the park! WTF Germany?! Whatever happened to being able to pee for free?!)
6. – History. –
Everywhere I go, I get history lessons. Germans know their history, way more than I know Australia’s! My version of an introduction in Australia would be something along the lines of ‘This is where you get good food. That’s where you’ll find the beach. The end.’ I’d pretty much skip the history of a place altogether… But not the Germans, oh no, no, no! I actually find it fascinating to imagine people going about their daily business in the very same market square that I happen to be standing in… 800 or so years earlier. I have an unexpected yearning to actually attend mass at one of the medieval churches dotted around the place – The knowing that people have been worshiping, following their own paths to spiritual connection, within the same walls for centuries draws me to sit longer in these hallowed halls.
On the flip-side, staying in Berlin and eating lunch at a restaurant that had bullet holes in the wall, and standing in places where people were herded onto trains for journeys that would end in their gruesome deaths is sobering. To know, without a fraction of a doubt, that the city I’m standing in has seen widespread terror, death and destruction… And well within living memory… It feels… Heavier. Humanity feels heavy in those places for me. I know Australia is not utopia or wonderland, and that we have our share of bloody enough history, but the weight of it isn’t the same… And I’m glad of it.
There are a heap of other things I’ve noticed, but none of them make the list right now. Overall, as I said on my first night here… We’re the same. (Revelation of the year right?) Apart from the language, and getting used to having an actual winter, if I was somehow mysteriously dropped in Germany and told I couldn’t leave, the adjustment wouldn’t be too extreme… Having said that, I’m still passionately in love with my home country of Australia… And evermore grateful that I have it to return to. But Germany, you’re pretty cute and I’m glad I’m visiting…
Consider yourself updated on my ‘touristik’ adventures. (Yup, ‘touristik’. Yes, I know it’s not technically English… I don’t think they know that here though! Shhhhhh!)