6 Things that surprised me about Germany
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
It’s been almost two months since I moved here but I’m hard-pressed to describe Berlin. The best I can come up with is that it’s full of contradictions. This might not be the most astute or surprising characterization of a city that was divided between the East and the West for decades, but here we are. Common observations by foreigners who live here mixed with a reckoning with my own biases towards Germany:
All is not organized
Perhaps the biggest preconception about Germany is that it’s hyper organized and everything runs on time. Taking a stroll in our posh neighborhood, however, reveals that even the well-to-do don’t typically keep manicured lawns. Going downtown, nobody can escape the fact that graffiti is everywhere. Everywhere. In other words, Germans are loose enough to appreciate wildflowers and see something artful in spray-painting, suggesting they may not all possess the kind of strict and stern character often portrayed in movies.
Single file sidewalks
Sidewalks and bike roads tend to be way too narrow. You simply can’t bike next to someone or pass by someone, which seems weird to me. When I ride behind a slow person on my way to work I have the option to go slow for the remainder of my journey or move over to the slippery wet grass. My colleague has a similar problem: every single day he plays a game of chicken with someone (the same person) coming from a different direction on his way to work—he claims he’s always the one staying on the path.
Okay, it’s not surprising that the country of Volkswagen and BMW has a lot of car lovers. Still, I didn’t expect that such a big city with excellent public transportation has so many showy cars. It may have to do with the neighborhood I live in, but even downtown I’ve spotted countless Porsche and Mercedes sports cars.
As a vegan-ish flexitarian myself I was happy to discover that German restaurants tend to serve vegan and vegetarian dishes. But I get the impression that most Berliners gravitate towards a diet of pork, bread, and beer. Halloumi cheese (very rubbery, very fatty) is also popular. We order HelloFresh four nights a week and, although the recipes are tasty, we typically leave out about a thousand calories in cheese and cooking cream per meal.
I’m not gonna condemn an entire nation based on a few weeks worth of observation, but I’ve witnessed several verbal exchanges that in other places would probably have led to a fight.
Example: a family tries to enter a restaurant but is physically pushed out of the way by a woman who is leaving. One of the three turns around and angrily asks Bitte? (Excuse me?) to which the woman replies, loud enough for all of us to hear, Du must mich zuerst rauslassen! (You have to let me out first!)
German pre-school initiation
Finally, what baffled us most about Germany is the way preschools operate. The way they expect parents to be involved in the “settling in phase” of three-year old kids is unusual. They want parents to wait outside the classroom while the kids get used to the daily routine. In case they freak out. This goes on for 4-6 hours per day for two weeks. Every day my husband would come home in disbelief that they made him sit there, socially distanced from other parents, for yet another day. Especially because our daughter was having a great time from day one!