There’s so much to love being here. This is my fourth visit to Germany, to Regensburg a city that I have grown to love. It’s Day #9 and I wanted to put down some thoughts as I’ve been thinking about them-
One of the reasons that I love being in Germany is being able to pass the bulk of the day to day responsibilities on my husband. I don’t speak the language so can get away with pretty much everything. I don’t ever go to the bank to get cash or figure out which bus or train to take. I purchase bread, coffee, apricots, Playmobil and ice cream. Anything more complicated is beyond me.
Stores have plenty of help and clerks are friendly. Unlike Paris. A city that I would be happy to never return to again. A resolution based on the fact that everyone I met there for a week in June three years ago was incredibly, unforgettably, rude…even when I was speaking French. Never again. This stereotype, sadly, was one I found true.
Euros are lovely and completely unlike dollars. Having American dollars in hand is a great way for me to go shopping because I hate parting with them. It has something to do with working for them and thinking twice about purchases. But it doesn’t work that way with Euros. Euros are like play money; so big and beautiful, they don’t seem real. And the coins are small and charming. I am reminded of being able to buy a cappuccino in Florence for a mille lire, with just one coin and feeling brilliant and savvy as I did so. Somehow using Euros is like that.
Is it in part because tax is included? Another nicety that makes it easy to be here and understand exactly what you need to pay for an item, especially if you don’t speak the language. The shoes I like (one of the pairs anyway) are 109 Euros so that’s all I’d hand to the clerk if I were to buy them. If, I said.
Euros can also feel lovely because some things are incredibly cheap here. Little rolls and bretzel (pretzel) are 70 cents and they’re not proof-and-bake. Homemade and delicious. A 1 hour Thai massage – a good one at that- for 30 Euros. A slice of the best cake you’ll ever have is maybe 3 dollars. Like the bread, cake slices are everywhere and very, very good. More on this coming.
Speaking of food, Haribo (the gummy bear folks) makes mini bags of their gummy bears and for some reason, they are often given out at restaurants. Beer gardens too. Keep kids happy and slightly sugared? Why not? I say. It’s not bedtime yet.
Kids have it really good in other ways here too. I often see children by themselves. On city streets, no less. You know, the place where “anything could happen”. And I love it. A little boy (maybe 8?) carries his “Mein Buch is Da! Pustet.de” purchase out of the bookstore, grabs his scooter across the street and pushes off. With nary a parent in sight. This is another one of my loves with being here. The independence of the children and the utter lack of helicopter parents.
In Germany I can be anonymous…even if I am hovering on the playground taking pictures. Most of the time people speak to me initially in German and when I fumble my way through the money, they immediately get my limitations. I don’t mind. When you’re taking a break, going on vacation, it’s refreshing to not have to engage anyone in conversation. Although sometimes I want to.
But it’s better that I don’t know German when the woman next to me lights up her third cigarette in 20 minutes. Dirty looks speak volumes. The amount of smoking here is akin to an episode of Mad Men. Everyone, all the time, seemingly as a second occupation, is smoking.
But some things here are similar. I searched for a mailbox for 2 days. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a mailman, notable for his bright yellow bike and rain gear, and consider for a moment flagging him down and handing my postcards to him. Maybe saying “bitte?” as a way to ingratiate myself to him. It wouldn’t have worked, or so I tell myself. Germans are very systematic. (You should have seen the city office where we registered our daughter so she could one day get a German passport!)
Mainly, though, the differences stand out. The utter whiteness of everyone I see. Easily 85% of the people I see on a daily basis are white, or look white. And this, my husband, says is an improvement over what it was when he was growing up. Regensburg is more diverse than Heidelberg is. Everyone in Heidelberg is not only white but also thin and unbelievably beautiful. At least in Regensburg I see some difference. But I’ve still never seen two women holding hands or anyone who even appears to be gender non-conforming. Living a different life other than the “norm” here would be very lonely.
Dogs in department stores, mainly small ones, are very European in general. I loved when I landed in Italy for the first time in 1995. Dogs aren’t relegated to incessant barking in hot cars (nowhere to park here anyway!) but leashed and brought right into a store, even a grocery store, as if they had some hard-earned cash of their own to spend.
Speaking of which, work is left behind here, when the day ends. Other than myself, I haven’t see anyone on a laptop working outside. Wireless at cafes is nonexistent so that may be part of the reason. But everyone other than Americans have a clearer life/work boundaries. Taking your computer on vacation? Unimaginable. Vacation is intended to get away from work. And Germans, like other Europeans, actually take vacations. They take the weekend off. It’s a lovely reinforcement of work/life balance.
Can anyone be upset when they are woken by bells? It’s 7:00 am on a Saturday and everyone except me was out drinking last night and partying under our bedroom window, but the bells rang out marking the 7:00 am hour and I was awake. What a gift to be woken up not by a buzzing on my phone! What a gift to be here.