Here is where you will be like, "Thank GOD Jen did not choose to email us all this crap!" Yes, I will let you decide what to read, when you'd like to read it... or not.
For those who don't know, I am a List Girl. I have lists going all the time, on paper, and they are in various locations from my diaper bag (where everything but the kitchen sink truly does reside), to the car cupholders to the kitchen counter. I love my paper lists, some worn soft to where they are almost unreadable, and the satisfaction of crossing things off. I have no desire to use a list app or anything so technologically advanced. My lists help me keep my sanity and help my pea brain remember things.
One list I do online-only is usually called The Fab, The Bad and The Ugh-ly. I usually do this one with a group of girlfriends the day after some red carpet event - like the Oscars - where we review (trash!) the celebs in all their glory at the previous night's big event. You know, because we have any idea about fashion. But if Kelly Osbourne with purple-gray hair can be considered a Fashion Police gal, then so can I! But I digress.
I thought this list would be a great one to start here on my blog, giving you my opinion of the fab, the bad and the truly UGH-ly here in Germany. These are my opinions and perceptions only and may not be reality for everyone else here. But who cares about everyone else... you are here reading about US! ;) This list will pop up now and again to give you my "inside scoop" on all things here in Deutschland. It will be a far cry from Rick Steves' Europe but it might be a bit more entertaining. :)
So, here's LIST I - (don't worry, they all won't be this long in the future. This is a several-month compilation!)
- New friends. This is the most fab of all. I have been so fortunate to make friends from truly all over the world. We made several American friends at the hotel we stayed at the first month we were here. And Peter's international school has afforded me great opportunities for meeting friends and being a part of a wonderful community. I have found that there are so many of us in the same boat... away from home - wherever that may originally be - looking for someone to share experiences with in our new home. And many new German friends are more than happy to have us here and help us with our new surroundings!
- Bakeries. If you think Starbucks locations are out of control in America, you should see the bakeries here. There's one literally every few steps you take as well as set up in many stores - grocery and otherwise. Fresh breads, pretzels and an assortment of delicious baked goodies wherever you go! Everything I've tried (and I've tried almost everything!) is wonderful. Maybe I should put this on my "bad" list as I am going to turn into Jabba the Hut soon if I don't gain some control of my eating here!
- Beer and wine. So many varieties, most of which are sooo good. The grocery store has many aisles devoted to their booze and I still have no idea how to choose. But it's all dirt cheap (seriously! about 3-4 euro for a bottle of nice wine!) so no hurt in trying. Again... not great for the waistline here. Our fave: Ulmer Gold Ochsen Kellerbier naturtrüb. A great pils!
- German food. Sometimes. The sausages, pretzels and german potato salad are fabulous but can get old fast for someone used to a more expanded diet. You get potato salad with just about everything. Mike and I ordered a big green salad to share and guess what was hiding underneath the lettuce?! I am not making this up.
- Italian food. Mama mia I am in heaven! There are many bonafide Italian establishments here serving pizza and pasta. Most places are run by true Italians and the food is usually cheap and amazing. This I will miss when we move back!
- Cheap food. I have to say while most everything else here is ungodly expensive with a 19% tax ($1.29 = 1.00 € ), most of the food and groceries are very reasonable if not cheap.
- The scenery. Just breathtaking in this area for the most part. Many times when driving thru the country I hear Julie Andrews in my head singing, "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music!" And sometimes I sing this out loud, much to everyone's dismay.
- Taking responsibility for oneself! What a notion! Coming from Sue Happy America to a place where you are expected to follow the rules and just use plain 'ol common sense is just a breath of fresh air I must say. There are not warnings stamped on every little thing (no Caution: coffee hot!) and no liability waivers to sign every time you want to do something! When in Germany, Use Your Noggin! I like it.
- Public transportation. There are many types of trains running pretty much everywhere here and they are almost always on time. It does not cost much to ride and are the cleanest modes of transportation I've ever seen. Nary a gum wrapper or window smudge. No stale smell of urine. Truly a treat for getting around. And of course, Peter - who has been obsessed with trains before he could even speak in sentences - is in heaven as is little Mark who loves everything big brother does.
- Walking! You think I'm joking but I'm not. For someone who can't run a block to save her life, I have to say I do enjoy walking. There are amazing pathways literally all around us, thru all the fields and cities here. You can walk or bike on them and I can't wait for it to warm up so Marky and I can get the baby jogger out and walk off some of those German baked goods! And actually there is a ton of walking to be done here since that's the best way to get to the trains and around the city. This is a very walk/bike friendly area. Peter has become quite the explorer and loves to lead the way!
- Energy conservation. This is actually cool. Lights don't come on in the parking garage or some other areas until it senses motion. Escalators don't move until you walk up to use them. Pretty neat.
- The Honor System! Germans on the whole seem to be quite the honest group. Crime is very low here and many things are done "on your honor" such as the train system. When you go to ride a train there are no guards, no turnstiles, etc. You are expected to purchase a ticket from the platform self-serve vending machines for your input destination. Once in a while, after the train starts moving, a plain-clothes agent will announce for everyone to show their tickets (or yearly pass). If you don't have one, you pay a hefty fine!
- Crime. As I've said, the crime rate is very low here, especially violent crime. Young kids walk to school, ride the trains, busses, etc. all by themselves. Mothers do not hover over their children on the playgrounds. In general, people behave as they should and it is not acceptable to do otherwise. It definitely makes what we see in the American news seem so much worse. I don't know if we just got desensitized seeing it on our nightly news or if it's just living in a society where people "behave" for the most part but it is very different here and it feels good.
- TP - as in toilet paper. Comes on small, narrow roles and is very "sturdy". Think more of generic paper towels. No Charmin to squeeze here! But it comes in an amazing array of colors and prints. I will have to scan some and post online. Not comfy but it sure is pretty!
- Food. As in lack of variety. While there are some wonderful foods here I do miss mexican (taco night was a staple in our house!) and beef. We don't eat alot of beef but when you don't have it at all, you want it. I would love a steak! They do have ground beef here. Usually it is mixed with pork. You can by it without, however what cow this is coming from I have no clue because it smells and tastes disgusting to me.
- Our refrigerator. It is about the size of a good dorm-room fridge. I shop almost every day. This is also due in part to the fact that milk comes in small liter cartons and doesn't last very long. Also the fruits and veggies go bad fast and need to be consumed almost immediately. Our freezer can hold the equivalent of 6 little Lean Cuisines (if they even had stuff like that here). We are going to get a larger fridge/freezer for the basement.
- Grocery shopping. It is both a wonderment and great disappointment and I can't imagine I will ever like doing it here. If you want variety, stay in the U.S. Unless we're talking about beer, wine, cheese and anything sausage / pork. Then you've got aisles of it! Seriously.
- Grocery bagging - WE are the baggers! The lane clerk sits in a comfy chair while ringing items and unceremoniously throwing them down your way. All the while you (me) are frantically trying to bag everything before she is done and starts throwing the next guy's stuff at you. This is especially frazzling when a certain 2-year old decides he is "done" with sitting in the cart and a stoic German behind you is staring like you are mad.
- Update on the above... got some great advice! Just throw the stuff back in the cart and bag it back at your car at your leisure. Genius! Definitely saves on the nerves. Plus I always forget my stupid bags in the car anyways.
- Grocery Bags - bring your own or you will get charged 10-25 cent euro per bag you take. You are expected to bring your own reusable bags, hand-held baskets, whatever. I always keep a stash in my car. But should not be totally in the Bad List as it's great for the environment and seems silly to use so many plastic bags in supermarkets back home.
- No Free Carts! Any store that has them will allow you to use them... for 1 euro. Insert your euro coin to unlock the cart. It is returned to you when you return the cart and lock it back into another. This ensures all carts are returned in a proper order and not left in the parking garage. No grabbing someone's cart when they're done unloading at their car or you're stealing their euro!
- Customer Service. It is almost non-existent here. The Customer is always wrong, in the way and a real bother!
- Travel by car. The bad part, people drive like maniacs. But not as bad as the Italians who are all Mario Andrettis on the road. Actually, I am getting used to this and have somewhat reverted back to my old road demon ways. Watch out folks!
- Windows (and Patio Doors). As far as construction, I've never seen better. Completely air-tight. And most windows are large and let alot of light in. But now the Bad part. They have no screens! You can open it inwards at a slant so just the top is open. Or you can swing the window all the way open like a door. And they are like that *everywhere* including the top floors of hotels and office buildings! I was shocked when I saw this and also horrified when I saw Marky ambling over towards an open window several stories up when we first arrived. Now we are used to it and amazingly (knock on wood) we rarely see bugs in the house. Then again, we haven't been here a full summer yet. As far as safety... it's part of the "Fab" thing I like... responsibility for you and yours. (I know the Grandmas are dying when they read this one! Sorry! I promise I do keep an eye on the kids!)
- Metal Window covers. Every window and patio door has this here. Think NYC shopkeepers. Each window has a pulley located next to it in the house. During the day, you roll up the "blinds". At night, you roll them down. It makes alot of noise. When we first moved here I would hear this strange rumbling sound off and on around dusk every night. It's the sound of everyone "rolling up the sidewalks" for the night as my friend Trish says. Or in this case, rolling down the blinds.
- No A/C here! Almost anywhere including grocery stores, hotels... OUR HOUSE. When you are sweating outside and walk thru the automatic doors of a building you expect to go, "Aaaahhh! Lovely A/C!" Ah, nooo. Instead you walk into a wall of stifling humidity and feel all the air has been sucked out of the place. Most places have windows wide open which does pretty much nothing except let bugs in. See above for the deal about windows.
- SMOKING! Ick! It is *everywhere* and I swear we'll all get lung cancer thru second-hand smoke! There is no longer smoking indoors but all the wonderful little outdoor patios are filled with smokers. Also people walk around, ride bikes, etc. while smoking. At IKEA there was a closed-off glass "house" area in the food court where people could sit inside and smoke with their meal. And they were *children* inside! Smoking definitely does not carry the stigma it does in the U.S. I see people pushing baby buggies, holding a child's hand, etc. while smoking. Terrible.
- Toilets. If you think the TP is bad wait to you see the commode. It has almost no water in the bowl. Seriously, maybe like 6 tablespoons. There are 2 buttons on the back. One for a "small" flush and one for a "large" flush. This is to conserve water. But since there is no water in the bowl, sometimes you have to do a "large" flush 90 times to get the job done right. And how that is conserving water, I do not know.
- Lines. Or lack thereof. This truly pushes my buttons. For a country of such rule-followers, that prides itself on being so orderly, I am always amazed at how freaking *rude* the Germans are when it comes to standing in a line. It just doesn't happen. Unless you're at the ATM or grocery. They are actually quite respectful at the ATM machines. At the grocery store if they have lanes sectioned, then they just have no choice but to be in a line. Otherwise, it is a giant free-for-all and it does not matter where you are - store, mall, elevator, etc. - you and your children *will* be bowled over by any and all Germans who wish to be served *at that minute*. In many ways over here, it is survival of the fittest!
- Garbage. The Germans are absolute fanatics when it comes to recycling. It is second nature now, but we have to sort *everything* and put it in the proper bins. For anything glass, we have to take it to one of the neighborhood bins in the city. Luckily there is one a few blocks away in our neighborhood we can walk to on a nice day. As far as "regular" garbage... we have one tiny bin out by the curb that fits about 2-1/2 kitchen sized garbage bags. And they don't pick up often. For a family of four, one still in diapers which can fill up the trash quickly, this is a major pain! I end up putting filled trash bags in the garage and then placing them near the bin on trash morning. This is fine since it's cold out but I'm guessing that will be quite the stink when it's summer! Back home we had 2 recycling bins and two large trash bins that got picked up *weekly*.
- Germany is a *terrible* place for disabled people, meaning those in wheelchairs or walkers, etc. There are lots of stairs everywhere with very few ramps built for wheelchair - or in my case, stroller! - access. In most places, they have 2 metal bars put over the stairs. This is the wheelchair (stroller) access. I call them "death ramps". They are placed apart so a wheel can fit on either side. This is the most horrifying thing I've ever seen as if you have a huge flight of steep stairs, how in the *world* are you supposed to go down or up the metal ramp in a wheelchair?! You would go *flying* down the ramp and there's no possible way you can make it up and would end up flying down backwards. With the stroller, I have to hold on with one hand on the stroller and the railing with the other. With the jogger, the same only I have that 3rd middle wheel I have to keep up off the stairs. Crazy! If both Mike and I are together, then we usually pick up the stroller or jogger and carry it with Marky in it. Or sometimes Marky will walk the stairs while I carry the folded carriage down. Also, many of the shops I've been into are tall and narrow with stairs leading to a second floor... and no elevator.
- And last, but not least... the truly truly TRULY ugh-ly... NO TARGET!!! Poor poor me. There is no such thing as one-stop-shopping here. Oh I miss my Target!