As I sit on the Lufthansa plane, departing from Frankfurt, Germany, I’m already starting to miss this country.
For those of you who follow CuriousWordsBlog.com, you will already know that I encountered a somewhat unfortunate series of events already. First, before I even departed from Boston, I learned at an airport check-in counter two hours before my scheduled flight that my connection had been cancelled and that I would need to land in a different German city (more here). Second, I caught a “cold,” when I was traveling in Berlin (more here). Third, finally, and most stressfully, I tested positive for COVID-19 in Bavaria and was legally obligated to isolate in a Ferienwohnung (vacation apartment) for one week (more here & here). After testing out of isolation, I left the Ferienwohnung two hours later, took a shuttle and two trains to start my journey home. However, now that I’m 38,000 feet up in the air with Amsterdam, the Netherlands on my right and Düsseldorf, Germany on my left, the distance has already made my heart grow fonder.
In this post, I want to share a few “quirks” about Germany that may stand out to the American traveler (you won’t find the below in the average travel guide!).
Chocolate. Germans love chocolate. So much so, that it is not very unusual to find a small square of Vollmilch-Schokolade (milk chocolate) in a hotel room, handed to you on a German airline or even in the first-class cabin of a Deutsche Bahn train.
Coffee. Like much of continental Europe, the coffee here is small (cups are fewer than 8 oz), but luckily strong. If you are looking for a larger coffee, then it is in your best interest to head to a foreign chain (like Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or Pret a Manger).
Public restrooms. Unlike in the U.S., one must pay to use most public restrooms (like in the train station or mall, for example). While the fare is cheap (usually less than $2), it can be a hassle especially considering the attendants (or automated fare collection machines) only accept cash or coins. Also, just because you are paying, doesn’t mean the restrooms are always clean….
Elevators. This is random, but I have found that many Germans tend to greet each other (complete strangers) in elevators. Saying Morgen! (like saying “morning!”) in greeting is a totally-normal-and-not-weird thing to do in a packed elevator (as opposed to Americans who just tend to keep their heads down).
Public transportation. In my travels, I had no problem going from the Flughafen (airport) to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) upon my arrival. The regional trains are clean, smooth, arrive every fifteen minutes or so, and cost anywhere between two and five Euros (a bit expensive if you are a daily traveler). To travel between cities (like Berlin to Hamburg or Cologne to Berlin, for example) one would take the ICE (Inter-City Express), which is comparable to Amtrak, except that it is objectively “nicer”/ cleaner, faster, and, probably, more expensive. Fast intercity trains seem to reach even the remote places (the boonies and the farmlands) and so do the buses!
Sidewalks. I love to walk and in Germany, being a pedestrian is easy. Germany is a small country (just bigger than the state of New Mexico), which means that even the hard-to-reach cities are not so remote. Regarding sidewalks, I had the pleasure of taking a 40-minute stroll between a small city and an adjacent village along a well-maintained path. While many families in these parts have cars, it’s still nice to know that one can safely get into town without having to rely on a vehicle.
Utensils (das Besteck). Maybe there was a law passed, I don’t know, but it seems like all of the forks, knives, and spoons for to-go food items are made out of wood or cardboard. I understand the environmental aspect obviously, but frankly, the quality of the utensils suck. The wood always seems to split in two (luckily no splinters though) and the cardboard bends and quickly becomes useless (useless utensils… utensils one cannot utilize…hmm).
Nutri-Score. When I was at the German grocery store “Penny,” I first noticed the nutritional ratings on many food items. It was interesting to see that smoked salmon (on a scale from A to E) got the low score of score if a “D,” while the frozen pizza got a higher “B.” Also, somewhere in the middle Kräuter Quark (which has the taste and texture that lies somewhere between a flavorful, milk-based dip and cream cheese) received a “C.”
Masks. This may soon change in the U.S., but in Germany, in most public places, cloth masks are no longer acceptable. In Bavaria the laws were the strictest, requiring FFP2/ N95 masks, while in other parts medical/ surgical masks are mandated at minimum.
Internet. Wifi or as the Germans say “WLAN” (pronounced “vey-lan”) is pretty ubiquitous. Train stations, airports, and even some subways are equipped with free and open wifi.
Subway. Trains in Germany are super convenient, but super confusing. There are several ticket types, including (nah) short-distance, (fern) long-distance, and day trips. To make sure that you have the right ticket— look up the process online first! Also, try to have cash on you as many fare machine do not accept foreign credit cards. Finally, some regional train tickets require “validation” which means after you print them, you must stamp them at little machines. That was complicated right? Also, unlike in many American subway stations, one does not have to pay upon entry, which means that you could theoretically board and leave without paying. However, if you get caught without a validated ticket, you will have to pay a fine, so be careful!
Pretzels. The stereotypes are true— Germans love pretzels (or in German “Brezeln”). At little stands at main train stations, airports, and malls, you are likely to find pretzels with salt, cheese, and also holding together sandwiches and hot dogs as buns.
Water. The tap water is perfectly clean here, BUT restaurants are legally not allowed to serve it to guests, which means— no free water. It all comes bottled here!
Recycling. I’m honestly not sure how they recycle plastic here. I’ve heard the stereotypes of Germany having a robust waste sorting system. However, the garbage bins in the train stations and other places seem to only be divided between “paper” and “waste” (what about the plastic?) Hmmm…..
Welp, dear Reader, that concludes my Germany nostalgia. I’m glad that I got these thoughts out of my system and onto my iPhone notes app, before landing — I don’t like to dwell on things. With that, I look forward to the next adventures in Boston and beyond.
Viel Spaß! / Have fun!