I moved to Mannheim, Germany at the end of August 2016. Since then, I’ve grown as a person, developed new skills, and liked new things. Here are ten of those things in no particular order:
1. Bread and Pretzel Vending Machines
Many Germans eat bread rolls for breakfast AND dinner (with sweet toppings in the morning and more savory spreads at night). Many grocery stores such as Aldi have a wall where you can get fresh baked goods at the push of a button. Genius.
As The Everywhereist wrote, “I’m not talking about the ones you get at the mall […] sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Those aren’t pretzels. Those are doughnuts that took a yoga class.” (You should read her whole article).
German pretzels are hearty, chewy, and a good snack for any part of the day. They’re fluffy on the inside, salty on the outside and come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re bigger than your head, sometimes they’re covered in sunflower seeds. For most of the time that Lisa and I were long distance, she would squeeze a few in her bag when she visited, or better, greet me at the airport with not a bouquet of flowers, but a stack of sourdough. True love, y’all.
3. Being a student is considered a job.
As someone that worked my way through my B.A. and will still be paying student loans for the unforeseeable future, living in a country that encourages their university students by allowing them to graduate debt free is incredible to me. The college fees are minimal and the government doesn’t encourage students to work while in school. For the most part, students are allowed to work up to 450€ a month with part-time gig and still retain their student benefits (lower rates on health insurance, qualify for student financial assistance, etc). The way the government sees it, if you’re studying, you should be spending most of your time doing that.
4. Drinking Outside
Last spring I was talking to a friend about how expensive dating and going out with friends can be in the US. In Boston, I remember doling out $7 for a pint of Sam Adams (as compared to the 3.10€ you might pay for a half liter of beer here), and fussing about picking a venue and splitting the bill for the waiter—it can be constrictive.
“Why don’t you just get a bottle of wine and some snacks and sit on a park bench by the water?” I suggested, then realized this is illegal in much of the US.
I remember the shock I felt the first time I saw one of Lisa’s friends pull out a couple bottles of Hefeweizen to share after work. Now this is one of the main causes of my reverse culture shock when I go home. What do you mean I can’t take this IPA with me as I walk the dog around the block? Or open a bottle of wine to share at the family BBQ in the local park? Germany has restored my faith in humans to be responsible, at least with beverages.
5. They sort everything in the trash.
At home I grew up with two options, trash or recycling bin. Here we have compost, plastic/metal, paper, glass (which then needs sorted by color), Pfand bottles (which you return to the grocery store for some extra change), and “Rest” (which is anything that hasn’t yet been sorted).
6. Unlimited Sick Time
Last winter Lisa started tutoring a lot of kids, a.k.a. germ machines, and I got hit with the flu twice. I spent a chunk of February knocked out on the couch struggling to watch Jessica Jones, it was rough. In my past jobs, colds like this would’ve been detrimental. Getting sick while working part-time meant not getting paid, and when I had a full time position I had five precious sick days to spread throughout the year. As a result, I often still went to work when I wasn’t feeling 100%, making me feel sick longer and probably exposing coworkers to whatever I had.
Since my current position is a part-time student job, I assumed I would have to skip a day or so make up the hours later. When I got the second flu, I headed into the doctor to make sure I was treated it effectively since it was hitting our neighborhood hard (a local school had to close for a day because they didn’t have enough teachers). The doctor confirmed, “yes, you’re sick,” and then, “don’t go back to work this week.” I was given a full week of paid time off so I could heal. Germany has (basically) unlimited sick time (with a doctor’s note). Novel idea, right?
7. Old Stuff is Everywhere
I thought I had a taste of living among history while studying at the foot of the Freedom Trail in Boston. Until I moved here.
Our university is 632 years old (!). Have you ever sat in your school’s cafeteria and thought, “dang, why can’t I find an outlet anywhere,” and realized that you’re sitting in a 16th century building? Germany is rich with gorgeous buildings, castle ruins, and plaques dedicated to all kinds of important people.
8. That when you drop something on the sidewalk, someone will pick it up and put it on a nearby ledge or fence so it’s eye level when you retrieve it.
This is an ingenious unspoken German rule and it’s also adorable to see a little, lost toddler mitten balancing on a nearby mailbox.
Have you ever been at a work function where you fancy a glass of rosé but don’t also want to stay hydrated? Enter Weinschorle (roughly pronounced “vine-schore-luh”). It’s half carbonated water, half wine (usually white or pink). In Germany any liquid can turn into a “schorle” using this half and half method, such as fruit juices. Weinschorle is light and refreshing in the warmer months. I wish I had known this trick in past sticky Boston summers, it would’ve upped my very-low-budget Barefoot game.
Pronounced “kay-zuh-shpetz-luh” (my linguistics major wife is shaking her head), this is a regional dish made of fresh pasta and cheese. The Spätzle have the consistency of tiny dumplings. Mixed with cheese—it’s best with gouda!—and topped with fried onions, this German mac-and-cheese was even approved by my cousin Alli, who—if you are not aware—is the unofficial, global expert on mac-and-cheese. As much as I love a creamy American cheese sauce, I’ve found myself homesick for a plate of this.
That’s the end of this installment. I’ll check back in a couple months with updates to the list!