There is a distinct lack of “Jess + Hunter = <3” and “F*CK” written wherever possible.
Have you ever spent, say, an hour and a half in line at some theme park staring at all the names carved into the wooden railings? Things like “Chad wuz here” and “A+H 4EVA” are written on nearly every square inch, so much that if you even want to commit a little act of illegal street art, you couldn’t because you’re too late. All the space is taken.
I was walking around the Blautopf in Blaubeuren, looking for a glimpse of home, but there wasn’t an etch in sight. There wasn’t even any gum on the ground. Not a cigarette butt to be stepped on. It was blue and pristine and didn’t assure me that other human beings ever existed.
They acknowledge the past.
Much to the surprise of basically no one, growing up in America meant your history classes were probably full of lessons such as, “And it all was going to hell until the US came to the rescue!” and “Our country is built on nothing but medium-rare steak and freedom!” Then you get older and you hear about small pox blankets, and the Trail of Tears, and the NSA spying on everyone, and you realize that you might’ve been a wee bit misled.
Sure, every country has a version of the past they’d not like to air out in the open, Germany included. But they’re doing a decent job of acknowledging it – over 48,000 “stumbling stones” (or stolpersteine) have been placed on sidewalks and in streets to commemorate lives lost in WWII. They’re placed in front of victims’ homes – or what used to be their homes – all over cities in Germany from Schorndorf to Munich, Koln to Berlin, and as far away as Norway and Ukraine.
They indulge guilt-free in an afternoon coffee and gelato culture.
Afternoon would roll around in Germany, and American me had always seemed to neglect one very important detail – I never had a cone full of gelato in my hand or a latte at my table.
Every day, without fail, I stared at passersby in envious disbelief – did they know it was 2 pm? Are those sugar-free cones and is that a decaf latte? How isn’t their boss going to be irate that they were sitting around indulgently lounging?
Until eventually I realized, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” So that day I had an afternoon latte and gelato – twice. Café Kolesch makes a mean sweet treat and just walking into Elbgold means I can never walk into Dunkin’ Donuts again. What are the odds my boss will understand my new “European” habits?
One word: Lufthansa.
Genuinely nice blonde women offering me wine and Bailey’s as part of their routine for free? And they have sweet accents? If I ask nicely, will they send me a tanned Brazilian man to fan me with palm fronds?
The quality of gas station-level food is unarguably higher.
The last time I grabbed a sandwich at a gas station in the US, the lettuce was a little brown, the cheese was vaguely cheese-like, and the bread ranged from soggy mush to rock-hard in a matter of inches. It’s my own fault for getting a sandwich at a gas station, but it felt…somehow healthier than the 10-piece Chicken McNugget I might’ve succumbed to otherwise?
My diet choices aside, enter Germany, where a stop to a rest area means pots of hot soup, grilled-to-order paninis, and sandwiches that actually resemble sandwiches. Sure, the bathrooms cost .50€, but consider it a trade-off for avoiding imminent indigestion.
They are endearingly humble about their rad English skillz.
Every time a German said to me, “You’ll have to pardon my English; it’s been a while since I’ve studied,” my response was always, “Oh, be quiet, we both well know your English is better than mine.”
Forget Oktoberfest, Germany is alles-year-rounden-fest. Sure, the beer is flowing from noon to night (well, I’m told from 3 PM on or so up north), but don’t forget the wine and liqueurs. I stopped into Staatsweingut Meersburg for a blind taste of their “Blanc de Noir,” and just like I was told, you can’t tell whether it’s a white or a red. Germany may pale in comparison to France when it comes to reputation and output of wine, but damn if they don’t make up for it in marketing tactics.
And that’s not even mentioning the sekt at Kessler or the schnapps at Brennerie Rossle. How bad can anything be that’s mulled and perfected in dark, centuries-old cellars? If it was good enough for the Holy Roman Empire, it’s good enough for me.
They have half-timbered houses.
Hey, Frank Lloyd Wright, can I get some 13th century architecture over here? Why did you not take a tour of Germany’s Fachwerkstrasse as a child to get your inspiration? Despite war after war after war, and fire after fire after fire, there are still thousands of Middle-Age houses lining the streets of small German towns and cities.
One more word: Seelen.
Seelen is basically Germany saying to France, “I see your bread, and I up you cheese and butter and deliciousness.” To which France replied, “But I am le tired.”
And then Germany won the baguette game.
Goldener Rebstock makes a mean version, if you’re starting to get hungry.
They have drool-worthy hotel breakfasts at pretty much every hotel.
When I am on my deathbed, I want my last meal to be a German hotel breakfast. And not even a 5-star one at that. Hotels that might compare to a Hampton Inn in the states offer morning fare that would make you think Obama was in town anywhere else. Nutella, honey, piles of jams, breads, fruits, meats, yogurts – and an espresso machine that spits out lattes and cappuccinos faster and better than Starbucks.
And their hotels have cajones.
When I walked into my room at the Hotel Henri in Hamburg (which also has one of those magic espresso machines, by the way), my eyes darted past the sweet rotary dial telephone, vintage rolltop desk, retro-style wallpaper, and straight to the “Do Not Disturb” door hanger that doubles as a postcard waiting on my end table. It’s so sexy my probably church-going postmaster would excommunicate me from town if I sent it, but I nabbed it anyway.
They have a 35-hour work week.
Not only do they work less, but Germans get more done in a smaller amount of time. They also get way more vacation, and here I am not eating gelato at 2 pm, and not getting a single vacation day (because I work from home, but that’s not important), and, just seriously, Germany. Stop it with the awesome. Stop it.
[Note: Jacqueline was a guest of Tourism Germany.]
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