Photo: Aleksandr Simonov/Shutterstock

What I Will and Won't Miss About Living in Germany

by Genevieve Northup Dec 15, 2016

I moved from Dallas, Texas to Germany in 2009 with my husband, dog, cat and 10 suitcases for a five-month assignment. It was our first time visiting Europe, so we thought we’d take the chance with a short-term gig. Within three weeks, we realized that a few months would not be nearly enough time as our love affair with Europe blossomed. When a work opportunity arose to stay year-to-year, we took it. The time we’ve spent here has been life changing, and we are lucky to work in careers that allow us the flexibility to choose where we go and how long we stay.

Now, we’re bidding farewell to Germany. It is one of the most difficult decisions we have ever made. I have friends here, a job I love, and an unrelenting desire to travel at every waking moment. But my priorities have changed following the loss of my father, grandfather, and godmother this year. I want more time with my mom and brother, as well as my husband’s family. And I am finally ready to grow roots back in Texas — to buy a home and start a family.

As the reality of this transition sinks in, I think frequently about all I will and won’t miss about living in Germany.

I won’t miss freezing my ass off year-round.

Most winters, I can count on my fingers the number of times I see the sun. We get little snow, just lots of rain and fog. No matter how warmly I dress, I get cold. Summer is often only slightly warmer than winter with as much rain — I never shift my sweaters and closed-toes to the back of the closet.

I will miss snow and Germany’s rare warm summer days, though.

My elation when the first snowflakes stick to the ground is like running to the Christmas tree to find gifts from Santa; I still find it magical. However, I am the most energetic and optimistic those few days a year when I’m off work, temps are in the 90s, and the clouds part, so the sun shines over my backyard from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

I will miss the excitement of travel and how easy it is to get around from here.

I can drive 40 minutes to buy cheese in France and can see the Eiffel Tower in 2.5 hours via high-speed train. I can land in Barcelona, Edinburgh, and almost anywhere else in Europe after a two-hour flight, Asian cities in only a few hours more. Before moving to Germany, I had only been to a couple of countries. Now my passport and photo books are filled with proof I’ve been to 49.

But I won’t miss the 5,000 miles separating me from my family.

Or the 11-hour flight and 7-hour time difference that keep us apart.

I will miss driving 100 miles per hour down an open stretch of autobahn, with vineyards to my right, a valley to my left and no billboards anywhere.

Traffic is usually light, fellow drivers are paying attention, and no one hangs out in the left lane.

I won’t miss the 15-mile section I drive to work, which has an average speed limit of 50 miles per hour.

It has been under construction the past five years and will likely be under construction five years after I’m gone.

I will miss the sound of European emergency vehicles.

The sirens are more melodic and less ear-piercing in Germany. The first time I heard a European siren, I was a little girl watching a PBS mystery with my mom. From that moment, I wanted to travel to Europe because even the sirens were different there.

I won’t miss being paranoid about traffic-patrolling Polizei (police).

I was once pulled over and fined because my dog was not in a seatbelt. Sure, that was seven years ago, but I never quite got over the embarrassing confrontation.

I will miss living in an environmentally-conscious community.

Littering is uncommon here, you can be fined for leaving your car running, and there are laws enforcing recycling.

I won’t miss the annoyances of recycling, though.

Like when I can’t figure out where shrimp shells go, or how to best sort trash when we have a houseful of inebriated friends over. I hate looking like an alcoholic as I drive up to the glass recycling bins in my village with three massive IKEA bags full of beer and wine bottles. I have to make sure I’m there after 9 a.m. but before 7 p.m. — and not from 1 to 3 p.m. — Monday to Saturday (not on Sunday or a holiday) because of “quiet hours.”

I won’t miss the righteous scoldings.

Total strangers are quick to point out when I do something wrong — jaywalk, recycle after 7 p.m., or wear a swimsuit in a nude spa. My neighbor gets onto me because the section of gutter in front of my house isn’t spotless.

I will miss a society that is caring, rather than apathetic.

Asking others to pick up after their dogs and keep their feet off the metro seats help ensure Germany stays beautiful for future generations.

I will miss the fests.

Pumpkin fests, strawberry fests, beer fests, wine wanderings, Christmas markets, light festivals. Germans find ways to celebrate every time of year, and every village joins in.

I will miss having my dog along for the fun.

Shops, cable cars, trains, restaurants, five-star hotels — my Labrador comes with me almost everywhere. She will miss our time together, too.

I will miss the German grocery stores.

Everything is fresh, most from local farms. I know my eggs are from a reputable cage-free farm in my village, the strawberries from a field one town over.

I won’t miss bagging my groceries.

I must strategically remove items from my cart, placing the heaviest on the conveyer first. Then, I’m frantically trying to pack everything before the last item is scanned because I don’t want to hold up the next customer.

I won’t miss feeling like I do not belong.

I acknowledge that this is my fault because I am not fluent in the language. I live in an area with 50,000 Americans and many locals who know English. Often, business owners switch to English when I speak in broken German to make me feel comfortable; however, it hinders my learning and reminds me I am a foreigner. I am out of place at German friends’ get-togethers as they converse in Deutsch; I understand what they are discussing but have difficulty joining in. I feel inept when I have to pantomime to communicate, like when explaining to the on-call German doctor at the after-hours clinic that I had a UTI (Did I have a stomach bug? Was I pregnant?), and when accomplishing mundane tasks, like mailing packages and troubleshooting cell phone issues.

I will miss the American expats and Europeans who have become my family.

They have been there to bring meals after I had surgery, to comfort me when my dad died, to sing happy birthday, to share Thanksgiving dinner, to encourage me to challenge myself, to hold me accountable for skipping the gym.

I won’t miss taking my life here for granted.

Between errands, chores, a crappy commute, and working too much at the office and bringing more work home, I lost sight of how lucky I am to be here. I drive on the autobahn past 12th-century castle ruins every day, and no longer notice until family or friends visit for the first time, eagerly snapping blurry photos of the signs, autobahn, and castle.

I will miss those moments when I slow down to enjoy the beauty of Germany.

A weekend getaway with my husband to a town we’ve never explored. Riding the train in late spring and peering at the countryside, which has exploded in shades of green overnight. Having a picnic in our German friend’s backyard, every dish made with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from their garden.

I will miss the singsong, “Tschüss.”

It is an informal farewell, used with strangers and friends, common in the region of the country where I live. Soon I will have to say “Tschüss” to Germany, a place that will forever have a big place in my heart.

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