OK, so: though Bayern (Bavaria) is part of Germany, Bavarians are, first and foremost, Bavarians. In this way, and with its strong regional accent, the German state of Bayern is much like the American state/”republic” of Texas, only with really cute painted buildings, smaller belt buckles, and the Alps. Also no tornadoes.
What have I noticed in Bayern, you ask? Well:
- Mohawks, mohawks, everywhere. I’ve seen at least a half dozen of these, on individuals from age 10 to 30. Those west of the Atlantic, consider yourselves warned. (2018 note: I warned you, didn’t I? Fortunately this trend was short-lived.)
- The random bright red streaks in the hair of otherwise conservative-looking women are stylish, not accidental. The even brighter red streaks adorning the hair of punks and/or goths are also, for some reason, deliberate.
- The prevailing style is… well… a bored Punky Brewster crossed with Tim Burton. For women, anyway. Men manifest individuality through mullet-meets-mohawk hairstyles with bright yellow or red streaks, or through socks with sandals, or all of the above.
- There is a miraculous tree whose leaves glitter and shimmer when the wind blows. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see several of these from your window. (2018 update: I finally found out, in 2016, that these trees are called quaking aspen trees, and Colorado has them.)
- Johannisbeeren are nearly incandescent and entirely delicious.
- The weather changes every couple of hours—while most of today was hot and sunny, at 4:00 a massive storm blew horizontal rain past my window for an hour. Now at 7:00 it’s sunny again. This makes for a lot of rainbows, so is overall a plus. (As of July 4, I’d seen seven, including two on July 4 itself.)
- Men in Germany don’t walk. Their ambulatory method is a wholly nonchalant saunter/stroll, jacket slung perfectly over one shoulder.
- German people don’t understand peanut butter. I knew this in theory, but the reality is sobering. Please to send peanut butter M&Ms. (On the other hand, Germans are really good with hazelnuts, which mostly compensates for their peanut butter deficiencies.)
- No matter where you are, you’re downwind of someone smoking.
- Although exactly two people in the entire country have your contact information, the mobile phone that starts ringing noisily during a movie may be yours.
- The key really will open the door. No, really! Once you get the technique right, this will no longer take ten minutes.
- City centers are generally adorable, though inconveniently paved (note to self: cobblestones are more charming in theory than in practice).
- Train stations have up- and down-stairs conveyor belts. As in, you put your luggage on the belt, either at the top or the bottom, and the belt magically knows which way you want your suitcases to go, thus preventing the possible hernia that could result from carrying your myriad and very heavy possessions up or down the stairs.
- The chocolate here is so good that even I, who will NEVER know how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, can allow it to melt in my mouth.
And now, favorite moments:
- The first time I carried out a five-minute conversation completely in German (June 13)
- When I went to the electronics store and managed to successfully describe, locate, and purchase an outlet adapter with a voltage converter entirely auf Deutsch (July 3)
Pop quiz: What do you do if you lock yourself out of your room in southern Germany, where you arrived nine days ago, and:
- You’re pretty highly strung even in ideal situations
- All the instructions for what to do in this situation are in German
- You don’t SPEAK German yet
- It’s 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon
- The Hausmeister is in the mountains and won’t be back until 8:00 PM at the earliest
- Your total food intake for the day has been one piece of bread and half an apple
- You forgot to take your allergy pills and your allergies are unbelievably bad in Germany
- You haven’t been sleeping well because you’re in a new environment (so, like, you’re COMPLETELY exhausted and for the past three hours all you’ve wanted to do in the word is go home, eat, take your allergy pills, and sleep for a long time)
- You know three people in the entire city
- The numbers in your phone for these people are incorrect
- You’re also locked out of the room that has the phone book
- You try to call the Hausmeister and instead a woman answers the phone and because of your limited German and her limited English it takes you nearly five minutes to discover that she is, in fact, NOT the Hausmeister, which means you’ve written the number down wrong
- When this frustrating call ends, you find that you’re down to almost zero on your phone card
- A mentally unbalanced man approaches you in the park when you’re CLEARLY in no shape to talk to anyone and then yells at you because you neither speak German nor have a cigarette lighter
- You’re wearing very cute but very painful and impractical shoes with two-inch heels
- The pavement consists of four-inch square stones with big gaps between each stone (see item re: impractical shoes with heels)
- You finally manage to get in touch with a friend, who tells you that you can come to his house
- You find his apartment building on a map, and it should take you less than 10 minutes to get there, but because the map bears absolutely no relation to the streets it’s supposed to represent you walk for 45 minutes before you find it (this is quite unpleasant; see again item re: impractical shoes with heels)
- Once you find his apartment building, you pull on the door handle but the door doesn’t open, leaving you standing in front of the entry in total despair for about three minutes before it occurs to you that you could try PUSHING the door (whereupon it opens)
- When you get to your friend’s apartment, your friend’s staggeringly unhelpful visiting friend smugly informs you that no landlord in Germany will open a tenant’s door (whereupon you lose it for a second and say to him “You can be quiet anytime now” and your friend says “That wasn’t very polite”)
- When your friend calls the Hausmeister (because you miraculously remember the number, having seen it in the elevator exactly once [but not even knowing that was the Hausmeister’s number]), you find out that you’re not technically supposed to live in your room because you haven’t signed any kind of lease and you’re not a student, so the Hausmeister is suspicious and may not let you in (he asks if you have your passport, and you reply “Yes—IN MY ROOM”)
You cry. A lot. Then you cry some more. Then you sit on a park bench and stare dully at the grass until aforementioned Mentally Unbalanced Smoking Man Incident. Then you wonder why the he[ck] you can’t handle trivial problems like this and you feel guilty and you cry some more. Then you stop by McDonald’s (which is normally against your principles, but this institution’s two undeniable advantages are that a) it’s actually OPEN and b) it has public restrooms), and then you eat your ice cream outside on a bench, too exhausted to cry.
But then, you finally arrive at the apartment of the Eighth Wonder of the World (your friend UI), who calls the Hausmeister for you, takes you home, and talks the Hausmeister into opening your door (at first the Hausmeister is still suspicious, despite seeing your messy, tear-stained, utterly wretched condition, but he eventually relents and then seems to feel bad for being initially crusty). The Hausmeister opens your door and then makes a copy of your passport. At 9:30 PM, 7.5 hours after the ordeal began, you finally go to your room, manage somehow to change into your pajamas, and then collapse, grateful that at least, for the first time in several days, it didn’t rain.
In 2007 I lived in Augsburg, Germany for three months. At the time I had a Windows Live Space (remember those? No? Oh well), and I posted some of my thoughts on it. Windows Live Spaces no longer exist, so I thought all my hard work was gone forever—but then I discovered that Past Me had actually planned well for once, and had sent these thoughts as an e-mail to some friends. Good job, Past Me!
Fast forward 11 years: I just returned from an amazing two weeks in Germany and the Czech Republic that helped reset my internal equilibrium (I’m feeling so much better). I have some preliminary sketches about that trip, but while I work on them I thought I’d share some of my thoughts from 2007. Enjoy…
So, I’ve been in Deutschland for four days now, and I love it. OF COURSE. But also of course, there are adjustments. In English I can say exactly what I want to and can even sometimes appear semi-educated; here my speech is slow, grammatically dubious, heavily accented, and generally tortured. ’Tis humbling.
A few other observations:
- Just because you can find your way there, that doesn’t mean you can find your way back.
- Under no circumstances should you ever challenge a kamikaze bicyclist. Under no circumstances should you try to dodge one, either, because regardless of which way you frantically dart, the bicyclist will swerve in that same direction, leaving you in the path of a bicycle and rider who is now even closer than before. Just close your eyes and stand perfectly still, like when you’re avoiding a tyrannosaurus rex.
- Tram doors do not open automatically. Unless you push the button to open the door, the tram will leave the platform while you stare through the windows at the passengers who are staring back at you, wondering why this idiot doesn’t just push the button, already.
- The landlord is not completely naked. She is wearing swimsuit bottoms, albeit very small ones. Sometimes, in the late afternoon, she also wears a shirt.
- Although to your American English-speaking eyes and ears these street names are functionally identical, you will not find your lodgings on Großburgerstraße if you live on Gabelsburgerstraße.
- Brussels is not the only European city with iconic decorative fauna. Wolfenbuttel also proudly features a large yellow bell-wearing cow.
- Yes, that person really did say “ausflippen”.
- You must bag your groceries yourself, in bags that you either furnish or purchase yourself, and asfastasyoupossiblycan. German cashiers are incredibly dexterous and want you to go away. If you wait for the cashier to bag your groceries, as they do in that dumb entitled place you came from, your food and newly purchased bags will pile up untidily at the end of the conveyor belt while the cashier and other customers give you the Stare of Dumbfounded WTF.
- Germans do not jaywalk. Your cavalier street-crossing will engender startled and/or disapproving expressions from nearby genteel persons and counter-culture renegade anarchist teenagers alike, all of whom patiently wait for the light to change at an intersection with no cars in sight.
- It is possible to smoke a cigarette while riding a bicycle.
- Though German has an (admittedly improvised) phrase for “escape pod from the mother ship”(I needed a way to describe Smart Cars), it has no word for “jailbait.”