We were stationed in Stuttgart, Germany for two years. The plan was to be there for three, but of course, plans are for losers.
It took awhile to adjust. I arrived six months pregnant and was suddenly not working. Then I had a newborn (my first), and had that adjustment to make. However, after some time I really started to appreciate it.
Things I miss about Germany:
We didn’t do much traveling before my daughter was born. My husband was too busy at work; I was too nervous to take the plunge; and then I was too pregnant to travel too far, so we only visited The Netherlands before she arrived. After she was born, aside from a day trip to France and another to Switzerland (yeah, you can totally do “a day trip to another country!”), we didn’t do any overnight trips until she was ten months old. It was a combination of waiting for her passport and waiting for her to not scream 50 percent of the time she was in the car. And I was anxious. Language barriers, trip planning … I was a walking zombie due to my lack of sleep, so I felt like I was barely functioning. However, after we got started, we tried to make the most of our time overseas. In the end, we made it to (another part of) France, Spain, the UK, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, along with lots of sightseeing in Germany. My biggest regret it that we didn’t do a Mediterranean cruise. I would have loved to have seen Greece, Italy, and Croatia. However, I will always hold dear the memories of each and every one of our trips. I would also like to give a nonsponsored shout-out to the Ergo baby carrier. We never took a stroller with us and that was a life changing piece of baby gear.
We moved from a large base, and I had never really connected with the military community. However Stuttgart was so small; I actually enjoyed that every time I went on base (we lived in a nearby town), I would likely see someone I knew. It may not even always be a friend or acquaintance, but I would recognize people. I got involved with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers, though younger children are welcome, too), and I made friends there that I am still in contact with today. It was a nice way for me to make friends and find support that I wouldn’t have otherwise had, especially as a first-time mom.
The recycling made my heart so happy. There is so little waste over there. Our recycling bin was twice as big as our garbage bin. Our “Restmüll” (trash) bin was only 120 Liters and picked up once every two weeks. It was magic. You could recycle almost everything else, much more than you can in America. It hurts my soul to have to throw away some things here that I could recycle in Germany. I just imagine it sitting in a landfill. It took a bit more work, as glass had to be taken down the street, and of course rinsing and sorting was more work than just tossing it in the trash, but I was happy to do it. Similarly, you didn’t see a lot of litter.
They have higher standards for food in Germany. You never worried about GMOs, preservatives, and unnecessary crap in your food. We ate at the local McDonald’s in our town pretty regularly, and we always said it tasted better and fresher than McDonald’s in the U.S. I could go down the street to a bakery in any direction (croissants!). Eggs still had feathers stuck to them sometimes. I miss feeling like we were eating better, even when eating out.
There is nothing like immersing yourself in another culture. Visiting is great, but actually living there is an entirely different experience. You can appreciate what you miss about the U.S., and you can see the beauty and nuances of something very different. It taught me about being adaptable, learning on the fly, and figuring things out. I am now more educated about how things are done outside the U.S. and it was truly an amazing experience. I wouldn’t be opposed to living overseas again, but I also missed a lot about America.
Things I don’t miss about Germany:
The Language Barrier
I was there for two years, and I didn’t learn German. It is so hard! There are so many syllables! I knew how to say “excuse me,” “do you speak English?” and a handful of other phrases. I could order food like a pro, and could sometimes get my point across in other situations. But I don’t miss the anxiety of needing to make a phone call or visit an office and hoping someone spoke English.
The Weather/Air Conditioning Situation
While in some ways the weather was great (compared to the sweltering humidity of North Carolina), it rained a lot. Then in the summer, it would get pretty hot, but very few places had air conditioning. Our house didn’t. Most restaurants didn’t. The hospital where I gave birth in the middle of July didn’t. I have never been so sweaty in my life. I was the only American weirdo on the ward who wasn’t wrapping her baby in the down comforter they give you.
The Lack of Convenience
It seemed like nothing was simple over there. Street parking meant finding a spot (if you’re lucky) then putting money in a meter, which prints out a ticket of when it expired. Then you had to walk back to the car and put it on the dashboard. So there was no “feeding the meter” unless you went back just when it was expiring, or you were wasting money. Then there was the shopping; I missed Target (and even Walmart). There was one similar store there, but I didn’t know the brands or whether the prices were reasonable. Between the constantly changing value of the Euro, plus the Value Added Tax of 19%, I never knew if things were really a good deal. And I longed to be able to go into one store to get diapers, baby food, shampoo, groceries, and printer paper, while knowing I wasn’t overpaying. Instead I felt like I was going to multiple places to find exactly what I needed. And those places were never close to one another.
Stuttgart is a large city, and the traffic was pretty bad. I’m sure if we moved from D.C. I wouldn’t have complained, but it felt like it always took forever to get anywhere in Germany. There were frequent staus, or traffic jams, that could easily add hours to a longer road trip. Whether it was just rush hour or road construction (very rarely was it due to an accident, surprisingly,) you could never truly predict how long it would take to get somewhere. Our drive home from Brussels, Belgium should have taken five hours. It took ten. (Granted part of that was the stopping for gas/to nurse & change her/to eat…) Talk about a long day, especially for our first road trip with a baby!
As I said above, we went to McDonald’s more often than most people do. We missed our American food. We were on a constant search for the Best Burger in the area, and it was a series of letdowns. We would often try to find restaurants to remind us of food at home (mostly burgers and breakfast). We found a few places and regularly returned to them, but considering how often we went out to eat before we went to Germany, it was quite different. (Keep in mind that before we moved, we were dual-income, no kids. And I hate to cook.) Another challenge was that many restaurants closed from about 2 to 5 p.m. More than once, we ventured into town hoping to get a late afternoon meal on the weekend, only to find everything closed. Luckily the Döner Kebap place was almost always open, and never disappointed. I am happy to be back in the U.S. where I can always find what I want, and sometimes even without leaving my house or car when we are in a crunch.
Honorable Mention: Come on Europe, enough with all the coins!
Anyone else live overseas? What do you love/hate?