I cannot believe it but exactly one year ago today we packed a rental van, headed to Baltimore and flew to our new home in Germany. We landed right in the start of winter and boy did it drag on. We had the heat on well into May! But after the winter broke, the rest of the year flew by. I really can’t believe that I am sitting here reflecting on a whole year living abroad.
If you know me, you know I am all about numbers, so let’s have it. This year we visited 7 countries: Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Croatia and the only stamp in our passports came from Slovenia as we drove through to Croatia! And as you know, Fil travels a lot for work, so his passport also has multiple stamps from Israel, Hungary, and Poland. Things are changing over hear, but we will remain vigilant and continue to enjoy the sights and history Europe has to offer. I am not sure I have a goal number, but as of today our “wall of postcards” has 25 and I wasn’t able to buy a postcard everywhere we went. Maybe we will hit 50 before we leave?
Overall I think we adjusted well to the differences over here. Somethings are easier than others, but we manage quite well. One thing I expected was to be speaking better German, but mostly everyone speaks English to us so learning and practicing German has been a struggle but both of us manage reading menus and signs quite well.
I started writing this post last week talking about all the good and bad things about our time so far. I got through two “goods” and already knew I had way too much! I re-evaluated and thought it would be fun to answer a series of questions with quick answers. Enjoy! P.S If you have another question leave it in the comments and I will reply :).
What is the best part of living in Germany?
I could list so many things. I think I will just say that it is an amazing opportunity. Not only for traveling and learning about cultures and history, but also for the chance to experience a culture first hand that still actually values family. It is sometimes hard, like when I let our fridge get too empty and Sunday comes but the stores are closed, but overall life is just more enjoyable here. The community events and holiday celebrations are so much fun with music and great food and they happen so frequently! The time to enjoy life is valued here and there is nothing greater.
What is the worst part of living in Germany (aside from being far from family/friends)?
As much as we love being here, the Baumholder garrison is small. We don’t mind that it is small, but with that comes fewer opportunities. It has really been a struggle to find activities for Brock. He really loves interacting with other children, but it seems like every class, playgroup, or meeting we try ends up falling to budget cuts. We have made it work with a great group of friends, but it is really sad that options are so limited for the kids here.
Second to that is Fil’s travel schedule. He has a great job that he really enjoys and excels at, but it means he is away a lot. Not having family near, and knowing you are one of three or four American families in town can get quite lonely- not to mention that I never really anticipated being a single parent, even if it is just for short periods of a week or a couple months at a time. But like anything, we struggled for a bit but have made wonderful friends so our full social calendar helps a lot.
What was your favorite trip within Germany?
This one I am torn on, but I think I can admit it was our last stop on our road trip when we found Herrenchiemsee. After all the planning I did for that trip to stumble on Germanys carbon copy of Versailles was not only a surprise but a real treat. Fil’s face lit up as we toured each room of the palace and for me that was the best part.
What is your favorite trip outside Germany?
I am fairly certain Fil would say his favorite trip was to Croatia since he got to take his kayak and fish the Adriatic Sea but I think my favorite trip was actually our recent Thanksgiving holiday to Valkenburg, Holland & then onto Belgium. For a last minute, throw together trip it really didn’t feel that way at all. We had so much fun, ate great food, and I got my wooden shoes which were very high on the list of wants.
The easiest thing to adjust to was…
Driving. I might be saying this because I was raised in New Jersey, but, not having a speed limit on the Autobahn was fun and easy to adjust to. And I say that seriously because I know people (Germans and Americans) who are afraid to drive here. I will admit that it is probably best I don’t have a motorcycle anymore…
The hardest thing to adjust to was…
Another question I really need to answer in two parts. The hardest initial adjustment was the time difference. Getting here in winter was really hard on us since the days are so short. Once the fog (way thicker than the fog in the Puget Sound) burned off we were lucky to get 2 hours of partial sunlight. That added to a 4 month olds sleep schedule made adjusting to time quite difficult. So far this winter is providing more sun, but let’s not jinx that.
But after that I would have to say language. We do ok, but like I said before it is hard to learn in an environment where everyone just switches to English for you. Both of us took French in school and we both admit to hearing the French words in our heads which then confuse the German we attempt to say even more.
One thing you miss from the states is…
A sense of urgency. Everything here takes FOREVER. 6 weeks for our internet to get hooked up. 6 weeks for the tires I ordered to come in. 10 weeks for a windshield. Even “simple” things that in the States we could expect in a few hours takes days over here. Also, if you go out for a meal expect it to take a minimum of one hour, safer bet is closer to 2 or 3. The best example of this came from someone Fil works with. He bought a couch and they said it would be 10 weeks to come in. He asked if he could buy the floor model and they said it would take 4 weeks.
One thing you already know you will miss when you leave Germany is…
Driving fast and also a relaxed pace of life/business. Driving fast I have already experienced. When I came home in June I was going almost 90 mph before I realized the speed limit was 50… :o. Not just highways, but the speed limits on regular roads are much faster than in the states and man do I love it! But I will also miss the relaxed pace over here. Everything is closed on Sundays, even IKEA! Holidays are actually celebrated, and by that I mean businesses close for the day and people can enjoy an outing with their family.
What is one thing Americans can learn from Germans?
Lots of things come to mind, but the top of the list is how not to be wasteful! Not only do they have an amazing recycling program, but people do their part much more than Americans. When we moved into out house the people who assisted with setting up utilities explained that Americans use far more utilities than Germans so be prepared to pay a lot. Pretty much every house has a water collection barrel collecting rain water for watering plants. They also do not waste money. This might be because you pay for everything here, but in general I have found that people are much more self-sufficient meaning they do things for themselves instead of hiring help. Everyone changes their own oil in their car, for example.
Are you glad you live off-base?
Absolutely! We love our village! The people are wonderful, the community has vibrant events, and you would be pressed to find a better baker than ours. I dare you to try. We have made great friends with a German family and feel so lucky to know them. Oh, and our town music club is amazing! I will really miss hearing them perform when we do leave. That being said, when Fil travels it can be pretty quiet and lonely out here but I have a good group of friends and activities so it is not so bad anymore.
What obstacles have you overcome this year?
Aside from the obvious of language and not knowing where to shop for specific things, a significant obstacle from the year was internal. This was a big year of change for me. I became a stay-at-home mom living abroad, and frequently alone. I mentioned before that things are much better now, but for a while it was rough. The initial switch from working for a non-profit to taking care of a baby with no family or even friends nearby was fine but when Fil’s job took him from home for a week at a time I really struggled. Now I volunteer my skills so I keep my mind active and have a great group of friends so I don’t have to feel alone. It is still hard knowing our families miss so much of Brock growing up—and aren’t around to babysit.
When can I visit?
Absolutely whenever you want! We love having visitors, and it is especially nice to have the company when Fil is away. Our door is always open. Also, if you are planning a trip anywhere in Europe let us know—we can probably meet up with you at least for a day or two.
How much longer will you live there?
There is no firm answer on this one. As of now, our DEROS date has not changed and is still December 2017, 3 years after we arrived. That can always change but at this moment we expect to be here until then.
I could really go on forever about all the things that are different here, and reminisce about all our new experiences but I think I will finish wrapping Christmas gifts instead :). So please, if you are curious about anything just ask and I will do my best to answer.