Analyzing my own culture – Three weeks in the familiar unfamiliar Germany

Quedlinburg in Germany.

We immediately liked this town just east of the Harz mountains.

Analyzing my own culture – Three weeks in the familiar unfamiliar Germany
Country
: Spain and Germany
From Madrid to Germany back to Madrid
Lesson learned: It’s all a question of the point of view
Most wonderful miracle: Tartar bread rolls and licorice
Animals we saw: cats, dogs, cows
Days on the bike: 0
Kilometers cycled: 0
Average kilometers per day: 0
Total kilometers cycled: 30,284

Missed the last entry? Here it comes: Discovering the Mexican Caribbean by bicycle
Blog auf Deutsch: Seltsame Eigenarten der Deutschen – Abstecher in die Heimat

Yesterday we enjoyed the Caribbean air and now we were in Madrid. Planes just seems to fly far too fast. It was a nine hour flight and we were quite exhausted when we reached Madrid.

Annika and Roberto in Madrid!

Madrid! It was only after taking this picture that we realized we had been in partner look all day. .

We left the bikes with Roberto’s sister’s best friend’s boyfriend’s parents. The Mexican networking is simply amazing. We ourselves and all our other stuff stayed with Trini, a good friend of Roberto’s parents.

Ailyn and Carlos

Ailyn and her boyfriend Carlos even picked us up at the airport!

Trini had a full house but she rented a 1-room apartment that she used as a massage saloon and since there weren’t any appointments scheduled for some days, we turned it into our little shelter. The Entrevillas neighborhood was just our kind of place, we liked it right away.

Madrid Sightseeing

Much to discover in Madrid

That wasn’t because there were any must-see-POIs nearby, no, it was much rather apartment buildings one next to the other and in between some green and some laundry. It was interesting because I could have spent all day sitting at the bus stop and observing people. This was where the lower middle class lived.

Trini and her mom

Trini and her lovely mother cooked spanish tortilla, saussage, chicken and salad.

That meant many people of different backgrounds, surprisingly many dogs (and the matching dog poop) and here and there some folding chairs on the sidewalk that people spent their evenings on, chatting and laughing. Some things reminded me of Mexico but many others were so different.

Madrid sightseeing

Some museums opened their doors for free in the evenings.

One day a lady walked by. She had her face painted as a cat. It was still quite a bit till Halloween and I wondered if Madrid maybe reminded me of Berlin as well.

I did miss the smiles though. Mexico was always full of smiles, while here people seemed a little upset most of the time. When they met friends and family we would hear the loudest laughter, but towards strangers like ourselves, a smile or a nod were a rare sight. People seemed a bit more suspicious, but whomever we asked for help or directions, were always very helpful.

Museo del Jamón

In Madrid’s ham museum they sell very delicious and quite reasonably priced Serrano ham and beers. We decided to get some of both.

There were a few shops and sometimes we could see people having a “Ración” (snack-sized meal) in a “Cervecería”. The latter seems to be a mix of a Mexican Cantina, a British pub and a German inn, more like the local corner bar but with warm food.

Madrid

Fortunately Madrid was still rather hot in October.

I couldn’t help but compare everything to Mexico and what surprised me right away was the large numbers of elderly people making their slow way through the streets. Mexico has an age average of 27.4, while Spain has 43.2. From one day to the next we were below average again.

Festival zum mexikanischen Tag der Toten.

Trini (in the brown dress) is an expert in cultural dances. Here she co-organized a Mexican Day of the Dead dance event.

Another thing was that in Mexico it’s rather unusual for people above 65 or 70 to live by themselves. Those who have any, often stay with their children, who accompany them to their appointments, drive them around and do the shopping for them. Here we saw people of all ages carrying their groceries home and stopping for a chat with some friends or neighbors.

Fahrradschläuche aus dem Automaten und öffentliche Luftpumpen auch außerhalb der Öffnungszeiten. In Deutschland ist das ganz normal. Bike tube vending machine in Germany

Inner tubes from a machine, public air outside opening times – in Germany they come prepared for cyclists!

The jetlag had hit us hard. We spent two sleepless nights in the cozy massage-saloon apartment, then we boarded the next plane.

Tanja, Florian, hanna, Annika und Roberto in Helgoland

Finally we met my sister in law Tanja and my little sweetheart of a niece Hanna. My brother and Tanja sponsored us a trip to Helgoland and we had a great time.

Our bikes stayed where they were because we were only going for a few weeks, afterwards we would return to Madrid to continue cycling.

Viele verschiedene Kartoffelsorten auf dem Markt

Maybe ther’s only two types of chili and only one type of corn in Germany but there is plenty of choice in terms of apples and potatos.

When we left the plane at Hamburg airport, everything was different again. It was familiar and yet odd, strangely at the same time. Most people around me spoke German. And then there were all these annoyed faces. Why wouldn’t anybody return my smile?

Sheep on the hills

No need to feed the sheep and no need to mow the lawn.

It took a while to realize that I didn’t know anybody here and that it was an odd thing to smile at strangers and await a smile in return. People must have thought I was a crazy lady.

There were so many clichés about Germany that I always thought had nothing to do with reality but now I realized that some of them might have a reason to exist.

Ferry to Helgoland

The ferry brought us over to Germany’s only deep-sea island Helgoland. 

Yes there actually is an enormous amount of tall and blonde people. I had always remembered it much more mixed. And yes, people really do speak extremely much about the weather. But the weather is what makes your day.

Auf hoher See

No lnd in sight for a while

You want to have a lazy afternoon on the sofa but you can’t because the sun is out and as it hardly ever is, so you feel like you have to take advantage and go outside before it starts raining again. Or you plan on getting some garden work done on your off-day but it’s all rain and hail outside.

Die lange Anna in Helgoland

The long rock is the main attraction of the green-red-white island without cars or bicycles. 

Weather matters, so it’s an important topic. In most parts of Mexico there’s dry season and there’s wet season and not many surprises around that, so why talk about it? “Oh it’s sunny” – “Yeah” – “Just like yesterday” – “And the day before” – “Yeah, it might be a degree or two warmer than last week” – “Yeah”. You see, the topic would get boring there pretty quickly.

View down to Helgoland's "Unterland"

View down to the Unterland

Another true cliché is the waste separation and bottle deposit. And in my opinion that’s something the Germans can really be proud of. It doesn’t mean no German ever throws their takeaway foam box out of their car window, there’s these kind of people everywhere, even in super clean Singapore.

Fachwerkhaus in Sachsen-Anhalt

Half-timbered house in Saxony-Anhalt

But those others separate their trash into organic waste, paper and carton, plastic and aluminum, glass (separated into green, brown and white), batteries, as well as “Restmüll” (not recyclable). In the end the Restmüll is no fuller than the recyclable containers. Some people also seem to try to avoid producing trash at all.

Blaskapelle im Hofbräuhaus München

Bavarian music in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich

There’s not many roadside stands where you can get an entire entrée, main and dessert plus drink wrapped in separate plastic, foam and aluminum foils. Of course there’s still much more to learn, but we’re on the right way.

Please insert your glass trash here. Unless it has any color or you arrived outside the allowed schedule (for example around noon, in the evening or on Sundays).

You can leave your old glass here, unless it has any color or you can at the wrong day or time. 

All foreign tourists complain about our Sunday. You’re not allowed to make any loud noises at all. That includes drilling, mowing the lawn, recycling glass or listening to loud music. All shops are closed, it’s a bit like back in Tonga except people don’t usually dress up only because it’s Sunday. Restaurants and Cafés open. There’s cake and coffee and they play some very soft easy listening music in the background. Age average: 46.2.

Annika an der Nordsee

Walk at the North Sea

So what do people do on a Sunday? The generalized answer is “spazieren gehen”. Quite some people love to go for long walks, may it be in a park, a forest, the city, the village, the mountains or the beach. And when they feel like they walked enough, they enter a café and order “Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake).

Public toilet in Quedlinburg

Public toilet in Quedlinburg

Sunday is also a day to see the family, talk about the weather, football and politics and take care not to raise your voice too high and not to interrupt anybody. It sounds like the perfect harmony mixed with a bit of too strict boredom.

Annika on the ferry from Cuxhaven to Helgoland

Salty air and quite some wind – I’m home. 

But don’t get me wrong: This may be a typical Sunday for many families large and small, young and old, living North, South, East and West, in cities and villages. Nevertheless it doesn’t mean that all Germans alike love politics, a cake in a quiet café and a long walk. Some spend their Sunday playing computer games, others go climbing and others again stay in bed hungover from Saturday night.

Tropenhaus Bayreuth

Visiting my mom and step-grandma in Bayreuth. I wish outside the tropical garden it was as warm as inside. 

Some even ignore the noise regulation and do some home improvement or garden work. Yet surprisingly many people in Germany do enjoy a Sunday-Spaziergang with Kaffee und Kuchen.

So other popular topics beside weather, football and politics seemed to be our plans for the future. Not that popular were our rather vague answers.

Thüringer Rostbratwürste

Yummy sausage from Thuringia

“So now what?” – “We’ll work” – “As what?” – “I don’t know, we’ll see what we can get” – “So you haven’t even applied yet?!” – “We’ll do that once we’re back” – “So when will you be back?” – “I’m not sure yet” – “…” – “Maybe around Christmas?” – “Alright, so where will you be living?” – “Oh I guess we’ll simply apply here and there and then move to where we are offered jobs” – “And how long will you be staying?” – “Well, I can’t really say, time will tell, but I think it will be a while” – “A while like what? A month? A year? Ten years?“ – „Really I can’t tell, first we need to finish this, return, get used to this very different lifestyle and then …“ – “So you don’t know at all? But you have to have some plans!”

Festung Rosenberg in Kronach

Visiting the castle Rosenberg in Kronach with my dad

It was always the same. It’s not a good thing to go through life without clearly set plans and goals. People don’t seem to like this a lot. In a place like Germany you have to always plan things ahead, a hundred years back that meant survival in a harsh winter or after a bad harvest. It drives some people crazy if you don’t apply this to your entire life.

Marienplatz in Munich

Marienplatz in Munich

Many things haven’t changed during the past five years. In my home towns most shops were still the same, there were still yellow signs on the highways and blue signs on the motorways. Public transport was still way too expensive and after two weeks in six towns and cities I couldn’t even see a change in numbers of foreign people or refugees. There were still hardly any mosques and as mentioned before, the amount of blonde people was surprisingly high. But then again what’s 1.2 million in 83 million habitants?

Sunny day in a German beergarden next to the castle Rosenburg in Kronach

We even had a sunny day and people ran straight out to the beer garden. 

Something that had changed was the amount of fair-trade shops, wind turbines up North and solar panels down South. People here were foresighted. You have to have a plan, so you can make other long-term plans. Does it really pay off to buy solar panels? Will I be living in this house for the next 20 or more years?

Yellow tree in front of the castle Rosenburg in Kronach

Summer day in fall

People have to commit and they don’t seem to have any problem with that. Anticipatory thinking is something you see every Saturday evening when the shops are close to bursting, because people want to have all the food they need for the shopping-free Sunday. Many people pay into a private pension fund apart from the public pension’s office, they have two different dental insurances, a household insurance and they are generally prepared for the worst case scenario while elsewhere people wouldn’t enjoy thinking about such negative things and don’t see the point in making all these preparations when chances are pretty little that such a worst case scenario will happen any time soon.

Sauerbraten

Finally after five years: My aunt Luitgard’s Sauerbraten!

Being prepared and foresighted also means having children only if there’s enough income and space, buying a crate of beer rather than a few bottles every couple of days, and usually filling up the gas tank all the way. So clearly “Seeing how things evolve” is not an acceptable answer to “What’s your plans”.

It wasn’t so much the travel that change me, neither was it Roberto with his Mexican mentality. I’ve always been a wee bit odd and I’ve had discussions about safety, risks and plans for all my life.

Blick auf die Festung Rosenberg in Kronach

View of the castle Rosenberg in Kronach

If I think back to five years ago, we didn’t even know where we were going to travel to and how long we would stick to bicycles as a means of transportation. That all evolved with time and no kind of plan could have had a better outcome. So being a bit different I have always had a bit different opinion on things, but now that I had been abroad for so long, I had the chance to experience my own home culture from a very different point of view for the first time.

Besuch in Teuschnitz

Visit in Teuschnitz

I have always tried to adapt to new cultures, habits, lifestyles in other countries, so of course back home I was trying my best to do the same. There were so many details that I had never realized, that made the culture here so unique. It’s the curious but yet shy people, who wonder who we are and what language we are speaking, but are too timid to ask, because they are afraid they might appear insensitive.

Roberto trinkt eine Maß Bier.

Roberto drinks his beer just like a local. 

It’s the pure amazement I get when I see TV papers, egg prickers, house shoes, advertising pillars, people who count things starting with their thumb instead of the index finger, as well as this very gentle half hug half handshake that hat always made me uncomfortable. It took me quite a while to get used to these familiar sights and habits again.

Kronach, Oberfranken, Bayern.

Stroll through Kronach

Chinesischer Turm im Englischen Garten in München

Chinese Tower in the English Garden in Munich

We wandered around s tourists, ate Bratwurst in Bayreuth, drank beer in Munich, ate cheese cake in an old town of the Harz mountains, hiked in the Frankenwald woods, swayed to the music of the city chapel in Teuschnitz and drank beer at 1 am outside a Späti in Berlin. In short: we had an amazing time. If only it wasn’t so cold!

Roberto carries seven jars of beer

Roberto practices for Oktoberfest

Friends, family and licorice made me feel at home quickly in this so familiar and yet so strange culture. They didn’t care if our plans weren’t longterm enough, they talked louder than Kaffee-und-Kuchen-level of noise and they didn’t give out strange half-handshake-half-hugs to us – they made us feel welcomed, loved and home and that was why we came.

Bummel mit der Familie durch München

Walk through Munich with my family

German Museum in Munich

German Museum in Munich

Our first impression was a very positive one. The Germans in general seemed to be hospitable people with a wide span of interests. But often you’d have to go the first step and start talking to them.

Rainy day in the Olympia Stadion in Munich

Who cares for the rain as long as we have more dry clothes in a place with walls and roof

Annika and her beloved liquorice

Annika in the land of milk and honey

Tijuanense in Munich

Tijuanense in Munich

Making friends is a pretty long progress but friendships here last a very long time too. I had planned to lose the jetlag and get some work done, but instead I spent every free minute having either coffee or beer with the friends and family that I had missed so much.

Quedlinburg in Sachsen-Anhalt.

On the way back up North we stopped in Quedlinburg in Saxony-Anhalt.

Roberto had a great time too, even though for him the language was a bit challenging at times. But when we’re back he’ll improve hos German in no time, I’m sure.

Quedlinburg in Germany.

What a pretty town just East of the Harz mountains

Quedlinburg near the Harz mountains

View from the garden next to the St. Servatius church

Time with friends and family flew. Our last stop was Berlin, the loudest, most colorful and craziest city of all. Unfortunately we had three days of grey skies, rain and cold temperatures.

Romantisches Quedlinburg

Romantic Quedlinburg

Katya, Mariya und Adrian

In Berlin we met our old friends Katya, Mariya and Adrian with Emil and Lora who I had only known from pictures before. .

I boarded the plane back to Madrid with 1 ½ kilos of licorice, 6 bars of chocolate and a massive cold. Good thing it was still more than 20°C in Madrid.

Auch die Weltenbummler Lisi und Torsten treffen wir in Berlin!

What a coincidence! Lisi and Torsten were in Berlin too! They had biked all the way from New Zealand to China and in a few weeks will continue the ride from Thailand back home  (this is their blog)

Wie es uns in Spanien ergeht, dazu mehr hier: Wintereinbruch und Verwirrung – Mit dem Rad durch Spanien

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  1. Verdammt gut beobachtet und geschrieben.
    Vieles spricht mir aus der Seele und erinnert an die erste Rückkehr nach Good Old Germany.

    • Moin Konrad,
      ja das ist schon was Besonderes wenn man selbst ml mit einem völlig neuen Blick auf alles sehen kann. Und schon – schwuppsdiwupps – hat man sich gleich wieder an sooo vieles gewöhnt.
      Viele liebe Grüße aus dem Süden,

      Annika

  2. Shirley Ascher says:

    Really enjoyed reading this insightful
    Iece. Thankyou! Xx

    • Thanks so much Shirley, it’s been pretty interesting to write as well and I’m happy I made notes from day one onwards. As you get used to things so quickly now, it’s sometimes hard to remember the things that a few days ago still had surprised or confused you.
      Hugs from Munich, where you’re always welcome to visit and stay with us!

      Annika

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