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What I WILL Miss About Germany

Author’s note: As I near the end of my time living in Germany while my wife serves in the United States Army, this is Part II of a three-part series, examining my thoughts and feelings as I prepare to head back to America and leave Germany behind. Part I examined what I will not miss about Germany and can be found here. Part II, below, examines what I will miss about Germany. Part III examines what I’ve learned during my time in Germany.

The Autobahn

Uggghhh.

It’s a cliche. The autobahn. I will miss the German autobahn.

If you asked two years ago shortly after I arrived in Germany or even six months ago, this would not have made the list of things I will miss about Germany. But something happened a few months ago. Part of it was living under some form of COVID-19 restrictions the past 14 months, and part of it was knowing I was returning to the United States shortly, where life in the northeast of the United States is restricted to 65 mph, a snail’s pace by German standards.

The autobahn in Germany

The diagonal cross lines—no limits beyond.

For many Americans, the autobahn is an elusive fantasy. After all, how many of us will travel to Germany? If you are a speed enthusiast, what is more compelling than being able to drive triple digits without fear of seeing flashing blue lights in your mirror?

How fast do I drive on the autobahn? First, let’s dispel a myth about the autobahn. The autobahn is not universally without speed limits.

The autobahn is analogous to our interstate system in America, and just like we have different speed limits for different sections, so it is true with the autobahn. You will commonly see speed limits of 120 kph and 130 kph on the autobahn (roughly 75 and 80 mph, respectively), as well as limits of 80 kph and 100 kph when it is raining (roughly 50 and 62 mph, respectively). They also love their electronic speed limit signs that they can change with a flip of a switch. Generally, you will find these near cities like Munich and are similar to what you can find on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Buying an Audi for the Germany roads

When in Rome, drive an Audi. The autobahn is filled with BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, and Fords.

However, there are many stretches where no speed limit is present. This is represented by a white road sign shaped in a circle with five black lines crossing the circle diagonally from lower left to upper right. When you see that sign on the horizon, prepare yourself. It’s almost as if you are a NASCAR driver and the green flag is being waved right in front of you.

It’s worth noting Germans will tell you that when there is an accident on the autobahn, they call a wrecker, not an ambulance, because of the remote chance of survivors. Although there is no speed limit in these sections, the government recommends a top speed of 130 kph. If you survive an accident, it will be assumed you are at fault, and you will be ticketed.

After two years with the autobahn, I am not only comfortable driving 160-170 kph (100-105 mph), I enjoy driving that speed. And yes, while driving 100 mph I still have cars pass me like I’m standing still.

Sunday, A Day of Rest

Growing up in Vermont in the 1970s, we still had “blue laws” that restricted commercial activity on Sundays. Here in Germany, blue laws still exist and with much greater force. All grocery stores, for example, are closed on Sundays. For many Americans living in Germany, this is a hard adjustment. To have one day of the week where most errands cannot be run and most needs or wants cannot be fulfilled is a drawback for many. However if you look at the reasoning behind the laws, it helps you appreciate this opportunity with which you have been blessed.

Using Sunday to rest in Germany

Lazy Sunday afternoon on the patio.

Christianity in Germany, particularly in Bavaria, is ever present, and it is both this influence as well as the importance of taking care of workers and their families that culturally, resistance to opening commercial activity on Sunday remains.

Many things we see as needs in our lives are simply wants. Many needs we believe we must have immediately are not a reflection of the items’ urgency as much as our impatience. Living in a country where you have no choice but to slow down one day a week reinforces these truths in your lives.

What’s more, the slow Sunday bleeds into the preceding day. When not traveling across Europe, we find our entire weekend to be even more relaxing than in the United States. Our entire mindset has become different. The weekend is for slowing down, catching up on rest, getting outside, and spending time with family.

Sunday is peaceful in Germany

Lazy Saturday afternoon in the fresh air.

Do I continue to get frustrated sometimes when it’s 8 p.m. on a Saturday night and I realize I wont be able to get that item I need until Monday morning? Yes, but if I balance advantages against disadvantages, it’s not close. The advantages heavily outweigh the inconvenience on a Sunday without businesses being open.

The People

Growing up, we are taught that Germany is one of the largest economies in the world, and they are a close United States ally and fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member. However, the closeness of our relationship cannot be fully understood or appreciated until you live in Germany as an American (and I should say my experience is in Bavaria, so it may differ in one of Germany’s other 15 states where U.S. troops are present).

First, there are the similarities between cultures. Similarities in religion, agriculture, topography, work ethic, among other things. Are there differences? Absolutely. But like everything in life, you can either focus on differences with others or the commonalities you share. In Germany, it is very easy to focus on that which bonds our two nations.

When talking with my German neighbors in the small village where we are the only Americans, what can start as a conversation about our differences will usually end with a discussion about what we have in common.

Friends can be found everywhere in Germany

Meeting new friends everywhere.

An example of this is, while writing this piece, I saw my neighbor Mano going out to his car. Mano and his wife, Christina, have four boys under the age of 12 (I do not envy Mano and Christina). As we prepare to PCS back to America, I have been setting aside items my children have outgrown for the other families in my small village. I took a break from writing to grab Mano, bring him over to the house, and have him look through the items to see which items could benefit his children.

As I was helping Mano carry the items back to his house, we started talking about his kitchen and the difficulty he had finding a kitchen that would fit his rental house when he moved in. You see, in Germany, renters bring their kitchens (and light fixtures) with them when they move to the next apartment or house. I’m not just talking about things like dishwashers and refrigerators, I’m also talking about cabinets and counters, in some cases! I let Mano know that is an 11 on a crazy scale of 1-10. Now, do I focus on the things that separate Mano and Christina from my wife and me, like having to buy a kitchen every time you move into a new apartment or house? Or do I focus on the things that bond us like the challenges of parenting?

It’s hokey but a good lesson to remember as we all go through life: If it’s this easy to find commonality in a country 5,000 miles from America’s shores, it really is this easy to find commonality with folks in our own communities in America who may seem very different than us.

It’s A Small World After All

Hop in the car after breakfast and be in Paris later that day. Or Berlin. Or Venice. Or Prague. Keep in mind this is pre-COVID-19, but you get the point. In fact, Prague, Salzburg, and Cathy Michalakis in Spangdahlem are so close, we can hop in the car after breakfast and have lunch in those cities just hours later.

Traveling throughout Europe

The Last Supper in Milan, Italy.

I will miss the smallness that is Europe. Over at the Statesman News Network, they have a piece on the size of Texas. In it, they state you could fit 10 European countries within the border of Texas and you can find which ten countries here. As Americans, we think nothing of driving 5-10 hours, road tripping from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, or packing up the family in New England to head to Disney World over spring break. Were you to do those trips here in Europe, you would see countless international treasures.

During a ten-day driving trip the family took through northern Italy, we were able to gaze upon the Last Supper mural, sit next to Michelangelo’s David Statute, stand on Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, and walk the canals of Venice.

David statue in Florence

Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy.

My hope is that my children never stop exploring. The following quotation is attributed to Malcolm X: “education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

Education comes in all forms. For my children, they are being educated in many things. They are being educated that we are one world. They are being educated that cultural treasures can be expected in the largest cities but can also be found in the smallest hamlets. They are being educated that kindness can be found across continents and countries. They are being educated to get off their butt, get out of their home, and explore.

The Castles

While writing this piece, I peppered the family on what they would miss from Germany. They provided answers like the food, the landscape, the civility in driving where people don’t honk, and giving someone the middle finger will get you a visit from the police. But, one answer had widespread support—the castles.

Hiking castles in Germany

A Burgruine Wolfstein hike at the request of the birthday girl.

One of our family’s favorite past times is hiking through the woods to castle/fortress ruins. It is curious that Germany does not protect these 1,000 year old artifacts with signs and rope, barring you from getting close to the crumbling walls, but they do not. You can walk right up to them, including walking right over them. I’ve seen some crazy things, where Germans will climb the second story of a castle remain when there is next to nothing left of the castle.

As a family, we have always enjoyed hiking and national parks, but the castles have allowed our exercise to be purpose driven. It is easy to google castle ruins in our area on a Friday night, then set out for that landmark the next day. Our family will dearly miss our nearly weekly hike to a castle ruin and hope the wildlands of Virginia will offer an equally compelling calling when we arrive later this summer.

Castle ruins in Germany

Burgruine Donaustauf overlooking Regensburg and the Danube River.

 

These are but five things I will miss when we leave Germany when the actual list is much longer.

What do you miss about where you used to live? Not just if you lived in another country but if you lived in another state or town.


If you liked this post, check out 26 Things You Might Miss When Leaving an OCONUS Duty Station and 25 Things to Love About America (That Might Not Make Sense Unless You’ve Lived Overseas).

Author

4 Comments

  1. Angie Andrews

    Hi Scot,
    I enjoyed this piece, and believe it or not I am already thinking about what I will miss when we have to leave where we are now (Okinawa). But, to answer what you actually asked, what I miss from Maryland is the townhome we lived in, the seasons and being younger, ha ha! From Mississippi, I miss the tomato pie. There was a restaurant that I must have gone to almost once a week on with a friend, purposely on macaroni and cheese days, but when tomato pie showed up on the menu, those were the best days. Also, there was a little non-chain coffee shop down in Mississippi where they knew my name, and that was so nice. I miss every little thing about Florida, all of the time, because it’s home to me (other than when home is simply my husband and wherever he is/we are together). From all three places, (and I know I’ll miss this from here in Oki, too), I miss my coworkers. I have always had the pleasure of working with wonderful coworkers, and an imaginary office full of all of them someday would be so fun.

    Reply
    • Scot Shumski

      Angie, I loved the things you missed! Especially the tomato pie. I mentally put it on my to do list when I’m in Mississippi next! Perhaps what struck me most was your attitude. So many people talk about the places they have lived or duty stations where their spouse has served with disregard but not you. I love your positive attitude to make wherever you are, worth missing when you are gone. Not exactly like John Lennon’s quotation, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,’ but clearly along those lines, you aren’t failing to appreciate the now and here!

      Reply
  2. Sharita Knobloch

    This is such a fun blog post, Scot– and makes me want to go OCONUS more than ever! Love the slow, mandatory chill Sundays you mentioned in Germany (we try to do the same thing here in El Paso, but it’s harder in America for sure). But I have to say– I can’t imagine driving over 100 mph anywhere. Although what a thrill! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Scot Shumski

      With my Toyota Sienna? No, not 100. But with an Audi? It starts to feel like 65 mph!

      Reply

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