10 Things We Learned About Germany

1 Oct


I’m gonna be honest. I never thought I’d go to Germany. My grandfather vowed to never go to Germany or Dallas because of Hitler and the JFK assassination. Well, I’ve been to both places thanks to Caitlin and it turns out they’re both pretty great. Well, at least Germany is*. Berlin was fun and lively with distinct architecture. It’s full of history and life and describes itself as “poor, but sexy” with a smile. And as great as Berlin is, getting to share in Caitlin’s love of Freiburg was just as special. We’ll cover both cities in depth in our city-by-city guides, but this is the first of three “things we learned” posts where we talk about interesting things we found out about the countries we visited that we had no idea about before we went**.

*I’m glad that Zack was able to let loose in Deutschland. I realize that it has a really horrific history, but what I do think is special is that Germany knows it, too, and particularly in Berlin there are memorials and monuments everywhere to remind people about the past and prevent it from ever happening again.

**For a lot of this post, it’s really what Zack learned about Germany, since I’d been there before. It was endlessly enjoyable to rediscover the country through fresh eyes.

1. Hitler Mustaches are still a thing.


I saw a few signs like this around Germany. People still spray paint Hitler mustaches onto otherwise normal advertisements. I don’t know what to think of it except that I still find Hitler mustaches funny, so I get it. Still, for a place that shows so much guilt over the Holocaust, kind of odd and a little unsettling. Agreed. Zack found so much glee in this kind of graffiti at the time, but you do have to wonder the intent behind it. I’m just glad Zack wasn’t the one defacing posters everywhere we turned.

2. Germans are genuinely sorry about the Holocaust.


They have a number of sites around Berlin like this Holocaust Memorial which we visited on the bike tour. It’s one of those “it means what you want it to mean” memorials, that is interesting to see in person and walk around in, even if it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it’s supposed to signify. It’s a nice touch that they had a company spray special anti-graffiti paint on it so no one would deface it and that they have guards watching it at all times. And they blew up Hitler’s bunker. I was a fan of that. Not to mention, they had Jewish artists design many of the memorials, and the one above is just one of many throughout the city. I think it’s so important for countries to recognize when they do wrong, and keep reminders so that history isn’t horrendously repeated.

3. Berlin is the 3rd gayest city in the world.


After half a day in Berlin, I noted that I’d seen a handful of gay couples holding hands in our brief time walking around the city. I mentioned it to Caitlin and she said, “I guess, it’s not like it’s San Francisco or New York level of gay population or anything.” Then the next day our tour guide tells us Berlin is the 3rd gayest city in the world, trailing only SF and Sydney. Possibly related: We saw a lot of people wearing full leather outfits in the middle of the day. The leather should have been an indicator to me. I figured Berlin was just a normal metropolitan mish-mash of all different kinds of people, but there you have it!

4. Berlin smells and it isn’t just you or the zoo.

bad smell

Every few blocks you’ll get a whiff of something and it’s not pleasant. I did kind of wonder if it was me after a long travel day, or if it was the zoo rubbing off on us or what, but then I was told the whole city was built on a swamp and it’s known to stink because of that, so there ya go. Swamps. Yeah, I’m certainly pleased it wasn’t just us, but there are some corners that, especially when it’s a warm summer day, I’d imagine you’d just want to avoid altogether.

5. Stop lights go from red to yellow to green.

This one kinda blew my mind. Yellow doesn’t mean slow down. It means get ready to start moving, because it’s about to be green. Not kidding. Watch the video. It’s six seconds. Come on. I’d forgotten about this aspect of German life. I think it’s kind of cool, but I’m curious if there’s a yellow before a red light in addition to the yellow before the green, because I think it’s kinda important both ways. 

6. German food is surprisingly hard to find in Germany.


It took me until the last night in Germany to find a Schnitzel and those German noodles. Caitlin help me out here*. Apparently Germans are really into pizza and falafel**. I could get meatballs, but most traditional German dishes were surprisingly hard to find. Once we did find them, they were delicious and I wish we’d had more. I wasn’t too keen on eating pizza before we got to Italy, but it was all tasty***.


**ESPECIALLY falafel & kabobs. That stuff is errywhere.

***We never had a chance to eat at my FAVORITE Italian restaurant in Freiburg, and I still submit that had we gone there, Zack’s socks would have been knocked off.

7. There’s good graffiti and bad graffiti.


So the Berlin Wall has all these different stretches and there’s a lot of really cool artwork by professional artists, but there’s also a ton of crap. I mean, right here, it’s cool that there’s this plant built into the wall, but cartoon guy with red eyes and a joint coming out of his mouth and “don’t waste your life” and a bunch of gibberish. I don’t know. A lot of it is an eyesore. I love some good graffiti, but a lot of it is really not inspiring to say the least. Obviously, I don’t think this is the fault of the original artists. It’s unfortunate that run-of-the-mill taggers just have to plaster their names all over everything, because if they’d respect the work of their fellow artists instead I think the impact of the wall would be far greater at the East Side Gallery. We never really got to see much of Potsdam, which is too bad because I think the best street art is there and I think Zack would have really enjoyed it.

8. German beer is great, but there is such a thing as too much.


Getting a pint of beer? Great idea. Getting an entire liter? Sure, if you’re thirsty after a long bike ride, by all means. Getting two liters of beer poured into a gigantic glass boot that you need two hands to lift after you’ve already come down from being drunk on a train several hours earlier? Well, here’s how that turned out.  If you need to make a deposit on the receptacle you’re drinking beer out of, make sure you’re ready for that kind of commitment. I have nothing to add here. Except put syrup in my beer, always.

9. Credit Cards are practically banished in the country.


When we got off the plane for a layover in Dusseldorf, I almost left my credit card at the airport cafe after charging a coffee and croissant. I might not have noticed for days. Literally no restaurant or shop or bar or any establishment you can think of takes credit cards. They look at you like you’re holding a bloody tampon if you take a credit card out*. Don’t even think about it. I hadn’t remembered this aspect of Germany AT ALL, but yup — credit cards are not really a thing, and it caused us to semi-panic (but also probably kept us from overspending too much, so probably a good thing in the end).

*Zack was really excited about this joke/metaphor/whatever it is. I debated snotty tissue or used condom and settled on bloody tampon. 

10. It’s insanely easy to crash your way onto a train.

You know how in most places, you buy a train ticket and then you put it in a machine and go through a turnstile? Well, in Germany, you buy a ticket and then … no one checks it. At all. There’s no turnstile. No attendant. You just have a ticket.  That no one checks. Ever*. You’re supposed to put it in the on-board machine to get it validated. Apparently on occasion they’ll have guards around and you’ll get in big trouble if you don’t have a ticket, but we rode eight trains and zero times were our tickets checked in any way at all**. As a crasher, it gave me ideas. You could just buy a ticket and only validate it on times you see a guard around. I dunno. Seemed awful easy to trick the system.***

*Until they do, because it does happen. And at that point you’ve probably stopped buying tickets and so you’re caught unawares and have to pay like hundreds of Euros in fines.

**Zack is explicitly talking about Freiburg trams here, because on our f’real DB Bahn train rides from city to city, attendants did check our tickets. This is an important point. You NEED a ticket on long legit train rides. They scan them and check your credit card.

***I know it killed Zack’s crasher soul a bit to keep buying tram passes when literally nobody ever checked us, but when I was living in Freiburg, I actually *had* a semester-long pass that I’d purchased as a student at Uni Freiburg, but I hadn’t known that I needed some random stamp on there as well, and one day when the guards did hop on the tram and I showed them my pass, one of them started snapping at me in fast, heavily accented German that I didn’t understand and I ended up crying on the tram as a kind woman on there tried to explain to me that I was needing to put a stamp on my student pass. I ended up having to pay a moderate fine (reduced from a huge fine). So, yeah. You can either spend a lotta Euros and possibly never be checked, or you can cry in front of a bunch of Germans on a tram. I still think it’s crash-able 99% of the time and crying or playing the dumb American card always works.


3 Responses to “10 Things We Learned About Germany”

  1. www.pixxxel.org October 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    for me as a german its everytime quite inbteresting how other people see Germany and Germans. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Caitlin October 2, 2013 at 7:37 am #

      Thanks so much for reading! It was fun for me to see what kinds of ideas Zack had about Germany, since I’d lived there. I liked when something would surprise him – it made it more fun for us both:)


  1. 10 Things We Learned about Each Other | rockloveaustin - October 8, 2013

    […] already gone through the 10 things we learned about Germany, Paris and Italy and now we move on to what we learned about each other. After nearly three years […]

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