“I learned from our hosts that I might get tackled, and at the very least scolded, if I try to mow the lawn on a Sunday.”
We are now 8 days into our Bavarian adventure, and this is our very first post since we’ve arrived! Normally while in Europe I’m churning out posts every 3 or 4 days…so what’s the matter, you ask?
Perhaps it’s because we haven’t had any good Bavarian food or drink? (if you know Joy Adventuring at all you know that food is NEVER a problem)
Or maybe Nate got lost at the Recyclinghof? (no, not yet anyway)
Maybe it is because we haven’t done or seen anything interesting? (again, not the issue)
The truth is, there is such a variety of information we are taking in on a daily basis. This includes cultural challenges like determining which of the 8 different Bavarian greetings we should use in a situation, daily challenges like figuring out how to fix the most gigantic coffee-maker you have ever seen, and weightier challenges like trying to process information about the Nazi history that is all around us.
So – I have only a couple of goals for this post – 1) a general orientation of how we’ve spent our first week and 2) our top impressions so far of Germany (er, Bavaria). If you haven’t yet, please read this post on house sitting as it will help orient you to how we are travelling through Europe on a budget (and some other great benefits to this method of travel).
Our First Week in Pischelsdorf
Our home for the next month is the tiny town of Pischelsdorf. Where is Pischelsdorf, you ask? Somewhere between Petershausen and Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. Not ‘hfelpful’? Okay, how about 20 miles (32km) north of Munich, in the heart of Bavaria. Now that we have that settled, how did we find ourselves in the bustling metropolis of Pischelsdorf (a town with not only a barbershop but a pizza parlor as well!)?
As I mentioned in the previous post, one feature of house sitting is that you don’t find typically find yourself in the most hip section of town or in the heart of the tourist district – you go where the need is, and in this case the need is in Pischelsdorf. Our particular house is located in a peaceful neighborhood where the only noise is the birds chirping and the church bells tolling on the hour. The sunsets are sensational every night. We are able to work uninterrupted from a fabulous deck that looks out over a vista which includes a few houses, a field, and the forest. Another feature is proximity to Munich (think Issaquah, my Seattle friends). We can get to Munich in 35 minutes, which includes roughly 10 minutes to the train station in Petershausen and 25 minutes to the downtown corridor of Munich. Not bad at all!
Meet the Family
We arrived at the Munich airport after an arduous 24 hour travel day, which included a completely chaotic experience at the San Francisco airport. (Sidenote: how many of you have spent time in SFO? In my experience it is the most chaotic, unorganized, ridiculous mess of an airport I’ve ever seen. I could go into a #natestory on the specifics but I don’t want to bore you with the travel details, since I think everyone universally hates lengthy travel days with multiple airports and no sleep.)
In any case, our host Romain kindly drove to Munich airport to pick us up. Unfortunately our bags didn’t arrive with us (ahem – thanks SFO!). But although he had to wait a long time for us to process our lost baggage claim with the airline, when we were ready to go Romain still had a smile on his face. This is when we knew that we’d really like this guy!
Romain and Aude (and 2 boys) are French, but they’ve lived and worked in Bavaria for 4 years now. They also have two pets, a dog (Cali) and a cat (LuLu). Hence, the need for house sitters!
I’m sure Romain and Aude don’t want me to go on and on about their lives, but suffice it to say they they are an incredibly generous couple that went way out of their way to make us feel at home. That includes everything from making us amazing Bavarian dinners, providing us with some great French wine (for when we get tired of beer), allowing us to use their car to go on day trips, and spending our first 4 days showing us around all the important spots (such as Recyclinghof!). It’s an extra bonus that they are French because I think they are more attuned to the things that are unique about Bavaria (more so than a local would be since things are usually ‘normal’ when you are local).
As I mentioned, we spent the first four days with the family. They showed us around during the day (to the vet, the butcher, the grocery, the recycling center, etc. etc. etc.) and in the evening we enjoyed meals and conversation late into the night. They left on their vacation last Friday morning, and then we spent the next few days exploring the area, including a trip to a beautiful local lake for some sun and beer, a day trip to Nuremberg, and our first day in Munich. I’ll weave some of our impressions from these trips in the list below, but I will likely dive more into specific places (like Munich) in a later post. And now – on to the top 10 ‘First Impressions’ list!
Top 10 First Impressions
10. We thought we were coming to Germany; we were actually coming to Bavaria
The state of Bavaria predates the country of Germany by over a thousand years, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that locals think of themselves as ‘Bavarian’ before they think of themselves as ‘German’. This manifests itself in numerous ways – for example, you wouldn’t be caught dead in Berlin wearing lederhosen or any other traditional Bavarian garb, but here it is fashionable to wear such things. Bavaria is the most affluent of the German states and has the richest cultural heritage (one could argue) – so is it any surprise then that Bavarians think of themselves in these terms?
We’ve learned that this pride does not extend to the beautiful town of Nuremburg, the poor souls in Northern Bavaria who were sold to Bavaria by Napolean in the early 1800’s. They are NOT happy about being part of the Bavarian state (That guy Napolean created some serious havoc here in Europe, btw).
Language, though, is the most obvious difference. Here in the Bavarian countryside, they don’t speak German; they speak Bavarian. This is not at all like the different accents you will find in the States; no, this feels like a different language. While in big cities like Munich you could get away with speaking German, in rural Bavaria you need to know Bavarian. Here’s an example (back to the ‘8 ways to say hello’ comment’)
Greeting in German: “Hallo” or “Guten Tag”
Greeting in Bavarian: “Grüss Gott” (“Grüß Gott “)or “Servus”
All I can say is…huh?
Oh, and Bavaria is a very conservative place. I learned from our hosts that I might get tackled, and at the very least scolded, if I try to mow the lawn on a Sunday.
9. Free walking tours are still the best
Last year we waxed poetically about, in our opinion, the best way to get to know a city. The first thing we always do is find a free walking tour, and this time in both Nuremberg and Munich it was no different. Although these tours are free, the general concept is that you leave a tip at the end of the tour based on how well you think the guide did. Sometimes (like in Munich) the company hopes a free tour will get you interested in some of their paid tours, whereas other times (like in Nuremberg) it’s simply a single enterprising college student looking to earn some weekend cash while teaching people about the heritage and culture of the place.
The free tours generally last 3’ish hours and cover large swathes of city and history with a light brush. We love these walking tours because 1) it’s a great way to orient yourselves to a city, 2) it helps you decide what sites you’d like to investigate further, 3) it’s a great way to make friends and learn about other travellers, and 4) the free tours attract younger people, and since Terra is young (and Nate, youngish) it’s a great way to connect with people our age. I’ll never forget our first walking tour in Paris last year; we met people from The Netherlands, India, California and across the globe, and afterwards our guide (and now friend) Quentin took us all out for food and drink. What fun experiences!
8. Recycling and sustainable energy in general is a big deal in Europe
I’m not going to belabor this point too much (in this post, anyway), but the US is lagging way behind in our focus on sustainable living and renewable energy. While this is most obvious in the US at a governmental level, one is struck while travelling Europe in the individual, day-to-day differences that, when added up, make a large collective difference. Some examples:
- Houses are optimized for temperature control – Some of this is simply that the houses are older and better insulated – in other words, meant to stand for hundreds of years. But it goes beyond that. Most houses have external blinds/shutters that are tremendous for keeping out light and heat (if desired) during the day. The doors also have the “coolest” feature – if you have the handle in the up position, you can tilt the door forward to let the hot air escape while still keeping the door shut. (I may have to figure out how to show a video of this, a description doesn’t do it justice.)
- In Germany, new construction is required to include solar panels – There are literally solar panels on every other house, and wind turbines everywhere, as well as fields upon fields of solar panels. A couple of months ago, Germany broke a single day record with coal and nuclear power only accounting for 15% of the overall energy usage (as described in this article). The subtitle of the article reads, “Electricity prices fell to negative figures for several hours on Sunday, as renewable sources fed so much power into the grid that supply exceeded demand”. I will state simply that this is what environmental leadership looks like.
- Recycling is a big deal – You may have noticed by my numerous references of ‘RecyclingHof’ that I am equal parts curious and scared by the place. (“Scared” because I’m sure I will be yelled at in Bavarian by the couple who guards the place and makes sure you don’t throw things in the wrong bin) In any case, a trip to RecyclingHof is quite the experience. There are bins upon bins to separate all of your items into (for example, about 4 different bins for different colors of glass). There is an entire building where people drop all sorts of useful items for others to peruse and take home – toys, bicycle helmets, beer mugs, etc. There are some serious gems there!
- Garbage is not a big deal – The garbage (anything which is not recycled) goes in a tiny container which is picked up every 2 weeks. To put it mildly this is not quite what I’ve seen in the US.
- Citizens are incentivized for ‘green’ behavior – On my trip to the store with Romain, he was credited 20 euros for a decent collection of bottles that he brought back into the store. How’s that for making the grocery bill cheaper?
7. Even expensive areas like Bavaria are more economical than many cities in the US
Bavaria is known as one of the most expensive places in the world, and Munich is known for its affluence and expense. So how can I say that you can it is more economical than many cities in the US? Well, this is entirely based on our impressions and experience, but since we at Joy Adventuring love food, I’ll use dining as our way to illustrate this point.
Picture this at a nice US restaurant: You go to the restaurant, you don’t get a menu, and you tell the waiter (who happens to be the owner) to bring out his favorite dishes. You proceed to have two glasses of wine each (also the owner’s choice), and so much food that you literally can’t stuff more in. How much would this cost, say in Seattle? After tax and tip I’d guess at least $150, with an outside chance that you accidentally ordered something really expensive and it is even more.
Well, this is pretty much what we did at a really nice wine bar in Nuremburg (pictured below) to the tune of about 60 euros (less than $70). Now, the fact is that we ate way too much, so I firmly believe we could have gotten out of there closer to $50. Something similar happened the next night at a tapas bar in Munich, and then again at a natural food store near our house. I’m beginning to see a pattern…
If I had to hazard a guess for why this is the case, I’d say because the food and wine in Europe is typically grown locally, and eating out is such a way of life that it has to be affordable. Local, sustainable, organic – delicious! (And yes, we need to stop stuffing ourselves.)
6. Proactive reminders of the horrors of Germany’s Nazi history are everywhere
Both Munich and Nuremberg played critical roles in Hitler’s movement. Munich was really the start of it all; did you realize that in 1923 Hitler was arrested in Munich and put on trial for high treason? Nuremberg comes into play later, as it was the unofficial Nazi capital and hosted most of the annual rallies for the Nazi party between 1927 and 1938.
Every country has some sordid history, and it just so happens that Germany is high on both the ‘recent’ and ‘incredibly evil’ scale. It’s difficult to think of Germany’s history without first thinking of the horrors of the Holocaust.
So far, though, what I see is a people who are willing to publicly acknowledge past mistakes and ‘make it right’. Everywhere you turn there are monuments that serve to honor the victims and act as a constant reminder of what can happen when the worst parts of humanity exert power over a nation.
It must be understood that this country’s repentant attitude towards past sins also affects modern-day policy. It’s not by accident that Germany has lead the world in opening its doors to Syrian refugees, welcoming an astonishing 600,000 Syrians in 2015 alone (for perspective, about 60 times more than the US does on an annual basis – 60 times! Please take a minute to let that sink in). There are no easy answers, and there are certainly pros and cons to every government-led approach to a problem like Syria. But I can guarantee you that for hundreds of thousands of Syrians (and their children, and their grandchildren) only eternal gratitude exists for Germany’s welcome, as no other country in the world has come even close to stepping up to meet the need in the way Germany has.
In the year 2017, we still think of Nazi’s and Hitler and other such evil when we think of Germany; I’m pretty sure in 2050 people will instead think of the outpouring of generosity that this country gave during the Syrian crises. Again, I’ll state that this is what leadership looks like (I feel like a broken record…).
I plan another post related to this topic in the coming month.
5. English works pretty well here
France and Germany operate very differently in how English is accepted in conversation. Both French and German people know English quite well (in general, especially in cities).
The French are proud of their language (and rightly so, as for much of history it was the language of diplomatic relations), so if you travel outside of tourist zones in France you’d better be prepared to at least start off a conversation with a bit of French (or at least say the traditional French greetings). This is actually one of the things we love about France (although conversely it can make it much more difficult to complete a simple transaction).
In Germany, it’s fine to lead off a conversation by just saying ‘Do you speak English?’. Three-quarters of the time the person you are speaking to will be fluent, and the other times they know enough English to get by and are happy to engage in a conversation without using German.
4. We don’t like Bavarian food (sidenote: there is good non-Bavarian food to be had here)
We admit it – we don’t like wienerschnitzel, we don’t like copious amounts of sausage, and (gasp!) we don’t really like Bavarian beer that much.
So what does a couple who doesn’t like Bavarian food/drink do with almost 5 weeks in Bavaria? We use Google, get inventive, and see what amazing non-Bavarian places we can find. So far we’ve found two amazing restaurants – the aforementioned Italian wine bar in Nuremberg and the tapas place in Munich.
Maybe our tastes will warm to Bavarian fare, but in the meantime a popular sub-topic for our blog posts will likely be all the non-Bavarian places we find!
3. We don’t understand the layout of villages here
I’m sure there is some rhyme or reason as to why and how villages are placed or what services they offer, but we truly have not found out yet.
Since we’ve spent so much time in France, we tend to compare and contrast a lot of our experiences from France. French villages make sense to us – there typically is a boulangerie (bread store), a fromagerie (cheese shop), a pharmacy, a post office, a church, etc. – essentially everything one needs in life is there in the town. Now there are some smaller habitations that don’t have those things, but it is usually clearly defined.
Here the layout and size of the towns feels haphazard, and most of the things that you need are not in your town (unless you live in a large one). As mentioned earlier, in Pischelsdorf we have a barbershop and a pizza place. In the next town there are more services (bank, gas station, grocery, butcher). But if I want to get my coffee maker serviced, for example, I need to go four or five villages away to get anything related to technology.
I think the primary difference is that the villages are everywhere. Exit a village, blink, enter a new village, exit, blink, enter. Why didn’t they all just settle together so the services can be closer!?! The end result is that you really have to have a car to do almost anything.
In some ways this may not be that different from France, but it just feels different and more random to us.
Stay tuned – although we really don’t understand Bavarian village life yet, we are excited to attend our local village’s annual party put on by the local Fire Brigade this Saturday. AND our hosts Romain and Aude are letting us borrow their Bavarian clothes for the event. I feel a blog post coming on!!!
2. The Autobahn is insane
With the conversion from miles to kilos I already feel like I’m going fast. And then there is the Autobahn. On our way to Nuremburg I just stayed out of the fast lane, and watched as a car would zip past at what seemed to be double my speed. It is crazy – be careful out there as some stretches don’t have speed limits which means as fast as your little car can go. And it may be said that Germans have a thing for fast cars.
1. Credit cards don’t really work in Bavaria
This gets the #1 slot because it was completely a surprise, and not a good one. Who doesn’t accept Visa or MasterCard? Vendors in the Bavarian countryside, that’s who. They accept a German national credit card or Euros and that’s all. I have no more words for this – just please be prepared if you plan on visiting Bavaria in the future (note that many places in Munich do accept cards).
As you can see, we are taking in a lot in a short time, which can be a little overwhelming. But I’d say after a week here that we’ve finally ‘settled in’. RecyclingHof doesn’t sound like such a scary place, we know how to meet our basic needs, we’ve been to the big city, and we are sleeping soundly (thanks to those awesome blinds).
Many of these concepts above could become it’s own post, but I’m really interested to hear what you (my 3 readers…okay, maybe 6) want to hear more about. Please leave a comment, shoot me a text, or send me a flare, and I will do my best to write a post on your topic of interest.
Until next time, some more interesting images are below…