So a long, long time ago (in a galaxy…oh, wait…ahem), I said that I was going to write an entry entitled “I Heart Deutschland!” That entry was never written, but it was always at the back of my mind that I’d get around to it one day. Well, that day has arrived, dear reader! And it’s likely that the list I would have written back then is different to the one I’ll write today. On the one hand, my impressions of Germany aren’t as fresh as they once were, and some things that stood out to me at that time are probably taken for granted now. On the other hand, I guess those things that I do really love about Germany have probably stuck in my mind as well as some new ones that have been discovered and can be added to the list. This is probably a topic that I could revisit every few years’ time, and have a completely different list every time. And what I will write below is no way exhaustive. There are many other things I love about living here, but these are a few of the top ones that come to mind.
1. Germany is a very environmentally conscious country, at least much more so than the US and the UK.
One of the things I love most about living here is, for example, how easy it is to recycle. In our home, there are three types of refuse containers: garbage, paper, and composting. You also receive a bundle of yellow bags within which you place all of your plastic packaging. (Glass recycling is either by a deposit/refund system, or in containers on the street for those items that didn’t have a deposit paid.) We had recycling containers on the street we lived in Edinburgh, but they were not divided out for each household, and more often than not, they were full and/or inappropriately sorted which made me worry that the items inside might just be dumped and not recycled at all. Here, all of your containers are within your own household, and they have a weekly rotation of being collected. (Every other week for all containers in winter time, and composting is collected every week in summer.) I also love that the yellow bag accepts just about any packaging out there, unlike many of the fussier systems elsewhere where they will only accept certain numbers. If I had to lodge a small complaint, it’s that it can be hard to fit all of the garbage in to one container that is emptied only every other week when you are sharing a household with two other parties. It’s amazing to me that we are a building with six adults and one baby (who wears disposable but biodegradable diapers), and most of the time it works fairly well, with us all sharing one container that is the size of the average American family’s that is collected weekly. We are admittedly the biggest garbage producers in our household (probably by far), but most of the time we don’t have too much extra trash sitting around. And it is possible to purchase one-off garbage bags that can be filled and collected, if your normal receptacle really does spilleth over. Oh, and not only are these awesome containers that separate out your refuse in each home, they are also in public spaces across Germany. Our train station, for example, has garbage, paper and packaging receptacles located all over the station. As does Frankfurt airport. I wish they existed in Würzburg city center along the streets, but still, to have them in places like train stations and airports is a big step forward.
There are lots of other ways Germany is green, too. Part of it comes down to have a heavily populated country with good public transportation compared to the US, but people here take the bus, the train and often just walk or cycle to get from point a to b rather than drive (though Germans obviously do love their cars…) Germany has embraced alternative energy sources like wind and solar, with ambitious plans to phase out nuclear power plants in operation. Organic food is easy to find and comparatively priced to non-organic. Unlike in the US, organic foodstuff isn’t separated out into its own special section; it’s easily identifiable with a green leaf emblem on the shelf label, but it’s mixed right in and next to conventionally produced items throughout the supermarket. In our (relatively small) city center, there are several organic supermarkets, though they are all tiny compared to American standards. And speaking of supermarkets, you won’t receive free grocery bags in most. You can bring your own, or pay for plastic, paper or slightly more expensive cloth bags. It’s a small difference to the US, but makes a huge impact.
People here seem to generally be more aware of environmental problems and care about them. Appliances are usually unplugged or switched off at the outlet when not in use, and are generally much more energy-efficient. Televisions aren’t usually left on all day long. Houses are built to be more energy-efficient, too. People tend to heat less, and air conditioning in homes and public spaces (except for bigger department stores) is practically unheard of. The downside to that is that I practically pass out every time I ride the bus here in 90+ degree weather, but I suppose it is better for the environment.
Germany is by no means perfect with their environmental report card (see my entry about their love of consuming bottled water and refusal to serve tap in some restaurants), but it’s still pretty much leaps and bounds ahead of a lot of other places.
2. Pretty much no matter where you want to walk, you can. There is always a path.
For folks living in the UK and reading this, this concept isn’t so unfamiliar as you enjoy laws that allow you the right to access certain categories of uncultivated land—specifically “mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.” But for Americans, we’re more used to seeing “Private Property” signs than signs pointing out paths you can walk on.
In fact, it took the Mr. a while to put his finger on it, but every time we’d be Indiana, he’d start to feel a little stir crazy. We’d walk around the local parks to get fresh air and sunshine, and he’d walk along the couple or acres or so of land my parents own, but it was never enough. He realized that in the US, you’re really limited to being able to walk outside unless you do it on your own property, in a town park, or along a road (or of course you can, in theory, walk in a town center, but those are a dying breed in the US, and many towns have more thriving suburbs vs centers). Here in Germany, you can walk pretty much anywhere except in the yard surrounding someone’s home. In the fields and meadows that dot the land between towns and cities, there is almost always a path of some sort and land to walk on. You don’t have to worry that you’re trespassing on someone’s private property, or, that you might even be shot at for doing so. (Which where I come from, isn’t entirely unheard of.) We can rent a car, go off driving into the countryside, and within only minutes we will undoubtedly come across a small dirt or sometimes paved road that leads out into a field. You are allowed not only to drive on this (unless there is a sign indicting otherwise), but also park and…just start to walk. It’s that simple. No one cares. You can get fresh air, a healthy bit of exercise, or even perhaps a quick pee break if no one is around and you can hide behind some trees or bushes. There’s so much land in the US, and I lived in a very rural part of it, but even there, good luck finding a spot for a pee break that isn’t fenced off or covered in “Private Property” signs. And forget trying to do a nice walk in nature that isn’t on your own property or in a park.
Maybe there are other parts of the US where the land is more accessible. I’ve often wondered if states that have more of an “outdoor culture” are easier to walk around. If anyone lives in any part of the US like this, let me know. Finding an area of the US a little more like Germany in this respect might be my only chance of ever moving back to the States, because the Mr. isn’t sure he could live so “fenced in.”
3. There’s a healthier work/life balance, at least compared to the US. Germans are considered the “hard-working” Europeans on the continent and this is financially the richest country, but somehow the Germans still manage a decent work/life balance. In Bavaria, for example, we enjoy the most public holidays out of any of the German states (though the others don’t trail too far behind). There’s statutory paid parental leave (the US is actually the only OECD country without it), and other financial benefits to having a child or children here. (For example, although I’ve never worked a day in Germany, I’m actually paid at the moment to be a stay-at-home mom. No joke.) Although it possibly depends a little on what you do for a living, there seems to be more of a cultural acceptance that when you leave work for the evening, you leave work for the evening. So many of my friends and family who work back in the US don’t have that clearly delineated break between work and family life, and struggle with the expectation that they often have to continue working (checking emails, preparing a presentation, etc.) once they’re home. It’s also maddening to me how little paid vacation Americans typically get. It’s been a while, but if I remember correctly, in addition to the measly public American holidays, I got one paid day off my first year that I worked a full-time job. And after an entire year of working, I finally got 10 days of paid leave. That time would have increased slowly over the years if I had continued working there, but given that most people change jobs at least few times over a lifetime if not more often than that (especially when young and figuring out what one really wants to do), it means you can end up working for several years with little to no paid vacation. In Germany, it’s statutory that for full-time employment, you get at least 20 work days for the standard 5-day-workweek, plus 9 to 13 public holidays(depending on which state you live in.) Not too shabby, eh?
There are lots of other things I love about Germany, but those are some of the biggies. What do you love about where you live? What would you change?