Excerpt of a 2005 letter about our general impressions of Germany written at the end of our journey there: The country is a lot like America. There seem to be large tracts of forested land as well as large tracts of farmland. But the farmland we’ve seen rarely includes animals – just huge fields of crops. And we mean really large fields. We see very few animals at all. Some dogs – Westies being the most popular – very few cats and almost no squirrels, other small wild animals or birds other than sparrows.
Every city seems to have a pedestrian-only area and there are always thousands of people out walking on them. There are business people too, of course, but most of the people strolling along with their dogs or their baby carriages seem to be out for a breath of air. The dogs, incidentally, are also taken along onto the buses or subways. And speaking of baby carriages, we always thought that the Germans have a very low birth rate. If that is so, then every baby in Germany has been paraded in front of us!
We have been in specialty stores selling food, in open-air markets, in supermarkets. The food is quite different from what we’ve seen before. Particularly in the meat departments. No matter where we went, there was a very limited amount of fresh meat and a huge amount and variety of sausage, ham, cold cuts and pates. There are open-air cafes everywhere and they all seem to be full. Judging from what we see in the city centers, Germany generally seems to be very prosperous. There are some exceptions, like Leipzig and other parts of East Germany. Perhaps it is the drag of that area that explains the news reports we heard in the US about Germany being one of the least prosperous of the European nations. And the prices we have seen support this idea. Things are generally much less expensive here than we are used to. We have seen beggers on the streets here, not only in Leipzig, but in other large cities as well. These are not the kind of panhandlers Americans are used to seeing. These kneel and raise their hand in prayerful supplication, some bending over and touching the pavement with their foreheads. A few had a pillow to kneel on but most knelt directly on the concrete.
The supermarkets are generally small affairs, perhaps half to a third as big as what we consider supermarkets in America. They rarely sell paper plates, napkins etc. but do have such odd merchandise as clothing, shoes, hardware, etc. usually in large bins in the middle of the aisles. These are not like Wal-Marts. They seem to be more on the style of job lot stores.
We’ve seen nuclear power plants but we’ve also seen huge "fields" of modern windmills…twenty or thirty at a time. There are virtually no billboards, making the driving a bit more pleasant. The signs are very good on the roads. The exits off highways are well-marked. But there are more detours than you can imagine – and we find that even last year’s maps are no longer correct. There are new exits in some places, and many signs on the roads have red metal bars indicating that exits are temporarily closed. It gets confusing sometimes.
In all this time, we’ve seen relatively few young men who might be U.S. soldiers. Even in towns where we know that they are stationed, they do not seem to be in evidence. We’re not talking men in uniform. Rarely did we see young men with Army haircuts but civilian clothes walking on the streets with their families. Their accents would be our clue.
Ron and I agree that Germans, in general, seem to take life very seriously indeed. And do not under any circumstances think that the fact that you are next in line will impress any little old ladies. They apparently have carte blanche to get in front of you! The further south we went in Germany, the more forthcoming the people were. But in the north, we felt that even the campers we passed were annoyed that we said "Morgen". They answered, but they didn’t really mean it. In one campground, the lady in the reception area put Ron in his place when he was asking her for information. She reminded him that "You are on holiday, but I am working here".
There are a lot of motor homes on the roads in Germany and Italy. One day Adelle played a child’s game. How many motorhomes can you count on the other side of the road in five minutes? The answer: 25. There are more here than we have ever seen. But it should be noted that in France when we saw a motorhome coming toward us, they invariably waved or honked or flashed their lights. In Germany, we ignore one another on the road, and try not to interact when in a campground.
Part of the German reserve is undoubtedly due to the fact that we speak different languages. Once one is identified as non-German-speaking it is natural that attempts at communication would be curtailed. But we do not remember noticing quite so much avoidance in France where people would try very hard to make us understand. And in Holland there seem to be many more English speakers than there are here, so we had no trouble at all in finding out what we needed to know.
There were rarely any signs in German cities that indicated in which direction you should walk to view the local tourist attractions. Since there seem to be a lot of tourists, we find that a bit odd. Incidentally, when we were in Prague, there were signs everywhere. To find local landmarks, we always had to look at our maps. When we did this in the UK, invariably someone would come over and try to help us. Only once did any German volunteer help – and that was in the south.
It is the beginning of August. We know that our family members in Connecticut and in Florida have the air conditioning turned up high against the extreme heat. Germany has been mercifully cool. It has rained nearly every day, and while it is very comfortable in the sun, clouds make it very chilly. In fact, Adelle is wearing a T-shirt, a blouse, a sweatshirt and a jacket! Indeed there have been many mornings that the first thing we did was turn on the electric heater. We have been told, though, that this amount of cool and rainy weather is very unusual for August. Campgrounds are full of Italians looking for cooler temperatures!
In spite of the stand-offishness of many of its campers, Germany is a very comfortable country for Americans. The people you see on the streets look very much like Americans. The clothes in the stores are similar too. We have been in other countries in Europe where all the clothes we see in store windows are meant for the 15-28 year old crowd. In Germany, there are also places selling clothes that are aimed at adults. Every street has a café and a place that sells flowers. There are many beautiful old buildings, and every place seems to have nicely cut lawns, lots of flower gardens, and beautifully kept up stucco houses – usually whitewashed – with red tile roofs. Every bathroom is clean and orderly, the coffee is good, the pastries delicious – what more could anyone want? What’s so important about people who seem friendly and helpful? Or about signs to guide a tourist?
Don’t let all our complaining lead you to think we didn’t enjoy touring Germany. In fact, we did. But as in every situation, there are some things we would have liked to be different.
To Introduction to Germany
Intrepid Traveler