Wie Geht’s? Hier ist mein German page! I have to say this page is directed mainly to Americans, and that is because there are some stereotypes that have to be overcome with regards to this Central European country. Let’s take it from zee top, shall vee?
German myth #1: German’s are mean, uptight, and all together unpleasant to be around. Usually this statement is followed by, let’s go to France instead. If you want to see mean, then by all means, go to Paris. (See my France page for survival tips) The reason many (Americans) feel this way is because of the difference in communication style.
“As a general rule, when traveling to a different country, leave yours behind.”
As you travel to different countries in Europe (and in the rest of the world, for that matter) you’ll find greatly different rules of etiquette. For example, in China it would not even be the slightest bit rude to slurp, burp, and pass gas at the dinner table. Not that there’s anything wrong with this form of manners, assuredly Americans do things that offend other world cultures (like being obnoxious, uneducated, and all together distasteful as soon as they leave their home soil).
I remember once visiting Scotland. I was leisurely nosing around a gift shop (not a usual place I like to be) having a grand old time actually. I was trying on a Sherlock Holmes’ style hat, when in blasts through the front door, no no, please no, it couldn’t be…an American. Already anticipating the onslaught of embarrassment to follow, I promptly hid behind the collector spoons (don’t even get me started on those) quivering and clenching at every word he uttered. “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?!” he begins his conversation with. Not a “Hi, how are you?,” no this tourist needs to ask a clerk that’s from a country that has spoken english, centuries before George Washington was in a diaper, if he knows how to speak his own language. Wouldn’t you know it, all he needed was a travel adaptor. I was just about to give him mine and swiftly cover his mouth with duct tape (never leave home without it) when he blew through the exit in the same manner he entered. He couldn’t understand the beautiful Scottish brogue that the clerk had answered in. “Can’t find a soul that can speak ‘American’ around here” he muttered to himself under his breath as he stormed out. Checking to see if the coast was clear, I slowly rose from the rack of silly tourist spoons and pretended to be Canadian for the rest of the day.
Germans may have many negative stereotypes that we have given them, but remember Americans have ten times as many stereotypes from practically every European country…well maybe except Belgium. (Belgians are, quite possibly, the most welcoming and accepting Europeans you’ll find. More on that later.) So let’s break it down. “Germans are mean” is the thrust of German Myth #1. So, are they? Nope (or, should I say, Nein!). But they do have a different style of communication, if that’s what you’re referring to. A German might say: “Give me that piece of cheese, please”, where an American would conjure up a sentence like: “Would you by chance happen to have a piece of cheese that I might be able to try, if it’s not too much to ask?” We’d personally consider the latter to be more polite, whereas the Germans would simply consider it inefficient. If you want cheese, just ask for it! That goes for all aspects of conversation in Germany. Don’t bother beating around the bush, it just wastes time.
As a general rule, when traveling to a different country, leave yours behind. A new country is a new world, enjoy the differences instead of taking them personally. It will definitely make for a better trip. No one likes to hear from a person that begins every sentence with: “Well back in my country, we do that this way…”
German myth #2: The German language is all phlegm, and it’s unpleasant to listen to. Of course, you are entitled to your own opinion, but have you ever thought of what others think English sounds like? Especially the way Americans speak it, definitely not a romance language. Keep in mind the media often misinterprets different cultures, giving them false stereotypes. For example, all Irishmen dance around with buckled shoes, have red hair, and sound like a leprechaun. Not true! (Check out my Northern Ireland page for more details.)
If you want to hear phlegm in a language visit The Netherlands, or Germany’s southern neighbor, Switzerland. In some of those regions, I swear they must have to drink a gallon of milk just to be able to speak a full sentence. Germans, especially from the north, have a very crisp, clear, and concise manner of speaking. In my opinion, it’s quite pleasant to listen to. Who doesn’t like a good German accent?
German Myth #3: German’s don’t know how to have a good time. Hello! Have you never heard of lederhosen? How can you not have a good time wearing suspender shorts and feathered hats? I rest my case.
Then, if those three myths don’t work, someone has to mention Germany’s wartime past in an attempt to ‘save’ you from visiting such a terrible place. Really? Can we just let it go already? Yes, we all know it was terrible, but the generation that was involved in that whole debacle has all but disappeared. They’ve paid for their mistakes, they are still apologizing to this day, and they’ve made it illegal to even entertain those disgusting notions of the past. So please, don’t let what happened 70+ years ago decide whether or not you visit this underrated tourist destination.
Phew! Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. Just like other countries that I’ve posted about (i.e. France), there is a definite North-South divide. In the North you’ll find a more clean, pristine, and precise culture. One that we (again, I’m talking about Americans) may consider to be more ‘uptight.’ You’ll soon find that Northern Germans are just as fun to be around. In fact, my closest friends in Germany are from the North.
As with France, the North has more cities to explore such as Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, etc; however, if rustic beauty is your aim, then the South is where it’s at. Mountains: check, rivers: check, castles: double check!
In my opinion the best way to travel in Europe is to pick a (cool) hub city to stay in, and explore the surrounding areas to your heart’s content that is accessible by no more than a 3-hour train ride away. Any longer and most of your day will be consumed with travel. When visiting Southern Germany, the most logical choice of a good hub city would have to be Munich (München). While the city in itself is astounding to galavant about in, the surrounding areas are just as diverse and spectacular.
While in Munich last time, I decided I wanted to visit a concentration camp. Not exactly a party starter, but if you do have an interest in world history then I’d definitely recommend Dachau (Wow, I never thought I’d ‘recommend’ a concentration camp). If you have a soft heart and a weak stomach, visiting death camps such as Auschwitz (which is actually in Poland) or Sachsenhausen would completely throw you into a depression for the rest of your life, whereas Dachau was a labor camp with fewer atrocities.
If you would prefer to visit something more ‘uplifting’, then certainly check out Neuschwanstein Castle (Fun Fact: that’s German for ‘New Swan Stone’ Castle. It makes the name sound less intimidating, doesn’t it?). Hop on a train to Füssen and in a couple of hours you’ll be seeing the castle that Disney based their famous Cinderella Castle after (This one’s much more convincing). The best part about visiting Neuschwanstein is that there are no inebriated hobos dressed up as oversized stuffed animals trying to hug you and shake your hand the whole time. It makes me shiver just thinking about that.
As in most European countries, don’t be afraid to wander. Who knows what you will stumble upon! If you’re there around Oktoberfest (in Bavaria it seems like every month is Oktoberfest, they just put the month in the name to sound like they have self-control) you can expect to see lederhosen, taste great beer and ‘apfel strudel’, and hear Schlager music. What is Schlager you say? Imagine music that resembles rabid squirrels chewing on bubble wrap through a megaphone. Needless to say, it’s the worst thing I have ever heard. Sorry, Germany. You’ve got great things going for you. Just work on your music…PLEASE, because my ears are bleeding and just the thought of being horrified again by that reprehensible swine fodder makes me want to crawl into a padded cell, don a straight jacket, and rock back and forth violently, humming “You Are My Sunshine”.
One more word to the wise. If you happen to have any form of blonde hair and blue eyes, beware! In this day and age most people you see in Germany do not look like the stereotypical Germans from Indiana Jones (the accents are right on, though). With my complexion, I was stopped at just about every street corner, bus stop, train station, grocery store checkout lane, and Biergarten. Overwhelmed with questions by unsuspecting American tourists. The first question, of course, being: DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? Then, where is this street? How do I get to this castle? What does this word mean? Should I get the Schnitzel or the Pizza Leberkäse? Ironically I had just came from that street or castle, or I had just learned the meaning of that word (The food question is a no-brainer. Go for the Schnitzel. Unless you like pizza liver cheese.) so I’d answer their questions. I always received the nicest replies. Your English is amazing! You sound just like one of us! To which I’d respond with a “sank-you” and a heartfelt “Auf Wiedersehen!”
Besides castles and concentration camps, there is plenty to see in the areas surrounding Munich. The first thing I do when I visit a country is to haul out the map (ok ok, I haul out my smart phone) and see where the closest country border is so that I can check off another country from my list (for the official rules on crossing a country off of one’s list see my “Fiji” post)! The closest foreign country to Munich was (and still is) Austria. The moment I found out that I could be in Salzburg in less than 2 hours by train, I screamed like a girl (involuntarily, of course *clears throat to make voice sound deeper) and tore off down the road to the nearest train station. There, in Salzburg, I made the biggest mistake of my entire trip. I purchased a genuine Tyrolean Hat (you know, one of those cool little green Bavarian-style hats with the feather in it). Why was that a mistake? Well, it started raining. I decided that since the inside of my hat said “wasserbeständig” (water-resistant) in big letters, now was a good time to try it out. The moment I ornamented my head with this fine piece of felt, hordes of tourists came barreling down the boulevard with pitch forks and torches and picket signs that read “Where is Mozart’s house?” and “Where is the nearest bathroom?”. Clutching my hat for dear life, I sped down to the train station, narrowly escaping onto the next train back to Germany. I sighed with relief. Slouching in my seat, I watched the angry mobs grow smaller and smaller in the distance. A nice older German lady was sitting next to me. She looked at me very intently for a moment and then asked: “Any idea how I get to Hohe Straße from here?” Without a second thought I thrust my newly acquired headpiece into the trash.
So in summary, when you go to tell your friends about your upcoming trip to Germany, don’t be surprised if you are barraged with negative stories, myths, tall-tales, and propaganda. Simply nod, say “Hmm”, and resolve to traverse this amazing country undaunted. Also, seriously consider dying your hair a darker shade, but if you choose not to, never under ANY circumstances wear the local attire, trust me. Lastly…wait, what’s that sound? Is that…no, it couldn’t be! Not Schlager! ♫“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine……♫
Editor’s Note: If you find a green felt hat with a feather in a waste receptacle on the Salzburg-München Train kindly return it to the address provided. Oh, and if you see an older German lady that looks lost, tell her to head North on Kartäusergasse for two blocks and Hohe Straße will be on her right.