We lived in Germany for 8-weeks to take an intensive language course. Why you ask? Because we hope to work in a German-speaking country and because speaking a second or third language makes us much more marketable in the long-term. Why German, though? If you have been paying attention to the changing tides of the world, Germany is emerging as a powerful economic, scientific, and humanitarian leader. Speaking German positions us to be part of that leadership movement. It doesn’t hurt, that as mountain people, many of our favorite places, including the Alps, reside in German-speaking countries.
Interesting facts about Germany:
- About language… it’s often the case that when a new word comes into use, Germans just use the English version of the word. So you’ll notice a lot of English words in the German language.
- The German word for Germany is Deutschland, and they speak Deutsch
- Germans wear their wedding rings on the right hand. When they get engaged they wear a ring on their left hand and then when they are married they move it to the right. Although, lots of women there wear rings on both hands.
- The culture in Germany varies by region. In the north a common greeting is Moin Moin, in the south, it’s Gruße Gott or Servus. By comparison, in the US a common greeting in the south in “Hello Y’all.”
- Mass transit is dialed! Getting around without a car is easy and much preferred. Cities are tight with few parking spaces. Most sizable cities have a U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (region rail service), light rail service, and bus lines.
- It is against the law to speak to police officers in an informal manner. As with many languages, German has a formal or polite way to speak or address someone, and an informal or familiar manner. It is a big deal, the Germans take laws seriously. So remember, if you run into trouble or are asking for help from the police in Germany use “Sie” and not “du”, the money, time and freedom you save may be your own.
- Nearly EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays. All retail stores including the grocery stores are closed. Not even the souvenir shops in the tourist areas are open on Sundays. If you’re super hard up for something you might find open stores at the main train station (Hauptbahnhof – hbf).
- Germans DO NOT jaywalk. Everyone dutifully waits at a red light for the Ampelmann (little traffic light men) to turn green. In Berlin and other parts of Eastern Germany, the Ampelmann looks unique. More info here.
Our German course (Deutschkurs) met for ~5-hours a day, 5-days a week, and was accompanied by a 2-3 hour per day lab. So for approximately 30 hours per week, we were learning to speak, write, and listen to German (Deutsch). Of course, being in Germany (Deutschland) we had the added benefit of practicing outside of class with the locals. So even going to the grocery store, we were reading labels in German, and speaking to the cashier in German.
We feel fortunate to have had the opportunity, time, and resources to learn Deutsch in Deutschland. It is, however, extremely fast passed, which can be totally overwhelming. We completed the equivalent of 16 college credits in 8-weeks. This would have taken 4 semesters to complete in a US college. So what did we learn? In the Common European Framework, we’ve reached level A2, which means we can:
- Understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
- Communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
- Describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need.
To maximize our experience, we decided ahead of time to study for 4-weeks in Cologne and then another 4-weeks in Munich. In retrospect, I would not have switched cities halfway through. I am of course grateful for all the wonderful people we met and happy that we lived in both cities, but switching meant we had to re-establish ourselves in a new city, make new friends, acclimate to a new school and teachers, and say goodbye to friends in the previous city.
So we maximized the experience in one way and diminished the experience in another way. We had the honor of making such great friends, and I wish we would have chosen to maximize those relationship experiences by staying in one place. But looking back I am not able to pick between the two locations!
Köln, Deutschland (Cologne, Germany)
Cologne is a friendly mid-sized city with a large student population. It has a mixture of historic buildings and culture and progressive ideologies. Cologne is said to have more LGBTQ individuals than anywhere else in Germany. It’s very walkable and easy to get around. We stayed in this Airbnb which is actually managed by this company. And we went to this language school.
Its position in west-central Germany makes it a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. It is less than an hour by plane to Berlin, we took a quick three-hour train ride to Brugge Belgium via Brussels, and the list goes on. With a good international airport, shared with the city of Bonn, it is easy to get in and out from almost anywhere.
München, Deutschland (Munich, Germany)
Munich is larger than Cologne, being Germany’s third-largest city. Economically Munich is more successful than Cologne, however, it’s more conservative. It’s the gateway to the Alps and relishes in the Bavarian culture being the capital of the State of Bavaria. We stayed in these serviced apartments, and we went to this language school. If you’re looking for off the beaten path things to do in Munich, give these a try: Eisbachwelle river surfing, the rooftop bar at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, or the hill in Olympic Park.
A stark difference compared to Köln was the lack of graffiti. I don’t know if it’s due to the more conservative culture, wealthier populous or older population, but München is almost void of graffiti while Köln, and Berlin for that matter, are covered in it.
Spending four weeks in two different cities really allowed us to experience some of the more deep-seated differences that you may not be able to pick up on from a quick long weekend stay, what a treat for us.
Here are some photos from Munich:
Things I miss from the United States:
- Besides missing personal items (which are many, having traveled these 3-months in only our Osprey Fairview 40 backpacks i.e. We are sick of our clothes)
- Ice. It’s extremely uncommon to be served ice with a drink even iced tea. At home, refrigerators are so small that you’re not keeping or making ice in there.
- Strangers being nice, saying hello, and/or smiling at one another
- Less cigarette smoking in public spaces
- Full-size sheets on a full-sized bed, not two twin beds pushed together with only comforters, no sheets
- Light switches being in the same rooms as the lights themselves
- Mexican food & Amerian breakfast food (e.g. hashbrowns, eggs benedict, bagels, pancakes, omelets)
Things I will miss from Germany:
- Amazing mass transit, that actually tells you how long it will be until the next train, tram, or bus arrives
- Visiting Biergärten
- German Beer (i.e. Weissbeir – this is our favorite)
- Bavarian culture
- Availability of inexpensive vegan cosmetics
- A society that is friendly to dogs. They can go just about anywhere with you!
After being out of the US for 103 days, we’re back and continuing to study the German language — pressing forward towards our goal of working in a German-speaking country.
Thanks for following our adventures!