A few weeks ago, I signed up for an excursion through the Universität to the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in southern Baden-Württemberg. The trip was this last Saturday, and I had an excellent time. The bus ride was around three and a half hours each way, cutting inland and south through miles of thick forests toward the border of Switzerland. Cars constantly whizzed by at intense speeds as our bus entered the autobahn at around 06:00, leaving us in the dust and lightly shaking the frame of the bus. I managed to sleep for an hour and a half, waking up as the bus pulled into a gas station/ rest area for a break. We were given 40 minutes of free time before the bus would head out, so I made my way inside for some breakfast which I had missed earlier. German gas stations on the side of the autobahn are simply wonderful, and this one was no exception. They had a full selection of breakfast items, so I grabbed myself some scrambled eggs, bacon, and a croissant, poured myself a steaming cup of coffee, and took my tray to the counter. It cost altogether 5 euros, and woke me up a bit before the bulk of our trip would begin.
Our first stop was on the small island of Reichenau, which lies just west of the city of Konstanz. Reichenau sits in the Untersee, a smaller outcrop of the Obersee, which becomes the body of water known as the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and is connected to the mainalnd by a man-made causeway known now as Pirminstraße. The lake istelf is central Europe’s third largest, and is situated between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. As a geographer, I found this region extremely interesting, especially when I was able to walk two normal city blocks in Konstanz and suddenly be in Switzerland. The city of Konstanz sits on the west end of the Bodensee, and is where our group traveled after leaving Reichenau. This was the main focus of our excursion, the largest city on the lake, and the one for which the Bodensee gets its english name. It was an extremely hot day (I will leave with a sunburn), perfect for visiting a city like Konstanz on a massive body of water. Countless sailboats dotted the lake, and the alps were clearly visible on the horizon. It was picturesque, and so was the altstadt of the city.
While in the city, I had some free time after being given a short walking tour of the area. I went to a cafe where I could sit and relax, enjoying the nice weather and view of the lake, and take some time to respond to your questions which Frau Morgan sent to me a little while ago. I took quite some time and burned through several cups of coffee, but I really enjoyed hearing the sorts of thoughts and questions you were throwing my way. I was having the most fun of anyone in the cafe! This whole term has been a great experience, and having you to come along for the ride has made it that much better.
Without further ado, I present our collaborative Q&A:
What are some of the biggest cultural differences between U.S. and Germany in entertainment? (sports, movies, tv, music)
In Germany (and many other places), Fußball is the most popular sport by a mile (or should I say kilometer?). It’s soccer in the U.S., but using that word here will just immediately ensure everyone that you are an American. Making the distinction of ‘Amerikanisch Fußball’ is extremely important. I’ve made that mistake when talking with a German friend about the Seahawks.
Is there as much poverty in the inner city areas of Germany as in similar places of the U.S. such as Seattle?
No, not at all. The German government places a high priority on providing work/ shelter for the impoverished, so it is very rare to see homelessness in the streets, especially in a smaller city like Heidelberg. Even in the larger cities which I have been to on this trip (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, etc.), there is significantly less homelessness than in my home University’s own Portland.
Does ‘American’ food in Germany actually taste like the food in America?
Unfortunately, no. A cheeseburger of ungodly proportions will be the first item that I grab upon landing in SeaTac.
What kind of foods do they serve in a FEBO automat?
FEBO is one of my favorite Amsterdam quirks, and a fantastic idea for a restaurant. Everything they ‘serve’ is deep-fried, unhealthy goodness, except for a few burgers and sandwiches. Perfect for late night cravings while out and about in the city, this sort of place should exist in Portland and Seattle. The kaassoufflé (cheese soufflé) was among my favorites, essentially a deep fried hot pocket full of melted dutch cheeses. Other popular items are the kalfskroket, satekroket, and rundvleeskroket (veal, saté, and beef croquettes, respectively), as well as the kipcorn (fried chicken stick), Frikadel (fried sausage), and dutch french fries. I kept my distance from the burgers, as was advised by two Dutch guys who I befriended during my stay. They served as a sort of late-night food guide for me.
Do they have a female equivalent of the urinal you took a picture of in Amsterdam?
Nope. There are public restrooms for women of course, but they are much less out-in-the-open.
What is the coffee like in Germany? Do you get it black or additives?
Coffee is outstanding here. Not only in Germany (where it is the highest selling drink in the country, over juice, mineral water, and even beer), but all throughout Europe. Becoming used to the quality of coffee here has made me feel as though I never truly had good coffee beforehand. Furthermore, the Dutch have truly mastered the art of coffee making, and it is absolutely delicious in The Netherlands. Personally, I usually order my coffee black, but I also enjoy it with steamed milk or creme. My absolute favorite is Koffie Verkeerd, a Dutch latte.
What was Cityhub Amsterdam like in comparison to hotels in the U.S?
Staying at CityHub was a bizarre experience. The room had LED lights and Bluetooth speakers which I could control with my phone through the CityHub app. It was a very tech-savvy hotel/ hostel, and they even provide a free portable wifi modem for me to carry around the city. Having internet everywhere that I went was really nice addition to the experience. Overall, it was one of the nicer places that I’ve stayed, although much different than typical hotels stateside.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten in Europe?
I’ve started to enjoy tripe more than I did before coming to Germany, and eat that in stews here occasionally. I had some pig head and and bone marrow in a small town in Bavaria, and some of that stuff from FEBO was pretty strange, in a very good way. I think I would’ve done Anthony Bourdain at least a little proud on a few occasions.
How are German memes different from American memes? Examples?
I haven’t seen any German memes, and have to admit that I laughed pretty hard when reading this question! I’m sure they exist, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Sorry!
Is German ice cream different from American ice cream? If so, how and which one is better?
German ice cream is Gelato, like in Italy. I think that it’s much better than American ice cream in general (Salt & Straw in Portland is pretty darn good though). However, there is something to be said for a delicious soft-serve cone.
How did you not go into a full-on panic attack when you realized you were alone in a foreign country?
That’s a good question. As soon as you begin making friends and connections, it becomes much easier to forget any fears of living abroad. It’s great to have people who you can go out for dinner and have conversations with, or get together to watch a movie, or travel alongside. I’ve always loved every aspect of traveling, and have felt comfortable being in foreign environments. Additionally, the amount of travel opportunities within the E.U. excite me immensely, and constantly moving is an excellent way to keep yourself busy and excited, all while experiencing new things.
Are there a lot of roads through the town or just walking areas?
In Heidelberg, the Altstadt is primarily comprised of pedestrian streets. Cars are allowed on these streets at certain hours (mostly at night, for businesses to resupply), and there are conventional streets more suited for cars as well. However, the vast majority of people travel on foot or with the trams/ busses, and streets such as Hauptstraße are almost entirely trafficked by pedestrians.
Are there any weird laws there that aren’t in America
There is a dog tax of about 15€ (per dog) annually. This is exactly what is sounds like: If you own a dog, you must pay this tax. There is also the German beer purity act, or Reinheitsgebot, which is a specific set of guidelines for the brewing of beer. Breweries are not allowed to experiment outside of these guidelines, in order to keep Germanic beers up to a certain standard.
What American stereotypes have you been accused of or heard?
Americans are stereotyped as being loud, occasionally obnoxious, proud, and culturally unaware. I haven’t been accused of any of these stereotypes, and I think I do a decent job of not sticking out like a sore thumb.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
The most difficult adjustment I had to make (and am still making) is with the operating hours of businesses. A lot of government buildings are only open for a few hours a day, usually from about 9 am to 11 am or noon, and grocery stores are closed all day Sunday.
What’s it like drinking room-temperature soda/water/etc?
I have not had any room temperature drinks here, other than a Coke that I left out of the fridge overnight. Germans like their coffee hot and everything else ice cold, which works well for me! Even the sodas which you can purchase in fast food restaurants like McDonald are served without ice, and yet still very cold. This means you get more of the actual soda without the possibility of ice melting inside. It’s a win-win.
How much has your German improved since you’ve moved there?
My German has improved quite a lot. When I first arrived, I could barely string together a coherent sentence with confidence, even after 5 years of studying it throughout High School and University. Immersion is the best possible way to learn a language: When it’s all that you hear every day, you pick it up rather quickly. I’ve also taken to watching Netflix shows and films dubbed in German with English subtitles. This is an excellent way to take in the language while being entertained, and I’ve gained a lot of conversational knowledge through this method alone. I am by no means fluent, but I can now communicate well enough with relative ease.
What are some of the biggest cultural differences you’ve come across?
Professors are more like friends than back in the states. My favorite professor, Herr Rainer Kaschau, has taken myself and other students out for beer and hand-snacks on several lunch breaks. Outdoor dining during lunch hours is a huge cultural priority, especially with the warm weather which we’ve been experiencing as of late. You’ll notice cafes and restaurants filling their outdoor seating areas immediately on nice days.
What has been most difficult that you didn’t expect?
The most difficult aspect of living here has been the language barrier. As a writer who prides myself on effective communication, it was terribly frustrating to suddenly have the vocabulary of a child and not be able to express what I was thinking. One of my classmates from South Korea burned me pretty hard when I told her “Ich spreche Deutsch wie ein Kind” and she responded “Nein, Deutsche Kinder sprechen besser als du.”
Have you come across new technology things that aren’t popular in the US?
I went to a McDonalds in Amsterdam and found that you order entirely on massive touchscreen monitors. There were 4 of these screens in the walls, and you approach whichever has the shortest line at the time. You select the desired language (Dutch, English, German, or French), then scroll through the menu and create your order. When you’re done, it prints a receipt with a number on it and they automatically start making your order. After a few minutes, the person at the register will call your number, and you go up to pay, then take your food and scram. Pretty futuristic stuff right there!
What are your classes like and what are you taking? How are the teachers different?
I’m taking my capstone class online through PSU, which you all have been a massive part of. Maintaining the blog and completing other weekly assignments online. Additionally, I’m taking a German language course through Universität Heidelberg which runs from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm Monday through Friday. It’s taught entirely in German, which was daunting at first, but I now enjoy. The class is very small and diverse. There are 11 of us, and we come from all over the world: The U.S. (yours truly), Brazil, Syria, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and the Netherlands. We have three professors, one who teaches Monday and Tuesday (Frau Althaus), one who only teaches Wednesday (Herr Kaschau), and a final professor who tops off the week on Thursday and Friday (Frau Noki).
How do the differences between European cities differ or compare to the differences between US cities?
European cities are more centered around foot traffic and public transit, meaning that it’s much easier to get around without a car. The majority of people do not drive for that specific reason. There is also always a historical center of the city, usually the Marktplatz in German cities.
What pop culture have you come across? German pop music?
Funny enough, almost everyone in Europe listens to American pop music. I’m struggling to remember so much as one time that I’ve heard a German song outside of pubs wherein traditional German bands were playing. I did go briefly to a strange club in Mannheim, looking for a friend of mine who was playing a DJ set. I had come at the wrong time, however, and the band that was playing was a bizarre German rave/rock group. I didn’t stay for too long.
What is it like seeing such old cultural buildings right next to things like Burger King etc?
This is one of the funniest juxtapositions to note while traveling through Europe. It just goes to show that modern culture always catches up in one way or another.
Do you ever cook for yourself? If so, what and how does that go?
I cook for myself at least one time nearly every day. I am by no means a professional chef, but living alone is a great way to realize that basic culinary skills are imperative (I learned this in my Freshman year of college back in Portland). I love going out to eat, and do so often, but you cannot do that for every meal. I usually stick to dishes which I know I can make well: Spaghetti Bolognese, grilled salmon, bacon & eggs, omelets, salads, grilled meats, etc. My roommates from Kazakhstan and China often make delicious traditional dishes which they are more than happy to share wth me, so between all of us, there is a lot of cooking happening in the kitchen.
What’s the weirdest slang you’ve heard?
That’s a good question. The weirdest/ funniest slang language that I’ve heard is German uses of American slang. I met a German/French guy on the bus to Amsterdam (the DJ I mentioned earlier) who used the word ‘krank’, as in ‘sick’, to describe my solo trip to the Netherlands. This made me laugh, as Germans are usually much more literal and it took me a moment to realize what he meant.
When do most of the local shops open?
Most stores and shops open right around 8 am, give or take an hour.
Were there street stalls for girls? Or just the odd urinals?
There are only urinals for men on the streets of Amsterdam. Sorry ladies!
What is the biggest take-away from staying in such beautiful cities with such rich culture?
The notion of which structures are considered ‘old’ is very different in Europe than it is in America. While a building from the 1910’s would be considered old in the U.S. (especially on the west coast), a building from the 1600’s is relatively new by German standards. That’s nearly 200 years before the United States became a country.
Did any local dogs try to make friends with you?
Not so much in Germany, but in Iceland, the dogs were incredibly friendly! They were never kept on leashes and were allowed to roam free. When my father and I would pull into a campsite, the family dogs would almost always be the first to greet us.
Have you gone to any sporting matches?
Yes. I’ve been to several Fußball and Tennis matches as I live near a sports complex in Heidelberg. Pretty fun stuff!
What is the most common type of car in Germany?
Hatchbacks are the king of Germany. The vast majority of cars are compact and fuel efficient, although there are certainly a lot of sedans and wagons as well. Pick-up trucks and SUV’s are a more rare sight. As far as manufacturers go, there are a lot of Mercedes Benz, BMW, Opel, and Alfa-Romeo vehicles on the road. VW and Ford are slightly less popular, but still have a presence.
I am a food lover (mainly french fries), if you could, would you bring me back some German french fries? If not, can you tell me the flavor difference (if there is one)?
I will try, although they will most likely be cold by the time I get there! Pommes frites are wonderfully delicious. Both Germany and The Netherlands pride themselves on their fantastic fries, and it’s not difficult to see why. They are always crispy and warm, never soggy, and often served with ketchup and mayonnaise.
What is the best cheese in Germany?
I really enjoy butterkäse and brie.
What do you think of Strassbourg?
I loved what little time I had in Straßburg. It was a beautiful city, and I hope to return before heading home in August.
END OF Q&A
I want to thank you all for writing your questions to me and giving me something fun to occupy my time with for a while. I really liked hearing from you, and coming up with answers for your questions. Hopefully I answered them all to your satisfaction!
After finishing my responses for the Q&A, I had time to briefly meet with a friend from Oregon who is studying in Konstanz (we met at a study abroad meeting in Corvallis, OR, at OSU). We didn’t get to catch up for long, as I had to backtrack some ways to the bus so that we could head to our third and final destination of the trip, Meersburg. The bus took us onto a ferry, where a quick twenty minute crossing of the Bodensee landed us on the northern bank. There were so many ships out on the lake, and the sun was beating down on us, the alps still prominent to the southeast. When we pulled into Meersburg, I had no idea what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful and charming nature of this seaside town. Divided into two parts of town, the Oberstadt and the Unterstadt, each offering a different vibe than the other. The Oberstadt was inside an old lakeside castle, whereas the Unterstadt was comprised of pubs, hotels, seafood restaurants, ice cream shops and cafes along a lakefront promenade. It was truly a gorgeous town.
The zeppelins which had loomed over the lake all day finally made sense, as their inventor was from Konstanz. After a long day on the Bodensee, I was mildly sunburned and ready to make the trip back to Heidelberg. I clambered back onto the bus and was able to fall asleep for a little while before waking up at another gas station. When the bus finally pulled into Heidelberg, there was a thunderstorm booming and heavy rain, which I couldn’t have been happier about. The air smelled wonderful, and the rain felt great on my burning red skin. I can safely say, it feels great to be back!
This blog post is the last of my formal works here, and I would like to say a few words for those of you who have followed me on my journey. Thank you for following me on my adventures throughout Germany and Europe as a whole. The knowledge that Frau Morgan’s wonderful German classes (the very same classes that I was part of some six years ago) would be with me in spirit as I traveled, took photographs, and thought of the best ways to record these experiences with words, allowed me to place myself in situations which I otherwise may have been too worried to try. I was constantly attempting to gather juicy information for my blog posts, wanting to make them informative and entertaining. I also want to thank my fellow classmates who have given their time to read through my various experiences, as I have with theirs. We all went through transformative experiences while living abroad, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of you through your writing styles and unique stories. Additionally, thank you to my close friends and family, who have read each of my posts and offered feedback with kind words. This course has been a project of passion for me, and is currently one of my proudest bodies of work, and I have you all to thank for the help along the way. So once and for all, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It’s been an amazing ride.