Friday, May 31, 2013

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp - Berlin

We concluded our trip of Berlin with a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienberg, Germany which is 20 minutes north of Berlin. Click here to read The Best Of Berlin, which deals with monuments in and around the city. And click here to read The Berlin Wall, which is about the history of the Berlin Wall.

When we first moved to Germany last year and decided that we would travel and see as much as Europe had to offer, I already had it in my mind that we would visit concentration camps and I would let my children know that while Europe has a wonderful history of which they are apart of, it also has a very dark side too. Before we had taken many trips I started asking fellow Americans here in Germany where they had traveled to and what were their favorites. And then I realized that hardly any of them had been to any concentration camps. When I asked why, they all mostly answered that they didn't want to focus on that part of Europe's history. Or that their children were too young to understand what happened there and the gravity of the place. I was a little surprised, but didn't say anything else on the matter. What parents decide to expose their children to is their business, not mine. I felt that all of my children were old enough to visit these places and to know what happened. My kids have always been interested in World War II as they have German grandparents, for who Nazis were real people, not just figures in movies. My in-laws could tell stories that would leave my eyeballs round and my throat tight with disbelief. Europe's history is our history too.

Before going in, I told my children to treat this place with the utmost respect for the people who suffered and died here.

Gate at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Oranienburg, Germany

Sachsenhausen was not a "death camp" like Auschwitz, where people were sent to be exterminated. It was a work camp. Meant to wring out every bit of strength and productivity from its inmates by making bricks to build up the Berlin of the future that the Nazi Party envisioned. The gate on the front of the camp says Arbeit Macht Frei or Working Makes [you] Free. A cruel promise that if the inmates worked hard enough, they would earn their freedom. That is something that never happened. The camp opened in 1936 and was also used as a prison. It held murderers, rapists, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and Jews.

fence Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Germany

Here is a section of the barbwire fence that they have left intact. The original camp was in the shape of a triangle so that guards in one tower at the corners could see every angle of the camp.

Death strip at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Berlin Germany Oranienburg

This gravel area was called the "death strip". Guards were ordered to shoot anyone who ventured into it. Prisoners used it as a way to commit suicide. Soon the guards were catching on and if they thought anyone was trying to get themselves killed, they would only shoot to maim. Those who wanted to die were forced to live, and those that wanted to live often died.

Memorial wall at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Berlin Germany

There are memorials placed there from different countries and in different languages to remember all the Jewish people who lost their lives here.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Oranienburg, Germany

Very few of the original building are left standing here. They were removed under authorization from the East German government. There are gravel markers showing where former barracks and buildings had stood.

The day was quiet with puffy clouds and sunshine. A soft breeze rustled the leaves and the camp was virtually empty. At times it felt like we could have been at a park. It was very surreal to stand in a place where so much suffering and death had happened, yet feel such a peace in the land around us.

The government of East Germany erected this tower as a symbol to the suffering of political prisoners here during World War II. Saying somehow, that their suffering was worse than that of the Jew or other prisoner. 

Mass grave Sachsenhausen concentration camp

200,000 prisoners were held at Sachsenhauen between 1936-1945. 50,000 of them died there, while many were transported to be killed elsewhere. The Red Army (Soviets) began their advance on Sachsenhausen in the spring of 1945. The Nazis sensing that their demise was coming soon, marched 35,000 prisoners out into the forest on what has become known as the "Death March". The prisoners were forced to walk with no food or water for eight days straight because the SS guards did not want to waste bullets killing them. After 6,000 of them had died, the guards abandoned them in the woods until they were found by the Soviets.

Only three months after the end of the war, the Soviets turned Sachsenhausen into a political prisoner camp where they held Germans and Nazis. The suffering was to continue here. 12,500 more people died here until the camp was closed in 1950. 

Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Oranienburg, Germany

Sachsenhausen is situated right in the middle of the town of Oranienburg, Germany. It was very rare to have this size of a town so close to a concentration camp. In the camp there are signs talking about the different kinds of residents that lived in Oranienburg. Some profited from the Nazis and the camp. Some were indifferent. And some tried with all their might to help the inmates of the camp. Their were stories of residents who heard the shots of guns, the screams, and saw the thick, black smoke belch from the crematorium. And then the ashes that would be carried into town on a strong wind.

Execution trench Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

This is the execution trench where inmates were piled into for mass executions. Their bodies were then wheeled out in wheelbarrows up this ramp. Mass graves have been found all over the camp. One was found as late as 1990 holding over 12,000 people. Mostly women, children, and elderly.

Crematorium at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

The guards found the mass shooting of inmates taking too long. So they built Station Z, the crematorium, where prisoners could be executed and disposed of much more efficiently.

The SS guards who ran the camp ordered that the ashes be used to fill in potholes in the roads and paths in the camp and to be scattered around the grounds. The SS guards tried to destroy the crematorium right before the Red Army liberated the camp. However, it was still apparent as to what had been happening at the camp. Currently, the crematorium is protected by this white overhang to prevent any further damage to it by the elements.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial

Upon the reunification of Germany, the German government placed a much more fitting memorial to those who suffered and died at Sachsenhausen. 

When the Soviet army liberated the camp and the remaining inmates that had survived the death march were found in the woods, the inmates who were strong enough returned to the camp to help their fellow inmates. And to bury their dead. After suffering so much, the first thing on their minds was to still care for each other. Even in death.

I had come prepared to Sachsenhausen with a full package of tissues. But the tears never came. Walking around the camp I felt numb more than anything else. Almost like the atrocities that happened here were so great that it overwhelmed me. We mostly went our own way here and digested the things we saw and read on our own.

We stayed out of the museum which has the very graphic pictures of emaciated prisoners and piles of bodies, but we let our children walk and explore the open grounds on their own. Except for Andre. As he is only eight, we held his hand and tried to explain the best we could to an eight year old what had happened here and why this place was special without confusing him too much. But it was hard to talk to him. How do I explain to a child why and how this happened when I don't really understand it myself?

What do you think? How young is too young to visit somewhere like this? Should children be told early on about the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust, or should it be saved until they are older? Do you think there is a way to let small children know a little bit? Would you bring your children here?

Please let me know in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

I leave you with the following quote-

Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial

- Kelly

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Berlin Wall

Berlin trip continued - 

The one thing that really sets Berlin apart from other large cities is its history with the wall, or Berliner Mauer in German.

The wall started to go up on August 13, 1961. It was constructed by the GDR, or East Germany, to stop the outflow of its citizens to West Berlin and then on to West Germany.  Before the wall was erected, over 3 million East German citizens circumvented Eastern Bloc travel restrictions and fled to Western Europe. The East German government was scared that they would have no more people to boss around so almost overnight, the wall was put up. 

If you go to Berlin today, there isn't much of the wall left. Just a few memorial sights where original pieces of the wall were left standing. 

Checkpoint Charlie, Former East Berlin, American Soldier, Germany

We started our tour of the wall at Checkpoint Charlie, a name given by the Americans. The other checkpoints were Alpha and Bravo. Here is a picture of a real American soldier (you will understand my emphasis on real soon) showing you that you are crossing into the American section, or from former East Berlin to West Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie, East Berlin, Berlin Germany, Soviet Soldier

Here is the other side of the sign. A Soviet soldier letting you know you are leaving the American sector and crossing into the Soviet sector.

Checkpoint Charlie, American soldiers in Germany, Berlin, Germany, East Berlin

And here are the fake American soldiers standing there for tourists to get pictures with. I am going to rant a little here. If you don't want to read it, skip it. 

Rant - Seeing this really pissed me off. In fact, the more I looked at it, the more pissed off I got. And pissed off isn't a phrase I use very often. These "American Soldiers" were nothing more than paid actors, which is fine, if they could even for a second resemble, even just a little bit, a real American soldier. Their uniforms were real, standard issue American Army uniforms. But they were wrinkled, and dirty, and mismatched. They weren't clean shaven. They had earrings in their ears. One had a huge beer belly. They were spitting on the ground. Maybe the reason this got my goat so much is I am married to an American soldier who has served his country for 23 years. He has been deployed three times to the Middle East. He takes pride in being an American (his parents were German and witnessed horrible things during the war and they moved to America to give their children a better life) and being a soldier. He stands for honor and integrity. I don't stand up behind the military or get all "hooah" very often, but I found it to be an absolute disgrace that the men and women of our Armed Forces were being represented by this mess. My son asked why I was getting so bugged and I answered, "Look at all these tourists here. Some of them probably think that these are real American soldiers. That isn't fair to actual soldiers who take pride in their uniform and appearance and the way the conduct themselves." Whew! Okay. Rant over. And please, I know that Americans, military and non-military alike, have embarrassed and looked horrible when they have traveled abroad. This just really got to me this day. 

If you skipped the rant, start reading here

Checkpoint Charlie was slightly interesting, but so congested with tourists, it was hard to read or look at anything.

Checkpoint Charlie, East Berlin, Germany, Berlin Wall,

Here is Aidan standing at the only piece of the wall left at Checkpoint Charlie. 

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, East Germany, East Berlin

Here are some pieces of the wall set up and painted to be art.

Checkpoint Charlie, East Berlin, East Germany, Soviet sector, Berlin Wall

There are former Soviet souvenirs for sale on stands around Checkpoint Charlie.

Here is the real scoop. I really disliked Checkpoint Charlie. It seemed to deal more with the fanfare of the wall. It didn't really let you know what life was like behind the wall. It was crowded, and crazy. If you go to Berlin and want to really see some history on the wall, skip Checkpoint Charlie. Rick Steves says to skip it. I should have listened.

After only 10 minutes, we hightailed it out of there. Off to better sights that were more deserving of our attention.

Checkpoint Charlie, East Berlin, American Sector, Germany

When I read that we were leaving Checkpoint Charlie, all I thought was thank heavens!

We went off to Bernauer Strasse, where the Berlin Wall Memorial is located.

Bernauer Strasse, East Berlin, Germany, Berlin Wall Memorial

At Bernauer Strasse they have preserved the largest section of the Berlin Wall.

Bernauer Strasse, Death Zone, East Berlin, Berlin Wall, Berlin Wall Memorial, Germany

They even have a section of the "Death Zone" left intact. What's the Death Zone? Let me tell you. The tall concrete wall towards the bottom of the picture is the actual "Berlin Wall". However, behind the wall, in East Berlin, there were a series of smaller walls and fences. And separating these was the Death Zone. So called because if you were caught in it, you were killed immediately by soldiers manning the towers.

Bernauer Strasse, East Berlin, Berlin Wall Memorial, Germany

When the wall was first started back in 1961, it was only a short barb-wire fence guarded by East German soldiers. East German residents weren't told what was going on. They thought maybe the blockade would come down as quickly as it went up. After having the barb-wire up for two days, construction crews began building the tall concrete wall that we all associate with images of the Berlin Wall. It was at this time that the residents of East Berlin realized that this wall, this division, was a permanent fixture. The people who built the wall used apartment building facades as part of the wall. These apartments were situated in East Berlin, but the sidewalk in front of them was in West Berlin. They boarded up the doors and first floor windows. As people in East Berlin became more desperate to escape as they realized their plight, they began to jump from second story windows, causing East Germany to brick up the next story too. It continued like this for weeks until every story was bricked up. After this, people began to jump off of five-story buildings roofs, often breaking bones and sometimes dying in the process.  Eventually the buildings were closed off and demolished to make room for the Death Zone.

Bernauer Strasse, Berlin Wall Memorial, East Berlin, Germany

There were monuments that told stories of people trying to escape. Of ones who made it, and of ones who didn't. We met an acquaintance there in Berlin, who worked on East-West relations for the majority of his career. He has always loved Berlin and its people, and still lives there as a retiree. He told a story of a young man he met there in Berlin in 1971. He saw this young man go to the same spot every Friday and wave to someone over the wall in East Berlin. Our friend finally had the courage to go up and ask him who he was waving at. The young man replied, "My mother." He went on to tell the story about how they ended up on different sides. He was 9 years old when the wall went up. He and his parents lived in East Berlin. However, the night the wall went up, he was sleeping over at his aunt's house, who lived in West Berlin. When they woke up and saw what had happened and realized that this wall was permanent, the aunt told him that he could not go home. And so the young man was raised only a mile away from his mother. But they could never see each other. There were no phone calls between the two sides. No mail service. Nothing. This young man and his mother came up with waving at each other once a week to let the other know they were okay.

Bernauer Strasse, Berlin Wall Memorial, Marker for Berlin Wall, East Germany

In places all over Berlin where the wall had run through, this marker lays in the street. Paved with actual stones from the real wall. There are also markers near this area of Bernauer Strasse of tunnels that were dug under the wall. Markers of people who managed to escape after the wall went up. And markers of people who died while trying to escape. Our friend told us that this same young man told him another story. About six months after the wall went up, he was walking along side it. The young man saw that from the East Berlin side, up in an apartment building, a man had managed to get a rope from his window to a window on the West Berlin side and he was shimmying along it. East German soldiers caught on to what he was doing and began shooting at him while people on the West Berlin side starting screaming and yelling for him to hurry up. They were getting blankets for him to drop onto so he would land safely. But... Only several feet from where he would have been able to safely land in West Berlin, the soldiers hit him and he dropped and died on the ground, in East Germany. Years later, our friend looked up the West German police report and sure enough, the events happened just like the young man he met in 1971 said.

Berlin Wall, Bernauer Strasse, East Berlin, Berlin Wall Memorial, East Germany

Right near here there is a memorial building where you can go in and watch short movies about life behind the wall and the events leading up to it being put up, and taken down in 1989. There was actual footage of the wall coming down where people were running into each others arms, sobbing with gratitude and relief that they were back together. After hearing all the stories, seeing all the pictures, feeling the weight of what these people went through and then watching the movie, I started to cry. Real, fat crocodile tears during the movie. It was a lot to take in in one day.

The wall fell on November 9, 1989. In the preceding weeks, Hungary and former Czechoslovakia had relaxed their borders to the west and were overrun by East Germans wanting to get out. They eventually closed their borders due to the fact that the people wouldn't go back to East Germany. The people who had already left demanded asylum in West Germany. East Germans who hadn't left heard about their comrades demands and they began to make demands of their own. East Germany found themselves in a difficult spot. Hungary and Czechoslovakia demanded they do something for the East German citizens stuck in their countries. A note was delivered to Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin, right before a press conference. The note stated that they were going to ease travel restrictions between East and West. During the press conference Mr. Schabowski told the reporters that travel between the two sides was going to ease up. The reporters demanded to know when. Mr. Schabowski had been given no instructions so he answered "Immediately." Waves of East Germans flooded the checkpoints between the two halves of Berlin. The guards, who had not been notified, looked on in terror as thousands of people demanded to be released. They finally lifted the gates and in that little moment, Berlin went from being two cities, back into one. In the following days people arrived with sledgehammers to make new crossings in the wall. And eventually bulldozers were brought in. Germany officially reunified on October 3, 1990.

Berlin is a big and complicated and beautiful city, with a big and complicated and beautiful past. If you have the time, it is a must see. Travel on friends!

Want to read the about the first part of this trip? Click on The Best Of Berlin.


Kelly S.

Coming up next - Our time in the Sachsenhausen Concentration camp.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Best Of Berlin

Back from Berlin! We are back home in Heidelberg after three amazing, and very, very wet days in Berlin, Germany. It was great to see a place where my husband had called home so many years ago. Matt lived there in 1992, not long after the wall came down and Germany reunified.

Hotels and short term rental apartments are expensive in Berlin, like many other larger European cities. So we opted for a hostel. I won't lie. I was a little nervous. I had visions of communal bathrooms and bed bug infested rooms with edgy urban youth roaming the halls. Once we arrived, my mind was set at ease. No communal bathrooms and all the edgy urban youth were confined to the streets of Berlin, not our hostel.

We stayed at the Smart Hostel in Berlin and found it to be clean and well supplied. They spoke English and were very polite. A thumbs up from me! Our friends who also traveled to Berlin the same weekend stayed at the Main Station Hostel and were pleased with it too. Both hostels offered a breakfast for €7,00 extra that we never got. There was a Bäckerei right down the street with several more in close proximity. Nothing like a sugary, fresh baked breakfast of rolls.

Matt has been telling me for years about the disparity in Germany between the former east and west sides. As we drove through the rolling hills, the only thing that would let you know that you had crossed over into former East Germany was the sign on the side of the freeway. Houses were painted bright yellows and creams and had new red tile roofs, much like the rest of Germany that we had seen. No difference yet.

Our first stop was to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, or the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was built in 1890.

It suffered heavy bombing damage in a raid in 1943. They left the decimated church up as a reminder and memorial to the destruction of Berlin in WWII. When we were in Berlin, the whole structure was covered with scaffolding so they could reinforce it, and also so we couldn't see it. See what it looks like without the scaffolding here.

As we walked along this street, Matt kept saying things like "I used to eat at that McDonald's. I used to shop at that Kardstadt. I used to get on the bus here." I thought we were going to get a insightful tour of Berlin. Instead we got a tour of stuff Matt did in Berlin 21 years ago. Still interesting though.

We went to visit Potsdamer Platz, an area where the Berlin Wall went straight through and was a barren field when Matt lived here.

Here it is now. Big improvement on a barren field. Matt had half-way joked that he was going to bring all his old maps so we didn't have to buy a new one. I half-way didn't joke that he was a little crazy if he thought his 21 year old maps of Berlin would be any help. We stood here and he said "Yeah, things have changed a little bit." Hmm... ya think?

Here is the famous Brandenburg Gate, or Brandenburger Tor. The original gate was built in 1788, replacing simple guard houses to the city proper of Berlin. When Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806, he paraded through this gate as a symbol of taking down Berlin. Leave it to a short man to need a big gate to walk through. When the Nazis ascended to power, they used the gate as a symbol also. After WWII, the badly damaged gate was one of the only structures left standing. See what the plaza looked like here after the war. 

Here is a view looking left after going through the Brandenburg Gate. A little back story to Berlin here. Settlements in the marshy, wooded area are dated to 1192. All the areas of Berlin that we now know as "Berlin", merged in 1307. The Thirty Years War between 1618 AD and 1648 AD destroyed Berlin. Berlin lost a third of its homes and buildings and half its population. Seems Berlin has been knocked down more than once.

Berlin would seem to be the epitome of a German city. But in reality, it's a Prussian city. That's Prussia with a P. It was the capital of Prussia from 1701-1871, when it became the capital of the newly founded German Empire. The new German Empire was a joint collaboration of all the loosely tied "German" princes in the area who decided to consolidate their efforts and power into one country. Members of the Hohenzollern family (a Prussian family) ruled from Berlin from 1435 until 1918.

Sorry about the umbrella in the corner of the picture. It was raining German cats and dogs sideways the whole first day in Berlin. We were soaked.

We continued to walk around with Matt pointed out things he remembered and things that have changed when he let out a whoop of excitement.

He saw a line of Trabis, or Trabants, waiting for people to rent them to drive around Berlin. Trabant was a car produced in East Germany for 30 years and was the most common car in East Germany. Matt claimed that it was made of wood (I don't know about that) and that it only had a two-cycle engine (that's true).

Here is an exact copy (except for the words Trabi Safari on the side) of the Trabi Matt owned while he lived in Berlin. Same color and everything. He stared at this sad, little blue car and almost wept at the fact he had to leave his behind after his time in Berlin. I looked at him like he was just a tad nuts. Who would want to drive around in a wooden car?

Here is the Rotes Rathaus (NOT a red rat house), the Red City Hall. Very creative naming if you ask me.

Here is the Berlin Cathedral, or Berliner Dom, built in 1750. 

The Neptunbrunnen, or Neptune Fountain in Berlin. I found it absolutely amazing that there was a statue dedicated to Neptune, god of freshwater and the sea in Berlin because it was raining so much, I felt like I was going to have to swim back to the hostel.

This is part of the Gendarmenmarkt which is a square in Berlin that houses a theater and a church.

"We love Berlin!" 

Or what they are really saying is "We love any place that has a overhang where we can get out of the rain!"

We walked around the Gendarmenmarkt, which is situated in former East Berlin, Matt kept remarking how good the buildings looked. He said that while he was there, they were grey and dirty looking. Apparently communism and socialism leave a filmy, grey residue.

The Berlin Konzerthaus sans grey-filmy-communisty residue (yes, communisty is a real word).

After exploring former West Berlin verses East Berlin, here is what I have decided. East Berlin kicks West Berlin's butt. There really is nothing in West Berlin except the zoo which is only talked about because poor West Berlin has nothing but 70 years of being unrepressed to brag about. When the Four Powers (Great Britain, America, France, and the Soviet Union) divided up Berlin, the Soviets really took the lions share with all the historical monuments and buildings. And then after getting them, they let them fall into disrepair. Here is a look at what the Brandenburg Gate looked like at the time the wall came down. You didn't really take care of stuff you commy jerks. Now that the wall is down, there has been a real effort to revitalize former East Berlin. They've revitalized it so much, it has left former West Berlin back in the dumps. 

A typical street in former East Berlin. The old buildings have been restored and the new buildings are built to blend in, yet still look fresh and hip. The west doesn't really have any freshness or hipness to it. Freedom = Boring.

Berlin has a throbbing pulse to it, that you can sense is right under the day-to-day life here. I have never seen so many people with lip piercings, or nose piercings, or shaggy colorful haircuts in one place in my life. Hip hop music blared from car windows at red lights. It felt like a rave would happen any second on a street corner, that the citizens of Berlin could barely hold themselves back from breaking into a full fledged dance party.

It's such a party place that bar/bikes roam the city looking for drinking cutomers. This is an actual bike that the people sitting at the bar had to peddle. It went right in the street with the cars and when they would pass you they would cheer and lift their beers. Or bark like dogs. "WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!"

They were actually setting up for the one of the biggest parties of the year.

They were broadcasting the Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund soccer game, which was taking place in England, live over huge projector screens lined up down the Unter den Linden, which is a boulevard that goes right through the middle of Berlin.

Yep. It's gonna be a par-tay. Such a par-tay that they were frisking everyone who came in. Got myself a little German pat down.

I did not attend the viewing of the game. It was raining after all, and I don't do rain unless I absolutely have to. Matt, however, took the three oldest children and a friend who was also in Berlin for the weekend. They stayed out until after midnight. Bayern Munich won 2-1. Go Bayern Munich! (I actually could care less who won, but Matt was happy so I will be happy for him.)

As I stood on the Unter den Linden I noticed that I could see the Berlin Victory Column out in the distance. A monument built to commemorate Prussia's (Prussia with a P) victory in the Danish-Prussian War (1864) and the victory in the Austro-Prussian War (1866). They must have been feeling pretty good about themselves because then they also went on to win in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Go Prussia!

Do you want to read about the next part of our trip where we visited the wall? Click on The Berlin Wall.


Kelly S.

Have you ever traveled to Berlin? Is it somewhere you would like to go? Let me know!

Have questions about traveling to Berlin, with or without kids? Feel free to contact me either in the comments below or by email at Travel on!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How To Be A German

I recently read a funny article about How to be a German in 20 easy steps, and I laughed... and I laughed some more. Read part 2 and part 3 for even more laughs. There are actually 25 steps now and they say there are more coming. The author of the blog, one hipster named Adam Fletcher, asks if there is anything he has forgotten. Having spent the last 10 months in Germany I have picked up a few things that aren't on the list that I think you need to do, or be, or complete to fully immerse yourself in Germanyness (yes, Germanyness is a real word). In no order of importance here is my list-

1. Wear a scarf. Every day. Everywhere.  When we got to Germany I realized that I was not alone in my love of the scarf. Women wore them around their necks, around their pony-tails, around their waists. And stop right now if you think the scarf is reserved for merely neck warming and cold weather. The scarf is seen adorning the necks of women even in 90F°/32C° weather. It would seem German women have shy collarbones because you never, ever see them. And wait! It gets better. The scarf crosses gender boundaries! Back in the States, male scarf wearing was confined to heavy-wool-coat ensembles and they were always dark in color and lacking fringe. Not here. German men let their freak flag fly with scarves draped around their necks. My favorite "German outfit" which can be seen on the 18-25 year old male German is cut-off shorts, tank top, and then a very "fringey" scarf  loosely draped around those sacred collar bones which must be hidden from view.

2. Have a garden. Germans love their flowers. Flower and bush nurseries dot the outskirts of villages. Hours and hours are spent obtaining a perfection that seems to border on obsessive compulsive. Ask an American who has lived in Germany if they have ever seen a German sweep their dirt in their yard. Not sweep the dirt from the yard, but actually sweep the dirt so it gets all nice and smooth and even. And just because you live in an apartment is no reason why you can't do your part to beautify Germany. In these same village outskirts you will see parcels of land with little shacks on them and beautifully maintained gardens. At first I thought they were the shanty towns of Germany. No, these are the city dweller weekend gardens where they escape to have the opportunity to plunge trowel into German soil.

3. Love dogs. Their owners on the other hand? Not so much. Germany has to be one of the most dog friendly cultures I have ever lived in. Your dog can join you in the mall. There is nothing like shopping at Karstadt and have the woof of a Labrador Retriever echo out in the stores. You can take your little doggy with you into restaurants too. If you have a cute and good dog, most Germans will approach your dog and rub their head and lavish praise upon the dog. I will never forget when I had two German repairmen in my apartment who were looking at me with thinly veiled contempt. My dog Minkie bounded into the room and started licking their hands (traitor dog). They changed in an instant into happy and friendly people. "Du bist ein gut Hund!" Or you are a good dog. They scratched her, loved her, let her lick their faces, and practically rolled around on the floor with her for about five minutes before I had to break it up. As soon as Minkie left, thinly veiled contempt was back.

4. Don't care about other peoples problems. Many a time I have heard the wail of people here, American and German alike, about the lack of customer service. I am not saying that Germans don't care about people, like if you were on fire they would probably put you out. But let us say something broke and you are trying to return it to the store, or a shop is closing right as you need to run in just to grab some milk and could they please just let you in for just a second. Good luck.

5. Go out to eat and stay the whole night. To go out to a popular restaurant in Germany you are probably going to need your table to be reserviert, or reserved. There really is no need to put a time down because the table is basically yours the whole night. Want to eat at 9:00 at night? No problem because your table is reserviert and you can show up whenever you want. Or do you want to go early, and then never leave? You can do that too. In fact, that is mostly what we see. Matt and I went out to dinner at a cute little restaurant in the next town over. After eating and enjoying our drinks we looked at all the other patrons. Just as we were getting ready to leave, they were ordering after dinner drinks and talking and laughing and looking like they were just settling in after being there for almost three hours. Going out to dinner isn't something you fit in between weekend activities here. It is the weekend activity.

6. Never wash your car on Sunday. But somehow, always have a clean car. There is a law in Germany that makes Sunday car washing illegal. And through word of mouth I have heard that if you decide to bend the rules (break the law actually) and try to wash your car, the public shame is right up there with crossing the street on a red or dissing sauerkraut. You just don't do it. About 95% of Germany drives a black or dark grey Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, or Mercedes. And they always look clean. As in right off the show room floor clean. How do they do it? You know what my German/American husband would say? Something about the superiority of German engineering, even their dirt and how they have designed it not to stick to cars. Where can I get some of this non-sticking dirt because my car is always filthy.

7. Complain about the graffiti. But claim that it was all done by immigrants.

8. Go to the grocery store every day. And then the bakery. And then produce stand. And then the butcher. A typical German kitchen and refrigerator are quite small by American standards so there is no "stocking up" on items. You buy what you need for that day, maybe a little for the next and then that's it. And you go back tomorrow.

9. Claim to speak only a little English. And then proceed to speak in better English than the native English speaker who asked you. Germany has high rates of people who fluently speak English as a second language. And they speak it well. I have met some Germans who I have known spoke pretty good English in the past, yet they refuse to speak to me because they might be a little rusty. I told them that I could guarantee them that their English was gazillion times better than my German, so come on! Let that English fly! One girl claimed that she never really learned and then in a heated discussion she piped in and I pointed at her, "Ah-ha! You do speak English!" 

10. Celebrate every holiday by not going to work. And then also celebrate the day after too. And maybe even the day before. We are wrapping up the spring holidays in Germany right now that center around Christ. Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. And also May Day (German Labor Day), Muttertag, and Vatertag (German Mother's Day and Father's Day). It seems these people hardly work. Germany is a place of industry and I know things get done around here. But with the number of days people get off, it amazes me. And they don't take one day, they take like three. And everything shuts down. I guess they really are the model for efficiency with the amount of things they get done in the amount of time they work. The holidays make for nice driving though. The streets are empty.

11. Drive really well. Germans are known for their love of their cars. And for a place to really get out and drive those cars, the Autobahn. But you can't just drive around Germany like any 16-year-old-freshly-minted bonehead. You had better know your stuff, as in you had better know the rules. Like every other car when merging. Like use your blinker every time. Like get out of the left lane for passing cars. I actually really love driving here because people don't mess around. I feel a lot safer here going 160 km (100 mph) on the autobahn than I did back in the States with all those other idiots doing 65 mph. 

12. Wear only black. And for just a little variety dark blue jeans, grey, and brown. And for when you are feeling a little crazy... wait for it... Tan! Build your very limited but very expensive wardrobe around these colors and you will blend right into the German population. And to look even more German, have a slightly annoyed look on your face. Unless you are sitting all night at your favorite restaurant or petting a dog.

There is my list of How To Be A German. And in only 12 steps! Have I forgotten anything?



*Is secretly really pleased when mistaken for a real German and not the poser impostor she feels like most of the time. 

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