Why the hell would I want to live in this dark and cold place that completely fucked millions of lives and thousands of historical sites back in the 1940’s? It wasn’t my dream. Spain or Greece was my dream, but not Germany. It was my husband’s life-long and dying dream to live in Germany and learn the language.
There’s a backstory to why I never had the desire to move to Germany. My great grandmother lived in a small Ukrainian village and my Great Grandfather was from Krakow, Poland. I talked to my great grandmother who we called Baba about her horrific journeys of being taken from her village by the SS and sent on trains to work/displacement camps to Budapest, Vienna and later in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Hearing these stories made it seem that Germany and Germans are dark, cold and cruel. My great grandmother passed a couple years ago at 92, and I always wondered what she would have thought about me moving to Germany - a place where she survived a "nightmare."
Before moving, I had these visions of sitting in a detainment cell with my two cats getting quarantined because my American veterinarian filled out the USDA paperwork with black ink instead of blue and the fear that the Germans would euthanize my cats. My poor relaxed veterinarian had to deal with my stringent reminders of “you MUST do this.”
Well, anyways, looking back I had an amazing and positive experience. And I could not have imagined living anywhere else in Europe other than Hannover, Germany. Here are the eight things I really learned about Germans.
As an American, I feel two things that rule most of our existence is money and success. With a rising cost of living, money, and wanting more of it, caused me so much stress throughout my life. What I learned in Hannover and Northern Germany is that I can survive off the basics and do not need as much stuff in my life. I moved to Germany with two suit-cases, only to find myself wearing 1/3 of the clothes that I actually brought. It reminded me of how much shit we accumulate and never use. If I had to live in northern Germany, I realized that I can live a great life if I could earn around 2,000 Euros per month. Although the cost of living is less than the United States, I realized that my happiness combined with a modest life (balanced with work and pleasure) sounds much more enriching than a life slogging it for the big bucks.
I Got Tough
I really hope this stays with me, but the German’s method of efficiency and brutal honesty toughened me up. Most people can view the Germans as rude and some as complete jerks. I didn’t become an asshole, but I became a realist. At times in America, I felt like an old weathered chair - beaten down from the daily grind and "giving" myself unconditionally.
I now have no problems saying “no” to the things that no longer serve me. Before I would worry about my reputation or what people would think if I didn’t accept certain opportunities. I now really value that my time is money. And I too need to eat and pay my bills, especially when it comes to people over-stepping boundaries and wanting free services all the time.
But the German attitude helped me in my coaching business because it allows me to be kind but blunt, which before I needed a bit more “umph” in that department. It was there all along, hiding in the back of my throat, but the Germans brought that out in me.
I’ve been an independent person my entire life. In fact, at times I’ve been so independent or have done too many things solo that it borders “lonerism.” What traveling taught me is that I want complete control and independence of my life. Some of that includes this desire to be a full-time freelancer so I can dictate my vacation schedule, but I cannot help this inner drive that wants to be free of constraints (and 10 days of vacation per year).
Life is Short
For all you #YOLO fans, I know you’ll agree with me. The one thing that traveling opens my eyes to is the fact that life is short. You never know if there will be a tomorrow or whether or not an obstacle will block your road to success. I don’t necessarily agree with some YOLO people I know who party non-stop, because you know, you only live once. I’ve found too much of anything is never a good thing. What I’ve discovered is a balance of pleasure, doing what you love and finding hobbies that make you happy.
I remember to this day my memory of landing in Australia on my 20th birthday. The memory is so fresh, it’s like the air I am breathing in right now. In that moment, I knew I wanted to write and live a life full of happy memories. Somewhere in my mid-20’s I forgot that and had hunger for success, reputation and money. But, thanks to seeing how Germans live, I flushed my ego down the toilet and am not attached to what people think of me or how I live my life. Sure, I still worry about money (you need it to survive) but it’s not consuming my happiness.
Like living a modest life, Germans really understand work-life balance. Although globalization and world-wide jobs are changing this, most Germans know how to enjoy life outside of work. People have a social life during the week and are not glued to their phone checking their work email. Some of my twenty-some year-old friends had no idea (nor understood the point) of Twitter. Work is work. You do it, you earn cash and then you go live your life.
I loved how many Hannoverians would work a half day Friday and immediately bike to the Maschee Lakes for a barbecue, swim and laugh with friends. It's the most ultimate freeing experience. And it reminds me of how much wasted work time we have in America when many jobs give you 30 hours of work, but have to sit there for 40.
But I transformed into a middle-of-the-road person in every aspect of life - diet, exercise, politics - somewhere the truth lies down the middle.
Germans are Actually Kind People
Germans are like a coconut. Hard on the outside, but when you break through their thick skin, it’s all warm, gushy and sweet in the center. Somehow this made us question, “How the hell did Germans actually do WWII?” They are so kind and sweet that I could not understand this.
Now I think anyone is susceptible to brainwashing, but when you see the obedience and “follow the rules” culture, it made realize how the hell something like this happened.
Germans are excellent at making things better. Ever heard of “German Engineering?” Their peculiar and critical thinking minds excel at making some of the best products in the world. But when it comes to innovation and breaking the rules, Americans got that all the way. Some of the best things were created when breaking the rules and well, I relate to that as my inner rebel wants to flee mainstream ideas and products.
So I found my initial perception interesting. Compared to Americans, Germans are not exactly the friendliest culture, but there are pockets down south where Germans smile on a daily basis. For some, the biggest worry of their day is what type of “kuchen” (cake) they’ll eat that afternoon. Isn’t that a fantastic worry?
Many moons ago in graduate school, I was so hardcore about everything that I ate. I would never eat processed foods nor eat anything laden with chemicals, sugar or salt. Even today, everything I buy is organic and mainly whole foods. What I never realized was the level of intensity and stress this caused me. Every minute of the day, I worried about every morsel of food that I put into my mouth. I spent more time reading labels than I did reading my school books. In some ways, my social life suffered because I chose not to eat many things off the menu.
There is no doubt that America has food problems, but thankfully more sustainable and healthy foods are hitting the restaurant. What Germans taught me is this sense of pleasure that surrounds food and one’s social life. So yes, eating cake has sugar in it and may not be vegan (all classical European baking contains dairy and sugar but is healthier than American sweets because it does not have as much sugar) but the memories imprinted in my brain of sitting with my Canadian friend and eating cake out of the oldest (and best) bakery, The Kakao Stube, in Hannover is priceless.
Coming back to the states, I can’t express how much time people focus on their food, diabetes, creamer in their milk, body image and fear of getting fat. I never had a conversation with any European about weight or the need to not eat cake because they’re on a diet. They didn’t worry about it and used common sense that too much of anything is rarely a good thing.
Being back in the states, sometimes I feel more like a bud than a blossom as my approach to health, diet and exercise are so balanced I don't know where I belong. I'm not as extreme as many fitness philosophies, but sometimes I'm too logical for the yoga crowd. So, where do I fit in?
In Hannover, I felt like a thriving rose that opened its pedals to the sunny side of life. I was in-tuned with the locals, and I felt accepted for just being me.
Although rainbows can be seen everywhere on this planet, I cannot believe how lucky the American life really is. My Hannover lessons of balance, being modest and scarcity made me realize that America is like it's own planet.
I love peasant food and cooking simple foods that come from the earth. In Hannover, grunkohl or what we call kale in America is only sold at markets and stores during the winter harvest months. In America, you can find all types of kale year round at every single grocery store, especially since its a trendy "superfood."
Before leaving America, I was still writing my memoir, Finding Om. I took workshops, classes and seminars about how to become an author. They kept saying, "Ebooks are the new thing. Print books are going obsolete and will leave the market in the next decade." I believed all this bullshit until I lived in Hannover.
Another funny story is that our American friend stayed with us for a couple of days in Hannover. Once we met, she talked about how she couldn't believe how many iPhone 4 & 5's she saw even though the iPhone 6 has been on the market for several months.
I find this funny because Germans (and Europeans) are practical and realistic people.
Book stores thrive, people still use flip phones and locals eat cake, bread and ice cream and are some of the happiest and most emotionally balanced people on the planet.
The first time I moved to Australia, I had this burning desire to move back before I even left the country. I couldn't explain why, but i felt as if I picked up a piece of my soul and it was my duty to return. I too feel the same way about Hannover. Somehow and somewhere I will make it back. Until then, I can only dream about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which i call - Hannover.