Germany — Scattered Initial Impressions

© 2014 Peter Free


14 July 2014





Some random observations about southwestern Germany by someone who has been here only two weeks.



Friendlier, where I am, than the guide books suggested


Guide books that I read beforehand indicated that Germans are formal, business at hand oriented, and lack the outgoing friendliness that Americans casually display.  One author even suggested that too much smiling would occasion an unspoken reaction that the happy face was exhibiting idiot tendencies.


Where I am, in mostly rural southwestern Germany, these tourist book insights may be too dour.  There has been no lack of friendly helpfulness. Admittedly, most of the people here are economically dependent on the noticeable American military presence.



Windows on modern German homes put America’s to shame


They are operated by lever-like handles.  When pointed down, the window is locked.  Circle it upward, and the window swings out at the top on a bottom pivot point.  This position allows venting without much danger of rain getting in.


If the lever is positioned horizontally, the window opens like a door.  This position permits the entire opening to let air in — and one to climb out, if so inclined.


Windows are of admirable sturdiness.



Houses are durably built of cinder blocks and cement


These blocks appear to be of higher quality than their American counterparts.  Most of the houses where we live have been finished with a cement surface coating.


Every village that I have been through so far looks much more cared for than the average American town.  Litter is absent, maintenance exceptional.  Flowers are everywhere.


Walks and parking spaces are made of cobbles or concrete imitations of them.


Surprisingly, there are a lot graffiti.



Cars either look decent, or they are not on the road


I have been told that German inspections fail vehicles that exhibit rust.  The Autobahn is filled with newish looking (fast) Audis, BMWs and VWs.



Roads are challengingly twisty and wiggling net-like


You will get lost.


Roads in this part of Germany seem to twist and bend for no (apparently) good reason.  Even Autobahn on and off ramps wind in often near full circles, with apparently the sole purpose of making it difficult to anticipate which direction one is going to eventually be going. If you do not know the names of all villages for many kilometers around you, you will quickly lose your way.


Road numbers are absent (or too small to read) more often than not.  This makes figuring out which direction to go more challenging than it should arguably be.


Confusion is compounded by the ubiquity of round-abouts, each which have several exits.  These traffic circles are generally small in circumference, so one has to make instant decisions about which exit route to take.


General geographic directions (like east and west) are of no use on this meandering terrain.  Directional signs lists a village or two.  Drivers have to know:


(a) where that village or city is




(b) whether one’s destination is on or beyond it on the same road.


Without a GPS device — in this part of Germany, at least — given the mind-boggling maze of roads and streets, you will get lost within the first few minutes of your first drive anywhere.



GPS reception where I am is spotty


My Garmin Nuvi got so confused on one occasion that it sent me in a spiraling series of overlapping circles in the opposite direction of where it said that I was going.



Lost or not, this part of Germany is beautiful


Artists will feel at home. Color is everywhere.  Thick woods go for kilometers between villages. A marine-like climate donates changing clouds and rain to the landscape.  Light changes constantly.


Even the absence of summer (by most US standards) seems occasionally not too high a price to pay for southwest Germany’s visual appeal.




The weather during the two weeks we have been here has been more like Seattle in November than anything I am accustomed to calling summer in most of the United States.  It has been consistently wet, with often very heavy rains and mostly prevailing overcast.



A lot of what newcomer non-tourists will experience here is not initially fun


One reasonably long-term American resident warned us that most newly arrived Americans have a difficult time adjusting for the first 6 months.  I think I am going to agree with her observation.


There are a lot of German ways that seem inefficient and unnecessarily constraining to me.  These characteristics fall generally into the basket of criticisms that American entrepreneurs level against Europe’s too bureaucratic ways of accomplishing anything.


Even so simple a thing as placing a telephone call becomes a tiresome joke.  For example, our lodging facility took a whole page to list the different numerical sequences residents have to dial, depending on where the user wants the call to eventually wind up.  Half the time these tedious strings of numbers do not work, and one has to start over.


My advice to people leaving the United States for Germany is to have an international cell phone plan or international “burner” phone with them, when they depart. Trying to get set up over here, while depending on access to occasionally provided land lines is a royal pain. More so when one needs to contact one’s bank back in the States for something they foolishly screwed up that leaves one void of money.  You’ve been warned.


More on the newcomers’ downside in another installment


A foretaste of my ultimate conclusion is that foreign PCSs are best done toward the beginning or middle of a military career than at its end.


After twenty or more years of constant geographic moving, one runs out of tolerance for the cultural adjustments and financial woes that accompany many of these relocations.