Surviving and Thriving in Our First Year in Germany

Turns out, mom was right – time flies as you get older.

It’s been a year since we first stepped into our new home in Wiesbaden, and we’re still noticing some of the nuances of living in Europe.

Even when we think we’ve caught on to 3-hour dinners, 10 pm sunsets in April, festivals celebrating everything from major holidays to asparagus, there is always something new to explore and learn.

Here are a few things I learned, some the hard way, in the past year that I didn’t expect.

Flat and Chunky

In virtually every city (or small village), cobblestone, brick and dirt roads make up most of the terrain. I retired my 4-inch heels and conformed to the world of flats, chunky wedges and boots after my heel got stuck between pavers three times leaving church.

My love of shoes runs deep. At my peak, I owned nearly fifty pair, excluding softball spikes and flipflops. Now, I wear about six or seven sensible pairs – including rainboots and hiking shoes.

Germans love walking and being outdoors in general. They are out walking, biking, playing sports and dining at cafes no matter the weather. Hessen Park, the local living history museum, has an exhibit about their first hiking clubs.

There are some brave souls who strut in stilettos across the rugged and hilly landscapes. Maybe after four more years here, I could be one of those women instead of the one tripping in the street swearing loudly in English.

Pronunciation – It’s everything

Had we known how challenging the German language is to learn, we would have been more diligent in learning the basics before we moved.

However, we’ve found it’s not really necessary to speak German. The locals can spot Americans a mile away. It’s usually our happy smiles and polite greetings to strangers that set us apart, not to mention our delayed attempts at German with choppy pronunciation.

Six months into our journey, I took a German language class on base. The German language doesn’t believe in more than one sound per letter nor in silent letters. Every letter is pronounced in every word and sometimes, words are combined to make new words. Hence, the extremely long and complicated looking words.

German has a lot of fun phrases that don’t really translate well to English. What we call emotional weight gain, Germans call Kummerspeck (grief bacon). A jacket that is too heavy for spring, but too light for winter actually has a name in German – Übergangsschicht (transition coat between seasons).

Pronunciation is KEY in German. I learned that a bit late when our teacher explained how I had been telling a few people good naked (guten nackt) instead of good night (guten nacht).

Of course the way I said good night was also incorrect as that meaning is good night, I’m off to bed vs greeting someone with good evening (guten abend). Luckily the Germans are pretty forgiving and likely mock us in private when we have such blunders.

Sadly, we are no closer to speaking German than we were nine months ago. We have sticky notes all over the house and books with German vocabulary words, but we are far from conversational speaking. Maybe this time next year I can swear in German when I trip over my heels in the street! Small goals are good.

Slow Down – Familienzeit

Wiesbaden is a busy city. Restaurants, beer gardens, museums and shopping areas fill the downtown and suburban areas. Except for Sundays.

Most places of business close on Sunday to ensure people can spend time with their families and loved ones. A crazy concept for us Americans who are used to stores open 24/7 for our convenience, and their profits.

My idea of family time (Familienzeit) used to mean yard work on the weekends and running errands after church. Here, we’re not even allowed to mow the lawn or do other work that could be loud and disturbing to our neighbors on Sundays.

Seeing how much Germans value down time, travel, hiking – anything that brings enjoyment – encourages us to do the same. It has forced us to slow down really explore the possibilities for adventure that surrounds us.

From our house, a six-hour drive in virtually any direction can put us into six of the nine countries that border Germany. Though the girls and I are disappointed we don’t get passport stamps every time we cross a border, the opportunities are amazing.

The girls may not remember every city we visit or museum we tour, but they will remember how we made the most of the time here and together. As our years here slip by, we’ll work keep that love of adventure, outdoors and family time that Germany is teaching us no matter where we land in four years.

We Made It

Across time zones, across the ocean and across the street from amazing bakeries and restaurants. We made it.

I had fears how it would work. Our kids were ready to move in with the neighbors to avoid leaving them. I had my ugly cry as we were sent off with a blessing from our church who has been our family for nearly ten years. We said heartfelt goodbyes to family and friends and to the house where our family began.

I had excitement and anticipation. I had doubts and concerns. We faced nearly two weeks in a hotel room before an eight hour flight to another hotel room a world away from everyone we knew and loved. I had pictured the worst case scenarios for every situation.

To my delightful surprise, it went like clockwork. Airport, flight and arrival – smooth. Adjustment to new time – smooth. Starting school and work, making friends and finding a house – smooth. I’ve been afraid to jinx it, but we’ve all adjusted to living in Wiesbaden, Germany pretty damn good.

We’ve only begun exploring our new home and the vast amount of history, culture, fun and adventure that await us. From local festivals and carnivals to farmer’s markets and amusement parks, we’ve loved everything we’ve seen so far.

We’re learning German (very slowly), getting our house in order and collecting tour books for when family and friends visit this summer. We’re tracking the best wineries and beer tours, so let me know if you have any favorites!

I’ve wondered if this was the right choice for our family since we started discussing the option a year ago. I’m sure there will be times I have insecurities, today, I don’t. The girls made friends from the base hotel and school. Our neighbors include children, and bunnies, and a park with a zip line. We have a large backyard and playroom. We have a room waiting for family to arrive.

We have years to explore and enjoy this chapter. I bet will be better than I ever thought.