An Expat's Experience in Germany
Usually, childhood memories don't quite match reality. However, my memories as a child growing up in Wiesbaden were verified as an adult working in Rottweil. Albeit in different parts of the country, the beer was just as good as I remember, the scenery is just as spectacular and the Autobahn was just as fast (despite the speed limits here and there). The difference that I find most prevalent is the number of Germans that speak English now and the traffic increase. My German counterparts informed that everyone must choose either French or English in school. They speak English very well.
The company I work for is in Rottweil, known for the original breeding place of the dog of the same name. Rottweil was a Roman garrison and the first in Germany. The Rottweil dog was bred to pull carts and even wagons. The tradition of cutting the tail was to keep it from getting caught in the hitch. Nowadays, the breed maintains its long tail and repeatedly tries to get the AKC to ban the practice of cutting it.
Rottweil's old world feel is due to the ancient structures comingling with more modern architecture as well as well cobblestone roads meeting asphalt streets. The original Roman wall is still standing around three sides of the city as are Roman towers. Less than a couple of kilometers away are modern buildings of business.
Hailing from Southern California where our four seasons are wind, fire, flood and earthquakes, Germany felt like going to another world. The seasons are so dramatically different each announcing their approach with measureable changes adding to the experience. Germany's logging ban ensures Kodak moments year round.
Just like central Germany, there are castles in the south albeit not as many. My first trip to Burg Hohenzollern a few kilometers south of Rottweil was an experience. I found the drive through rural farm lands quite pleasant with easy rolling hills. Suddenly there is the mountain that seems to appear out of nowhere with a huge castle at the top. It makes one wonder where it came from because it appears so suddenly. The views from the castle are such that only a poet could adequately describe so I will just say it is breathtaking. One can walk up a very steep incline to get to the castle but beware, it is challenging. A bus is provided as an alternative.
I of course had to visit Oktoberfest. The crème de la crème of Oktoberfest is, in my opinion, in Munich. My memories of that were sitting at long tables under huge tents hooking arms and singing to the Oompah music while waitresses brought tall mugs of sloshing beer to the tables. Now a days, one can hardly get in without reservations or being part of a corporate group. Those relegated to drinking outside the tents have to avoid stepping on those who partook too liberally. Individual cities have their own celebrations much more now than in the past but it is not the same in my opinion. One has to experience it in Munich but it requires planning and contending with the traffic.
The trains are just as I remember. America could learn much about public transportation from the Germans. Their schedules and interconnectivity make getting around Germany fun. I recall travelling to Berlin from Wiesbaden on the sleeper cars. This was during the Cold War. Portions of the trip were through Communist territory. We were stopped by East Germans who wanted to search our train. They were evidently looking for someone. The US Army Military Police took up positions outside the train facing the them. After hours of sitting, I remember watching a couple of the East Germans as they walked the aisle past our compartment.
Getting to Berlin and seeing the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and taking a tour of East Berlin was an amazing opportunity. Going from West Berlin to East Berlin was like going from sunlight into darkness. It was very dreary. I recall telling one of the guards on the wall that I would give him a Mark (equivalent to a quarter in US currency) for his hat. He said in rather good English, "I give you kick in the pants." I also recall a large cathedral with bomb damage from the WW II. Returning now, Berlin is unrecognizable from what I remember. The wall and damaged cathedral are gone and one can travel freely into what once was East Berlin. Germany is putting much of their revenue into rebuilding that area and it shows. But I can't shake the memories of how drab and depressing that area was.
Fasching or Fastnet as it is called in Rottweil, is Germany's version of Carnival. It is much like Mardi Gras where there are parades, costumes and festivities. It has political roots dating back to Medieval times but I like to think of it as just a party. The celebrations don't compare between say, Frankfurt or Rottweil, but they are fun nonetheless.
Germans do things in a big way. Their churches are the sizes of cathedrals even in Rottweil. They like to walk. Sunday mornings, church bells can be heard. I recall one Sunday morning in Rottweil, I was taking an early walk. The fog was quite thick and almost like a scene from "Night of the Living Dead" I suddenly saw masses of people appear out of the fog walking to church. It was eerie.
Rottweil is in an area of southern Germany called Swebia near the Black Forrest. Their dialect there is different from high German found in central or northern Germany. I recall walking and saying, "Guten Morgen" to those passing back. Their retort was, "Morga". I related these to my German colleagues who explained that Swebian is spoken there. They also relayed that if one of them spoke to a farmer in the field, they themselves can hardly understand them because they have their own dialect.
Germany is a great country to visit and central to all Europe so it serves as a good jumping off spot to countries like Italy, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, the old Eastern bloc nations of Europe, Belgium; basically all of Europe. If one gets a chance to go, take it!