Tag Archives: Culture Shock

Culture Shock in Germany: An American Expat Is Horrified by His Discovery of German ‘Schreber Gardens’

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“And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod…” — Photo Credit: Patrik Tschudin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/patsch/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright.

Dear Germany,

I have a confession to make.

When I first arrived at the Hannover airport back in 2012, my wife met me at the security gate, we picked up my luggage and boarded the S5 train on our way toward our new home. About a mile or two outside the city, I saw a vast wasteland of the most depressing houses on earth; tiny little shacks — too small even to hold a car — complete with miniature windows, flagpoles, chain-link fences, yards and gardens.

“My God,” I whispered to my wife, barely containing the tear which threatened to spill from my eye, “those poor, poor people…”

I marveled at the thought of living in such a confined space. Would the toilet be right next to your head as you slept at night? What about running water? A kitchen? Heat during winter? Holy Christ, are people raising children in those things?

I was disgusted by the idea a city like Hannover could thrive within spitting distance of such wretched slums. What sort of mayor allows a cesspool of humanity like this to decay in his own back yard? A sick one, that’s who. And then I took a closer look at these little nightmare shanties, all huddled together for warmth like derelicts around a burning car tire…

“You know, for a bunch of filthy untouchables, these Germans bums sure decorate the shit out of their huts.”

And it was true: Each little house was manicured with tender, loving care. Like dollhouses for God’s sullied children. They were freshly painted, complete with trim and decorations on the front door. They even had tiny chimneys and gutters. The yards were immaculate and the gardens were actually growing real, live, fruits and vegetables. I even saw a miniature trellis supporting a beautiful red climbing rose… like a single wish of hope in an otherwise hellish quagmire of despair.

“These are the best hobos ever!” I declared loudly, not only for my wife, but for the rest of the train car to hear as well.

“Those are Schreber gardens,” said my wife. “We call them ‘Schrebergärten.’ People who live in the city rent them so they can garden on the weekends. When I was a kid, I used to have sleepovers with my friend in her family’s Schreber garden.”

She was right. Apparently, the “Schreber Movement” started in Leipzig, Germany, in 1864. European industrialization in the 19th century brought tons of people into German cities, and most of them were very poor. As a way to improve their lives and put more food on the table, they used these little plots of land outside the city to garden, work outside in the fresh air and have a place for their children to play. These days, Schreber gardens are more of a hobby than a necessity, and though I’m sure there are some young people who continue to enjoy them, all I’ve seen are super old people with their hands in the dirt and their asses to the sky.

And so, Dear Germany, I must apologize; I am sorry for assuming so many of your citizens were living in abject squalor. I just didn’t know! I mean, I own a house in the States and I hate yard work — I couldn’t imagine paying someone for the chance to weed my own vegetable garden. That’s just crazy talk. But you go ahead and do your thing, Germany.

Do it real good.

 


 

If you would like to read another post regarding my adjustment to life in a new country, check this one out: American Expat Receives Terrifying Haircut at Turkish Hairdresser in Germany

The Top 10 Weirdest German Foods I Have Learned to Love

When you think of German food, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Lots of meat? Sausage? Bread? Sauerkraut? (Endless fields of pig bodies to satisfy Germany’s disturbing and straight up demonic appetite for all things swine?) Before moving to Germany, I thought of these things too, because I had no idea just how weird and diverse German food really is — or that I would someday learn to love the nightmarish display of grotesqueries at the grocery store.

What follows is a list of the 10 weirdest foods I have learned to love as an American expat living in Germany:

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1.) Zungenwurst
Also known as Blood Tongue, this little childhood trauma is made from pig’s blood, tongue, fat and sometimes oatmeal or breadcrumbs. (They probably throw a live piglet in there too, just to keep things cute.) The first time I tried Zungenwurst, I hacked it back up into my napkin and told my wife I could taste the screams. The blood was so potent it was like sucking on a mouthful of pennies. But I kept at it! I tried it again a few weeks later, and again at my in-laws place, until one day I kinda liked it. Then I really liked it, and now I’m the one who buys this awful shit at the grocery store.

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2.) Weltmeister-Brötchen
These guys are made out of wheat and rye flour, and for some reason enjoy calling themselves the “World Champion Bread Roll.” Pretty cocky, if you ask me. But look at all those seeds! There’s enough to choke a pigeon. I bet if you buried one of these rolls in the dirt, an entire forest would spring to life. Anyway, as an American, I was really only familiar with white and whole wheat bread, so these dense bricks of heartiness were entirely new to me. I took to them pretty quickly, however, because my wife said all the seeds would be good for my pooper. (And if you know me, you know I’ll eat anything if it increases the armor class of my anus.)

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3.) Speck
Speck, or ‘lardo,’ is just straight up pig fat. Sometimes it’s served with a thin layer of meat, but that’s just cosmetic; make no mistake, you’re putting pure fat into your mouth, and Germans lack the common decency to be ashamed of it. I took quite a while to shake hands with Speck — and I still look at it a little sideways — but it’s pretty good. You gotta heat it up, of course, and I learned the hard way not to eat it straight: put it on some bread or it’ll give you a phenomenal stomach ache. Kind of like you ate a big wax candle.

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4.) Grünkohl
Grünkohl is green cabbage or kale, and Germans eat it mostly in wintertime. I actually think it’s kind of gross, but when you throw it on top of a steaming pile of sausage and potatoes, well, you’ve got yourself a party! I first experienced Grünkohl after a Grünkohlwanderung (Green Cabbage Walk), during which my wife and I — plus a huge group of Germans — walked through a snowy forest in celebration of a friend’s birthday. We drank the entire time and played humiliating team games, and when it was all over, we sat down to a huge meal of this green nightmare cabbage. It was awesome.

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5.) Wiener-Würstchen
Check it out! Hot dogs in a jar, yo! Oh, I knew I would love these sumbitches right from the start. Just like American hot dogs, they’re made entirely of asses and eyeballs. They’ve got that salty twang we love so much, plus a satisfying pop when your teeth burst through the outer skin. Okay, so they sound completely disgusting, but trust me on this one: Wiener-Würstchen rule. Just don’t get any bright ideas about drinking the water in which they’re contained — it is pure, liquid sodium. And by sodium, I mean it tastes like Poseidon’s saltwater piss.

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6.) Griebenschmalz
So this stuff is just spreadable pig fat. There are chunks of fried pork rind in it, plus herbs and salt to really give your body the old middle finger. They even sell versions with apple and onion pieces, because Germans are completely out of their minds. It took me quite a while to embrace this stuff, but now I love it. Hell, I eat more Griebenschmalz than my wife does, because, although she doesn’t know it yet, we are locked in a competitive race to the grave. “Good luck paying off the mortgage after I’m gone, honey!”

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7.) Prosciutto
Alright, so this is Italian food, and pretty much every American has tried it, but I never really ate much prosciutto until I moved to Germany. Now I buy it every week, and my wife loves it even more than I do. I mean, who doesn’t like cured meat? It rules. The thing is, my wife and I have a rough history with prosciutto; we’re about 100% certain it’s to blame for the heroic case of food poisoning we experienced in New York, so it took both of us a while to trust it again. The other issue is, every once in a while, we’ll get a batch of prosciutto which tastes really gamey. Like a big, pink pig is sitting right on your face. *Shudder* You know what? I’m not even sure why I keep buying it anymore.

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8.) Schinkenmettwurst
These things look like harmless peperoni sticks, right? That’s what I thought too, until I was so hungry I bought one in a panic at a train station and discovered they’re basically just tubes of raw meat. They’re cured, of course, but then they’re finely ground so they have the mouthfeel of earthworms. From that first bite, I kind of wanted to throw my Schinkenmettwurst across the train station and then stomp on it until arrested — but I also wanted to keep eating it. It was the oddest sensation. Like good and evil in the same mouthful. Now I know what to expect, so I can eat one of these things and be comfortable with the fact that it tastes great but also gives me the dry heaves.

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9.) Sülze
Have you ever heard of head cheese? That’s what this is. Normally I buy it sliced, but they also sell it in these revolting jars. Basically, Sülze is meat from the head of a cow or pig — sometimes including the tongue, feet or heart — which has been set in gelatin. Like a murder victim on display in a shop window. Is it just me, or does German food seem unsatisfied with merely killing an animal, but must go a step further and mock it as well? Jesus Christ.

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10.) Schinken-Teewurst
Schinken-Teewurst is spreadable, raw sausage. Again, it’s cured, but that does nothing to inhibit your gag reflex. I downright hated this shit the first time I tried it. But as a blindly tenacious American, I kept trying. I learned to like that it is roughly 40% fat and smacks of pickled hot dogs. I even ignored the stomach ache it gave me whenever I tried to eat it straight. Like most German foods in the grocery store, I have no idea why I like it. I just do. Maybe I love pork. Maybe I hate pigs. It doesn’t matter; now that I live in Germany, my entire diet consists of German food, so I will probably die with a cloven hoof in my mouth and a load of cabbage in my undies.

If you liked this post, there’s a solid chance you’ll dig this one too: 10 Easy Steps to Become the Worst God Damned German Language Teacher on the Planet


 

A Year in Review: American Expat in Germany Looks Back at Blogging in 2014

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2014 was pretty sweet. My wife started working as a full-time Gymnasium teacher, and I enjoyed some modest success as a self-employed graphic designer. We moved out of our affordable (yet questionable) apartment and joined the Stepford Wives by moving into a house way out in suburbia. Overall, it was a great year; one in which my wife and I both felt as if we’d taken a big step forward. The only bad thing that happened was when some drunken idiots tried to steal my bike, failed, and proceeded to beat the everloving shit out of it.

But you know what’s really cool? What just rules entirely? You do. Our readers. You’re so positive and encouraging — you’ve really helped make this blog the humorous refuge it was always meant to be.

We would like to sincerely thank you for reading and invite you to take a look at some cool blogging information from this past year, including:

  • Funny Statistics
  • Our Most Popular Post from 2014
  • The Countries Where Our Readers Come From
    …and of course…
  • Our Top 5 Blog Commenters of the Year

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 400,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 17 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete 2014 report for Oh God, My Wife Is German.