My father’s grandmother and grandfather emigrated to the United States after World War Two. When they left, Germany was not doing well. There were few job opportunities, the country was still being rebuilt, and the future looked bleak.
When you walk through Germany today, none of that spirit remains. Germany is a vibrant country with a lot to offer. The public transport system is top notch. The streets are clean, the people are wonderful, and the beer is reasonably priced.
What struck me most was the fantastic public transit system. Trams and buses are an omnipresent sight. They are clean and quite. A far cry from the trams in Ukraine, which simulate the experience of driving a car down a brick road. Also, a world apart from the buses in my home city of Buffalo, NY. Inviting would not be the first word you’d use to describe them.
At most bus stops there’s a little board that tells you when to expect the next tram or bus. This is brilliant! The extra million dollars that this must have added to the budget is money well spent. Why can’t America do the same thing?
While in Dresden we stayed with my friend Zhena. She’s studying in university and has an apartment ten minutes from campus. Her place is one of the cooler apartments that I’ve ever been in, and I was surprised to learn the price. Every month she pays 180 Euros in rent.
When I was in college we had $200 dollar apartments too. Typical problems included: a leaky roof, former tenants were crack addicts, broken windows, no running water, holes in the wall, bedbugs, poor heating, no insulation, general look of deathly disrepair. That’s loads different from Zhena’s modern, inviting apartment.
This trend of affordable rent holds true in Berlin was well. While touring around Berlin on bicycles, we encountered a brilliant neighbor called Kreuzburg. I fell in love immediately. Fantastic clubs, bars everywhere, lots of young people, right on the river, a general feeling of youth and vibrancy.
The New York City equivalent would be SoHo. However, unlike the ludicrously priced SoHo ($3,500 a month for a studio) an average person can afford to live in Kreuzburg. At 900 Euros a month it’s not cheap, but it’s not prohibitively expensive either. In fact as soon as I’m earning $2,000 a month online, I plan to rent a place there for a few months.
Before going to Germany I asked my friend Sergej to give a rundown on the culture. Anything I shouldn’t do, any norms that I should be aware of? He thought about it for a second, then shook his head.
“Germany is a lot like America, you’ll be fine.”
While that’s a gross simplification, I understood his point. The difference between Germany and America isn’t that great. That is, as compared to America and China, or America and Russia.
While there, the thing that took the most getting used to for me were the bikes. Like cars, they have a right away. They often have their own lanes. At large intersections they sometimes even have their own stoplights. You have to be careful with them. In Germany a person riding a bike has a right to use the road, and you have the right to get the hell out of their way.
That’s different than America. I’ll make a disclaimer that I’ve never been to a bike friendly city like Oakland or San Francisco. However, in New York and Buffalo, it’s a bike rider’s responsibility to avoid you, not the other way around.
Transitioning from the healthy to the unhealthy, I really love that you can drink in the street in Germany. Is there anything really so wrong with sitting in a park, or in a public square, and having a beer? Germany doesn’t think so, and neither do I.
It’s illegal to drink openly in Russia, Ukraine and America. However, in the Russian speaking countries people just do it anyways. Nobody cares, it might as well not even be a law. On the other hand, you can get a ticket for doing it in America (I’ve verified this law twice). I think that’s silly and annoying. As is America’s irrational belief that you must be 21 to drink. A blog post on its own could be written on this.
Germany and Me
Six months ago I didn’t know what second language I would study. The choices were: French, German or Swedish. Thankfully, Germany made the choice easy for me. I’m going to study German!
In the short term I’d like to spend a few months in Germany. I think that as soon as I have the cash to back it up, I’m going to rent an apartment in Berlin. My visa will limit me to three months. In that time, I hope to find out whether Germany is a country that I’m interested in for the long term.
I think it sounds poetic, like the ending to a cheesy B grade movie. Grandparents leave Germany to pursue a better life in America. Two generations later, grandson returns to Germany, pursuing a better future in a fascinating country.
Here’s to you Germany, prost!