Thursday, June 14, 2012

Soccer and all the small things: German culture (6/9 and 6/10, 2012)

11/6/2012, 8:50.  I am sitting on a train from Hamburg, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark as I write.  The train will be boarding a ferry for part of the journey!
9/6 and 10/6: Itzehoe.
    I slept like a log after the awesome party at Hanjo’s house.  Flo had kindly offered his bedroom to me, and spent the night at Conny’s (it is quite acceptable for high schoolers to do this in Germany, with the full knowledge of their parents.)  I woke before Jamie and had a proper German breakfast around 10:00 with Uwe and Kerstyn-- a spread of assorted bread rolls, cheeses, jams, Nutella, sandwich meats, and coffee (expertly prepared with steamed milk by Uwe.)  We ate slow and took time to talk, as Germans do.  Shortly after noon, Uwe took Jamie and me on a bike ride along a system of trails through some nearby woods.  Although it didn’t feel like summer, the weather was great-- a cool, crisp breeze, and a light gray sky.  I was happy to be back on a bike, and so was Jamie. 
    I have to mention at some point: the Drechsler’s house was beautiful.  Almost identical to all of the other small, brick houses that lined the narrow suburban grid neighborhoods, it was (as Jamie put it) concise: it was small by American standards, but efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and most importantly, it was enough.  They had nice things, but not so many that it crowded the house.  This was also reflected in their meals.  They were not huge meals with leftovers, like American meals, but they were just the right size, delicious, and centered around quality time spent in the company of others.  Simultaneously, the German lifestyle (that I experienced) was more sustainable and happier than a typical American one.
    In the mid afternoon, Flo and Conny had returned, Jamie and I rode with them to the train station, where we caught a train to Hamburg.  After walking around, exploring the Rathaus (city hall), snacking on currywurst (sausage with curry sauce and powder, a delectable new-age German tradition!) and a bit of shopping, we had dinner at Vapiano’s, an Italian joint where customers receive a card, have their food prepared in front of them like at Hu-Hot or Big Bowl, and swipe the card to receive the charge and pay at the exit.  Then came the main purpose of our trip to the city: the public viewing of the European Cup soccer tournament, Germany vs. Portugal.
    The subways were completely clogged with zealous fans decked in black, red, and gold hats, capes, scarves, shirts, skirts, bunny ears, and assorted knick-knacks, many of them drunkenly singing and chanting “Deutschland, Deutschland!”  We slowly passed through a security gate and wandered through what felt like a carnival and a music festival combined with sports.  We found our place in a sea of fans, viewing a giant screen over a big stage, where the game was being shown.  It was a boring game, but the excitement of the fans made it a blast.  Germany scored the only goal of the game, which triggered five minutes of roaring, flag-waving, and air-horn-blowing from the enormous crowd.  I snapped some pictures as beer sprayed through the air.
    The game was nearly over when the goal was scored, so we left early, and went to an Irish pub.  I split a fresh pint of Guinness with Jamie, which I’ve decided is my favorite beer.  I fell asleep on the train ride home.
    The next day was less eventful, but good and relaxing.  I had a late breakfast with Uwe like the previous day, and worked on changing some plans for my upcoming travels.  Around 2:00, Jamie and Uwe and I went to see a triathlon race, in which a few of their friends were competing.  Afterwards, we went to the fanciest ice cream shop I’ve ever seen.  It had a thick menu of fancy ice cream concoctions costing anywhere from 6 to 12 euro-- ice cream shaped like spaghetti and lasagna, with delicious fruits, chocolates, and nuts, and most of the options including some kind of liquor.  It was delicious.  The rest of the day, we all relaxed together at the house and had a late dinner and chatted.  I discovered Kerstyn’s guitar in their living room, and played some music for them.  I went to bed around midnight, and prepared for an early day of travel to Copenhagen.
    A few more things about German culture that caught my attention:
Again, smaller sizes, and better quality.  The houses were smaller, and had smaller rooms.  The ovens, the cabinets, the soda bottles, the backyard, the cars-- all smaller, but better quality.  It helps Germany fit 30 million people (I think it’s  30 million?) in a country the size of Montana.  And they’re happier.
Meal schedule are a bit different.  We had late breakfasts, but I think this was because we boys woke up late.  We also ate dinners around 8:00 or 9:00, but it felt earlier because it was still light outside until after 10:00.
Sustainability.  Germany has created huge tax incentives for returning beer and pop bottles: a bottle of beer bought for two euros, for example, has a 0.15 or 0.25 tax for the bottle.  But you can get that money back by returning the bottle, which is reused by the brewing company.  (Some companies have bottles with special plastic corks held to the bottle by metal clasps, making it possible to reseal the bottle without using a machine to stamp on a bottle cap.  The German government invested millions to develop this design.)  There are wind turbines dotting the countryside, particularly on the northern coast, and German President Merkl has recently expressed her opposition towards nuclear energy, in agreement with nearly 90 percent of Germans.  Not to mention, the people have more efficient cars and use the excellent and comfortable train system to get around-- a more eco-friendly option.
Health.  Germans eat less and exercise more than Americans.  I almost never saw an obese person in Germany; on the contrary, I saw mostly fit, skinny people.  This is because of the culture of physical activity: according to my friend Jamie, most German students play sports when school gets out at 2:00 or 2:30 until the evening.  Wellness!
Everyone can speak English, and often another language as well.  Which was very convenient for me!
    I was so moved by the kindness of the Drechslers, who fed me, gave up a bed for me, did my laundry, showed me around, spoke with me and took interest in me, gave me rides to the train.  They even gave me marzipan (a delicious almond-chocolate dessert) as a parting gift.  On future trips, I hope to stay with people in their homes more often (couchsurfing), because I found my days with the Drechslers were some of the best of my trip.

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