10 Things I wish I knew before PCSing to Germany

10 Things I wish I knew before PCSing to Germany

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

When we received orders to Germany, thoughts of extravagant castles, rowdy Oktoberfests and travel every weekend filled all the corners of my mind. I hadn’t been to Europe, so I really didn’t know what to expect. While visiting castles, attending festivals and traveling became part of the norm, there were some things that would have been helpful to know ahead of time to help us acclimate more quickly.

  1. Learn the language. Even if you’ve never taken a foreign language class, learning key phrases or basic conversational German is a must. Just attempting to speak German to a local shopkeeper or neighbor will help keep you in their good graces. It’s important to respect the language and at least try. If they notice you are a fledgling, they’ll often switch to English to help you out (or to practice speaking English).
  2. OPSEC is important. In the States, wearing t-shirts or hoodies with large brand logos emblazoned on them is perfectly normal and ordinary. Likewise, seeing service members in uniform at an off-base establishment doesn’t usually raise too many eyebrows. However, in Germany (and Europe as a whole), operational security (OPSEC) is very real. Blending into your surroundings is encouraged, which means more muted clothes and no uniform--wearing off base.
  3. The autobahn isn’t as intimidating as it seems. For many newcomers, the allure of the autobahn is irresistible. A stretch of road with no perceptible speed limit? Heck, yeah! However, for those of us who are slightly more cautious, driving on a road where people are literally zooming past you at more than 100 mph can feel unnerving. Don’t sweat it. Just keep to the right. If you need to pass, just be sure to double and triple check your left before moving over. That little dot in the mirror could become a much bigger (and faster) dot in a matter of seconds. Not to mention, with constant road construction, you’re more likely to travel through set speed zones than not.
  4. Winter can be rough. During the winter, the darkness felt all encompassing. The sun rose well past 8 a.m. and would set between 3 and 4 p.m. Between the constant darkness and gloomy, cold weather, the motivation to do just about anything dwindled. Thankfully, SAD lamps, vitamin D and reminders the season is temporary helped to combat some of the winter blues.
  5. Sundays are truly rest days. In Germany, Sundays are true rest days. Most shops are closed and doing anything noisy or laborious is highly frowned upon. Every few months there will be Sunday shopping days; however, the crowds usually aren’t worth it. Take the time to enjoy it. Catch up on sleep, go for a hike or “Volksmarch,” or spend the day with friends and family. It’s what the day is for.
  6. Customer service isn’t bad — it’s just different. Typical American customer service usually involves small talk, quick meals and constant checking to make sure everything is okay. German customer service is quite the opposite, which isn’t bad — it’s different. If you’re dining out, the server will take your order, but you may not see them for the rest of the meal. You’ll also likely need to flag them down for the check. In Germany, meals are meant to be savored unhurried. Good service means not constantly barraging the customer with questions and letting them be.
  7. Bring only what you need. It’s true that some homes in the local community are smaller than their counterparts in the U.S. We downsized to almost half the size of the home we left in Kansas. Thankfully, having lived in Japan, we knew to just bring the basics. Don’t worry if you’ve got empty space in your new home. Between antique shops, the “Flöhmarkt” and bazaars, you’ll end up with some cool European pieces to fill those spots.
  8. Buying and mailing things is a bit more complicated. Granted this year was an exceptionally difficult year with the pandemic and manning shortages, but it was a good reminder to mail items to and from APOs a lot earlier than you normally would. You may not like shopping for Christmas items in October, but in order to ensure they arrive in time for the big day, it will become a reality. Be sure to sign up for Amazon.de. You won’t regret it.
  9. Recycling is serious business. Sure, we recycled in the States. Bottles, cans and glasses in one bin, everything else in the other, right? In Germany, there are separate bins for almost everything — different colored glass, aluminum, paper, cardboard, electronics, clothing, organic waste, yard clippings and more. Certain glass drinking bottles can be returned to the store for a “Pfand,” or small refund. It can take a little getting used to, but once you start doing it, you realize how much is actually recyclable.
  10. Take advantage of the location. If you’re a traveler, Germany is the perfect place to start from. Most European destinations are within a two-hour flying radius and with the proliferation of budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, travel is more affordable. Even if you prefer to stay closer to home, there are so many places to discover in your backyard. The towering majesty of the Bavarian Alps, the hidden secrets of the Black Forest, the rolling vineyards lining the banks of the Mosel and Rhine rivers and the bustling metropolises of Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin are just train rides away.


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