Ever since middle school, I’ve been fascinated by German culture, German people, the German language, and pretty much German-speaking Europe in general. I started teaching myself German when I was fourteen, and I even had a German and an Austrian flag hanging from the loft above my bed as a teenager.
To say my interests weren’t exactly mainstream for a kid from small-town Ohio would be quite the understatement. After all, instead of watching football or going fishing, I spent a good part of my adolescent years dreaming about half-timbered houses, Gothic cathedrals, and the Bavarian Alps (okay, I did collect Pokemon cards and play a lot of computer games, too).
To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly sparked my interest in all things German. I suppose it was, like many things in life, a process in the making. Perhaps I longed to explore more of Europe after visiting England twice as a kid. Perhaps it was the stories my dad told me about our family’s genealogy (my father’s side of the family is part German and part Swiss). Or perhaps it was that dusty, teach-yourself-German book from the ’70s that I found one day in my dad’s office.
Whatever the case, after living in Schwäbisch Hall as a high school exchange student, studying German at university, and teaching English as a language assistant in Stuttgart, I became quite certain that Germany is where I wanted to be at this stage in my life.
So what was it exactly that made me so convinced Germany is a place where I wanted to live? Well, I suppose that in a nutshell, it boiled down to ten main points.
1. I wanted to perfect my German language skills.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m
a bit of a huge language nerd. At one point in high school, I was taking German, Spanish, and Latin simultaneously. In college, I added a bit of French and Arabic. Last year, I took two semesters of Swedish at Frankfurt’s community center just for fun (I swear I’m cool, guys). But I digress…
I wouldn’t be this proficient in German if it weren’t for the time I’ve actually spent living in Germany. I mean, German is a hard language. I’m not sure if anyone could ever learn it just by sitting in a classroom (but then again, what language could you learn this way?).
We’re talking about three different genders, loads of lovely declinations, verbs that come at the end of a sentence, and notoriously long words like Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit). Yeah, good luck not falling asleep while saying that one.
Even the old adage “Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache“ (German language, difficult language) is enough of a tongue-twister to frighten any prospective language learner.
And don’t even get me started on my own language woes. Like the time I told everyone how much I loved eating Mülltaschen (garbage bags) instead of Maultaschen (a Swabian version of ravioli). Or when I kept asking my colleagues at work if they were eng getackert (stapled tightly) instead of eng getaktet (pressed for time).
But as they say, practice makes perfect – or in German: Übung macht den Meister. So I guess that’s a pretty good reason to come here.
2. The landscape is beautiful and diverse.
Does everyone remember the opening scene of The Sound of Music with aerial footage of Alpine lakes, lush green hills, and snowcapped mountains? Well, even if this movie does take place in Austria, southern Germany looks a whole lot like that.
But when it comes to German scenery, there’s much more to this country than just the Alps. You’ve got the Black Forest and Lake Constance (or the Bodensee) in Baden-Württemberg, the Rhine River Valley in the west, the North Sea and the Baltic Coast, and some pretty cool rock formations like the Sächsische Schweiz in the east.
In fact, whenever I ride the train in Germany, I can’t help but spend most of my time looking out the window at the gorgeous landscape around me. And even though I usually bring a book with me for good measure, I never really end up reading it.
Just have a look at these pictures to see what I mean.
3. The architecture is just as stunning.
If you’ve ever been to cities like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Heidelberg, or Regensburg, then you’ve probably asked yourself if you just stepped into a Grimm’s fairytale. With their picture-perfect cobblestone streets, baroque cathedrals, and half-timbered houses, Germany’s medieval cities are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Europe.
UNESCO seems to think so, too. In fact, Germany comes in 5th place worldwide with a total of 40 designated cultural and natural sites. The U.S. only has 23 in comparison.
To get a feel for how beautiful and diverse German architecture can be, visit Cologne’s Gothic Cathedral, Mad King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle, Dresden’s Frauenkirche, Stralsund’s
4. Germany boasts a rich cultural heritage.
For someone who grew up in a musical household and played the piano as a kid, I’ve got a lot of respect for composers like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Händel. So it’s a bit of a dream come true to be able to live in the country where so many of these composers came from.
But it’s not just Germany’s musical contributions that make its cultural heritage so rich. Numerous artists, philosophers, and writers have also shaped this country and its culture.
I’m always amazed by how often I visit a new town and stumble upon a plaque telling me about an important individual who lived in the very building right in front of me. And it’s this constant reminder of Germany’s rich cultural heritage that I find so fascinating and cherish so dearly.
5. I’m right in the heart of Europe.
So how about everyone who likes taking a three-hour train ride to the nearest airport or enjoys living on the far edge of a continent raise their hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought. NOBODY.
For someone who enjoys traveling like me, you can’t get much better than Frankfurt. Located close to the geographic center of Germany as well as smack-dab in the middle of Europe, I can pretty much travel in any direction and be guaranteed an interesting destination.
Plus, Frankfurt boasts the busiest railway station in Germany and the third largest airport in Europe.
Fancy a trip to France? What about Belgium, the Netherlands, or Luxembourg? There’s even Switzerland and Austria, if you’d like to head south instead. Oh, and don’t forget about our other neighbors to the north and the east – Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic – while we’re at it.
6. Society has a more global mindset and is generally interested in world affairs.
If you watch the German news for just three minutes, you’ll realize that a fair share, if not a majority, of the stories being broadcasted cover events outside of the country. Of course, it makes sense for a geographically small country to be more focused on what’s going on beyond its own borders. After all, there’s sometimes less domestic news to report on than in places like the U.S.
But it’s not just the news that reflects (and fosters) a more global mindset. German schoolchildren start learning their first foreign language around 4th grade, and they’re often required to become proficient in at least a second one by the time they finish secondary school. For example, when I lived in Schwäbisch Hall, it was mandatory for every student in my class to take English, French, and Latin.
You could argue that Deutsch is not even close to being a lingua franca, so it’s necessary for people to speak another language or two. However, language learning isn’t just about utility. It’s more about exposing yourself to different ways of thinking and learning about new cultures.
7. The work-life-balance is healthier and I have a social safety net to rely on.
Okay, I’m really trying not to make a political statement here, but I guess there’s no other way around it.
I value living in a country that places a bigger emphasis on one’s overall well-being and seeks to strike a healthier balance between professional obligations and private life. Do I get frustrated sometimes that EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays – supermarkets included? You betcha.
On the other hand, I’m definitely not complaining about 26 days of paid vacation a year. Nor are 10 annual holidays a bad thing, either.
I also don’t have to worry about getting sick or wonder whether a visit to the ER will bankrupt me. It costs me absolutely nothing (except a bit of my time) to visit a doctor here in Germany. And as I learned after landing in the hospital with a nasty campylobacter infection in November, the co-pay for a hospital stay is only €10 a day.
So in general, you could say that this social safety net makes life a bit more comfortable and affordable for everyone.
Speaking of affordability, did I mention that German universities don’t charge tuition, either – even for foreigners?
8. The public transportation system is extensive and efficient.
Despite the occasional delay and train cancellation, Germany’s public transportation system is still a whole lot better than America’s. While you’re bound to find places in any country that are truly difficult to reach, I’d argue that living in Germany without a car is not a problem.
In fact, here in Frankfurt I can take the bus, commuter train, metro, or tram to get to work. If I’m feeling extra ambitious and want to get some exercise (which happens less often than I’d like to admit), I can easily cycle to work thanks to separate bike lanes on at least half of the streets.
Granted, I do live in a city. But even when I want to venture out into the German countryside or visit a completely different part of the country, Deutsche Bahn is
always usually there to make things happen (I say usually because, well, they were a bit strike-happy last year).
What’s more, most of the time I can find some pretty good deals if I book early enough – like the time I traveled by train roundtrip from Frankfurt to Luxembourg for €32 or to Prague and back for €44.
9. I wanted to visit the land of my ancestors.
When I was an exchange student, I took a trip to a small town called Ohmenhausen, which is now a suburb of Reutlingen in southwest Germany. For most Germans, Ohmenhausen is not high up on the list of places to visit (assuming they’ve even heard of it at all). But for me, it was more than just a small, sleepy suburb with a church and a few supermarkets.
Our family has an old Bible at home which dates back to the mid-1800s and has Ohmenhausen handwritten in it. We’re pretty sure the Bible belonged to my great-great-great grandfather, a man by the name of Ludwig who emigrated from Germany to the United States.
I’ve found it fascinating to trace Ludwig’s steps back to this small, German town in the Schwäbische Alb, where I can see my very own last name in its pre-anglicized form on multiple tombstones and in baptismal records.
I’ve always been curious about my family’s ancestry, and as I mentioned above, I partially credit some of the stories my dad and grandpa used to tell me with sparking my initial interest in Germany.
10. German bread and beer are pretty much the gold standard.
Ask a German living abroad what he or she misses the most from home, and I’d be willing to bet you they say German bread and beer. While it initially took some time for my taste buds to get used to the darker, rye bread that is pretty much the standard here, I can see why it’s appealing – it fills you up and goes great with butter, cheese, salami, and a few slices of cucumber.
But it’s not just Germany’s rye bread that makes life here a little bit “fuller” (okay, excuse the pun) – it’s also the countless types of rolls, cakes, and pastries that you encounter each time you enter a German bakery. In fact, it’s said that Germany produces more varieties of bread than anywhere else in the world!
And you know what goes best with that Brezel, or pretzel, from the bakery? Beer! After all, if you’ve had a “Beer Purity Law” since the 1500s and are host to the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest, I would think you’ve perfected the art of brewing.
In fact, I once read that the average German drinks over 100 liters of the stuff every year (that’s a little over 25 gallons for you folks in the U.S.). If you don’t believe me, just take a walk through a German park in the summer or visit a soccer game.
My personal favorite? A wheat beer called Hefeweizen.
Overall, there are a lot of reasons why I chose to move to Germany, and these things are just part of what makes life here enjoyable for me. Although the novelty has worn off a bit after three and a half years, I’m still glad to have made the move – despite the occasional rant or complaint about the Germans and their strange ways.
Besides, for a kid like me who spent his afternoons going through German flashcards and memorizing verb conjugations, you couldn’t really have expected me to stay put in Ohio, could you?
Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.