What Planet is This?!

I think I am finally getting unused to Germany. It has taken a while, but then half of my time was spent in France, so perhaps that explains it. So what do I mean by becoming “unused” to Germany? Actually, I only came up with the appropriate explanation yesterday. So here’s how it goes.

When I arrived in Germany, my first impression was how not-different it was from home. Yes, it was different in many way, but what I noticed most was how similar things were on many levels. Germany, unlike other parts of Europe, is under a lot of construction because so much of it was bombed out during the war. It is not hard to find old buildings and tiny little villages (like Tübingen,) but the house I’m staying in is new, and the neighborhood where I live is under construction, and most of the places I go, such as my church, are new. And there are plenty of cars about, and probably fewer bikes than I would have expected (still a lot though, I do bike everywhere…), and everyone speaks German, but most of them also speak English, and they have McDonalds, and Old Navy, and even my preferred brand of shampoo. I am familiar with the food they feed me, although I may not be as accustomed to it. They have grocery stores. The music on the radio is in English. Mass is in German, but it is still Mass. So part for a while at first, these were the things I noticed. All the things I was familiar with.

And then I tried to buy brown sugar.

To make Peanut Butter Cookies, actually. Germans do not eat cookies. I had noticed this before. It is not hard to find cookies, but they are less common. So are brown sugar and peanut butter. Peanut butter we had plenty of, because we had bought a few jars at the local store’s last “American Day.” But brown sugar? What grocery store would not carry brown sugar as a regular item? Lidl, apparently. At first I thought of Lidl as the German equivalent to Meijers, but the brown sugar ordeal showed me something. Lidl is tiny. Ridiculously tiny. Sure, Holzgerlingen is tiny, but in America, even a town as tiny as Holzgerlingen would have at least one Meijer, or WalMart, or Kroger, or Something. And whatever it was would have brown sugar, probably in half a dozen different brands. Lidl had a brand of white sugar, two different brands of sugar cubes, and that was it? I found brown sugar eventually, but I had to walk over to Rewe instead.

And there’s the difference. America would have had a couple large supermarkets, and if I wanted an ingredient, I would hop in my car and drive over to find it. In Holzgerlingen, I don’t drive. Heck, I don’t even bike. I walk. Lidl is just around the corner, literally, and Rewe just over the bridge. So my guess is that given the size of these stores (tiny), there are probably a few dozen all over Holzgerlingen, but none of them are very big, so that the local grocery store for most citizens is walking distance. Cute, but rather a bother for someone who is looking for a larger selection of basic baking ingredients. And this is when something else struck me. All these things that Lidl carries, none of them are what I would expect to find at Meijers. Sugar cubes do not exist at the local Meijers, but Lidl carries two brands, even though it neglects its brown sugar. The are several dozen different types of higher quality cheeses, such as varieties of goat cheese, French cheeses, Swiss cheeses… I do not remember all the names. And yes, Philidelphia cream cheese. Back home, I could easily find a larger selection at Whole Foods or Hillers. But Meijers would have a few of the typical processed sorts, in several different brands, and none of the nicer sort. (At least most Meijers would. Maybe Ann Arbor is different. I hear we are not typical Americans…) Rewe, the slightly more pricy grocery store (with the better selection, thus the brown sugar), is more like a mini-Meijer in that it has a small isle of office supplies like paper, and tape. But the food it carries is all nicer and higher-quality than Meijers, even though it bottoms out on some of the more common, “basic” items. I think Lidl carries flour. I know Rewe does. But neither in large quantities. It is so strange, particularly because Germans seem to prepare more meals than Americans do, but the bake less. Thus the bakeries everywhere. And no cheep bread here, either.

And while we are on that subject, what happened to the white bread? All the bread here is brown, whole grain, and really good. I have never been one for American wheat bread, at least the stuff from the store, because it always stuck me as being too similar to the white bread. Like the white bread was the cool kid at school, and it was trying to pretend to be white, but deep down its inner wheat was showing through like pimples through bad foundation. It needed to not be ashamed of its wholesome whole-graininess, and just go natural. Anyway, this German stuff really does it. It is a beautiful dark brown color, and moist, and dense, but in exactly the way I would expect it to be. Whole wheat dark bread is not supposed to be fluffy.

So once the grocery store problem hit me, my eyes opened up to the other oddities around me. The houses for instance, are solid. The buildings going up around me are made of stone and concrete and plaster, not two-by-fours and drywall. And because of the lack of drywall, tape does not stick so well to them. The cars are all tiny. The electrical outlets are different. There is a train track down the street that will probably be my main mode of transportation between the nearby cities if I am on my own. There are more fields and meadows around here, and the forests are smaller. The post system is different in that I actually have to find a special mailbox to drop my letters in. (They deliver letters to the door, but for whatever reason, they do not pick up mail at the same time. This does not make sense to me.) Things are different, I just took a while for me to notice.

I came to Germany and found that they had cars. What had I expected?


Besides, this is Germany. Of course they have cars, just like they have beer. They also had, inexplicably, telephone polls, phone lines, and television, not to mention grass, trees, flowers… Did this surprise me? Yes, actually. For some reason, some part of me was actually disappointed to find they really did have trees and were just like us after all. Some part of me, some part that I was not even aware of for a long time, did not believe they would be here. But once I overcame my shock (and disappointment), I realized that the trees were different. And the flowers were, too. I know most of the flowers at home by name, but I only recognize a handful here. Chickery, daisies, clover… and also several dozen that I have never seen in my life. And there are new butterflies. And large, black crow-like birds with bold white markings on their wings.

Those birds are cool. Like large, crazy birds of doom. I guess they makes up for the existence of trees.

13 thoughts on “What Planet is This?!

  1. Lol…I suppose the differences and similarities are all what you ought to expect – it’s not surprising that grocery stores are not really at all like supermarkets, though I am surrpised they don’t sell much flour – maybe the locals all get theirs fresh-ground from the mill still? The local bakery would know. It’s fun to read your impressions of Germany, it reminds me of the stories my friends had after spending a semester in Austria. Coward that I am, I never went, though now I wish I had.


  2. Hmm, that’s interesting. I would have guessed that they’d be more likely to have brown sugar, rather than less. But then, having rarely stepped outside the borders of my own state, much less frequented other countries, mine isn’t a very authoritative opinion on the matter. I had heard about the proliferation of bakeries, though.Oh, and guess what? I got your letter! ^_^ I enjoyed it.


  3. Everyone I know of buys all their baked goods at the bakery. As I said, they all cook a lot, but cooking and baking aren’t really the same thing. The former requires a heck of a lot less flour. Actually, the more I think of it, I guess it makes sense that they would get all their bread from a bakery. They eat so much of it, they would probably have a lot of trouble keeping up with themselves on their own.And again, brown sugar is more of a baking ingredient. And given the similar lack of molasses, I guess it sort of might make sense. (Not really, though. I love brown sugar.)I eated a bretzel.


  4. Well, molasses is a secondary product of sugar cane, which isn’t exactly grown in Europe, so it might not be part of native cuisine and cookery there the way it is here for that reason. Mmmmmm….dense whole grain bread. I need to make me some of that.


  5. The city I lived in during my stay in France – Tours – had been almost completely destroyed during WWII, save a few half burnt-down medieval churches, and one neighborhood (maybe the equivalent of two city blocks, only with many more winding alleys). The rebuilt city was still in roughly the same style, though: narrow streets and no front or side yards for the stone and concrete townhouses, all of which had a walled garden in the back.I had a funny episode at one point, when I tried to do as I would here on Sunday: I wanted a cup of coffee, some sort of baked sweet thing, and a newspaper. This would have been one stop in the U.S., but in France it was three: The boulangerie (bakery) didn’t even sell coffee, and the newsstands (they only sold tobacco products and newspapers) were closed on Sundays. There were one or two supermarkets in town (it’s a large-ish town), but they’re no bigger than a Walgreens is here. I never, ever saw peanut butter there.


  6. Oh, about the crazy birds of doom… Could those possibly be < HREF="http://www.birdfood.co.uk/images/fact_files/magpie_01.jpg" REL="nofollow">magpies<>?


  7. Well, I think there are at least two Lidl markets, and one Rewe that I know of. Maybe that’s it though? Still, it’s kind of crazy that they’d both be in two blocks of my home. Then again, everything in town is within biking distance…Magpie! That’s it! I didn’t think it was right at first, becuase it was too small and fluffy looking to be as ominous as what I remembered, but the pictures of the European Magpie I saw on the wikipedia page looked about right. And they can get as big as twenty inches in length, I guess, which is right. Ha. Awesome.


  8. “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press. Flash. Do you have a magpie in your home? If you do, you are most fortunate. The magpie is the most charming bird in all the world. He is the best friend a farmer ever had. Treat him gently. Treat him kindly. And always remember, the magpie deserves your respect.”I loved walking places in England. They did have a rather large grocery store place (Sainsbury’s) that Tim and I visited, but it wasn’t a Meijer’s by any stretch of the imagination.


  9. I had to google that quote to find where it was from, and then scan through the entire Kill Bill vol. 2 script in order to find it at the very end. But it was worth it. ha ha.


  10. From where else would I be quoting?OK, Star Wars, yeah.And Ocean’s 11.Whatever. If I use a quote, and it’s not from one of those three sources, you should be amazed.No, that’s not sad. Why do you ask?


  11. Here in UK Lidl and Aldi are limited range discount stores – they’re not intended to replace the ordinary supermarket but they’re great places to save money on certain things.At first when we got married we couldn’t really get the feel of buying things in Lidl (a lot of things seemed so different, and half the labels only had English in difficult to find places) but then we realised there really were things we could buy there and save lots of money. And *most* of their foodstuffs are quite good quality, though the occasional item disappoints badly – but then again you haven’t spent much on it and you can always take seriously substandard items back for a refund if you’re keen. Also it can be surprising how many of their inexpensive hardware items are made in Germany as opposed to China! Here in UK most cheap hardware comes from China (unlike USA where there is still a fair bit home-produced).It must be a culture shock for you only having such small stores though. I noticed that supermarkets were generally smaller in Holland than UK when I visited a few years ago.Where I live there is only about half the population of Holzgerlingen yet we have a *huge* Tesco as well as Lidl having opened in Tesco’s old and much smaller premises. The other medium sized supermarket in the town couldn’t compete with the big new Tesco and closed down. Indeed there are quite a few empty shops on the High Street.


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