Observations of Germany

Ah, Deutschland, that beautiful spot in Northern Europe.  We’ve been lucky to be here during one of the warmest summer on record, with little rain and lots of chances to see the countryside.  Alas, we have also been working a good chunk of the time, so we’ve not seen as much as we would have liked, but we’ve experienced enough to put together a set of observations.

I think we have to start with the challenge of finding Pfand.  Pfand is the Germany was of saying a deposit, and I guess these deposits have been required for years on glass bottles.  Recently, however, Pfand has been required on plastic bottles as well, but there in lies a bit of a problem.  As not every plastic bottle has been printed with the correct markings to show that Pfand has been paid on it, almost every different store has it’s own Pfand system: little business cards, little pseudo-metallic coins, etc.  That means a bottle you buy in one store can’t be returned for your 25 euro-cents at a different store.  It got to be ridiculous: a bottle we picked up at one BP convenience store couldn’t be returned at another BP convenience store because though the gasoline was the same brand, the convenience stores were different brands.  We finally found a few stores that have the bottles with the correct markings, so we can pick them up at these stores and return them anywhere.  But, this wasn’t until after one last strange Pfand experience: I took a plastic bottle to one small shop and was happy to get my 25 euro-cents back by having the correct little business card to show that I paid for Pfand.  But, as soon as the lady took the bottle from me, she immediately threw it away in the garbage. 

So much for the power of Pfand in ensuring recycling.

As you probably all know, Germans rather like beer.  That market pressure causes beer to be cheaper than Coca-Cola, cheaper than water.  “Water,” by the way, is generally used to mean water with bubbles in it, what us Western Hemispherians would call “Soda Water.”  And, though it’s been well documented by other observers, we can assure you it is not always easy to get a glass of tap water at a restaurant.  We couldn’t even figure out how to ask for it for quite a while.  We kept asking different people we work with, and made it through Table Water (Tabel Wasser), Free Water (Frei Wasser), before we learned the term that seems to be widely understood: Pipe Water (Leitungs Wasser).  That doesn’t mean they will always bring a glass of water to your table, but at least the folks working in restaurants understand what the term means.

Red circle around a sign means Don’t (like the slash in the U. S.).  This was a little confusing when we took bicycles to the gardens of Nymphenburg Palace.  We didn’t understand the meaning of the red circle, and so we saw the sign and thought it meant, “Riding Bikes is OK.”  So, we rode our bikes; it was only later we realized our mistake.  The confusing thing is, on speed limit signs out at the autobahn, there’s a red circle around the numbers!  Does that mean any speed except that number is OK?  Probably note, but with German drivers it seems that way sometimes.  On the autobahns near Munich, the speed limit is usually posted as 120 km per hour.  That makes me think that the phrase “Drive as fast as you possibly can” in Germany must sound an awful lot like ein hundert und zwangzig (120 in German).  As we had a smart car most of the time we were in Germany, we were not able to join in the high-speed fun most of the time as the smart is governed to go no faster than 140 km/hour.  Thus, the few times I made a foray into the fast lane, I had to get back to the slower lane as quickly as I could to avoid becoming a hood ornament on a BMW or Mercedes. 

One more thing on driving on the open highways.  There are some warning signs which I understood just enough German to be completely confused by.  I could read the parts saying, “Warning, be aware of…” and then it said, “Halber Tacho.”  So, as best as I could understand, I was supposed to be alert for half tacos on the roadway.  I just couldn’t figure it out; what’s so dangerous about a half taco, and more to the point, what would these terrible dangerous half tacos be doing on a German roadway in the first place?  We asked our co-workers about it and they told us it’s telling people to keep their distance behind the car in front (in meters) at half their speed (in km/hour).  So, if you’re traveling at 100 km/hour, stay at least 50 meters behind the car in front of you.  I’d call that more Halber Speedo, I guess, but that wouldn’t have been any easier for me to understand.

Eating in Germany is great if you enjoy pork and sausages.  Oh, and potatoes!  They have an amazing number of things with potatoes.  Fried (in several different shapes), boiled, mashed, baked, and this strange sort of potato dumpling.  And potato soup.  And potato bread.  I may never have been so starched in my life.  The potatoes are usually served with roast pork.  The Germans must go through a tremendous number of pigs each year.  Chicken is also a staple, but not much beef.  I am not sure why this is, but I bet that hindus around the world are glad to hear it.