It’s the little things
Moving here, we knew there would be a few cultural differences and the language barrier would be more than frustrating. The weather, public transit, day care and grocery stores were vastly more different than we had ever expected.
The weather here is a very different than Central Ontario, more like a mix of maritime and west coast. It snowed yesterday morning, like snowstorm quality snow, and it rained that evening. We had a great time considering the neighbors said it would never snow again this year. What kind of Canadian lives in an area without snow. Anyways, it rains often, it is windy as sin and “cold” weather is 10 degrees celsius. I have had to invest in a good pair of walking shoes that are water proof. We each have an umbrella and our jackets (rain coats and winter coats) are 100% waterproof, not just water resistant (when the rain falls that hard or the wind pounds on you for that long, waterproof is required, not just suggested). Our Columbia and Sorel gear are perfect. There are obviously stores here that sell what you need but add another $100 onto the price tag and that’s what you are looking at paying for local products.
Europeans are very environmentally friendly, you don’t really have a choice when the population is so dense. We have a recycling bin, paper bin, garbage and compost, just like back home, but there are no limits on how many bags you can place at the curb. Most people have a backyard compost bin to help with the summer gardening. It is illegal to cut down a tree on your own property without getting a permit from the city. It is also illegal to idle the car. Since the summers are not too hot, the driveway is covered from direct sunlight and the winters are not freezing, there is no need to idle the car before leaving the house. At grocery stores is another story, I can’t sit in the car with a sleeping baby while hubby goes in the store anymore. Well, I can, I just need to turn the car off and crack a window.
Very few homes or buildings have A/C, mainly because it is only worth it for a few weeks throughout the year. The windows do not have screens on them, mainly because there are no mosquitoes and the flies are minimal. We have a (I think, anyways) giant spider in the basement that my husband refuses to kill. It stays behind the washing machine and I rarely see it but still, eww. He says that it kills the types of bugs that are not afraid of crawling on me or my furniture, which I suppose he has a valid point. Again, still eww. I have this requiring dream after I see the spider; I had hubby kill one in the fall, which we named “fuzzy spider”. I frequently fear that fuzzy spider reproduced before we killed it and now her offspring are out for revenge… clearly I don’t like bugs because this is outrageous, but our last house didn’t have a single creature in it and it was perfect. It will take time. The landlady says its normal to have spiders and also suggested we leave them alone.
Trams and buses take you everywhere so a second car isn’t required in the big city. While the train schedule looks long to get around, 30 minutes to get to the mall or 45 minutes to the zoo, I can guarantee that taking a car would take longer and now you need to find parking.
The highways are ridiculous. I’ve driven through Toronto and on the Montreal highway, and German highways don’t even come close to comparing. They have 4 lanes, off ramps have 2 lanes which go in opposite directions. “take exit right. keep left and keep right” are the gps directions. While this sounds crazy and confusing to read or even to hear, once you see the map or are on the road, it makes complete sense. Always follow the GPS directions, the cars are so close to you and traffic is so heavy that you can’t second guess yourself or the directions. If you don’t get it, it takes a while before you can get to the next exit and find your way back to where you wanted to go. It takes a few trips to get your bearings and finally trust the GPS. To be fair, even the locals have and use a GPS, it is almost impossible to memorize the roads unless you take them each morning – even then, they are always being improved or another exit is being added that it was be confusing.
Like most major cities, there is no school bus. Kids are taken to school using public transportation. Most German families allow their 7-8 year old travel to school by themselves, even if a transfer is required. There is bound to be more than one kid in their neighborhood going to the same school and they can all travel together and keep each other on track. Personally, that sounds terrifying but we will be leaving shortly after his 6th birthday.
I don’t know what German families do all day but they aren’t at the local parks. We have three near the house and they are always empty. My poor son needs playmates.
I hear that even stay at home moms send their kids to daycare a few days per week (out of their pocket) until they are accepted into a Kita group (pre kindergarten) which is covered by the city. Kita starts at 18 months by the way. This can be a little frustrating for new families or kids who are not accepted, for whatever reason. For the first few months, I asked my husband if Germans even have children or do they give birth to 5 year olds, I never saw toddlers in the streets. Every time I went to the grocery store, or the park, or just for a walk down the street, not a child in sight, unless it was school pick up time.
There are a series of local amenities, like zoo, parks, playgrounds and pools. Their opening times are something to be desired and they are fairly spread apart throughout the city so I don’t use them as often as I had hoped. The local pools don’t have swim times for toddlers or a specific pool for the little ones so I am a little hesitant to go by myself. I went to the base pool during family swim last year with the hubby and a 1 year old, it was so busy and the kids were so pushy – apparently parents rely on the lifeguard to watch the kids while they socialize and/or use their cell phones. We only went the once. We found a pool downtown shortly before we moved (of course, right) and they had under 6 years old swim time in the children’s pool (about adult chest height) for 3 hours every wednesday morning. This was perfect. Something like 10 parents would show each week and since the kids were so young, they never left moms’ side. I clearly need to check it out before I make a decision but I am not looking forward to going to the pool alone with a baby and toddler. The zoo is great, I am thinking of getting an annual pass since it remains open all year round, perk of warm winter weather is the animals don’t necessarily mind, as opposed to the Toronto zoo that starts sending their animals away in September.
I can not say this enough, so I will repeat; go to the store often. The fridges are small, packaging is small and the food does not have preservatives or additives in them. This means you will run out quicker or they will go bad before you are done eating them if you buy too much. The milk is in 1.5 litre containers so I buy two milks every other day. I also buy bananas, apples and veggies every other day or so. The Edeka does not have the water that we prefer so the larger store, Real, is the larger store that we visit Friday afternoons for 4 cases of water and juice, potatoes and other long-term dry items (onions, garlic, oranges etc). Eggs are not washed at the store and therefore remain on the shelf longer, and also don’t need to be refrigerated. Once they are cleaned, they expose the pores on the shell and must be kept cold to keep salmonella at bay. Therefore, it is important to wash the eggs just before using them – if a shell breaks into the mix or insides touch the outsides. I suggest you find a shortening recipe for anything that requires lard, and margarine still has more of a butter quality so making cookies that normally have margarine still come out differently than back home. Because of the small kitchen space, even sugar and flour don’t come in excessively large bags (like Robin Hood or Rose flour back home). The stoves are not much bigger than apartment sized either, I have had to put a few dishes and pans away because they simply don’t fit.
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