A different way of life

It's lunch time;
you can't go to the store.

"You can't go to the drug store now, it is 12:30." That was one of my earliest introductions to the differences between life in a small town in Germany and that in America. We have lived here in southern Germany for over a year now. Though so much is very much like life in the U. S., many things are different. Sometimes the difference is for the good while other times it is most frustrating. In the end it is much more similar than different even when you look at this seemly long list of differences.

Store hours

The above 12:30-closing still frustrates me. I am in town in the middle of the day doing something and remember that I want to get something else, a few stamps, some band-aids, a light bulb, of some other small thing. But the clock is past 12:15, the magic time for all retail stores and the post office. They close from 12:15 and stay so through 1:30 or 2:00 for lunch. But if it happens to be Wednesday or Saturday, they will not open again until the next morning. And they are never open after six pm. It's shades of the '50s in the U. S. In larger cities, stores are open more often during the lunch hour but even there, six or seven pm is closing time. As for Sunday, I have long since forgotten about buying anything beyond ice cream, coffee, or beer in small towns. I cannot. Again larger stores in larger towns are open sometimes on Sunday. But even then I need to know which ones are open before I drive 15 miles only to find them closed. This gives new meaning to Saturday morning shopping-you must get what you need for the rest of the weekend. I vaguely remember that from my childhood days in the late forties and early fifties. This still bugs me off and on. I wouldn't miss it if the changed to something more akin to the practice of my native Illinois. But of late the stores themselves have been complaining that they have little business here because the workers shop on the way home in the larger towns where they can shop in more convenient hours after they are done with work. Maybe they will come to understand and change for their own good if not for that of the customer.

The Euro

In 2001, 12 of the European Union (EU) countries began using the same paper money and coins, the Euro. The bills are the same in all countries. One side of the coins is the same for all countries and the other is different for each country. The Euro circulates freely among all member countries. It is amazing to be able to go from country to country and continue using the same money. In the past, I had to stop at the border or in the airport and change money over and over as I went from country to country. Today even in Switzerland, where they still use the Swiss Franc, they readily accept the Euro and give Euro change. The value of the Euro has been fluctuating between $1.20 and $1.28 to the Euro for the past year.

There is no quarter here. Instead there is a 20-cent piece. They don't use it as much as we use the quarter because they use the 50-cent here while we haven't had a use for it for fifty years. The other coins are 1 and 2 Euro and 1, 2, 5, and 10 cents. They use all equally. The two-cent coin makes little sense but it is used. They also use their one- and two-Euro coins all the time. America would do well to get rid of the dollar bill and use the Sac dollar and even invent a two-dollar coin. I don't end up with excess change as people in the US often worry about. I actually end up with less change in my pocket because I go to my pocket more often for the small purchases instead of taking out a dollar bill. Their smallest paper money is five Euros.

I can easily see that money here in southern Germany where we live moves throughout Europe. Though the predominant coins are German, we get a many Austrian, Italian, and French coins. And those of Belgium and Netherlands find their way to our region more often than one would expect. The coins of other countries show up now and then but much less often.

Sales Tax

Taxes on retail purchases are quoted with the price of things as opposed to taxes being added as you check out like in the US. The 1.25 price on a package of potato chips includes an outrageous 16.5% tax (which is going up to 19% at the beginning of 2007!). I pay 1.25 Euro for it. While a similar package in the U. S. marked 1.25 will have 6.5% or more sales tax added to it before I walk out with it. Everything from bread to cars is marked this way. You get used to it. And it becomes convenient to know the final price as you pick up an item from the shelf.


Gas is so much more expensive here, even with the huge increases in the U. S. in the recent past. That has been true for a long time. When the prices were very high in the US, my brother quoted the price of $3.03 a gallon in Illinois. When converted to liters and the Euro, that comes out to 0.63 Euros a liter, less than half the 1.33 Euros a liter we were paying here in Germany at the time. That's $6.45 a gallon. But even here in Europe there are some significant differences. In Austria gas at the same time was only the equivalent $5.42 a gallon. So you can see why we drive down the less than 20 miles to Austria now and then to do some shopping, sight seeing, or coffee drinking AND to by gas. Since I first wrote this article, prices have dropped back down to $5.68 a gallon here with a corresponding drop in Austria so we can continue to go there for coffee now and then.

Roads and traffic

As for getting around in our car, the main roads are wide and well made here, generally better kept than similar ones in America. But there are many small country roads connecting so many small villages and many more people use them than similar ones in America. These small roads are quite narrow, often less than the width of two cars (also smaller here), so when meeting another car one has to drive with one wheel on a shoulder that often barely exists. The roads also follow the contour of the land so they wind like a snake and roll up and down with the hills.

Intersections on smaller roads are marked with yield signs, not stop signs. German drivers are very aggressive and often take advantage of a much narrower space than an American would. So when you see someone coming up to a side road intersection where you are supposed to have the right of way, expect him or her to go in front of you if there is any possibility for him or her doing so. When I first drove here it was hard for me to not stop at intersections where the other had the right of way. Now I am so used to rolling through at 25 or 30 mph that I might run the risk of getting a ticket when I return to the US.

One must also be careful for the other traffic sharing the road. More than cars share the road. Many tractors are on the road and a lot more people ride bicycles and walk here. I walk a lot so I must beware of the cars. With the narrower roads, cars pass a lot closer to you than they do in the States. At first that scared me more than I was ready to admit. Now it is so common that even when someone taps me with his side-view mirror, as they have, it bothers me little. But those same winding, narrow roads are fun to drive on. Our little Fiat 600 often gets a chance to show his Italian character and spirit as we swing back and forth up and down through the fields and woods of the Algau.


When you want to go long distances or get there fast, you drive the autobahns, the expressways. With four lanes and limited access they crisscross the country. Germany is one of the few countries in the world with no speed limit on many sections of their expressways. And where there are speed limits, many drivers ignore them. Even in Switzerland where there is a 130 kph (80 mph) speed limit, German cars regularly pass me at very high speeds. So how fast does the traffic move on the autobahn? Trucks and semis are limited to 100 kph (62 mph) and most of them move close to that speed. I drive around 120 kph (74 mph), as do about half the other cars that are moving faster than the trucks. But that other cars really rush down the road. I feel like I am standing still as they whiz past me like Formula I racers. 180 to 200 kph (112 to 125 mph) is probably slow for some of them. This would be little problem if they were out there alone. But those slow semis and us 120-kph-ers are sharing the road with them. We stay in the right lane. But we do have to pass once in a while. For an American it is hard to get used to just how fast one of these careening cars can change from being a faint spot in your rear view mirror to that whoosh that screams past you, that box of steel that could change you and your car into a mass of crumpled steel and blood and guts in an instant if you do not recognize and correctly calculate its speed. I have seen far too many cars flying past me with bright break lights and their noses to the ground in a panic slow-down to avoid someone slower who has pulled into the outer lane to pass in front of them. Sometimes I wonder whether driving through Baghdad, the Gaza Strip, or southern Lebanon would be safer than driving the German autobahns. That said, when you have to get from one end to the other of this 830-kilometer (515-mile)-long country, you can do it in one day, easily.

Like their American sisters, these autobahns have oases and gas stops along the way. Here they are more frequent here and they offer a lot more food and merchandise options. But they are just as overpriced and mediocre as those in the States.

Bicycles and walking

Everyone rides bicycles here. When they have to go short distances in town, they do it on a bicycle or on foot. There just aren't enough places to park even with Europe's cars. And with the cost of gas, the walk or bicycle ride has two advantages, it saves a Euro or two and helps your health. The center of many towns and cities is often a car- and truck-free zone. During my early bicycle rides in the middle of such a space busy with walkers and bicycles in a town of a hundred thousand, I found it very hard to keep moving. I was afraid of hitting someone. But as I cycled through the people more and more, I learned to look much farther ahead than I was looking at the beginning. After a while watched 50 and more feet ahead and studied peoples movements estimating where they were going and where they would be when I got near them. Then I adjusted my movements and speed accordingly. Now it is almost automatic and works quite well.

People of all ages walk for recreation here. Youngsters, families with young children, and many individuals and couples over sixty. Walkers spending many days on the long-distance trails are often in their forties and above and many are well beyond sixty. Some of the former seem to be on mini-pilgrimages to decide where to go and what to do next. The latter walk for the joy of walking and are retired so they can do more of it.

With all the bicycle riding and walking here there are many more walking and cycling paths in Europe than there are in the U. S. You can easily walk or cycle across the Germany (or all of Europe for that matter) in almost any direction or combination of directions you want. Many roads have a paved bicycle path along side them; some have separate pathways. With them you don't have to compete with the cars for space. And then, when the opportunity presents itself, those still-paved paths branch off into woods and countryside. The paths, paved and not, go through private property everywhere. It is no problem to walk down someone's tractor track across his field. That took me a long time to get accustomed to-I kept looking for someone to come out and question me as to why I was walking on his land. It has never happened here. It surly would happen in the U.S.

Public transportation

Busses and trains are so much more available and convenient than in the U. S. I can go almost anywhere in the country, even the smallest towns, very easily on public transportation. It is not cheap, but it is not so expensive either when you think of the cost of a car and gas here. And both the bus and train systems have many special fares like one in our area that gives you 20% off when you ride in a particular area. Or another that, for $31.75 (25 Euro), lets up to 5 people travel anywhere in this province. Other provinces have similar packages.

Part two

This second look into life in Germany brings you some minor and not so minor differences between Germany and America today in areas as diverse as church and state, work, birthday parties and bath houses, Mardi Gras and language, coffee time and wedding rings, as well as restaurants, bars, and ice cream shops.

Church and state

In America we pride ourselves on the separation of church and state. It is defined separate in the Constitution. To my wide-eyed surprise when I registered in the village hall, I was asked my religion. "Why?" I asked. "Because the state collects church taxes from your income automatically." "What?" Yes, that is the way it is. In the '30s the state used this mechanism to tell who were Jews and who were not. Today they let one say he has no religion so that they cannot keep track of a person's religion. But then, when one is not on the civil books as a Catholic, the Catholic Church does not consider him a Catholic and they will not marry or bury him-interesting twist on reality here. Pay or you cannot be a believer....


When you apply for a job in Germany you have to do some things very differently from how you do them in America. First you have to include a very good quality picture of yourself. You have to tell your age, religion, and whether you are married and, if you are, how many children you have or do not have. You also have to include diplomas from schools you have attended. And you have to include work testimonials, letters from previous employers telling how you worked for them. If you do not have all these things on your original application, you'll never get an interview invitation let alone be considered for the job. Not the same place as America.

We work forever to get a four-week vacation in America. And when we change jobs often we have to start all over. Here one begins a job with a six-week vacation from the start. Nice plus.

Birthday parties

If you are expecting to have someone put on a birthday party for you or to get a surprise party here, you will wait a long time. No one gives a birthday party for you here. You give a birthday party for yourself. You set it up, invite all who attend, and pay for everything, even the accommodations, if you invite someone from another place and they have to stay over night. You also are expected to bring goodies to work like I did back in the States.

Bath houses

It may be different in other parts of the U. S., but where I lived in Illinois we had no bathhouses that I can recall. Oh, there are were public pools, but not bath houses like the ones here where you can bask in hot mineral water, where you can enjoy large pool areas where you can walk, swim, or just sit in the warm water, where you have a wide variety of pressure fountains that spray water from pipes onto you or from openings in the wall under the water against you, where you can sit with air bubbles coming up under your butt or stand with them bubbling under your feet, or lay with them under your back. And some baths add a waterfall coming down from on high to massage your back. To top this off, many baths also have steam rooms and saunas to boil the bad juices out of you. And when you have taken all you can of the heat, a cold shower or pool closes your pores instantly to say nothing for what happens to your heart.

Before we leave the baths, I must mention a very different aspect, one that which reflects the very different attitude toward the body from the tight Anglo-Saxon attitude of the America. Many baths allow patrons to enjoy their bathing nude, if not always at least on certain days of the week. It is not some immoral thing we had drummed into us by the church. Rather it is totally amoral. It is just a lot more comfortable and liberating to swim or go into a sauna with nothing on than to swim with clothes, even just bathing trunks. So if you aren't comfortable with nudism, make sure it is the correct day of the week for you before you go to the bath. But do go. It is wonderfully relaxing.

Mardi Gras

We have all heard of Mardi Gras and the big parties in New Orleans and Rio but seldom have experienced much like it in the Middle West where I come from. Mardi Gras is the last big bash before Lent-the party before the fasting-Fat Tuesday. New Orleans has nothing on Germany. Here it is called Fastnacht, the night before the fast, Ash Wednesday. But the whole thing starts long before Lent. Various activities build up to it through several weeks of the winter-a way to get one's mind off the cold and snow maybe. People run around in court jester costumes of a myriad of kinds and do generally foolish things at fests here and there for weeks before. And there are huge bond fires to drive away the winter, probably a celebration left over from pre-Christian times. It all builds up to the Monday before Ash Wednesday, not Tuesday as with Mardi Gras. On this Monday, Rosenmontag, the parties and parades are the biggest, wildest, and longest of all. We watched a parade in Cologne that lasted more than five hours. And there were parades like it all over the country. It was a wild day.


Many Germans speak some English while very few Americans speak any German. In Germany one can almost always find someone around who can help an English speaking person who is having problems with German. The same would not happen for a German in the US.

In the U.S. we have a lot of immigrants from many lands. In Germany there are a lot of Turks and Italians. Both groups are in their new homes for the same reason, to make a better living than they can make in their native lands. In the U.S. we complain that the Spanish and other immigrants should learn English and then do nothing to help them. Here in Germany, the Germans also complain that immigrants should learn German. But they are doing something about it. A law says that all who want to be permanent residents must learn German. And they have a system of schools where every immigrant can take up to 600 hours of German at only one Euro an hour. It didn't teach me everything and I am in no way fluent yet. But I know a lot more than I would have known without it. Thanks.

The German and English languages share a lot and much is different between them. Some of those differences have been very frustrating. At times both German and English speakers think they have correctly translated something and yet confusion reigns. My favorite of these literal translations is something that caused my wife-to-be and I no little aggravation until we finally realized what we were saying to each other. One day she told me the car door was not shut. I said, "I know it, I am shutting it." She responded, "You don't know it, it is still open." And again, she asked, "Do you know Moscow?" "Yes, I know a lot about Moscow." "When were you there?" "Never." "Then you don't know it." It all comes down to the German word kennen, which the dictionary translates to "to know." But its "to know" meaning is only in the Biblical sense of "to know," that is, "to take part in" or "to visit" or "to have intercourse with." It has nothing to do with the additional general English meaning of "to understand," "to know about," or "to know of." For two weeks we both used the word "know" with different meanings and couldn't figure out why we were not communicating, why we were getting ourselves into wild misunderstandings.

Another example is the German tendency to use excessively and without reference the pronoun "it." They often truncate this and similar often-heard, clumsy translations: "It is cold, the living room." The problem lies with their frustrating tendency to leave off that second part in this sentence so that it comes out simply, "It is cold." If the speaker were only talking about the living room that's ok. But more often than not s/he has also been talking about the bathroom, the car, and the weather since talking about the living room. So I have to ask something like "What is cold? The car and the weather sure are warm enough." This is usually answered with something akin to, "The living room. What else am I talking about?" This happens in German too. I often hear an es ("it") with its associated noun some misty possibility of three or four different words used in the last five minutes. I don't know how they keep track of it.

Coffee break

We have heard of English Tea Time in the US and we have our own coffee breaks, but we have not heard of German coffee break too often. Every afternoon around three to four, the household takes time off for a sit-around-the-table coffee and cake. This, along with mid-morning coffee, makes for a lot of coffee and sweets. At some homes, I have felt like we sit more around the table for breaks and meals (three usually) than we spend doing other things during the day.

Wedding ring

Are you married? You wear your wedding ring on your right hand in Germany. I suppose we'll have to switch ours back to the left hand when we return to the U. S. I hope my left finger is the same size as my right.

Restaurants, bars, and ice cream shops

The German ice cream shop it a social gathering place here. During the warmer season people sit in front of the ice cream shop and wile away the afternoons and evenings talking as they eat ice cream or drink coffee, tea, or beer. Women sit with their babies in strollers while their toddlers play in nearby plastic climbing and sliding things and older children kick a soccer ball around the square. In our little town, the ice cream shops stay open till midnight most of the time. And they are open during the afternoon rest time when most other shops are closed.

Bars seldom open till late in the afternoon. But they, like the ice cream shops, are centers of public life, much more so than in the U.S. in most smaller towns. Also like the ice cream shops, in the warm months most everyone sits on tables in front of the bar in the public square. One is allowed to drink on the street in public.

Restaurants are open for lunch and evening meals and closed between them. Food caters to the German taste for potatoes and meat. If you are looking for something with a bit less oil, it is sometime a task to find it though there are Italian and Turkish restaurants that serve their foods also. One of the first German words I learned here was kartofln, potatoes. Everyone eats potatoes in so many forms...kartofln, kartofln, kartofln.

Very unlike Americans, the Germans often bring their dogs into the restaurant with them. And I have even seen a few with their cat on a leash sitting with them for lunch or dinner.

Part three

This edition's look into life in Germany today brings you some minor and not so minor differences in prices, breakfast, smoking, royalty, weather, farming, old buildings, house hunting, open borders, time, fresh air, and music and TV.

Drink prices

A half kilo (1.1 pound) of coffee costs upwards of $9.00. A cup of coffee in a restaurant goes for $2.00 to $2.50 and that is just one cup, no forever refills like in America. You can get a kanschien, a little kettle with two cups, for about twice the cost of the single cup but still no refills.

Beer comes in many flavors and versions, most of them very good. The common pils, similar to but stronger and tastier than American beer, costs between $2.50 and $3.00 for a 0.5 liter (16.9 oz) glass here in the south.

Breakfast bread

Many Germans would not think of eating old bread for breakfast if they did not have to. So it is a morning ritual to go to the bakery before breakfast to buy your bread or rolls. It is a custom that took me a while to adjust to. Of course you have to eat day-old bread on Sunday. The bakery is closed.

Public smoking

Germans smokers, like American smokers, like their cigarettes before, during, and after their meals in restaurants. And they can do just that to the uncomfort of all non-smokers-little different than in America. But at least in America there are usually No Smoking areas in restaurants. There are very few in Germany. Just one smoker can pollute the entire eating room. I remember one particularly obnoxious time when two women were setting in a pizzeria each smoking a cigar. We left. It was too much.

As a sidelight, Spanish smokers are even worse than German smokers. But in Italy, of all places where everyone likes their cigarettes, they have banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. What a delight! But they can smoke outside. So in that land of sun where there are a lot of tables outside, you have to make sure you are on the upwind side of any smokers.


It is close to 150 years since Germany was unified but there are still a lot of the trappings of royalty. Castles dot the mountain- and hill-tops and strategic mountain passes. Palaces, the home of local royalty, are still to be found in the smallest of towns. Most are huge buildings with tens of rooms (ours has 86). As an example, our town has two palaces (Schloss). We live in the garden house of the older of the two. The owner's title is Graf and his wife is Gräfin, the English Earl or Count and Countess. The people seem to be in some way drawn to these places and people or they wouldn't dot the countryside. It is so anachronistic to my American mind.

"What do you do?"

A certain section of the population would never think of asking, "What do you do?" While that is the first question out of the mouth of others, especially when they learn that I have been walking for a long time or that I am not working in the community where I live. But when they learn I am retired, their question turn into wishes that they could be in the same situation, just like in America.


NATO warplanes now and then fly low over the land in their outrageously loud jets. Their periodic sorties last for two or three weeks at a time and then they are gone for another three or four months. Such occasions sometimes remind me to look around at the faces of the people I pass in the street and I remember that a short 61 years ago we were in mortal combat. These people who look so much like any American walking down the street in Chicago or Peoria or Woodstock were our "enemy." We would have killed each other on sight. It has brought tears to my eyes more than once. The incongruity of war. Why do we do it? Will it be the same in Iraq 50 years from now? Why can't we abandon it as a means of settling disputes?


I would like to report that the weather is better here than my native Illinois. But, alas, I cannot do it. Last winter my Kisslegg in southern Germany was as cold and snowier than any Chicago winter I have experienced. I walked kneecap deep into my house in March after three feet of snow fell. July was in the 90s and dry. That was followed by an August when it rained the entire month and was never above 70. And we will not even talk about the snow that fell in August low down the mountains. Last fall was almost as beautiful as any fall in Illinois while the spring was as wet and cold as many in Illinois. It is little different from my hometown. I was looking for a milder place to live.


Unlike in Illinois, tractors have licenses to drive on the road and they are everywhere in this farming community. Little round signs on their rear end say 25 kph (15 mph) is their maximum but most drive down the road at twice that. But they are still slow enough to cause long traffic backups on the hilly winding roads here.

Cattle, dairy products, and grass to feed the cattle are the major products in this immediate area. Farmers grow and bail grass, not hay, here, three or four times a year from the same field.


In Illinois an "old" house is 100 years old. That is young, very young here. You don't really think in terms of "old" until you pass the 500-year mark. And if you want to get realistic, that is young as some structures go. A lot of churches and castles here go back more than 700 and 800 years.

In Wangen, the next town south, we eat in a 500-year-old, modern restaurant. It was founded in 500 and has a wonderful bakery and seating around picnic tables. Come in and find a seat with fellow customers and have a beer and lieberkase, or whatever else you want.

And the weekly market has been on Wednesday in Wangen since 1390. I know that because they are trying to get a second market day on Saturday and a long discussion has brought out the history. Before that it was for 200 years on Friday. Many are loath to change a good thing by adding another day.

House hunting

When you go out looking for a new apartment or house and want to turn on the light to see what the place looks like, nothing happens. They don't work here because there are no light fixtures in an empty apartment or house. You bring your lights with you when you move from apartment to apartment or house to house. No one wants to use someone else's choice for lights. It just isn't done. So you have to spend the better part of your first week in a new apartment or house installing light fixtures or hire an electrician to do so. I must say it was frustrating for me to do so.

Open borders

European open borders are a huge change from the past. Old movies show the immigration agent clicking his heals at the door of the train compartment as the train crossed the border into a new country. Not so any more. The first time I crossed a border, it was on an evening train from Spain to Portugal. I waited for the agent with my passport in hand for several minutes. He never showed. Then a week later, I took an overnight bus back into Spain. No agent that time either. Likewise on road border crossings between countries there are seldom immigrations agents. In the last year I have only seen them between Austria and Switzerland. They wave most by. Only once, on the way into Liechtenstein, has any guard ever asked me anything. "Whose car are you driving and what are you coming into the country for." He didn't even look in my passport when he saw it was American.

After I wrote this last paragraph, a train we were on was boarded twice by customs agents, first on the way into Switzerland from Italy and then later on the same day when we entered Austria. But this was only the first time in the three years I have been in Europe.

On a recent trip from southern to northern Germany, I drove across three quarters of the country. Along the way I identified license plates of 19 different countries, many odd ones (like Lithuania) on semi trucks. People are moving throughout Germany.


Like other first-world industrial and post-industrial nations, Germany seems obsessed with time and its proper use. For example, multi-tasking is important so you get as much done with the time as you can. But the Germans are really in your face with this time thing. Every small town in this area, and in most of the country for that matter, has its clock on the church tower or on the city hall or on both. And every clock rings every quarter hour: ding-dong at a quarter after; ding-dong ding-dong at half past; three times at a quarter to and four at the hour. And at the hour another bell counts off the hour. But here in southern Germany they make sure you hear the hour and count it off a second time with a different bell. This goes on all day and ALL night. You wake up to the four ding-dongs in the middle of the night and lay awake as you count off the hour bells to see what time it is and then count it off a second time to make sure you didn't miss-hear it the first time. And the church adds the daily prayer bells after 6, 8, noon or 1, 4, and 8--loud and long pealing of several bells.

At first these bells are an enjoyable addition to my day, pleasant enough. But with time, now well over a year, I have began to realize what they are doing and it gets a little annoying. The church is saying, "Another 15 minutes have passed. What have you been doing with your life? Are you being a good Christian and working hard with your life? You have 15 minutes less to live. And be sure you say your prayers now. Get busy or...." And the city bell is saying much the same with a secular bent, "What have you done the past 15 minutes? Have you used the time to do your job well? Are you being a good citizen? Get busy...." Do I really need all these reminders that time is ticking? I think not. Let me live NOW well and leave the past in the past and the future in the future.

Fresh air

The Germans like fresh air. At night in the middle of the coldest part of winter, a window must be open to let in fresh air. Yes, the heater is on. But we must shut off the radiator in the bedroom and open the window. The feather bed is thick enough to keep you warm. And then in the morning, you go to the breakfast room and open the door wide to let fresh air in to replace the stale night air. Of course in the process you also let all the heat out and freeze through the first half of breakfast. I have to admit I have become somewhat accustomed to both practices and kind of like them now. But they took a lot of getting used to.

The German passion for fresh air made for some interesting interchanges while walking on the Camino de Santiago in Spain a couple years ago. Most walkers stay in refugios, youth-hostel-like sleeping quarters where several people sleep in a single room with bunk beds. A German would come in the room and immediately open one or more windows. A French man or Spaniard would come in and close any open windows. The German would soon open them again and the other close them. Eventually they would come to some compromise but usually not until some words were exchanged. I knew Germans who would come into a room, find a bed next to a window that opened and promptly prop the window open with their bed to end any potential argument before it started.

In these refugios windows were always a point of irritation, even more than someone's smelly shoes. One would usually put their shoes our in the hall willingly when someone else reminded him or her they were a bit ripe. But windows were special. I remember one night on the Via de la Plata walk; we stopped in a clean but quite warm and stuffy refugio. One of us opened a window to let in some air. The hospitalero (person running the place) came up a bit later and asked who opened it. Whoever did answered up to it. The hospitalero said, "You do not open the window. I control the heat and have it on so you do not open the window. When you want to window open you talk to me and I will decide." That didn't set well at all with me and I called him "Gestapo." He shot back, "What did you say, if you do not like it you can leave." We left and found a delightful inexpensive hotel and had a wonderful evening on our own terms-and had the window open all night.

Music and TV

Like Americans, Germans like their music. But while Americans have a very small percentage of German language music, German radio and live bands play a lot of English music, as much as 50 percent. Many Germans who speak no English know some English from the words of songs.

America has public TV and radio and we are encouraged to support them with donations. Germany also has public TV and radio but they require you to pay for it. A special department of the government collects fees for each radio and TV you have. When you do not pay, they fine you. We have no TV and they don't seem to believe it. Every few months we get a letter that asks if we have bought a TV in the last few months. And if we have then we should start paying for using it. We pay around $6.70 a month for the radios we have in the car and on a radio-CD combo.

[Look for this to be greatly expanded into a book sometime fairly soon. August, 2007.]

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