My daughter was awarded a great honor. She received the scholarship for the CBYX program. This scholarship is awarded by U.S. Congress, called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. This allows a student to live with a host family and attend high school in Germany while becoming fluent with the language and having a culturally immersive experience. Needless to say she jumped at the opportunity and now my second oldest is signed up and getting ready to go as well!
My family decided to go visit with my daughter, in Germany so I wanted to share the experience so anyone traveling there for the first time would have some perspective from this “first timer”. This was my first trip to Germany and my first trip to Europe. I am not a worldly traveler at all. I am sure I will get few things wrong but I will do my best.
Getting to Germany is expensive. Flights ranged from $850-$1500 round trip so to get 5 people to Germany is about the price of a used car. You have several choices of airlines and they all run specials at various times. I think that if you’re like me and going for “best price” you’ll end up on Turkish Air or SAS. We chose SAS. The flight was about 8 hours to our connection and then about 1.5 hours once we made our connecting flight. Our flight was delayed 2 hours upon arriving to the airport. People told us that this is not uncommon with international flights. Other than hanging out in the airport a little longer this was not a big deal.
Germany is 6 hours ahead of the US (east coast). My friend said the quickest way to adapt to the time shift is sleep on the plane and to just stay up when you get to Germany and “push through” and go to bed at your normal bed time in Germany. This would mean you have to endure one hell of a long day but it’s not too bad after that.
Upon arriving to Düsseldorf airport, in Germany, it was a little confusing. It probably didn’t help that I was tired but it wasn’t clear where our baggage was and no one really told us. We finally found it. Luckily my daughters CBYX program liaison (Bianca) met us at the airport and took us under her wing. So getting the rental car and getting to my hotel was easy. We can’t thank her enough for all of her efforts. We really appreciated her!
Hotels, Rentals and where to stay. Traveling to Germany is expensive and everything in Germany can cost a bit more than the US as well. We found most things to be comparable as the Euro and Dollar exchange rate was working to our advantage on this trip. We stayed in our first place and coordinated it through HomeAway. HomeAway is a house rental site where individual property owners advertise and rent their personal properties. It was a good alternative to hotels for us due to the size of our family. You need to be careful what you choose and do a little homework but you can find some really nice places. I think we lucked out.
The first thing you’ll notice is the general size difference…of everything. The cars, the streets, the stores, the houses, all are smaller. Not a bad thing just a fact. The byproduct of less space and smaller things is that you’ll find some pretty neat innovations. Some are so cool you’ll think “why don’t we do that, that makes so much sense”. Example…all residential toilets have slim tanks or wall buried tanks mounted in the walls and have a small and large flush button. Saves space, saves water…why not? One of my favorites was the windows. They have windows that are full panes of sashless glass unlike our typical double or single hung windows. The view out of this type of window is unobstructed by grilles and sash frames. They are double hinged too…you can tilt the window in at the top allowing a breeze while being kid safe or change the handle position and the whole window will swing in allowing for max breeze. Opening windows in Germany is important because there aren’t as many places with central air conditioning so the air exchange is not like our homes. Opening windows becomes necessary to freshen up from time to time.
Germany is old, real old. We in the US consider our country history…independence, civil war etc. “a long time ago” but the US time scale is like a few hours relative to Germany’s time line in history. Not making our history any less important but what you’ll notice is this age and historical character oozes from all areas of the German surroundings. Architecture, monuments, churches…its a real eye opener and really quite an experience. Have you heard of the Neander Valley? No? Neanderthal Man?…yeah, that’s Germany. Pretty cool.
Just a sample of the “Age” you feel while walking around the city. A simple window sill that you can tell has been there a really long time.
On Easter Sunday I took a walk in the city and while the Church bells were going like crazy I snapped a picture of this church. I am sure the people of Essen don’t even notice it but I really found it incredible. This type of building and architecture is everywhere.
We were welcomed by my daughters host family and even invited to an Easter bonfire that is an Easter tradition. The community will gather, socialize, eat and yes…drink a little beer. 🙂
We thought we would bring a little USA to the event and had brought Smores makings all the way from home. So out came the graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows. It was so funny to see the locals with marshmallow stuck to their fingers but the German children really appreciated the sugar. We were introduced to our own new campfire treat. The Germans place uncooked dough on a stick and actually bake bread on a stick at their campfires. It is less mess and more filling, so cool!
I would say one of my favorite features of Germany that stuck with me is the stone work in the streets and sidewalks. Even in modern cities they use stone for streets, walkways and various areas that really give the city a unique character and texture that’s hard to explain unless you’re up close and can see it. My photos don’t do it justice but gives an idea.
The photo below is actually from a Schloss (castle) that we visited. The modern city stone work is not this rough but you get the idea.
The other feature I like about the German mind-set is that they are willing to walk. People walk a mile or two like its nothing. Go to the store, grocery shopping?…just walk. Mass transportation is readily available too. It’s not uncommon for Germans to catch the bus, jump on a train, go to a city an hour away and then back. This is an area where I really think the US could improve. Then again we have such immense land and space its a harder thing to accomplish this network for travel but our cities and surrounding suburbs could certainly benefit from better mass transportation.
Lets talk Castles…”Schloss” in German. I think Germany has more Schloss’s than the us has 7-Eleven’s. All kidding aside there are literally too many to visit. We started our trip in Essen visiting my daughter in a nearby city. While there we branched out to neighboring towns and visited a couple of Water Castles surrounded by water motes.
The two water castles were very different but equally beautiful. From old statues and monuments to a guy offering paid drives in his Lamborghini (no I didn’t drive it…) there were plenty of things to see.
I really wanted to take this Lambo out on the Audubon!
You will see some interesting vehicles in Germany. What I like most are the many models of the car makers that we have in the US. It’s interesting to see a Mercedes hatchback diesel that’s smaller than a Volkswagen Golf. I wish we had a wider range of models for BMW and Mercedes in the US like Germany, they certainly would sell more cars. Also its fun to see the cars you have never even heard of. My son and I were constantly asking each other “whats that?” as we walked the streets. I still don’t know what the car is in the picture below but I want one!
Driving in Germany is not too bad. It’s important to know what german words mean “one way” and “do not enter” as there were a couple of those incidents on this trip. Ha ha. The driving location/position for the cars and streets in Germany is the same as the US. Road rules are more or less the same too. Two road rules that stood out…if there is a person even thinking of crossing the road you had better give way and you never turn on red, ever, not even a right turn. They also have an “almost green” light. Our traffic lights go from green (go) to yellow (stop if you can) to red (stop)…but the germans add one more sequence…after a red light you will see a RED and YELLOW light at the same time which means “it’s about to turn green” . Not sure why but I think it’s allowing those standard, stick shift drivers to get in gear and get their foot on the clutch. There are far more diesel cars and manual shift transmissions in Germany. It would be wise to make sure if you rent a car to let the rental car company know if you are unable to drive a stick shift. I actually drove a VW Sharan, diesel, stick shift…that’s a stick shift mini-van! Took a little getting used to.
Ok, I know you’re wondering about the Audubon. Yes I drove it and contrary to popular opinion it isn’t always “speed limit-less”. It ranges near cities from 80-120khr that’s 50-75mph approximately. On the country side while driving in more rural areas it was time to rock though. I would drive on average from 100-115mph and there were cars passing me like I wasn’t even moving. The best thing about the German highway driving is that people live by a rule…if you drive slow stay in the right. You can pass on the left but if you see a rapidly approaching vehicle in the rear view mirror you better move over! They take that rule very seriously and I have to say it works well and traffic moves along nicely with this simple concept. You can actually get a ticket for driving too slow in the left lane.
Check back in a few days as I will outline my trip and list all of the places I visited and share many photos of the journey.
Stay tuned for Germany – Part 2