28: Things I miss the most from Germany after 20 years in the US

I am doing NaBloPoMo this month. 30 blog posts in 30 days. Come join me. #nablopomo2023

I am often asked – though not as often anymore – about the differences I experience between Germany and the US and what I like about one place better than the other. I think it’s natural curiosity that leads to these types of questions and it’s normal to compare. While the US and Germany are culturally similar there’s still a lot of things that are different. 

I’ve lived here for almost 20 years now, I am very accustomed to life here and there’s a lot of things I don’t think about much anymore. 

In the beginning, when things are new and unfamiliar, you compare a lot. This is different in Germany and that is better in Germany. People keep asking you how things are different, or what’s better (or worse) where you live now. Over time, you stop doing the comparison game. Every place has good and bad things, you embrace the new culture and customs, and you might even take a more critical look at your home country. It’s all part of the process. Occasionally, you might feel smug about the fact that you are so lucky that you get to pick the best things from both worlds (three Christmas holidays, anyone?). But it’s still true that you can take the girl out of Germany, but you can’t take the German out of this girl.

Keep in mind: I am not trying to bash the US in this post, because I could write a list just like this one about the things I love and appreciate about living here. There are many! The things I grew up with are just familiar and comforting and something I was used to.

I’d also like to emphasize that I’m sharing my personal thoughts based on my personal experience. These things might not be universally true but they are my truths.

Here are 10 + 1 things I miss from Germany.

Tilt-and-turn Windows 

Did you know that most windows in Germany are tilt-and-turn windows? Tilt and turn windows work by the simple turning of a single handle. There are three different positions for the handle, each of which allows unique functionality.

When the handle is pointing downward and the window is closed. When the handle is turned by 90 degrees into the horizontal position, the window opens like a door. When the handle is turned by another 90 degrees, pointing upwards, the window tilts inward by 10 to 15 degrees, allowing easy ventilation. This design also makes window cleaning super-easy, because you can open the window and access the outside panel. 

Heating 

Most homes in Germany have good insulation and hot water radiators in every room, which can be regulated independently. It keeps a steady temperature and you can heat separate parts of the house.

The heating system in the US is crap. Sorry I have to be so blunt. Maybe new constructions have better setups and maybe it has to do with the fact that I live in an area that does not experience below-freezing temperatures, but I’ve only lived in poorly insulated houses and the hot air heating systems sucks. The “blowing hot air through vents in the ceiling” approach does not keep a constant temperature and I am either freezing or sweating. 

Also: floor heating. I know it might be more common here now, but I remember when Jon first visited my parents’ house in 2002 (when the house was already 15+ years old) and was blown away by the floor heating system in the bathrooms and downstairs living area and kitchen. Once you have experienced floor heating, you’d never want to go back. 

Butcher Shops

If you think you have a decent selection of meat cuts and deli meats in this country, think again. The variety of cold cuts and meat variations at German butcher shops will blow the butcher shops here out of the water. 

Bakeries

Do I need to say more? There’s a bakery at every other corner in Germany and they always have a huge selection of freshly baked breads, rolls, pastries, and cakes. The selection of pastries and breads has improved over time, but it’s nothing compared to the variety, quality and freshness at German bakeries.

Christmas Markets

If you’ve been to a Christmas Market in Germany, you know what I mean. Christmas Markets are outdoor markets associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent, that usually open in late November and last through December. They’re open daily. This concept just simply doesn’t exist here. Yes, there are places that organize Christmas Markets but it just doesn’t compare to the scale of the ones in Germany. 

Reliable public transportation

Yes, Germans tend to complain about the “Bahn” being late and all that, but in all honesty, the frequency and connections of the public transportation system in Germany is excellent. I remember coming to the US and reading an Amtrak pamphlet that boasted 6 daily connections from Sacramento to the Bay Area. 6  connections – which meant 3 trains going to the Bay Area and 3 coming back. 

In all honesty, things have improved significantly since I first got here, but it still doesn’t compare. 

Sidewalks

Luckily, I live in a neighborhood and city with sidewalks, but there’s still many places where sidewalks don’t exist or suddenly just “end” at the most inconvenient moments. And I wonder what happened when the sidewalk was built. Did they run out of material?  Did they think people would just walk/run up to that point and then no further? It’s so strange. 

Parties that are not time-restricted

Maybe this is particular to my family and circle of friends and other families are more time-restrictive when they get together, but I have never been invited to a party in Germany that ran from 2-4 pm. When we get together for special occasions, it will be an all-day event or got late into the night. When we get together for Christmas or New Year’s, we rarely leave until the early morning hours and even my parents will stay up the whole night along with everybody else. It’s a THING. :) 

When I told coworkers recently that our (German) wedding started in the late morning with the ceremony, and the wedding party in the evening went from a reception at 5 pm through dinner until 7 a.m. the next morning, they looked at me with wide eyes. Germans know how to party, is all I can say. It basically was a 24-hour event. 

Affordable ice-cream/gelato

It’s so nice in the summer when you’re out and about to stop somewhere and get a scoop of ice-cream, amirite? Ice-cream shops are very common in Germany and while prices have increased over the years, you can often still get a single scoop of ice-cream (in a waffle cone) for 1-2 €. It’s a nice treat on a hot summer day.

I almost never buy ice-cream at an ice-cream shop here because it’s so freaking expensive to even just get a single (granted, often GIANT) scoop. It’s more economical to buy a pint at the grocery store. 

Affordable healthcare

As you know, my dad is currently recovering from hip surgery. He spent a full week at the hospital post-surgery and is now spending 3 weeks in a rehab facility in Bavaria – everything fully paid for by his health insurance. 

I know you can get very good treatment here in the United States, IF you can afford it, but this should not be a matter of how much money you have. The sheer amount of GoFundMe Pages I see for people requiring medical care is mind-boggling to me. I have no complaints about the healthcare I have received in this country so far, but I also know about its very real limitations. I am lucky that I haven’t had any major health issues but I am honestly scared of the time when I will need more care.

Feeling of safety

Would I necessarily walk around alone at night in a big city in Germany? No. But overall, I have a much larger sense of safety when I am in Germany. I am not worried about someone going rogue with a gun or getting jumped or kidnapped when I am out for a run. Things happen in Germany, too, of course, but it’s not constantly on my mind when I am out running errands. It’s kinda sad that this is a reality here.

What are things you miss most from your home country? Or, what things do you miss when you travel abroad?


Hat tip to Diane from ouiinfrance.com for the post inspiration. 

14 Comments

  1. Hello San! This was so interesting to read – I can’t imagine living in another country for 20 years! I lived in France for a year when I was in college, and even though I loved my time there so much, I was SO homesick. All the German things on your list sound like good things – especially the bakeries!

  2. My husband is OBSESSED with European windows. We recently were at a house that had the Tilt-and-Turn windows here in Canada. They must have had them specially ordered.

    And my husband is going the Munich Christmas market in a few weeks and I am JEALOUS. I’ve only ever seen pictures and the German Christmas markets look beyond extraordinary.

  3. I could have guesses about bakery and access to German bread! when I visited Germany, I love love love fresh bread and the Christmas market vibe.

  4. I am so with you regarding the bakeries, the on time trains and the windows. We do have those windows here sometimes, but in Europe in general, they are pretty much everywhere. I have never had to clean them but I do like being able to swing it wide or just crack it, depending on safety, temperature etc. The one thing I have not noticed though is screens on the windows…you must have bugs right?

  5. I’ve lived my entire life in the US, and I FEEL YOU.

    I had windows that were kind of like that when I lived in San Francisco, and I loved being able to wash the outside easily.

    Our heating and air conditioning (aka, HOT or COLD and nothing in between) is stupid. I did live in Philadelphia for 2 years and we had wall units in every room, which seemed more reasonable, so perhaps this is a California/Mild Weather issue?

    My mother went into SERIOUS debt after a surgery due to a misunderstanding about her medical coverage, and had she lived would have gone bankrupt, so YES, our system is broken. It’s OK if you have good insurance and money for deductibles, and it HAS gotten better (thanks, Obama!) because you used to be terrified of losing a job due to preexisting conditions or hitting your lifetime cap due to cancer or something, but it’s still a disaster.

    I’ve griped about the sidewalk issues, and I swear, people in neighborhoods without them are nostalgic and think it’s great and from a better, quieter time or something. I used to hate walking my dog on a road without a sidewalk, or, even worse, my daughter in her stroller.

    The trick to the ice cream I think is to see if they have a kid scoop. Some places do. Can’t swear to it, we don’t get ice cream cones more than 2x a decade, which is depressing to think about. I think there’s something about European culture where you’re walking around a nice village that makes it more tempting than driving to a strip mall here.

    My only disagreement with you is the deli meat, and I’m not going to argue that they are good here. I’m just going to say that I don’t see the fuss, not really a fan of deli meat. Maybe that’s because they aren’t good here, and I might feel differently if I were in Germany?

  6. San, I have to tell you, I remember years ago you saying something about comparing the US and Germany, and that post (I can’t find it, sorry) really helped me mentally in my move here! Like there are good things and bad things in everything.
    Anyway! I liked this post a lot. Although, if you want good heating, come to Canada. We have it all figured out up here.
    The health care system in the US is just nuts to me. It’s just so inequitable and distressing. I find it so alarming that a person should be recovering from, say, surgery, and instead they are worrying about paying for surgery, will their insurance cover, how much, etc. It’s awful. Again, Canada’s system is far from perfect but at least we don’t have that.
    A friend of mine was in Germany a few Christmases ago and the photos of the Christmas markets amazed me!

  7. I was born in Germany and sometimes I think about figuring out if dual citizenship is an option for me. Basic research suggests maybe. It would delightful to go somewhere with delicious bakeries and butchers!

    It it always interesting to me when people say that they don’t feel safe in the United States. I know it’s because I’ve almost always lived here, but it feels safe to me. Even when I lived in a larger city (Minneapolis), I didn’t worry about being on the streets at night. But I definitely can see why the news might make people think everyone in the States is about to get shot at any moment!

  8. Oh the windows. So strange. When you want to look outside you need to scorch down.

    The healthcare system is actually the main reason we decided to never seriously think about moving to the US even though we wanted to for a time. But we both have chronic issues. My migraine med alone cost 600€ monthly. So not an option.

    I agree with you on the bakeries but unfortunately many of them are no longer real bakeries. They just heat up frozen pastries.

  9. Oh my goodness, I actually forgot about the windows! I loved those windows, I also loved that there were no screens because there didn’t seem to be as many flying critters as we have here. I loved living in Germany and so many things on your list match what I miss. The sheer choice in the bakeries, and everything tastes fresh and not too sweet. I loved the Christmas markets and totally miss them. There is one in Vancouver, BC that runs late November to Christmas that is close enough, but it still doesn’t quite match up. My favorite ice cream treat from the kiosk was Spaghetti Ice, I couldn’t get enough of it. I lived in Berlin and there was nothing quite as efficient as their buses and Ubahn. I also felt very safe walking around Berlin on my own. There are always a few places you know to avoid because they are a bit sketchy, but nothing like the inner cities here in the US. What memories you brought back. Thank you.

  10. Yes, to all of these! I can relate oh so well to this list and also agree that there are many things here I would likely miss if I ever lived in Germany again which I got used to here. I would add packaging that holds up after you open it for the first time (or that opens at all without destroying the packaging completely or needing excessive help from scissors).

  11. Having just been to Germany I experienced a number of these benefits. We ended up opening the windows in most places because we couldn’t turn the thermostat down enough to be cool enough to sleep. It could have been that the heat was just seeping into our room from everywhere else.

    Public transport was excellent everywhere we visited and we made extensive use of it. We went on intercity, regional, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, tram, bus and ferry. Tickets were pretty easy and the group tickets are so economical. We used the train to travel between cities in Germany, Bakeries were our go to for breakfast and often lunch. And I managed to just squeeze in a Christmas Market before we left.

    The sidewalk thing. In Melbourne older suburbs generally have footpaths on both sides of the road but in newer suburbs they can sometimes be on only one side, or stop suddenly, it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t encourage people to walk. I’m glad we’ve always lived in suburbs with proper footpaths.

  12. I have experienced Christmas Markets in Germany and they are amazing. You have us beat on bakeries and public transportation for sure. I have to say that I love parties in a defined time range, though!! I like hosting people for my kids’ birthdays because I know they will leave when we start bedtime. I would have more parties if I could actually set an end time. I don’t feel like that is as common in this region outside of kid birthday parties.

    Heated floors are a thing of beauty, though. My parents have them but mostly in their bathrooms. It’s pretty expensive to use it more broadly. Our heating systems are definitely excellent here, especially newer homes. Older homes are not necessarily super well insulated, though. So it really depends on when the house was built and the quality of the windows!

  13. Every time you talk about Christmas markets, I want to go to one so badly. I imagine it is such an amazing experience!

    Those tilt-and-turn windows sound AMAZING. What a great concept.

    I’m going to agree with Lisa, though, I don’t know if I’d like a party with an undefined time frame. I like to know when I need to be there and when I can leave.

  14. I think – no matter how long you have lived somewhere – something in you always pulls back a bit to where you were last “at home”, whether that was 2 years ago or 20. Thank you for reminding me that Europeans know how to do things right – windows, bakeries, and heat, for sure.

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