Now: the day-to-day.
As I mentioned in another post, we are in walking distance of 3 Rewe grocery stores–one much closer than the 2 others, but the 2 others are on the “main street” of our little neighborhood, and so we end up going to all 3 on a regular basis.
Exploring the grocery store has become its own pastime, which is fun and interesting when you’re not in a hurry but somewhat stress-inducing if you are pressed for time. The organization and placement of items is quite mysterious. This is partly due to the (relatively) small footprint of the store itself, but I think also a cultural difference. For instance, Jeff noticed that condoms are right next to diapers and baby food. Ha! That would not happen in the US.
Sometimes I swear I go down an aisle 3 times before I find what I’m looking for. I suppose it will get more familiar, once I am not straining to read labels in German, understand how items are priced, and can decode the German packaging.
Packaging! Everything is packaged for ease of recycling. In fact vendors and suppliers are rated based on their level of eco-packaging. This is key to being able to dispose of empties later.
This leads to the inevitable explanation of recycling (in a nutshell: almost everything), and pfand system, which, after several missteps, I believe I can proudly say we have mastered. If you Google “pfand system Germany” you will see many many posts about this beguiling process that involves taking your empty glass back to the store to be recycled, and receiving your “deposit” back.
Remember when we did this in the old, old days in the States…sometimes? I remember us returning empty glass bottles to the local pop factory. And, sometimes if you purchased a large glass container of milk or juice, you would pay a deposit, and when you brought it back you would get $.050 or even $1.00. I recall doing this at health food stores in college, but I haven’t encountered it since. Well, this practice is a part of every day life here in Germany.
Not all glass can be returned to the store, only the ones for which you pay a pfand, which you see on your cash register receipt. This includes 6-packs of bottled water and the carrier itself!
Other glass, for which there is no pfand offered, have to be recycled manually at a glass recycling station, which can be found on several street corners. Then you must deposit the glass in the corresponding bin based on the color: green, brown or clear glass all have their own repositories.
Are you tired yet? Does your brain hurt?
But wait, there’s more than just glass to discuss. Large plastic water bottles can also be returned for credit at the grocery store…
Germans don’t typically drink tap water. Since I wasn’t sure how we would react to our tap water, and we’d need a period of time to get accustomed to it, and was wondering if we should even drink it long term (old building, old pipes), we purchased all of our drinking water for many weeks. At first I was putting the empty plastic bottles in the yellow bin (verboten!) but then I learned I’m meant to take them to the grocery store and put them into a machine there (often hidden in the very rear of the store). This machine compacts them and gives you a credit slip, which you then present to the cashier. It’s quite a lot of money–E.0.25/ bottle–so it’s definitely worth doing. Plus you’re not supposed to clog up your yellow recycling bin with these.
Ok, what’s up with those multi-colored recycling bins? It’s easy once you know. Blue is for paper: newspaper, junk mail, clean paper from food. Yellow is for “packaging” and by this I mean everything that you can’t out in the paper bin. Plastic. Milk cartons. Twist ties. Produce containers.
What’s left? Items that can be composted, or don’t fall into the other categories, but are also not hazardous, like batteries. This is the grey bin, named “Restmüll” (“the rest of it”). When I’m not sure if I should put something in Restmüll, I remind myself that the contents of this bin will be burned. That helps me decide if I’ve put it there correctly.
Still with me? Ok. you passed! You can survive and run a home in Germany. Oh wait I haven’t told you about batteries and chemicals…another day, my friend. Another day.
But of course part of the allure for an American living in Europe is the open-air markets, where gorgeous produce, fresh meat, farm eggs and flowers are on display. There is food for sale and the market is a lively center of activity, with children, dogs, etc. For us this is a more difficult way to shop, since it requires we interact in German with the vendors. Still, we have tried and been somewhat successful. The open-air market near us is only open 2x/week and not very enchanting–it’s a more work-a-day market. However there is a storybook-type large market in the Altstadt part of town called Carlsplatz, which ticks all the boxes for charm, delicious produce, fresh-baked bread, and good people watching. It’s not convenient or inexpensive, but makes a wonderful Saturday morning outing, especially in good weather.
People have asked us what we like about living here, and what we miss. As I type this, Jeff is packing to go back to North America for a couple weeks, for both work and Chris & Melissa’s wedding. We miss Waffles. A lot. So much so that we’ve avoided checking in on her, because thinking about her is painful (and is the only thing so far that has made Dashiell upset about the move).
Other than our sweet hound, we don’t really miss anything, aside from friends and family, yet. A burger from Burgerville? Yes, the boys miss that, but I don’t. The food here is wonderful and varied. We can’t buy children’s Benadryl here without a prescription, so Jeff will stock up on that when he’s back. Other than that…really we can get whatever we need here, and more. We’re trying to live as the Germans do, fully. It’s fun to experiment with new products from the drugstore like shampoo and soap, and if things don’t work out, we just will try another next time.
Some things I have wanted to purchase have been challenging to locate, or locate at a reasonable price. For those following my pursuit of acquiring a hair dryer: I have been victorious! It turns out you buy things like hair dryers at the equivalent of Best Buy. I got mine at MediaMarkt, where you can also buy a fridge, dishwasher, vacuum or printer. I was very relieved; I don’t use a hair dryer at home but this has become a necessity for leaving the house on chilly mornings.
There was another somewhat-rare item that we really needed: a rice cooker. Cooking rice on an electric stovetop is a disaster, and we eat a lot of rice. We had looked at a couple Asian grocery stores, but the rice cookers there were very fancy and expensive–not what we needed. In a stroke of luck, So Jeff stumbled on a rice cooker at the Netto discount grocer’s, where a nice old Frau gave him a coupon so he saved even more. He then repeated this magic formula and also procured us a Britta water filter system, so now we are downing tap water with some confidence and not wasting lots of plastic.
Also: I got my first haircut this week. I went into one of those chain shops, where you don’t need an appointment, at the mall. While it cost more than I’m used to paying at a similar place at home, I am relieved that I know how to do this now. D is next!