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six-month bavarianniversary

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

It was a bureaucratically challenging start in Germany's third largest city, but I persevered and now find myself at the half-way mark. Although I have only actually spent about 90 days in Munich thus far, I've picked up on a few things and learned a bit about the lay of the land. Below are my musings, in no particular order.

1) Sprechende Deutsch: I had intentions of learning German (honest, I did!), but doing it alongside a move abroad, a new lifestyle, a change in work environment and a new culture proved to be a real struggle. Also, completely neglecting my lessons didn't help. As such, I still can't speak a lick of German, but I thank Google everyday for its 'Translate' app (where you point your phone camera at foreign words for immediate translations)! It's not always terribly accurate, but it is a helpful tool, if you apply a bit of logic.

2) Germany is No Longer a Monarchy, but Cash is Still King: Whilst many European countries are making strides towards becoming cashless societies, Bavarians are still kicking it old school when it comes to their dough. Roughly 80% of all transactions in Germany are still settled using cold hard cash. Many restaurants, bars and beer gardens won't accept plastic. My annual gym membership had to be prepaid in cash (€1,200), which was a challenge because I was only able to withdraw €200 at a time and was limited to three withdrawals per month. Inefficiency at it's best!

3) Punctuality is Paramount: Promptness is serious business in German culture. It'll serve you well to remember that five minutes early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable.

4) Train of Thought: Punctuality doesn't just apply to business meetings and personal engagements in Munich, it also pertains to public transit. Unlike London, where train times are a mere suggestion, schedules are strictly adhered to in Munich (okay, maybe not on the S-Bahn, but on all other modes of transport). In addition to on-time, Munich's public transit is about 295% cheaper than London's. An unlimited monthly travel pass for the inner district (which covers the whole of Munich city and certain surrounding areas) costs €55.20 (~£47). I would estimate that Munich's metro zone is roughly equivalent to London's fare zones 1 + 2, for which a monthly Travelcard costs £138.70 (~€164). Another bonus to Munich's transport network is that you'll rarely encounter insane overcrowding in the stations, because there are no barriers to enter/exit. Munich operates on the honor system, with random ticket inspections to catch fare dodgers.

5) Freedom of Movement: Germany is a member of the Eurozone, Schengen Area and the European Union. Living within the trifecta of alliances certainly has its benefits. Eurozone is a monetary union where member states have adopted the euro as their national currency. Schengen is a passport-free area where all border control has been abolished and the area mostly functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes. The EU is a political and economic union with a standardized system of laws. Being able to use one currency, cross country borders without immigration and access my German healthcare around the most of Europe is a real treat.

*Updated to reflect UK's departure from the EU on 31st January 2020

6) Surviving Shopping: Visits to grocery stores, shops and pharmacies can be a daunting experience in a foreign land. Many things are unfamiliar and/or unidentifiable. When I first moved, I accidentally bought body wash that I thought was body lotion. That was a sticky situation. Bagging groceries here is an Olympic sport. In German supermarkets, cashiers scan things at lightning speed. As a tsunami of groceries fly at you, in a small packing area, you must move quickly, because they will not wait for you to finish bagging your items before the next customer's scanning frenzy begins.

7) Jaywalkers are Rule Breakers: I have never met a group of humans so collectively and vocally against jaywalking. Germans stand at a crosswalk, even if there are no cars anywhere, for miles, and wait for the pedestrian crossing man to turn green. Step foot on the street before that crossing indication and you can expect to be receive (what I assume is) an angry lecture from the oldest German nearby, or, at the very least, a contemptuous glare.

8) The Naked Truth: When the sun comes out in the green city by the River Isar so do body parts that you may not want to see. People of all ages, shapes and sizes, catch rays as nature intended, in Munich's legally sanctioned and culturally accepted Urban Naked Zones. It's not just in parks where people get their bits out either. Nudity is no big deal in saunas (where it is actually compulsory to be naked), on the beach, in communal gym showers or waiting for your doctor (without a gown). I'm not saying that everybody in Munich is walking around in their birthday suit, but for a group of people who are known as traditional and conservative in so many ways, Germans are weirdly comfortable being nude.

9) Lanyard Love: As I settled into life in Munich, my house keys, work transponder key fob, canteen lunch card and gym ID badge were each presented to me on their own individual lanyard. As I walked around Munich, I began to notice how many people in this city were wearing their mobile phones as necklaces or had other official-looking badges on strings. Müncheners love to having things dangling from their necks!

10) Munching in München: Before I begin this section, I should warn you that I'm oddly prejudiced against condiments. And they love a condiment here - particularly mustard! Mustard is hidden in EVERYTHING - potato salad, balsamic vinaigrette, sauerkraut, pot roasts, hard boiled eggs...Nothing is safe. During Fasching (Carnival), when locals eat krapfen (jam-filled donuts), it's apparently a popular practical joke to fill one of them with mustard, instead of jam, and serve it alongside the regular ones. Mustard aside, I must admit that German is not my favorite of all the European cuisines. I find traditional Bavarian specialties to be heavy and doughy. Although great for soaking up German beer, weisswursts (white sausages), pretzels and tennis-ball shaped foods are not my first choices.

11) German-Sized: Viewing the world from a 5-foot perspective does make everything appear bigger, but things like spoons, pretzels, beer steins and words (it takes 26 letters to spell 'speed limit': geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung), actually are bigger in Germany. I could hang from handrails on public transport like they're monkey bars, sometimes my feet dangle when I use the potty and I often can't see ATM machine screens because they're mounted too high. It's a real struggle here, in the land where everything is giant!


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