Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fantastic German Words I, or Eight German Words that are the Hammer!

If you have spent any amount of time getting up close and personal with the German language, you will have met - and sometimes been bowled over by - some truly brilliant expressions and words that you awkwardly try to drag into your own language, dropping them on occasion to find your people looking at you askance and questioning your apparent loss of communication skills. There are just some words that are too good to be cached and squirreled away by German speakers, only to be used and understood among them.

Yes, yes, we've all heard of Schadenfreude, Wanderlust, Doppelgänger, and Gesundheit, and it's good those words have burrowed into and taken up residence in the English language. But why stop there? Following are words I would offer up as candidates for regular use around the world. The direct translations are funny enough to try out in casual conversation, so go ahead!

By the way, things in Germany that are REALLY COOL are described as "the Hammer":
  "Have you seen the new James Bond movie?  It's the Hammer!"
  "I met the new English teacher yesterday. She's the Hammer!"

1. Strohwitwer   (Straw widower)

A Strohwitwer is a man whose wife is gone for a few days - visiting family, on a tour with friends, or staying with her mother-in-law because she lives in a bigger and more interesting town with lots of shopping possibilities (ähm...Esslingen).

     Martin: "Dirk's wife will be in Hungary, and you'll be in Wisconsin. We'll both be straw widowers."

2. Drachenfutter   (Dragon fodder)

When a German husband stays out too late, comes home drunk, and/or invites his boss, his wife, and their children over for dinner before talking to his wife about it, he better head to town to find some Drachenfutter. This is a gift (or several) which is a usually humble and often poor attempt at making peace and winning back his wife's affections. Just its name would be enough to make me seethe. So you screwed up, and I am the dragon?? But since Martin knows that the only thing that works with me is a sincere apology and I think he's only screwed up twice in his blameless life anyway, I find the word cute - and probably appropriate for some women.

     Hans:  "Have a nice evening. Heading home?"
     Franz:  "No, if I want to have a nice evening, I first need to go to Breuninger's for some dragon fodder."
     Hans:  "Well, good luck to you, then."

3. Feierabend   (Celebration evening)

This is quittin' time in Germany. At the end of the work day, colleagues say "[Schönen] Feierabend!" ("[Have a nice] celebration evening!") You might only be going home to re-heat last night's leftover frozen pizza, pop open a beer, and watch reruns of Tatort, but what's not to celebrate? At least you're not working.

     Gudrun:  "Celebration evening!"
     Joachim:  "Same to you!"

4. Eselsbrücke   (Donkey bridge)

Now isn't that more clever than "mnemonic device", which I just had to look up and check three times to spell correctly?  An Eselsbrücke is any little trick or hint we use to remember something we don't want to forget. I use donkey bridges a lot to remember genders in German: 

  der Tisch: a table is masculine because it's hard and unemotional, like a man.
  die Milch: milk is feminine because milk comes from female mammals.
  das Radler: I don't have a donkey bridge for that, which is why I keep thinking it's der (masculine).

I actually did use this term - in English - with my American students, and it started catching on with some of them.

5. schlaftrunken    (sleep drunk)

This does not mean what you think it means. It has nothing to do with alcohol or its regretable side effects. This is an adjective to describe how I feel in the morning before I've had two cups of coffee and a chance to sit somewhere in silence, waking up slowly without the encouragement of other humans. My brain isn't working quite right yet, my eyes feel fuzzy, I'm trying in vain to remember the disturbing details of that crazy dream I was having yet wondering why I'm bothering, and emails from friends and family back in the States that arrived while I was sleeping don't make any sense. The effect becomes amplified if I was jolted out of a dead sleep by the doorbell or the telephone.

     "I went to the door at 8:00 Saturday morning totally sleep drunk and expecting an emergency, and I opened it to find a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses who wanted to talk about the afterlife. I was tempted to send them to it."

6. Unverschämtheit  (Unshamedness)

This, as you can see, is a noun. There are clearer English words to use here (such as "impudence"), but I wanted you to get the full effect of the emphasis of utter lack of shame or good sense. Shame seems to be important in Germany, and there are many German words with "Scham" as their root. Calling someone's action an Unverschämtheit is saying that the person committing the deed clearly has no regard for protocol or the Moral Code whatsoever.

     Martin (while driving past a busy, open, and operating semi-automatic carwash facility on a Sunday afternoon):
     "Washing their cars on the Lord's all-holy Sunday?? What a godforsaken unshamedness!"

7. Zweisamkeit  (Twogetherness)

Yes, that's right - not "TOgetherness," but "TWOgetherness." This only works to label the comradery of two people, not three or ten. It's a gorgeous word, don't you think? It carries a bit of a sad tone with me, since Einsamkeit means loneliness or solitude! But if there are two of you, at least you're not totally alone, and there's also something cozy about the idea of two lonely people finding a connection with each other.

8. Kummerspeck  (Sorrow bacon)

The Americans have the term "comfort food" for the junk we eat when we are feeling down, lonely, or out of sorts.  The Germans have a word for what our bodies accumulate as a result of eating comfort food. Sorrow bacon is the extra fat we (especially women) put on, mainly on our waists and thighs, from eating unhealthy crap because we're dissatisfied with something in our lives. I think "Kummerspeckkummer" might be the distress we feel when we look at ourselves after we have accumulated the Kummerspeck from eating the comfort food.

There are just too many fantastic German words for one blog post.  To be continued...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dogs in Germany

What is it with dogs in Germany? They're everywhere (which is not a bad thing) - in train stations, on trains, busses, and subways, in stores, under tables in resaurants, all around town - and the vast majority of them are behaving themselves. I don't see advertisements for dog training schools, but either there are lots of them around, or most Germans learn about the importance of training dogs before they buy one.

I'm not talking about service dogs - almost all dogs I have encountered here are that well-behaved and well-trained. Service dogs all over the world are specially trained to stick to business and not get distracted. It seems German dog owners have realized that all dogs can learn this.

I have been surprised at the many times a leashed dog and its owner have walked past me on the sidewalk, and the dog completely ignores me. He hardly looks in my direction when passing, he doesn't strain against his leash, digging into the pavement to try to get at me while his human tries to maintain a firm hold on the leash, and he keeps his nose where it belongs. The few dogs I've come across that were more curious were held tightly in check by their humans, and no one here has ever said to me, "Don't worry; he doesn't bite. He just wants to say hi."

The times when that has happened in the States, my thought has been, "I don't care if he doesn't bite, and I don't care if he wants to say hi. I don't want his paws on me or his nose at my bum. Keep your darling dog under control and out of my way."

There is a black lab in our neighborhood who barks at me when he's lying on his porch at a safe distance on the inside of the fenced yard. The other day he and his young human were playing in front of the house when I was walking back from the bank. The dog started trotting in my direction, and the young human darted after him, gently but firmly took him by the collar, and said "Entschuldigung!" ("Sorry!") to me, even though the dog never got close.

It seems to me that there is a high percentage of dog owners in Germany who understand the importance of training one's dog as well as continuing to work with the dog after the classes end so that they stay well-trained (they = the dog and the owner!).  How many dogs do you know who could spend two hours lying quietly under a table in a restaurant hardly being noticed while their owners eat delicious-smelling food, laughing, talking, and ignoring the dog? Dogs in Germany are used to this, it seems, and the ones that can't handle it stay home.

Just hangin' out, waiting for my human...

The other evening at our favorite local restaurant, I saw a Rhodesian Ridgeback under his owner's table. When the food was brought to the table - two rumpsteaks, wild boar, and half a duck - the dog merely lifted his head, thumped his tail once on the floor as a greeting to the server, put his head back down and resumed staring sleepily across the room. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought the dog was sedated. The darling Sheltie I grew up with (who had been to dog-training school at least twice) would have lost his mind in a situation like that and at the least would have annoyed everyone in the restaurant with his high-pitched whistle-whine begging for a plate of his own.

I like dogs. Well, wait. I like big dogs. Specifically Collies and Bernese Mountain Dogs. The kinds that don't easily fit under restaurant tables. And I especially like well-trained dogs. Whatever it is that so many German dog owners do and understand, I wish that could be marketed worldwide. I think it's neat that dogs are allowed in many places here. Sure, there are some signs (usually, and rather logically, on grocery store doors) indicating dogs are not welcome:
"We must stay outside, unfortunately!"

But the tone is friendlier than "NO DOGS ALLOWED!" Germany really does have a dog-friendly culture. Dogs are allowed in most parks. They ride public transportation. They go out to eat with their humans and accompany them while shopping. And the vast majority of the ones I've run across do all this without bothering strangers.  Braver Hund.  Good dog.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Vacation Time!

In Baden-Württemberg schools are just about to let out for their six-week holidays. That's right, my American friends - in Germany summer vacation is only six weeks long! Granted, they have more frequent and some longer breaks during the year than schools in the U.S., but summer break seems quite short here. In Wisconsin we complained about the heat in early June and were glad when the real heat and humidity hit, that we at least didn't have to try to learn (or teach!). Here the school year goes to the end of July, and it does get hot!

Anyway, in today's newspaper, just above an article about executioners in the Middle Ages being shunned and avoided because they were considered bad luck even though they were also called upon to minister to sick people at times when a doctor wasn't around, is an article entitled "Andere Länder, andere Sitten" ("Different Countries, Different Customs"). It is a cautionary piece to German readers about playing along with the traditions and habits of people in other countries when they are traveling there.  I think the tips and pointers the writer gives can tell something also about the habits and normal behavior of Germans.  For instance, in an article advising Americans how to behave in other countries, you probably wouldn't find "Don't strip on the beach." More on that in a bit.

The writer (s/he is not credited, so I cannot give credit where it's due) informs readers that in America, a tip of up to 20% of the bill total is customary, but that in most other countries the tip is included. In Italy, one pays "Coperto" in addition to the cost of a meal, which covers the bread placed on the table (whether you eat it or not) and the use of the table. I believe that charge shows up on the bill, and a small tip is still expected on top of that. Tipping is handled differently in every country, so that alone is not terribly shocking or revealing.

Also in the world of dining, in Belgium, Spain, and Italy it is not usual to pay on "separate checks" when you and a bunch of friends are dining together. Pay the waiter once and figure it out amongst yourselves afterwards.  In Finland do not sit down at the unused end of a table where others are already sitting. It would be considered strange even to ask if you may use those places.

This is an important one: Drängeln (pushing and shoving).  If you don't want to be considered terribly rude while traveling in Finland, the UK, or Ireland, do not get pushy or cut in line anywhere! In these countries, people queue/line up and wait patiently. This applies in all circumstances - from boarding a bus to lining up for theater tickets. Imagine that!

[Incidentally, I think this is the one situation in which the German adoration of Order does not apply. I can be standing for 10 minutes in a spot waiting for a train, and as the train pulls up, I suddenly have at least eight Germans standing in front of me, right next to me, and trying to shimmy around me. When the doors open, at least 15 people are trying to fit through the doors at the same time, while pretending to make way for the passengers getting off.]

The next section of the article is about clothing choices. In most churches all over the world, booty shorts, ultra mini-skirts, low-cut tops, and spaghetti strap tank tops are not tolerated.  In Turkey and Croatia this is the case for many other tourist attractions as well. In general, except on beaches, people in Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey place significant emphasis on proper or modest attire.

The writer makes another note about proper attire for people who plan to vacation in the mountains. This could be summed up with the words, "Use common sense!" If you go trapsing through the hills in a beach outfit or tennis shoes, you will meet with the scorn of regulars who know better. And you'll pay for it - literally - if you get stranded in the mountains because you chose to go hiking in flip-flops or some other ridiculous shoes and find yourself without the strength or stoicism to suffer through your blisters to get back down again. If the rescue squad has to come and get you because of your own stupidity, you'll get a bill.

Now for the beach bit.  "Too much skin is not necessarily welcomed even on the beach."  FKK fans will need to search for those beaches on their own, because if you treat every beach like one of those, you'll face a fine at the very least. FKK (Freikörperkultur, i.e. nudist) beaches do not exist everywhere, and although it's generally ok for women to be topless even on regular beaches in Germany, that is not the case elsewhere. In America it's not even ok to change on a beach! Find yourself a changing locker - don't drop trou on an American beach even if you've covered yourself with a towel. Besides that, young children need to at least wear swim suit bottoms.  [In Germany, children happily play naked at beaches, in fountains, in kiddie pools, and in streams, and only the foreigners get their knickers in a knot about it.]

Mind the siesta time in the southern countries. They tend to have longer noon breaks, leading to different business hours than in Germany. [And in Germany the business hours are already more restricted than in the U.S.!]. Don't expect to visit a museum in Spain between 12:30 and 16:00, the writer says.

Lastly, Germans need to realize that traffic rules (maybe it's more about driving habits) in other countries differ from in Germany. In France, the Czech Republic, and Denmark, for example, drivers can't be relied upon to yield to pedestrians. Before you step into a crosswalk (sacred territory in Germany for those on foot or on bikes), look carefully in all directions!  In Spain, Italy, and France, not every driver stops for red lights. And in the Netherlands drivers are expected to use foresight at all times. At any moment a cyclist could come around a curve!

So what does this article tell us about the Germans? Look at the many interesting countries where they commonly vacation! Ok, Italy, Spain, and France are exotic enough for most Americans. But Turkey? Croatia? Denmark? The Czech Republic??  It also tells us that it is ok in Germany to ask if you can share a table with strangers in a crowded restaurant. Beyond that, apparently the Germans tend to push and shove rather than line up, many girls and women like to wear short skirts and low tops when it's hot, they expect stores and other businesses to open up again around 14:00, and nakedness  (at least near water) is not a big deal to them.

This article also tells me that it's ok for me to give all the tips and pointers I do to the people I travel with (mainly teenage students) about how to blend in while abroad. Ok, don't hide or deny who you are, but respect the habits of the natives where you are a visitor. It's your job to find out how they do things, and follow suit as much as possible.

And keep traveling! Nothing opens your eyes like traveling.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kehrwoche

No blog about living in Swabia would be complete without mention of the Kehrwoche. There is no one-word translation of this, only an explanation. According to dict.cc, it is the "rotating time period during which a resident of e.g. an apartment is responsible for cleaning shared areas in and around the building such as sidewalks, driveways, hallways, etc.". The Kehrwoche has its roots in a municipal law of Stuttgart from 1492! (http://www.schwaebisch-schwaetza.de/schwaebische_kehrwoche_I.htm)

So what that means is that if you live in an apartment building, you will be responsible during the course of one week for keeping common areas clean and tidy. This involves sweeping, dusting, and sometimes washing stairs, railings, sidewalks, entryways, landings of stairs, etc.. How often this responsibility falls to you depends on how many families are living in your building. You have the responsibility for a whole week, so you need to keep your eye on how things look, but the expectation is that you'll take care of this on the first Saturday (morning, preferably) of your week.

Most apartment houses have a sign that is passed from one apartment to the next, so you'll probably find it hanging on your doorknob by Friday evening to remind you to get to it the next day.


The result of the Kehrwoche is that apartment houses and the area in front of them to the road almost always look nice and tidy. You will often see someone sweeping the sidewalk (even sometimes the road!) in front of a building. Swabians take pride in the appearance of their homes, gardens, sidewalks, driveways, and streets, and so they take the time to keep things tidy. Those who don't care about this (usually transplants from other parts of world) are compelled to care, or at least cooperate.

Does this mean that you might have to clean up someone else's mess?? Yes, it could mean that. But since everyone in the building rotates the responsibility, everyone also tends to respect the common areas. No one wants to clean up someone else's mess - or face the distain of their neighbors for being untidy - and so residents tend to clean up after themselves as needed. If it's not my Kehrwoche but I leave a trail of mud behind me when I come in from a walk, I'll clean it up. And folks typically use the mats in front of the doors to clean off their shoes before they enter.

It's a good way to teach kids about cleanliness, too. "If you sass me one more time, you're doing Kehrwoche before your soccer game!" A child who tromps in with muddy shoes earns the job the next time it comes around. And for Mother's Day, children can give a great gift that costs nothing more than time: "We'll do the Kehrwoche for the next three months, Mom!"

We live in a house rather than an apartment, but we still participate in the Kehrwoche. Although it usually slips my notice, Martin comments about once a week about the leaves and sticks the silly birds push onto the sidewalk as they grub around in our hedge (see below).


True, it doesn't look like much, but on Saturday afternoon when I look down our road, I assure you ours is the messiest sidewalk within eyesight. It's just something that one does here; if you live in Swabia, sweep your sidewalk. It's not too much to ask.

Now, people in Berlin have made fun of Swabians who have moved to the big city and brought their Kehrwoche tradition with them. Wolfgang Thierse, the VP of the Bundestag (German Parliament) scoffed with distain at the Swabians living near him in Prenzlauer Berg who cling to their Kehrwoche and dialect (they have the audacity to call Schrippen (rolls) "Weckle" (rolls), for heavens sake!), saying that these people should finally accept that they're living in Berlin and not Swabia anymore - or maybe they should go back where they came from!  (Really? An elected official in 2012 told people who are different from him to assimilate or get out? Ouch.) The Swabians of Prenzlauer Berg responded by showering a statue near Thierse's home with Spätzle (homemade Swabian noodles). The action was called the "Spätzle-Anschlag" (homemade-noodle-attack). My guess is someone was hired to clean up that mess.

And there, perhaps, is one of the reasons for the Kehrwoche. As I have written previously, one of the qualities of most Swabians is frugality. They work hard for their money and don't easily pass it on to someone else for doing something they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. Personally, I see nothing wrong with this way of thinking. Yes, we could pay someone to wash our car, and perhaps we would if we were infirm. But we're not. It just takes time, and this is another chore that Swabians tend to do on Saturdays. I could pay extra at the local butcher and have them deliver our meat, but as long as my legs still work, I'll spend the 20 minutes it takes to walk there and back. I could hire a Putzfrau, or cleaning lady, (and I admit, that is tempting), but while I have the time and ability, I'll keep cleaning my own house.

The phrase "Time is money" could be interpreted by a Swabian to mean "Time spent is money saved!"

And for those in Berlin who laugh at Swabian frugality and hire cleaning services to take care of what Swabians do themselves, I'd remind them that Baden-Württemberg is one of the three states that pay in  to Germany's "financial rebalancing system," and Berlin is not.  In fact, Berlin is the biggest recipient/taker of this system.

So, Mr. Thierse, we'll keep our Kehrwoche, thank you very much. Perhaps you and your cronies could learn something from Swabians and their self-sufficient natures. Judging from the current state of financial affairs around the globe, the world could use more people who know how to be frugal!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Maultaschen, or Herrgotts-B'scheißerle

I'll probably never become the good Swabian housewife I'd like to be - hard-working, an excellent cook, able to remove every stain from any piece of clothing, frugal, stoic, firm of will, and humble to a fault - but I have made Maultaschen from scratch!  With the help of detailed instructions and photos from my German host parents (with whom I lived for six months as an exchange student in 1986), I gathered my courage and tackled the project.

There are quite a few stories attached to this typical Swabian dish, and even more recipes for it and ways to serve them.  For those of you who have never heard of these, the name translates most closely to "Snout Pockets" or "Mouth Bags".  The affectionate nickname they've earned is "Herrgotts-B'scheißerle", which only roughly translates to "Lord God bullshitters". The explanation I like best is that Cistercian monks created these ravioli-like pockets to eat on Fridays during Lent when meat was forbidden. The ground beef, ground pork, and sausage meat were mixed with so much spinach and parsley that the mixure looked rather more green than meat-colored, and therefore the cheeky monks could fool God into thinking they were following His law and not eating meat. Besides the color, the meat (ähm...vegetable) mixture was tucked inside of a noodle pocket and usually served in a broth, disguising it all the more.

If there is any truth to that story, it's clear why the name given to the dish had to be rather ambiguous. "Sausage Pockets" might sound better, but that would hardly have fooled God.

So how does one make these delicious Snout Pockets (which I will hereafter call by their proper name out of deference)?  First of all, if you do not have a long, empty counter on which you can roll out the dough to about 1.5 meters and several hours of time, just quit now.  But if you do....

This is a family recipe passed down from my German host father's mother, and I was so pleased when my host parents were willing to share it with me!

Here are the ingredients for about 40-45 Maultaschen:
  500g noodle dough (pre-ordered from the baker)
  1 kg mixed ground beef & pork
  250-300g sausage meat
  5 day-old Kaiser rolls (that's 5 rolls that are 1 day old, not rolls that are 5 days old)
  6 eggs
  Spinach - as much as you like - frozen, chopped, unseasoned (thawed)
  1 onion
  a generous amount of parsley
  Salt, pepper, and nutmeg

Chop the onions finely and lightly braise them in butter. Add the parsley and braise briefly.
Cook the spinach and press it through a sieve or strainer.
Soak/soften the rolls in cold water, then press the water out and rip them apart into very small pieces.

Knead all the ingredients together in a large bowl; it is best to do this by hand rather than trying to use a wooden spoon or mixer! The mass/mixture should have a firm, homogeneous consistency. If it is too soft, add some bread crumbs. If it's too firm, add another egg.

Here's a hard part, which my German sister says she hates doing, but which must be done: taste the raw mixture.  It should be rather too seasoned than not seasoned enough.  Add more of whatever seasoning/s is or are missing.

Roll out the noodle dough on the counter and spread the meat mixture evenly over the top (see below).



As this was my first attempt, I learned several things.

   1. I need to rip the bread into smaller bits.

   2. I need to knead the mixture longer.

   3. I should add more spinach and parsley.

   4. I really do need to taste the raw mixture
         (and add more spices).

   5. I should probably spread the mixture more thinly.

After it's evenly spread, begin at one end and fold the dough over the mixture twice and cut lengthwise with a pizza cutter. The Maultaschen rolls should be about 8cm wide.  Repeat this folding-and-cutting until you reach the end of the roll of dough.


Press each roll lightly, and cut them sideways to your desired size.


As you can see, I had trouble cutting them in uniform sizes. I couldn't decide how big I wanted them. I'll probably cut them three to a row next time, but by spreading the mixture more thinly, they'll end up a more reasonable size.

If you are not planning to cook and eat all the Maultaschen in one sitting (who could unless you're serving them at a party?!), you can wrap them raw in tin foil and store them in the freezer for several months.

For the ones you want to eat today, bring a pot of well-salted water almost to a boil. The water should not be bubbling, but rather simmering.  Drop in however many Maultaschen fit without crowding, and cook them about 15 minutes (actual time will depend upon how big they are). They should be done when they float, but I discovered they floated long before the 15 minutes were up. I sampled the first one and cooked the rest for the full 15 minutes.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and add the next bunch.

We served them the first day in a broth (but forgot to add roasted onions on top). A salad is good on the side, such as a potato or carrot salad.

The next day we sliced each Maultasche into several pieces and then fried them along with the onions we'd forgotten the day before. I found that even more delicious, but forgot to take a picture!

If you're only a visitor to Swabia, then order this in a restaurant at least once. If you're here to stay a while, give it a shot by hand. You will at least earn bragging rights (though bragging is not something a Swabian housewife would do!), and you will have a freezer full of homemade Maultaschen to serve on Sunday evenings or holidays when you forgot to plan ahead for the grocery stores being closed.

Just don't serve them on Fridays during Lent, because I'm pretty sure God has figured out the truth by now.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Driving in Germany 1: Speed Limits

I know you were expecting me to go straight to the Autobahn with this posting, but I'm not ready for that yet.  Let's start with the beginner's course.

In order to drive in Germany, it is a good idea to get to know the rules of the road first, or at least have some idea of them.  There is - as would be expected - considerable order on German roads, logical rules and laws, and the assumption that everyone not only knows the rules, but will follow them.  Road signs are made up more of symbols than words, whereas American road signs include lots of words.


This is (relatively) clearly a sign indicating that the speed limit as of that point is 60 km/h. A red border tells drivers that something within the border isn't allowed - in this case, going faster than 60. 

At some point after passing that sign, you might see this one:


This sign means that the speed limit is no longer 60 km/h.  Uh...What IS the speed limit? Well you should know.  Naturally it depends upon the type of road you are on. In this particular place on this narrow, busy road without shoulders, the speed limit is 100 km/h. You are supposed to know this because it is a "Bundesstrasse," or federal highway. Its name (B14) indicates that with the B.

So you continue driving along, being on the lookout for another sign with a red circle and a number, see none, but the guy in front of you has suddenly slowed to 55 or so.  That's because you're now within city or town limits. Didn't you see the sign??


Yep, that's it. When you see the rectangular yellow sign telling you the name of the city or town you are entering, you should automatically know that the speed limit is now 50 km/h.  And, and by the way, if you didn't know that and weren't lucky enough to have the German driver slowing down in front of you, you'll probably get caught by the speed camera (see the white sign below the yellow one? Consider yourself warned.).

Ok, so you turn off the B14 onto another narrow (by American standards) road and didn't see any other sign. Assume the speed limit is still 50. When you get to a residential area, you'll see this sign:
The circle should be red - it has faded in the sun.
"Zone" means that the speed limit applies to the entire neighborhood. If you weren't looking up and missed the sign, perhaps you'll see this on the road:


The streets are so narrow here that you wouldn't really want to go faster than 30 anyway. And of course there are often cars or small trucks parked on the sides of the narrow streets, so occasionally you have to drive partially on the sidewalk to get through.

Luckily the curbs are low.



For those cocky youngsters who forget to use their heads, the German road designers are there to remind them with the German equivalent of a speed bump (at the red-and-white sign to the right):

It makes the street even narrower in that spot where there is a T-intersection - or wherever else they felt one was needed - and drivers are forced to slow down and navigate around it.

Oh, and that brings me to intersections.

As in the U.S., the road rule for an uncontrolled intersection is that the driver on the left yields to the driver on the right. In German it's expressed as "rechts vor links". The thing is, I'm used to driving in Wisconsin, where there might be 12 uncontrolled intersections in the entire state. Here in Bildechingen, there are 12 uncontrolled intersections in our neighborhood! The trouble is that this yielding to drivers from the right (and turning in front of a car coming from the left when I am the driver on the right) is not intuitive for me.

So let's take a look at this intersection:


I'm driving along, and a car comes from the right. I wish you could see that there are tall trees to the right, and therefore I can't see the approaching car until I am almost in the intersection. I just have to automatically slow down, despite the lack of sign, and cautiously cross the intersection if no one is coming from the right.

Regarding the lack of sign reminding me to yield to the right, the Germans only have signs telling drivers when they don't have to yield to drivers from the right.  Come to think of it, in the bigger cities there are sometimes gray diamonds painted on the road at intersections. Those are reminders of the "rechts vor links" rule.

Usually when I am the one coming from the right here, I revert to my instincts and stop when someone is coming from the left (because that is the wider and more major street). German drivers love this kind of chaos on the road.

I do actually appreciate the fact that there are fewer stop signs in Germany than in the U.S.. This "rechts vor links" rule covers minor intersections, and for major ones they tend to have stop lights or round-abouts. Perhaps if we could learn the "rechts vor links" rule in the U.S., we could do away with stop signs in parking lots!

One more thing American drivers need to keep in mind when driving here in Germany is that there is no "right on red" allowance. A red light means "Stop!", not "Stop, and then go."** For whatever reason, that is an easy one for me.  I'm a nervous enough driver that I'll happily sit at a red light as long as I need to.

Although I'm slowly but surely learning the rules of German roads in anticipation of someday having the guts to drive further than the grocery store, I still prefer to take the train.  I think that's better for all concerned.


**My husband has just informed me that there is one intersection in Esslingen where one is allowed to turn right on red. Apparently there is a green sign with a white arrow pointing right to let drivers know it's ok. So I stand corrected.