24 January, 2016

Things I'd Never Heard of Before I Moved to Germany

For this post I'm taking my inspiration from a post by Unlocking Kiki that I read almost exactly a year ago and that has been bouncing around in my head ever since. Like me, Kiki is an American who risked it all to move across the ocean to a strange land, except her destination was Iceland instead of Germany. In her post from a year ago she wrote about things she'd never heard of before she moved to Iceland, and I've finally decided to do a Germany edition. So without further ado, here are just a few of the things I'd never heard of before I moved to Germany:

1. Handball

Just like Kiki, I didn't know what handball was before I came to Germany. The first time I ever heard of handball was during a conversation with Maxim shortly after we met, long before I had even considered moving to Germany. At the time I nodded and smiled and pretended I knew what was going on, but in my head I was thinking, "what the heck is handball?"

After getting to Germany I finally found out what handball is and even briefly watched a bit of a game. I won't even pretend to know any of the rules; the best way I can describe it is like a combination of basketball and soccer, but instead of kicking the ball you hold it in your hands and throw it around. Here's a great video explaining the rules much better than I could. I just watched it and I understand the game much better now:

2. Personal liability insurance

While I had technically heard of this type of insurance before getting to Germany, I never thought of it as something that could ever apply to me. Well, I was wrong. This is a thing that I now have. For those of you who aren't sure what personal liability insurance is, it covers the cost of damages that I might cause to another person's property. For example, if I break someone's antique vase and they don't have insurance on it already (which, knowing Germans, is unlikely) my insurance company will reimburse the owner for the cost of the vase. Most Americans, including me a year ago, would never even consider getting such insurance for themselves, but for most Germans this is a key component of a comprehensive insurance portfolio. I would not have chosen to get it for myself, but I was required to have it last semester when I lived in my previous dorm and the plan lasts for three years, so I'll have it for a while.

3. The Umluft setting on the oven

German ovens have many of the same settings that American ovens have, like the normal bake setting (where heat comes from the top and the bottom) and the broil setting (where heat only comes from the top). But German ovens also have a setting called Umluft, which literally means "around air," in which a fan to circulates the air through the oven to speed up baking times. There are always two sets of instructions on food items that require baking: one set of instructions for "Ober-/Unterhitze" ("over and under heat", the standard oven setting) and one set with a lower temperature for Umluft.

4. Leaving packages with the neighbors

When you order a package in the U.S. and you're not home when it arrives, the person delivering the package usually leaves the it on your porch (if you have your own house) or in a special lock box with a key that's dropped into your mail box (used in many apartment complexes). In Germany they do things a bit differently: if you aren't home your package gets delivered to one of your neighbors and you have to pick it up later (and you have to hope that that person is still home when you get there). This baffled me when I first moved to Germany, and it stills irks me a bit. What if your neighbor opens your package, or steals it? It's been pointed out to me that the American way of leaving the package on the porch is much more likely to lead to theft, which I recognize now, but I still think it's weird that any package that gets delivered to me could actually get delivered randomly to one of my neighbors.

5. Bike dynamos

In the U.S. bikes are most often used for recreation and are rarely used as a method of transportation, so most biking activity happens during the day in full sunshine. But when you ride your bike home from your German office and it's already dark outside, you need to light your way. Enter the bike dynamo! It's a small mechanical device that rests against the bike tire and converts the rotation of the tire into energy which is then emitted as light. Voila, headlights! The one on my bike doesn't actually work, but the pictures will give you an idea of what it looks like:

This small black device is the dynamo itself. Right now it is not resting against the tire, but when it is the little "cap" on the left side spins as the tire rotates and that generates electricity...

... which is sent to this light attached to the front of the bike. By law there should also be a red light on the back of the bike; the dynamo can power both of them at the same time.

6. Reused soda and beer bottles

Germany, like the U.S., has bottle deposits on certain bottles to promote recycling, but what happens with some of these bottles after they are returned is different. When you return bottles in the U.S. they are typically shredded right there in the machine and sent who-knows-where to get made into something else. In Germany, many of the bottles with deposits are Mehrwegflaschen, or multiple-use bottles, which means they get cleaned, refilled and resold. When I first found this out, my reaction was "EWWW! Gross!" It didn't seen sanitary that I could be drinking my soda/beer out of a bottle that several other people had already drank out of, but apparently they are very well cleaned and people here don't think twice about it.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the German things I had never heard of before moving here, but to me these are the most interesting. There are many other things that I had never heard of that had to do with food and drinks, but there are enough of those that they will get an entire post to themselves. Stay tuned for that one, it's coming soon!


  1. I've been living in Germany for over a month now, and the oven scares me. My German boyfriend spent a good amount of time explaining how awesome the Ober-Unterhitze option is, until I realized it's just a regular baking option. Our microwave is also an anomaly to me. Sometimes the symbols just look like straight up hieroglyphics.

    I'm happy I found your blog! I also moved to Germany for love (and school) and I like reading about other American's experiences.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you found my blog too, I'm always excited when I find out there are more Americans in Germany :)

      My boyfriend's parents' microwave is like that too! I can never tell the start and cancel buttons apart. Hieroglyphics is an excellent word to describe those strange symbols.

  2. "Umluft" sounds just like a convection oven, and it's actually really nice that German ovens have this feature built in! In the US you have to pay extra for a convection oven. They bake things a lot faster!

    1. I just looked it up and Umluft is in fact the same as a convection oven. I had heard that term before but I assumed it was something more complicated than just a fan moving air around so I didn't relate it to the Umluft setting. Good to know!