During the summer, I had an amazing opportunity to go on a journey to Germany where my father is currently stationed. This adventure provided me with a myriad of unique experiences that will forever be etched in my memory. One area that particularly stood out was Bavaria, a region that encapsulated the essence of the German countryside while being within arm’s reach of the bustling city life.
A Glimpse of the Countryside
Bavaria, a state in southeastern Germany, welcomed me with its serene landscapes and rural beauty. Nestled in this idyllic countryside, I marveled at the sight of vast farmlands that stretched as far as the eye could see. There were towering antennas and wind turbines dotting the hillsides. It was odd to be able to go down the road and find some cows relaxing underneath some trees behind an electric fence— the connection between modern technology and the traditional rustic charm was indeed striking. I was surrounded by lush hills, local lumber mills, and even a castle’s watchtower.
Cows Down the Road from where I Stayed, via Austin Barthel
As the day transitioned to night, the sky revealed a breathtaking canvas of stars. Even though traces of light pollution lingered, the beauty of the Milky Way was evident, allowing me to briefly detach from the bustle of urban living. This quiet separation from the modern world presented a unique opportunity to connect with nature in its purest form. Nonetheless, that can only last so long.
Stepping into the heart of Germany, I encountered a fascinating blend of cultures. While the local culture retained its uniqueness, there was a noticeable influence of Americanization. This was particularly evident in the way English was intertwined with German—sometimes creating a curious hybrid of “Ger-glish.” The prevalence of American clothing brands and English phrases on clothing provided a touch of familiarity. At times, it didn’t even feel like I left the U.S.
American Food Stand at a German Festival, via Austin Barthel
When it came to shopping, the sporting goods stores of Germany presented an interesting contrast to their American counterparts. Pools for testing kayaks and paddleboards were found within some stores. This emphasis on experiential shopping was refreshing and spoke to the German commitment to quality customer experiences.
Kayak and paddle Board Testing Pool, via Austin Barthel
In terms of demeanor, the Germans I encountered exhibited a high level of respect and kindness, with greetings and well-wishes in stores being extended even in the absence of purchases. This respectful attitude was counterbalanced by moments of judgment if you weren’t acting in accordance with proper etiquette. I was certainly judged a few times myself, and I saw a few locals rolling their eyes at tourists for being Americans.
Whispers of the Past: Castles, Legends, and Magical Things
One of the most magical things I saw was seeing orange juice for only $2.60 a quart, far cheaper than in the US. It was truly a fairytale coming true. Speaking of fairy tales… ,
Picture from the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, via Austin Barthel
The quaint charm of small towns, mere miles apart, evoked thoughts of journeys made on foot or horseback. The absence of rampant industrialization was striking, revealing vast plains that stretched endlessly. However, the castles bore a bittersweet truth. Many stood as silent ruins, once grand symbols of power. While it might seem natural for the German government to restore these historical gems, the reality was often different. While some castles were transformed into tourist havens, offering tours, dining, and gift shops, many more were forgotten.
Picture from the Burgruine Kallmünz Castle, via Austin Barthel
Almost every small town has a castle, even if it’s just a lone decrepit watchtower. While these castles may not seem like much now, they were the nodes which started each village and made them what they are today.
German cuisine proved to be an adventure in itself. Dining out required a reservation, even for outdoor seating– a testament to the popularity of local eateries. Ordering water was a precise affair, as they always offered both sparkling and still. The price of sparkling water even occasionally exceeded that of beer, which was surprising.
Fast food in Germany showcased healthier options, as evidenced by, ironically, McDonald’s. I don’t know how they did it, but somehow they were able to remove the grease from the burgers. This does eliminate the amazing diabetic flavor that comes from a quarter-pounder, but the quality and novelty of healthier choices compensate for the difference. Also, the toys in Happy Meals are better. The McDonald’s I visited had Pokémon cards!
German McDonald’s Toys, via Austin Barthel
The country’s culinary landscape was diverse, with bakeries, local restaurants, doner shops, gelato parlors, and Italian eateries lining the streets of towns and cities alike. There are very few fast-food style restaurants, which is nice to see. There are also a bunch of pizza places. Their abundance was slightly ridiculous, but, I have to admit, the pizza tasted delicious.
Eating at a restaurant is an experience too. One of the first things you will probably notice is the American ‘80s music. I had my fair share of listening to Michael Jackson’s hits while waiting for food. One place gave us a complimentary flight of beer, which was a small selection of blond, light, dark, and red beers to sample. This helped me realize how much drinking is integrated into German culture.
One destination worth exploring is the Weltenburg Abbey, a modest yet captivating monastery that has grown in popularity as a tourist spot, drawing both locals and visitors alike. Perched atop a prominent bend in the river, this abbey boasts a charming little restaurant that enjoys the patronage of the community. Its unique location, jutting out into the river, provides a deep and exceptionally clear water body that showcases sizable trout swimming gracefully beneath its surface. Accessible only by boat, the journey to the abbey already sets the tone for a memorable experience. Adding to the allure is the abbey’s awe-inspiring chapel. This structure is a testament to architectural beauty, adorned with remarkable artwork and stone carvings that mirror the ethereal appearance of clouds. You may be wondering why I’ve dedicated focus to this seemingly unusual place, and the answer lies in its distinctive feature– beer that tastes like chocolate. I don’t know how they did it, but it was a delightful surprise. While it might come across as somewhat sweet and thick for some palates, the unique chocolate flavor adds a layer of novelty that is both unexpected and captivating. A nice place to stop by if you ever want to visit.
Weltenburg Abbey Chapel, via Austin Barthel
In a local restaurant in the town I was staying in, I was given 2 free shots by my waiter. I learned the first free shot is a Turkish tradition. The second free shot, however, was the waiter being nice. I remember my waiter saying “Young man, would you like a shot?” He brought out this nice-looking bottle of vodka. I said yes to his kind gesture and he looked at me and said “Remember to come back.” My family and I laughed of course, and it was a nice and lovely place.
These mini adventures further solidified my impression of the hospitable nature of the locals, leaving me with lasting memories of genuine kindness. If you ever go to Germany, I do recommend getting pizza at least once, a downer, currywurst, and schnitzel.
Navigating the City of Berlin
Brandenburg Gate, via Austin Barthel
Berlin, a bustling metropolis, presented a different side of Germany. The city’s cultural richness became evident in its numerous museums and vibrant arts scene. While it boasted an array of modern conveniences, the city maintenance was striking, with clean roads and welcoming locals. Amidst the hustle and bustle, unexpected encounters with locals, like a kind-hearted grandma’s impromptu fashion consultation, left a lasting imprint.
Yet, Berlin was not without its challenges. Scams and elements of degeneracy reminded me that every city has its quirks and downsides.
Berlin has quite a few scammers taking advantage of tourists. My dad, for example, was scammed out of 100 euros from a street vendor with a ball and three cups. To play the vendor’s game, you needed 50 euros, and the objective of the game was to choose the cup with the ball in it. It was one main guy running the game and doing tricks, however, there were a few locals surrounding him and trading money with the guy. After my dad lost his money, we realized that everyone was in on it.
Now, what about the degenerate side of Berlin? Imagine a corner store with pedestals— it’s all white, clean, and modern looking. It looks like a clothing store. However, its merchandise is not clothes. Instead, the merchandise high-end and fancy-looking vibrators. In retrospect, I should have probably taken a picture of that store to prove I’m not imagining this, but I’m glad I didn’t. There were many other forms of degeneracy in the city. When I was walking down the street, there was this giant sticker of an anime lady plastered on the side of the store, of course wearing “some clothes.” If you’re looking for a strip club, you just need to find a sign that says “Strip Club.” They don’t even try to be discreet. I think it’s a bit degenerate, but I realize this is a different culture. This increased my desire to escape the metropolitan lifestyle, and return to my experiences in the serene countryside.
Green Energy and Landscapes
As I traversed the Autobahn, the landscape unfolded before me, revealing vast wind turbine farms. These colossal structures held an air of majesty, standing as modern giants of the land. However, their presence wasn’t always harmonious with nature, occasionally disrupting the serene beauty of the countryside. It’s disappointing when you look at a bunch of them as you’re driving and none of them are moving. You just know they aren’t doing anything except being a complete waste of money.
Wind Turbines off the Autobahn, via Austin Barthel
While Germany’s push for renewable energy was evident, there were moments of inefficiency. Solar panels adorned farmlands, a peculiar sight considering Germany’s often overcast skies. This initiative to harness solar power, while commendable, raised questions about the optimal use of land resources. I found out the government pays farms to have a small slot of land to be designated for solar, which pays more than farming. I could imagine the German government just building solar panels on top of people’s houses instead of taking away farmland. These observations offered insight into the complex balance between environmental sustainability and practicality. At the end of the day, it’s not my country, and I can only theorize how to make things better. I also saw a few coal plants running off the side of the road. It’s amazing to see how amazing the “Green” push of Germany is going.
The Church: A Tale of Grandeur and Disappointment
Something I noticed in Germany was that a Church was always built in the heart of every town and city. The Churches, while phenomenal and magnificent in their architectural prowess, transformed into tourist destinations rather than houses of God. Some even required an entrance fee to explore their hallowed interiors.
Nuremberg Main Market, via Austin Barthel
My mother’s observation on this was: “If the churches looked like this, I can imagine more people would go.” Her sentiment encapsulated the essence of a paradox– while the grandeur of these sacred structures attracted attention, it was disheartening to see their intended purpose sidelined. Visitors streamed in to marvel at the intricate architecture, to capture moments in photographs, and then left without a second thought.
Inside the Berlin Cathedral, via Austin Barthel
The grandiosity of the churches I visited, though, made me wonder where the faithful were? Amid these stunning edifices, echoes of prayers seemed faint, if not absent altogether. The grandeur was marred by the knowledge that these places, created as a testament to devotion, were no longer the vibrant centers of faith they once were.
Scots Monastery in Regensburg, via Austin Barthel
Yet, hope was not completely lost. In the quieter corners of smaller towns, where modest chapels stood as central pillars, the spirit of worship remained alive. It was a heartening sight to see these intimate spaces being used for their intended purpose. These chapels, though humble in comparison to their grand counterparts, had a genuine presence of congregants, embodying a dedication that transcended architectural grandeur.
Kreuzberg Monastery Chapel, via Austin Barthel
Nonetheless, even in these smaller towns, the pews often appeared sparsely occupied. It was a stark reminder of shifting societal dynamics. Despite the changing tide, the church still holds a prominent place in the fabric of German cities. In a landscape where castles and monarchs have faded into history, the church remains a steadfast center of each community. Its bell tolls resonate across the cityscape, cutting through the urban hum with a reminder of tradition and spirituality. The role of the church in German life persists, even as its significance changes.
Kreuzberg Monastery Shrine of St. Mary, via Austin Barthel
Other Challenges and Complexities
For those who enjoy hunting, Germany can be a disappointing destination. The country has an abundant amount of deer that you can see off the highway at sundown and numerous deer stands in the middle of fields. But to quote Recoil, a gun magazine, “Just qualifying for a hunting license requires almost a year of mandated courses, followed by a rigorous four-hour exam covering everything from forest ecology and plant recognition to carcass care and firearms law. Once you have a hunting license, there’s the small problem of obtaining a firearm with which to hunt.” It is a pain to enjoy this recreational sport.
Likewise, fishing in Germany comes with its own set of challenges. The country’s fishing practices are governed by stringent regulations designed to protect aquatic ecosystems. These practices, while environmentally responsible, can make fishing a complex and demanding endeavor, requiring knowledge of local rules and procedures. To quote Kaiserslautern American, “Obtaining a German fishing license is time consuming and pricey. Its process entails taking a 30-hour course followed by a comprehensive fishing exam that tests what students learned.” For those expecting a leisurely angling experience, Germany’s fishing landscape may prove to be a surprise.
My journey through Germany was a whirlwind of culture, contrasts, and relaxation. From the enchanting countryside and the lively cities to the unexpected encounters and restaurants, Germany left an indelible mark on my perception of the world. The tradition and innovation, alongside moments of unfamiliarity and warmth, made for an unforgettable experience. As I reflect on this transformative journey, I’m reminded that the world’s beauty lies in its diversity, its contradictions, and its capacity to surprise even the most seasoned travelers.
Austin Barthel is an aspiring writer and contributor to The Texas Horn. Austin is a part of the undergraduate class of '25 at The University of Texas at Austin. Hobbies include playing video games, hanging out with friends, and hunting.