Autobahn Shenanigans - Construction, Big Rigs, and Zippering

Sunday Driving!

This past weekend my family made a trip to take care of business at another military base.   It was about a 3 hour drive and it began on a Sunday.  I LOVE driving in Germany on Sundays.  First, the roads for the most part are clear!  Most people don't work on Sundays, so the roads have significantly less traffic than a regular weekday.  Second, which is my favorite part, is the lack of huge trucks.   If you haven't noticed before, take a look at rest stops and parking areas on a Sunday or Holiday and you will find them packed with big rigs.  It's because there is a law in Germany forbidding them to drive on Sunday.  They are banned from being on the roads from 00:00 until 22:00 on all Sundays and Holidays.  There have been efforts to lift this ban, but all have failed.  The German people are happy to keep a massive influx of traffic at bay and enjoy the lack of heavy trucks crisscrossing the country on these days.  There are exceptions to this rule, such as refrigerated trucks carrying perishable goods.  You will see them on occasion, but they rarely cause congestion.

Left Lane, Constantly Switching Lanes, or Right Lane?

I really enjoyed my Sunday drive but when we started our journey back home, on a Monday evening, we were greeted by a jam packed autobahn, tons of construction nonsense, and huge rigs mucking up the roads.  Thankfully, the huge trucks stay in the right lane, but on occasion, will attempt to pass another huge truck, which will take FOREVER, resulting in slowed traffic and congestion.  My problem is that I'm a medium speed driver, which puts me too fast to stay behind the trucks, but too slow to be in the left lane, resulting in major freak outs and thinking someone is about to nail into the back of as I attempt to pass in the left lane.  It's just not very relaxing.  I really do enjoy the driving in Germany though, because it seems like most folks are following the pass on the left rule, which I really love.

Never Ending Construction

What about construction zones?  Do you ever find yourself in the left lane suddenly squeezed between a teeny barrier with oncoming traffic right next to you, and a HUGE truck on the right?!  When you get to the signs with the curvy lines, it will indicate the width of the lane on the left.  If it is smaller than your car, it's probably a good idea to switch lanes.  One of the problems these constructions zones have is that many cars are too wide for the left lane.  The item that makes the difference is the mirror.  Most cars are about 2 meters wide, but the width is typically calculated without the length of the mirror.  With extended mirrors, now seven out of ten newly registered cars are now wider than 2 meters, according to ADAC.  So, in order to prevent colliding with another driver, know the actual width of your car, or just play it safe and stay in the right lane in these zones.

 Photo: Daniel Bockwoldt RP.de

Photo: Daniel Bockwoldt RP.de

Zipper-ing

I learned to drive in the states, which means, there are quite a few people who can't merge, hate to merge, or simply just don't want to let you in while you NEED to merge.  Here, it should go a bit differently.  Zipper-ing is the method of taking turns when going from a two lanes down to one.  Performing this technique is critical when there is a jam in front of a construction site.  You are to move into the right lane just before the obstacle. You should not need to get over WAY before the obstacle, as other drivers should allow you to zipper in.  If another motorist disregards the zipper process, they can be fined immediately 20 Euros.  

 

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German Kühlschrank vs. American Refrigerator

Renting your first home in Germany can be so exciting!  The houses are unique to many Americans who grew up in wood houses with air conditioning, garbage disposals, carpeting, and entire rooms for their massive laundry machines.  There was one thing that was particularly shocking to this American....my TINY little fridge!  It's as big as a dishwasher and smaller than many dorm room fridges.  How the heck am I supposed to meal plan and keep all my condiments and drinks cold???  Also, where the world is the freezer???  Here is the fridge in my new home...can you see it?  Behold the German fridge, or "Kühlschrank".  

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Living with a Mini Fridge

One of the things that had to change for my family of 4 was an end to the weekly grocery shopping in exchange for a trip 3 times per week.  I could only fit enough for a few dinners and the endless amounts of condiments had to slim down to a few of our favorites.  We purchased a Culligan water cooler because our Brita container wouldn't fit and moved the beer to the basement to stay semi cool.  Leftovers needed to be minimized as they quickly took over the entire fridge and I began buying smaller containers of items such as milk and juice.  We also had to consume the entire box of Popsicles by the time we got home due to a lack of freezer....which we all really enjoyed and the only plus to this fridge situation.  I wondered how the people of Germany, and other European countries, dealt with this issue.  This is what I learned.

The German Way

First, many Germans have a freezer in their garage.  When we rented our house, it didn't come with a freezer, as they are not a standard home appliance and often not combined with the fridge.  Second, most Germans shop frequently and don't require a lot of fridge space.  A daily trip to the grocery store is not out of the question.  My friend also advised me that beer isn't to be consumed ice cold, and any drinks you want cool should simply have ice added.  Also, the food generally has fewer preservatives, so it will go bad quickly, which means you don't want to acquire more than you can consume in a short period of time.  

Why do Americans LOVE big fridges?!

Let's be honest...Americans are know for their "bigger is better" attitude!  Bigger cars, food portions, grocery stores, houses, and kitchen appliances!  In fact, we have the biggest refrigerators in the world!  Following closely is Canada, but the rest of the world, not just Germany, prefers to keep it smaller.  In the U.S.A. we like to shop less but buy more and keep perishable food cold so it lasts longer!  We like pushing a button to dispense cold water and never ending ice the we can choose to be crushed or cubed!  We also tend to put items in the fridge that don't belong there...such as peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, hot sauces and butter (all currently in my fridge).  Check out this Samsung model that comes complete with ice maker and dispenser, huge storage space and other totally unneccassary, but super cool features.

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Here is my Kühlschrank, which my husband is always referring to as being "booby trapped"...cause stuff is just shoved in there (by all, not just me) and usually something will fall out when opened.

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Eventually I gave in and requested a big fat fridge and freezer from the military.  Thankfully, they came to my rescue and delivered a nice American style fridge freezer combo, complete with a bunch of dents from the past users, plus a huge freezer for my garage.  I put that fridge in my kitchen, directly across from the mini one and felt...Relief.  We can now enjoy our Popsicles at leisure and not feel badly about our 10 varieties of salad dressings, bottled and canned beverages, pickle and olive jars, several packages of frozen otter pops, and huge containers of milk.  

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Germany's Keeper of the Garden

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Germany's Important Residents

Spring is finally here and it's time for Germany's more than 25 million special little residents to be dusted off and sent to work.  They have been in a slumber for the cold winter months while their homes have been frozen, awaiting the first signs of spring.  When spring comes, they will jump back into their positions in the gardens, working around the clock to complete their mission. Who are these hard working beings?  The Garden Gnome!

The Father of Gnomes

Every year we try and send our families back home something fun and unique from Germany.  We've sent things such as beer steins, local wine glasses, Christmas ornaments, good luck symbols made of marzipan, chocolates, fun Haribo items, clothing and more.  One year in our search for something local, we discovered the Gartenzwerg!  We did our research and ordered a couple from the company who were one of the original producers in Germany.  This producer, Philip Griebel, was a mid-nineteenth century craftsman from a village in Thuringian called Graefenroda.  They specialized in ceramics and began to produce the Gartenzwerge in terracotta, who were starting to gain popularity throughout Europe. Their factory, titled Philip Griebel, has been family run for generations and takes exceptional pride in creating these wonderfully unique and authentic figures. 

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A Cultural Staple

Gartenzwerge, or garden gnomes, are a staple of German culture.  Take a stroll through any village and you will find these figures in most every yard.  Their beginnings are a bit of a mystery, but one theory stems from "Priapus", who was a fertility God in Greek-Roman mythology.  This figure was known to protect gardens, farm animals and agriculture, while "in real life" he was used as a scarecrow in Roman gardens.   The garden gnome has certainly evolved in appearance from a creature created from stone with an uglier, taller appearance to the more familiar cute, fat, and red cheeked gnome of today. 

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During the warmer months the Gartenzwerge will ensure the soil is perfect, the flowers are tended to, the lawn remains trim and the garden is protected from both evil and four legged creatures who dare intrude.  Germans are very particular about their gardens, and these gnomes ensure everything is in order.

Which garden gnome is for me?

 Philip Griebel factory

Philip Griebel factory

They have garden gnomes for all types.  They have gnomes playing instruments, taking pictures, family units, gnomes of different moods, and even gnomes that are doing naughty things or are naked.  My kids prefer a tyrannosaurus chomping on a few gnomes in our garden.  To get one of these very special gnomes, you can pop into most any garden store in Germany and find a nice selection, or you can  purchase from this family owned manufacturer in Germany.  Their website has a full selection of gnomes, each coming with an official "birth certification, and shipping is available.   Check out the http://zwergen-griebel.de and purchase a great memento of your time in Deutschland!

 

The Magnificent German Fountain - der Osterbrunnen!

At nearly every Ostermarkt, or Easter market, you are sure to find a magnificently decorated Osterbrunnen, or Easter fountain.  These public wells and fountains are transformed before Easter into an Osterbrunnen with beautifully decorated eggs, arches of evergreen, garlands, paper ribbons and spring flowers.  The Verein, or local club, is typically responsible for the annual Brunnen putzen, or fountain cleaning that takes place each year.  After the cleaning, the club also handles the design, decoration, and transformation of the well.  Many villages will include the local schools in the crafting of eggs for the Osterbrunnen.  They come in all shapes and sizes, but are all unique and special.

This German tradition began in the 20th century in the Franconian Switzerland region of Upper Franconia in northern Bavaria.  The first documented Osterbrunnen was in Aufseß in 1909.  The tradition of decorating a public well or fountain honors water, which is essential to life and also Easter, which is a celebration of renewed life. 

There are a few locations in Germany that attract tons of tourists every year to see their Osterbrunnen.  Wells in Heiligenstadt, Bieberbach and Schechingen are among the  most famous.  In 2001, the Osterbrunnen in Bieberbach won a world record with 11,108 hand-painted eggs on their fountain. 

Keep your eyes peeled for these beautifully decorated wells during the Easter season.  They will typically be kept on display until two weeks after Easter.

 

 Osterbrunnen Schechingen By Pwagenblast (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Osterbrunnen Schechingen By Pwagenblast (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 Osterbrunnen Bieberbach By Edbruynzeels (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Osterbrunnen Bieberbach By Edbruynzeels (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons