How Germany Kick-Started My Goals (again)

Every time I come back from Germany, I realize I’ve inadvertently curbed certain bad habits and have once again set my feet on a healthier path, physically and mentally — just by getting into the groove of life there! Then I come home, and the struggle to maintain these little changes begins.

What am I talking about?

Well, physically, the Germans are (on average, at least — of course I’m generalizing throughout this post) a lot more serious about their walking-to-anyplace-they-can stuff. They also do a lot of outdoor activities, year-round in some areas (the winters can be a bit harsh for it). They have a great climate for outdoor recreation — in summertime in Bavaria, for example, it’s rare to see a day climb above 85F. Much nicer than the 100+ degrees it usually is at my house — the obscene temperatures are a major reason I dislike being outside for at least half the year here, which puts a major damper on my exercise. (I strongly prefer outdoor walking, hiking, etc. to using a machine and/or being stuck inside so as not to perish of heatstroke.)

They have the public transportation system to support these outdoor recreational activities, wherever they might be. I don’t drive, which severely limits anything I might want to do if my husband or a friend isn’t also going. In Germany, though, I could walk a couple of miles to the train station, buy an all-day pass for a few Euros, and travel wherever my heart wanted to go, on a clean and usually-climate-controlled train. I could ride for an hour from where we were to Nuremberg, hop on the city rail, and arrive at a fantastic zoo, where I’d likely walk five more miles or so, and then arrive back at home exhausted but happy.

(I had my family with me, so there were no solo jaunts, but we did things like this together.)

Germans traditionally eat a hearty breakfast, vs. the grab-‘n-go prepackaged crap we sometimes call food. Lots of proteins and breads on the table there! Schoolchildren will have a “second breakfast” snack at school, and come home for lunch. It varies as to whether lunch or supper is the heavier meal nowadays, but they take more time over their meals and generally seem to make it more of an experience, rather than “shove this into your face and get back to it.” The end result of all of that good food (and even the occasional ice cream, which is more akin to gelato than ours), mindfully eaten with good company, was that I lost ten pounds over the almost-four weeks I was there, because I wasn’t snacking late at night. I didn’t feel the need, because the food was interesting and satiating, and I never had to rush away from the table.

That lack of hurry is something I’m trying to hold onto. Germans value punctuality, but they don’t rush their pleasures or attending to their needs. Also, while they work very hard for the hours they are paid to work, then they stop. They generally do not bring work home with them or let it bleed into every area of life the way Americans tend to (with a lot of encouragement from bosses to do so!). Businesses have a ruhetag (a “rest day”) on whatever day of the week the owner has chosen, whether or not they are also closed on Sundays (and many places are).

Germans as a whole (there are always exceptions) seem to have more of a sense of community responsibility. You don’t usually see litter on the sidewalk or filth in a public restroom (whether it’s a “pay” toilet or not!), and each toilet typically has a toilet brush next to it with a sign reminding people to please use if necessary. Judging by my experiences with American restrooms, most of us don’t even think about whether we’re leaving the toilet dirty for the next person.

I’d like to think of myself as community-minded and very responsible in most (if not all) situations, but I’m sure I could do better, and spending part of the past two summers in Germany has shown me how nice things could be if we all “did better” all around. I always come away impressed with the German way of life, and this time I’m going to try not to let my bad “American” habits reassert themselves (not that everything bad is American or vice versa! No place is perfect).

I’ll be healthier and happier for the trying, at any rate.

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