How I Spend Summers In Germany
The fabulous thing about living in Germany is that I get to experience nature changing with every season. Summers in Germany are the best. There’s always so much going on here. Summer brings out the best in Germans. With more sunshine and warmth, they are cheerier and in a better mood. They spend more time outdoors. In towns and cities everywhere, you’ll see people sitting in ice-cream cafes or in parks, licking colourful ice-cream cones. It’s not just the Instagram generation doing it, it’s literally everyone.
Summers in Germany can get really hot. This is the time where temperatures could rise up to a sizzling hot 37 degrees. As air-conditioning isn’t very common in this part of the world (some hotels and offices don’t even have it), the stifling heat can sometimes become quite unbearable.
So what do we do when the days are long and the sun is generous with its light? Adopting the proverbial phrase, when in Germany, do as the Germans do. Here are some common activities Chris and I undertake when summer arrives:
Cool off at a lake
Having lived in mostly big cities, this is unusual for me. In Singapore, people visit shopping malls to cool themselves off. In Melbourne, people hit the beaches. But here, Germans seek out the lakes. So in a typical German manner, when the day’s hot, we would call up some friends, bring our picnic blankets and picnic basket or the grill, get changed into our bathing suits and off we’d go.
Access to some lakes would require a small fee (sometimes €3 per car or €1-2 per head) but some are absolutely free. We usually spend at least a couple of hours there, depending on when we arrive. The trick is to either go really early, like 9.30 am, or past 3.00 pm, when the sun is no longer at its strongest.
Occasionally we bring an inflatable paddle boat along. This is hugely fun as you get to row off to a quiet bay somewhere and then just relax with some food and drinks that you’ve brought onboard. It does however take a while to get the boat inflated and deflated but its definitely worth the trouble.
We would also pack a Strandmuschel along, just in case the lake that we’re going to doesn’t offer shade. A Strandmuschel literally means a Beach clam or shell in German but in reality a mini tent that offers one shade from the sun. Some are pop-up while some require just a few poles to set up. Best thing ever. I would love to pack this with me when we go back to Asia for a beach holiday but it’d never fit in our backpack!
Some lakes have very clear water and shallow depths but some might be a bit murky with plenty of seagrass growing underneath. If you are used to the bathtub temperature of the sea in Asia, the cold water of the lake will take a while to get used to. Even if it’s crazy hot on land, the water won’t heat up as much. I used to yelp when I take a dip and would run right back to the shore. To me, the water was freezing. Now, I’ve gotten used to it. I make faces still during the first splash but I know, if I keep swimming, my body will acclimatise.
Camp under the stars
Camping is a popular activity amongst Germans. Some rent camper vans and do road trips before camping at a particular spot(s). Some own permanent camper van spots or holiday cottages by the lake where they spend the whole of summer there. We are not huge camping fans but we do camp every now and then, especially with our friends.
Camping isn’t just for those who can’t afford hotels, it’s for people who just enjoys sleeping outdoors! In Germany (and probably in most of Europe as well), most camp sites are equipped with facilities like shower rooms, toilets, cooking areas, cafes and so on. The pricier camp sites (yes, you have to pay. In Croatia, it was €35 per day during peak season) have their own recreational rooms, gyms, convenience stores, and so on. Most campgrounds have allocated areas where you’re allowed to pitch your tent or park your trailers. Some allow you to have a BBQ on their grounds but not every does.
One of my fondest memories was my first camping trip with Chris at Mondsee. We found a lovely spot where there weren’t so many people around. We had a disposable grill where we grilled simple meats and vegetables for dinner. As dusk fell, the sounds of insects became louder. Soon, without torchlights, the area fell dark and all we had was the cloudless night sky. No gadgets, no distractions. Just pure awe and wonder.
Fire up the grill
Just as how steamboats and potlucks are popular in Singapore and Malaysia, grillen or to barbecue, is highly a defining activity in the German culture. It’s someone’s birthday? You grill. It’s someone’s graduation party? You grill. You’re bored? You grill. The sun’s shinning? You grill. You can’t escape this popular pastime in Germany if you live or spend a long time here.
Every German household owns a grill and most of them are simple charcoal pits. Unlike in America or in Australia, the German grill is a simple and fuss-free affair. No fancy foods or desserts would make it to the table. A classic German grill involves only sausages (there are a million types of sausages in Germany but Germans like to grill with bratwurst. The most famous kind comes from where I live, the Thüringer Rostbratwurst), pork steaks, potato salad, baguette, chewy German bread rolls (not the fluffy white stuff you find in IKEA), sauces and dips but mustard is a must, and lots of alcohol. Seafood and other kinds of meats are rare. A classic German grill also don’t dish up hamburgers. It’s all about the Rostbratwurst.
Visit the Freibad
This is unfortunately my least favourite thing to do despite swimming being a hobby of mine. If there’s a sport that I see myself excel in, I would say, swimming. But the Freibad would be the least ideal place to do it. Let me tell you why.
It gets awfully crowded during summer, especially during school holidays. The nearby Freibad (outdoor pool) isn’t very big and the entire village seem to gather there. As there are no special lap lanes, people just swim in random directions, teenagers keep jumping into the pool and the elderly just hang around the pool edges to talk shop. Seriously?
There’s usually no way to swim continuously without bumping into anyone or without stopping. Unfortunately, it’s the only pool in the village.
Road trips to neighbouring towns and countries
As we live really close to Czech Republic, we do occasionally drive to Prague or Karlovy Vary for the weekend. Once, we even spontaneously drove to Marienbad, an idyllic spa town in the West Bohemia region of Czech, just for lunch and some beers. It was a belated birthday celebration. It took us two hours to get there but taking the land roads and avoiding the Autobahn (highways) made the trip worth our while. A large part of the journey was very scenic: postcard-like landscape of sunflower and rapeseed fields, forest trails, farms and medieval looking houses and so on.
On another hand, if we don’t feel like going too far from home, there are also plenty of cute villages and towns to visit that are nearby. So far, every summer, Chris has been renting convertibles for a weekend or two for an affordable price. Driving with the roof down and wind in our hair, it’s hard to resist singing “Country roads” on the top of our lungs. It’s also especially beautiful on a sultry summer night where you get to drive under moonlight.
This is something I look forward to do every year. For our wedding in 2016, we’d decided to make homemade jams so the best way was to source it is from the forests or fields.
In early summer, strawberry fields are ripe with luscious, juicy strawberries. We would drive to one that’s 15 minutes away called Erdbeerland Funck. You can either bring your own baskets or get them there. Then you can roam around the fields filling your baskets up. The strawberries that you consume there (while filling up your baskets) don’t count. The field owners only charge you for those that you’ll take home. We normally end up with smeared mouths and sticky hands at the end of it. Fresh strawberries are divine, let me tell you that. Store bought strawberries can’t compare. To enjoy our fresh strawberries all year round, we freeze them after collection.
Picking blueberries can be back-breaking and time consuming. They’re usually found in forests but growing closer to the ground on small bushes. You have to spot them first, bend down to pick a few of them and keep doing it until you fill up a bucket. It takes hours because wild blueberries are actually really small. It’ll usually take up to half a day, wandering around in the forest before you eventually get enough to make a few glasses of jam. You also have to check for those pesky ticks on your body when you get home. Tick bites from forest ticks can be fatal. That’s why we’ve to get vaccinated against it. It’s free after all.
Other berries like cherries, raspberries and blackberries are also aplenty though I haven’t really picked much of them yet. When my parents-in-law go on walks or to the lake, they sometimes come back with wild cherries and blackberries for us. “Eat up,” my mother-in-law would say. “They’re healthy.”
Spend time in the garden
Being village dwellers, we are blessed to live in a house with a garden attached to it. We do share the garden with my in-laws and another middle-aged couple who is living on the ground floor of the building, but we usually have the garden all to ourselves.
Summer is the time where Chris and I like to just chill out there, read a book and sometimes have coffee. We even have breakfast or lunch out in the garden. It’s really pleasant and something I really enjoy doing. I never get to experience something like that when I was growing up in KL or living in Singapore or London. Far often it would be too hot to be outdoors (in Asia) or that there’s no private garden available (in major European cities).
There’s also something about just being outside and observing nature: blooming flowers, buzzing insects, spider webs glistening under the light, little bugs scurrying across the table. The warmth and just the tranquility of it all really add to one’s wellbeing. This is when I truly feel present. This is when summers in Germany make me truly happy.
On some mornings, I also like taking out my laptop to the garden to work. Without internet connection, I feel less distracted. There’s stillness but at the same time not being entirely quiet. The rustling trees and bees provide a great background track. It definitely helps me to be more productive.