Tag: Hamburg

Angry German Bakers: The Redemption

Pfullendorf, Ladenschild der Bäckerei Allgaier

The inevitable question arises, “If you were abused by German bakers, why did you keep going back?” While that is a fair question, it is a question asked by someone who has not been to a German bakery. German bakeries have very good pastries. While I was staying in Hamburg I found two friendly bakeries close to the our exchange home: there was a Dat Backhus and a small family run bakery within walking distance. So each morning I would get up, walk to one of the bakeries and order/point at a few of the pastries and then bring them back to the house for my family.

I discovered something interesting on these hunting/gathering journeys, Germans are very helpful when other Germans are not around. Now I don’t want to suggest something akin to a “Don’t be nice to tourists” campaign, but when I was in the bakeries by myself, and there were no other people waiting for service, the bakers took the time to explain to me a few of the things I was doing wrong. The first faux pas was the whole counting thing. If you want one Berliner then signal one with your thumb. Using your forefinger is apparently  confusing to Germans who might think you are ordering two of something when using your pointer finger.

At first I was a bit skeptical but after viewing several pictures of my favorite German celebrity, Dirk Nowitzki, I did notice that he does use the thumb when signaling that he just dropped a three-ball from beyond the arc. When an American basketball player gives the three-ball signal they inevitably use their first three fingers. So if Dirk, who has spent a fair number of years living in the US, still cannot break himself of the habit of using his thumb to count three-balls, the whole using your thumb to count as one must be pretty ingrained in the German people.

The next mistake I was making was getting in line before I was ready to order. Americans get in line to save a spot before ordering and may not even know what they want to eat before getting in line. If you would like to experience the German level of frustration go to a McDonalds drive through in the US. How it takes five minutes to order at a McDonalds is a mystery to me. It isn’t like the guy taking your order is going through the wine list or telling you about the specials, it is McDonalds! It is the same stupid menu almost everywhere you go in the world. It isn’t like you are going to pull up to a drive through menu and suddenly be confronted with a choice between carved turkey breast and alder smoked salmon.

My final mistake isn’t one that the bakers explained to me but one I discovered on my own. In the US we have regional differences, but for the most part we have a shared expectation of what is socially acceptable. In Europe these shared expectations are wildly different from country to country. I assumed that France and Germany would be very similar except for the language. When I looked at a map my brain said, “Look how close it is. I should learn how to say two German words so I can survive in Germany.” But once I was in Germany I realized that I was totally unprepared for the cultural differences, or what Ruby Payne would call the “unwritten rules” of the culture. These hidden rules are really at the core of how we view the world. Now prepare yourself for some wide generalizations. I think the German people are very friendly and helpful, but their priority or primary mode of thinking is task oriented. They want to get stuff done. They do not dilly-dally. They get joy from accomplishing tasks and they want everybody following the same rules they have to follow. If you try to do something different Germans are not afraid to let you know. Try walking on a bike path in Germany (the bike paths in Berlin and Hamburg are on the sidewalk and colored red.) If you are walking along and step into the bike path and there is a biker nearby Germans don’t politely ring a bell or say, “On your right.” No they give you the business. Shouting at someone in Germany is not personal or emotional, it is efficient. When Germans are out for a walk, they are walking, don’t try to say, “Hi” or smile, they are walking don’t bother them. Stay out of the damn bike paths unless you are on a bike and for God’s sake, if you step into a bakery know what you want. It is Germany, people have things to do. Tourists should be aware that the unwritten slogan for Germany is, “Welcome to Germany! Now get out of the way!”

Angry German Bakers: Lunch

Dat Backhus: HafenCity, Hamburg

This trip to a German bakery went badly. Usually I could soften this statement with an addition like: The trip to the bakery went badly, but at least I had a delicious, sweet pastry. When you end up with a cold fish sandwich you can’t really soften a bad visit to a bakery. How does one end up with a cold fish sandwich? Well, you order it because you saw a couple other people in line order one and assumed that it must taste good. Here is a word of advice for people traveling in Germany, local tastes may not match your own.

The journey to Dat Backhus had all of the usual foibles I force upon my family when traveling. I wanted to visit HafenCity and I really didn’t plan out much beyond the arrival in HafenCity. I like to explore, to allow myself the freedom to wander around and get lost, wandering aimlessly is not something my family enjoys. What did I know about HafenCity before arriving? There was a miniature world museum and the industrial docks were being turned into cool modern buildings. My plan was to arrive, go to the mini-world, find lunch and then look at the construction of the opera house.

We arrived near HafenCity and within ten minutes I managed to get us lost. It wasn’t like I was trying to get lost, it is something I am just really good at doing. To me lost is an opportunity to see Russians selling drugs out of a van, or to stroll through a private country club without knowing where I am, for my family it is simply a long walk with no end in sight. It took a little time to find mini-world and then it took a little time to decide whether we wanted to eat lunch before going to mini-world or wait until afterwards. I think my family thought we would get lost again if we tried to eat first, so we went into Miniatur Wunderland. Have I mentioned how much Germans love lines? Well, Germans love lines like Disney Imagineers love lines. What looked like a short line from the outside of the building ended up snaking around an entrance and then up a bunch of flights of stairs. We ended up in an empty room with about 50 other people. Then a teenage boy came out from behind a door and started yelling at us, at least that is what it sounded like. He was probably just speaking German loudly, but I felt like I had done something wrong. When he was finished yelling, a door opened and the crowd started moving through it. I waited and then asked the teenager if he spoke English. He did and all of my problems were about to be solved, that is until he told me that this was the line for people who purchased tickets on-line. Only Germans would wait 30 minutes in a line for tickets they already purchased: Germans and stupid Americans like me.

That was the final straw for my now famished family. We were not going to wait in line again, we needed food.

Now no one died on our long, meandering walk that ended at Dat Backhus, but some people were not happy with their husband and my father-of-the-year nomination was put on hold for at least six months.

There was a line in the bakery which I thought was a good sign because it meant the food was probably good and it would give my family the opportunity to get their act together and decide what we wanted to order. Unfortunately everyone in line was German and therefore had planned what to order around 8AM three days earlier. Before we knew what had happened we were faced with a German bakery worker who wanted our order. None of us were ready which is simply not acceptable in Germany. I quickly pointed at the fish sandwich, my daughter pulled the “I’ll have what he is having” assuming I had ordered something edible, my son ordered a couple pastries (which did not please the bakery worker) and my wife ordered something like soup. The Germans in line behind us were not pleased to see this typical American chaos in their orderly world and they expressed their displeasure by looking at their watches which I believe is the German equivalent of shouting “Hurry up!”

I did my best to gather our food, pay the bill (cash only in German restaurants) and then find a seat in the dining area designed by IKEA and Tony Smith. No one in my family was smiling. I felt like I had just gone through an unfortunate medical exam, my son had more confirmation that his father was really Clark Griswold, my wife was very quiet, and my daughter was crying because she had just ordered a cold fish sandwich for lunch. I ended up eating two cold fish sandwiches. My daughter ate some delicious German pastries.  It is times like this, that people like me, end up in places like McDonalds.

Angry German Bakers: Part 1

German Bakery

German Bakery (Photo credit: Alki1)

Where have I had my worst experiences as a monolingual person while traveling? This is an easy question to answer for me: German Bakeries. Now if you haven’t been to a German bakery or seen a German bakery you should visit one, but let me warn you right now that you better know exactly what you want and how to order because if you hesitate or do something wrong you will be in trouble. What kind of trouble? I’m not really sure because most of my German was learned by watching Hogan’s Heroes, but I will describe for you, dear reader, several of my experiences.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof: The main train station in Hamburg. My family was grabbing a quick breakfast before hopping on a train to Berlin. It was earlyish and there was a German Bakery in the train station that we thought we would hit before jumping on board the ICE train and heading to Berlin. Now in the US (I realize we were in Germany, but in order to explain my plight I thought I would explain the cultural differences in ordering food in Germany verses the United States)  in the US a family orders one at a time. I might say what I want, then my wife and so on, but I don’t think that is the routine in German. I say I don’t think that is the routine because I am not sure about the routine. I just know that every time we ordered like this we got a scolding.

Another mistake I believe we made was not knowing exactly what we wanted before we stepped into the little shop. It seems to be the cultural norm in Germany that you must know what you are going to eat for breakfast a solid hour before you step into the bakery. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you go into a German bakery know what you want before stepping into line and don’t start looking at the baked goods before you get in line or they will think you are an Italian trying to cut.

So, back to the train station, I step up to the counter and begin my ordering routine which has all kinds of problems: 1. I speak zero German and even a “Guten Morgen” doesn’t buy you too much sympathy. 2. Pointing at food in German has all kinds of problems. They really do use their thumbs like in Inglorious Bastards. 3. I am American. The bakery guy gave me about five seconds before he started scolding me. Believe it or not, I was scolded many times in Germany, most frequently in bakeries. I don’t blame the German bakers, it was my fault for not being fully prepared. After the scolding the bakery guy just walked away with his tongs. My family was confused. We really didn’t know what had happened, but the lady in line behind us apologized to us in English as if she were somehow responsible for the angry baker. She then stepped in and helped us get our order taken care of. Once we had our delicious baked goods my son conjectured that the reason the baker was mad was because he had to wear his sister’s pants to work. (The baker was wearing those Capri pants that German men wear.)

Tomorrow: The Lunch Bakery

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