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Snapshot of Germany
The official language of Germany is German. Besides ethnic Germans, there are many migrant groups present in the country, such as Turks and Poles. Germany has become an increasingly irreligious country, especially in the eastern portion of the country that was once part of the Soviet Union. About half of Germany’s population identifies itself as Christian, this population is primarily split between the Roman Catholic church and various Protestant denominations. Germany has a rich history of classical composers, writers, and philosophers. In modern times, rock, hip hop, metal, and electronic music are all quite popular, with both German and international artists receiving radio play. Other aspects of German culture and history are preserved in museums and theater. Soccer is Germany’s most popular sport, with the national team having won the World Cup three times. Motor sports such as Formula One racing are also quite popular. Meals in Germany are usually quite large with heavy emphasis on meat and bread. Even breakfast includes a large spread of breads, cold cut meats, and cheese. Pork, especially in sausage form such as Bratwurst, is the most popular type of meat. Other popular dishes include wiener schnitzel, a breaded, fried meat, as well as potatoes and thick noodles. Cakes and tarts are popular dessert and snack items. There are also several unique foods found in different regions of the country, such as Bavarian pretzels in the south. Other foods from minority groups, such as Turkish Doner Kebabs and Falafel are also quite popular, especially in the form of fast food. Carbonated water is usually preferred over regular non-carbonated water. Quite often, if you want to get non-carbonated water you must ask for it specifically – otherwise, you’ll get carbonated water! Germany is also one of the world’s largest consumers of beer.
The Germany Berlin Mission covers the beautiful western and northern parts of the country. There is rich history in these areas, both recent and not. The country is predominantly Christian, but there are people of all religions. However, the country is moving further and further away from religion.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the church has steadily grown in eastern Germany. The German soil was dedicated by President Monson before the fall of the wall, and President Uchtdorf recently had the privilege of rededicating it for the moving forth of the work. There are 6 stakes and 2 districts in the Berlin mission, and over 250 missionaries.
In 1982, the Freiberg Temple was announced, and President Monson dedicated the site and groundbreaking on April 23, 1983. The temple was finished in 1985, and was then dedicated by President Hinkley. While serving, you’ll have a chance to visit the temple at least once — and don’t worry, the sessions are translated into most languages, though listening to it in German is an experience you won’t get very often!
In 1995, Elder Holland said, “The Church in Europe must live again. From the beginning the work of the Church was borne on the backs of the European Saints. Do not think that the great days of gathering in Europe are past. This is our time. In Europe is the richest collection of Israelite blood that we know about. The blood of Israel from this land has saved the Church. They left behind family, children, grandchildren, and friends. They are still here, and we must find them. The blood of Israel is here.” And in 1976, President Kimball said, “In Germany, Switzerland and in Austria, there will be hundreds of stakes, hundreds! And we want you to count on that, look forward to it, and help with it. For God nothing is impossible.”
Germans love their food. They eat all the time. And when you are invited into someone’s house, they will most likely offer you a pastry or chocolate of some kind. If not, they’ll offer you a drink. If you want water, make sure to ask for tap water, because Germans drink Mineralwasser, which is carbonated water. The first time you drink it you will probably gag. After that, you’ll start to enjoy it, and you’ll want it more often.
You are going to eat a lot of meat and potatoes. And cabbage—green and red. Some sort of pastry or bread is accompanied with almost every meal. You’ll find dozens of bakeries in every city—make sure to stop in on one at least once a week for a delicious chocolate croissant or Berliner. And if you’re on the run, the Dӧner Kebab (also known as schwarma or gyro) is every missionary’s favorite food. It’s a Turkish dish made of meat, usually veal, beef, or lamb, with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, or lettuce, with a garlic yogurt sauce—and it is incredibly delicious.
Learn to read a bus schedule. Some of the areas have cars, but not many. And a lot of areas have bikes. But most areas in Germany span several large cities. You’ll need to know how bus and train schedules work. A lot of bigger cities have tram systems. But no matter which form of transportation you use, remember to talk with all the people you can.
The Berlin mission is a relatively safe one. Driving is safe. Public transportation is safe. There isn’t a lot of crime in Germany. There are quite a few drunk and homeless people, so when they’re around, missionaries want to be cautious because you never know what they might do. Sisters should be a little more cautious when in predominantly foreign/ immigrant neighborhoods.
Because Germany is a country with a very high beer intake, holidays and soccer games are days missionaries want to be careful. In certain circumstances, the mission office or mission president will call the missionaries notifying them of special rules for those holidays. (Example: When I was in Berlin, my mission president issued an email to all missionaries the week of New Years that everyone needed to be in their apartments by 5:00 p.m. on New Years Eve, four hours earlier than normal.) Keeping the mission and White Handbook rules will keep you safe!
Christmastime is wonderful in Germany. In my opinion, the best time of the year. Every city will put up a big marketplace in the middle of the city, where only Christmas merchandise is sold. This wonderful gathering is called a Weinachtsmarkt. Or, in English, a Christmas Market. Make sure to bring spending money to get yourself some souvenirs.
You see in the picture here, all those buildings that look like houses? They’re little shops. And they are only put up during Christmastime. The rest of the year, the city square is empty.
Another cool custom is the concept of “Hausschuhe”, which means: house shoes. In German homes, everyone removes their shoes upon arrival. They remove whatever shoes they were wearing, and slip on the house shoes (which really are just slippers). A lot of Germans, especially during the winter months, will provide missionaries/visitors with a pair of house shoes when you enter their home.
You will learn very quickly that German is a very different language from English. The German people don’t say things like “What’s up?” If you were to literally translate that, it would be “Was ist oben?” Don’t ask this to a German. They will look up to the sky, and then will most likely try to speak to you in English.
Learn the dialect of whichever city you serve in—each area will be different. but if you learn the local lingo of each city, the people there will welcome you, and treat you warmly.
All missionaries want to have at least two good pairs of shoes. An umbrella is a must because you will get rained on. A small hand sanitizer bottle to keep in your bag is always nice—you never know whose hand you’re going to shake. Pocket change for using the restroom—most bathrooms are staffed and someone sits and collects tips for using the bathroom. Some bathrooms actually charge you a few cents to use them.
Mailing and Contacting:
Most missions use e-mail as their primary source of communication. But missionaries still love getting things in the mail. Sending something across seas to Germany, however, takes a couple of weeks. The quickest is about 5-7 days, and at most it will take 10-14 days. Packages usually take longer when sent using the US postal service, so if you want to send a birthday or Christmas package, plan accordingly—this goes for missionaries as well!
Zerbster Straße 42
Straight from the Germany Berlin Mission:
*What items were hard to get or not available?
“marshmallows, canned corn.”
“good peanut butter, chocolate chips, brown sugar.”
*What did you eat the most of?
“yoghurt, quark, pom frittes with mayonnaise”
“bread and other pastry items.”
“nutella, and the doener kebab”
*What is the craziest thing you ate?
“roll mops(raw fish), horse meat and raw hamburger”
*What was most surprising about the culture?
“I loved it..I grew up in a German area in a German household!”
“Many people thought I was crazy for being more afraid of the drunken men wanting to kiss me because their soccer team won than I was of the police.”
*What advice would you give to someone going to the Germany Berlin Mission?
“Learn the language..don’t speak English on the street unless there is danger and you have to, live on the economy and dress like the natives.
“Go to Germany with an open mind. Don’t pay attention to stereotypes that are around about the German people. They are kind, loving, and a caring people.”
“German is a beautiful language, and doesn’t sound at all like people shouting at each other.”
*What do you wish you had known before you served?
“How to speak German. Remember, at this time, there was no MTC to teach one the language, so it was all learned after arriving.”
“I only ever heard of the miraculous stories that happened on missions no one ever really mentioned how hard the work is. The work is worth it but so very hard at times.”
“How to read a bus schedule.”
“Teach missionaries that they will have times of wonderful highs and terrible lows and that these will even out over time if one is faithful.”
**Did you serve in the Germany Berlin Mission? If so we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at email@example.com**