Recently, I had the privilege of travelling to Germany with my girlfriend Stefanie to visit her hometown of Dresden. Dresden is a beautiful city in eastern Germany filled with baroque castles, charming cobblestone streets, great food, and awesome people.
The week I spent there was a blur of beer, buses and beautiful vistas. But, even while taking in the intoxicating adventure in this new place, I couldn’t help think of the city I left – the one proudly emblazoned on the Panthers and Hornets hats I wore throughout the trip.
I gained a brand new perspective on our humble home, through the eyes of all the kind, funny, and (thankfully) English-speaking Germans I met. Here are the top 5 things I learned about Charlotte in Germany.
(1) Charlotte is Small – But Everyone Loves Charlotte Sports!
It was fairly obvious to everyone I met that I was American. I don’t know if it was the clothes, or the beard, or the Panthers hat or simply that the only German I knew was “I am not drunk yet.”
As an American in a foreign land, I ended up playing the role of ambassador for all things red, white & blue. When I said I was from Charlotte, North Carolina most people looked puzzled. “California?” they’d ask. “No,” I’d say, “Carolina!”
Some German dudes, upon seeing my Panthers hat, exclaimed “Cam Newton!”
I was a little taken aback, did these dudes know NFL football?
“Yeahman,” I said, “Cam is the man!”
“No,” one dude said, “He kinda sucks!”
Yep, these were American football fans, alright.
The Germans who were up on American politics were eager to ask me about the Confederate flag controversy – which was as enigmatic to them as the Greek debt crisis was to me.
One shining moment was the hipster dude I saw walking down the street wearing a Hornets hat. I doubt he knew what city he was repping, but it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling and confirmed that bringing back the buzz was the best thing Charlotte ever did.
(2) Public Transportation is Crucial
With a population a little over half a million Dresden is not a huge city – by American standards. Dresden was famously and tragically firebombed by the Allies in World War II, and remained mostly in ruins until well after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Nevertheless, the public transportation was so amazingly organized it was dumbfounding. From clean, modern busses to top of the line railway and street tram cars – getting around Dresden was astonishingly simple. Busses and trains came to a plethora of stops every ten minutes – which were clearly labeled on the comfortable and covered bus stops. Everything was clean, sleek and on time.
This made me think of Charlotte and its “Blue Line”. The street car and the LYNX are a great start, and extending the tracks to the University area is a crucial and much-needed step in the right direction. But, living in NoDa I still often feel like driving is the best way to get uptown. Maybe it’s my fault for being lazy, but if Charlotte’s public transportation worked as well as Dresden’s – I’d ride everyday!
(3) Freedom of Beer
Germans know beer. They practically invented the stuff. They have had beer purity laws on the books since they were part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1487. However, their tradition is also their downfall. German beer can only contain three ingredients: water, malt and hops.
Describing Charlotte’s thriving craft beer scene to German beer lovers left them feeling envious. There simply aren’t IPAs, Imperial Stouts, or Pumpkin Beers in Germany.
My favorite way to tease my new friends was to describe Birdsong’s Jalapeno Pale Ale. I told them that it tasted like a jalapeno pepper, and even had a little spiciness to it. This was a beer unfathomable in its creative freedom, and got plenty of surprised reactions from Germans.
“Spicy beer?!” one German man exclaimed. He mimed drinking from a mug, waved his hand in front of his mouth in mock pain and took another pretend sip. “Every time you drink you need another sip! They try to sell more beer!”
Birdsong, the Germans are on to you!
(4) Graffiti is Awesome – When it’s Done Right
The recent controversy of El Barto in Plaza Midwood has brought public art to the forefront of many Charlottean’s minds. However, this would be a non-issue in Germany. Practically every flat surface is splashed with colorful murals, elaborate tags, and huge works of public art. Many apartment buildings feature four story tall murals of every shape, color and description.
Some neighborhoods, such as the hip Neustadt area of Dresden, heartily encourage street art and are rewarded with some of the most unique art I’ve ever seen. One courtyard in the Neustadt features a Dr. Seussian system of surreal water pipes, which actually function as the building’s gutters!
If this is what graffiti can be, we need more graffiti in Charlotte!
(5) Let Them Drink Beer! – But Hold the Smoke
I thought I was quite the party animal…until I tried to party in Germany! Clubs do not close at 2 a.m. In fact, I’m not sure they ever close. It’s common to dance all night until the sun comes up and then take the morning train home – drunkenly keeping your stuff together while sitting next to the morning commuters.
Drinking is not as taboo in Germany, and the laws affecting it aren’t as strict. The legal drinking age in Germany is 16, however people under 18 can party at a nightclub past midnight with a note from their parents (seriously!).
In my opinion, this has created a more responsible view on alcohol. Drinking a beer in public is not a crime, drinking and driving is not common, and binge drinking or “pre-gaming” is not necessary.
One thing I did notice, however, was the preponderance of cigarettes. It seemed like everywhere I turned, I was engulfed in a cloud of smoke. I personally witnessed people smoking while walking, talking, eating ice cream, riding a bike and even while swimming!
Cigarette advertisements abound on German streets – which was quite jarring coming from a place where the only cigarette ads involve people in hospital beds, removing their dentures.
Germany is cool…
On a bustling corner of the hipster Neustadt neighborhood, hundreds of people of all ages and descriptions sat on the sidewalk and smoke and drank peacefully. They were a motley collection of punks, hippies, and tattooed weirdoes that would make NoDa proud. They laughed, told stories, and sang songs – the cacophony of their voices echoing off the ancient cobblestoned streets.
It was a scene so foreign to me, and so beautiful, that I was almost moved to tears. This would never happen in America.
…But, I Love Charlotte.
As much as I loved Germany, I will always consider the Queen City home. Everyone I met, I invited to Charlotte to see the best city in America. Hopefully, they’ll visit. And if they do, we’ll be at Birdsong drinking Jalapeno Pale Ale and talking football. American football. The good kind. The only kind.