This Global Kitchen | Day 2: Germany
My name is Meagan Schäfer and I’m married to a very handsome German, and together we have two children, ages 4 and 1. We live in the area my husband grew up in. It’s a small rural area an hour from Frankfurt called Simmern, Germany. We work with a non-profit organization here and I am a part of the training team for a six-month discipleship program. My husband is finishing his last year of Bible school and leads the Youth group at our local church. We’ve lived in Germany for a little over four years now, and we moved into this house two years ago.
It has been a struggle of learning culture, learning language, and finding my voice. Because we live in a small town, I don’t know another American in our area. When we first moved here, I was 7-months pregnant with our first child and it was very isolating. Our home quickly became a refuge for me. In the beginning, being able to cook and bake gave me an outlet after a hard day, and opened doors to reach out to my neighbors. I strongly believe in the ministry of food. Language and culture are tricky to navigate, but food somehow has the power to be common ground — transforming strangers into friends. We have an open-door policy at our house and seldom does a month goes by when we haven’t had visitors staying with us. Our kitchen is the gathering place of our home, and once you’re in our home, you are family.
Welcome to our kitchen! The first thing I noticed when we looked at this house was the open floor plan! So many kitchens in Germany are closed off to help heat the house during winter, the open floor plan felt so American to me.
Perhaps the greatest shock for me when moving to Germany was that Germans view kitchen cupboards like furniture. When you move houses, you take your kitchen with you. When we first moved to our home, there was just an empty room with a window, some outlets, and an exposed pipe. This meant our next great adventure was designing the kitchen we have now (thank you, IKEA!) It took painstaking hours and weeks for my husband and I to perfect our plan. Let’s be honest, I dreamed up the kitchen and my sweet husband was the one who made it happen. In an effort to save money (because…well, we had just bought an entire kitchen) we decided to assemble and install everything ourselves. After it took me two hours to build one cabinet, I very quickly realized this was going to take a long time. Our days of microwave meals were not even close to being over. Did you notice in the various gaps between cabinets and the lack of a backsplash? That’s because it’s still not done. It’s been a labor of love we have assembled (and continue to assemble) one piece at a time.
Our walls are cement, so hanging the cabinets was challenging. I still have a fear that one morning we will walk down the stairs and find that everything has fallen off of the walls. Obviously, this is not a reflection of my husband or father-in-law’s skills — it’s merely what tends to happen when I’m involved with DIY projects. But so far, so good!
Because of the cement walls my decorations are simple and only hung with command hooks or wall stickers (thank you, Hobby Lobby!) Decorations always make it into our suitcases. At the bottom of the picture you can see a wood tower my sweet father-in-law built so that my daughter can help me in the kitchen. I love that both my kids can sit close and be a part of what is happening.
Because we host so many people and gatherings, a big priority for us was to have a full-size refrigerator. I will never forget each time a German came to visit us in the beginning. They would comment on the size of our fridge. It’s almost three times the size of normal German ones. The refrigerator in my in-law’s house is similar to the size I had in my college dorm room. My bargain-hunting husband made it happen. It is also uncommon that they have a magnetic front. This is central station for my kids and the kids that come to play. We keep fun magnets for kids down low and pictures of friends from around the world, reminders, and funny postcards up high. (The “How Horny is that then?” postcard was sent by a friend during my early language learning days. It’s a phrase used often and it means “that is so cool.” But directly translated into English, it’s a bit more risqué.)
I’ll never forget when a dear friend from the States came to visit and was shocked by how small my dishwasher, oven and microwave are. She might have even called them “fun size.” My soul sometimes longs for the sweet, large conveniences of Texas, but I like being obedient. I like being where God desires me to be. And so I continue to struggle, grow and bake until my heart is content with my “fun size” appliances.
Germany is big on recycling. In our early days, it felt like conversations were consumed with talk of what goes in what bin. In our house, we have five bins plus the bag we use for bottles of sparkling water. You have paper, plastic/food containers, biodegradable, glass, and one for everything else. In general, trash is picked up once a month, and taking out your “everything else” bin isn’t free. So, that really encourages you to stay on top of sorting everything. You can even be fined if the trash people notice it’s not done right. This continues to be an area of cultural stress for me, even after four years.
Thanks for touring our kitchen in Germany!
My Must Haves for My Expat Kitchen:
My must have in the kitchen is my Kitchen Aid mixer. They’re so expensive in Europe and for my birthday a few years ago, my husband went in with all of our friends and bought one for me. I love to bake and it is so special to me.
Two other favorites in my kitchen are Tony’s Original Creole seasoning and liquid vanilla. I love to sprinkle a little of Tony’s on everything — it adds a nice kick! Germans love vanilla sugar, but liquid vanilla is expensive and hard to come by.
My Favorite Expat friendly Recipe:
Great Aunt Mimi’s English Toffee
by Meagan | TakingRoute.net
- 1 cup butter (.5lb)
- 1 cup sugar
- Possible toppings: chocolate, nuts, pretzels, candy, popcorn, the possibilities are endless
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan on medium heat, then add the sugar. Stir continuously, supervise like it’s a 1-year old boy that just learned how to walk- constant supervision. When it’s almost the color or peanut butter, remove from heat and pour into cake pan (any pan will do). Let it cool until almost hard, melt chocolate and pour on top of the toffee.
There are so many different potential toppings, my Great Aunt would put sliced Almonds inside the toffee, and my mom would cover in milk chocolate with crushed nuts on top.
I make it at Christmas to give as gifts to friends and supporters. There’s really nothing like it in Germany. They really enjoy it, it’s easy, I usually have the ingredients on hand, and it’s a little piece of home during the holidays for me.