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Category: Germany

Challenges with the German Language

Jun 19


Living in Germany has its difficulties, particularly as a non-native speaker. In an ideal world I would be able to find everything I need to apply what I preach, but that can be challenging. The most obvious hurdle is language. I don’t know all the German terminology associated with gardening; it’s learn-as-you-go. This can be annoying since I don’t even possess the common knowledge of where to find certain products like I do in the States, not to mention not knowing the names of the products.

For example, where can one find speciality spring bulbs? In the US, I can instantly name a few familiar nurseries (Brent & Becky’s, Burpee, Spring Hill, Gurney’s, etc) and then rank them in speciality, quality, and expense to decide which nursery to order from.

Now, tell me, where I can buy spring bulbs in Germany?



Let’s walk through the process.

The literal translation for spring bulb is Fruehlingszwiebel but Zwiebel also means onion. Search ‘Fruehlingszwiebel’ brings up sites selling green onion bulbs.

Let’s use a specific spring bulb in order to refine the search: Tulip. What’s the German name? Head to a translation site, find “Tulpe”, search, and the first result is a company named Albrecht It looks like a nice spring bulb site, with no mention of the word “spring bulb”.

Next result, Samen, a Swiss site. I can’t easily order from there since it’s out of the country and uses a different currency, but it lists Blumenzwiebel. Of course! Flowering bulb! Why didn’t I think of that? Type in ‘Blumenzwiebel’, search, and finally multiple results.

Now, it’s time to sort through and rank which nurseries are best to order from. Start the next research process. Most of the time it’s fun to research and learn the German name of a plant. A favorite of mine is Stiefmuetterchen which translates ‘little step mother’ for pansies Viola tricolor hortensis and Fingerhut, ‘finger hat’ foxglove Digitalis purpurea.

german books and notebooks

It's a process

But it’s also a pain when I want to quickly look something up, or if I’m in a store trying to decipher a label. Not only do I need to learn the new word, I have to retain it, something that does not come easily to me.

all the different forms of you

A huge hurdle when learning German is memorizing words. I’m terrible! And yet, I love learning the language. I’m not entirely sure why: it’s not the prettiest to listen to, although I’d argue that it’s not as ugly as most make it out to be. Many examples Americans hear are in anger, which emphasizes the harshness of the language, but in everyday speech it’s pleasant. The grammar is difficult, to put it mildly. It’s frustrating when you don’t understand a rule but so satisfying once you finally do and can move on to the next frustrating one. It’s definitely a love-hate relationship.

The owner of the garden constantly has to repeat the German names of the plants in the garden. I’ve started to think that I should start labeling them with hanging tags in order to memorize everything. Can you imagine seeing large brightly colored tags with bold names hanging off of everything in a garden?

However, I am also attempting to memorize latin names too since it’s the international identification language. This might not be a bad idea. I think that this weekend I might just become that crazy American who labels everything.


May 19

Fahrradstraße, or 'bike street'

Bicycling is one of my favorite things about living in Germany. There are clearly-marked lanes specifically for bicyclists and should you accidently wander into one, you will be reminded by angry shouts and ringing bells, or simply run over.

Motorists, the majority of the time, are fairly respectful of bikes, at least in the city I live in. But there is one major downside when you don’t have a car and that is space.

Think about it, when you go to the nursery you’re able to fill up your car with trays of plants, a few bags of soil or mulch, maybe the tools you’ll need and still have some room leftover in your car or pickup.

Me? I have this.

My bike loaded down with plants in the basket

My bike loaded down at Obi

You can barely fit 5 plants in that basket! The one advantage is it prevents impulse purchases. I always have to go in knowing what materials or plants I need and then figure out how to squeeze them on my bike without damaging them. Although this isn’t always the case. In the above photo I went to the store to buy large bag of potting soil and ended up leaving with 70% off houseplants—and no potting soil.

And since I own a men’s bike, which requires swinging a leg around the back, forget about tall plants too. I learned this the hard way with a climbing rose and clematis I purchased in 2017.

public cargo bike

Cargo bike

Picture a woman in the parking lot hesitantly raising her foot 20 times deciding whether she’ll make it over the bike without falling over. I wandered around the parking lot eventually finding a curb to make the swing distance shorter. Only issue was forgetting when I arrived home and proceeded to fall into a bush next to the building. This is the one time where learning the splits would have been useful.

Point is, space is an issue. And in relation, so is weight. I’m not able to buy giant bags of soil. If it can’t fit in my backpack or basket it can’t be transported. Luckily my store has some compressed soil, which barely fits in my pack, but is lighter than everything else. It just requires more water to rejuvenate it during planting. Now that I think about it, it might be compressible if it’s full of peat which is great for plants but not for the environment. I’ll have to read the bag again to see if it is full of peat. I might lose my convenient soil bag.

Thanks to the owner of the garden I do have access to a kid trailer it’s just a matter of coordinating when to pick it up. The city also has special cargo bikes people can rent too.

There is also the matter of inclines. In order to cross the Rhein bicyclists must go up spiral bike ramps to reach the bridges.

Or in the case of some unfortunate plant-loving friends, they must climb a large hill to reach home. It’s definitely a planned effort for them when they starting planting their large balcony garden.

Thankfully I only have to worry about the ramps to reach the garden center. I will admit when carting heavy items around town I do not find biking fun anymore. Just another love/hate relationship while living in Germany.

Cycle spiral near the Rhein in Paradies

Cycle spiral near the Rhein in Paradies