Living in K-Town
Living abroad is definitely different from just traveling to a foreign country for a few days – and I soon discovered this as I realized that I was now living in a place where I was not fluent in the local language, and the only friend I really had was my husband. Despite my fears, I was also excited to go on this new adventure of living abroad. We were renting a two bedroom apartment, on the fourth floor of an apartment building, in Kaiserslautern. The area is filled with military families, due to the surrounding US Army and Air Force bases, like Ramstein, Landstuhl, and Vogelweh. But, most of them tend to live on base, or they are scattered throughout the surrounding areas. There aren’t too many military families in Kaiserslautern, specifically, but it’s enough that the locals notice the unusually large number of Americans present. Because of this fact, many of the locals also speak English, fluently. Of course, that is not uncommon throughout Europe – as many Europeans seem to speak multiple languages – including their native language, English, and at least one other language from a neighboring country. This is not always the case, but more often than not I have found this to be true of many of the places I’ve been to, thus far.
“Little America” in Germany
Due to the large US military presence in Kaiserslautern, it almost feels like “Little America,” where the locals have grown accustomed to catering to Americans. There are a lot of differences between living in Germany and living in the states, but since Kaiserslautern has an unusually high number of US military residents, some of those comforts from home can be found throughout the city. This aspect also makes Kaiserslautern a unique city from other German cities. Although I have not visited many other cities, I have been to Frankfurt, Cologne, Nuremburg, and the surrounding Rhineland-Palatinate area. From my personal experiences, I can tell you that Kaiserslautern is more “Americanized” than these other cities. For one thing, Germans seem to be a very proud group of people, who take pride in their history, culture, and politics. There are many historic sights in Germany, and for the most, all of the churches that were not completely destroyed in WWII have kept their original architecture. Even buildings that may have been destroyed during the war, have been restored to their former glory, and encourage tourists to visit. For example, the Nuremburg Castle has withstood both world wars, and parts of it were destroyed during those times – but modern engineering has allowed for the restoration of the castle, and tourists can enjoy and appreciate the castle today.
A Unique Melting Pot
What makes Kaiserslautern unique is the American influence on the city, which melds with the local German culture and historic buildings. You can enjoy American food at Sam Kullman’s Diner, then walk down to the Old Town and view the Gothic architecture of the Collegiate Church (Stiftskirche), and enjoy a Guinness on tap served at the local Irish Pub (The Snug), where they always air the German soccer matches as well as American football games. The city also has many festivals and events going on throughout the year, just this past weekend there was a city festival with live music and drinks, where bands were playing popular American and European hits. My favorite events of the year include the annual Christmas Market and the annual Summer Carnival.
Winter in Kaiserslautern
In the winter, the Christmas Markets are all over Germany – and not just unique to K-town. There are various booths set up with local merchants selling sweets, sausages, gluhwein (traditional German holiday drink), and winter apparel. Sometimes, there is also live music playing throughout the market, including local bands and talented musicians. If you ever get the chance to visit Kaiserslautern in the winter, you must be sure to add a local Christmas Market to your list of things to do. Germans celebrate Christmas as early as November, and end the celebration with fireworks on New Year’s (or Saint Sylvester’s Day in Germany). In the time that I have come to live here – the weather has not been outrageously cold, in the winter. We did get some snow here and there – but no more than a couple inches, at the most. The two winters I have been here, have been mild with weather in the 30 to 50F range.
Summer in Kaiserslautern
The summers are also mild, for the most part, with the exception of one month where the weather is unbearably hot. Normally, temperatures range from the mid 70 to mid 80F range, and the unbearable months go well past 100F. Also, there are few facilities that have air conditioning, so it makes the summer months even tougher to deal with. But, I always look forward to the annual Summer Carnival in Kaiserslautern. I don’t know if they have carnivals in other cities, as I’ve never seen one in another city, but the one in Kaiserslautern is very reminiscent of State Fairs in the USA. There are many booths with carnival games and various carnival rides, that change every year. Of course, how could I forget about the carnival cuisine! Typical carnival food in Kaiserslautern consists of chocolate covered fruits, curry wurst, sausages, as well typical German beers and fruit wines. Every carnival also has multiple beer gardens, where you can eat and drink to your hearts content. After your meal has settled, you can jump on any one of the carnival rides, assuming you have enough Euros leftover. The various rides include bumper cars, roller coasters, the ferris wheel, pendulum rides, and sometimes include a drop tower or a similar rendition of a ridiculously scary ride that no sane human should attempt (just kidding). They also celebrate the opening and closing nights of the carnival with a fireworks show, just in case the local residents were not fully aware of its presence.
Additional Attractions and Things to Do
Aside from the seasonal attractions – there are also many popular attractions that are open year round. The local Japanese Garden is apparently one of the largest of its kind, in Europe. Other attractions include the Hamburg Tower, the local zoo, the Kaiserplaz (Barbarossa Castle) and the Hohenecken Castle, as well as the Nanstein Castle in Landstuhl. All are definitely things to add to your list when you visit Kaiserslautern. Although, I haven’t personally been to every sight on the list – luckily I have some time to still see them before moving back to the states. In the mean time, I get to enjoy the lovely view of “Little America,” in Germany, from my apartment building. K-town is a unique city that melds cultures across the Atlantic with local German culture, and I hope that you get to experience “Little America” for yourself, in the near future.