Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's All a Bit Foreign...

I awoke on Saturday morning and, for the first time since mid-November, I had no plans whatsoever. I was not meeting with friends, going out of town or working. It was a beautiful blue-sky day and the world was at my fingertips. I could have done anything I wanted. And so, I went to Buxtehude.

Buxtehude's Cathedral
No, “Buxtehude” is not code for some fabulous European adventure that is going to make everyone at home green with envy. It is instead a small town about twenty minutes away from where I live and, as far as I can tell, it is not noteworthy in any way. I pass it on the train every time I go to Hamburg and it looks exactly like every other suburb I go through: brick houses, lots of trees, tiny family-run shops and the occasional cow.

Of course, the logical question is, why then would I choose to visit Buxtehude? Sadly, there isn’t a terribly logical answer. In fact, the sole purpose of my journey was to explore something called Marktkauf. Marktkauf is a huge, warehouse like building right next to the Buxtehude train station. Until Saturday’s exploration I had no idea what they did in said building, but I was constantly seeing people get on the train with bright yellow bags boldly proclaiming “Marktkauf” in John Deere green letters. And, after five months, curiosity got the better of me.

I got off the train in Buxtehude at approximately 11:00am and wandered toward Marktkauf. I could see people streaming inside like ants toward a picnic basket and I rushed up the concrete steps, eager to get my first peek at this thing that had haunted my imagination for 21 weeks. What I saw inside stunned me.

There were people everywhere. People pushing shopping carts. People carrying baskets. People yelling at their children to come back, go away, be quiet, speak louder. People, people, people. And the noise. The talking and laughing was nothing compared to the beeping of the cash registers and the nasal overhead announcements. Each aisle was crammed with stuff. Everything from socks to shampoo to butter could be found inside this veritable Mecca of consumerism. I stood in the doorway, completely stunned, as people and shopping carts moved around me like I was Moses parting the Red Sea.

Slowly, I moved forward, trying to decide where to look first. Electronics? Books? Home goods? Clothes? I literally turned circles trying take it all in, meandering through the crowded aisles like someone awaked abruptly from a deep sleep. And then, somewhere between ladies underwear and sporting goods, it hit me: this was Wal Mart. Okay, so it wasn’t Wal Mart, per se, but the concept was the same. And I, a red-blooded American who has been in more than her fair share of Wal Marts (feel free to judge) was completely and utterly overwhelmed.

After five months of doing all my shopping in tiny shops with narrow aisles and little selection this Wal Mart-like monstrosity was sensory overload. And, the real irony is that just three days previous, when my shopping list had consisted of shampoo, a notebook and bread and I had been forced to walk to three different stores in the pouring rain, I had complained viciously about the lack of convenience stores. I didn’t want to wander across town just to find the one store that sells envelopes and then wander back again to buy milk. I wanted selection, affordability, expediency. I wanted… Wal Mart.

The Farmer's Market in Buxtehude
And yet, standing in the middle of Marktkauf, Wal Mart’s long lost German cousin, it all seemed a little ridiculous. So, ten minutes after walking in, I walked back out. The sky was still blue and the sun was beginning to shine so I wandered down side streets until I came to a church yard where local farmers were selling produce. One stand had apples, another cheese, another still held heaps of oranges. People scurried from one stall to the next in a mad effort to collect what they would need for the week to come.

I found an empty bench behind the stand that was selling carrots and potatoes and sat down to think… I am an American, living in Germany. I am frustrated by the European system and completely overwhelmed by the American one. I have been here 21 weeks and I feel comfortable in Stade. But I miss my family and my home and my life. In five weeks I will be back in America and Germany will become little more than a memory that I replay sometimes when I am feeling nostalgic.

What a strange, strange life I have come to lead… 


  1. Ahhh Convenience!!! What price do we pay for it? Still sounds like a fun experience.

  2. I'm with you Christina bolt! All of those little shops is what America is losing. We are being over-taken by Wal-Mart mentality. Enjoy your walks to the stands, the little shops....for in 5 short weeks you will be saying good-bye to a different way of life. I know you are excited to return home...and your family can hardly stand the wait...but for now...drink in your last month of life in Germany. I was proud that you chose to use Saturday to explore instead of stay in bed :-)

  3. I really loved this post. I think because of the simplicity of it. After 21 weeks you are still discovering new things about yourself (or perhaps finding yourself a bit more confused... ;) ) And who knew a person could dedicate an entire post to Wal-Mart/Marktkauf. Do you know what I liked best? That you let your curiosity take you on a new adventure! What a wonderful thing to allow yourself to do!