March 2024
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by Ken Yeager (ACS)

As most of you know, I stayed in Germany following my retirement from the State Department’s Foreign Service and I don’t doubt some don’t ask “why in Germany, why not back in the US where most of us live.” Well, there is both a simple answer and a more complicated one as well.

The more complicated one is that my wife joined me in 1982 in Niger, a very poor, hot desert country. She gave up (in a sense) her folks and friends to live with me in Niamey. And from there we lived in Burundi, China, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Morocco and finally, my last assignment, Germany. We actually had anticipated that it would be necessary to retire from Morocco as certain administrative rules were to kick in regarding an onward assignment. After being outside the US for 15 years, the Department required (?) that we return to the US for an assignment, and at the same time, another rule required that we bid on a hardship post. Both rules said that retirement was eminent. BUT things sometimes work out the best and I managed to avoid both rules and be assigned to Frankfurt, Germany, a most fortuitous posting. So when it came time to retire (actually I was forced out, not having been promoted in 10 years – another rule, but it was the right time) we were in a good position to seek housing, make arrangements, etc. While still in Morocco we obviously discussed retirement and Gisela said that after all the years together overseas, she wanted to go home. Her mom was still alive at the time and given her willingness to accompany me to various assignments; it was only the right thing to do. Another aspect of retiring in Germany was medical. Gisela had been diagnosed with CLL while in Morocco and she was and remains a believer in homeopathic medicine as it had done so much for her mother. Homeopathic medicine is widely available in Germany with some doctors specializing in this type of medicine. I don’t think such recognition is available in the US but I might be totally wrong on this. Unfortunately, her illness has moved beyond the healing capabilities of such medical practices.

Am I 100% happy here???? Not really. Language is a big barrier for me and although I can manage to get my point across most of the time, I can’t just sit down over a beer and BS with someone…I am not a language person, having studied French and Czech prior to assignments and never mastered either, although the latter is frankly, damn impossible. And not being reasonably fluent in German, I have very few friends here and there are not that many Americans or other native English speakers in the area, especially out here in the boonies.

BUT on the other hand, I do like living in Germany. And here is where the simple answer lies. Life is pretty damn good if you can afford the prices. Yeah, I’d be better off in the US with my made-for-America pension but we manage. Gas is expensive and that is a bummer, but we have to live with it. We avoid the food chain stores except for mostly non-editable items like paper towels, soap powder, bio-trash bags; we buy almost all of our foods in the bi-weekly market that we drive to. Meats, veggies, fruits, eggs, cheese, fish, etc. Things we know are not shot up with antibiotics or hormones or covered with pesticides. Of course, we have excellent beer and wines and a wide selection of both. Cafés are wonderful with good cakes and torts. We have great transportation systems close by with buses, subways and trains, not necessarily cheap but with pretty good connections. I have never been in a town or village that didn’t have at least a bus stop. How frequent the buses, is another thing but there are connections. Having had at least five operations in Germany I can say that the medical system is first class and a hell of a lot less expensive than in the U.S. Yes, I am a private patient so I can pick and choose my doctors and hospitals but everyone gets the same level of care. Hamburg is a big city of over 1.6 million people and has its crime problems, as it’s the case everywhere, but I feel very safe here and that is without having to own or carry a gun. Nor do I have to worry about being shot in a movie theater or in a mall…might be robbed or stabbed somewhere if I’m in the wrong part of town, but shot, very doubtful, and I avoid those parts of town. Biggest crime problems in Germany seem to be house burglaries and car thefts (Car freshly stolen? It’s now in Poland- is the common expression). The weather sucks in the winter but where we live the air is clean and fresh. We can drink tap water without fear. Restaurants are plentiful and the selection of various type of kitchen is pretty good. Most places have trained professional waiters and cooks/chefs, and many actually have real linen napkins and tablecloths. I do have to admit to finding it odd when a small bottle of mineral water costs more than a bottle of beer, but such is the case. Quite a few restaurants offer a “senior” menu which means smaller portions and smaller prices…I like that. So, again, the simple answer is life is good here and I am enjoying it despite the small drawbacks.

Now some of you may start to feel that I am somewhat less than patriotic and that would be totally incorrect. I love the US but I love it for what it could be, and I have to admit, I am somewhat embarrassed at times by what it has become today with the school shootings, the NSA spying, the lack of a civil government and the seemingly unwillingness of Congress to act on behalf of the citizens. I certainly do not think I am any smarter than any of you on that side of the ocean, I do think my vision may be somewhat wider in scope as living outside of the US gives one a different perspective on events. I am certainly influenced by the German/European points of view and not by Fox news or some of the loud mouths on US radio states. I don’t listen to them but I do read about some of the nonsense they say. And while I have no desire to turn this tome into a political essay, I do want it to be known that I didn’t serve my country for 37 years for nothing and I don’t mean just my pension. So the love of country is there but I do honestly think that in current times, I am better off here.

I suspect this comment will draw some unkindly remarks, but that’s fine. We each have our opinions and views and yours will be correct from your standpoint and I will respect that.

Have a good weekend.

6 comments to WHY GERMANY

  • Ken – The circumstances surrounding your retirement and the reasons for retiring where you did duplicate that of the vast majority of people retiring from the State Department.

    My dad got caught up in the 15 year out of USA rule. He was given a choice of a 5 year assignment to Washington D.C. or a hardship post as Ambassador to Ethiopia (not a good place to be at that point in time). Given mom’s escalating health problems and the options offered by the State Department, he decided it was time to retire and settle down so mom could have a *home* again (vs. the constant uprooting as a State Department wife), as well as, be assured the availability of good medical care.

    I doubt that anyone is *totally 100% happy* anyplace. Each place has it’s pros and cons. As long as there are more Pros then Cons we’ll be content. And, as I learned in the school of hard knocks, the pastures are rarely greener on the other side of the mountain – LOL – 🙂 – even if the adventure is awesome.

    Rock Onnn….

  • Jim Lou

    I wish you and your wife the best. At least there is great medical care in Germany.

  • Bob Ritchie

    Ken: Sounds like you really have established yourself as well as one can after a career in the Department. Fate had it that our family landed in Fairfax, VA. after retirement. The foreign affairs agencies have their ways to leverage FS personnel into retirement. Remember the old saying, “Happy wife, happy life” I know the routine, my wife was born in Ireland. Strange as it seems, she is often mistaken for German. Her accent does not fit the stereotype of the “stage Irish person.” Best of luck, RFR

  • frank

    Thanks Ken for your narrative. I love France (especially Normandy and Provence), but I think Germany is the best kept secret. I plan on visiting Heidelberg, Munich and Berlin again in June. I love Bavaria, especially Nuremberg (probably my favorite city.
    I know two people with CLL. One, fortunately, the white blood cell count is only changing very slowly. The other person, a very lovely, beautiful and wife of a friend of ours has a certain chromosome that is making her case very serious. She reacted very violently to the normal treatments. They were going to put her on a new, but hopeful treatment (through the University of Arizona Medical Center) last year, but the “Government Sequester” shut it down. I saw her just after Christmas and she was still upbeat as ever.
    Ken, Keep us updated about your wife. Sincerely, Frank

  • Mark Butcher

    Hi Ken
    I often wondered why you were still in Germany – although not with the US State Dept my story kind of parallels your. I am in China – been here for 13 year not sure how much longer I can stay because of visa regulations.

    Mark Butcher – class 0f 64 Dalat

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    Mark Butcher was a school mate of mine in Dalat. Like so many others, I lost contact with him over the years (my bad) but he recently got a hold of me on Facebook. So nice to reconnect. Now if I could just find some of those missing girls and old Army buddies.

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