Getting to know your German neighbors can be an exercise in patience, and it is well worth it. But in the Swabian region, be prepared for your neighbors to be gracious but not necessarily immediately open. Spontaneous visits don’t go over well, but an invitation in advance can be well received.
When I first moved to Germany, I set out to know my neighbors right away by formally inviting them over for coffee and cake (a favorite German pastime). I’m not much of a baker, but I learned the hard way that home-baked cakes, no matter the final result, are appreciated (and store bought ones not so much). Home-baked anything is a sign of “Handarbeit” or working with your hands and doing something yourself, which is hugely respected. The local hardware store has even made this concept their slogan.
Another important aspect in being neighborly is found in the very German concept of the “Kehrwoche”. In an apartment building, if there is no property manager, the building residents take turns in various building tasks, such as sweeping away the front door snow or cleaning the stairwell. These tasks may even be requirements in the rental contract. In other living situations, however, the concept of fairness is more in spirit than in letter. While neighbors are generally respectful of each others’ lifestyles, a certain amount of “Ordnung”, or orderliness, is expected. And while Germans like a good party, noise levels can be a sensitive issue and there are strict regulations on when decibels need to drop.
Finally, there are Saturdays and Sundays. Especially in the Swabian region, don’t be surprised on Saturday mornings to see your neighbor meticulously cleaning the sidewalks and curbs around his property as well as carrying out garden work. This endearing quality has the wonderful side effect of extremely clean and orderly neighborhoods and some of the loveliest gardens I’ve ever seen. However, whatever you do, don’t run your lawnmower and your hedgetrimmer the next day. There is serenity in the silence of a Sunday morning, and that is very much adhered to by the locals.
Being a good neighbor is appreciated in any country, and Germany is no exception. Neighbors living in peace is nice, and making friends with them is even better. The Swabians have many wonderful sayings about themselves and there is one I have personally found to be true: it takes a while for them to open up to friendship, but once they do, you’ll have friends for life.