I keep thinking about how my dad would have fit into this aspect of German culture. He used to escape from work every day over the lunch hour to stretch his legs, get a little fresh air, and take a walk through the wetlands (there was a little trail near his office that meandered through the wetlands behind the airport in Juneau – it’s a beautiful, peaceful stretch of land with Juneau’s iconic views of the mountains and the Gastineau Channel). My dad was a bit of an anomaly in this way – I don’t know many Americans who step away from their desks during lunch. But he valued this time, each day, and recognized the importance of daily physical activity.
Germans place a high value on physical activity (though, as I have mentioned before, in moderation – people tend to not veer off into extremist thinking), and it’s one of the aspects of Germany that I most appreciate. The biggest impact that I see is the health and robustness that follows many Germans into old age. There’s even an idea here that with retirement comes the opportunity to increase one’s physical activity; many Germans take up marathon running, cycling, hiking, or ski touring in their 60’s. They see retirement as an opportunity to get into more time-consuming endurance sports, as opposed to a time to settle into their homes and the slow disintegration of their health with the on-set of age. Quite the opposite.
And then there’s the widespread practice of going for a walk. It permeates society. One friend’s 90 year old grandmother, who is quite spry for her age (and it’s no coincidence), makes a point of getting outside every day for a walk. She’s not alone in this. I regularly see old folks walking around the block or in the park in the early mornings or dusk hours – oftentimes, they’re ambling along with the help of a cane or a walker, but they’re still out there, walking, every single day. And when I go for a weekend hike in the mountains, probably half of the people I cross paths with are elderly couples or bands of elderly friends, some of whom are shockingly fit, breezing past me on the mountain trails with nary a labored breath.
I admire this part of German society, and I want to emulate it in my own life. I also love how social meet-ups often evolve into strolls around town or in the park. It’s like there’s no such thing as boring, because we can always meet to go for a walk. And maybe we’ll get a gelato or stop in a beer garden after having stretched our legs and absorbed the sunshine and fresh air. Or, if it’s winter, and our walk has involved a biting, crisp stroll through snow and ice (because, yes, weather is not a deterrent for getting outside and going for a walk), we’ll stop by a Glühwein stand or pop into a café for a warming cappuccino.
A German colleague, who coincidentally suggested today that we take a walk around the work complex after lunch (I laughed and told him I would have to cite him in this post because his timing was perfect in confirming my thoughts on the German culture of taking walks – he, of course, was at first skeptical that it was a German cultural value, and I assured him that as an outsider, it is absolutely evident to me), gave me this little golden nugget to put forth in relation to Germans and their relationship to taking walks: „Nach dem Essen sollst Du ruhen oder 1000 Schritte tun“
It means: after eating, you should either rest or take a thousand steps.