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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Cheap Eats on the German Economy

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cheap Eats on the German Economy

I had my first rude awakening when we paid for our first German meal. We had a few schnitzels, fries, okay a couple of good German beers and walked out 80 Euro poorer. That's about $115 dollars folks. We had to find a cheaper way of eating, especially knowing we'd be in the hotel for at least a month.

We've been here for just over a month now....we still don't have our stuff, but at least we moved up in the world and just got our stairwell apartment with borrowed government furniture and a loaner trunk full of kitchen supplies from the ACS lending closet. I have perfected about five meals I can cook that only require minimal utensils, a few pots and some salt and pepper. I refuse to buy more spices with my extensive collection on the way. That's how I ended up with three containers of paprika in the first place.

But I'm jumping ahead. While in the fancy Marriot Hotel, we did have a small refrigerator, where we dutifully moved out all the overpriced minibar minis, and put in our own stash of snacks, juice and milk. The "growing-boys-always-hungry" ate a lot of cereal in those four weeks. For lunch....easy...we ate German rolls with butter, meats and cheeses and some fruit and chips. For dinner, sometimes the same and sometimes a restaurant meal.

Restaurant meals were costing us anywhere from the Euro equivalant of $80-120 for a family of four. That's a big ouch in the wallet. We were visiting the ATM more often than I would've liked....but mom, we love schnitzel and a Swaebisch specialty called Maultaschen....and even Schweinehaxen (pork knuckes)...strange fare they never would've eaten in the US! So what's a mom to do with two very growing boys....eerrr actually three including DH....who liked their meat?

After two weeks of snooping around the economy with my frugal glasses on, I finally found some cheap eats that didn't mean a trip to the on-post bowling alley to eat greasy hamburgers or chicken strips or a visit to the Popeye's at the AAFES food court, plus these choices were a lot healthier for us anyway. Granted, these eating establishments are in the Stuttgart area, but there are similar choices all throughout Germany, you just have to know where to look.

Be sure to try these options...and yes, a lot of these I found just by following where the older crowds went to's just like in the States...the retired folks know where to get the most bang for their buck or should I say Euro.

  • The local Donerkebab Stand. You see them everywhere. Ask the hotel where your nearest one is. You can get a Gyro or kebab, spit roasted meat...yes it's greasy....but they add tons of fresh veggies and tatziki sauce. Get it all with a drink for about $5.
  • Your nearest IKEA store. Yes, this is the same Swedish furniture and household store they have in the States. Go upstairs to their sit-down restaurant and get a nice cafeteria-style meal with a salad and drink (free refills) for a family of four only paying 20 to 30 Euro! You can guess we came here often.
  • The ubiquitous REAL Superstore. This is the German version of Wal-mart and this is why Wal-mart was dead in the water before they ever tried to take over Germany...yes, they tried. All REAL stores have a nice cafeteria with regional specialties, and you can get a nice schnitzel meal for about 8 Euro. Many of the other mega superstores also have cafeterias. REAL just happens to have a stronghold in our area, so we go there often.
  • The cafeteria on the second floor of Sindelfingen's BreuningerLand. I absolutely love the industrial architecture in this place! They have all the food stations laid out, where you can really see what's on the menu. They have the best salads, with ingredients you don't see in the States, plus stirfry sections where you pick out what you want grilled in the wok and get your fare freshly prepared, right in front of you. I had a huge meal that I shared with my two boys one afternoon for about 6 Euros. There are Breuningerlands throughout Germany.
  • Werner's Biergarten. This place happens to be in Sindelfingen, but many German locales have such a place. It is kind of like a greasy spoon where you order and then go get your goodies at a pick up window when your order is called, but they did have some fresh stuff, and since it was summertime, it was nice to sit out in their Biergarten (of course the beer flows freely). My Frikadelle (meatpatty) with potato salad and a drink was about 6 Euro.
  • A local Volksmarch. Read more about the favorite German pasttime of Volksmarching in every Thursday's issue of the Stars and Stripes newspaper. There you'll find out where all the Volksmarches are for that upcoming weekend. You walk a designated route (5 to 20km) at your own pace, and get a prize at the end. You can also join the IVV and collect points and kilometers (this has become a real family outing for us). The best part is the local ladies who cook up a storm of vittles that is both inexpensive and filling. You can many times enjoy this feast with a local oompah band and hobknobbing opportunities with the locals. I've paid as little as 4 Euro for a plate of homemade potato salad, two slices of pork roast with gravy and a crisp green salad.
  • The latest local Fest. The Germans have a Fest for anything and everything...better excuse to relax, kick back and have a beer than just sitting around at home. On any given week, there is at least one Fest in a 50 mile radius of where you are in Germany. Check your local USO or Thursday's Stars and Stripes again for Fests in your area. We went to the Hamburger Fischfest in downtown Stuttgart, and it was almost criminal, the plates full of fresh fish from Hamburg that we ingested for pennies on the dollar.
  • The Le Rose Restaurant on Patch Barracks. This is an old stand-by for us. The Italian food is inexpensive compared to what you would pay on the economy for something similar, plus it is very close and convenient.
  • The top floor restaurant of the chain department stores. Next time you are downtown, instead of stopping in a restaurant, go to the top floor of one of the major department stores. You'll be pleasantly surprised to find a fairly inexpensive cafeteria-style restaurant. Even if we don't eat lunch here, we like to pop in and have dessert once in awhile.
Do you have any cheap eats?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! We've been spending a few hundred dollars a day in food. It is really scaring me because I don't know what our TLA will be!

September 3, 2008 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Darn you for reminding me about Doner...Man I MISS those things!!!!

You've listed pretty much all the good "cheap eats" that I knew of...there are always the brat stands at most stores (I'm thinking XXX-Lutz which is like Ikea...and they have the cheap indoor dining as well). We didn't seem to spend as much out there - of course, we were not on concurrent orders, having to wait until my husband could actually sign for housing before we could even get our orders.

I suppose that, coupled with the fact that I had a 4 year old and 16 month old made it easier for me.

September 3, 2008 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Patti Worley said...

This is an excellent write up!! Thanks for sharing your experience!

September 3, 2008 at 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie in Vilseck said...

I didn't even think of these things. A friend of mine pointed me to your blog a few weeks ago. You have an amazing amount of information!

September 4, 2008 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Vanessa said...

This is right on target. I didnt know about only a few things. I eat at department stores too.

September 4, 2008 at 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Susi in Schweinfurt said...

go to your local butcher (about every town has one). They will have a small section with hot stuff there eg. Leberkaese/Fleischkaese and get a Fleischkaesebroetchen or Schnitzelbroetchen. We do this normally when we PCS here or leave here. Cheap way of eating.
I do the same when the movers come. Cheaper than getting them BK or Pizza.

September 6, 2008 at 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just got back from Germany, so I am a bit focused on transitioning back into our US groove. This post makes me smile - good German food memories.

What, no bakery within walking distance? You've got to be kidding! That must be against the law!

Try Dampi at the REWE (German grocery store) bakery (a Zorn bakery in Mannheim - not sure what bakery co-locates with the Rewe in other places). They are AMAZING things - cross between a dumpling and buttery biscuit/doughnut without sugar... they are steamed bread dumplings that are finished off with a salty buttery brown crusted bottom. Oh, I am missing those. Excellent fresh and warm in the mornings. Oh, and while you are there, you can buy pretzels from the frozen section (like 6 or 8 in a box) - and cook them at home cheaper than buying at the bakery - and they will be warm and fresh tasting whenever you want - not just on bakery opening times :) My kids LOVED those.

Anyway, I know it is not German fare, but you left out the cheapest meal in town for a military family on a budget. The Mess Hall! Every time we went there I asked my family why we didn't go there more often - like once a week? Probably because the hours are not convenient for a busy family - but the prices should have drug us in there - and always healthy choices, too.

Our commissary in Mannheim had decent food - and it was air conditioned in there - which is nice for newcomers who are not acclimated yet. Subways on post are outrageous. Now that we have stateside Subway I'm amazed at the cost difference. We were paying the euro equivalent in dollars over there, I guess.

I really used your PCS moving checklists - so here are some to add to your next move file - PCSing OUT of Germany...
There are some very tricky things our garrison surely didn't help us with in out processing (not even on the out-processing checklist that these things can be trouble). Did you know that when you sign up for ADAC (contract is written in German, of course), most don't realize they are signing up for automatic withdrawal of the annual fee from their bank account? Well, good luck getting that back. It is possible - but you need a fluent speaker and time and well, who has those handy when they are running around clearing at PCS time? I had a full years amount taken out just before we closed our community bank account to PCS. Now getting that money back is more trouble than it is worth. Dang.

Also, closing telephone accounts or cell phone contract services takes an act of international court. Start 4-5 months out so you won't get charges beyond your true end date. Then double and triple check that your final bill is recorded as paid. Most people I know were sorry they every signed up for a contractual agreement for cell phones. Prepaid was the way to go for me. Free incoming calls - I miss that!

Thank you for sharing everything. I'd love tips on where you get all of this amazing energy?!

Oh, one more thing... Do you have a teen? (or just to add to your thorough in-processing checklist I'm sure you have or will make). Sign them up for bagging at the commissary whether or not they are interested. Ours said "no way" at 13 but when he got the job at 15 he was thrilled. In Mannheim you can sign up kids two years younger than the eligibility age (sorry can't remember what it is) because by the time they get offered a job they will probably be old enough. If they haven't had that birthday when their name comes up, they will keep being offered the next slot until they are old enough. Sorry if that is confusing. haha Neighbors wondered how our boy got the job - the list takes up to two years and most people don't figure that out right away. My husband had a tip and it paid off. It was a great opportunity - the head bagger worked around his sports schedule and he made great money on tips. Well, my husband signed him up right away when he got there even before we arrived to Germany. One thing we did do right - and I'd just love to share with others through you!

Please post about Dampi if you discover them and like them. I want to know what your kids think of them. About 80 Euro cents of yumminess!

Tscheuss! awiv (Army Wife in Virginia)

September 7, 2008 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

how could I forget the dining facility?!! My kids LOVE to eat there! We ate there at least once a week over the summer. Ours is closed on weekends and evenings, but they do have nice breakfasts and lunches.

I haven't even heard of REWE...will have to see if they are in this area. Thanks for the tips!

September 8, 2008 at 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

Thanks for this! We spent one night in the fancy Marriott last year before moving to the Vaihinger Hof for six weeks. It was pretty tough eating well during that time. These tips will help a lot of people, I'm sure!

September 10, 2008 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger kristina ivey said...

these are printed and packed in with my birth certificates and shot records! thanks so much! i think i am going to be addicted to your page-lots of useful info. and koodos to you for your lifelong service to the armed forces. we have been in 15 years, well HE has been in 15 years, and it feels like a lifetime. :)Blessings!
Kristina from Toytown

June 10, 2010 at 5:17 PM  

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