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Growing Up a German Girl in America

Growing Up a German Girl in America


Eating Salami in a Peanut Butter World…

Hallo! I’m Karen.
I was born in California, but my heart has always been in Germany. You see, my parents are German, and emigrated to the US in the 60’s to start a new life. Fortunately for me, much of the life they thought they’d left behind came along with them.

My first language was German. I ate German foods, wore German clothes, went to a German school on Saturdays, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve… My family was German.

This was the 60’s and 70’s, so travel and communication wasn’t like it is now. No Skype or e-mail. Instead, we had occasional scratchy long distance phone calls and packages wrapped in brown paper and twine covered in stamps and full of delicious treats. Family would visit, and once in a great while, we would board a plane, usually Condor Charter, and fly 10 hours to visit the people we loved.

Growing up this way was normal for me… but I could see how different I was from the other kids. You could say, the salami sandwiches on black crusted rye bread in the lunchroom made me stand out.

Why am I putting all this online? I guess that writing it helps me remember…and allows me to share the culture I grew up with. The good, the bad; the traditions and the misconceptions about what it means to be German in America.


  1. even though i was born in germany to german parents, when i moved with my husband who was in the army when i met him , i totally understand how you take your culture with you and you have to figure out how to best live with it in a country that is so different and so alike in many ways. what makes it hard for me that we live in an area that is not predominantly german so its harder to get and experience all the things that are available in other parts of the country

    1. Where did you move with your husband? Where I am now it northern California, my kids are surrounded by Asian cultures, which are nice, but it’s not the same. I end up ordering a lot of things online.

  2. Hi there!
    Even though I am “only” German I find your site very interesting. Never thought about some of the “why things are different” but I wonder about some things here in the US and still can’t figure them out…
    Schoen mal das ganze von der “anderen Seite” zu lesen:-)

  3. Hmm, how do I get my son to eat a nice salami sandwich. I guess he is already too americanized, eating white bread with peanut butter:( He likes fitting in as well. I think I will make sandwiches for dinner tonight!
    Christina in Arkansas

    1. Grin… it’s hard to get kids to eat new things sometimes…. We just never had peanut butter. A nice Fleishwurst might appeal to him.. it looks like bologna.
      Good luck!

    2. Roswitha,

      both my sons were more into US food when they were younger. I introduced them to German food via the Mehlspeisen from Bavaria. I would make a simple Einlagensuppe and Kaiserschmarrn. As they grew older I introduced German night when their dad (American) was not home. They started to really look forward to German night. Then I made Abendbrot instead of a cooked meal at night and now that they are nearly adults they love Abendbrot the best. I bake my own Germanstyle Mischbrot and on the day I bake my sons always make it a point to be home for fresh baked bread, still slightly warm, with some butter on it.

      Plus of course some of the favorites, Sauerbraten, Goulasch, Sauerkraut, Knoedeln. Keep in mind that German kids are just as picky as American kids.

      Good Luck.


  4. All the comments ring so true and bring back a flood of memories of my German heritage childhood . As the daughter of a Greek – American father and a German mother who had never been in the U.S. until we came here when I was a child in 1970, I found the ” Americanization ” process a little difficult under my mother’s strictly German philosophy of living . I, too, was sent off to school with liver wurst sandwiches on black bread while my classmates had p+ j sandwiches ; Mc Donald’s was absolutely forbidden as were jello molds and corn on the cob -, my mother relented on that food a few years later when she realized how delicious it was; also , sandwiches were open-faced and eaten with a knife and fork , the eating utensils held in the European style , of course !

  5. I am one of the last of the “boat people”. I came from Germany with my parents on a passenger liner from Germany to the East Coast of the USA. My father had a job with a German company opening offices in the US. All our friends were german. We moved to California after a year (still all German friends). I was even kicked out of kindergarten because I could not speak English, and apparently resorted to biting! I remember all my elementary school sandwiches being prepared with thick butter, instead of the nice mayonnaise all the American kids had. Nutella might as well have been from Mars! The other kids looked aghast when it was on my sandwich (with butter). Gruenkohl, Kaiserschmarren, leberkaese… yes I was from a foreign country. My American husband and I got married in Germany. I now have my own kids- who went to German school every Saturday- One of our favorite ways to speak with our cousins in Germany is in “Germish”, a language of our own creation. My daughter graduated with a degree in German from TCU. Right now I’m baking Pflaum Kuchen… that’s how I stumbled on you fun web site! It is now added to my favorites.

  6. I just came across your lovely website. I suppose that my children‘s experience is a sort of mirror image of your childhood. I‘m an American, but my children were born and are being raised in Austria. While I love and appreciate the culture here, I do my best to incorporate aspects of my US culture experience into our children‘s lives as much as possible – in this post, I‘m writing about foods/customs – (celebrating Christmas 25.12 (and with Christkind 24.12!), Hershey‘s kisses, Reese‘s PB cups, PBJ sandwiches (here, they‘re the oddballs with a salami on rye :-)), Hellman‘s mayo, Thanksgiving, Pies. I grew up in a family who made all meals from scratch in the US, and that I have in common with folks here in Austria. But our from scratch cooking is just a bit different, and I like hanging on to the way we did it in the US, as well as learning new, wonderful techniques.
    Anyhow, your post on what to bring back from Germany reminded me of how lucky I am to live in Austria and have these wonderful items at my fingertips, too. And it made me think of how lovely it is to hold on to traditions.
    Thank you!

  7. Hello. Just stumbled across your site. I am a first generation American. My parents came here in 1951. They met in NYC at a German dance hall. I was born in 54. My first language was German. I started kindergarten and could not speak English. I can still remember how scared I was. We had no relatives here other than my father’s uncle. All my parents friends became onkel & tante. Their children were our cousins. They all were off the boat after the war as well. We would visit or they would visit us. Their was always a lot of food. Parties in the finished basement where the German music would blast. I went to Germany twice. Once at 5 and once at 17. My only grandparent, opa would fly and visit us for 6 weeks. Of course he had my bedroom. I still have relatives there. I remember the German deli’s and bakeries in the bronx. My husband was raised in a Norwegian household. His grandparents came from Norway. It worked out great for us as we were raised similar. We brought up our children listing to german/ Norwegian music . We also incorporated the food into our home. I am teaching some things to my grandchildren now. Thank you for your recipes. My mom died young and some of her recipes were lost. I am going to try the plum cake. The only thing that I saw in the recipe that I know my mom didn’t use was the pudding. I think that I will try it. One of my favorite wurst is the touristen wurst. Keep posting!

    1. Hi Ron… No, I’m here. I got swept up in a last minute Christmas Market Tour! (Learned about it Saturday, flew on Tuesday) and it’s been a whirlwind (plus the wifi is wonky)
      I’ll tell you all about it when I get home!!

  8. My Mutti came to the US in 1969 and I was born in Chicago in 1972. I spent most summers of my life in Germany visiting my Opa and Oma and those memories are priceless. My Oma passed away in 2013 and my Mutti in 2016, but my children were able to make their own memories with them in Germany. This site always makes me smile, the recipes are delicious, and I also learn new things too!

  9. My parents emigrated from Austria in 1951 along with my brother who was just 10 months old. I was born 4 years later so I am first generation American. I too grew up with receiving and sending brown paper packages sent to our German relatives and went to visit them twice for month long vacations. German was my first language too and yes, I was different from my classmates for this reason and so many others but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I love my Austrian heritage. ❤️

  10. How nice to read all the post here from people who immigrated to this country just like I have in 1963. My husband was also in the Army when we met in my hometown. Our oldest daughter was born in Heidelberg, Germany and after his tour he came home to the islands and I followed shortly after. There certainly was a culture shock at the beginning for me since Hawai’i has a totally different culture and lifestyle than anywhere in the USA. But I assimilated quickly because I had married into a wonderful loving Native Hawaiian family that immediately embraced me as their long awaited daughter finally coming home. This new life style was so different and exciting that I focused more on my English than my own native language. Thanks to my father-in law who took me to the library to get a card so I could borrow books after I mentioned that I love to read. He also encouraged me to read the daily newspaper with him during our morning coffee together. Naturally I also learned to speak what locals call pidgin English, a mixture of English and Hawaiian, a language once forbidden by the white missionaries, but was sometimes spoken privately and in secret. My mother-in
    law, a Native, spoke it fluently. Once my husband and I moved into our own home I did incorporate some of my German culture and traditions. Especially the Christmas ones with the advent calendar which my mom always mailed us. And till today even though the kids have grown and have families of their own I still have an advent wreath on a stand on my dining table. I’m also of Jewish descendant so I display a menorah. Between the German, French, Jewish and Hawaiian traditions I’m definitely a mixed bag of culture. Thanks to my mom, packages with German goodies and lederhosen for the little girls and all my German children books began to arrive not long after I landed in the islands. In my kitchen was the cuckoo clock , I had the old coffee bean grinder and other kitchen gadgets from “home”, like the egg holders. She also send us German board games, pick up sticks and tiddlywinks in the read and white wooden mushroom holder. I also introduced my family to Germans food by and cooking some of the yummy German meals I watched my mom, my fabulous aunt and Oma prepared daily and especially on Sundays. Now I’m not a great cook nor do I like to cook and bake. But if I have to I can turn out a great German meal. I still have my mom’s first cookbook she got(it came with the stove)when she purchased her first gas stove. Over the years we have gone back to Germany, France and Italy where I still have family and friends. One of my upbringing that I have never changed and passed on to my kids grandkids and even my little great granddaughters are real handkerchiefs. We always have one in our pockets and definitely in our handbags when going out. Even just to the grocery store. It’s a must have at all times…and I have a large collection of them.

  11. Love reading the comments!! My great grandfather came to this great country in the 1800’s. I carry on the tradition of
    delicious German cuisine several times a year when we have a Familyfest.

  12. I am full blooded German. Grew up in Radolfzell am Bodensee. Never meet any Americans, until I left Radolfzell. Ended up living in Bittburg, pretty close to Trier, where I met and married my American husband. He spoke a little German and I didn’t speak any English. After I came to America, I became self taught in the American language. Never heard of American cooking. Therefore my cooking skills where all German. My children, I had two girls, loved my German cuisine.. Well the didn’t have any choice. Now I can cook all kinds of different cuisine, from different countries. Became quite a good cook. One thing I can not do, is bake German bauern bread. Anything baked with yeast, forget it. Have tried many times and all of them failed and ended up in the garbage can. The first time I cooked a Turkey, omg, could not read English and baked that poor bird in its plastic bag. Had no clue about the oven temperature. Needless to say, the Turkey never got done. When I tried making the Turkey, my husband was at the base. I really wanted to surprise him, and just look what happen. Yep, it ended up in the trashcan. We ended up eating at the military base. I always loved reading books. When I ran out of my German books, I was forced to learn how to read. My husband used to make me read the newspaper, of course I pronounced each letter the German way. I could never understand why Americans hung a e on a word. The word stone, just to give a example. I pronounced the German e, which of course made no sense to a Americans. The had no clue what I was trying to say. Took me some time to learn. I’m the only one in my family, who went to America, and the were very disappointed with me. Now I have no more living siblings or mother. The things I miss here, is the Bauern brot, the Liver pate, smoked Mettwurst, Jagdwurst and the German goodies comes Christmas time. Specially the Domino Steine, German Lebkuchen Kekse and the Pfeffernuesse. Used to order those from a place outside of Dallas, TX. Unfortunately the closed down two years ago. I only live 4 hours drive away from them and got my package 3 days later. I so miss that place, and of course my Germany.

  13. Dear Karen, I am so glad I found your website. While being born in Poland, I grew up in Germany and came to the US when I was 19/20. My children are obsessed with everything German. Last year they got introduced to a nice German/Turkisch Doner Kebab and that is how I found you. My 7 year old is trying hard to learn German and would love to move back. I love having them exposed to all the different cultures I experienced. She definitely loves her Salzkartoffeln mit Gulasch. Thanks for sharing your recipes and experiences. Greetings from Ann Arbor MI

    1. Nice to meet you too! And I’m glad you found us.
      Tell your daughter, I was the kid who would sneak cold leftover potatoes out of the refrigerator, sprinkle with a bit of salt, then eat them cold. so good!


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