German Products 5: Multicultural Cold Remedies

We have just left the realm of the so-called “Ice Saints.”  Those are the saints’ days in May when the weather turns cold again.  According to folklore, the weather cannot get really warm until these days have passed.  Unfortunately, wild weather changes often bring sickness.  I’m feeling like death warmed-over right now, so I thought I would take advantage of this decongestant-and-Advil-induced high and share some German medicinal practices with my readers.

Dealing with German medicine has been its own kind of adventure.  During my year in Freiburg, I had a wisdom tooth removed by a dentist who only wore one glove, and this winter I had a comically uncomfortable trip to the gynecologist.  (The verdict is still out on whether or not that will be the topic of a future blog post.)  If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a doctor in a foreign country, try to imagine some of these points: There’s a whole slew of medical and anatomical terms that you don’t realize you need until you’re sitting naked in an exam room without your dictionary.  You have no idea of what standard practices are.  Your doctor may ask you things like “How much do you weigh?” (Isn’t that why there’s a scale in the exam room?), or “What did your last doctor do last time you had a sinus infection?” (Isn’t it your job to diagnose me?).  Then there’s the medicine.  I realize that Germany is a modern, developed country.  From 1990-2011, they had the 4th largest economy in the world.  Furthermore, Germany is ranked 3rd in the world for the number of medical patents held.  Still, I’m wary of taking medicines that I’ve never heard of.  When German Dr. One-Glove handed me some pain pills, suddenly I was in a pit in Apocalypto and the hole in my mouth was being held together with bugs.

I came to Germany this time around with one health goal: do not get sick.  I have been sick an incredible 5 times.  What the hell!  I wash my hands, eat my vegetables, sleep a lot, exercise, take my vitamins… I just don’t get it.  What I really don’t understand is how every public bathroom only ever has cold water at the sink.  This means that everyone is washing their hands with cold water.  Hasn’t anyone here heard of the flu?  Why aren’t they all getting sick???  I suppose this isn’t the first time in history that European germs have attacked a friendly, peaceful American.

Never do I feel more American than when I’m sick here.  What do you do in Germany when you feel like ass, but haven’t been sick long enough to go to the doctor?  First of all, you rule out medication.  You can only purchase medication at the pharmacy (Apotheke), and to get it, you have to talk to the pharmacist.  This shouldn’t bother me, but I’m an American, so it does.  It’s like when you’re shopping and the sales people won’t leave you alone.  I don’t want to have that experience when I need cold medicine.  I am an adult, damn it, and if I want to take too much of the wrong medicine that I chose and purchased on my own, well, that’s my prerogative.  Actually, I’m not generally big on medication, but when I have a cold, I’m a slave to Vick’s Day-Quil and Ny-Quil.  Hey, a girl’s gotta work.  I did buy some Day-Quil (called Wick’s Day-Med here) in December.  To borrow from Stephen Colbert, they might as well call it “Jacksquatiphen” because that’s what it does.  So medication, out.

At the drug store (Drogerie), you can buy herbal medicine and supplements.  Since Germans are fans of the fizzy drinks, you can buy vitamin supplements in tablets that you add to a glass of water, sort of like Alka-Seltzer.  I found a vitamin C and zinc tablet that’s pineapple flavored.  Since zinc is the active ingredient in Cold-Eeze and Zicam, I figured they would help.  Another popular option is heißer Holunder, or hot elderberry juice.  You can buy it in powder or liquid form .  When my landlady told me to get some, I thanked her for the recommendation, but thought to myself  Please.  Haven’t these people heard of orange juice?  Then I looked it up: elderberries have WAY more vitamin C than oranges.  Humbled, I got some elderberry juice.

Elderberry juice

The problem with elderberry juice is that it is not sweet.  You can just stir in some sugar or honey, but here is what I came up with:  Add one pineapple fizzy tablet to half a glass of elderberry juice and fill the rest of the way with hot water.  Delicious!  If I were really going Euro-style, I would add a shot of some kind of liquor to the mix, but since I’m not European, I don’t believe in the magical medicinal properties of schnapps.  To each his own.

.4 liters of cold-busting goodness

Another big hit in the world of German medicine is tea.  Stomachache?  Chamomile.  Trouble sleeping?  Lavender.  Living in the Northwest?  East Frisian blend.  The Drogerie has a tea for everything, so I picked up some tea for colds that is supposed to reduce fevers  and relieve body aches.  I don’t know if it worked, but it was tasty, herbal and pleasant.  I definitely recommend it.

Tea for Colds

Tea for Colds: elderflower, thyme, willow bark, anis, blackberry leaves, fennel, rose hips, some other kind of thyme and licorice root

The moral of the story is bring your own cold medicine with you if you come live in Germany.  Now that the Cold Sophie, kalte Sophie, or May 15th, has passed, I’m looking forward to warmer weather.  On another note, it seems that sick Heidi might be kind of a thick-headed jerk.  Maybe these are karma colds.

an article about the medical benefits of elderberry from May 15th, kalte Sophie. The couple I rent from gave me this; aren’t they the cutest?

About heidihefeweizen

I am a 29 year-old American woman who has received a Fulbright scholarship to work as an English teaching assistant in a German high school.
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9 Responses to German Products 5: Multicultural Cold Remedies

  1. Addison says:

    Nice read 😉 Two things: First, love the reference to Apocalypto. (I sooo wish I could get Jenn to like that movie!). Great scene to have popped in your head. Second: I see you have a thing for those pineapple Vitamin C tablets 😉 How’s that, you wonder? I keep forgetting to tell you that about 2 months after you left B’burg, we found some of those tablets upstairs under the bed in the room you called home for two days! We saw the German text and put two and two together. We also spent some time trying to think of a clever way to let you know of our discovery (eg, posting a picture of the tube on your FB and including some sort of hostage-themed comment), but alas, inaction won over.

  2. My wife has all SORTS of weirdo “medications” from Germany, including some bizarre sugary liquid (recommended dosage: 20 drops in water) which is supposed to be for cancer patients. These drops do exactly nothing. Can’t even cure a headache. Also, she’s crazy about Chamomile tea. Crazy about it! It cures everything, apparently!

    Great article Heidi, and great advice as well. Thank you. 🙂

  3. kathleen says:

    Oh my lord, you MUST blog about the German gynecologist! Or at least send me/the Freiburger ladies an email about it. I can only imagine.

    I remember well your wisdom teeth procedure, as well as the dread of trying to find a familiar medication at the Apotheke. I think I internet-researched Sudafed for at least 30 minutes before I went one time in an effort to get something with similar active ingredients. I also love that Vick’s is called Wick’s over there. (No Wacancy!) While I’ve never been big on tea, my time in Germany did get me hooked on chamomile and peppermint tea, and I also brought home a couple bottles of very syrupy cherry schnapps that my voice teacher over there swore by. 😉

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