This month is the five year anniversary of my great Alaskan exodus. It’s weird saying that. I thought my love for Alaska was undying and I pictured myself staying forever, I mean I even CHOSE to go to the University in Alaska. But, after university, I was pushed out into the struggling economy, I was losing job offers to conservative options with 20 plus years of experience. I was losing friends to drugs and violence and comforting victims of sexual assault. I was also struggling to find a compatible partner in life. It seemed that everyone in Alaska was happy where they were – unexcited about traveling, unwilling to open their minds, and stuck with outdated mindsets. Suddenly, I was too big for the small town I grew up in and so I packed my things and drove to the lower-48. It wasn’t long after I left Alaska, I encountered my now husband, who was living in Australia and before I knew it we moved to Munich, Germany together.
My breakup with Alaska was the worst breakup I’ve been through. It was hard to balance my love for the place where my family lived and the place where my roots had grown deep over the 26 years I lived there. I loved the outdoors, the true individualism, and the quirkiness, but I was battling with my hatred for the crime, drugs, faulty politics and outdated people. When I was a kid, it was the best damn place on the planet, so why was it so difficult as an adult?
Local art by Alaska Artist Apayo Moore @Apayuq
I’ve been lucky enough to return home at least once a year, but every time I returned home I knew I made the right decision to leave. I missed home, the friends I had left, and my family – sure – but the rose colored glasses were off, the bad outweighed the good, and I didn’t miss Alaska ENOUGH. While it may have been the worst breakup, it was necessary. In the five years I’ve been away from Alaska I was able to figure out who I was and who I truly wanted to be. So on this last trip home, I spent two months immersing myself fully in the best Alaska has to offer and for the first time in five years I really, truly missed Alaska and had the urge to move home. Perhaps it is because I left in order to find myself and I returned without all the baggage, I’m succeeding in my dream job, and I have a wonderful partner by my side that I can return with a fresh outlook on life and appreciate my gorgeous home state- for all the good it offers.
I started making a mental list of all the things I missed most about Alaska, to remind myself of the good. But, after living in Europe for three years I’ve realized I am a European at heart and this list led to numerous things I don’t miss at all. So, here is my list of what I miss most and the things I do not miss at all about Alaska.
This one confuses a lot of people. Yes, I said I live in Munich, Germany. Yes, I said I miss Alaska’s beer. Seriously Alaska, you don’t know how good you have it. Munich might be the home of Oktoberfest and more Germans drink beer with breakfast than I like to admit, but the beer here is underwhelming and boring. Sure, it’s great if you want to drink 5 liters and not get a hangover, but with old purity laws preventing the rise of microbrews all beer tastes the same in Munich. I miss going to an Alaskan brewery and getting a sampler of 6 different rainbow colored beers. Alaska has just shy of 40 microbreweries putting us in the top 10 for most microbreweries per capita. Alaskans have a naturally creative and daring approach to doing things resulting in some pretty unique flavors and some of the best beer around the world. P.S. SOS. Send me beer. Single Engine Red from Denali Brewery is preferred, but any will do.
I miss the days of heading out into the wilderness with my tent and setting up camp wherever I pleased. It is so easy to find solitude and connect with nature in Alaska. Just head 20 minutes outside the city and you can be completely alone – with a few bears and moose, of course. The wilderness is a great place to think, be an introvert and contemplate life. When I brought my in-laws, who grew up in India, to Denali National Park they were brought close to tears. They didn’t realize a place of such vast wilderness and solitude existed – untouched.
That type of wilderness doesn’t exist in Germany. In fact, a German recently told me that you could get dropped out of an airplane at random in Germany and within minutes you would come across a town, village, farm or city. It’s true, it is impossible to get lost in Germany and I dislike that. I went to a national park recently and was thoroughly confused. I was in the middle of this park and the mountains were deforested for farmland, I was sharing the hiking trail with domestic cows, and there were so many people.
I now get excited when I see a red squirrel in a park, this coming from a girl who had a wolf in her yard recently and grew up navigating around moose to get to school. I miss cohabiting a place with wildlife and feeling like the guest in their home and not the other way around. Alaska has a beautiful relationship with their wildlife and that is something so unique to Alaska.
Appreciate your wilderness and save your national parks, Alaska. You don’t want to be like Germany and shoot the first bear that shows up in your country in years after you killed them all because you’re scared and it might eat your precious cows. Being around people all the time sucks. Bears are better.
I think Alaskans have a healthy relationship with wildlife – for the most part- because so many people rely on subsistence living. I miss resourceful people who can live off the land. I miss blueberry picking in the autumn to make jams and stocking up our freezer with fresh salmon meat. If the rest of the world had that relationship with their food, we would be much better off.
Someone recently told me that I always looked like I was about to go hiking and that was the greatest compliment I have received to date. To be honest, I miss living in a place where everyone looks like they are about to go hiking, fishing, or camping. I miss people who look like themselves and not what society tells them to look like. Alaskans have terrible fashion if you could even call it fashion, but that is what makes it so great. People wake up, put on whatever the fuck they want and totally rock it. In Munich, I often stick out like a sore thumb lost in a sea of basic black smart clothing. B-O-R-I-N-G. Even the edgy and alternative people wear all black.
When I first moved to Munich I was intimidated into conforming and I realized it was causing me to be uncomfortable in my own skin. I would put on jeans, a cute top, and brush my hair just to run to the corner store 10 seconds from my house. I realized on this last trip home as I slipped on a flannel and hiking pants, that I am proud to be a hot mess of an Alaska. That is how I feel most myself. I’ve been wearing my Salmon Sisters, my Happy AK headband, Mountain Momma skirts, Alaska Chicks hoodies, and a great pair of leggings ever since, and I am happy.
Women in Badass Jobs
This last trip to Alaska I had some amazing experiences with women in badass jobs. I took some time to reflect if that always happened, and I realized it was common for Alaska but VERY uncommon around the world. During a Major Marine Cruise out of Seward, we had a female captain, a female first hand and an onboard female park ranger. As soon as that boat cruise was over I boarded a train with a POC female conductor and a female cabin manager. How freakin’ cool is that? When I started this discussion with a few people in my travel group, multiple people said that experiences like that only happened when they had traveled to Alaska, or not at all. I even had one POC female in my group tell me Alaska was one of the few places in the world that she was treated as an equal to her white partner. Alaska has a lot of problems when it comes to sexual assault and racial issues with our indigenous peoples and that is a whole nother’ issue to get into, but we do often support women in untraditional jobs and we have a really diverse state.
Munich still supports an outdated look toward women. It’s a catch 22, I’m harassed a lot less here, but family dynamics are really outdated. I rarely see a woman driving a truck or boat here in southern Germany. The system is set up to encourage stay at home moms and I’ve heard of some mothers be shamed out of working again. And Germany is better than most places I’ve been in Europe. I was the only female driver I saw the entire time I traveled through FYROM (Macedonia) and Kosovo.
I like to think this is because when you live in such a hard climate you’re forced to rely on people, male or female and of all types of ethnicity. People bond over survival and women do just as much as men do, if not more, and start to see each other as equals.
Drive Through Coffee Shops
Do you even know how horrible it is to have to put on real pants and walk to a cafe, with a bunch of grumpy old men sitting outside chain smoking, just for a shitty German coffee? No, no you don’t. I miss driving up and engaging with friendly baristas while they make me a weird and wild concoction from a long and diverse menu. With more coffee shops per capita than any other state, thanks to these drive-through coffee shops you can stay caffeinated for long road trips and you can dive in and out of a traffic jam to grab a cup to go. Coffee shops like this are unheard of in most parts of the world. That is because coffee culture is a social thing, where you have to sit down and shoot the breeze with people. I prefer to get my coffee on the go and without real pants.
Red Bull Smoothie
On that note, while we are talking about drive-through coffee shops I am going to go out on a limb here and admit a dirty little secret. I miss Redbull smoothies, they got me through University. I’m not sure if these are an Alaskan thing, but I remember blowing the minds of my friends from LA when they came through the drive-through coffee shop with me. I have never seen them anywhere else, so I’m going to claim them for Alaska. When you have 20 plus hours of daylight you need something to keep you burning that midnight oil, so why not drive through a coffee shop and grab a Redbull smoothie?
When I try and describe Alaskans to the rest of the world I usually resort to “Alaska is a place full of people who are unapologetically themselves. It’s a place where the wilderness and limited human interaction breed odd and quirky people.” Now those from Alaska might think this isn’t exactly a good thing, but believe me, until you go to a place where so many people seem the same, the weird people in Alaska are a breath of fresh air. Alaskans are not homogeneous, to say the least, and I can hardly even stereotype Alaska aside from individual and unique. Here in Munich, you get weird stares for standing out or creating something unique, in Alaska you’re just part of the community.
Made in Alaska/Alaska Grown
One of the best things about Alaska is the lack of chain restaurants, stores, and products. It is easier to find something Made in Alaska than it is China and that is saying something. Alaskans are savvy business owners and creative entrepreneurs. I get so excited to return home and get some unique local goods that I make a list of things I need to stock up on every visit. Here in Munich, we have some grocery items farmed and made locally, but that whole entrepreneurial spirit hasn’t ignited as it has in Alaska. I’m even an odd one out for being a freelancer content creator. Alaskans support Alaskans at places like the State Fair, farmers markets, and shops full of hand-made local goods. I miss that.
Munich has winter and it’s great and all, but I miss having snow coverage for several months. Here in Munich, it will snow for a day and then by morning, everything is melted. I also have to admit I miss the long dark cold winters. I know I’m crazy, maybe it is the introvert in me, but there is something very satisfying about holing up and busting through your reading list as the winter rages on. I know I hear all the Alaskans that have suffered years of shitty winters rolling their eyes at me because Alaska is on par to be more like Munich, thanks to global warming. I’m told Munich used to be a very snowy place. So, maybe I just miss the winters from when I was a kid and we had to ski to the supermarket.
On that note, I miss snowboarding in Alaska. Alyeska is a fraction of the size of the world-class European resorts I go to, but everything is overly groomed and on the piste. I haven’t found a tree run with face shots since I moved.
I remember my shock when I first moved to Las Vegas and realized the world was not full of Fred Meyers. It was a sad day. It only got worse from there. When I moved to Munich my options were limited to micro supermarkets that sold a fraction of the things Fred Meyer did. If I want clothing I have to go a clothing store, if I want a swimsuit I have to go to a swimsuit store, if I want fresh veggies I go to the fresh food market, if I want home and garden items I go to the hardware store. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, I don’t just miss super mega marts, because there is a sad excuse for a WalMart outside Munich city, and Las Vegas had Target, I just miss Fred Meyer. If you love Fred Meyer, you know what I mean. Every trip home I find myself at Fred Meyer no less than 10 times.
Also, Fred Meyer has better sushi than the best sushi restaurant in Munich.
Overly Friendly People
People from the U.S. are the most chatty group of over-sharing weirdos of anyone in the world. Alaskans take that to the extreme. I miss walking into a bar, sitting down and hearing someone’s life story whether I want to hear their story or not. In Munich, I walk into a bar alone and I am the odd woman out and no one strikes up a conversation. The woman at the supermarket doesn’t share her relationship problems with me and even as an introvert I start to get a little lonely. Alaskans are also genuinely caring people. Not only do they want to talk to you and share their day, but they also want to help you fix your flat tire, or help you paint your house, or they let you borrow their truck for the day. Alaskans are pretty selfless and caring.
The only neighborly help I got from someone in Munich was when my neighbor barged in my house with a can of DW-40 because he could hear my bedroom door squeaking on Sunday.
If Munich has a good dive bar, I haven’t found it yet, but I’ve looked far and wide. I miss stepping into Darwins and just hanging out with other oddballs. Bars in Munich are usually so crowded you have to reserve a table or too posh. The ones that look like that would be good candidates for a dive bar, are full of slot machines and people gambling.
In contrast to the long dark winters, Summer Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year. Maybe I love that stark contrast between summer and winter in Alaska, the kinda balance each other out in a sick way. I miss starting a hike at 11 pm with beers in hand to only watch the sun dip below the horizon before popping right back up. It’s beautiful. The long summer days make up for our short summer and you can really make the most of it.
I remember when I first moved to Las Vegas in my head heat = long days. I started a hike at 4 pm after work and was stuck in the dark. It didn’t make sense. Every summer should have endless days for fun.
Things I Do Not Miss About Alaska
Driving on the Autobahn is like a well-rehearsed symphony. Slow cars on the right, fast cars on the left. Cars change lanes with the grace of a Swan Lake Ballerina. Did you know that cars can go from 200k to a full stop without hardly touching their break lights here in Germany? Yes, they can and that is because they understand how driving works you don’t need to stop-start in traffic and weave in and out of lanes like bats out of hell. With tax money going toward practical things like highways, the roads are banked, maintained, and they provide a smooth ride. Germany made me a better driver, I used to be a terrible driver along with every other Alaskan then I moved to a higher driving society and it’s beautiful.
Them I come home to Alaska giant trucks are riding my ass, honking their horn at me, swerving past me on icy roads in a rage fit. Cars drive slow in the left lane and when people see stopped traffic they slam on their breaks at the last second. Like come on people, we ALL know there is going to be a red light at Airport Heights Drive.
Trash – What’s up with the Poo Bags?
My Plogging catch of the day.
Seriously, Alaska, let’s talk about the little poo bags that are all over the bike paths and hiking trails. You know the poo that you put in a brightly colored bag and leave it on the side of the road promising yourself you’re going to get it on the way back? Well, guess what? You forgot it. Figure out a way to take that shit home with you and get some compostable bags while you’re at it.
Seriously though, Alaska I know our recycling facilities suck up there, but that doesn’t mean you have to put your trash on the ground. On this recent trip home I took up Plogging, which is the act of picking up trash while you’re jogging. Just about every other day I ran from my house along a highway until I came to a loop circling a lake, Fire Lake for those locals reading. Every time I had to make a detour at Fred Meyer to toss the trash in their bins. I found entire bags of McDonalds, coffee cups, styrofoam, soda cans, poo bags… it was never-ending. Las Vegas was better at keeping trash off the street than Alaska. And you don’t even want to know how clean and beautiful Munich is. Our parks are pristine, my road is spotless, our downtown area is beautiful. Bottom line, Alaskans treat the outdoors like a trash bin, which is weird because we have one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Lack of Social Services
Driving down 3rd Ave in Anchorage this trip home made my skin crawl. The sheer number of homeless people living in dirty tents on the side of the main road is unacceptable. I open my news sources and I read that mentally ill people are being kept in prison due to the lack of social services, women are unable to escape abusive relationships- as there is nowhere for them to get help, people are dying from drugs daily and there is nowhere for those addicted to get affordable help detoxing. My heart sinks every time I read about these things and the lack of movement toward making Anchorage and Alaska a better place. It is one of the largest reasons why I left with a bad taste in my mouth.
Munich moved a large number of refugees into their city recently. I haven’t seen an increase in homeless or those in need. There was a system in place to get them homes, get them jobs and make them productive members of society. When people ask me if there is a sketchy part of the city I tell them no. There is hardly any crime, there is hardly any drugs and there really are no homeless people. Those very few people you see on the street are part of a group trying to make money off tourists. There are systems in place to take care of those who need mental health care, drug rehabilitation, employment, housing… the people are taken care of and it is a nice to live in a place where people take care of people.
Lack of Public Transportation, Bike Trails and Pedestrian Zones
I love not owning a car and I am pretty sure if I bought one it would be sitting in my garage. Munich has such amazing public transportation. I can hop on a tram, bus, subway, suburban train, regional train or international train and be to my friend’s house in 10 minutes without sitting in traffic or I can be at the foot of the mountains ready to go hiking or snowboarding. I don’t need to drive anywhere. I can ride my bike in the city year round and Munich is a bike-friendly city with specified trails for pleasure and commuting. Our downtown and old city has a massive pedestrian zone, so you can shop, eat and enjoy the history of Munich without the stress of being hit by a car.
The bus system in Anchorage is a joke and no one takes it. Living in Europe has made me a firm believer in taking the bus. The fact that some people look down on taking the bus is so silly, busses and trams are awesome! The U.S., in general, is a slave to the auto industry and it has hindered our development of public transportation. Munich has a healthy auto industry and clean public transportation. You can have your cake and you can eat it too, you know.
Lack of Vegan and Vegetarian Options
I can count the full vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Anchorage on my hand. If you look at the menu of Simon and Seaforts, or any of the other fancy restaurant in the city they don’t even have a specific area for vegetarians, you have to order off the menu and ask the chef. Munich, a city notorious for pork knuckle and schnitzel, has so many options, including lots of great product in the supermarket (In fact, just about every city in the U.S. does too) and every menu has a nice little section for vegetarians and vegans.
I’m super excited my birthday dinner this year is at a 5-course gourmet vegan restaurant here in Munich, with organic wine pairings. I can’t wait for that to be a thing in Alaska.
I know, I know I said I love and miss Fred Meyer and I really do, but holy shit when I go there I usually spend $100 every time just on food to last me a week or less. I go to my local market here in Munich and I get food to last me 7 days and I spend about $44 USD and that is all fresh and local food. The supermarket and food prices in Alaska are ridiculous and they only get worse the more remote you go. I do not miss going broke just to get some healthy fresh food in Alaska.
This is a really sensitive subject for me. Drugs and Alaska are synonymous in my head. I started losing friends in 7th grade to drugs and it hasn’t stopped. I’ve had two toxic relationships that involved drug use and several more that were made worse with alcohol. Alaska has a drug problem and it is a HUGE drug problem. People don’t play around with recreational drugs, they are shooting up on heroin and smoking meth to OD. This is the reason Alaska broke my heart. You can only stand by as you watch schoolmates, friends, and colleagues slide off the deep end and kill themselves so many times until you have to get out of there. I’m getting teary-eyed just talking about it, so I am going to leave it at that. Alaska has a drug problem and it needs to do something about it. Here in Munich, I know very few people who do drugs and those I do know, mostly smoke marijuana or do MDMA responsibly in safe places for special events.
I’m sure you’re all saying, hey Susanna, I think you meant to put this in the things you miss section. Who doesn’t miss free money? Wrong, I don’t miss the PFD. I did when I moved to Vegas because a lot of the same economic problems exist around the rest of the U.S., but I don’t miss it anymore.
I think Alaskans tend to hyper-focus on this issue when it comes to voting and people vote to protect this free check and ignore larger issues like drugs, violence, and mental health. I think the PFD has created a tunnel vision. I also think that the money given to Alaska residents no longer counteracts the damage the oil companies do and it is time to invest in renewables and stop relying on the money from oil companies and vote for things that matter.
Sexual Assualt/Cat Calling
I wrote a whole article on this, you can read it here. To sum it up though, I haven’t been catcalled ONCE since I moved to Munich. Not by a refugee, not by a middle eastern, not by a local, not by strange men in dark alleyways. My heart rate no longer increases when I walk down a dark road at night and I see a man. I feel safe and respected.
Meanwhile back home I was catcalled, daily I was harassed and the number of women sexually assaulted in Alaska is insane. In fact, Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country and it is high time we took action to cull this behavior.
Also, why don’t we just pay people a living wage so they can buy that flat screen TV whenever they want.
Sarah Palin vs. Angela Merkel. Do I need to say more? Also, seriously Alaska why do you keep voting for Don Young… I have no words, other than to stop voting for racist old men.
So, Does the Good Outweigh the Bad?
Sorry, this took a dark turn… At the start of this article, you might have even been thinking that I missed Alaska enough to come home. I was thinking that, too, but at the end of the day, I think the bad still outweighs the good. I miss the culture and lifestyle of Alaska, I don’t miss the deep-rooted systemic problems with socio-economic problems. But you know what, sometimes I think if Alaska functioned a little more like Germany a lot of what I love would disappear. We would lose that quirky individualism. I am convinced there is a happy medium though. We can have a more functional state and keep the weirdness, in this I have faith.
I am also confident that every time I return home, now that I’ve kinda sorta figured life out I will be able to look at it with the love and admiration for the good it offers and not be so jaded by the bad.
Who has left Alaska? What do you miss the most, what do you miss the least? Drop me a comment and let me know!