Birthdays are a big deal here in Germany. Typically, at least for adults, the birthday girl or boy invites family and friends over/out to celebrate. If you are invited it is an honor and unless you have previous plans then you definitely need to attend.
Yesterday was our neighbors birthday (she is the nicest woman - we are lucky) and she invited us as soon as we were back from vacation. I was completely honored as it was just her family and us crazy Americans. After consulting some of my German friends, I learned that 1) you go if you are invited and 2) a bottle of wine and/or flowers are always appropriate when gift ideas are nonexistent, which is an ailment of mine.
With husband, baby, wine and birthday card in tow we fearlessly headed into an unfamiliar social situation. So our evening was filled with new experiences, wonderful people, great food and lots of conversation. Our neighbor and her family were very gracious and uncritical (thank God!) of our lack of German skills. I also realized that I understand way more German than I thought, although speaking it is a whole different story. Walking back to our flat I was thinking - WOW! we are lucky to have such a great neighbor and secondly - Damn! I need to learn German already. Rosetta Stone I am about to be all over you. No more excuses for missing German conversation group - time to get serious. Yes, I could live in Frankfurt for three or five years and get around just fine without knowing the language, however, I am not going to be one of those people.
Everyday is full of new lessons, realizations and experiences.