From Smoke Detectors to Electric Cars: New and Revised Laws in Germany for 2016

Sometimes it’s surprising how a modern nation like Germany can lag behind in certain areas. A good example from the past is smoking. While the US and many other countries long ago banned smoking in restaurants, the workplace, and other public areas, Germany was slow to do the same. After an initial period of voluntary restrictions by some businesses, Germany began to regulate smoking in public places. (Austria, on the other hand, still has a lot of work to do on public acceptance of smoking bans. Cough! Cough!) While non-smoking areas in Germany were once a rarity, today German anti-smoking laws are similar to those in the US in most cases.

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As of 2016, some German states require the installation of smoke detectors (Rauchmelder) in existing homes. PHOTO: Feuerwehr e.V.

Another area where Germany was lagging behind was smoke detectors. As with many things in Germany, this is an area left to each of the 16 Bundesländer (states). There is no nationwide law. After a slow start beginning around 2004/2005, almost all of the German states now require smoke detectors in new houses and apartments. As of 2016, only Berlin and Brandenburg still lack any smoke-detector requirements (Rauchmelderpflicht). Some Länder now also require smoke detectors in older, existing living quarters. Continue reading

My First Karneval: On the Verge

Before Hyde sends me a message to “gently” remind me that my blog post is due today, I figured that I should get something up here. It isn’t my preferred style to just throw something up here, half-baked or half-thought through, but I realised that I’m on the “verge” of everything that is a hot topic right now: refugees, Karneval and the American election. Regarding the election back home, I’m not touching that one just yet. Otherwise politically engaged, I find myself wanting to plug my ears while screaming, “Make it stop!!”

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Representing Miss Identified at Karneval in Düsseldorf 2016 PHOTO: Jane Park

I did talk about the refugee situation last year and how I was trying to find my way towards helping beyond donating winter coats and towels. Here I am on the verge. I’ll be meeting with the mentor coordinator of our neighborhood charity for refugees next week who will introduce me to my mentee and the person I will be sharing the Patenschaft or mentorship with. I am excited to be able to write about this experience in a future post. But I can’t just yet.

And the last topic is Karneval. My wallet is sticky from sampling Berliners at the bakery today, and I’ve already procured a bat costume, dug out a Wonder Woman costume snagged on sale two years ago, and researched and ordered a mermaid costume for my three kids. My younger adult self always wanted to celebrate the fifth season just as I wanted to check off Oktoberfest, the spas in Baden-Baden, and visiting the Beethoven House from my “while living in Germany” bucket list. (You might be scratching your head about the Beethoven House but it is just that I was thwarted twice from getting inside in the course of ten years which has only made me more determined.) My husband, my assumed partner in crime, has never been a big Karneval fan despite having grown up in the Rheinland. His extent of participating is to just remember to wear an icky tie on Weiberfastnacht. So I have never participated in Karneval in any vague sense of the word. (In Germany that is.) Continue reading

Breaking down the barriers to studying in Germany

Source: WikiCommons

Source: WikiCommons

Most Americans who decide to apply to study in Germany are drawn by the low (or free) tuition, but another aspect of the system that is equally, if not more, appealing is the simplified admissions process. Unlike the holistic approach of the American system, which weighs many factors when deciding whether or not to admit a student, zulassungsbeschraenkt (admission restricted) university study programs generally simply the process through the use of a Numerus Clausus (NC) designation, which restricts admission to students with a minimum G.P.A.

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5 points of etiquette for sledging in Berlin

IMG_0792Snow, glorious snow. At last, winter arrived in Berlin and the streets were paved with white. That was two weeks ago – after an unseasonably warm December, the temperatures dropped and it snowed – for a day or two at least. Then it warmed up again and everything melted, until this weekend just past, when once again the air was biting and the skies opened. How the children celebrated. For them, waking up to a fresh layer of snow on a Sunday morning is right up there in life’s pleasures. So we bundled ourselves up, trudged down to the cellar to collect the sledge, and rushed to the park to enjoy the hill before everyone else ruined it.

But it is not quite as simple as just showing up and setting off full-pelt down the slope. If you are new to Berlin, there are a few important points of etiquette to note about snow and sledging.

1. Dress properly

Depending one where you herald from in North America, you may well be accustomed to dressing properly for winter. Not so, if you call the UK your native land. There, where the winters are mild and snows infrequent, you don’t have clue how to be comfortable in really cold weather – you’d be likely to think wellies (aka gumboots) and a heavy woollen jacket would do. They won’t – not when sledging in Berlin anyway. If you’re going to enjoy yourself and to be outside for any length of time, you need to be well dressed. Essentials include: a vest, long underwear (long johns as the Brits call them), woollen socks, thick-soled boots, a woollen jumper, thick gloves, and a down coat (which comes below your hips). Most children will be wearing proper snow boots and padded, waterproof snow trousers as well – as an adult and you have them, you wouldn’t feel out of place wearing yours. Continue reading

Celebrities Who’ve Called Berlin Home

David Bowie

David Bowie – Chicago. Photographer: Adam Bielawski

For the past few days the world has been in mourning. David Bowie has died. And like the rest of the world, Berlin is laying claim to its adopted son.

Bowie lived in Berlin in the 1970s, departing LA and Switzerland for something altogether more hedonistic. He was flatmates with Iggy Pop (oh, to be a fly on that WG wall) in swinging Schöneberg at Hauptstraße 155. There are stories of the two of them shutting down this club, throwing down beers at that Kneipe (bar) and recording at a legendary studio. But in ever-changing Berlin most of these locations have been transformed into hotels, sex clubs and – perhaps most bizarrely – a dentist office.

Bowie is not the first eccentric rock star to feel a sense a heimat with Berlin. The city has long emitted a pull for creative types, both home-grown and foreign. Here is a non-exhaustive list of foreign celebrities who’ve called Berlin home.

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Landeskunde for Expats

What is “Germany”? When most English-speaking people think of Germany, images of lederhosen, the Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle (the “Disney castle”), and Oktoberfest are probably the first things that pop into their heads. Of course all of those things are Bavarian, not German. If they happen to think of German cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche), they’re still in southern Germany (except for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg). And then there’s historical stereotype number one: Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian and liked to hang out in Bavaria.

So for many people Germany = Bavaria. That’s like saying Texas is the United States of America. Oops.

Most people who have never been to Germany, Austria or Switzerland have no idea how regional those countries are. Germany has about 80 million people, most of whom have much more of a regional identity than a national (or a state) one. Germans live in regions with names such as Allgäu, Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Eifel, Franken (Franconia), Harz, Oberbayern, Ruhr (Ruhrgebiet, Ruhrpott), Rheinland, Schwaben (Swabia), and Taunus. There are over 50 different named regions in Germany, few of which correspond to the 16 Bundesländer (states).

Austrians sometimes claim there are two regions in their country: Vienna and everywhere else. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Austria may only be the size of South Carolina, but its 8 million citizens live in nine provinces and regions from the Danube in the east to the mountains of Vorarlberg in the west – all with different dialects, geography, and customs. Continue reading

Bilingual Nagging

I continue to navigate my way as a parent of bilingual children. We extol the joys and merits of having children grow up speaking two languages — the cognitive agility, the tendency towards more open-mindedness, and the acquisition of the language itself. The nuts and bolts of it however are not as straightforward as we might have thought they would be while the babes are in the womb. It’s not as simple as just committing yourself to one method such as the one language one parent method (OPOL). That was the easy part, and the key to making it work has been discipline. As the kids have grown, however the bumps in the road have been appearing: we’ve been battling Denglish, and I’ve been wary of Englisch in the German classrooms. Continue reading

Döner Kebab and Deutschland

912MpAVgGzL._SL1500_While on a recent college visit with some students from the US, the topic of German food came up. We’d already experienced many culinary delicacies on our way, and they wanted to know what my favorite was. One mainstay came quickly to mind: Döner Kebab. This got quite a few skeptical looks. “Isn’t that Turkish?” one of the students asked. Yes and no, I said, and the explanation says a lot about modern Germany.

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Changing places: 3 great Berlin buildings that used to be something very different (and more)

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Stained glass windows in ESMT foyer

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Mosaic on wall of ESMT conference room

The stained glass in the grand foyer of the building where I work depicts factories and space travel, alongside striking workers and their families. On the wall in the second grandest conference room is a vast hammer and sickle mosaic. Next door, in the grandest room of all, there is another mosaic circling the room with yet more astronauts, strapping, tool-wielding men and women, and squat chimneys belching smoke. Here’s the surprise: I work at GTEC, a centre for entrepreneurship, based at ESMT European School for Management and Technology, Berlin’s leading private business school set up by some of Germany’s biggest businesses. Arguably the epitome of capitalism: so what’s with all the socialist symbolism? The clue is in what this spectacular building at Schlossplatz 1 used to be before it was renovated: the former Staatsratsgebäude (National Council Building) for the East German government. But this is just one example of what could be considered a Berlin leitmotif: transformed buildings, defying their former purpose. Continue reading

Newbies Guide to German Christmas Markets

Leipzig Christmas MarketMy parents are coming to Germany for Christmas for the very first time. Sure, they’ve been to Germany before. They’ve climbed the 111 steps up to our beloved Dachgeschoss in Berlin; they’ve driven all over the Romantic Road, they’ve fallen in love with its small towns and cities. But they have never experienced the true magic that is Germany at Christmas.

The biggest draw is sure to be their granddaughter (and native Berliner), but I am excited to introduce them to the beloved tradition of Weihnachtsmärkte (German Christmas Markets). The food, the Glühwein, the crafts, the food, the decorations, the holiday performances, the food….I want to do it all with them. If you are facing a similar undertaking (cram as much holiday cheer into a relative’s visit) I have prepared the Newbies Guide to German Christmas Markets so you can experience the true meaning of Gemütlichkeit.

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