All Day School (Ganztagsschule)

Here in Eppelheim (near Heidelberg), there has been a lot of controversy about the new Ganztagsschule that started this school year. There had been talk of it for ages, but it finally came to fruition for this school year. However, many, many people are unhappy with the way it was implemented and with the results of that. Last year sometime there was a survey of all parents asking who would be interested in sending their kids to all-day school. Apparently 51 parents said they would be interested in the school, but the survey was unverbindlich (non-binding). The next thing we heard, they were closing the Hort and no one had a choice any more. We always knew that the first graders would have to do Ganztagsschule, but the 2nd – 4th graders were supposed to have a choice in the  matter. Now, for working parents, there is no choice. There has been an uproar since, especially because they changed the pricing scales for the so-called Randzeiten (7-8am and 4-5pm, plus Fridays from 12 noon and during school holidays). Because the state is no longer subsidizing the care, and is instead putting money into the all-day school, many people are paying a lot more for a lot less. The costs worked out well for us because they based them on the number of kids under 18 in the household. But I can imagine that single parents or parents of only one child will really be forking it over for the child care. What a mess! Read more »

From Bundesland to Bundesland

I received a reminder in my inbox today from my co-blogger Hyde calling to my attention that I had missed my Monday deadline to post here on the German Way blog. This was another casualty of my most recent move. In case you haven’t been keeping up with my personal expat saga, my family and I just moved to Essen in North Rhine Westphalia having left the small Swabian city, Aalen, where we had lived a total of seven years as a family. Read more »

Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden

Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Money
Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.18). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm 1

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

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Keine Gelegenheit versäumen – don’t miss your chance …

Blue notebookI remember that when I lived in Berlin for a year as a student ten years’ ago, I approached every conversation as a language-learning opportunity. Like a hungry caterpillar, I would gobble up more and more words whether talking to taxi driver or a philosophy professor. Earnestly, I would take mental note of unknown words, and later, decipher them with the help of my increasingly tatty dictionary and note down their meaning in a little blue notebook with the dream of my language skills suddenly and miraculously transforming into a beautiful, fluent-in-German butterfly.

But how lazy I have become after nearly five years of expat life. I only noticed this the other day, when visiting my husband’s family in Hesse. For the first time in ages I found myself thinking in the middle of a conversation “what an interesting word.” When looking up said word’s meaning later, it struck me how rarely I get a thrill from simple, but educative and revealing, exchanges. And what a shame that was given that I have a genuine interest in language structure and did study German (and History) at university after all.  Read more »

Pregnancy Scans in Germany

Pregnancy in Berlin

BY: Erin Porter

I am only (only!) 7 months pregnant, but I’ve already seen my baby yawn. At this point, I’ve actually had 7 ultrasounds (Ultraschalluntersuchung) in Germany, including a feindiagnostik (fine diagnostic) 3D scan to get a peek into what is happening in my belly.

How many ultrasounds do you have in Germany?

As this is my first pregnancy, I wasn’t sure what to expect from pregnancy in Germany, the USA or anywhere else for that matter. So I was a bit surprised when I realized that this amount of scanning was unusual for my stateside pregnant mamas. In the US, it appears that a total of 3 scans is considered normal – an early scan to verify dates, nuchal screen at 12 weeks and then a 20 week anatomy scan to check for issues.

While some people are concerned about the safety of ultrasounds on their unborn fetus, my research reassured me that the German doctors knew what they were doing and I was pleased to get a glimpse of this thing changing my whole life every time I went in for a visit.

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A German Epic

Of the many cultural highlights I enjoyed while living in Germany, an Abo (subscription) to the local Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra was definitely one of my favorites. We regularly attended concerts featuring world-class musicians at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, an impressive concert hall with phenomenal acoustic quality. The Stuttgarter Philharmoniker were unafraid to present the audience with challenging works, ranging from traditional to modern, and regularly impressed me with unique combinations of styles during each performance. One of the most memorable performances I attended there was of the music to the 1924 Fritz Lang silent film “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Rache” (Kriemhild’s Revenge, the second of a two-part epic; part 1 was “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried“; music by Gottfried Huppertz) . The orchestra played the score, mostly in the dark, while the audience watched the black-and-white film on a large screen in front of the auditorium. I was blown away, both by the story and by the orchestra.

Having never heard of this epic tale, I began asking my German friends about it, and many of them had learned it in school. Das Nibelungenlied is an old epic poem, whose manuscripts date back to the 13th century, the authorship of which is unknown. Consider it along the lines of The Iliad and you get the idea. I found the movie so fascinating that I wanted to read the story for myself. While my German is fluent, and I often read German books and regularly read the newspaper and magazines, I knew I couldn’t handle mittelhochdeutsch (German from the middle ages) in poetry form. Happily, there is a contemporary author who has crafted the tale into a novel, and I found his book Hagen von Tronje (by Wolfgang Hohlbein, available at Amazon.de) easy to follow and very enjoyable to read.

Another form of the tale which I have yet to experience is the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, a series of 4 epic operas that loosely follow the story of the Nibelungen. In fact, the German title is Der Ring des Nibelungen. This is another form of the tale that I am not sure I am quite ready to consume, although I might enjoy the attempt.

I can highly recommend either the 1924 silent film or the novel format of the epic as a good starting place for learning this mythical tale. Don’t worry – you won’t feel like you are back in grade 10 Literature class, and there is no quiz at the end. The benefit is in your deepened understanding of German cultural references (Yes! They regularly reference this tale when referring to things like the Nibelungentreue, and have done so throughout history).

Enjoy!
Ruth