On your bike

I knew a little in advance that I wouldn’t be driving a car in Germany when I arrived, but since I would be living in a city with good transport links and had two perfectly usable feet, I wasn’t overly concerned about being four wheels down. The one thing I was absolutely certain of; was that I would not be riding a bike.


Bike parking on an average weekday afternoon – Alie 

‘People who ride bikes are either super fit and wear a lot of lycra or children, and I am neither of these’ were my exact thoughts on the subject.

As a pedestrian I soon found out that I was the lowest of the low in the hierarchy of street users. You learn pretty quickly to stay out of the bike lane, which a lot of the time can be found sharing the footpath, you’ll also learn some choice insults anytime you get in a bike riders way. Important skills as a pedestrian include flattening yourself sufficiently against walls, parked cars and shrubbery to avoid getting whacked by a passing handlebar or elbow and staying ultra aware of those silent two wheeled speed machines.

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A Prussian in Hawaii: Heinrich Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band

The story of Heinrich (later Henry or Henri) Berger has fascinated me ever since I first learned about the Prussian military musician. Berger traveled all the way from Berlin to Honolulu in 1872 – no simple journey in that day and age. Prussian Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm I had sent Berger to Hawaii at the request of King Kamehameha V on what was originally supposed to be a four-year assignment to lead and improve King Kamehameha’s Royal Hawaiian Band. Except for two visits to his homeland and several band tours on the mainland, Berger would remain in Hawaii until he died in 1929. He would head the king’s brass band from 1872 until 1915.

I first wrote about Berger here in our blog in 2010, following a visit to Honolulu that year. During a return trip in June 2012, I learned more about Berger and his band. He arrived in Honolulu Harbor on June 2, 1872, following an arduous journey involving ships and trains. And it is his journey – and his life – that I want to discuss here. Continue reading

Housewarming Traditions in Germany

Berlin housewarming

Toddlers warm a house Photo: Erin Porter

After all my complaining about finding an apartment in Berlin, it seems like everyone is moving into their home. We moved into our new place – complete with a room for our girl – almost exactly a year ago. While we were away in the States we missed two of our friend’s moves (sorry guys!). We also returned to new neighbors across the hall. And on our first weekend back we even went to a friend’s housewarming party – full of century old wood, food, friends and kids.

To commemorate these life events, you need the proper gift. In the USA, Emily Post dictates that a bottle of wine, a plant, or a loaf of bread or other food item are appropriate. But in Germany? I was a little lost.

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A week on the farm


View from our terrace at Staller

Like many expat families, we think we fly too much. Though some of these trips – for work – are unavoidable, the rest we do gladly to keep in touch with family and friends, whether for weddings, birthdays, or general catching up. There is, however, our annual summer holiday usually to a warmer land which comes in addition and which this summer we decided could be achieved for a change by car. One of the joys of living in continental Europe is that travelling to somewhere within driving distance actually gets you quite far away – even to other countries if you so choose. That’s how we ended up spending a week at a farm in Bavaria and a week at 2,300m in the Italian Alps. They were glorious destinations for very different reasons, but it’s the Urlaub auf den Bauernhof (holiday on the farm) phenomenon I want to write about here – the mountains will be a story for another time.  Continue reading

What to do When You Find out You’re Pregnant in Germany

PHOTO: Erin Porter

Pregnancy Test Vending Machine

When I first found out I was pregnant in Germany, I freaked out. I was married and happy, we were kinda trying but I was still terrified. I suspect I would have been apprehensive no matter where I was, but there were so many questions about how this would go in Germany.

I dug into the German-Way archives and their experience calmed me. I had seen the mobs of hip, strollered woman parading around Prenzlauer Berg. I could do this. I did do this. And you can, too. Here are the first few steps of what to do when you find out you’re pregnant in Germany.

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A Tramp Abroad: Observations of a Former Expat and Frequent Traveler in German-speaking Europe

As I find myself rediscovering many aspects of daily life in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, I can’t help but think of Mark Twain, who wrote so masterfully about his travels in Germany and Europe in A Tramp Abroad (1880, translated into German as “Bummel durch Europa,” including his essay on “The Awful German Language”). As I was zooming along the autobahn in my leased Peugeot the other day, the same thoughts entered my mind that occur to me when I motor across the vast deserts of the American West: How did people do this before there were cars, trains, planes, and the Internet?

Mark Twain’s mode of travel was certainly much slower, giving him a lot of time to contemplate the culture and sights he was experiencing. Mr. Clemens wrote with paper and pen. I’m writing on my laptop. He exaggerated and invented things at times. I may also exaggerate for effect, but I’ll try not to invent. Like me, Twain in A Tramp Abroad is no longer seeing Europe for the first time. “[A Tramp Abroad] has not the fresh frolicsomeness of the Innocents Abroad; it is Europe revisited, and seen through eyes saddened by much experience of tables d’hôte, old masters, and traveling Americans…” – William Dean Howells in The Atlantic.

That said, here are some of my own observations and rediscoveries, colored by long experience. Continue reading

A new wine season has started

Did you hear the klaxon? That’s the sound of a new season arriving and with it all the delicious seasonal food and drink Germany has to offer. The pumpkin spiced latte has nothing on the colourful Rote Bete (beetroot), creamy sauce coated Pfifferlinge (Chanterelle mushrooms), fresh Brombeeren (blackberries) picked from hedges and the wonderful sweet Federweißer (‘feather white’, new wine) that appears everywhere for a few short weeks and then disappears, until the next year.

A delicious local Federweißer -Alie

A delicious local Federweißer Photo – Alie

Federweißer or Federroter, Neuer Susser, Junger wein, Bremser, Most (and yes there are more names too) is a wine which has begun, but not completed, the fermentation process, it has an alcohol content of 4-10% and will have a cloudy appearance (hence the name ‘feather white’) when agitated, as the yeast is still present and visible. The wine itself is a sweet slightly sparkling grape juice and available in white, red and pink, surprisingly refreshing and the perfect accompaniment to the traditional savoury Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake). Continue reading

How to Prep Your German Home for Long-Term Vacation

Lon-term Travel

Day 1 of parental leave Photo: Erin Porter

I am nearing 30-days away on my latest vacation. Well, Elternzeit (parental leave) is more accurate. We have almost 2 full months re-connecting with family in the big ‘ole US of A.

My American counterparts are in awe that people in Germany can take so much time off for simply having a child. Elternzeit can be taken by both parents for a total of 3 years up until the child’s 8th birthday for 64% of your regular pay (for the 1st year). It is a luxury and I am taking full advantage by spending time in my hometown, admiring the fabulous Americana. From the many, many old-school burger joints to the cheerfully advertised conceal and carry fanny packs I saw at the county fair tonight (Oh, America), I am enjoying.

But it is not just squeezing every precious ounce of time we have in America I needed to worry about. I also had a lot of prep on the Berlin home front to ensure we were able to enjoy our time away. Here are a few of the steps you should take to prep your German home for long-term vacation.
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On the Road Again: Renewing my Acquaintance with the German Autobahn

Today I drove from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin, a distance of about 550 km (342 mi). Most of that drive is on the iconic German Autobahn, and the trip reminded me that German drivers can be just as bad as American drivers, only at much higher speeds.

Autobahn A5

On the A5 autobahn headed for Berlin from Frankfurt am Main – with about 500 km left to go. PHOTO: Cheryl Flippo

It wasn’t the first time I’ve zoomed along the autobahn behind the wheel of a rental car. Over the years I’ve logged many kilometers on autobahns in Austria, France, Germany, and Switzerland. But the German autobahn is unique in two ways: (1) There are sections with no speed limit, and (2) you don’t need to pay an autobahn toll, as is the case in Austria, France, Switzerland, and many other countries.

There were stretches where I could really find out what my Peugeot 3008 diesel can really do. My cruising speed in those wonderful sections of the autobahn with no speed limit, and three lanes without a bunch of trucks was about 160 km/h (close to 100 mph). The car felt comfortable at 170 km/h (105 mph), and there were a few times I noticed I was hitting 170 or a little more. But even at 105 mph, some cars were passing me! Normally my standard speed on the autobahn is about 130 km/h (81 mph), but today I was tempted by some wide open spans of concrete and a desire to get to Berlin before dark. Continue reading

Brexit – notes from a Brit in Germany

Brexit 1 We found out the Brexit result at the top of mountain in Italy, the alpine hotel’s shaky internet connection making it almost impossible to read more than the headlines. Our reaction was disbelief. Like me, most people, whether Remainers or Leavers, couldn’t have predicted that Britain would vote to leave the EU. “Shocking news from the UK this morning,” I said to the six London bankers in the hotel’s breakfast room, a passing statement which felt pointless but important. They sat glued to smartphones piecing together market developments before one of them shook his shoulders and announced, “Right, this is too depressing. Let’s get out walking.” We happened to be driving back to Germany that same day, with me reading the news all the way through Austria, relaying the plummeting pound, the resignation of the Prime Minister, the incredulous disappointment of most people in my predominantly pro-remain social media bubble.

The ensuing events have been well reported – how the public faces of the Leave campaign scuttled under rocks as if they hadn’t really wanted to win at all, how the Labour Party plunged into (still ongoing) turmoil, how the first analysis suggested that old people had voted young people out, but then it turned out that too many young people didn’t bother to vote at all. The anger of the side that lost is well known too. The Leavers call them sore losers, but in the wake of a political gamble to satisfy a decades’ old internal party conflict, a campaign marred with tall stories and manipulated statistics, only to be capped with the desertions of its most prominent advocates, and with the rise in hate crimes against migrants immediately after the result, the soreness felt justified.  Continue reading