January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Read more »

How I Became Fluent in German Fast

I’ve been meeting many more expats now that I am living in the heavily populated Rhineland/Ruhr region of Germany. These expats range from old timers/lifers to newbie/temporary assignees. As any expat can relate to, the newbies are grappling with learning the German language: some try private tutelage, others secure places at the local VHS, while others make the deep plunge for the Goethe Institut in Düsseldorf. Most of them ask me about my level of German and how I learned. I admit that it was a quick ascent to fluency for me, and I know that I was fortunate to not have problems with the German language as an expat woe. (I was instead confounded by the local Swabian dialect while living in Swabia.)

A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park

A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park

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Grad School in Germany: 9 Unique Master Programs to Study for Free

 

Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone

Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone

Jane wrote back in October about the announcement that is still causing jaws to drop from Miami to Maui: the news that Germany, thanks to late arrival Lower Saxony, is now a country free of college tuition. Germany has long been known for its superlative system of higher education, and for many, like myself, the free tuition was just gravy. So for those of us who finished our undergraduate degree in the States, the only question to answer after recognizing the value of this opportunity is what to study. Fortunately, the German university scene is awash in graduate study programs certain to pique myriad interests while opening up future career opportunities in a variety of fields, enough to tempt just about anyone to pick up stakes and catch the first flight to Frankfurt. Here are a few standouts.

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Berlin Suburbia: An Expat Guide

Prenzlauerberg

View of the Fensehturm from Mauerpark in Prenzlauerberg

 

We decided against buying a fancy coffee machine when we moved to Berlin because right downstairs from our flat is a cafe which serves a good espresso; the coffee in the cafe two houses further is even better. At the end of our road is a gloriously big park and at the other end the full spectrum of food shops – from Lidl to a high-end organic deli. 10 minutes from Alexanderplatz, 15 minutes from Mitte and its world-famous museums, 20 minutes from Kreuzberg and 20 minutes from Hauptbahnhof (Berlin’s central station): we live centrally and happily so. But friends who used to live nearby have upped sticks and moved to the suburbs. Missing them and curious to know how it has changed their lives, we ventured out to visit at the weekend. It was a lovely spot – green and quiet. Their flat is much bigger than their old one and they have something near unheard of in the city – a garden. Their children will be able to walk to school along quiet tree-lined streets; no tram-tracks, heavy lorries or police sirens to contend with. Because living as centrally as we do is not typical for most major cities, especially with a family, got us thinking about what life might be like if we too were to consider Berlin suburbia – useful knowledge for any expat considering a move to Berlin.

1. Zehlendorf

Main features: South west Berlin, formerly in the American sector, now part of the administrative district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, less ethnically diverse than many other parts of Berlin, votes predominantly CDU.

What you might like: The small but bustling high street right next to the S-Bahn station reflects Zehlendorf’s earlier history as a separate village on the outskirts of Berlin – it has everything from arthouse cinema to H&M, from fancy cake shop to rustic bakery. Read more »

How to Survive a Berlin New Year’s

Berlin FireworksFor the first time ever, I have returned to my childhood home in the Pacific Northwest to celebrate Christmas. Partly due to our new arrival and our desire for her to meet her American fam, it was also just time. Even with all the magic of German Weihnachten – sometimes all you want for Christmas is your family.

Not so for me and New Years. I have absolutely reveled in the debauchery of Berlin New Year’s (or Silvester).

Two Swedish girls are staying in our flat over the holiday and they asked if what they’ve heard about Silvester is true.  As described by Chloe, New Years in the Hauptstadt can be echt Wahnsinn. I watch “Dinner for One” over sekt cocktails, make drunken declarations for the new year and my husband nearly ended our lives over fireworks last New Years Eve. I’ll get to that story in a moment, but first I offer all the ways you may survive a Berlin New Year’s.

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Weihnachtsgebäck

linzertoertchenGermany at Christmas is divine – any visitor to a Weihnachtsmarkt can tell stories of the booths of crafts, gifts, toys, knitwear, ornaments, junk, treats, Glühwein, Wurst, candles, etc. The air is chilly, the mulled wine is warming, and the festive atmosphere is unmatchable elsewhere in the world. I miss that about Germany.

Happily, I have plenty of treats to keep me in the holiday spirit: all the Christmas cookies I make each year (and there are dozens and dozens of them!) are from German recipes. Read more »