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

Moving in Berlin – UBahn style

Moving on the Berlin U-Bahn

Moving on the Berlin UBahn.

I have moved a lot in Germany. Like 6 times in a year a lot. This is mostly due to poor planning, short-term sublets and an inability to commit to things like buying a full kitchen, but the positive byproduct is that we got really good at moving on the cheap.

As we initially moved to Berlin with just two suitcases, it was possible to make our moves purely by public transport. Nervous about our limbs simply falling off during these moves, we limited our purchases and kept our possessions down to 2 or three loads …at first. But, inevitably, we managed to accumulate more and more (like a baby) until our hobo moving method was no longer an option.
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Staying cool in the German summertime

Summer in Germany is a humid and sweaty affair, especially down here in the landlocked south. For a pale, sea breeze loving Brit my first summer was indeed a baptism of fire. When I heard of a beautiful place where you could swim and laze away a day it seemed to be the stuff of dreams. I grabbed my swimsuit, towel and sun cream and followed the directions I’d been given on my recently acquired bike. Unfortunately it was 19th April, and even though the temperature was 35°C outside the pool would remain firmly closed, until the safe date for open air swimming, May 1st.

Early morning Freibad - Photo - Alie

Early morning Freibad Photo: Alie

The Freibad (lido or open air swimming pool) is open to all and can range in size from a simple rectangular 50m pool to a complex of various pools with slides, diving boards and water features. My local is famous for its wave pool, in addition to its, sometimes stinky, sulphurous mineral water, which you can drink and thankfully don’t have to swim in.

Anything goes at the Freibad, speedos have never gone out of fashion here in the south anyway, but feel free to wear what you want, some kids are still wearing wetsuits well into July. Temperature wise I’m not sure I’m the best judge of what is considered cold since I’ve swum outdoors in the UK all year round, but the pool for swimming is generally the coolest 21-24°C whilst the more family friendly pools with slides, whirlpools and waves tend to be a little warmer at 25-27°C. Continue reading

The German/Austrian-Hawaii Connection


NOTE: This is an updated version of a blog I first posted in May 2010.

I’m currently in Hawaii. As usual, I’m on the outlook for Germanic connections, and even here, so far away from Europe, there are many. First, I wanted to see if there were any direct historic ties between the Sandwich Islands (now better known as Hawai’i) and the German-speaking countries. I didn’t have to look very far. Aboard the Resolution, the ship that took Capt. James Cook to his discovery of the Hawaiian archipelago in 1778, were a German-Swiss artist and three German sailors.

Since Cook’s discovery, Hawaii has been influenced – positively and negatively – by other haoles (outsiders), including Americans, British, French, Portuguese and Asians. It turns out that people from the German-speaking parts of Europe have played some key roles in Hawaiian history. If you study Hawaii’s past, you’ll run across many German names: Hackfeld, Hillebrand, Isenberg, von Chamisso, Lemke, Pflueger, Scheffer, Spreckels, and Zimmermann. At one time, the island of Kauai in particular had a sizeable German population. The island’s main town, Lihue, was nicknamed “German Town.” There were German Lutheran churches and schools in Lihue and Honolulu (Oahu).

World War I pretty much put an end to the German presence in Hawaii, but I want to concentrate on two enduring legacies: one German and over a century ago, the other Austrian and much more recent. Continue reading

Best Low Key Dance Spots in Berlin

Dance moves at a Bad Taste Party Phot: Erin Porter

Vintage Dance moves at a Bad Taste Party Photo: Erin Porter

I am not a cool kid in Berlin. Never was. And now I am a mom – the ultimate in uncool.

The truth is, I never even tried to get into Berghain (reportedly the coolest club in the world with an infamous door policy and no camera rule). I certainty wouldn’t make it in. Even though Berlin is one of club capitals of the world, I don’t feel guilty that I never partook.

Not going to clubs did not prevent me from staying up so I late I saw more sunrises in a year than the rest of my life; it didn’t stop me from dancing my way through the city’s bazillion festivals; and it won’t stop me from partying wherever I find myself. I’ve never needed a club to have a good time. I much prefer to forgo the long lines, critique at the door and expensive entry and despite the city’s reputation, there are plenty of low key dance spots in Berlin where you can avoid the stress and just dance.
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Find Your Lost Cat in Germany

Lost Pets in Germany

PHOTO: Erin Porter

Losing a pet is an experience I don’t like to relive, but I am sharing my trauma in the hopes it will relieve your drama if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. Here’s the story of how we lost our cat in Berlin – and got her back.

At first, we were puzzled. We couldn’t find our cat anywhere, but as we live in a 6th floor Dachgeschoss (attic apartment) there was no obvious exit route. Examining our abode closely we found that there was only one escape – the window. Poking our head out we saw that she could have nosed her way out and done a rooftop stroll before entering any one of the many apartments that share our roof line. I was terrified, but hopeful – how far could she go?

We formed a plan to retrieve our lost pet in Germany. Continue reading

Goodbye Deutschland!

good-bye-deutschlandWhen I first came to Germany thirteen years ago, I was a nineteen year old college sophomore on my first trip outside North America. Five years ago, I returned to study for my master’s degree at the University of Siegen. For much of the time since, I’ve thought about whether or not I could see myself becoming a permanent expat like so many people I’ve met over the years. But I recently decided that the time had come to return home to the United States and say goodbye to Germany.

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You Know You’re a Real Expat in Germany When…

Rossman store hours

Öffnungszeiten. Store hours. Never on Sunday! PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

A while back, someone in our Expat Forum posted a clever “You know you’re in Germany when…” I happened to run across that list again recently and thought I’d use it as inspiration for today’s blog entry. These brief “You know you’re not in Kansas any more when…” items often can tell us more about cultural differences than an entire chapter of a book — plus they usually bring forth a chuckle or two.

Here at The German Way we also have our own Cultural Comparison Charts which compare American and German daily culture and customs. Drawing from all of these sources and personal experience, here’s our German Way version of “You know you’re in Germany when…”

You know you’re a real expat in Germany when…

  • you’re used to separating the plastic, paper and bio trash before you toss it in one of the three under-the-sink bins;
  • you know how to type the @ sign on a German QWERTZ keyboard — and you no longer type “zou” for “you”;
  • you no longer take a sunny, blue-sky day for granted – in the depths of a long, gray German winter, or even in the summer;
  • “pay to pee” is just a normal part of daily life — at gas stations/rest stops, in department stores, and sometimes even at a restaurant or bar;
  • you are no longer startled by cars passing you doing 100+ mph on the autobahn;
  • you find it perfectly normal to see nudity and soft porn while flipping through the normal German TV channels (or the local newspaper);
  • you’ve taken so many train trips in Germany and Europe, you lost count long ago (“Senk ju vor träwelling”);
  • you are finally used to the checkout clerk at your corner Drogerie (drugstore), where you shop almost daily, acting like she has never seen you before in her life, but…
  • you exchange good-byes with perfect strangers when leaving an elevator or a train compartment; Continue reading

3 Ways I Embarrassed Myself at the German Sauna

Photo: Erin Porter

About to get N-A-K-E-D

Don’t worry guys, I brought a towel to sit (and sweat) on in the sauna and didn’t try to wear my swimsuit into the nude areas. I’m not a German sauna newbie. I’ve been once before.

That one time was at touristy Tropical Island. I highly recommend it if you are also a spa novice. It is a full-on water park with slides and waterfalls and artificial beach front. But deep in its center lies an area cloaked in palm trees and signs barring entry for those under 16. We waffled back and forth if we were actually going into this adult-only zone before putting on our big boy pants (or taking them off, in this case) and entering.

As Germans consider regular spa going a part of good health and not a luxury, the average Germ knows what to do in the sauna. Not so for a couple of expats from Seattle. We clumsily felt our way through the process of showering, storing our clothes in a cubby and dramatically dropping the towel to enter a steamy room full of naked Germans. And – no surprise for those who’ve done it before – it wasn’t so bad! We emerged thoroughly moist and with muscles that had deeply relaxed so that we were basically moving puddles. It was fabulous.

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