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.

Ultrasounds in Germany

BY: Erin Porter

BY: Erin Porter

My first scan was actually a bit of a surprise. We went in to confirm the pregnancy at just about seven weeks and my doctor stopped us in our tracks with an offer to take a look. We hadn’t even considered the possibility, but now that it was presented we couldn’t resist.

At this early stage, scans are transvaginal. Unlike the movies, scans are not done through the belly but through the vagina. Invasive – yes. Painful – no. A specially designed probe generates sonogram images after you go through the always awkward process of disrobing your lower half in front of the doctor and possibly your partner. Sure they’ve seen it all before, but this is no one’s idea of a good time…until the image appears of a what will one day be your baby. If your scan is done as early on as mine, it may just be a dark spot on the screen that the doctor needs to reassure you is what you want to see. But again if you are like me, all discomfort is forgotten and the dream of a real baby is suddenly, wondrously, concretely realized.

Monthly checks are begun at this point (about every 4 weeks) complete with ultrasound. At about the 4 to 5 month mark you can dispense with the transvaginal scans and transition to the traditional ultrasound exam that you are probably familiar with from films. A paper cloth is tucked dangerously low into the top of your pants (it’s not a German gynecological visit without the chance of exposing your nether region) and a slick jelly is smeared over your ever-bulging belly. The transducer produces grainy black and white 2-D images of the developing fetus which I have found endlessly exciting, despite needing the doctor to decipher the images for me. Copious measurements are made to estimate the age and growth with the thump-thump of their tiny heartbeat providing the soundtrack for your visit.

Feindiagnostik & 3D Scan in Germany

At about 25 weeks pregnant, the doctor will inform you that it’s time for a vital step in measuring your baby’s development – the Feindiagnostik exam. Usually done at a separate office than your regular doctor, it can be quite nerve-racking as this scan (hopefully) rules out possibly serious disorders and issues. The doctor and assistant measure everything from the thigh bone to the cranial ridges and examine the output of everything from the bladder to the heart. We waited with bated breath as the doctor dismissed spina bifida, down’s syndrome and declared her internal organs to be perfect. Big sigh of relief.

More exciting for the soon-to-be parents, this exam comes with a 3D image of the baby. Our little lady was being particularly unhelpful as she hid her face behind her hands. Our doctor, on the other hand, was extremely cooperative maneuvering the baby manually through the belly and providing a running commentary in English. For the first time – we saw her. My nose? A pouty mouth. A yawn. In this scan, this little person becomes so much more than a picture on a scan and is a moving, real-life baby.

BY: Erin Porter

BY: Erin Porter

What to bring to a Feindiagnostik Exam

Be sure to examine your office’s recommended practices as there were several things I didn’t expect. For my exam, the office recommended:

  • Bring Mutterpass, Überweisungsschein (referral) & Versichertenkarte (insurance card). Also be sure to bring your ID (a passport is ideal).
  • The exam should take between 15-30 minutes, but set aside 1 1/2 for paperwork, wait, etc. (We got out of there in an hour).
  • Feel free to bring your partner, but leave the kids at home.
  • A towel is not necessary and you don’t need to have a full bladder for the exam.
  • Avoid putting any cream or oil on your belly beforehand – even the night before – as that could obscure the scan.
  • Photos and a short video will often be included in the price of the exam.
  • Note that while the exam is illuminating, it is impossible to determine every possible issue. This is merely a stepping stone to identify early problems.

Have you had an ultrasound in Germany? How was you experience? Different? Please leave your tips and experience in the comments section below. I need all the help I can get!

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

Essential Oils and German Sales

For a while now, I have been using essential oils around the house in place of OTC remedies. I got into them through my sister in the US, who was selling them as a sort of side venture. She teaches yoga as her main job. After talking about the oils to all and sundry, and having friends and strangers ask me how they could get them, I decided that I might as well try to make a bit of money to cover my oil “habit.” I have had some success, but I have also learned a lot about how Germans view money, sales, and commitments over the past few months.

I had assumed it would be really easy to get the oils business moving here. People are very open to alternative, natural treatments. My regular GP often offers me homeopathic and plant-based remedies before she gives me the “real” drugs. And it is true, most Germans that I know are very interested in essential oils, especially when they see how well they are working for us. When my older girls had issues with ADD and concentration years ago here in Germany, the therapist (and psychiatrist) quickly offered them various versions of ritalin, which surprised me. We were sort of desparate at the time, but the medicine was not a great choice for either of them. Now we are battling those issues with an oil mixture. I have had huge problems with sleeping in the past year or two. In Ireland the first thing they did was offer me sleeping pills. Here we tried all sorts of other approaches first. When it all failed, I finally was able to get a prescription for Ambien, but only if I promised to take it no more than once a week. I get it. I don’t want to fill my body with chemicals and I certainly don’t want to do the same with my kids. So I am trying something else. And I was never a believer in the homeopathic remedies, for example.  Read more »

Gifts from Germany

A visiting friend from New York asked me for some tips on good gift ideas for her to take back home from their summer in Germany. I love this question as it’s one that I have to think about and refresh each time I go back home. Here’s my list which includes  some expected standards along with some eccentric ideas that have been hits. Read more »

German Way Expat Bloggers in Berlin

Join us for a blogger meet-up in Berlin in August! Learn more below.

Working online can be interesting, but it can also lead to a writer feeling somewhat isolated. Some of our current six German Way Expat Bloggers have met each other in person, but not everyone has met everyone in our group face-to-face. I have met most of them in person myself, always somewhere in Germany.

GW expat bloggers

The three original GW Expat Blog team members (plus kids) in 2009. PHOTO: The German Way

Besides myself (in the USA), our team includes Jane (Germany), Ruth (Canada), Chloë (Germany), Sarah (Germany) and Erin (Germany). Several other expat bloggers have left us (including the only other male), but are still in touch. We had a blogger Treff (get-together) in Heidelberg back in the summer of 2009. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Jane and Sarah, and their spouses at Sarah’s home near Heidelberg. It’s hard to believe that five years have zoomed by since then (in which time Sarah and her family moved to Ireland and then back to Germany).

All of these great people, past and present, have many years of collective experience as American or Canadian expats living in Germany. It is the main reason our blog has become such a great resource for expats and would-be expats in the German-speaking world. Read more »