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.
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Quirks of College in Germany

static1.squarespaceOnce you’re halfway through your first semester at a German university, you may forget that you’re studying in a foreign country. You drink the same coffee, go to the library, sit in class and, at the end of the day, relax with friends and Netflix (although your reverie may be disturbed by the disquieting lack of selection). But there are a few (slightly annoying) quirks about studying in Germany that will inevitably bring you back to reality.

Book bags are banned in libraries

No backpacks in the library! Are you kidding me? Are student stealing so many books that this is necessary? Most every library in Germany has areas at the front of the library for students to leave their backpacks, usually requiring a euro or two as a deposit. Once you drop off your bag, you use one of their grocery-store-style plastic baskets to carry books in or out. Some universities even take it one step further, with an employee whose singular task is check your basket and make sure you aren’t stealing books. Now as ridiculous as this seems, it tells you something about university culture here. Library books are taken seriously. We may joke about 20 year overdue fines in the States, but it’s no joke in Germany. Continue reading

Baedeker, German Reiselust, and vacation days

Baedecker book cover

The traditional Baedeker guidebook, like this 1911 English-language edition, sports a red hardcover with a golden embossed title. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

In both German and English, the term “Baedeker” (BAY-day-ker) is synonymous with “travel guidebook” (Reiseführer). Although the German Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) did not invent the travel guidebook, he certainly perfected it. After publishing his first travel guide (Rheinreise/Journey along the Rhine) in 1838, Baedeker went on to refine his product by being meticulous about the facts and information he included (with carefully detailed maps), and inventing the “star” ranking system for outstanding attractions (1846). The German word Erbsenzähler (bean counter, nitpicker) is said to have originated with his method of counting the exact number of stair steps in a cathedral tower by leaving a dried pea on every 20th stair as he went up, and collecting/counting them on his way back down.

Kings and governments may err, but never Mr. Baedeker.
– A.P. Herbert, in his 1929 English libretto for J. Offenbach’s operetta La Vie Parisienne[1]

The red Baedeker guidebooks[2] are still published today, and still have a reputation for sober factualness and lack of embellishment, especially compared to most contemporary travel books. And it is the Baedeker and other tourist guides that bring us to my main topic: German Reiselust (love of travel).

Sometimes called “wanderlust” in English, the German propensity to travel is better named by other, more modern German words, Reiselust and Fernweh being the two most common. Perhaps Fernweh is the one we want here: the longing for travel to distant places. Some cynics say this Germanic desire to go off to faraway places has to do with the German saying “Da, wo ich nicht bin, da ist das Glück.” (“There where I am not, there’s where happiness is.”) — but I think not. It has more to do with Germanic curiosity and information-gathering, not to mention a desire to find the sun and escape the frequent gloom of northern Europe. Ever since Goethe went on his Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) in the 1780s, the Germans have been among the world’s greatest tourists — with Baedeker in hand (since the 19th century). You also may have seen the Baedeker in the hands of Lucey Honeychurch in the film A Room with a View (also in the original 1908 E.M. Forster novel). Continue reading

10 Things Expats Miss After They Leave Germany


From Driving to Doors and Windows: Things Expats Miss

Reverse culture shock can be disconcerting, even scary. While driving in my hometown the other day, I had a flashback to my time in Germany when I noticed a few things that Americans do that contrast with normal practice in Germany and Europe. Some of them are funny, but more often they’re scary. Whether you agree with them or not, Americans and Germans (Europeans) tend to do things very differently. Not all of them have to do with driving, but I’ll start with that. Most of these ten items also apply to Austria and German-speaking Switzerland.

German door and windows

German doors and windows are among the things that expats miss when they leave Germany. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Continue reading

7 books which will help you get to know Berlin

IMG_0767 (1)Alongside relishing delicious tapas, sunbathing, and swimming in the sea, I spent our two-week summer holiday in Andalusia last year reading “Tales of the Alhambra” by Washington Irving. Reading relevant books for the location is something I like to do – Henry James in Italy, Jan Morris in the Middle East, Alice Walker in the US – providing a more nuanced dimension to fact-filled travel guides.

I did this, too, when I first came to Berlin as a student – sniffing out obscure, vaguely relevant works in the glorious Staatsbibliothek on Potsdamer Platz. Though after 6 years here, my location-focused intellectual pursuits have been waylaid by work, family life and lots of other good, unrelated books I’ve been keen to read, I still believe books – both fiction and memoir – represent one of the best ways to understand the spirit of Berlin. Here are my top seven recommendations spanning genre and historical period – mostly available in translation – to help you get to know Berlin. 

1. “Die Poggenpuhls” / Theodor Fontane

Set in 1888 in what is referred to as the Kaiserreich, “Die Poggenpuhls” depicts an impoverished Prussian aristocratic family struggling by in Berlin. The father has died, the two brothers are away with the army, leaving the mother and three sisters in a pokey, rented apartment just on the edge of an acceptable part of town, desperately keeping up appearances despite the financial constraints. The novel shows the shifting of power and wider societal change at a crucial point in German history. Continue reading

Relax Berlin! You Can Still get an Anmeldung

Rathaus Pankow, Berlin. Photo: Erin Porter

Rathaus Pankow, Berlin. Photo: Erin Porter

Frequently I see panicked posts from other expats. They are frantically looking for an Anmeldung Termin (registration appointment).

HELP! I need an appointment for a burgeramt asap, please!

What is an Anmeldung?

The Anmeldung is a necessary – and usually pain-free – step to getting settled in Germany. It is required of everyone who lives in Germany, both citizens and foreign residents. This requires a stop at your friendly (just kidding – rarely are office workers in Germany friendly) Bürgeramt or Rathaus (note that in Munich this is done at the Kreisverwaltungsreferat or KVR). Continue reading