10 Ways That Europe is Different from the USA

First, let me tell you about the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Berlin apartment parking

Germans and other Europeans walk and ride bikes more often than Americans.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Recently a friend suggested that I read what turned out to be a rather disheartening rant published by an online expat website. (The names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.) The writer, an American lady, was complaining about her life in Germany, a lament brought on by a recent visit to her local Apotheke (pharmacy). She was whining about the fact that she had to take the extra time and trouble to consult with a German pharmacist (in German of all things) in order to obtain a medication that she could have bought over the counter in the US.

Several people left comments pointing out that the German system actually provided the benefit of helpful, professional advice that would have required a visit to the doctor in the US. True, you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy a bottle of aspirin in Germany, but you can go to your local Apotheke and get sound advice about which pain reliever would be best for your situation. While living or traveling in Germany and Austria, I have made several trips to the pharmacist to get help with a medical problem. In every case, the pharmacist either provided a good solution or, in one case, told me to see a physician. (What I thought was a sprained finger turned out to be a broken one.) Read more »

Learning German for Kids

We expats are coming and going, not always when we want to. A friend of mine in Essen had to relocate back to the United States late last year reluctantly. After the initial years of stumbling to find her way, she finally found her path that she was happily following. She was also comfortable and relishing in the positives of having her American children ages five and three in a German kindergarten. One of the biggest pluses, of course, was that they were learning the German language. So, it was with some regret that she was removing them from this daily immersion to repatriate back to America.

Before she left, she asked me for some book and toy recommendations that might help them retain their German. This is the list I sent: Read more »

12 Cities, 12 Fates: Germany Looks Back on the Eve of the 70th Anniversary of World War Two

Cologne WWII

Source: Cologne Museum

Horror on an unprecedented scale engulfed Europe in the 1940s, but it was only after the smoke had cleared that the true scope of the brutality came into focus. Millions across the continent were dead, tens of millions displaced, and whole nations found themselves on the brink of annihilation. In the decades since the end of the war, much attention has been justifiably been paid to the victims of the Nazi ambitions that ravaged Europe, but oftentimes the German civilian suffering has been ignored or forgotten.

A new documentary from Vox seeks to address this oversight on the eve of the 70 anniversary of V-E Day. 1945 – 12 Städte, 12 Schicksale features the experiences of 12 different cities in the immediate aftermath of the war through the lens of archival footage and interviews with survivors and historians. In order to learn more the experiences of the German civilians featured in the series, I sat down with Sabine Wilmes, an editor at Vox, who was in charge of the development of the documentary.

Read more »

Eggs on trees – 5 favourite German Easter traditions

Osterglocken - daffodils in English

Osterglocken – daffodils in English

I love Easter in Germany. It’s full of decorations, rituals and get togethers – almost like a mini Christmas but with better weather promising the arrival of spring.

It is a bigger celebration than anything I experienced in the UK. This could be because in my childhood we were not frequent churchgoers, but I don’t think it’s just down to that. At nursery and school we didn’t do much for Easter either – the odd Easter egg competition but that was that. Mostly, we were concerned with chocolate.

But as at Christmas, the Germans, whether actively religious or not, stay loyal to older, family-oriented traditions, which start before the official Easter-time from Good Friday onwards begins.

1. Blowing Eggs 

The first Easter-related activity is decorating eggs. This takes place a good couple of weeks before Easter and involves blowing out the contents of the egg through a tiny pin prick in the bottom and top. The egg shells are rinsed and left to dry. They are then carefully painted by children and grown-ups alike in a cacophony of colours. Read more »

Take my baby! Please? Applying to Krippe

Applying for daycare in Germany

PHOTO: Erin Porter

About two weeks ago I found myself sitting in a school office with my husband and 4-month-old in her most respectable onesie. We were applying for a spot in next fall’s class and doing our best to look like an upstanding family they would want in their KiTa.

But – wait! Wasn’t I just writing the guide to have a baby in Germany? Wasn’t I just having my baby? How are we applying for schools already!?

Read more »

Expat book review: Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Let me start by saying that Hausfrau was not a light, happy read. It is also not an easy one to review. I heard about it this week when I was perusing Facebook (I think it was mentioned in the New York Times feed) and I immediately went out and bought it. It isn’t often that you hear about a book that seems to so parallel your life and those of your friends. The first line, however, didn’t especially draw me in,”Anna was a good wife, mostly.” Since I hadn’t read any reviews thoroughly before I started the book, I had no real expectations. Even though it didn’t hook me in immediately, I did end up reading the whole  book in one day. One way or another, this book stays with you.

Set in Zürich, the novel follows the perilous, destructive path of an American woman named Anna, who is married to a Swiss banker. The couple has three children and seem to be living the idyllic life in a small village outside of the city. She doesn’t speak Schweizerdeutsch and barely speaks German as the novel opens. Her husband seems to ignore her almost entirely, and she also really doesn’t have a huge attachment to her children either. She often leaves them with her mother-in-law, Ursula, who lives in the same village and regards Anna with not a lot of affection. I must say, I can understand Ursula’s position, although she did seem the typical German (Swiss) mother in law that we all know and love. She loved her grandkids and helped as much as she could, but she often got annoyed with Anna’s lack of interest and surely felt used (and lied to) as Anna throws herself down the path of self-destruction. Read more »