About AlieC

Alie Caswell is a Brit who just passed the five year mark in Southern Germany. Musician, writer, expat supporter, fluent in the language of international hand gestures, and with an always unwavering enthusiasm for marzipan and museums.

City life or village life?

I get a lot of emails from potential expats asking where they should live in Germany. Is the city the place to be? or would a village be better? If I have experience in the place that they are asking for I feel able to give them a decent idea of what to expect but elsewhere in Germany, honestly, your guess is as good as mine. However, I have now lived in the city and in the middle of a village so I feel well placed to pass on my observations on what life can be like.

Choosing where to live when I moved to Germany was easy to start with, both my husband and I had long commutes to work in the UK and were happy to have the opportunity to try something different. Landing in one of the most bike friendly cities in Germany meant we exchanged our four wheels for two and the journey to work was less of a commute and more of a quick windy wake up every morning. The good transport links also meant exploring our new home country was cheap, easy and relatively convenient, even without a car.

Moving in the city,
with five flights of stairs Photo – Alie

Heading to a city on arrival meant that we were close to all the main attractions. Language lessons were easily sourced. By happy accident we fell into a local expat circle, unsurprising considering the number of international companies nearby, which really helped during those first few months.There was plenty to do on our doorstep. There was plenty of choice in many aspects of city life, but as with anything in life compromises have to be made too.

Accommodation, always a topic that comes up when you get a table of foreigners (and locals) together. As is probably true of cities the world over, the closer you are to the action, the more competition and the more you’ll have to pay. Add on that for the price you don’t get a lot of space inside or from your neighbours (tenants and businesses) and the general extra noise of city life. Germany is very protective of its quiet times but they do little to protect the tenants of a house with paper thin walls.

Speaking English, whilst not always met with a smile was usually accepted, especially if I attempted German first. English speaking services were available, the number of them Is always increasing which makes city life more comfortable for newcomers, short term expats and learners of German. In addition to the plentiful jobs in teaching English as a foreign language, plenty of expats make a living providing services for the non German speaking community too.

When we moved from Bavaria to Baden-Württemberg we cast our net for potential properties further than ever before. Having the confidence that comes with ‘we’ve done this before’ meant we chose differently and actively looked at places outside of the city (but still with that necessary transport link in). Yes we were back to being commuters but cleaner air and being able to see a sky filled with stars at night mostly makes up for an occasional train delay.

The winter commute is pretty picturesque in the village Photo -Alie

If you choose a village be prepared for everyone to know who you are. In those first few weeks I swear I was as famous as I’m ever going to be. The estate agent introduced us to the neighbours, the local restaurant owner (and most of the clientele), all his friends and recommended the best of the few shops on the high street. I knew maybe two of my neighbours previously on a completely ‘parcel taking in and awkward small talk’ basis, now even the post lady stops to stroke the dog and compliments my new haircut.

This acceptance didn’t happen overnight though, in a village you get out what you put in, I’ve never been so involved in community activities. You can end up feeling like rather a bunter Hund (colourful dog) ‘Er is bekannt wie ein bunter Hund’ He is known all over town. When there is less choice on offer you find out quickly where the best is (Hint always join the longest queue) and the money you saved on rent ends up being used for travelling further to find more choices.

There are of course elements that are common to everywhere, the Oma Politzei (grandma police) for one are probably the most well known. Not actually an organisation, but rather the grey haired old ladies who watch over their street, usually from behind their net curtains or well appointed balcony shrubbery, and enjoy shouting out of windows at anyone who does something wrong. Littering? ‘Pick that up!’ Listening to loud music? ‘Turn that down’ Fender bender? Guess who wrote down all the number plates?

My favourite parts of city life are the anonymity, blending in and not sticking out as a foreigner is sometimes just a necessity and the choices, the sweet sweet choices. Conversely, my favourite parts of village life are the complete lack of anonymity, yes I’m foreign and everyone knows it but it’s just a part of who I am (I’m multifaceted me) and that feeling of really belonging.

As always, if don’t like where you live, you can always move (eventually).

When it snows in Germany…

…the country does not grind to a halt. Granted life is a lot colder and a good deal more slippery than usual but snow is apparently no excuse to shut schools and businesses. Coming from a land where the mere mention of a snowflakes’ possible arrival is enough to close the entire country down, my first winter in Germany was somewhat of a shock to the system.

Snow was one of the reasons I was excited to live in Germany. I purchased snow boots and a thick ski jacket in anticipation of the day the temperature would drop and that first winter did not disappoint. I’m also aware that some people *shakes head in disbelief* do not enjoy snow in the slightest. It’s a cold, wet inconvenience to an otherwise normal day. The thing is, in Germany, it isn’t really. Here life carries on as normal. Continue reading

Expat friendship and where to find it

In this quiet time after the madness of Fastnacht and before the indulgences of Easter, with the spring flowers popping through the dirt it is an opportune time to think about beginnings. The air will (hopefully) be warming soon and the festival calendar will begin again and whilst Germany is great on your own, it is when you are enjoying it with friends that it really comes alive.

Not speaking German was a huge hurdle to making local friends. Does anyone want to be friends with someone with a toddler like grasp of the local language? Well some people do, but they have to speak and be confident in English (or your native language) until you can catch up, and whilst these special people do exist they can be hard to find. What you need in this situation is an expat friend (maybe *gasp* more than one), believe me that friend is worth their weight in gold.

When I started this chapter of my life in Germany I had no idea –

How long it would last. Almost seven years and counting (and no-one is more surprised about that than me). A word to the wise, when your company sends you to work abroad, talk to people who have done it before. Not that I think I would have done anything massively differently but that perspective would have been very useful. Forewarned is always forearmed.

Expat women I needed in my life -Photo AlieC

How many friends I would make. As much as I love my husband and am one of those soppy people who consider him to be a best friend, we both needed someone other than each other to talk to occasionally. Having no family or friends in Germany was quiet but doable to start with, I shared my new life with my friends back in the UK but Skype cannot replace an actual face and my lifestyle had dramatically changed, I needed a face that understood.

How much I needed expat friendship. Finding someone who understands where you are coming from (in the literal sense) is like finding a piece of home abroad. I never felt particularly British before I left the UK, I was just like everybody else. In Germany though, I’m suddenly different. I do things differently, I speak differently. I have never felt so absolutely British and foreign in my entire life.

I have been very lucky in life that I have good friends who I love and appreciate. Childhood friends, music friends, university friends, work friends and all those reprobates who fall in-between. Unfortunately none of them had ever lived abroad for more than a month and only a couple of them had been to Germany (Berlin only, naturally) so I had to find my own answers to all my various questions.

Thankfully the internet is a fantastic place filled with information, forums and people who were or had been in the same boat. Some information, forums and people were more helpful than others. There was one question though that stumped me, I searched high and low and still could not find real milk, yes I know it sounds silly and very small but finding fresh milk was important. I even started blogging about my expat life to share my experiences with other people so that my struggles and stumbles didn’t need to be repeated.

How to find a expat friend

Join a German class – *whispers* It’s where all the other foreigners are. Don’t miss out by only being friends with speakers of your native language, being forced to speak German as your shared language does wonders for your fluency and language retention.

Join a Stammtisch (regulars table) – Plenty of cities have an English, Spanish (insert your native language here) regulars table and it is a great way to connect with other foreigners (sometimes locals too) Nuremberg has a particularly well attended English Stammtisch.

Join an expat group – Your chance to find likeminded people who have also made the move away from their own home countries. Locally I always recommend Stuttgart Expat Meetups for any newcomers. Look out for all the expat species in attendance. Note – These groups sometimes come under the guise of International women’s groups but are (generally) open to everyone.

Connect online – Even before your feet land on German soil you can begin making connections and doing research, there is so much more available now even than there was five years ago. Making new expat connections has never been so simple, utilise that search engine.

Keep your ears open – A German friend mentioned another Brit who had moved into her street and she asked if I wanted an introduction, erm yes! turns out we grew up about 20 miles from each other as kids and had a heap of mutual friends. All three of us have since moved away but our group whatsapp lives one. This leads into one for the brave…

Possible expat finding location, the local gin section of the supermarket 😉 – Photo AlieC

Accosting people in the supermarket – I met one of my best friends in a supermarket, I overheard her speaking to her husband on the phone and introduced myself and asked her if she’d like to get a coffee that week. This woman knew where the real milk was!

Expat friendship has its downsides, of course, naturally expats do their expat thing and move on. The old saying about friends being in your life for a reason, season or a lifetime has always resonated with me when I think about expat friendships. Without these people and their experiences I’d never have discovered the gentlest dentist, which bars give the best measures, just how to get the best deals with airlines and that being with other foreigners makes you feel a little less foreign.




Follow that broom

One of my favourite German words is Gemütlichkeit, which has been adopted by the English-speaking world since it can’t be simply translated. Roughly it pertains to the feeling of comfy cosiness when getting together with friends and family, usually with good food and drink thrown in. Think of it as the German version of the famous Scandinavian Hygge.

Besides the Christmas markets, which are of course a lovely festive month of Glühwein (mulled wine) and Wurst (sausage) the rest of the winter can feel, well, lacking in Gemütlichkeit. So I’d like to introduce you to the Besenwirtschaft (broom pub/tavern), the ultimate in winter cosiness that doesn’t involve standing outside in snow. In wine producing areas of Germany this temporary pub is an experience not to be missed. Continue reading

Finding a place to call home

Moving from a culture slightly obsessed with getting on the property ladder as soon as is humanly possible, to one where renting is king has been an interesting adjustment. A lot of foreigners feel this way when they first move to Germany, but it really is A different type of renting here. Due to a lack of available accommodation my husband and I have moved six times in six years. Thankfully three short-term lets were followed by three long-term ones, but all that moving, is not something I would choose to repeat.

Consequently I have quite a bit of experience applying, viewing, being rejected and also accepted property wise in Germany. A lot has been written on The German Way about moving to Germany already, make sure to read House and home lest you end up being surprised by a lack of ‘home comforts” AKA a kitchen and light fixtures, when you move in to your first place. There are a few of us out there who brushed their teeth by the light of an Iphone for the first few days, believe me and Hyde. Continue reading

Expanding the family

Adding to your family is something that is taken very seriously in Germany. Do you have enough time, space, money and energy? Have you researched classes, schools and medical facilities? Are you ready to share your food, bed and sofa space? Even with the best laid plans you’ll need to have a healthy dose of patience before you hear the patter of hairy feet on your stairs. Animal adoption in Germany can be a long process, but one that I very much recommend.

43% of German households have a pet, and whilst cats are slightly more popular than dogs, perhaps partly down to being a nation of apartment dwellers, but also that having a dog comes with additional responsibilities like micro chipping, dog taxes and classes in some cases. Our vet joked that it is harder to adopt a dog than it is a child in Germany, and don’t we all know that the best jokes are based on the truth? The compulsory home visit is a particularly nervous time for any potential adopter which another German Way writer wrote about in Furry Love Parts 1 & 2. Continue reading

The bridge to a longer holiday

At 8am on a Sunday, walking my dog here can feel like a scene from a zombie apocalypse film. Not that the maybe two people I will pass look ghastly and likely to want to eat my brains, just that there is an eerie quiet that descends on the village on Sunday. As everyone reading this is I’m sure aware on Sunday Germany is closed. Okay not everywhere is closed, but the usual shops, banks and administrative offices will have a Ruhetag (rest day) on Sunday, not merely to respect the Christian Sabbath but also to give workers a guaranteed day to relax at home with their families. Until the church bells start pealing at 9am that is, to awaken the majority Christian population of Germany, for a more in-depth look at religion and its history in Germany check out this guide.

The only other time that Germany is this quiet is on a gesetzlicher Feiertag (public holiday). Just how many of these Feiertag you get depends where in Germany you are located. States that are predominantly Catholic, like Bavaria, will have more public holidays than others. Some are even on a town by town basis, so whilst your child’s kindergarten next door may be closed, your office two towns over will be open for business as usual. Sarah’s personal experience of religious holidays is worth a read on this subject. Continue reading

Pumpkins are here, and not just for Halloween

I love food. In my opinion all the best people do. I look forward to trying new dishes and perfecting my favourites at home. Due to particularly scarring food experiences on the school German exchange and that stereotypes are generally born out of truths, I had some very low expectations of German food when I arrived. There are a lot of sausages and sauerkraut, that was expected but the commitment to seasonal, fresh and still reasonably priced foods was a delicious surprise. Continue reading