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

The Top 4 German Signs you have gone from Visitor to Resident.

When you move to a new place it takes a while before you start getting the feel of belonging, the sensation that you are on some sort of vacations or just visiting takes some time to start wearing off and in my experience with Germany, this is a job that’s done both by your efforts to establish a routine and get acquainted with the place AND the reaching of certain very German milestones that left you with the feeling they have taken you in, this is it, you made it: Germany is talking to you! Here my top 4 epiphanic moments: Continue reading

Going to the Dentist in Germany

For years as a freelancer, I survived on the bare minimum of private insurance. I am now on public insurance in Germany and taking full advantage. Yearly check-up? Yes please! Eye exam? Why not? And the dentist? Sign me up.

So, clearly, it had been some time since I had any type of dentist visit. And I wasn’t sure what to expect in Germany. I had already been through the initial shock of a doctor’s visit in Germany with its mandatory greetings and brazen nudity, so how painful could a dentist visit be?

I’ll go over what I experienced going to the dentist in Germany, how to find a dentist in Germany, how much dental care costs in Germany, and helpful German vocabulary for the dentist.

der Mund PHOTO: dozenist

Continue reading

How Kohl is that?

If you’ve recently moved to the north of Germany don’t be alarmed if a group of people pass you in the streets playing Schlager music from a Bollerwagen (wooden pull along wagon). It won’t be the last time you witness this. From the end of January to March, Kohlfahrts will take place in the areas of Bremen, Oldenburg and Osnabrück.

What is a Kohlfahrt? In basic terms, it is a brisk hike that is accompanied by Schnapps, which is soaked up by a warm kale cabbage dinner afterwards.

Mid way through the Kohlfahrt PHOTO: Sarah E

This year was my first Kohlfahrt and based on what I had heard I was a little nervous about what to expect from this German tradition. It wasn’t the brisk walk that was alarming but the taste for Schnapps participants tend to have. Last year during the first few months of the year it was significantly notable the amount of small glass bottles of spirits that littered the streets! 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.




Is It True That German Men Can’t Flirt? (Asking for a Friend…)

Not so long ago I had the chance to spend a year surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings coming from all corners of the world, we were scattered all over Germany and every three months we had to meet up in different cities each time for week-long seminars. The only constant topic of these reunions was “love life.”

Boys were ecstatic, especially Latin ones, because German women found them very attractive and they would get very direct and intense advances quite often without having to do anything aside from standing there being all kinds of hot. Sure this was what they said, and I am neither swearing by it, nor denying it. But hanging out with the guys meant signing up for listening to a mix tape of them gushing about this and wondering if there was something in the water here that suddenly made them appealing to women.

Girls, on the other hand, were quite frustrated because no man would even flirt-smile at them from across the train wagon or eye them up and down while walking down the street, no overly-friendly cashiers or waiters, no swarm of men trying to get their attention at bars or clubs with buying them drinks, stopping by their table to introduce themselves or inviting them to dance. And the ones that had somehow miraculously gone out on a date with a German guy were even more puzzled. Continue reading

Ride Berlin Transportation like a Boss

Coming from a place with pitiful public transport (looking at you Seattle), it took me all of 10 seconds to develop eternal love for Berlin‘s comprehensive public transportation. It only took a few seconds longer for me to have strong opinions on what is and what is not acceptable when riding public transportation in Berlin.

Eberswalder U-Bahn PHOTO: Erin Porter

The thing is, everyone rides public transport in Berlin. Unlike more elitist systems in places like New York City, the young, the old, the poor, the well-off, the tourists, and the locals all ride the rails around this massive city. You really don’t need car as you can usually get within a block or two of where you want to go with its elaborate system of buses, trams, U-Bahns (underground), S-Bahns (above ground rail), regional trains, and even ferries. Run by BVG (with some assistance by Deutsche Bahn), it is truly a marvel.

Continue reading

Winterferien (already!)

The timing of most German school holidays match my British expectations. Two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, six weeks in the summer, plus the odd week somewhere in the middle of these blocks. This is not so different from home and behind each is a clear reason. To this, however, is one glaring exception: the Winterferien (winter break) – a week-long holiday a mere four weeks after Christmas (in Berlin at least – it differs from Bundesland to Bundesland).

Fun in the Berlin snow!

Still refreshed from the Christmas break and motivated by New Year’s resolutions, the timing of this particular holiday always seems a bit odd. Four weeks just isn’t long enough to develop that sense of having slogged through countless early mornings and late night homework sessions. The bonus, I suppose, is that it makes going back after Christmas at the coldest and darkest time of the year a touch easier. “Just think, it is only four weeks until the Winterferien.”

As with many such traditions, there is a story to it. Winterferien are a DDR (GDR) legacy. Back in those days, DDR school children were given a three-week (!) holiday at the end of the academic half year having received their ‘Halbjahreszeugnis’ (half year report). The three weeks were not just a marker of having completed half a year at school, they were also an opportunity to go skiing or partake in other winter sports – often at state-run winter holiday camps. Interestingly, Austria and Switzerland had and still have Winterferien too. The initial motivation there was to save money on heating school buildings during the coldest weeks of the year, serendipitously at peak winter sport season. Continue reading