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

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.

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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

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

Help! The Holy Season is Over but the Cold is Not.

After you dutifully participated at -and maybe even organized, the Christmas celebrations at the office, attended several advent parties, strolled through many Christmas Markets, ate shameful amounts of Plätzchen (X-mas cookies), drank enough hot chocolate to fill your bathtub and got all festive with the fireworks at Silvester; reality hits and it is time to go back to work, the year is over, the holidays are over, the clothes that used to fit are also quite possibly over as well. Ok, we are grown-ups, we can do this. Except that it is really cold outside, the days are absurdly short and dark, it rains most of the days and depending on where you are you will also get your share of snow. Showering is a challenge, going out feels like torture and the gloomy appearance of the streets that are now dark because the shimmering decorations are being removed from all public spaces is not helping you.

What are the social alternatives during the winter in Germany now that all that short-wearing and sausage-grilling is unthinkable and the merry and Glühwein-fueled gatherings are over? I have carefully observed my peers and made a top 5 list: Continue reading

American Versus German Parenting – The Distance

I am fresh off the holidays back in America and along with other oddities of reverse culture shock (how much water is in American toilets!?), I have a new one. Even though all of my experience as a parent is in Germany, I would assume that – as an American native – most of these parenting standards are ingrained and it doesn’t matter if I raise a child in Germany or China or Timbuktu, I would raise my child like an American. However, on this last visit it became clear that I am unfamiliar on what is considered a “normal” distance for your child to be from you in the USA.

parenting in America vs. Germany

Is this too far? PHOTO: Erin Porter

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Thrill-Seeking in Germany’s South

Now the new year is here I will start planning adventures for the next twelve months. This time last year my partner and I began organising a springtime two week road trip around southern Germany. It wasn’t what we originally had in mind for 2017, but we put a visit to Asia on ‘the back burner’ and decided to check out what our host country had to offer. As we made our way from Bremen to Bavaria, we grew closer to the attraction that we were most looking forward to. The place that shaped our journey south. Germany’s largest theme park, Europa Park.

If you’ve recently moved to Germany and are looking for thrills in 2018, I can 100% recommend you check it out. We were excited about it throughout the 695km drive to Rust and it certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, the family owned park made the list of top ten things I did in 2017.  

Europa Park PHOTO: Sarah E

It’s not the cheapest day out, especially for those with families, so best to be prepared for this. Unlike Heide Park, there doesn’t seem to be any collectable discount vouchers either. As thrifty British expats, we did our research, and then we stumped up 94 euros for two tickets. I should add this is less than Disneyland Paris.

As a large chunk of our holiday budget was being spent at Europa Park, we were determined to cram in every last ride, maybe even twice. Luckily, unlike British theme parks I’ve visited, queuing for the rides was really quick. Maybe it’s that German efficiency thing going on. Less time hanging around meant we could hop on the majority of the rides, which included Wodan, Euro-Mir and the Swiss Bob Run. I wouldn’t consider myself a thrill-seeker, but after surviving the 130km/h speeds and 73m drop of Silver Star, a ride themed on Formula 1, I felt ready to take on whatever the rest of the rides threw at me. Taking on the most intense ride in the park first was a good decision, everything after that was a breeze. Continue reading