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

On the campaign trail

In case you missed it, there was a general election last week in Germany. Receiving most of the international media coverage was, understandably, the fact that the AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) won just under 13% of the popular vote, making them the third strongest party in the Bundestag and the first far right party in the German parliament since 1945. That, and the global sigh of relief that Angela Merkel, the kind and sensible “Mutti” figure at the head of German politics, nevertheless has won a fourth term in office, remaining a bulwark against the impetuous world leaders who appear to surround her. This is not the forum to give you detailed political analysis of how any of this came to pass; plenty has been written elsewhere.

But what I can say superficially about the election, as an expat, is a word on election posters – by far the most visually striking element of these last few weeks. These posters, promoting both parties and individual candidates, are said to have more impact on popular political opinion than TV ads. When you walk around and see the energy invested in putting them up on literally every lamppost, in defacing them, and in taking them down at the end of the election (a work in slow progress), this seems plausible. There is a practical reason for this: in stark contrast to US elections, there is a strict limit on campaign airtime and campaign spending for all politicians and political parties, which restricts their options. Despite online methods of mobilising voters, the political poster remains a strong and much-used tool. 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

The Expat Crisis

There are typical crises that happen in every person’s life: the identity crisis of the teenage years, the mid-20’s crisis, and the famous midlife crisis. Of course there are also the financial crises. Sadly, it’s common to have more than one of these, but they are good perspective on how all the other crises are sometimes nothing more than blown-out-of-proportion tantrums. But there is a special kind of crisis that does not happen to everyone. It is reserved for those who have chosen to leave their birthplace and while doing so, have put many kilometers between them and their homeland.

I do not believe anybody ends up far away from “home” by accident. Sure, the reasons and motivations for it are as varied as life stories can be, but at the core, there’s always a logical and sensible explanation as to how and why a person ended up quite far away from where they happened to be born and raised. Maybe it all started when they took a vacation, maybe with an ambition, maybe even due to a crisis. Whatever the reason, it happened. You are out of there, far away and you have to get your life rolling at whatever the cost because this was your decision and you will be sticking to it. Continue reading

Exercise and wine? Count me in!

Germany has many compound words. Plenty translate easily and quite literally like Der Handschuh (hand shoes or rather gloves) and bittersuß (bittersweet). So when I came across a sign that featured the word Weinwanderung (wine ramble/walk), two of my all time favourite activities joined together, my interest was most definitely piqued.

The state of Baden Württemberg has two wine regions within its boundaries. Baden, which is Germany’s longest wine region at around 400km, stretches from the Bavarian boarder to the Alsace in France, and Württemberg the fourth largest wine region in Germany and is historically a predominantly red wine producing area, unlike the rest of the country. Continue reading

Summer: an ongoing Berlin love affair

It always comes upon you suddenly, the Berlin summer. One day you’re shivering in your down coat at the playground, lamenting with friends how it is already May but barely 10 degrees celsius. The next day you’re sweating in your shirtsleeves, the powerful sun beating down on your cycling helmet. Though the daffodils peeping out in the park might have been hinting at warmer weather for a while, the abrupt shift leaves no time to adjust your wardrobe. England makes up for its lack of a proper summer by giving you a long and promising spring. Here, there is no such gradual move from thick woollies and heavy boots to a cotton cardigan and lightweight shoes. However sudden, the glorious thing about that day, that first day of sunshine, is that Berlin erupts into summer – the streets busy with ice-cream eating children, cafes spilling out onto pavements, parks filled with rich barbecue smoke, families packing cars for lazy lake days – and you fall in love with the city all over again. Four highlights of our early summer season so far, which you might consider if you’re heading to the Haupstadt before October.

Ice-cream at Rosa Canina on Arnswalder Platz (Prenzlauerberg)

Finding the best ice-cream in town

This title will be challenged by other Berlin residents, but I’d call Rosa Canina the best ice-cream dealer in town. The quality of the ice-cream is unbeatable – creamy, sharp, inventive (buttermilk lemon right through to pumpkin seed), not too sweet – all whilst not being extortionately expensive. We have two Rosa Canina parlours within a stone’s throw of our place. We are frequent summertime visitors to both, but the just renovated one on Arnswalder Platz has the advantage of being slightly less discovered, large and airy, on a shady side of the street for hot summer days, and just opposite a playground which pleases most age groups. Continue reading

A smashing good time at a Polterabend

With the warm weather along comes another season, wedding season. The Rathaus (Town Hall) has been steadily getting busier the last few weeks; on Fridays and Saturdays the city steps are filled with heart shaped balloons, Sekt and brides. All German weddings having to take place at a Standesamt (registry office, usually located within the Rathaus), a church wedding being an optional and non-legally binding extra. German weddings are generally fairly low-key affairs, like the ones Ruth wrote about; receptions too are a little different to those in the UK, but still a great celebration with their own idiosyncrasies as Jane experienced.

Especially in Southern Germany it is common for the legal wedding to be a family only affair, with few, if any, friends invited. The chance for a decent party however cannot be ignored. Let me introduce you to the Polterabend. Taking place in the weeks before the wedding, this is not to be confused with the single sex Junggesellinnenabschied (stag/bachelor & hen/bachelorette parties) which have become ever more popular. This is an event that everyone is invited to.

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Playing tourist in Stuttgart

My day was brightened last week by an out of the blue email from an old friend; she was in town for six hours and wanted to see both Stuttgart and me. I don’t often play tourist in my own city and never with a time limit, so putting together a plan was necessary.

There is a lot on The German Way about Berlin, living in Berlin, what to do in Berlin, but less about life down here in the south. So I thought I’d share my plan for anyone wanting to start to explore Stuttgart, there is plenty more to see than just the city centre but on this day there wasn’t time for places like the Porsche Museum.

Stop One – Hauptbahnhof (main train station) – Our meeting point anyway since she had just got off a train. I waited with two coffees in hand, working out that we hadn’t seen each other for at least fifteen years and hoping that we still shared the same sense of humour. When she arrived also holding two coffees I knew we’d be fine. The Turm (tower) of the train station is an often overlooked free attraction, it houses a museum which shows the history and future of transport in Stuttgart and a stunning panoramic view of the city. Continue reading