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

Is Healthcare better in Germany?

Sometimes “home” feels a lot further than a 10 hour flight away. My old college roommate was just diagnosed with colon cancer and I don’t know how to express my worry, my concern – all the feelings I am having for her – better than in a facebook message. She is not one for social media so I’m not sure if she’ll see it. Over the decade that I have been out of college we lost touch as we each got married, moved (one of us across the country and an ocean), and generally went about our lives.

Maria Heimsuchung Hospital PHOTO: Erin Porter

But with this news I am brought back to those good ‘ole college days and can’t believe she is facing the C-word. It is among an expats’ greatest fears; not that you will just miss out on the fun things (like weddings), but you won’t be around when things inevitably fall apart.  Just because you’re gone doesn’t mean things stop changing.

In her post, my friend sums up her month as one of “major surgeries, 4ER visits, 2 blood infections, staples, stitches, and a jugular infusion line. Then the 7/3/17 game changer of a colon cancer diagnosis and starting chemo in 4-6 weeks.” She is facing a brutal battle, and one of the major concerns isn’t even the massive health issues she is tackling. It’s financial. As my country (the USA for the uninitiated) continues to claw itself apart over a workable health care system, everyday people need to keep figuring out how to pay for it. Continue reading

German and Austrian Pioneers in LGBT Rights


Although we tend to think of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement as a modern, fairly recent phenomenon, the advocacy of homosexual rights goes back to the nineteenth century in Austria and Germany. Two pioneers in the field were the Austro-Hungarian Karl-Maria Kertbeny (who coined the word “homosexual”) and the German Magnus Hirschfeld (who invented the term “transvestite”). We’ll learn more about them and others below, but first let’s compare several European countries in the area of LGBT rights.

Hirschfeld

Pioneering German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) in 1929. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The treatment of homosexuals in Europe, socially and legally, varies greatly by country. Only nine of Europe’s nations have legalized same-sex marriage. The Netherlands was the first European country to do so (in 2001). Northern European nations tend to be more progressive in LGBT rights than southern and eastern European lands. Here are some examples:

Germany
Being gay or lesbian is largely accepted in Germany, with most of the population feeling that sexual orientation is a non-issue. Berlin had an openly gay mayor (Klaus Wowereit) for many years. Legally, however, Germany has not been a leader in gay rights. But on June 30, 2017 that changed when the German Bundestag (parliament) voted in favor of same-sex marriage (“Ehe für alle”). Ironically, the CDU/CSU party of Angela Merkel, which had long blocked a vote on the issue, was encouraged by the chancellor to proceed with a vote. Although Merkel herself voted no, the marriage-equality law passed with 393 yes votes versus 226 no votes, meaning that 75 CDU/CSU members voted in favor of the new law.

Klaus Wowereit

Klaus Wowereit served as Berlin’s mayor (SPD) from 2001 until 2014. He “came out” prior to the 2001 mayoral elections. He is known for his now famous phrase: “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.”)
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A special type of civil union existed for gay and lesbian couples for many years, but it was not really equal to marriage in several respects, including taxes. In May 2013 a high court decision on so-called “tax-splitting” (Steuersplitting) required the German government to allow homosexual couples to combine their incomes for tax purposes, just as heterosexual couples could do. This reduced the difference between a gay civil union (eine eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften, “a registered life partnership”) and a “normal” heterosexual marriage, but it was still a “separate but equal” status. (Tax-splitting was already legal in 13 of Germany’s 16 states before the court’s ruling.) Many Germans had already called for doing away with this legal distinction before the recent marriage-equality vote. Continue reading

Taking Your Kids to the Beach Like a German

For the third year in a row, I have just returned from a fabulous beach vacation. Greece, Italy…we are apparently becoming European jetsetters (still fairly poor ones). Being in Europe allows you to make affordable vacation choices to unbelievable destinations.

Photo: Erin Porter

Despite our excitement, there were some reservations. Were we crazy to take a toddler on a beach holiday? Toddlers are the antithesis of a relaxing vacay. And how would we properly protect our girl against full-throttle elements when we routinely get the side eye from Germans in Germany on how we dress our kid? Here are the rules (as I understand them) about taking your kids to the beach like a German. Continue reading

Half-Timbered Germany

Having grown up on musicals and fairy tales I had a picture in my head of what countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland would look like. There would be cobbled streets, half timbered houses and castles around every corner. My first visit to Hamburg on a school exchange was an eye opener, everything was industrial, families I stayed with lived in tower blocks or houses built in the eighties and contained more Ikea furniture than I’d ever seen outside the shop itself. I was a little disappointed but nothing that two weeks of freedom from my parents couldn’t cure.

Winnenden Marktplatz – Alie C

Hailing from Cheshire I am used to the quaint black and white half-timbered houses that dot the countryside like Little Morton hall in Congleton or the stunning high street of the City of Chester. I was unprepared for the colour and scale of the half-timbered properties of Southern Germany and that the majority of them are still residences and not museums. I never expected to be living in one. Of course there is Fachwerk (half-timbered) throughout the country but my experience of them is mainly limited to the South

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What’s in Your German Basement?

Don’t worry – this is nothing to do with Josef Fritzl…although mentions of basements seem to bring up that imagery. (To be fair, Fritzl was from Austria like another infamous German speaker). This post is about the German basements (Keller or Souterrain or Untergeschoss), a mysterious place beneath most German apartments where stalls of old furniture, bikes, and seasonal accessories are kept.

In our last apartment, a tiny Dachgeschoss (attic apartment), we weren’t allotted one of these coveted basement spots. So we got creative. There was a shelf built into the loft of the foyer, we bought large closets and crammed things just about everywhere. It worked, but barely. Once we had a kid – it was over. Baby clothes and toys and just stuff spilled out of everywhere. It was time to move – ideally to somewhere with some storage.

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Red Bull and the Richest Man in Austria


According to the Forbes annual tally, there were seven billionaires in Austria in 2016. (Only one of them female.) Dietrich “Didi” Mateschitz (b. 1944) is at the top of that list – the wealthiest person in Austria.

So how did Herr Mateschitz amass his estimated $15.4 billion fortune (as of April 2017)? Perhaps you’ve heard of the energy drink known as Red Bull? Red Bull’s world headquarters are located in the tiny town of Fuschl am See (population 1,500) near Salzburg, Austria. All those drink cans are filled at plants in Austria and Switzerland. Mr. Mateschitz is the co-founder of Red Bull, which sold its first drink can in Austria in 1987. Today Red Bull sells its drinks in about 165 countries, pretty much all over the world.

If you don’t happen to live in Austria, you have probably never heard of the Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz. 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