The Apotheke Way

It wasn’t until I came down with my first cold in Germany that I realised the remedies I usually buy weren’t available at the supermarket check out or the corner shop. More surprisingly they weren’t available at the Drogerie (drugstore/chemist) either. I’m not simply talking about the brands, the actual products; anything with any actual medicinal value was nowhere to be found. For over the counter medicine Die Apotheke (the pharmacy) is what you’ll need.

Now I have to explain that there are some elements of German life that I am really happy with, whilst some of my fellow foreigners have more opposing views. One of these is the Apotheke. What makes the Apotheke such an opinion divider? Customer service, price and quantity are the most hotly debated. Personally, the fact they close at lunch time for an hour or so and a wednesday afternoon (days will vary) took a while to get used to but I’d only count that as a mild annoyance. Continue reading

Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden


Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Money
Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.14). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm harbor

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

Much of today’s money exchange problem is solved by another recent development: the wide use of credit cards, especially in Scandinavia. Need to pay for a taxi? The driver grabs his portable credit card reader and wirelessly processes your card. Any shop, grocery store or restaurant will gladly accept your credit card for payment.[2] Continue reading

The Mysterious World of German Tea

Photo: Erin Porter

I just tried to close my kitchen cabinet – thunk. Tried again – harder. Thunk! Sighing, I opened it to have an armload of tea rain down upon me. It’s just that time of year.

My husband works as an Erzieher and one of the funny little perks of the job are the Christmas presents from the kids. Sometimes he gets chocolates which is terrible for his diabetes but great for his attitude. Sometimes its candles, or homemade cookies or occasionally an art project. Unfortunately, one of the most common gifts is tea (or Tee in German).

As we live in Germany, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Germans are obsessed with tea. If you are sick, or pregnant or feeling gloomy – there is a tea for that!

That said, my husband and I don’t much care for tea. We’re from Seattle, the land of coffee, and feel completely overwhelmed with the whole tea brewing process, varieties and homegrown remedies.  And yet, I have got a cabinet full of tea and a country full of Germans to tell me what to do with them. Let me try to unlock the mysterious world of German tea.

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Auto Factory and Museum Tours in Germany for Car Buffs and Car Buyers

Audi | BMW | Ford | Mercedes-Benz | Opel | Porsche | Volkswagen

Seven major automakers manufacture automobiles and trucks in Germany. The automobile is a German invention, and the auto industry in Germany is one of the country’s largest employers, with a labor force of over 747,000. Germany is among the world’s top four car producers.

Below you’ll find our guide to automobile factory tours in Germany and the option of buying a German car in the United States and taking delivery at the factory in Germany (European delivery).

BMW Welt - night

Munich: BMW Welt by night, with headquarters tower and museum on the right. New BMW owners can pick up their new car here. More below.
PHOTO: Richard Bartz, Wikimedia Commons

All the German automotive brands offer factory tours, in some cases combined with optional auto museum tours. German car buyers also like to pick up their new Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and Volkswagens directly at the factory. (See How to Buy or Lease a Car in Germany for more.) Ford and Opel are the only automakers in Germany that do not allow buyers to take delivery of their new vehicle at the factory, but they do offer factory tours.

You may not think of Ford as a “German” auto company, but the American Henry Ford opened his first auto plant in Germany in 1912. Some Germans don’t even realize that Ford (pronounced “fort” in German) is not a German company. The American car giant General Motors planted its flag in Germany a bit later, when it purchased an 80 percent interest in Adam Opel AG in 1929. Today Opel is still a division of General Motors.

KIA
The South Korean automaker Kia has its European design center in Frankfurt, but its only European auto factory is located in Žilina, Slovakia. That plant supplies almost 60 percent of Kia’s European demand. The facility produces three vehicles for the European market, with brands that few Americans would recognize: the cee’d model family (hatchback and Sportswagon, as well as the pro_cee’d coupe), the European bestselling Sportage crossover, and Venga compact MPV.

European Delivery for US Customers
Factory delivery is a popular option for German car buyers. Four German automakers – Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche – also offer their US customers the option of picking up their new car in Germany and combining that with a European trip. All but Porsche offer a 5 to 7 percent discount on the vehicle, combined with free or discounted air fares. Some also offer additional perks such as free meals, museum entrance, and a factory tour. Volkswagen, alone among German car producers, does not offer European delivery for its US customers. (Opel sells its cars in the US through its owner, General Motors. The Swedish carmaker Volvo also offers European delivery in Sweden for US customers.) Continue reading

Those little things

Whilst the hard and fast legal rules of German society can be easily found and obeyed, like the red man and riding your bike in the bike lane for instance. Unwritten rules can be hard to pick up for foreigners in Germany and although you won’t be arrested for committing a faux pas it is always better to try not to cause offence unnecessarily. These are geared towards life away from work and the office, where different rules can exist. Continue reading

Raising Kids Away from Family

Riasing Kids Away From Family

Opa Fresh off the Train Photo: Erin Porter

It is that time of year where our latest visiting family member is on their way home (bye Opa!) and we are reminded how very hard it is to have a baby abroad. We have no one to call about a sickness in the middle of the night, no family at her birthday party, and nary a date night in sight.

While there are many positives of raising a child in Germany (hello practically free child care), nothing replaces family. Though we took two periods of parental leave to stay with family in the States – this is a far-cry from being based in the same city, same state, same continent. Through no-fault of their own, our parents are trying to make Long-Distance Grandparenting work.

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It’s not all about the fireworks – 4 other New Year’s traditions in Germany

I’ve written about the German obsession at New Year’s with pyrotechnics for this blog before. This year Berlin was the same as always – air thick with smoke, sky alight with brilliant explosions of colour, and our ears filled with the constant cracking of bangers. After nearly seven years of living in the Hauptstadt, I’m entirely used to it. For all the bewildering bluster of the country’s firework mania, the other rather quaint German traditions for Silvester and New Year become overlooked. It’s those I want to explore here.

1. Bleigießen

Popular with small children and adults alike, Bleigießen (‘lead pouring’ or ‘molybdomancy’ – to give it the proper English name) is an elaborate method of fortune telling for the coming year. It requires a bowl of cold water, a candle, a spoon, a few small metal objects (traditionally lead, but most likely tin today), and a list of interpretations – the latter two can be acquired in any local corner shop or supermarket. Each person at the party is invited to place a small metal piece on the spoon and hold it over the candle flame. As soon as the metal melts (which is very quickly with these little pieces), the molten metal is tipped into the water and whatever the shape emerges is then used to divine the future. Depending on your Bleigießen kit, the interpretations range from the charming (field = luck and happiness) to the bizarre (trumpet = you will gain public office). The whole process does make a mess of your spoon though, so be sure to use an old one! Continue reading

Hollywood Movies in Germany – “Krieg der Sterne” becomes “Star Wars” and “Moana” turns into “Vaiana”


These days, many Hollywood movies screened in Germany keep their original English title. But it was not always that way. In the past, especially from the 1940s to the 1980s, there was almost always a special German title created for German audiences. Often the German title simply reflected the film’s story, as with The Caine Mutiny (1954), which starred Humphrey Bogart (voiced in German by O.E. Hasse) as Lt. Commander Philip F. Queeg. The title that Germans saw on their movie screens was Die Caine war ihr Schicksal (The Caine was their fate).

Moana and Maui

Disney’s Moana (left) became Vaiana in Germany, while Maui got to keep his name. Why? See more below. (Also see the Vaiana movie trailer below.)
PHOTO: Walt Disney Animation Studio

North by Northwest

Cary Grant was a victim of “the invisible third man” in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959). This is the cover of the German DVD version.

In Germany, the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest (1959), starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, is called Der unsichtbare Dritte (The invisible third man), which is only a little less vague than North by Northwest. The classic Bell, Book and Candle (1958), with Kim Novak, James Stewart, and Jack Lemmon, bore the rather prosaic title of Meine Braut ist übersinnlich (My bride is paranormal). But Vertigo, another Hitchcock film released that same year, also pairing Novak and Stewart, kept the “Vertigo” while adding the German tag line: Vertigo – Aus dem Reich der Toten (Vertigo – From the realm of the dead).

But it’s another, earlier Hitchcock picture that has one of my favorite German titles. Rope (1948), Hitch’s first color film, is about a murder committed in the New York City apartment of two college students trying to commit the perfect crime by strangling a fellow student with a rope. To create an alibi, they throw a dinner party in their apartment – with the dead body of their victim hidden literally under the guests’ noses inside a wooden chest. The German title: Cocktail für eine Leiche (Cocktail for a corpse). Continue reading