Spring has sprung, officially

There may be a forecast for snow for next week but the spring equinox means the days are now longer than the nights. Easter is just around the corner and with it one of my favourite traditions. In addition to these five favourites from Chloe, the Osterbrunnen (Easter fountains/wells), which appear mostly in Catholic Southern Germany, are also an important part of the Easter in Germany.

This tradition has spread from Franconia (the Northern part of Bavaria) and historically involves celebrating the importance of water as the giver of life, possibly due to previous shortages in remote villages. Continue reading

German Toilets

Disclaimer: This post – as indicated in the title – is about toilets. Though there are no stories detailing dirty business, it is implied. If you prefer more heart-warming topics, why not consider my posts about my favorite Berliner and having a baby in Germany.

Behold! A German Toilet Photo: Erin Porter

The mysterious German Toilet
Photo: Erin Porter

Why are toilets feminine?  The toilet is “die Toilette auf Deutsch. One of the many pronouns that make no sense, I have time to contemplate this oddity of German as I use one every day and have sampled facilities across Germany. I would consider myself an expert.

And I think German toilets may be superior. Hear me out…

Continue reading

Why don’t Germans Refrigerate their Eggs?

After writing about German tea in my last post, my mind has been on food in Germany and how different it can be than food in the USA. Like the eggs I have stored in my pantry. That’s right, my unrefrigerated pantry.

Behold! German eggs Photo: Erin Porter

I’ve talked about grocery shopping in Germany and how it can be a harrowing experience. It almost sent me packing my first few months in Berlin. Customer service is non-existent, check-out is an athletic event and goods are displayed in the least attractive manner. On my first grocery trip, I must have spent 30 minutes scouring the store looking for eggs before finding cartons piled high in a nondescript cardboard box on the floor. Milk was in boxes – also unrefrigerated – nearby (I’ll have to get into that another time). I was flummoxed. What was going on?!

Let me tell you all about the eggs in Germany my friends, and why they are aren’t refrigerated.

Continue reading

Things You Won’t Find in Germany


Things We Miss (or Not) in Germany

There are many things that expats miss when they leave Germany. I wrote about that in 10 Things Expats Miss After They Leave Germany. But today we want to focus on the reverse: things you won’t find, or rarely find in Germany.

Americans, Canadians, and other English-speaking expats living in Germany (and Austria, Switzerland) suddenly discover one fine day that something they take for granted in their homeland is not found in Germany at all. Or it may be almost impossible to find. As the German saying goes: “Other lands, other customs.” (Andere Länder, andere Sitten.)

No added sales tax (VAT). It’s included. The price you see is the price you pay.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Sometimes it may be a favorite food item (Cheerios, real salsa). Other times it may be a service (toll-free calls, Uber) or a medication (cough syrup). One day it dawns on you: I’ve never seen an in-sink garbage disposal in Germany! (Against the law or discouraged in most of Germany.) Or comes the day when you realize something you use all the time costs more in Germany than back home: contact lens fluid (only available from the Optiker, for a pretty price). Below are some examples of common things NOT found in Germany, divided into three categories: 1. Never or Almost Never; 2. Rarely, Once in a Blue Moon; and 3. Sometimes, Depending on Your Location. Okay, here we go, starting with things you’ll never or almost never find in Germany. Continue reading

An Afternoon in Berlin’s Botanic Garden


An impossibly high greenhouse, all glass and steel arches, rises up against the first blue sky we’ve seen in February. Surrounding it, the vast landscaped garden seems austere with its winter branches but a few proud evergreens scatter touches of dark green at least. Despite the whip of the wind and a rain cloud on the far horizon, crowds of people, young, old, local, visiting, wander along the broad central path, turning off onto small winding ones when they spot a plant or bush that captures their attention.

Last Sunday we celebrated a few hours of winter sunshine with our first visit to Berlin’s world-renowned Botanic Garden. Second in size and diversity only to Kew Gardens in London and established in its scale and scope in 1910 way out west in Dahlem, the Botanic Garden is rich with the imperial optimism and bourgeoise intellectual aspiration so typical to Berlin in that late imperial era. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading