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

Potty Training in Germany

I’ve talked about raising a child in Germany and I’ve talked about toilets. Now these two things have combined as I attempt to potty train in Germany. Give me strength.

Our German potty seat PHOTO: Erin Porter

History of Potty Training in Germany

Germany has an interesting history with potty training and – like so many things – it was done differently in the East than in the West.

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How to work remotely whilst living in Germany

A new employment opportunity or study is often the reason for people moving to another country. However, this is not the case for this expat. It was my partner’s career which brought us to Bremen, I continue to work for a company I was employed with in the UK.

Working from home in Bremen PHOTO: Sarah E

I am lucky in that the organisation I work for have allowed me to work remotely in Bremen. This was the first time I was going to be working from home so I was totally stepping in to the unknown, both working remotely and in a different country where I knew no one. I recognised that it would be a challenge no matter where I was living. Lacking motivation and being easily distracted were the things I worried about. I was naive in not realising there are a few things to consider when moving to a new country and making your home your office. Continue reading

Goethe and Schiller in San Francisco


German culture at the “Goldenen Thor”

NOTE: This updated version posted on 28 August 2017 (the day when Goethe was born in 1749) was first published on 20 January 2010.

During a recent visit to San Francisco I got a surprising reminder of how truly widespread and important German culture once was in the United States – before two world wars drastically changed the role it played in America.

My wife and I were standing in a very long line of people, slowly making our way towards the entrance to the California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park. (And we all already had tickets!) As the line flowed at its glacial pace, I noticed a statue of two figures standing on a stone pedestal. I remarked to my wife that it looked like a German or European statue. As we got closer, the bronze figures seemed even more familiar.

Once we were standing right in front of the statue, I was amazed to read the inscription on the reddish stone base: “Goethe. Schiller.” As I gazed up at the large bronze figures of Germany’s two greatest poets and philosophers, I realized why they looked so familiar. This statue seemed to be the same one my wife and I had seen a few years earlier in Weimar, Germany. How the heck did it get here? What was the story behind this larger-than-life symbol of German culture standing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco? Did any of these people in line, besides my wife and me, even know who Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were?

I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture of the statue (see photo below), thinking I would try to solve this mystery later.

Goethe Schiller statue

The Goethe-Schiller memorial statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (Dec. 2009). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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Fitting in at festival time

The summer is almost over here in Germany. The weather is still warm but lacks the intensity of mid summer, sun kissed families are returning from their adventures abroad, small businesses are reopening and pumpkins are already ripening in the fields. Autumn is most certainly just around the corner. The shops are filled with back to school products and small children trying on enormous Schulranzen (school backpacks) for size, one bag and all its accessories will see him or her through for the next few years, a most important decision for one so small.

Behind the fountain pens and neon highlighters though are some other seasonal items that you might want to pick up if you are attending a festival, particularly one held in Southern Germany. A Volksfest (Peoples’ Festival) is a common event in most German towns. The most famous Volksfest in Germany is Oktoberfest which takes place in September in München (Munich), Bavaria. Both Spring and Autumn are filled with festivals, historically many were (and still are) in celebration of a new season of growth (in the fields) and the consequent harvest. Continue reading

The One Exception to the German Punctuality Rule

Have you ever heard about German punctuality? You surely have. Swiss people may have the best watches, but it´s the Germans who are recognized worldwide for always being extremely on time.

As a newcomer, one of the first things you’ll get told by anyone who tries helping you blending in is to get yourself a planner, a large wall calendar or at least  to master how to use your smartphone’s notes function. Here paper and pen still hold a special place, and almost everyone still has handwriting that puts your ordinary scribbles to shame. Seriously, you will feel less cool while taking notes at a meeting or handing a napkin with your number to someone.) But why would you need all this? Simple, because Germans plan ahead, the serious kind of ahead. It is completely normal to make an appointment three weeks in advance to go to the movies with someone. If that doesn’t come as enough of a shock to you, I recently attended a culture-related seminar where I found out, on average, Germans’ furthest scheduled social event (this is confirmed and written down in the planner) goes as far ahead as 150 days. Meanwhile, the rest of us don´t even know what we will have for dinner tonight.

Of course all this is just “average”, “common”, “normal” and all those nice terms that work great when we are trying to forget diversity exists, that pretty much every individual is as complex as the universe and that, more often than not, it is the exception what makes the rule. Speaking of which, there is this thing in Germany that epitomizes the greatest exception to the German punctuality legend: Deutsche Bahn (DB).

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4 Ways in which Berliners are Actually Nice

I don’t want to say Berliners get a bad rap, because they can be incredibly rude. They live up to the standard German reputation of shutting doors in your face, non-existent customer service, and refusal to engage in simple pleasantries – then up the ante with Berliner Schnauze (literally “Berlin snout”). This phrase perfectly encapsulates Berliner’s unique vocabulary and dialect, coarse humor and general gruffness.

Kinder der Straße from Heinrich Zille

Berliner Schnauze

An example of Berliner Schnauze is that gut (good) becomes “yoot” and Ich (ish) changes to “icke”; das becomes “dat” and was iswat”. Grammar is largely simplified.

The humor (yes – German humor exists) is direct, loud and can be downright crude. Heinrich Zille was a 1920s illustrator closely identified with Berlin sensibilities (example above) and giving realistic depictions of every day life from street prostitution to idyllic days out at Wannsee.

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Bremen in Summer

Having passed my first year in Bremen, I feel qualified to say summer in the city is the best season to visit.

Amongst the numerous festivals taking place, Breminale stands out. For five days in July the banks of River Weser are lined with open-air tents with music pumping out of them. Artists from across Germany and beyond come to sing, rap and encourage the crowd to move their feet. Alongside all the entertainment there is row upon row of great fresh food and drinks stands to choose from. Breminale is a place for friends to gather in the evening after a hard day at work or to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon soaking up the sounds with family. One of the highlights of the Bremen events calendar for sure. See Holidays and Celebrations for more about festivals in Germany.

Breminale opening night. PHOTO: Sarah

On a summer day it’s easy to watch the hours tick by in the Marktplatz, the heart of Bremen. The square is lined with restaurants and cafes where you can sit outside, enjoy a locally brewed Haake Becks, watching the street entertainers and soaking up the atmosphere. Within a few meters walk you can take in some of Bremen’s most famed attractions: the Town Musicians, St Peters Cathedral, and the Roland statue to name a few.  If you want to get out of the sun’s rays, I recommend taking solace in the Schnoor, one of the quaintest and oldest areas of Bremen. The narrow cobbled streets shaded from the sun are lined with independent shops dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Not only is it a lovely area to wander around, you could pick up a local piece of art or jewelry. Continue reading