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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The Truth About Tipping (Trinkgeld) in Germany

Much of the online English-language tipping advice for Europe – and Germany in particular – is wrong. This is understandable when you realize that even most native Germans get restaurant tipping all wrong.

The Myth That Won’t Die
If you ask the typical German about how tipping should work in a German restaurant, the standard answer is to just round off the amount of the bill to the nearest euro. If the Rechnung comes to 33.40 euros, they’ll tell you to round that off to 34 or 35 euros, but never more than two or three euros Trinkgeld. Some Germans are even more stingy with tips than that! They will tell you that wait staff in Germany are well paid and the Bedienung (service charge) is included in the bill. But this is a stubborn myth (and lame excuse) that somehow never dies. Only if the menu clearly states that the service charge is included in the prices (Preise inklusive Bedienung) is that true, and that is almost never the case. But there is also an important distinction between Bedienungsgeld and Trinkgeld, which we will explain below.

restaurant menu

A doorside restaurant menu in Germany. Is a service charge included in the prices? Usually not. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The Truth
Germans who are better informed will tell you the truth: The wages earned by a Kellner/Kellnerin in Germany are among the lowest of any profession in the country. Food servers in Germany start out at a minimum-wage level of just under nine euros per hour brutto (gross, before deductions). Experienced waiters/waitresses can earn from 10 to 12 euros per hour, depending on the location and the type of dining establishment. A new waiter in Bremen earns on average about 950 euros a month before deductions and tips. The German average is 1,646 euros a month. More experienced Kellner/Kellnerinnen can earn up to 2,400 euros monthly. The average annual wage for a food server in Germany is 18,000-21,000 euros, not including tips. (Wait-staff wages in Austria are lower; those in Switzerland are higher.) Whether experienced or not, a food server working in a German restaurant depends very much on tips from customers to bring their income up to a more reasonable level. If you consider 10 euros an hour, or 18,000 euros per annum “well paid,” then you have rather low expectations. Continue reading

Days for the Frauen and Männer

Holiday Alert! It is Muttertag (Mother’s Day) this Sunday which means elegant brunches and bundles of flowers – no matter which side of the pond you are on.

Mother’s Day in Germany

My 1st Mother’s Day Photo: Erin Porter

But the history of the holiday in Germany, Switzerland and Austria has a unique European slant. Switzerland was one the first European countries to introduce Mother’s Day in 1917. Germany wasn’t far behind with observance beginning in 1922 and Austria in 1926.

The holiday became official in Germany in 1933 under the Nazi regime, highlighting the importance of having more Aryan soldiers. Mother’s Day still takes place on the second Sunday in May, though das Mutterkreuz – a medal given out for multiple children – has fallen out of fashion.
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Austria and Germany: Worlds Apart

Billy Wilder (1906-2002), the noted Austrian-American film director (Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot), as famous as he was, used to complain about how he was frequently misidentified as German. Americans often get Austria and Germany mixed up. Sometimes they even confuse Austria with Australia! Thus the joke T-shirts and signs found in Austria with a “no kangaroos” logo. Silly Americans!


The Hohensalzburg castle seen from the padlock bridge in Salzburg, Austria.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Never really that good at geography, Americans, even if they can find Austria on a map, also tend to be ignorant of the many great and subtle differences between the small Alpine republic (population 8.4 million), known as Österreich, and its much larger neighboring republic to the north, known as Deutschland (population 80 million). Austria is only about the size of the US state of South Carolina. Germany is slightly smaller than Montana. In some ways, the two countries can be compared to the United States and Canada, or the US and Great Britain (with the sizes reversed): They both speak the same language, but with significant differences, and they share a common history that has made them friends, yet has also left them worlds apart.

More at The German Way
Austria (culture/history)
Austria for Tourists (travel info/sights)

Even English-speakers with a modicum of German can hear the difference between the lilting, almost musical tones of Austrian German versus the less lilting, more crisp sound of standard German (Hochdeutsch). Bavarian, on the other hand, is very similar to Austrian. (Bavaria being a state in Germany, yet not quite part of Germany. Rather like Texas in a way.) The difference between Austrian German and standard German is similar to the difference between the drawling language heard in the US South versus the more standard English of the US Midwest or West. Continue reading

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

Harvesting Germany’s Wild Garlic

Germans and their food obsessions. We are getting deep into Spargel season, but I am still stuck on the last seasonal mania, Bärlauch. Alternatively known as Allium ursinum, ramsons, bear leek, or wild garlic – all of these names meant nothing to me before coming to Germany.

Wild Bärlauch Photo: Ian Porter

The fixation with Bärlauch isn’t quite as strong as the all-encompassing Spargelzeit, but it still sneaks its way onto every menu and farmer’s market. In the last few years, I’ve been treated to Bärlauch the traditional German way, harvested straight from the forest. I’ve never felt more German.
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Guten Tag, Frau Schmidt

In the office the other day my colleague was in a quandary. “But I don’t know whether to write ‘Du’ or ‘Sie’”, she said, brow furrowed, “I’ll have to text my friend and find out what she says to her.” The “Du” / “Sie” under discussion was a cleaner, recommended by a friend. My colleague had the mobile phone number but no knowledge of the cleaner’s age or general attitude to linguistic formality. For non-native speakers and students of German, the “Du” or “Sie” dilemma is all too familiar, but here was a born-and-bred German stumbling through the same maze of uncertainty.

The assumption that Germans just know this sort of detail – imbibed through years of interacting with aged relatives over Kaffee und Kuchen – no longer holds true. Customs have changed: some Germans and some parts of Germany have become less formal, it seems. The challenge now lies in knowing which ones. My colleague did not want to offend an older lady with the informal “Du”, nor to come across as a fusty stickler for tradition with a bright young thing. “If only I could write to her in English,” she bemoaned, “A simple ‘you’ would be so much easier.”

In the olden days – a mere fifteen years ago would suffice – the answer would have been clear to all Germans. “Sie” for anyone older, a stranger, or a distant acquaintance; “Du” for close friends and family. Neighbours and colleagues would fall into two camps. Those you had an intimate friendship with who had offered you the “Du”, and a brief “Sie“, plus head-nod on the stairs for anyone else.  Continue reading

Berlin’s Abandoned Tempelhof Airport Becomes a Vast Park

I first wrote about Tempelhof Airport when I was living in Berlin, just before the air terminal shut down in 2008. In fact, my post about Tempelhof’s closing (now deleted) was one of the very first German Way Expat Blog posts. Berliners’ “nein” vote in an April 2008 referendum had sealed the historic airfield’s fate. It ceased operations as an airport at the end of October 2008. But, as with most things in Berlin, the decision on what to do with the now-idle airport remained in limbo for some time. Proposals ranged from developing the large site and using it to provide badly needed affordable housing, to leaving the grounds largely untouched as a park. (Thankfully, the airport terminal building is landmark protected and can’t be torn down. Guided tours are offered for individuals and groups.)

Tempelhof field aerial view

Tempelhof Field covers 386 hectares (954 acres, 1.5 sq. miles) including the terminal structure (303 ha without the buildings). PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Tempelhofer Feld
For a long time after its closing Tempelhof’s huge airfield was fenced off and unavailable to the public. But today Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field) is a popular park that attracts Berlin families and people of all sorts to its expansive, open environment on the grounds of what was once Berlin’s only commercial airport until the new Tegel airport opened in 1974.

Tempelhof gates

The boarding area of the Tempelhof terminal in 2007, just before the airport closed down. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Before Tempelhof Field first became an airport in the 1923, the area was a military parade ground. When the parades ended, Berliners took over the field as a park on weekends and holidays. Today the former parade ground and airport has been returned to its function as a park. The vast Tempelhof park now features six kilometers (4 miles) of asphalt-paved former runways and taxiways for recreational use. Where aircraft once took off and landed, visitors today can walk, jog, bike, skateboard, and rollerblade. The grass-covered fields around the former runways and taxiways are now popular for picnics, sunbathing, kite-flying and other leisure pursuits. (Also see Chloë’s post about Three Great Berlin Buildings That Used to be Something Very Different.)

Old Tempelhof runway

The former runways at Tempelhofer Feld park today serve as a recreational area for bike riders, joggers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the famed “Berliner Luft” (Berlin air). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The Tempelhof Field park is so large it can take 20-30 minutes just to walk from one end to the other. That’s why many people prefer to ride a bike or use something else with wheels (skateboards, scooters, etc., but nothing motorized) to navigate the vast field. It usually requires several visits over time to visit the entire area of the park, not counting the terminal complex.

Tempelhof’s heritage-protected terminal building complex stands largely empty today, but parts of it now are used to house offices for Berlin’s police department, the Berlin traffic control authority, a kindergarten, a dance school, a stage theater, and various other agencies. More recently, in October 2015, the hangar area became home to about 1,000 refugees – first housed “temporarily” in tents and now in cubicles. (Berlin’s refugee housing policies have come under heavy criticism, quite justly.) At its peak, Tempelhof’s hangars housed about 2,500 refugees. In February 2017, the city announced that 600 remaining refugees would move out of Tempelhof by the summer, with all of them rehoused by the early fall. As with any announcement by Berlin officials, one should be skeptical, but for the refugees’ sake let’s hope it’s true. Even after all refugees leave, Hangar 5 at Tempelhof will continue to serve as a refugee intake center (Ankunftszentrum). A new and controversial “container village” on the Tempelhof grounds is supposed to remain there only for two years. Continue reading