A week on the farm


View from our terrace at Staller

Like many expat families, we think we fly too much. Though some of these trips – for work – are unavoidable, the rest we do gladly to keep in touch with family and friends, whether for weddings, birthdays, or general catching up. There is, however, our annual summer holiday usually to a warmer land which comes in addition and which this summer we decided could be achieved for a change by car. One of the joys of living in continental Europe is that travelling to somewhere within driving distance actually gets you quite far away – even to other countries if you so choose. That’s how we ended up spending a week at a farm in Bavaria and a week at 2,300m in the Italian Alps. They were glorious destinations for very different reasons, but it’s the Urlaub auf den Bauernhof (holiday on the farm) phenomenon I want to write about here – the mountains will be a story for another time.  Continue reading

Landeskunde for Expats

What is “Germany”? When most English-speaking people think of Germany, images of lederhosen, the Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle (the “Disney castle”), and Oktoberfest are probably the first things that pop into their heads. Of course all of those things are Bavarian, not German. If they happen to think of German cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche), they’re still in southern Germany (except for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg). And then there’s historical stereotype number one: Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian and liked to hang out in Bavaria.

So for many people Germany = Bavaria. That’s like saying Texas is the United States of America. Oops.

Porta Nigra detail 2

Trier’s landmark Porta Nigra gate. Trier is Germany’s oldest city, but it’s not in Bavaria. Learn more about Trier. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Most people who have never been to Germany, Austria or Switzerland have no idea how regional those countries are. Germany has about 80 million people, most of whom have much more of a regional identity than a national (or a state) one. Germans live in regions with names such as Allgäu, Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Eifel, Franken (Franconia), Harz, Oberbayern, Ruhr (Ruhrgebiet, Ruhrpott), Rheinland, Schwaben (Swabia), and Taunus. There are over 50 different named regions in Germany, few of which correspond to the 16 Bundesländer (states).

Austrians sometimes claim there are two regions in their country: Vienna and everywhere else. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Austria may only be the size of South Carolina, but its 8 million citizens live in nine provinces and regions from the Danube in the east to the mountains of Vorarlberg in the west – all with different dialects, geography, and customs. Continue reading

How much does it cost to study in Germany, really?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When I speak to students and parents about the prospect of completing a degree in Germany, the question that invariably comes up is,”Ok, there’s no tuition, but how much does it really cost?” The answer is a bit complicated, but it largely depends on where you study and what type of lifestyle you want.

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Getting Intimate with The Swedish Chef

I was warned about certain things, a lot of things actually, prior to my move to Germany.  None of them prepared me for what I call Swedish Chef Syndrome.

I am a native English speaker from the New England region of the US.  My own way of speaking is also heavily influenced, you know, by 20 years in California (we all say “you know” all the time).  I can communicate with just about any other English speaker from anywhere.  Some regions have more distinctive dialects than others, Caribbean and African nations, in particular.  I’ve always managed to make do, though.  I also had five years of Spanish while in school… so I’m mostly set in terms of getting around the Western Hemisphere, the former British Colonies and even Southern Europe where Spanish is close enough to Italian and Romanian that I can still function.

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Homeschooling verboten

I know I just recently wrote about the German School System, but a 2009 German court decision on homeschooling put that unique aspect of German education in the spotlight. A Bremen couple who have been trying to get permission to homeschool their two young sons had all their legal arguments rejected. A Bremen superior administrative court (Oberverwaltungsgericht) told Dagmar and Tilman Neubronner (and their two attorneys) that they must send Moritz and Thomas to a normal German school and not teach them at home.

Berlin classroom

A secondary school classroom in Berlin. Students in Germany have to learn in a classroom, not at home. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Unlike most European countries, including next-door neighbors Austria and Switzerland, Germany requires that children attend school, and outlaws homeschooling except in rare cases. The Bremen court ruled that the Neubronners had not demonstrated that they qualified for such an exception. This state ruling followed a November 2007 German federal court (Bundesgerichtshof) decision that termed homeschooling a form of parental child abuse! Most would-be German homeschoolers laid low after that, but not the Neubronners. They soon become Germany’s most famous (or notorious) Heimschul-Familie, determined to fight the Bremen state law (as in all of Germany’s 15 other Länder) that forbids homeschooling. Continue reading