On days like today (the end of Ostern or Easter holidays with no family nearby and only medium-nice weather) there is a question of what exactly to do. We’ve already had 3 glorious days off, admired our Osterstrauch (Easter tree), celebrated the holiday with enough chocolate to fit in with the Germans.
So for today we decided on a visit to the swimming pool. My little girl is three and few things give her greater pleasure than splashing around in a pool. Sames for me.
But going to the pool in Germany can be a bit odd. A few things always stand out that we’re not in Kans…erm, America anymore. Here are some of my top observations about swimming pools in Germany and my favorite pools for the whole family in Berlin.
Coming from a place with pitiful public transport (looking at you Seattle), it took me all of 10 seconds to develop eternal love for Berlin‘s comprehensive public transportation. It only took a few seconds longer for me to have strong opinions on what is and what is not acceptable when riding public transportation in Berlin.
Eberswalder U-Bahn PHOTO: Erin Porter
The thing is, everyone rides public transport in Berlin. Unlike more elitist systems in places like New York City, the young, the old, the poor, the well-off, the tourists, and the locals all ride the rails around this massive city. You really don’t need car as you can usually get within a block or two of where you want to go with its elaborate system of buses, trams, U-Bahns (underground), S-Bahns (above ground rail), regional trains, and even ferries. Run by BVG (with some assistance by Deutsche Bahn), it is truly a marvel.
The timing of most German school holidays match my British expectations. Two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, six weeks in the summer, plus the odd week somewhere in the middle of these blocks. This is not so different from home and behind each is a clear reason. To this, however, is one glaring exception: the Winterferien (winter break) – a week-long holiday a mere four weeks after Christmas (in Berlin at least – it differs from Bundesland to Bundesland).
Fun in the Berlin snow!
Still refreshed from the Christmas break and motivated by New Year’s resolutions, the timing of this particular holiday always seems a bit odd. Four weeks just isn’t long enough to develop that sense of having slogged through countless early mornings and late night homework sessions. The bonus, I suppose, is that it makes going back after Christmas at the coldest and darkest time of the year a touch easier. “Just think, it is only four weeks until the Winterferien.”
As with many such traditions, there is a story to it. Winterferien are a DDR (GDR) legacy. Back in those days, DDR school children were given a three-week (!) holiday at the end of the academic half year having received their ‘Halbjahreszeugnis’ (half year report). The three weeks were not just a marker of having completed half a year at school, they were also an opportunity to go skiing or partake in other winter sports – often at state-run winter holiday camps. Interestingly, Austria and Switzerland had and still have Winterferien too. The initial motivation there was to save money on heating school buildings during the coldest weeks of the year, serendipitously at peak winter sport season. Continue reading →
Without much of a summer, it was like I turned around and it was fall. Luckily, I love fall. Adore. It is my favorite season.
Nuts in Berlin PHOTO: Erin Porter
But is was still shocking to see the trees suddenly aflame in orange and red. Walking became difficult as the ground was bumpily carpeted in fallen nuts. The title “Berlin Nuts” feels like I’m talking about the people (hello Berliner Schnauze), but I am being quite literal. As a west coast (USA) native I am thoroughly unfamiliar with these nuts that were suddenly EVERYWHERE.
Fall tourism can be excellent in many parts of Europe. The summer heat ebbs away, comfort foods (and beverages) abound, and many cities and countryside areas alike are at their most beautiful as the leaves change and the daylight dims ever so slightly. All of this is true of Germany. And that, coupled with a few noteworthy events and attractions, makes this a perfect country to keep on your list for autumn travel.
Here are five places in particular you must visit if you travel to Germany this or any other fall.
1. Jasmund National Park
There are a few particularly nice places to view the beautiful nature that comes with fall. But among them, it’s difficult to top Jasmund National Park (Nationalpark Jasmund), created in 1990. This scenic nature reserve is found on the Jasmund peninsula of the island of Rügen in northern Germany. Here you can enjoy long hikes through changing trees, as well as occasional views of the Baltic Sea. The area may be particularly appealing to those who appreciate fine art, as it’s known to have inspired some of the works of 19th century German painter Caspar David Friedrich. Specifically, the chalk cliffs (see photo) within the park are the subject of a wonderful painting depicting a journey the artist once made with his wife. The work shows a human figure facing the deep and almost infinite space beyond the cliffs – a pose you may well imitate while enjoying this beautiful area. Continue reading →
In case you missed it, there was a general election last week in Germany. Receiving most of the international media coverage was, understandably, the fact that the AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) won just under 13% of the popular vote, making them the third strongest party in the Bundestag and the first far right party in the German parliament since 1945. That, and the global sigh of relief that Angela Merkel, the kind and sensible “Mutti” figure at the head of German politics, nevertheless has won a fourth term in office, remaining a bulwark against the impetuous world leaders who appear to surround her. This is not the forum to give you detailed political analysis of how any of this came to pass; plenty has been written elsewhere.
But what I can say superficially about the election, as an expat, is a word on election posters – by far the most visually striking element of these last few weeks. These posters, promoting both parties and individual candidates, are said to have more impact on popular political opinion than TV ads. When you walk around and see the energy invested in putting them up on literally every lamppost, in defacing them, and in taking them down at the end of the election (a work in slow progress), this seems plausible. There is a practical reason for this: in stark contrast to US elections, there is a strict limit on campaign airtime and campaign spending for all politicians and political parties, which restricts their options. Despite online methods of mobilising voters, the political poster remains a strong and much-used tool. Continue reading →
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
An example of Berliner Schnauze is that gut (good) becomes “yoot” and Ich (ish) changes to “icke”; das becomes “dat” and was is “wat”. 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.
By David Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13731677
As every summer, we are holidaying in the north of England, where compared to Berlin the days are cooler and the evenings longer. I should be used to it because this is where I grew up and it has the unpredictable (or all too predictable) summer climate of my childhood. But after seven years in Berlin and before that seven years in the warmer south of England, I repeatedly pack the wrong clothes. So my light summer skirts stay folded in the suitcase and I wear the same inadequate jumper and cotton trousers day after day. This place feels so deeply like home but the years away mean that I look at it with different eyes.
The first point – which always strikes me on the plane – is obvious but true. Everyone is speaking in English with an accent close enough to my home town. For all the English spoken in Berlin’s cosmopolitan Prenzlauerberg, I rarely hear a Northern English voice. The children notice it too. “It’s strange to hear only English,” they say. In Berlin, English feels like a language just for us (though everyone must understand it), here it is a language for everyone. Continue reading →