Here Comes the World Cup

I am sure you already know this, but as of the time of my writing, the World Cup begins in 22 days. In just over 3 weeks, soccer fever will consume Germany and much of the rest of the world. Are you ready?

If you are new to Germany and have arrived from North America, you might not be. The World Cup is big. Bigger than the Superbowl. And longer, more exciting, and more fun. “How can that be?”, you may ask. “Nothing is bigger than the Superbowl!”, you may say. This is something you must experience to believe.

Beginning June 12th at 5pm Sao Paolo time (10pm German time), you can spend your waking (and sleeping) hours consumed with the game of soccer. Lest you fear you will have to sit at home in front of your TV all day, rest assured: many workplaces will broadcast it in-house. All pubs will show the matches. And there is “public viewing” – the German notion of gathering in public squares to watch matches on giant screens, together. With beer. This is more fun than it sounds! (“public viewing” for Germans involves watching sports together in public, and is an awkward example of Germans adopting English words and giving them new meanings). Continue reading

Kids’ Birthdays in Germany

This has been a month of kids’ birthday parties for us, on the organizational side and on the invitational side. My third child turns seven on Friday and her younger brother attended a birthday party for a friend of ours’ son the week before. Olivia attended a ninth birthday party for a boy in her class on Saturday. (Oh, how the school system can create age disparity within a class at school – but that is a post for another day).

Last year we were spared the pain of trying to plan a Kindergeburtstag at all because we had just moved back to Germany when the time came for Olivia. We decided we didn’t know enough of her classmates to have a party so we just celebrated with the family. There seem to be two kinds of birthday parties around here. There are the ones where the parents come up with some elaborate, very time-intensive (for the planners) theme and put tons of effort into it. And then there are the ones where they choose a venue (like the local indoor playground) and let the venue take care of it. We fall into the latter category, but to be honest, I don’t think the kids care that much. Olivia enjoyed both types equally. We are having Olivia’s party at the local Technomuseum. I think they are making paper with the kids. We will bring the food and drink and will bake the cake, and they will be in charge of entertaining the kids. That works for us. We both work full time and have four kids of our own. We aren’t keen on having a bunch more running through our house and adding to the chaos. Our garden is pretty small and our neighbors are pretty grumpy. Continue reading

Birthdays at Work (or the Joys of Raw Meat)

My first job here in Germany was in a publishing house (Verlag in Freiburg, and that job was actually my first real job after college. It was certainly a different way to be indoctrinated into the world of work. It was the early nineties and it was the Schwarzwald. Freiburg is still a pretty hip town, but in small companies like the one I started in, they stick to tradition. Almost everyone was per Sie with one another, despite the fact that many of them had been working together for years. After a year of having two Americans and one Canadian in their midst, they loosened up a bit and we were almost all per Du.

Birthdays at work, depending on the company, usually involve the person whose birthday it is bringing in something to eat. At my current company, it might just be Sekt and Brezeln for my small department. At my husband’s company, some people bring in three-course elaborate meals for the whole group, which is 40 people. This year I made American cakes and cupcakes for the whole lot. They were a happy bunch after the sugar rush! Continue reading

Munich’s Fasching begins in November

A guest post by Adam Keyes of Munich’s Karneval Universe

In early November cities and towns all across Germany erupted into color and celebration for the beginning of the Carnival season, or the “Fifth Season” (die Fünfte Jahreszeit) as it is also known, and Munich was no different.

Fasching, as Carnival or Mardi Gras is known in Munich, traditionally begins at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, as it is at this time that the “Council of Eleven” (Narrhalla) gathers to plan the events of the forthcoming celebrations that will occur across the city. The Council of Eleven, who all wear comedy jester and fools hats during the celebrations, are joined by the Carnival Prince and Princess in the planning processes. This year’s Carnival Prince and Princess are Alexander II and Lisa I, who arrived at Munich’s Viktualienmarkt (“food market” square) in a vintage car to be presented to their “foolish nation.” From this point until March 4, 2014 the Carnival Prince and Princess reign over all proceedings.

The German term Fasching originates from the medieval word vaschnc and relates to the fasting period of Lent (die Fastenzeit), which commences right after the Carnival season. Fasching has its origins in the dancing, revelry and pageantry that allowed everyone to let off steam before giving up things for Lent. Despite the evolving changes in customs, manners, the economy and celebrations, the Fasching tradition has lasted to this day. Continue reading

German Weddings

Having spent my formative adult years in Germany, I have been to more German weddings than American weddings. There are some striking differences in how each culture approaches the celebration (and paperwork) that accompanies two people committing their lives to each other. As Gina mentioned in her blog post in 2010, weddings in Germany aren’t retail extravaganzas – this is one of the biggest differences. However, there are numerous subtle differences that change the entire experience, and even the symbolism of the ceremony.

Let us begin before the wedding day. There is no such thing as a bridal shower in Germany. Brides-to-be are not showered with gifts in advance of showering them with more gifts, and while wedding plans involve many details, the industry built around them is miniscule compared to the North American version. Bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties, are newer traditions but are increasing in popularity, as young people love an excuse to go out and misbehave. There is no bridal registry, although you can select a number of gift ideas at a local shop and have them displayed at a Hochzeitstisch (wedding table).

In our modern age, you can probably also set up a wishlist on and share it with your guests, if you really want to. The average age of Germans on their wedding day, however, is in the 30-33 year old range. This means that most Germans who are getting married already have everything they need in their home. In fact, most of them have probably lived together for a number of years already and don’t need a new crystal vase or a Crock-pot. Continue reading

Laternenfest – Lantern Festival

It was during our second winter in Berlin that I first became aware of Laternenfeste (lantern festivals). We had little twin babies and, despite early heavy snows, I spent much of my time traipsing icy streets pushing the pram whilst they slept. There was a period in early winter when afternoon after afternoon I saw lines of young children – pre-school age – muffled up against the cold, swinging pretty coloured lanterns and singing in shrill juvenile voices. I was intrigued, but not enough to find out what it all meant. My reaction was more one of ‘oh, that’s ever so sweet, it must be some sort of German tradition’ and then to forget all about it, as you do when you can’t imagine your own booty-wearing, rattle-shaking babes ever being old enough or robust enough to march the streets wearing boots and singing songs.

But since then, the unimaginable has happened and our children are now old enough and robust enough for their own winter boots and to attend a local nursery pre-school (KiTa). And last week, for the first time, they too joined the lines of young children piping out songs about lanterns and swinging their own homemade contributions. Off we trudged on an almost chilly November afternoon in the gathering gloom, through the streets, round the park and up to the top of a nearby hill, to find a big bonfire waiting and cups of warming Glühwein (mulled wine). Once there, we sang more songs about lanterns, watched sparks leap from the fire, and ran around in the dark until our hands were too cold and it was time to go home. Continue reading

Cow Parade

I’m on a bit of a tourist kick at the moment. For my last post, I wrote about where to take visitors in Swabia. This week’s topic: the cow parade. I had never heard of this tradition until last year, when colleagues of mine included it in their hiking weekend. I immediately thought “hey, I bet my boys would love that!” and my husband disagreed, saying they were too little and would be scared. Of cows? Please. Although, the bells are indeed very loud, and cows are kind of big. So we waited another year and just last weekend, I experienced the Viehscheid in the Allgäu (which follows the the Almabtrieb in Germany and Austria, known in Switzerland as the Alpabzug) This refers to the process of bringing the cows down from the alpine meadows, and returning them to their owners to spend the winter in barns. It involves a parade of cows decked out with flowers and wreaths, oom-pah-pah bands, traditional celebration food, beer, and cow bells. Lots of cow bells.

My first encounter with cow bells was while hiking in the Alps. The Alps are glorious for hiking, and on a leisurely stroll above the clouds one day, I found myself transported to a magical place. Continue reading

Canadian Wedding with a German/Swiss Twist

Four months before my July wedding I was inundated with the same comment from almost every female I encountered: “Oh you must be so busy!” Further into the conversation always came the question, “Is it difficult planning a wedding from overseas?” I was living with my fiancé in Switzerland, for the hockey season (August- April) and was getting married in Montreal, Canada, on July 9th.  For a while my answers remained the same: “No, not really”.  I didn’t understand what was so hard about planning a wedding, even from another country.  We picked the venue the last time we were in Canada, I ordered my dress from a shop near my house in Switzerland (planning to haul it home on the plane), I googled photographers, cake makers, bridesmaid dresses, floral ideas- and felt totally confident that the internet was the only tool I needed.  Until it came time to order invitations . . .

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