Best Low Key Dance Spots in Berlin

Dance moves at a Bad Taste Party Phot: Erin Porter

Vintage Dance moves at a Bad Taste Party Photo: Erin Porter

I am not a cool kid in Berlin. Never was. And now I am a mom – the ultimate in uncool.

The truth is, I never even tried to get into Berghain (reportedly the coolest club in the world with an infamous door policy and no camera rule). I certainty wouldn’t make it in. Even though Berlin is one of club capitals of the world, I don’t feel guilty that I never partook.

Not going to clubs did not prevent me from staying up so I late I saw more sunrises in a year than the rest of my life; it didn’t stop me from dancing my way through the city’s bazillion festivals; and it won’t stop me from partying wherever I find myself. I’ve never needed a club to have a good time. I much prefer to forgo the long lines, critique at the door and expensive entry and despite the city’s reputation, there are plenty of low key dance spots in Berlin where you can avoid the stress and just dance.
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Changing places: 3 great Berlin buildings that used to be something very different (and more)


Stained glass windows in ESMT foyer


Mosaic on wall of ESMT conference room

The stained glass in the grand foyer of the building where I work depicts factories and space travel, alongside striking workers and their families. On the wall in the second grandest conference room is a vast hammer and sickle mosaic. Next door, in the grandest room of all, there is another mosaic circling the room with yet more astronauts, strapping, tool-wielding men and women, and squat chimneys belching smoke. Here’s the surprise: I work at GTEC, a centre for entrepreneurship, based at ESMT European School for Management and Technology, Berlin’s leading private business school set up by some of Germany’s biggest businesses. Arguably the epitome of capitalism: so what’s with all the socialist symbolism? The clue is in what this spectacular building at Schlossplatz 1 used to be before it was renovated: the former Staatsratsgebäude (National Council Building) for the East German government. But this is just one example of what could be considered a Berlin leitmotif: transformed buildings, defying their former purpose. Continue reading

All Day School (Ganztagsschule)

Here in Eppelheim (near Heidelberg), there has been a lot of controversy about the new Ganztagsschule that started this school year. There had been talk of it for ages, but it finally came to fruition for this school year. However, many, many people are unhappy with the way it was implemented and with the results of that.

Last year sometime there was a survey of all parents asking who would be interested in sending their kids to all-day school. Apparently 51 parents said they would be interested in the school, but the survey was unverbindlich (non-binding). The next thing we heard, they were closing the Hort and no one had a choice any more. We always knew that the first graders would have to do Ganztagsschule, but the 2nd – 4th graders were supposed to have a choice in the  matter. Now, for working parents, there is no choice. There has been an uproar since, especially because they changed the pricing scales for the so-called Randzeiten (7-8am and 4-5pm, plus Fridays from 12 noon and during school holidays). Because the state is no longer subsidizing the care, and is instead putting money into the all-day school, many people are paying a lot more for a lot less. The costs worked out well for us because they based them on the number of kids under 18 in the household. But I can imagine that single parents or parents of only one child will really be forking it over for the child care. What a mess! Continue reading

From Bundesland to Bundesland

I received a reminder in my inbox today from my co-blogger Hyde calling to my attention that I had missed my Monday deadline to post here on the German Way blog. This was another casualty of my most recent move. In case you haven’t been keeping up with my personal expat saga, my family and I just moved to Essen in North Rhine Westphalia having left the small Swabian city, Aalen, where we had lived a total of seven years as a family. Continue reading

Gone Fishin’

Recently we spent a long weekend on the shores of one of the thousands of lakes that dot Ontario. The weather was fantastic, so we spent lots of time paddling, in canoes and in the pool. Most of the time, however, we spent fishing. The kids had a fantastic time trying out different bait and lures, finding the perfect combination for catching the little sunfish and bass lurking in the water under the dock. A simple hook with a worm did the trick.

Fishing with my kids reminded me of my own childhood, fishing with my parents at similar lakes, or in rivers, anywhere we wanted. When my oldest received a fishing pole as a birthday gift a few years ago, however, we were a bit lost in Germany: where can we go fishing? We ended up at a nearby trout farm, pulling bored fish out of unsanitary-looking ponds. It was unsatisfying to say the least. Continue reading

Dealing with the Germans

This topic has the potential to be divisive and insulting. I will tread lightly. A year ago, a friend of mine celebrated her last few days of singledom with a bachelorette party in France. Unable to attend, I sent along an “Instruction Guide to a German Husband”, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of Do’s and Don’ts for foreign wives of German husbands.

And sitting down to write about how to deal with Germans, I find myself thinking: 11 years of marriage to a German, countless hours and festivities with German in-laws, 11 years of living in the country and speaking the language… do I really know how to deal with Germans? Only sometimes. I think I’ve got things figured out and then some Amt throws a spanner in the works, or I attend a party where I’m the only foreigner and come away feeling fresh off the boat, a complete outsider. Continue reading

A German Education

I am going to attempt to explain the German education system in the simplest terms possible. For those with further education who can handle the exceptions, I have listed them at the end.

When a child is born in Germany, it has the right to a place in a daycare from the age of one year, starting in 2012. Daycare is referred to as Kinderkrippe, Kleinkindbetreuung or Kindertagespflege, although the latter only refers to the care of children in private homes with a Tagesmutter, not to a daycare center.

From the age of 3 years until they are old enough to start first grade (usually age six by the end of September), children attend Kindergarten. Kindergarten in Germany is usually mixed-age preschool and American “kindergarten” all jumbled together. The preschools on offer are almost all publicly subsidized, and fees vary in each city. Often the fees reduce with the number of children you have (and they don’t even have to be attending preschool), sometimes are linked to your income, or taken from a table based on the number of hours your child attends. There are preschools that are half-day, some are all-day, some serve lunch and some do not. The good ones have a waiting list, and for the most part, parents wishing for their children to start after their 3rd birthday need to get them registered at preschool by February of that year.  The number of spots varies from state to state – in Baden-Württemberg, space is tight, especially in Stuttgart. In Berlin, there is much more on offer. Continue reading

Getting in with the In Crowd

Recently some fellow Americans moved in down the street. We figured this out before we talked to them, as there were some telltale expat signs around the house. One day I stopped the new neighbor while he was out walking his dog and we had a brief chat, marveling at how small the world is and how connected our distant lives actually are. After this chat, I had every reason to swing by and welcome them properly to the neighborhood – isn’t that what we Americans do for our new neighbors? And yet, I hesitated. You don’t just drop in on people in Germany. There is no such thing as a welcome wagon. Don’t bother the neighbors… everyone is packed in tightly enough here without having to socialize on top of it.

Eventually I reasoned that I have simply lived here far too long, and if I remember back to being new myself, I would have greatly appreciated others reaching out to welcome me. Shortly after our initial meeting, I stopped by my new neighbors’ house unannounced, and brought food, and I think they even appreciated it. Continue reading