If You’re Happy and You Know It, Make a Demo

One of my first brilliant conclusions almost upon arrival on my first time living in Germany, was that Germans are undeniably active when it comes to politics. Of course all of my appreciations came from what previous first-hand experiences I had had in the past, being a young adult in Mexico, my home country, where it’s perfectly acceptable to simply state that politics bore you and you don’t know anything about it, successfully avoid the topic and nobody bats an eyelash. In Germany, it’s quite normal for most of the population over a certain age to follow what happens in the political scene, and it’s rare that said scene is limited to Germany alone. The intensity of this interest and the understanding of what it entails is, of course quite varied, but six years later, my original conlusions still suffice to sustain my opinion: Politics is definitely a thing in Germany.

When you live in Germany and you don’t like something, you have the option of organizing or taking part in a “Demo” to make your opinion known and spread the discomfort you feel.

That sounds nice, but how to Demo the German Way? (See what I did there?) Well, I first had to forget what I knew about demonstrating because as far as I was concerned, Demos could be done at any time, day or night, and it was enough to get a couple of angry neighbors and some scribbled placards to suddenly close some highway without any hope of finding out what the deal was about and, most important of all, when it would finally be over. To me it’s also an everyday thing to turn on the news some random morning and find out that the central square in the city is now occupied by dozens of camping tents with people who are living there in protest against something, and they will stay for as long as they want. Great. Continue reading

The Good and Fearless Samaritan

I come from Mexico, a place where social initiatives are not that big a thing, mainly because a great deal of the population has barely enough resources to keep their own heads afloat, but also because its mindset is infected with corruption and a cheating culture where you must seek to maximize your personal benefit at whatever the cost. Because everyone does the same, you must also distrust everyone and the more you can cheat, the better. The brilliant principle by which we live and justify whatever fault we consciously commit is: “The one who does not cheat, does not win.” – I rest my case.

The Umsonst-Laden. This particular one is in Hamburg. FOTO: LauraV.

One of the very first things I learned the first time I lived in Germany was that no matter how much I had read and studied about its history, politics and culture, I was still ignorant about what it all really meant in the real world where both the German society and others (like the one I grew up in) coexist. It is true that Germans tend to abide themselves by the rules because they understand rules are the base for everything to work properly –and there’s nothing they like more than things working properly (but honestly, don’t we all?). This is not to say there’s no corruption in Germany, but things are simply different and the citizens still have power as individuals, even if they sometimes fail to appreciate it and what it means, they do. It is very impressive to witness that power for someone who comes from “no man’s land” and where my own brother must leave the house full of fear when he heads to school and nobody can drive him there so he must always be ready with a secret little pocket where he stashes emergency cash and also carries a fake wallet and a fake old mobile phone he can surrender in case of robbery in the bus or while walking down the street; or where people (yes, that famously warm and chirpy Mexican people) are now so rude they won’t even stop if you try to ask them for directions. They are not being rude per se, they are scared because they do not trust their fellow Mexicans, we all know it all is probably a ruse and you will end up kidnapped, attacked or, in the lesser of cases, robbed. Are you following the vicious circle? Continue reading

The Great German Bake Off

Before coming to Germany I thought I was a fairly good at baking. Lemon drizzle cake, raspberry muffins, carrot cake, treacle tart, no problem. I’m not claiming to be Mary Berry (British baking legend), but I could confidently walk in to the office knowing my baked goods would go down a treat. However, that confidence was soon rocked on my first attempt at baking in Germany.

Success! The sticky toffee cake as mentioned PHOTO: Sarah E

I find baking quite therapeutic so setting out to make some cupcakes for my partners colleagues was going to be the perfect activity to remedy the stress of moving countries. But I soon learnt that it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as I thought. The first hurdle is to tackle the baking aisle at the supermarket and the hundred and one flours available. The choice is great but when you just want a self-raising flour, think again. After much internet searching I discovered self-raising flour doesn’t exist here, so it’s a case of getting plain flour and adding baking powder. I find that Type 405 flour is the best option then add the required amount of Backpulver, usually zwei Teelöffel (teaspoon) per 150g of flour. As baking is all about the chemistry, it’s better to get this as exact as possible otherwise your sponge will sink or taste like iron. Continue reading

The Expat Crisis

There are typical crises that happen in every person’s life: the identity crisis of the teenage years, the mid-20’s crisis, and the famous midlife crisis. Of course there are also the financial crises. Sadly, it’s common to have more than one of these, but they are good perspective on how all the other crises are sometimes nothing more than blown-out-of-proportion tantrums. But there is a special kind of crisis that does not happen to everyone. It is reserved for those who have chosen to leave their birthplace and while doing so, have put many kilometers between them and their homeland.

I do not believe anybody ends up far away from “home” by accident. Sure, the reasons and motivations for it are as varied as life stories can be, but at the core, there’s always a logical and sensible explanation as to how and why a person ended up quite far away from where they happened to be born and raised. Maybe it all started when they took a vacation, maybe with an ambition, maybe even due to a crisis. Whatever the reason, it happened. You are out of there, far away and you have to get your life rolling at whatever the cost because this was your decision and you will be sticking to it. Continue reading

The One Exception to the German Punctuality Rule

Have you ever heard about German punctuality? You surely have. Swiss people may have the best watches, but it´s the Germans who are recognized worldwide for always being extremely on time.

As a newcomer, one of the first things you’ll get told by anyone who tries helping you blending in is to get yourself a planner, a large wall calendar or at least  to master how to use your smartphone’s notes function. Here paper and pen still hold a special place, and almost everyone still has handwriting that puts your ordinary scribbles to shame. Seriously, you will feel less cool while taking notes at a meeting or handing a napkin with your number to someone.) But why would you need all this? Simple, because Germans plan ahead, the serious kind of ahead. It is completely normal to make an appointment three weeks in advance to go to the movies with someone. If that doesn’t come as enough of a shock to you, I recently attended a culture-related seminar where I found out, on average, Germans’ furthest scheduled social event (this is confirmed and written down in the planner) goes as far ahead as 150 days. Meanwhile, the rest of us don´t even know what we will have for dinner tonight.

Of course all this is just “average”, “common”, “normal” and all those nice terms that work great when we are trying to forget diversity exists, that pretty much every individual is as complex as the universe and that, more often than not, it is the exception what makes the rule. Speaking of which, there is this thing in Germany that epitomizes the greatest exception to the German punctuality legend: Deutsche Bahn (DB).

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4 Ways in which Berliners are Actually Nice

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

Berliner Schnauze

An example of Berliner Schnauze is that gut (good) becomes “yoot” and Ich (ish) changes to “icke”; das becomes “dat” and was iswat”. 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.

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What’s in Your German Basement?

Berlin basement PHOTO: Erin Porter

Don’t worry – this is nothing to do with Josef Fritzl…although mentions of basements seem to bring up that imagery. (To be fair, Fritzl was from Austria like another infamous German speaker). This post is about the German basements (Keller or Souterrain or Untergeschoss), a mysterious place beneath most German apartments where stalls of old furniture, bikes, and seasonal accessories are kept.

In our last apartment, a tiny Dachgeschoss (attic apartment), we weren’t allotted one of these coveted basement spots. So we got creative. There was a shelf built into the loft of the foyer, we bought large closets and crammed things just about everywhere. It worked, but barely. Once we had a kid – it was over. Baby clothes and toys and just stuff spilled out of everywhere. It was time to move – ideally to somewhere with some storage.

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How to tell when Germans are really being rude versus just being German


If you want to confirm the fact that the internet is not improving people’s IQs, just type “rude Germans” into your favorite search engine. Boom! You’ll get over 1.9 million results, most of which were written by morons. (But “rude French” pulls an amazing 39.1 million results!) Few of these online commentaries run counter to the usual “rude Germans” rant and the negative stereotype that so many Americans, Brits and others have of Germans. Even fewer of these web articles, forum posts and blogs offer any useful, helpful information on the topic of “rude” Germans, French, or other Europeans.

The Rudest Countries
I recently saw a CNN online article that listed the “10 Rudest Countries” in the world. As usual, France took first place in the rudeness race. Germany only came in fourth, right behind the UK. The USA placed seventh. But a survey like this, by the skycanner.com cheap flights travel site, is subject to all sorts of distortion, including cultural biases, language difficulties, personality differences, and ignorance, to name just a few.

What a person perceives as rudeness may only be a cultural misunderstanding. What is considered rude in one country or culture may not be regarded as rude in another. But every culture has people who are rude, no matter which culture it may be. Certain impolite behaviors are unacceptable in almost any culture. Sometimes an expat or traveler is actually right to consider someone rude! Continue reading