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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

What’s in Your German Basement?

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.

Continue reading

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

German Toilets

Disclaimer: This post – as indicated in the title – is about toilets. Though there are no stories detailing dirty business, it is implied. If you prefer more heart-warming topics, why not consider my posts about my favorite Berliner and having a baby in Germany.

Behold! A German Toilet Photo: Erin Porter

The mysterious German Toilet
Photo: Erin Porter

Why are toilets feminine?  The toilet is “die Toilette auf Deutsch. One of the many pronouns that make no sense, I have time to contemplate this oddity of German as I use one every day and have sampled facilities across Germany. I would consider myself an expert.

And I think German toilets may be superior. Hear me out…

Continue reading

Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden


Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Money
Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.14). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm harbor

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

Much of today’s money exchange problem is solved by another recent development: the wide use of credit cards, especially in Scandinavia. Need to pay for a taxi? The driver grabs his portable credit card reader and wirelessly processes your card. Any shop, grocery store or restaurant will gladly accept your credit card for payment.[2] Continue reading