Summer holidays: a postcard from England

By David Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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

Baedeker, German Reiselust, and vacation days

Baedecker book cover

The traditional Baedeker guidebook, like this 1911 English-language edition, sports a red hardcover with a golden embossed title. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

In both German and English, the term “Baedeker” (BAY-day-ker) is synonymous with “travel guidebook” (Reiseführer). Although the German Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) did not invent the travel guidebook, he certainly perfected it. After publishing his first travel guide (Rheinreise/Journey along the Rhine) in 1838, Baedeker went on to refine his product by being meticulous about the facts and information he included (with carefully detailed maps), and inventing the “star” ranking system for outstanding attractions (1846). The German word Erbsenzähler (bean counter, nitpicker) is said to have originated with his method of counting the exact number of stair steps in a cathedral tower by leaving a dried pea on every 20th stair as he went up, and collecting/counting them on his way back down.

Kings and governments may err, but never Mr. Baedeker.
– A.P. Herbert, in his 1929 English libretto for J. Offenbach’s operetta La Vie Parisienne[1]

The red Baedeker guidebooks[2] are still published today, and still have a reputation for sober factualness and lack of embellishment, especially compared to most contemporary travel books. And it is the Baedeker and other tourist guides that bring us to my main topic: German Reiselust (love of travel).

Sometimes called “wanderlust” in English, the German propensity to travel is better named by other, more modern German words, Reiselust and Fernweh being the two most common. Perhaps Fernweh is the one we want here: the longing for travel to distant places. Some cynics say this Germanic desire to go off to faraway places has to do with the German saying “Da, wo ich nicht bin, da ist das Glück.” (“There where I am not, there’s where happiness is.”) — but I think not. It has more to do with Germanic curiosity and information-gathering, not to mention a desire to find the sun and escape the frequent gloom of northern Europe. Ever since Goethe went on his Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) in the 1780s, the Germans have been among the world’s greatest tourists — with Baedeker in hand (since the 19th century). You also may have seen the Baedeker in the hands of Lucey Honeychurch in the film A Room with a View (also in the original 1908 E.M. Forster novel). Continue reading

Making a small contribution – refugees in Berlin

One of the biggest grass-roots organizations set up to help refugees in Germany

One of the biggest grass-roots organizations set up to help refugees in Germany

The situation is all over the news, it’s what people are earnestly discussing over dinner, it has moved the country on a national scale – I’m talking about Europe’s migrant crisis and the role Germany is playing.

This is not the time nor place to be political. All I’ll aim to do here is offer a few fleeting observations as an expat in the Hauptstadt (capital) and give a few tips on what you can do to help if you’re so inclined.  Continue reading

A 400-pound gorilla named Germany

Anyone who has followed the evolution of Germany and the European Union for as long as I have may be forgiven for thinking that Germany would always be the EU’s biggest supporter – in more ways than one. But lately, there have been signs that the gradual progression from the old Common Market of the 1960s to the EU and eventually on to a United States of Europe may be a much bumpier road than many once thought.

In the past, German policy regarding the EU reflected Germany’s history and the destruction of Europe caused by Nazi Germany. Along with the rest of Europe, German leaders realized that a unified Europe would help avoid the national conflicts that had so often led to European wars of conquest from ancient times on into the 20th century. In 1952, post-World War II German guilt and common sense led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) by six countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. That modest beginning would lead to the “Common Market” (Treaty of Rome, 1958) and the European Community (EC) in 1967. By 1993, only a few years after German reunification, the 12 EC countries formed the more robust European Union (EU). Today the EU has 27 member states with a total population of about 500 million. Continue reading

German anti-smoking laws – Rauchverbot?

no smoking icon

Germany and I have a long history when it comes to cigarette smoke. Ever since my first visit to Germany — oh those many years ago — I have loved the many differences and unique characteristics of life in Europe as compared to the USA… except for one thing. Smoking.

For many years it was almost impossible for a non-smoker like me to avoid “Qualm” — clouds of cigarette smoke almost everywhere you went. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, just about the only non-smoking zones were on German trains in the “Nichtraucher” cars. Continue reading



The new U.S. Embassy in Berlin.

The new U.S. Embassy in Berlin. Photo © H. Flippo


Welcome to our new GW Expat Blog! We’re still getting organized, but soon you’ll be able to join us for discussions of life in German-speaking Europe. We’ll talk about all sorts of expat issues, plus general ramblings on topics related to travel, business, history, and living in a culture that is different from the one you grew up in. We’ll also be looking for regular contributors – with expat experience and a love of writing. Bis bald!