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

From Smoke Detectors to Electric Cars: New and Revised Laws in Germany for 2016

Sometimes it’s surprising how a modern nation like Germany can lag behind in certain areas. A good example from the past is smoking. While the US and many other countries long ago banned smoking in restaurants, the workplace, and other public areas, Germany was slow to do the same. After an initial period of voluntary restrictions by some businesses, Germany began to regulate smoking in public places. (Austria, on the other hand, still has a lot of work to do on public acceptance of smoking bans. Cough! Cough!) While non-smoking areas in Germany were once a rarity, today German anti-smoking laws are similar to those in the US in most cases.


As of 2016, some German states require the installation of smoke detectors (Rauchmelder) in existing homes. PHOTO: Feuerwehr e.V.

Another area where Germany was lagging behind was smoke detectors. As with many things in Germany, this is an area left to each of the 16 Bundesländer (states). There is no nationwide law. After a slow start beginning around 2004/2005, almost all of the German states now require smoke detectors in new houses and apartments. As of 2016, only Berlin and Brandenburg still lack any smoke-detector requirements (Rauchmelderpflicht). Some Länder now also require smoke detectors in older, existing living quarters. Continue reading

Preparing your Child for Preschool in Germany

Ready to play

Ready to play for a living.

Do Germans have a saying for “When it rains, it pours”? After months (and months) of house hunting we finally got a place, only to be offered another Wohnung right after that. Now we just need to find a Nachmieter (a renter to take over our current lease), move, clean and settle into the new place…all while our baby is starting Krippe (baby daycare). Easy, right?

Her first day of school is October 1st and I am almost thankful for the housing chaos.  With all this madness I don’t have too much time to think about my baby leaving me.

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Swimming in Germany

It’s summer time and those of us in Germany have just emerged from an intense week of record breaking heat (40 degrees C/104.5 degrees F). What to do in this heat in an air condition-less country? Hit the water.

While dipping your feet into that water might be all you need, you might want to go all the way. If you’re wondering how water safe you or your child is, fear not, there is a swimming testing process here in Germany that tells you exactly what your level is.

The early swim badges. PHOTO: Jane Park

The early swim badges. PHOTO: Jane Park

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MahlzeitFor the first time since we moved to Berlin over five years ago, I am required to go (most days, at least) to an office with lots of German people. Up until a few months ago, I’d either worked from home or from a small co-working space. But now, from behind computer screens and over the kettle in the shared kitchen, I see Germans at work – a novel and culturally enlightening experience for many reasons, not least because of “Mahlzeit!”

Have you ever heard a German say “Mahlzeit” and wondered what it meant – sitting down to a meal perhaps or some time around the middle of the day? Why should they be reminding me it’s a mealtime, you might have thought, if you’d understood the word but not really grasped what they were getting at. Continue reading

Babysitting in Germany

It was not that long ago that the concept of babysitting (das Babysitten/Babysitting; Kinderhüten is the old-fashioned term) was little-known in the German-speaking world. When it did happen, it was usually Oma, a neighbor, or one of the older children watching over the kids for a while.

A big change came in the 1990s, with the arrival of online and local Kinderbetreuung (child-care) agencies in Germany, when the idea of hiring a non-family member to mind the kids became more common. Today it is possible to earn fairly good money in Germany as a paid sitter. Below I’ll be writing about German babysitting both from the perspective of expats hiring a babysitter, and getting a job as a sitter. But first we need to clarify the term “babysitting.” Continue reading

It’s not quite cheese, it’s not quite yoghurt

Quark 2I first heard of quark (such a wonderfully German name) 7 years ago in the “exotic” dairy section of a high-end UK supermarket in London. I was with my German husband. “Oooh” he exclaimed, with tangible excitement, “Look, quark – shall we get some?” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and when I asked what quark was he couldn’t really tell me. “It’s a bit like yoghurt,” he said, “Only thicker, more like cream cheese.” Nevertheless, we took home this mysterious dairy hybrid and I was an immediate convert. So what’s the excitement all about?

If you’re new to living in a German-speaking country, the chances are you’ll have noticed quark. A staple of German cuisine, it features prominently in supermarket fridges, bakery counters, cafe menus and Kindergarten meal plans alike. But to call it a cross between cheese and yoghurt is to do it a disservice. Quark is unique. True, technically-speaking it is somewhere between the two. Like yoghurt, it’s made from soured milk, but the starter culture used for quark is different and provides a significantly less sour taste. Like cream or cottage cheese, it’s mild and creamy, but it is without salt. Being salt-free is only the beginning of its nutritional qualities; it’s higher in protein than yoghurt and, in its full-fat form, is a great source of vitamin K2, which helps keep calcium in your bones. Amazing!  Continue reading

Applying for a Wohnung in Berlin

When we found out we were pregnant, we knew a two-room (one-bedroom in American) apartment was no longer going to cut it. So we went on the hunt for a three-room, ideally with a balcony, high floor, a little class and great transportation links. Slowly at first, and then with increasing sincerity as the baby finally made her arrival.

PHOTO: Erin Porter

My little Berliner on the Wohnung search

As always, I was horrified at the lack of light fixtures, kitchen and even floors in some Wohnungen (apartments). I checked out the toilets. My wandering eye searched further afield from my preferred neighborhoods (known as Kiez in Berlin) of Friedrichshain to nearby Lichtenberg, Wedding from Prenzlauer Berg. Surely Marzahn couldn’t be that bad…could it? Despite my lowering standards, we are still without an apartment to accommodate our growing family.

Why is renting in Berlin so hard?

The hard truth is that looking for a house in the Hauptstadt is hard. Competition is fierce, rental companies aren’t particularly motivated to make things work for the renter (evidenced by the insane viewing hours – 10:30 on a Tuesday anyone?), and applications take organization, great credit and earnings and a lot of luck. Continue reading