Berlin Nuts

Without much of a summer, it was like I turned around and it was fall. Luckily, I love fall. Adore. It is my favorite season.

Photo: Erin Porter

But is was still shocking to see the trees suddenly aflame in orange and red. Walking became difficult as the ground was bumpily carpeted in fallen nuts. The title “Berlin Nuts” feels like I’m talking about the people (hello Berliner Schnauze), but I am being quite literal. As a west coast (USA) native I am thoroughly unfamiliar with these nuts that were suddenly EVERYWHERE.

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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

How to work remotely whilst living in Germany

A new employment opportunity or study is often the reason for people moving to another country. However, this is not the case for this expat. It was my partner’s career which brought us to Bremen, I continue to work for a company I was employed with in the UK.

Working from home in Bremen PHOTO: Sarah E

I am lucky in that the organisation I work for have allowed me to work remotely in Bremen. This was the first time I was going to be working from home so I was totally stepping in to the unknown, both working remotely and in a different country where I knew no one. I recognised that it would be a challenge no matter where I was living. Lacking motivation and being easily distracted were the things I worried about. I was naive in not realising there are a few things to consider when moving to a new country and making your home your office. Continue reading

Goethe and Schiller in San Francisco


German culture at the “Goldenen Thor”

NOTE: This updated version posted on 28 August 2017 (the day when Goethe was born in 1749) was first published on 20 January 2010.

During a recent visit to San Francisco I got a surprising reminder of how truly widespread and important German culture once was in the United States – before two world wars drastically changed the role it played in America.

My wife and I were standing in a very long line of people, slowly making our way towards the entrance to the California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park. (And we all already had tickets!) As the line flowed at its glacial pace, I noticed a statue of two figures standing on a stone pedestal. I remarked to my wife that it looked like a German or European statue. As we got closer, the bronze figures seemed even more familiar.

Once we were standing right in front of the statue, I was amazed to read the inscription on the reddish stone base: “Goethe. Schiller.” As I gazed up at the large bronze figures of Germany’s two greatest poets and philosophers, I realized why they looked so familiar. This statue seemed to be the same one my wife and I had seen a few years earlier in Weimar, Germany. How the heck did it get here? What was the story behind this larger-than-life symbol of German culture standing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco? Did any of these people in line, besides my wife and me, even know who Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were?

I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture of the statue (see photo below), thinking I would try to solve this mystery later.

Goethe Schiller statue

The Goethe-Schiller memorial statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (Dec. 2009). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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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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Bremen in Summer

Having passed my first year in Bremen, I feel qualified to say summer in the city is the best season to visit.

Amongst the numerous festivals taking place, Breminale stands out. For five days in July the banks of River Weser are lined with open-air tents with music pumping out of them. Artists from across Germany and beyond come to sing, rap and encourage the crowd to move their feet. Alongside all the entertainment there is row upon row of great fresh food and drinks stands to choose from. Breminale is a place for friends to gather in the evening after a hard day at work or to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon soaking up the sounds with family. One of the highlights of the Bremen events calendar for sure. See Holidays and Celebrations for more about festivals in Germany.

Breminale opening night. PHOTO: Sarah

On a summer day it’s easy to watch the hours tick by in the Marktplatz, the heart of Bremen. The square is lined with restaurants and cafes where you can sit outside, enjoy a locally brewed Haake Becks, watching the street entertainers and soaking up the atmosphere. Within a few meters walk you can take in some of Bremen’s most famed attractions: the Town Musicians, St Peters Cathedral, and the Roland statue to name a few.  If you want to get out of the sun’s rays, I recommend taking solace in the Schnoor, one of the quaintest and oldest areas of Bremen. The narrow cobbled streets shaded from the sun are lined with independent shops dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Not only is it a lovely area to wander around, you could pick up a local piece of art or jewelry. Continue reading

Austria and Germany: Worlds Apart


Billy Wilder (1906-2002), the noted Austrian-American film director (Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot), as famous as he was, used to complain about how he was frequently misidentified as German. Americans often get Austria and Germany mixed up. Sometimes they even confuse Austria with Australia! Thus the joke T-shirts and signs found in Austria with a “no kangaroos” logo. Silly Americans!

Salzburg

The Hohensalzburg castle seen from the padlock bridge in Salzburg, Austria.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Never really that good at geography, Americans, even if they can find Austria on a map, also tend to be ignorant of the many great and subtle differences between the small Alpine republic (population 8.4 million), known as Österreich, and its much larger neighboring republic to the north, known as Deutschland (population 80 million). Austria is only about the size of the US state of South Carolina. Germany is slightly smaller than Montana. In some ways, the two countries can be compared to the United States and Canada, or the US and Great Britain (with the sizes reversed): They both speak the same language, but with significant differences, and they share a common history that has made them friends, yet has also left them worlds apart.

More at The German Way
Austria (culture/history)
Austria for Tourists (travel info/sights)

Even English-speakers with a modicum of German can hear the difference between the lilting, almost musical tones of Austrian German versus the less lilting, more crisp sound of standard German (Hochdeutsch). Bavarian, on the other hand, is very similar to Austrian. (Bavaria being a state in Germany, yet not quite part of Germany. Rather like Texas in a way.) The difference between Austrian German and standard German is similar to the difference between the drawling language heard in the US South versus the more standard English of the US Midwest or West. Continue reading