Gifts from Germany

A visiting friend from New York asked me for some tips on good gift ideas for her to take back home from their summer in Germany. I love this question as it’s one that I have to think about and refresh each time I go back home. Here’s my list which includes  some expected standards along with some eccentric ideas that have been hits. Continue reading

Kids’ Birthdays in Germany

This has been a month of kids’ birthday parties for us, on the organizational side and on the invitational side. My third child turns seven on Friday and her younger brother attended a birthday party for a friend of ours’ son the week before. Olivia attended a ninth birthday party for a boy in her class on Saturday. (Oh, how the school system can create age disparity within a class at school – but that is a post for another day).

Last year we were spared the pain of trying to plan a Kindergeburtstag at all because we had just moved back to Germany when the time came for Olivia. We decided we didn’t know enough of her classmates to have a party so we just celebrated with the family. There seem to be two kinds of birthday parties around here. There are the ones where the parents come up with some elaborate, very time-intensive (for the planners) theme and put tons of effort into it. And then there are the ones where they choose a venue (like the local indoor playground) and let the venue take care of it. We fall into the latter category, but to be honest, I don’t think the kids care that much. Olivia enjoyed both types equally. We are having Olivia’s party at the local Technomuseum. I think they are making paper with the kids. We will bring the food and drink and will bake the cake, and they will be in charge of entertaining the kids. That works for us. We both work full time and have four kids of our own. We aren’t keen on having a bunch more running through our house and adding to the chaos. Our garden is pretty small and our neighbors are pretty grumpy. Continue reading

Expat Tip: Buy an E-Reader

I am a self-confessed bookworm. Books are a significant part of my life, and no day is complete unless I have spent part of it reading. Moving to Germany in 2000, I spent years on the hunt for books I could read. At first, devoted as I was to achieving fluency in the language, I read German books. I started with children’s books that I had read during elementary school, and read the German versions of them. The prose was straightforward and the sentence structure was simple enough for me to follow the story, and I kept a dictionary handy for new vocabulary words. I progressed to young adult fiction, and eventually adopted the newspaper. I will admit that I only read one or two entire books in German each year. Despite fluency, I still find reading more relaxing in my native language.

Prices for English books are shockingly high in Germany, and I could rarely justify paying them, except in the hope that I was either fulfilling an immediate literary need or helping to support a local bookstore. Once started selling English books, I ordered often (and shipping on books is free!). However, the selection of English books on isn’t the same as on, and I wanted the selection from across the pond. For years, my English-speaking friends and I swapped and borrowed from each other’s libraries, although our tastes never perfectly aligned. I was delighted to come across Sarah’s suggestion for, and managed to trade a few used books on that platform. Now that the world has digitized everything and is ever more global, however, the e-reader has opened up new avenues. Continue reading

German Weddings

Having spent my formative adult years in Germany, I have been to more German weddings than American weddings. There are some striking differences in how each culture approaches the celebration (and paperwork) that accompanies two people committing their lives to each other. As Gina mentioned in her blog post in 2010, weddings in Germany aren’t retail extravaganzas – this is one of the biggest differences. However, there are numerous subtle differences that change the entire experience, and even the symbolism of the ceremony.

Let us begin before the wedding day. There is no such thing as a bridal shower in Germany. Brides-to-be are not showered with gifts in advance of showering them with more gifts, and while wedding plans involve many details, the industry built around them is miniscule compared to the North American version. Bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties, are newer traditions but are increasing in popularity, as young people love an excuse to go out and misbehave. There is no bridal registry, although you can select a number of gift ideas at a local shop and have them displayed at a Hochzeitstisch (wedding table).

In our modern age, you can probably also set up a wishlist on and share it with your guests, if you really want to. The average age of Germans on their wedding day, however, is in the 30-33 year old range. This means that most Germans who are getting married already have everything they need in their home. In fact, most of them have probably lived together for a number of years already and don’t need a new crystal vase or a Crock-pot. Continue reading

Something from home

“Can we bring you anything that you can’t get there?” is a common question our visitors from the UK ask. We usually spend a good ten minutes, both of us running through supermarket shelves in our minds’ eye, but almost always to no avail. Aside from the odd big pack of Yorkshire Tea bags, it would seem we want for nothing.

Does this mean we have become so acclimatised that we no longer dream about products from home? It is true that our habits have altered somewhat over the three years of living here, adapting to local trends and tastes: Nivea creams and cleansers fill our bathroom shelves; quark has become a family staple and these days a potato salad just isn’t quite right without a good share of gherkins. But I’m not sure that is really it: rather, being able to reel off such a short list of these examples seems to me testament to the fact that the vast majority of our consumption – edible and beyond – has remained pretty much the same. Our limited demands have less to do with acclimatisation and far more with globalisation and the ubiquity of internet shopping.  Continue reading

Cow Parade

I’m on a bit of a tourist kick at the moment. For my last post, I wrote about where to take visitors in Swabia. This week’s topic: the cow parade. I had never heard of this tradition until last year, when colleagues of mine included it in their hiking weekend. I immediately thought “hey, I bet my boys would love that!” and my husband disagreed, saying they were too little and would be scared. Of cows? Please. Although, the bells are indeed very loud, and cows are kind of big. So we waited another year and just last weekend, I experienced the Viehscheid in the Allgäu (which follows the the Almabtrieb in Germany and Austria, known in Switzerland as the Alpabzug) This refers to the process of bringing the cows down from the alpine meadows, and returning them to their owners to spend the winter in barns. It involves a parade of cows decked out with flowers and wreaths, oom-pah-pah bands, traditional celebration food, beer, and cow bells. Lots of cow bells.

My first encounter with cow bells was while hiking in the Alps. The Alps are glorious for hiking, and on a leisurely stroll above the clouds one day, I found myself transported to a magical place. Continue reading

The wedding table: novel and practical!

Before I moved to Germany, I was a Financial Counselor at my alma mater. I did not go to school for finance, but previous jobs in the realm of retirement funds and a decent amount of on-the-job training mixed with my own personal experiences with college funding were all that I needed.

Receiving training in finance really rearranged the way I think about a lot of things that most people take for granted or don’t ever stop to question.

The first on that list was obviously the ridiculous cost of post-secondary education in the US. Ludicrous is too nice a word, seriously. We (most Americans) have been raised with the understanding that by the time we are 25, we’ll probably be really in debt. And hopefully out of college, paying it back.

The second on the list was weddings.

I’m 29, from divorced parents, and a professional photographer. Always the wedding photographer, never the bride. Continue reading