Is Healthcare better in Germany?

Sometimes “home” feels a lot further than a 10 hour flight away. My old college roommate was just diagnosed with colon cancer and I don’t know how to express my worry, my concern – all the feelings I am having for her – better than in a facebook message. She is not one for social media so I’m not sure if she’ll see it. Over the decade that I have been out of college we lost touch as we each got married, moved (one of us across the country and an ocean), and generally went about our lives.

Maria Heimsuchung Hospital PHOTO: Erin Porter

But with this news I am brought back to those good ‘ole college days and can’t believe she is facing the C-word. It is among an expats’ greatest fears; not that you will just miss out on the fun things (like weddings), but you won’t be around when things inevitably fall apart.  Just because you’re gone doesn’t mean things stop changing.

In her post, my friend sums up her month as one of “major surgeries, 4ER visits, 2 blood infections, staples, stitches, and a jugular infusion line. Then the 7/3/17 game changer of a colon cancer diagnosis and starting chemo in 4-6 weeks.” She is facing a brutal battle, and one of the major concerns isn’t even the massive health issues she is tackling. It’s financial. As my country (the USA for the uninitiated) continues to claw itself apart over a workable health care system, everyday people need to keep figuring out how to pay for it. Continue reading

How to Dress for Winter in Germany

Photo: Erin Porter

The author feeling cold Photo: Erin Porter

It’s hard to tell what the weather will be like day-to-day in Berlin. You can wake up to bright sunshine, leave your Wohnung (apartment) amidst deep fog and return home to an epic downpour. Other places like Freiburg may boast more sunshine than anywhere else in the country, but there is no escape from the cold. Bone-chilling, breath-stealing, icicles-in-your-nostril cold eventually finds its way to every corner of Germany. Sometimes this is only for a day or two, and sometimes this chill feels like it will never end.

And unlike places like the USA where you run from your well-heated home to your preheated car to your next heated destination, life in Europe refuses to let you hide out through the winter. There will be very cold minutes waiting for the train, the airy flat you loved in summer will turn into an ice box and the only times you’re warm are when you are sweating through your under layers on the random overheated UBahn car.

The only way to fight back is with the proper clothing (Kleidung) and Germans are champion over-dressers. Here is how to dress for winter in Germany.
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What to Do if you Get Pregnant in Germany

PHOTO: Erin Porter

Pregnancy Test Vending Machine

When I first found out I was pregnant in Germany, I freaked out. I was married and happy, we were kinda trying but I was still terrified. I suspect I would have been apprehensive no matter where I was, but there were so many questions about how this would go in Germany.

I dug into the German-Way archives and their experience calmed me. I had seen the mobs of hip, strollered woman parading around Prenzlauer Berg. I could do this. I did do this. And you can, too. Here are the first few steps of what to do when you find out you’re pregnant in Germany.

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3 Ways I Embarrassed Myself at the German Sauna

Photo: Erin Porter

About to get N-A-K-E-D

Don’t worry guys, I brought a towel to sit (and sweat) on in the sauna and didn’t try to wear my swimsuit into the nude areas. I’m not a German sauna newbie. I’ve been once before.

That one time was at touristy Tropical Island. I highly recommend it if you are also a spa novice. It is a full-on water park with slides and waterfalls and artificial beach front. But deep in its center lies an area cloaked in palm trees and signs barring entry for those under 16. We waffled back and forth if we were actually going into this adult-only zone before putting on our big boy pants (or taking them off, in this case) and entering.

As Germans consider regular spa going a part of good health and not a luxury, the average Germ knows what to do in the sauna. Not so for a couple of expats from Seattle. We clumsily felt our way through the process of showering, storing our clothes in a cubby and dramatically dropping the towel to enter a steamy room full of naked Germans. And – no surprise for those who’ve done it before – it wasn’t so bad! We emerged thoroughly moist and with muscles that had deeply relaxed so that we were basically moving puddles. It was fabulous.

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In Case of an Emergency

Accidents happen. Unfortunately one happened to a child of mine under the watch of an au pair whose redeeming characteristics became harder and harder to appreciate as the weeks of her time with us went by. Rima, the tourism and gastronomy student from Kyrgyzstan whose name still makes us all shudder, was a combination of a lot of negative attributes. She was difficult to communicate with and it wasn’t just because of her low level German or English language skills. After a conversation with her, we never knew if she didn’t understand, if she was offended, if she was OK and in agreement, or what she was going to do. She had a general inability to follow simple direction which resulted in irregular punctuality, disregard for dietary restrictions and preferences, and carelessness and clumsiness (she dinged and scratched our brand new, fancy refrigerator not once but twice), and she had an inability to manage her money (having showed up from Bishkek with too little money, she asked for advances nearly every month. She needed to book her travel tickets to see Rome or Paris so in her words, it was important enough to justify asking for an advance.).

In case of an emergency, call 112 in Germany and throughout the European Union. PHOTO: Marco Fieber, Wikimedia Commons

In case of an emergency, call 112 in Germany and throughout the European Union. PHOTO: Marco Fieber, Wikimedia Commons

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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

10 Ways That Europe is Different from the USA


First, let me tell you about the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Recently a friend suggested that I read what turned out to be a rather disheartening rant published by an online expat website. (The names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.) The writer, an American lady, was complaining about her life in Germany, a lament brought on by a recent visit to her local Apotheke (pharmacy). She was whining about the fact that she had to take the extra time and trouble to consult with a German pharmacist (in German of all things) in order to obtain a medication that she could have bought over the counter in the US.

Bikes and pedestrians

Germans and other Europeans walk and ride bikes more often than Americans.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Several people left comments pointing out that the German system actually provided the benefit of helpful, professional advice that would have required a visit to the doctor in the US. True, you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy a bottle of aspirin in Germany, but you can go to your local Apotheke and get sound advice about which pain reliever would be best for your situation. While living or traveling in Germany and Austria, I have made several trips to the pharmacist to get help with a medical problem. In every case, the pharmacist either provided a good solution or, in one case, told me to see a physician. (What I thought was a sprained finger turned out to be a broken one.) Continue reading

8 Things I Learned About Giving Birth in Germany

give birth in Germany

Newest Berliner BY: Erin Porter

I am 4 hours out of the hospital and already posting about giving birth in Germany. When anyone gets on the internet to write about an experience this quickly it could be because it was outrageously bad or overwhelming positive. Lucky for me (and other soon-to-be expat moms in Germany), I feel compelled to share 8 things I learned about giving birth in Germany because it was simply awesome.

I also feel a certain amount of duty as I am the recipient of some seriously good karma. No sooner had I announced I was pregnant in Germany without a clue then I started receiving advice on what to expect. People shared their experiences – the real nitty gritty – and general messages of support. When I felt truly freaked out I would go back and refer to their stories and feel stronger, knowing that people (like our German-Way team) had been here and done that. In an effort to pass it along, I am sharing a picture of my brand-new Berliner and a little bit of what I’ve learned . Continue reading