Let the Christmas countdown commence

Usually once the 5th November is out the way I can start thinking about the C word but since Guy Fawkes night (when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament in London) isn’t recognised in Germany, plans for Christmas have commenced well in advance this year.

For any Expats planning on returning home for the festivities, planning early is key. I learnt this last year! When we moved to Bremen, I didn’t consider the different things we’d need to take in to account when returning home for a long period over the holiday season. First up, arranging the hire of a car. If you need to get around whilst you’re home book this as soon as you can. The car rental companies definitely do not see Christmas as the season of goodwill and rather the season to make money.

Cathedral Markt, Köln PHOTO: Sarah E

Now that we don’t have a base in UK we rely on family and friends letting us to stay, luckily they’re happy to be paid in festive cheer, otherwise there will be additional costs to the already expensive holiday season. It can be quite tricky bringing up these conversations as although you want to be organised early, not everyone knows their Christmas plans until the last minute.

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Summer holidays: a postcard from England

By David Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13731677

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

Days for the Frauen and Männer

Holiday Alert! It is Muttertag (Mother’s Day) this Sunday which means elegant brunches and bundles of flowers – no matter which side of the pond you are on.

Mother’s Day in Germany

My 1st Mother’s Day Photo: Erin Porter

But the history of the holiday in Germany, Switzerland and Austria has a unique European slant. Switzerland was one the first European countries to introduce Mother’s Day in 1917. Germany wasn’t far behind with observance beginning in 1922 and Austria in 1926.

The holiday became official in Germany in 1933 under the Nazi regime, highlighting the importance of having more Aryan soldiers. Mother’s Day still takes place on the second Sunday in May, though das Mutterkreuz – a medal given out for multiple children – has fallen out of fashion.
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It’s not all about the fireworks – 4 other New Year’s traditions in Germany

I’ve written about the German obsession at New Year’s with pyrotechnics for this blog before. This year Berlin was the same as always – air thick with smoke, sky alight with brilliant explosions of colour, and our ears filled with the constant cracking of bangers. After nearly seven years of living in the Hauptstadt, I’m entirely used to it. For all the bewildering bluster of the country’s firework mania, the other rather quaint German traditions for Silvester and New Year become overlooked. It’s those I want to explore here.

1. Bleigießen

Popular with small children and adults alike, Bleigießen (‘lead pouring’ or ‘molybdomancy’ – to give it the proper English name) is an elaborate method of fortune telling for the coming year. It requires a bowl of cold water, a candle, a spoon, a few small metal objects (traditionally lead, but most likely tin today), and a list of interpretations – the latter two can be acquired in any local corner shop or supermarket. Each person at the party is invited to place a small metal piece on the spoon and hold it over the candle flame. As soon as the metal melts (which is very quickly with these little pieces), the molten metal is tipped into the water and whatever the shape emerges is then used to divine the future. Depending on your Bleigießen kit, the interpretations range from the charming (field = luck and happiness) to the bizarre (trumpet = you will gain public office). The whole process does make a mess of your spoon though, so be sure to use an old one! 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

My First Karneval: On the Verge

Before Hyde sends me a message to “gently” remind me that my blog post is due today, I figured that I should get something up here. It isn’t my preferred style to just throw something up here, half-baked or half-thought through, but I realised that I’m on the “verge” of everything that is a hot topic right now: refugees, Karneval and the American election. Regarding the election back home, I’m not touching that one just yet. Otherwise politically engaged, I find myself wanting to plug my ears while screaming, “Make it stop!!”

Miss ID

Representing Miss Identified at Karneval in Düsseldorf 2016 PHOTO: Jane Park

I did talk about the refugee situation last year and how I was trying to find my way towards helping beyond donating winter coats and towels. Here I am on the verge. I’ll be meeting with the mentor coordinator of our neighborhood charity for refugees next week who will introduce me to my mentee and the person I will be sharing the Patenschaft or mentorship with. I am excited to be able to write about this experience in a future post. But I can’t just yet.

And the last topic is Karneval. My wallet is sticky from sampling Berliners at the bakery today, and I’ve already procured a bat costume, dug out a Wonder Woman costume snagged on sale two years ago, and researched and ordered a mermaid costume for my three kids. My younger adult self always wanted to celebrate the fifth season just as I wanted to check off Oktoberfest, the spas in Baden-Baden, and visiting the Beethoven House from my “while living in Germany” bucket list. (You might be scratching your head about the Beethoven House but it is just that I was thwarted twice from getting inside in the course of ten years which has only made me more determined.) My husband, my assumed partner in crime, has never been a big Karneval fan despite having grown up in the Rheinland. His extent of participating is to just remember to wear an icky tie on Weiberfastnacht. So I have never participated in Karneval in any vague sense of the word. (In Germany that is.) Continue reading

Newbies Guide to German Christmas Markets

Leipzig Christmas MarketMy parents are coming to Germany for Christmas for the very first time. Sure, they’ve been to Germany before. They’ve climbed the 111 steps up to our beloved Dachgeschoss in Berlin; they’ve driven all over the Romantic Road, they’ve fallen in love with its small towns and cities. But they have never experienced the true magic that is Germany at Christmas.

The biggest draw is sure to be their granddaughter (and native Berliner), but I am excited to introduce them to the beloved tradition of Weihnachtsmärkte (German Christmas Markets). The food, the Glühwein, the crafts, the food, the decorations, the holiday performances, the food….I want to do it all with them. If you are facing a similar undertaking (cram as much holiday cheer into a relative’s visit) I have prepared the Newbies Guide to German Christmas Markets so you can experience the true meaning of Gemütlichkeit.

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An Expat Thanksgiving in Germany


It’s that time of year again. If you were in the United States right now, you wouldn’t miss a beat in knowing what I was talking about. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Although this great American tradition is not celebrated in Germany, expats and their friends gather and have learned how to search and seek in order to create feasts in the new Heimat just like they would have back home. If you’ve joined an expat group or community of some sort, there’s usually an organized potluck. Since I’ve been in Germany, there have been years when I’ve celebrated multiple times (up to three) in a year to none at all. In addition to participating in the potlucks, I’ve hosted and invited others including all of my husband’s department colleagues one year and my German in-laws another.

In an effort to replicate the family feast, questions arise as to “where can you get … in Germany”?  Access to ingredients have changed over the last decade and availability of certain foods also depend on regions, but with some planning you shouldn’t have any problem checking off everything on your Thanksgiving shopping list in Germany these days. Otherwise, it might be time to improvise and introduce a new tradition in your new home.

Expat Thanksgiving

With some planning, a traditional US Thanksgiving can be replicated in Germany. Photo: Jane Park

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