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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Eggs on trees – 5 favourite German Easter traditions

Osterglocken - daffodils in English

Osterglocken – daffodils in English

I love Easter in Germany. It’s full of decorations, rituals and get togethers – almost like a mini Christmas but with better weather promising the arrival of spring.

It is a bigger celebration than anything I experienced in the UK. This could be because in my childhood we were not frequent churchgoers, but I don’t think it’s just down to that. At nursery and school we didn’t do much for Easter either – the odd Easter egg competition but that was that. Mostly, we were concerned with chocolate.

But as at Christmas, the Germans, whether actively religious or not, stay loyal to older, family-oriented traditions, which start before the official Easter-time from Good Friday onwards begins.

1. Blowing Eggs 

The first Easter-related activity is decorating eggs. This takes place a good couple of weeks before Easter and involves blowing out the contents of the egg through a tiny pin prick in the bottom and top. The egg shells are rinsed and left to dry. They are then carefully painted by children and grown-ups alike in a cacophony of colours. Continue reading

How to Survive a Berlin New Year’s

Berlin FireworksFor the first time ever, I have returned to my childhood home in the Pacific Northwest to celebrate Christmas. Partly due to our new arrival and our desire for her to meet her American fam, it was also just time. Even with all the magic of German Weihnachten – sometimes all you want for Christmas is your family.

Not so for me and New Years. I have absolutely reveled in the debauchery of Berlin New Year’s (or Silvester).

Two Swedish girls are staying in our flat over the holiday and they asked if what they’ve heard about Silvester is true.  As described by Chloe, New Years in the Hauptstadt can be echt Wahnsinn. I watch “Dinner for One” over sekt cocktails, make drunken declarations for the new year and my husband nearly ended our lives over fireworks last New Years Eve. I’ll get to that story in a moment, but first I offer all the ways you may survive a Berlin New Year’s.

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Tag der Deutschen Einheit: a view of Berlin 24 years on

As I sat looking out over the tourist boats on the Spree, drinking up the soft autumn sunshine, I had a flickering insight that this moment encapsulated much of modern Berlin. How fitting, I thought, for the occasion, and returned my mind to the conversation. This was last Friday (3rd October) – Tag der Deutschen Einheit – and 24 years since reunification. As the history of this national holiday has been written about in excellent detail elsewhere on this blog and website, I shall stay in the present. So what was striking about this relatively commonplace scene for a Hauptstadt dweller?  Continue reading

Green Sauce

Chopping herbs in London

Chopping herbs in London Photo: Chloe Daniel

The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne SosseContinue reading

And the sky became a sea of light – Silvester in the Hauptstadt

FireworksWe were lucky this year that the Berlin snow waited long enough for Silvester’s detritus to be  cleared away from the streets. In  2009/10 – the winter of the big freeze, when the pavements stayed covered in thick layers of ice and snow for months – the wooden sticks of rockets and the burnt out tubes of firecrackers surfaced in late March as the crocuses began to bloom.

The sub-header to an article in the Berliner Morgenpost from 31st December will give you a clue: “An Silvester verwandelt sich der Berliner Nachthimmel in ein Lichtermeer. Ueberall in der Grossstadt werden Feuerwerke gezuendet … ” (“On New Year’s Eve  the night sky over Berlin is transformed into a sea of light. Everywhere in the capital fireworks will be set off … “). Ah, fireworks across the city – it sounds rather magical, doesn’t it? And it is, in a way. But it’s also very alarming, especially if you’re not a German native and you grew up with slightly different firework safety standards. Continue reading