Housewarming Traditions in Germany

Berlin housewarming

Toddlers warm a house Photo: Erin Porter

After all my complaining about finding an apartment in Berlin, it seems like everyone is moving into their home. We moved into our new place – complete with a room for our girl – almost exactly a year ago. While we were away in the States we missed two of our friend’s moves (sorry guys!). We also returned to new neighbors across the hall. And on our first weekend back we even went to a friend’s housewarming party – full of century old wood, food, friends and kids.

To commemorate these life events, you need the proper gift. In the USA, Emily Post dictates that a bottle of wine, a plant, or a loaf of bread or other food item are appropriate. But in Germany? I was a little lost.

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From Smoke Detectors to Electric Cars: New and Revised Laws in Germany for 2016

Sometimes it’s surprising how a modern nation like Germany can lag behind in certain areas. A good example from the past is smoking. While the US and many other countries long ago banned smoking in restaurants, the workplace, and other public areas, Germany was slow to do the same. After an initial period of voluntary restrictions by some businesses, Germany began to regulate smoking in public places. (Austria, on the other hand, still has a lot of work to do on public acceptance of smoking bans. Cough! Cough!) While non-smoking areas in Germany were once a rarity, today German anti-smoking laws are similar to those in the US in most cases.

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As of 2016, some German states require the installation of smoke detectors (Rauchmelder) in existing homes. PHOTO: Feuerwehr e.V.

Another area where Germany was lagging behind was smoke detectors. As with many things in Germany, this is an area left to each of the 16 Bundesländer (states). There is no nationwide law. After a slow start beginning around 2004/2005, almost all of the German states now require smoke detectors in new houses and apartments. As of 2016, only Berlin and Brandenburg still lack any smoke-detector requirements (Rauchmelderpflicht). Some Länder now also require smoke detectors in older, existing living quarters. Continue reading

Applying for a Wohnung in Berlin


When we found out we were pregnant, we knew a two-room (one-bedroom in American) apartment was no longer going to cut it. So we went on the hunt for a three-room, ideally with a balcony, high floor, a little class and great transportation links. Slowly at first, and then with increasing sincerity as the baby finally made her arrival.

PHOTO: Erin Porter

My little Berliner on the Wohnung search

As always, I was horrified at the lack of light fixtures, kitchen and even floors in some Wohnungen (apartments). I checked out the toilets. My wandering eye searched further afield from my preferred neighborhoods (known as Kiez in Berlin) of Friedrichshain to nearby Lichtenberg, Wedding from Prenzlauer Berg. Surely Marzahn couldn’t be that bad…could it? Despite my lowering standards, we are still without an apartment to accommodate our growing family.

Why is renting in Berlin so hard?

The hard truth is that looking for a house in the Hauptstadt is hard. Competition is fierce, rental companies aren’t particularly motivated to make things work for the renter (evidenced by the insane viewing hours – 10:30 on a Tuesday anyone?), and applications take organization, great credit and earnings and a lot of luck. 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

Moving to Germany: The Top 10 Things to Consider


Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. Even if you are fortunate enough to be using the services of a relocation agent, you should be aware of the following ten factors to consider when moving to Germany.

Berlin apartment parking

Having a car in Germany can be a mixed blessing. Here: apartment parking in Berlin-Friedrichshain. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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1. Get Oriented
By “get oriented” I mean get to know the culture, the language, and the place where you’ll be living. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many new expats fail to do this. You’re moving to a new country with a culture and a language very different from what you’re used to. Don’t arrive in German-speaking Europe without at least some basic preparation. This is what our German Way site is all about! You’ll find all sorts of help here, and here are a few tips on what you need to learn: Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading

Four reasons to live in a WG in Germany

A WG in Lövenich (Köln) Photo: Jay Malone

I’ve spent approximately four years of my life in Germany all told, and (almost) everywhere I’ve lived has been incredible. In Berlin, I lived in a massive Kreuzberg loft, with 5 meter tall ceilings and a common room big enough to stage operas, which a few friends of mine actually did once. In Heidelberg, I found myself living in a vacation home, sleeping on one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever been fortunate to lay down upon. In Lueneburg, I lived with a family who had their own sauna, which I partook of more than twice.

All of these experiences predated the start of my life as a full-time student here in Germany and my first Wohngemeinschaft (shared flat or “WG” for short). And even though I loved my experiences in Berlin, Lueneburg and Heidelberg, I’ve found since that WG living beats them all.

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House Hunters in Germany

Flipping through the myriad of cable channels the other evening, I landed upon House Hunters International, a staged-reality show where buyers are shown three homes and have to pick one of them to buy or rent. I say “staged-reality” because this isn’t a true reality show. As far as I have understood, it is made to look like a reality show but behind the scenes, the final decision has already been made, the documents signed, and thus the drama and conflict in the show are contrived.

All that is neither here nor there, however, because the location of this particular episode was in Würzburg, Germany, and I found myself staying up long past my bedtime in order to watch fake reality TV.

The rewards were plentiful: stereotypical German realtor, stereotypical American expectations, stunted and parallel communication, and cookie-cutter German apartments. Continue reading