Landeskunde for Expats

What is “Germany”? When most English-speaking people think of Germany, images of lederhosen, the Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle (the “Disney castle”), and Oktoberfest are probably the first things that pop into their heads. Of course all of those things are Bavarian, not German. If they happen to think of German cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche), they’re still in southern Germany (except for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg). And then there’s historical stereotype number one: Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian and liked to hang out in Bavaria.

So for many people Germany = Bavaria. That’s like saying Texas is the United States of America. Oops.

Porta Nigra detail 2

Trier’s landmark Porta Nigra gate. Trier is Germany’s oldest city, but it’s not in Bavaria. Learn more about Trier. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Most people who have never been to Germany, Austria or Switzerland have no idea how regional those countries are. Germany has about 80 million people, most of whom have much more of a regional identity than a national (or a state) one. Germans live in regions with names such as Allgäu, Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Eifel, Franken (Franconia), Harz, Oberbayern, Ruhr (Ruhrgebiet, Ruhrpott), Rheinland, Schwaben (Swabia), and Taunus. There are over 50 different named regions in Germany, few of which correspond to the 16 Bundesländer (states).

Austrians sometimes claim there are two regions in their country: Vienna and everywhere else. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Austria may only be the size of South Carolina, but its 8 million citizens live in nine provinces and regions from the Danube in the east to the mountains of Vorarlberg in the west – all with different dialects, geography, and customs. Continue reading

How I Became Fluent in German Fast

I’ve been meeting many more expats now that I am living in the heavily populated Rhineland/Ruhr region of Germany. These expats range from old timers/lifers to newbie/temporary assignees. As any expat can relate to, the newbies are grappling with learning the German language: some try private tutelage, others secure places at the local VHS, while others make the deep plunge for the Goethe Institut in Düsseldorf. Most of them ask me about my level of German and how I learned. I admit that it was a quick ascent to fluency for me, and I know that I was fortunate to not have problems with the German language as an expat woe. (I was instead confounded by the local Swabian dialect while living in Swabia.)

A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park

A glimpse of my German language text books. Photo credit: Jane Park

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Living in Germany FAQ

For quite a while now I’ve been thinking that putting together a frequently asked questions (FAQ) list about living in Germany and other German speaking lands would be a good idea.  Many questions come up time and again on the German Way forums and e-mail list.  They are mostly addressed by our website, but having everything in one, concise list makes life easier.  So here is the start of the Living in German FAQ.

I’ll start with one item and I then extend an invitation to anyone to submit questions and answers to me for inclusion on the list.

Question 1:  Can I get by in German speaking countries without speaking German. Continue reading

Getting Intimate with The Swedish Chef

I was warned about certain things, a lot of things actually, prior to my move to Germany.  None of them prepared me for what I call Swedish Chef Syndrome.

I am a native English speaker from the New England region of the US.  My own way of speaking is also heavily influenced, you know, by 20 years in California (we all say “you know” all the time).  I can communicate with just about any other English speaker from anywhere.  Some regions have more distinctive dialects than others, Caribbean and African nations, in particular.  I’ve always managed to make do, though.  I also had five years of Spanish while in school… so I’m mostly set in terms of getting around the Western Hemisphere, the former British Colonies and even Southern Europe where Spanish is close enough to Italian and Romanian that I can still function.

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Saturday afternoons with my eleven friends

Another annual finale has come and gone, and a big question dragging out over the course of months has finally been answered. As tempting as it is to share my thoughts on a finale which ended this past Thursday night answering if Marie, Mandy or Sara would become Germany’s Next Top Model, I am in fact referring to who the 2009 Bundesliga (German national football or soccer league) champion is.

So the answer is: VfL Wolfsburg. And while I can certainly share my thoughts and facts about this news, that really isn’t the point of this post. Today, we’ll be looking further down the table. Way down. Keep going. And at number 15, stop! That’s right: Borussia Mönchengladbach. There’s a lot I know about this team, which you may not know. For example, they have the second largest fan base across Germany after Bayern Munich. They are the only Bundesliga team to have two gold stars on their uniform which symbolizes their five victories as Bundesliga champions. They hold the title for having the highest winning score in league history (12-0 against Borussia Dortmund in 1978). Their 1971 7-1 victory against Inter Milano is deemed by many as the most interesting game played by a German team on the European level, sadly annulled by a Coca-Cola can thrown onto a player during the game. Unsurprisingly, I know so much about this seemingly obscure football team from North Rhine-Westphalia, which had its heyday decades ago, because of my husband. Born and raised in ‘gladbach, my husband is a walking Wikipedia entry on the team. If I weren’t able to rattle off all of these facts to you today, it would indeed be shameful given how much they are lectured to me on a regular basis. Continue reading