When a Brötchen is a Bömmel …


The definite preference in Germany may be for dense, dark bread made with various combinations of wholewheat, spelt, rye, seeds and nuts (it accounts for over 90% of bread consumption), but the small, white, crusty bread roll does maintain an iconic status – whether presented in a wicker basket to accompany a breakfast spread; ripped up and dipped into your Linseneintopf at lunch; or as a quick snack zwischendurch. Indeed, walk the streets of Berlin late in the afternoon and you’ll barely see a child go by who isn’t gnawing on one.

You’d have thought, then, that buying such a white bread roll is relatively straightforward. But it’s not. Why? Well, it’s not a problem of availability. Every bakery, supermarket and Spätverkauf (after-hours corner shop) will have shelves full of them. Nor is it a matter of price. Even your most expensive bio (organic) bakery will sell you one for less than 50 cents; cheaper outlets will be almost giving them away for less than 20 cents. Continue reading

German Weddings

Having spent my formative adult years in Germany, I have been to more German weddings than American weddings. There are some striking differences in how each culture approaches the celebration (and paperwork) that accompanies two people committing their lives to each other. As Gina mentioned in her blog post in 2010, weddings in Germany aren’t retail extravaganzas – this is one of the biggest differences. However, there are numerous subtle differences that change the entire experience, and even the symbolism of the ceremony.

Let us begin before the wedding day. There is no such thing as a bridal shower in Germany. Brides-to-be are not showered with gifts in advance of showering them with more gifts, and while wedding plans involve many details, the industry built around them is miniscule compared to the North American version. Bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties, are newer traditions but are increasing in popularity, as young people love an excuse to go out and misbehave. There is no bridal registry, although you can select a number of gift ideas at a local shop and have them displayed at a Hochzeitstisch (wedding table).

In our modern age, you can probably also set up a wishlist on Amazon.de and share it with your guests, if you really want to. The average age of Germans on their wedding day, however, is in the 30-33 year old range. This means that most Germans who are getting married already have everything they need in their home. In fact, most of them have probably lived together for a number of years already and don’t need a new crystal vase or a Crock-pot. Continue reading

Germany’s North and South Divide

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Weisswurstäquator (white sausage equator – these sausages are particular to Bavaria). If you haven’t, it’s the line that divides the north of Germany from the south, and it runs just south of Frankfurt. (Writer’s Note: this border is open to interpretation.)

Since my college days, I’ve had a number of very close friendships with Germans. They started with my husband, who comes from Mönchengladbach, and another friend of ours who comes from Meerbusch, also in the Rheinland. While studying in London, I lived next to a woman, now my first born’s godmother, who is from a village north of Hamburg. She introduced me to our good friend who comes from a village outside of Bremen. And I studied with and later became flatmates with a half American/half German guy from a village near Kiel. We’ve known each other for years and have attended each other’s weddings. Funny enough, all of these German friends were decidedly from the north.

After about ten years or so of knowing each other, I shared the happy news with these friends that I was finally marrying my German sweetheart, and he got a job with a lens making firm. When I told them where the lens making firm was, in a town called Aalen somewhere one hour east of Stuttgart, they were shocked. Any joy that I was moving to their home country was greatly overshadowed by the horror they were trying hard to contain; I was moving to the south, and I was moving to Schwabenland. To them, southern Germany might as well have been another country, an inferior one at that, and Schwabenland was where their countrymen spoke one of the most disliked dialects in the Bundesrepublik.
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“On Se Won Händ”

Ripped from the headlines in Germany, YouTube has shamed and ridiculed yet another public figure, this time former Baden-Württemberg’s Minister President and now Germany’s European Union Commissioner, Günther Oettinger.

The widely circulated video is of Oettinger painfully stumbling through a speech clearly neither drafted nor rehearsed by him. The point of the speech, recently held in Berlin at a Columbia University hosted event, and Mr Oettinger’s main message as the new EU Energy Commissioner are unfortunately lost, overshadowed instead by Mr Oettinger’s inability to pronounce many of the more “challenging” words such as “justifiable,” “interference,” and “initiative” and making other words such as “does” and “otherwise” unrecognizable. Already known for his rather distinctive way of speaking in German (read here: he has a very heavy Swabian accent), Oettinger managed to “swabianize” English. The well-known Baden-Württemberg tagline, “we can do everything except speak high German” has been refashioned by commentators to, “wir können alles außer Hochdeutsch – und Englisch!” along with the terms “schwänglisch” and “Spätzle-Englisch.” What made this all the more humiliating perhaps is that the YouTube video included footage of Mr Oettinger emphasizing how all Germans, regardless of their profession, must be able to speak and understand English.

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