Guide to German Nutcrackers

I had a nutcracker or two growing up, gaily dressed as soldiers and watching over me as I slept. Once I moved out, my mom pulled them out for the holidays and added a few new friends. Then a few more..til there was a horde of nutcrackers to accompany our tree for the Christmas season.

I get the fascination. More than just a way to crack a nut (in fact most aren’t very useful for their original purpose anymore), nutcrackers (or Nussknacker in German) today embody the holiday spirit.

Nutcrackers (Nussknacker) PHOTO: Cheryl Mendenhall

History of German Nutcrackers

A hammer was the original way to open nuts, but as people got fancy, so did our tools.

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What to Do if you Get Pregnant in Germany

PHOTO: Erin Porter

Pregnancy Test Vending Machine

When I first found out I was pregnant in Germany, I freaked out. I was married and happy, we were kinda trying but I was still terrified. I suspect I would have been apprehensive no matter where I was, but there were so many questions about how this would go in Germany.

I dug into the German-Way archives and their experience calmed me. I had seen the mobs of hip, strollered woman parading around Prenzlauer Berg. I could do this. I did do this. And you can, too. Here are the first few steps of what to do when you find out you’re pregnant in Germany.

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Dressing your Kid for German KiTa

Photo: Erin Porter

My latest haul from another expat family. Photo: Erin Porter

When my baby started Krippe last fall I thought I was ready. I was distracted with moving apartments, loads of typical German paperwork and internet disasters. We had steeled ourselves for our baby spending time away from us for the first time. We thought we had this.

However, suggestions from the Erzieherin started coming in slow and haven’t stopped. Continue reading

Germany’s Cash Culture: “Geld stinkt nicht”


In Germany, Cash is King

North Americans are often frustrated by the lack of credit card acceptance in Germany. Americans and Canadians, so used to paying with plastic, are dismayed to discover that once they stray from the tourist circuit, their AmEx, MasterCard, or Visa credit cards are often useless in German-speaking Europe. It’s another cultural difference, and it’s not a minor one. You need to wrap your head around the fact that cash is king in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. As the Germans say, “Geld stinkt nicht.” (“There’s nothing wrong with money.” lit., “Money doesn’t stink.”)

Euro banknotes

Euro banknotes range from five to 500 euros. Notice that, unlike US bills, euro banknotes also vary in size. PHOTO: ECB

The Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, recently estimated that 79 percent of financial transactions in Germany are settled in cash, while in Britain and the USA that figure is under 50 percent. A typical German walks around with the equivalent of about $123 in cash in their wallet, nearly twice as much as Australians, Americans, the French or the Dutch typically carry. There is little talk of a “cashless society” in German-speaking Europe.

Many people have searched for an answer to why Germans (and the Swiss and Austrians) are so much more in love with cash (Bargeld) than most other nationalities. The use of cash for most transactions seems to be deeply ingrained in the German psyche. Children grow up in Germany’s cash culture, and as adults they think nothing of paying a bill of 500 euros or more with paper money. And they can do that with a single banknote, the 500-euro bill that was created as a concession to Germany to ease the pain of giving up the Deutsche Mark (DM). The 500-euro note, worth about $570 today, replaced the popular 1000-DM bill. Switzerland still has its 1000-franc (CHF) banknote, the largest denomination bill in the world, and today worth just a little over 1000 US dollars. We’ll discuss more aspects of these giant banknotes below.

Possible reasons for the German passion for cash vary from the German love of privacy and anonymity to the historic encounters with hyperinflation in the Weimar era, and after World War II. Germans also claim that by using cash, they are better able to keep track of their finances and avoid debt. (The German love of using cash is countered by an intense hate for debt.) Other observers claim cash offers a good way for Germans to avoid taxes with off-the-books cash transactions. Continue reading

Cell Phone Tips for International Travelers and Road Warriors: Dual SIMs, Unlocked Phones, and Free Roaming

Samsung Duos

The Samsung Galaxy S Duos GT-S7562 GSM mobile phone lets you use two SIM cards in one device. PHOTO: Samsung

The German Way already offers informational pages on what expats should know about using an iPhone or other mobile phones in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Europe in general. But in this blog post I want to explore another aspect of “Handys” (the German word for cellular phone): staying connected while traveling the globe – without breaking the bank.

Today all the main North American carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon in the United States, plus Bell and Rogers in Canada – offer multiband mobile phones that will work in Europe and most other locations around the globe. But if you simply fly off to Europe with your North American smartphone in hand, you could soon face an unpleasant surprise in the form of an outrageous cell-phone bill. Data use can be a real killer! A little advance planning can help you avoid that problem and a few others.

Like many expats and ex-expats, I travel often to Europe and other destinations. When I travel in the US or abroad I like to stay in touch – via my mobile phone and/or my laptop. During my last trip to Guatemala, I had some problems using my iPhone, but that was only because I failed to do what I always do before I head off to Europe: plan ahead! Continue reading

Electrical Appliances: That Old Chestnut

Facing an overseas move? If you are moving from North America to Europe or from Europe to North America, you will definitely face the question of what to do about your appliances. Because of the difference in voltage, every expat has to go through this process of trying to figure out which appliances to bring with them and which to leave behind. There are several options:

  1. sell everything and buy everything new in Europe,
  2. sell some things, bring other things and buy the rest in Europe,
  3. or bring everything and use everything with transformers and adapters.

We expats often use factors such as length of stay (are we on assignment or staying forever?), storage space, or immediate cash needs when making the decision. Continue reading

When a Brötchen is a Bömmel …

Schrippe

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

Expat Tip: Buy an E-Reader

I am a self-confessed bookworm. Books are a significant part of my life, and no day is complete unless I have spent part of it reading. Moving to Germany in 2000, I spent years on the hunt for books I could read. At first, devoted as I was to achieving fluency in the language, I read German books. I started with children’s books that I had read during elementary school, and read the German versions of them. The prose was straightforward and the sentence structure was simple enough for me to follow the story, and I kept a dictionary handy for new vocabulary words. I progressed to young adult fiction, and eventually adopted the newspaper. I will admit that I only read one or two entire books in German each year. Despite fluency, I still find reading more relaxing in my native language.

Prices for English books are shockingly high in Germany, and I could rarely justify paying them, except in the hope that I was either fulfilling an immediate literary need or helping to support a local bookstore. Once Amazon.de started selling English books, I ordered often (and shipping on books is free!). However, the selection of English books on Amazon.de isn’t the same as on Amazon.com, and I wanted the selection from across the pond. For years, my English-speaking friends and I swapped and borrowed from each other’s libraries, although our tastes never perfectly aligned. I was delighted to come across Sarah’s suggestion for bookswapper.de, and managed to trade a few used books on that platform. Now that the world has digitized everything and is ever more global, however, the e-reader has opened up new avenues. Continue reading