Berlin still waiting for a new airport and its first Apple Store

When it comes to new airports or new Apple Stores, Berlin is what the Germans call a “Katastrophe”!

Visible construction work on a new Apple Store on Berlin’s elegant shopping boulevard, the Kurfürstendamm, began in January 2011. Even before work began, several Apple blogs, both German and American, breathlessly announced the news: Berlin, the German capital, was at last going to get an official Apple Store! But with January 2013 only a week away, Berlin is still waiting for its first Apple Store to open.

On January 14, 2011, posted an article entitled Century-Old Building To House Berlin Apple Store. Complete with photos of the building, the article stated: “Almost 100 years after it was constructed along tree-lined Kurfürstendamm avenue in Berlin (Germany), the historic UFA Film-Bühne Wien cinema will regain some of its original glory when Apple opens a retail store inside the building by year’s end. According to the Web site, Apple has leased the building at #26 and is awaiting permit approvals to begin construction. The store will finally bring Apple to the capitol [sic] city, four years after the first Germany store opened in Munich.” Continue reading

German Grocery Stores Are No Visual Feast

One aspect that I have always loved about living in Europe compared to the US is the overall higher quality of food. Tomatoes taste like sweet sunshine and smaller Old World apples are crispier and sweeter than their mammoth American cousins. Then there are those products that are special to Germany such as the bread and sausages which we expats or former expats have written or talked about ad nauseum. That’s why I was surprised to once hear that Germans, compared to their EU neighbors, spend amongst the least amount of money on food per capita. Continue reading

Winning the Recycling Game

You’ll have to accept my apology for the delay in this post, but I have been busy sorting my rubbish. As those of you know, thanks to previous posts by Hyde and Ruth, this is serious business here in Germany.  I am reacquainting myself with what goes in the Gelber Sack (yellow bag), Biomuell (not to be confused with Compost), and Restmuell (anything else).

You can purchase and sort with strategy in order to reduce your consumption, eliminate some of your clutter and save some money. First off, I would recommend to any Americans preparing to move to Germany to take the time to sort through your things there. Take advantage of the convenience of your rubbish being collected frequently and of the tax benefit for donating things. You will avoid the cost and hassle of having to do so in Germany. It is likely that you will be moving into a smaller place anyway so downsizing your things will pay off in the end. The hassle in waiting for the next paper pick up, now that your container is bulging with all of your back issues of untouched In Style magazines will be eliminated. And don’t forget the tax advantage of getting a receipt for your donation to your local American library, where you could have unloaded those back issues.  Continue reading

Something from home

“Can we bring you anything that you can’t get there?” is a common question our visitors from the UK ask. We usually spend a good ten minutes, both of us running through supermarket shelves in our minds’ eye, but almost always to no avail. Aside from the odd big pack of Yorkshire Tea bags, it would seem we want for nothing.

Does this mean we have become so acclimatised that we no longer dream about products from home? It is true that our habits have altered somewhat over the three years of living here, adapting to local trends and tastes: Nivea creams and cleansers fill our bathroom shelves; quark has become a family staple and these days a potato salad just isn’t quite right without a good share of gherkins. But I’m not sure that is really it: rather, being able to reel off such a short list of these examples seems to me testament to the fact that the vast majority of our consumption – edible and beyond – has remained pretty much the same. Our limited demands have less to do with acclimatisation and far more with globalisation and the ubiquity of internet shopping.  Continue reading

An Expensive Lesson in the Laws of the Land

For most of my first year in Germany I didn’t drive.  I come from a small Canadian city with no major highways, and so the thought of the autobahn seriously freaked me out.  I was, and remain, very surprised at how easy it was for my husband to simply turn in his Canadian license for a German one (which appears never to expire), to be handed a company car, and to then just be on his way.

Sure, GPS is a miracle for those of us who need to navigate to work that first day, or to the nearest food market for the first time, but such technology has yet to explain to me what the yellow diamond sign means, what the white squiggly line on the road means, and what I am supposed to do when someone is riding a horse in front of me.  Many expats, like my husband, cope with various expat situations, like driving, by relying on observation, common sense, and hoping for the best.  I offer a cautionary tale however, of common sense, and how it may not always be your most reliable guide.

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Grocery Culture

There I was on Saturday morning at the grocery store, my cart full, hastily putting my items on the checkout band. I sent two parties ahead of me to the cashier, knowing I would need a little extra time; my weekly groceries still filled the cart and my attempts to organize the checkout band for efficient packing were consuming precious seconds. The people behind me began to move closer, although I hadn’t moved forward an inch. Someone sighed loudly from farther back in line. And I began to sweat.

Finally, my groceries all lined up in perfect order on the checkout band, I proceeded to the cashier, who began her rapid-fire process of scanning and piling them for me to place back in the cart. I wasn’t fast enough, she dumped things in for me to speed things up. Desperate to keep up, I was of course unable to pack things in the cart in the order I had planned while placing them on the band. The heavy things were on top, the eggs near the bottom, and the potatoes just got dumped on top of the yogurt. Eager to end the transaction, I paid (with my debit card, which wasn’t possible just a few years ago!) and made my way to the car, where I again packed the groceries, this time at my leisure and in the order I preferred, into the reusable bags waiting in my car.

Whew. Grocery shopping culture here is so different. Continue reading

Credit card differences

I was planning to write today about the problems sometimes encountered by Americans when they try to use their US credit card in Europe. As fortune would have it, I experienced exactly the reverse yesterday: Trying to use a German card in the US.

I was helping a German friend who is visiting us in the US use his credit card at a gas station. He inserted the German Deutsche Bank MasterCard into the gas pump. First he had to choose credit or debit. It’s a credit card, so he chose credit. Then a message appeared that I’ve seen a lot at gas pumps during my US travels lately: “Please enter your ZIP code.” Well, a German Postleitzahl is the same length as a US ZIP code, so he tried that. “Please see the clerk” was the machine’s response. We tried debit also, but it wanted a PIN that didn’t work. So it was off to see the clerk.

We were able to get the German card accepted with the clerk handling the transaction (and showing a German ID), but we had to guess how much gas we needed. If it was less than that amount, we would have to return to have the clerk enter a refund of the difference. Luckily, we guessed about right and did not have to do that. But the entire experience was a hassle caused by the differences in the way US and German credit cards function.

Basically, American credit cards are out of date (überholt in German). Continue reading

Enjoy the Silence

It used to annoy me that I couldn’t do any shopping on Sundays and that our Saturdays were so hectic racing from one shop to the next when I first moved to Germany. Like anything in life, I got used to it. In fact, I started to like the fact that there was some time without the claws of commercialism, although that was never a major concern in southwest rural Germany.

The same goes for Hausordnung (house rules). Coming from the land of the free, it takes Americans some getting used to not only be able to run out to the grocery store or Walmart at 2 a.m. but also that running a load of laundry at a similarly unconventional hour in your apartment building is forbidden. After five years, I found that my mind and soul got used to having silence midday and roughly between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

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