On the Road Again: Renewing my Acquaintance with the German Autobahn


Today I drove from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin, a distance of about 550 km (342 mi). Most of that drive is on the iconic German Autobahn, and the trip reminded me that German drivers can be just as bad as American drivers, only at much higher speeds.

Autobahn A5

On the A5 autobahn headed for Berlin from Frankfurt am Main – with about 500 km left to go. PHOTO: Cheryl Flippo

It wasn’t the first time I’ve zoomed along the autobahn behind the wheel of a rental car. Over the years I’ve logged many kilometers on autobahns in Austria, France, Germany, and Switzerland. But the German autobahn is unique in two ways: (1) There are sections with no speed limit, and (2) you don’t need to pay an autobahn toll, as is the case in Austria, France, Switzerland, and many other countries.

There were stretches where I could really find out what my Peugeot 3008 diesel can really do. My cruising speed in those wonderful sections of the autobahn with no speed limit, and three lanes without a bunch of trucks was about 160 km/h (close to 100 mph). The car felt comfortable at 170 km/h (105 mph), and there were a few times I noticed I was hitting 170 or a little more. But even at 105 mph, some cars were passing me! Normally my standard speed on the autobahn is about 130 km/h (81 mph), but today I was tempted by some wide open spans of concrete and a desire to get to Berlin before dark. Continue reading

Baedeker, German Reiselust, and vacation days

Baedecker book cover

The traditional Baedeker guidebook, like this 1911 English-language edition, sports a red hardcover with a golden embossed title. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

In both German and English, the term “Baedeker” (BAY-day-ker) is synonymous with “travel guidebook” (Reiseführer). Although the German Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) did not invent the travel guidebook, he certainly perfected it. After publishing his first travel guide (Rheinreise/Journey along the Rhine) in 1838, Baedeker went on to refine his product by being meticulous about the facts and information he included (with carefully detailed maps), and inventing the “star” ranking system for outstanding attractions (1846). The German word Erbsenzähler (bean counter, nitpicker) is said to have originated with his method of counting the exact number of stair steps in a cathedral tower by leaving a dried pea on every 20th stair as he went up, and collecting/counting them on his way back down.

Kings and governments may err, but never Mr. Baedeker.
– A.P. Herbert, in his 1929 English libretto for J. Offenbach’s operetta La Vie Parisienne[1]

The red Baedeker guidebooks[2] are still published today, and still have a reputation for sober factualness and lack of embellishment, especially compared to most contemporary travel books. And it is the Baedeker and other tourist guides that bring us to my main topic: German Reiselust (love of travel).

Sometimes called “wanderlust” in English, the German propensity to travel is better named by other, more modern German words, Reiselust and Fernweh being the two most common. Perhaps Fernweh is the one we want here: the longing for travel to distant places. Some cynics say this Germanic desire to go off to faraway places has to do with the German saying “Da, wo ich nicht bin, da ist das Glück.” (“There where I am not, there’s where happiness is.”) — but I think not. It has more to do with Germanic curiosity and information-gathering, not to mention a desire to find the sun and escape the frequent gloom of northern Europe. Ever since Goethe went on his Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) in the 1780s, the Germans have been among the world’s greatest tourists — with Baedeker in hand (since the 19th century). You also may have seen the Baedeker in the hands of Lucey Honeychurch in the film A Room with a View (also in the original 1908 E.M. Forster novel). Continue reading

“For Expats, by Expats” – The Making of Germany for Beginners: The German Way Expat Guidebook

“What if you could sit down with a team of expats, and get advice from people who together have decades of experience living and working in Germany?”

Whether you’re new to expat life in German-speaking Europe, or you’ve been an expat for years, there’s always more to learn about coping with culture shock and all the other challenges that English-speaking expats encounter after moving to Germany, Austria or German Switzerland. So, what if you could sit down with a team of expats, and get advice from people who together have decades of experience living and working in Germany? It may sound impossible, but now there’s a way to do something just like that – via a new book to be published this spring.

Now Available!
Germany for Beginners is now available from Amazon.com and Amazon.de in ebook and paperback editions. See more buying options here.

GFB cover

Germany for Beginners will be available in paperback and e-book editions.

Germany for Beginners: The German Way Expat Guidebook allows you to gain access to the personal knowledge and experience of eight current and former expats, who have written about their experiences for the German Way Expat Blog for years. Many of our expat writers living in Germany and Switzerland have been sharing their thoughts and tips every week since the blog began in October 2008 until now. That means there were more than 350 blog posts online at the time the book was being prepared. (More recent posts and other topics will be published in a planned second volume.)

But 350 blog posts would make a much too lengthy, unwieldy book. So the Germany for Beginners editors went through all those posts, gathering together the best, most relevant and helpful ones. Then they arranged them by topic and carefully edited the selected items into an anthology for your reading enjoyment. Out of 350+ posts, the editors ended up with 78 entries under 19 expat topics arranged alphabetically for the Germany for Beginners book – all carefully edited and updated, some with photos. Continue reading

Krampus, the Christmas Devil of Alpine Europe


Much of Europe has a venerable Christmas or December tradition that pairs the good bishop-like St. Nicholas with a demonic, nasty character known as Krampus (and various other regional names). In Alpine Austria and southern Bavaria, this wintertime good-cop/bad-cop routine often exhibits aspects scary enough to put the fear of the devil into adults, not to mention young children. As St. Nicholas Eve (December 5) approaches, youngsters in Austria and Bavaria begin to have serious thoughts about whether they have been naughty or nice. They know Krampus is coming, and he’s definitely not nice.

Krampus

This antique greeting card depicts one version of what Krampus looks like. He has a basket to take bad children away with him. The German text reads: “Greetings from Krampus!” PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

In addition to an appearance in local family homes, usually along with St. Nicholas, Krampus and his cohorts also gather to put on a wild show in the streets of many Austrian and Bavarian towns. The “show” is known as a Krampuslauf (Krampus run). Customs vary by locality, but the tradition goes back hundreds of years, and far, far beyond a mere lump of coal in a kid’s stocking. An American witness to several Krampusläufe in Austria writes: “The ability to be genuinely frightened of someone wearing a costume is often left behind in childhood, and as an adult it is a bizarre experience. Fleeing from a person wearing a wooden mask and brandishing a bundle of sticks is terrifying but also exhilarating.” Continue reading

Expat book review: Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Let me start by saying that Hausfrau was not a light, happy read. It is also not an easy one to review. I heard about it this week when I was perusing Facebook (I think it was mentioned in the New York Times feed) and I immediately went out and bought it. It isn’t often that you hear about a book that seems to so parallel your life and those of your friends. The first line, however, didn’t especially draw me in,”Anna was a good wife, mostly.” Since I hadn’t read any reviews thoroughly before I started the book, I had no real expectations. Even though it didn’t hook me in immediately, I did end up reading the whole  book in one day. One way or another, this book stays with you.

Set in Zürich, the novel follows the perilous, destructive path of an American woman named Anna, who is married to a Swiss banker. The couple has three children and seem to be living the idyllic life in a small village outside of the city. She doesn’t speak Schweizerdeutsch and barely speaks German as the novel opens. Her husband seems to ignore her almost entirely, and she also really doesn’t have a huge attachment to her children either. She often leaves them with her mother-in-law, Ursula, who lives in the same village and regards Anna with not a lot of affection. I must say, I can understand Ursula’s position, although she did seem the typical German (Swiss) mother in law that we all know and love. She loved her grandkids and helped as much as she could, but she often got annoyed with Anna’s lack of interest and surely felt used (and lied to) as Anna throws herself down the path of self-destruction. Continue reading

Free College Degrees in Germany

Get ’em while they’re hot. If you are a German-related news junkie like we all are at the German Way, you might have seen your Facebook or Twitter feeds filled with headlines like these, “Free Tuition in Germany for All American Students” earlier this month.

While it is true, Americans along with all other non-Germans, can study in Germany tuition free, this isn’t actually new news. A sudden lifting of tuition for American students has not just occurred; it’s just that Lower Saxony, the last German federal state to have charged tuition, dropped their fees to create this attention-grabbing headline.

So if you are now wondering what the catch is, since there’s no free lunch, especially in a land that isn’t known for giving out smiles for free, you might be disappointed. There isn’t any real catch or hidden deal of indentured servitude, but an American considering taking up Germany on its offer for a free Bachelor’s should weigh the differences in outcome and expectations before making a decision.

Heidelberg University

The library at Heidelberg University was built in 1905. The Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg was founded in 1386, making it Germany’s oldest and one of the oldest universities in Europe. PHOTO: TBE/iStock/Thinkstock

Continue reading

“Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known” reviewed

What happens when an all American woman with a French-Italian name moves to Switzerland? American writer Chantal Panozzo tells all about it in her recently published book, Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known. With her trademark humor, she shares  her evolution as an American transplant through all phases of withering and thriving as an expat in the extra clean cantons of Switzerland in 30 tightly written essays.

IMG_2228 Continue reading

Playing Monk in Switzerland

It’s unusual for me to find that it’s my turn to blog and not have a topic or two that I’m bursting to write about. When that happens, I virtually leaf through Spiegel online and its English section, The Local and Deutsche Welle. My Facebook feed also sometimes triggers some inspiration, so the common piece of news that has led me to today’s topic is Switzerland’s vote to reinstate an immigrant quota.

I’m not actually setting out to discuss this disturbing vote, but I’ll summarize it here: basically, a very narrow majority of Swiss (50.3%), mostly in the rural German parts of the country, have bought in to the fears that Switzerland will become overcrowded if they don’t put a cap on the number of foreigners coming in. That cap has been set to 80,000 immigrants. The short-sighted truth is that these voters succumbed to some scare-mongering thinking that these immigrants were only refugees, migrant workers and benefit-sucking immigrants. Sadly, Switzerland’s history of keeping refugees out is just as disturbing today as it was during the Holocaust. 284,200 Germans currently live in Switzerland. That’s second to Italians. As Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said, this referendum is going to “cause a lot of problems for Switzerland.” Continue reading