The One Exception to the German Punctuality Rule

Have you ever heard about German punctuality? You surely have. Swiss people may have the best watches, but it´s the Germans who are recognized worldwide for always being extremely on time.

As a newcomer, one of the first things you’ll get told by anyone who tries helping you blending in is to get yourself a planner, a large wall calendar or at least  to master how to use your smartphone’s notes function. Here paper and pen still hold a special place, and almost everyone still has handwriting that puts your ordinary scribbles to shame. Seriously, you will feel less cool while taking notes at a meeting or handing a napkin with your number to someone.) But why would you need all this? Simple, because Germans plan ahead, the serious kind of ahead. It is completely normal to make an appointment three weeks in advance to go to the movies with someone. If that doesn’t come as enough of a shock to you, I recently attended a culture-related seminar where I found out, on average, Germans’ furthest scheduled social event (this is confirmed and written down in the planner) goes as far ahead as 150 days. Meanwhile, the rest of us don´t even know what we will have for dinner tonight.

Of course all this is just “average”, “common”, “normal” and all those nice terms that work great when we are trying to forget diversity exists, that pretty much every individual is as complex as the universe and that, more often than not, it is the exception what makes the rule. Speaking of which, there is this thing in Germany that epitomizes the greatest exception to the German punctuality legend: Deutsche Bahn (DB).

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Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden


Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Money
Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.14). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm harbor

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

Much of today’s money exchange problem is solved by another recent development: the wide use of credit cards, especially in Scandinavia. Need to pay for a taxi? The driver grabs his portable credit card reader and wirelessly processes your card. Any shop, grocery store or restaurant will gladly accept your credit card for payment.[2] Continue reading

Moving in Berlin – UBahn style

Moving on the Berlin U-Bahn

Moving on the Berlin UBahn.

I have moved a lot in Germany. Like 6 times in a year a lot. This is mostly due to poor planning, short-term sublets and an inability to commit to things like buying a full kitchen, but the positive byproduct is that we got really good at moving on the cheap.

As we initially moved to Berlin with just two suitcases, it was possible to make our moves purely by public transport. Nervous about our limbs simply falling off during these moves, we limited our purchases and kept our possessions down to 2 or three loads …at first. But, inevitably, we managed to accumulate more and more (like a baby) until our hobo moving method was no longer an option.
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Berlin Day Trips

This summer’s disappointing weather has vacillated between pouring rain and all-consuming heat that leaves you dripping with sweat. Both ways, you end up wet. And not entirely happy.

Perhaps that is why I am casting my eyes outside of Berlin for some summer fun. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the city and into the Berlin countryside (or a little further afield). Here are several Berlin day trips with something for every breed of expat or traveler.

 Peacock Island (Pfaueninsel)

Pfaueninsel

For the Nature Lover

Pfaueninsel – “Peacock Island” is a walkable island on a nature reserve in the River Havel. It couldn’t get more peaceful…except for the occasional shriek of a peacock. Yes – real peacocks live on the island!  Once the summer escape for Frederick William II (and a haven for his mistress), this island had all the reminders of long-ago decadence. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a shuttered castle, exotic birds and an air of elegance, all easily reachable by public transport and a very short ferry ride from Berlin.

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10 Ways That Europe is Different from the USA


First, let me tell you about the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Recently a friend suggested that I read what turned out to be a rather disheartening rant published by an online expat website. (The names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.) The writer, an American lady, was complaining about her life in Germany, a lament brought on by a recent visit to her local Apotheke (pharmacy). She was whining about the fact that she had to take the extra time and trouble to consult with a German pharmacist (in German of all things) in order to obtain a medication that she could have bought over the counter in the US.

Bikes and pedestrians

Germans and other Europeans walk and ride bikes more often than Americans.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Several people left comments pointing out that the German system actually provided the benefit of helpful, professional advice that would have required a visit to the doctor in the US. True, you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy a bottle of aspirin in Germany, but you can go to your local Apotheke and get sound advice about which pain reliever would be best for your situation. While living or traveling in Germany and Austria, I have made several trips to the pharmacist to get help with a medical problem. In every case, the pharmacist either provided a good solution or, in one case, told me to see a physician. (What I thought was a sprained finger turned out to be a broken one.) Continue reading

Moving to Germany: The Top 10 Things to Consider


Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. Even if you are fortunate enough to be using the services of a relocation agent, you should be aware of the following ten factors to consider when moving to Germany.

Berlin apartment parking

Having a car in Germany can be a mixed blessing. Here: apartment parking in Berlin-Friedrichshain. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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1. Get Oriented
By “get oriented” I mean get to know the culture, the language, and the place where you’ll be living. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many new expats fail to do this. You’re moving to a new country with a culture and a language very different from what you’re used to. Don’t arrive in German-speaking Europe without at least some basic preparation. This is what our German Way site is all about! You’ll find all sorts of help here, and here are a few tips on what you need to learn: Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading

Berlin Suburbia: An Expat Guide

Prenzlauerberg

View of the Fensehturm from Mauerpark in Prenzlauerberg

We decided against buying a fancy coffee machine when we moved to Berlin because right downstairs from our flat is a cafe which serves a good espresso; the coffee in the cafe two houses further is even better. At the end of our road is a gloriously big park and at the other end the full spectrum of food shops – from Lidl to a high-end organic deli. 10 minutes from Alexanderplatz, 15 minutes from Mitte and its world-famous museums, 20 minutes from Kreuzberg and 20 minutes from Hauptbahnhof (Berlin’s central station): we live centrally and happily so. But friends who used to live nearby have upped sticks and moved to the suburbs. Missing them and curious to know how it has changed their lives, we ventured out to visit at the weekend. It was a lovely spot – green and quiet. Their flat is much bigger than their old one and they have something near unheard of in the city – a garden. Their children will be able to walk to school along quiet tree-lined streets; no tram-tracks, heavy lorries or police sirens to contend with. Because living as centrally as we do is not typical for most major cities, especially with a family, got us thinking about what life might be like if we too were to consider Berlin suburbia – useful knowledge for any expat considering a move to Berlin.

1. Zehlendorf

Main features: South west Berlin, formerly in the American sector, now part of the administrative district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, less ethnically diverse than many other parts of Berlin, votes predominantly CDU.

What you might like: The small but bustling high street right next to the S-Bahn station reflects Zehlendorf’s earlier history as a separate village on the outskirts of Berlin – it has everything from arthouse cinema to H&M, from fancy cake shop to rustic bakery. Continue reading