From Bundesland to Bundesland

I received a reminder in my inbox today from my co-blogger Hyde calling to my attention that I had missed my Monday deadline to post here on the German Way blog. This was another casualty of my most recent move. In case you haven’t been keeping up with my personal expat saga, my family and I just moved to Essen in North Rhine Westphalia having left the small Swabian city, Aalen, where we had lived a total of seven years as a family. Continue reading

A Pseudo-European Teenager Goes to Texas

Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world.  She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!

When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian,  Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving. Continue reading

Moving in Germany: Couches on the U-Bahn

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 (welcome to my madness), 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 until our hobo moving method was no longer an option.
Continue reading

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

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (final)

Today we’ll finish my list of expat likes (the good), dislikes (the bad) and major gripes (the ugly). We are now in Part 2 of the “good” things. In Part 1 I began with “the bad,” but my “good” list turned out to be even longer! So long in fact, that I needed to split my “good” list in two. (See Part 2a for the first half of the “good” list.) – Also see my “ugly” list at the end of today’s blog.

My list is not prioritized! That’s why the items are not numbered. Okay, here we go with more of the good.

THE GOOD (2): More things I like about expat life in Germany

  • The social contract. In Germany there is more of an attitude that there is a social contract. This view is in sharp contrast to the Wild West, “every man for himself” attitude often seen in the U.S. Rather than viewing it as the enemy, Germans think that government’s purpose is to make society better. As a result, Germany’s citizens are more willing to pay taxes in exchange for public services, education, health care and good roads. Germany has Continue reading

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Part 2a)

Today I’m continuing my list of expat likes (the good), dislikes (the bad) and major gripes (the ugly) – all related to living in Germany. In Part 1 I began with “the bad,” but my “good” list has turned out to be even longer! So long in fact, that I need to split my “good” list in two. You can read the second half of the list in my next installment.

To reiterate: Germany is no more monolithic than the USA. Conservative Munich is not really anything like free-wheeling Berlin. But I have tried to list things that generally apply, and note those things that may be more regional in nature. Everyone’s good and bad list will be unique, but there are many cultural things that all expats in Germany can relate to. And, as I pointed out in my first section, I could make a similar list for life in the US. In fact, this German list is also a commentary in reverse on life in the US.

If you want a more neutral comparison of US and German culture, see our six German Way cultural comparison charts, starting with Driving.

My list is not prioritized! Since my “good” list has now grown to over 20 items, it would be even more difficult to rank them. For that reason, items in the list are not numbered. Okay, here we go, this time with the good… Continue reading

German efficiency and Berlin’s new airport

There is a German term for “German efficiency” – several in fact: deutsche Gründlichkeit, Effizienz, Fähigkeit, Leistungsfähigkeit, Tüchtigeit. German efficiency can be found gloriously in German doors and windows, in energy use (hall lights that only turn on if there’s motion; escalators that only start running when you step on them), in ecology (waterless urinals, low-flow toilets), in Bauhaus architecture (“less is more”), and in German manufacturing (think cars and giant turbines).

On the other hand, German efficiency can be very much overrated. The cliché can become mythical and frustratingly elusive. Germany’s often impenetrable bureaucracy is a case in point. Or Berlin’s new airport, where German efficiency has disappeared entirely and turned into raging incompetence. Continue reading

Still a Culture Shock: Lack of Personal Space

I’d say there are many things that shock me about Germany. The things that I have learned over time have made Germany out to be some odd sort of ‘opposite land’, where everything is, effectively, just the opposite of what I had in America.

Take, for instance, German and American hypocrisy over Gesundheit. In America, everyone will talk to you about why you need to quit smoking, but they’d prefer to do it over a Big Mac and fries. On the other hand, in Germany everyone is so concerned about their Gesundheit that they regularly visit pools and saunas (much more than I ever witnessed from the Americans), but you can’t walk down the street without being in a near constant cloud of second-hand smoke.

To each his own, as they say. I’m a non-smoker, so I notice the stench. Continue reading