A Prussian in Hawaii: Heinrich Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band

The story of Heinrich (later Henry or Henri) Berger has fascinated me ever since I first learned about the Prussian military musician. Berger traveled all the way from Berlin to Honolulu in 1872 – no simple journey in that day and age. Prussian Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm I had sent Berger to Hawaii at the request of King Kamehameha V on what was originally supposed to be a four-year assignment to lead and improve King Kamehameha’s Royal Hawaiian Band. Except for two visits to his homeland and several band tours on the mainland, Berger would remain in Hawaii until he died in 1929. He would head the king’s brass band from 1872 until 1915.

I first wrote about Berger here in our blog in 2010, following a visit to Honolulu that year. During a return trip in June 2012, I learned more about Berger and his band. He arrived in Honolulu Harbor on June 2, 1872, following an arduous journey involving ships and trains. And it is his journey – and his life – that I want to discuss here. Continue reading

A Tramp Abroad: Observations of a Former Expat and Frequent Traveler in German-speaking Europe

As I find myself rediscovering many aspects of daily life in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, I can’t help but think of Mark Twain, who wrote so masterfully about his travels in Germany and Europe in A Tramp Abroad (1880, translated into German as “Bummel durch Europa,” including his essay on “The Awful German Language”). As I was zooming along the autobahn in my leased Peugeot the other day, the same thoughts entered my mind that occur to me when I motor across the vast deserts of the American West: How did people do this before there were cars, trains, planes, and the Internet?

Mark Twain’s mode of travel was certainly much slower, giving him a lot of time to contemplate the culture and sights he was experiencing. Mr. Clemens wrote with paper and pen. I’m writing on my laptop. He exaggerated and invented things at times. I may also exaggerate for effect, but I’ll try not to invent. Like me, Twain in A Tramp Abroad is no longer seeing Europe for the first time. “[A Tramp Abroad] has not the fresh frolicsomeness of the Innocents Abroad; it is Europe revisited, and seen through eyes saddened by much experience of tables d’hôte, old masters, and traveling Americans…” – William Dean Howells in The Atlantic.

That said, here are some of my own observations and rediscoveries, colored by long experience. Continue reading

How to Prep Your German Home for Long-Term Vacation

Lon-term Travel

Day 1 of parental leave Photo: Erin Porter

I am nearing 30-days away on my latest vacation. Well, Elternzeit (parental leave) is more accurate. We have almost 2 full months re-connecting with family in the big ‘ole US of A.

My American counterparts are in awe that people in Germany can take so much time off for simply having a child. Elternzeit can be taken by both parents for a total of 3 years up until the child’s 8th birthday for 64% of your regular pay (for the 1st year). It is a luxury and I am taking full advantage by spending time in my hometown, admiring the fabulous Americana. From the many, many old-school burger joints to the cheerfully advertised conceal and carry fanny packs I saw at the county fair tonight (Oh, America), I am enjoying.

But it is not just squeezing every precious ounce of time we have in America I needed to worry about. I also had a lot of prep on the Berlin home front to ensure we were able to enjoy our time away. Here are a few of the steps you should take to prep your German home for long-term vacation.
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Best Low Key Dance Spots in Berlin

Dance moves at a Bad Taste Party Phot: Erin Porter

Vintage Dance moves at a Bad Taste Party Photo: Erin Porter

I am not a cool kid in Berlin. Never was. And now I am a mom – the ultimate in uncool.

The truth is, I never even tried to get into Berghain (reportedly the coolest club in the world with an infamous door policy and no camera rule). I certainty wouldn’t make it in. Even though Berlin is one of club capitals of the world, I don’t feel guilty that I never partook.

Not going to clubs did not prevent me from staying up so I late I saw more sunrises in a year than the rest of my life; it didn’t stop me from dancing my way through the city’s bazillion festivals; and it won’t stop me from partying wherever I find myself. I’ve never needed a club to have a good time. I much prefer to forgo the long lines, critique at the door and expensive entry and despite the city’s reputation, there are plenty of low key dance spots in Berlin where you can avoid the stress and just dance.
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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

Airbnb in Germany: The Debate Continues

Souce: Ansgar Koreng CC

Berlin Wedding Source: Ansgar Koreng

Every year, millions of tourists flock to Germany, a number that has been increasing year over year for over a decade. Most choose to stay in traditional forms of accommodation, but an increasing number are renting rooms directly from locals through websites like Airbnb. This has caused to a backlash against the site in many cities with limited housing, such as Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt, and led to a regulatory pushback that has seen the outlawing of unregistered vacation homes and the creation of compliance forces authorized to enter suspected illegal housing without a warrant. But despite this, Airbnb continues to grow in popularity, gaining new listing every day. So, you’ve got an apartment with an extra room, or you’re out of town regularly on business. Should you list your apartment on Airbnb, and what do you need to consider before doing so?

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How to Find Cheap Transatlantic Flights

Bargain Flights Between North America and Europe


Whether you’re an expat in Germany looking for a bargain flight for a visit to North America, or a tourist looking for a good deal on a flight to Europe, there are tricks and tactics you need to know in order to save money and have a good trip. Your cheap air ticket options are increasing, especially if you consider new airlines, departure cities and destinations. Flexibility in dates also can save you a lot of money, even with legacy airlines.


The German airline Condor offers low-cost flights to Germany from US and Canadian airports you may not have have even considered. PHOTO: Jürgen Lehle, Wikimedia Commons

If you have never considered New Orleans, Pittsburgh, or Providence before, those US cities will offer non-stop flights to Frankfurt in 2017, at rates much lower than legacy airlines. If you add newer airlines such as Edelweiss, Norwegian, and WOW to your plans, you can fly internationally to or from many cities for less. Of course, there can be catches, so read more below.

Flying across the Atlantic has never been particularly cheap, but the cost of a round-trip air ticket between North America and Europe now has risen to new heights. In high season, in the summer months, the economy-class fare from the US east coast to Frankfurt (FRA) can set travelers back from $1500 to $2000, and even more for flights from West Coast airports. That’s why many travelers are learning to consider an alternative to the usual major carriers: discount international airlines.

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A new crop of budget intercontinental airlines has applied the Southwest Airlines model for money-saving domestic flights to international air travel. They attract travelers with bargain fares that are usually below those of major carriers, and in some cases as much as $1000 cheaper per round-trip ticket. These budget carriers (Billigflieger in German) use a variety of tactics that allow them to still make a profit while saving their passengers money. Continue reading

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)


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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