Summer night at the Freiluftkino (open-air cinema)

IMG_4642A couple of weeks ago we had night without children (they were having a sleepover in the KiTa – worthy of another blog post). But what a rarity! Seeing a film was the obvious choice – prior to parenthood we went to the movies all the time. But it had been a beautiful summer’s day and the thought of spending the long light evening in a dark cinema didn’t seem to fit. The answer? Freiluftkino (open-air cinema).

Freiluftkinos barely exist in the UK, I suppose because the weather is too consistently inclement. I do know of one: the central courtyard of Somerset House in the middle of London screens movies for a few weeks in the summer – but that’s just a big screen and lots of people sitting on hard concrete using plastic bags as make-shift groundsheets and tucking into packets of crisps. It simply pales in comparison to the properly established infrastructure of the Freiluftkinos here.  Continue reading

Eggs on trees – 5 favourite German Easter traditions

Osterglocken - daffodils in English

Osterglocken – daffodils in English

I love Easter in Germany. It’s full of decorations, rituals and get togethers – almost like a mini Christmas but with better weather promising the arrival of spring.

It is a bigger celebration than anything I experienced in the UK. This could be because in my childhood we were not frequent churchgoers, but I don’t think it’s just down to that. At nursery and school we didn’t do much for Easter either – the odd Easter egg competition but that was that. Mostly, we were concerned with chocolate.

But as at Christmas, the Germans, whether actively religious or not, stay loyal to older, family-oriented traditions, which start before the official Easter-time from Good Friday onwards begins.

1. Blowing Eggs 

The first Easter-related activity is decorating eggs. This takes place a good couple of weeks before Easter and involves blowing out the contents of the egg through a tiny pin prick in the bottom and top. The egg shells are rinsed and left to dry. They are then carefully painted by children and grown-ups alike in a cacophony of colours. Continue reading

A Golden Cup

German flagTomorrow one of the most coveted trophies in sport will come to Berlin. Today Germany woke up collectively hungover but with a jubilant smile on its face. Yesterday, just before midnight, the nation erupted into euphoria when the German football team won the World Cup.

Around the world, online and print media is chock full with articles on that extraordinary night: why the Germans won, how they won, what the players’ wives and girlfriends wore, what Rihanna did to celebrate the goal, what type of beer Joachim Löw (the German coach) and Angela Merkel drank when they celebrated together in the hotel. Sitting here in Berlin there can be no other topic to write about today, but as neither football expert nor celebrity gossip connoisseur, I ask myself what relevant and original ideas can I add. The English expat’s view perhaps …

First this – how Germany became England’s favourite. For English fans, Germany would not be the obvious team to support once our own boys failed so miserably to progress beyond the group stages (yet again). Most Germans would not perceive a direct rivalry between the two teams, but most English do. Continue reading

Green Sauce

Chopping herbs in London

Chopping herbs in London Photo: Chloe Daniel

The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne SosseContinue reading

When a Brötchen is a Bömmel …

Schrippe

The definite preference in Germany may be for dense, dark bread made with various combinations of wholewheat, spelt, rye, seeds and nuts (it accounts for over 90% of bread consumption), but the small, white, crusty bread roll does maintain an iconic status – whether presented in a wicker basket to accompany a breakfast spread; ripped up and dipped into your Linseneintopf at lunch; or as a quick snack zwischendurch. Indeed, walk the streets of Berlin late in the afternoon and you’ll barely see a child go by who isn’t gnawing on one.

You’d have thought, then, that buying such a white bread roll is relatively straightforward. But it’s not. Why? Well, it’s not a problem of availability. Every bakery, supermarket and Spätverkauf (after-hours corner shop) will have shelves full of them. Nor is it a matter of price. Even your most expensive bio (organic) bakery will sell you one for less than 50 cents; cheaper outlets will be almost giving them away for less than 20 cents. Continue reading

And the sky became a sea of light – Silvester in the Hauptstadt

FireworksWe were lucky this year that the Berlin snow waited long enough for Silvester’s detritus to be  cleared away from the streets. In  2009/10 – the winter of the big freeze, when the pavements stayed covered in thick layers of ice and snow for months – the wooden sticks of rockets and the burnt out tubes of firecrackers surfaced in late March as the crocuses began to bloom.

The sub-header to an article in the Berliner Morgenpost from 31st December will give you a clue: “An Silvester verwandelt sich der Berliner Nachthimmel in ein Lichtermeer. Ueberall in der Grossstadt werden Feuerwerke gezuendet … ” (“On New Year’s Eve  the night sky over Berlin is transformed into a sea of light. Everywhere in the capital fireworks will be set off … “). Ah, fireworks across the city – it sounds rather magical, doesn’t it? And it is, in a way. But it’s also very alarming, especially if you’re not a German native and you grew up with slightly different firework safety standards. Continue reading

German – from Berlin to rural Hessen

Being a Yorkshire lass at heart who, despite many years in the south of England, has never managed to say a ‘barth’ instead of ‘bath’ or ‘grarss’ instead of ‘grass’, I am sympathetic to local dialects. In London, I loved hearing true cockneys with their staccato banter in taxis and across market stalls. And now, living in Germany, my interest persists, though admittedly in a somewhat limited way: so far I’ve only really been exposed to Berlinerisch (which I hear daily) and Hessisch (which I hear when we visit my parents-in-law close to Frankfurt am Main in Hessen).

The Berlin dialect – ‘Berlinerisch’ – is a melting pot of linguistic influences, much like the history and culture of the city itself. In it, you hear traces of High Germany, Saxish, Yiddish, Dutch, Slavic languages and French. It is littered with words from all of these sources. You hear ‘Bredullje’ instead of ‘Schwierigkeiten’ for ‘troubles’ from the French ‘bredouille’, and ‘Bulette’ for a small beef burger, also from the French; ‘Kiez’ for neighbourhood has Slavic roots; and the Yiddish ‘meschugge’ instead of ‘verrückt’, meaning ‘crazy’.  Continue reading

Culture shocks go both ways

As I write this, I am two weeks into a holiday with the children in my hometown of Hull, in Yorkshire, North England. Beyond it being wonderful to catch up with family and old friends, it has provided interesting opportunity to reflect on a few cultural and social differences between here and Berlin. Now we all know generalisations are just that – so excuse me a few now…

These northern English cities are renowned for their friendliness. Berlin is not. But with time, I have come to realise that Berliners (or to speak more broadly – Germans) are not unfriendly – (in most cases far from it) – rather that they lack the ability of making easy small talk.  Continue reading