Winterferien (already!)

The timing of most German school holidays match my British expectations. Two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, six weeks in the summer, plus the odd week somewhere in the middle of these blocks. This is not so different from home and behind each is a clear reason. To this, however, is one glaring exception: the Winterferien (winter break) – a week-long holiday a mere four weeks after Christmas (in Berlin at least – it differs from Bundesland to Bundesland).

Fun in the Berlin snow!

Still refreshed from the Christmas break and motivated by New Year’s resolutions, the timing of this particular holiday always seems a bit odd. Four weeks just isn’t long enough to develop that sense of having slogged through countless early mornings and late night homework sessions. The bonus, I suppose, is that it makes going back after Christmas at the coldest and darkest time of the year a touch easier. “Just think, it is only four weeks until the Winterferien.”

As with many such traditions, there is a story to it. Winterferien are a DDR (GDR) legacy. Back in those days, DDR school children were given a three-week (!) holiday at the end of the academic half year having received their ‘Halbjahreszeugnis’ (half year report). The three weeks were not just a marker of having completed half a year at school, they were also an opportunity to go skiing or partake in other winter sports – often at state-run winter holiday camps. Interestingly, Austria and Switzerland had and still have Winterferien too. The initial motivation there was to save money on heating school buildings during the coldest weeks of the year, serendipitously at peak winter sport season. Continue reading

A week on the farm


View from our terrace at Staller

Like many expat families, we think we fly too much. Though some of these trips – for work – are unavoidable, the rest we do gladly to keep in touch with family and friends, whether for weddings, birthdays, or general catching up. There is, however, our annual summer holiday usually to a warmer land which comes in addition and which this summer we decided could be achieved for a change by car. One of the joys of living in continental Europe is that travelling to somewhere within driving distance actually gets you quite far away – even to other countries if you so choose. That’s how we ended up spending a week at a farm in Bavaria and a week at 2,300m in the Italian Alps. They were glorious destinations for very different reasons, but it’s the Urlaub auf den Bauernhof (holiday on the farm) phenomenon I want to write about here – the mountains will be a story for another time.  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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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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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

Holiday tips on the Baltic Sea


The beach at Glöwe on Rügen

We’ve just come back from a wonderful trip to Rügen, a windswept island in the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) just off the north east coast of Germany. You don’t have to say it … Are we crazy? The Baltic in February? These were exactly my thoughts when my husband suggested it a few weeks earlier, visions of ice chunks floating in the sea. But we went and it was brilliant and I thought I’d share why it was just so good.

First of all – convenience. Rügen is only 3.5 hours drive from Berlin and as an expat family with two young children this is a big factor. We fly so frequently to visit friends and family, so we’d rather not for short breaks, nor do we want to spend hours sitting in the car. For convenient holiday destinations from Berlin, the Baltic coast is a winner. Continue reading

Expat Tip: Want to Find Work in Germany? Have a Job.

There are some major cultural differences between German work culture and U.S. work culture, and many of them have been covered here on The German Way already (follow the link for the complete list!) From attitudes toward working mothers, or attitudes toward working women in general, to vacation time (ahh, 6 weeks is so civilized) and the Betriebsrat, newcomers to Germany have much to which they must adjust. One little secret I’d like to share with you today, however, isn’t one that gets mentioned in any expat guidebook: Germans like to hire employees who already have jobs. 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