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Expat in Germany: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stuttgart Festivals: Stuttgarter Weindorf

A Warm Welcome to the Stuttgart Festival Stuttgarter Weindorf
 I love all the Stuttgart festivals, but the Stuttgarter Weindorf, or Stuttgart Wine Village is right up my alley.  Every year this Stuttgart festival runs between the end of August and beginning of September with over a 100 wine merchants gathering to share over 250 different wines from the region, attracting over a million visitors each year.  It's a good thing this Stuttgart festival is a multi-day event with so many wines to try.  We imbibed in a refreshing glass of Schillerwein on a Saturday afternoon where we were serenaded with German music and served by women wearing dirndls - how German is that? 
Onion cake, a popular treat at this Stuttgart Festival

This Stuttgart Festival is a busy place with people relaxing over a glass of wine and onion cake (Zweibelkuchen), which is a popular cake served with wine.  The onion cake looked OK, but I wasn't as convinced about J.P.'s onion dish - bread with a special kind of butter mixed with bacon with raw onions on top.  I didn't try it as I'm allergic to gluten but it didn't look all that appetizing to me. 
I'll stick to my brat kartofellen (fried potatoes) thank you very much. 

 I definitely want to go back to this Stuttgart festival before it's over since among the different wine offerings are Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Ruländer,  Lemberger and Weißherbst - none of which I've tried and of course I'm trying to experience as much of the local culture as possible.   Sigh, such is the "hard" life of checking out all the Stuttgart festivals.

More info on this Stuttgart Festival see:  Stuttgarter Weindorf

Stuttgarrt Festivals Weindorf photo couresty of:

Onion cake photo courtesy of:

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Places to Visit in Germany: Black Forest

Valley in the Black Forest
The Black Forest was one of the places to visit in Germany that I was most excited about.  The Black Forest is located in SW Germany and is legendary with stories of witches,  sorcerers, wizards and even werewolves.  Fortunately we didn't see any of these on our trip to the Black Forest, but we did see spectacular scenery that far exceeded my expectations.

Zweriback Waterfall in the Black Forest
Our goal was an 11km loop starting in Simonswald, that continued onto the Zweriback Waterfall.  This was one of my favourite hikes in Germany so far with views of the tranquil Black Forest valley throughout our hike and glimpses into what farm life is like in the Black Forest.  J.P. lived in the Black Forest as a child, but this was his first time hiking in the Black Forest and even he was impressed!

Even if hiking in the Black Forest is not your goal, the drive through the Black Forest in itself is rewarding and  Furtwagen is a great rest stop where you check out the famed cuckoo clocks.  We're already planning our next hiking trip back to the Black Forest and perhaps even a stop at the German Clock Museum.

See also:
500 Reasons I Love Germany:  Farm Houses in the Black Forest

Black Forest Legends

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Housing in Germany

An unexpected benefit our housing in Germany is that I am getting lots of exercise.  Our housing in Germany is on the third floor of a charming apartment building with no elevator, so every time you leave or come in, you get some exercise.  This is good.

The other thing about housing in Germany is that closets are not usually built in.  That means no entry closet, no hallway closet or no bedroom closets.  This is something I don't understand about housing in Germany.  Germans are efficient at so many things, but having to bring your own closets everywhere you move doesn't make sense to me (it's often the same with kitchens as well).  As a result, we've been buying closets - one for each bedroom, one for the bathroom stuff, etc. and hauling them up three flights of stairs.  We did the last one tonight - thank goodness!  I'm getting some pipes on me now, but wasn't expecting that housing in Germany would be such good exercise!

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Driving in Germany

Traffic jams are common when driving in Germany
Ahhh, driving in Germany, who hasn't dreamed of cruising down the autobahn with no speed limit in sight?   J.P. is a grandpa driver.  Normally this would drive me crazy, but a grandpa driver in Germany means driving around 150km/hr in the slow lane. Coming from Canada where the fastest speed limit is 110km/hr, this is still pretty fast.   In Germany, this isn't that fast and drivers whizz by us going at speeds that I'm guessing are close to 200km/hr, just shaking their heads at us when driving in Germany.

Driving in Germany can be scary though, since all of a sudden, the car in front of you is flashing their lights meaning "don't hit me, I'm stopping suddenly" (hard to do when you're going 200km/hr) and there out of the blue is a traffic jam where you won't go any faster than 20km/hr for the next 20 minutes.  As you can imagine, multi-car pile ups are a frequent sight when driving in Germany along the auto bahn.  Perhaps this, along with all the rules to memorize is why driving in Germany scares me but at the same time excites me(I haven't actually driven in Germany yet).  Then, on the other hand think of all the young boys who have just gotten their driver's licence driving in Germany.  Yikes, maybe I'll stick to public transit for now. 

 Illertal Ost - A most interesting Rest Haus in southern Germany
More on Driving in Germany


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome to Germany

I have received so many wonderful warm welcomes to Germany from J.P.’s family and friends, that I feel incredibly fortunate.  Besides the Warm Welcome to Germany, when I first arrived, I recently had another special warm welcome to Germany from Anna, one of J.P. friend's wives.  She came over just to meet me and brought a bottle of champagne and a yellow rose, to welcome me to Germany.  I was incredibly touched.  Then she proceeded to tell me that anytime I needed to talk or felt lonely, to call her and we could talk over a glass of wine.  I was so touched and a little surprised by this incredibly warm welcome to Germany.  Germans are usually a bit more reserved when they first meet you, but because she knew J.P. her warmth automatically extended to me.

 They say that it may take Germans some time to warm up to you as they don't have the instant "friendliness" of us North Americans (which many Germans perceive as fake), but once they do, you have a friend for life. I would be very fortunate to have Anna as a friend, especially if she will put up with my annoying Canadian habit of asking too personal questions too quickly which I haven’t quite fine-tuned to German standards yet, but I’m working on it.    Welcome to Germany indeed!    


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

German Attitude Towards Window Screens

The German attitude towards window screens is to not use them.  How do I know this?  Because every night I watch my two cats play with all the moths that make their way into our apartment through the open windows sans screens, live entertainment every night.   I asked J.P. about this and he says window screens aren’t necessary  because there aren't so many bugs in Germany and judging by the number of houses without window screens, I would say he’s not alone in his German attitude.  Judging from all the mosquito bites on my arms and legs though I would beg to differ.   

Yet every night, when I'm getting ready for bed, he says "Close the window, before you turn the light on, so all the bugs don't get in."  Mmmm... this is one part of the German attitude that I don't understand but  it appears to be the general German attitude towards window screens.   Don't let the bed bugs bite takes on new meaning in Germany.   

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Castles in Germany: Hohenzollern Castle

Taking a break with Hohenzollern Castle in the distance

What better way to see Hohenzollern Castle than hike to it?  And hike we did, over 15km in total.  I've done a lot of hiking, but I've never had a castle as a rest stop and Hohenzollern Castle is beautiful and historic.  We could see it in the distance as we were hiking the Swabian Alps (Schwäbische Alb in German) and it certainly motivated us on this very hot day (28C).
Road less traveled leading to Hohenzollern Castle

View from Hohenzollern Castle

There are much easier ways to get to Hohenzollern Castle, i.e. drive, then take a shuttle bus from the parking lot as most people do.  I'm quite sure the people we went on the tour of Hohenzollern Castle with wished we had done this as well from the disgusted looks on their faces as they tried to move away from us in the cramped corners of the castle.  I can't say I blame them, two sweaty hikers don't exactly smell like roses.  I offer my profuse apologies but in all likelihood will do it again, as hiking to a castle is an experience to be repeated at every opportunity I get.  Fortunately for me, there are a lot of castles in Germany!
More info on Hohenzollern Castle.  (limited tours in English)

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Residence Permit for Germany

Yesterday was a great day; I received my residence permit for Germany which is valid for one year! I plan to study German and was a little concerned since the language school recommended applying for the residence permit for Germany from Canada since they had students who had come to Germany only to have their residence permit for Germany turned down. We were also fortunate in that we only had to go to the Immigration Office twice and received the residence permit for Germany on our second visit within a matter of minutes after producing proof of health insurance (see below). Step 3 of obtaining a residence permit complete - well at least for one year. This is a huge relief as anyone who has dealt with immigration issues understands and the system in Germany isn't always the easiest to figure out.
Step 1 of applying for a residence permit for Germany
Step 2 ensuring you have approved health care to obtain a residence permit for Germany

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cultural Differences

Cultural differences can appear anywhere, even when it comes to buying kitchen appliances. We went to an electronic store to buy a few things which we previously debated whether were “necessary”. I won, so we went to buy a popcorn maker and microwave, despite J.P.’s protests that we didn’t need either of these. As we walked into the store, the first thing I see is what appeared to be at least a 100 different types of coffee makers, and half of them were over 300€! Germans love their coffee as do I, but how do you even begin to choose? Thankfully we weren’t buying a coffee maker, as this would have been I’m sure an interesting cultural difference.

On to the popcorn makers (microwave popcorn is difficult/impossible to find in Germany). I was surprised that there were only 2 different kinds – 2, after all the coffee makers! Turns out Germans aren't big popcorn eaters – another cultural difference. Who doesn’t love a bowl of popcorn when you’re flopped out on the couch watching TV? Germans it turns out.

We also made another "monumental" purchase - a microwave, J.P.s first! He wasn't convinced that we needed this either, but the next day when I warmed up soup for us he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it heated up. He said that in Germany usually only people with small children have microwaves – yet another cultural difference.

It's been interesting to see the Canadian/German cultural differences show up in something as simple as small appliances, and what is perceived as “necessary”. Next up, I'm working on a dryer, but he doesn't think we need one of those either, we'll see..............

Note, I don't know the people in the cultural differences photo above


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stuttgart Haupbahnhof (Main Station)

The Stuttgart Haupbahnhof is a hot controversial topic. Construction has already started on the project called Stuttgart 21, since the project completion date is 2021. Government officials argue that the project is necessary for economic development and that it will benefit the entire state of Baden-Württemberg since it would make Stuttgart an integral rail link between West and East Europe. Residents argue that it's a waste of money at a hefty 4.1 billion € and that ten years of construction in busy downtown Stuttgart is not worth the inconvenience. It would be one of the largest construction projects in all of Europe. In addition, the project would destroy part of the landmark Stuttgart Haupbahnhof.

Protestors have been taking to the streets in the tens of thousands. Last week there were 20,000 protesters including those that were too young to walk. In my conversations with Stuttgarters, most of them think the proposed Stuttgart Haupbahnhof is a waste of money and not worth the inevitable traffic delays.

I haven't been in Stuttgart long enough to form an opinion yet, but find it an extremely interesting debate. Is thinking of traffic delays for ten years short term thinking? How long will it take to recoup the substantial investment? Economic development at what cost? I throw these questions out to you for your thoughts on the controversial Stuttgart Haupbahnhof.

Photo of the current Stuttgart Haupbahnhof courtesy of:

Photos of the proposed Stuttgart Haupbahnhof

More info on the proposed Stuttgart Haupbahnhof

Info on the current Stuttgart Haupbahnhof

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Culture Shock in Germany

I haven't experienced much culture shock in Germany since arriving but on Saturday night I experienced a mild form of culture shock in Germany.  We went to a BBQ for a local dive shop.   After the BBQ, the thank you speeches started.   J.P. translated them for me and they went something like "Marcus used to help me a lot but now he doesn't since he's so busy with his job, but thank you" or "Katrina didn't help me much all year, but she did help me organize this event, so thank you."  I was surprised that every one of the thank you speeches insulted the person being thanked in some form or another.  Later, I asked J.P. about this and he said the dive shop owner was just being honest  and no one would have been insulted (except for me I guess).  J.P. was used to these type of speeches he didn't even noticed the negativity until I pointed it out.  I expected to experience some culture shock in Germany, but not in the form of thank you speeches - you just never know what form culture shock in Germany may appear.

See also Culture Shock:  Germany or Not
No dirndls at the BBQ, just bizarre thank you speeches.  Culture shock in Germany photo courtesy of:


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Health Insurance in Germany

Yesterday we went to Immigration to obtain my residence permit for Germany so that I may attend language school. Health insurance in Germany is required to obtain a residence permit in Germany and I had purchased travel insurance before leaving Canada. Turns out that travel insurance is not considered valid health insurance and you will not receive a residence permit for Germany without it. Yikes, I had already purchased travel insurance for the next six months, which was not cheap. J.P. was rather pleased that this was the only hiccup we encountered and said this was great news. I wasn't as pleased.

Immigration gave us several names of companies providing health insurance in Germany that would be accepted for a residence permit in Germany. I ended up purchasing health insurance from Dr. Walter GmbH since the price was reasonable and you receive your proof of health insurance in Germany immediately.

This post is meant to serve as a heads up for anyone else who may also be trying to provide the appropriate documents for their residence permit in Germany including that of valid health insurance in Germany.

Step 1 Applying for a residence permit for Germany

Step 2 ensuring you have approved health insurance in Germany to obtain a residence permit for Germany (this post)

Step 3 Success in obtaining a residence permit for Germany (a week following this original post)

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Cats in Germany

Cats in Germany enjoying time with J.P.
Cats in Germany are popular pets and from what I have seen, cats in Germany are well cared for and loved. J.P. had never had cats before I moved my cats to Germany (Samui and Fuego) but I'm happy to report that the cats in Germany are doing exceptionally well.  J.P. is even indulging in some untypical German behaviour by saying "please" and "thank you" to the cats, i.e. "Samui, come inside please" or "Good boy, thank you" LOL! He used to tease me mercilessly for doing this and now he is doing the same thing -very untypical German behaviour. He also brought a grasshopper in for the cats to hunt since he thought they were “bored” and has been giving Fuego ten minute belly rubs. Yes, I would say the cats in Germany are doing just fine now that they have two people to spoil them instead of just me.

Cats in Germany photo of J.P. and Samui and Fuego.
See also:  Relocating Cats to Germany and more info on Cats in Germany from German Customs
 #6 Reason I love Germany:  Dogs in Germany

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Places to Visit in Germany - Heidelberg

Heidelberg was one of my top places to visit in Germany and it did not disappoint - with its charming castle overlooking the Neckar River and Old Town which looks like something out of a storybook.    Its success is also its downfall - it is a bit of a tourist trap, and you will likely be surrounded by more tourists than Germans, but go anyway.  You can get away from the hustle and bustle with a walk through the vineyards.  I plan to return on Sept 4th for the third Heidelberg Castle Lighting of the summer.  I can only imagine how beautiful it will be.  There is also a fantastic Thai restaurant so yet another excuse to go back.  Castle, fireworks, beautiful historic buildings, vineyards, and Thai food.  What more could you want from a place to visit in Germany?

More info:
Heidelberg Castle Lighting
German Pharmacy Museum in Heidelberg Castle

Photos of Places to Visit in Germany of the Castle and Old Town

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Life in Germany - Grocery Shopping

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I have faced while living as an expat in Germany is grocery shopping. In Life in Germany - Grocery Shopping I discussed language difficulties which have resulted in several culinary disasters.  An additional challenge is that the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables tends to be what's in season.  The problem is that coming from Canada where you can buy raspberries year round, I have no idea of what is in season.  To date I have returned empty handed while shopping for beets, celery, kale, spinach and raspberries (which for the record are now in season). 

Although I find this extremely inconvenient, eating in season is better for the planet.  Having said that if grocery shopping is my biggest complaint about life in Germany, I'd say that's not much to complain about.

Life in Germany - Grocery Shopping photo courtesy of:

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stuttgart Sommerfest - A Famous Stuttgart Festival

The Stuttgart Sommerfest is one of the most popular Stuttgart festivals.   This year 400,000 people sampled various eats and wines.  J.P. hadn't been in 10 years since he doesn't like crowds but agreed to go with me.  He was right, it was extremely crowded, making it difficult to move and we couldn't find anyplace to eat that didn't have a long line up as is typical of the Stuttgart Sommerfest.  We were getting ready to give up and head to a restaurant down the ,which seemed a pity when all the food around us smelled delicious but we were hungry.  Fortunately he then spotted an open table (being 6'5" has its advantages).  We lucked out!  Not only was a salsa band serenading us, but I had the most tantalizing Gnocci with Gorgonzola sauce that I've ever had in my life! 

I would highly recommend attending the Stuttgart Sommerfest, it's beautiful with the opera lit up in the background and it's buzzing with energy, but would not recommend going at peak times if you're hungry (we went on a Saturday night).  More info: Stuttgart Sommerfest. More photos:  Stuttgart Sommerfest

Stuttgart Sommerfest photo courtesy of:
Other Stuttgart Festivals:
Stuttgart Festivals:  Stuttgarter Weindorf
Summer in Germany:  Hamburg Fish Festival

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Relocating Pets to Germany

Last night I went to bed with a huge grin on my face after relocating my pets (2 cats) to Germany.  After much paperwork, 8 different counters at the Frankfurt Airport and several hundred Euro later (plus the vet exams in Canada and the airfare), they had finally arrived and I'm happy to say have settled in nicely and are back in the routine of requiring the kind of attention that only cats can.   Although relocating pets is expensive and a lot of paperwork, I could not imagine living as an expat in Germany without them.  Apparently I am not the only one who fills this way since we were told that 15,000 cats and dogs, 1500 horses and too many fish to count  pass through the Frankfurt Animal Lounge every year. 

More info:  Relocating Pets to Germany
Relocating pets to Germany photo of Fuego and Samui.
See also:  #6 Reason I Love Germany:  Dogs in Germany


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Visiting Germany

I'm a lucky girl, I have been in Germany for a little over 5 weeks and already I've had my first visitor - my cousin T.R. who was visiting Germany for the week.  We was in Cologne so we met halfway in Frankfurt for dinner and a walk along the Main River mostly chatting about life and love.  It was great to see him and have a little reminder of home.  I hope he is just one of many friends/family who I can catch up with while they are visiting Germany.  There's nothing like seeing loved ones in a foreign place. 

Main River, Frankfurt, Visiting Germany photo courtesy of:

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Places to Visit in Germany - Frankfurt

Frankfurt was not high on my list of places to visit in Germany, but a chance meeting with a cousin led me to Frankfurt for a few hours and I was pleasantly surprised.  The futuristic skyline, although not large, is interesting - no cookie cutter skyscrapers here, and I was charmed by Römer square, the historical part of the city lined with quaint outdoor cafes.  Just a block away is the Main River, with walking paths and kayakers and rowers galore.  There are nearly 40 museums in Frankfurt, and some of them rather quirky, i.e. a hammer museum.  Frankfurt would not be at the top of my places to visit in Germany, but it's definitely worth a short stop.  See Places to Visit in Germany Frankfurt for more info. 
Places to visit in Germany photo of Römer square in Frankfurt courtesy of:


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer in Germany - Hamburg Fish Market

A couple of weeks ago we went to the Hamburg Fish Market,  in Stuttgart - a must-do for fish lovers. Each summer the Hamburg Fish Market comes to Stuttgart for 10 days. I don't like fish, but enjoyed some succulent prawns and loved the atmosphere - open air seating, live music, and people just generally having a good time socializing, drinking beer - and buying smoked eel for a special occasion - nicht fur mich (not for me), but a great way to experience summer in Germany. More info on the Hamburg Fish Market

Other Stuttgart Festivals:
Stuttgart Festivals:  Stuttgarter Weindorf
Stuttgart Sommerfest:  A Famous Stuttgart Festival

Hamburg Fish Market/Summer in Germany photo courtesy of:

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Residence Permit for Germany

Obtaining a residence permit for Germany is a two step process but very confusing.  First you must go to the town hall of the area you are living and apply to be a resident of this area.  Perhaps one of the most confusing things about applying for a residence permit in Germany are the waiting rooms. You wait in the hallway, then a green light and buzzer go off when it is your turn to go in. A red light above the door means do not enter. This is often confusing, especially if you're not sure if you're waiting at the right door and you can't go in and ask since the red light is on. Further complicating obtaining a residence permit for Germany is that most employees in the Town Halls/Immigration Offices don't speak English. I'm so lucky to have J.P. who finds the whole process confusing and he's German. I've checked off the first part of obtaining a residence permit for Germany as I am now officially a resident in Stammheim, Stuttgart. Yeah! Next week comes the more difficult part of ensuring I have all my documents in place to actually obtain the residence permit for Germany. Fingers crossed.

Residence permit for Germany photo of Stammheim Rathaus where I registered as a citizen of Stuttgart.

Step 1 Applying to be a residence of Germany (this post)
Step 2  Ensuring you have appropriate health insurance valid for a residence permit in Germany (following this post)
Step 3  Success in obtaining a resident  permit in Germany (following this post)

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

German Attitude for Encouragement

Yesterday I experienced what I perceived to be a rude German attitude. I went for a consultation at the language school I will be attending and had to take a placement test. I was very open about the fact that I am just beginning to learn German. The test administrator marked my test, but had feedback on every question. "Hmmmm... I'm surprised you don't know how to conjugate this verb properly. You don't know the Accusative case yet? But it is very easy." And on it went. I was almost in tears by the end.  I relayed this to J.P. and he just smiled and said that this was the typical German attitude and was not meant to be rude, just honest.

Later that night, he was assembling a bookcase for us and I said "Good job". He just laughed and said that Germans find that type of support, rather silly. A typical German attitude would be to say "It looks nice." and leave it at that. J.P. says a typical German attitude is  honest, even if it hurts your feelings. Being a bit of a sensitive soul, this will take some getting used to. Although I did feel better when after the test administrator's umpteenth comment about how bad my German was I finally said, "Well isn't that good for your business since I will need so much language training." She was quiet after that. Maybe I will get the hang of the German attitude after all while living as an expat.

See more on the German Attitude:  German Attitude Towards Window Screens, German Attitude Towards Fans

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer in Germany - Stuttgart Festivals

One of my favourite things about summer in Germany are all the Stuttgart festivals.  Yesterday, we went to downtown Stuttgart and unexpectedly came across three different Stuttgart festivals occurring within a 20 minute walking radius, all with live music, some with dancing, and all with thousands of people.  The energy was electric and everyone was in a good mood!  The Stuttgarter Sommerfest, a famous food and wine Stuttgart festival starts this weekend - can't wait!  I'm definitely enjoying summer in Germany.   
Summer in Germany photo is of one of the Stuttgart festivals we came upon.  In the background is the New Castle.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sundays in Germany - Simple Pleasures

Today I am being lazy enjoying the simple pleasures of Sundays in Germany.  In a previous post, Sundays in Germany, I complained about everything being closed on Sundays.  What I failed to realize is that with everything being closed, there is less to do and it's nice to have a day to relax, which is much appreciated after a hectic week of furniture shopping.  Today, we are having a lazy Sunday morning, enjoying our breakfast on the balcony, reading.  Later, we plan to go downtown for a walk and a cappuccino.   Aww, the simple pleasure of spending time together, which I appreciate so much after 2 years of long distance.  When I  started living as an expat in Germany, I hadn't anticipated that I would enjoy Sundays so much but even me who is go-go-go all the time, can see the virtues of Sundays in Germany, which may just become my favourite day of the week.

Photo is a view from our balcony for Living as an Expat in Germany/Sundays in Germany.

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