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Expat in Germany: September 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hiking in the Black Forest

I absolutely love hiking in the Black Forest!  I get excited every time I see the Black Forest getting closer and closer.   This past weekend it was my turn to choose a hike.  When I told J.P. that I had found the perfect hike, he got a smile on his face and said "Let me guess, we're hiking in the Black Forest to a castle."    What can I say, I'm predictable.  But this time, he wasn't quite right - this time I choose a castle ruin, not just a castle  -Ruine Hohenschramberg.  Hmmm...that will show him! 

Visit Ruine Hohenschram while hiking in the Black Forest
It was a rainy day for hiking in the Black Forest, but fortunately for us that meant that we had the whole castle ruin to ourselves!  I couldn't believe it, a whole castle ruin all to ourselves!  J.P. was less impressed, pointing out that it was likely because Ruine Hohenschramberg isn't all that well known (you won't find it in any Lonely Planet book), it was pouring rain and Hohenschramberg is located in a small town.  "Details, details" I dismissed with a wave of my hand.  We have a whole castle ruin all to ourselves!

Sausages and potato salad at the hut while hiking in the Black Forest
After enjoying the castle ruins we continued hiking in the Black Forest and headed to a marked hut which our hiking book said was famous for its sausages.  What it didn't say was that sausages were the only thing on the menu and I'm not much of a sausage person.  Nonetheless, it hit the spot and the potato salad was delicious.  After we dried off a bit, we headed back out hiking in the Black Forest.  We were soon soaked again, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, it's not everyday a girl from Canada gets a castle ruin all to her herself.

See also:
Hiking in the Black Forest (for another hiking in the Black Forest adventure)
Farmhouses in the Black Forest
Hiking in Germany

Castles in Germany:  Hiking to Hohenzollern Castle
Hiking the Swabian Alps

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart: Part 4

My Intensive German Course, Stuttgart continues to be interesting and our class is clearly irritating our teacher.  Today, she had an outright temper tantrum when someone asked her to explain the difference between "kennen" and "weissen" (both mean to know, but you have to know (pun intended) when to use each one), crumpled up the work sheet, threw it in the garbage and told us we had the option of not doing this verb, even though it is very important and  "very easy, but if we didn't think we were smart enough to do it then we didn't have to do it and would end up speaking poor German."   Note, she said all this in German so this is the gist of what she said, not word for word.  Now thoroughly embarrassed that we weren't getting something so "easy", we all meekly agreed to continue, and then each of us proceeded to get every question wrong.  Despite how apparent it was most of the class was struggling with this she simply moved on to a new exercise - no explanation provided and no one brave enough to admit they still didn't understand after her previous tongue lashing in our Intensive German Course.  

 One student in my Intensive German Course is going to call the school and complain.  This is not the first time he has complained but the last time he did this we were read the riot act for getting her in trouble with the school's administration and punished with two hours of homework with the thinly veiled excuse that we needed more homework since we were not "getting it".  I'm predicting a repeat episode tomorrow in our Intensive German Course.  

I haven't been in Germany for that long and am really trying to adjust to the German style of teaching in my Intensive German Course, but I must admit after working in adult education in Canada where we focused on creating a learning environment where everyone felt safe and there was no such thing as a stupid question, I'm struggling with her teaching style.  At worst it could be described as "temperamental, impatient and unresponsive." In fairness to her, she does make the class interactive and provides a variety of exercise which is a good thing.  We have some very well educated people in our class - a doctor, an engineer, a guy who is trilingual already....." and I have a hard time believing that we're all as "slow" as she keeps insisting we are.  Looking on the bright side, I can't say that I ever have to worry about falling asleep in my Intensive German Course :).
 See also:
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 5
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 3
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 2
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 1
German Vocab That Makes My Life Easier


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

German Beer Festivals

The beer tents are THE place to be at German beer festivals!      

It's that time of year again for German Beer Festivals!  You have undoubtedly heard of Oktoberfest, held in Munich every September and October as it is the largest Volkfest (Festival for the People) in the World, but you may not have heard of Cannstatter Volkfest, a German beer festival in Stuttgart, the second largest in Germany after Oktoberfest. I am especially fond of the Cannstatter Volkfest,(the German beer festival in Stuttgart, which runs Sept 24 - Oct 10, this year, and I bought my ticket in July, yes that's right, July) in part because while it is still a lot of fun and attracts 3 million people, it is not quite as crazy as Oktoberfest, which attracts 6-7 million people each year.  Several million too many for my liking, not to mention the horrendous traffic jams that come with 6-7 million people all heading to the same place and the over 150%+ increase in hotel prices. 

You will see lots of hederhosen and dirndls at German beer festivals!
Regardless of which German beer festivals you attend, you will find they all have common elements - carnival rides, beer tents, beer and traditional German fair food - who can resist the roast chickens, pork knuckles, sausages, pretzels and cheese spatzle?  OK, maybe I can pass on the pork knuckles.  Did I mention beer?   The beer does not come cheap mind you.  At German beer festivals you can except to pay over 8 for a beer, but that will get you 1 liter of beer!  And my personal favorite of all German beer festivals?  The lederhosen and dirndls which locals will actually wear to work during the time of the German beer festivals in place of their business suits!  Prost! , as they say in German. 

Traditional German food served at German beer festivals.
 More information on German Beer Festivals:
Cannstatter Volkfest
As to be expected, there is a LOT of beer at German beer festivals
 See also:  German Beer Festival in Stuttgart

German Beer Festivals Photo Credits: 
 German Beer Festivals tent photo courtesy of:
German Beer Festivals girl carrying beer and food photos courtesy of:
German Beer Festivals lederhosen and dirndl photo courtesy of:


Friday, September 17, 2010

Immigrants to Germany

Immigrants to Germany are a diverse bunch as I'm finding out from my Intensive German Language Course.  Many of the immigrants to Germany in my course had sky rocketing careers in their home country.  We have a doctor from Guatemala who moved to Germany to be with her German husband.  She would need to do two additional years of schooling in Germany to practice medicine here so is exploring other career options.
 We also have an engineer from Russia, who told me that he is famous in Russia, but wouldn't tell me what he was famous for when I asked.   He wrote down his name and told me to Google it.  The anticipation was killing me as I rushed home to do so - only to find out that there were several people with his name and no photos.  I narrowed it down to:  a figure skating choreographer, a professional football player or an I.T. guy   (most likely given that he was an engineer).  I reported this to him the next day.  The next day he did not seem amused when I asked him if he was a figure skating choreographer, but still gave in and said that he was THE top technical trainer in Russia for a well known computer software company.  Admirable yes, but I was secretly hoping he was the figure skating choreographer, who really was "famous". 

There is also a Brazilian immigrant to Germany who moved her with her German husband but despite her good career in Brazil says that in Germany "she is just a haus frau" (house wife).  While many immigrants to Germany have moved here because of a German spouse, and now find themselves creating a new identity for themselves, myself included, the immigrant to Germany story I find the most endearing is that of a 57 year old Ukrainian man.  He moved his entire family to Germany, because his youngest son suffers from a serious illness and Germany has the best doctors in the world to treat this particular illness.  When I asked him how long he and his family will be here, his shoulders slumped and he said it depends on his son....he left the sentence unfinished but the meaning couldn't have been clearer.  Despite his worries, he always has a smile on his face and a joke ready at hand.  Of all the immigrants to Germany in my class, I admire him the most. 

Being an immigrant to Germany, or to anywhere else for that matter means that everything you were in your home country becomes forgotten as you struggle to order a meal in a restaurant or read the sign saying the washroom is closed.  With a university graduate education, I would never have thought as myself as illiterate, but in Germany I am gulp...illiterate.   Being an immigrant to Germany is the most humbling experience I have ever had (including being an immigrant in S.Korea and Thailand as well), but also the most character building.  I'm finding that the lives of immigrants to Germany are beyond fascinating as are the reasons people immigrate to Germany.   Feel free to share your immigrant experience in the comments below


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making Friends in Germany

Making friends in Germany, well anytime you move anywhere is never easy, especially when there are language barriers.  Today, I found myself having lunch with five other students from my Intensive German Language Course, quite by chance.  Someone mentioned they were hungry and off we went.  We were a rather electic group representing Japan, Mongolia, Mexico, Thailand and myself from Canada.  We range in age from 17 to 50-something and from professions as diverse as a recent high school graduate, to a piano teacher to a former program director.

But despite our differences, the conversation soon turned to familiar territory, that which I could have been discussing with my closest friends in Canada - that being the topic of men naturally, but with a cultural spin of course.  Thai and Mexican men were quickly dismissed as womanizers not to be trusted, while we didn't get much information about Mongolian men since the 17 year old Mongolian representative had not yet had a boyfriend.  I naturally supported German men while the Thai representative countered that German men were notoriously difficult.  After some debate we came to the conclusion that German men were good for strong women , but not for soft spoken women who were too afraid to speak their mind.  I am of course aware that my new friends and I were grossly overgeneralizing but overgeneralizing or not, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the familar territory that I found myself on.

When I finally left after gabbing and laughing for two hours, I left in awe of how easy and free our conversation was despite spanning five different countries, languages and cultures.   I had a ton of things to do this afternoon but making friends in Germany was more important than anything else I had to do.  We've decided to make it a weekly ritual and will be meeting for lunch after class next Thursday.  Perhaps making friends in Germany will be easier than I thought.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hiking in Germany

Hiking in Germany photo (actually in Reutte, Austria, near Fussen, Germany)
We've been hiking in Germany almost every week since I've been here which is fantastic.   I’ve done most of my hiking in Germany in the Swabian Albs and the Black Forest, which while beautiful are not true mountains, so I was excited for our trip to the Alps.  It started off like any other hike - we choose our destination and off we went, enjoying the nice views and hearing the cow bells in the distance which always make me chuckle since I can't figure out why cows need bells.
  The service that we walked into - the priest is on the right
A couple of strenuous hours later, we arrived at a mountain hut, which are famous when hiking in Germany and a welcome sight.  The hut was already busy, which wasn't really surprising since it was a beautiful day.  We came and took a seat and then the sermon started.  Sermon?  Yes, that's right; we unknowingly walked right into the middle of a Catholic service.  How we missed the priest and all the prayer books, I'm not sure.  We got up to leave, but the entrepreneurial staff of the huts seeing that we were paying customers in obvious need of a drink soon ushered us to a back room where we were allowed to order drinks just a few meters away from the service and told we had to be "as quiet as a mouse". 
The sign announcing Catholic mas

Thank goodness J.P. was with me.  After a little more than a week of German school I definitely didn't have the German vocabulary to deal with this bizarre situation.  For future reference, the sign on the left means "Catholic mass" I walked right by it thinking that it meant lunch was available after 11:30 - good thing I'm in German school.  J.P. didn't see it.

 After quietly quenching our thirst, we headed out and once we were a safe distance away, burst out laughing,  no longer having to be "as quiet as a mouse".  Hiking in Germany is full of surprises -  you just never know when you're going to crash a church service!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy in Germany

Today I feel the utmost gratitude that I am genuinely happy living as an expat in Germany.  The same cannot be said for all expats.  Today, we had a new student in our class.  He is from the U.S. so I was thrilled to have another native English speaker in the class.  My enthusiasm was short lived though as within mere minutes of meeting him, he started complaining how much he hated Germany, how boring it is here and that he had no idea how he would survive the two years he would be here for his wife's job.  I assumed that he had been here awhile to feel so strongly about living in Germany, but it turns out he has been here three days, yes that's right, three days.  I sincerely hope he is just experiencing the initial culture shock that sometimes happens when you move to another country and that soon he will be able to adjust his attitude, otherwise it will be a long miserable two years for him. 

Coincidentally, today I was also speaking German with a Russian student in our class.  Through our limited German, I still managed to find out that he is married and has a son.  I asked if his wife was also learning German.  He said no, that she needed to stay home with their son.  She doesn't speak any German, so while I haven't met her, I can only imagine how lonely she must be in a new country, unable to communicate, and unlikely to be able to do so in the near future.  Financially it makes sense for him to learn German first, since he is an Engineer and once his German language skills are better he has excellent job prospects, but my heart goes out to her. 

I am in Germany under very fortunate circumstances.  My fiance, J.P. is German and able to navigate me through the day to day language and cultural struggles I face.  He has opened his friends to me so that I am making connections and friendships much more quickly than I would on my own.  I am able to study German full time, thus enabling me to grasp the language much more quickly than if I was taking a night class, which many expats do.  There are clubs in which English is the spoken language thereby providing me additional outlets for speaking English and the opportunity to make friends.  Today, I have gratitude pouring out of my heart.  I am indeed a lucky girl to be happily living as an expat in Germany!

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart: Part 3

After only one week, the class dynamics of my Intensive German Course have changed yet again.  I didn't think it was possible for our class to become more international.  We already have students from Russia, The Ukraine, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Cuba and myself from Canada, still the lone English speaker.  But that's exactly what happened this week.  Our class grew from 10 students to 16, then back to 15 (we lost the Chinese guy after just one day).  In addition to the original crew, none of which have dropped out yet, we are now joined by students from Thailand, Mongolia, Japan and Togo ( a small country beside Ghana in Africa).  

Our teacher speaks very little English with us so translations are flying all over the place chaotically in Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, English, French and German. For the one day the Chinese guy was there, I was translating in English for the Thai girl who had no prior German knowledge, and she translated for the Chinese guy in Mandarin who spoke little English, then translated what he said in Mandarin back to English, then I translated back to German for our teacher.  Whew!  Can you blame the guy for dropping out?  Me neither, but strangely it all works somehow.

We are also starting to gel as a group.  For starters, one of the serious Russian guys even cracked a joke!  Perhaps he isn't so serious after all, just inhibited by his elementary German skills as we all.  I have become fast friends with the Guatemalan grandmother.  We have even planned a dinner date to an authentic Latino restaurant (hard to find in Stuttgart) with our partners which I'm looking forward to!  My first real friend in Germany!  On our break today a Brazilian lady  was giving impromptu samba lessons to the 50ish+ seemingly conservative Japanese lady.  Next week, music was promised along with salsa lessons to boot.  I signed up for this Intensive German Course to learn German of course, but I'm learning things I never dreamed of and  my salsa is rather rusty and could definitely use a tune up!

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 5 Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 4
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 2
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 1
German Vocab That Makes My Life Easier


Friday, September 10, 2010

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart: Part 2

Like my cat Samui, I too often want to hide from the world after my Intensive German Course, Stuttgart
I have made it through one week of my Intensive German Course in Stuttgart.  My head is spinning with how to conjugate verbs properly and trying to memorize the appropriate article for the noun but I am doing OK.  I'm actually doing better than OK since unlike some of my classmates; I had taken some German prior to this intensive German course.  Our teacher speaks very little English to us, and we are expected to look up any words we don't know in the dictionary - difficult to do when you are literally looking up every word she says and she talks fast.  This is not sitting well with some of the students.  
Two students called to complain that the Intensive German Course was too fast and not suitable for beginners even though this was a beginner's class.  But another, Russian student, felt it was too slow, so he refused to respond with the basic questions and answers we were given, i.e. "Backst du gern?"  (Do you like to bake?) and insisted on his own much more complicated version much to our teacher's chagrin.  She said this was not acceptable so he responded by also calling and complaining about our Intensive German Course.

The next day was an interesting one.  Clearly, the school administration had passed on the feedback to our Intensive German Course instructor who did not hide her frustration.  She said (all in German of course, so at least to the best of my understanding) we were already going more slowly than the normal pace and that if we went even more slowly we would all be in trouble for our test coming up in October.  She then said but it really didn't matter to her though how we did on our tests so we could go more slowly but some students were just being lazy and she didn't appreciate laziness in her classroom.   She further illustrated her point by giving us a record five pages of homework which took me a couple of hours to finish.

I think our Intensive German Course instructor's frustration is still lingering.  While I have only gotten a tap on my fingers and a disappointed head shake when I mistakenly put an extra "e" in my conjugated verbs, the 17 year old Mexican student today got read the riot act (in German of course).  It went something like "I don't think that you're unintelligent, but you need to concentrate and not be so lazy."  He didn't understand a word she said so her point was lost on him.  In addition to learning German, we are also learning a thing or two about German teachers when they are not happy – they can be downright scary. Despite this, I actually like our teacher (so long as her frustration is not directed at me) and can respect the difficult position she is in having worked in education for over ten years. Our teacher is definitely earning her money with our class. 

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 3
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 1
German Vocab That Makes My Life Easier


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Heidelberg Castle Lighting

Heidelberg Castle Lighting and Fireworks
Heidelberg is famous for Heidelberg Castle, but a special event that only happens three times a year was happening on this particular day - fireworks and a re-enactment of the French burning Heidelberg Castle, in which the castle appears to be on fire, also known as the Heidelberg Castle lighting.  Yes, it's a touristy thing to do, but I wanted to do it while I was still new in Germany and not "too cool" to do it, as often happens when you've been in a place a while.  I was really excited so we also invited J.P.s mom to join us. 
 J.P. had never been to Heidelberg Castle and the last time that J.P.'s mom was there was over 40 years ago.  Neither of them had seen the fireworks or the Heidelberg Castle lighting either.  The fireworks and Heidelberg Castle lighting didn't start until 10:15pm so we had some time to kill having arrived in the afternoon.  Fortunately, there are no shortages of restaurants and cafes in Heidelberg.

Fireworks are part of the Heidelberg Castle Lighting festivities
  As to be expected, we were not the only ones who wanted to see the Heidelberg Castle lighting and we were packed in the streets along the Neckar River like sardines full of anticipation.  At around 10:15, the entire city went pitch black and a dim red light slowly lit up Heidelberg Castle in the background, gradually getting brighter and brighter as Heidelberg Castle "burnt", then gradually dimming, as the "fire" went out.  The burning of Heidelberg Castle was beautiful, but a bit anti-climatic.  Initially when you see Heidelberg Castle "on fire" it's beautiful, but after a few minutes it loses its appeal.
We thought the fireworks were also going to be over Heidelberg Castle, but they were over the Neckar River.  I've never stood so close to fireworks.  We were less than 50 meters away from the bridge they were shooting them from and it took my eyes several minutes to adjust to the bright bursts of light.  But they were beautiful and would definitely give the American Fourth of July fireworks a run for their money.
Twenty minutes later, it was all over, but we were all glad we had come.  Would I go to the Heidelberg Castle lighting every year?  Probably not, but if you happen to be in Heidelberg at the time, seeing the Heidelberg Castle lighting is definitely worth experiencing.

Check the dates for the next Heidelberg Castle lighting
German Pharmacy Museum located in Heidelberg Castle
Heidelberg Castle Lighting photo courtesy of:


Friday, September 3, 2010

Intensive German Course, Stuttgart

The night before the first day of my intensive German course takes me back to when I was six years old about to start school.  Will my teacher be nice?  Will I make friends?  Will I have a lot of homework?  Since I plan to be living in Germany for the unforeseeable future, I've decided to enrol in an intensive German course, 5 days a week, 4 1/2 hours a day.  It makes sense to me to learn the language as quickly as possible and an intensive German course is a good way to do this, but that doesn't mean I'm not anxious about it.

 Our class is an eclectic one.  We range in age from 17 to 57.  Half the students are Latino, coming from Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Cuba, while the other half is Russian and Ukrainian.  I am the lone native English speaker and my hopes of becoming fast friends with another English speaker are soon dashed. 

 We have a Brazilian drag queen (who showed us his YouTube videos - he does make a very pretty woman) and a grandmother from Guatemala (although she is a very hip and young grandma).   Coming from such different backgrounds I feel a little bit like a fish out of water, but after the first few days I am becoming more comfortable around my classmates. making an effort to get to know them, and redefining my definition of who would make a good friend.  Who says I can't be friends with a Guatemalan grandma?  Besides we immediately bonded over the fact that I named my cat "Fuego" after Fuego Volcano in Guatemala.

 I am quickly realizing though, that while we're all here to learn German, I'm also going to learn a lot about other cultures as well, and am even surprisingly getting a chance to brush up on my Spanish, which I didn't think would happen in Germany.  Living as an expat in Germany is full of so many surprises in the most unexpected places.
 P.S.  My teacher is very nice :)
See also:
Intensive German Course, Stuttgart:  Part 2
German Vocab That Makes My Life Easier

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stuttgart Market

A flower stall at the Stuttgart Market

As I was walking home from German school today, I had a nice surprise.  Konig Street, a pedestrian only street in downtown Stuttgart seemed busier than usual and I soon discovered it was because of the Stuttgart Market.  The Stuttgart Market is held in Schiller Square every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7:00 am to 1:00pm.  It was love at first sight for me and the Stuttgart Market (although admittedly it is a one-sided relationship).  I haven't been able to buy blueberries for the past few weeks so sadly assumed that blueberry season was over for another year.  I was pleasantly surprised to find blueberries at the Stuttgart Market so I promptly stocked up of course.  I haven't seen fresh peas all summer and there they were also at the Stuttgart Market, so I stocked up on those too. 

So many flowers to choose from at the Stuttgart Market
In addition to seasonal fruits and veggies from local growers, the Stuttgart Market also has handmade goodies - think jams, pickles, etc. along with a wide selection of flowers and flower arrangements at reasonable prices.  I almost bought a small bouquet, but with the unexpected purchase of my blueberries and peas I didn't have any room left.   Fresh flowers will have to wait until Saturday – when I plan to visit the Stuttgart Market again. 

I would highly recommend the Stuttgart Market to tourists as well since it’s a great place to stock up on fresh fruit for outings and to buy some homemade German jam as an authentic souvenir or for gifts for family and friends.