Spring Fever: Why Germans Don’t Feel Frisky!

After a long cold winter where the nights are long and the days are short, spring is not only welcomed in Canada, it’s celebrated with open arms! Cue singing birds, lavender crocuses emerging from the earth, a spring in your step (pun intended) and people wearing shorts in +10C weather – yep, us Canadians are a hearty bunch!

There’s even a name for it – spring fever!

And according to Wikipedia …is a term applied to several sets of physical and psychological symptoms associated with the arrival of spring. In general it refers to an increase in energy, vitality and particularly sexual appetite.

Sexual health expert, Jennifer Bermand MD, even provides an explanation for it in SELF, an American magazine, As the weather gets warmer, we shed layers of clothes, we work out more, we’re more conscious of our bodies and we’re out in the sun and in the heat. That all increases blood flow to our brains, our bodies and our genitals, and it elevates our moods and endorphins, so there really is a reason behind spring fever.

But it turns out the opposite can also be true for people. Wikipedia goes on to say, … an unexpected loss of energy with the onset of spring. What? Warmer weather, a spring in your step (pun intended), blooming flowers, less clothing…what’s they’re not to be happy about?

Tulips inspire spring fever in me.

What sounded crazy to me, has a specific name in German –Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, which translates to Spring tiredness in English. I first heard of it from my German husband. He was being lazy and sleeping until 11:00 one Saturday morning. I urged him to wake up and stop being so lazy. He yawned and said he couldn’t help it, he had a case of Frühjahrsmüdigkeit. I thought he was just looking for an excuse not to get out of bed! Then I heard it mentioned on two different radio stations. Turns out that Spring tiredness really is a thing! According to the German Wikipedia page, translated, spring tiredness, is characterized by a state of low energy and weariness experienced by many people in springtime. It is not in the category of a diagnosed illness, but rather a phenomenon thought to be initiated by a change in the season.

Spring tiredness is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance between serotonin, which makes you feel happy and melatonin which makes you feel sleepy. As the body adjusts it’s hormone levels that accompany the changing weather, it puts strain on the body and may cause tiredness.

It turns out it’s not only limited to people. One of my cats has been sleeping more than normal. My husband was quick to point out that he too was afflicted with spring tiredness – even though it was our Canadian cat, not our German cat! Needles to say, I’m perplexed. Canadians have spring fever, not spring tiredness!

spring fever cherry blossoms

On a recent trip to Bucharest I asked a few other travel bloggers if they experienced spring fever or spring tiredness. It turns out that Germans are not alone in experiencing spring tiredness. Slovakian’s also experience spring tiredness. According to Alex from Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler, Most people in Slovakia get really tired with the beginning of spring, its very illogical as animals and nature wake up after winter. Back home we say that the best remedy is to take a rest whenever you feel like it.

The same is true in Poland, according to Marysia from My Travel Affairs, In Poland we don’t experience spring fever, we have so called ‘spring crisis or solstice’. It is quiet common and the only thing you can do about it is to sleep more, eat healthy and take opportunity of every hour of light there is in the day. I myself drink a lot of homemade fruit cocktails and hot tea with ginger, honey and lemon in the evening for a good sleep.

In the Netherlands things get really interesting. According to Stefania from Stefania Blogt it’s spring fever.” Rokjesdag” is Dutch for the first day of spring when the women and girls are suddenly wearing a skirt with bare legs underneath. Martin Bril, one of my favourite columnists in the Netherlands (†), made the definition “rokjesdag” popular. It is a happy day when spring finally starts after a long, grey and mostly wet winter in our country. But according to Sabine, from Your Ambassadrice, also from the Netherlands, spring tiredness is a recent trend. Interestingly, Stefania hadn’t heard of spring tiredness in the Netherlands before!

If you are one of the people afflicted with spring tiredness, see the remedies suggested by Alex and Marysia above. I personally don’t have any, since I’m a spring fever kinda gal, but it would make sense that spending as much time in sunlight and doing light exercise would have a positive impact. Or if all else fails wait it out. Spring tiredness generally just lasts from the middle of March to the middle of April!

What I find fascinating is that spring can have such opposing effects, depending on the person and the nation!

I’d love to hear whether you experience spring fever or spring tiredness! I’m curious to see the impact spring has on people in different countries!

See more places to visit in Germany.

Fraueninsel: One of the Most Wonderful Christmas Markets in Bavaria

From the title Fraueninsel (Women Island in English) I’m going to predict that some people might be either really excited or terrified by this post.

The truth is they should be neither. The women in reference are nuns. Yep nuns. They’ve been living at the monastery since 782.

They’re not all no fun though, known for their Kloster Liquor Spirits that they produce, they’re known to indulge a bit too much from time to time. OK, I made that last part up and I digress….

The Fraueninsel Christmas Market has special meaning to me. Inspired by a German friend who informed me that it was her favorite market in all of Germany I just HAD to go.

It was the one I most wanted to visit last year but alluded me. Oh it was still on and functioning, but we arrived just before 7:00pm. I had mistakenly assumed it would be open until at least 8:00 pm. It wasn’t. It closed at 7:00. We settled for the smaller, less famous Christmas market in Prien. It was fine, but it just wasn’t the same as visiting the one at Fraueninsel.

Flash forward one year later, dates and times checked, I actually made it this year.  It was worth the wait!  It was absolutely magical!  It definitely makes my Best Christmas Markets in Europe list.

I was surprised at how busy it was, but it still felt authentic. The selection of vendors was not the usual vendors that you find at the more commercial markets like the one at Marienplatz in Munich or in Nuremberg, although the Nuremberg market did grow on me during my second visit.

No second visit is necessary to convince me.   The Fraueninsel Christmas Market is everything I had hoped it would be, although I will likely return again next year just for the atmosphere.

The monastery on Fraueninsel as seen from the boat.
The monastery on Fraueninsel as seen from the boat.
The entrance to Fraueninsel. The line is for people boarding the boat back to the mainland.
The entrance to Fraueninsel. The line is for people boarding the boat back to the mainland. There was a huge line of people behind me so I didn’t have a chance to focus the picture.
Wurst (sausage) and Glühwein (mulled wine), typical German treats at Christmas markets
Wurst (sausage) and Glühwein (mulled wine), typical German treats at Christmas markets
Handmade wooden figurines for sale.
Handmade wooden figurines for sale.
Festive atmosphere at the Christmas market.
Festive atmosphere at the Christmas market.
Boat ferrying passengers over the Chiemsee back to Prien at dusk
Boat ferrying passengers over the Chiemsee back to Prien at dusk

Know Before You Go to Fraueninsel Christmas Market:

    • The market is open Friday to Sunday on two Advent weekends before Christmas:  Nov 27 – Nov 29th and Dec 4-6th,  (Dates for 2015).
    • The Christmas market is open from 2:00 – 7:00 pm on Fridays and from 12:00 to 7:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.
    • The boat from Prien is at Seestrasse 108.  It goes to Fraueninsel every 30 minutes from 12:00 to 6:30 pm during the Christmas market.
    • Return boats are also every 30 minutes from 12:00 to 8:00 pm. The last boat leaves the island at 9:00 pm. If you miss it, you’re sleeping on the island.
    • The return trip costs €8.50 per adult.  There’s no charge for the Christmas market itself.
    • Dress warmly.  You will be outside for most of your visit, although there are standing heaters and fires in selected places.  There are also a couple of restaurants where you can warm up over a traditional meal. Or drink Glühwein (mulled wine), my personal favourite way to warm up.
    • The boat stops at the nearby Herreninsel for visitors to visit the famous Herrenchiemsee Palace designed by King Ludwig II.  Consider going earlier and visiting the castle first if you haven’t been there.  It’s based on Versailles and is incredible!
    • Prien is easily reached by train.  The journey is 1 hour from Munich (the Bayern ticket is the cheapest option) and only 45 minutes from Salzburg.
    • You can also visit the smaller Christmas market located at the Marktplatz in Prien.  It’s open from 1:00 to 8:00 pm on two Advent weekends in December.

Trier, Germany – The Second Rome

Trier, Germany is frequently referred to as the “second Rome.”

This may seem like a bold statement until you realize that Trier has a whopping 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites consisting of Roman monuments and churches. Get your gladiator uniform on to visit Germany’s oldest city dating back to B.C. 16!

Porta Nigra (Black Gate)

Porta Nigra
Porta Nigra “Black Gate” is one of the most famous Roman monuments and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Porta Nigra is the start of many tours in Trier and is an impressive Roman structure built in A.D. 180. It is built of huge stone blocks weighing up to six metric tons each. Visitors are also allowed to go inside the gate for further exploration for a small fee. Porta Nigra is also the best preserved Roman City Gate north of the Alps.

Cathedral (Dom)

The Cathedral is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Roman structure
The Cathedral is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Roman structure.

The Roman Cathedral dates back to A.D.300 and has changed over the years but the original walls standing 26 m (86 ft) still exist in places. Many of the original parts of the cathedral remain underground and are not visible to the public but an impressive display of artwork dating back to the 1650s is on display.

Amphitheater

Up to 20,000 spectators used to watch bloody battles in the Amphitheater, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Up to 20,000 spectators used to watch bloody battles in the Amphitheater, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Amphitheater dates back to 2nd century A.D. and was where animals and gladiators would fight until death for the amusement of the 20,000 spectators. Hmmm, reminds me of the book and movie The Hunger Games. The Amphitheater is still used today, but for much tamer entertainment in the form of open-air concerts. For me, the most interesting part of the amphitheater was the cellar underneath the amphitheater where you could see prisoner cells and where exotic animals were caged. While the amphitheater is no doubt impressive, I was disappointed by the lack of signs, making it difficult to fully appreciate the magnitude of the amphitheater. It’s also no where near as impressive as the Colosseum in Rome. For that you need to go to Rome.

Roman Imperial Throne Room (Konstantin-Basilika)

Basillica Konstantin - the largest surviving single room Roman structure
Basillica Konstantin – the largest surviving single room Roman structure

The Roman Imperial Throne Room has an impressive claim to fame – it’s the largest surviving single-room preserved structure dating back to Roman times. Measuring it at 27 m (90 ft) wide, 33 m (108 ft) high, and 67 m (220 ft) long, its huge and its depth is further magnified through an optical illusion created by strategic use of windows. It was built to show the magnificence and strength of the Roman Emperor. While its size is impressive (perhaps he was overcompensating?) the Imperial Throne Room is very simple with minimal adornment. Today it’s used as a Protestant Church, the only one in Trier. Somehow I have a feeling the Emperor would want to send someone straight into the Amphitheater for this!

Imperial Baths

The Imperial Baths are the largest Roman baths north of the Alps
The Imperial Baths are the largest Roman baths north of the Alps and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Imperial Baths were my favorite UNESCO World Heritage Site in Trier. Dating back 1600 years, visitors can enter the subterranean labyrinth of the largest Roman bath north of the Alps and see the underground heating used to heat the hot baths. The Romans used to bathe naked publicly (long before the Germans) alternating between hot and cold baths. But they didn’t just come to the baths for bathing, you could play sports, gamble, and get beauty treatments. Guests could choose from scrapers, pumice stone or… fermented urine. I know which one I would NOT be choosing, those calluses would just have to stay put if that was my only option!

Walking through the Roman UNESCO World Heritage Sites I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Germany and not in Rome. I just wish I would have brought the gladiator costume I wore during Gladiator School.

Roman ruins are not just limited to Trier, you can visit the Roman Limes in Aalen.

See more places to visit in Germany.

Carnival Parade in Stuttgart

Carnival Parade in Stuttgart, Germany

Whoever thinks Germans are serious and have no sense of humor obviously hasn’t been to the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart.

This was only my second carnival parade in Germany, but I was surprised at how different it was than my first Carnival Parade in Grosselfingen, a small village only an hour from Stuttgart.
Happy girls at Carnival parade in Stuttgart, GermanyThe carnival parade procession consists of just over 2000 participants and they all seemed very jovial, which was different than many of the solemn faced participants in the Carnival Parade in Grosselfingen (except for the drunk guys).  I was also pleased to see a lot of female participants in the carnival parade as there wasn’t a single one in the Grosselfingen Carnival Parade.
Carnival parade costumes in Stuttgart, Germany

The costumes were also completely different than the costumes seen in the Carnival Parade in Grosselfinfen.  While I really enjoyed the wide variety of costumes seen in the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart, my favorite costume was from the Carnival Parade in Grosselfingen, shown on the left.  How can you beat towering multi-colored flowers?

Carnival parade in Stuttgart, Germany

I loved the many masks seen at the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart.  Normally the masks are scary looking meant to scare away winter, but most of the masks I saw were very happy.  Perhaps they are taking ng a “killing them with kindness” approach to winter?  Either way, the masks were my favorite part of the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart.  I will be writing more about the masks in an upcoming post.

Carnival parade masks in Stuttgart, GermanyCarnival parade masks in Stuttgart, Germany

The Carnival Parade in Stuttgart is big, but by no means the largest in Germany, so I was surprised to see that there were not that many floats, the one below was the most elaborate, and it was a treat with people swinging from it, but  the rest were very simply done.  Most of the Carnival Parade consisted of people dressed up, walking, which while still interesting, is different than what I’m used to in Canada, where the floats are the stars of the parade.
Crazyfloat at Carnival parade in Stuttgart, Germany

There were also lots of bands, which you also see in parades in Canada.  I enjoyed the eclectic music selections ranging from everything to traditional carnival songs to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves.  It definitely got the 200,000+ specatators if not in a dancing mood, then in a swaying mood.
Carnival parade band in Stuttgart, Germany

Politcal statements are more popular in the larger parades along the Rhein, such as in Cologne or in Mainz.  My Swabish friends proudly tell me that is one reason why carnival is better in the state of Baden-Württemberg.  There were only 2 political references (that I saw) in the carnival parade in Stuttgart, but the one was a rather low blow  with the Governor of Baden-Württemberg telling the mayor of Stuttgart that they deal with protesters of  Stuttgart 21 Project ( a major railway project that has been sparked with controversy and protestors)by pepper spraying them – a reference to an event that happened several months ago with tens of thousands of protesters which left one man blind.
Carnival parade politics in Stuttgart, Germany

Interesting there was also anotherCarnival parade jeep in Stuttgart, Germanycontroversy in the Carnival Parade.  Can you guess what it is by the photo on the left?

Stuttgart is headquarters to Mercedes and Porsche, both of which have large prominent museums in Stuttgart and Germans are very proud of German cars.  There was a collective gasp of horror among us as people saw the offending Jeep.  My Russian friend and I burst out laughing at the “controversy.”

I was pleased to see one of my favorite museums in Stuttgart make an appearance, the Pig Museum!  When I later asked J.P. why there was no float for either the Mercedes Museum or Porsche Museum, his response was “Because everybody knows about those museums, nobody knows about the Pig Museum.  Hopefully participating in the Carnival Parade resulted in a few more admissions.  It was kind of hard to miss a gigantic pig!
Carnival parade pig in Stuttgart, Germany

While there were many differences between the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart and in Grosselfingen.  One thing was the same, there were a few crazy people drinking, but to be fair the participants in the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart were only drinking beer.  In the photo below, the girl on the right holding a microphone, drinking a beer was actually a reporter and drinking beer between takes. Too funny!
Carnival parade in Stuttgart, Germany

Children candy at Carnival parade in Stuttgart, GermanyAnd lastly, if you read my First Impressions of a Carnival Parade in Germany post, you may remember that I was feeling very sorry for German children, who were being given buns, pretzels and sausages with only the smallest quantities of candy being handed out.  I am happy to report that children at the Carnival Parade in Stuttgart scored big time!  So much candy was being thrown out that we were getting pelted with it.  I even managed to score a few pieces!

What are your impressions of carnival?

See more places to visit in Germany.

Stuttgart Lapidarium – One of Stuttgart’s Quirkiest Attractions

Lapidarium Statues Heads in Stuttgart, Germany

The lapidarium is one of the quirkiest attractions in Stuttgart.

I felt like I should know what a “lapidarium” was, but I confess that I didn’t before reading about it. According to Wikipedia a lapidarium is “a place where stone monuments and fragments of archeological interest are exhibited.”

Lapidarium statues in Stuttgart, Germany

The lapidarium in Stuttgart has 200 such monuments ranging from sculptures to remnants of buildings destroyed in the bombings of WWII. Despite this, I was surprised to find that the lapidarium was an idyllic place based on an Italian Renaissance Garden. The monuments were displayed in an open air museum, on Karlshöhe as part of a park. There were lots of trees and birds chirping.

Lapidarium Wall of Monuments in Stuttgart, Germany

In many ways the lapidarium reminded me of My Favorite Attraction in Stuttgart. I was in awe of how both attractions (the lapidarium and my favorite attraction in Stuttgart) managed to bring alive the historic and architectural elements of Stuttgart that was largely destroyed in the WWII bombings. As a result of the bombings, and perhaps not surprisingly many statues were missing pieces:

Lapidarium dog statue in Stuttgart Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Many of the statues were missing pieces. On this statue part of the dog’s left leg is missing.

But perhaps it’s better to be missing part of a leg than what this one was missing:

Lapidarium man statue in Stuttgart Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Look closely….Can you see what’s missing? Hint, most men would be horrified to lose this body part.

One of my favorite artifacts in the lapidarium was this door and window:

Lapidarium portal and window in Stuttgart Baden-Württemberg, Germany

The artifact above dates back to the mid 1300s and is from an old stone house – as indicated by the sign on the left. I loved the signage of the monuments displaying the age of the monument and sometimes even the building it came from, or the significance of the monument. The signs really helped bring the monuments to live.

Lapidarium Signage of artifacts in Stuttgart Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Concerts and literature events are also sometimes held in the lapidarium. I think it would be a unique venue for such an event so I’m keeping my eyes open for an interesting event.

Our visit to the lapidarium, only lasted about 30 minutes, but I really enjoyed it and admission was free (although donations are accepted). After that we headed up the stairs on the east side of the lapidarium further up Karlshöhe to the Beer Garden where traditional Swabian food is served. Not to mention it has one of the best views of Stuttgart:

View of Stuttgart from the Beer Garden above the Lapidarium in Baden-Württemberg, Germany
View of Stuttgart from the Beer Garden above the lapidarium

I would highly recommend a trip to the lapidarium and the beer garden on the hill above it (Tschechen & Söhne) in Stuttgart. The lapidarium is such a quirky attraction, yet it really brings some of Stuttgart’s history alive in such an interesting setting. And I think at least one trip to a traditional German beer garden should be on every visitor’s list. All in all, an interesting way to spend a couple of hours in Stuttgart.

The lapidarium is located at: Mörikestraße 24/1. It is only open between May – Sept on Wed – Sat from 2 – 6 and on Sunday from 11 – 6. Admission is by donation. For more info see the official site at: Städtisches Lapidarium (in German only, but you can translate the page).

Have you ever been to a lapidarium? What were your impressions? If you haven’t gone would you consider going to a lapidarium?

See more places to visit in Germany.

Tram World in Stuttgart, Germany

Party tram on display. They were previously available for rent in Stuttgart, but not today

Tram world in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Tram World (Strassenbahnwelt) is a museum documenting over 140 years of streetcar history with over 60 restored trams.

It seems a bit out of place considering that Stuttgart is home to two rather large automobile companies (those would be Daimler (Mercedes) and Porsche). But once I became aware that Stuttgart was the first city in Germany to provide mass transit in 1868, it made more sense.

Model with horses at Tram world
A model of one of the earliest trams used in Stuttgart dating back to the late 1800s.

I really didn’t know what to expect from Tram World, but when the opportunity came up for a guided tour in English with the Met Club (an international club based in Stuttgart) I figured why not? Our volunteer guide was wonderful and enthusiastic as he explained that the first trams were pulled with horses and that the drivers sat outside for 12 hour shifts, often in freezing temperatures.

early tram on display at Model with horses
One of the early trams used in Stuttgart.

Unlike today, riding the trams in the early days was a status symbol, something only the upper-middle class and the rich could afford. The poor couldn’t afford the price of a ticket and were stuck walking.

Horses were used to pull the trams until 1884 when they were replaced by cog wheels, which involved the driver having to change every time he reached the end of the line, enabling the tram to go back in the opposite direction. By 1891 the Stuttgart trams were all running on electric wires, much to the great relief of the tram drivers I’m sure.

Old tram on display at Tram world in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
This tram may look familiar if you’ve been to the Czech Republic.

Trams are expensive and when trams need to be replaced Stuttgart often sells trams to other countries, especially the Czech Republic, so if you’re wondering why there is German writing in your tram car in the Czech Republic, now you know why.

Party tram on display. They were previously available for rent in Stuttgart, but not today
Previously party trams were available for rent in Stuttgart, but not today unfortunately.

One of my favorite parts of visiting Stuttgart Tram World was seeing the party tram. It used to be available for rent by large groups, who could often been seen dancing in the tram as it worked its way through the streets of Stuttgart. Unfortunately it’s no longer available for rent. However, it is possible to take a vintage ride on Sundays in Stuttgart or host your own celebration at Tram World. It used to be a former tram depot, complete with tracks and markings on the floor. It’s the perfect ambiance for a tram museum, but a wedding or other formal event? I’m not so sure. I enjoyed my visit much more than I thought I would. It’s worth nothing that this was in large part to our volunteer guide who was passionate about keeping the history of trams alive. Had I just gone on my own, I wouldn’t have gotten as much from it.

Stuttgart Tram World is definitely not as slick as the Mercedes-Benz Museum, but the museum has character and I didn’t realize how little I knew or had admittedly thought about trams until my visit.

My favorite museum in Stuttgart though remains the Pig Museum, the largest in the world.

See more places to visit in Germany.

Hiking in the Black Forest in Germany

Castle Ruins in Black Forest, Germany

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!

Castle Ruins in Black Forest, Germany
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 in Black Forest, Germany
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 [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Canadian Habits in Germany

Canadian Habits in Germany - mounted-police are part of Canadian culture

I’m a big believer of the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, but there are a few Canadian habits that I just can’t shake in Germany and yes, that includes thinking that red really is the best colour for police uniforms as it is the traditional color of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P) and yes that also includes spelling “colour” with an “u”, the Canadian way.

Canadian Habit #1:
Saying “no thank you” (but in German of course). Germans typically just say “no”, saying “no thank you” is considered very polite and not necessary, but my mom taught me well and I can’t just say “no.” To my Canadian ears it sounds so rude, even though it is perfectly acceptable in Germany. Besides, it provides comic relief for the Germans as evidenced last night when the cashier at the supermarket asked if I wanted my receipt, I replied “no thank you” and she and the other two people standing in line couldn’t help but giggle. Glad that this Canadian habit gives some Germans a small chuckle, because it’s not one I’m likely to break anytime soon and I guess it’s better to be overly polite than rude.

Canadian Habit #2:
When I see someone, the first thing out of my mouth is usually “Hi, how are you?” Believe it or not this is considered a slightly strange question in Germany. Germans don’t ask how you are, unless they REALLY want to know. They don’t see the point of the North American answer “fine thanks, and you?” If they ask how you are, they really want to know and don’t just want a one word answer. Most of the time, they don’t really want to know, so they don’t ask. This seems simple enough, and I actually like it, since most of the time in Canada when we ask “How are you?” we really don’t want to know about your sick dog or how you ran out of breakfast cereal, or had a fight with your husband…We are only expecting a one word answer. Having said, that, it’s a hard Canadian habit to break. Fortunately J.P. says that Germans understand that this is a U.S./Canadian habit and don’t take offense to it, although it bewilders them of why we would ask a question and only expect a one word answer.

Canadian Habit #3
Saying “nice to meet you” when you first meet someone. This seems harmless enough, but is usually not done in Germany. Ever pragmatic, the German logic goes, “I just met you, how do I know whether it’s nice to meet you or not? I need to get to know you, then decide whether it’s nice to met you or not.” I love this perspective and in North America, when we say this, we don’t really mean it (after all we’ve just met you), it’s just a figure of speech. I actually like that Germans mean the words they say, much more so than we do in North America. I’m getting better at this one, in part because of the awkward silence that follows after saying “nice to meet you” (I swear sometimes I can hear crickets). Instead I try to say it after spending a couple of hours with someone, when I can confirm that it was indeed nice to meet them.

Of course, I have many other Canadian habits that I just can’t seem to shake either, but those are another story…What habits do you have that you can’t break when traveling/living abroad?

You may also be interested in:
Food and Drink in Germany Vs. Canada

Berlin Wall: Confessions of Why I Was Disappointed At First

Berlin wall germany

I’ve waited almost two years to see the Berlin Wall, one of the most epic sights in all of Germany.

So it was hard to ruffle up any enthusiasm when this was the first glimpse I had of it:

berlin wall
My first disappointing look at the Berlin Wall.

This lack-luster, ordinary wall is what I had eagerly anticipated for almost two years?  This puny wall is what divided a country for 28 years?  I couldn’t hide my initial disappointment from Julian, our well educated docent from Context. He led us on a three hour tour of the wall and took us to the viewing platform at the Berlin Wall Documentary Center.  It was there that it became apparent that there was more to this “puny” wall than meets the eye:

Death strip of the Berlin Wall in Germany
A recreated “death strip” that separated East Berlin from West Berlin.

Getting over the wall was only the first hurdle.  The would-be escapees then had to make it through the “death strip” which was surrounded by guard towers with guards who had orders to shoot. The estimated 5000 would-be escapees had no place to hide.  124 of them didn’t make it:

Would be escapees over the Berlin Wall in Germany
Memorial photos of East Berliners who died trying to escape.

All notions of this “puny” wall were washed away.  But I still couldn’t help noticing the lack of graffiti.  The graffiti that the Berlin Wall is so famous for was missing.  You know the ones that East Berliners created in protest of the wall?

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall in Germany
Graffiti was only found on the west side of the wall.

Graffitti on the Berlin Wall in Germany
Not so fast. Julian explained that graffiti was only found on the west side of the Berlin Wall.  Defacing the wall in East Berlin would have resulted in severe punishment by the communist state.  It made perfect sense once he explained it and debunked yet another myth in my head.

Berlin Wall in Germany
The Open-Air Exhibition is free and worth seeing the wall in its various states.

Slowly, it dawned on me, the Berlin Wall in itself isn’t impressive. Its significance lies in the oppression it represented, until change and growth broke out – 28 years later.

berlin wall_trees

Thank you to Julian from Context for our complimentary tour. As always opinions expressed are my own. Context Travel offers three hour tours of the Berlin Wall. Guides provide an extensive history and you will visit numerous sites relevant to the Berlin Wall.

Also check out expat Adam’s Things to Do in Berlin and Simon’s journey to nearby Potsdam Sanssouci Park:  A Photo Tour.

See more places to visit in Germany.

All Aboard the German Emigration Centre

The German Emigration Centre (Deutsches Auswanderer Haus) in Bremerhaven in northern Germany is one of the most interesting museums I have ever been to anywhere in the world! It simulates the journey taken in the late 1800s through the 1900s by German emigrants seeking a better life in America. All aboard!

Each person is given a German emigrant boarding pass of a real German emigrant who made the 8 day journey to the U.S (which got shorter as time went on). I was given Martha Hüner, a young single woman who had relatives in the U.S. and big dreams of making it rich as a house keeper. Many German emigrants who made the journey were poor, unemployed and were seeking a better life in the U.S.

 

The first stop is the enormous ship, where plasticized figures wait for the large looming boat. Most impressive are the noises. The port was a busy place and standing among all the figures and luggage with the boat in the background and all the noisy seagulls and people chattering that I actually felt like I was the one emigrating. Here I learned that all of Martha’s friends and families came to send her off on her journey.

Next visitors “board” the boat.

Then it’s off to the third class cabin where most emigrants were based. Conditions were tight. Five people to two narrow mattresses, with often 100 people in a small room. If passengers didn’t have a family of five, they slept next to strangers. There were no windows in third class and when conditions were rough, passengers had to stay in their rooms. The stench from the sea sickness is said to have been wrenching and passengers were often forced to stay there for several days at a time in rough seas.

Second class was much nicer with each person getting their own bunk. Unfortunately most German emigrants couldn’t afford second class and the majority of them had to rough it in third class, where they were later joined by Irish immigrants who also normally stayed in third class.

In later years, the journey became shorter and conditions much more comfortable, with only 4 people in a room.

In this room, visitors swipe their German Emigrant boarding pass and learn more about their German emigrant.

After a long journey emigrants waited here at the U.S. Immigration Office where their fate is decided. First they had to see a doctor, and pass a several minute exam ensuring they weren’t carrying infectious diseases.

Upon passing the physical inspection, emigrants faced bullet fired questions from U.S. Immigration Officials. If an emigrant hesitated too long on any question, they would be pulled into a separate room for more intensive questioning. Fortunately, most emigrants passed. In the above photo, visitors test their knowledge of their German emigrant and see if they are allowed entry into the U.S. Fortunately I had paid attention and passed the test and was able to begin a new life in the U.S.

Martha’s father had predicted she would marry an American cowboy, instead she married another German emigrant. They opened a bakery in New Jersey and ran a modest business in a Czechoslovakian neighborhood, but when WWII started the Czechs boycotted their store and they went bankrupt. Soon after, Martha’s husband died. She then found work as a housekeeper for a well-to-do family, a position she held for ~20 years. In her old age she had a stroke and decided she was homesick and came back to Germany to live with her sister. She died in Germany. The letter above is a sign of the times – note the “Russia Zone Germany” address.

The German Emigration Centre does a realistic job of showing visitors what the German emigrants faced and by having my “own” German emigrant, I felt very connected – something that I don’t feel very often in most museums. Along the way, I kept hoping that things would turn out OK for Martha and was silently rooting for her. Americans with German ancestry would find the German Emigration Centre especially interesting. I went with four other Germans and we all found it fascinating. Unfortunately their German emigrants didn’t fare as well as Martha did. Unfortunately the American dream wasn’t to be realized by all emigrants.

You may also be interested in: The World’s Largest Pig Museum