Archive | April, 2014

Biking für Anfänger

29 Apr

I’m very lucky that Erlangen and the surrounding areas are so utterly bike friendly that even a beginner (Anfänger) can get around safely. Now I am indeed no expert when it comes to biking BUT a bike is my main form of transport here in Germany and may be yours too, it’s worth doing some research, particularly if like me you hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood (and weren’t much good then either).

Comparisons

In the UK most of the people riding bikes are encased head to toe in garishly coloured lycra and helmets, in Erlangen rolling your trouser leg up is all you need to do (the number of people wearing helmets can be counted on one hand, mostly parents setting a good example to their littlies, wear one, don’t wear one, you’re the grown up you decide).

In the UK new basic bike prices can range from low to high, in Erlangen a new basic bike could set you back a lot of Euros (but it will at least be a decent bike that will last!).

In the UK mountain bikes still rule and I can understand why, potholes? ouch you definitely need suspension. In Erlangen the ‘city bike’ rules supreme, great for commuting and getting around town.

In the UK (at least in the North) cycle lanes are few and have a tendency to end abruptly, meaning that bikes and other vehicles have to share the road. In Erlangen cycle lanes are plentiful, look out for the red areas on the pavement (and try not to walk on there), if you do have to ride on the road there is generally a marked path to use.

In the UK motorists are not always on the look out for cyclists (I’m generalising yes), in Erlangen there are so many bikes, which generally have the right of way, so motorists will look out for you.

Bike parking can be tricky

Bike parking can be tricky

Style

There is no judgement here about whether you ride a mens (high crossbar) or a womens (low crossbar) bike. Choose one that best suits your lifestyle.

If you have to commute in a suit, a low crossbar city bike will result in less wrinkles as you travel in a more upright position than on a mountain bike.

If you need to carry a weeks worth of groceries on your bike, consider the need for a pannier rack (and some panniers) and baskets.

Check out the bikes on the streets of Erlangen, you will see that most of them aren’t new, they are battle scared and well loved. They ride like a dream, need a little care and attention but you can pick one up for 40 Euro, embrace the retro.

Substance

Lights on a bike are non negotiable and a legal requirement, you must have them on if you are riding in the evening, early mornings and night. A lot of bikes use a dynamo to power their lights, no need to remember to change any batteries, but rain can sometimes effect their performance. Battery powered lights which can be removed from the bike also work for some people, especially if your outside house light doesn’t work!

As with anywhere bikes can get stolen, if you have an expensive bike invest in expensive locks (plural) and make sure you get it insured. Now I understand that since you don’t have a car you have plenty of cash to drop on a bike but consider your needs, do you really need a massively expensive bike for commuting 15 minutes to work 5 days a week? If you are an avid cyclist maybe consider getting a run around for commuting and keep your ‘baby’ locked up safe in the basement for weekend outings.

Price is always tricky, it’s a bike, my parents bought me my last bike for my 13th birthday and I have no idea how much they paid. I was very surprised when I got here about the prices of bikes, new and second hand, 500 Euro? for a bike? What I hadn’t thought about was just how much I was going to use said bike, when it went in for a service last time I was bereft, walking is definitely not as much fun! Now that I’ve been here for a while I can appreciate why the prices are the way they are. Pretty much all material goods are more expensive in Germany for a start (compared to the UK) I don’t have a car (no petrol or insurance costs) so I will get a lot of use out of a bike and should I need to resell the value second hand is still good, win win.

Whilst it is tempting to just buy a bike on Ebay (it is perfect if you know exactly what you want and can’t be convinced otherwise) there are so many affordable ways to purchase your bike locally, where you can try it out, check it and haggle about the price that it’s worth looking elsewhere first.

Once you do buy a bike, if it is second (third, forth, fifth) hand it is worth taking it straight to a bike shop for a once over and a service, there is time to learn about bike maintenance but that time is not now. Make sure you get your brakes, gears etc checked by someone who knows what they are doing first.

Check what size you need, the more petite might be more comfortable on a 26 inch than a 28 inch, and the taller may require a larger frame (not just a higher seat position).

Bike parking on a Saturday

Bike parking on a Saturday

Where to buy

Fahrradversteigerung (bike auction). Erlangen and Bamberg both have auctions a few times a year, these bikes are usually the ones which are rounded up from around town that have been parked illegally  and never claimed or that have been left in a public place for a long time. Consequently you can bag a bargain (usual) or find nothing you like (rare). They will usually have an open time before the auction day to see and test the bikes (at least for size). The auction is in German but as long as you concentrate on your numbers it’s not too hard to follow and there aren’t any extra fees to pay on top of the purchase price.

Flohmarkt (Flea market)/Trödelmarkt. As with any kind of flea market sometimes you will find gold, sometimes you won’t, it can be a great place to find a bargain though. The flea market at Bohlenplatz usually has quite a few bikes to look at, keep up to date on all the upcoming flea markets here.

Bike shops usually stock some second hand bikes (in addition to a wide selection of new ones), if you buy here you know that the bike will at least be roadworthy and it will usually some with a year or twos guarantee, so the price may be a little higher than at the auction, but it can be worth it. Fahrradkiste, Fahrradecke in Erlangen and Fahrrad Schreiber in Erlangen Bruck are all places where I have personally had great experiences with purchases, rental and servicing. Freilauf is more on the expensive side but their shop carries quite a lot of stock for bikes and bike riding, not just bikes, so you can check out bits and pieces before you buy.

Larger supermarkets (kaufland, Rewe, Aldi) also sell bikes at certain times of the year, if you only need a bike for a year this may be a good choice, the longevity of their bikes isn’t fantastic but they can be cheaper and pretty.

Ebay, not my favourite place to purchase a bike, I like to try before I buy. Alles.de is pretty much German Craigslist, giving you the freedom to actually see and try before you commit to buying. Many Germans will speak English so don’t let your lack of language skills hold you back, learn some polite basics, take a dictionary and use the internationally recognised hand gesture language if you get stuck.

Tips

  • Get a bell and use it, don’t try to be that uber polite Brit endlessly dodging pedestrians, one day you’ll crash, the bike lane is yours so warn them that you’re there.
  • Buy a decent lock and use it, Erlangen is a student town and some unlocked bikes are used as ‘community bikes’ (or the bike that gets students home from the pub), don’t let it be yours.
  • Wear a long top, please, no one needs to see the crack.
  • Ride on the bike path, it’s there for you so use it.
  • Don’t jump lights, it’s not cool.
  • Cars give way to bikes (and pedestrians) and bikes even have space in front of the cars at traffic lights to gather together, appreciate it and keep on your toes.
  • Whilst riding on a pavement based bike lane can be done travelling in either direction, if your bike lane is on the road you MUST be travelling in the same direction as the traffic.
  • Cycling in snow is not recommended, if you have to, just go s.l.o.w, snow is generally cleared very well here and you can cycle carefully then but it might be worth your time to just buy a bus ticket some days.
  • Drunk cycling is an offence, you can get fined, points or even have your licence taken away from you. The level of alcohol is higher than that for driving a car but I’d recommend not taking your bike to the Bergkirchweih or at least biking there and walking home.

Same place, different bikes and a little more white stuff

That came out a little longer than I was expecting but I hope that someone finds it useful, I really love that Erlangen has made allowed me to enjoy biking as an adult.

Are your hometown and new hometown bike friendly?

Feeling on top of the world….

25 Apr

….and some other local experiences you won’t want to miss.

On top of a mountain (well maybe just more of a really big hill) in the (middle of crapping nowhere) middle of the Fränkische Schweiz on the first weekend in May, you find a wonderful beer festival with some of the best views (and beers) in the area. It’s called the Walberlafest and I strongly recommend you go.

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Walberlafest 2013, and yes it’s all on the top of a mountain!

It’s origins are seriously ancient, possibly right back to pagan feasts in the 9th century and because of this it’s considered by some to be the oldest Spring festival in Germany. It is quite a hike up Walberla and in places it can be quite steep, wear sensible shoes and take a coat, even if the sun is out in the morning, it is a long way down in the rain.

The best way to get there is by train, one of the most popular paths up Walberla starts in the small village of Kirchehrenbach, incidentally this is the best station to get off at and start your climb to the top. Erlangen-Forchheim-Kirchehrenbach is how your trip would go from Erlangen Hbf, be prepared for the trains to be crowded if you are travelling later in the day. Saturday and Sunday are the main days for visitors 10am-11pm, though the tapping of the first cask takes place on the Friday at about 6pm. There is also a church service at the Chapel on Walberla at 9am on Sunday.

Die Blaue Nacht (The blue night) is Nuremberg’s cultural offering to May, the night of May 3rd to be specific. Now you might be thinking, blue night? what? so everything is blue? Well yes in  German feat of wonderful organisation every bulb in every lamppost in Nuremberg is replaced with a blue one, for a night. That’s not all it is obviously, but it’s a distinct amount of effort that goes into things like this, it really is all in the detail for me.

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A tiny idea of what goes on on Blaue Nacht from 2012

The city centre opens it’s doors, it’s churches, it’s spaces and even it’s castle, to a ‘long night of art and culture’. You can buy a ticket to attend various events around the city but there is such a lot to see for free that I haven’t ever felt the need to buy one. There is usually a light show projected onto the castle once the sun goes down, it is very impressive but it can get very busy so maybe don’t go in a huge group.

The bierkeller of the Forchheimer Kellerwald open this weekend 26 & 27 April, you can sample beers and food so you know where to head for the good stuff when you arrive for Annafest later in the year

Entla’s Keller Erlangen also kick off their musical events for the year this weekend 26 & 27 April with some fabulous Franconian music ‘Fränkisches Gwerch am Berch’. Check out the calendar of events for information on dates and musicians.

Some Osterbrunnen (including Bierberbach) are still dressed and waiting to be photographed and the Volksfest in Nürnberg continues.

My life is not a holiday…..

25 Apr

….the top 5 things that i’m sick of hearing from non expats

Now I’ll be the first to admit it, like a lot of expats I am guilty of not being completely honest with my homeland family and friends. I emphasise the positive. Partly because I don’t want to worry them but partly because they just can’t/won’t understand. I also appreciate why they can’t/won’t understand, I was quite blissfully ignorant before we moved, which in hindsight wasn’t such a bad thing (but thats another story).

I know I’m incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to live my life abroad, but, and here’s the big but, sometimes expat life is shite. There I’ve said it. Expats everywhere and I, both know it’s true.

I hear these questions and comments on a regular basis and everyone of them annoys me to my core, but like a good English girl I inwardly seethe whilst maintaining a perfect smile and remind myself that  living abroad has opened my eyes and my heart to so many wonderful opportunities, and that I have a plentiful supply of gin at home.

‘So you’re fluent now, right?’ I have heard this from about my second week in Germany onwards. First, yes it’s in jest, after a couple of months people started asking it seriously! When I was hitting the books at intensive German classes, digging through grammar every night, had a house covered in post-its and still talking at maybe the same level as a toddler, certain people are extremely lucky that you can’t get punched in the face via Skype.

‘You wouldn’t catch me paying that much for <insert British product not widely available in Germany here>, why don’t you just eat <insert German product here>? Now I’m all for integration, but sometimes you just need a taste of home. Those friends and family who send food parcels to cheer up their expats are beautiful, wonderful people, they are usually people who have lived away from their homelands too, so understand. None of my family have ever lived anywhere other than England, I’ve never received a care package (sob) but they do bring goodies (I send a list) when they visit and I appreciate it greatly.

‘Most of your friends are from English speaking countries, why don’t you just have German friends?’ To feel connected, to have an anchor, to be able to reminisce, to cry with on the day I had to go to 5 different shops to find coriander, my bike got a flat and the post office people were rude to me again. Put simply ‘they understand’ and they are my family here. I don’t think I ever tried to make friends past the age of 11, they just sort of happened, same course at uni, various workplaces or events.

I have to say I have a lot less German friends than non German friends simply because I work from home, I don’t have kids, so I don’t meet that many people and since I have old lady hobbies like singing and sewing, I tend to meet older ladies, who whilst utterly lovely, my relationship with them is always going to be more kaffee und kuchen than ladies wot lunch.

‘I bet you can’t wait to get back to normal life’ This always jars me to hear, just because I live in Germany my life isn’t normal? Well yes, sometimes my husband wears leather trousers and I my dirndl, and I never thought I’d say it but that feels just as normal as a wax jacket and wellie boots. I’m immediately put on the defensive for my new home, be nice people and don’t slam what you don’t understand. Walk a mile in my shoes and all that!

‘You’re off on holiday again? how can you tell since your life is just one long holiday anyway?’ No, it’s not. You know why it’s not? because on my holiday I don’t work, I don’t do housework, I don’t balance a weekly shop on my bike, I don’t have to learn a language just so I can communicate with my butcher. My life is just like yours, only now I seize the day and realise how bloody lucky I am, I hope you do the same soon too (people who ask this question a lot).

I’m not saying that being an expat is better than being a non expat. Or that non expats need to think before they speak to me (but some people should try it sometimes). Understanding expat life is not easy and it still surprises me daily, but I can say with certainty that I feel richer for having lived abroad and I’m grateful for this life, my life, wherever I may live.

Any questions you’re sick of hearing?

Homesick?

21 Apr

I don’t like to use the word homesick when I miss my family and friends, home homesick is more like it.

Home is here, where I live, love, eat and sleep, my husband, my friends and potentially my future. I’m not sick for home as I’m already there, I have more than enough to be happy here but sometimes there is a nagging ache that I can’t quite put my finger on. A physical pain in my heart and a heaviness that I carry through my day, until I can either shake it off, or wallow in its glorious miserableness. I’m sick for home home.

You never know you have a home home until it disappears, in my case I moved away from it. My ‘it’ is my family, yours might be a job, a dog, a house, a garden, every expat has an ‘it’ that sometimes distracts them from their everyday normal life. It’s the most natural thing in the world to miss your ‘it’, to get irrationally angry or upset at random times of the day or night because of the unfairness of it all whilst also feeling stupid and ungrateful for all you actually have within your reach.

The hardest times come when you least expect it, the first time you miss out on gossip because no one thought to tell you or the first time you were intentionally left out of the loop because they ‘didn’t want to spoil your holiday’ (And a note to non expats, I’m not on one long holiday, I go to work, cook and clean the same as you, I’d be bloody well enjoying myself more on holiday believe me) can be like a slap in the face. Learn to let it go.

Exercise is important, endorphins really do make you happy and fresh air is free, grab your trainers and camera and go out an explore your new home. Expat friends will also be a lifesaver, they know what you’re going through, make use of them and reach out to others, your new friends will become your family and your home away from home.

Of course you can do all the relaxation and exercise in the world and still want to cry half way round Kaufland because you can’t find the cheddar cheese. Embrace it, get your arse home, put on pyjamas, get out the gin, and your stash of ‘things from home’.You don’t have a ‘things from home’ stash? You need one in your life.

All it takes in an empty shoebox, some treats, your choice, cadburys chocolate, fruit pastilles, polos, crisps, Irn Bru, whatever takes your fancy as long as it’s a special something that you can’t find easily here and a trashy English magazine, it doesn’t matter how old it is purely that its in the English language. Set yourself up with some English TV or a soppy film, a box of tissues and have a good old mope. Keep this box out of sight and only use it when you really need it, it’s your personal life-vest.

Hang in there expats, however you are feeling.

Frühlingsvolksfest Nürnberg

17 Apr

To start the festival year off with a bang I recommend that you attend the Volksfest in Nürnberg 19.04.2014 – 11.05.2014. It’s easy to get to and there is an tram stop nearby, get off at the Dokuzentrum stop and follow the crowds.

Think huge funfair, with beer tents, entertainment, food and lederhosen thrown in for good measure. Go with an empty stomach and a little extra cash (you will pay a deposit on your beer of 5 euro, which you will get it back when you return your glass). Check out the programmes for the fest online, there will be different acts on throughout the fest and they could be anything from belly dancers to brass bands to punk bands, there are also usually fireworks on the last night.

Part of the fun of a festival is the food, buy your sweetheart a gingerbread heart, eat a giant pickle, try a Langos, crepe or the famous drei im weckla (three nürnberger sausages in a bun). Frankly the rides scare me to death, and please, approach them with caution after a few beers. I do love the ferris wheel however, its great day or night.

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After the Volksfest is over it’s countdown to the Bergkirchweih, do you have your dirndl yet?

Clothes maketh the (wo)man

14 Apr

Now I’m not talking about just any kind of clothes here, I’m talking about German traditional clothes or Trachten. Men wear lederhosen (real men anyway) and women get the opportunity to wear a supremely flattering and beautiful outfit which they call a dirndl (pronounced Deer-n-dil).

The dirndl I refer to is not the very traditional dress that some Germans wear for celebrations but the more modern form of dress that is easy to wear and comes in may different styles, colours and price ranges. You can see the more traditionally dressed women at local events, they will often have matching outfits since they are part of the same group. Their outfits are beautiful down to the wicker bag and fresh flowers they tote.

When we first moved here, under no circumstances would you get me prancing through town in ‘a milkmaid outfit’, yes those were my exact and uneducated words. I’m not a girly girl you see, I spend my spare time in jeans, a dress with an apron and a frilly blouse? No.

And if I had never stepped into that Tracht shop one rainy afternoon and been taken under the wing of a dirndl wearing saleswoman, I would feel downright out of place at a beer festival. I also wouldn’t feel so feminine, whilst drinking my litre of beer. In the past few years the wearing of trachten to to beer festivals has really taken off, just check out the Bergkirchweih if you don’t believe me.

A dirndl is made up of a snugly fitted corset like bodice, blouse, skirt and apron, and if you’re worried that you will end up all cleavage, then don’t (unless thats your thing of course) a dirndl can be modest and practical as well as figure flattering. You can pick just about any colour you want, even the plainest cotton dirndl can have some beautiful detailing on the buttons and neckline. Go as plain or as fancy as you want, but do be aware that you will be wearing it outside surrounded by a lot of beer, maybe rethink the silk! And you will always find a pocket in the skirt, though its only really big enough to keep your 50 cent for the loo safe.

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Image by Ornella M via Flickr

This is the only time anyone over the age of 20 should wear a belly top (crop top as a non northern translation). Since the bodice is close fitting your blouse will be elasticated and end just under your bust, don’t worry once you get the dress on you’ll feel better I promise! You will have to choose from a vast array of white and some black blouses, puffy sleeves, lace, off the shoulder, buttons, frills you name it you’ll find it. My advice? find the dirndl first, then try on at least five different tops before you make up your mind.

The bodice is form fitting, it gives you amazing posture and can give you help in the bust department (if necessary). Also if you do need a bit of extra help, check out the dirndl bras, they tend to be balcony rather than plunging so you get a more natural cleavage rather than a full on in your face boobage.

Skirt lengths are less varied, the mini(high above the knee), the midi (knee length or longer) and the long (mid calf to ankle). Bear in mind that you’ll be up on a table dancing and riding your bike around in this dress, if you go for the mini, please get some big pants too! The midi is generally the most popular length, everyone can rock it and not much chance of flashing your knickers. Long is generally more for the older generation (50s or 60s) or waitresses, and yes, all ages wear dirndls from baby to grandma, check out a bridal dirndl they are stunning.

The apron itself is not a big deal, where you tie it on the other hand is. The code of dirndl apron tying is as follows, ‘single or looking’ bow tied to the right on your hip, ‘married, taken or not looking’ bow tied to the left. Front and centre bow means you’re a virgin (strangely one doesn’t see a lot of these about) and back centre is either widowed or a waitress.

Shoes, this is always a bit of contentious issue, purists maintain that trainers should not be worn with your dirndl but trekking a couple of miles through a muddy forest means that pretty heels are a big no. Ballet flats, pumps and converse (other brands are available obviously) tend to be what most women choose, you can get special tracht shoes but I’m not a fan because they are quite clompy.

So go and buy your dirndl before the craziness of the pre Bergkirchweih shopping starts, now is the perfect time. Check out C&A for cheap and cheerful, Erlangen Dirndl Garage for last seasons collections at bargain prices (Opens 5th April) and Wirkes Dirndl & Tracht for unlimited choice and good advice. Peek & Cloppenburg and Galeria Kaufhof also sell them seasonally though theirs tend to be on the pricier side.

You will feel especially silly the first time you go out dressed in a dirndl, you might even find yourself humming ‘the hills are alive’ but when you get to that beer festival you will be glad you did it.

Honestly, the best matching accessory to your dirndl is your guy in his lederhosen, I always maintain that ‘real men wear lederhosen’ and honestly if your guy won’t join in once you are looking beautiful in your dirndl, well, I may rethink the guy. Go shopping together and he can pick a coordinating shirt, it’s also a fun shopping trip to have with your visiting friends if they want that authentic beer festival experience!

Just don’t EVER turn up dressed like this, you will get laughed out of town!

bad dirndl

Image by Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr

 

 

Easter in Franconia

10 Apr

Like all religious festivals in Catholic Franconia, Easter is celebrated with gusto. It’s not just about chocolate eggs here (they still have some though), it’s about real decorated eggs and every town and village for miles around joins in.

Osterbrunnen or Easter fountains (or wells) appear before Easter, basically the locals decorate any and all fountains or wells in their town with evergreen and decorated eggs (more plastic than real eggs now). Each fountain is different to the next, some are huge and some are small, there are plenty in between too.

The world record breaking Osterbrunnen is located in Bierberbach, bus load of German tourists tour Franconian Switzerland during the Easter period, purely to see these beautiful creations.

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I don’t want to spoil Bierberbach for you but this is just a glimpse of the scale of their fountain, it’s definitely worth a trip, and worth going early to avoid the crowds.

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And some of your neighbours may have an Easter tree set up in their garden (or even in their house), decorated with hand painted or cut eggs.

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You don’t even need to go all the way to the Frankische schweiz to see an Osterbrunnen or two, look out for them in Erlangen, there are even some artificial ones in the Arcarden to check out.

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So I suppose you’ve been looking in the shops for Easter eggs, English style Easter eggs, and you’ve not found any am I right? If you have I need to know where! Big chocolate eggs here just aren’t really a thing, its all about the Creme egg sized eggs (and the Lindt bunnies). Be careful buying filled eggs here, most of them will have an alcoholic filling, stick to Kinder or Milka for the kids.

If you like chocolate the Lindt chocolate bunny is the way forward, any size you want, any type of chocolate you want, and there are special Easter Harribo for non chocolate lovers. Osterbrot is my replacement for hot cross buns, every bakery has their own version and my personal favourite is the one from the Fuchs bakery, toasted with butter it’s amazing.

If you need some more inspiration then my previous post A-Z Local Edition might also be useful too.

Happy Easter expats!

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