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Today

7 Oct

Not been much action on here lately has there? I promise that something exciting is happening and I hope that I can tell you about it soon.

I’m also still answering all your questions via email, as best I can, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you can’t find the answer already on the blog.

Hang in there expats!

Are you going to Erlangen Bergkirchweih?

11 May

In 10 days time the 260th Erlanger Bergkirchweih will begin, if that isn’t something worth celebrating then I just don’t know what is!

(Almost) everything you need to know is in this blog (or in the links in pink), you might also enjoy my favourite bergkirchweih related apps and websites which I’ve reviewed below.

IMG_4039-0

10 days to go, the Ferris wheel is almost all the way up, at least it was yesterday, in fact it’s probably all up by now, someone tweet me a picture @bierandcrumpets

If you’re a first timer at the Bergkirchweih or just want to be prepared you might want to check out my Insiders guide, there are hints and tips on how to get there, what to wear, what to drink and what to expect generally. If you do have a question that isn’t answered there and you think it should be, feel free to get in touch.

If you still haven’t bought your lederhosen or dirndl yet OR are considering not wearing one, let me convince you otherwise and direct you to the best places to buy from here. Of course it’s not compulsory to wear tracht, always wear something you’re comfortable in, whatever that is.

Not drinking? You can still enjoy Bergkirchweih if you aren’t a drinker, be assured it’s not all about the beer, there is music, food and entertainment to make it a family friendly event.

Last year I blogged the first and last nights at bergkirchweih 2014, since they are two of my favourite times at the festival, I even managed to get a few passable photos suitable for the blog #shortpersonphotographyisnevereasyinacrowd 😉

Useful APPS (free)

NB Phone and 3G signal at the Bergkirchweih can be hard to find, too many people and not enough masts, make your plan before you get there.

Bergkirchweih Erlangen – BerchTimer

When is a countdown app more than just a countdown app? when it contains actual useful information about music, weather and most importantly Keller locations showing which do what beers. My screenshots below.

I’ve had this app for a couple of years and I love it, no need to download another next year, it automatically renews for next years bergkirchweih and I like that the bottom tabs stay visible throughout. It is in German but it has little actual text beyond Keller’s names and whether the temperature will be Prima (perfect) or not. The music tab is particularly useful so you can see which acts are going on at the same time, how long they will be on and where they’ll be. The Keller tab shows you where each Keller is, so you know where to head when you reach the T-junction.

Erlanger Bergkirchweih

Also has a countdown function and plenty of information about what’s going on and where, you can also buy beer tokens using the app (though I have not tried this function). My screenshots below.

It has an integrated Instagram stream #bergkirchweih which is a nice touch, it also has information about After-Berg events, including just how many yards it is from the Berg to the party, always helpful 😉 It is more complicated than the BerchTimer and has more visible advertising, this might be why it crashes periodically.

VGN Fahrplan & Tickets

For local travel this app is absolutely wonderful, whilst it is in German it is easy to use. You can also buy tickets through the app which work out cheaper than buying them on the day from a machine, you do have to set this up in advance, don’t attempt to do it on the go.

Useful Websites

NB If your German isn’t great the option of automatic translation of pages is a godsend, Google Chrome I love you. Otherwise I use babelFish or a good old fashioned dictionary for my translating needs.

Erlanger Bergkirchweih

A great site which covers all your need for the Bergkirchweih. Food and drink prices, attractions and history are all there, click on the Pretzel, Maß or teddybear to open new pages, as well as the tabs. I’m so happy to see that Churros are back again this year, and the entertainingly designed Mais Men stand. The 360 degree tour is a little weird to watch but really good fun, you will find it under ‘Ansichten’. You can even download yourself a printable guide, in English here, look out for leaflets around town at places like the library, Thalia or the bank.

Der-Berg-ruft

The mountain calls, again this covers all you need to know about bergkirchweih but additionally has many candid pictures for years past and present. There is actually some fantastic information here and a lot of good details about transportation, history and even nearby eateries to try. The pictures under ‘Der Berg im Wandel der zeit’ are truly something to see, so you can compare and contrast what you see when you visit to what it was like at the very 1st bergkirchweih.

Let’s all cross our fingers or press our thumbs for good weather this bergkirchweih season. You can definitely expect a few more blogs before it’s over. So, are you going?

Christmas Markets Franconia

22 Nov

Germany does Christmas well, I’ve said it before and I guarantee I’ll say it again. Locally these are the markets that I’ve visited the most, they are reliably lovely and great places to meet friends and get into the Christmas spirit. If you’ve never been to a Christmas Market in Germany before you might want to check out this guide first.

Nürnberg 29/11-24/12 – There is plenty to see here from the beautiful antique rides at the Childrens Christmas market to the hundreds of stall that fill the main square. If you’re lucky you might get to meet the Christkind (hint hint Tues-Fri 3pm she wanders the market) and the prune people are always worth a look.

Erlangen 26/11-24/12 Waldweihnachts Market – Held on the Schlossplatz, traditional stalls surround a woodland meeting and drinking area.

26/11-23/12 Historischer Weihnachtsmarkt – Held on the Neustädter Kirchenplatz (just of Freidrichstrasse) this medieval style Christmas Market always has a great atmosphere, Feuerzangenbowle and food.

Forchheim 29/11-24/12 – A personal favourite, every year the town hall facade is transformed into an advent calendar, at 6.30pm every night a window is opened and a Christmas angel reads out part of the Christmas story.

Fürth 27/11-23/12 Like Erlangen you’ll find two markets here, although they are connected so you can easily do both at the same time. The medieval one is great, lots of fire breathing and organic products, well worth a look.

Bamberg 27/11-23/12 A pretty standard offering, I really thought it would be better considering Bambergs historical beauty, plan to check out the rest of the city whilst your there it’s well worth it.

Most small towns in Franconia will have a Christmas Market in some shape or other during the Christmas period, even if it’s just Glühwein and bratwurst in a tiny town square. Get out and explore your area this festive season, let me know what you find!

 

Online Shopping Essentials

8 Jun

The prices in Germany came as a big surprise, to say the least. There is definitely less of a throwaway, disposable culture with pretty much everything. I like that mentality, though it makes it hard to find cheaper alternatives which can be what you want when you are only going to be living in Germany for a limited time or are on a limited budget.

Beer? 60 cents for half a litre in the supermarket and in some restaurants it’s cheaper than cola or mineral water! We really won the lottery moving to Germany. Tights? Did I just pay 22 euro for a pair of tights? holy crap I really should check the prices before I buy essentials, and yes I laddered them whilst I was putting them on! All that money saved on beer just goes on other things, such is life. I have since found the cheaper tights (but the quality is rubbish so I often stock up at M&S) and the expensive beer, ooooo the delicious imported goodness of an IPA for a treat.

In Germany I cannot gauge the price of products simply by looking at them with my British eyes and mentality. Furniture buying was a nightmare, conversations went a lot like this
Me – ‘That looks like a nice TV stand, lots of room for DVDs, plain unfussy, we should get that one’
Him –  Looks it over, hmms and checks the price ‘No, we should keep looking’
Me  – ‘But I like this one, it’s the best one we’ve found’ strokes new shiny TV stand and plans it’s future in our living room
Him – ‘it’s 7 grand, stop touching it’
Me – ‘Wow I could get a car for that, not even a banger, an actual decent car….let’s just go to Ikea’

And we went to Ikea, our flat closely resembles the ones put together in the set up rooms in the shop and you know what? it works, and I discovered I’ve got mad skills in Ikea furniture construction.

If I was shopping for furniture today I might have shopped differently, but it would almost certainly have been almost exclusively online, from brands I now know and trust. Depot and IKEA are lifesavers, for everything from huge wardrobes to cushions and crockery and neither has to break the bank. Laura Ashley also delivers all it’s stock including furniture to Germany, do expect to pay a one off fee of £150 for delivery on made to order furniture (no matter how much you order) if you want to splash out.

Clothes and home wares again is where I struggled finding affordable items that I actually liked, the quality in places like H&M can be so bad it puts me off, I hate to waste money. Maybe Germany is rubbing off on me? but I also can’t afford to pay 80 euro for crappy quality jeans, so when I need something essential I tend to look to my old favourite shops back home. And I’m not saying German shops are awful or anything, I do buy stuff here (Erlangen has a Zara now), support your local economy and all that, but sometimes I want a bargain that will last the summer at least!

Debenhams, GapM&S, Boden, Lakeland, New Look, ASOSTopshop, Dorothy Perkins all have German or EU sites which you can order from and pay in Euros and save on international postage.

Top marks to Topshop, Gap, M&S, ASOS, Dorothy Perkins and New Look, they give you the option to shop as a German customer in Euros but also in English language. Boden, please understand that just because I speak English does not mean I want to pay in Sterling! Debenhams site also only runs in German, in both these cases I find it useful to locate what I want and check the details first on the English website and then find the items on the German site (both of which are identical) and order on there. It’s a little bit of a faff but it works for me.

Tesco Clothing (F&F) offer delivery to Germany for £4.95.

ASDA does not deliver to Germany yet, it does however deliver to the surrounding companies and promises to add Germany soon, feel free to email them and ask, pump up the pressure a little 😉

If there is something that you are totally desperate for that can only be delivered to the UK (I’m assuming your parents/friends will take delivery) you will need an efficient parcel delivery method to get your parcel from A to B (or rather UK to DE). InterparcelMyparceldelivery, Parcel2go and of course Parcelforce are all good places to look for competitive prices.

And for those times when you just need a taste of home there are shops completely willing to take advantage of this. Beware the prices is all I’m going to say! Foodfromhome, if you are ever in Dusseldorf you could always pop in and save yourself the postage, BritishfoodstoreonlineAsia shops are also worth checking out, no postage! There is also the British Empire (it’s a shop) in Nürnberg, which stocks a limited but varied supply of goodies (food not available online), some great British brands like New Balance and Dr Martens and some American ones too.

So whether you love shopping in Germany or loathe it with a passion I hope that you too find your own personal shopping groove, happy shopping!

PS. I know I didn’t mention Amazon, I’m not their biggest fan, but that’s a story for another time 😉

FAQ

3 Jun

My inbox has been getting ever fuller with questions, I will answer each and every one of them personally but as lot have the same themes running through them, I thought I’d write a quick FAQ to cover the basics

Where should I live? Should I live here or here?
I understand, I really do, it’s hard to decide to live somewhere that perhaps you’ve never even visited before, BUT choosing a home in Germany isn’t that different to choosing a home anywhere. Look out for commuting times to work, check the city’s website (google translate is a wonderful thing), local amenities (google maps is very useful), what are your essentials in a place to live? Google, google, google. And if you end up somewhere that really doesn’t suit you and you can’t possibly stand it you can always move.

Good sites to check out are Stadt Erlangen, Erlangen Tourism, Stadt Nürnberg, Nürnberg Tourism, Stadt Herzogenaurach.

How do I find a house/flat?
To start with check your vocab
Mieten – To rent
Kaufen – To buy
Wohnung – Apartment/flat
Haus – House
Möbliert – Furnished
EBK – Einbauküche – Fitted kitchen – Just a warning here that not all German properties come with a kitchen, it’s one of those amusing little Germanisms! If there is a kitchen in the property you might be expected to buy it from the tenant who is moving out, check this with your estate agent.
Kaltmiete – Cold rent – This is the monthly rent, it excludes any other bills such as electricity and gas etc.
Nebenkosten – Additional costs including water, gas, electric etc. These will be estimated on the advert for the property, depending on how many more or less people you have living there and how you use the services these can vary vastly.
Warmmiete – Warm rent – Cold rent plus additional costs, this is usually a better indication of the price you will actually end up paying including bills.
FYI Internet, phone, satellite etc are not usually included in the Nebenkosten.
Zimmer – Room/s – German properties are advertised by how many rooms they have NOT by how many bedrooms they have. The bathroom, toilet and kitchen (or balcony) are not counted in this room count but the living, dining, bedrooms and study are.
Stellplatz – Parking space – This is usually an extra fee on top of your rent, if you don’t need the space (and it’s ‘included’ with the flat) you can rent it out.
Kaution – Deposit – This will go into a special bank account in your name, the savings book is handed over to the landlord for the duration of the tenancy.
Provision – Agents fee, here in Germany the renter generally pays the agents fees on the plus side of you see Provisionsfrei – No agents fees at all!

My favourite sites for property searching
Immowelt, Immoscout24, ImmonetNull-Provision (no agents fees)
Wohnref, I haven’t personally used them but in addition to the regular rental apartments they do also offer short term furnished accomodation, this can be hard to find around here.
WG-Gesucht, (WG – Wohngemeinschaft – flatshare) since Erlangen is a student city there are plenty of rooms for rent out there, the prices are competitive and shorter rental periods are acceptable.

Most estate agents will speak at least a little English, this is a very international area after all but do try to at least have your ‘must haves’ translated, just to save time.

If you are already in Germany, make use of your friends and neighbours, get it out there that you are looking, put a notice on your work bulletin board, in the paper or go old school and put a notice up at the supermarket.

Can I stay with you until I find somewhere to live? No

Do I need a car in Germany?
Well yes and no, I’ve known some people who just couldn’t live without a car for 8 months (but luckily the resale prices here are pretty good so they didn’t lose any money) and others who have lived here quite happily for 10 years plus without a car. Cars are incredibly useful for big shopping, holidays and hauling furniture. If you don’t mind breaking up your big shopping and buying panniers and a trailer, maybe you don’t need a car. If you take only exotic vacations in far flung countries which you can’t drive to, maybe you don’t need a car. And if you don’t mind renting/borrowing a van/car occasionally to shift furniture, maybe you don’t need a car. BUT if you want to explore without being tied to a train schedule, if you have kids, love road trips and hate getting caught in the rain on your bike, maybe you’ll want a car. My advice? go with your gut and like I said resale values are pretty good.

Are you fluent yet? You might just want to read this.

Is the Bergkirchweih suitable for children?
There are kids at the Bergkirchweih, it is a family friendly event during the daytime hours and Thursday 12th June is even ‘family day’ so you will get reduced prices for games and amusements. If I was a kid I’d love it, Pony rides, Ferris wheel, BB guns and sugar! What kid doesn’t like that? But just be aware that Germany is not as….Hmm how shall I put this?…not as into health and safety as say the UK or the states. Not that it’s unsafe at all it’s just more like the old days, the good old days. Maybe this will help.

How do I meet new people?
You are lucky to be living in this area which just happens to be full of other awesome expats (as well as locals) just like you.
– Join a language course, it’s not just about learning the language it’s also about friendship and building a new supportive circle of friends who know what you are going through.
– Join a German-English discussion group, for learners of both languages, the VHS Erlangen has a range of these in their Club International (and they are free)
– Join a Stammtisch, it’s a regular table with likeminded people, in Erlangen there is an English Stammtisch (English is the language spoken) it’s quite a small group but it can be fun and Deutscher Stammtisch (for foreigners who are learning German) a really fun group, no one will make fun at you as a learner! and in Nürnberg there is another English Stammtisch, this one has lots of events and is always packed.
– Join a gym, a football team, go swimming and say yes to every invitation, not matter how weird, I’m also not beyond just talking to random people I hear speaking English out and about, needs must!
– Whilst google is always your friend I also wrote this last year about making connections.

If you have any other burning questions or just want to get in touch, please do at theerlangenexpat@yahoo.com

And last but not least thanks to all the people that said thank you, you are most welcome.

Why it should be called ‘attitude adjustment’ and NOT ‘culture shock’

6 May

A lot of people told me that moving to Germany would cause me to experience ‘culture shock’ – Definition – The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

Really? I questioned, it’s not that far from the UK, both countries demographics are fairly similar, Germans are still people right?

As a European already I was quietly convinced that moving to Germany was not going to culturally shock me. Sure I was ready for differences, ready to check if my homegrown stereotypes were right and ready to be accepting that life in Germany would a little run differently than it had done in the UK. At this point I hadn’t heard of the expat adjustment life cycle which was a good and a bad thing, I’m all for being prepared, but a little information can sometimes be a dangerous thing.

Why it should be called ‘attitude adjustment’ and not ‘culture shock’

‘Culture shock’ is a reaction to a situation and your reaction to any situation is up to you. React positively or react negatively, it’s completely your decision. Those who are more likely to suffer from ‘culture shock’, are those who choose to react negatively in a new or unfamiliar situation.

Being a positive person can be difficult, and I’m not saying you have to be ‘Miss/Mr/Mrs/Ms sunshine and puppy dogs’ but when approaching cultural differences you can choose an attitude of openness, acceptance and trust over one of suspicion, fear and prejudice.

Even with the best attitude to change, to your move, to your new life, you will feel the feelings of every other expat when you come face to face with a situation that should be simple and straightforward and ends up with you feeling like a raving lunatic/on the verge of a breakdown/defeated. You will have negative reactions, we all do.

I get frustrated when people automatically switch to English, ‘in the bakery’
Me “Hallo, Ich hatte gern zwei mal Kase Schinken Fladen, bitte”
Her “oh these two? with ham and cheese?”
Me “Ja”
Her “Anything else”
Me “yes two capuccinos and four pretzels without salt”
Silence floods the whole bakery and the poor assistant is frozen with fear “Wie bitte?”
Me “Zwei Capuccino and vier mal brezen ohne salz”

I get confused very easily by new things, especially at the shops, cash back, loyalty cards, ‘did I find everything I needed at Kaufland today?’ Oh and here’s a hint NEVER say no, otherwise you have to talk to a manager (in front of everyone, I got so embarrassed) and Germans really don’t like to be stuck at a checkout for longer than absolutely necessary.

New situations make me tense, I practice what I need to say to the various workmen housemeisters, neighbours, even friends just so I don’t get stuck and have to switch back to English.

To cope with these hideous feelings of inadequacy (and humiliation, ok that’s a little strong but sometimes…) you need to develop a strategy, one which means you don’t jump on the next plane home or scream at a random staring stranger in the street (true story). Educate yourself, learn the language (at least try), learn about the culture, ask questions, reach out to expats and natives alike, in my experience everyone here has something unique to say about German culture. Steer away from negative responses like criticism, doing this through lack of understanding makes you the idiot.

If your attitude adjustment has been a positive one you will reap the rewards, I’m not saying that your life will be easy or suddenly you’ll love everyday in Germany without exception, but hopefully the feelings of alienation and isolation will be minimised. Understanding more about German culture will help lessen your negative reactions and help in your acceptance of new cross cultural encounters. Join in, say yes to every invitation, no exceptions, I’ve been to political rallies, hiked up really big hills and drank a lot of beer tea to make me feel connected to my new home. Like Nike says ‘Just do it’. A great result of this whole expat experience and having to choose positivity is confidence, in yourself, however that manifests itself is completely up to you.

In review

Make an attitude adjustment, choose :-

Openness, Acceptance and Trust

Understand your reactions :-

Frustration, Confusion, Embarrassment and Tension

Develop a coping strategy :-

Learn, Listen and Ask

Results :-

Understanding, Connection and Confidence

And this doesn’t just apply to expats, moving schools, moving jobs, becoming a stay at home mum all require an attitude adjustment.

What was the reason for your last attitude adjustment?

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?

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