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Beer festivals for non drinkers (old and young)

26 Apr

So I know a lot of readers of the blog have kids, I’ve had a fair few emails regarding the kid friendliness of beer festivals in Germany. The concerns of suitability for pushchairs, loud music, drunk people, availability of shade and appropriateness of taking your kid to a bier festival have all popped up one way or another. As have the questions from non drinkers (and non beer drinkers), are there non alcoholic drinks available? is it ok NOT to drink beer?

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Festivals in Germany are generally regarded as family friendly, even Oktoberfest! And whilst your little darlings won’t be sampling the beer they can still enjoy a new tradition, it’s kind of like going to a fair. Kids in tracht are adorable, buy them a gingerbread heart, some roasted almonds, some candy floss and they’ll be sugared up for pellet guns, duck hooking and the carousel.

Kids

Most festival will have family days, there will be plenty of people with pushchairs and kids everywhere then. During this time the rides may be discounted and there may be special offers on. The rides themselves can range from pony rides to vintage swings to massive modern theme park type rides. There is usually a ferris wheel, always my favourite and safe, although it may not be as new fangled as some in your home country.

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Both the Bergkirchweih and Annafest are located in wooded areas and so have plenty of available shade, events in towns like Marktplatzfest-Erlangen, will have parasols available but make sure to slap on that suncream because queueing for food can take time!

Most events will have a sound system but most are not so small that you have to be very near it, if you want to be there all day enjoying the music close up maybe ear protection for a little ones might be an idea.

Whilst children are welcome at beer festivals, the atmosphere after 6 or 7pm is different and more adult and can get crowded. Whilst babies or little ones can be carried and entertained, older kids would probably be bored.

Bringing snacks and drinks with you for your kids is not frowned upon, though finding somewhere to heat up baby food may be a challenge.

People get drunk at beer festivals whatever the time of day is, it’s the same the world over. It is fairly easy to find a quieter area at a beer fest where you are more likely to have a family friendly experience.

The legal age for purchasing beer (and wine) in Germany is 16, the legal age for spirits is 18 (though at 14 a child is allowed to with the permission and in the presence of a legal guardian).

Non beer drinkers

Most bier festivals will also have some wine options, don’t expect a wide selection and do be aware that you might get a half litre of wine. A weinschorle (a spritzer) is usually a good option, Suß (sweet) with lemonade or sauer (sour) with sparkling water, although you may not get a choice.

Non drinkers

You can go to a beer festival and not drink beer, it’s not a big deal. Your non alcoholic options will generally be sparkling, so water, Apfelschorle, coke etc non sparkling options can be more limited.

Non alcoholic Weizen (wheat beer) is available more readily than it’s non wheaty non alcoholic rival, you will pay the same for this as you will for the alcoholic version but most brands taste just as good if not better in non alcoholic form, Maisels, Paulaner and Schneider are my personal favourites.

And to the lovely pregnant lady who emailed me concerned that she would look out of place, I’m sure you aren’t the only one who has worried about this. I’ve seen pregnant ladies dancing on tables before now and in my experience there are plenty of heaving busts on view anyway to provide a decent distraction and the atmosphere is generally friendly and relaxed, always have a buddy to help you down off that table, and that’s my advice to anyone at a beer fest it’s just more fun that way.

Also toilets (for pregnant ladies, parents, kids, everyone!) at festivals will usually set you back 50cents a go (kids usually go free), I don’t mind paying for a toilet that is clean, ever, and some beer festivals I’ve been to have had the cleanest toilets, much cleaner than some restaurants. As with every toilet ever, the ladies lines can be long, always go before you’re desperate.

Check out my Insiders guides to Bergkirchweih and Annafest for more event specific pointers.

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Insiders guide to Walberlafest

24 Apr

On the first weekend in May the surprisingly positioned and oldest spring festival takes place in the Fränkische Schweiz, combining wonderful beer with some of the best views in the area. Walderlafest is something to be experienced. Walberla is one of the double peaked hills of the the Ehrenbürg (the other is called Rodenstein and whilst similarly lovely doesn’t have it’s own beer festival) which are located in Upper Franconia, about 10km from Forchheim.

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The site has some serious history behind it and there has been archaeological evidence of settlement as far back as the Bronze Age with celtic fortifications still visible today. The festival itself can be dated back to the 9th century and is celebrated yearly on the first weekend in May and it is now a pilgrimage made by both locals and tourists alike. You’ll be surprised with what you find on the top of the hill, I promise. Check out my pictures here.

How to get there

By train – Head for the small village of Kirchehrenbach, if you are travelling from Erlangen/Nürnberg you will most likely have to change trains in Forchheim, from other directions you may change in Ebermannstadt, both trains will take around 10 minutes. These trains generally only run once an hour so be prepared for crowded trains from Forchheim/Ebermannstadt if you are travelling later in the day or travel earlier to avoid the crowds.

By bike – Places to park a bike are easier to find than for a car, just do us all a favour and leave you bike at the bottom of the hill.

By car – There is no official parking for the event so go early to find a legal space. Kirchehrenbach is a small village and doesn’t have very much parking.

Important – However you travel to Walberlafest you can’t get away from the walk to the top (don’t worry that’s where they keep the beer). The walk itself is only about 3km some of it is quite steep (particularly the last 500 metres or so) and whilst most of the paths are in good condition, depending on the weather some parts can be a little rough (that last 500 metres or so again).

What to wear

The event is on a hill in the countryside, there is limited shelter so you are very much at the mercy of the elements, plan accordingly.

Take suncream and a waterproof, hey a coat doubles as something to sit on and it’s a long way down in the rain without one.

Sensible footwear, you can’t get out of the walk up there (it’s totally worth it) but to ensure your feet are happy wear some practical comfortable flats, you don’t have to have hiking boots, a decent pair of trainers or pumps will be just as good.

Whilst I’ve seen tracht at Walberlafest it’s not hugely popular, maybe a day to leave it at home.

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Useful to know

The location is a protected natural landscape, always keep to the marked trails and dogs must be kept on leads at all times.

Pfand still applies, even on the top of a hill, return your mug to get your Pfand (deposit) back

Take money, there is a Sparkasse in Kirchehrenbach but not on the hill (and it’s a long way down), get your cash before you set off.

As with most beer festivals it is family friendly but some of the ground can be uneven and rocky, plan accordingly.

Recommendations

Take a picnic, food is your regular festival stuff, lots of chips and sausages, take your own if you want something different.

Take a blanket to sit on, festival seating is limited so go prepared.

IMGP1624_2Try the Schwarze Anna from the Neder Brauerei, it’s a Schwarz beer (obviously) and looks like Guinness but tastes much much lighter, it’s one of my all time favourites.

If Schwarz beer isn’t your thing head on over to the Eichhorn Brauerei or the Brauerei Greif because they both do wonderful Hell beers, which also make delicious Radlers.

Take a bottle of water for the walk up, a lot of it is in direct sun and if it’s hot you’ll be glad of a drink half way up.

There are two paths up, a steeper incline and a gentler path, both merge near the top anyway but the gentler path is wider and more suitable for pushchairs and has better views for photographers. Both are marked and/or obvious.

The details

The fest begins with the raising of the May tree at 5pm Friday 1st May 2015 and the first barrel is tapped later at 6pm.

Officially the fest opening hours are 10am-11pm Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd May 2015.

There is a church service held at the chapel on Walberla 9am Sunday 3rd May 2015.

Whilst Kirchehrenbach is the closest station many people choose to park in nearby villages and walk the additional distance, the surrounding area is pretty flat so on a nice day that’s definitely an option, the choice is yours.

Insiders guide to Fasching in Franconia

28 Jan

Are you thinking ’What the heck is Fasching?’ well look no further, I blogged last year about the basics and I’ve had some requests for an ‘Insiders guide’ so here it is…

Fasching is the pre lenten fasting party time of craziness that sweeps across Germany and is celebrated hardest in the Catholic regions, of which Franconia is one! Officially the Fasching period begins on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 minutes past 11, (as a Brit this is a little strange to me). In reality, here in Franconia, this is when the behind the scenes works starts in planning for Fasching, you will only see signs of Fasching after the 7th January, Dreikönigstag (Three Kings day) and suddenly all the bakeries are filled with Krapfen (Donuts) and shops are filled with costumes and party supplies.

The actual date of Easter dictates when Fasching parties and parades will happen, the biggest week is the one preceding Ash Wednesday. Schools, Kindergartens and workplaces will be full of costumes, it’s pretty funny to try and talk to your bank manager with a straight face when he’s dressed as Batman.

Faschingsdienstag, Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day to Brits and Fat Tuesday to my US friends is the last hurrah before your lenten fast (if you’re Catholic anyway), as well as a parade (see recommendations below) your town may also bury/burn a Nubbel. A Nubbel is a straw dolly which symbolises the sins of the Fasching season, and it’s an excuse to continue the party with a BBQ until Ash Wednesday arrives.

Just a note here for all tie wearing men, on Weiberfastnacht (the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday) wear your least favourite tie or perhaps just leave your tie at home. This day is Women’s Carnival and you could have your tie snipped off by any woman at any time, now you have a use for that awful tie the mother in law gave you last Christmas!

How to get there

Since Faschings parades tend to attract a lot of visitors parking can be scarce (and also far away) so using public transport is usually best, but do plan in advance since roads are closed for the parade to travel through the respective towns.

For up to date travel information check out VGN and Deutsche Bahn.

What to wear

Anything and everything. It’s February so be sensible, standing on the side of the road for a few hours means that dressing warmly is essential, not that this should mean that you can’t wear a costume though. Most kids wear their costume over their outdoor gear, whilst the adults who don’t go in for a costume will have some form of ‘fun’ head gear, don’t forget your deeley boppers people!

Excellent chicken parents!

Excellent chicken parents!

Useful to know

You might also hear Fasching referred to as Fastnacht or Karneval, they all mean the same thing and are purely regional variations.

Get used to hearing HELLLLOOOOOO over and over again, it’s actually a carnival greeting of Helau!

Helau!

If you are offended by the unpolitically correct, don’t go to a Fasching parade. Quite honestly this is just ‘the German way’, you can always close your eyes.

Sweets and treats will be thrown from the floats and by the parade participants, take a bag to collect any that you want, you may even get handed a free beer or headbutt a flying Krapfen (true story).

The parade in Cologne is the biggest and usually held on the Monday (Rosenmontag) before Ash Wednesday, it is attended by over a million people, it is televised though, so you can enjoy it from the comfort of your sofa.

Recommendations

Faschingzug in Neunkirchen am Brand (Fasching parade Neunkirchen am Brand) takes place on Tuesday 17th February 2015 starts at 2pm and is the biggest in the area, attracting more than 10000 visitors.

Starting the parade off right!

The 45th annual Brucker Faschingszug (Erlangen Bruck Fasching parade) takes place on Sunday 15th February 2015 starts at 2pm from Erlangen Bruck Marktplatz. The parade snakes it’s way around the town and back again, find yourself a spot and set up there, it will be pretty busy everywhere close to 2pm so arrive early to bag a good spot.

The lovely people at Nürnberg Zoo are providing free entry to any child (13 and under) who visits dressed as a zoo animal on the 16th&17th February 2015.

The details

Watching a Fasching parade is completely free.

You can bring any food or drink you wish to the parade, bakeries tend to get very busy and plenty shut whilst the parade is actually on.  Last year I was drinking Sekt and eating Krapfen, the year before it was sausages and beer.

Here’s a peek at what to expect in Erlangen Bruck in a few weeks…

Last night of the Bergkirchweih

18 Jun

So Monday 16th June 2014 was the official last night of the Erlangen Bergkirchweih, it just so happened to coincide with Germanys first World Cup match, would there even be anyone there?

Of course there were people there! After the football finished there were a LOT more very happy and already plastered people there. Last night is something I would recommend to anyone living in Erlangen, it always has a lovely atmosphere and there is just something more authentic about Bergkirchweih during the week (I suppose less tourists for a start). We checked out some rides, had some very unhealthy and delicious food and settled down at the Steinbach biergarten, no dancing on tables but good conversation instead.

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Overlooking Erich Keller

The real fun starts at the closing ceremony. Every year the last barrel is taken and buried at the keller which will hold the opening ceremony of next years Bergkirchweih.

Eagerly awaiting the last barrel of the Bergkirchweih

Eagerly awaiting the last barrel of the Bergkirchweih

Cue men in costume with pickaxes and spades carrying a beer barrel above their heads through a crowd of roughly 5000 people. And it gets more bizarre I promise….

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Erlangen’s Mayor Florian Janick seemed to enjoy his beer and time on stage, thanks for keeping the speech short

…To wave goodbye to the barrel you have to wave your white handkerchief (or tissue in most people case)….

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Waving goodbye to the last barrel of the Bergkirchweih

…Whilst singing ‘Blutwurst und Sauerkraut’ to the tune of…wait for it….The English National Anthem. Honestly it’s true, check out this video of the 2012 closing (as my camera died).

The barrel made it’s way through the crowds of people, the mayor made a short speech (and seemed to enjoy his spotlight on stage) and then just like that, it was over.

Until next year, Erlangen Bergkirchweih 2015 21/05-01/06.

Happy world gin day!

14 Jun

I couldn’t let this day go unblogged and uncelebrated. Gin is truly one of the loves of my life. From uni days with 60p gin shots to having to order gin and a separate tonic in Germany, there is nothing quite as versatile as a gin and tonic, a celebration, a commiseration or just plain old 5’O’Clock.

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Best selection of gin in Erlangen can be found at Rewe (Getränkemarkt) on Karl Zuckerstr, as shown above!

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 😉

Bergkirchweih Opening Day

6 Jun

This post is going to be intentionally photo heavy and word light, it was a late but wonderful night last night.

Around 4pm I walked from town up to the Bergkirchweih, the sun was shining and the temperature read 22 degrees, perfect weather.

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No need for a map, just follow the lederhosen

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Getting closer, see that ferris wheel top right?

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At the bottom of the Berg, this placard is a map showing where all the Kellers are located, the shop to the right also has maps to take away

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Walking up the Berg, sensible shoes required on these cobbles

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At the top of the T junction, looking down to the cobbles I just walked up

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A beautiful day for celebrating

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All the Kellers were open before the official opening ceremony, woohoo

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No he’s not a doctor, but a waiter, when you hear ‘Vorsicht’ get out of the way!

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My two faves – Steinbach and the ferris wheel

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It was so sunny, hard to capture on camera

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Not sure I’ll be trying out that ride behind the ferris wheel

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Band walking back from the official opening ceremony (which I didn’t go to). The first keg was tapped in two apparently!

So I spent the better part of the night dancing on a table with a lovely bunch of friends, the camera stayed firmly in my bag.

Highlights included the only song I knew all the words to was Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping, not falling off the bench whilst dancing like a maniac, getting compliments on my Berg plaited hairdo, talking to supremely interesting and friendly strangers in English, German and French, finding some clean and huge ladies loos (it’s the small things! Incidentally they are at Erich Keller if you wanted to know) and prosting roughly every 5 minutes!

Lowlights included getting lost on the way back to the table every.single.time and having a guy literally pushed onto me (whilst I was alone and minding my own business waiting for the Mann to finish work) so just FYI middle aged middle management wankers it’s not cool and I hope enjoyed learning some new sailor worthy English insults.

The local TV was also in attendance and interviewed the local celebrities, the mayor, the king of sausages and the wonderful ladies of the Dirndl garage. http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Frankenschau-aktuell/Anstich-in-Erlangen/BR-Fernsehen/Video?documentId=21702204&bcastId=14913732

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Entla’s Keller at about 10.45pm

This guy was enjoying himself!

This guy was have a great time!

No one sits on the bench at Bergkirchweih

No one sits on the bench at Bergkirchweih

Pretty much sums up Berg joy!

Pretty much sums up Berg joy!

And then it’s over and the washing up needs to be done, before it all happens again tomorrow

And then it’s over and the washing up needs to be done, before it all happens again tomorrow

 

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