Tag: Germany

Passau: Bavaria’s Most Charming Christmas Market And Meeting Adventurous Kate

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Passau Christmas Market

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful time with family, friends, amazing food and presents!

After spending a truly stunning Christmas with my family in the Swiss Alps last year, I enjoyed a much quieter celebration in Hamburg with my Schnucki’s family this time around.

We had a feast on Christmas Eve (this is when Germans celebrate Christmas) and we ate German style Raclette, which is where you prepare ingredients like vegetables and cheese and cook them yourself on tiny pans on a table top grill. The portion sizes are so small that you can potentially eat forever without realising how much you’ve actually eaten! (Our bellies afterwards told us otherwise).

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Handmade candle stalls

To honour my second Christmas in Europe, I wanted to show you my absolute favourite German Christmas market which of course is the one in Passau, where I live at the moment!

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Glühwein stalls with every flavour you can imagine

The Passau Christmas market is held every year for a month from the 24th November to 24th December. The whole city’s streets are decked out with fairy lights leading up to the event and real Christmas trees are put up on every street corner (and I mean literally every corner!)

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Laser cut wood decorations (I snagged a mini version of the Stephansdom one on the left)

Nobody does Christmas like the Germans – they are so good at making a magical atmosphere! Every stall is bursting with handmade wooden crafts, hand knitted scarves, gloves, hats and food…A LOT of food. (Nutella crêpes, German gingerbread and Chinese noodles included!)

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Cute little handmade snowfolk

And of course there is the Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and alcohol free Kinderpunsch (kid’s punch) in every flavour. My favourite was probably the berry Glühwein, but you can also get white Glühwein (which I still haven’t tried). Every stall has their own signature drink with different variations and spices, and it takes a few goes to find the best ones!

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The Simon stall – a famous confectionary shop and cafe in Passau

While the Christmas market was on in December, I also had the opportunity to meet and hang out with Adventurous Kate, who is a famous travel blogger on Instagram. She has been travelling the world as her job for over six years now, and she was one of the first travel bloggers to get really popular online and have a big following.

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Chocolate covered physalis, raspberries and other fruit

Kate was in Munich for a conference and then visiting Bavarian Christmas markets for German Tourism when she posted a photo of herself at the Passau Christmas market.

I was so surprised at seeing her in Passau (a lot of Germans don’t even know where Passau is, let alone American travel bloggers) that I commented on the photo half jokingly that we should have met up for a Glühwein, since I live in Passau right near St. Stephan’s Cathedral. And lo and behold, she commented back saying that she had free time the next day if we wanted to meet up!

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Residenzplatz and St. Stephan’s Cathedral

So I met up with her in front of St. Stephan’s the next day (it’s a strange feeling trying to spot someone that you’ve only ever seen in photos) and I took her to my favourite retro style café close by called Schöffberger. Kate was a super friendly and extroverted person, and we chatted about travels, her life in New York and even some American politics over cake and hot drinks.

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Schokokuss (Chocokiss) sweets with a sweet marshmellow like centre covered in chocolate

After afternoon tea, we perused the Christmas market together and Kate bought some souvenirs and Christmas presents for her family and friends. We walked back along the Ludwigstraße and finally had our promised Glühwein together before saying our good byes.

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Christmas trees in front of Neues Residenz

All in all it was a very spontaneous meeting, but a really fun one! It was great to hear about Kate’s amazing travels and what it’s really like to live a nomadic lifestyle. She also wrote a Bavarian Christmas Market post on her blog about the markets she visited, including the Passau one!

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The half metre Bratwurst – a famous Christmas market delicacy

One of the most famous Christmas market eats might just be the half metre Bratwurst, which is as you guessed, a 50cm long sausage in a bun lathered in mustard or tomato sauce. You may not want to get one of these when it’s really crowded though, because you’ll be prone to hitting someone with it! (Get your mind out of the gutter please).

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My blue Passau Glühwein mug

Another famous treat of the Christmas markets are the unique Glühwein mugs that have different shapes and designs in every town and city. You pay an extra Pfand (bond) whenever you buy a Glühwein or Kinderpunsch (usually 2 Euros) and you get the money back if you return the mug to the stall, or you can keep the mug and forgo the coins.

I’ve collected the different coloured designs of the Passau mugs over the last two years and I have six in total so far!

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The Passau Christmas market crowds at night

I’m always sad to see the Christmas markets go once we hit the new year, but I know that they’ll be back again before we know it!

 


So, did you love the Passau Christmas market as much as I did?

What are the Christmas markets like in your country?


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Amy’s Art: Kimono Cat Collection – The Passau Kunstnacht Exhibition

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Kimono Cat Collection

It was Kimono Day in Japan yesterday (November 15th), so I thought the perfect way to celebrate the occasion is by finally posting about my Kimono Cat Collection exhibition!

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Fukunae, Tsubasa, Ageha and Tama

The Kunstnacht (Art Night) here in Passau is on in midsummer every year and it is arguably the biggest event on the social calender. Every art gallery and atelier in the Altstadt throws open their doors to the public and the majority of the townspeople turn up; crowding the streets, perusing art, wine-ing, dining and having a great time.

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Fukunae and Tsubasa

I attended the event for the first time last year, and I was absolutely blown away with the lively atmosphere and the sheer number of galleries that were usually hidden behind closed doors and crooked alleyways lit up and shining like gems in the night.

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Tsubasa and Ageha

The local schools were also open with music concerts and refreshment stations and the bars had ministands along the streets offering food and cocktails. I was so awestruck with this one night wonder that I vowed to be a part of it the next year if I still happened to be living in Passau.

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Ageha and Tama

So fast forward to July of this year: I was still in Passau and I was still determined to be a part of the Kunstnacht. I sent the organisation messages to plead my case months beforehand, along with photos of my Kimono Cats but I received no answers in return. I was busy with work at the time and I hadn’t finished my latest Maiko cat anyway, so I eventually lost hope and left the matter alone.

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My cute little gallery room (if you squint you can just see my cats!)

The day of Kunstnacht rolled around and I was at work about to finish my shift when my Schnucki came bursting in, saying that he had called one of the organisers for me and that they still had an empty space that they needed to fill. The meeting with the room owner was in an hour and he asked me if I wanted to take it: I said yes, of course!

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My three goauche paintings – ‘Himawari’, ‘Haru’ and ‘Bouquet’

We promptly went to meet the owner and his room – it was a pretty little thing that had just finished its renovation that day. It was so new that the owner didn’t want to put holes in the walls by hanging the other artists’ paintings, so they were all propped up against the walls around the room. The centre of the room was empty, so we carried an old garden table up from the backyard to put in the middle of the room, as the centerpiece for my cats.

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Watercolour and ink ‘Heian I’

After meeting with the owner I was in full panic mode – I had to get ready for this exhibiton within a few hours and I had no idea where to start. I rushed off to buy some much needed supplies like the matching white frames for my paintings which also happened to be on sale (lucky!).

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‘Heian II’

Once I got home, I was on triple speed trying to get everything ready. I carefully wrapped up my cats up in white stuffing that I had just bought and loaded them into a box, praying that they wouldn’t break. Then I had to make and print out short explanations about the cats (that I never ended up using) and business cards. I left total destruction in my wake, my room looking like a bombsite afterwards.

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After getting ready I headed off with my laptop (so I could put on some music in the gallery) and clutched my box of cats for dear life as I walked, knowing one wrong move could damage everything. I got to the gallery early and set everything up (my cats were safe and sound, thank goodness) and then I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, sit down and enjoy the night.

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A lot of people came in throughout the night and my cats were a hit – making people laugh and there were comments about Pokémon more than once. To my delight, children were also enthralled with my cats and there were even some offers to buy them from the adults.

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All in all it was a fantastic night and a real dream come true for me. I am eternally grateful to my Schnucki for making this opportunity for me possible and I hope that I can take part in another exhibition soon!

 


So, did you enjoy my impromptu exhibition? Which one was your favourite piece?

This night was a dream come true for me!


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Germany: One Year On

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Nürnberg old town

It’s strange to think that I’ve been living in Germany for more than a year now. I feel like this time has flown by in the blink of an eye! But my initial reaction to the country still hasn’t changed – I really love living here and the Germans make life so easy.

Here are some German situations that I don’t even bat an eyelid at anymore:

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Cologne Cathedral

Open invitations

Something that constantly surprised me at the start (and I admit, it still sometimes does) is that I got invited to everything. I must have been used to people being more exclusive and ‘invite only’ with their gatherings, because I found that Germans were the complete opposite – so warm and welcoming.

Dinners, barbecues, birthday parties of a friend-of-a-friend’s, it didn’t matter; I was invited along to them all. Even if the person that invited me was the only person I knew there and I felt like I was gate-crashing the event.

It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t speak German – time and time again I found that the whole group at the gathering would completely switch to English for me, even when talking amongst themselves. I was baffled. And totally charmed. Way to go Germany for making the Hobbit in the room feel completely welcome!

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Lüneburg

Street harassment…or lack thereof

One of the very best things that I have experienced since being in Germany is the lack of street harassment.

The pure joy I feel every day at being able to walk the streets day or night and not be whistled at, honked at, catcalled out of car windows or shouted at by leering men passing by is so damn great. And literally all of these things are what I had to endure on a daily basis even just walking down my own street back home. But this surprises no woman – we have all been through this and continue to go through this public victimisation regularly.

Of course, bigger cities in Germany may be a different story, but this is from my personal experience living in a small Bavarian city. It’s so nice to know that in some places, everyone can be left alone to walk, run and bike in peace.

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Old town of Heidelberg

Jeans are the uniform

If you don’t know what to wear, put on your jeans and you’ll fit right in. This is what I would have told myself a year ago when I was fretting about what to wear to a birthday party that I’d been invited to out of the blue.

In Germany, jeans are the uniform. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many people in jeans until I came here! I would say that everyone dresses in a very practical manner. If it’s winter, you wear jeans and a jacket and if it’s summer, you wear jeans and a T-shirt.

You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you go out in shorts when it’s only (gasp) 20 degrees…this is from experience. (Although I’d be in shorts even at 15 degrees back in NZ).

I’ve also always been used to dressing up when going out, even just to have a drink at the bar, but here, there is no such unwritten social rule. So jeans and a T-shirt to the bar it is – and I ain’t complaining!

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Oktoberfest in Munich

The customer service is so bad that it’s good

It’s always been said the Japanese and Germans get along well because they have some cultural norms in common, but boy, customer service is not one of them!

If you walk into a shop and get a greeting from the shop person, that’s a good sign, but the majority of the time you will be ignored, or grudgingly served like it is the last thing that they want to do. I’ve been in places where the shop assistants are openly chatting across the shop to each other and ignoring customers. A friend once said to me that his bank bluntly told him that there is no customer service there.

This would normally be regarded as a bad thing…but as an introvert, I absolutely love it.

I’ve always just really hated being spoken to in shops. The worst case scenario was when clothes shop assistants would follow me to the changing rooms and call through my door asking if they should bring another size…and I cringed every time. But here, I’m left totally alone to do my own thing, at my own pace, without the weird pressure they put on you to buy something. It’s a godsend, I tell you.

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The old post tower in Hamburg

Supermarket Master Packer (SMP) status

I never realised that the bag packers at supermarket checkouts were a luxury…until I came here and saw that no such job description exists.

When you’re at a German supermarket, you have to have a plan of attack before you go to the checkout because this is war…a war between you and the checkout operator.

They zap your groceries through as fast as greased lightning and if you’re not ready to bag your items just as quickly on the other side, you lose the fight and hold all of the next customers up, your groceries mixing up with theirs. I know, I’ve been there. The horrors. So here’s what you do:

  1. Load your groceries onto the conveyor belt. Make sure your heavy items go first and your fragile, easily squished items like tomatoes and bread goes last.
  2. Get your fabric tote bags ready and open (come on, you’re not paying extra for plastic bags).
  3. Have your wallet at the ready. Preferably nestled under your armpit for quick access.
  4. Start bagging your items as soon as they get zapped, alternating items between your bags so they will each end up with an even load. (You’ll gain a few extra seconds every time the checkout operator has to weigh your vegetables/fruit and look up the price of the bread you’re getting).
  5. Pay quickly with cash (and not all with small change).
  6. Smile, wish them a good day and walk away with your finely packed groceries and know that the battle has been won. (A big explosion goes off behind you and you keep walking in slow motion without looking back).

 

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Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in Düsseldorf

What do I miss?

As I’ve mentioned before, the one thing I’ve really missed since living in Europe is good (and affordable) Japanese food. And Indian food. And Thai food. And Vietnamese and Korean and Chinese food.

I’ve found that a lot of Asian cuisines tend to get lumped together here, under the umbrella term of ‘Asian Fusion’.  And even then, it’s usually just low quality Chinese food with some Thai curry options and a side of suspicious sushi. If you’re lucky enough to find a proper Japanese restaurant with real Japanese cooks, it’s likely to be upmarket and very expensive. (Unless you go to Düsseldorf. Yes please!)

I just really, really miss these different cuisines! Of course bigger cities will have more authentic Asian restaurants with reasonable prices, but there’s not much hope out here in the smaller ones. It makes me realise how spoilt for choice we are in New Zealand with our melting pot of different eateries on every street corner!

 


So, did you like my post about some of my German experiences?

Any other expats got something to add to the list? Let me know!


 

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Düsseldorf: Delicious ‘Japan Town’ And Europe’s Biggest Buddhist Temple

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EKO House of Japanese Culture

When I told people that after Switzerland, we were going to Hamburg via two nights in Düsseldorf, people scoffed: “Düsseldorf. What are you going to do in Düsseldorf?

They couldn’t believe we would use precious family holiday time in Germany to stay in Düsseldorf for two whole nights. But we knew something they didn’t. We had a hidden agenda with Düsseldorf…a hidden Japanese agenda.

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Gateway into the temple and gardens

Düsseldorf is located on the Düssel and the Rhine rivers and was a city long known as an international business and financial hub. Something that is less known about the city is that Düsseldorf has the biggest Japanese community in Germany (about 11,000 residents) which is also the third largest in Europe – after Paris and London.

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It is also home to the biggest Japanese Buddhist Temple in Europe, with an adjoining study and event centre called the EKŌ House of Japanese Culture. After getting a little lost in the sleepy suburb of Niederkassel, with some local help we finally found the front gates to the place…only to find them locked.

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Stone basin to wash your hands (the kanji says ‘pure water’)

My family were disappointed, to say the least, after coming all of this way and finding it closed. As they started walking away, I obnoxiously pushed all of the buttons on the gate intercom in frustration. A loud buzzing sound suddenly came from the gate and we blinked in surprise as the doors swung open. We were inside – with the whole place to ourselves!

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The temple gardens

The whole complex was built in 1993 and is well maintained as they host a number of Buddhist festivals, tea ceremonies and events every year.

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Düsseldorf also puts on a Japan Day every year around May or June and it is the largest festival of its kind in the world – attracting more than a million people. They have Japanese food stalls, kimono fittings, Japanese musicians, calligraphy and always finish off with a fireworks show. (I’m determined to go to this year’s one!)

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Since the 1950’s, Düsseldorf has housed more than five hundred Japanese companies and the workers and their families include both temporary and permanent residents.

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Lines of patrons waiting for Kushi-tei of Tokyo Grillhouse

The main Japanese quarter in the Düsseldorf city is called Immermannstraße, a long road lined with Japanese book stores, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bakeries and even a Japanese hotel called Hotel Nikko. Before going there, I was envisioning a typical China Town sort of street overflowing with tourists, food stalls and noise but this ‘Japan Town’ was completely different. If you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t even realise it was there.

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A shop dedicated to just Onigiri – I was in HEAVEN

This Japan street came alive out of necessity to the Japanese business workers, so everything was practical and functional – not a tourist trap at all. Walking the streets and hearing Japanese people go past made me feel like I was back in Japan. We had lunch at a ramen place called Takezo, which had the best ramen I’d had in a very, very long time.

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Japanese Consulate General on Immermannstraße

The problem with living in a tiny town like Passau is that there aren’t many Japanese people living here, which means I can’t get my hands on Japanese food or products – something I was used to getting easily in New Zealand. So I’ve craved for Japanese food since being in Germany. Like really, really badly. So badly that my mum has had to send me Japanese food products like udon and curry packs in the mail from NZ!

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Japanese kindergarten

Düsseldorf also has a Japanese school, supplementary school and even a kindergarten. I really wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the vibrant Japanese community of Düsseldorf. I went to Japanese supplementary school when I was younger too, but that was in Christchurch where we don’t have a fraction of the Japanese population!

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Even though people doubted our choice in going to Düsseldorf, we were so glad we did. We all had the best Japanese food and shop experiences that we’d had in ages and it was most definitely on our list of travel highlights! I want to go back just to eat there!

 


So, did you like Düsseldorf’s Japan Town?

Would you like to visit here too? 


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Munich: Oktoberfest 2015

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Inside the Ochsenbraterei tent

I went to Oktoberfest in Munich last week and it was spectacular! It was only a two hour train ride from Passau, so it was an easy day trip – no need to worry about accommodation and purchasing the Bavarian train ticket for the day meant limitless travel in Bavaria for only 15 Euros! Cheap as chips, really.

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Inside the Hofbräu Tent

The Oktoberfest is the largest Volksfest in the world and runs for 16 days from mid-September to the first weekend of October. Volksfests are held all throughout Germany and is a beer festival and funfair rolled into one event.

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The Hacker tent dubbed ‘Bavarian Heaven’

The Oktoberfest is held at the Theresienwiese every year, which is also known locally as the Wiesn. It was a short 15 minute walk from the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and I found the grounds easily by following the signs and people dressed in traditional costume.

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Inside the Pschorr-Bräurosl tent

There were fourteen HUGE beer tents throughout the Wiesn which were each run by a different brewery and had different themes and decorations. I purposely went on a weekday afternoon so it wouldn’t be so crowded and although there were a lot of people there, it wasn’t a jam packed I-can’t-move-or-breathe sort of situation like it would be on weekends (which was fine by me!).

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Entrance to the fair grounds and beer tents was free, but it you want to save a table for you and your friends in advance, you have to book them beforehand by contacting the respective beer tent, otherwise you will probably not get a table.

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Seeing everyone dressed up in the traditional Bavarian costume of Dirndls and Lederhosen was awesome! It really added to the atmosphere of the event.

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And of course, how can you go home without getting an iconic Lebkuchenherz or gingerbread heart for your sweetheart? (I bought a ‘Schnucki’ one, naturally).

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Other than tasting beer, you can eat classic Bavarian meals in the tents and stalls like Weißwurst (white sausage), Sauerkraut (sour cabbage), Hendl (roast chicken),  Knödel (dumplings) and my personal favourite – Käsespätzle (cheese noodles).

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Entrance to the Löwenbräu tent

Even though the Oktoberfest begins in September nowadays, it used to be held only in October, hence the name. The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 in honour of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. In recent years, the festival started to be held from September because the weather conditions were better and the nights were warmer.

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Hofbräu horses

 

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Marstall – the newest beer tent at Oktoberfest

 

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Schnucki Lebkuchen

 

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St. Paul’s Church near the Wiesn

 


So, did you enjoy my Oktoberfest post?

Were you or anyone you know able to go to this year’s one as well?


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Germany: My First Impressions

I’ve been in Germany for just over two months now and I have to say, my overall impression has been really good so far. I haven’t had much of a culture shock compared to what I had in Asian countries like Japan or China, but there are some things that are definitely different here than what I’m used to. Most of the things are good and some are, well…nicht gut.

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Heidelberg Altstadt

Split Duvets

One of the first things I noticed in our Heidelberg hotel room was the double bed…with two single sized duvet covers laid out on top of it. Even the mattress was just two single mattresses put side by side – leaving a crack down the middle. It wasn’t just hotels I saw this in either, it was at bed shops and even Ikea. I guess it can stop arguments over who is pulling too much of the duvet, but splitting it altogether? Do people take their personal space that seriously? It’s a duvet mystery.

Autobahn

Before I came to Germany, the thought of a motorway with no speed limit seemed like a recipe for disaster, but after travelling on the Autobahn quite frequently and for long periods of time, I can see that the system actually does work. Of course, there are speed limits in some areas and accidents do happen, but overall it does get you from point A to point B with the fastest, direct route.

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Wind turbines along the Autobahn

Wind Turbines

When travelling on the Autobahn, you come across a lot of wind turbines – and I mean A LOT of wind turbines. In some areas there was literally a forest of wind turbines and at night they have these blinking red lights that make it look like giant transformers are watching you – it really is quite a sight. I appreciate that Germany is taking their green energy so seriously.

Dog Heaven

I’m a dog person at heart so I always notice if someone’s walking their cute little fur child and there is definitely no shortage of them here. And I don’t see them just on the street either – they’re in shops, restaurants, buses, trains and even walking around in malls with their owners!

In New Zealand, the unwritten rule is that you leave your dog tied up outside when you go into shops unless they’re a guide dog…but in Germany it seems that rule does not apply. I still do a double take when I see a dog walking around in the mall – it’s just not a sight I’m used to!

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Saw this cutie watching her owner fishing at the Ilz

Smoking

I guess I should be used to seeing this by now, but so many people smoke here. I see young people, old people and anyone in between smoking on the streets and in cafes and restaurants (smoking in restaurants doesn’t seem to be banned here yet). I even see parents smoking whilst holding hands with their small children and babies – have they not heard of second hand smoke before? The sight makes my stomach turn.

Sundays Closed

In the good old days in New Zealand, all shops would be closed on Sundays. While NZ has outgrown this tradition and Sundays have become the day to go shopping, Germany still has this custom even now. Most supermarkets and shops are closed every Sunday, with the exception of restaurants.

While it took a bit of getting used to and forgetting to go bulk shopping on Saturdays, I’ve really come to like this idea. Sunday is a day of rest and you can see it in the way people and families are out and about just relaxing and enjoying the day.

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People relaxing by the Inn in Passau on a Sunday afternoon

Tips

In Germany you have to give tips to the waitstaff in restaurants and it is still a concept that I’m getting used to. Neither NZ or Japan has a tipping culture, so I usually forget to tip until the person I’m with reminds me about it. Another thing that surprised me was that you pay at the table after you’ve eaten, instead of going to the counter. The waitstaff brings a huge black wallet to the table, and you pay then and there.

Recycling Machine

One of the coolest things I’ve encountered here is the recycling machine at supermarkets. If a bottle has this recycle sign on it, you can take it to one of these recycling machines which takes the bottle and gives you a receipt in return, saying how much money you get back for it. You can then take the receipt to the cashier with your groceries and get that money taken off your total bill. Usually you get about 25 cents back per bottle and it is a really good incentive for people to recycle. I usually take a huge bag with more than ten bottles in it at a time!

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The recycle symbol which means it can go through the machine

Cheap Food

Another thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how cheap the food is. I can get a good lunch for  €5 or under and I can get a decent dinner for  €10. Plus, grocery shopping is a total breeze in terms of buying more than one day’s worth of food – it’s just so cheap! (New Zealand is so expensive in comparison).

Video Restrictions

I have to say the German video restrictions have been pretty annoying, though. Even on YouTube, there are videos that get blocked – and they are usually mainstream videos that are popular worldwide. And yes, German YouTube, this video could contain music because I was actually trying to watch something called A MUSIC VIDEO.

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This sign that comes up would amuse me if it didn’t pop up so often

 


So, did you like my first impressions of Germany?

Did anyone experience these things too?


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