Tag: Heidelberg

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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Heidelberg: My First German Castle and ‘Old Town’ Experience

After thirty hours of travelling I finally touched down at Frankfurt Airport where my Schnucki was eagerly awaiting. He didn’t want my first glimpse of Germany to be the concrete jungle of Frankfurt city, so we drove about an hour south on the Autobahn to a more ‘quintessentially German’ town called Heidelberg.

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Famous Madonna Statue in the Corn Market

Heidelberg is famous for its ‘Old Town’ or Altstadt which is an area of the city full of old German buildings, Baroque and Renaissance style structures, cobblestone streets and of course, Heidelberg Castle. Once we got there, we met up with my Schnucki’s friend who had volunteered to be our guide for the day.

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My first ‘real’ German Schnitzel definitely tasted better than the imposters sold in New Zealand supermarkets!

We started off by walking down the Main Street or Hauptstrasse, which is a pedestrian only shopping street that runs down the length of the Altstadt. The shopping street is about 1.7 kilometres long (apparently the longest one in Europe) and is full of beautiful old buildings which all have different façade designs – some were plain and some were amazing in their intricate detail. I stared at them in awe as we went past.

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Hotel Ritter on the Hauptstrasse is treasured as one of the most impressive examples of a late Renaissance period style structure and is more than 400 years old!

There was a vast array of German shops down the Hauptstrasse and there was the usual tourist-trap souvenir shops and global brands like Pandora and Swarovski which ruined the Old Town look a little bit. The street ended up at the famous Church of the Holy Spirit and Altstadt marketplace, which was full of people dining outside different cafes and restaurants – which was quite an amazing sight!

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Altstadt Marketplace and Church of the Holy Spirit in the background

My Schnucki’s friend currently studies at Heidelberg University, so he took us to see the old university library…and what a library that was! The building entrance and façade was so gorgeous – why doesn’t every library look like this?

The Heidelberg University is famous for being one of Europe’s oldest institutions and Heidelberg itself is one of the oldest university towns in Germany. My Schnucki’s friend also mentioned that the university is also infamous for its old school fraternity houses that (rumour has it) still teaches its male members how to dual with swords.

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Heidelberg University Library

Our next stop was what I’d been looking forward to the most: Heidelberg Castle.

The castle is located about 80 metres above the Old Town and it’s an impressive sight looking up at it from below. What I didn’t realise until we got up there however, was that most of the castle itself is in ruins and there is only a small portion of it that you can go inside.

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Heidelberg Castle

After paying an (overpriced) entrance fee, we got to see the inner courtyard of the castle and the world’s biggest wine barrel (it was truly massive!) and the Apotheke Museum showing the history of German medicine, which was surprisingly interesting. The rest of the inner castle was only open to guided tours so we didn’t get to see that…but the view of the city from the castle was well worth it!

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Church of the Holy Spirit from Heidelberg Castle

I really loved seeing the sea of pointed orange rooftops from up there – they just looked so different from what I was used to. These houses looked exactly like how a kid would draw a house; square building with square windows, a pointed roof and a chimney or two.

It was a nice surprise seeing so many beautiful old brick buildings too, because as you may know, my hometown of Christchurch lost all of its brick buildings in the earthquakes. Because of this, I had this idea in my head that brick was an outdated and undesirable building material, but seeing all of these intricately designed brick façades and amazing buildings in the Altstadt definitely changed my mind.

These brick buildings looked so stoic and had such a warm aura…I couldn’t help thinking that Germany was lucky not to be affected by earthquakes.

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Old Bridge over the Neckar River

All in all I really enjoyed the charming Altstadt of Heidelberg and I would love to visit again. My favourite parts were the narrow cobblestone streets, rows upon rows of old buildings steeped in history and the view from up at the castle. I just adore towns like this where everything you need is in walking or biking distance and I think it’d be a really great place to live and study.

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Heidelberg Castle overlooking the city

Thank you Heidelberg, you were an awesome introduction to Germany!

 


Did you enjoy my Heidelberg post?

Is this a town that you’ve visited or want to visit?