Category Archives: Living in Germany

Things To Do in Stuttgart (and Beyond) as the Weather Warms Up

Yesterday I left the house for the first time without my winter coat this year. It’s always the same feeling when that happens; one of absolute delight and freedom. Winter is nearly gone and the last of the snow is melting – even in Salzburg, where my train from Budapest travelled through on the way home this week, there are only specks left of what was once completely white territory.

Down here in Stuttgart, there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming months. With spring comes a need to celebrate, and alongside the spargel and the fabulous beer gardens opening their doors for business, there are a lot of festivals coming up in this neck of the woods for us to get ready for.

  1. The Holi Festival

Taking another tour of Germany, the Holi festival crosses through Stuttgart on the 16th May. Having gone to one two years ago in Magdeburg, I can’t recommend attending this day at least once in your lifetime enough. The soaring colours which are allowed to be released every hour make for spectacular viewing and the hippie stores on the side make for a very relaxed and cool vibe surrounding the main events in front of the stage.

Holi - a fantastic experience.
Holi – a fantastic experience.
  1. Weinwandertag

The inaugural wine walk in Esslingen – the day before Holi on the 15th May. It’s 6km long and you pass through six ‘stations’ of wineries celebrating the upcoming summer with tastings and a chance to get a little piddled as they say in upper class Britain. You can do it in a group or just take a stroll with your dog for company, and the accompanying music plays into the evening.

There is a beautiful backdrop throughout your walk of the vineyards.
There is a beautiful backdrop throughout your walk of the vineyards.
  1. Fruhlingfest

The biggest spring beer festival in Europe, this cannot be missed and while it isn’t as big as the autumn equivalent a walk through Bad Cannstatt is definitely worth it, even just for some cliché German gingerbread. The beer tents are full of young people out for a good time, and are reasonably priced compared to Oktoberfest. It goes from 18th April to 10th May, so you have 23 days to get in on the action – just don’t plan on getting a table without a booking and if you want to try your luck anyway make sure you get there VERY early.

  1. Stuttgart Jazz Open Festival

This is when summer really kicks in and the city makes way for some of the biggest jazz names from the 3rd to the 12th of July. Jamie Cullum is returning and Bob Geldof is also scheduled to make an appearance at this open air festival which is in locations all over Stuttgart over the course of the week.

  1. Colour Run

A nice twist on the Holi festival, this combines the throwing of coloured powder with a 5km run. Tutus are the norm and with a mixture of music and entertainment it won’t feel like hard exercise at all.

  1. Heidelberg Castle Illumination and Fireworks

Not exactly Stuttgart but within an hour you’re there – it’s the place we always bring visitors to Germany to get a taste of a historic town and beautiful castle and with the light show happening first on the 6th of June, then on July 11th and September 5th, it’s a great way to see such a beautiful area from a new perspective. The video on this link shows just how cool the fireworks are and if you get there early enough to save prime spot with a picnic you’ll have the perfect day and night out.

The castle at Heidelberg.
The castle at Heidelberg.
  1. South German Cheese Market

It’s all the way over in Schwabisch Hall but I for one will be very happy to make the 50 minute drive to taste cheese ‘until my heart is content’ according to the website on May 9th-10th. There’s going to around 200 different types of cheese – as a cheese lover it’s high on my list to get at least one cheese festival in my schedule every year and this is going to be it for 2015.

  1. Strawberry Festival

Held in Oberkich, it’s a chance to see a new city and taste some delicious strawberries on May 30-31st as well as getting some fantastic spargel in while the season lasts. Germany is so great at taking full advantage of when their foods are in season and this festival is the perfect example of that – I’ve complained before that in the winter it’s impossible to stay skinny in this country, I fear the summer will be the same! Lucky for the colour run to balance it out ;)

7 Tips to Give You Cheaper Bahn Travel

When I first moved to Germany, one of the things I was most excited about was being able to take the train to different countries at will. Much cheaper than the British National Rail and with Paris, Basel, Prague, Brussels and Amsterdam all within easy reach of Frankfurt it was an exciting prospect, particularly coming from a country like Australia where any trains crossing the border would end up in the sea.

The Bahn can be a rather complicated system for first-time travellers and when my mother came to Europe for the first time her local travel agent quoted her prices five times the amount I could see on my computer screen for the train. Through German friends and those who had been expats longer than myself I was able to discover loads of tricks in the German train system to get cheaper deals.

Here’s seven tips for you first-timers in the land of the lederhosen:

  1. Get a Bahn card. If you move to Germany or plan to spend 12 months here it’s a great idea to get the Bahn card – you’ll get your money back within a couple of trips. I always thought that it was like a credit card or beauty shop discount card where you need to rack up a million points to get one euro off, but it’s actually 25, 50 or 100 per cent off all your trips for a year. A friend also gave me the advice that the 25 (around 60 euro) is often better than the 50 one (a few hundred euro) because you get a lot more discount deals, making it cheaper again, and you might not use the 50 one enough to justify the price.
  2. Tick that pesky savings option – when booking your train online, after you’ve selected the English option on the top right corner, you’ll see two tabs at the top of where you enter the details of your trip. One is ‘information and booking’ and the other ‘saver fare finder’. Always check the saver tab first so you can see a list of the cheapest deals and times available for your trip. You might not be able to get a cheap fare for the time you want but it’s always good to compare.
  3. Untick the ICE option – If you’re travelling somewhere that’s not too far away (like less than 4-5 hours) you can try the option of unticking ‘ICE’ trains in the connections section. Just go to ‘more search options’ on the homepage and where it says connections tick ‘all without ICE’. The trip will be longer but possibly a lot cheaper and if you have the time to travel at a slower pace you’ll be thankful for the saving.
  4. Travel with friends – Getting a group ticket in Germany will save you a ton of money. They’re an environmental bunch in this country and like the idea of rewarding groups of people who take public transport over a car, so if you have three to five people check out if it’s cheaper to go for the group option (and if the ticket machines aren’t easy to use they normally speak English in the Bahn customer service).
  5. Buy a state-wide ticket – there’s an option with Bahn to buy a state-wide ticket and you can use it an unlimited amount of times anywhere in the state for a day or weekend. If you have a group and want to travel around the countryside of Bavaria, for example, this would be a very cheap way to do it as it doesn’t include ICE trains. You can also get this option for the whole of Germany.
  6. Only reserve a seat in peak times – this is from my own experience. I never spend the extra 4 euro on a reserved seat if I’m travelling during the week in the day or late at night. Friday and Sunday night is a different story but especially if you’re travelling alone, there’s no point reserving a seat if you can get there on time and be one of the first on the train.
  7. Check Mitfahrgelegenheit – we always check this website before booking our train and compare both bus times and prices and car pooling times and prices. I haven’t been brave enough to car pool on my own, only doing it with my boyfriend, but every time it’s been fine for us and cut the cost of travel considerably. The great thing about this website is it compares all the available buses at the time you want and you can crosscheck that with your train prices and work out what’s best for you.

36 Hours of Neuschwanstein and Bavarian Treats

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High on my bucket list since moving to Germany has been to make a visit to the castle that inspired many Disney tales and with Neuschwanstein (not Neuschweinstein as I originally pronounced it) just a couple of hours away from Stuttgart, there was no better time to do it than since moving to this city of wineries and factories.

With a detour via Frankfurt on the Friday so the boyfriend could go to his university graduation, our trip to Schwangau took around six hours on the Saturday with traffic hold-ups the whole way. I’ve come to learn that despite the fantastic roads and unlimited speed limits in Germany, their inability to handle a crash situation in a timely way and lack of emergency lanes means you should always double the amount of time Google tells you it will take to get from A to B.

The drive was made easier by these fantastic views.
The drive was made easier by these fantastic views.

When we arrived, the snow I had been hoping for all week materialised. It had been on-and-off white the whole way but with there being no snow from the sky in the past week I assumed that, like in Stuttgart, it would have died down to nothing more than wet pavements. But I was so wrong – of course the snow was far thicker closer to the Alps and while it was sunny, the heat certainly didn’t look capable of breaking through the white floor any time soon.

We checked in at our ‘Romatik Pension’, a quaint little hotel with a balcony and view of both castles, and set off for a walk into the town. The houses’ roofs were covered with snow and they looked every bit the typical Bavarian delights I picture the state to have. I’ve been to Munich and Chiemsee but this was something else in the way of a stereotypical Bavarian-style community; likely for tourists as much as for the locals, it smacked of a very traditional history and you could just imagine walking around hundreds of years ago under the watchful eye of royalty from the top of the hill.

Cuckoo-clock like houses.
Snow-filled streets.
View of the castle from below.
Our quaint little hotel.
Sunset over the snowy houses.

We made our way up to Neuschwantsein which by the late afternoon had closed it’s last tour for the day. It was the perfect time to have a look around the outside area as almost everyone had left for the day – photos could be taken without multitudes of people in the background and there was a peacefulness we knew wouldn’t be present on the following Sunday morning. After a walk around the area and taking in the view we headed for town to find some Bavarian food, and came across a cute little corner restaurant serving fantastic pork knuckle (haxe) and duck, with chocolate nut cake for dessert. Getting our fix of German meat and potato dumplings was well and truly ticked off the list, and upon returning to our hotel, we had a cheeky bottle of champagne on the balcony with layers and blankets shielding us from the cold.

Neuchwanstein from the side.
Hohenschwangau Castle, adjacent from Neuschwanstein.
The lookout point next to the castle.
Dinner at one of Schwangau's little Bavarian restaurants. Suffice to say I got through hardly half of that...
Dinner at one of Schwangau’s little Bavarian restaurants. Suffice to say I got through hardly half of that…

The next day we headed back up to the castle and took the tour of the inside. Having been to Ludwig’s Chiemsee castle I was expecting greatness but as only 16 rooms were available for viewing, it wasn’t quite what the other palace had on offer. We got to see things like the first telephone in Germany, the first automatic flushing toilet and an amazingly modern kitchen for it’s time, and like in Chiemsee, part of the interest with this castle is that despite all the efforts (and money) that Ludwig put into building it, he hardly got to enjoy it as he died not long after the first rooms were finished. What a legacy to leave!

Heading down to one of the restaurants to fulfil our craving for weisswurst, we took in the beautiful snowy views for the last time. We had planned to take a look around the Schloss Hohenschangau, sitting beautifully opposite Neuschwanstein and lit up orange at night while it’s counterpart is white, but we felt a bit castled-out and decided this wouldn’t likely be the last time we’d come here.

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A perfect view.

So for me now, that’s 2 Ludwig castles down. I really want to make it 3 out of 3 but this one will be hard to beat – it’s definitely the most beautiful castle from the outside I’ve seen in my time in Europe.

Some tips for if you’re planning on visiting Neuschwanstein:

  • Romantik Pension Albrecht was a lovely place to stay and I’d highly recommend it – the view comes at a very affordable price and a fantastic breakfast was included as well. They also let us park the car there after checking out, saving us the €5 parking fee at the bottom of the hill.
  • Don’t bother taking the horse and carriage up the hill – it’s such a nice walk and if you really want to have a picture/experience in one it’s half the price and a shorter line to take it down the hill instead.
  • If you’re new to Germany, try the weisswurst in Bavaria! It’s very tasty and comes in a super-cute pot in most places with a bretzel. Just make sure you peel the sausages before eating or they’ll be rather chewy.
  • Don’t go to the castle in the summer time if you can avoid it – while it’s unpredictable when it will snow, far less tourists are there in winter and you’ll have the chance to enjoy the place without it being too overcrowded (figures claim 6,000 people visit this tiny town a day in the hotter months).
  • As mentioned above, if you’re driving from somewhere in Germany leave a lot of extra time, and double any time calculations by Google maps to allow for traffic problems. There’s nothing worse than missing a whole day when you’re stressed for time.

Ooh baby it’s cold outside

 

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Snow in Europe has always brought with it many happy memories for me – the first time I saw the real thing in England was exactly a year after taking a one-way trip to the country and getting my working visa stamped. It was amazing having it on my doorstep and between building snowmen in our backyard and having snowball fights with friends I knew the European winter wasn’t as bad as the naysayers in Australia told me.

Claude - our London snowman and house protector.
Claude – our London snowman and house protector.

The next time I saw it was in Chamonix, just next to Mont Blanc, two years later almost to the day. The 2013-14 winter brought no snow – something which was particularly frustrating as my parents had come to visit for a white Christmas and just got rain instead – but my first skiing trip with my snowboarding-obsessed boyfriend couldn’t have been more spectacular. We didn’t have a chance to build a snowman and my skiing was as terrible as I remember but I was introduced to a new and wonderful concept called ‘apres ski’ :)

This year, I’ve been pleading to the weather gods to bring me some snow. We’re still stuck in this little village just outside Stuttgart while we look at apartments closer to the centre, which is not so bad now that my schedule at work is dying down, but one of the positives of living so far out of the city is that when it snows, it’s like someone has taken some whiteout and turned your whole area into something from a wintery Christmas cartoon.

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The trees sparkle and snow covers your coat and scarf as you walk along the street. It’s perfectly soft under your feet and as you find parks and long walkways nearby you really start to feel like you’re in that Christmas movie.

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So many Europeans complain about the snow, in the same way we Australians complain about the hot weather. I hope I never lose this excited feeling over seeing it fall and settle around me, because it makes the winter so much more enjoyable. When we noticed the flakes falling at rapid rates on Friday night, despite being in my pyjamas and suffering from a bad cold, I was dressed and ready to explore within minutes. And what we found, even in the dark, was pretty spectacular. Perhaps it’s partly that it reminds me how far away from home I am, and how happy I am to still be having this adventure.

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Let it snow! xx

Falling in love with a city once, twice, three times and maybe more

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney - bliss.
Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney – bliss.

When I moved to Sydney it took me one day to fall in love with the city. I visited a flat and agreed to rent it – it was a steal in the quiet expensive area of Neutral Bay for $160 a week – and we were advised that the best way into the centre was to take the ferry. We walked 5 minutes, and waited at the beautiful harbour, marvelling at the small and quaint park behind us and the sweet breakfast café on the wharf. When we took to the ferry, it drove through all the sailboats and yachts and turned the corner to a picturesque site of Sydney with the Opera House and Bridge in full view. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as it pulled into the Circular Quay, a place where people had travelled for days just to take a picture. This was a place I knew I would love living in.

Fast forward two years and I was excited to be leaving. The sheen had worn off, the love had gone a long time ago and I hadn’t yet faced it until that point, and as I packed my final things and thought about the good times I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter elsewhere.

London was a different story. It took me about eight months to fall in love with it, and when it finally happened, it was for much more than just the aesthetics. I had allowed an outside influence affect me and my feelings towards this brilliant city in the beginning, and when I finally got rid of it I felt freed and like this place could be my home for a long time. London went from being unhealthy for my confidence to being the perfect medicine for it within weeks. It taught me that the company you keep has a big hand in making a city great. When I had to leave, and not by my own choice at first, I really didn’t want to.

London - the city where you work hard and play harder.
London – never get tired of this city.

Next came Frankfurt, and although the German skyline-capital was much like Sydney with the immediate love factor, it was for much more grown-up reasons that I developed such a strong affinity with this place so quickly. It provided a future, somewhere to find more permanent friendships, and a place that would be affordable and enjoyable to live in. It was the first time I pictured having children in a city and it put me on a path where I felt like I was no longer a carefree kid but someone who wanted to build a long-term future with someone else.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out for long with Frankfurt – only 10 months or so – though I hope we are reunited again someday. It turns out that this whole growing up thing, and growing with someone, means you have to make sacrifices that don’t fulfil just your own needs anymore.

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Frankfurt: I miss you.

So here I am in Stuttgart. It isn’t quite love yet, just a strong like, though we’ve had our ups and downs. I am dealing with it’s flaws, and the differences it and I have. It’s also dealing with some of my flaws it would seem, forcing me to become more a part of German culture and adjust my own way of living from being an expat to ever so slowly becoming a local.

Perhaps it’s more like the slow-moving type of relationship where things blossom in a deeper way and can’t be reversed so easily. As I drove to work the other day, I crossed one of the bridges in Stuttgart central and caught a glimpse of the vineyards in my rear view mirror. It was one of the those moments that made that ‘strong like’ a little bit stronger. Who knows, maybe this will be The One after all?

A new season, a new food to try in Germany

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Gotta love a pumpkin on Halloween. source: fruitycuties.com

As the days in southern Germany get a little colder – not as much as I expected though as it seems the summer we missed out on was just a little late coming to the party – yet another season of interesting food is upon us.

In Australia, most of our trees stay green all year round and equally, a lot of our food is available throughout every month. Of course, berries are more expensive in some months but we’re not known for our seasonal treasures. In Germany though, my diet is constantly being peppered by some type of food or drink that is only available for a short time each year, and therefore must be consumed in bulk and with as many variations as possible.

During the spring, it was Spargel. We learned to cook it after a few trial and errors and the white asparagus tasted delicious with hollandaise sauce and almost every meal. The summer brought fruits which all but disappear completely otherwise, and I ate so much watermelon and strawberries I’d picked myself I nearly popped. Over September, we drank a special wine called ‘federweisser’ which is only available in it’s purest form for one month. It tasted like a delicious sparkling juice but with an alcohol content of 11% it’s also quite lethal. As this phase dies down and the production ceases at our local supermarket, it’s been swiftly replaced with the pumpkin.

There are now suddenly pumpkins everywhere. They weren’t my favourite vegetable growing up though they are a staple in a roast dinner in Australia. But now, I’ve found myself Googling countless recipes and taking tips from friends to put pumpkin in almost anything we can think of.

Last week, when I felt slightly ill, my medicine was always going to be pumpkin soup, and it worked a treat. I’m a big fan of BBC Good Food and use the site for most of my recipes, because they often have great feedback and the ingredients are mostly available in German supermarkets (big ones anyway). This week I am cooking a roast for the first time in Germany and plan to include as many pumpkins as possible. We are also hoping to cook this pumpkin pie for the first time and a friend has given me a recipe for pumpkin frittatas. If I turn orange by the end of this month I’ll know why.

I’ve said it many times before, but this is one of the reasons I love living in Germany so much – every season brings a new treat, and the excitement over what’s coming next into our kitchen creeps up on me without fail every year.

The end of daylight savings is upon us as I take to a dark street on my way to work every morning. But while in Australia that time of year brought so much gloom as you looked ahead to winter, here it means something else is coming around the corner; Christmas Market season. Hello gluhwein! :)

 

xx

You’ve Got That Homesick Feeling

I felt this way for the first time while I was travelling through Europe four years ago. I’d set up a base with my boyfriend in the UK and was ducking back and fourth to new places, and then suddenly one day in Dublin, surrounded by Australians for the first time in a while, I felt a little off. It wasn’t an anxious feeling, or an ill feeling, but more of a fidgety, not feeling comfortable where I was, sorta feeling. A phone call with said boyfriend, who was an experienced traveler himself, helped me place it: I was simply homesick.

Being around a group of Australians for the day, one of whom I had worked with for a time in Sydney, reminded me of that homely feeling that doesn’t revolve around packing and unpacking suitcases and becoming acclimatised, used to language differences and new cultures and attempting food that could be amazing or truly terrible. Travelling is much like a roller coaster, giving you the highest highs you will ever experience in life and some moments that feel more lonely than you ever could have imagined.

My own diagnosis helped subside the homesick feeling I was having and by the next day it was gone – perhaps this experience left me feeling slightly detached from it, and as though it was simply a chemical reaction and if this came back, it would only last 24 hours again and I could just see it through. Much like coming off a bad hangover with the right foods, painkillers and time to sleep it off.

Since then, homesickness has never been a long term condition. I struggled at one point after four months of living in Germany, when the language wasn’t sticking in my head and I realised just how much I was relying on my boyfriend to live my life. He had to book hairdressers for me, open up bank accounts, deal with my phone company and discuss my rental contract with my flatmates. And when I had a small breakdown over it all, he offered to move to an English speaking country for me, and then I knew it was worth it to stick it out.

People often ask when I will go home, and equally they warn him that at some point he may have to relocate to Australia. Maybe it’s this experience of homesickness that makes me insist so strongly that this will never happen. Rather wallowing in the longing for home, I’ve found ways to reconnect with my Australian-self in this little German village apartment.

  • I cook Australian food. The last couple of months have introduced pavlova, mini pies and custard tarts into our kitchen. Everyone has a hobby to escape the stresses of life, and working in a business with no right answers, for me something like cooking which offers (seemingly) fail-safe mathematical recipes does the trick. And when I’m missing that homely feeling, or I’ve had a day where I feel like this living abroad stuff is pretty tough, cooking a meal that I had as a kid makes me feel centred again.
  • I watch old movies. I read a piece recently about how a writer reconnected with their young-self by watching 90s classic She’s All That (coincidentally she watched it in Germany too), and I had to get my hands on it so badly I ordered it from Amazon immediately. Since then my movie collection has grown to include the likes of The Craft, Centre Stage and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. They’re not the most critically-acclaimed cinematic experiences, but they take me back to a time when I was easily pleased, I didn’t have to worry about paying rent or washing my clothes and my homework was the toughest thing on my mind.
  • I celebrate Australian holidays with extra gusto. Since leaving the land down under I’ve become far more patriotic, and have been known to wander the streets on special occasions with my Aussie flag draped around my neck like a superman cape. I’m lucky to come from a country which sees it’s own identity in such a positive way and being able to enjoy the likes of Australia Day and Grand Final Day (a very special football game) and explaining to everyone around me why they’re so important to us makes me feel like I’ve come a long way.

We all have ways to make ourselves feel at home when we’re living abroad; unlike most we don’t have the luxury of being within easy distance of a place to go to where it all began. I was talking with RZ about how we might go about getting married one day, and I realised that my wedding might be the only day in my life when all (or most of) my friends and family are together. This thought is both exciting and completely overwhelming. For now all I have is some cakes, or movies, and an occasional holiday to take me back to childhood memories and the comforts of consequent-less living. And that’s enough to soothe my homesick soul for now – I wonder if one day it will change?

xx