Taking To The German Wilderness – A Camping Trip in Chiemsee

It has taken me quite a while to get back into the blogging routine – with two new jobs starting, I have hardly had time to think about anything apart from the classes the next day, which footballer is going where and sleep. But just before my birthday, as I prepared for a girls trip to Budapest to celebrate with a fellow June 27th-er and began my first week teaching at separate companies along with my journalism job, I came up with an ambitious plan to spend a weekend in Austria with my boyfriend.

To start with we found a fantastic campsite on the edge of a lake that looked absolutely perfect; and only 3 or so hours away from Stuttgart. But as the weekend drew closer, the weather was sending out serious warning signs and the forecast wasn’t in our favour. Our tent was supposed to be waterproof, but I wasn’t 100% trusting of ebay’s guarantee, so I searched the entire southern region of Germany, the north of Switzerland, the east of France and the west of Austria, going all the way up to Czech Republic, for somewhere, anywhere!, that gave us hope of a sunny day.

And of all the places Chiemsee appeared to be the kindest weather-wise. In worst case scenario we figured we could visit Ludwig’s palace on the Herr Island and drive home early if our tent rained on us. So we drove to Bayern, hoped for the best and insisted we would have fun no matter what happened.

The rain came, but not as much as we had expected. It was just enough to spend a day in the palace, which was well worth it, and otherwise we were able to grill, relax on the lake and explore the area without much bother and only the occasional usage of an umbrella. Chiemsee surprised me – my research had failed to bring up the blue and picturesque scenery many of Austria’s lakes seemed to easily produce – but in real life it was just as amazing as any idyllic European getaway. Walking around the lake, there were beach bars and I felt like I could well have been at any beach getaway.

IMG_3547
IMG_3569

IMG_3563

IMG_3610

The palace was equally stunning, with Ludwig spending more on it than his other two castles combined. He ran the country broke in the process and died under suspicious circumstances thereafter, and while this palace is still unfinished the rooms he did complete are exquisite. The only downside was not being able to take pictures, which we ignored until RZ was caught and called out by the tour guide ;).

IMG_3578

IMG_3579

IMG_3591

 

Nights spent grilling and making punch with vodka and lemons made for a fantastic camping experience. The people nearby were too happy to help with the little things we forgot and strawberries with melted chocolate one night for dessert topped off a perfect pre-birthday weekend for me.

On the final day we headed for one of the ski mountains, which had cable cars open for hikers and people looking to enjoy the sky-high views in the summer. We arrived feeling somewhat underdressed in our singlets while everyone had ski jackets on, and when we got to the top we realised why, as the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. Walking through the top of the mountains was a fantastic experience, with the peace and quiet only interrupted by the constant ringing of the bells around the roaming cows’ necks.

IMG_3600

After eating our picnic atop one of the rocks – with the cows watching us rather inquisitively as they constantly mounted each other (and oddly they were all female, leading to a discussion over whether female cows can be lesbians) – we headed back to Stuttgart. In the car the boyfriend was already on the phone to his friends planning a return for his birthday, with the usual trip to Oktoberfest off the list for a chance to see this little slice of paradise again.

Climbing Out Of Germany’s Administrative Nightmare

Having made the brilliant/psychotic decision to become a freelancer at the start of the year, only now am I finally getting my head around what this means. In Germany, becoming a freelancer is notoriously difficult with their bureaucracy issues compounding when you dare step out of the line of full-time employment. So far I’ve had to deal with:

Getting a work visa as a freelancer - Immigration told us it was near impossible. Just get a normal job they said. You need to register the companies you want to work for with the Government they said. You need at least two job offers at once before they’ll consider it they said. You can’t get a freelance contract with any details relating to how you’re going to perform for the company they said. We got it anyway. Only two months of going back and forward from the offices and my poor boyfriend hounding them on the phone every day.

Registering with the tax office - This was a much easier process, and in fact it was the tax office who helped us with immigration when we were getting incorrect information out of them. Send an email to the right person and it’s done – having said that, if I didn’t have a partner who speaks German this may have been a lot more difficult.

Registering for proper health insurance – On my travel visa I’ve been getting away with paying towards an expat health provider for less than 30 euro a month. Now I have my work visa I think it’s time to join the rest of the German population, particularly if I’m going to be using their health services for anything other than emergencies in the coming years. I believe the rule is that when you earn over 400 euro in the month you have to contribute to a health insurance company and with that looking very likely in my first month of self-employment I have contacted an agent to help me. I’ve heard horror stories about how this has gone for expats in Germany, with some having to pay half their salary towards such insurance. Hopefully all my bad karma has been used up on the visa and with some good luck this won’t cause any issues.

Finding an accountant - That process has also just begun, with my boyfriend insisting we need to look at some local options as well as ones specialising in helping expats. To help get a tax number the company I contacted quoted me 200 euro – I’m glad I did that myself. And when we get a few more quotes to compare over how much it costs to do a tax return and get a definitive answer on what point I pay tax then hopefully this will be sorted rather quickly.

Licence changeover - One company has already asked me to do some driving in their car to a class and the thought of that is making me wet my pants a little with fear. I’ve never driven on the other side of the road, apart from during a holiday in Greece where I nearly caused an accident in the roundabout, then cried, then let my boyfriend at the time take the car back to the hire place. Not the best experience, and I’ve also never driven a manual car which seems to shock a lot more Germans than it did Aussies. Starting the lessons has been tough – I feel like I’m 17 again and so far can so only get to second gear without bunny hopping – and the whole process is going to cost around 1000 euro, with official translation of my Aussie licence needed, as well as a day-long first aid course and a driving and theory test.

It’s been a lot of work to get this far and there’s still so much to go – and it means that I’ve spent the last few months almost entirely on the couch researching, writing and learning. My life in London, where parties filled the time away from work, feel like a distant memory. Will it be worth it? I hope so. In a year from now I hope I’m happily settled into my freelance life, with work in both writing and teaching, and that illustrious book I plan to write is in my hot little hands. For now, it’s all about enjoying the little moments in between, and working hard for the future.

 

xx

Berlin; not a town for the faint-hearted

IMG_3434

There’s been a slight amount of radio-silence over the last week as I’ve been away in Berlin, Copenhagen and sorting the beginning of two teaching jobs and making sure I actually have a working visa. Now, today is the first chance I’ve had to rest and recover from what has been a manic seven days, and a very successful seven days at that. I’m now the proud owner of German residency and after the hoops we’ve had to jump through to get this it’s quite a miracle; and having taught my first business English class on Tuesday it feels like everything is coming together.

Heading for Berlin last Wednesday, it would be the third time I have visited Germany’s capital and one of Europe’s top cities for art, nightlife and culture. The problem is though that the last two times I’ve been to this place I’ve left feeling worse for wear; the city has something about it that makes you forget the need to sleep and find solace in one of the many brilliant bars on offer. I love a good party and I love to go out late, but in the last year these habits have dwindled as I start to consider my health more and make plans for the future, as well as making friends with people who feel the same. But Berlin is like a bubble where the party will never stop and no matter how much you insist it won’t be a big night because you’ve got an early flight/want to do some sightseeing/want to make it for the free breakfast, somehow at 1am you’re looking for dinner and complaining that you can’t find any sushi (possibly happened on this trip).

So we went to Berlin to see Robbie Williams and thought we’d start the trip with a bang, attending the Alternative Berlin pub crawl on our first night. The bars they take you to are more interesting than what the usual pub crawl offers and after making friends with some Australians and visiting death metal, ping pong and upside-down (yep, this actually exists) establishments we ended up at a reggae club dancing for hours on end.

It got to 3am and felt like time to go home. But as we were walking through one of the best nightlife districts we couldn’t help but hear some fantastic music coming from one well-lit bar. Wandering in to see what it was all about, in what felt like minutes later we were still dancing as the sun was coming up through the windows. At about 6:30am we headed out for some of the finest currywurst and walked home to find our hostel friends getting ready for their day ahead.

Before this visit, I was in Berlin with a group of friends and my family for New Years Eve. We spent the night on a boat and New Years Day was mostly spent at McDonalds and the hotel club room with my parents, trying desperately to get over our hangover. The time before that, I was in Berlin on the back of a two week trip to Poland for the Euro football tournament. My voice was on it’s last ropes and as a result of a night out with the hostel staff it was completely gone for three days afterwards.

While I don’t think I could live in Berlin at this point in my life – I loved big-cities throughout my 20s, but as I edge closer to 30 I appreciate things like space and peace – to visit this place is like entering an alternate reality where night and day don’t exist, everyone is your best friend and art is all around you in every form. I’ll always love travelling to Berlin, though I think I’ll always need a day to recover when I return.

My favourite nightspots in Berlin:

Matrix – Great for if you want to spend the night in one place, the music is really good (mostly commercial) and there’s lots of rooms to mix it up. Expect a long wait in the queue and have your ID ready.

Yesterday Bar – Where the Alternative pub crawl starts, but it’s great to visit on it’s own as well – the cocktails are lovely and the decor is vintage and will keep you amused for hours.

Monster Ronson’s Karaoke Bar – One of my favourite things about Berlin is the multicultural nature of it, and there are certainly a number of karaoke bars that have a great atmosphere. Monster Ronson’s is the best I’ve been to, with booths galore and foosball and pool as well.

Berlin Warschauer Strasse U Bahn/S Bahn – One of the great things about Berlin is that you can just head for an area and wander around checking out any bar that takes your fancy. If you get off at this station and walk across the bridge (passing the view of the o2 arena) you’ll find countless bars behind a host of currywurst stands to provide breakfast when you’re done.

Boat parties – the summer brings a host of boat parties all over Germany and the prices are very decent and often include drinks. We spent New Years on a boat (this one) and it was perfect – 70 euro for all we could drink (with good quality ones on offer) and although it wasn’t exactly summer there are indoor areas and the music is always good. So if you’re visiting Berlin it pays to have a quick google to see if there’s any going on!

Learning to Predict the Weather

The last couple of weeks I have once again been hit by the phenomenon of springtime rain, a concept that has taken some getting used to since moving to continental Europe. In Australia it hardly ever rained as we were in a shocking drought during my second decade in the country; meanwhile in England, while the country holds a visual reputation of never ending rainy days, I found it to be more of a whimper than a full blown storm most of the time, resulting in constantly getting your umbrella out and putting it back in your bag.

Springtime in the south of Germany is like London’s rain on steroids – every morning as the sun comes up it buckets down, leaving me feeling quite glad that for these last few weeks at least I haven’t had to go out there on my way to work. Next week that all changes though unfortunately.

My boyfriend and I were woken up by the storm the other night, not quite understanding what it was at first. Some workers have been doing scaffolding on the side of our house and he automatically thought it was falling down with the loud banging noises jarring in our ears. I, on the other hand, had thoughts of the apocalypse in my head. which I put down to the vivid dreams I tend to have quite regularly. So we clutched hold of each other like two little children for about 5 seconds before realising that it was just a bit of thunder. Our ridiculous reactions made us laugh for quite some time.

On the flip side, it’s lovely to be living somewhere where the seasons can be so easily pigeonholed. Reading children’s books I never quite understood what they meant when they referred to the spring rain, the long hot nights that only happen in summer and the snowy winters that took them inside for the Christmas holiday. Germany has very set actions during each particular season – in the winter they celebrate the lead-up to Christmas and then spend the next three months riding out the cold with growing frustration until the first signs of spring peep through in March.

Then this constant rain, until a few days over 25 degrees start to mix in with the springtime glow. June will likely be as it was last year, bringing more of those hot days and allowing you to turn the fan on for the first time and buy ice-pops for extra relief. And July and August… that’s the time for getting away on a beach holiday (an all-inclusive one preferably if you’re really German).

I like how these things are becoming annual traditions for me, and are allowing me to gauge exactly how far I’ve gotten through the year. It allows more time for reflection and celebration of what you’ve achieved since the last time you were doing these things.

I fly out to Berlin today and then onto Copenhagen for the weekend and I’m hoping the rain will be at least a bit limited for us to see these beautiful cities. When I return, I’m hoping the June weather will have well and truly hit and rain is a distant thought in my mind as I rejoin the daily grind.

 

xx

A Trip To Our Local Palace

Coming from Australia, continental Europe’s palaces never fail to impress me. Our country is not nearly as old as many of these beautiful buildings and the places in history which they hold are so interesting – they’re like time machines that take you back to a time that you can only imagine what it would have been like to live in.

On Friday afternoon, my boyfriend surprised me with an early return from work and some wine. ‘We’re going to Ludwigsburg to take advantage of this weather’ he announced, and with that we were on the bus in half an hour and headed for the residential palace.

I can’t believe it’s taken us so long – we’ve been living here nearly three months now – to finally see this wonderful place. It went beyond my expectations and I imagine we’ll be having many summer picnics here in the coming months. The best thing about it is how quiet it is – we arrived at 7pm on a Friday night with hours of sunlight left, and at one point it felt like we were the only people in the park!

IMG_3378

The gardens felt like they went for miles and every one had perfectly manicured flowers

The gardens felt like they went for miles and every one had perfectly manicured flowers

IMG_3385

The baroque style gardens had a quirky touch

The baroque style gardens had a quirky touch

IMG_3397

Rapunzel's hair!

Rapunzel’s hair!

An old-school carousel

An old-school carousel

IMG_3414

The gardens remind me of Versailles

The gardens remind me of Versailles

Can you find the pig?

Can you find the pig?

IMG_3415

In Defence of Social Media

funny-Facebook-people-Fry-meme

When I moved away from Australia I got a job working for a social media company in London. It had taken advantage of the rise of Facebook and quickly built millions of followers by setting up credible-looking pages for sportsmen. Off that, a successful business was born and now the company represents lots of athletes and sports organisations across the world, keeping fans in touch with their heroes on social media.

It was the only company that had replied to my application, and having sent out about 100 applications I felt very lucky to get the call back. I almost hadn’t applied on the fact that you had to work six weeks for free on an ‘internship’ basis, but I figured while I wasn’t doing anything else I might as well try it and work there while I applied for other jobs.

It turned out to be a job that wasn’t right for me for a number of reasons and within six months I was out. But my social media experience at that company propelled me into my current journalism position, which has in turn given me the opportunity to move to Germany and have immediate work, supported me throughout my many visa issues and above all, has allowed me keep writing about one of the things I love most; football.

Meanwhile, after finally getting out of a toxic relationship and feeling comfortable with myself in London for the first time, I travelled to Oktoberfest with some Australian friends feeling on top of the world. It was there that I met a guy who didn’t speak English but asked for my Facebook details anyway. I’m on a super-private setting where people who aren’t my friend can’t search for me, so I asked for his instead. He gave me a really weird name, making it obvious he was just as concerned with privacy, and I assumed it would be impossible to find him. But alas, the nightclub we were at that night posted a picture of us and I found him after his friends tagged him. I added him, not expecting anymore contact, and a year after writing to each other constantly we were quickly realising there was something more going on. Another year on, we were planning on moving in together.

Since being away from Aus I’ve prioritised keeping in touch with people around the world; I’ve talked about the difficulties of this before, but as well as the down points of trying to juggle past and present lives there are so many benefits I enjoy from the ways I can keep in contact. Without Skype I wonder if I would have left in the first place; it’s unimaginably wonderful having family there at Christmas and birthdays and all those times you’d feel pretty lonely otherwise, and it’s a massive bonus that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the privilege.

My relationship with Facebook has changed over the years like my relationship with real-life friends. I, like many 20-somethings, went through the stage of obsessing about having as many friends as possible, and staying friends with people for far more political reasons than simply liking their company. I grew out of that, and got rid of a lot of the ‘quantity’ friends in real life as well as on social media when I moved to Germany. Now I feel good about Facebook, much like my real-life social interactions; and I use it a healthy amount. When I was travelling last summer my mother asked if I could post pictures on the way. At first I felt uncomfortable about it as I didn’t want to look like I was spending my holiday on Facebook. But then I thought, who exactly is this page for? Me and my friends and family to stay updated on my life or the people who might bitch about what I’m posting?

The constant ‘oh you shouldn’t post baby pictures, and people who post they’re drunk are so annoying…’ whinging should surely be put into perspective. You’ve chosen to be friends with that person, you can easily block them from your newsfeed without deleting them if social politics ask for it. And like in real life, there will be people who are annoying and weird and attention seeking. This is just another way to display those qualities.

So when I’m having stupid ‘social media is bad, get off your phone and see the world’ stuff thrown at me on, ironically, Facebook’s newsfeed – and the majority of the time by people who post the annoying stuff in the first place – it does get a bit tedious. Especially the Youtube video with the bloody spoken poem – next thing we’ll have someone preaching at us with puppets and interpretive dance telling us that real life is so much more important than the communicative services we use to make it so wonderful in this day and age.

If you’re sitting on your phone constantly posting at the expense of spending time with loved ones, you obviously need to change your habits. But I have a sneaking suspicion that these people would be doing something else just as lazy and obsessive (video games, watching TV, sleeping even) if they didn’t have a phone/laptop. So maybe when we’re all up in arms about social media taking over our lives we could remember it also enriches our lives a lot too and accept that some people are lazy, and some are annoying, whether it’s on Facebook or in reality.

Learning To Relax Around Naked Germans

The scene of the nakedness...

The scene of the nakedness…

I went to an all girls school in Melbourne and while you might think that would make it a lot more comfortable changing for gym classes and in front of one another, it was quite the opposite. I perfected being able to change a whole outfit without showing an inch of skin to the outside world and I turned my nose up at any girl who showed off her half-naked physique while doing something crazy – like changing into her uniform or coming out from the showers. I don’t want to see another naked girl! What is wrong with her!! My prudish nature continued until my late 20s, with changing after adult gym sessions taking place in the toilets when I couldn’t be bothered to manoeuvre my outfit with the above-learnt process.

Meanwhile, when I moved to Germany and heard about the wonderful-sounding natural spring baths in Wiesbaden, just half an hour away from Frankfurt, I put it at the top of my list to check them out. That was until I found out they were naked ones. ‘I knew someone who wore a bikini in there, and someone actually complained about them because they said it was distracting!’ a German friend told me, as my eyes widened with shock. ‘Everyone is naked and all the men are with the women, that’s the case throughout most of Germany.’

She was certainly right about that, and it was nothing like the spas I had experienced in Australia, where the masseuse hiding her eyes with a towel as I rolled over being the closest another woman had come to seeing me naked. As expected, I found England to be equally prudish about such matters, unless you played cricket with the boys in the country for some reason…

Anyway, my boyfriend found it laughable that I would have a problem with going to a sauna and being sans-clothes around other people. Having grown up in this culture, he is much more comfortable with the whole being naked in public thing. After discussing it for a while I figured maybe it was time to get over my hang-ups about getting my kit off and jump in the deep end; it’s worked before when I’ve been problem solving, why couldn’t it now? So we got a Groupon voucher for the best spa in Frankfurt and headed out to relax and have what was for me a very new experience. When we arrived, everyone was in bikinis. I was entirely confused. But there are sections for clothed people and unclothed people, it was explained, which made me feel a lot more comfortable.

We went for a swim in the clothed pools first and it was really enjoyable – I haven’t really been to a public pool since I was quite young, so experiencing the cool whirlpools, diving board, waterslides and the outdoor pool where you could swim indoors took me back to being a kid again. After an hour or two RZ suggested we go into the more adult area and my heart started to pound.

We went into the changing area, and while he slipped off his shorts with the upmost confidence, I resorted to my school days of taking my bikini off underneath my towel. It wasn’t so easy this time around, with me trying not to make it obvious how uncomfortable I was, but I got there eventually. Never have I been so thankful for a towel in my life – it would become my shield for the next six hours or so whenever I was experiencing feelings from slightly bashful to completely embarrassed.

Having said that, RZ assured me that everyone uses their towel in the sauna. This is fine I thought, I can just chill out in there whenever I’m feeling a little less comfortable with my nakedness! But as it turns out, people take their towels in, lay them out and just sit on them showing off all their best and worst assets. It took me a few hours to become comfortable with that, but by the end of the day I was at the point of happily lying down on my towel with my legs firmly crossed, which I would say is serious progress.

My comfortable-ness came slowly as the day turned into night. Seeing so many different people in all shapes and sizes around me just going about their business naked made the whole process a lot easier as I acclimatised myself.

I’ve grown up only ever seeing photoshopped and skinny pictures of other women naked, so it was quite refreshing to see what real bodies looked like, though I made a huge effort not to stare and to try and, like everyone else, just do my own thing.

We ended the day with a swim in the outdoor heated pool before getting our swimsuits back on and having a hearty schnitzel in the cafeteria for supper. It felt like I’d been on holiday for the day, my skin felt fantastic, and I no longer felt so horribly scared of being around other people with no clothes on. It’s something I definitely want to do again soon and for Christmas both my boyfriend and I gave each other presents involving spa trips.

While I’m not quite at the stage of heading there with my girlfriends or anyone apart from the guy who sees me naked on a normal basis anyway, I certainly feel a lot less inhibited about my body and any issues associated with it, and can see the benefits of relaxing in that feeling. Once again Europe, you have taught me something lovely and new! ;) xx

What I learnt About Europe During My First Eurovision Screening

Last night I fell in love.

Last night I fell in love.

I have a confession to make. I had never watched Eurovision until last night. I had no idea who the acts were who won it in the past (apart from ABBA, though I didn’t know they were on Eurovision), and I didn’t even really know what the structure of the show was, or what was involved. I have a friend who travelled to Europe to see the Eurovision final from Australia and he’s obsessed with it, but when he would talk about it I wouldn’t really pay attention. I’m not a fan of pop competition shows like Idol or The Voice, why would I find this interesting?!

After watching the show from the beginning to the end last night I cannot believe what I have been missing for the last 28 years of my life. The ridiculousness of it all, the glitter and the lights and the creativity, the hilariously weird presenters and how seriously every country takes the voting and all the accusations of political influences and cheating… it’s absolutely amazing! For so many reasons I loved Eurovision and here’s just a few…

- The women are fantastic role models, of all different sizes and body types and showing a much more diverse and interesting picture of a pop star than all the naked ones that keep coming out of America at present. I grew up idolising the likes of The Corrs, Alanis Morrisette and the Spice Girls, and yes Geri Halliwell wore short dresses but you never really noticed it when you were a kid. I do worry for young girls growing up with constant imagery suggesting to them that women must be as naked as ratings will allow and as often as possible to be considered sexy. And excluding Poland on this occasion (laundry porn seemed slightly out of place), 2014 Eurovision offered an alternative style, from beautiful skinny women to tall and short, curvy and big and even men dressed as women. There’s no shame here and that’s something I would love for a possible future daughter to witness and enjoy.

- It certainly improved my geographical knowledge of Europe. San Marino a country? You don’t say! More to add to my travel to do list…

- People might criticise it for being political but last night’s political involvement was all positive from my point of view. With Russia currently making it all the more difficult for gay people to feel comfortable in their own skin, it was great to see viewers protesting with their votes and voices during the show. And Austrian cross-dresser Conchita Wurst winning the contest will help people struggling to deal with their sexuality all over the world feel more comfortable with it and have a role model to look up to. That is bloody fantastic.

Conchita Wurst won the contest last night despite objections from some homophobic countries.

Conchita Wurst won the contest last night despite objections from some homophobic countries.

- I love bubblegum pop, there, I said it!! I had a friend in London who hated all mainstream music and was always trying to convince us to go and see bands that sang about depressing subjects. The way I see it, music is supposed to make you happy. I love listening to pop music because it puts a smile on my face, it makes me thing about one of the most positive and simple things life has to offer – love – and it puts a spring in my step as a result. Coincidentally, said friend was a pretty unhappy person. And probably would detest Eurovision. I know which camp i’d rather be in ;)

- Somehow, without even meaning to care, you get really involved in the results and towards the end you’re insisting you will never watch again if the Netherlands or Sweden or Armenia win. To end up being so enthralled in the result of something I didn’t care about until 2 hours before… they must be doing something right entertainment wise!

- The games that you can play during Eurovision (from the drinking ones to betting and guessing what the judges will say) are almost as much fun as watching the show itself.

So after watching the show I suggested to my boyfriend that we go to the next one. He didn’t particularly like that idea too much. But being able to partake in this European tradition, whether you love it or hate it as a European, made me feel a bigger affinity with this great, strange and wonderfully interesting continent.

 

xx

Visiting Frühlingsfest For The First Time

One of the fairs which Stuttgart is particularly proud of is Frühlingsfest, with the city’s major beer festivals taking place bi-annually as opposed to Munich’s once a year Oktoberfest event. Stuttgart has it’s own version of Oktoberfest in the Autumn too – Cannstatter Volksfest – and my boyfriend made a visit last year while attending an interview for the job he now has. So having been to the last three Oktoberfests and loving every one, for us the prospect of having a similar festival on our doorstep twice a year was pretty exciting. My collection of dirndls continues to grow and with lederhosen for girls becoming more popular it might just include some of that soon too. Oktoberfest to me is everything that’s great about Germany; from the relaxed beer gardens to the party atmosphere, to being able to make your own fun with cheesy English music in the background, it’s a great couple of weeks spent by all. And not to forget the fantastic food and beverages on offer; sorry to say Aussie friends, but it beats any BBQ in the backyard hands down. IMG_3347 IMG_3351 IMG_3353 So we travelled across Stuttgart on Saturday night to the festival feeling particularly excited about what would be on offer; I’d heard it was a younger crowd and obviously it wouldn’t be as big as the Munich version but so long as there is dancing on the tables I’d be happy. My first impressions of the festival were mixed; smoking was allowed in the tents which was probably the biggest downside of the night. For some reason it still seems to be very acceptable in Germany to smoke in public places, and coming from Australia which is at the forefront of getting rid of the deadly habit this still comes as quite a shock to me that so many people smoke in a seemingly well-educated country. That aside though it was definitely much more of a nightclub atmosphere than in Munich with flashing lights playing a big part in the beer tents after the sun went down. There were only three tents which was slightly disappointing but apparently that number rapidly grows for the Autumn festival, and the tents on offer this time around weren’t overly packed. At about 8pm we were able to get into one of the beer tents quite easily while the other two advised us to get there early in the day to either line up for the free tables, or try and purchase a day ticket. Finding a place to sit/stand/dance would prove somewhat more difficult, making getting there early a must in the future, but the party was certainly in full swing as we wondered through with Oktoberfest classic ‘Sweet Caroline’ booming from the band up front.

IMG_3355

The party gets going in one of Stuttgart’s beer tents.

The rides outside the tents were as ridiculously scary-looking as in Munich with every type of torture you could inflict on yourself imaginable. I’m not a big rides fan but RZ is and the prospect of returning here during the week with his work colleagues to give the roller coaster a test drive is certainly appealing for him.

One of the rides takes you through some kind of waterfall backwards and all over the place. I suppose it speeds up the hangover process!

One of the rides takes you through some kind of waterfall backwards and all over the place. I suppose it speeds up the hangover process!

For anyone coming to Germany for a holiday in the spring (end of April to beginning of May), I would definitely recommend giving this festival a go if you’re looking for the Oktoberfest experience of dressing in traditional German gear, drinking good beer, having a plate of chicken and a good old dance on the table. And even in the Autumn I’m told it’s a much cheaper option than it’s more famous brother (a beer is 10 euro with tip in Munich, in Stuttgart it’s 6.80) so it could be worth a visit then as well.

Finding small comforts when nobody speaks your language

After spending three months away from Frankfurt we finally had an opportunity to head back as my boyfriend’s twin cousins celebrated their 18th birthdays. We also took it as an opportunity to go shopping – lots of people in the south of Germany love to head to Frankfurt simply because it has a Primark. It’s something that used to make me laugh a lot as London has one on every corner and they’re really not that special to us, but I shouldn’t have judged so quickly, because just a year after moving to Germany here I was buying almost a full wardrobe of stuff for under 100 euro and feeling pretty good about it as I struggled with the massive ‘Primark’ bags around the city.

Primark is particularly packed on the weekend

Primark is particularly packed on the weekend

Anyway the main point of our trip was to attend the girls’ birthday party, and it was like going back in time to the first day I moved to Germany in Easter last year as we showed up at my boyfriend’s cousins’ house. For the record, no one in his family speak any English and though I’m able to understand some German, they default back to Russian constantly so the language they speak is one that might take me a lifetime to fully understand. Not being able to take part in a conversation for an entire dinner was at one point very daunting for me but now so long as the little things are in place I’m happy.

One thing that needs to be there is food. If I’m sitting there and there’s nothing to do with my hands, nothing to keep busy with, hours feel like days and my head goes around in circles with trying to understand what’s going on and just generally hurting from the confusion. It’s like sitting in a math class in Chinese, when you’re an English humanities student. If they at least give you a pen and paper the time will pass much quicker, trust me.

Secondly I need support from my boyfriend. It’s a funny situation we’ve found ourselves in, and my independent self is screaming at me when I constantly have to ask for help translating, making phone calls, setting up accounts and the list goes on. I’ve never been the type of person to need constant support from my partner at a social gathering – I like to make my own way and talk to people myself. Having to ask him what everyone is talking about, and when he does so much as go to the bathroom I’ll be cut off from the conversations entirely for that time, is tough to get used to. On the flip side though, I know this is only a temporary problem and our relationship is stronger because of it.

It also makes things a lot better when the people I’m around engage me in the conversation, more so than if we all speak the same language. Generally this comes from talking about Australia or my visa, or journalism and sport. RZ’s family are really curious about where I come from and them constantly relaying questions through him makes it feel like I’m a part of the discussions.

Above all though, I need to have patience, and enjoy the company of myself when they go off on a topic that I can’t really take part in and RZ is too distracted to include me. He does forget sometimes to relay things to me, he’s not perfect; and during those times I need to be able to relax and take comfort in my own thoughts without trying too hard to understand something that makes no sense.

It’s certainly been difficult, and wasn’t what I planned on dealing with when I met a partner I would quite like to spend the next 60 or so years with. But the amount of effort everyone constantly goes to to make sure I’m happy and comfortable around them – my boyfriend’s dad actually made a speech during lunch about how they want me to feel a part of the family, insisting every word was translated – and as the vodka flows so to does their confidence in at least attempting to speak some English to me. By the end of the day I had taught them ‘cheers mate’ and we talked lots about the different cultural expectations on us – from the girls insisting they want to have children by 23 and my response of ‘those are the best years of your life! Why waste them!!’ to talking about how my parents feel about RZ and the tradition he probably hates the most about Australia – buying an expensive diamond engagement ring.

One of the things I consider often is how our families will cope with meeting one another for the first time – neither can speak the same language as the other and I can imagine for both myself and RZ translating these conversations will be a challenging process.

We used to double date with his brother and a Russia girl who could speak English but not German, and so between the four of us three spoke English, three German (including myself there) and three Russian.  I’ve learnt so much about language as a whole, and how important facial expressions and miming is to telling a story. I’ve also learnt that just as when meeting a new person, you can tell what they’re like from how they try to get to know you, someone who doesn’t speak your language will either ignore you completely and become frustrated at you stunting the conversation or will make an effort to include you. It’s made for some interesting observations and will certainly make me a better English teacher!

 

xx