Me: Ugh, I think I’ll sleep for another hour. It shouldn’t take more than five and a half hours to put on a dress.
Manfredas: One would think not.
Me: Grunt. (I hate it that a German sounds more natural using “one” than I do.)
We were being picked up by Manfredas’ boss, Heribert, at 5.30 to go to their company Christmas party. As there would be at least a hundred new people and a hell of a lot of German, I suggested one for “Dutch courage” in the local bar beforehand. Amazingly, Manfredas had never heard of this expression before so I smugly took my leave with four hours and forty-five minutes remaining to put on a dress.
Heribert and his wife, Fraubert (yeah, I know I’m pushing it with that one), were waiting for us so we hopped into the car and I entertained everyone with my charming Germish. Manfredas and I had devised a game called “Spot the Ossi” which we shared with the Berts, neither of whom are East German (Ossi).
The shindig had been organised by Manfredas’ colleague, who is known internally as “The Sheriff”.
Yes, you read that correctly – the party was scheduled to end at 11.59. Not midnight, not 11.58, but 11.59. Germans…
We were greeted by The Sheriff and I craned my neck to get a good look at her over the vast expanse of her yellow outfit; I imagine it was how David must have felt when he met Goliath. (I was David, in case you were wondering.) Our names were checked off a list and we were given name tags, which everyone just loves. We made our way outside to the mulled wine reception.
Me: There’s one.
A woman with hair like blonde candy floss was an obvious first Ossi-spot.
Me: There’s another one.
A woman who had dyed the back of her wall of hair purple was an easy second spot. We mingled a little, with me attempting to be on my best behaviour. The Sheriff soon started herding us towards the main reception room, where the big boss was due to give a welcome speech. We took our seats at the Berts’ table and I restrained myself from commenting (too much) on the phallic festive chocolates.
The Sheriff was given the credit for organising the event and lumbered up to collect a bouquet of flowers. All credit to the woman, she had organised it with military precision and everything went off without a hint of a hitch. The food was amazing – honeyed ham, duck, cod, mushroom ravioli, an extensive salad bar, fresh baguettes, a veritable potato fest, and a choice of desserts with fancy descriptions that defied any logic. “An interpretation of Apfelstrudel”… Anyone?
The endless supply of free wine lubed up my linguistic skills and conversation at our table flowed as easily as the booze. The DJ played a rather bewildering array of tunes and, despite one failed attempt to get our dinner companions to do the YMCA, Manfredas and I had a rollicking good time.
Best of all, at 11.59, the Berts gave us a lift back too, saving us up to two hours on public transport. We finished our night as we had started it, looking fabulously overdressed in our local bar.
I remembered to remove my name tag just in time and avoided looking like a total prat.
In a bid to make a bit of extra cash before Christmas, last week I applied to a school that is approximately 30 seconds from my house; perfect for these cold, dark, winter days. I got a reply and dutifully trotted across the road at 14.50. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. No answer. I called the number and was routed to some central messaging service where, surprise, nobody answered. Slipping in behind a woman who had a key, I made it to the front door of the school, rang several more times and then gave up.
At around 15.10, an unkempt woman with greasy hair and rumpled clothing appeared.
Frau Sau: How did you get in?
Me: A woman had the key.
Frau Sau: Huh.
She opened the door and instructed me to sit down in the hall. No apology then. She went into her office and reappeared with part of her coffee machine, went into the bathroom, filled it with water and went back into her office, all the while looking at me like I was some sort of curious exhibit in a museum.
Finally, I was called in. After the oddest interview ever –
Frau Sau: Do you have the right to work in the EU?
Me: I’m Irish. We’re EU citizens.
Frau Sau: For now…
Frau Sau: This school has been going for years. I don’t know how many.
Frau Sau: Oh. You know more than I do.
– she offered me a group of 5-year-olds as a cover lesson at the end of the week. Now, I have taught kids before but it’s been a long time and even they were 7 or 8.
Me: Hmm. OK…
Frau Sau: Great. So, 15.30 on Friday.
Me: Well, OK but what am I supposed to do with them? Did the regular teacher leave any notes?
Frau Sau: (Blank look)
Me: Or is there a book that they normally use?
Frau Sau: I guess you could try this. It’s in German but pictures are pictures.
Me: Um, OK. What if I want to make copies? Is there another photocopier here? Your office will be locked. (She works from 15.00 – 18.30 every day – poor woman must be exhausted.)
Frau Sau: You’ll just have to make your copies now.
Me: But I don’t know what I’m doing with them yet.
Frau Sau: (Blank look)
Me: Which classroom should I use?
Frau Sau: Any of them.
Frau Sau: Can you sing?
Me: Uh… (putting the book in my bag)
Frau Sau: You can’t take that with you. I’ll leave it out in the hall for you for Friday.
She then proceeded to fill out forms on her computer, making me say everything out loud, despite all of the information being in front of her in my freshly-printed CV and certificates. After that, she took me through the “student database” – a box filled with alphabetically-filed cards. Instead of there being one card for the group with all of the students’ names on it, each student had an individual card which would have to be filled in after the lesson. Sigh.
As I would want to get there earlier than 15.00 having had no tour of the school or any clue what I was doing, she gave me the key to the building – this seemed a bit strange as she really didn’t know me from Adam. Stranger still was that I didn’t need any sort of police background check before working with young children. Then again, maybe German law is different?
I went home and got on Facebook to tell Han how it had gone.
Me: Ugh, I don’t even know what a 5-year-old looks like…
Han: They look awful.
Me: They can smell fear, right?
On Friday at 14.45, I let myself in. I had a wander around the rooms and chose the biggest one. I had planned on doing a lesson on food but changed my mind and decided on parts of the body, mainly because I didn’t want to sing this:
“Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” I could get on board with. I located the one CD player and got set up. At around 15.05, Frau Sau showed up.
Frau Sau: What are you doing with that book?
Me: That’s the book you left out for me.
Frau Sau: But that’s a book for kids.
Me: I’m teaching kids.
Frau Sau: No, you’re teaching school children.
Me: But you said 5-year-olds.
Frau Sau: Must have been a misunderstanding.
Me: (panic) OK, so how old are these kids?
Frau Sau: Oh, from grade blah blah to blah blah.
German grades don’t make much sense to me but this sounded like a big range of ages and levels.
Me: Riiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them? Is there a book?
Frau Sau: No.
Me: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. So what am I supposed to do with them?
Frau Sau: I don’t know. Their homework I guess.
I went back into my room and had a moment of ARRRRGGGGHHHHH. The floor looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” was written.
The “kids” started to show up. I guess they were between 9 and 16, with wildly varying abilities. Some of them had English homework, some didn’t. Some of them had English books, some didn’t. Three of them were actually there to study German.
I got the ones who had English homework started on that and set the others a simple writing task. After about 30 minutes, they were all done.
Wolff: Where are you from?
Gerlinde: Where’s that?
Wolff: (with much eye-rolling) It’s an island near Great Britain. (Sigh. Eye-roll.)
I decided that we may as well play games for the last hour so we whiled away the time with past simple Xs and Os, Hangman and Who Am I? I have no idea who the cool kids know these days but I figured it was a safe bet they’d heard of Donald Trump. I put Heribert standing with his back to the board and wrote Donald Trump on it.
Heribert: Am I a man?
Wolff: I HATE YOU!!!
Heribert: Donald Trump?
5 o’clock rolled around.
Gerlinde: That was so much fun! Are you going to be here on Monday?
Me: No, sorry, it’s just for today.
Me: Nope, sorry!
Me: Yeah, I know.
Hedde: I really like your hair…
They trundled out and I went to the office to find Frau Sau. Naturally, she’d chosen this exact time to disappear. I stood making idle chatter with a parent she’d also left sitting there waiting.
Mutter: (rather ominously) Yeah, I’ve had dealings with Frau Sau before…
Frau Sau reappeared, went into the bathroom without making eye contact with either of us, and then emerged to call me into her office. I started filling out my invoice.
Frau Sau: I need the key back.
Me: (through gritted teeth) Yes, in a minute.
Frau Sau: How did it go?
Me: Yeah, fine. We did their homework and some writing practice and then played some games.
Frau Sau: Oh, there are a load of games in that cupboard. You could have used those.
So I grabbed her by her greasy hair, swung her around a few times and hurled her through the window.
I recently had an interesting conversation with my friend Simone:
Me: I think I might be a weird expat.
Simone: How so?
Me: Whenever someone asks me how often I go home, I look a bit confused and tell them “every evening, same as you” and then I realise what they meant. Do you still think of Germany as home?
Simone: Hmm, tricky question. I feel like parts of me are in different places.
Me: Ha, I feel like all of my parts are in Berlin!
And that’s the truth of it. Of course there are some people that I miss in Ireland, but if I never set foot on Irish soil again, I wouldn’t be any the worse off for it. Maybe I’m being unfair on the Irish but it does seem to be a particularly Irish condition.
Most articles I read by Irish expats see them counting down the days until they’re next back on the Emerald Isle, drinking copious amounts of Barry’s Tea and cooing over some random relative’s new baby. In the meantime, they envelop themselves in a comforting Irish bubble in whatever country they happen to be in, bemoaning the fact that the locals aren’t more “Irish”.
I, meanwhile, am rolling my eyes and feeling faintly nauseous.
But back to the title of the post. I was recently back in Dublin and, while I had a nice couple of days, mostly I was amazed at my total disconnect with the place. So, some reasons I could never live there again:
1. Everything is so expensive
OK, it might seem a bit shallow but everything is such a total rip-off that it turns my stomach. The quality is the same as in Germany (if not worse), yet people are paying at least twice as much.
No, your eyes do not deceive you; that’s €6.75 for a glass of Chardonnay. As far as I’m aware, it didn’t have gold flakes or diamonds in it and I can get a better glass in my local bar in Berlin for €2.80. The “Have your party with us” invitation would probably require remortgaging your house. I didn’t see a bottle in a supermarket for under €9, while here in Berlin, I’ve discovered litre cartons of wine for €0.99 in LIDL. I’m not saying it won’t kill you but it’s nice to have options. And you can always use it as paint stripper – if you survive.
Before you judge me, it’s not just booze. You might find it hard to believe that I’m not this naturally beautiful (ahem) but I do use hair dye. A quick glance in Boots confirmed the worst:
In Rossmann (the equivalent store here), it’s €4.95. I mean, really, what the …? Don’t even get me started on rental prices and childcare costs.
2. Public transport is dire
The weekend before I went back, Manfredas’ dad asked me if I would take the S- or U-Bahn from the airport to my house. He probably wasn’t expecting the guffaw he got in return. You see, in Dublin, we have two overground train options – neither of which go anywhere near each other, the airport, or where I’m from, and buses. Oh, the buses.
Gamely, I thought that I would take the bus from the airport and proceeded to look up my options. Half an hour later, ready to throw my laptop out the window, I decided I would take a taxi.
Ticket prices are based on “stages”, for example, 1-3 stops is one price, 4-13 is a higher price… really, life is too short. Drivers will accept exact change only; there’s no information on the majority of bus stops about where you are, when the next bus is coming or where’s it’s going to, and stop announcements on the bus are helpfully in English and Irish which most Irish people can’t even understand. Jesus, even Riga was streets ahead – there you go Latvians, your long-awaited compliment.
3. Irish people believe their own hype
Ah sure, there’s no place like Ireland for the craic, is there?
If “the craic” means standing around in over-priced bars, unable to hear yourself speak over the self-satisfied roaring of people standing right next to each other raving about how much “craic” everything is, then yes, you’re probably right.
Ah sure, you just can’t beat the Irish, can you?
I probably could. I’d just need a big stick.
Ah sure, there’s no better place in the world really, is there?
You see, everything in Ireland is just brilliant, according to the Irish. That is, when they’re not complaining about how shite everything is. Go figure.
4. The lifestyle
I’ll admit that “silent Sunday” in Germany was a bit of a shock when I first got here. However, after the first few weeks of waking up on a Sunday and realising that I had no food – yet again – I got used to it. I also got used to seeing families out biking, walking or playing in the park together.
Believe it or not, the last Sunday I was in Ireland, it was a glorious day. It was the second week in October and probably one of the last days that people would see blue skies for months. And what were the locals doing? They were walking around shopping centres, glassy-eyed, spending money on things they don’t need, paying for silly rides for their kids, and buying over-priced meals from food courts – probably while talking about how much “craic” they were having.
There are plenty of green spaces around where I grew up, but they’re mainly used as short-cuts to get somewhere else. Unlike in Berlin, there are no barbeque areas, no dog-walking zones, no playgrounds… not even a bench to sit down and read a book on for a while. People rush from over-heated home to over-heated shopping centre. The first thing I did when I got back to Berlin was a bit of good, old-fashioned “lüften”. Ah, the relief.
5. Irish people never shut up
Fionnuala: Oh, blah blah, the weather, blah blah, so-and-so’s wedding, blah blah, state of the economy, blah blah, guess who died, blah blah, so-and-so’s hip replacement, blah blah…
Anyway, it seems I’m being a bit of a hypocrite on the last one as I’ve just gone over 1,000 words. Guess you can take the girl out of Ireland…
Manfredas: Do you fancy a couple of days in Hannover? We’d be staying with my parents…
Me: Oh God.
But I agreed to go; the chance to see a typical German family household with alles in Ordnung trumped my nervousness at having to try to be “normal” in a foreign language for an entire weekend. I made Manfredas stop at a supermarket close to their house so that I could pick up some flowers. I figured that I could at least make a good first impression even if it was going to be all downhill from there.
Me: What kind of flowers does she like?
Manfredas: I dunno. Everything?
We arrived just after sunset and were greeted at the door by Mr and Mrs Manfredas. I needn’t have worried – they couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming. We were ushered into the dining room where Abendbrot (evening bread) was waiting for us. Abendbrot, as far as I can tell, is basically breakfast without the jam and Nutella. Yes Germans, your secret is out…
Me: (eyeing a suspicious-looking grey mass on a plate) What is THAT?
Manfredas: Leberwurst (liver sausage).
I excused myself to go to the bathroom, which was so clean you could have eaten your Leberwurst off the floor. His dad had rigged up a radio to the light switch so it was a very nice, musical pee. I made sure to compliment Mr Manfredas on his ingenuity when I got back downstairs.
After a little more small talk – yes, Germans do that – we were off to visit Manfredas’ friend and his wife. We sat in the “party kitchen”, drank wine and good whiskey and I managed to not come across as a total idiot – I think.
The next morning, after a musical shower and a massive breakfast, we hopped on the U-Bahn to the football stadium where Hannover 96 were playing Sankt Pauli. As the Germans are capable of having ideas, the cost of the trip to and from the stadium is included in the season ticket in a bid to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
The weather was a bit shit but Mrs Manfredas had been nice enough to lend me a practical German raincoat. As we approached security, I prayed that she had no illicit substances in her pockets. Having been briskly frisked and having my phone charger taken off me, we were in. The match was sold out and the atmosphere was buzzing. Sechsundneunzig – immer nett und freundlich. Various chants were being sung and I sung along with what I imagined the right words were.
Me: Are they saying “Ole asshole”?
Manfredas: Ha, NEIN! “Ole HSV!” (pronounced like “Ha ess fow” in German so an easy mistake to make…)
Hannover won 2-0 in the end and the stadium was a testament to what simple creatures men really are.
We met up with another of Manfredas’ friends on the way out and proceeded to the Hannover version of Oktoberfest. It was a bit like Las Vegas on steroids.
We managed to stick the noise and drunkenness for one drink and then walked to the old city to find somewhere a bit more civilised. The German love of sausage appears to be strong in Hannover.
Manfredas brought me to Gosch, which is where the Hannover wannabes hang out. I looked a little out of place amid the primped and preened ladies in my over-sized red raincoat, jeans and trainers but it’s Germany so nobody really cares. Still, I wanted to find somewhere a little more “me” (i.e. dodgy) so we left after one.
Walking past a bar where women with partially shaved heads and tattooed necks were roaring out the window at some poor bloke on a bike, I decided we’d found it.
We stayed for as long as I could bear listening to the Hannover Hyena laughing toothily at everything I said and then went for a bite to eat.
Sunday morning was sunny and warm and, when I got downstairs, Manfredas and his dad were sitting in the garden putting the world to rights. I decided there and then that my mission in life was to become a German pensioner – these people know how to live.
After another huge breakfast, Manfredas, his dad and I took a stroll to the nearby Blauer See, not five minutes from the house. Of course, this being Germany, there was also a beer garden.
Manfredas: Do you want something to drink?
Manfredas: My dad’s going to have a beer.
Me: OK then, I’ll have a glass of wine.
It was 11.55.
We sat and chilled for an hour or so, sunning ourselves and enjoying the peace and quiet. I made witty conversation – in my head – and Manfredas and his dad pretended that what I said in reality was actually correct German.
We all went for a delicious lunch in a Croatian restaurant and then it was time to pack up and get on the Autobahn back to Berlin.
I can’t say how the Manfredases felt about me, but I’m a huge fan of theirs. From the moment I arrived, I “felt myself at home” as the Germans would say – the musical bathroom was just a bonus.
we were on the road again, this time to Fürstenfeldbruck, described online as a “German rural district” – but there was method to my rural madness. I was finally, FINALLY, going to meet Simone of “Lady of the Cakes” fame! There’s always something a bit odd about telling people that you’ve got this great friend that you’ve never actually met in person, so I was happy to be able to rectify this bloggy problem. I also had the good sense to snap a couple of cake shots so I’d make a good first impression (four years later).
Simone chose the Romantik Hotel as our meeting point – don’t worry, she didn’t try to jump my bones – and when we arrived, there she was, sitting at a table in a beautiful courtyard. She had brought her brother along, I guess as protection in case Manfredas and I turned out to be psychos.
Disappointingly, neither of them was dressed in traditional Bavarian garb, but we managed to have a lovely time anyway. Manfredas summed it up nicely afterwards saying it was like watching two old friends who just hadn’t seen each other in a few months catching up, rather than two people who’d never met before in their lives. And, as you would expect, Simone chose somewhere with delicious food…
Sadly, after a couple of hours, it was time to say goodbye and hit the road again. I think Simone was probably relieved to see the back of me as I was struggling to hold in the yodels at that point. After a brief stop in Dinkelsbühl, which is just as cute and dinky as it sounds:
we drove to our final destination of the trip – Rothenburg ob der Tauber – arriving just before sunset. Rothenburg has long been on my list of places to visit, being a medieval town with flower-covered, half-timbered houses lining the pretty cobbled streets. We dropped off the car and our bags and hit the town walls for a sunset stroll.
At this stage, we were pretty hungry again, so we found a likely-looking spot in the town centre and refuelled on Flammkuchen – and wine. Unfortunately, all of the outdoor seating areas shut down really early because of the residents so we decided to head back to the rooftop terrace of our hotel to watch the stars with a bottle of wine instead.
Rothenburg market square
So much meat…
The next morning turned out to be a glorious day, providing the perfect backdrop to this gorgeous town.
I even managed a dungeon escape…
Against my better judgement, I agreed to climb to the top of the Town Hall, which promised spectacular views over the city and surrounds.
To say the stairs are precarious would be an understatement and all of my leg muscles were screaming by the time we reached the top – which turned out not to be the top at all. No, after a grinning man relieves puffing, red-faced you of €2, you have to haul yourself up the remaining steps, through a trapdoor and out onto a 1-foot wide ledge. The views were well worth it though.
If I had thought getting out there was bad, getting back in again was ten times worse. Manfredas – bless him – had to take my bag as I tried to angle myself to squeeze back into the gap and down the ladder backwards, with handles roughly the size of staples to hang onto. With sweaty hands, this was NOT easy.
Me: How many people have died doing that?
Grinning man: None. 700-year-old fitness studio.
After the most-deserved glass of wine ever, it was time to drive back to Berlin.
To sum up – lakes, castles, mountains, The Sound of Music, amazing food and wine, yodelling, beautiful towns and cities, meeting a blogging buddy, countless border crossings, a “mad” king, flowers, flowers, flowers, trick fountains, great company that doesn’t mind me singing and shouting “ROAD TRIP!” sporadically, ladies’ bottoms and a sex gag machine – if there’s a better way to spend a trip, I can’t think of it.
If you’re wondering why we chose to stay in a random little pocket of Austria, the answer is that Heiterwang is just a 20-minute drive from the world-famous Neuschwanstein Palace, but with much friendlier prices than on the German side of the border.
Unfortunately, the fabulous weather we’d be enjoying had come to an abrupt end, and we drove there through torrential rain under an angry, cloudy sky. But, even in crappy weather, the palace doesn’t fail to impress.
The only way to see the inside is on a guided tour and thankfully we’d reserved tickets as the queues were insane. They advise you to get there an hour before your tour time – with good reason. On a nice day, there was a chance we might have walked up there but with the rain still coming down by the bucketful, we decided to take the bus instead.
The ride is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Winding roads, steep drops and a driver with a lead foot on the accelerator. Still, we made it to the top in one piece.
There’s still a pretty steep walk up from the bus stop, and you have to battle your way through oblivious Japanese tourists. (Signs in the town are actually in Japanese, too.) But we made it with around 20 minutes to spare before our tour, which meant a 20-minute stand in the rain as you can’t get in until your designated time.
Tour group number 464 was herded through and then 465 was called. Our tour guide was a German girl with a love of using continuous tenses for everything. There was also a rather annoying man who roared translations at the rest of his party who clearly couldn’t understand a word of English.
The tour itself was underwhelming and took just 25 minutes in total. It felt a bit like being on a factory conveyor belt. Only around a third of the interior is furnished as all work stopped after the mysterious death of “Mad” King Ludwig at the age of 40. And while it was interesting enough to hear the details of some of the craftsmanship – it took 14 carpenters 4 years just to make the bed – it could have been so much better. When you’ve got a character like Ludwig on your hands, an entertaining tour should pretty much write itself. As it was, it was a bit like the “bad sex” of palace tours – in, out… Huh, was that it?
We left the palace and walked through the drizzle to Marienbrücke.
If you have a fear of heights, I would definitely not recommend this but the bridge is where you get the “money shot” of Neuschwanstein so it’s worth braving it.
We got the bus back down and hopped into the car again. With the day still being but a pup, we decided to make it a Ludwig-themed one and go check out Linderhof as well.
Manfredas: If you see anything you want to take a photo of, just yell “stop”.
Me: Cool, O… Jesus Christ! STOP!
We had arrived at Plansee.
I’d been impressed by some of the other lakes we’d seen, but this one literally made my jaw drop. The weather had cleared up a bit and the reflection of the mountains in the water was nothing short of heavenly. We proceeded to drive for around a minute, stop again, jump out, take a photo, drive for another minute, stop, take a photo… This went on for some time and it is now clear to me that Manfredas has the patience of a saint.
Me: Where are we?
Manfredas: Well, we just passed … so we’re about 5 minutes from …
Me: No, no, I mean which country are we in?
This was around the 4th time we’d crossed the Austrian-German border that day so hopefully you’ll understand my stupidity.
By the time we made it to Linderhof, the palace was closed for the day but we were kind of palaced out anyway so we were content to just wander around the gardens for a while. This was the only palace that Ludwig lived to see completed and I reckon he must have been pretty pleased with it. It’s almost as nice as my flat.
With the gardens, he attempted to recreate Versailles but, as I’ve never been, I can’t really say if he succeeded. They certainly are very, very pretty though.
I think I would have liked old Ludwig if I’d met him. After Wagner met him for the first time he said, “He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world”. People say that about me all the time too…
After all of the touristy madness of the day, it was a relief to get back to our quiet little town, settle on the balcony with a glass of wine and listen to me mooing and baaing away. After that got tired, we headed back to Sunnawirt for more delicious food and pan piping.
There wasn’t any yodelling that night as Paul was a bit worse for wear, having been on the red wine for God knows how many hours. Instead, we got a private tour of the rooms from his wife which was great. If I’m ever back Heiterwang way, I’d definitely try to stay there.
As we were on the road again the next morning, we had to call it a night – but not before I yodelled all the way back.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain