Category Archives: Food

Adventures in Alsace (3)

One of the things you must do when in this part of the world is take a trip to Haut Koenigsbourg castle. The road up there is a bit of a roller coaster with sharp turns, steep drops and mad people hiking, cycling and jogging to the top. Having me singing “I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation…” at the top of my voice in your ear will make the whole experience even more enjoyable.

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg

We parked the car and walked to the castle, stopping to take photos every couple of seconds. The views over the Rhine Valley from this vantage point are nothing short of spectacular.

On the way back, we took a spin to Colmar but, it being Sunday, practically everything was shut due to the French doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday – or any other random day.

DSC00851

Still, we had more important things to think about. Ireland and Germany were playing that afternoon and we had to hightail it back to Ribeauvillé to find somewhere to watch the matches. In Berlin, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Every bar, restaurant, café and even Döner stand has a TV set up so you don’t miss a minute of the action. The only place we could find that was showing it was Bar Streng, our saviour yet again.

Allez!
Allez!

We made it just in time for kick-off, ordered some wine and settled in for the afternoon. The French were out in full force to cheer on the home team and cries of “Allez les bleus!” rang out from every corner. I waited for a pause before loudly interjecting, “Allez les garçons en vert!!” After a brief stunned silence, the French took it in their stride and some good-natured banter sprang up. I guess they knew that the Irish were never going to be any real threat… Sure enough, they won it with relative ease and I didn’t have to take on a bar of angry French football fans. Phew.

If this had been Ireland or Germany, the bar would have been packed for hours afterwards, but the French cleared out tout de suite. In fact, by the time Germany kicked off, there was only me, Manfredas and one other guy left. Still, we didn’t need much company to enjoy watching Germany hammer Slovakia. At least one of my home teams was through.

Since the town was pretty dead, we picked up some takeaway and headed back to our little garden for a chilled evening of wine and conversation. I must be getting old.

The next morning, we found the one patisserie that was open – maybe the French had continued celebrating in their own homes? – and popped in for breakfast.

DSC00862

I ordered a pain au chocolat and a cup of tea and Manfredas, a coffee and a couple of croissants. This was clearly too complicated for the girl behind the counter. She proceeded to painstakingly write everything down, longhand, then look up the prices for each item and add them up on her piece of paper, carrying the one wherever necessary. While it was a little embarrassing to watch, we got our order in the end.

Yum :)
Yum 🙂

On the agenda for our last day was a trip to Kaysersberg, another ridiculously pretty town not far away.

The French are pretty chilled about road safety
The French are pretty chilled about road safety

We passed through glorious countryside along the way and finally rolled into town about an hour later.

Pretty, pretty
Pretty, pretty

We spent a wonderful few hours strolling through the town, marvelling, yet again, that places like this still exist.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sadly, after some lunch, it was time to hit the road and head back to the airport. But, not without accomplishing one of my dreams along the way. Yes, we stopped in the baddest of all the BAD towns – Baden Baden.

BAD hotel :)
BAD hotel 🙂

The town itself is quite lovely but the crowning moment for me was this one:

BADASS!
BADASS!

Merriment achieved, it was time to head to the airport. Karlsruhe-Baden Baden is probably the only airport I’ve been to where there were no queues and you could practically sit on the runway while enjoying a last glass of wine.

Note the extraordinarily relaxed man in the hammock
Note the extraordinarily relaxed man in the hammock

Thankfully, this time round, our flight existed and we were soon airborne, waving goodbye to all of the prettiness below and wondering how we were ever going to readjust to being back in Berlin…

A bientôt!
A bientôt!

We coped.

Advertisements

The BAD little town that’s so good (2)

I woke up on Easter Sunday to another beautiful day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, a cock… was crowing in the distance, and I was awake at 9am – unheard of.

I cheerily hummed my way across the yard to the breakfast room, where Herr Scherr was playing the host with the most. While I was shambling around trying to locate spoons, napkins and tea, he presented me with a surprise gift.

What a lovely gesture!
What a lovely gesture!

I wanted to grab him by his manly German braces and plant a smacker on him, but his Russian wife could have been lurking nearby and that could have meant big trouble. Instead, I asked him for a pot of tea.

After dining like a queen and taking a shower, I popped back over to Herr Scherr to enquire about renting a bike for the day. He said he’d meet me outside the garage in around 10 minutes which, in German time, meant a minute and a half. He unlocked one of the garages to reveal a range of bicycles, choosing one that he thought would be a good fit for me. After hammering on the saddle a bit to lower it even further, I hopped on.

My bike
My bike – a ridiculous €2.50 for the day

I wobbled around the yard a couple of times in front of him, he told me to have fun, probably mentally wrote the bike off, and I was on my merry way.

I didn’t have any real plan; I was just going to cycle around as much of the lake as I could manage. I am what the Germans refer to as a “Schönwetter-Radfahrer” so I was a bit out of practice and had no desire to kill myself on such a lovely day. I cycled towards the lake, where the Germans were out in force doing what Germans do best – walking, running, biking, eating, and drinking beer, though usually not all at the same time.

The man on the right is demonstrating how to get into the perfect sitzpinkelling position...
The man on the right is demonstrating how to get into the perfect sitzpinkelling position…

In case you hadn’t gathered from the previous post, BAD Saarow and Scharmützelsee are rather beautiful. In fact, it was hard to stay on my bike for any amount of time as I kept on jumping off to take photos of pretty things, which was virtually everything. The houses dotted around the lake are so cute, it’s hard to believe people actually live in them.

But the absolute winner had to be…

How cool is that?!
How cool is that?!

I cycled on and on, proud of myself for not having fallen off or killed anyone. There were cycle lanes most of the way and it was pretty flat so this wasn’t really much of an achievement. Eventually, hunger started gnawing at me so I began keeping an eye out for a likely establishment. After a while, I happened upon the charming Café Dorsch.

DSC00218

I nabbed the last remaining outdoor table, ordered soup and a glass of wine, enjoyed the sun on my face and took in the view.

Could be worse...
Could be worse…

It was in the bathroom after lunch that I realised one leg of my tracksuit bottoms was still tucked into my sock but it was a bit late to do anything about it at that stage.

With my legs complaining only a little, it was time to head back to town, with a few photo stops thrown in along the way. It was lucky I was by myself as I’m not sure anyone else would have had the patience for all the hopping on and off I was doing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once back, I noticed a small beach that I’d somehow missed before. I sat down at the beach-side café, taking the only table that wasn’t reserved.

DSC00226
At the beach – in March…

As the soup had only half-filled a gap, I decided to order some Apfelstrudel and a cup of tea.

That would definitely finish the gap off.
That would definitely finish the gap off.

With the sky starting to cloud over a bit, I hauled my strudelled butt back onto the bike, wondering if I should now have a sign that said “Wide Load”. After a nap in the comfiest bed ever, it was time to eat – again. As I was still belching garlic from the night before, more garlic was out of the question so I opted for the pork medallions and croquettes in mushroom sauce.

Another massive feed
Another massive feed

If Herr Scherr was surprised that I was still alive and that the bike was still in one piece, he Germanically didn’t show it. Back in my room, I poured a glass of wine and settled in for a night of fiddling about with the photos I’d taken. My phone vibrating made me jump. It was Fireman Sam.

Fireman Sam: Do you want to meet up?

Me: Ugh, I’m so full and so lazy.

Fireman Sam: I’ll be at your hotel in ten minutes.

Me: Urgh. (Belch) 

I put on some perfume to try to mask the garlic, onion, pork and mushroom aroma and walked outside. There he was. Now, if you think I’m mad for getting into a car with a virtual stranger, don’t worry – he was a German virtual stranger. I knew I’d be safe as houses.

He drove to the lake and we spent a lovely hour or so walking around in the moonlight, watching the lights reflecting off the water. I spoke bad German, he spoke good German and we somehow made it work.

All in all, the perfect end to the perfect weekend.

Battle of the bags

I have recently begun to embrace the German love of discount supermarket shopping. This is more due to my financial situation than any particular desire to shop at discount stores, but whatever the reason, I figure it’s probably bringing me one step closer to being a “real” German.

Before I moved to Germany, I’d never set foot in an Aldi or Lidl in my life. This is partly because, in Dublin, they’re usually in slightly awkward locations and I would have needed my own transport to get there. The other reason is that I’m a bit fancy and I didn’t much like the idea of picking stuff up off crates instead of shelves. Despite my poor long-suffering parents trying to convince me that the quality of the products was just the same, I remained unconvinced.

Fast forward to my move to Berlin. Oh, I tried to maintain my fancy ways and started off by shopping at Kaisers and REWE, much to the horror of my equally long-suffering German flatmates. Within a few months, however, with my income dwindling, the time had come to get down, dirty and frill-free.

No frills shopping. Shudder.
No frills shopping. Shudder.

Before embarking on this low-cost adventure, I had been wondering why other foreigners make such a big deal about the speed of shop assistants here. Now I think I’ve got it figured out – the cheaper the supermarket, the faster the shop assistant. If Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves had been faced with a Lidl shop assistant instead of a maniac with a bomb, they would have failed miserably in their endeavours. Just like I do pretty much every time.

Oh, every time I go, I think that I’m mentally prepared. “This time”, I say to myself, “I’ll be the Gewinner and you can suck it, Lidl Lady.” And every time, I become an even bigger Geloser.

As I get nearer the top of the queue, I can feel my heart start to race. When I’m three or four people back, I get into a fighting stance and open my backpack. The noise of the dividers clacking off each other as the shop assistant flings them along the side of the conveyor belt sets my nerves on edge. Finally, I make it to the top of the queue.

Lidl Lady: Guten Morgen.

Me: (Eyes narrowing) Hallo…

The theme tune to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” starts playing in my head as we eye each other. And then we’re off.

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep – her hands are a blur as she tosses my items onto the tiny metal space at the end of the belt. I panic and start throwing stuff into my bag, forgetting that bread should be at the top, and instead crushing it with a litre of milk and a bag of potatoes. But there’s no time to worry about that now – she’s finished beeping stuff through and the metal shelf is still full. She’s holding my onions in one hand and my shampoo in the other until I clear some more space.

Sweating, I cram in a few more items with one hand, while frantically searching for my wallet with the other. Lidl Lady is looking at me like I’m a simpleton, while all of the Germans in the queue are tapping their feet, drumming their fingers, and wondering how they’re going to make up for this lost 45 seconds.

I tap in my PIN number, growing redder by the second until it’s unclear where my tomatoes end and my face begins. They get rammed into the backpack as well. They’re already more purée than solid food, but the important thing is that they are IN THERE and I’m almost ready to go.

Quashing the urge to have a little cry, I swing my backpack onto my back, force out an airy “Tschüss!”, and defiantly swagger towards the door, tomato juice dripping down my back.

The Germans are probably tutting behind me, but I don’t care. I’ve just bought enough food to last me the week (and enough wine to last me for around two days) for the bargain price of just over €12. So, I’ll be back, Lidl Lady, oh yes, I’ll be back. And one day, one day, I will be victorious.

 

Doing Dresden (Part two)

After bidding farewell to the new Mrs Miserychopsski, I hit the pretty streets of Dresden again.

20150214_142008[1]

More "wow"
More “wow”

You may have heard of Dresden as the birthplace of PEGIDA, and yes, this is true. However, I did see something along my way that gave me hope that at least some people there are a little more open-minded.

20150214_142233[1]It was just a shame there were only around six of them…

Next on the list of must-sees in Dresden is the Frauenkirche. Unfortunately, the interior was closed to the public on that particular afternoon, but the exterior was pretty impressive. Built in the 18th century, the church was completely destroyed in World War Two (like pretty much everything else in Dresden). However, that didn’t stop the Germans and they rebuilt it after the reunification of Germany. Again, I think they did rather a nice job…

Not bad, eh?
Not bad, eh?

Shiny happy Germans were out in droves. That’s the nice thing about the Germans – even if it’s freezing, as soon as the sun comes out, they’re instantly out and about. I guess this is what keeps the wolf from Jack Wolfskin’s door.

Bubbly Germans
Bubbly Germans

However, much as I admire the Germans’ hardiness, I’m just an Irish pussy at the end of the day, and my hair was starting to resemble that of those trolls you used to stick on the end of your pencils. That meant one thing – it was time for tea and cake. Indoors. I found a nice café and ordered my typical black tea with milk and a Dresdener Eierschecke, which Google helpfully translates as an egg “spotted bull”.

20150214_150803Despite being a little bland, it filled a gap, and after all…

20150214_163345[1]This gave me enough energy for a final stroll just as the sun was about to set over Dresden.

I made my way over the bridge and back into new town as it was definitely wine o’clock at this stage. I found a cute little bar called “Bottoms Up” and had a couple of glasses of wine before heading back to the apartment for a nap. I set my alarm for 8pm and in spite of the high-pitched singing of my host and the incessant bird music she was playing, I managed to fall into a deep sleep. A little too deep. When I opened my eyes again, it was 1.57am. I briefly toyed with the idea of going out anyway, but for once, common sense won out and I slept again until 9am the next morning. I must be getting old.

I could hear the sound of birdsong in the next room but wasn’t really in the mood for conversation, so I sent the bird lady a quick text to see if it was OK to leave my stuff in the room for the day.

“Of cornelia it is OK.”, which shows that even Germans fall foul of predictive text once in a while.

I really wanted to do a boat tour, but unfortunately, I was early – by a month. So I hopped on the sightseeing bus tour instead as I had to get to the Blaues Wunder bridge but had no idea how to get there. (This time I’d asked Dietmar – Mr Germany – about what I should see BEFORE I went…)

The tour was quite interesting even though I’d already walked a lot of where we visited the day before. Still, it was good to get some more facts and figures, information about the total destruction of the city, the beauty of its rebuilding and news of upcoming festivals and celebrations. On a whim, I decided to jump off at Großer Garten, a baroque style park. There had been a wall around it at one point, in a bid to stop any “common hussy” from wandering in, but that was gone now so this common hussy made the most of it.

20150215_130823[1]Although everything was a little bleak-looking at this time of year, there were some definite signs that spring is on the way.

20150215_131048[1]20150215_132311[1]The park is home to the Dresden Zoo, the children’s railway and the Botanical Gardens, but I only had to time have a walk around the Summer Palace and lake.

Apart from the random rollerblader who chose that moment to stop and check her phone, I was very impressed. And I could only imagine how much more beautiful it is in summer.

After another half hour or so on the bus, we finally pulled up at the Blaues Wunder bridge – “Blue Wonder”, but maybe they should have called it “Blue Steel”? While I’ve seen prettier bridges, the surroundings were absolutely lovely. Three palaces on a hill overlook the Elbe as it flows under the Blue Wonder, and this suburb of Dresden had more than a little fairy tale feel about it as well.

See what I mean?

Cute or creepy?
Cute or creepy?

All too soon, however, it was time for a final glass of wine before getting the bus back to Berlin. Unfortunately, the sun never did come out the second day, but I’m looking forward to visiting again in summer. Unless they rebuild the “common hussy” wall, that is.

 

Let loose in Leipzig (Part one)

The problem with Berlin is that it’s just too much fun. Not that that’s much of a problem most of the time; it just makes leaving it, even for a short time, very difficult. However, I’m determined to start seeing a little bit more of the country over the next few months, and until the summer, this will probably take the form of some day trips, or weekend breaks.

First on the list was Leipzig and amazingly, I made it there last Sunday, only one day later than originally scheduled. (Blame Friday night for that one.) At 9.15, the bus rolled up at Alexanderplatz, our tickets were checked by the jovial driver, and at 9.30 on the dot, we were off.

Unfortunately, this is where I fail a little as a “travel writer”. I’d love to give you a flowery description of the scenic landscape we passed but I fell asleep and only woke up as we hit the outskirts of Leipzig. Instead I’ll say that there were probably some fields and trees and villages and let you visualise that in all its stunning glory…

Done? OK, moving on. After a 2.5 hour nap, there’s nothing I like more than a good feed so I took a stroll into the city centre in search of food. It was dry, if a little overcast, but I figured if it stayed like that all day, I would be pretty lucky, this being the end of January and all. My second breakfast decision was made as soon as I noticed an option on the chalkboard outside Central Café…

20150125_121931[1]Because, you know, sometimes you just have to…

Am I right?
Am I right?

The café was cute and cosy, and the service friendly and efficient. To my delight, they had Flammkuchen on the menu, so I ordered that, a cup of tea, and a white wine – because I was on holiday.

Though a little on the small side, the Flammkuchen was delicious and everything was going down a treat – until I noticed the couple sitting not far from me. Every time she spoke, he stared so intensely and lovingly at her lips, I thought he was going to eat her. It was slightly off-putting to say the least. Luckily, the drunkest man in the world walked in at that point and I kept myself entertained with the thought that he’d have to pick up his breakfast with his face, as his arms were firmly bound behind his back in the jacket he was struggling to take off. As I was leaving they were playing the song, “Lick my neck, my back, my pussy and my crack…”, which I thought was a little inappropriate for Sunday brunch but hey, this is Germany.

Unfortunately, the Leipziger I’d met in the queue for the loo at a hippie/hipster (who knows?) commune the weekend before had bailed on me, so I was on my own on the mean streets of Leipzig. I managed to take one cheery sunny photo before the sleet/hail/snow/rain that would last the rest of the day kicked in.

Sun. In Germany. In January.
Sun. In Germany. In January.

Leipzig is yet another of those cities that is dubbed the “mini-insert random city here” – in this case, “mini-Paris”. But don’t judge me – it was Goethe who said it first, back in his student days at Leipzig University. For a relatively small city, Leipzig actually packs quite a punch on the famous dead guy scene – Johann Sebastian Bach was a choirmaster here, Mozart and Mendelssohn both performed here, and Wagner was born here in 1813.

I first passed Nikolaikirche, but there was a service going on at the time and I’m banned from those now so I couldn’t go in.

20150125_121309[1]

In the absence of my hippie/hipster buddy, I’d printed out a page from the Frommer’s website which said that one of the best things to do in Leipzig was explore the Art Nouveau arcades that thread the old part of the city. As that sounded warm, I was convinced.

20150125_121556[1]

The most impressive of these passageways, by far, is the Mädler Mall, adorned with chandeliers, and home to the famous Auerbachs Keller, the setting for one of the scenes in Goethe’s Faust. Sculptures of some of the characters pique your curiosity about visiting the restaurant downstairs.

A quick look at the price-list, however, confirmed that I would not be eating there. Maybe it was cheaper in Goethe’s day.

I exited into the market square, which was market free on that day, but still very pretty, even in the gloom.

20150125_135427[1] 20150125_135601[1]

The Old Town Hall is now home to the City History Museum, so I made a mental note to come back and visit a bit later, and carried on. I was not disappointed.

20150125_135856[1]

YES! It was just what I’d always wanted! A shop selling eyes – and more! Thankfully, it was Sunday and the shop was closed. Otherwise I fear I would have purchased a load of eyes I really have no use for – and possibly more. Thank you Germany for your sensible Sunday shop closures.

Part two coming soon… (unless the Leipzig Tourist Board stops me)

As happy as a pig in shit

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally cracked the German language. It turns out it’s not as difficult as everyone makes out either.

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Germans really love pork – in fact, they eat approximately 0.15kg of pork a day. Therefore, I guess it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that so many porky expressions permeate the language.

So now, instead of spending years trying to learn the vagaries of the German language, I’ve decided to communicate mainly through the use of piggy expressions.

Elvis the Pig has been helping me with my extensive research.
Elvis the Pig has been helping me with my extensive research.

Here are my top eight pig-related German expressions (or, to be more correct, the only eight I know).

8. Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei

Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. Pretty self-explanatory and quite profound in a porky sort of way.

7. Unter aller Sau

The literal translation of this one would be “under all pig (or sow)”, which doesn’t really make much sense to the average English speaker. However, when you imagine what usually lies  under all pigs, then it starts to become a little clearer. I guess you could translate it as “everything is in total shit or chaos” – something Germans do not like.

6. Ich habe die Schnauze voll

I believe the original version of this one was “Ich habe die Nase voll” but, naturally, the Germans had to porkify it. And so, “I have the full nose” became “I have the full snout”, which does not mean that your nose is blocked. No, it means that you’ve had enough of something.

5. Eierlegendewollmilchsau

Ah, one of those brilliant German compound nouns, but what on earth does it mean? Translating it doesn’t provide much help either – an egg-laying wool milk sow.

???

???
German engineering gone mad?

I can’t even think of an English equivalent for this one but the basic idea is that you’ve got one animal that can lay eggs, grow wool, produce milk, and even give you bacon and sausages. So, for example, if someone is asking you to do more work than you can cope with, you could yell, “For God’s sake! I’m not an egg-laying wool milk sow! There’s only so much I can do!” At least I think that’s how you could use it…

4. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift

Literally, “I think my pig is whistling.” Obviously, pigs don’t normally whistle, not even German pigs, so this one expresses great surprise.

3. Der Kummerspeck

Grief bacon. Initially a bit of an oxymoron to me as bacon induces anything but grief in me. More accurately, it’s the excess weight that you gain from comfort eating in times of heartache. (Snigger.)

2. Es ist mir Wurst

If you translate it word for word, it means “It is to me total sausage”, or to put it into words that people can understand, it means “I don’t care about this at all”.

Combining Irish and German culture
Combining Irish and German culture

And my absolute, all-time favourite:

1. Jetzt geht es um die Wurst

Or “Now it gets about the sausage”, which means “Now it’s time to get serious” or “It’s now or never”. As I’ve mentioned before, Germans take their sausages very seriously so if a German says this to you, you might want to start running.

So, you’ve seen my top eight porky German idioms, but maybe you’re struggling to see how I could get by communicating through porky idioms alone. Well, for example, imagine that I’m breaking up with my imaginary German boyfriend. This is how that conversation could go:

Me: I have a full snout. It’s over.

Dagobert: But why? We’re so good together, baby! 

Me: Everything has an end. Only the sausage has two. 

Dagobert: But I don’t want this to end! 

Me: Huh. Our relationship is under all pig. I think you know that.

Dagobert: But I thought everything was perfect! 

Me: You expect too much. I’m not an egg-laying wool milk sow, you know. 

Dagobert: I think my pig is whistling. I wasn’t expecting this.

Me: It’s all sausage to me. 

Dagobert: But why now??

Me: Now it gets about the sausage.

Dagobert: But, but…

Me: Oh, just leave me in peace. I need to get my grief bacon on. 

Hopefully it’s now clear how my new approach to German language-learning will work. Or maybe I’m just throwing my pearls before swine?

The image of the egg-laying wool milk sow was taken from here.

Non, je ne regrette rien

Or whatever that is in German.

After the last few drama-filled weeks, you’d be forgiven for wondering if I’m regretting my decision to move to Berlin. If so, you’d be nuts. A little drama never killed anybody. It’s perfectly possible that psychotic Swedes did, but, fortunately for me and my blood pressure, I’m out of that situation now.

Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn't boil you.
Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn’t boil you.

So, why don’t I regret moving to Berlin? Well, aside from a psychotic Swede, a horny Hermann and an insane registration system, Berlin is fantastic. Most days I have to pinch myself to make myself believe that I’m actually living in one of my favourite cities in the world.

Even Queenie likes it.
Even Queenie likes it.

Here are just some of the reasons I’m happy I moved from Latvia to Germany (or Berlin, for those who insist that Berlin is Berlin, and not “real” Germany).

  • German drivers don’t act like they want to kill you.
  • German pedestrians don’t act like they want to kill you, either.
  • Germans are not as punctual as you might think. This is, in fact, rather annoying but it’s nice to know that Germans aren’t as perfect as everyone thinks they are. They do, however, treat long distance bus journeys in much the same way as they treat sun loungers in Majorca. On a recent trip to Hamburg, I arrived fifteen minutes early for the bus. I got on and thought that all of the seats were empty. Silly me. No, the Germans had probably got there at 4am, left their jackets and snacks, and gone home to bed for a few hours.
  • Even homeless people have high standards. I started teaching at one of the major banks in Berlin last Monday. The student was late (sigh), so I waited in the ATM vestibule. While I was phoning the school trying to find out where my student was, I woke up a young woman who had been sleeping behind the ATM machines. “Have you got €20 for me?” “€20??? No, I don’t.” “But you just took out money.” “Yeah, for me, not you.” I waited outside after that.
  • The fashion. Or lack thereof. I’m pretty sure you could dance down the street naked in Berlin and nobody would bat an eyelid. On one of the rare occasions I’ve seen someone wearing heels, it was a dude. Refreshing after all of the falsity in Latvia.
His 'n' hers lovely sensible German footwear
His ‘n’ hers lovely sensible German footwear
  • German people are friendly and helpful. No, it’s really true. They strike up conversations with total strangers on public transport; they help people with heavy suitcases. In fact, I think I’ve had more help from the few Germans I’ve met over the last four or five weeks than I had from the Latvians in four years. I don’t know where the cold, unsmiling German stereotype comes from, but nothing could be further from the truth.
  • German people are amazingly sociable. While I hear rumours that Germans like rummaging about in the forest for mushrooms, I haven’t seen that in person. What I have seen is every café and bar (and that’s a lot) full to the brim with shiny happy Germans holding hands talking and laughing like it’s the most normal thing in the world – which it is.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
  • Germans aren’t shy about drinking on the streets. In Latvia, when you see somebody walking around with a beer in their hand, they’re usually the lowest of the low. Here, it’s the same as walking around with a bottle of water.
  • Germans work. And I mean WORK. There’s no faffing about. You will never see five or six Germans standing around looking at a hole in the ground the way you would in Latvia (or Ireland). They’re there to do a job, and they do it. In Latvia, a bar maid will grunt at you because you’ve interrupted her Youtube marathon. In Germany, a bar maid will come running from wiping down tables, sweeping floors, emptying ashtrays… they just don’t stop.
  • In Germany, if something is shit (and really, there aren’t that many things), you get the feeling that people are trying to improve it. Latvians would rather bitch and moan and, ideally, blame the Russians. (I doubt I’ll live long enough to see this change.)
  • Pretty much everything is cheaper in Berlin.
  • Food – oh wow, the food. First of all, you don’t have to pick your way through 254 mouldy onions in supermarkets to find the one good one – everything is shiny and fresh. The quality of everything is just better. And the variety – you can buy pretty much anything you want in the supermarkets, and I don’t think there’s a single cuisine that’s not taken care of in the restaurant market.
  • They have English bacon, Irish cheddar AND Heinz baked beans. Now I won’t need to bring back an extra suitcase from Ireland at Christmas. I have access to everything I need.
  • I don’t need to wipe down toilet seats everywhere I go. German women pee like women, not like dogs. However, one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the German “poo shelf”. Why anyone would want to examine their poo that closely is beyond me.
Dear god, why?
Dear god, why?
  •  I’m now living with two very hot German women – proof that not all German women are complete munters. And, more importantly, they’re über nice.
They even put sweets on my pillow - all together now, AWWWWW
They even put sweets on my pillow – all together now, AWWWWW

So, do I regret leaving Latvia? Not for a second.