After four and a half years here in Germany, I think (hope) I’ve tripped over pretty much every obstacle this crazy, wonderful, bureaucracy-loving land has put in my way. Each time, I picked myself up again, albeit with a muddy face and grazed knees, had a chuckle about the absurdity of it all, and carried on – writing a blog post or two (actually 154 of them) along the way.
Still, I thought, surely there’s a more bump-free way to integrate into German life? (I’m getting contemplative in my old age, you see.) It was around this time that a German colleague approached me with the idea of working on a German-English book together. We toyed with the idea of writing a dual-language storybook but I’m crap at fiction; I find real life is generally much funnier.
So I started thinking about what I would have appreciated when I first moved here, with around four words of the language and a naively optimistic attitude to becoming German. The answer was – a “German in my pocket” – someone who could answer my questions, tell me the right way to say something, and basically just guide me through everything from scaling the wall of bureau-crazy to figuring out which pizza toppings I was ordering. Short of shrinking Germans so people can carry them around with them everywhere, the next best solution seemed to be a book.
So, we’ve written one!
At the moment, we’re adding the finishing touches, making sure everything is “in Ordnung” legally and financially (in case it actually sells) and then it will be formatting time. We’re hoping to publish at the end of this month – I’m working with a German so this will most likely happen. We’ve got 20 chapters, chock-full of useful information, FAQs, useful vocabulary and (hopefully) some entertaining reading.
Now, obviously I’m hi-larious but I thought a nice way to round out the book would be to add some funny anecdotes from other expats here – you know, to show that we all go through the same stuff and (for the most part) survive. And that’s where you come in.
Anything from the red tape madness to everyday adventures; if it’s funny, I’ll find a way to make it fit. All I need is a paragraph or two and the name you’d like to be credited under – this is your big chance to finally be Tallulah rather than Nora or Doris if that’s what your heart desires.
So please, have a think, take a little time to write a few words, and put them in the comments below. If you’re shy, you can send it to me at email@example.com – although surely Germany has knocked any shyness out of you by now.
Making me happy should probably be reward enough but, if your story is included, there might be a few giveaways…
(Note: This is all me and totally unapproved by the German partner so don’t take any giveaways as a given.)
If there’s one thing the Germans seem to love, it’s explaining the obvious. Yep, you might think that your folks did a pretty good job toilet training you all those years ago and that you’ve been using toilets successfully ever since, but that is clearly not good enough for our German friends. Oh sure, they try to educate in “humorous” ways, but really, anyone who puts this amount of thought into the correct usage of toilet facilities is not messing around.
So, hold in that pee until the end of this blog post and you will be rewarded in toilet heaven…
The sign says “All colleagues who don’t have their workplace here in the office, please pay attention to the following instructions from the Board!” The exclamation mark makes it fun…
There is then an entire laminated A4 page of instructions, which, if you actually took the time to read, you’d probably wet yourself. Two things spring to mind: firstly, did the people who do have their workplace in the office get some sort of special training which makes them exempt from reading the instructions? And secondly, did the Board members really take time out of their day to come up with a list of instructions, type them up and then laminate them? If so, that is some classic German efficiency right there.
You might think it goes without saying but never, EVER, pee out of your shoulder while holding your arms out wide. The Germans will not think you’re big or clever and there’s a fair chance you’ll end up peeing on your own hand – serves you right. Instead, perch on the edge of the toilet seat, hold an imaginary book, point your toes towards the ceiling and let rip. At least I think that’s what it means.
It’s no secret that the Germans like a good agenda – so much so, that they’ve even come up with a 5-point agenda for washing your hands. No, you filthy creature, you will not be spreading your dirty viruses on German soil. You will follow the agenda! Put your hands under running water (as opposed to unrunning water?), soap ’em up good and proper for 20 to 30 seconds, also between your fingers, rinse thoroughly and dry your hands with a paper towel. Got it? No? OK, here’s a more simplified version with no words and bigger pictures.
And just in case you’re still a bit confused:
Finally, one thing you’ve probably been using incorrectly all your life, is your toilet brush. Not to worry, the Germans are here to save the day.
No, you silly billy – don’t use it to brush your hair! Ganz falsch!
Toilet paper is used to wipe your Arsch, not a toilet brush! But you’re getting closer…
Ah, there you go! Yes, toilet brush for use on a toilet. Oof, the relief of finally figuring that out. I’d been wondering why my hair always smelled a bit funny.
Thank you, Germany. I’d never have got there without you. And now, dear reader, go forth and pee with Germanic abandon. But remember, not out of your shoulder.
In contemplating the 473,937,493 “easy” steps it would take for me to become a real German, I never imagined that I might need actual steps to complete the journey. Or, at the very least, a stepladder. Yep, it turns out that I may just be too damn short to be a proper German.
Ever helpful, Germany has been throwing some not-so-subtle hints my way for a while now.
1. I can’t reach around two thirds of my flat.
German apartments were clearly not designed for leggily-challenged Irish women. Everything in the kitchen and the bathroom has to reside on the bottom shelves as they’re the only ones I can reach without having to stand on a chair. What lurks on the lofty top shelves will remain a mystery, but the good news is that I only have to clean what I can see. I just have to remember never to invite anyone over who’s taller than me – which could rather limit my social circle here in the land of the German giants.
2. German mirrors mock me.
See that dark speck at the bottom of the mirror? No? Look a bit closer… Got it? That’s me. Or at least the only bit of me I can see in the mirrors in many cafés, bars and restaurants. I have to make sure that I look semi-decent before leaving home because that’s probably the last glimpse of myself I’ll catch all night.
Standing on tiptoes might reveal the top half of my fringe; jumping up and down creates a weird gurning expression that isn’t really conducive to checking if my make-up is OK. It also attracts some rather odd looks from the other women in the bathroom who aren’t Lilliputian and will never understand my short-world problems.
3. Limited limbs
German clothes, it appears, were designed for German people. Go figure. That’s a photo of the sleeve of an XXS jumper. My hand is actually in there – it’s just somewhere around the elbow mark. German trousers make me footless, German jumpers leave me handless and kneeless. The upside is that even if I fail to make it to the gym for a week, I still look tiny thanks to the swathes of German fabric floating around me.
This is all quite compelling evidence but the real kicker came a few days ago. I found myself in the strange and wholly unusual position of actually wanting to cook something. As the only things that are an absolute must in my kitchen are tea, milk and sugar, this would require a trip to the supermarket. I sauntered around picking up what I needed and eventually happened upon the frozen foods section. As everyone who is kitchen-skills-impaired will know, it’s always good to have a back-up pizza in the freezer so I decided to add one to my basket.
Unfortunately for me, freezers in German supermarkets are German-sized and stocked by German-sized Germans. And naturally, the one I wanted was right in the back, packed in tight. I slid across the glass top and leaned in. Nope. Not quite there. I leaned some more. My hand brushed off the edge of the box. Almost…
I hoisted myself onto the edge of the freezer and stretched. Both feet dangling above the floor, I gripped cardboard but couldn’t dislodge the damn thing. Grunting with effort at this stage and vaguely aware of someone standing behind me, I elegantly dismounted and turned around with a “nothing to see here” expression on my face. A slightly bemused-looking (TALL) German man was standing there.
Can I help you?
I answered his chest:
Who? Me? Oh, I’m fine but if you insist… (nonchalant shrug)
He reached into the freezer, smoothly freed my desired pizza and handed it to me.
Erm, thanks. That was a bit embarrassing.
No, no! Not at all! It really was packed in there!
Bloody Germans are so nice. And frickin’ tall.
In conclusion, it seems the one step that might stump me, is the fact that I’m stumpy.
The next morning, I was sitting on the loo, doing my business and minding my own business, when I noticed something rather odd – there was a bench right outside the bathroom window. I sat there, snickering to myself, imagining some garden party guests suddenly showing up and getting an unexpected eyeful. Thankfully, it was a Monday and not exactly garden party season so I figured I’d be safe enough.
Then the garden party showed up. Eight or ten jovial Germans stopped right outside the window, with two men so close they were practically touching the glass. Dear God, please don’t turn around, please don’t turn around. They turned to face each other so now I could see their profiles. Another inch or two and they’d be looking directly at me. I did what any normal person would do in this situation – I stopped praying, snatched up the toilet roll and scuttled, crab-like, over into the corner, where I hoped I could wipe without being watched. I wasn’t quite ready to perform “LO’G Drops a Log” in front of an audience…
Safely back in the kitchen, I had a nerve-calming cup of tea, waited for the party to move on, showered faster than I ever had in my life, and walked into town. After a “not strictly breakfast” breakfast, I made my way to Pauli’s Radshop to rent a bike. Poor Pauli.
After several abortive attempts on a bike with back-pedal coaster brakes…
“Pedal forward! Pedal forward!”
“I’m trying! I’m trying!” (Thump)
…Pauli and I decided that this option was definitely not for me. He found a bike with normal brakes, made it “Linda-sized” and I wobbled around the yard on it a few times. Success.
Next up came the issue of me not being German, therefore, not having everything neatly packed in a bicycle-friendly backpack. Nope, I had a whopping great handbag with me. But not to worry; Pauli was a total pro and had attached a basket to the back of the bike before I could say “rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” (which has absolutely nothing to do with riding a bike – I just thought I’d scare you with a terrifyingly long German word).
After paying my €8 and signing a contract (Germany), I sailed off confidently down the street. Ah, this was great. So much more relaxing and civilised than Berlin – lovely cycle lanes, hardly anyone else on wheels – perfect.
Unfortunately, I was so busy trying to blow falling leaves out of my eyes, I went wrong somewhere and ended up on a main road. Not to worry – the Binzians are sweet, patient folk, I thought. They’ll understand.
Opa thundered by shortly afterwards in his black cab, roaring at me that there was a cycle lane, beeping, and making rather a rude gesture out the window. Sweet old man. Ah yes, what I’d thought was a pavement on the opposite side of the road was actually dual function. I dismounted, wheeled the bike over the road through a couple of ditches and carried on.
Finally, I reached my destination – Prora.
Prora is quite the fascinating place. It was built by the Nazis as a beach resort between 1936 and 1939 – sort of a Nazi Butlins, if you will. The original structure was massive – stretching 4.5 km along the beach front – and was meant to hold up to 20,000 holiday-makers as part of the “Strength through Joy” programme (Kraft durch Freude (KdF)). The idea was that every worker deserved a beach holiday – they’d come here, relax and recuperate, then work harder than ever when their holiday was over.
There’s a documentation centre you can visit where they show a very interesting video on the history of the place, on loop all day, with English subtitles. For obvious reasons, construction was never completed, and since 1945, it’s been used as a Soviet military base, an East German Army restricted military area, a Bundeswehr military technical school, and a refugee centre. Plans to sell the whole structure for development failed so now it’s being sold off to investors bit by bit.
This being Germany, cafés are obviously a priority and so I found myself here.
After a relaxing cake break, it was time to hop on the bike again and back into town. If Pauli was relieved to see that me and the bike were still in one piece, he didn’t show it. I parked up and walked next door to his brother’s fish shop where they sell Glühwein for €1.50 a cup. I also got to sit in my first ever Strandkorb, which I think makes me officially a German.
It seemed that, for once, I was ahead of the German schedule. Four or five couples arrived shortly after me and all asked for Glühwein but it seemed I’d got the last of it – take that, Germans, haha!
After a rather brilliant night out with a fun Italian, two South Africans, and quite possibly the most boring Englishman ever to have lived, I woke up to my last morning in Binz. After a furtive visit to the bathroom, I packed up and braved the gale-force winds and torrential rain to go and get some pastries from the closest bakery.
After a deliciously gooey Schokobrötchen and cup of tea, sadly it was time to leave. My new German mum and dad dropped me to the station to catch the Flixbus. But, of course, it wouldn’t be Binz if there wasn’t one last bit of kink to see me on my way.
Oh, Binz, you weird and wonderful place, I’ll miss you.
The next morning, I woke up full of the joys after the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages. I dawdled around my lovely flat and eventually made my way into town. It was a beautiful, sunny, autumn day and I had to stop myself from singing out loud with happiness at how pretty Binz was in the sunshine.
I made a beeline for a café I’d noticed the day before, in hopes of a nice hearty breakfast.
Me: Hi, can I still order breakfast?
Ute: (looking rather horrified) No, it is too late.
To me, wanting breakfast at 12.30 on a Sunday isn’t unreasonable but then I’m not German. As I looked around the place, I realised that the Germans (who’d probably been up since 5 a.m. and hiked or biked 50 km already) were already on rounds of Aperol Spritz and beer. I had some catching up to do.
Me: OK, I’ll have a Toast Hawaii and a cup of tea. What time does breakfast finish then?
I knew then that I would never eat breakfast in this town.
When my sandwich arrived, I’ll confess to doing a double-take. I looked at Ute for some sign of humour or even the vaguest twinkle in her eye but there was nothing. I stared at what was on my plate.
It was, quite unmistakably (to me at least), a titty toasty. Was there more to this idyllic little town than met the eye? Or perhaps Oma was moonlighting here and had brought a touch of her kink to the Küche? Maybe everyone in Binz had a little kink in them? This might turn out to be the best trip ever, in that case. It was also rather a good sandwich, once I got over the pine-nipple thing.
I had decided that today would be a day of walking so I headed for the promenade and the beach, looking forward to taking some cheerier photos that would do the place justice.
Raging Roland’s not so raging cousin
Some people were a lot braver than I was
I walked along the edge of the water until I came to this rather interesting structure.
According to my extensive (ahem) research, it’s called the Müther-Turm, an old rescue tower (is that the correct English term?) which is now used as an observation tower. Seemingly you can even get married in there. I guess it’s only for quite unpopular couples though as you could only fit a handful of people inside. I still can’t decide if I like it or not. Eye-sore or eye-candy? You decide…
I strolled back along the promenade, admiring the rather spectaculous autumn colours…
…making new friends…
…and having a right old chortle at what is definitely one of the most German signs I’ve ever seen.
I meandered my way back towards the lake along the “Art Mile” where I was (unsurprisingly) accosted by more titties.
After all of the excitement of the afternoon so far, I decided I was definitely ready for a glass of wine before continuing on my journey of discovery.
Unfortunately, I’d missed the German boat yet again. Now that I was ready for an alcoholic beverage, all of the Germans had moved onto Kaffee und Kuchen. Sigh. Can’t keep up with these people.
And you’ll never guess who owned the place…
After relaxing in the sunshine with my book for a little while, I set off again. The lake was also rather gorgeous – like everything else in Binz.
As it was still such a beautiful day, I thought I’d keep going and walk through the woods for a while. Yes, you may call me “Linda Nature von Grady” from now on.
I walked and walked and before I knew it, I was outside the sand sculpture exhibition which I’d been planning to visit the following day. Oh well, as I was there, I decided I may as well go in.
I paid the rather exorbitant €8.50 entrance fee and in I went. The theme this year is “A Journey through the Whole Wide World” and it delivered – even if it was a rather quick journey. I was done in 15 minutes so I went back around a second time to get my money’s worth. While the sculptures were very impressive, I didn’t really feel it was worth €8.50.
On the way out, you could buy a wooden horse’s head for around €10,000 but I figured I could probably buy a real horse’s head for that – if I was so inclined – and kept going.
I headed back into town just in time to catch sunset over the beach…
…and then it was time for food again. As I was eating my dinner, I had the strangest feeling of someone looking over my shoulder but it was OK – it was just a massive arse.
After all of my exertions, I thought an early night was probably in order but, as it was only around 8 o’clock, I thought I’d make a stop at the Rasender Roland restaurant to break the journey home.
Old Roland was just pulling in to his resting place for the night so luckily, the restaurant was still open.
I’d just about finished my first glass of wine and was debating another when my bill was placed in front of me. Huh. Seemingly they were shutting up shop for the night. It was 9.20, after all. Still, from what I’d seen so far in Binz, these two homely-looking ladies were trying to kid the wrong woman. I had visions of them breaking into Roland and taking him on a joyride to the secret Binz Swingers Convention. And I’d lay bets that Oma and Opa are the ringleaders.
Every now and then, I like to get away by myself for a few days.
Mammy O’Grady: Well, you always were a bit odd.
As I’d never been to the German side of the Baltic Sea, I decided that now was as good a time as any to check it out. I settled on Binz on the island of Rügen, picturing myself skipping along the beach in the autumn sunshine, the sea breeze in my hair, or holed up in my flat reading a book while rain lashed against the windows. Either way, I’d be happy.
After a relaxing four-hour journey, the Flixbus rolled into town just after midday. I still had three hours until I could check into my apartment (Germans are usually rather strict about this sort of thing so I didn’t imagine I could rock up early) so I grabbed my suitcase and set off in the drizzle to find somewhere to eat.
After a few minutes, I came across Oma’s Küche; perfect for a wet and windy afternoon.
The waitress told me I could leave my soggy case inside the door and seated me at a cosy table in the corner.
I took this as a sign and ordered a glass of white wine and the potato soup (which naturally came with chunks of sausage). I picked up Oma’s newspaper/menu and started to read. I learned that the place was named for the owner’s granny, a kindly old soul who, even in the middle of the night, would get up to cook something hearty for her beloved grandchildren. Opa started a limousine service with a small fleet of London black cabs and they were in business.
I turned the page to see that children are banned after 5 p.m; it seemed that while Oma would do anything for her own grandkids, she wasn’t so tolerant of other people’s. It came as a bit of a surprise that the menu was peppered with smutty jokes. I mean, children read this – before 5 p.m. obviously. I finished up, paid and went to use the facilities, where I made a new acquaintance.
On my way out, I noticed a sign that I’d missed on the way in.
Men: No shoes, no shirt, no service.
Women: No shirt, free drinks.
Did this place turn into Oma and Opa’s S&M Dungeon after 5 or something? I decided I wouldn’t come back to find out.
I still had a good hour and a half before I could check in, so I thought I’d have a stroll along the main street up to the pier. Despite the gloomy day, I immediately fell in love with Binz. It seemed that every sensibly-clad German in the country had made their way here and they were now happily striding around, rosy-cheeked and colourfully all-weather prepared. The buildings were absolutely gorgeous and the streets were spotless – not even a stray cigarette butt or a hint of graffiti – a far cry from the grime of Berlin.
Just what everyone needs – a bad chemist’s
Classic German Strandkörbe (beach baskets)
I stood on the pier, the wind making my hair stand on end, and mused that if I hired a little boat, I could sail to Latvia from here in around 10 years. Or die a horrible death at sea. I decided the latter would be preferable and turned back to lovely Binz. As I still had a bit of a walk ahead of me, I headed in the direction of where I thought my flat was.
After around 15 minutes, I passed the Kleinbahnhof and was lucky enough to see the famous “Rasender Roland” (Raging Roland) pulling into the station.
I carried on and eventually reached my home for the next three nights.
Along the way I passed my new neighbours…
… and sincerely hoped I wouldn’t be woken up by an errant cock at the crack of dawn.
I was greeted by a jolly older German couple who led me downstairs to the apartment and showed me around. The place was massive – two bedrooms, fully-equipped kitchen, and a gleaming bathroom. It was far too big for just one person but, as it was only €50 a night, I’d decided to go for it anyway. My new German mum collected my “Kurtaxe” (visitor’s tax), explained the rules (because Germany), and presented me with my Kurtaxe card a few minutes later.
I immediately felt right at home. I only hoped that I would have enough chopping boards…
My original plan had been to go to the supermarket, pick up some stuff for the morning and a bottle of wine for the night, drop it off and go out again, but when I realised how far away the supermarkets were, I decided to just go out with my teabags, milk, sugar and (€1.99 from Netto) Chardonnay in a classy Edeka plastic bag.
In a bid to satisfy my craving for sausage, I found a place on the main street that served Nuremberg Rostbratwurst . The waiter was super-friendly, and my food arrived in a matter of minutes.
I was starving after all the walking and maybe the sea air so I devoured it almost as quickly as it had arrived. But, not wanting to head out into the cold night again so soon, I ordered another glass of wine and settled in with my book. The other diners were mostly in and out again in around half an hour – one old lady didn’t even finish her beer, which I think might be against the law in Germany.
I eventually made my way to the promenade for a moonlit saunter. It was a beautiful night – crisp and clear – so I’m not sure how long I walked for. I found myself outside Hotel Dorint, which is normally far too sophisticated a place for the likes of me. My bladder disagreed and in we went – me, my bladder and my Edeka shopping bag. I was pretty sure that I was the only person in the place who had a €1.99 bottle of wine stashed on their person but they didn’t need to know that.
It was just me and a German couple. The man was kissing his dog, which I find rather repellent, but it did provide me with a conversation opener.
Me: What’s his/her name?
Me: Heh heh.
We got chatting and I learned two interesting things:
Dogs aren’t allowed on the beaches in Binz from April to October.
Even dogs have to pay the Kurtaxe.
Me: But that’s crazy! Dogs don’t have jobs! They don’t earn money! How can they pay taxes?!
One of my favourite German dishes is Maultaschen. In case you haven’t heard of them, these are pasta squares filled with minced meat, spinach, breadcrumbs and onions, and flavoured with various herbs and spices. I can only recommend trying them.
Last night, however, I was not eating Maultaschen; I was having a consolation drink with my pub quiz team in cosy HOME Bar after a particularly dismal performance. To cheer everyone up, I told them about my new favourite German word – Sandwichkind (literally, sandwich child). I guess “Malcolm in the Middle” was called “Malcolm is the Filling” in Germany, although I might need a German to corroborate that.
Norbert: Hey, you want to hear another funny thing?
Me: Funny funny or German funny?
Me: OK, go on.
While I was aware that Maultaschen (probably) translates as “mouthofananimalbag”, I hadn’t really given much thought to the origins of this delectable Swabian treat. Clearly I should have for it turns out that the Swabians are tricky, non-God-fearing buggers, as Norbert explained.
Maultaschen are traditionally associated with Lent, which is when all good Christians are encouraged to refrain from eating meat. Like me, the Swabians obviously decided this was a load of nonsense. So they invented Maultaschen, the idea being that because the meat is covered by the pasta dough, God won’t be able to see it. Genius, right? There’s even a Swabian nickname for the dish – Herrgottsbescheißerle – which means “small-God-cheaters”.
Me: Bah haha! That IS funny!
Herr God, if you’re reading this, I made it all up. Can the Swabians and I still go to heaven? We’ll bring you some Maultaschen…
“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