Things You Should Know about Germany

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You’d think that Germany wouldn’t be so different from living in, say, Britain. But actually, there are loads of little things that are quite unique to Germany that take some time getting used to.

A lot of these may be Frankfurt based, but some can be applied to all of Germany, so if you’re planning to come and visit or if you’re moving to Germany in the near future, these may be of use to you!

1. Shops shut on Sundays.

You may not think that this will affect you so much, but as someone who works full time, I’d love to be able to spread my shopping errands over Saturday and Sunday. Some handy info, though – shops that are in train stations and airports are still OK to be open on Sundays!

2. Germans are ok.

“Oh, you live in Germany? I bet those Germans get on your nerves!!”

Sigh. No, German people aren’t all humourless control freaks who throw towels everywhere to mark their territory.

German people have such dry, dark humour they’re hilarious. Anyone who thinks they take themselves too seriously should take a look at the German satire magazine Titanic. As for the towels…if anyone thought Brits they met abroad (especially in places like Mallorca or Ibiza) represented the average British person, I’d cry myself to sleep every night. But I think most people see Brits on holiday as one set of people, and British people in general as another. And so you should do the same with Germans. And perhaps Russians (for they are a pain when they’re on holiday too).

Take this from someone who lives with 4 very different German people – Germans are great.

3. Lots of pork.

Do you like pork? Awesome. You’ll get it with everything, even things which do not usually contain pork will have pork in.

4. Safe, on the whole.

One of the things that surprises me about Germany is how trusting they are of passers-by. When I lived in my old flat, there was some construction going nearby and the building materials were just left out in the open overnight. If that was England, they’d be stolen right away.

At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall, so that it would be very easy to just stand out of sight and take something. But no one does. I doubt the thought goes through the German mind that this is a thing that might happen.

Germans always say that Frankfurt is really dangerous, but mostly it’s drug or corporate crime that bumps up the stats. There was a guy who got shot near to my flat but that was just a rare thing.

Saying that, I have known of a few people who fell victim to pick pocketers, so if you do come to Frankfurt, don’t let your guard down. As long as you use common sense, you should be as safe as in any major city.

5. Buying things from outside Europe

You need to buy a certain thing. You look on Amazon, and find a seller selling that thing. Awesome. Only, they are not in Europe.

When that thing is sent to you, the chances are, it’ll be sent through the zollamt – customs office – and that will be nothing but a huge headache.

Anecdote 1 – I move from Japan to Germany, send two suitcases with heavy books and winter clothes to my new home by boat. I have to go to the zollamt to open the cases myself so they can check what’s inside them, then pay about 10 euros per case in taxes/fees before I can have my belongings.

Anecdote 2 – I can’t find anyone in Europe selling the game Apples to Apples so I bought one from America through ebay. It was sent to the zollamt and, when asked if this was something I’d bought or whether it was a gift, I gave the wrong answer and said that it was something I’d bought and so had to pay 20 euros in taxes. ALWAYS SAY IT WAS A GIFT.

It’s even worse because the zollamt in Frankfurt is really out of the way and not easy to get to. If the thing you’re picking up is heavy or difficult to carry, you’re going to struggle.

6. Rules in the contract

Whether it’s a job contract of a contract for your home, be sure to read – or have someone help you read – it all the way through. Germans take their contracts very seriously, and I almost got into trouble for not knowing my rental contract all the way through when I wanted to move.

7. Insurance

Germans love insurance – and you’ll need it! Home insurance as well as rental insurance are a must for expats!

8. Journeymen

You’re sat in a German restaurant, full from your mountain of pork and making your way through your 7th bucket of beer. When all of a sudden some young men dressed in a weird way enter and start Germaning really fast – maybe as a poem or a song? Then they come round to each table with their hand out, asking for money. What’s going on?!

They are most likely to be carpenters on their “waltz” - men wanting to go into these professions have to spend 2 or 3 years on the road traveling from town to town relying on the kindness of others. Some may be looking for a place to stay in exchange for them fixing broken things in the home, but most seem to be looking for extra euros.

In my 2.5 years in Frankfurt I’d say I’ve seen journeymen about 3 times now – and that’s from a person who rarely goes out eating in German places!

9. Religion

Are you Christian? If you say so when you register as living in Germany, then you will have to give a certain % of your salary to the church each month. It’s not a lot, but is something to think about just in case you put christianity down as your default reply.

10. Germany is awesome for expats

German people are awesome, it’s illegal for you to work more than 10 hours, workers’ rights are great…there are so many reasons why you can easily make a comfy life here in Germany. Plus, they’re the strongest economy in Europe – so that’s also reassuring!

Is there anything I’ve forgotten on my list? What do you think people should know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Brittany has written a post about things you should know about living in Bavaria – it’s a really great post so check it out!

Transport in Frankfurt

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Last night on my way home from having some drinks with some friends, I planned out this blog post about transport. I feel I have to go through with it now or the tipsy me from last night would be sad. Besides, I rarely know what do write on the weekends since I always get a massive dip in the amount of people who come to read this blog. The numbers game doesn’t affect me much (ok, I lied) but I’d rather not put my heart and soul into a post to only have a fraction of the people I usually get reading it.

I’ve already posted a little about how trains work here in Germany, as well as some bad things that may happen when you ride them. But here’s a list of other things that you may like to know about traveling in Frankfurt.

1. There are weird people on trains.

I think that Frankfurt is just an open air funny farm because there are so many strange people around. Most of the time it just makes for interesting stories but occasionally it’s pretty annoying and/or scary. The other day I caught the S Bahn train from Niederrad to go back to the main station and I was stood by the door listening to some music. I noticed a man sat nearby who was waving his arms around…I took an earphone out to listen to see if he was in trouble or something but he was shouting at me! It was in German but I understood that he was explaining how much money he would pay to have me, and saying that I probably have lots of young men around me. It was pretty intimidating and the train ride seemed to go on for ever. There were people – including a train company worker and one of my colleagues – around but no one really did anything. It would have been nice for someone to at least come and stand by me or block the man’s view of me.

2. Beware of escalators.

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This escalator is special, because it goes both up and down! (You can tell by the triangle on the right.) You are basically in a race with the people at the other end because if they get on first you have to use the stairs. It happened to tipsy me last night only I was the winner and shouted an apology to the lads who had to take the stairs. HA. 

3. Sometimes trams don’t go where you thought they’d go.

Probably the most annoying thing about Frankfurt is when you get on a tram and think you’re going somewhere but then they take a different turn and you end up in a completely different part of town. 80% of the time the driver will “GERMAN GERMAN GERMAN” and you’ll see all the people groan and get off and so you’ll work it out. But the other day I didn’t hear the GERMAN GERMAN GERMAN over my earphones and no one grumbled and got out so I was stuck on there until I could get to a place with a train station.

4. If the tram is cancelled, taxis around you become free.

It’s only happened to me once. The trams were frozen to the tracks (don’t EVER let a German person tell you that in Germany they are sorted with the seasons and the public transport network never breaks down in the snow!!) and I was trying to get home from work. Suddenly loads of taxis turned up and they said they they’d take me to the nearest working tram stop for free. Awesome!

5. There is no logic to ticket checking.

There are machines upstairs in train stations and you’re expected to buy a ticket (or a monthly ticket) before you go down to the platform. There are random checks to see if people bought tickets or not but there is no easy way to cheat the system as the timing and placement of these people is completely random. On the way home last night a woman on the train told me she had no ticket and asked whether she could ride with me (you can take one person with you if you have a monthly ticket) but as I was getting off at the next stop, she asked whether I knew if the people would come check. I replied in better than normal German (thanks, beers) and told her that I don’t think they’d come around so late at night but it’s probably not worth risking it.

So that’s my funny little post about travel in Frankfurt. Are there funny quirks about traveling about where you are?

Memrise – Language Learning

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Since I seem to love signing up to language learning websites and then never using them again, I signed up to Memrise ages ago, used it once and then never went back. After meeting up with a friend who now uses the site on a daily basis, I was persuaded to give it another go…and I’m pretty hooked!

So here’s how it works. You choose various courses that are split up into levels. Each course is a list of vocab that you will memorise – not with sentences though, like in Duolingo.

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Each item of vocab is presented with various “mems” – prompts to remind you of the word. If you don’t like any of the mems already made, you can create your own, but I find that there are often really excellent ones already so there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

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Here is another great example. When I learn languages I often use a similar method to remember vocab so this fits perfectly with my learning style.

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After you have picked a mem and studied your vocab, you are given ways to input the words – by word selection and by typing the words out. Sadly caps and special letters are not taken into account so it’s easy to get a little lazy when typing the words in.

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What I really like, though, is that if you get a word wrong, it makes you copy the word down so you can commit the spelling (or in my case, gender) to memory a lot better.

When you start to study a word, you “plant” it into your brain and are encouraged to water the plants on a regular basis. Then you can plant more and more words until you have turned the whole vocab list into a beautiful garden!

I’m finding this to be a great way to learn German vocab (as well as brush up on forgotten Japanese) while only spending 20 mins or so a day on it. Of course, if you get obsessed with the leaderboard then you have to spend a lot more time on there ;)

If there are any other Memrise users out there then add me as a friend – my username is Sherbet. Let me know what you think of the site if you have used it before!

A Walk Down Kaiserstraße

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Ever since I moved to this area, I’ve begun to really like the area around the main station. It’s up and coming, full of new restaurants and shops, and has its fair share of bohemian residents like myself. Sure, there are a few druggies at the bottom of the road, and the Rewe is probably best left to the homeless, but it’s a safe place to live, regardless.

I decided to take a walk up most of Kaiserstraße and show you some of my favourite places. Perhaps I can teach someone something new!

The Back Factory bakery is new at the end of the street. With my gluten allergy, I have no need to try it out. But it seems to be popular! My flatmates and I were hoping it was going to be an Alnatura shop but alas…

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This “call shop” is one of the many places where you can buy second hand phone hardware, but they also fix broken phones pretty well. When I bricked my jailbroken iPhone, they fixed it for me for a pretty good price.

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One of the two hostels on the street. It’s usually full of stag parties and/or hen dos, but I hear it’s a pretty nice place to stay.

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Not that I recommend going with O2 in Germany, if you need someone who speaks English, this little O2 shop has always been a reliable source of English speaking service regarding mobiles. The service is still German standard though ;)

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There are a number of sex shops along Kaiserstraße, Dr Muller being one of them. I think it caters to gay people – or that’s what I suppose from the window displays of mannequins with huge penis shapes poking out of their trunks…

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Here’s a handy German tip – German banks can only exchange European money (or so they tell me) and so you have to go to specialist places like Exchange above to get your holiday money if it’s not Euros. This is the only place I have found that will exchange stuff, and they gave me a decent rate on my yen, then again on my rupees for India. They aren’t open at the weekend, though. So if anyone knows of a more convenient place then do let me know!

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Mabi is another new addition to the street – it’s a vegetarian, vegan and gluten free snack shop. Surprisingly, it’s not so popular yet. It’s mostly empty every time I go by, but the owner is such a lovely American lady, and their food is pretty good too -

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The lady said that they have a lot more recipes coming so I think their shelves will be fuller later. Their cakes are pretty good too. I like the choco banana cake, but the green lime pie has avocado in it so make sure you read the ingredients before you buy!!

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Dolly Busters is, I think, the cross dressing sex shop. You see the most gorgeous transexuals coming out of their side door. I can never help but stare because they are more woman than I will ever be!

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There’s a lot going on here! Firstly, top left – Frankfurt’s scientology chapter. Then we have Bagel Brothers, which make pretty decent bagels (though I think Coffee Fellows’ are much yummier – worth eating gluten for!) Then down this street are a few places I really like. The first is Samurai Sushi, which I think is the best sushi in town. There is a Turkish (?) restaurant before that, whose hummus I really want to try out some time. At the end of the street on the left is Lam Freres, a French-Vietnamese place. I’ve been just once before and it was really good. A great place for a date, since they have great shared meals.

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Last on my list of interesting places is this simit shop. If you have been to Turkey and love their bready snack, you can get your fix right here in Frankfurt! I like their coffee sign, which explains all the different types of coffee. Pretty handy for someone who has no idea like myself!!

I hope you likes my mini tour of Kaiserstraße! If there are any places you like that I’ve not mentioned, then please let me know in the comments!

Cafe Charivari

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The other week my boyfriend had a gig in Bornheim and so while I waited for him to do his soundcheck, I found a nice cafe nearby. I’d been to Cafe Charivari before, on a warm evening last summer. They have a side garden tot he left which is simply beautiful at night.

I ordered an Indian chai and was happy to see that it came with warm cream and honey – usually they’ll just give it to you all ready made so it’s not the right level of sweetness for me.

I find that in Frankfurt when you order tea you’ll get one of two types of drink; a cup of hot water and a packaged (and cheap) tea bag, or some Kusumi tea. Neither of these options are worth 3 or 4 euros, so I was really happy to see the range of cheap tea they had at Charivari. Take a look! -

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On the menu was also homemade quiche which I’d like to try out some time, as well as a few other dinner options.

When the weather warms up I think you’ll find me here a lot more often. I simply can’t resist a sparkly garden and a good cup of tea!!

Find Cafe Charivari at Berger Straße 99, 60316 Frankfurt am Main

Spring in Frankfurt!

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Spring is a good time in Frankfurt. The dark days of winter are finally over and the Germans start to very VERY VERY excited about things. One of the things they like to get excited about is spargel – asparagus. You would not believe how excited these white sticks make the locals…

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This was the area outside department store Galeria this morning – a man on a mic, lots of official veggie people, SO many people crowding round to get their hands on asparagus… and a bored sound man eating a sausage sandwich.

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But this is what we came for – the green sauce festival! Green sauce is a big thing here in Frankfurt and so we wanted to check out the festival dedicated to this herby, eggy sauce.

There is a closed off section that I think wasn’t open when we went. There are a handful of stalls outside, though, with 3 different green sauces to try with eggs, potatoes and sausages. Sushi circle have some special green sauce themed sushi variaties (none of which are vegetarian friendly) so there are a few things to check out there!

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Our potatoes, eggs and sauce was so yummy we forgot to take a photo before we dug in! The sauce was pretty sweet and creamy. I much prefer it when it’s chunky and herby but it was still very yummy! The festival is lasting through to next weekend so check it out at the Roßmarkt in Frankfurt!

Frohsinn – Afternoon Tea?

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I’d been past Frohsinn a few times and seen that they do afternoon tea with scones and stuff, but I hadn’t really been moved to go in. However, some people on Facebook were asking for placed where they could have afternoon tea and I mentioned it and one thing lead to another so before long we were 12 strangers sat drinking tea together!

I say “tea”…I am beginning to get very tired of everywhere in Frankfurt either charging 5 euros for a cup of hot water and a packaged tea bag, or (like this place) being limited to Kusumi tea. Kusumi branded tea is ok. But it’s certainly not worth the price tag that comes with it, nor is it anything very special.

The scones were good and seemed freshly baked, but the sandwiches were kind of hard and there were no choices for them so you were stuck with fish and meat in them even if you are vegetarian.

More than anything, the service was TERRIBLE. Really bad. We got the tea and food we ordered a full hour after having ordered it, and the waitress was really difficult to deal with, too.

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What saves Frohsinn, though, is the incredible decor they have going on there. There is this random picture of the queen but the whole place was lovely inside. It seemed that the other food on the menu was very good – and another lady in my party said that she’d had some lovely chicken there so I guess it’s worth another go.

I think the jury is still out on Frohsinn…if any of you have been there then please do let me know!

You can find Frohsinn at Börsenstraße 14 60313 Frankfurt am Main, just behind Galeria.

A Trip To Würzburg

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So, the homestay that I had so looked forward to didn’t go so well. I went to the woman’s house on the Monday and explained that I understand a lot of German, I just don’t have the confidence to reply. I said I wanted a German environment so I could learn to reply in German.

We sat and had some lunch together, where she spoke mainly in English. Then we did some studying, though she was keen on me to sit and memorise grammar. I don’t care about grammar at all – I want to absorb it, not study it. She asked me to read to her from my book, then we went for a walk where she spoke in English again.

When we got back I explained that this wasn’t for me. I wasn’t so explicit, but there was too much English and I wasn’t feeling good about my ability with her. The week was meant to boost my confidence, not make me feel worse. So I left and went back home. I felt really really crappy about it, and was pretty much close to tears because I felt like I’d failed. However, I spent the week studying hard and I even went for a day trip to Würzburg! My wonderful friend gave me a day’s homestay and it was lovely. Her mum cooked me some AMAZING food (above) and we spoke in German all day.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the day. I hope you enjoy them!

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This shows how Mary fell pregnant while remaining a virgin – God told her and then impregnated her through her ear!! How random!

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It was a lovely day. I could have spent a lot more time there. The region is known for its wine so if you happen to go there be sure to check it out!

Brunch at Lokalbahnhof

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I was complaining for ages that I’d not been to this popular brunch spot and then I went twice in two weeks! I’d heard amazing things about Lokalbahnhof’s brunch – I’d been there in the evening and though the music is a tad too loud, it’s a really quirky, slightly hipstery place (and you know those are my favourite kinds of places).

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I can’t remember how much the brunch actually was and it doesn’t list it on the website but I think it was something like 12 euros, no drinks included. There were breads and cold meats and some sausages and eggs. There was enough for vegetarian people to eat, and kinda enough for wheat free people like myself to eat (though I did take a croissant…) There was also a fresh waffle maker (above).

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They even had Frankfurt “favourites” like handkäse for you to try!

I think this brunch was ok. I honestly don’t think it deserves all the raving people do about it – Merianbad Cafe is just as nice food-wise and has a lot more selection and order-your-own eggs. For Lokalbahnhof you NEED to book – especially if your group is bigger than 2 people. The boyfriend and I managed to get seated without one on Easter Sunday but normally I think it’s pretty much impossible. When I went with a group of friends, we had a table booked for 10 people but they don’t put a table aside for you, just estimate when people are going to be done around that time. So in the end we waited for a while and then were given a table that only 8 people could fit at – luckily 2 people didn’t show up.

If you want brunch near to old Sachsenhausen then this is a good place to check out. If you are able to get into town, there are much better options. But if you really do want to try it here, you can find Lokalbahnhof at Darmstädter Landstr. 14, 60594 Frankfurt am Main.

How to Survive in Primark

Primark is a wonderful Irish invention; a shop that sells very very cheap clothes for those who have no sweat-shop related social conscience. You can buy t-shirts for 4 euros, jeans for 8 and a dress for that party you wanted to go to for less than 20. It was my savior at uni – I could be dressed fashionably AND have enough money to buy ridic expensive Japanese textbooks!

Then I came to Frankfurt. Frankfurt has CRAP shopping. Seriously, if you are visiting here and want to spend the day shopping, save your time and money and just don’t. There is a Primark up in a shopping centre in the north and it was nice to make a day trip there once every few months and just buy EVERYTHING – because it was the closest thing to home fashion as I could get. But now there is a new Primark that opened on Frankfurt high street and so you can’t shop there anymore because every spotty teenager from Dornbusch to Darmstadt will have the same items.

BUT since I know a lot of people here are new to Primark, I will tell you as a Primark pro how to work your way around these battlefields.

Rule number 1 – Only bring with you fellow Primark warriors.

Got kids? Nope, try for Primark at 10am on a week day. Leave your boyfriend/husband/non-shopper at home because children and stragglers will only get kicked to the side when all the serious shopping starts. They will get in your way, they will get in my way. We will all be sad.

Rule number 2 – Don’t try it on.

Are you seriously going to wait in that queue for 40 minutes to try on a top that costs 12 euros? Buy it, and if it doesn’t fit, take it back. Or, go at 10am on a weekday.

Rule number 3 – Don’t make it more difficult for staff.

In terms of hardcore levels, you have your That-Guy-Who-Jumped-Out-The-Rockets, you have your Chuck Norris’. Then you have Primark staff. They cannot just throw down their baskets and say “I’m outta here” when the Primarkers get crazy – they HAVE to be there. So even though you picked that Mickey Mouse t-shirt from a mountain, don’t just throw it on the floor after you’ve opened it to see what the rest of Mickey’s face looks like – attempt to fold it and put it back where it should be.

Rule number 4 – This is a battle ground.

Your buggy is in my way. I will move it to the side politely because it’s in my way. You yourself are in my way. I will put my hand on your shoulder and ask you politely to let me past. We are all in each others’ ways. But let’s not be dicks about it, ok? We are not heathens! Let’s not ram past or send each other flying or huff and puff when you can’t get past. After all, we are all here for the love of cheap fashion. And that is a glorious love to have.

Rule number 5 – Don’t be Those Primark People.

You know Those Primark People. Usually a small group of girls or young women, they’ve filled their baskets up want to assess their purchases and maybe try a few things on. So they set up camp in the corner, building a small wall of clothes around them so that no one can get by, and they sort their clothes out, and try on anything they want to try on. Look…this is annoying. You’re blocking a load of clothes, you’re blocking the way, you’re being stupid. If you don’t like something, don’t put it into your basket. Simple as that.

So there we have it – my top Primark tips. If any fellow Primark warriors happen to be reading this and have some tips, please do let me know in the comments!