Meg + Dan’s Weekend in Würzburg

Just a few days after my parents packed up for home, my sister and brother-in-law arrived!  Megan and Dan stayed with us in Würzburg for 4-days before setting off to Spain and England.  We had splendid weather for their visit and Würzburg was busy with weekend activity.  We showed them a few of the local sights:  the Residenz, Festung Marienberg, and the Rococo Gardens in Veitshöchheim.

We spent the weekend relaxing at the Stadtstrand “city beach”, biking, eating, drinking, and dancing ’til dawn. These two bring fun and lightheartedness wherever they go!

Below: The pedestrian bridge– Alte Mainbrücke ; Relaxing at Wurzburg city beach

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We ate at a few of our favorite places, including pizzas at Locanda.  Dan and Meg are beer aficionados and like to sample —  they ordered a Doppelbock from the Franconian brewery Keiler.

Yup, that is half of a pizza!

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We ate Würzburger bratwurst in the Marktplatz on Saturday morning and scoped out the weekend activity, a rubber duck river race for charity.

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We rented bikes for the day from the local bike shop and peddled along the Main river.  We passed through Veitshöchheima village not far from us where the Schönborn Bishop-Princes built their Summer Residenz and Rococo gardens in the 18th C.   Afterwards, a biergarten.

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… And a little bit of Eis.

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Late in the day we walked up to the fortress grounds to lookout over the city.  We brought one of the wines we enjoy from the vineyards around Würzburg,  Consilium Silvaner.

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We introduced Meg and Dan to the Döner kebab sandwich shop in our neighborhood.   Two more converts who are puzzled as to why savory Turkish-style street food has never made it to the USA Midwest. Someone please open a dang Döner shop!

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Back with our feet in the sand at the Stadtstrand – the city beach, followed by a delicious dinner at our preferred spot for Fränkisch regional cuisine, Alte Mainmühle. Mmm, lecker!

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What a great weekend! Thanks to Dan and Megan for spending a few days with us, wonderful memories, and for sharing many of these great photos!

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Two Weeks in Germany with A+A

My parents visited for two weeks at the beginning of May.  It was their second visit to Germany; the first was for their honeymoon in 1979. At that time they stayed in Heidelberg with friends who took them sightseeing in the Alps, to Munich, and across the villages of Bavaria.

Afterwards my grandparents charted my parent’s travels, (as well as their own) on a road map of Germany.  The map was dusted off and given to us to record our journeys when we moved, and Derek and I unpacked it to see where they had been.

Their route had missed the Franconian cities of  Würzburg, Nuremberg, and Bamberg — We were excited to show them some ‘new’ sights in the region of Bavaria where we have been living. We also planned a 4-day getaway to the Rheingau and Mittelrhein (also known as the “Romantic Rhine” ) to take in the wine, scenery and half-timber villages.

Here is a selection of photos from their visit!

 

Würzburg 

My parents first visit to Germany was in the month of November (’79), so they were enthusiastic about a return trip in the Spring. Soon after their arrival they were charmed by Würzburg for all of the reasons we enjoy it.  The trees and flowers had bloomed and the biergartens and outdoor cafés  were newly open for the season.  Everyone seemed to be outdoors and the city was at its loveliest.

We showed them the sights of the city: the Residenz (a renaissance palace built by the Würzburg prince-bishops) and Festung Marienberg (the medieval defensive fortress of the city).  We biked along the Main River and stopped at the villages of Veitshöchheim and Sommerhausen.   We ate plenty of Wurst and traditional Franconian food and drank Würzburg wine and introduced my dad to a few of the local beers!

Below:  The Würzburg Residenz and garden;  and the wall of Festung Marienberg

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Nuremberg

Their trip spanned May 1, which is a national holiday in Germany and a day-off of work for Derek.  We all took an hour train to spend the day in Nuremberg which continues to be one of my favorite cities. Nuremberg is a unique city for visitors; the Gothic architecture of the Altstadt is quite impressive and different from other German cities, and a world-away from the cities of the American midwest.

A day in Nuremberg wouldn’t be complete (for us) without some rain. The damp, moody skies set an appropriate tone for this city.  We visited St Lorenz Cathedral (a must-see) and walked along the covered city wall of the Kaiserberg, the 11th C fortress. And we drank Nuremberg beer and ate the city’s specialty sausage, Drei im Weckla “Three in a Bun”.

Below:  Nuremberg Altstadt and Albrecht Durer Square

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Lunch in Mainz

The next morning we packed the car and left for the Rheingau, a Riesling wine region near the city of Mainz.  It was a hazy, bright Saturday so we stopped for lunch and walked through the market where people were out buying produce and sampling the fresh wines of the season.  Mainz had been beckoning us for some time and our quick stop encouraged us to return.  The city has a museum dedicated to the Gutenberg press, the typesetting technology that created the first printed book (the Bible) and the city became a place where the mass-production of books was possible.

Below:  Mainz Cathedral and Market square

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4-Days on the Rhine River

Our destination was Hattenheim, a quiet wine village on the Rhine. We rented a cottage that was once a horse stable belonging to the Hessian state winery.  Our host told us how she had restored the property as a guesthouse. The space was perfect for the four of us– cozy and comfortable and an ideal base for day trips to villages along the River.

The lure of the Rheingau is that it is the center of Riesling wine region.  We stayed in an area where winemaking has been present for at least a thousand years.  We wandered to the village’s wine garden where you can bring a picnic and order glasses of fresh local wine and sit by the river.

The Riesling wines that we knew of before our visit were sweet, sparkling dessert wines. We tasted an excellent trocken (dry) white Riesling from a small vineyard in Hattenheim called Irene Söngen.   Rieslings really come to life paired with the season’s harvests– fresh strawberries and asparagus.

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We hiked a short stretch of the long-distance hiking trail, the Rheinsteig, from St Goarhausen to the overlook of the famed Loreley Rock.   The Rhine is a commercial route used by barges to transport goods arriving from the North Sea. The legend of the rock is that the bend in the river was so narrow and sharp that many ships sank under the watch of the mythical mermaid, Loreley.

The next day we rented bikes and peddled along the river from Bingen to Bacharach. The Mittelrhein “Middle Rhine” is a protected world heritage site and is a popular area for river boats and tourists. There are 40 castles and fortresses perched above the river amidst steep vineyards.  The castles were built by competing knights, princes, and bishops as toll-stops for merchant ships — Iron chains blocked the river and guaranteed payment for passage. We stopped at Burg Stahleck, which is now a youth hostel — and Burg Rheinstein, a privately owned museum and hotel.

Below:   Ferrying across the River to Bingen; The river bend at Bacharach; Derek at Burg Stahleck, Burg Rheinstein; The cottage in Hattenheim.
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Bamberg

The next weekend we daytripped to another historic city, Bamberg. Derek and I spent an afternoon in Bamberg over Easter of last year (we wrote about it here).   We enjoyed this round more; the city was warmer and busier than it was last year in early April!

In the region of Franconia, May is peak season for Spargel  “white asparagus” (The green type of asparagus is appropriately named Grün-Spargel).   Spargel has a short harvest, and Germans appear to savor it.  This vegetable ‘delicacy’ has not seen daylight, which is the reason it remains white.

At this time of year the announcement of Spargel appears on the signboards of Franconian restaurants ‘Wir haben Spargel!’ and is served with a cream sauce, or pureed into a creamy soup.  We were discussing how it is grown when we saw a field of covered Spargel mounds!

Disclaimer: I am going to venture out onto a limb. My personal thoughts are that Spargel is not bad, but is far from delightful. Its soft cooked texture requires barely any chewing.

Below:  Bamberg’s Rathaus, Spargel for sale in the market, Spargel mounds.

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Mother’s Day!

My parents last day in Germany was Mother’s Day.   We spent the day in Würzburg, and had an al fresco brunch at Caféhaus Michel in Würzburg.   We walked through the gardens at the Residenz and Fortress, had a special dinner,  and toasted to a great trip on the Alte Mainbrücke with a glass of Würzburger Bacchus.  Prost!

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Links

Video: Germany’s Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg Rick Steve’s Europe

Understanding German Wines  Tim Glaser, Master Sommelier

Germans Go Crazy for White Asparagus DW.de

 

 

Hike in the Alps with Molly and Alex

Molly and Alex were our first visitors of the year and stayed with us for nine days at the end of March!  We knew that they would be great companions for an all-day hike in the mountains so we began planning a short getaway to the Alps.

The morning after they arrived we packed-up the car and headed south for what was expected to be a spring-like weekend in the Montafon valley of Austria. It was Molly and Alex’s first visit to the Alps, and our first to the Vorarlberg.

This corner of Austria shares a border with Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein and is a popular area for skiing and winter activities. We stayed in Bartholomäberg, a mountainside village that overlooks the small city of Schruns in the valley. The hills of Bartholomaeberg are grassy pastureland that are home to residences and several small farms. Higher there are wooded hiking trails with rocky terrain near the top.  It had several options for Winterwandern ‘winter hiking’ (snowshoe trails and groomed winter hiking paths) which made it the perfect base for the next few days.

 

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We were there during the last week of March, a quiet time to visit.  Some of the Alpine Huttes and Gastofs that serve as hiking destinations were closed for a week of ‘spring break’ before re-opening for the summer tourism season.   We were in search of a traditional Austrian house to stay in and found a cozy two-bedroom apartment in the lower level of a country home. The family operates a small farm with cows and small animals. They gave us a genuine welcome and shared that we were their first visitors from the USA!  It was an extra treat when Sabine baked us the most amazing loaf of spelt bread on our last night.

 

Hiking Day 1: Wannaköpfle

The next morning we packed lunches and set off early for a day-long hike. We began from the town center of Bartholomaeberg (1087 m) and reached the peak at Wannaköpfle (2031m) a few hours later.   The valley was clear of snow so we decided on a snowshoe trail that would take us through the most scenic hiking areas.

There was snow sooner than we expected!! We alternated taking the lead to forge a path for our not-so-waterproof hiking boots.  The snow was losing it’s density from the morning thaw and the unpredictable depth created a number of humorous challenges and surprises!   The winter trails stopped with the peak in sight, so we finished our climb through unchartered snowbanks.

We were the first ‘spring’ hikers to Wannaköpfle!

Really, our “hike” was a lot of climbing through snow drifts and the tripping, falling, and laughing that goes with it — or Molly helping me rescue my foot from a deep snow well.  (Snow shoes should have been essential at this point!)   Thanks to the thaw we were able to walk on gravel part of the way which was a nice break for our damp feet.

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(Below) Halfway there— Time for a rest and a snack.

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Wannaköpfle (2031m)

Our destination! We found some mossy rocks where the snow had melted and made it our seat for lunch and munched while we took in the surroundings.

It was one of the mildest days of the month, and though we were surrounded by snow, the midday sun made the mountain perch a warm oasis. It was sunny, breezy, and nearly 60°F. We snapped photos and watched paragliders float over the valley.  It was a memorable moment for all of us — the views were completely worth the climb!


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Hiking (+ Beers) Day 2 

The next day, we all slept in. With sore legs and sopping wet boots, we opted for an easier ascent by taking the St. Gallenkirch Valiserabahn (a ski gondola) to another scenic Winterwandern path.  We were now on the other side of the valley in a ski area.  The path turned out to be less than 1km of hiking so we decided to spend the afternoon drinking beer at the Alpine Huttes!

We met a lively German man who took our group photo and recalled his trip to California as a young man in the 1970’s.  When he was there he bought a Mercury convertible to drive along the coast.  He laughed at his impulse because he had no idea how he would ship his new car back to Germany, but it all worked out and the week prior he had been cruising from his home near Lake Constance through the Alps!  🙂

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NachtRodeln 

Afterwards we rented Rodel, the traditional wooden Austrian toboggan. One winter attraction of the Montafon is a place that offers NachtRodeln a few evenings during the week, where you buy an inexpensive chairlift pass and ride to the top of  a 5km toboggan run.   We rented our Rodel on site where the tradition is to drink a shot of Schnapps before you set out.  You can watch a few clips of the action in Molly’s video below!

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Relaxing in Bartholomaeberg

Our accommodations were in a serene, quiet part of Bartholomaeberg. The village is referred to as the sun balcony of Montafon because of its southern exposure. The location had nice panorama views of the valley and we could have happily camped out there for the rest of the week!  For Derek and I, it was our last visit to the Alps for the foreseeable future which made it all the more special.  We were happy that we were able to share this memorable time with family.

After our trip to the Alps, we spent the next few days in Würzburg with Molly and Alex. They are a ton of fun and we loved having them as visitors!!

 

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(Above) Photos by the wonderfully talented– Molly and Alex

Köln

In late February we enjoyed a short but lively weekend in Koeln, the capital of North-Rhineland Westphalia— the German state that borders Belgium and the Netherlands.

The first thing to come to mind is the famed neo-gothic Cologne Cathedral. It is the landmark of the Köln skyline and most visible point within the city, which by comparison is much less ornate. Many of the buildings in Köln are emblematic of Germany’s post-war modern reconstruction; It is one of the oldest cities in the country but bares the resemblance of a 20th C. city.

For many visitors (including us) Köln’s draw is simply the promise of a good time. And partly the intent to drink Kölsch, the local brew.

 

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Above: Thousands of ‘love locks’ on the Hohenzollern Bridge.  We spotted some goodies.

Before we visited, Köln had just held their biggest party of the year: Fasching Karneval. Chatter about the event was a partial catalyst for our trip to the city.  In this popular European tradition there are parties, performances and televised entertainment shows.  And similar to Mardi Gras, the cities hold parades and people wear bright costumes. Fasching marks the first signs of Spring and the coming of Lent.  In mid-February, Köln was the place to be!

Most of our weekend was spent in the Innenstadt— a central, compact area of sights surrounded by the Grüngürtel, the city’s belt of park space. The area has shopping, museums and great nightlife.   Köln also had some of the tastiest food we have eaten in the whole country. We headed to Bastian’s for a Café-style breakfast that included their delicious landbrot (sourdough wheat bread), and later we detoured to Bay Area Burrito Company for our first real (‘good’) burrito in a year!

Koeln was full of nice surprises!

Below: Dropped Cone (2001) in Neumarkt Galerie is a recent work of Claes Oldenberg, also known for Spoonbridge and Cherry (1988) at the Walker Art Museum Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis!

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Kölsch

Kölsch is a regional variety of beer — Making Köln somewhat of a destination for those who want to drink Kölsch ‘vom Fass’, fresh off the tap.  It is Germany’s only all-barley pale ale (though nothing like an American pale ale) and is poured in a small, narrow .2l glass called a Stangen which fares well for bar-hopping and warm summer patios.

One of our favorite spots was the beer hall at Früh am Dom, one of the bigger names in Kölsch brewing.   A Saturday night at Früh was as lively as a Bavarian brew house, minus the lederhosen. The servers keep their trays filled and are happy to tally your coaster each time they swap out an empty glass.

You can read about a New Yorker’s entrancement with Kölsch here or try one of a handful of  Kolsch-style beers that are brewed in the USA, this summer.

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Kölner Dom

The Cologne cathedral was more beautiful than I imagined. For many travelers it is the reason they have come to Köln.   Any doubts about it’s impressive scale were dissolved within a moment.  It is an incredible, monumental structure that fills an entire city block.  The cavernous interior felt bright and peaceful and we left Köln contemplating a new appreciation of this space.

The cathedral is centrally located, and we found ourselves passing it each day.  It is just a few steps from the train station and is the first thing to greet you when you arrive. In the early afternoon we saw the interior transformed as sunlight passed through the stained glass windows. As the above photo shows, at that moment we were surrounded by a mirage of pastel reflections.

Like many churches of this period, construction was ongoing.  The cathedral was fully built 600 years after the first mortar was laid (1248 – 1880), and became the tallest building in the world for 12 years.   The floors are covered with incredible mosaics and the space attracts religious pilgrims who have come to see  the [stated] remains of the biblical Three Wise Men in a golden casket. We also climbed the 500 steps of the spire to reach a viewing platform that overlooks the city.


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Kolumba

On the same crisp February afternoon we visited Kolumba, the Art Museum of the Archbishopric of Cologne.  Cologne began as a Roman colony in the Germanic lands and is one of the three oldest cities in Germany.

The museum is a modern, rectangular space built over the ruins of the Gothic church of St Kolumba (origin, 980 A.D.),  with areas of the excavation integrated into the museum.  The museum holds a collection of religious relics, multi-media and contemporary artwork.

It is the newest museum space in the city and was designed by Peter Zumthor, a Swiss Architect. The building has garnered praise for it’s elemental use of light and space (mainly glass and stone) along with a seamless integration of modern design with antiquity.

An unexpected room within the museum was the second floor Leseraum ‘reading room’,  a quiet space.  The room is covered with wood veneer and was a warm, sunlit oasis within the stone interior. The space was especially nice in the diffused winter light.

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Belgisches Viertel

One of our favorite areas of the city, and the best area for nightlife was the Belgisches Viertel ‘Belgian Quarter’, a neighborhood of trendy shops and bars.  Based on a recommendation, we ended the night at Sixpac which was described as a ‘hipster bar’. A hipster bar in Köln had the feel of most places in Minneapolis-St Paul, so we felt right at home!

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We may not have visited Köln if it had not been for two back-to-back recommendations that we would miss a sizable part of Germany if we missed Köln.  It is Germany’s 4th largest city and absolutely one of our favorites so far!

 

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 Links

Kölsch, A Summer Beer Worth the Fuss New York Times

Germany’s postwar buildings: eyesores or worthy of protection? DW.de

Carnival in Franconia: Veitshoechheim 2013 Broadcast  YouTube 
(reminds me of this—->  Lawrence Welk : Adios, Au Revior, Aufwedersian)

One Year in Germany

We’ve reached our one-year mark of our time in Germany!  I’ve had so many ideas for this blog that have never actually made it to press.  So here are a few notes about day-to-day life in Deutschland:

 

How is the job? What does Kate do all day?

People are often curious about two things regarding the expat experience— what work is like for Derek, and also how I spend my time.

Derek enjoys the German office! He likes the work structure and feels his peers are focused and productive. One feature of the German branch is that engineering and testing are located in the same building as manufacturing. It makes for many busy days since any concerns during production come to the surface quickly. Since we moved to Würzburg last year he has played basketball on a city men’s league, and it is a nice balance to his work life.

All of which leaves me with a lot of solo time— And a chance to return to a healthier routine. In the past year the time to myself has allowed me to exercise and cook more, and to return to some creative mediums that I enjoy.  During our time abroad I haven’t driven a car, or even had a local phone number;  I spend part of each day walking because all of my daily errands are on foot. It is helpful that Würzburg is a busy place with a lot of activity.  I love the city and haven’t felt boredom or isolation.

 

What about the language?

We’ve received some sympathetic looks when we tell people that we speak kein Deutsch ‘no German’.

Surprisingly, language hasn’t been a noticeable barrier.  Knowing even the most basic phrases along with the right body language is important, so we focused on those first— Living in a new country without ever using the language would be a challenge. That said, we are grateful for the many Germans who speak fluent English, and for those who are willing to try.

One thing we now realize is how many German words sound like English.   We learned during our immersion that Old English descends from the Germanic language.

Derek has exposure to the language everyday at work and has picked up the essentials as a necessity; many of his meetings are entirely in German. His colleagues clarify when needed and their assistance cannot be understated— They have helped us make appointments, track down delayed mail, and even called tech support when we had a glitch with our internet.  (And they invite us to their festivals!)

In those instances and in others a more detailed use of language is necessary. Germany is a land of rules and written procedures. We were not able to find an interpreter at city hall while applying for residency, which made the process lengthy.  We also pre-translate all written communication for our landlady.

Thankfully, technology has made many things accessible that would otherwise not be: (1) Google translate is a lifesaver when we need to make sense of our bills and mail  (2) We would be lost without English navigation on our GPS  (3) We can stream radio stations, late night shows, and read the news online. It has also allowed us to live in a bit of cultural limbo.

From daily practice I’ve learned the simplest German phrases (conversationally–still a long way to go!).  A German man once pointed out that I know as much Deutsch as his infant grandson. Yes, I imagine that is true. A trip to the grocery store is like a vocabulary lesson; I have mastered all of the fruits, vegetables, and clothing words that one would ever need to know.

It can be an outsider’s perspective. Knowing so little German has improved my awareness of non-lingual sounds. Even the chatter on trains or in restaurants, which at times would be interesting to overhear is something we interpret as white noise and focus on our own experience.

 

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Living on the Euro

The German cost of living is comparable to the USA.  However, for us— Americans living on the Euro— an unfavorable exchange rate can be a little rough. Ultimately we re-adjust everything to USD.  When we first arrived, we were paying 35% more for our day-to-day expenses and also getting used to a single income. (The exchange rate has since improved).

One thing that makes a positive difference is that some items in Germany are priced lower than in the USA. There are a handful of Aldi-style grocery stores, and in general a high availability of quality, low-priced, fresh food.  (And beer. And chocolate.) Fuel is expensive. Clothing and restaurants are about the same.

 

Here are a few things that we especially like:

Sundays. Throughout Germany, everything is closed on Sundays except for restaurants.  So what does everyone do all day?  They spend time outdoors, catch up with friends and pursue hobbies, eat ice cream and sip coffee, or go for walks and bike rides. Sometimes museums are also open. In Bavaria, there is a long-standing rule that you are not allowed to wash a car on a Sunday or cut the lawn.  It is a quiet day, and we look forward to it each week.

 

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European Butter. This is the real thing.  The first time I made something sweet in our tiny German kitchenette, I marveled at the results.  Then realized: It’s the butter.  The fat content of European butter is a tad higher, but if you are baking it is a miraculous adjustment.

Bread. Germany is a bread-centric country and the bakeries live up to the hype. There are times, and from no apparent direction, when the aroma of fresh bread will linger in the air.  We have embraced the consumption of bread in all of it’s glory.

 

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Gummy Land.  Thank you Mr Haribo for creating gummy treats in every shape size and color. I first tried the Süsse Mäuse which is a bit like a gummy marshmallow and gained maybe 10lbs. Derek likes the Pasta Frutta.  We have reached a middle ground on Color-rado, a mix of gummies and licorice.

 

Markets.  One of my favorite places in the city is the market square, which is a central meeting point for many people.  It is a larger farmer’s market on Friday and Saturday with seasonal harvests, flowers, cheese, sausage and honey, it is all so good.   During festivals, it expands to an even bigger market.

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Our small fridge, Our small apartment.

Our Würzburg apartment has a tiny dorm-size fridge without a freezer.  We’ve found that it motivates us to cook fresh and since nothing can get ‘lost’ we are becoming better at using what we have on hand. Produce and dry goods are sold in small standard increments of 250g-1000g, which means that items are replaced more often but need a lot less storage space.  It has led to energy savings and a noticeable reduction in food waste.

One benefit to this scenario is that there are several small grocery stores within a 10-minute walk from our Würzburg apartment.  I’ve gotten into the habit of picking up a few things every couple of days and that it reminded me that we live the same distance from two grocery stores in our neighborhood in St Paul.

Most Germans live in multi-unit concrete dwellings with comparatively fewer frills.  In Würzburg, many of the buildings have the same structure but each is painted a different pastel, sherbert-colored hue.

We aren’t strangers to apartment living, but have learned useful tips on how to live smarter in a smaller space (550 sq ft), and with fewer belongings.  We shipped just a fraction of our ‘stuff’ when we moved and had the realization that we miss very little of what is packed up in storage. Minimalism is something that is attractive to me, though I am always trying to be more successful at it.  I am looking forward to restructuring when we return to the States.

You can read more about German housing here.

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Recycling + Pfand  Germany has a detailed recycling system and places to sort and divide all forms of trash. All of the plastic bottles have a .25 deposit (Pfand), the glass goes into public receptacles, and all of the other random plastics go into the Gelber sack, which is on a two-week pick-up schedule.  It took me almost 3 months to figure out what goes where, but I’ve got it down now.

The country has a focus on renewables and Germans are generally regarded as eco-conscious. Their recycling practices also stem from pragmatism, there isn’t space for growing landfills.

 

Trains, Buses and the Autobahn.

Like their cars, German highways are sleek and shiny and have features like perfectly spaced rest stops and emergency phones. Drivers take the rules of the Autobahn seriously and it’s rare to see distracted driving.   We have also learned that many areas of the autobahn do have a speed limit, the average being about 120 km/h (75 mph).

Germany’s rail network, the DB Bahn is our preferred mode of travel.  We appreciate it’s efficiency– especially for regional travel, cleanliness, and sound design. The Bayern Länder-Ticket is an all-day-pass that allows the two of us to travel anywhere in Bavaria for €23.  Though we are train enthusiasts, we also like the long-distance bus service FlixBus/MeinFernbus, which is the most inexpensive way to travel between German cities, and is also clean, comfortable, and widely used.

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Walkability. City-dwelling Europeans rely on cars much less and they walk, bike and use public transportation more (Even in an automobile-centric country like Germany). Weather doesn’t seem to have a noticeable effect, there are few empty streets.

 

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Image credit: Hipstery.com

The Germans, their traditions and their courtesies  

We’ve enjoyed living among the Germans for the past year.  Their cities have a charmingly disproportionate number of bakeries, shoe stores, eye-glass shops and yarnerys— Clearly the core elements of the German lifestyle!

The country has low street crime, no widespread slums or dangerous neighborhoods, and minimal homelessness.   And though it is regarded with mixed opinions, as of last year university tuition became free for all citizens.

Germans are known for paying for purchases large-and-small in cash, and it is often the only accepted form of payment.  Large international chains will usually accept credit cards that use an embedded chip and pin, and secure bank transfers are the standard payment method for rent and utilities.   After many inquires, cash has become our default.

Buildings in Germany are constructed with thick concrete walls, and use radiator heat.  In the USA Midwest we would freeze with this type of construction, but it works well in Germany’s temperate climate.  However, because the concrete traps moisture, it is every German’s duty to open the windows each day; some rental contracts even require it.  It is very different than our wood-framed home with insulation, drywall, and forced air in the USA.

Inside the home, Germans like straight-forward bedding.  The standard set-up in homes and hotels is a mattress with a fitted sheet, and small separate duvet for each sleeper (no layering or messy sheets to contend with). Appliances are smaller, and fit compactly within the living space.  Many German apartments come with a ‘bare’ kitchen, and renters will typically install the kitchen cabinets and appliances.  We were happy to find a furnished apartment for our short stay!

For breakfast, yogurt and muesli is common, paired with a hardboiled egg or a hardroll with meat and cheese. Jam or cheese filled pastries, and Kuchen are eaten outside of the home as a mid-day coffee break, or on special occasions.  Americans are used to eating the largest meal in the evening. Typically in Germany, a warm prepared meal is eaten midday, and dinner is often Abendbrot, evening bread.   It is a simple slice of bread eaten with toppings of meat, cheese, vegetables or spread.

It is well-known that Germans enjoy letting loose at a good Festival and have strong traditions that nearly everyone partakes in.  And one never knows where they will run into a German on the road; They always seem to have a little extra tucked away to fulfill their Wanderlust.

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Wanderlust

One of the most famous German words is Wanderlust, and deservedly so–  Germans are known for taking long vacations to far corners of the globe. Many of these trips are planned well in advance (sometimes a year or more) in order to take advantage of holiday time off, travel deals, and thorough preparation.

For us, Germany has been a rich country to explore and the location within Europe has allowed us to visit places previously out of our reach.  Proximity is a huge factor, Paris to Prague is 200 miles shorter than the distance across one large US state (I recently saw this infographic: The Size Of Texas Compared To The Size Of Europe)

This was not our first time abroad, but it has been our most impactful.  International living has done good things for cultivating, or perhaps securing, a strong global perspective in both of us. In all likelihood we will never have the ability to spend this much time abroad again, but anyone who does should embrace it.

 

 How to Move Abroad 

People are generally curious about moving abroad.  We are by no means experts on this topic.   There are many good expat blogs that go into far greater detail on the process of relocating. If it is something you are interested in, This post shares ways to pursue it, and suggests:  Work for an international company, teach, study, or work in global service.  If you are earning an income, you may need to pay taxes at home and abroad.  Germany has a detailed tax system (and we worked part of the year in the USA) so we used an international tax service to help us file both returns.

 

 Things we Miss…

We miss spring thunderstorms, tumble drying our clothes, pleasant tasting tap water, good drip coffee, IPA’s, Chipotle burritos and American diner breakfasts.

Our enthusiasm for Germany hasn’t waned, and though our days seem to go by faster and more routinely we have tried to remain mindful of our remaining time here!

See you all in August! 🙂

 

Links

Book: How to Be German in 50 Steps    A humorous approach from Adam Fletcher and C.H.Beck

9 Ways to Make Living Abroad A Reality   (from Margo, an American expat in Heidelberg)

How We Afford to Live in Europe   (from Katie,  an American expat in Berlin)

Why Germans Pay Cash for Almost Everything

Subsidies that Work; or, Why is Good Food So Cheap in Germany(…)

(from Tom Pepinsky, Associate Professor of Government, Cornell University)

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A Guide to German Housing The German Way

The Complete Guide to Working in Germany (pdf)

German Taxes ABC’s (pdf)

Lienz + Austrian Dolomites

On New Years Day, we packed up and drove to Austria for 4-days in the Alps.  Our proximity to the mountains is something we have enjoyed during our stay in Germany, it is our ideal weekend getaway. This time we were headed to a more distant part of Austria, the East Tirol.

We stayed near Lienz, a city that is nestled in a valley on the Austrian side of the Dolomites– not far from the border of Italy.  We stayed in a  frühstück pension (B&B) in the tiny village of Islesberg on the north side of the valley. Below is a view from our window, which overlooked the city of Lienz.

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Winter in Würzburg has absolutely been the mildest we have encountered. Temperatures have lingered around 1ºC (34ºF)  —- While at the same time our home in Saint Paul was  -18°C (-4ºF — brrr)!  Our friends in the Midwest may be rolling their eyes in disbelief, but by early January we were beginning to miss the familiar signs of winter.

As we passed Munich, we were enthused by the sight of fresh snowfall that continued through the Austrian ski village of Kitzbühel though Lienz was still 80 miles away on the opposite side of the mountain range.   To access the East Tirol we passed through a 3-mile mountain tunnel and unfortunately left the snow in the rearview mirror.

Even without snow, the Mölltaler valley surrounding Lienz was incredible—although we pondered where to ski.  The next morning we drove to Heiligenblut, which is in the neighboring mountain range. It faces Grossglockner (3,798 m), the tallest peak in Austria.

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Two years ago when we first skied in Austria we learned that the Alpine pistes are underrated by most North American comparisons.  Although the same ranking system is used, (beginner, intermediate, expert) many of the easy runs could satisfy a seasoned skier.  Derek is an experienced snowboarder and I began skiing in my 20s. I previously found the beginner Alpine pistes to be challenging, but not impossible.

The Alps have many more enticing runs for an experienced skier.  On trips together Derek has always willingly skied within my range of ability (thanks! 🙂 ) which I am grateful for because he typically enjoys a challenge.  This time, we saw that there was a panoramic restaurant at the summit, which for me was a nice alternative—  I spent the morning reading with Kaffee and Apfelstrudel near a sunny window while he hit the slopes.

I enjoyed Heiligenblut!  The village was remote and tiny, but there were a handful of restaurants and gift shops to keep a non-skier busy for an afternoon.  I observed that Austrians along with their German neighbors seem to take their dogs with them everywhere —- on the train, shopping, to the hair salon— We’ve even sat next to a dog at the bar. But this was the first time I had seen one on a ski hill!

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Lienz

Lienz is called die Sonnenstadt,  ‘the sun city’ of Austria, and serves as a hub for the surrounding valley. There are train connections to Lienz and buses to ski resorts in the area.  We didn’t find many activities there, but it was a nice place to spend a morning and pick up ski rentals.

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Hiking in Hohe Tauern

The valley was almost bare after two days near 40ºF which made hiking an easy choice for the next afternoon. A large area adjacent to Lienz is Hohe Tauern National Park and we were happy to see a hiking trail right behind our B&B in Iselsberg that offered an elevated view of the Lienzer Dolomiten.  The most unique aspect of the area around Lienz was its sense of remoteness. We were over two hours from Austria’s largest cities, and it felt much more isolated and rural than other places we have visited in Germany and Austria.

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mattrei

 

Skiing Kals-Matrei

The forecasts predicted a day of steady snow a short distance from where we were staying, so we set out for another day of skiing.  Lifts connect the runs between the two villages of Kals and Matrei;  so while Derek snowboarded, I checked out the village.  Matrei was a little more gloomy than I anticipated, but the village had moments of charm– it is completely surrounded by mountains.  As I walked through its quiet streets there was a comforting smell of wood smoke in the air, and I appreciated its rugged presence within the mountains. I quickly remembered that it was Sunday, which meant that nearly everything was closed, I finally found an open bakery and was happy to warm up.

Derek was more enthusiastic about the ski conditions!   It was snowing higher in the mountains where he was and he found challenging runs and fresh powder.  Kals-Matrei is not an international tourist destination nor does it have the Après-ski scene that some Austrian villages are famous for. Overall, Derek was impressed with Kals-Matrei and found some of the best skiing he has had in a long time. We read this article from the Guardian during planning, which shares more about the resort.

 

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Where we stayed

Austrian ski villages can be pricey during the snowy months—   It is not hard to spend thousands of dollars for a week of lodging.   We’ve had to search, but have been lucky to find reasonable accommodations in Austria during ski season using sites like hostelworld and booking.com.  Both led us to home-style B&Bs in very small neighboring villages, and have since been two of our favorite places we have ever stayed!

Two years ago, we stayed here in a village that borders Sankt Anton am Arlberg. Getting to the ski hills without a car was no problem— the surrounding villages were connected to the resorts via shuttles.  This time, in Iselsberg we stayed here.  A car was definitely necessary in the areas around Lienz.

This portion of the Alps is higher and rockier than the Bavarian Alps, and more rural and open than the Arlberg. We are headed to the Montafon in late March, and are looking forward to another comparison!

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Links

East Tirol – Austria’s secret ski destination The Guardian UK

A Perfect Ski Day at Heiligenblut YouTube

24 Hours in East Tirol Blog Tirol

Soelden’s Snowy Spectre: James Bond Films in East Tirol  Daily Mail

Epiphany and the Sternsinger The German-Way