Category Archives: Expat Stories

My Easter Tradition

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MY EASTER TRADITION

Back in the days when I was a little kid and living in Germany, Easter was one of my favorite holidays.  I loved believing in the Easter bunny, which would come out early in the morning to hide eggs, candy, and toys all around the house and backyard.

My family’s tradition consisted of going to church in the morning, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Once the service was over I remember how excited I usually became, knowing there were lots of surprises waiting at home for my sister and I.  My mother was usually the one hiding all the Easter goodies the night before, but when I was little I truly believed that the Easter bunny was doing all the hard work.

At a certain age I knew that my parents were the ones behind everything, but I still didn’t mind hunting for toys and candy.  It was such a blast, especially since we had a three story home with a small yard, so there were lots of hiding spots.  Once all the surprises were collected, us kids usually inspected everything and tested the new toys.

After the first excitement of the hunt eventually subsided, it was time for brunch.  For that, we usually had a big family gathering either at a hotel or restaurant, where a buffet was offered.  It was the perfect solution and suited everybody’s taste.  Also, since we were a group of about ten people, none of our family members had to stand in the kitchen for hours.  My family is actually still holding up that tradition, just nowadays without me since I moved to the United States.

Since I have been living in America, I have been celebrating Easter, if at all, very differently.  My first Easter in the states was back in 2012, when I was living with a family that had two young children.

One year, I remember I prepared Easter baskets for them that were filled with chocolates and small toys.  I left them on the kitchen table with a note, wishing them a Happy Easter while they were out and about.  The next year, I went to a family gathering with them, but it was still not the same as back in my childhood days.

The following years, I wasn’t celebrating the Holiday at all, and if I wouldn’t have seen it marked in my calendar, I would have had no idea what date Easter was that year.  It just felt different for me over here, I can’t really explain why, but I didn’t have such a connection as I had back in Europe growing up.

Last year marked the first time in a while where I had an Easter experience somewhat similar to my childhood days.  You can describe it as the adult version of what the tradition for us kids looked like.  My now-roommate was house sitting at a beautiful home, fully equipped with a pool and hot tub.

Since she introduced a brunch tradition to her friends many years ago, she extended the invite to me, and I was more than happy to accept since I missed the family Easter brunch gatherings.

It was a beautiful Sunday, the sun was shining, and my roommates’ friends and I started arriving at the location one after another.  Entering the house, I could already smell eggs, bacon (that was the time I was still eating meat), and pancakes.

We gathered around the backyard, some people hanging out in a hammock, others in the hot tub, pool, and benches all around, while the two dogs of the homeowners kept roaming around us.

We had a great time talking, eating, and enjoying the sun together until it was time for the annual beer hunt. Yes, my roommate upgraded the traditional egg hunt to a fun-filled beer hunt, where all of us participants received a beer carton and had to find as many beers as would fit into it.

All the while knowing how clumsy I am, especially when it comes to handling fragile items such as glass, I entered this content with caution, but finished with no further incidents.

After all beer bottles were found, all participants sat back outside with their precious findings, looking forward to indulge into the liquid goodies.  I was sitting in the sun, sipping on my drink when I decided it was getting too hot and wanted to move into the shade, of course not without my cargo.

What I did not consider was that my beer carton, which was soaked up on the bottom with water from the pool, had become a little fragile.  I lifted it up, not supporting the bottom with my hands, and sure enough, it made a quick rip and all remaining bottles smashed on the concrete ground.

Everyone was staring very surprised and quietly at the mess I just had created, until some of us were able to digest the shock a little and got up to clean up the glass.  Oh well, since I am not a big drinker anyways I wasn’t too upset I wasn’t able to drink more, but I did feel very bad about the broken glass all over the floor.

My roommate did invite me again to this year’s Easter brunch/ beer hunt, but luckily I will be up in LA this time, hopefully not breaking anything.  However all of you who are celebrating or not celebrating the Holiday, I wish you a very Happy Easter!

Image: pixabay.com
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Anne-KathrinAnne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.

If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.

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How to Drive a Car in Germany

How to drive a car in Germany

(by Kate Müser)
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My 16th birthday fell on a Sunday. I had to wait an entire day to complete my drivers’ exam in the beautiful state of California. Waiting has never been one of my strengths.

It was a “close call”, but I’m convinced that the driving examiner just made it seem that way to instil a sense of fear. Probably not a bad thing when it comes to a 16-year-old moving a massive piece of metal near other humans.

After that stressful day in 1996, I never would’ve thought that I’d have to repeat the scenario 11 years later. Complete with sweaty hands and a racing heart.
Americans are known for a lot of things abroad, as every expat very quickly learns, but strict driving exams are not one of them. At least not in Germany – the country with the most ruthless driving examiners, the freest freeways, the most well made cars (all recent scandals aside), and the most Fahrvergnügen (literally: driving pleasure) when in them.

As a newcomer to this country, you’re allowed to partake in that Fahrvergnügen for precisely six months after your arrival. On the first day of the seventh month, any driving skill you may have brought with you – or even amassed during your experience on the world’s only true Autobahn – suddenly evaporates into thin air and your license is no longer valid.

Those who would rather not hand their transportation fate over to the strike-loving train service must make a trip to the drivers’ license authorities to have their now invalid foreign licence converted into an official German one.

(No) break for California

For American licenses, it must be said that not all 50 states are created equal in the eyes of German authorities. If you have a license from the “right” state, you can go straight to the local authorities, pay the necessary fee, and come out with your German document.

If you’re unfortunate enough to come from the “wrong” state, you’re treated like any other German teenager and are required to pay thousands of euros to complete hours of theoretical and practical driving training before passing the German exam. The rest of Germany can say three Hail Marys that you didn’t cause any major damage during your six-month grace period.

California falls into the third category. Its weather, beaches, Baywatch girls, mountains, wine, and movie stars may be the dream of many Germans. But in terms of driving skills, Californians are apparently mediocre at best. That’s why I was required to pass the German driving exam. I didn’t have to fulfil the other requirements of new drivers (a specified number of hours in class and behind-the-wheel with an instructor). I just had to pass the test – any way I could.

Since I didn’t want to screw this thing up, I studied the books. I hired a driving instructor. And I realized I’d underestimated not only what it takes to drive in this country, but also German logic. The two don’t always go together.

These three things defy logic – and make driving in Germany a challenge for anyone who thinks they don’t need to go to a German driving school.

1) Guess whether you have right-of-way

There are more different signs for right-of-way than you can count. At every intersection, you encounter a different one and have to make a split second decision: Keep going full speed ahead or yield to the car on the right? Germans have so many different street signs that they even have a word for it: Schilderwald – sign forest.

Nevertheless, they use stop signs very sparingly. Instead of stopping at a four-way intersection, you have to search for the right-of-way sign, determine whether it applies to you, register whether any other vehicles may be approaching, guess what they will do in half a second, and hit the break or the gas. Sound like a lot at once? That’s why it’s tempting just to keep driving and hope the car on your right sees you in time to yield.

2) Don’t pass on the right

In theory, it’s a good idea to only pass on the left when driving at high speeds on the freeway. But in practice, there’s always that swerving granny who insists on driving 120 km/h in the far-left lane. When you race up behind her at 200 kmh and have to slam on your breaks because she can’t drive and look in her rear-view mirror at the same time, things can get dangerous, particularly if the dozen Porsches behind you are also doing 200.

As a second-time beginner, I was admittedly the granny more often than the Porsche, except that I constantly had an eye on the mirror so that I could hop into the middle lane as soon as a speeder approached me from the rear. But that middle lane wasn’t always available, which led to a few stressful situations in the beginning.

Sure, passing on both sides American-style can be dangerous, too. But that’s better than slamming granny’s bumper at the speed of sound. The alternative would be to introduce a speed limit on all sections of the Autobahn, not just some, as is the case now. But even though unlimited speed freedom is rarer than foreigners think in Germany, Germans cling to it as if it were a constitutional right (we Americans can relate to that).

3) Wanted: Two lanes

In most German cities, the streets were created centuries before cars were invented. Horse-drawn carriages were probably wider than your average Audi or VW, so you’d think the streets would be wide enough for two carriages to pass each other. But, alas, in residential areas they usually aren’t. This is exacerbated by the fact that, unlike horses, cars are parked on the street without regard to the narrowing effect that has.

Germans may be well used to it, but for American drivers it’s a nightmare to constantly have to pull up on to the curb to let the other cars pass to the left. Often the other driver has a very different perception of the width of his own car than you do. Let’s just say you could make a pretty penny if you started a mirror repair business. Suddenly that Smart looks more attractive than the SUV you always wanted.

The back seat driver 

After twice as many behind-the-wheel hours as I’d budgeted and countless hours with the books, I passed the German driving exam. It was a “close call” – but again, I have my theory about that. My driving instructor was in the front seat, the examiner in the back, and the instructor saved me with a few secret hand signals.
Back at the city office, I went to claim my prize. To my chagrin, the administrator demanded I relinquish my California license to him.

“But why? In my country that’s my ID,” I said.

“But you can’t have two valid licenses at the same time,” he countered.

“If my California license were valid, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” I replied.

Sometimes logic has to take a back seat.

 

©KateMüser

Image: ©Dominic Müser

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Kate Müser, who grew up in Pleasanton, California, was surprised to discover that she feels even closer to her home state now than she did when she first moved to Bonn, Germany, over 13 years ago.

She is the creator of the successful YouTube series #thoseGermans and the portrait series #germany24. Visit Kate’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/katemuser and her website, justkate.de.

For over a decade, Kate has been a TV, radio and online journalist at Deutsche Welle, where she currently hosts the video series Meet the Germans with Kate and the TV show PopXport.

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Helau and Alaaf – Carnival Tradition in Germany

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HELAU AND ALAAF – CARNIVAL TRADITION IN GERMANY

This upcoming Thursday, certain cities in Germany, including my hometown Dusseldorf, are going to be crowded with thousands of people – adults as well as children – dressed up in costumes. Welcome to the yearly tradition of Carnival.  For those of you who have never heard of this festivity before, I would describe it as a mixture of Halloween (minus the scary costumes) plus Mardi Gras.

Due to the fact that I grew up in a so-called Carnival central city, I basically was born into the tradition.  Today I can gladly say that I don’t miss it one bit, but back when I was living in Europe I did feel obligated to participate.  So what does Carnival consist of?

This time of the year, which is also named the 5th season, actually starts in November on 11-11 at 11:11 a.m., but the peak of the tradition happens around late February/ beginning of March on a Thursday.  That day called “Altweiber” (old women), it is common at work for women to cut off the men’s ties with scissors and then celebrate on the streets and at bars till late at night.

The highlight of the Carnival celebration is held on Monday with the Rose Monday parades, which are very popular in the cities of Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Mainz.  The 5th season usually ends that following Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday.

To sum it up, Carnival is one of the biggest events celebrated in Germany with parades, costume balls, and street parties.  There are two popular cries that you would be hearing a lot during this time: Helau in Dusseldorf and Mainz, and Alaaf in Cologne, Bonn, and Aachen.

I personally enjoyed this celebration more when I was a little kid in kindergarten and elementary school.  I mean, what kid doesn’t like to dress up.  My favorite costume of all time used to be a cat.  Cats were my favorite animal back then, so luckily for my parents they could recycle my costume every year and didn’t have to get a new one.

Being an adult, I never found it too appealing to put on a costume and get drunk on the streets, even though I participated a couple times.

What changed my perception a little bit was when I actually joined a show dance group that performed during masquerade balls.  I received this opportunity when I was living with my sister in a very small town in the mountains.

A friend of a friend happened to be one of the dancers, and since I loved dancing and had been doing it throughout my entire life, I saw the chance to become part of the group through that connection since they were in need of an additional performer.

For two years I was a member of this group.  And what can I say, I loved it.  I loved rehearsing for the show, performing on stage, and participating in tournaments.  But I still wasn’t too fond about everything else that included Carnival.

Once it was clear that I would be moving to the United Stands, I obviously had to end my time with this group.  It was a fun two years, but I am not missing it much nowadays.  But for everyone else who is a great fan of Carnival, have fun out there these next couple of days!

Image: pixabay.com
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Anne-KathrinAnne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.

If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.

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“Fettes Schwein” – A New Food Truck on the Streets of Los Angeles

Fettes Schwein Food Truck

An Alternative to the almighty Currywurst is roaming L.A. streets

German Angelenos be on the look out for yet another new food truck! This time it’s Stojan’s Fettes Schwein truck in bold blue and pink colors, which delights with some Austrian inspired delicacies.

Stojan and Manuela, who left Austria for sunny Los Angeles, are including a traditional Schnitzel on their menu. From Schnitzel Platter to Schnitzel Sandwich,  you for sure will get your Schnitzel fix here.  Their salad bar lets you create your own salad and offers a healthy alternative to ‘all things meat’.

Even though the famous Currywurst made its way also onto their menu, Fettes Schwein has apparently a variety of sausages to offer its clientele as well.

Let’s hope they’ll include some Austrian speciality sausages, that are standard at every ‘Würstelbude’ (sausage stand) in Austria. I’d say, “It’s time for the Käsekrainer! ”

You can check out some of their menu and find out where their truck will be for lunchtime by visiting Fette Schwein‘s Facebook Page.


Photo Credit: ©Fettes Schwein

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Berliner Rundfunk 91.4 needs ‘Berliners’ living in California

unnamed-2Are you from Berlin and made California your home?

A new radio show on the Berliner Rundfunk 91.4 is on the look out for ‘Berliners’ who have left Berlin to live in California!

They are especially interested in how many years it has been since you’ve left Berlin and if you are missing your home city Berlin.  In fact what do you miss the most? Do you still have family in Berlin? What brought you to California and what are you doing professionally here?

But most importantly they would like to know if you are planning on coming ‘home’ to Berlin for Christmas, and if you would like to visit someone over there, or if you particularly miss someone special over there.

If you are interested in sharing some of your life story with the Berliner Rundfunk 91.4, please contact editor Helena Daehler at helena.daehler(AT)berliner-rundfunk.de

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Image: Neue Berliner Rundfunk GmbH und Co. KG