So I Won’t be Borrowing the Car in Germany Again Anytime Soon.

Honey I crashed the car.

This is the kind of thing you really hope won’t happen when you move abroad and attempt to drive on the other side of the road. Particularly in Germany, where on some roads there is no speed limit, and you literally feel like you’re dicing with death when all you really want to do is pop to the supermarket.

I was coming home two weeks ago from a nearby town when I had a head-on smash on a major road with a woman probably doing 100kmph (just a leisurely drive by German standards).  The force of the crash shunted our car backwards and into another two vehicles, leaving a somewhat chaotic trail of destruction.

I don’t remember the crash as I didn’t even see the other car coming. The last I remember I was preparing to turn left across the road and into another at a pretty hazardous junction (where I have heard accidents are pretty common). There had already been a car accident on the road I was about to turn down. Nothing serious, just a shunt up the backside, as the locals seem to love driving right up people’s backsides at high speed here, as much as us Brits like to moan about the weather.

I often wonder, why the hell are people in such a rush on the roads here? Particularly in Bavaria, where there really is nothing worth rushing too? It’s the first thing I noticed when I moved here. How crazy overly sensible, law-abiding Germans become once they get behind a wheel.  And that’s really saying something considering I lived in Malta for four years.  Where is everyone so keen to get too? Are there amazing parties  on every day near German autobahns  with free alcohol and sausages that us foreigners don’t know about?

From witness reports it sounds like our accident was actually my fault though, and that I turned across the road into the path of an oncoming vehicle that I somehow didn’t see.

One moment we were driving along without a care in the world, then, bam! The next thing I knew I woke up on the side of the road, with a load of strangers peering down at me, muttering sweet German. “Sie ist in shock!” one woman said.  I looked to the right, saw our smashed up car and another person sprawled out in the road, and I realised there had been a terrible accident.

We all got off extremely lightly considering. I believe the other driver broke both of her legs and is probably still in hospital. I broke three ribs and suffered a bruised lung and spent a week in hospital. My 15-month-old son was in the back and he was completely unharmed, by some kind of miracle. It makes me sick to think that things could have been a lot more serious and I really have been counting our lucky stars.

The poor little mite must have been so traumatised at the time, but mighty Max has been his completely normal, happy and boisterous self since. Which is a right bugger when you’ve got broken ribs. The car is a complete write- off, and we only had third party insurance, but the money means nothing when I feel totally lucky to still be here and to have my son. I just hope the other driver gets better soon.

In England there are speed cameras everywhere, particularly in Essex, the county where I’m from. Here in Bavaria you certainly don’t see as many.

About a week before the accident I was walking through our picture perfect Bavarian village, thinking of how safe it is. “The only danger here are the roads,” I thought to myself.

I think I’ll be sticking to the train for a while.

Top Twelve Reasons I Love Living in Germany

Like many people who live abroad, I often think about moving back home. But then I remind myself what it is I like about living in Germany, and life isn’t so bad after all. Every wobbly expat should keep one of these lists to get them through the ‘sod it, I’m out of here!’ times. Here are twelve great things about living in Bavaria.

The EidseeClean living: The air that we breathe feels so clean in Bavaria some nights I don’t even feel the need to wash my face. Okay, so I’m a lazy cow at times, but still. The air is REALLY clean here! I can see the difference in my skin when I go back to England. The tap water doesn’t taste of chemicals either. In fact, the tap water in Munich comes direct from the mountains.  No need for mineral water here. If you fancy a detox, come to Bavaria!

Bavarian health food/medicineCheap beer: So maybe a detox isn’t such a great idea after all. Beer is very cheap in Bavaria, and there are over 4,000 brands to choose from.  My Bavarian neighbour starts drinking beer at about 10am. He also looks about 60 when he’s probably only 30, but at least he’s happy. Munich’s Oktoberfest is a great way to pay homage to Bavarian beer. Don’t miss it.

Amazing nature: Germany feels like one massive forest. This is where Forest Not sunbathing weather thenBoy claimed to have been brought up, remember? There are probably another thousand ‘Forest Boys’ living in Germany that no one knows about. The nature here is really beautiful, with lots of rolling green hills (the greenest green I’ve ever seen right now after all the snow and rain we’ve had), snow-capped mountains and emerald lakes.  Deer and storks are just some of the wildlife I see when I walk near our home.  Amazing.

Smack bang in the middle of Europe: France, Italy, Austria, Eastern Europe, or down to Slovenia and Croatia…all can be reached on the same day by car from Bavaria.  If you live here, you literally have the whole of Europe at your feet. This is great news for a travel ho like me. The Germans think nothing of popping down to Italy for a short break. Or driving to Austria to stay in a fancy hotel for the night. Bloody brilliant, like

Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporati...

Even women work in Bavaria! (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

No recession doom and gloom: Bavarians don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘recession’. Unlike when I go home to England, the crippling financial crisis has barely caused a ripple here. Germany has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU. Our local newspaper is full of job advertisements each week. Public services are not suffering from huge cutbacks. People feel secure, even if they are not earning very much. It will be interesting to see if that continues.

Mountain stops to admire its reflection in lakeThe mountains: Not only do they look great, the Bavarian Alps provide plenty of opportunities for a day-trip or more. In the winter months there is of course, skiing and snowboarding, plus sledging tracks, climbing and lots of other things mentalists do on ice. In the summer you can hike on them, or run around in a dress pretending to be Maria from the Sound of Music. Ace.

English: photograph of King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Great Mo! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

King Ludwig: This is the fairy-tale guy who brought us Germany’s most popular tourist attraction, the Neuschwanstein Castle. The late king also called a number of other majestic Bavarian palaces home, all of which are remarkable to visit. But Ludwig was more than just king of the castles. He was possibly the most interesting German who ever lived. Secretive, eccentric and mad (according to some), he was sadly and mysteriously  found dead in 1886 after being declared ‘unfit to rule’. I’m kind of fascinated by him.

Cat Burglar

Photo credit: Feral Indeed!

Safe as houses: Bavaria has the lowest crime rate in Germany. The police must be really bored here. Unlike where I’m from in England, the local newspaper isn’t full of stories concerning burglaries, muggings and rapes. Which is nice! It’s so safe here that when I couldn’t find our front door key recently, I propped the door open with a mat and went out for the afternoon with no worries at all.  Here’s what a Bavarian burglar would look like if they existed:

Bavarian fashionistasFriendly people: Because they are drunk on beer most of the time, Bavarians are extremely friendly and hospitable people (except in Nuremberg). Despite being a dirty foreigner with terrible German language skills, I have been welcomed into our tiny community with open arms. Unlike when I lived in London, I know all of my neighbours, and I could count on them if I ever set the flat on fire etc.  When our son was born, three of them brought presents even though we didn’t know them that well at the time. Wunderbar!

The bread: German bread is so dense you could knock someone out with a loaf on the first wallop. And there are so many different types of bread here you never know what you’re going to get on a visit to the bakery ( of which there are two per every one person in Bavaria). We must have about 20 different types of breads at our local bakery, from round loaves made with potatoes (yes, potatoes!) to long sticks made with seeds and spelt. Delish.

Nice traditional towns: Colourful, historic, and with cute, traditional shops. This is what a typical high street in Bavaria looks like. In England most of our high streets have faced ruin thanks to the likes of huge supermarkets like Tesco and online shops. Not in Bavaria.  Here you can still find toy shops selling real wooden toys nestled among butchers, bakers, and clothing boutiques. Twee.

Good education / health systems: You know you’re becoming old and boring when ‘good schools and hospitals’ become an essential reason for living somewhere above ‘hot men and free condoms’. But it’s re-assuring to know that if the worst was to happen here in Bavaria and we ended up in hospital, we are probably less likely to die, catch gangrene or contract MRSA than if we were in an English one. The education system in Bavaria is highly rated too, even though school kids finish their day well by 1.30pm. With those hours, no wonder every German I meet is studying to be a teacher.

The Great Bavarian Get-Away: Lake Maggiore, Italy.

Lago Maggiore

Lago Maggiore

Another reason why we should all be jealous of Bavarians besides their stinking riches is that they can drive to Italy in just a few hours. Northern Italy is therefore a very popular holiday destination for the Bavarians, with no hassle of catching flights, boats, or trains required. Just jump in your car and go!

The Great Italian Lakes are a top spot, with many Germans popping down to wonderful places such as Lake Garda for some rest and relaxation. Yep that’s right. While us Brits have the windswept Isle of Wight, the Germans have Lake Garda. No contest there then really.

British seaside

The Great British holiday

Beach Fun

vs the German one. Photo credit: Ozgurmulazimoglu

On the day we left Bavaria just a few weeks ago it was 6C and raining so heavily half of Germany flooded. When we arrived in Italy four hours later it was sunny and 22C. It’s consoling to know after such a long harsh winter in Germany that warmth and sunshine is just a drive away.

The journey there took us to the very south of Germany, then through Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, then over the border into Italy. Five countries in just a few hours! With a one-year-old! Needless to say Max wasn’t in the best mood after that trip.

Lake Maggiore is not one of the better known lakes, and that’s why we decided to head there. Italy’s second largest lake straddles the border of Switzerland and Italy, and is just an hour’s train journey from Milan. Its beauty is immense, with its clear waters framed perfectly by the mountains, rich green peaks, and picturesque rustic towns, some hundreds of years old. Historic villas, palaces, botanic gardens, and crumbling churches add to its allure. The colours and scenery are among the best I have ever seen. I truly fell in love with it.

We were surprised to find that somewhere so close to the Swiss border was still so enthusiastically Italian, with passionate people with the fiercest hand gestures in the world, lots of designer handbags, a plethora of pizza and pasta, and the smell of rich coffee filling the air. For someone who loves nature and has forever longed to be in Italy, this was my dream world!

I could have spent every day of our week’s break sitting in one of the many cafes watching the Italians go by. ‘Ciao!’ ‘Prego!’ and ‘Bella!’ seem to be the only words you really need to learn in Italy. The Italians all seemed to love our son Max too. Here is a little old lady in a bakery doing a dance for him, and blowing him kisses. Italians are the opposite of Germans – crazy! I loved them.

There were so many little towns and sights to see around the huge lake, we sadly couldn’t do it all. These were our favourite bits:

Villa Taranto: A spectacular 16 hectare botanical garden that really isn’t as boring as it sounds. The plants and trees here are from all over the world, with seeds collected by a Scottish captain on his travels. Neil McEacharn created the garden on a whim after buying the villa in the 1930s. He left it to the Italian Government when he died aged 80 in 1964 to carry on his work. What a great travel legacy to leave behind.

Stresa: Beautiful town where old-school Italian glamour meets relaxed, lakeside charm. The magnificent hotels overlooking the lake here have welcomed kings, princes and the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to put on a nice dress and heels and sip pink champagne. Unless you’re a ‘real’ bloke.

The Islands: You can catch a boat to the islands on the lake. We went to Isola Bella, and toured its remarkably opulent palace and wonderful gardens. We also visited Isola Pescatori, an island popular with fishermen and lots of German tourists in socks and sandals.

Lake Orta isn’t too far away either. We found it to be a mini Lago Maggiore, but much quieter and less touristy.

I am already planning my next trip to Bella Italia – the country, not the awful chain restaurant. Until then, Tutti Frutti!

Nuremberg: Great place. So what’s up with the locals?

Nuremberg is  one of my favourite destinations in Germany so far. Yes I know I raved about Regensburg. And I haven’t been to Berlin yet. But read on and you’ll see why Nuremberg must surely be one of the top places to visit in Deutschland. DESPITE THE AWFUL PEOPLE. More about them later.

Nuremberg is Bavaria’s second largest city behind Munich. But I love it so much more. According to a friend of mine, Nuremberg has a higher unemployment rate and more druggies than Munich. Great! This means it is far grittier and therefore more interesting than nice but dull Munich.

But please don’t think that because of that Nuremberg is some hell-hole full of pick-pockets. Far from it. Its centre is a beautifully restored medieval marvel, full of ye-olde-worlde buildings and airy cobbled streets. It is where one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets is held. Its history is simply fascinating, and can easily be recaptured through the dozens of museums and sights on offer. But it is also lots of fun, with cool clubs, bars and a thriving student scene. It seems to be pretty popular with stag parties too (that’s bachelor parties for you Yanks), as Nuremberg is surrounded by hundreds of breweries, and has a number of brothels. Class!

One of Nuremberg’s most interesting sights has to be the dungeons underneath the Rathaus. That’s the local town hall, not a house for rats. You can take a tour of the old prison, built between 1334 and 1340, and imagine the absolute horror the inmates went through there. The cells were small, cold, stone-walled, and completely devoid of daylight. A pail served as the toilet and the table. Some people were tortured as a way of making them confess to crimes they may or may not have committed, and you can still see these torture devices  today. Some inmates were subsequently sentenced to death by hanging, beheading, burning or burying alive. Don’t go on a hangover, like we did.

In stark contrast to the dungeons was my next favourite attraction – the gardens at the Kaiserburg. The castle’s grounds are a perfect place to catch rooftop views of the city and to laze around surrounded by the wonderful flowers.

Another great aspect of Nuremberg is its fascinating yet harrowing Nazi legacy. It was here that Hitler held his mass party rallies and stripped the Jewish of their German citizenship in 1935. Bastard! More than 6, 000 people were killed and 90% of the centre destroyed during the war. But many of the ruined buildings were rebuilt using the original stone, which is why you can still see most of the old town today. Nice.

A must-see is The Reichsparteitagsgelande (pronounced ri -chhhhhhhhccccchhhhhhrrrrrrr flemmy flemmy spit spit schpart tie tag schhhhcccclrrr geland – e), or more easily known as The Nazi Party Rally Grounds. A visit here is a great way to comprehend the scale of Hitler’s support in Nuremberg back in the 1930s. This was where he held his huge rallies to thousands at the Zeppelinfeld. Today the grounds are used for sports and music events, but you can still tour the old grandstand, and literally stand where Hitler did to address the mammoth crowds. Standing in the footsteps of one of the most evil men in history feels eerie to say the least.

In Hitler's footsteps at the Nazi Rally grounds

In Hitler’s footsteps at the Nazi Rally grounds

Despite its shady past, Nuremberg is now a young, multi-cultural, buzzy place, known as the “City of Human Rights”. We loved strolling down the Way of Human Rights, a symbolic row of 29 pillars and one oak tree bearing the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No I don’t know what that is either, but it sounds like a very good deal.

Way of Human Rights

Way of Human Rights

So, if Nuremberg is such a gorgeous place, what the hell is wrong with the locals? We couldn’t help but notice that almost everyone we dared to have a conversation with in the city was miserable, unwelcoming and completely stand-offish. Yes, I know they are German. But still. In Nuremberg they take it to a whole new level. Here I am with one of them.

A Nuremberger and I

A Nuremberger and I

Our first run-in with an unfriendly local was at a sausage cafe, where I was loudly told off by a butch looking waitress in a dirndl for giving some of my bread crumbs to a malnourished pigeon. Yes I know it encourages more of them, but there are polite ways of addressing these things. Then I was accosted by a market stall seller for daring to take photographs of Nuremberg’s famous ginger-bread cookies. But I got a picture anyway bitch, and here they are:

Gingerbread

Gingerbread

We were also made to feel extremely uncomfortable in a cafe where the witch ahem waitress serving us was extremely curt and awful. We almost felt guilty for daring to order a large breakfast each, and spending our Euros there. Mrs Awful then told another member of staff off for a good ten minutes in full view of all of the customers, saying how crap she was at HER job. Professional!

On a night out during our trip, I had a very insightful conversation with one of the lovely Nurembergers.

Him: “Where are you from?”

Me: “England, but we live in the south of Bavaria.”

Him: “Most people who come to Nuremberg from the south of Bavaria never admit it. We hate each other.”

Me: “Oh.”

Man gets up and leaves.

I then had a rather unpleasant run-in with a really cheesed off toilet attendant in a nightclub. I could tell something was wrong when I was sat on the loo doing a number two, and someone started spraying air freshener under the door. Blaming it on a slight drunken haze, I thought nothing of it until I left the said stinky toilet.

Cheesed-off toilet attendant: “Hast du kacka gemacht?” (Did you do a poo-poo?)

Me, pleased that I had finally understood a German speaking German: “Ja!” (Yes!)

Cheesed off attendant, spraying furiously: “Du Schwein! Nein!” (You pig! No!)

I had never been told off for using a toilet as a toilet before. Somewhat surprised, I looked at crazy spray lady as if she was crazy, washed my hands and left the loo. Did my poo really smell that bad? I have pondered that question ever since.

I remember meeting a lovely family once from Nuremberg who were on holiday in our part of Bavaria. We got chatting by the lake, and they explained that they liked to come down this way because the people are ‘much nicer ‘. I can see their point.

Today I visited a Bavarian friend of mine, and told her how much I loved Nuremberg. Before I could mention our experience of the locals, her face turned to angst. “But what about the people there?” she hissed. “They are bloody awful! I lived there for six months. If you walked up to a stranger and said ‘hi how’s it going’ they would look at you as if you were bloody mad. Terrible people.”

So there you have it. Nuremberg. Great place to visit.  Just be prepared for the people and don’t poo anywhere, especially in a toilet.

A Bavarian Pole Party Fit for a…..Pole

The story of the Bavarian maypole has to be my favourite Bavarian tradition yet. For the blue and white poles you see dotted around this part of Germany aren’t just any old chunks of decorated tree. They are practically Bavarian royalty.

Each village in our rural parts has one of these poles proudly standing somewhere central and stretching high – very high – into the sky. You usually see them somewhere central, like outside the local Rathaus (town hall) or by the main green. As you can see in this picture, even the guinea pigs at Munich Zoo have one.

They are made from a tree cut down from one of the many nearby forests, and then decorated with the emblems of local trades people, like the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick maker. Every few years they are replaced by a new pole, which is usually hoisted up on May Day during a party involving lots of beer, men in lederhosen, and women in dirndls. It’s a very proud moment for the villagers, because it’s taken a lot for that pole to go from tree trunk to the biggest erection in the village.

The Royal pole would usually have spent the days or even weeks leading up to May Day being guarded at a top secret location by the local villagers. Sometimes it’s hidden in an old barn, or somewhere big enough to hold this bloody huge tree trunk. Not the easiest thing to conceal in say, someone’s lounge, is it?  The pole is guarded with the villagers’ lives because it is completely legal for rival villagers with nothing better to do to steal the pole before it is put up. Yes, really. Despite being a land known for its rules and religion, the Germans bend the ‘thou shalt not steal’ commandment when it comes to the Royal Poles, allowing a kind of pole theft- free-for-all. Respect.

In fact, this did actually happen this year in a town not far from us. In the dark of the night one town’s pole was pinched by the folk of a neighbouring town, who managed to locate it with the help of secret servicemen and then override its alarm system. Yep, some of these poles have an alarm system. For a village to have its pole stolen under its very eyes is a huge embarrassment. The said pole was eventually returned, along with crates of beer for the thieves and their red-faced victims to enjoy together.

On the Royal Pole’s big day, its appearance is given the final once over before it is released from its secret hiding place into the big wide world. It is then usually paraded around on the back of a truck or by horse as part of a celebratory procession, a bit like a blushing carnival queen. The men of the village then precariously hoist it into position, often using long bits of wood. This can take hours. During that time lots of beer is consumed by the lads with the life of the pole – and many of their neighbours watching – in their sweaty, beery hands.

This is a nerve-wracking time. Not because the huge tree trunk could fall down and seriously injure someone. But because, more importantly, some poles have been known to break and then those buggers from the other villages can come along, point at the broken trunk, and laugh out loud at their competitors’ agony.

Once the pole is finally in place, the party really gets started, and even more beer is consumed.

This tradition in Bavaria goes back to the 12th century, and it clearly hasn’t changed much since. But of course in the end it’s all a bit of fun, and a great excuse for Bavarians to bolster their great community spirit and have a few beers at the same time. Prost!

Regensburg: Bavaria’s Coolest City?

I love Regensburg.  For a city that boasts some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe, Regensburg is young, vibrant, fun, and cool. The University City is also stunningly beautiful and full of really really interesting places to devour food. The world’s oldest sausage kitchen? It’s in Regensburg! Germany’s oldest chocolate shop? Yay, in Regensburg! One of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria? Yep, Regensburg. (Why would a hospital need a brewery? Contrary to popular belief Bavarians, beer only cures confidence issues).

But back to Regensburg. It’s easy to explore the German city’s main attractions, colourful squares and cosy alleys in a day. It’s also just 90 minutes on a train from Munich, and well worth the trip.  (It’s been declared a World Heritage Site, don’t you know.)

Regensburg. What an alley!

We arrived by car from our little part of Bavaria and spent a full day soaking up the best of Regensburg. The first thing that struck me about this city is how similar it is to Prague. From their narrow winding backstreets, to their huge gothic cathedrals, and their old bridges over the rivers, the two medieval cities are somewhat in sync. While it’s not as large as the Czech city, Regensburg crams in over 700 spots for eating and drinking – minus Prague’s huge crowds and drunken stag parties. Hooray!

It also has lots of cool shops, a buzzing street market, and a relaxed, laid-back vibe. Me loves.

The temperature was a whole 1C on the day we decided to visit. But the sun was beaming down on the cute, cobbled streets, and it seemed everyone was out visiting the market, drinking in cafes, or simply wandering around like us.

Regensburg street scene

Regensburg is very different to where we live in Bavaria. We live in a small village where people generally have one eye and women get beaten with a stick every time they leave the kitchen. Ok, so it’s not that bad, but you get the picture. I love it here really, but we all need a change from time to time. A day in Regensburg was just the very fresh and fricken cold blast of air that was needed. Sometimes you only need to take a little trip up the road to enjoy a break from the norm.

Don’t miss:

  • Lunch at the Historische Wurstkuche, the world’s oldest sausage kitchen. While these little beauts look a bit small, what they lack in size they definitely make up for in va-va-voom flavour. The restaurant makes its own sweet mustard too and it goes really well with the pencil sausages. The Wurstkuche is situated right on the banks of the Danube River near the Stone Bridge, but it also has an inside area for those cold German days. How lovely! Unless you’re a veggie, which I was when I first came to Bavaria. Kind of given it up now.

Sausages

  • Having a sweet at Germany’s oldest chocolatiers, Prinzess Cafe. Praline heaven. 

DSC_0457

  • A stroll across the Stone Bridge, which was built between 1135 and 1146. Great spot to enjoy views over Regensburg.

Stone Bridge

  • A beer at Spitalgarten, one of the oldest hospital breweries in Bavaria. Sit outside in the biergarten under the trees, right on the river. 

Spitalgarten

  • The Dom, Regensburg’s awesome Cathedral. Now I don’t usually go all gooey for churches and all things holy, but this place has to be seen. It’s huge. It has magnificent stained glass windows. And it feels very eerie inside.

The Dom

Do you live somewhere with a completely contrasting area just up the road? Or do you have any experiences of Regensburg to share? Make my day and leave a comment! And here are some more pictures of Regensburg.

The German in England

After enduring the German in-laws almost every weekend for months, it was time for my German other-half to stomach his British ones on a visit to England. Payback time! Yeah! To make it worse for Markus, where I come from in England is the complete opposite of where he grew up in Bavaria. 
He is from a large rural village populated by clean-living, middle-class folk, situated on a beautiful lake with the Bavarian Alps as its backdrop.

I grew up near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, a large working-class town situated on the murky Thames Estuary, with the industrial works in Kent as its backdrop.

February at Southend Sea front

Photo credit: garyt70

As we neared Southend on Markus’ first visit, I explained that it was a bit of a “sh**hole.” “That is such a strong word!” he replied. “How can somewhere be a sh**hole? That is like…..a hole……full of sh**!” One thing I love about having a relationship with a German is that they take every word you say so literally. Their language is extremely descriptive, which probably doesn’t help matters. (For example, gloves in German translates as hand shoes. Their word for bra translates as bosom holder. I think you get the picture).

I usually stay at my nan’s house when I visit England, as she is getting older, has a nice big house, and a fridge full of food. By Essex standards her abode is very posh. But by Bavarian standards it is a pokey old chaotic hovel full of lots of weird objects called ornaments. A startled horse rearing up on its back legs? Yes she has one of those – in green. A dog sadly staring out into the distance wondering what’s for tea tonight? Yes she has one of those too, in fine cream china. A tea pot in the shape of a man doing the splits? Yes of course! As Markus said on arrival: “It’s like a museum.”

Now we loved staying there and I love my nan’s house. But the German isn’t used to English houses, which usually come complete with – every German’s nightmare – CARPET. “We gave it up years ago in Germany!” Markus quipped. “It’s unhygienic.” And there was worse to come for my poor little German. CENTRAL HEATING. Germans are obsessed with fresh air. Even if it’s -10C outside the windows are open most of the day to ‘change the air’. Despite the cold and the lack of carpet, I have never found the heating on in a German house. Sod that. I’d rather be warm and confused. In addition to the heating on full blast and all of the windows closed, the fire in the lounge also comes on at my nan’s if the temperature outside dips below 20C. Markus almost died.

One morning,  the warmth, lack of fresh air and good old English dust clearly got to the German. I came downstairs to find the front door open, the back door open and all of the windows open. I could smell fresh air! Had my nan been kidnapped? She was nowhere to be seen! I eventually found Markus. He was frantically hoovering the lounge, like a teenager on speed.  “What have you done with my nan?” I  shouted, with visions of her being tied up and gagged in a corner somewhere. Turns out she had gone for a walk, and Markus had taken the opportunity to Germanise her home as much as he could. “The cleaner comes tomorrow, so there’s not much point,” I said.  “Yes!” he replied, all wild-eyed, with sweat dripping down his brow. “And I will tell her where to clean!”

Over the next week I proudly showed Markus around my home-town, trying to make his experience there as British as possible. We had fish and chips. We had a traditional Sunday lunch in a quaint old British pub. We walked along Southend seafront, taking in the colourful beach huts, tacky arcades, and the litter, syringes and dog poo scattered on the beach. We shopped in the high street, which has been taken over by chains like Primark and pound shops and doesn’t appear to boast a single independent trader.

We strolled past the town’s many grey seventies-style office blocks, which now stand empty because of the recession (another British pastime that doesn’t seem to exist in Bavaria). We dodged a lot of fights on a great night out, and read about numerous burglaries in the local paper. By the end of the week I had forgotten about the beautiful, natural, safe Alpine haven that we live in in Germany and I was happy to be in Southend in Essex. It may be a craphole. But it is my home. My craphole full of treasued memories.

What’s more, my family managed to get through the week without cracking a Hitler joke. My pride was immense.

Alas, the time came to leave England and to head back to squeaky clean Germany. Boo!

“So,” I said to Markus, with that glimmer of home-town pride still on my happy little face. “What did you think of Southend?”

“Yeah,” he said with a sorry look. “It’s a sh**hole.”

For once we agree on something.

We’re off to England!

After almost six months of continuous Bavarian winteriness (never again), we are taking a break in England. I have never been so happy and excited to return to my crappy homeland. Because a break from Germany means no more heavy snow! No more resorting to miming actions when I fail at the awful German language! No more being expected to eat a whole cake when we just want to visit someone! No more explaining to people that ‘that was just a joke’! No more naked people at the local swimming pool! No more being considered a hooker when I dare to wear heels! No more ‘it’s Sunday, what the hell are we going to do today – everything’s shut?’ And, no more…..Germans!

Living in Germany has really made me appreciate my own country in ways no one or nothing else ever has. As an Expat it’s the little things you miss about home. I am most looking forward to having a cuppa with my nan, laughing at my dad’s constant sarcasm, having a good bitch with my girlfriends, being crude without offending anyone, and buying a ridiculously huge British newspaper on a Sunday without paying the international price tag. Then of course there are the gorgeous British pubs, cheddar cheese, fish and chips, Cadbury Creme Eggs, (yes, this is as good as British food gets) and the way everyone is so so grateful when the sun comes out. I wonder what other Expats miss most about their own countries?

I am fortunate that home is just a 100 Euro, one-hour plane journey away. Popping back for a week here and there is not that hard. And despite my extreme happiness you know I will be glad to be back after all that constant tea, rain and those bloody miserable Poms. Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

Life’s Simple Travellers: The Storks of Bavaria

Not much happens in the little Bavarian village I live in called Raisting.  Well, the library at the local school opens on Monday and Thursday evenings. And the Doner Kebab man comes and parks his little van here on Thursdays too. So I would say that Thursday is definitely the busiest day in Raisting (population about 12). But what little Raisting lacks in people power it definitely makes up for in terms of animals.

When I take my baby son for a walk around the village the monotony of pounding the same streets time and time again (there aren’t many of them you see) is broken up by the various animals we see. There are the horses, the black fluffy ‘moo’ cows, regular black and white ‘moo’ cows, chickens and lots of different types of birds that little Max loves to see and watch me try to impersonate. Back in my hometown in Essex in England we really don’t have much wildlife (apart from the drunk animals you get on Southend High Street every night) so this is all a novelty for us.

My favourite Raisting wildlife however has to be the storks, who return year after year to this little part of Bavaria to their nests. The White Storks are believed to be as faithful to their nests as they are to their mates, hence their return to the same spot here each spring. In Raisting we have a number of purpose-built platforms on the top of high poles that the birds use to build their nests, and it’s great to see so many of these long-legged creatures rambling wild around the village in the summer. I once cycled through a field and noticed a good 30 of them just hanging out, catching mice or whatever it is storks do in fields. Typically I didn’t have my camera on me but I’ll always treasure the memory. There’s something really special about seeing an animal in the wild, and not cooped up in some crappy ‘wild’ life centre.

The birds also melt my heart as they remind me of when my son was born on April 2 2012. As I waited for his birth the storks had arrived in the village and were flying high above as I waddled around with my huge bump hanging out of my leggings. Of course, the legend goes that storks bring babies, and I thought it was too cute that I was waiting for mine just as they arrived here in Europe all the way from Africa.

Storks are strong in German folklore, with their nests believed to bring good luck and protection against fires. You will also see many wooden stork decorations in front gardens to announce that a child has been born to the family that lives there. When I arrived here all fat and pregnant I thought this was the best tradition ever. In Essex this cutesy stuff just doesn’t happen. Mainly because people aren’t that thoughtful, and also because the storks would be stolen or urinated on if left outside at night.

A wooden stork in Raisting

Anyway, when I realised that other women were returning home from hospital with their babies to these wonderful giant wooden birds in their garden, I decided I had to have one too. Forget the baby. I WANTED A STORK. And most men should know that it always pays to listen to the really hormonal, emotional woman who has just given birth and won’t let them forget that they did so for the rest of their lives. I made it clear to Markus that his life wouldn’t be worth living if I came home and there was NO stork. If I was going to squeeze his baby out of my vagina, I WANTED A STORK. And crap loads of chocolate.

Despite my extreme subtlety, he got the message. And this is what greeted little Max and I, Mariah Carey, when we first arrived home.

The stork was hand-crafted and painted by our friends (Bavarians are really good at making things). It’s holding an Australian flag as its sack because Max was conceived there (in the country, not in the sack). It’s by far one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I’m tearing up now just thinking about it, but that’s because I’m a mum and we cry at everything, including things like manky-looking pigeons that can’t walk properly.

The storks are yet to return this year, although two did stay in Raisting this winter, according to the local newspaper (yes, this does make headlines here). I saw one of them poking around someone’s garden in the snow last week. These travellers migrate to Africa from central and eastern Europe, but have to go all the way via Turkey and Egypt to the east or Gibraltar in the west because the air thermals they depend on don’t form over water. They must bloody hate the Med. But then at least they don’t have to fly over Malta, as the Maltese like to shoot birds for fun, and then they would be dead. And that would be a terrible blow to little Raisting (pun intended).

Many people who are keen travellers often find it hard to stay in one place for too long. As another travel blogger said to me recently, life can seem to be a tug of war between nesting and nomadic. Therefore I salute you, oh pretty storks. You seem to have the perfect mix in life. Nesting in Europe for the summer, then buggering off before it gets too cold for a fantastic journey south into Africa.

Without the barriers in life that hold us humans back, they make it look so simple.

Inside the Nude German Sauna

Cooling down near sauna

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The terror begins as soon as you step into the changing room. This one is tiny, with a row of narrow lockers either side and shoes neatly stored underneath. From the number of shoes (all sensible flat boots – this is Germany) I calculate there must be a good 20 people using the sauna inside. No one is in the changing room, which brings a mixture of relief and panic. Relief because I can get undressed in private before working up the courage to join the other crazy nude people, and panic because I do not know the etiquette in German saunas and I could do with someone to copy. Do I just waltz in, naked? Bare boobs and all? Or should I go in my bikini first? Shall I hold my towel, wrap it around me, or drape it over my shoulder cheesy 80s style? I clearly didn’t think this through.

In a desperate search for answers, I peer through the window of the door to the sauna area. I see people! In dressing gowns! And sturdy flip flops!  Oh Scheisse. I didn’t bring either. I always manage to make a British fool out of myself in these German situations. I should have known about the ‘sauna shoes’. Germans are obsessed with wearing shoes inside, as I have learnt from their strict ‘house shoes’ policy. So trust the Germans to still be wearing shoes in the one place where all other clothes are forbidden. To the left I see a group of naked, middle-aged men and women having what looks like a good old natter over each others’ bits and bobs. “This is just too weird” I think, wondering if it’s not too late to chicken out. But I had come too far to do that. Plus I wanted to write about it on my blog.

I strip down to my bikini and wrap my towel firmly around me. If I’m going to get naked with the Germans then I will have to do it slowly.  I hold my head up high (as high as you can at 5ft 2ins) and open the door to the sauna area.

The group of naked natterers turn to stare at me. “Gruss Gott!” they all say in harmony. That’s a typical Bavarian greeting that means “greetings from God”  “Hallo!” I say back, trying not to sound nervous – or even worse – foreign. Then their eyes turn to my bare feet. Their smiles turn to looks of horror. Bare feet! Inside! Now they definitely know I’m not one of them.

I spot a toilet cubicle and make a dash for it. Finally somewhere I can have some privacy. I lock the door behind me and giggle uncontrollably like a schoolgirl. Quietly of course otherwise I could get into trouble. I don’t think Germans appreciate foreigners laughing at their naked sauna antics. I decide I have to get my immature giggles out before I open the door again, so I spend a few minutes whisper laughing while removing my bikini. Towel on, bikini in hand, I compose myself, open the door, and face the naked natterers again. Most of the women natterers are covering their modesty with dressing gowns now. But the men are definitely less shy. I try not to stare or even look in their direction, instead focussing my sight on some pigeon holes where I can leave my now very redundant bikini.

Now. Where to go next. I can feel the naked natterers’ eyes on me, so there’s no time to hesitate and look foreign. There are taps and sinks everywhere. I don’t know what for. Then I finally spot a door with ‘Sauna 1’ written on it. Some instructions I can understand! I’m going in.

There are two older men inside. Maybe in their fifties. Both naked of course. I keep my head down and find a spot in the sauna as far away from them as possible. I take a deep breath, remove my towel (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) which means I am now naked! In front of strangers! I pretend to be super cool about this and lay my towel down to sit on. From the corner of my eye I can tell one of the men is sitting with his legs apart, letting it all show. The other is on his back. I intend to do neither, and find a sitting position that reveals as least of my naked self as possible. Thankfully I was a contortionist in a previous life.

After ten very long minutes of heat, sweat, palpitations and trying to avoid eye contact with the naked men, I decide my first session is over. Now it’s time to shower. But first I have to get up, grab my towel, wrap it around me and leave. It’s impossible to do this without the two men seeing me naked again. Crap. Moving will also bring attention to myself, so there’s no way I can do this in secret. Maybe they aren’t looking anyway, I tell myself. It’s too hot to stay. I have to leave before I faint while naked and that would be really embarrassing. I get up, grab my towel and attempt to wrap it around myself while hastily leaving the sauna. But major fail. Somehow my towel has folded itself in two, and there isn’t enough material to cover my bits. I end up leaving the room engulfed in a battle with my towel and most definitely naked. How horrifying (for a Brit).

Now, if I thought that bit of the naked German sauna was scary, this part was going to be even worse. The showers. I find them in a large circular room, with no doors, dividers, screens…just the showers. How cosy. The room with no boundaries reminds me of scenes in films where men get raped in prison. Plus I have to leave my towel outside unless I want it to get completely soaked. No hiding this time. This is where people will actually see me properly naked. And wet. A man and woman are using the showers, so again, I find a spot as far away from them as possible, and shower fast, as if I’m paying 20 Euro per drip.

I then find a plastic garden chair to sit on outside the sauna room (not far from the naked natterers, who are still naked and nattering, very quietly of course) where I can close my eyes and try and relax. Because that’s what you come to a sauna for isn’t it? To relax. I was far from relaxed. Us Brits are only used to being naked in front of others for sexual reasons, medical reasons, and for accidental reasons (window cleaners). So being naked in front of complete strangers for none of those reasons, plus being scared of doing something wrong and being shouted at in German, which I don’t understand well, was not a very relaxing experience. “Just go with it,” is some of the advice people have given on using the naked German sauna. Maybe I’m just a pathetic weakling. Sorry, but it’s just the way most of us are brought up in Britain. To be pathetic and weak.

As I contemplate this, a man aged about 70 wearing trunks comes waddling over to a set of scales positioned about three feet away from me. He stands on the scales and drops his Speedos in front of everyone. His hairy, wrinkly little bum thrusts itself in my direction. But as we’re in the naked German sauna, this is completely normal behaviour. I have no place to be offended. To my right there’s a door to an area outside. Despite the snow, there’s a naked man out there too, pacing around, cooling down after his sauna. I’m not sure I can get used to this. How strange would it be if you bumped into your old teacher in one of these things?

After using the sauna and rape shower again, I find a little room where about 10 people are lounging on deck chairs in various states of undress. Most are mature women reading magazines. Yes, sorry guys, no Heidi Klum lookalikes in the naked German sauna. Maybe this is why my Bavarian other-half never goes. It’s eerily quiet, like a library. Except ever so not like a library. I have a little sit down but the other women seem to be giving me weird ‘up and down’ looks as if I have broken some part of the naked dress code. I feel awkward and decide it’s time to leave.

If you’ve read this blog before you may be aware that I once stumbled into a nude German sauna by accident. However, I kept my bikini firmly on, much to the disgust of the other guests. I knew that if I wanted to go for a sauna in Germany again, I’d have to get my kit off. I was pleased that I had finally given it a go. But I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. I like to relax in the sauna, and this experience was far from relaxing. The facilities here are great – far superior to what we have back home. But I think I’ll wait until I visit England where it is acceptable to keep your swimwear on and the awkward silences are broken up with pointless conversations about the weather. Plus I won’t have to worry about offending anyone with my towel. Danke!