Foodie Heaven in Augsburg: The Bavarian City No One’s Heard Of.

With the charms of the alluring Munich, Regensburg and Nuremberg all nearby, Augsburg doesn’t get much of a look-in on the Bavarian tourist trail.

In fact we have lived an hour’s drive away from here for two years now and hadn’t even bothered to visit Augsburg ourselves until this weekend.

This was due to a bad review from an American expat friend (who wasn’t that impressed) and a less than enthusiastic write-up in the Lonely Planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Germany’s third oldest city is a beautifully buzzy place with astounding architecture and a thriving market perfect for foodie types.

In typical German style the Stadtmarkt (city market) must also be one of the world’s cleanest and most organised.

In one lane you will find around half a dozen bakeries, selling delicious German breads and mouth-watering cakes.

In another there are the colourful fruit and veg stalls peddling autumn truffles among the florists and a few home ware shops.

Then on a third aisle you have all the fishmongers and a few eateries where you can snack on fresh fish buns while watching the world go by.

As if that’s not enough the market also boasts a food hall full of international goodies in its Viktualienhalle.

Here you’ll find stalls brimming with Italian antipasti, Asian spices and fine smoked meats as well as a couple of pop-up bars where weary shoppers pause for a wine or beer. Nice!

It’s the perfect place for stocking up (particularly at Christmas time) and soaking up a great atmosphere at the same time.

As I grew up in Essex in the UK I used to think of markets as being the kind of place where dodgy guys sold cheap clothes and knocked off shampoo somewhere under a grimy underpass.

So I’m forever impressed when I stumble on a market that has charm, class and sells fruit a bit more exotic than apples.

After munching our way through the market we checked out Augsburg’s colourful Altstadt (old city) with its 17th century Renaissance Town Hall and gothic cathedral.

The sun even popped out for a bit, causing a rush of Germans to the nearest ice-cream sellers (they are mad for ice-cream here. When sun shines,  Brits sunbathe. Germans buy ice-cream).

Large chains and independent shops are in abundance in compact Augsburg too (perfect for shopping) with some cool arty places dotted along winding backstreets such as Dominikanergasse. I was impressed and wondered why the hell no one had gushed to me about this wonderful place before.

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t trust American dudes or Lonely Planet. Find out for yourself.

After being seduced by the market and the shops we didn’t have time to see much else, but hopefully we’ll pop back one day to see the Art Nouveau synagogue and the famous Augsburg Puppet Box.

Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!

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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.

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.

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.