#60: Drinking with Breakfast

A tasty Sekt to go with breakfast is the best way to start a day.

The breakfast table is set, Ham? Check! Cheese? Check! Fresh Bread? Check! 2 bottles of sparkling wine? Check! wait… really?

Drinking with breakfast has a terrible connotation attached to it in Britain, wino’s and drunks will routinely frequent less, shall we say, classy establishments at 9am for a cheap breakfast and a pint of ale, but it’s not a certainly not a family affair.

Germans love to drink alcohol, but they do so in a far more responsible manner than Brits and maybe even Americans – yes, despite the fact Germans drink with breakfast. In Germany it is very popular to indulge with Sekt for breakfast it is a staple of many family events like Easter and Christmas, yet it doesn’t turn families into raging day/binge drinking alcoholics, as would certainly be the case in the UK.

Whilst a “Sekty” breakfast is the thing I am most familiar with, it is certainly not limited to this. Visit Munich at any time of the year and all over the city restaurants are serving a nice glass of Weizen (Yeast Beer) with peoples eggs at 7am.

I tend to join in this tradition whenever possible, before falling asleep in my soup at lunch time and waking up with a 2pm hangover.

#61: Winter Tyres

Germany has a reputation for being a bit of a nanny state – in that you must conform to various rules and laws in order that you are protected from yourself. Whilst these rules and laws are -in general- a good idea, sometimes they can seem a little intrusive.

Rules like not trusting you to cross the road by yourself, so making it law that you must wait for the green man before walking. But also something that I was completely unaware was even a thing before I moved here is, they do not trust you to be able to navigate the treacherous German roads of Hamburg without exchanging your tyres twice yearly for M + S (mud and snow) tyres.

Whilst there are such things as “all weather tyres” it is far more likely that you will have 2 sets of not only tyres – but wheels.  from October to Easter (Oster) so “O to O” you have to adorn winter tyres and in the other month’s – summer tyres. Down in the south of Germany, this does make sense, their weather is far more extreme than say Dusseldorf or Hamburg. But the German government, not wanting anyone to feel left out created a blanket law/rule that applies to all Germans.

There are a few rumours around whether or not it is not LAW to have winter tyres on your car between October and Easter and after some research, it is actually not the law to do it by season, but by weather condition. Thus, if in the event of an accident you did not have Winter tyres in bad weather conditions you would be automatically held responsible for the accident, even if you were driving a hire car. So in extreme weather conditions be sure to check your tyres have an M + S mark (Mud and Snow)

So for every car there are two sets of wheels that you either have to store yourself, or pay a garage to store for you, not everyone will pony up to afford two very nice pairs of wheels, so often in the winter you will see very expensive cars rolling around on horrid steel wheels as opposed to the “fly” 22″ alloys that came with the car. Which is exactly the case for me, urgh.

More information on the actual law can be found here

#62: Opening a Beer with Anything.

Beer Bottles
Delicious German Beer

You have probably been there – hot summers day, nice picnic spread and a couple of bottles of beer, but then, uh oh, no beer opener! 

This will normally lead to you trying to open the beer on trees, walls, or anything else hard within reach, resulting in you chipping the bottle and risking death or serious injury from consuming your cold, refreshing beer with added glass shards… or you might just give up altogether.

Well, this is literally never going to be a problem if you are with a German. You see Germans can open bottles of beer with ANYTHING. I have seen beers opened with lighters, keys, credit cards, coins, horns, back scratchers, saws, hammers and even ANOTHER BEER. I think this was the pinnacle of my German integration, the day I successfully learned how to open a bottle of beer, with another bottle of beer and it’s now my party trick.

For the curious, – here’s how it is done:

  1. Grasp the beer you want open around the neck, with your knuckle right up near to the bottle cap
  2. Take the other beer and hold it in your right hand around the middle and turn it upside down
  3. Place the beer caps together and using your left index finger hold the bottle tops together
  4. Squeeze tightly and lever the beer in your right hand down, using your knuckle as a fulcrum
  5. If you are holding it tightly enough, the lever action will pop open the beer in your left hand, leaving the lid of the beer in your right hand intact
  6. Enjoy the feeling of being ALL MAN
  7. Consume delicious beer

You’re welcome!

#63: Sie and Du

Sie and Du

German is not an easy language to learn, anyone who has tried for longer than 5 minutes will know this. One of the main peculiarities is the Sie and Du. (YOU)

“Sie” is the formal version of “you” in German. You would use it when talking to authority figures, most strangers and people generally older than you. “Du” is the informal and you would use it with friends and family.

As an example – Woher kommst du? means: “Where do you come from?” using the informal “Du,” you would use this when talking to someone at a party or with a mutual friend. Whereas if you were asking a stranger, you would need to use Woher Kommen Sie? It means the exact same thing, which is mildly infuriating because you have to remember the different verb endings for EVERYTHING.

It is also still used a lot in German business. My wife had to address her old boss by the formal version “Sie.” Everyone else in the office she could use “Du” with, but her boss felt it necessary to stay “formal.”

In general, there comes a time in most relationships where the boss or the person you have been talking to will allow you to “Duzen” This is, they give you express permission to use “Du” with them and no longer the formal “Sie” – but you can only do it once you have been invited to use it, using it before the invite will see you corrected back to the “Sie” version – honestly!

I got approached by some kids in the street last night asking me about a football score, they used Sie to communicate with me, which firstly, made me feel a million years old and secondly meant I messed up my reply because I am so used to using Du, that I couldn;t remember the Sie responses.

Sometimes I want to give up! ARGH!

#64: Cigarette Advertising… in 2017?

Smoking Advertising Billboard
Smoking advertisements on the streets of Germany

Cigarette advertising died out in the UK many years ago and to see it so prevalent in such a forward thinking country is odd.

Walking through towns and cities you will see hundreds of advertising billboards some advertising radio stations, or shopping centres, or city events, the kinds of things you would expect to see on billboards. However, more often than not they will show a beautiful couple, with enormous smiles gazing longingly at one another whilst holding cigarettes.

To give you an idea of just how out of place this feels to a non-native, this kind of advertising has been banned in the USA since 1994 and in the UK adverts showing people smoking have been banned since 1986!

It’s such a peculiar juxtaposition because these advertisements are still forced to show the enormous warning labels, saying something menacing such as “Rauchen kann todlich sein” or “Smoking can be deadly” but the two sexy people in the adverts look like they are having the time of their lives!

Germany sits at number 33 in global cigarette consumption per capita, with an average of 1480 cigarettes per adult, per year. The USA sits at number 57 on the list, at an average of 1083 cigarettes and the UK fares much better at number 74 with 826 cigarettes per capita.

Germans actually consume far more American brands of cigarettes and this is all to do with the post-war period where cigarettes were a form of currency. American GI’s received a ration of cigarettes whether they smoked or not and they used these in exchange of goods and services in Germany. As a result it is still these brands today that dominate the advertising – Marlboro, L&M, Pall Mall and Lucky Strike to name a few.

I can’t see how this kind of advertisement still has a place? Are non-smokers going to think… hmm, that looks great, I think I’ll take up smoking? I honestly thought this kind of advertising died out with the Marlboro man… or is he still around?

#65: What the heck is Pfand?

Pfand Machine
German Pfand Machine

The German Pfand (pronounced “FUND”) system is a logistical marvel and newcomers nightmare.

Whenever you buy a drink, such as a bottle of cola, water, or beer you will pay a small deposit on the actual bottle or can each time. It’s commonly either €0.08 or €0.25 added to the listed price of your drink. Once you return the bottles to a machine like the one above, you get a little receipt for the value of your returned bottles to spend in the store, in my case normally on more beer.

It is not just limited to shops though, in many bars that have outdoor seating and festivals you will also pay a Pfand on your glasses, sometimes this is up to 3 euros per glass, returned to you when you return them. No matter how many times you visit a wine stand, it’s highly likely you will forget about this, clutching a €10 note for your two €5 glasses of wine only be told (in German that you probably don’t understand) that your order costs €14 because you have forgotten to add Pfand again!

Not only is this system a necessity for Germany to have any hope of meeting their environmental targets (it would be a lot of discarded plastic otherwise) it also encourages you to recycle. Given the amount of bottled water you will have to buy living in Germany the pfand will soon add up.

Because every bottle is worth a few cents, recycling also encourages cleaner streets. Many homeless (and sometimes not homeless people) will root through rubbish bins in the streets and on trains looking for discarded bottles and cans, to return in exchange for cash. Some rubbish bins even have holders on the outside of the bin to make it easier to collect.

Whilst overall it is an inconvenience to haul these returns around, my favourite part about it is, returning a shedload of bottles and getting enough Pfand back to cover the cost of my next crate of delicious German beer, it literally feels like free beer!

#67: Nudity

The German attitude to nudity is pretty liberal. The British attitude to nudity is not.

Ok, so let’s be fair, it’s not like you are going to turn up in Germany and start seeing boobs and dicks everywhere. It’s not that extreme. But journey to a beach, or to one of the many swimming lakes dotted around the country and you are likely to see a “Freikörperkultur” (FKK) or “free body culture” area. A nude beach essentially.

This relaxed attitude to nudity is developed from a young age, nudity is not something to be ashamed of or hidden. As a result, when German children grow older, they are far more comfortable with nudity than the British, including me.

So, my wife being German wants to take me to an enormous spa/sauna complex, with outdoor swimming pools, jacuzzis and numerous saunas of various temperatures and sizes. It is the middle of winter and is snowing, (which is all part of the experience) so curiosity gets the better of me and I agree to go, despite knowing I will have to be nude at various points.

When I arrived, I was pretty nervous, especially when you have no bathing suit or swimming trunks – they are left in the locker, you only take a towel and a robe and that’s it. We haven’t even left the changing rooms and I must have seen 5 pairs of breasts and at least 24 pairs of balls. Excluding my own.

Walking into a room full of naked people for the first time in your life, in your mid-thirties, is peculiar. Germans will make eye contact with you, they will say hello and like it or not, they will cop an eyeful. It seems to be accepted that everyone will look at everyone else – in fact hiding your modesty can cause grumbles amongst the unclothed, better to just go along with it. Initially, I sat with a towel covering my modesty, but after a few hours of being there, it does feel quite comfortable and natural… kind of.

But! People attend these kinds of places with their friends, colleagues and families! My reluctance to be naked in a room was balanced out by the fact that I would be in a room full of strangers, I couldn’t imagine going to a place like this with friends – and friends wives and partners, that would be too weird for my prudish ways.

Then on an even higher level, the one thing that surprised me the most was when a family walked in with 2 children. A girl aged around 14-15 and a younger boy maybe around 10. I am pretty sure by the age of 10 I was already aware of my nudity and would be horrified if my parents caught me nude, and my parents horrified if I caught them nude. I could not imagine ANY scenario where a self-conscious British 14-year-old, would follow their naked parents, into a room full of other naked people.

German FKK – does take some getting used too.

#68: Qualifications

5 Years experience? Sorry, you have no degree.

If you want to move to and work in Germany, you had better be qualified. German’s take qualifications VERY seriously and as a result, their whole education system is set up differently from that of the UK, or the USA.

Here in Germany you either get a degree or work as an apprentice in your chosen field in order to gain certification for almost all jobs. This even includes general administrative jobs, like bank clerks, or car dealership workers, it’s not just formal trades like plumbing or carpentry as is popular in the UK.

Without these qualifications, you will find it nearly impossible to be hired for a job. If you did somehow get a job without a qualification, but at a later stage want to go for a promotion, it is highly unlikely you would ever get the job over someone who has a relevant qualification – even if they had little, to no experience.

So how is it different in the UK at least? Well if you have 5 years experience in Estate Agency, versus a University graduate with a relevant degree, your experience is pretty likely to be regarded by the employer as worth as much, if not more, than the degree. In Germany, the person with the qualification would get it.

The disadvantage I see to this, given my very diverse work history, is if you did an apprenticeship in something like Tax advising, then after 5 years want to do something else, essentially, you can’t. You would first have to study and get qualified in order to move fields. I find the whole balance toward education frighteningly restrictive. But then I would, seeing as I am a dumbass college dropout.

#69: Crowds

Orderly.

Germans may not ever master standing in line, but they are undoubtedly masters of the “general melee”.

Whether you are patiently lining up at a bank, or store, a German will wander straight past the three or so of you, stood orderly and patiently up to the general area of a desk and destroy all notion of a line.

It is actually similar to being in a crowd at a music gig. I have been to hard rock, punk rock, indie rock and electro rock gigs all over Germany and my experience is largely the same, everyone stands in a general melee, facing the stage (well, obviously) and between songs, they will clap. But, save for a TINY portion of the crowd, Germans at gigs are largely motionless and spread out. It’s like they are applying similar ideas to that they apply to queuing.

To be honest, I am still not used to it, being in a rock concert venue that holds 2500 people and getting more order and room than if the same amount of people were in the post office.

#70: Tea

Tea, but not as you know it

Being British, you tend to drink a lot of tea, because tea solves all your worldly woes, tea gets you up in the morning, gets you through work, takes you to bed at night, tastes delicious and is as traditional a part of being British, as moaning about the weather.

Germans also drink a lot of tea, but not tea as you know it. Drinking tea for a German is somewhat of an event. For example, just order a tea in a restaurant and you will not receive a cup of tea, first, you will be asked; “What kind of tea?”

“Roibush tea? Fenchel Tea? Apfel tea?” “No, no”, you’ll reply, “normal tea.” NOTE: You need to order “Schwarz Tea” (Black Tea) and then because you are not an animal, you will ask for milk and proceed to disgust your host -Germans drink normal tea, without milk. Monsters!

Even in an Irish bar (that I used to work at) you would prepare tea starting off with a “fancy” glass of hot water… not a mug…  and place the glass onto a little plate, then put another little plate on top of the glass, pick up a box FULL of assorted teas, walk over to the customer, place down the cup of water and present the box of tea to him as if you are presenting a box of riches to an Emporer and wait patiently whilst they sift through and invariably ask you for the one tea that the box does not contain.

But it’s not just the ceremony of tea, Germans seem to think that tea has healing properties akin to actual, real medicine. “Oh, I’m so sick” “oh dear” I reply to my wife, “can I get you some Lemsip?” No, it’s OK I’ll take some tea”

Despite you reiterating for the millionth time, that essentially you are just drinking slightly flavoured water… slightly badly flavoured water at that, German’s will not hear that their “Fenchel tea” is doing nothing that a cup of warm water could not.

In the time it has taken me to type this post, the UK will have drunk nearly half a million cups of real tea. If Germany drank tea to the same extent, they would believe themselves to be impervious to death.