I wrote most of this post almost a fortnight ago now, but have been up to my eyeballs with life… so here it is, at last!
Thursday (15th) was a German national bank holiday (Corpus Christi)- though a Christian holiday, it’s not one we have at home, so that came as a nice surprise to me, as it meant a free day for exploring!
After a lazy start, Felix and I drove to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen- somewhere near Frankfurt I had never been before! We had a really lovely afternoon in the scorching heat (it reached 31 degrees centigrade by around 3pm… too hot, if you ask me!) Our ice lollies and cold drinks were very welcome!
I thoroughly enjoyed admiring some of the beautiful old buildings and houses which the city boasts. We took the Nerobergbahn (a funicular railway) up from the level of the main town to hilltop Neroberg. We visited the stunning Russian Orthodox church, looked down over vineyards, churches and houses, and green that seemed to stretch for miles and miles the other side of the city.
We had a really nice mini-visit, and after Neroberg we drove and walked around and saw a few of the sights of Wiesbaden in a whistle-stop manner.
Then… on Friday I went to the annual state festival here in Hessen, the ‘Hessentag’, which is hosted by a different city in the state every year. The host city is transformed for 10 days, with roads closed, stands, rides and stalls erected and entertainment set up. This year it was in Rüsselsheim.
I went with friend (and former school exchange partner) Lara, and her parents, and enjoyed some really different German delights…. Bowle, Flammkuchen… the lot!
We took a ride on the Riesenrad (big/ ferris wheel) and enjoyed a gorgeous view over Rüsselsheim to one side (pictured below) and up along the Main/Rhine valley to the other side.
The day ended up being a real scorcher and despite plenty of factor 50 I got thoroughly sunburnt!
The Hessentag was nothing like I’ve ever seen before- the main streets of the town were all closed and lined with food stalls, entertainment stages and advertising/ sponsored areas. It was well worth a visit on a lovely sunny day!
On the whole, it was a really lovely couple of days of local exploration!
First of all… just a quick disclaimer that this list is by no means exclusive or exhaustive… Also it’s only based on my personal experiences of growing up in London, studying in Surrey and Working and Living in Frankfurt am Main… I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say, if you’ve noticed any of the same things as me or if you think I’ve missed anything instrumental!
Contrary to popular beliefs (held fairly widely in the UK atleast) other than the obvious differences of language and location, currency and history, England (my homeland) and Germany (my adopted home) share a great deal in common. Cultural attitudes to a lot of things are very similar, the general way and pace of life is roughly comparable… but there are definitely more than a couple of things you’ll notice if you move from the UK to Germany. Some are great, some are less great, but I find them all really interesting regardless.
Pfandflasche… &The Pfand system
For those of you who are wondering, what the heck a Pfandflasche is when it’s at home, click here to find out! I was so amused by and totally enamoured with them when I initially moved to Frankfurt for the summer in 2016, and became a keen recycler in no time, in order to save cents… The system keeps the streets cleaner and gives everyone a greater incentive (a financial imperative) to bother recycling their used bottles, drinks cans and flasks. It’s doubtless an innovative and efficient system…The only downside I’ve observed is that many Germans find it much more practical to hoard their Pfandflasche at home until they have an unholy, uncarriable amount to recycle all at once. I’m fairly certain that my German boyfriend has atleast 50 euros worth of Pfand goods stashed in every spare crevice and cupboard of his apartment! (though that figure just is an estimation, it’s no joke!) It can be very entertaining opening drawers, expecting towels and finding 12 empty bottles of apfelschorle instead… until you need space to store your actual belongings…!
Public (outdoor) Bookcases
I first spotted these last summer but was so shocked and bemused by the concept of a *FREE* book that I was too scared to approach one alone. Once encouraged and reassured by German friends that the contents of these magical little cabinets is in fact free for everyone to take home, swap or return, I plucked up the courage to pick a title.
I love the idea of free books and book-swapping. They are typically full of an eclectic mix of novels, manuals, educational books, children’s books, dictionaries…(sometimes even DVDs, CDs and VCRs) in a wide range of languages (The last one I visited, on Sunday, featured titles in English, German, Dutch, Russian, Danish and Hebrew at a glance!).
They’ve been around since the early 1990s and can be found all over Germany, but exist mostly in bigger cities. There are plenty in Frankfurt, with one to be found in almost every neighbourhood. Here’s a photo of the one I visited at the weekend…
They don’t all look the same. Some can be found in the form of converted telephone boxes and old fashioned wooden cabinets too. Hereis a list of all the public bookcases in Hessen! And here’s a bit about them, if you’re interested.
And incase you were wondering… I took a Beginner’s Danish book this time!
(on billboards, at bus stops, in train stations etc. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act of 2002 banned most forms of tobacco advertisement in the UK- only advertisements smaller than A5 are allowed in the premises of licenced retailers now, with a minimum of 1/3 of the page being occupied by mandatory government health warnings.) Cigarette Vending machines (until 2012, licenced premises in England and wales could still have these, but they have been illegal in the UK since. Most sizeable towns and cities in Germany have many of these, on the side of the road, and they are also quite common in in club and bar toilets.)
People smoking indoors…! In the UK it has been illegal to smoke in public indoor spaces including restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, music venues etc. since July 2007. Most private rented accommodation in the UK doesn’t allow smoking indoors either nowadays.
In Germany, like several other central European countries, smoking indoors is not only legal but is common practise in quite a lot of places. Of course, there are quite a lot of non-smoking venues, but if you go on a night out in Germany as a non-smoker you can probably expect to come home itching for a shower!
Nudity and Adverts on Daytime TV
Nudity on TV is far more common in Germany than in the UK. It appears in varying degrees at varying times of day, but it’s fair to say female nipples aren’t scandalous on German TV in the daytime as they would be if shown in England. I can only recall seeing full-frontal nudity a few times on British TV, and then always well into the evening, around 22:30 at the earliest, and always with ample warning from the BBC that things might get a little racy later on…!
What can be and is actually shown during the day is differs quite significantly… Adverts for alcohol, condoms and what have you are far more common on the Continent than in the UK in General, for example, where they can’t be shown until after hours.
There is a legal ‘Watershed’ in Germany too, with 16+ content appearing between 22:00 and 06:00, and 18+ material only between 23:00 and 06:00. In the UK, the ‘Watershed’ comes earlier, at 21:00, but also ends a little earlier, at 05:30.
Naturism… and public nudity
Nudist parks, nudist societies and clubs are really quite rare in the UK, and when they are found, they are most commonly used a source of a one-off day-trip giggle by tourists. Most Brits are, as the stereotypes suggest, pretty prudish when it comes to being naked. I vividly remember a family trip to Brighton beach as a child with some family friends, where the dads decided to pose behind the ‘Brighton Nudist Beach Zone’ sign… but were too embarrassed to get, nude so left their pants on behind it for the photos!
In Germany, the choice to boldy go, or should I say, to boldly go without reigns supreme. Many public parks in the middle of the city have nudist areas. There are over 200 private clubs in Germany, known as part of the Nacktkultur (or naked culture) movement. Nudity is also far more common in spas and saunas, much to the horror and amusement of many less liberated international visitors.
This being said… most German’s aren’t naturists… just like most Brits… but, there’s certainly less stigma surrounding the practise.
7. Licenced Brothels
Prostitution and almost all aspects of adult sexwork are legal in Germany- street prostitution, brothels, sexual sauna and massage parlours, escort services…You name it, it’s here.
This allows for much greater regulation than in places like the UK where many women in particular are forced to work in poorer conditions. The German government even taxes prostitution. To read more about this cultural difference, click here.
People driving the wrong way…
Cars on the Left-hand side of the road… It’s an obvious one, and I know it’s almost just us Brits still driving on the RIGHT (correct 😉 ) side of the road… but I’ll never get used to driving around a roundabout the other way!!
(now this one is a bit debatable, but hear me out!)
I suppose it depends entirely on your boundaries in defining both graffiti and wit. Having grown up in London, I’ve seen quite a lot of graffiti in my life, but I don’t think much of it has ever made an impression on me for its cleverness or humour or… Instagram-worthiness… Perhaps I’m blinded by the foreign exotic charm of some german graffiti, but I seem to see lots of much funnier wordplay, romantic proclamations and cute doodles than in the UK.
Don’t get me wrong- on the whole I’m not a huge fan of graffiti- in fact, the shabbily drawn gang tags which populate the train track-side walls of every city route I can recall back home can be a real eyesore. I actually think wittier graffiti and street art might be a non-British thing more generally… when I was in Iceland recently with my family, we noticed a really cool graffiti mural… (which i can’t currently locate a picture of, though I definitely took one!)…Some food for thought, either way.
(or literally… time to celebrate the end of the working day/ the start of the evening!)
Now there’s nothing particularly special about this word in itself… rather more fun is its significance culturally… many German’s (and guests, like myself) take the lingustic suggestion to celebrate the evening very literally, with a post- work drink. Many people don’t even wait until they’re home… seeing quite a lot of stressed out looking business people sipping a cold beer in the U-Bahn around 6 is pretty common in Frankfurt!
Thanks for reading my 10 things you’ll find in Germany that you won’t find in England post- If you liked it, please do check out my other blogs! I’m hoping to write some more culture shock posts like this one in the near future 🙂
It’s somehow already Saturday… (this week is absolutely flying by- I’m clearly having way too much fun!)
I just thought I’d write a little something about the wonderful little trip I’ve enjoyed during the past two days. Yesterday evening we (myself and my s/o Felix) drove up past Frankfurt, to the north of the state of Hessen(German states are kind of like British counties but generally much much bigger). The journey only took us about 70 minutes from Offenbach and we arrived at the lovely little Hotel Orthwein (Super altmodisch and kitsch) around about 9.30pm.
” But why on earth did you drive to Cölbe, a small and totally random German town, late on a Friday night..?” I hear you cry…Why, for a Party of course!
I was so happy to be able to visit my dear friend Lara and her lovely boyfriend Elias at Lara’s student digs in Bernsdorf for the party last night. I’ve known Lara almost 6 years now- we were Exchange partners at school, always got along really well and have stayed in pretty consistent contact ever since. The pair stayed with me in Guildford less than a month ago and I showed them some of my personal London highlights, which afforded me a lovely staycation at the start of the Easter Break.
Anyway, back to the main event- PaRtYy!!! It was actually a super cool party. I only realised this morning but i’d never been to a proper German house party before last night. I’ve been out in Germany quite a lot, had small gatherings at friends flats but never been to a party where the majority of the other party-goers were strangers and had to converse all evening long (with the help/hindrance of alcohol) in my clunky Denglisch. (German/English!).
It was excellent fun- a really bustling and friendly party in their lovely apartment in Bernsdorf (it really is a Dorf a super tiny village with literally about 5 houses and a stables!)
We chatted to some lovely people, enjoyed plenty to drink, some pizza thanks to the kindness of some generous strangers! There was even a beer pong table out on the Terrace! Of course, there was also the obligatory yet very unfortunate house-party individual who passed out early on and fast became a work of modern art- sharpie, confetti and various other buckaroo style objects strewn across his person…poor guy. Aside from that, I also learned a couple of odd german cultural practises- As a little gift to the hosts, we took chocolate brownies (which I baked yesterday afternoon) and Felix bought Klopfer- they are essentially fruity alcopop shots in little individual sized bottles- but you have to Klopf the bottle (or bash it against the table and hang the lid on your nose before you drink it!) That gave me a good giggle.
We headed back to our hotel by taxi at around 1.30am (as it was of utmost importance that we woke up in time for our complimentary breakfast!!- and to check out!)
Thankfully neither of us were struck down by hangovers this morning, so we got up pretty early, enjoyed a really lovely hotel breakfast and headed off into Marburg. We didn’t see much of Cölbe other than our hotel and some lovely old houses when we walked back to Bernsdorf this morning to pick up the car. But it was so beautiful and rural- green all around- having a house party in what felt like the middle of nowhere was really awesome. And of course it was so lovely to see my friends again.
Today we spent the day in beautiful Marburg- I had been before, to visit Lara at Uni, last June- but it was Felix’s first visit. It definitely did not disappoint a second time around. If you’re ever in Frankfurt for more than a couple of days, taking a trip up to Marburg (or Heidelberg) is definitely worth it- for some real german charm. There are almost no cars at all in the Old Town- Only bicycles and pedestrians really.
We took the famous Aufzug up to the old town, wandered steep cobbled streets, and passed a couple of hours in old bookshops. We then adventured up to the Marburger Schloss, which offers a breathtaking views from it’s hilltop vantage point. We stopped off at a Cafe called Felix-(chosen for its comedy value and appealing sounding menu) and had some really delicious and indulgent maple syrup American style pancakes.
It was really an exceptionally lovely little trip.
Ta-ta for now- must go and make some more delicious, intensely carby German food (käsespätzle this time!)