Saturday, December 27, 2014


Today we experienced our first snowfall in Germany! (Now to clear this up, it DID snow the day that the goose and I boarded a plane at Frankfurt headed to Charlotte, but we were up in the air and out of the country by the time it started!) We woke up and were greeted with big, fluffy, wet flakes falling to the ground and a dusting of accumulation. The goose was super excited! (What 4 year old boy wouldn't be; especially one who's been asking SINCE WE MOVED IN AUGUST when we'd get snow?) The thick snowfall continued all morning and for most of the day. We currently have about 2 inches of accumulated snow on the ground.

 This was earlier this morning, more snow accumulated throughout the day.

 Oh what fun it is!

SCHNEE! Oh how we love a first SCHNEE! It's so white and peaceful and magical! We ventured out to play in the snow after lunch time today. It was perfect snow for snowballs- wet and great packing! You'll be surprised to hear about how the German folk respond to snow here; the answer is: the same as most U.S. peeps! There were adults and children alike walking around and throwing snowballs at each other, people stepping carefully and treading lightly to avoid slippery spots in their shoes, cars getting brushed off, children sitting down and rolling in the snow, and dogs who desperately wanted to return to the warm and dry confines of their home after they finished with their business outside. It was refreshingly normal and human! How we all love and appreciate a beautiful snow. (Until it hinders our plans and day that is!)

The forecast calls for possibly more snow tonight. We shall see! The temperatures are supposed to be pretty cold for the next few days; not reaching above freezing at all. By the time it's warm enough to melt, that pristine schnee will probably be so brown and hideous from all the walking, dirt, cars, pollution, etc, that we'll be more than happy to see it melt away. But until then we will enjoy it!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Frohe Weihnachten Part Eins (1)

Frohe Weihnachten- Merry Christmas!

This marks our first Christmas spent in Germany. Oh Christmas tree, Christmas music, Christmas lights, food, desserts, surprises, decorations, presents, sounds, smells, and I love thee! Christmas has always been my favorite holiday and absolute favorite time of year. One of the first things I said when I found out in May of this year that we'd be moving to Germany was, "We'll be there for Christmas?" Well, yeah, duh me...but that was where my mind went! My favorite holiday and time of year spent apart from family and friends and traditions and familiarity?

My face and initial reaction might have looked something like this...

You are probably curious as to what Christmas and the season are like in Germany. I can't speak with confidence as to what it's like in all cities of Germany, as traditions vary from area to area, but want to share some of the things we've experienced here in southern Rhine-Main area. You may be surprised to learn that many of the traditions, words, and images we use at Christmas-time in the United States are actually variations of German traditions. (Remember that the United States is a pretty "young" country.)

*Advent is BIG here- the Advent season, calendar, wreath, etc are all a big deal here. For most families, the Christmas season officially starts on the first day of the Advent Calendar. The "Adventskalendar" was started in Germany as a way to get families and children involved in activities leading up to Christmas day, and was used both religiously and secularly. Many good folks in the U.S. use an Advent Calendar type of item (even if they don't know it!) during the month of December as well. Just think about it- as a child, did you ever had a Santa face on the wall to which you glued a cotton ball each day of the month until Santa's beard was "full" on Christmas Eve? Or your parents hung a cloth Christmas calendar on the wall and you moved a candy cane or some other item from pocket to pocket each day? Mmmhmmm. Those are variations of the Adventskalendar. Children's chocolate Adventskalendars are very common here- each day of the month, the children find the cardboard flap with the correct date on it, push the flap back and find a piece of chocolate to eat and a picture to look at. In previous times, small wooden items and toys would be included in a wooden Adventskalendar.

 Christmas Market in Michelstadt, Germany, that Kurt attended with some colleagues. 

*Christmas Markets- One thing most people who know a lick about Germany have heard about are the famous "Weihnachtsmarkte", Christmas markets. Most towns and cities have them, though they vary in size. They start a few days after Thanksgiving and typically run until two days before Christmas. (This does vary of course.) The Christmas Markets are breathtakingly beautiful! They capture almost everything people love about Christmas in one big event! Music, trees, lights, families, nativity scenes, delicious smells and food and drink, gifts to buy and more, are everywhere. Wooden shops carry handmade items such as beeswax candles, wool scarves, gloves, hats, jellies and honey, lotions, jewelry, and more. Food stands are everywhere and serve up everything from Gluhwein (more on that later!) and bratwurst to Nutella crepes.

*Santa Claus, "Weihnachtsmann"(Christmas man) traditionally comes on the eve of December 5th. Children set out their boots or shoes and awaken on the 6th to find toys and treats in them if they've been good or rods and rocks if they've been naughty. That is Santa's big day and appearance, and he isn't given an enormous limelight as in the U.S. After the 6th, Weihnachtsmann fades into the background.

*Traditionally "Das Christkind" (baby Jesus) brings gifts on December 24th, Christmas Eve, which is more celebrated than the 25th. Children are sent to their rooms while the parents bring out presents from Christkind for them to come out and receive. Keep in mind that it is now more common for Santa Claus to come on Christmas Eve in certain areas of Germany- this just depends on the region you are in and the background and religious views and traditions of the family.

*Der Tannenbaum, the Christmas Tree, has German origins as well! (Dating to the early 1400's in Germany; the tradition was thought to be brought to the U.S. in the 18th century by German immigrants!) You will find cut Christmas trees at many Christmas Markets and stores. Artificial trees are almost unheard of here. Many families decorate the trees on either the first day of Advent or on Christmas Eve. Live candles are lit on the tree, wooden ornaments and crafted glass figures are hung, and a nativity scene is placed around the base.

Stay tuned for Frohe Weihnachten Part Zwei (2)!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm no Martha

A little bit of back story: We are staying at our pastor and his wife's apartment while they are visiting their family in the States. They were gracious enough to offer us full use of their place, as it's much larger than our apartment and has two bedrooms! :) (Ours has 1.)

We're enjoying the extra space tremendously!

Anyway, I found this craft packet on the table that Carol left for me, as she didn't have time to do it before leaving for their trip. The pink post-it reads: "Sheena, if you can figure this out, please do it."

I got kind of excited about this. Gave me a fun little project to work on today while the goose was in school for a few hours and I was baking some cookies for Thanksgiving dinner later this afternoon.

I sat down at the dining room table, played a "Parenthood" episode on Netflix, made a cup of Kaffee, and ripped this sucker open. The instructions are in Deutsch, so I grabbed an individual sheet of paper and started following along based on the pictures. It took me a few minutes to finish the one sheet. I was really proud of myself once I finished it, as it was a little tricky. (For me at least.) I had restarted it a couple of times, after not getting some of the folds as precise as they needed to be.

 I then glance down to the next set of directions and see that it says to repeat the process I just completed 30 more times. WHAT?!

 This was the easy part. The hard part is the other 80% of the instructional guide.

Naive Sheena thought that each little piece of paper made a fun star thing I could hang up. Then I see that once you complete all 30 of the difficult little suckers, there is a complicated process of unfolding them in different places and connecting them and refolding and...YEAH. NO. Does it reflect poorly on me to tell you I decided not to complete the project?

 My proud face turned to this when I decided I was giving up. Haha!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fast Food

Fast food. We don't even think about how many fast food options we have in the U.S. It's something we are used to, something we've grown up surrounded by, the "norm". Even if you're from a really small town, chances are you have a McDonald's, a Hardee's, and maybe even a Subway. Fast food joints are on every corner. In the mall. Inside gas stations. Attached to super centers. They are EVERYWHERE. Traveling on the interstate, many people decide on which exit to stop at based on the food choices listed on the interstate signs for that exit. Just a Hardee's? Yuck...keep on driving, the gas light hasn't come on yet! Ooooo...a Chick-Fil-A, Subway and Taco Bell all within 0.3 miles of the exit ramp? Score!

From my experience so far, there are not nearly as many fast food places in Germany. Well, to rephrase that, there are a lot less varied fast food joints. In bigger shopping areas, you will typically see a McDonald's and sometimes a Pizza Hut, but that's about it as far as familiar fast food restaurants come. Bratwurst carts, bakeries, Döner Kebab joints and Italian eateries are the most common and convenient food places you'll find in most German cities; their version of "fast food".

*Bratwurst carts/stands: Chances are, when you think of German food, sausages, bratwursts and sauerkraut come to mind. :) Am I right? Bratwurst stands are pretty amazing here. For about 2-3 Euros, you get a Brochen (bread roll) with a fresh off the grill Bratwurst or Paprikawurst (spicy pepper sausage). There are other varieties as well, but I haven't strayed from the original or spicy goodness to try them yet.

*Bäckerei- Bakeries are EVERYWHERE here. I am not exaggerating when I say I have my choice of 5 bakeries within a 5 minute walk from our apartment. The people from Deutschland LOVE their pastries and bread! Walk to the bus stop, by the shops, or through the park and you will see a large percentage of people with a pastry or bread item in their hand. Business attired folk on their way to work will often have a coffee in one hand and a warm pastry in the other.

*Döner Kebab- These joints are everywhere. A Turkish specialty, the sandwiches and wraps are SUPER popular here and it's considered the most common "fast food" in this region. Most of these places also make pizza and fries, but the pizza is never very good. The döner sandwiches are made with pita bread, which is typically baked in-house, and warmed on a grill to give it a char-coaled look. Then meat is hand-sliced off of a spit of real lamb, veal or beef. None of that fake meat laden with preservatives! Once the meat has been put inside the pita, onions, lettuce, tomato and shredded red cabbage will be added if you respond "Ja" (yes) to "Mit alles?" (with everything). You can ask for chili flakes "Mit chili bitte" to give it more of a kick. The final step is a house-made dill joghurt sauce. (Pictures below)

 The döner place right next to the bus/tram station closest to our apartment. Busy during lunch hour on a week day.

My own personal döner sandwich. This one was a little too saucy for my taste, but good nonetheless.       

Up close and personal.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Toilette funnies

Just in case you were thinking about doing this....

This is for real and it absolutely cracks me up every time I look at it. I took this picture in a "Damen Toilette" (ladies' restroom) at the University. Because clearly the only happy person is a person who is NOT jumping and frolicking on the toilet seat. ;)

Pharmacy Shmarmacy

Imagine: It's 8:00 pm on a week night. You're battling a killer headache. You've fought the good fight, but it's time to call in reinforcements. You trudge to the medicine cabinet in your fuzzy socks and rummage around for your trusty bottle of ibuprofen. There it is- sweet relief within your grasp! *GASP* The bottle is empty. Crud muffins. What is your next move?

Before August 28th of this year, my response to this dilemma would have been a little bit of frustration and inconvenience, as at this time in the evening, I'm probably makeup-free and in my pjs, having just gotten the goose to bed and starting my relax time. But I would have grabbed my keys and purse, maybe swapped my pjs pants for some jeans, and headed down the road to the closest Walgreen. (Which was in fact, about 2 minutes from my townhouse in the States.) So as frustrating as it would be to be out of something I needed at that moment it would be easy to go grab it from the local pharmacy and be back home within just a few minutes.

Fast forward to October 2014. This scenario happens, but this time I'm living in Germany. My muscles in my shoulder and neck are super stiff, sore and painful. Stretch it out- check. Massage it- check. Heat lamp- check. But gosh darn it, I need an ibuprofen. The pharmacies here are called "Apothekes". We don't have CVS, Walgreen, Rite-Aid, etc. Most Apothekes close around 6:00 or 7:00 pm at the latest. On week nights. On Saturdays. And they are CLOSED on Sunday. There is a rotating schedule you can find in the paper or online, listing the one Apotheke that will be open 24 hours each day. (Only one.) So there is a way to get your precious ibuprofen. Yay! But wait, the one that's open past 6:00 pm today is a 20 minute bus ride and 10 minute walk from there. What used to be a 15 minute maximum round trip is now closer to an hour.

Here is my experience with the Apotheke stores in Deutschland so far. What is nice, what is frustrating, what it's like getting meds from there.

*Apothekes are recognized by the large block letter "A" as shown in the photo below.

*Apothekes are clean, well lit and well stocked

*They resemble a high end store much more than a pharmacy we are used to being in in the States. They have mirrored walls, pricey spa type products and herbal products over the counter.

*Most medicines, including aspirin, Tylenol, first aid ointment, etc that we would typically buy over the counter, are behind the counter here. So that's a bit frustrating. Given my limited Deutsch, it's hard for me to describe what I need sometimes. Plus a lot of the medicines are totally different brands and names here.

*The pharmacists at the Apotheke stores are quite nosy. Haha! Well, I suppose it's their job, but they will ask you what your symptoms are or why you need the medicine you ask for. In some situations, this could be quite helpful and lovely, but when there are four other customers behind you in line, it's frustrating and a bit "on the spot". When you are used to being able to grab your stuff, check out and pay with no questions, this takes some getting used to. (I DO see the benefit in this, as Germany is trying to prevent overdoses and even over-the-counter product over-usage. So for this reason, you are typically unable to purchase more than one package of medicine at a time.)

*You get much less medicine in a package here. I have not found bottles of medicine yet, they are all packaged in cardboard boxes with blister packs inside.

(I did find that most vitamins are easily purchased over the counter and in larger quantities at the "dm" store, which is kind of like a Walgreen with the type of things you can buy there, minus the pharmacy section. They only have vitamins, no medicines.)

*Not knowing how many brands are available or what a good price for certain items is here, I'm not always sure I'm getting the best deal. I have learned just this week that you can ask for "the cheapest please", "Das Billigste bitte", so I will try that the next time.

*Dosages for liquid medications are given by weight and not age here. Which I think is brilliant, as it's much safer and more effective to be taking the amount of medicine your body actually needs. I mean, for example, some 4 year old children weigh 40 lbs and some weigh 30 lbs. And others a lot more or less than those numbers listed.

The whole Apotheke concept was difficult for me at first, but just because it was sooooo different. For 31 years, I was used to finding pharmacies and over-the-counter products on every corner in almost every grocery or super center store. And being able to purchase my vitamins, medicines and such with no questions asked. (Well, besides good ole Sudafed of course! Thanks meth!)

 After getting used to the way medicines and vitamins are purchased here, I find myself quite liking the safety precautions taken with drugs, as even over-the-counter drugs (and vitamins) are dangerous when taken incorrectly, too often, or if you have an allergy to them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Loop 5

I have now had my first German mall experience. Are you excited to hear what it was like? Well, it was like...going to a mall anywhere. :) Ha! Seriously! The mall experience wasn't anything strange or out of the ordinary. Besides the fact that Deutsch was being spoken everywhere, it was like being at a mall in the States.

The mall is called "Loop 5" and is located in Weiterstadt, which is a city right next to Darmstadt. I was invited by my friend Carol to come along, as she had some Christmas shopping to do. The goose was in Kindergarten, so I went. It is a 3 or 4 story/floored mall and is extremely clean and eye catching.

There was the normal assortment of stores at Loop 5: Lots of shoes stores, clothing stores, book stores, food court, makeup and body care stores, hair salons, etc.

Most of the stores are European, but there are a few that we have in the States, such as "SIX" and "FOOT LOCKER".

The COOLEST thing about Loop 5 is that the entire mall is aviation themed. There are fans hanging from the ceilings that look like propellers, relaxation areas that look like airport waiting areas, plane and helicopter decor here and there, and it's all tastefully done!

More pictures below. Very sad to say, the pictures I took of the propeller fans didn't turn out. :(

You mean your McDonald's doesn't have a fancy coffee and pastry counter?

Food court dining area

I really liked the "Butler's" store with all of its colorful home good items! I cannot figure out what the tiny tumbler is for (see bottom of three pictures)...I know the one to the right of it is an egg cup, but the tumbler was too small even for child use. Any ideas?

I loved this book! Really neat illustrations. Too bad it was about 30 Euros! "The Tales of Brothers Grimm".

This. Store. Was. Da. Bomb. A craft store "Idee" with possibly the coolest checkout counters ever to exist. :) And the lighting!

A little gust of familiarity! (Although it's even more pricey here. Yikes!)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grocery shopping part zwei

Things that are easy to find (you could say abundant) in most grocery stores here:
*Freshly baked rolls, bread, pretzels and other carbohydrate creations

*Pastries galore!

*Brats, sausages, meat meat meat

*TONS of yogurt varieties, some of which we don't have in the U.S. Greek yogurt is hard to find, but there are so many other varieties, most of which I still haven't tried. Ever heard of Quark? (There is actually a brand of quark available in the U.S. now; Quark is a fermented cheese type of yogurty thingy...yeah, that's about as much as I can describe it. It's actually really good! Cottage cheese is one of few foods I actively DESPISE, and the description of Quark makes it sound like it's like cottage cheese (BLEH!) but it actually tastes nothing like it! It has a creamy texture and I sometimes buy a "Vanilla Yogurt Quark" tub to enjoy throughout the week.

*Spreads for bread- cheese spreads, herb spreads (there are a LOT of onion/garlic spreads), butter spreads, and on and on. These peeps like their bread, and apparently their bread spreads.

*Beer and liquor- it's in pretty much every store AND it's CHEAP. Like cheap cheap. I can't help but picture cute little yellow chicks when I say that. (And yes, I know that would be "cheep cheep".) I probably don't have to tell you, but German beer and beer selection is pretty amazing. Wine can be purchased for 1.99 a bottle and it's good! Seasonal federweiss is the best thing I've ever tasted. It's the freshest of the fresh in terms of delicious grape-y wine. It's made from the freshest pressed grapes (locally!) and you buy the bottles for about 3 Euros. The bottles aren't sealed, so you cannot lay them down in the fridge or they'll spill sweet sticky federweiss goodness all over the place. It ferments slowly over a few days.

*Chocolate- From cheap 'store brand' chocolate to delicious name brand German and Belgium chocolate, which is still inexpensive. If you're not drooling, you should be. It's legit and delish.

*Cheese- cheese cheese everywhere of the sliced or block variety. Shredded cheese is very hard to find, as is any type of cheddar.

Grocery Shopping

I've been asked by quite a few people via email, Skype, Facebook chatting, etc what my favorite and least favorite things are about Germany so far. I get the question: "So what's really different there from what you're used to?" all the time.  The answer to that is without a doubt: "Almost everything!" :) Haha!

But to answer the questions much more specifically and in greater detail, I will be posting every so often about things that are very different and why, things that are mostly the same, things I like, things I dislike, things that I haven't tried, and so on. Please do not take any of the dislikes as me bashing this great place! I am merely sharing my honest and personal thoughts and opinions.

*One of the first things I found to be very different in Germany is grocery shopping. Say what????
     Grocery shopping in Germany is...well....I don't even know how to describe it. Ok, that's a lie. It's stressful. Why stressful, you ask?
A. People are all up in your space when you checkout. There is this unspoken rule to pay super quickly, grab your junk and get the heck outta the way. Seriously. There are no slow scanning, smiling, small-talk-making cashiers that I have encountered. They scan your items as if their very job depends on how quickly they can get you out of their face! Wanna bag your items? TOUGH! You will be expected to grab them, throw them in a bag or shopping cart quickly and move out of the way of the line to bag them on your own time.

B. Bags. You pay for bags here. If you don't bring reusable bags, the bags cost anywhere from 10 cents to 2 Euros, depending on the material and how large it is. Most places here are more "green", which I really like! But I do miss free bags sometimes. ;)

C. Selection. You may have to visit two or three different grocery stores to knock everything off your list. They all carry different things, and most of the stores are quite small. Some are "discount grocery stores", some are "bio grocery stores" (carrying more natural and organic products), some are normal and some are more upscale. My favorite grocery stores to shop at are "Penny" and "Rewe". It's harder to find an assortment of some items as well. Cereal is not a huge item here; the cereal selection is usually 3-4 sugary kinds and some cornflakes. When I have told people here about "cereal aisles" in the US, they are blown away!

D. No car= no trunk. Ok, this isn't the fault of the grocery store, but a LOT of people here (not just our family!) rely on biking, bus rides or walking to get everywhere. As in, no car. No car= no trunk. No trunk= you get only what your two hands can pretty easily carry back home. For me, that isn't much, as I'm usually wrangling and holding hands with a newly-turned-4 year old on the sidewalks, across the street, in the store, and all the way back home...PLUS holding the bags. My typically once a week or once every two weeks large grocery store haul back in the states doesn't happen here. We go to the grocery store No joke. I would stop on my way home from work in the states to pick up more fresh produce about 2x a week, and it would only take me 5 minutes. A grocery shopping trip takes 30 minutes just for the traveling to and from via foot, bus or tram. Plus the time shopping. And the discomfort of carrying the bags home and holding on to a child all at the same time. I used to LOVE grocery shopping. That might be weird, but it was true. I'd relish my weekly or every two weeks trip to Kroger or Super Target to load up on everything I needed for my freezer, fridge, cupboards, etc. I'd get toiletries, household items, clothing items for Erik and other things along with groceries.

E. There aren't "super centers" in most of Europe. Super Target, Wal-Mart...not available. There is a "Real", which is the closest thing, as in it has a pretty big grocery AND home good side. You want to buy clothes and groceries...that's gonna be two separate trips. Two different stores here.

F. A lot of grocery items are actually cheaper here! :) Woot! That's pretty nice. Fresh produce is generally less expensive, and you can find produce markets outside along most of the main platz areas. The produce always looks pretty dang good and you can find some neat seasonal produce as well.

Stay tuned for grocery shopping part 2.

Back to blogging

I've been living in Hessen, Germany since August 28th of 2014. I've been remiss in journaling or blogging about my experiences here, so I am going to do my best to remedy that! This blog will be a collaboration of photos, reviews, discussions, opinions, etc about life here in Hessen. I will be stating my personal opinions, which may be totally different than other people's experiences or opinions in Germany. Feel free to ask questions, inquire about the lifestyle, food, events or anything else you are curious about. I will do my very best to address your questions in a post or at least a comment. :)