Back to Hogwarts

The real reason we went to London

Just like our trip to Berlin had ulterior motives, our trip to London was really just a means to an end. Honestly, the only reason we scheduled the trip was to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour, AKA Hogwarts.

Comment below and let me know what Hogwarts House you’re in!

A short train ride outside of London brings you to Watford, a city that for ten years, was the homebase of the Harry Potter films. It still houses the UK’s Warner Brothers Studio, a working film and TV studio that has shot films like Inception, Fantastic Beasts, Wonder Woman, and plenty of Bond films.

When the Harry Potter franchise finished filming in their lots at the studios, pretty much everything was put into storage: costumes, props, complete sets, you name it. Since 2012, the Harry Potter Studio Tour has been open to the public, with rotating exhibitions all about the Harry Potter film series.

The safest place in the world for something you want to hide

During our visit, Gringotts Wizarding Bank was the main attraction, and we got to see all the details that went into creating the perfect bank Goblin, the LeStrange vaults, and the dragon. We even saw a mysterious package left in Vault 713…🤔

Photo from www.filmtourismus.de

The Studio Tour is an expansive journey through the wizarding world, with everything from Platform 9 3/4, to Malfoy Manor and the Forbidden Forest. With an audio guide and a Wizarding World passport, we were free to wander through the studios. There are plenty of interactive activities along the way, like green screen photos playing Quidditch or riding the Hogwarts Express. While we didn’t do any of those, we did stop for a Butterbeer. 🍻

It’s all in the details

My favorite thing about exploring the studios was getting up close to all of the props. They are intricately made, and the process of creation was explained in detail on the audio guide. There are so many winks and nudges to the book series throughout the films that don’t get mentioned at all. For example, some of the props in the Gryffindor Common Room included a copy of the famous wizarding book, The Adventures of Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle, and a portrait of Professor McGonagall as a young woman.

Each carriage on the Hogwarts Express was decorated for a specific movie, and you can visualise the scene as you walk through.

Can you guess the movie?

Muggle Studies

There was so much to do and see at the Harry Potter Studio Tour, I could have easily spent all day there (and we pretty much did). It was an immersive experience that made me feel like I was actually in Diagon Alley, robbing a bank, or relaxing in the common room. Moreover, I learned a lot. As someone who would definitely identify as being obsessed with Harry Potter and knowing too much about the books and movies, I learned new things through the audio guide experience.

While the tour shows tons of props and sets, it does a great job explaining the craft and engineering that went into creating the wizarding world. I got a crash course in mechanics in the magical creatures exhibit, and learned all about architectural planning and drafting while touring the Art Department.

Hogwarts, A History

I think by now, if you’re reading this, you know how much I love Harry Potter. I have read these books a dozen times (even in German!), and each time I read them, I find something new. I make a new connection, discover sneaky foreshadows and callbacks, and fully dive back into the Wizarding World. Seeing the sets and props from the movie just cemented my love for this series and made me realize how much of a phenomenon Harry Potter is. People were visiting and geeking out (just like I was) from all over the world.

Sure, the Harry Potter books are done, and the movies are almost 20 years old, but they still hold their value for millions of people. If J.K. Rowling isn’t remembered as one of the most renowned contemporary authors of our time, I will eat my witch hat.

Hogwarts
Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts, teach us something please.

A Weekend in London

All Turned Around

After a year of living in a non-English speaking country, I finally was able to take a trip to the birthplace of the English language: England. The Motherland. Home of such greats as Shakespeare, Bronte, Rowling. You might have figured out by now that I am a bit of an Anglophile. As a child, I was obsessed with British culture and literature, always dreamed of going to the UK, and have probably seen every British film made in the past 2 decades. But being there was completely different than what I had imagined.

Question: Can you get culture shock from hearing your native language? After a short flight from Germany, we arrived in London and began our journey from Heathrow airport into the city. People stopped to speak with us, asking about the trains, trying to help us (presumably), and I had no idea what they were saying.

“Bitte?” Oh wait… no… “I’m sorry, excuse me?” That’s better. 🤦‍♀️ I had to take my German head off and replace it with my English one. (I will say, I was not entirely successful… Someone did get a “danke” and there definitely was a “tschüss” said.)

Happy to be here

The plan for the weekend was to have no plans, just explore and do what we felt like doing: eat Indian food, go to museums, sit in parks, get books (in English!! It’s the little things in life, my friends), and meet the Queen.

We scheduled a tour for Harry Potter Studios, and I’ll definitely be telling you all about that in another post.

We took the underground and the double decker busses, walked the city and spent time looking at things without an agenda. It seemed like every street was familiar, like I had been there before, probably from watching so many films and Royal processionals. The feeling of being there for real had me literally clapping for joy.

Now, I realize, like all major cities, that London is not a true representation of the country as a whole. It is the largest city in Western Europe, and quite frankly, would probably do well as its own country. It’s overpriced, overpopulated, and overvisited (probably not as bad as Amsterdam though).

While it didn’t feel very crowded while walking around the city, the population density can easily be felt riding the underground during peak hours. These trains come every minute, with people 20 deep lining the platform ready to squeeze into a train car that’s already ready to burst. It’s insane. But it’s orderly and polite, and eventually everyone gets to where they’re going.

On the street, taxis and busses compete with pedestrians, everyone walking and driving on the… LEFT. My brain could not handle this. The UK must be used to silly foreigners jumping into traffic because every crosswalk had “LOOK LEFT” or “LOOK RIGHT” painted on the ground.

I bet you’re expecting a door to be on this side, huh? We’re all turned around.

An Accidental Walking Tour

We spent the day in Downtown London, our first stop: the British Museum. The Museum holds famous items such as the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and Hokusai artwork.

After the museum, we walked around London, seeing Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and everything in between.

We didn’t plan on this, we just kind of started walking and pointing, “oh, look! What’s that over there? Let’s go see!”

Our walking tour continued with Downing street, the London Eye, Parliament and the Supreme Court buildings, Big Ben (under construction), and of course, Waterstones.

The Best Souvenirs

During our visit, we walked 66 km (41 miles). We ate accordingly, gorging on fish and chips, Japanese food, and the best Indian food I have had in my life. With full bellies and sore feet we were ready to make our way back to Germany, but not without some commemorative trinkets.

That’s right: Books. In English. Awww yiiisss. One stop at Waterstones later and we added another carry-on to our luggage. Good Omens, Once Upon a River, and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

When in the UK, read British authors.

Might I also suggest some tea while you read? I hear it really brings out the character development.

Postcard Teas: tasting room and super tasty teas.

This trip to London was a good introduction to the city.  I am already planning other visits to explore more of the country outside of the typical popular tourist destinations.  Plus, it would be nice to have a real Cornish Pasty. 

The Cologne Cathedral

Always Lookin’ Up

The trains coming into the Cologne train station take the scenic route, crossing a bridge over the Rhein, cruise ships floating below.  Along the river are modern, attractive skyscrapers.  If you’re nose deep in a book, or sleeping in your seat on the train, you might miss one of the most spectacular sights in Germany:  The Cologne Cathedral, Kölner Dom.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in Germany all your life; every time you get off the train in Cologne (Köln in German), your eyes will travel skyward, just to make sure the cathedral is still there.

The train station, a modern glass building similar to most of Köln, sits right next to the Dom.  In August, I followed the sea of commuters and tourists making the exodus out of the station.  From underground and undercover, I found myself all of a sudden in bright sunlight standing in front of a behemoth of stone shooting into the sky.  The Dom is HUGE. I felt completely insignificant in its presence, and all I did was walk out of the train station.

Cologne cathedral

A Symbol of a City

I wasn’t in Köln very long, less than 24 hours, as we used the city (like most people do) as a stopover on our journey from Mainz to Amsterdam when my parents came to visit.  We took a walking tour through Köln, learning the history and culture of the 2,000 year-old Roman city that is now a cultural epicenter that rivals Berlin.

Cologne tour tiny house Köln
Köln: home to the first tiny house.  Now one of the most expensive properties in the city.

Cologne Kolsch Köln
Kölsch: the type of beer brewed in Köln.  Also, Kölsch: the German dialect spoken in Köln.

Smack-dab in the middle of all this history, war, cultural and religious revolution: The Kölner Dom.  The Dom became a place of pilgrimage for millions of Catholics and has shrouded the city in mysticism and mystery.  Notably, it houses the remains of the three Wise Men, who, in German culture, are referred to as the Holy Three Kings*.  Their crowns feature on the city’s crest.

Kölner Wappen
The Kölner Wappen: 3 crowns, and 11 flames for the martyr St. Ursula.

While not everyone in the city is Catholic, everybody in Köln turns Catholic on 11/11 at 11:11, when Karneval starts**.  Josh had the unfortunate accident of being in Köln on the first day of Karneval and it was complete insanity.  Mass parades, parties, singing and dancing, people dressed in costume.  And it carries on in this fashion until Easter.  Do they not have jobs?!

three kings cologne cathedral
The Tomb of the Three Kings inside Kölner Dom.

A Tour through Time

My parents and I spent the rest of our time in Köln exploring the Dom with thousands of our closest friends.  The Dom gets about 20,000 visitors each day, but when we went (once in the morning and once at night), it didn’t seem overly crowded.  I mean, the place is ginormous.  We opted for a tour guide, provided by the Dom, and joined a group of about 10 other people on an hour-long journey through the cathedral.  We heard the organs play and the tower bells ring; sat in pews so uncomfortable they forced repentance, and gazed heavenward at computer-generated stained-glass windows.

Exterior Kölner Dom Cologne Cathedral
The Kölner Dom is home to falcons and has its own ecosystem. Photo cred to Josh.

Kölner Dom Cologne Cathedral exterior
The view of the Dom from the train station. It’s always under construction.

Stained glass cologne cathedral interior Kölner Dom
Most of the original windows were removed during the war for their protection.

Candy cologne cathedral Kölner Dom
A pretty sweet cathedral.

This Could be a Place of Historical Importance

Outside of the Cologne Cathedral is a large plaza.  When you’re busy looking up, you might miss what’s written in the stone.  Off to the side, caddy-corner to the cathedral, is an artist’s engraving.  This could be a place of historical importance.

cologne cathedral exterior gif
Thanks for the thinkpiece, Braco Dimitrijević.

Could be?  Do you think we can remove the doubt?

  • A nearly 2,000 year old cathedral.
  • Survived the bombing of Köln during WWII that destroyed 93 percent of the city.
  • Is a symbol of Köln (Germany, really), and recognizable worldwide.
  • Receives 6 million visitors annually.

This is the history we gave it.  So yes, I’d say it’s a place of historical importance.

pinterest cologne cathedral Kölner Dom


*According to the Catholic Church.  These “remains” were brought to Köln from Milan in 1164 as spoils of war by Barbarossa.

**Karneval is Germany’s version of Halloween, kids and adults alike will dress in silly costumes and parade in the streets.  Some cities (cough, Köln) are more festive than others.  In Bielefeld, there is Karneval and also St. Martin’s Day (also 11/11) when kids go door-to-door with paper lanterns and sing for sweets.

A Weekend in Mainz

Mainz on the Rhein

A short train ride from Frankfurt sits the ancient roman city of Mainz (pronounced like “mines”).  When my parents came to visit, we started our vacation here, with a weekend on the Rhein, exploring Mainz and neighboring river villages.   The funny thing is, when we told our German friends our plans for our trip, which included visiting Köln, Amsterdam, Bielefeld (obviously), and Mainz, everyone responded the same way:

“Mainz?  Why would you go to Mainz?”

The Rhein river, which runs through Germany from the North Sea, is a major thoroughfare for shipping vessels and river cruise ships.  Mainz is a popular stop for these cruise ships for two main reasons: The Mainzer Dom and the Gutenberg MuseumMainz is not a major tourist destination, but rather works as a jumping-off point for other places.  Many cruises start, stop, and visit there, but it doesn’t seem to be a main destination.  There were still locals there, and the economy didn’t seem reliant on tourism.  (Mainz is also the capital city for the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, so it’s got that going for it.)

Mainz Germany

Really Old Stuff

Being American and coming from such a young country, seeing things that were built hundreds of years ago is still mind-blowing.  I don’t think it will ever get old. Our first day in Mainz, we walked through the Altstadt, the old town.  There were buildings that were from 1450! 🤯  The Mainzer Dom was built over 1000 years ago! 🤯🤯

Haus zum Aschaffenburg: Oldest half-timbered house, built 1450.

Mainzer Dom mainz cathedral germany
Mainzer Dom: Founded in 975 or 976.

And let’s not forget about our boy, Johannes Gutenberg, who was changing the world in 1452.  You can see 2 original Gutenberg bibles, learn about the Gutenberg printing press, and the evolution of the written word at the Gutenberg Museum.

For someone like me, who has a degree in Journalism and English, loves anything about printing/books/publishing/etc., seeing the first mass-produced book raised the hair on my arms.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  And completely illegible. It’s not a book, it’s art.

To see even more old stuff, take one of the many river cruises up the Rhein.  No need to book beforehand, they leave daily and offer hop-on-hop-off services up and down the river.

Cruisin’ the Castles

One of the easiest ways to see the crazy number of castles that line the Rhein is by river cruise.  We took a short boat ride about an hour from Mainz to Rüdesheim am Rhein, drinking Pilsner and enjoying the views along the way.  Don’t be fooled by the blue skies, it was cold.

Eltville am Rhein
Eltville am Rhein: Known for their Riesling and Champagne. That sandy looking wall is the original Roman city wall.

Rüdesheim am Rhein
Rüdesheim am Rhein: this town offers a gondola ride for views of the Rhein valley.

Rüdesheim am Rhein
Rüdesheim am Rhein: Drosselgasse, a 2m wide alley that gets over 3 million visitors each year.

We opted for the warmth of a train car for our return back to Mainz, and my parents got to experience what I like to call a “Knight Bus” on the way back to the hotel.😂

“Take it away Ern!”

A Warm Willkommen

Dear German friends, I’m going to answer your Why would you go to Mainz? question now (in case you haven’t already figured it out).   Mainz offers an easy transition into “German” life for the first time visitor.  It’s not overly crowded, it’s easy to navigate, and it has a familiarity for Americans who might have a more romantic expectation of Germany (castles, cobblestones, and cafes).

Also, it’s kinda cute.

Mainz Germany Rhein
Mainz or Milan?

A Weekend in Amsterdam

Dam Tourists

Last week my parents came to visit.  It was their first time in Europe, and we tried to do and see as much as possible in the short time frame they were visiting.  One of the destinations: Amsterdam, Netherlands.  I had never been to Amsterdam before, and knew little about it.  The only images I had in my head of the Netherlands were of flowers and stroopwafels.  Here’s the thing about Amsterdam:  I don’t think any locals live there.

The Netherlands (aka Holland) is home to about 17 million people.  Amsterdam is the most densely populated city in the country with 1 million people, and attracts about 18 million tourists each year 🤯. Compared to other capital cities in Europe, Amsterdam is tiny and jam packed.

A weekend in amsterdam pin

We arrived by train from Köln, and after navigating the insides of the train terminal, made our way onto the streets, towing luggage and playing frogger with passing bikes.  It was a Friday afternoon and the sidewalks were crowded with people. 

Mass Tourism brings Mass Hysteria

The massive amount of people, the noise of bell bikes, and the smell of pot from “coffee shops” left me feeling disoriented and anxious.  Not even New York or Berlin had this many people in one place!  Streets came out of nowhere, slicing narrow paths between even narrower buildings, as if the city was built to take up as much room as possible with no regard to order.  

Amsterdam is to Europe what Vegas is to the US.   Sex tourism, pot tourism, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and other “chain” museums are available here, perfect for bachelor parties and the like.  While we were there, the university was having its annual greek life rush week, so the city was filled with college students running and chanting fight songs, setting off fireworks, and hosting parties.

Stroop, there it is

I’m probably not painting the best image of Amsterdam, am I?  Once you stuff a warm Stroopwafel into your face, the hanger fades and you see Amsterdam in a sweet, honey glow.

Stroopwafel
All aboard the Stroopwafel train!

The Secret Annex

We visited the Anne Frank House on our first night in Amsterdam, lining up in a light drizzle with about 100 of our closest friends.  We started our tour with a private explanation of Anne Frank’s life, how her parents met, why they moved from Germany to Amsterdam, and what was happening politically during her life.   After our WWII download, we grabbed audio guides and began climbing through the secret annex, a house tucked behind Otto Frank’s workplace where 8 people hid for 2 years before being discovered by the Nazis (raise your hand if you thought Anne hid in an attic🙋‍♀️) .

I didn’t feel comfortable taking a photo of a building where people hid in fear. Here’s a photo of the canals instead.

I highly recommend going to the Anne Frank House.  It’s not really about Nazis.  It’s about so much more.  It’s about a young girl who wanted to be a writer.  It’s about a family.  It’s about living in fear. It’s about a father searching for his daughters.  It’s about the people that risked their lives to bring food, messages, entertainment.  It’s about the helpers.

  “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank

Anne Frank
My souvenir.

Of Sound and Color

I have been a Van Gogh fan ever since I was a child, and my parents took me out of school so we could go to LACMA for a special exhibition (educational hooky!), so coming to the Van Gogh Museum, which has the largest collection of his work and personal letters, was pretty freakin’ awesome.  The museum has worked hard to limit the number of people in the museum (see earlier comment about massive crowds), and required all tickets to be ordered online, with entry at specific times (Anne Frank House is the same way; we booked both museums 60-90 days prior).

This museum has all the Van Gogh classics:  Almond Blossoms, Potato Eaters, The Bedroom, Japanese prints, basically every portrait, and even a Sunflower or two.  My favorite part of the museum was seeing how vibrant the colors were in person, and then learning that (due to age, poor restoration techniques, etc) the color should actually be brighter.

Dang, Vincent, you wild.

We also discovered some new (to us) paintings, and everyone came out of the museum with a new favorite.

Van Gogh Seascape near
Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer | Vincent van Gogh | Credits: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Streets Seen

Our visit wasn’t all indoors.  We took a walking tour through Amsterdam, which broke down the city’s rich and vibrant merchant history; explained the unique housing style; and basically said anything goes in Amsterdam, as long as it makes the city money.  After walking for hours, we decided to sit on a boat and cruise the famous canals that cut through the city.  I fell asleep.  It was too relaxing.

I would not want to live on the top floor

We ate asian food in Chinatown, got more Stroopwafels to go, and ended our trip the next morning with Dutch pancakes before the crowds woke up and joined us on the streets.  Overall, an enjoyable (if not shell-shocking) visit to Amsterdam.

The OG Dutch pancake

The Dam Truth

Here’s the thing about Amsterdam:  The city is currently struggling with a major mass-tourism issue, and it’s pretty obvious.  While it has plenty that’s unique to the city, I would recommend braving the cold and trying to visit off-season.  Or, see what else the Netherlands has to offer.  I mean, the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world sits just 2 hours outside of the city.

amsterdam
bye bye, birdie.

Germany Travel Bingo Printable

Travel Games

Growing up, our family vacations involved road trips throughout the west. Traveling up the Pacific Coast Highway, or making our way through the desert to Nevada and Arizona.  My sister and I loved these trips, but we also had strict rules:

  1. We each had to have our own row of seats in the van (absolutely no sharing).
  2. My dad must drive (no one else!).
  3. The car had to be fully stocked with BrainQuest, Madlibs, Klutz books, and road trip bingo.

We enjoyed spending time together on those trips and spending time as a family, playing games in the car while we made the day drive up to Solvang or some other tourist town.   Since my family is visiting soon, I decided to keep the tradition of vacation games alive and create a German-style travel bingo to take with us on our journey.

Mathonthemoveblog germany travel bingo
At the Bielefeld Rathaus: We’re waiting for you!

A Local Perspective

Since this is their first time overseas, I  want to make sure they have fun and immerse themselves in the culture and not the itinerary.  I think for many Americans, the thought of traveling to Europe can be overwhelming.  We come from one giant country (it’s a lot of land with not a lot on it) and we get caught up in trying to check off as many historical sights/countries/museums/castles/etc. as possible in a short amount of time.  Sometimes all you need is a little game, away from taking photos or listening to guided tours, to help you look around and get to know the locals.

If you’re planning a trip to Germany (I recommend Bielefeld😁), download the bingo cards and play along.  Just don’t yell too loud when you get Bingo…someone might stare at you.

Free Printables Download

Click to download Germany Travel Bingo PDF Version (A4)

Click to download Germany Travel Bingo PDF Version (US Letter)

Mathonthemoveblog Germany Travel Bingo Printable Mathonthemoveblog Germany Travel Bingo Printable

 

What would you put on a Bingo card for your country or community?

Traveling in Germany

Here are some previous blog posts on recommended cities to visit when traveling to Germany:

6 weird things about visiting the doctor in Germany

I visit the doctor often.   Annual appointments, dental visits, eye exams, etc.  I am the doctor finder and appointment scheduler for my household.  So, when we moved to Germany, it was no different.  I mean, a doctor visit by any other name would still smell like disinfectant.  While this is true, there are some glaring differences between visiting the doctor in the US compared to Germany, and some of them are just weird.

Visiting the doctor in germany weird things mathonthemoveblog

Saying Hallo

You have to greet the waiting room.  German doctor’s offices are practically identical in set-up to American ones.  There’s a front desk, private exam rooms, and a waiting room for patients.  These waiting areas are separate from the main practice and front desk area, typically will have a door, and will pretty much be a room with chairs lining every wall.  When you enter, you have to say hallo to everyone.  When you leave, you have to say tschüss.  If you come back to retrieve your coat, you have to say tschüss again.  If you come back to sit and wait for test results, another doctor, etc, the greeting ritual starts over.

waiting room visiting the doctor mathonthemoveblog
A sneaky photo I took of the waiting room at the Dentist.

Paperless Patient Care

There’s little to no paperwork. I have filled out maybe a total of 3 pages of medical paperwork at all of my doctor visits combined.  I have never been asked about medical history or any ongoing treatments.  The only thing I sign is a privacy policy.

B.Y.O.B.

You don’t need an appointment (necessarily). There’s a set group of appointment times set aside for scheduled appointments, for people who want to call ahead. If you are sick or injured or you must see the doctor, you can just show up.  And wait.  For hours.  Literally hours.  B.Y.O.B. (book, not beer!  But… you could probably do that too.)

Mathonthemoveblog visiting the doctor
It’s gonna be a long day

The benefit to scheduling an appointment in advance is to reduce your wait time.  Although, that doesn’t often happen either.    At my last Orthopaedic appointment, I waited over an hour (past my scheduled time) before finally seeing the doctor.  When I told this to my German friends, they said “Oh wow, so fast! Not bad at all!”   Typically, calling to schedule an appointment will get you in within 3-4 weeks, and you better write it down and set a reminder, because the doctor’s office will not send you any confirmation of your appointment.

No Patient Portals

There are no online medical records or patient portals to access records, results, etc. Germany is obsessed about what they call Datenschutz (online privacy/ personal data privacy).  Everything is done by mail or in person.  I was locked out of my online banking and I couldn’t just switch my password like you can in the US, I had to physically go to my bank, show that I was locked out, and then they unlocked my account.  There are so many rules and regulations, it makes sense that there’s no online access to medical records.  Yes, it’s inconvenient at times (mainly because it forces me to have to talk to someone), but after the hacks that have happened in the healthcare industry (looking at you, Anthem), I understand.  If you want a copy of your recent doctor visit, you have to ask for it in person.

Patient Responsibility

You’re in charge of your healthcare. There is more responsibility put on the patient to understand their health and to be able to effectively communicate what is going on to their doctors.  Add the fact that the doctors don’t have any proper medical history on you and well, you better start a cliffnotes of your life to bring to every appointment. Getting test results, making follow-ups, knowing how to take your medicine, appointment reminders, etc. is all your responsibility.  Yep, even medicines.  The Apotheke will literally just give you the entire box of medicine with no dosage instructions, side effects, etc. Good luck.

visiting the doctor mathonthemove blog apotheke
Naproxen is available by prescription only in Germany.

Full-Frontal

You’re gonna be naked. Need an X-ray, testing, or therapy? You’re gonna be naked.  There are no courtesy gowns, or leaving your clothes on out of modesty.  Germans don’t care.   And they’re gonna open the door on you like 5 times while you’re undressing and while you’re naked, so be prepared.

Arrested development going to the doctor germany
There are literally dozens of us!

The differences aren’t huge, just silly weird things.  The  important thing is that none of these weird things impacts the quality of care in Germany.  Pretty much, going to the doctor here is like seeing a doctor in the US, you just have to remember to go to your appointment.

Does German healthcare seem weird to you, or similar to your doctor’s office?  Have you visited a doctor while abroad?  What was it like?

Bielefeld Botanical Garden

Bielefeld’s Secret Garden

A great thing about living in a cold, wet, place is that when spring comes, everything blooms–especially at the botanical garden in Bielefeld.  Trees grow leaves and blossoms, flowers pop out of nowhere, and even people grow smiles.  Bielefeld’s Botanischer Garten is open year-round, but likes to show off during spring.  It’s a must-see when visiting Bielefeld.

Events in Bloom

The Botanical Gardens hosts events throughout the year, including plant trades, Qigong, worship services, and outdoor music concerts.  And like all public parks or museums in Bielefeld, there’s a Cafe on site with delicious cake.  What better way is there to enjoy the outdoors?

bielefeld botanical gardens germany travel flowers gardening

Nachtansichten

A Night at the Museums

Saturday was Nachtansichten.  My feet are sore, I’m tired, and I have a bit of a headache, probably from the lights.  It’s a Nachtansichten hangover.  Every Spring in Bielefeld, the city stays up past midnight and gets a little bit wild, all in the name of creativity.  Over 50 museums, art galleries, and churches open their doors for special late-night exhibits, and the Altstadt becomes a playground for creativity and light.  For a 12 Euro ticket, you have entrance into any exhibit in the city, with free bus and train fare included.

nachtansichten bielefeld germany travel
Bielefeld Nachtansichten

Sampling the City

The most popular stop:  Dr. Oetker. While Dr. Oetker doesn’t exist in the States, it is a huge company in Europe headquartered in Bielefeld.  The food manufacturer makes everything from cocoa powder to frozen pizzas, and during Nachtansichten, opens up Dr. Oetker Welt with exhibits on the manufacturing process, and of course, tons of free samples and food from their employee restaurant.   We started our night here, with a line wrapped around the block of people waiting to enter.

Dr Oetker nachtansichten bielefeld
Ain’t nobody got time for that

We lasted about 3 minutes in that line before we gave up.  For one thing, Dr. Oetker Welt is open year-round, free samples or not.  And I’ve been to Costco enough times to know what to expect.  I’d rather explore the museum when less people are jockeying for a look at the exhibits, or sticking their hands in the literal candy bowl.  Bis später, Dr. Oetker.

A Little Art

If we learned anything from our attempt at visiting Dr. Oetker Welt, it was that the more popular museums, like Kunsthalle and Bauernhaus Museum, would probably be overcrowded and difficult to get into.  We decided to stick to the smaller galleries and boy, am I glad we did.

Bielefeld Nachtansichten art museum
Ateliers 237

We took the train away from the Mitte and explored some smaller galleries.  The artwork was varied, beautiful, haunting, compelling, and inspiring.  We saw oil paintings and watercolors,  mixed-media and graffitti, kinetics and robotics.  Every venue had live music, food and drinks, and plenty of people enjoying themselves.  It was an exercise of sensory muscles I hadn’t used in a while.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve been to an art museum or an art gallery.  I missed it.

Art Nachtansichten Bielefeld
Atelier Herbert Pörtner

But Nachtansichten is not really an event geared for long studies of artwork or thoughtful gazing.  It’s an up-tempo, high-volume event jammed with plenty to do and way too much to see. The highlight being the buildings and courtyards in the Altstadt colored in lights.

It’s Lit

Bielefeld takes the art to the streets with outdoor exhibits and performances.  During Nachtansichten, the Rathaus and other buildings in the Altstadt are lit with projectors that the public can control and adjust the colors on.  It’s fun, engaging, and beautiful.

Bielefeld Rathaus Nachtansichten
Rathaus during Nachtansichten

nachtansichten bielefeld
Howling at the moon

 

bielefeld altstadt klosterplatz nachtansichten
Bielefeld lights up the night

Bielefeld nachtansichten Klosterplatz lightshow
Interactive Lights in Klosterplatz

During Nachtansichten, I visited places I didn’t know existed.  I saw things I hadn’t seen before.  I was introduced to a different side of Bielefeld.  It’s more laidback, creative, and friendly.  Sampling the city through Bielefeld’s Nachtansichten event was a perfect way to try out the museums and galleries, and prepare for Summer.  Plus, now I have a booklet stuffed with info on the city’s best exhibits.  We’re ready for any visitor and any interest! We got you covered!

Nachtansichten Bielefeld Germany

What is your favorite way to explore your city?

It’s Spargel Season

Happy Spargel Season

More beloved than Schnitzel, and definitely up there with Currywurst, is Germany’s favorite veggie:  Spargel.  Asparagus.  To be honest, I hate Asparagus.  But auf Deutsch, it sounds better, doesn’t it? Spargel.  Sounds fancy and sparkly and delicious.  I had to see why Germans celebrate this food.

In Germany, the Spargel season begins in April and ends in mid-June.  After surviving a wet and dark winter, I can see why it’s such a big deal.  Spargel season marks the beginning of Summer: good weather, cool drinks, and sitting outside endlessly in the sunshine.  When the weather is mild and the breeze is light, we’ll take our food alfresco.

Spargel asparagus season germany food
Anyone else thinking of that Austin Powers scene?

Traditional Spargel

While the green stuff is what I recognize, Germans are more fond of white asparagus, which is grown throughout the country along what is called the Spargelstrasse.  The traditional Spargel dish consists of boiled white asparagus and potatoes covered in Hollandaise sauce.  Or, simply cooked and covered in butter.

Considering I am not a “typical German” (aka not German), I decided to try Spargel a different way.  With couscous, strawberries, and a lighter flavor.

Spargel asparagus recipe food germany

Spring Asparagus Couscous

  • Serves:  4 people
  • Time: about 30 minutes
  • Tools used: Skillet

This recipe is Vegan and Dairy free.  This dish can be served by itself, but would work great as a side paired with chicken or fish.

You will need:

  • 12 ounces (350g) Couscous
  • 2 pounds (1kg) Green Asparagus
  • 1/2 pound (250g) Strawberries (or more!)
  • 1 Bunch Mint (optional- you do you)
  • 8 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Pepper
  1.  Prepare the couscous according to package directions and set aside.
  2.   Wash the asparagus and cut off the bottom.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet on medium-high heat and grill the asparagus for about 8 minutes.
  3.  Wash the strawberries and cut into halves or quarters.
  4.  (Optional) Wash the mint, dry, and chop.
  5.  Mix 3 tablespoons olive oil with 2-3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.   Mix the couscous with the vinaigrette (add extra olive oil if necessary).
  6.  Top the couscous with grilled asparagus, strawberries, mint (optional), and salt and pepper.

This recipe is translated from German and adapted from Rewe.

Spargel season asparagus germany
Beer optional

As a self-proclaimed asparagus-shunner, I actually liked this meal.  Next to try: white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce! I get a stamp on my German Card for trying and liking Spargel, right? 🤷‍♀️

Is there a food where you live that says “summer” to you?  Let me know if you try this recipe.