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.

5 Ways Germany is Saving the Planet

Moving to Germany has made me look at the United States in a different way. I am constantly blown away by Germany’s innovations and efficiency; little things like how the toilets flush, to the way the windows open, and bigger things like the public transportation and waste system. In comparison, Germany makes the U.S. look like a third world country.*

As one of the most powerful countries on Earth, Germany is saving the world.

Going Old School

When at a coffee shop, restaurant, or special event, your drink will come in a mug or a glass. And you’ll pay for that glass. (usually, it’s 1-3 euro). This is called a Pfand. When you bring it back, you’ll get your money back for the glass. Rarely, if ever, do you get a paper to-go cup. In fact, most cafes will give you a discount for bringing your own mug or thermos (and it’s usually a good discount!).

Coffee Bielefeld To Go Germany Earth day
BYOC

All plastic bottles (and some glass) purchased also have pfand. When at the market, you pay for the drink, plus the pfand. When the bottle is empty, you can return it to the Leergutautomat, which works like a reverse ATM. It’s not like in California, where you take your empty cans to some unused backside of a creepy parking lot and sort them into a metal crate that smells like stale beer. Every market has Leergutautomat machines. Put the bottles into the machine and out comes a slip of paper with your total Pfand refund on it. This paper can then be used as a credit at the market or redeemed for cash at the register. It’s simple, easy, and guarantees that no recyclable material ends up in a landfill.

pfand germany earth day
Gimme my 50 cents!

Doing laundry in Germany is like stepping into a time machine. Nearly every garden has a laundry line, because most people don’t use dryers. The cellar in our building includes a room specifically for hanging laundry. At first, this way of doing laundry irritated me, because I felt like it would take forever. And honestly, it kind of does. Typically, the washing machine (yes, we still have those here) takes about 2 and half hours for a full cycle, and most of that time it’s just spinning to dry out the clothes. If the sun’s out, the laundry will typically be dry in a couple hours, but in the winter, it must hang overnight inside. It might take forever, but I’m not sitting around waiting for it, and I don’t do more laundry than I did in the States. Plus, what’s better than fresh laundry dried in the sun?

It might seem that Germany has poo-pooed on modern conveniences like dryers or air conditioning, but I think they found a better way to handle it which is better for the environment. The first thing we were told by our landlord when we moved in was to regularly air out our flat. Germans love to air out. Basically, this means, in any given season, regardless of weather, to open every window and door to the outside and let in fresh air. None of the windows in Germany have screens on them, and most of them will open a variety of ways; fully open, just a tad, etc. This is great because you can regulate the airflow into the home; like nature’s air-conditioning.

Germany windows earth day
Taking “airing out” to the next level

We also regulate indoor temperatures with the use of Rolladen. These look like metal blinds that fit over the front of the window on the outside, blocking light, noise, and temperature from entering. From the outside, the building looks like a fortress ready for a zombie apocalypse, and from the inside, it’s perfectly comfortable, no air-conditioning required.

So Trashy

For newcomers, the trash system is a common topic of conversation. Mainly because it can be overwhelming and confusing. Inevitably we all start talking trash when at someone’s house and trying to figure out where to throw away food, napkins, etc. There are 4 different trash cans: Biotonne (green), Restmülltonne (brown), Papiertonne (blue), Wertstofftonne (yellow; often referred to as Gelbetonne or just Gelb), not to mention a completely separate bin for throwing away glass. Here’s how it works:

  • Biotonne: Bio waste like food, plants, etc.
  • Papiertonne: Paper products likes cardboard, newspaper, cereal boxes, envelopes etc.
  • Wertstofftonne: Plastics, metals, the plastic window from the envelopes (seriously), etc.
  • Restmülltonne: All the rest. Anything in this bin gets incinerated.
Trash germany earth day planet
So many options

Most parks are equipped with recycling bins for glass products, which are separated by color, clear, brown, green. Any bottle or jar that doesn’t collect a pfand gets tossed in here. Often you will find empty glass bottles sitting on the top of trash cans in public parks, because people know they shouldn’t toss them in.

I still won’t throw my trash away if anyone is outside, because I am still afraid I am doing it wrong. 🤷‍♀️

Recycle germany earth day
These bins are particularly popular after a holiday 🍻

Getting Around

When we moved from Colorado to Ohio, we became a single-car household. Then, when we moved to Germany, we didn’t have a car at all. Our main transportation has been train, bus, or foot (we still need to get bikes!). Germany has a well-established (mostly) efficient public transportation system that helps reduce traffic and emissions. Most major cities, including Bielefeld, have connected park trails that go through the city, making it easy to get around on bike while still taking the scenic route.

Bielefeld germany earth day transportation
The scenic route

This year, Germany pledged to end its use on coal by 2038 and has been continually closing coal mines and establishing alternate energy plants. While some changes need to occur on a larger political level, people around the globe can make small lifestyle changes to affect their global impact. Maybe try doing laundry the German way.

Do you think Germany’s ways to save energy are strange? Would they work where you live? What do you do to reduce your global impact?

*(I realize that Germany is a much smaller country, and the States is both enormous, mostly rural, and definitely votes differently.)

Germany saving the planet earth day

A Weekend in Bremen

The Myth & Legend

Two hours north by train lies the birthplace of fairytales.  Disguised as one of the biggest cities in Germany, Bremen sneaks in little glimpses into its past from behind a modern infrastructure.  But this once-small town has a unique celebrity to it: I mean, not every city gets a centuries-old shoutout from the Grimm Brothers.

Bremen germany travel

A weekend in Bremen

Bremen is located on the Weser River in Lower Saxony.  Its economy relies on the river, which connects it to other fishing and shipping ports throughout the region, and the North Sea (the trains even have signs that say no fishing poles).  On a sunny day, the Altstadt near the river bustles with people milling about enjoying the water, always with ice cream cone in hand.

The weekend surprised with one good afternoon of partial sunshine—enough to get people outside, lazing at café tables and winding their way down the cobbled streets of the city center.  I joined in, sans ice cream (I still regret that mistake), and meandered through the old city looking for nothing in particular, but looking nonetheless.

What I found were things unique to Bremen, and seriously rare.

 

The City Musicians

Once upon a time I had a book of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm.  Stories like Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White I had read many times, but I had not heard about the City Musicians of Bremen.  The story follows the tale of a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster, who leave their homes and join up to start a band in Bremen.  On their way, they come upon some robbers, decide to band together (pun intended?), and scare the crap out of the thieves.

In the story, the animals never actually make it to Bremen, but the city ignores that part.  The musicians have become a mascot for the city, with every shop selling kitsch with the animals on it. The Altstadt has a statue of the Stadt Musikanten commemorating the famous fairytale.  Around the city are reinterpretations of the famous statue, with colorful animals in different poses.

Bremen city musicians germany grimm
The City Musicians of Bremen
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People line up to take photos with the statue

The Schnoor Viertel

One of these silly statues sits tucked away in the Schnoor Viertel, a mess of narrow streets and even narrower buildings from the middle ages.  More than 60% of Bremen was completely destroyed during World War II, but the Schnoor survived, giving us a glimpse into a past that is hard to imagine for an American.  Some buildings are hundreds of years older than my homeland. Walking the uneven cobbled paths through the Schnoor makes you feel claustrophobic and a little too big.  There are no café tables lining the sidewalks here.  Doorways are narrow and low, passing people on the street requires an intricate dance of entschuldigungs and sidestepping.  It feels as if the buildings are tilted inward and the ground is moving with you as you walk.

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Duck!
Schnoor Viertel Germany Bremen travel mathonthemoveblog
Map of the Schnoor Viertel
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The City Musicians à la Piet Mondrian
Bremen Schnoor Germany Travel
Just an average night on the town for Bremen locals.

 

Getting Around

If you’re planning on visiting Bremen, stay near the city center, as that is where most of the museums and Sehenswürdigkeiten (sightseeing) are.  Bremen has a well-established Stadtbahn system that runs regularly, but the lines can be confusing.  Bring (or rent) a bike.  Bremen has bike shops on every corner, and the bike lane is nearly the size of the car lane (the sidewalk is very small in comparison!).  Most railway stations will have a bike rental shop, or a Radstation.

Bremen Germany Travel
Check here to rent a Rad.

 

Tschau, Bremen

Bremen is very different compared to other cities I have visited.  It’s not very international, and every time I rode the train or was outside, someone talked to me.  This would never happen in Bielefeld or most other German cities.  I was shocked by their friendliness, but to be honest, it made me a little uncomfortable.  I have gotten used to being able to live silently in public.

Speaking of speaking, it was clear I wasn’t from around there (and not in an Auslander sort of way) when I spoke with the locals.  People in Bremen use different words for common things, like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “cookie.”  In Bielefeld, we say  hallo or morgen, for hello; tschüss for goodbye, and “cookie” for cookie. In Bremen, they say moin, tschau, and Schockosüß.

But a cookie by any other name is still delicious. 🍪

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A soldier stands guard outside the Bremen Town Hall.

Going to Church in Germany

Since I was little, I’ve started my prayers the same way: “Lord, bless me indeed and enlarge my territory. Let your hands be with me and keep me from evil so that I don’t cause pain.” This prayer acts as a comfort, something I can offer up on repeat, a tiny verse out of 1 Chronicles my 10-year-old self over-simplified and memorized in my own way. But when I think about it, I have to laugh a little because here I am, going to church in a different country.

Thanks Andrea

It took us six months, but we finally decided to be brave and go to church. Thanks to the googling skills of my sister-in-law, we found a church, and we had a plan. If anyone approached us and started speaking German to us, we would give them the deer-in-the-headlights look. It worked. The church is located near the main train station, in a modern building. Just like in the States, greeters wait outside to welcome you in. Up two flights of stairs are the main hall, an open space with a bar (yes, a bar), and tables and chairs to relax and hangout.

going to church in germany

Here is where Daniel met us. I was probably pretty obvious, standing at the top of the stairs, shoving my beanie and gloves into my backpack and looking around open-mouthed. He introduced himself in German and asked if we were new, and we had to explain we were Ausländer, give our speech about not knowing a lot of German, etc. He very excitedly (for a German) showed us around and explained what to expect from the service. It was a warm welcome, and a good reminder that regardless of language barriers, we were among friends.

The service itself was a typical church service, beginning with music, announcements, a sermon, more music, prayer scattered throughout, and ending with a benediction. What we didn’t expect was the complete openness of the church-goers. I have never been in such a wild crowd with such a rock and roll band. It was the opposite of what you’d expect from orderly Germans. Songs were sung in both German and English (with subtitles on both), and the sermon was in German. While we were offered a translator, we found that we were able to follow the sermon without translation (yay!).

Mut & Glaube

When we went to church for the first time in Kent, the pastor read from Joshua about being strong and courageous. It felt like God was saying, “pssst! Erin!” At this service, I had to laugh because we talked about Mut und Glaube, courage and belief. The pastor read from the book of Mark:

“And the Gospel must first be preached to all nations.”

Here I am, after praying a simple prayer basically my entire Christian life, asking God to expand my territory. And he has taken me through California, Colorado, Ohio, and now Germany.

Pssst! Be strong and courageous!

Pssst! Preach the gospel to all nations!

Pssst! Be a missionary right where you are!

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Peaches and Coconuts

The Dutch have a word that doesn’t translate well: Hygge. The easiest way to define it would be a gathering of friends, warm and cozy and talking late into the night. The Germans have a similar word: Chillen. Which is easier to define: to chill/ hang out/ relax with friends and drink beer and have a good time. This church has these vibes.

It wasn’t stuffy, it wasn’t trying to be something else, it wasn’t fake. It was transparent and genuine and chill. No one cared about anything other than celebrating Jesus. No one was worried about people watching them, if it would be weird to raise hands, close their eyes, sing off-key. It didn’t matter to them.

Daniel joined us after the service and asked what we thought. We told him we did not expect that type of service, and that type of worship from Germans. He laughed and said, “It’s all peaches and coconuts.” We both looked at him confused. He said, “in my English class, we were told that Americans and Germans are like peaches and coconuts. Germans are coconuts. Hard on the outside, but when you crack us open, we are soft and sweet. Americans are Peaches. Sweet on the outside, but hard on the inside.”

I want to be a coconut.