(Update: The raffle is now closed. I hope the winners enjoy the mugs! ☕)
My mom always treats holidays and birthdays as “just another day” and while I find that enticing and often easy to do, I don’t think it’s the healthiest mentality. We need a reason to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be a big reason or even a big holiday. You don’t have to celebrate in the streets with thousands of your closest friends. But you can find meaning and joy in telling stories, sharing congratulations and spending time in fellowship.
Most of 2018 didn’t end up being just “another day” for me. It might have been a bit crazier than the average year, considering some major life changes like, I don’t know, uprooting our entire family and moving to another country. 2018 was made up of little moments that made this year pretty great.
Maybe start with coffee with friends. These Bielefeld Weihnachtsmarkt mugs should help. I’m giving away a limited edition 2018 Bielefeld mug to 2 random subscribers.
Subscribe to the blog via email to be entered into the raffle to win a mug. Raffle ends Jan. 7, 2019. Don’t worry, I will pay the shipping. ☕
Feel free to leave a comment to let me know you entered.
May your New Year’s resolution be for more joy in 2019. Cheers. Prost.
Miles walked December 2017: 20.75 (Kent, OH) vs. December 2018: 89.62 miles and still counting (Germany).
A note on subscribing: I’m not doing this to make money, so popping your email in the doobly-doo below isn’t going to do anything except let me know I need to add your name to a hat for the raffle. There’s no fancy newsletter, no cool shills or “influencing.” You’re just going to get an email when I upload a new post, and if you don’t want that, then unsubscribe. It won’t hurt my feelings, I promise. A wise woman once told me to write for myself, so that’s what I do here. If you like it, that’s just icing on the cake. 🍰
In true German fashion, I haven’t seen the sun for weeks. It’s currently raining, and if I didn’t have a clock, I would assume that it was nearing night and not the middle of the day. Welcome to winter in Germany. It’s good Christmas weather though. Unlike the constant 80 degrees I grew up with in California, at least here when you get a sweater for Christmas you can wear it without sweating. Even when it’s not raining here, it’s still cold, colder than Colorado or even Ohio. The cold here is damp and sinks into your skin. The wind whips through the empty trees, smacks you on the back of your neck, and finds every microscopic hole in your pants.
I think the Christmas markets started as a way for people to keep warm in the winter. The combination of Glühwein and bodies comfortably oozing from stand to stand is the only way we can stay warm outside.
What is a Weihnachtsmarkt?
The German Christmas Market, or Weihnachtsmarkt, begins the last weekend in November and lasts until Christmas Eve. While some markets attract thousands of tourists each year for their unique Christmas traditions (looking at you, Aachen), most markets typically have the same elements: stands hawking food, selling handmade goods, Ferris wheels, and the occasional puppet play or choir. The big draw to the Weihnachtsmarkt is the food: Glühwein, Eierpunsch, Bratwurst, Currywurst, Crepes, and Lebkuchen. Winter staples like hot cocoa and Germany’s other water, beer, are also available.
In Bielefeld, the city center is littered with food stands and seating areas all for the Christmas market. Keep walking and they continue, meandering down the alleys and main streets, meeting again in large huddles in the Altstadt and in the church square. While during the day the Weihnachtsmarkt is sparsely populated, at night it flourishes. Lights twinkling and glasses clinking, lines for crepes and Currywurst get crisscrossed and tables are so crowded it’s not unusual to share the top of a trashcan with a group of strangers.
Josh and I experienced this in Bonn, when we visited their Weihnachtsmarkt on a cold Friday night. Bundled in jackets, beanies, scarves and mittens, about five minutes in, my mittens were off and I was sweating through my jacket. We tried some Glühwein, hot mulled wine that reminded us of spiced cider. Like all beverages at these events, it came in a ceramic cup, not a paper one (I have rarely, if ever, been given a paper cup). The drink was €3, and then you pay a €2 pfand, or a deposit for the cup. If you bring the cup back, you get the deposit back.
A couple stands down a crowd of people stood eating Pommes mit Mayo and Bratwurst, the warm diner smell hitting my stomach at full force. Euros in hand, I ordered the Currywurst (I’m obsessed) and Pommes mit Mayo, because Josh wasn’t there to tell me otherwise, and boy was that a mistake. The Currywurst was great as usual. But I will never understand why Germans love mayonnaise on everything. Just straight-up plain mayo on fries. Don’t worry we washed it down with a waffle.
Mixed in with the food stands are local creators selling handmade goods from toys, Christmas decor, little villages, and handmade hats. It’s traditional, yet diverse and eclectic. While the toy stands might be fun for the kids, the big draw is the Riesenrad (Ferris wheel), which in my experience, is the centerpiece of the Weihnachtsmarkt. For kids the Weihnachtsmarkt is a mini-carnival, with goofy Christmas-themed rides scattered throughout the city. Bumper cars, swings, and carousels are popular with families.
Christmas with Community
It’s rare to find these types of Christmas markets in the US. Sure, there are craft fairs and makers markets. But the difficult thing is to find something specifically for Christmas without the flashing lights and inflatable kitsch that makes the States so great. Oddly enough, when we lived in Colorado, we went to Denver’s German Christmas market. It’s pretty accurate. The biggest difference between Christmas in the US and Christmas in Germany is the intention behind it. Here, there is less advertising, less pressure, less stuff. It’s about family and Advent, and togetherness.
It’s raining tonight, the winds are strong, and the temperature is low. But the crowds in the city center are thick, the Glühwein is steaming, and conversation is flowing. Grab a crepe and settle in among the crowd. Germany gets a reputation of having cold people, but that’s just the weather. The people here are warm. They are friendly. The wine helps. Like everyone else, Germans crave community and togetherness. What better way to promote that than with a Weihnachtsmarkt.
What does your community do to celebrate the holidays? Have you been to a Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany or another country? Let me know about it by leaving a comment 👇
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In Germany, Christmas is a big deal. Christmas markets spring up in town centers with stands selling anything from currywurst (my favorite) to crepes. There are Ferris wheels and carnival rides for the children, and spiked eggnog for the adults. Scattered through the Altermarkt, stands selling handmade décor offer a bit of Christmas cheer to bring home. Christmas in Germany feels less flashy than in the US. Sure, people probably have similar things on their Wunschliste, the newest iPhone or gadget. But there is also a charm and simplicity that I find lacking in the malls in the States.
Here are 5 gift ideas inspired by popular Christmas items in Germany
For this mostly Christian country, Advent is a huge deal. Along with the candles and special tea-times on Sundays, Advent is celebrated with the good old-fashioned Adventskalender. But these are not your typical chocolate-a-day you get from Trader Joe’s. The calendars are themed and can be found at any store. From beauty supplies, food, tea, toys, clothes, you name it, people hunt down the type they want and give them throughout the holiday season. (The funniest one I saw was a playboy advent calendar. I was laughing too hard to find out what was inside).
Since our homes are usually flats in shared buildings, nobody has Christmas lights on display outside. Instead, windows are lit with white or red Herrnhut, or Moravian stars. These stars symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and come in a variety of styles, each as stunning as the rest.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever played Catan. 🙋♀️ You can thank (or curse) Germany for that creation. Some of the best board games come out of this country, thanks in part to their obsession with clubs (everyone is in a club), and SPIEL, the largest board game convention in the world which takes place in Essen every year. This year, games like Azul and die Quacksalber (not available in English…yet!) took home the top prize for game of the year.
Teddy Bears and cuddly creatures
For the Kinder (children) or collector, Germany’s oldest toy maker creates cuddle-inducing cheer. Steiff, world-famous for the creation of the teddy bear, draws children and adults into their Christmas window displays. While in Bonn, I nearly missed this experience walking past a massive crowd of people glued to 100 meters of glass. Three people deep and over the heads of little ones was a fantastical forest of animals come to life, all Steiff creatures pushing carts, playing on swings, hiding among trees. The feeling of childlike wonder in the air was palpable as we all hoped that glass would disappear so we could get our hands on that cute little fox.
Not American football, but the real football the rest of the world plays. Or as it’s called here, Fußball. Support your local Bundesliga or the national team even when we haven’t won a game (but we tied twice, so that counts, right?). In the US, you wear your Cavs t-shirts, here, we have Arminia. Or Paderborn, or Dortmund, or Germany. The kit gives people something to be proud of, even if the national team gets knocked out of the world cup in the first round, or the city team hasn’t technically won a game. There’s a sense of community and togetherness that comes on gameday, when the stadium is full and the whole city is wearing blue, white, and black.
Some Christmas Spirit
Maybe this year you can skip the typical consumables and gift cards, and go for a little Christmas charm from Abroad. Choose gifts that promote togetherness and simplicity; encourage laughter and cuddles, and help bring a little Christmas spirit back into the flashy malls of the States.
What’s on your wishlist? And more importantly, what’s on your givelist?
This was my first time leaving Bielefeld by train and traveling by myself. I left Sherlock with a dog sitter (he was in heaven) and took the roughly two hour train ride to Bonn.
Bonn is roughly the same size as Bielefeld in population, with about 325,000 people. The first capital city after the second world war, Bonn was instrumental in rebuilding and reunifying the country and Europe in general. Because of this, the city is both very German and very international at the same time.
In Bielefeld, it’s a struggle to hear anyone speak English, whereas in Bonn, English is spoken freely, along with French, Turkish, and plenty more languages. It made me more comfortable to speak German knowing that if I didn’t know the right word, I could switch to English with no problem and little judgement.
The Local’s Perspective
Our weekend in Bonn wasn’t meant to be one of sightseeing and tourist traps, so I’m sorry to report I don’t have much to tell you on that front. We mostly walked around. Everywhere. The afternoon I arrived, we picked up Falafel from a stand under the train station, then walked down Poppelsdorfer Allee back to Josh’s apartment.
Poppelsdorfer Allee reminds me of Manhattan, only much quieter. There’s a large grassy park with gravel walkways and tall trees lining the edge. One-way streets make up the Allee, with unique and historical townhouses running down both sides. At the end of the Allee sits the Poppelsdorf Castle, now home to the Bonn Botanical Gardens and part of Universität Bonn (how cool would it be to go to class in a castle?!?).
We spent the evening exploring our first Weihnachtsmarkt, but that’s a story for another day.
Bellies full of Currywurst and waffles, we were ready to head back to the apartment, but first needed to stop at Haribo for rations for our journey. Haribo, the world famous gummy bear maker, has its headquarters and factory in Bonn. Walking by the factory store draws you in with the smell of sweets and bright colors. You can’t not go in. They have an entire section devoted to licorice and it smells amazing. There’s a wall of colored gummy bears, à la the M&M store. Choose your flavor. And right across the street is the Lindt store. So basically, I was on a sugar high all weekend. Let’s just be grateful Ritter is in Berlin.
One of my favorite things about living in Europe is the café culture. In the city center are large areas filled with shops and restaurants, and noticeably void of cars. The only noise pollution is from other people’s conversations lingering in the air. Café tables, umbrellas, and benches line the walkways, and on the weekend its impossible to find an empty spot, even in the winter.
People will sit for hours, nursing their cappuccino and nibbling on their pastry, enjoying conversation with their bodies facing those walking by instead of their tablemate. Europeans make people watching an art.
In Bonn, we participated in this centuries-long tradition, and I felt like I was finally beginning to blend in. We spent time in two cafes, taking our time, sipping our drinks and eating our pastries. We watched the people walking by, shared our food, talked, and relaxed. The best thing about café culture is that there is no rush to it. You order, you get your food, and eventually at one point or another, you get your bill. No one is urging you out. You will need to flag someone down if you want anything.
We probably spent an hour eating and even that was too short for Europeans. In fact, a neighboring table of two arrived shortly after we did and was still at the café when we walked past almost 2 hours later!
A Walking Tour
I know I said that I didn’t want my visit to Bonn to be touristy, but there were two things that I really wanted to do when I was there.
See Beethoven’s house and
See the Rhine.
I didn’t even want to go inside Beethoven’s house, I just wanted to see it. So that’s what we did. Traipsing through the Altstadt on a Saturday afternoon, we dodged people at the farmer’s market hawking their fresh Obst und Gemüse on the hunt for Beethoven’s birthplace.
Farmer’s Market in Bonn
Farmer’s Market in Bonn
Beethoven’s house itself can be toured and has his original piano plus some sheet music. Next door is a gift shop featuring every Beethoven CD imaginable, sheet music, and more. You can also purchase tickets to tour the home. Bonn is proud of their connection to the musician, who was born in the city and lived there through his teens.
Stop #1 on the Beethoven Walk
The city has a Beethoven Walk, a self-guided walking tour that takes you throughout the city to notable landmarks connected to Beethoven. We accidentally ended up on this walking tour when we found ourselves at these landmarks by coincidence. Beethoven’s house, the Poppelsdorf Electoral Palace, the cathedral, the old cemetery, and the Beethoven statue in the market square all ended up being part of the tour.
While the Rhine wasn’t part of the walking tour, I am sure Beethoven visited it—and probably even traveled on it—in his lifetime, so let’s just add that one in there just for fun.
Freude. Joy. Joie. Bonn.
It’s difficult to imagine that at one point people really thought Beethoven would lose popularity and be forgotten in time. With the changes this city has gone through, as a birthplace of music and modern democracy for Europe, Bonn grasps onto Beethoven and his legacy to make sure that this little city on the Rhine isn’t forgotten.
There’s a pretty well-known work of Beethoven’s: Symphony No. 9. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? There’s a little ditty tucked in there called “Ode to Joy.”
That song is Bonn.
It starts quiet, it draws you in, and before you know it the horns are full blast and the strings are going like crazy. It’s a crescendo of color and history and smells and vibrancy of people. Then you spin around, and the villagers are singing like you’ve stepped back in time.
It is Freude. Joy. Joie. The perfect slogan for Bonn.
Miles walked: 20.48🚶♀️
Kölsch consumed: 3🍻
Pastries eaten: 2🥐
Candies consumed: Too many.🤷♀️
What’s your favorite thing about traveling without an agenda? Where do you want me to go next?
When you go searching on the internet for useful information on Bielefeld, good luck finding real answers. Hop on any forum, thread or discussion board asking for things to do while visiting Bielefeld, or god forbid if you needed urgent information, don’t be surprised if all the answers say:
“Bielefeld? That place doesn’t exist.”
“I think I saw a sign for it once, but nothing was there.”
“I have never met anyone from Bielefeld.”
“Have you ever been to Bielefeld?”
“Bielefeld? You must be one of Them.”
Let me introduce you to the Bielefeld Conspiracy (and in turn, what Germans call humor).
It’s the longest running joke in Germany, and even the city of Bielefeld is in on it.
The Bielefeld Conspiracy could be considered the first meme, born on a forum in the early days of the Internet, when someone posted they were from Bielefeld and was told, “Das gibt’s doch gar nicht” which literally translated as “it doesn’t exist.” Since then, this idea of a city of 300,000 people not existing has become one of the biggest jokes in Germany, centered around an overblown, joke conspiracy of SIE (THEM), which asks three questions:
Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anybody who has been to Bielefeld?
Some people go so far as to jokingly claim that They include Elvis, John F. Kennedy, the CIA, or aliens, who use Universität Bielefeld as their spaceship (I can see that, the building looks weird).
One of Them
What makes the Bielefeld Conspiracy so compelling is that overall, Bielefeld is not a well-known city even within Germany.
Bielefeld has a castle, but in terms of castles in Germany, it’s not particularly marvelous and awe-inspiring (sorry, Sparrenburg, I love you, but you’re not Disney-worthy). There are no major natural features like oceans, mountains, or rivers. Bielefeld is home to some major institutions, however. Universität Bielefeld, Dr. Oetker, Bethel, and um…. Ya that’s pretty much it. But let’s not forget our world class football team! DSC Arminia! Oh, what’s that? We haven’t won a game all season? 🤦♀️
“I had the impression that I was there,” Angela Merkel
But sometimes, it’s nice to have a reputation of not existing. You go in without any preconceived notions, without any expectations or opinions of a place you have yet to see for yourself. The idea of Bielefeld not existing has allowed for me to explore it and watch it form in front of me.
Existence is Overrated
It’s great to know that our 800+ year old castle doesn’t exist, with its underground tunnels and tower looking over the city. We’ll keep that secret to ourselves. The tourists can have the Black Forest; we have the Teutoburg Forest that snakes along the edge of Bielefeld, where the Germans held off Roman invaders centuries ago. We’re keeping Bethel a secret too, one of the finest institutions for special needs care and public health in Europe. Although, it becomes difficult to say Bielefeld doesn’t exist on game day, when Schüco Arena is sold out and the chants are loud enough to hear across the city. And even when Arminia loses (because it’s inevitable), fans in blue, white, and black walk home singing and chanting.
If this is what it means to not exist, I’m in.
But to all the Germans that joke “das gibt es nicht,” I must ask you one of the three questions:
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Because I think you might really like it.
Then again, I am one of them.
What do you think about the Bielefeld Conspiracy? What conspiracies or jokes does your country have? Do you think Germans could find a better way to help people interested in Bielefeld, or is it best that the city stays a mystery?
This past weekend, I had my first guest visit! Julie, a friend from Colorado, joined me in Bielefeld for the weekend, making a stop on her road trip across Europe. We got dinner in Bielefeld (Döner of course), and on Saturday, headed to Bad Salzuflen.
Salt Baths in the Woods
30 minutes east of Bielefeld is the bath town of Bad Salzuflen (Bad= bath; Salz= salt; Oflen=woods). The town was established in the middle ages over thermal salt pools found underground and harvested for their medicinal and market value, though it didn’t become a true “Bad” town until the early 1900s.
Walking through the city center you are instantly transported to the seaside, with the briny scent of saltwater in the air and the sound of the water dripping off the Gradierwerk. It’s kind of a silly juxtaposition for me since the only seaside towns I know are the overcrowded, modern, and kitschy ones of California. I felt like my body was in the Middle Ages, but my mind was in the US. The only thing missing was the smell of sunscreen.
What is a spa town?
Bad Salzuflen is a spa town (hence the “Bad” in its name). Like most spa towns, Bad Salzuflen has a geothermal source, in this case, salt. Typically, spa towns will have spa centers and health resorts centered around this source (i.e. Glenwood Springs, Colorado). People come to these spa towns for relaxation and rejuvenation. Breathing the air from salt springs in Bad Salzuflen is said to moisten the respiratory tract and help cleanse bacteria. The best part is you get to keep your clothes on.
With biking and walking trails, the Kurpark combines the best of German outdoor life with the salt spring. Running through the center of the park is the Salze river, and a large pond that smells like the sea. Get a gust a wind and you’ll feel the salty water mist your face. Throughout the park are cafes, theatres, and spas like the Kurhaus and VitaSol. But probably the biggest attraction are the Gradierwerk.
First built in 1767, the Gradierwerk, or Graduation Towers, act as a giant air filter for the town. These large walls meander through the city and make you feel like you’re walking between old ships. Filled with Blackthorn sticks, the Gradierwerk allows 600,000 liters (158,503 gallons) of salt water per day to trickle down the tower, creating a relaxing seaside climate for the town. Benches that line the towers are filled with people taking in the scent and sounds of the Gradierwerk, head facing the sun and bodies relaxed. Even on a cold day like Saturday, people bundled up (including us!) to experience the salt cure.
Julie and I had to experience one of the health spas in Bad Salzuflen, so during our visit, we went to the Salz Grotto located in the Kurgastzentrum. The Salt Grotto is basically what it sounds like. The walls are covered in salt rocks, the floor is a thick layer of Crystal Salt and Sea Salt, and mini Gradierwerk trickle salt water and produce sea air as if you’re lying on the beach. The only thing missing is the sun.
With our jackets on and covered in blankets (it was a brisk 60 degrees in there), we pushed our chairs back and started to relax, listening to the sounds of the water hitting the wood of the Gradierwerk, and the waves from the music. Within seconds, we were both fast asleep. After 45 minutes, we woke up and our Salt Grotto experience was over. I don’t think we were cured of anything by the salts, but we both had great naps!
From my limited experience in Germany, I have noticed the popularity of homeopathic treatments and natural medicine. Even when searching for a doctor it is common to find one that specializes in homeopathy and prescribes natural remedies. In Bad Salzuflen, it’s clear that the city and the people who visit believe in the healing powers of the salt water.
Are all my ailments gone? No.
Did I feel toxins being flushed from my system? No.
There’s a phenomenon often found in academia where people are flooded with thoughts of inadequacy, that their success is worthless, and that they are failures. In fact, a study shows that nearly 70% of Americans have suffered from what is called Impostor Phenomenon (or syndrome), which leaves them questioning their competence and writing off their own success as dumb luck.
I think if we were to repeat this study today, that percentage would be higher. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if nearly everyone has experienced some form of Impostor Syndrome in their lifetime. Moving abroad and living as “trailing spouse” to an academic, I can relate to feeling like an impostor.
I’m smarter in America
When I am speaking in English, it’s a simplified form. I am trying my best to minimize mistranslation and confusion. I haven’t truly been myself since I landed. Add the fact that I am taking a German course at a university I don’t work at or attend, in which all the students are either international PhD or employees of the university, it’s no wonder I have a complex. I feel like the dumbest person in the room, and it doesn’t help that I can’t even say that in German. And saying it in English doesn’t help because no one understands the nuance behind it.
I made a lot of changes to get here, sacrificed my career, quit a job I loved, and uprooted my family from a great community. I left a country and family that was mine for nearly 30 years. And we came here, to the unknown, where sure, people look like us, but they definitely don’t sound like us and they don’t act like us. But they expect us to act and sound like them. I left with confidence and after a month, I am pretty beat up.
Most of the time, I feel like I am surrounded by adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Sometimes, I can’t help but think that they are talking about me. Sometimes, they are, and I can’t do anything about it because I don’t know what they’re saying or how to respond. (this usually happens in the grocery checkout. Germans are very particular about grocery checkout, but that’s another story). I shut down. I spend my time in public inside of myself, avoiding others, avoiding conversation, avoiding anything German that could possibly lead me to make a mistake.
I know that I am a competent person. I know that I can do this, because I have done this before, just not on such a grand scale. But Impostor Syndrome likes to screw with you and tell you that you can’t. And being in a different country exacerbates these feelings.
I knew every shortcut and secret parking spot in every city I lived in. I had great patient relationships and loved working with my coworkers. I valued friendships and community. And now I am struggling to do the most basic tasks of emptying the trash or ordering a pastry. I am too afraid to go to the library. I must relearn basic skills in a new language. I promise, I’m smart in America!
Expat the Impostor
Impostor Syndrome is similar to anxiety, stress, and depression, as you can see from my account, in that it preys on inadequacy and fear of failure, but it is not considered a mental disorder. Often, you will find it in academics because of the high-stress environment. For expats, this is also true, since moving to a new country can increase stress and anxiety, and immerses you into an unfamiliar environment.
The impostor in you will say:
“I just got lucky.”
“I feel like a fake.”
“I must not fail.”
Do these sound familiar to you?
What about comparing yourself to others?
Not being able to accept a compliment or praise?
Not telling anyone about a promotion or award because you didn’t feel like you deserved it?
You can take the Impostor Syndrome test to see where you land. This test was created by Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance, whose research showed that both men and women suffered from Impostor Syndrome. Impostor syndrome can apply to anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes,” says psychologist Audrey Ervin in an interview with Time.
How to Unmask the Enemy
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, we need to be able to fight it. If Impostor Syndrome leaves us feeling like failures and frauds, we need to be able to recognize how false that is.
Acknowledge that you’re not yourself. Are you being you, or is this an impostor? Observe but don’t engage. Be mindful and objective.
Find ways to be more like you. Channel your inner American (or home country). I found the English section of the bookstore. It’s disorganized and a little outdated, but I can read the books. Do something that makes you happy or connects you to your roots.
Accept. A big thing as an expat is the feeling of never belonging anywhere. We are no longer Americans, and we are definitely not Germans. I am stuck in limbo between two states where no one will really accept me. I need to stop seeing that as a failure and start accepting it as my new reality.
Be brave. I think it’s okay to take your time to get acquainted to your new surroundings, especially when that means learning a new language. But often, I use not knowing enough German as my excuse to not do things and that’s not okay. My own lack of confidence is going to hinder my ability to integrate and immerse, make friends and connect. You need to be able to rip the band-aid off and do something out of your comfort zone, even if it’s a little thing.
Talk to someone. It is a truth universally acknowledged that people suck at talking to each other about how they feel. Especially Americans. In Germany, you don’t ask “how are you” unless you truly want to know the answer. In America, you don’t expect to get a real answer when you ask. Talk to someone, be honest, and seek help if you need it.
Encourage. When I lack confidence, or when I am depressed, I find that the best way to right my situation is to serve others. When I need encouragement, I often can find it if I actively take myself out of the equation and focus on others. Write a thank-you note, acknowledge something amazing a coworker did for you, help a neighbor. Do something to encourage another and you just might find yourself uplifted in the process.
Me vs. the World
It’s normal to experience doubt. It’s normal to think to yourself, “I can’t do this.” That’s called being a human. But withholding everyday activities out of fear of failure, not allowing yourself simple joys because you don’t think you’re “good enough” is not normal. The biggest thing I have learned since moving here and dealing with my own struggles with Impostor Syndrome is that everyone is trying to unmask their own impostor. While I am busy comparing myself to others, worrying that they are talking about me when they are probably not, I forget that those people are too busy dealing with their own problems to think about mine.
To put it nicely, most people are too busy thinking about themselves to worry about you. That narcissistic fact about the world has brought me some comfort. But it also reminds me to be a little bit more aware of what’s going on around me because most people aren’t.
Since I moved to Germany, I felt like I was always under attack. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know the rules or customs, and I got the side-eye every time I paid with a credit card. It was Me vs. Them and I was losing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I know that I will have plenty of days where I will say “I can’t do this” or I will fail at something. But contrary to popular belief, I don’t have to be an expert in German within 2 months of living here (sorry Germans, I don’t). I will accept the fact that I don’t fit in here, and I will be brave. Yes, there will be plenty more scrapes and bruises to come, but at least I will have a story to tell.
In all the time we spent getting Sherlock and traveling with him through the Frankfurt airport, we never once met a Customs official. No one looked over Sherlock’s health certificate, no one even stamped our passports. They just waved us off with our luggage and our dog, and that was it. We had no idea what we were supposed to do, and everything I had researched (including the government websites) told me nothing about what to do once we arrived.
We may or may not have done this legally, but if we did, we didn’t get caught. And it’s kind of their fault for not making it clear. This is how we got Sherlock registered in Germany.
We Didn’t Do Anything
We couldn’t do anything for a long time, because like all things in Germany, you can’t do anything without first having an address and being registered with the city. We learned very early that the first step (literally for everything) was to get an address.
Want to get paid? You need an address.
Want a German phone number? You need an address.
Want to get Wi-Fi at the university? You need an address.
So we waited. In my paranoia, I took Sherlock to a vet (which was probably a good idea). The vet looked over the health certificate, verified the rabies vaccine and wrote a letter to the city. She also explained what would be required to register Sherlock with the city.
In Germany, all pets are registered and taxed yearly. Depending on the type and size of the animal, an additional test may be required of the owner. There is noticeably fewer dogs in Germany due to how expensive it is to own them (our tax was around €200). Owners are also required to carry pet insurance with up to €100,000 deductible.
With that letter, we went to our Bürgeramt and registered Sherlock. They didn’t even need the USDA health certificate. They looked at the letter, gave us a medallion and an invoice, and we were on our way. It was the easiest visit to the registration office we had.
No one has signed or looked at our USDA Health Certificate. I have still never encountered a Customs agent.
What to Expect as a Dog Owner
Fewer dogs in Germany means fewer vets and fewer pet stores. It’s harder to find quality food and products. And don’t get me started on overnight stay because that’s nearly impossible. With how much Germans go on vacation I’ve come to believe they just take their dogs with them.
Dogs can take the bus and Stadtbahn for free, but you will get the stink eye if your dog is barking, whining, or misbehaving.
Dogs can take the DB Train for a small fee (kids ticket). Dogs are technically required to wear a muzzle while on public transportation. No one does this. If your dog likes to show teeth or barks, it might be a good idea to have one handy in case someone asks you to muzzle your dog.
Most dogs are off leash in parks until the owner spots another dog. While most dogs here are usually better trained than dogs in the US, I still think this is not a good idea, since there are plenty of distractions.
Unlike the US, a lot of dogs here are not spayed/neutered.
You must get pet insurance (up to €100K). This will protect you in case your dog attacks. Most of the time, renter’s/homeowner’s insurance will cover your pet. Check your insurance policy.
Unlike in the US, children here do not come up to dogs and pet them or ask to pet them (I haven’t had anyone approach me to pet Sherlock! It used to be a common occurrence in the US).
Most of the time, dogs are welcome in stores and cafes.
While most parks and walking paths have pet waste stations, it’s a 50/50 chance that people use them. Set a good example by picking up after your pet…and watch your step.
Common Words & Phrases you will hear about dogs in Germany:
Kastriert: “Ist er/sie kastriert?” Is your dog castrated/neutered? They usually ask this to warn you when their dog is in heat, etc.
Rüde: “ist es Rüde?” Is it a male dog? This one took me forever to figure out because everyone asking me this rolled the R so hard I kept thinking they were saying “bruder” which means “brother.”
Schöner Hunde: Pretty/cute dog. Sherlock has some unique coloring that gets him some attention, so compliments are common. Use “schöner Hunde” to tell someone their dog is a looker.
Moving abroad can be a stressful and difficult process, especially when your family includes pets. It’s important that once you know you’re moving to start preparing your animals for their trip overseas. Our dog, Sherlock, was too big to fit in the cabin with us and had to travel in cargo. We started a year before we left, planning and preparing our dog (and ourselves) for the journey.
In this post, I will detail the items needed for your dog and his journey. This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing any linked item will help support this blog. I also encourage you to check your community for local & independent pet stores. Thank you! Pet your doggo for me.
Prepare a Safe Space
An airline-approved crate. Check with your airline (or any international airline) for a list of airline approved crates. Sherlock flew in the Petmate Sky Kennel Portable Dog Crate. If your dog is flying in cargo, you have my deepest sympathy. Get a crate the second you know you’re moving abroad and set it up in your house. If your dog is not familiar with being in a crate, make the process a slow one so he has a while to acclimate and get comfortable with his travel buddy. Sherlock ate every meal in his crate since the day we got it (about 10 months before we moved) and occasionally slept in it. He was comfortable but preferred the couch.
Metal screws and nuts. Swap out the plastic fasteners on the crate for metal ones. Most of the time these crates come with plastic ones that are not airline approved and you need to buy metal ones separately. In my experience, TSA will not allow you to zip-tie the crate.
A water and food bowlneeds to be attached to the inside of the crate. People say to freeze water in the bowl to keep it from sloshing around. When we traveled with Sherlock, he was not allowed ANY water or food in his crate due to TSA security regulations. They forced us to detach the bowl, empty the contents and reattach it before we could even send him through security. We were livid. The cargo handlers promised to give him some water, and I hope they did because the next time we saw him was 14 hours later. I just tried to remind myself that dogs can survive for three days without water.
If you are putting your dog in cargo, remove his collar and keep it with you. As much as you want his crate to be a cozy place, you also need to make sure it’s safe. Keep the bedding minimal so your dog has plenty of ventilation, room to move, and nothing to get stuck on. Put a toy in there and something that smells like you. If your dog is prone to anxiety, consider using a pheromone spray like Adaptil to calm him. Practice using it at home to see if your dog reacts well to it before using it the day of your journey.
Put his name on his crate (you can even tape a photo to the top). It will make the crate less of a package to the airline and remind the handlers that there is a family member inside. I did this for Sherlock and every handler and attendant I met called him by his name when they talked to me about him.
What to Pack in your Carry On
All necessary documents: Health certificate, copies of rabies certificate (this needs an actual signature, not an electronic signature), and copies of microchip number. You can read about what you need for your journey (and my harrowing experience getting it all) in my previous post. If your dog has a HomeAgain tag, take off the yellow tag and stick it in your wallet or on your keys. This one has the microchip number and you can keep it with you for easy access if he gets lost. Since you’re moving, the HomeAgain address information will be incorrect. Even if you choose not to renew your membership with HomeAgain, they will keep your last known address and information (including email and phone number) on record. Plus, once you register your pet in your new country (more on that in another post) they will have the microchip number linked with your new address and information.
Leash/Collar: Remove his collar once he’s securely in his crate and ready for boarding. Keep his leash and collar with you so you’re ready to pick him up when you land.
Travel food/water bowl: These collapsible bowls were a lifesaver for us. We used them in transit, while looking for an apartment, and hiking.They collapse to flat and have a key-ring that can be hooked to backpacks, luggage, etc.
Reusable water bottle: If your journey is anything like ours was (I pray it’s not) you will run out of water. Make sure you have a way to keep some with you and you don’t need to rely on the kindness of strangers to hydrate you and your dog.
Dog waste bags: Just in case. Don’t rely on your destination to have these handy. Be a good pet owner and pick up after your dog.
Medications: We sedated our dog for the journey. You know your dog best. Talk to your vet about sedation during travel if you’re considering this as an option.
What to Pack in your Luggage
Dog food: You might find it difficult to find a pet store at first, and it’s definitely not something you want to do when you first get there, so bring a decent sized bag of food with you. Don’t forget to give yourself enough time to ease your dog into the new diet. We brought a 7 lb bag of Taste of the Wild, then switched to the Made in Germany Mera a few weeks after arriving.
Harness/muzzle: Put these items in an outside pocket for easy access to put on your dog when you arrive. While Sherlock doesn’t normally wear a harness, I felt more comfortable having extra control of him while on public transport and in crowds. Just like with any new item, practice using the muzzle beforehand if your dog is unfamiliar with it. We didn’t use the muzzle at all, but dogs are required by law to be muzzled while on public transport (no one ever does it unless told to, and no one told us to).
Toys: A little something from home for familiarity and to help get him comfortable with his new surroundings.
Treats: These can also go in your carry on, or in the outside pocket of your luggage for easy access. Give them to your dog when you arrive and reward him when you see him. We chose not to feed Sherlock until we arrived at our destination in Bielefeld. We just gave him a few treats here and there. He was so tired that he didn’t feel like eating that much anyway.
During our journey, I never felt under-prepared when it came to Sherlock. I think he had everything he needed. While I believe that the muzzle was a legal necessity, I wish we could have gone without it since we didn’t use it at all. We still have it and we will bring it with us any time Sherlock travels on the Deutsche Bahn. Just in case.
Is there anything you would absolutely need to bring for your dog? Let me know in the comments.
We learned we were moving to Germany last August, a month after we moved to Kent. The first thing we did was buy an airline crate for Sherlock.
And then we returned it.
The first one we got was so big that I could easily fit in it and sit down crisscross-applesauce. It was too big, but I wanted him to be comfortable. There’s a fine line between comfort and danger when it comes to exporting dogs via plane (in another post, I’ll talk about what to get to prepare your dog for a move overseas). I learned that the hard way after reading horror story after horror story on the internet and every commenter saying, “whatever you do, DON’T put your dog in cargo!” they’re going to end up in Japan, be left on the tarmac, die of heatstroke, get a strange disease, etc. It was terrifying and stressful.
My number one advice to anyone planning on moving a dog in cargo is to STOP READING THOSE STORIES.
I love to do my research, and so I read these stories under the guise of gaining information. All I learned is that most people are stupid, and I was giving myself unnecessary stress. Sherlock is our family. We knew moving to Germany wasn’t going to be easy but doing it with a dog (and a big one at that) was going to make it a lot harder. If you take the time to figure out what your dog requires for his journey, you’re going to be fine. Stressed out, sure, but fine.
We got the right sized crate, almost a year before we moved.
We set it up and ignored it.
We left Sherlock to explore it but didn’t force him into it. He’s always been curious, so when he would go near it or inside, we praised him and tossed treats inside. His breakfast and dinners were served in his “box.” All treats were dispensed in his box, and occasionally, he would spend minutes or hours in his box; sometimes with us in the house, sometimes by himself. When all our furniture started disappearing in anticipation for the move, his box stayed.
A year later, all that was left in our house was the box.
Go to the Vet
Months in advance, I started googling what I needed to do to import a dog to Germany. There is no quarantine period for dogs entering Germany. All that is required is a current rabies vaccination and a standardized microchip (check to see what’s required for your destination).
Finding the right information and forms was hard part.
Scheduling the the vet and getting the paperwork completed was difficult.
When I contacted my vet and informed them that I would be moving abroad with my dog, I was informed that I would be required to know all the paperwork needed and have it filled out prior to the appointment for the vet to check and sign.
Sherlock got a new rabies vaccine (good for 3 years in Ohio), and I got a copy of the rabies certificate (note: the EU requires physical signatures on certificates. Make sure your documents have that and not an electronic signature. Bonus points for blue ink). The vet and the staff were impressed with my knowledge and handling of the documents and I was proud that I got their seal of approval. Little did I know….
Schedule with the USDA
Ten days before leaving the US, you must get your animal health certificate certified and signed by the USDA. Most of the time, there is one office in each state (good luck). Our office was 2 hours away, and when we walked in and showed them the documents, this is what went down:
INT. OFFICE – MORNING
THE FORECAST SAYS IT’S GOING TO BE BOILING LAVA HOT AND THIS OFFICE HAS NO AIR CONDITIONER. THE OPEN WINDOW DOES NOTHING. THE CRAMPED AND OUTDATED RECEPTION AREA HAS A GOOD HOUSEKEEPING MAGAZINE FROM DECEMBER 2012. ERIN RINGS THE SERVICE BELL AND YOU CAN HEAR THE EMPLOYEE WALKING DOWN THE HALLWAY ON THE OLD WOODEN FLOORS.
Uh, hi I have an appointment for a health certificate at 10.
Employee stomps down the hallway and slides glass divider open
Employee sighs. It’s already too hot.
do you have your paperwork?
Erin pulls out documents from a crisp manila envelope labeled “Sherlock” and proudly pushes them through window.
Here it is, and here’s a copy of the rabies certificate, the original microchip number, and the stickers from the rabies vaccine.
Employee is shocked and not in a good way.
Did you fill this out yourself?
Yes, I did!
You’re not supposed to do that. At all. All you need to fill out is your name and address. The vet is supposed to fill out the rest.
Erin is basically in tears, freaking out that Sherlock won’t be able to come with them now, playing a reel of worst-case scenarios in her head which eventually ends with her pan-handling on the street corner with Sherlock.
They told me I had to fill it out!
Employee picks up phone.
Give me a moment, I’ll see what I can do.
Employee calls vet and reams them a new one about how to properly fill out health certificates while stamping and certifying the documents.
Luckily, the USDA APHIS employee was able to work with the document we had and we didn’t have to start from scratch. I have heard horror stories of people having to overnight documents, get additional shots, and quarantine animals because of incorrect paperwork. After an hour of waiting, our paperwork was certified and we were able to leave with a health certificate for Sherlock.
Go to the Airport
We got to the airport about 3 hours before our flight, after moving out of our apartment that day. We decided to sedate Sherlock because he is a very anxious dog, and we knew this journey would not be easy for him (or any of us). A week prior, I called the airline to confirm that Sherlock was on the manifest, and then again the day before because I was paranoid.
Our flight was not a direct flight, as we were flying out of Cleveland to Reykjavik, then onto Frankfurt via Iceland Air. We would be changing planes in Iceland. Josh and I approached the counter to check in and get Sherlock ready for his journey in cargo. We handed over his health certificate and our passports and were informed that we were missing necessary documents for our dog.
Yup. They told us that Sherlock would not be allowed on the flight to Iceland because Iceland Air requires paperwork and documentation for Iceland. This was absolutely the wrong thing to say to us at that moment.
Because it is 100% false
Because we were completely stressed out
Our veins were ready to burst with rage
So, I very calmly set my binder down, called Iceland Air myself, and confirmed with them over the phone in front of the attendant that no additional documentation was required.
If you are taking a connecting flight, you only need health certificates and documentation for your final destination. *
The attendant conceded, waived our baggage fees for all 4 of our bags, and we said “see you soon” to Sherlock, who was pretty much asleep in his box. Off he went to his private TSA screening and into the belly of the beast. We confirmed before boarding that Sherlock was on the plane, and then again in Iceland when we changed planes. Once we landed in Frankfurt, beat from staying awake all night stressed and worried about Sherlock below our feet, we hightailed it to baggage claim to find him.
Once we found him, we tried to let him out, but got yelled at (in German). We had to wait until we were out of baggage claim. So, we picked him up in his crate and hauled him on a luggage dolly out of baggage claim into the main Arrivals terminal of Frankfurt airport.
He got treats, water, and a good walk around, then we made our winding way to the train station. The journey to Bielefeld was exhausting and arduous. With four large suitcases, a dog, and a very large dog crate, it definitely was not easy, and we didn’t make any friends as you might remember from my previous post.
Sherlock was exhausted, and at times we had to carry him up flights of stairs. He didn’t go to the bathroom the entire journey. It wasn’t until we arrived at the Bielefeld hauptbahnhof and got outside that Sherlock stood there and let his bladder go for a good 3 minutes, right there on the sidewalk.
We all slept for ages the next day, and all three of us were sore from the trip.
In all the research I did about importing a dog to Germany, there was a huge gap of information about what to do once you arrive. The only information I ever found while researching was getting my USDA health certificate stamped by a Customs agent.
The greatest lesson I learned is that I needed to be my own expert.
I can’t rely on the vets to know what they’re doing, because they gave me the wrong information on how to fill out a health certificate.
I can’t rely on the airline to know what they’re doing because they don’t know the regulations for importing and exporting animals on their own planes.
Are you planning on moving with your dog overseas? Let me know if you have any questions by leaving me a comment!
*This varies depending on if you’re switching airlines, and how long your layover is. But if you’re staying with the same airline and your layover is less than 24 hours no additional import paperwork is required.