Monthly Archives: November 2012

When your child is ill in Germany

In all the years I’ve lived in Germany, probably the time when I felt the most acutely abroad … and by that I mean I felt like I’d been transmat-beamed to a different universe… was when I had a small baby. There is nothing childrearing, you’d think, for bringing people together in a shared experience common to all humankind.

Wrong.

There’s nothing like having a baby for highlighting the cultural differences between nations.

Compare, for instance, what happens when your child has a cold. In the UK, you’d carry on pretty much as normal, but as a concession to the situation, might carry a couple of extra packets of tissues with you in a futile attempt to stem (or at least spread around) the tidal wave of snot which will be flowing steadily down your toddler’s upper lip.

In Germany you will package your child up in a snow-suit, scarf, hat, mittens and a furry lining to the pushchair and hot-foot it to the Apotheke.  After handing over the best part of your annual salary, you will return triumphantly with assorted packets of malodorous chest-rubs, a herbal tea known as Erkältungstee (which your child will instantly regurgitate and refuse to touch again)… and a mysterious device which enables you to extract the snot from your offspring’s nose.

The Nasensauger… a medieval torture instrument for sucking the juices out of small children. Or something…

On the advice of the Apotheker, you will also have purchased a rectal thermometer and will be monitoring your child’s temperature hourly… in a manner which would probably have social services at the door in Blighty.

Fortunately the thermometer has pictorial instructions for usage on it… personally and exclusively modelled by Winnie the Pooh

If you attempt to send your child to kindergarten or school in the state of having a sniffle, you will immediately be phoned and told to come immediately and collect the invalid –  who in the meantime is being held in isolation.  If the teacher is a stickler, your sick child may not be allowed to return without having been cleared to do so by a paediatrician.
Needless to say, there is no German word for to soldier on….

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Movember in Germany… for those who want to be that little bit more Bavarian…

As men around the world stop shaving for the month of November and demonstrate their hirsute side to raise awareness of men’s health, the world’s hotbed of facial hair, Bavaria, must be bristling.

You see, Germans throughout the ages have excelled not only in growing moustaches, but also in sculpting them into veritable upper-lip-art-forms. Take Kaiser Willhelm II for example…he had a moustache which would make any fellow proud!

Kaiser Bill's killer tache

The tips of the moustache should point towards the corners of the eyes

Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, was a total cad.  But you only had to look at that stunted little tuft of lip-hair to know that.

You see, the mark of a good moustache is not so much the volume as the angle of ascent. A proper German moustache should  point upwards, quite unlike the Slavic model favoured by generations of Russians and Eastern Europeans, from Stalin to Lech Walesa, which most definitely pointed down.

A genuine hirsute German in Movember is aiming for something more adventurous than just a tuft or two of chin-fluff. The competition between hot-blooded Teutons is fierce when it comes to facial hair.  Beards and moustaches are pulled, twisted, curled and rollered to perfection at this time of the year when any old Johann, Fritz and Heinrich threatens to join the party.

So for those who are growing a Movember moustache, I can exclusively reveal the secret weapon of the Bavarian beard-wearer…  you need to buy a tube of proper Bavarian tache-wax. This is like hair-gel on steroids.  With this in your armoury, you too can sculpt your Movember-fluff into a replica model of the Forth Bridge… or an anatomically correct pushme-pullyou*

German moustache wax

Bavarian men… we know your secret!

*maybe

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Medieval town – straight out of the box

This week I was in Ochtrup – a town in the Münsterland, near the Dutch border.

The city fathers have just constructed a new “medieval” walled town in the centre of the village. Actually it’s one of those outlet-centres where eye-wateringly expensive brands are offered at merely wallet-flinching prices.

The entrance to the shopping-village is through a pseudo city-gate.

FOC Ochtrup

The city gate lacks only a portcullis and drawbridge.

Inside, despite the cute step gables and olde-worlde street lights, the place feels odd. The upper floor windows are all blanks. There is no sense of street-life or community. It’s all very Stepford-wives-ish.

Outlet centre Ochtrup

Sterile cuteness…

And of course the impression is exacerbated by the fact that nearly all the shops are selling designer labels. What the place really lacked was a greengrocer, a cheese shop, fishmonger, butcher…

I think I’ll stick to our high-street and local market.

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Mönchengladbach Pongs

I was out and about in Mönchengladbach yesterday when I saw a sight which filled me with that kind of joy which only a Brit in Germany can experience. That same jovial smile crossed my features as happens whenever a Teuton wishes me a Gute Fahrt, or when I pass the Autobahn exit to this place.

The reason for my delight was a bus emerging from a side-street to my right.  Not just any old bus.

This bus.

Mönchengladbach Pongs

Whiffy bus?

I have to admit that the sight of this splendidly labelled vehicle caused me a brief moment of dilemma. You see I was driving through Mönchengladbach on my way somewhere… at that very moment, Helga the satnav was commanding me in her brusque tones to drive straight on. I had a purpose.

But those who know me well will realise that this brief flash of doubt was quickly over. To Helga’s immense dismay (and trust me, no real person can spit out the word “Recalculating” as fiercely as she does), I did the only thing possible under the circumstances.

I followed the bus.

Within a few miles I found myself in downtown Pongs.  I quickly made sure my car windows were completely rolled up and the air vents closed… after all, surely a place doesn’t get a name like that for no reason.

Downtown Pongs

Downtown Pongs… move along, nothing to smell here…

Luckily the refuse collecters were out in Pongs at the time… presumably Pongs pongs less today.

The 024 to Pongs is now my second favourite German bus. My favourite still has to be the vehicle run by this company…

Fuecker

Another example of an amusingly named German bus

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