Category Archives: children in germany

More weird stuff appearing in German shops…

OK – the Christmas goodies started appearing in the shops in late August, the Halloween merchandise in early September, and now, finally in October a small display of essential products to mark a German festival which is actually celebrated at this time of the year! Saint Martinmas.

Sankt Martin

Paper lanterns and battery powered illumination sticks… but then you knew that, right?

Of course it is questionable as to why so many pre-made paper lanterns are on sale, because any German child hoping to take part in the festival will of course make their own out of card, translucent paper and glue. In the old days the lanterns were lit with candles stuck inside them. Yes… I think we can all spot the design flaw there… toddler, fire, paper lantern…. so modern day technology has come to the rescue with those plastic sticks with a bulb on a wire at one end and a battery and switch at the other. These are variously used for sword fighting, whipping your siblings, beheading the prize dahlias, poking your parents and scaring the neighbour’s cat. By the time St. Martinmas comes around the plastic bulb refuses to light… and at this point every plastic illumination stick within a radius of 400 km has sold out. Any parent who fails to provide their child with an electric stick for the St. Martinmas parade is officially a Rabenmutter (bad mother) in Germany… so it is wise to panic-buy and stockpile.

Sorry… I should have told you this a month ago….




Filed under About Germany, children in germany, German festivals, Life in Germany, shopping in Germany

Cool stuff for kids in Germany

When I was visiting Kempen I also spotted these cool street-sculptures which double as entertainment for kids.

Rocking Horse

Hoppe hoppe Reiter…

Bendy chicken

Flexible fowl…

Rocking pig

For future Bastian Schweinsteigers?



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International branding fail…

Sometimes you just wonder how the Germans decide on brand names… like our local children’s hospital for instance…


Filed under About Germany, children in germany, Life in Germany


As some of the snow starts to thaw on the roof, we’re getting an impressive array of icicles this year. I’m tempted to nip out with a pair of teaspoons and try to play Tubular Bells on them!


I’m not the only one who has spotted the potential play value of icicles. We’ve had icicle sword fights, icicle star wars battles and strange ice spikes now emerge from many of our plant pots.


Fun toys!

More fun than the actual Christmas presents!


Filed under About Germany, children in germany, German festivals, Life in Germany

Christmas tree traditions in Germany

This year we actually did the proper German thing with the Christmas tree. OK, it wasn’t intentional. It was because of all the snow that we didn’t go out early and buy a tree. It was the 23rd by the time I managed to scrape the car free of ice and snow and venture out in search of food, last minute presents and a Christmas tree. Fortunately the entire German nation had also been holed up in the blizzard, so Christmas trees had not sold out.

The tree on arrival was dumped unceremoniously outside the front door where it spent the night.

On Christmas Eve we brought the tree inside and decorated it.

Had we been proper Germans, of course, we would have risked burning the house down and used proper candles on the tree. Given that our house is made of wood and lined with bookshelves, this didn’t sound like the most sensible idea though, so we stuck to electric lights.

Had we been proper Germans, we would have spent the evening sitting round the tree singing “Stille Nacht” and various other traditional Christmas songs. Again, being philistines, in fact although we did gather in the room with the tree, we made our own music which was mainly not particularly Christmassy – although the kids did perform a fabulous jazz version of “Leise rieselt der Schnee” with Dad on piano, son on guitar, youngest daughter on vocals and eldest daughter on the cajon.  Glühwein and Kinderpunsch all round. Admittedly with mince pies.

Presents definitely not opened on Christmas Eve though. We’re not that German!


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German Christmas pyramids

Christmas is the time of year when you construct pyramids in your house.  I don’t mean a Valley of the Kings stone affair… I mean a wooden one with candles and a windmill on the top. Obviously.

The Christmas pyramid is a sort of Heath-Robinson contraption which uses the convection current of hot air from candles to power a windmill and spin the pyramid. Unlike most other German inventions, this one has absolutely no practical purpose. None whatsoever.

Most German homes are content with a small table-top affair these days. Something that looks like this.

By Richard Huber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

German towns and cities tend to build rather grander versions – often displayed at the local Christmas market.  The figures on the different tiers of the pyramids rotate, to indicate to people that they have drunk rather more Glühwein than is good for them.  Or something.

Creative Commons

Originally these decorative carved pyramids date from the middle ages and symbolise light driving away darkness at Christmas time (literally and figuratively).  They pre-date the Christmas tree, which became a more popular decoration – probably due to it being easier to chop down a tree and bring it into the house than to spend months whittling away carving a wooden Christmas pyramid.

Many Germans still use real candles to illuminate their Christmas trees – at the annual risk of burning the house down, of course. What is it about Christmas that suddenly makes an otherwise sensible nation forget about Vorsprung durch Technik?

Wikimedia Commons

In the old days families would add to their collection of wooden figures in the Christmas pyramid every year, in the same way that nowadays people buy a few new baubles for the Christmas tree. For those who are trying to decide between a real or an artificial Christmas tree this year – a Christmas Pyramid could be the most amazing artificial tree you ever bought!

Alternatively, if you start carving now, you might have your very own pyramid ready for Christmas 2011….





Filed under About Germany, children in germany, german art, German festivals, Life in Germany

St. Nikolaus – the ultimate betrayal

Yesterday was St. Nikolaus in Germany –  the day when Saint Nick pops in and fills children’s boots with chocolate and treats. Assuming, of course, that the data (supposedly compiled by angels) in his Golden Book suggests the children have been well behaved enough.

Naughty children in Germany suffer a gruesome fate, which varies depending on which part of the country they live in.

Up here in North Rhine Westphalia miscreants will be given a birch instead of sweets, with which their parents are supposed to whip them. Maybe St. Nikolaus hasn’t actually consulted the Jugendamt – or perhaps whipping is not considered to be child abuse when it’s on special occasions.

Further South, badly behaved children will be carried away by the Krampus – a devilish creature who carries a bag on his back and abducts children, never to be seen again.

Of course the unexposed scam is that German parents actually pay for St. Nikolaus (and possibly the Krampus) to visit on the evening of December 6th. In some areas the local Arbeitsamt actually runs courses for the unemployed to learn to play the roles and your local St. Nick-team can charge €50-100 for a brief but terrifying visit, which is guaranteed to produce exemplary behaviour from your offspring for the next 12 months. (Hmmmm… actually that sounds like a bargain!)

, via Wikimedia Commons”]Those more recently arrived from ‘Elf & Safety obsessed Britain will of course want to know whether these long-term unemployed, recently trained Saints and Devils have had the equivalent of a CRB (criminal records bureau) background check. The answer is no. Of course not.  Mwahahahaha! The very job of the St. Nikolaus and the Krampus is to abuse and traumatise your child.


The minute they show up, your son or daughter will be wracked with guilt for all their misdeeds over the past 12 months and paralysed with fear that now is going to be payback time. What they do not know though, is that the information which is held in the Saint’s Golden Book, does not, in fact, come from the Angels. It’s been leaked by their own parents. Saint Nikolaus is merely the Julian Assange figure, compiling and publishing the data which their parents wrote down and passed on.

The experience for your children, as any American diplomat will confirm, is at best highly uncomfortable. The Saint will read out – in front of everyone – a list of your deeds and misdeeds from the past 12 months, and all the while the birch is sticking out of the top of his bag, or the Krampus is leering at you, about to abduct you from your home forever to lengthy torment and an early death.

On top of this… having put you through all this torture, the Saint will then expect you to recite a poem. Or sing a song. Or perform on the piano or the recorder.  Have you ever tried remembering the words to “Advent Advent” when you’re actually crapping your pants?

Even though the Saint (nearly) always comes up with the sweeties in the end, the burden of guilt and doubt are the overriding memories. The Lebkuchen and Pfeffernüsse will turn to ashes in your mouth.

Compared to St. Nikolaus, the British/American Santa Claus seems…well, like Father Christmas!

, via Wikimedia Commons”]


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Münster – town of bicycles

We spent yesterday in Münster, helping eldest daughter move into her new super-shiny new studio apartment.

We drove the van with all her worldly goods across town, while she rode her bicycle to her new home.

In Münster bicycles are the main form of transport. There are more bicycles than cars. I sometimes wonder whether there aren’t actually more bicycles than people. You can judge the popularity of certain locations by the number of bikes parked outside. In fact approaching certain buildings can be a bit of an obstacle course as you have to negotiate your way around bikes chained to every lamppost, tree and “Fahrräder hier nicht abstellen” sign.

, from Wikimedia Commons”]What particularly impressed me, though, in the town of bicycles was the ready availability of bike-repair equipment at all times of the day and night. An evening stroll through one of the streets adjacent to our daughter’s new place revealed a late night bike workshop and a “Schlauchomat“, a 24 hour inner-tube vending machine, catering for all the main sizes and gauges of tyre.


The only downside, obviously,  is that that puts paid to the most obvious excuse for missing the first lecture of the morning!


Filed under About Germany, children in germany, german education, Life in Germany

Planet Germany as a university set text

I was alerted this week to a small ad on the Leipzig University notice board. It was from a Russian student and she was looking to buy a second hand copy of Planet Germany.

I emailed her and found out that she needed the book because it was a set text for her univerity English course. She was looking to buy it second hand (and for this she apologised to me profusely) because as a student without a grant or scholarship, she cannot afford all the course books she needs.

Of course I was delighted to learn that Planet Germany is being pored over now by students of English. I hope it turns out to be one of the course books which genuinely gives delight, rather than loathing and last-minute pre-exam panics (what was that quote about the cat and the enema again?)

Of course, I sent a copy to the Russian student – and I hope she manages to sail through her exam with a top grade now!


Filed under About Germany, books, children in germany, german education, German language, Life in Germany

Yikes! Call the fire brigade!

It was very lucky that my son was suffering from a bout of vomiting yesterday.

I admit, I wouldn’t normally consider this to be lucky. But if he hadn’t regurgitated his breakfast, he would have been at school at the time. And if it hadn’t been a case of a dodgy stomach, he’d have been sitting at the lunch table with us, oblivious to what was happening outside.

As it was, he was walking across the courtyard, so it was him who smelled burning and spotted the small column of smoke rising above the garage next door.

The rest of us were having lunch, when he wandered in saying: “I think something might be on fire outside.”

It is not often that the dear members of my family witness the amusing sight of me sprinting. But when someone mentions fire, I tend to break into a canter. I’m nervous of fire, you see.  And in this case, it was a good thing I did. I dashed outside, just in time to see what by now was a large column of black smoke rising into the air. A second later orange flames shot thirty feet up… a pine tree burst into flames above the neighbours garage.

I ran back inside.

“Call the fire brigade!” I bellowed. “Feuerwehr anrufen!” I shrieked for emphasis. (There was at least one German present.)

What followed indoors was a brief and unseemly game of pass the telephone as though it were a hot potato while the Brits panicked… “What’s the number?”

“One One Two!” I yelled as I sprinted out again (once I start sprinting momentum sets in…).

Indoors Birgit wrestled the telephone from the inept island-monkeys and jabbed at the keypad, while I dashed first to one neighbour’s house then the next to ring the doorbells. The flames were about three metres from each of these houses and I could see that one of their garages was already alight.

There was nobody home.

By now the rest of the family had come outside. I sent my daughter  over to the neighbour on the far side to ring the bell and alert anyone in the house to the fire – she was the person to do it because she knows a secret short-cut up the stream-bed. We then split up tasks… two to the top of the road to direct the fire brigade. Two stay and help the emergency services down this end.

At that moment our neighbour whose garage was burning arrived in her car.  She ran up to the open garage and hauled out her lawnmower and bicycles near the entrance before deciding that personal safety was more important than anything further back in the building.  The heat from the fire was quite fierce by now. Next came a police car, with the policewoman driver radioing details of the inferno back to base.

As there was nothing I could help with there, I went in search of my daughter to find out what had happened to the neighbour on the other side. I found her at the top of the road with the others. It seemed that half the neighbourhood was hanging around there gawping – but nobody but us had thought to dial the fire brigade or check if lives were in danger.

Finally we heard sirens approaching. Again, the neighbourhood watched as though it were primetime TV – but nobody moved a muscle – so I stepped into the road and gesticulated which direction they should go in. First fire-truck down to the far neighbour where the fire had started. Second one down our lane to the burning garage.

The next few minutes were a haze of flashing lights, unrolling hoses and burly men in helmets. It turned out that our nearest fire hydrant was defective. Fortunately the hoses reached as far as the next one which did work.

The sound of sirens was everywhere by now. Our little neighbourhood fire had been classified as a “Großbrand” so several fire engines, 25 firemen, many police cars and even a police helicopter were called. The roads between Meerbusch and Kaarst were closed off and we were pretty much in lock-down.

The source of the fire, it turned out, had been our neighbour on the other side, tinkering with his old camper van in his home-made car-port. He’d been running the engine when the van caught fire – and then set light to the entire structure. The car-port was built against our direct neighbours’ garage so that went up too. The members of the fire brigade were quite excited to learn that there were also some old gas cylinders stored in the car port. This may explain their very rigorous approach to squirting foam all over the property. This is what it looked like afterwards...

Luckily the fire brigade were able to prevent the fire spreading to our neighbours’ actual house, and nobody was hurt. But that was quite enough excitement for one day…


Filed under About Germany, children in germany, Life in Germany