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Winter in Germany

Winter has taken quite a strong grip on Germany over the past weeks and I just wanted to share a few pictures. There has been lots of snow, especially the last few days – more snow shovelling than I like.

The harsh weather conditions have been hard on the traffic as well, with lots of delays and cancelled flights at the airports, late trains and busses. The streets around here still full of snow, because most of the cities have already run out of salt and subsequent deliveries are taking a long time, because there is so much demand.

Anyways, here are the pictures:

winter in germany 1

This is the backyard, notice the snow on the railing ;)

winter in germany 2

The main road looked pretty grim when I took the picture, now the sun has come out.

winter in germany 3

ok, I have to admit, winter can be pretty as well

Seems like there is a good chance for a white Christmas!

Posted in News.

Metro Station in Germany is turned into an opera

opera house in a metro station

just a screenshot of the article

I just stumbled across this interesting blog post. It describes an art project involving a metro station in the Ruhr Area.

Architects have installed shipping containers around the station and made it into an open air opera.

It’s worth taking a look (lots of pictures as well):
Metro station turned into a shipping container opera

Posted in Culture.

Google Street View Germany goes online

a screenshot of the google street view germany homepage

This is all you can see on Street View Germany right now

Google started its Street View Germany a few days ago and even had a special announcement on its starting page. While most of the streets in North America have been photographed by the cars of Google’s Street View, Germany is the last country in central Europe where Google rolls out this service.

Street View controvery

Just like in other countries, there was quite some controversy prior to the introduction of the service (see this New York Times Article for example).

According to a Google announcement, 240,000 home owners requested to have their houses blurred out in the areas where the service is supposed to start first. That’s about 3% of all the homes, a much higher quota than in other countries.

Only a few places visible so far

That’s probably also the reason why Street View in Germany has been delayed a few times – so that Google could handle all the requests to blur buildings. When I saw the announcement, I thought that was finally resolved, but it’s not. In fact only a select few limited areas are visible so far. Most of them are tourist attractions, so it’s still worth taking a look.

After introducing only these few areas, Street View Germany will truly start with Germany’s 20 largest cities and then continue to other areas. The full-fledged and city-wide Street View is supposed to be released in the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted when that happens.

Update (November 19, 2010): 20 largest cities are now live

As I announced, Google now went live with the 20 largest cities in Germany (more to follow). Here is the impression of the Cologne Cathedral in Street View Germany. You can start from there and take a stroll. If the plugin doesn’t work click here to view a larger map and it will take you to the same place in a new window.

Unfortunately you can’t get any closer to the building. By the way: the object to the right is a real-size replica of the top spire of the Cathedral.

Posted in News.

German Halloween – is there such a thing?

halloween pumpkin orange hay

German Halloween? Dare you enter?

German Halloween? Today is October 31st and on this date in many English-speaking countries Halloween is celebrated. Children go trick-or-treating, people wear gruesome (or not so gruesome) costumes and haunted houses open their doors – Halloween is about everything that is scary… more or less.


Halloween was originally a holiday of Celtic and Irish origin. The Celtic pagans believed that on this very day the borders to the spirit world would open and allow them to interact with the spirits of the dead. This was a change to contact deceased relatives and friends, but also a danger, because evil spirits were able to roam free. … click here to continue reading the full article…

Posted in Culture.

Five things you should do when in Cologne

Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city and has a rich cultural history, ranging back 2000 years to Roman times. You can easily spend a weekend or a few days there while travelling Germany. Here are five activities you should not miss when in Cologne:

1. Visit the cathedral
This one is obviously a must. The Cathedral is Cologne’s most prominent and famous landmark. Construction began in the 13th century but was not completed entirely until the 19th century. Cologne Cathedral is one the most important monuments of the Roman Catholic church and one of the largest cathedrals in the world by various standards. It is a Gothic church and contains the Shrine of the Three Kings, which holds the remains of the biblical Three Wise Men. Entrance to the church itself is free, guided tours cost five or six Euros (also available in English).

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral is an amazing example of Gothic architecture

2. Take a stroll along the Rhine River
The Rhine River is Germany’s largest one and only a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral. Taking a stroll along the river is a great way to start exploring the city as you will pass a lot of typical architecture. The railroad bridge nearby is connected to an interesting custom as well: you will see a lot of locks attached to the wired fence separating railroad tracks from the pedestrian walkway. These are placed there by lovers who then throw the key into the river to vow eternal love.

3. Have a “Kölsch”
“Kölsch” is the beer of Cologne, and not only because Cologne is the place where this kind of brew originated. Until today there is a law that only this type of beer brewed in Cologne may be called Kölsch. If it was brewed elsewhere it may not carry that title. Kölsch is a bright and clear brew, which is rather sweet than bitter. You can have one at any of the local pubs, restaurants or breweries.

Koelsch Beer

Have a break and enjoy a refreshing Kölsch beer!

4. Climb the cathedral tower
This should be put as a separate activity since it will easily take you two hours altogether to climb the more than 500 steps to the top of the tower, take a good look around and then begin your descent. You should be physically fit to do the climb, because it is quite steep and there are no elevators of course. From the top of the tower you are granted a great view over the entire city and surrounding area. You will also pass through the bell chamber on your way up. Entrance to the tower is two and half Euros.

View from the Cologne Cathedral tower

From the top of the tower you have a great view over the city

5. Go shopping in Cologne’s “Hohe Straße”
Hohe Straße means High Street and is Cologne’s most frequented shopping street. Here you can find anything from cheap souvenirs to expensive jewellery. Or you can simply move with the waves of pedestrians passing through, while listening to the street musicians who usually play here in vast numbers.

Posted in Travel.

Walking on the Autobahn

This event was a few days ago, but I still wanted to mention it, because I thought it’s a really cool idea. I took a few pictures for you.

The A40 is Germany’s busiest Autobahn, running straight through the Ruhr Area, passing cities such as Duisburg, Essen, Bochum and Dortmund, all within a distance of just 60 kilometres. It is the lifeline of one of Europe’s largest industrial hubs, so to speak.

As you can imagine, the only thing that usually gathers up on that road are masses of cars during rush hour. In fact the A40 is famous for its traffic jams more than anything else.

Not on July 18th 2010, though. That Sunday the entire A40 was blocked for traffic and people were allowed to walk where usually only cars browse by.

Still-Leben A40 Autobahn

walking where usually cars speed by

Still-Leben A40 Autobahn

one lane was reserved for bikes, the other for people on foot

Additionally, there was a long line of 20,000 tables for the entire 60 kilometres, making it the “longest eating table in world”. All kinds of clubs, institutions, bands and artists had a few tables every now and then so people would have something to look at while they strolled along. People were also invited to rent one of the tables and bring their own food. The whole event was called “Still-Leben” (something like quiet life), because of the lack of motor sounds that usually fill the air.

Still-Leben A40 Autobahn

a spray-painter showing his skills

One of the strangest things was probably walking through the various tunnels. The walls are coated with the dust of breaks and tires, which had accumulated through the years, and people would scrape their names into the dust. I can’t imagine breathing that stuff is very healthy, so I didn’t, but since you don’t get a chance to do that too often, I get why many people wanted to do it.

Still-Leben A40 Autobahn

walking through one of the tunnels

It was later announced that the event had attracted 3 million visitors. At some places it even got so crowded that access to the A40 was blocked for a while. Because of the success, organizers are considering to repeat the event in one or two years, or even on a regular basis.

Posted in Culture.

How to tip in Germany

In Germany summer has finally kicked in, and people are starting on their summer vacations. And on vacation, of course, people tend to go to a lot of different restaurants. One tricky question for me (apart from language, table manners and all that) when I was abroad was how do I tip waiters?

Different countries have very different customs regarding tips and gratuity in general. While not tipping is normal in one country, you might earn a lot of angry looks in another country for the same behavior.

In Germany it is not customary to leave large tips! Waiters in restaurants and barkeepers are paid by hour, so they don’t rely on gratuity to make a living.

How much?
What you should do, though, is round up the amount of money you have to pay. This makes it easier to pay and it is also considered polite. If your bill is, let’s say 9.30€, you would give 10€. If your bill is higher you can round up to a larger amount, for example from 62€ to 65€ or from 94€ to 100€. You can also express how much you liked the service by giving a few extra euros or not giving any tip at all. 5-10% is a generous tip you can’t go wrong with.

How to give?
When you ask for the bill, generally the waiter will come to your table and tell you the amount right away. You should give him the money and tell him the amount you want to give – including the tip! This means you don’t leave the tip on the table when you go, as you would in the United States in many cases.

Bars, taxi, other services?
The same rule of thumb applies for bars and taxis. Additionally, you might find cleaning personnel sitting in front of some restrooms, in some places. It’s ok to give those people some of your change, maybe 30 or 50 cents.

Enjoy your summer wherever you are or decide to go! :-)

Posted in Trivia.

World Cup 2010 – German playing schedule

FIFA World Cup 2010 logoKick-off for the Soccer World Cup 2010 in South Africa! The first game yesterday saw a 1:1 draw between Mexico and South Africa, the host, who traditionally plays the opening game.

The German team will be competing in the Group D preliminaries, against Australia, Serbia and Ghana. Their playing schedule for the preliminary round is as follows (times are local times):

Germany vs Australia

  • Day: Sunday, June 13
  • Time: 20:30 (8:30PM)
  • Place: Durban

Germany vs Serbia

  • Day: Friday, June 18
  • Time: 13:30 (1:30PM)
  • Place: Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth

Germany vs Ghana

  • Day: Wednesday, June 23
  • Time: 20:30 (8:30PM)
  • Place: Johannesburg

Although Germany is the favorite for this group in most people’s books, it is not going to be easy to succeed in this group.

After qualifying in 2006, Australia has now entered the World Cup twice in a row and the team has vastly improved over the years. Their role as underdog is certainly over and the ‘socceroos’ might be one of the surprises for this Cup.

Serbia’s tough defence will be a challenge for the German offensive forces and to break through much creativity will be needed.

Ghana is arguably Africa’s strongest team with a great spirit and eagerness to win. Although their key player, Michael Essien, has been injured and won’t play, we can expect much speed and joy of playing.

We’re in for some exciting matches in this group and I’m sure German coach Jogi Löw already has different strategies for each opponent.

Posted in Culture, News.

Horst Köhler resigns as federal president of Germany

former German president Horst Köhler

Horst Köhler, now former president of Germany

At a press conference today around noon the president of Germany surprisingly announced the resignation from his office, effective immediately.

The reason he gave for his resignation was a statement he made 10 days ago. After a visit of the German Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan, he gave a radio interview on his flight back to Germany. In this interview he allegedly connected German military intervention with the economic interests of Germany as a country.

More precisely he said that as a nation with major exports, it is in Germany’s interest to maintain free trade routes and prevent regional instabilities around the world. If necessary those interests should be defended with military force.

He later rectified that he was not talking about military involvement in Afghanistan but about missions such as Operation Atalanta, which deployed EU naval forces to the coast of Somalia to secure passage for trading ships through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea from pirates.

Although Köhler was harshly criticized for his statement and connecting economic with military actions, his resignation came as a big surprise today. At the press conference he said that in connection with the criticism of his statement over the past few days he no longer felt respected in his office and therefore could no longer fulfil his duties. He seemed to be fighting tears saying this and also said it had been an honor serving his country.

Horst Köhler was elected into office in 2004 for a five-year period and re-elected in 2009. He is the first president to resign from Germany’s highest office.

Until a new federal president is elected, the office will be held by Jens Böhrnsen, head of the Bundesrat, who according to German law is given authority as acting president. A new president must be elected within 30 days.

Background on the President of Germany

Unlike the president of the Unites States for example, the German federal president is not the head of the government (head of the government is the chancellor). The president’s office is a rather ceremonial one in Germany, but nevertheless it is the highest. All laws passed by Bundesrat and Bundestag, Germany’s two chambers, must be signed by the president to become effective.


Posted in News.

Germany: 12 points

Lena Meyer Landrut

So Lena really pulled it off and won the Eurovision Song Contest 2010! I don’t think many people expected this but in the end she was quite ahead of the other participants with 246 points. Turkey’s punk-rock band maNga came in second with 170 points and Romania’s double-piano piece came in third with 162 points.

And, here are Lena’s winning performance SatellitemaNga’s performance We Could Be The Same and Paula Seling & Ovi from Romania with their track Playing With Fire.

I don’t recommend reading the comments on YouTube like I just did. As with any topic, discussions quickly turn into politics or simply cursing each other. All of the sudden it’s the marketing, the jury system or whatever that has made the winner and not the performance. And suddenly the other performances were soo much better. Truth be told, I thought her performance was at least the most energetic while a lot of the others were (again) really boring with the same ideas used over and over again.

And to me it’s pointless to even argue about taste in music and, seriously. it’s not like Eurovision is that much about great music anyways. Lena was just the right person at the right time. What will work one year, will most likely no work the next. So let’s be happy for Lena and Germany’s first win since 1982! Eurovision 2011 will be held in Berlin.

Another hilarious incident occurred during Spain’s performance, which was only the second song to be played, when a fan jumped on stage and for a few seconds joined the performance. Because they were allegedly disturbed by the fan, Spain was allowed to perform again after all countries had finished and the collecting of the votes began.

Again, congratulations Lena, and see for the Eurovision 2011 in Berlin!

Posted in News.