Embracing Butter

The best pizza in Hamburg

Inside Zweipunktnull in Altona / Ottensen

Inside Zweipunktnull in Altona / Ottensen

It’s no secret that my family and I love to eat. Let me clarify - I love to eat. and not sure by nature or nurture, but somehow I’ve succeeded in passing down my love of all things culinary to my kids. Which makes may heart very happy. My youngest son learned to make authentic Wiener Schnitzel by age 6 or 7 (no joke – they are the real deal – benefits of being with an Austrian!). My middle kid can fry up – thanks to YouTube – a tasty, juicy, burger that rivals restaurants. And my daughter has been baking and decorating beautiful cake creations for quite some time now.

So yes – we enjoy cooking, baking, and mostly eating. I used to joke that food is my love language, but in the meantime, it’s no longer a joke. Food is in fact a way I show and receive love. But let’s talk more about that another day. For now, I want to tell you about the best pizza you can eat in Hamburg. And maybe even the best in Germany. Honestly.

I’m not a professionally trained chef. I never studied the culinary arts in an official capacity. I have, however, been eating my whole life (which is now four solid decades of experience!). I also started baking cakes, biscuits, and pizza for my very large immediate family at age 10. I have run my own food business though, and I’ve traveled the world and if practical eating experience means anything, then yes – my loads of experience stuffing my face all over the planet means I know good food when I see – and taste it.

The first pizza recipe I wowed people with was from the PBS show Reading Rainbow. It was by no means Italian quality, but it was a tasty homemade pie that everyone enjoyed. That was the only pizza I baked myself for ages, because at some point interest in cake took over, and if it wasn’t sweet, I had no interest in baking it.

Fast forward to last year, when we left Berlin for Hamburg and my Austrian fiancé developed an obsession with all things dough, including pizza. He bought a book called Flour Water Salt Yeast and we discovered that you could make amazing, authentic-as-in-Italy pizza at home.

Around the same time as we were discovering the delicious simplicity of homemade dough, we were also out exploring Hamburg and it’s culinary offerings. He had been here longer than I and kept talking about a pizza place he’d been to with really good pizza called Zweipunktnull (which means two point zero in English). I was curious but slightly dismissive, because how good could pizza be at a place with that kind of name? Yes, I can be superficial like that.

The tastiest pizza

The tastiest pizza

Then one summer evening he took me to Zweipunktnull and my pizza life changed forever. Not even kidding. I couldn’t believe how delicious this pizza was/is. You get an entire plate of perfectly fluffy, chewy dough, charred in places from the hot stone oven it’s baked in, and with a depth in flavor that is simply unbeatable. The toppings are fresh and of the highest quality – I promise you. It’s as though they caught the red eye to Italy to purchase mozzarella and salami and flew right back to the restaurant with it – it is all that tasty and authentically Italian. And how could it not be?  Their pizza chef is in fact from Italy.

The restaurant itself is also lovely, as you can see in the photo above. In the summer they have outdoor seating, which of course fills up fast, so if you want to be sure you’ll get a place, take a couple minutes and reserve a table. It can also take a bit of time to get your food, so this is not the kind of restaurant you go to if you’re in a hurry. That said, it’s worth the wait. Believe me – if you’re a pizza lover, as I and my family are, do yourself a favor and make your next meal out be at Zweipunktnull. Then please come back and tell me about it!

 

Birthdays in Germany: BYOC (Bring your own cake!)

Birthday cake

If you’re an American – celebrating your birthday in Germany will be different from what you are used to. Depending on your level of openness and flexibility, some fare better than others in the birthday department. I still prefer the American it’s-my-birthday-so-spoil-me-and-don’t-make-me-pay-for-anything way of celebrating, but hey – to each his own.

Here are the things that stand out to me as being different to how we ‘Muricans celebrate our special day and some advice to help you avoid birthday blunders here in Deutschland:

Birthday Greetings

Whether it’s your birthday or someone else’s, in Germany one is only wished Happy Birthday on the exact day of the birthday or thereafter. “Happy belated birthday” is fine, but “Happy early birthday!” is not allowed and is believed to bring bad luck.

If you have a friend or colleague with an upcoming birthday and you want to get a jump start or (like myself) not forget their birthday by wishing them a happy early birthday – you shouldn’t. Make a note to congratulate them after the fact, and not before. You’ll get a stern lecture on how it’s bad luck (Pech in German) to wish a happy birthday before the fact.

This is taken very seriously here, so if you remember one birthday bit of advice let this one be it.

Birthday Cake

In Germany, if you’re the birthday girl or boy, you bring your own cake. Every time. At schools, offices, or friend gatherings, if it’s your special day the cake will not be provided for you. This isn’t so strange for me when it comes to my kids, as where we hail it’s customary that treats to share are brought to school on your birthday.

But in Germany, you better bring a cake to work to share. You’ll very likely be gifted with flowers, candy, booze or some other nice gift from colleagues or your company, but showing up without a cake to share with the office is a major faux pas. Major.

The cake doesn’t have to be a masterpiece – Germans are modest when it comes to sweets so really anything works. I’ve seen the saddest cakes of my life in this country that doesn’t appreciate pretty. You can bring cupcakes, brownies, cheesecake, plain bundt cake, anything. As long as it’s baked and you call it a cake, then you’re good. Just don’t make it too sweet – German sweet is nowhere near American sweet, so unless you want to hear people wince in sugar-induced pain, I’d say be careful with any super sugary frostings or fillings.

And as with birthday greetings, timing is everything. If your birthday falls on a weekend, don’t you dare bring the cake on a Friday to celebrate before your birthday. You’ll get shocked gasps and horrified expressions, and worst of all – not a single gift, because organized Germans will have planned to celebrate your day after the weekend.

Birthday Drinks or Dinner 

In Germany, the birthday girl or boy does the treating. It’s just how it is. So if you choose to celebrate with dinner or drinks out instead of hosting a party at your place, be ready to foot the bill for everyone. This may not be strange for everyone, but for me it was odd because I’m used to a birthday ‘system’ that isn’t so rigid. Where I come from in the South, you might end up paying for your friends if you gather at the local watering hole for birthday drinks, but it’s possible that your guests won’t let pay and will treat you instead.

Remember that Germans love rules and processes and will follow cultural protocol, so if you invite your peeps out for your birthday, make you sure have cash to cover the whole crew. So if funds are tight, my advice is to have a soirée at home or opt for drinks only instead of dinner out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;)

All that said, Germans do love birthdays – and even though you’ll have to do some work on your birthday – be it baking your own cake or paying for your celebratory bash, you will be given love and sincere attention by those you know.

Enjoy it – but don’t forget to bring your own cake! 

‘Germans and their bloody backpacks’

Germans LOVE backpacks!

Germans LOVE backpacks!

Germans love their backpacks. Take one look around any German city you’ll see proof of this. I’ve never actually counted, but my guess is that anywhere between two third and three quarters of Germans out and about are carrying a backpack (or ‘Rucksack’) while out and about.

Indeed, the backpack is practical thing. And we know that Germans love practical (even their chocolate is advertised as ‘praktisch,’ if you can believe that?!). A backpack lets you carry loads of items with the weight distributed evenly on your back. No awkward switching arms – as is my standard – to keep one arm from aching more than other. Backpacks also have handy little compartments which allow you to safely store smaller items like keys, a wallet and phone, without having to dig to the bottom of a tote back – again, which is what I do.

Now, in theory there is nothing wrong with carrying a backpack, if that is your choice of carrying gear. Of course, I prefer pretty (albeit ‘unpraktisch’) purses and stylish tote bags, but Germany is a relatively free country, so to each his own. If you want to look like an ad for REI or Jack Wolfskin, and you can handle your backpack, then more power to you.

The issue I have with Germans and their beloved backpacks is that they often don’t realize that a full backpack adds several inches of space to their person. And in my experience, Germans are not the most self- or others aware. In plain English, this means that they tend to bump into others often, even without backpacks on. Add a backpack to the mix, and you don’t only get nudged while out and about by people, but sometimes you will come close to being knocked out by said backpacks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit by someone wearing a full backpack who had no idea where was someone standing behind or next to them before they made a quick movement. It ain’t fun!

It’s not just me who’s noticed this. Fellow expats who spend lots of time in public transport or crowded spaces in Germany have similar experience. The title of this post was a phrase one of my British colleagues in Berlin muttered almost every time we were on a tram together. “Germans and their bloody backpacks!” she’d whine whenever she’d be bumped into, or when someone with a massive backpack was blocking an aisle and wouldn’t budge. Back then I laughed, because I was fairly new to the city and the weirdness of backpack wielding Germans was still entertaining. Fast forward to now, and the novelty has long since worn off. I’m almost ashamed to admit that once I even cried tears of frustration after almost getting knocked out by a backpacker.

 

 

Medical care in Germany – two thumbs up!

After a long silence from my side, it’s time to get back to sharing about life here in Germany. To be 100% honest with you, I’m tired of Germany. Moving to Hamburg pushed me over the edge from ‘maybe it’s time to move on’ into ‘get me out of here ASAP’ territory. Yet here I am. Still in Germany and trying my darndest to make the most of it while I’m still here. Which means focusing on the positive – the good food, some interesting people, the fact that my kids like it here and are thriving, and, among other things, good coffee (which you have to travel for because there is no good cappuccino here in the ‘burbs, but hey – a thirty-ish minute trip for a good cup of joe is worth it to me!).

Medical care is another thing I appreciate here in Germany. Not super sexy, I know, but if you have kids then good, affordable medical care is important. And medicine is one thing I find very little to complain about here in Germany, because – shocker! – Germans do well in medicine. You won’t get the touchy feely ‘Hey, how you doing today, baby?’ kind of care here from nurses like you do back in The South, but you will be given what you need and time (lots of it!) to heal.

If you’re a public insurance holder like I am, one downside is that you’ll probably spend a lot of time waiting for doctors. A lot of time some days. Others you get lucky and get what you need without spending half a day at an office with sick people. In either case, you will be taken care of and you can be sure that your medical care will be thorough. Very thorough. You will also likely see the most unpretentious, laid back doctors you’ve ever seen.

With three kids under two roofs here in Germany for almost a decade, I’ve seen everything from pediatricians to eye doctors to surgeons and OB/GYNs and others in this country. We’ve had emergency room visits and hospital stays checkups and things cut out of our faces in out-patient care, and all of these experiences have been generally positive. Another perk? Not getting massive bills after doctor’s visits and surgeries. Seriously – taxes are a pain in this country, but taking my kid to the hospital if needed and knowing I won’t get a bill asking for thousands of dollars (ok, Euros!) afterward is really nice.

Most recently, my daughter had surgery at the local children’s hospital. Her operation required being fully knocked out with anaesthesia and a two night hospital stay afterward. In general, the experience was good, if lacking a bit of personal touch. When we first arrived (with my girl having not eaten a thing since the night before – I was hungry for her!) there was no one really owning the check-in process, so after handling paperwork at the the reception to the children’s surgery floor and waited in a cold play room for over an hour before a nurse showed us her room, where to find the nurses station and the ‘Elternküche’ (parent’s kitchen – where there was fruit, coffee and water – important piece of information, even if hospital coffee is pretty bad). That nurse left and another came in to do the surgery prep. A doctor stopped by as well and explained the procedure, but she was so unassuming and quiet that I didn’t realize until after the fact that she was also a doctor (I’m still used to American doctors, who generally make it very clear that they’re the doctor). Then it was another round of waiting for her to be taken back to surgery.

My daughter was calm, my fiancé was calm, and I may have looked calm on the outside but was in fact a big bundle of nerves. Putting your kid’s life in the hands of someone else is not easy, my friends! Surgery lasted two hours, which was 30 long minutes than the roughly hour and a half we had been told it would be, so by minute ninety-one I was pretty wound up, holding back tears while I imagined myself making funeral preparations and explaining what happened to my ex-in-laws. Thankfully,  (of course!) everything went well. No complications, no hospital drama. My daughter woke up in an anesthesia daze and we spent a funny half hour with her saying funny things before we went back up to her room so she could rest.

Her stay ended up being two nights and three days, and during that time she went from having her four-bed hospital room to herself, to having a  little girl stay for an afternoon, to a room full of adorable roommates by the day she left. As an aside, my kids have gotten lucky – maybe even blessed! – that where ever they go on this continent, they end up surrounded by good kids. This time, the hospital roomies were a 12-year-old girl from Afghanistan who was an only child (which was clear by the way she bossed her sweet little dad around whenever he was there), and two Germans – a teenager from the country who’d been knocked over by a horse (no kidding), and the most talkative 8-year-old you’ve ever seen, who lives in our part of town, and whom I’m still waiting to show up one of these days.

The girls were all so nice that I didn’t want my daughter to leave, and in fact, after she was given permission to leave the hospital, the nurse actually kicked us out because we were (or maybe I was) dragging out that hospital goodbye. In the end, the surgery was good and followed by three (yes, three!) visits to other doctors over Christmas to keep an eye on the wounds and make sure they were healing. It was a lot of back and forth (my fiancé graciously drove us to every visit), some emotion, and a few weeks of no showering for my kid, but we’re happy with it. Which is good, because apparently my son may be having similar surgery soon, so we’ll get to do the whole show over again. I’m just happy our insurance has it covered!

 

 

The emotional side of relocating

 

rsz_danielle-macinnes-222441-unsplashPhoto by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

As I wrote about in my last post, moving is difficult. Everyone who has relocated at some point in their lives knows this. The nuts and bolts and organization involved is exhausting, and I told you all about it.

What we’ll chat about today is the emotional side of moving to a new home. 

People say that the emotional toll a move takes on you is right up there with the loss of a loved one. Yes, you read that correctly – the effect of relocating is similar to death emotionally. Apparently this is believed not only in my home country, the US, but here in Germany as well.

What I find interesting is that despite people knowing that relocation can be so taxing, we don’t – or at least I don’t – ever prepare for it enough. We prepare for a move by making to-do lists, organizing movers, packing boxes, and taking care of the necessary paperwork and change-of-address necessities. But we don’t really prepare for the emotions of moving, do we? I know I never do.

Growing up in a military / missionary family. I relocating became a very normal way of life. We moved every 1-2 years on average, so it was so normal to my existence that I only remember being really affected emotionally with two of the moves (if you’re curious – leaving Thailand was HARD – I loved it there and felt my family had given up so much to move there that leaving just didn’t make sense). But most other moves we made as a family were simply par for the course. It’s what we did.

Fast forward to adulthood, where moves were challenging, but not always emotionally taxing. Leaving Georgia for Germany was rough – because it was the first time I moved abroad with three kids in tow. Saving good bye to family and friends back home was sad but not devastating, but I had a purpose and a vision and a reason for moving which fueled me enough to sacrifice leaving the familiar behind.

But the roughest so far – and surprisingly so – was this most recent move Berlin. This threw me for a huge loop because we’re still in the same country. It takes about two hours by train to get from Berlin to Hamburg, so in terms of geography, this was not a big move. But the fact is, a move is a move is a move. You’re leaving things behind – familiar places, friends, maybe family, all the things you’ve know and moved and maybe even hated for years.

And that’s tough! Plain and simple. You’re leaving what you know behind and starting over. 

For the first time I really understand why the stress of a move is up there with a loved one dying. I felt like someone died, and still do some days! The reality is, when you leave a place something does, in effect, die. Dying might seem dramatic, but life as you know it ends.

Even if a move is an upgrade to your life, and you are moving there with purpose, you are still leaving another life behind. So in all honesty, it’s taken me a few months to come to terms with the move I made. Months. And I’m still not all there. Some days I’m curious to get out and explore my new home, and other days I wonder what am I doing here.

But endings and new beginnings are challenging.

 

Relocation within Germany – you can do it!

moving photo unsplash

Let’s talk about moving. If you ever moved with kids, you know it isn’t easy. And if you’ve ever moved with kids within Germany, then I wish you blessings and all good things in this life and the next, because you deserve it. It ain’t easy!

I find normal life in Germany to be difficult enough some days, so my recent move almost pushed me over the edge. (Disclaimer: I’m from the US, so I see the world through ease-coated lenses where the customer is always right, where employees at supermarkets carefully bag and carry your bags of groceries to your car for you, and where we have drive-though bank machines, you get the picture … ). But I’ve heard people from other countries say that things here in Germany are difficult as well, so it isn’t just my soft American sensibilities.

By normal life being rough in Germany, I mean that everyday existence is just not easy. First, you have the weather that can be … challenging. In northern Germany especially, with its average number of nearly two hundred rainy days a year (seriously – my research shows 167 rainy days in Berlin and in Hamburg a whopping 190). Our new home, Hamburg, has a coastal climate, meaning you have shifting weather patterns and lots of wind. And it gets cold here. Really really cold.

Then you have the famous (or rather infamous) bureaucracy. Germans love paperwork, find safety in rules and processes, and can not function without some combination of all three of these unnecessary evils. Never have I had so many files/piles of papers or signed so many contracts. Here you sign contracts for schools, for childcare, music lessons, tutoring, gym memberships!), phone service, electricity. If you’re paying for a service, there’s a contract involved.

In Berlin, a city divided by a wall for decades, you add a whole other layer to the rough. West Berlin is generally clean and civilized. I give credit to the Brits, the French, and the Americans who occupied the former West Berlin for the fairly nice state they left the place in when they evacuated in the 1990s.

Then you have the East – where my kids and I lived – and with it the Wild German West meets Stasi. Walk around the less popular parts of former East Berlin and you can see the difference. More dirt, more grime, more graffiti, more loud. More people yelling at each other, or at you.  It was Russian-controlled during the Cold War, and let’s suffice it to say that there wasn’t a lot of love put into the area.

By now you  might understand what I mean when I saw that living in Germany in general – and in Berlin especially – isn’t exactly a walk in the park. So moving, which is a stressful event in and of itself, well … moving in a difficult country is just pretty darn difficult.

 I thought moving from Berlin to Hamburg would be easy. In fact, that reasoning is partly why I chose to move to Hamburg in the first place (the other is that the one man on earth I can’t live without happens to work there). Hamburg is about two hours away by train, meaning not far to drive or move our things, and close enough for us to come back and visit.

Moving was something I’d done at least a dozen – actually more – growing up. I was a military brat and a missionary kid, so packing up and relocating every so often was second nature. As an adult, I’d moved a few times as well. Moving to Germany from Georgia wasn’t easy but I don’t remember it being so exhausting either.

As it turns out, moves are complicated and difficult, even if you are only moving a couple of hours away. The work involved in packing, getting out of my apartment (that’s a story for another day), and the official business involved was exhausting.

To give you an idea of the paperwork involved (and by this I mean paperwork, as in Germany things have to be handed in signed and dated in paper and ink – email or a phone call does not suffice), I had to give written notice for the following (and probably some more items I’ve forgotten):

  • Apartment
  • Electricity
  • Internet (which you can not get out, even with a move, before the original cancellation date. I’m guessing you have to die to get out of a Telekom contract early)
  • Gym membership (remember I still get to pay for this for three months despite not being in the same city as the gym!)
  • Schools
  • Aftercare at the schools
  • Tutoring
  • Train ticket

Add it all up and it was a few very busy weeks. There was the official business of moving. The getting rid of things, which meant frequent trips hauling bags of items to the local refugee home, selling items on Ebay, giving things to friends, and finally, out of desperation, leaving items out on the street – because Germans don’t do yard sales.

Then you had the actual packing of me plus three and our household. It’s amazing how much stuff you can collect in a small apartment!. Then there was organizing the movers, and renovating my Berlin apartment before we left. Yes – tenants in Germany generally are expected to leave an apartment in pristine condition before leaving. Another toughie for this girl, who is used to slapping some paint up on the walls, giving a home a good cleaning, and then calling it good!

Honestly, writing all of this is tiring, so I’m calling it a day for now and will talk more about the emotional side of moving another day. Because aside from the physical and mental work involved with moving, it is a hugely emotional event, one that we tend to downplay.

But before I go, I want to share three simple tips for managing a move here in Germany  …

1. Accept any and every offer of help: I couldn’t have managed without the help and support of my friends and family. They chipped in with packing, organizing the mover, making sure random items I left in Berlin made it to our new home, and gave endless moral support (with the exception of one neighbor who gave me a lecture on how I had filled the trash bin too full and needed to empty it. Oh … Germans!).

2. Give away as much as possible before you move: the more you can let go of before you move, the better. Really. We had a lot of stuff – we probably gave away the equivalent of at least 10 large trash bags of items – toys, books, clothes, odds and ends. It’s not easy to part ways with your things, but if you only pack and take the things you hold most dear with you, you will be happy you did.

3.  Use the platform myhammer.de to book movers and professionals to do the dirty work in your apartment for you. (side note: I’m not getting paid to promote them). The site is in German but is user-friendly, and you can find people to do any and all jobs related to your move on it. For decent prices too. I found an amazing moving company and a decent painter via MyHammer, and both were affordable.

 

File US taxes from abroad without losing your mind! Taxes for Expats

photo courtesy of Christine Roy from unsplash.com

photo courtesy of Christine Roy from unsplash.com

I have a confession to make. I am horrible at paperwork and anything official. Sorry, no scandalous or exciting secrets today, but know I can’t be the only one who cringes at anything paper, government, or office-y. Back in the US I could handle the admin side of life, because there wasn’t all that much and I had a great filing system – the kind I’ve not been able to find here. So keeping up with bills, contracts, and taxes wasn’t all that challenging, even for someone like myself who is far more creative than logical.

Then I moved to Germany, and where life got a lot more complicated. 

People here almost worship paperwork. They love it, and you get paperwork for almost everything. You sign a contract for everything here – schools, tutoring for your kids, cell phones, the gym, apartments, jobs, even magazine subscriptions. If you have kids it’s of course even more complicated, because you receive mail and important documents from the schools, the Schulamt (the Department of Education), and a million other places.

So you can imagine how much fun it is for a person like me to keep up with important things like taxes in a place like Germany.

Yes – that much fun. I was of course already not quite on top of all things official her in Deutschland, and then I got into a very nasty and years-long divorce which pushed me completely over the edge and into the complicated abyss of being more behind than you can imagine on nearly everything. Which is a long way of saying that I got several years behind on my US tax filing. Yep, more than a couple

I was so far behind on my American taxes that when Trump took office, I was afraid he’d not let me back into the country. Because Trump likes money and he also means business. I’d built up an entire fantasy in my mind about how I’d be arrested the next time I flew stateside. You know – trapped in one of those small rooms in a hidden corner of JFK and interrogated, hoping they would let me back out again to finish raising my children.

Luckily, the folks at Taxes for Expats reached out and asked me to try their service. They offered me a free year’s worth of filing in exchange for a review of their service. It was right about the time I was planning to spend the rest of my life in jail for late tax filing, so of course I jumped at the opportunity.

If you sign up for Taxes for Expats, you’re assigned a bonafide CPA who will walk you through each step of the tax filing process. That person will answer all your questions, whether silly or not, and response time is great. They advise and help you file back taxes, and take care of all of it. You simply fill out information for the tax year (or years) you are filing, as well as upload any necessary documentation (such as income statements or tax forms from your place of residence), and they take care of the actual filing.

Once they’ve completed your tax return, you are notified via email that the return is ready for review. If there are any changes to be made, you simply tell them of those changes and they will update it promptly. My name was misspelled on my filings, for example, but this was fixed within a day. Once the review is correct and your tax forms are ready to be submitted to the IRS, you sign off on them with a click of the button, and Taxes for Expats then e-files for you.

Friends, it is really that simple. Fear held me back from filing for years (catching up on US taxes was literally on my mental to-do list for at least two years), and I was afraid I’d owe a small fortune in back taxes. But the reality is, I ended up getting a nice sum of cash back – because tax credits I didn’t think applied to me abroad actually do. My life lesson through this episode was two-fold – one – don’t wait to do things because you’re afraid (had I filed sooner rather than worrying, my bank account would be $6000 dollars fuller right now!). Secondly, with complicated parts of life like taxes – especially when you live outside your home country – hire a professional.

If you’re an American living outside the States, I recommend filing via Taxes for Expats. They are quick, professional, and friendly and 100% worth their fee.

“Expat Burnout” and when it might be time to go home

marcus-zymmer-189542

I’ve been living abroad for seven years now. Make that seven years and five months, but hey – who’s counting? At this point, I am. For the most part, I love living outside America. I’m a bit of a wanderer by nature (I blame my Aquarius start sign as well as my nomadic upbringing for this), but at some point there comes a time when even the most adventuresome of us want to put down roots somewhere. After the better part of a decade here in Germany, I think I’ve reached that point.

All expat experiences are challenging. Moving to a new country with a different language, a different climate, different way of doing life, is not easy. My experience was also a bit more challenging than most – in addition to raising three kids alone here in Berlin for the most of our time here, I also went though one of the nastiest divorces ever, which included a child kidnapping case (google my full name and you’ll see ALL the details of this misadventure, thanks to the US government and their sharing of public records).

That life-draining and life-altering experience is I believe what made me go from crazy-in-love with Berlin and never wanting to leave, to the point where I am now. Which is some days is get-me-out-of-here-ASAP! Of course there are still good days – days when I don’t want to leave my life here in Europe, in all it’s cappuccino-fueled and wine-soaked Old World beauty. Those days though are few and far between. Most days I’m griping about how little personal space there is, how rude Germans can be (yes, the Germans I used to love!), and how I just can’t be bothered with the difficult German language or endless bureaucracy any longer.

Apparently I am not alone in feeling this way. A quick Google search last night showed me that things like “expat burnout” and “expat depression” are real things that people face at times when living abroad. Especially when they have been abroad for a long time and are kind of done with their life abroad. Of the several interesting articles I found written on the topic, my favorite – and the most applicable to my experience – is one posted on a website called Expat Info Desk. They give four signs it’s time to leave your life abroad, and what do you know – I can relate to all four. It’s as if I wrote the article myself – or rather, a neutral, honest bystander saw my life from the outside and wrote about where I am.

In short, as much as I love so many things about living abroad – I love the culture one is exposed do, I love the different languages you hear at any given time, I love love love the wonderful foods and desserts and travel and clear water of the Med that you don’t have in the US. But you know what? There are things that I love about and miss where I come from. For example – there is space enough for everyone so you don’t get mauled while waiting in line at the bakery or supermarket, because people generally know how to stand in lines and wait their turns; the bureaucracy isn’t time-sucking and mind-numbing as here. There is a also general sense of responsibility and caring for others in America that I’ve not found here in Europe.

Beyond the lovely parts of life in Europe and the easier living that can be found stateside, another and even more important factor is people. Since we’ve been abroad, I’ve missed two funerals, three weddings, and countless other celebrations and birthdays. This is not to make myself sound pitiful, as I had a reason for moving here and I take full ownership of that decision and I do not regret it. But at some point you realize that once you’ve reached the goals you set out to reach, you no longer have a reason for being where you are. Continuing to miss the lives of those closest to you and yours is not something you are willing to sacrifice any longer, which means it might just be time to start packing bags. Or at least starting on a game plan for the near future.

Learning to make REAL Apple Strudel

apple strudel

I love to bake. And I love to eat. I also have a special place in my heart for all things Austrian, so when I came across the Cafe Strudelka’s Apple Strudel baking lesson recently, I signed up immediately.

For a bit of back story, you have to know that I’m getting tired of (AKA, so done with) Berlin. I’ve been here seven years, three of which were spent in an exhausting, traumatizing and expensive fight with my now (thankfully!) ex-husband. Ever since then the city which I once loved and thrived in drains me. But it’s not quite time to move on, so in the meantime I’m filling my days with things that I love.

Which brings us back to baking Apple Strudel. If you’ve never had it, you should. It’s a lightly sweet dessert made of a deliciously thin, buttery dough filled with apples with a touch of cinnamon and maybe a few raisins. Strudels can also be filled with berries and other fruits, and savory versions exist as well.

I first saw strudel being made at Vienna’s Schönbrunn palace years ago. It was both impressive and intimidating, because to make the lovely dessert, the dough has to be spread out into a paper-thin, large disk. You work the with your hands in a somewhat similar fashion to pizza baking, but as the dough is soooo thing it is a challenge.

At Strudelka the course was small and fun. A welcome drink of sparkling rosé, also from Austria (I think!), was given. I was hoping for seconds but we each just got our one glass. The owner and strudel teacher is from Austria and learned to bake from her grandmother, so I knew we were in for a treat.

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The six of us in the class that night did it all. From prep – mixing together ingredients for the dough and letting it rest for an hour, to chopping apples and dousing them with apple cider vinegar to break them down before baking, to sautéing Semmel (Austrian bread crumbs) in loads of butter for the topping.

In about an hour and a half we each had our very own, authentic and very yummy Apple Strudel. We ate a piece – some of us had two – together with coffee, and we got to take the rest home. Which means – apple strudel was both the midnight snack and breakfast the next morning.

Strudel in the making

Conclusion? Fun class to take if you want to learn how to make a real and pants-tightening classic European dessert by a pro. But as delicious as it was, I still prefer to eat my Strudel made by someone else – in Vienna.

Let’s talk about Berliners

Berlin

Berliners. They’re an interesting breed. I’ve lived here for seven years now,and I still can’t figure them out. They can drive you insane some days, but then they can turn around and surprise you on others.

So what are Berliners like? They’re direct. They’re a bit rough. They’re bossy. They lack grace and joie de vivre. At their worst, they’re brash control freaks who bump into you on the streets because they don’t look where they are going (although here in Berlin it’s your job to stay out of their way). At their best, they’re efficient get-it-doners pay attention to detail and who make sure things are done right (which is why I love the medical field here, for example). But kind, relaxed, and friendly they are not.

To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault that they are the way they are. This is Northern Europe – we’re actually further north than London. In this part of the world winter can last a good half of the year or more. And by winter, I mean days that darken around 4 p.m. and in which grey skys with rain or snow prevail.

At the very least, the majority of the population is likely Vitamin D deficient – the stuff isn’t added to milk here, six months of winter means six months of too little warm rays. And it’s common knowledge now that too little sunlight/Vitamin D leads to depression. So really, how happy can you be long-term in a place without enough sunlight? Not very happy. And it’s no wonder there are so many grumps here.

Beyond the weather, look at the history of this area. As my father pointed out ages ago (in response to one of my rants about how difficult Berliners can be), this part of Germany was Prussia. And the Prussians were bred and raised to be warriors. Apparently they were good at it, and if you’re familiar with military types, you’ll see a bit of soldier in many Berliners. I was both a military brat and married to a US Marine, so I know the characteristics and I see it here quite often. At times I swear people here are marching rather than walking.

Beyond the Prussian-era, Germany has two long and rough world wars under its belt which decimated country economically, culturally, and spiritually. Then slap a few decade of part of the country living behind the Iron Curtain with a wall dividing its capitol, and WOW – you have a lot of years of heavy. And the burden of history does take a toll on a population. 

Add it all up and it’s a bit easier to understand how the general population here in Berlin is not the most carefree of people. Of course there are exceptions – there always are – but in general this is not the lightest of crowds. As a happy-people-loving Southern girl who loves sun and living as carefree as possible, I have to ask myself some days what I am doing here and now much longer I can stay. But that, my friends, is a topic for another day. ;)

For anyone reading this, I’m curious to know what your experience with Berliners has been. Are Berliners as tough as I make them out to be? Am I exaggerating? On point? Do tell!