Life in Germany 2: Fizzy Bottled Water

There’s nothing wrong with the tap water here. A little bit scaly, but perfectly fine to drink. But no-one does and, in the spirit of fitting in, neither do we now very much. We started drinking bottled water at J and W’s when we stayed there and, well, I guess in Germany if you had people come around to your house and you didn’t have something bottled and fizzy to offer, it would be a bit off.

So, we go to one of THOUSANDS of drinks shops in Germany – this one is called “Trink Paradies” – yep, Drink Paradise. It mainly sells water, soft drink, beer and wine. This is in inside – and outside there are thousands more stacks of drinks waiting for floorspace.

Buy it anywhere

You can also buy bottled water in bulk from other shops, supermarkets, and even their version of Mitre 10 has a huge section for drinks! Get your decking timber, nails and your beers for after the job’s done – sweet.

Pay for the water… and the bottle

Pretty much anything you buy in a bottle will have a Pfand as part of the price – it’s basically a refundable deposit for the bottle. For example, a 750ml of sparkling water is 60 cents, of which 15 cents is the Pfand. After a while, you get into a process of bringing your crates of empties to the shop, they count them and write you a slip, then you grab your new supplies and they take the refund off the price of your purchases.

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How much gas?

In your bottled waters, you can buy different levels of fizz, and even one called “Sports water” (I haven’t worked out what’s sporty about it, it’s just water). Most of them are bottled from local springs as well.  We favour Gemminger, from Gemmingen, and I’m a fan of lightly sparkling. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen still water at Trink Paradies… I must look next time I’m there.

Do we have room in our little fridge for all this water? No way – but no-one ever puts it in the fridge. It’s always room temperature and it actually tastes better that way.

Too much gas!

There’s a fairly predictable side effect about all this gas entering the children’s digestive systems. And you can imagine that when you are 13 or 10 years old, it is pretty funny. Turns out when you’re 41, it’s still pretty funny so I’m afraid to say I am hardly discouraging their efforts.

Cheap

Like most food staples here in Germany, it’s pretty cheap. Below I have 24 bottles of water, 12 of lemonade, 24 beers and a wine for €25. I’m just off home to stash it in my other German domestic staple – my cellar.

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St Martins and the other thing

11 November in Germany … is St Martins Day. Always has been (like, since the 4th Century AD). What? You’ve never heard of it? Oh, you thought 11 November everywhere was …? Well, it’s not all about you, my little Anglo friends 🙂

Occasionally, chatting with our German friends, they’ve talked about the war – usually the second one – because it’s hard not to if they’re talking about anything their grandparents did. We’re pleased when they do, partly because Joe (as a history teacher) is really interested to hear their stories, and partly because, unless you know the German person really, really well, it won’t be you bringing up that particular topic of conversation.

Our village also has a war memorial – a Kriegerdenkmal. Like many towns, it was erected initially to list the names of the dead and missing from the First World War, and then it was added to a generation later. And both wars are remembered each year. The Sunday after 11 November, our village had a quiet wreath-laying ceremony up at the war memorial, as did many towns in Germany. But no, it’s not a two-week long festival of poppy one-upmanship that has, in some circles, crept into British Remembrance Sundays (have a look at this brilliant article by Marina Hyde from 2009).

Anyway, in Germany 11 November is St Martins Day. St Martin was a Roman soldier from Tours in France, he turned semi-monk, and one freezing cold night he saw a beggar on the side of the road. He took off his cloak and cut it in two, giving half to the beggar so that he would not freeze. That night Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus in the half cloak he had given away, telling Martin to go and be baptised. Later in his life, Martin was nominated to become a bishop but, because he was either very modest or dreaded all the extra emails he would get, he hid in a goose shed when the priests came to fetch him to get bishopped. Unfortunately those noisy geese gave him away – that and the fact that he probably just looked like a big human dude trying to hide in a bunch of geese.

So 11 November was St Martin’s birthday, and it is celebrated in parts of eastern and western Europe, including Germany. It’s not a public holiday but in the early evening the children will parade through the streets with lanterns they have made at school, and all behind a dude dressed as St Martin in a red cloak riding on a horse.

There’s also a pre-Christian element to “having a shindig in mid November”, in that it’s the end of harvest and pretty much the start of winter, which has got to be worth a gluhwein. And in fact, you can Google all you like but you won’t find a really convincing link to The Life of St Martin and Parading With Lanterns, so, you know …

Whether St Martins Day stands up to theological scrutiny or not, it’s still a lovely day in the calendar of many communities in Germany. For us, we all went to church at 5:30 for a family-friendly service where the priest (Molly’s religion teacher at school) read about the life of St Martin and we sing St Martins Day songs: Ich gehe mit meine Laterne  – I go with my lantern. After the service the children did a lap of the main street with their lanterns and afterwards there’s a bonfire, wurst, gluhwein or kinderpunsch. It was a lovely evening – cold but clear, and we walked around chatting to our friends and neighbours. I was trying to tell one of our friends about Jack’s blue and white scarf, which is schal in German. Unfornately I said schaf which means “sheep”. But we all agreed, a blue and white sheep around your neck would also keep you warm! I got to hear explanations of my faux pas in German ripple up the street as K told S and he laughed, and then S told his mum and she laughed, and his mum told… oh, I didn’t mind. Come on, it is pretty funny!

Traditionally at least one of the children’s paper lanterns will actually catch fire, leaving a sobbing child holding a charred stick. But sadly not this year in our village. I did notice, though, that many of the lanterns had fake, battery-operated lights inside!

The other St Martins Day tradition is to serve roast goose and sure enough, in the week leading up to 11 November our local Aldi was “suddenly” deluged with frozen geese in their meat section. We had ours with our adopted families on the following Saturday – sehr lecker!

Here’s Molly and Jack, Molly with her goose lantern. Not a great photo but I’m on my B-team camera at the moment…

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