Smoking so the rest of us look good

A lot more people smoke in Germany than in New Zealand. Yes, successive NZ governments have outlawed smoking in restaurants, shopping malls, town centres … but the results are here to see. Smoking in Germany is reasonably common – the children were frankly alarmed when we first got here! – although it may not be a whole lot more common here than in other European countries.

There is cigarette advertising on billboards, etc, but my favourite is at the gas station where animated commercials play on tablet sized screens right next to where you pay for your petrol. “Anything else, sir?”  “Well, actually …”

Cigarettes are cheap (about €5 or NZ$8 a packet) and you can buy them everywhere including right outside my house! Here’s our charming neighbourhood cigarette vending machine, one of about four in the village:


It’s cheerful! Alles möglich means “everything is possible”, and just underneath that is Und so einfach, “And so easy”. It’s true: they take notes, coins or cards. Heaps of places here in Germany don’t take cards as payment (like EFTPOS cards) so it’s a bit of a statement that your village cigarette vending machine does.

You need to also insert a card that you get which proves proof of age. But I’ve seen kids standing next to Mum while she buys her fags, “Can I put the coins in, Mum?!”.

Joe reckons about 80% of his football team smoke – young, fit German lads, many of them getting the very last puff in before they have to go into the sheds and get changed. It makes you wonder how many Bayern Münich players probably still smoke.

I couldn’t understand why such a dynamic, high-achieving population has so many smokers.

And then I decided – maybe it’s an EU thing.

See, the EU had a look around the map one day and thought “Oh, Italy, you’re a bit corrupt. France, you complain too much. Greece, you spend too much. Spain, don’t know where to start. Hungary, Romania …” and sitting there at the front of the class, head down in the text book, was Germany, reading up on how to make the trains run on time, adopt Big Recycling, build great cars, run a national economy sensibly, value nature and the outdoors and make sure they packed their flute and their sports gear for their after-school activities. Ha ha, all these are German stereotypes, right? If only – they are about 90% on the money from my experience here. Germans are over-achievers.

So, the EU thought, this isn’t good for the dynamic of the European classroom. I can’t have Germany sitting their rolling their eyes every time France explains why this cheese can’t be called that, Poland asks once more about this obsession with sensible waste management, and Italy tries to make two plus two equal five plus fifteen percent in a Swiss bank account. Oh, and Greece shows up with no money for the school trip but if we have a whip around for a couple of Euro…

The EU sat down with Germany and explained the predicament, and wondered if there was anything Germany could do to just, you know, slow them down a bit. Cool their heels.

“What if I start smoking?” said Germany. “If I start smoking, I’ll probably only be using about 60% of my lung capacity, and that will slow me right down in the short term. In the long term it will increase my chances of cancer and other diseases and It will lower my life expectancy. How does that sound?”

Perfect. Now the rest of the class might feel like, if they but try, they can catch up with Germany, and they don’t feel completely overwhelmed by their never-ending achievements. The EU wheeled out the Zigaretten machines overnight to every village in Germany, the Germans lit up and everyone else breathed a sigh of relief.

So now it makes perfect sense to me! Just before I go, another picture of the cigarette machine in my quiet, sunny street in my idyllic, sunny village.



German music on the radio

German music is cool! Seriously, there are some really good poppy little numbers out there, and I’ll add some links below in order of my favourites at this very moment.

In the car we listen to a radio station called SWR3 – Anglos, you pronounce this “Ess Vee Err Dry”. And then you sing the rest of the jingle because you can’t help yourself, “Die beste Musik!” Do you need me to translate that for you? You good? Cool.

SWR = Süd West Radio, and SWR3 seems to be their Hits station. I was listening to the radio one drive and they played some Dr Hook. Interesting. Then some Eagles. Okaaay… and then I saw it was tuned to SWR1. Ah!

It reminds me a bit of chart radio in New Zealand maybe 20 years ago – they don’t play a whole lot of domestic product, but maybe the domestic product needs a bit of work, or maybe tastes will change … the glass half full way of looking at that is it’s cool to know NZ has more homegrown music on the radio than here. And in saying that, the German music they play on SWR3 is the gooood stuff. When the kids and I drove to Italy we went through Austria and checked out some Austrian radio. Sorry. But it was shit. I’d say half the songs on the radio were in German – full credit – but … yeah, nah.

So what else do they play? Your usual mix of English-speaking chart hits, plus the odd song in French maybe. So right right now now they’re into playing Hold Back the River by James Bay, Are You With Me by Lost Frequencies, King by Years & Years and inevitably FourFiveSeconds by a really old guy and his two grandchildren. So yeah, s’OK.

The other thing SWR3 do (which I love, but I’m a nerd) is the Traffic Announcements! Fully, when I first got here I didn’t have a clue what they were saying, like not a word. Now I’m fluent in Traffic Announcement. I’m all over the A6 from Heilbronn to Nürnberg, between Hohenlohe and Schwäbisch Hall, there’s a 6km queue because of a broken-down truck – the left lane is blocked. Get down!

With the German songs, from a learning German perspective, I have found it hard to just listen to a tune and go “Ah yes, I got every word”, but occasionally I hear a line and I think “Oh hey, I understood that”. And that’s nice.

EEENYWay without further ado, let me post my favourite Deutsch tunes here, for your listening pleasure.

Easiest on the ear (and the eye, ladieeez!) is Andreas Bourani. He had this cool, up-tempo song which the German team sort of adopted during the 2014 World Cup – HA! It worked! That one was called Auf Uns and you can look that one up yourself, but check out his nice moody piece Auf Anderen Wegen – “Different Roads”:

Next is Revolverhead, Lass Uns Gehen means “Let’s Go”:

“We want hip hop!” you say? Well, have it you shall! Here’s a juicy single from Cro called Traum (“Dream”):

“How about themes of teen frustration living in the parental home, with a catchy synth hook, big strings chorus and maybe a little line of French?” Oh all RIGHT then! Mark Forster, if you please:

That’s enough for you today – hope you enjoyed!


(technically that’s pronounced “Chuce”, but when you say it over here you need to give it two syllables..)

Life in Germany 4: Primary School

While we’ve been in Germany, the kids have been going to normal German schools. Molly is 10 and she has been attending the local primary school, or Grundschule, here in the village, in the 4th Klasse which is the last year before kids go off to high school. She’s one of the oldest kids in her class, but it was that or put her in the first year of high school, and frankly the primary school was too good to pass on: it’s about 500m from our flat, and the kids finish at 1pm each day.

There are only four classes or year levels in German Grundschulen and most kids start when they are 6 years old going on 7. Before this, though, many of them have been to kindergarten where they do actually learn some basic reading and writing.

In the village Grundschule there would be scarcely more than 80 students altogether. Molly has 17 in her class. After her first day she came home and told us the BEST news was that there were 11 girls “and only SIX boys!”.

School Day

Molly starts at 7:45am most days (two days a week it’s an 8:30am start) and she comes home at 1pm for lunch. The school year is a mid-September start, mid-July finish.

How Molly is finding it

Molly spoke no German when she enrolled in September, and was worried she wouldn’t get any friends. If you know Molly, you’ll know how silly this sounds. Molly is a Leo and likes to be in the centre of what’s going on. Being only 10 doesn’t hurt either – there’s no stupid cliques or anything she’s had to try and break into (or avoid). Also for her age there are stacks of activities in the village after school: art and then light athletics on Tuesdays, football on Fridays (and now Wednesdays as well).

What has also helped is that one of Molly’s best friends, L, spoke enough English to help Molly along in those first few weeks, and L’s house is literally opposite our flat. In the mornings Molly is collected by L or any one of a number of girls that live on this side of town. Then in the afternoon we can hear them well before they get home: giggling and squealing.

What they learn

Learning-wise, the school is similar to New Zealand. Maths is probably ahead of New Zealand and Molly had to really knuckle down and learn her times tables! They do poems in German (think English), basic phrases in English (think German), science is called Naturwissenschaften and it’s more like natural science (animals, etc).

For me, one of the most unusual things is that Molly gets marks for EVERYTHING. One day she comes home asking if we can go and buy some wool, because they are making crochet owl bags for art at school. So we get the wool, she’s working on her owl bag with her classmates, can she have another ball of this colour, etc, and then she comes home and tells us she’s finished it.

“So did you bring it home? Can we see it?”

“No, it’s in school so the teacher can mark it.”

“Mark it? You get a mark for how good your crochet owl bag is?”

But I think that’s good, you know. Some kids might suck at maths but be pretty handy at art and crafts; why shouldn’t they get acknowledgement for that, rather than just a pat on the back?

The other thing that cracked me up was in March she came home with a notice saying “Blah-blah-blah, on Tuesday we’re doing sports so bring appropriate clothes and a drink.” I asked her how the day went and she said they did gym-type activities in the hall (mini trampoline over a vaulting horse sort of thing), and she was happy with the three that she chose because she thought her marks would be quite good.

“You got a MARK for SPORTS?”

Turns out it wasn’t just some Fun-Sports-Day that I thought it was; it was Winter Bundesjugendspiele and that is as serious as it sounds. OK not really, it means National Youth Games, and as far as I can make out the activities are set nationally and if you get a certain level of mark you get the fancy A-list certificate which Molly did.

Molly’s German is very good these days. Joe takes her with him for any tasks in town because she’s a good little translator too. Despite this, she is very much looking forward to coming home. And because we only planned to be here for a year, for her and Jack this has been a “fun year” at school – no big serious exams at the end of it. There’s no question it would have been a hard year for the kids if they’d really, really had to knuckle down, absorb a new language and then face big exams at the end of the year. Possible? Of course. But not as much fun.

Here’s Molly with the early stages of Crochet Owl Bag, and a selection of her pictures hanging on the wall in our dining room:
And here she is with the light athletics group getting ready to perform at the Family Evening concert in January: WP_001545

Every blog has it: an apology for not blogging lately

Hey, sorry I haven’t blogged for a while.

There it is, done. Every blog has it, there’s mine. Thank you for not asking why – there’s no real reason: lifeworktravelbusykidsfoodshoppingmoreworkonlysomanyhoursintheday – yawn.

It’s OK – I used to run regularly and then I found in the autumn I wasn’t doing it, so I just made a few tweaks to my schedule and turned running into a habit. I’m going to do the same with this blog. We are only in Germany another seven weeks, so for the rest of April at least I am going to do a blog post every damn day. If that doesn’t turn it into a habit …

Do I have enough material for that? Oh yes, I got plenty. Trips to France, Italy and the Czech Republic. Some “how-tos” about how my family actually books and plans a trip. How wherever you are in Germany, you’re in a venn diagram. And the one I’ve been really waiting to write about tow-bars and white asparagus.

So this was today’s, stay posted for tomorrow’s but meanwhile you should at least get a picture, right? Well as this post isn’t really about anything, here’s a picture that won’t really fit anywhere else. It’s a craft project that anyone can make on long car journeys from Germany to Italy when your only materials are a few mandarins. This one I created in Austria, and it looks a bit like Edelweiss so that’s kind of appropriate. It’s available for sale on my Etsy site.

Mandarin peel Edelweiss
Mandarin peel Edelweiss

Food discovery 2: Protein Bread

Jack doesn’t eat enough protein. He flat out doesn’t like dairy (except milk on his cereal) and he’s suspicious of most meat in case there’s (gasp!) fat lurking in there somewhere. Or sinew. Or texture. Basically, if it’s not a perfect cube of Nothing But Chicken Breast, he will examine every angle on his fork before proceeding to cut off the bits he deems undesirable. Happily, he eats the remaining 20% no problem. Sigh.

What Jack likes is white carbohydrate with nothing on it. Plain rice crackers. Bread. He says he quite likes the sauces that go on the pasta but I have my doubts.

Anyway, in my first few weeks here I saw this in the supermarket: Eiweiß Brot – Protein Bread. I laughed and thought “Ha, I should get that for Jack”. And walked on. The following week I did buy it.


And frankly, it’s amazing. It’s not very expensive: €2.50 for a 500g loaf which is about the same price as any other loaf of bread. It also seems to stay fresh and soft for around a week, and it’s really tasty – nutty and grainy with linseeds.

But check out the Nutes: per 100g it has only 13.4g of carbohydrate and a whopping 23.9g of protein. Compare this with something like Vogels (original mixed grain) which per 100g has 40.4g of carbohydrate and 9g of protein.

I worked out it’s not even worth the battle to get Jack to put something on it – he can just grab a slice and eat it on its own.

WP_001376The ingredients (if you’re interested) are:

Water, wheat protein, sourdough (rye flour and water), linseeds, soybean meal, sunflower seeds, wheat flour, wheat bran, yeast, sesame seeds, apple fibre, salt and barley malt extract.

I will miss this when we go back home!

Food discovery 1: pizza dough in a can

We were staying at W’s and one day she said to Joe, “Tonight we’ll have pizza, there’s some pizza bases in the fridge.” Joe looked everywhere in the fridge for “pizza bases”, you know: flat, disc-like things. He found some tortillas? No, not them.

Eventually Joe and L figured out the pizza bases lived in this package – “Teig” is German for “dough”:

(sorry – crappy photo but you get the idea)

What’s in the package? Well, a jar of sauce and an aluminium tube of pizza dough:

(ah, better photo. Yes that’s Glühwein in the background – essential kitchen ingredient)


So, a tube of pizza dough, huh? Do you have to roll it out into a pizza shape? Nup. It’s already rolled for you once you open the perforated, slightly pressurised can. Check it out:

Winter actually doesn’t suck

Well it’s really here, this winter thing. But the adage about “no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” is true. I like this winter, mainly because our apartment is nice and cosy, and it’s totally different to an Auckland winter. It has the cherry on the cake: SNOW.

It doesn’t matter how cold it gets – everything looks prettier with snow. And then some days it warms right up to 10 degrees or more, and then everything looks pretty because it’s in the sun and you haven’t seen the sun for a while. You can’t lose. We are still fascinated by snow – it’s best when it first starts. The snowflakes look so big, and they just float down so slowly and so quietly, they almost seem shy, like “Oh hi! We’re not sure if we’re supposed to be here, but…”

I guess one downside is a lack of daylight. In midwinter (21 December) sunrise was at 8:30am and sunset was at 4:00pm.

I didn’t really need the “am” and “pm” in there did I? Oh well.

And that was tough for the kids when they start school (like, seated in class, ready to go) at 7:45am most days – and then Jack does two days a week where he finishes at 4:15pm. But, we’re a month on from shortest day and already it’s not dark until around 5:45pm.

The other lack of daylight problem was that I was finding it hard to go running, which is really stupid because my working hours are so flexible. So after the new year I just decided I would go running before anything else (work, grocery shopping, laundry, yadda yadda) and that’s working really well. I run in the nearby woods and they look so beautiful in winter – and they look different nearly every day: light snow, heavy snow, then it melts, then it forms giant puddles, then they freeze over… There are deer in the forest too and until now I’ve only caught sight of them disappearing into the forest. Today I saw one properly, only about 12-15 metres away.

Our winter food discovery is hot apple juice. We had it at a food market in Metz (France) and we’re hooked on it now. When the kids come home from school and come in from the cold I have hot apple juice on the stove for them.

At New Years we went back to Sweden and on our last day in Stockholm, Molly and I got to go skating on an enormous lake that had frozen. I can’t describe how amazing it is. Like, when you skate in an indoor rink, the ice is white? Well on a lake, the ice is black. Underneath, you can see bits of lakeweed, or icy bubbles, sometimes the surface has had ripples which have frozen so it’s not always flat. And when you skate you cut up tiny bits of ice dust which (because you’re outside) the wind then blows across the surface of the ice in powdered white swirls around your feet. It was sunny and there were dozens of people out on the ice, or sitting on the rocks with thermos of hot chocolate… it was like a winter dream, it really was.

And then last weekend Jack and I decided, you know, rather than just watching all these winter sports on Eurosport, we could actually GO to one of them, I mean, they have them here in Germany. So we opted to go to a World Cup Biathlon event in Ruhpolding – in the German Alps, near the border with Austria. If you’re not familiar with biathlon, it’s cross-country skiing (so you have to go uphill as well as down) and then shooting (so your pulse has to recover quickly enough for you to shoot your five targets – and you only have five rounds). We’re not actually big skiers ourselves, I think we’re more sort of fascinated by sports that we would never see in Auckland. Also, for me, there’s something almost accessible about a biathlon. Like, I could never ever ever compete in a downhill ski event or a ski jump – I would be terrified. But, you know, I could train hard and learn to shoot, and maybe one day…

The snow had not been very heavy so the 4-hour drive to Ruhpolding was really easy, we then took a shuttle bus to the arena and sat with hundreds and hundreds of Norwegians – honestly, MORE than half the crowd in the stand was Norwegian. Afterwards we drove 2 hours back to stay with W’s sister and her family in the Allgäu. And when we woke the next morning, guess what the weather was doing …


Our house, the day of the first big snow – 27 December:WP_001408

Heidelberg, the same day. See the remains of the Christmas market in gold:WP_001419

Norrköping, Sweden, 28 December: WP_001424

Stockholm, 4 January:WP_001441


Biathlon, Ruhpolding, 16 January, women’s 7.5km sprint. The tiny figures on the red mats are the athletes. Shooting.
And now you know what Norway’s flag looks like too:WP_001473


Snow in Kaufbeuren, in the Allgäu region of Germany, 17 January:WP_001482

More photos from Kaufbeuren, 17 January:WP_001483 WP_001492

What I see when I go running (specifically 21 and 22 January):WP_001539 WP_001540 Beautiful, huh?