Christmas Markets of Berlin

Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Gendarmenmarkt in BerlinA pleasurable experience to try when living in Berlin or Europe in general are the many Christmas Markets that set up and open their stalls beginning the second or third week in November and lasting until after Christmas.   Here is a list of links beginning with six of the most popular:

  1. Alexanderplatz Christmas Market
  2. Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace
  3. Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt h
  4. Lucia Christmas Market at the Kulturbrauerei
  5. Winterdream at Alexa – The Big Berlin Christmas Market
  6. Winterworld on Potsdamer Platz

Most are just opening this week, so by the end of the week I hope to have some personal photos and information to post.

Preparing to Become An Expatriate

passportcurrencyThis post is intended for readers who are about to set out for the first time as an Expatriate.  Although, it is stated from a U.S. citizen’s perspective, similar information should be available in the Consular Section of most embassy websites.

If you are traveling as an employee for an international company you may have already engaged in some sort of orientation process to prepare for your life abroad.  If you are making this step on your own, or you haven’t had the luxury of an orientation, the United States Department of State has already done the homework and you can access most of the information you need here.

The Traveler’s Checklist you will find on this website allows you to research the country  you will be traveling to or living in and provides the following information:

  • Passport Requirements
  • Vaccination Requirements
  • Currency Restrictions
  • Visa Requirements
  • Local Embassy Address & Contact Information
  • Facts About the Country
  • Safety & Security
  • Criminal Activity & Reporting Instructions
  • Health, Medical Care & Facilities
  • Travel & Transportation

Another service offered by the U. S. Department of State is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  Expats and travelers can register for this free service to inform the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate of your stay in the country.  In return applicants will be informed of safety conditions, natural disasters, and civil unrest within that country.  In addition, the embassy will have a way to contact you in the event of a family emergency.  It is also an easy way for family and friends to contact or find you.

If you are expatriated from another country similar information should be available at your national embassy website.  To list a few:

French http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/

German http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Startseite_node.html

Italian http://embassyrome.com/italian/

Spanish http://www.spanishembassy.net/

United Kingdom http://www.embassy.org/embassies/gb.html

Pokémon GO! What’s the fuss?

Even in Germany I’ve heard all the Hoopla about Pokémon GO, but it never occurred to me that I was witnessing the ongoing phenomenon on a daily basis while just out walking in the city.  The first couple of times I saw this happening I thought, “These people are acting really strange. What are they up to?”  Then I realized this behavior of walking around not looking where you are going, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk with no warning, looking all around and then screeching out “I caught a Charizard!” was Pokémon GO in action.  One group even stopped in the middle of a busy intersection to hunt for the elusive critters.  Well, being the curious cat I am I decided to download the app to my phone to find out what all the fuss was about, and to my great surprise I found out a neat feature about the game.  Here in Germany at least, there is a fantastic photo opportunity at every Pokéstop.  Below are a few examples of what I mean:

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Now I’ve Gotta Catchém All!

Prague Trivia: Learn 7 Fun Facts about Prague

Want to check your knowledge of the city of Prague?

 

See if you know the answer to these 7 trivia questions.  Click on the link at the end for the answers.

  1. What famous musician and singer never visited the city of Prague, but has a Graffiti Wall dedicated to his memory?
  2. What is the name of the famous Bridge in Prague commissioned by a notoriously superstitious king who was into astrology and numerology, and what is the significance of the date on which its corner stone was laid (July 9, 1357 at 5:31 a.m.)?
  3. What are the things crawling up the sides of the Prague TV Tower and what is strange about their features?
  4. What area in Prague was preserved from destruction by Adolf Hitler for his retirement years?
  5. What famous modern monument of architecture was named in honor of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers?
  6. What iconic Rock n Roll group paid to have electric lights added to the Prague Castle?
  7. What beverage is drank more of per capita in Prague than any other country in the world at almost half a liter daily for every man, woman and child?

 

Click here for the answers

Prague the Capital City of Bohemia (Czech Republic): A Culture Rich in Creativity


Fellow Traveler does your heart long for the sound of Mozart as you thumb through the literature of Franz Kafka while strolling through Royal Gardens among dwellings of serfdoms past?

When I think of all things Bohemian, I think of the romantic city of Prague  or Praha as spoken in the native tongue.  Prague is a cultural plethora of past and present royals, peasants, composers, musicians, writers, and artists.  Kings and legends were born there and Saints were martyred in its streets.  Prague is an entity unto itself where dragons were slain, wars raged, musical masterpieces were composed, classic literature was penned, and grand works of art painted.  Today the lanes and byways are peopled with souls seeking inspiration and kindred spirits.  If you have a yin for creative influences, diverse populations and cultures, Prague is sure to satisfy.  Visit here for more information.

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To get a feel for the city. start by taking in the Old Town Square and the wealth of museums and galleries throughout.

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Restaurants offer anything from pizza and burgers to authentic Czech food, and there are many opportunities to find just the right souvenir for your loved one back home.  Make time to enjoy the markets, vendors and street food.  You may pick up an item you really love for an awesome bargain.

Trdelnik is an interesting pastry that you may like.  Click here to learn how to pronounce it.  Click here to learn the history of and how to make it.

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Check out the street musicians and artist along the way.

My adventure to Prague began on an express train from Berlin along the Elba River in full appreciation of the breathtaking scenery leading into the Czech Republic.  From the Prague Central Station to our hotel the cab driver, in his best broken English, kindly gave an unsolicited guided tour of the city starting with the Dancing House, Wenceslaus Square (Named after Good King Wenceslaus), and Old Town Praha.

Great Hotels Throughout the City

We stayed in the Aria Hotel at the heart of Prague.  The Aria is a wonder all its own with each of its 51 rooms is decorated in honor of a different composer or musical artist.  The Chief Concierge welcomed us with a tour of the four star hotel, featuring accommodations like a music library and concierge service, a private cinema, a fitness center, a private entrance to the Vrtba Gardens , a baroque garden and historical hidden treasure where one may enjoy a romantic private dining experience upon request.

The Winter Atrium at the Aria Hotel serves high tea every afternoon for guests to wind down to live music after a long day of site seeing.  The Coda Restaurant with an award winning chef, provides fine dining in, as well as on the rooftop terrace for intimate dining under the stars with a panoramic view of the old city.  For a cosy ending of a perfect day guest may enjoy the Fireplace lounge.  It was such welcoming and comfortable accommodations I almost didn’t want to leave the hotel, but the streets of Prague were calling to my adventurous side.

If you are a shutterbug you are in for a real treat on the streets of Prague.

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Just a short walk from the hotel is the Charles Bridge  leading into Old Town Prague.  The Charles is usually a bustle with tourist walking to and fro, so it is usually best for photographers to set out early in the morning for the best light and for time to get just the right angle without someone in the way or pushing you from all sides.

Both sides of the bridge feature statues  of historical personages throughout the history of Prague, the oldest of which is St. John of Nepomuk  who was thrown from the bridge and drowned in the Vitava River for refusing to divulge the Queen’s confessional to King Wenceslaus (Not the Good One).  His martyrdom began the Seal of the Confessional and he was canonized as the Saint against defamation of character, protector from floods and drownings.  It is considered good luck to rub the brass relief at the base of his statue as shown below.

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Continuing your journey to the west side of the Charles Bridge into Old Town Prague you will be able to visit sites like the Powder Tower, The Astronomical Clock, Kinsky Palace, The Franz Kafka museum, The Bertramka Villa and museum where Mozart composed the famous Don Giovanni opera, and other sightseeing attractions.

 Get a Royal View

On east side of the Charles Bridge in the lesser city you can take a short hike up the hill to visit Prague Castle.  Within its walls are the many adventures waiting to be explored.  To name a few:

Prague Royal Gardens

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St. Vitus Cathedral 

Golden Lane

Franz Kafka actually lived on Golden Lane and wrote many of his literary works there.  This small Medieval period village has been historically preserved to show the everyday way of life of the serfs and vassals who lived within the castle gates during that era.

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St. George Basilica — Yes, the one who slew the dragon.

I’ve only brushed the surface of what there is to discover in Prague.  You may learn more by visiting prague.net .

For U.S. expats in Prague the U.S. embassy  is only 50 meters from the Aria Hotel.  The embassy is currently under renovation, but still in operation.  For insight on what expats are doing in Prague consider downloading the Meetups app on your smart phone to join an Expats meetup group, or go online to Internations.org to join the expat association for Prague.   To learn more about Bohemia and the Czech Republic visit here.

Finally I’ve included a link to the following video of Old Town Square for your viewing enjoyment.

Hoppengarten: Brandenburg Day 2016

Germany is known for its many street markets and festivals throughout the year.  Next month I will begin my exploration of the Christmas Markets.  I can hardly wait for them to begin on November 30th, but in the summer and fall several beer festivals and of course Oktoberfest celebrations take place starting in August through October.  German Unity Day is a national holiday observed on October 3rd which celebrates the Reunification of East and West Germany dating back to October 1990 after the Berlin Wall came down.  It is common to hear the sound of celebrations and fireworks all around the city especially near the Brandenburg Gate during that time of year.

hoppengarten-band Today I am featuring one of my favorite festivals so far, the Hoppengarten, Germany Brandenburg Day Festival 2016  which takes place on or around September 3rd and 4th.  If you enjoy watching horse races, perusing stalls in search of authentic craftsmanship, trying out local food, and listening to great music, this is a fine place to indulge.

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Hoppengarten is about a 45 minute train ride east of Berlin’s City Center.  Upon arrival at the station you hear the sounds of classic Rock-n-Roll and Pop Tunes, accompanied by the delicious aroma of currywurst, sausages, schnitzel, baking pretzels, and fresh bread.  Anthony Bordain I am not, but smoked horse meat and jerky are also available for the adventurous eater.

 

 

Once you have your fill of browsing among the local vendors you can sit in the shade at the beer garden next to the Windmill for a quick refreshment before moving on to the concert area which is in the middle of the Rennbahn Hoppengarten racetrack.

 

The Rennbahn Hoppengarten is a 148 year old racetrack larger than Churchill Downs in both size and pageantry.  With a 207 Hectares land area, it is the largest and best land-based racetrack and training center in Germany.  The racing patrons put on their finest attire for a day at the races with women wearing Gucci and Prada and sporting the popular Fascinator hats.   Men dress in the styles of Tom Ford and others to compliment whatever the ladies are wearing.  Of course, the typical festival patron is not required to adhere to this dress code, so casual dress is common and acceptable.  Races take place throughout the day until concert time with local singing artist and musicians performing on the middle green during racing intervals.

The main concert featured artist such as Rock n Roll entertainer Mongo Jerry who covered many classic hits (German and American) and got the crowd out of their seats dancing to familiar tunes.  Another noteworthy artist was Frida Gold, an up and coming German Pop Singer.  Last, but not least was Tim Bendzko.  Tim is a Hoppengarten local resident, and also a huge Pop star in Germany.  The crowd went wild as he sang his greatest hits.  Even though I didn’t understand the words very well because I don’t speak fluent German, I had a great time dancing along with my German and Latvian friends.

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The evening ended at midnight with a fantastic combination of fireworks and laser light show. You may be wondering about the entry fee to such a delightful and fun-filled day.  I am pleased to report that the entry to the festival and concert are both free to the public, so take only enough money for food, refreshments, and the treasures you find at the vendor kiosks.

If you choose to visit Hoppengarten’s Brandenburg Day Celebration in the future, be sure to bring a light jacket since the nights tend to get a little chilly this time of year, and bring a blanket or lawn chair if you would like to be near the stage since seating is limited to the grandstand area.

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Large viewing screens are set up on either side of the stage for watching the musicians on video opposed to being up close and personal.  Binoculars are also an option if you have a pair.  If you get a chance to attend Brandenburg Day 2017 in Hoppengarten, I hope you will enjoy your time there as much as I did.

5 Things to Do in Berlin on the Cheap

Once you get settled in to your new temporary home in Berlin as an expatriate or long-term traveler what will you do in your spare time?  If you have a family of five, going sight seeing every week can certainly be costly and a drain on your resources. Surprisingly, there are several great inexpensive or free activities around the city for families and individuals alike.

I started with number 1 because I happen to live nearby, and it was the first thing I did on my own when I came to Berlin.  You should feel free to explore these at your own leisure and convenience.  Click on the name of the sites in bold for more information.

  1. Charlottenburg Palace Garden The fee to enter the palace itself can be pricey with a family of five, but entrance to the grounds is free.  The palace garden boasts shady walking and biking paths, places to take your kids to play, toss a frisbee, walk your dog, or if you are into it, practice Haiku.  There are fantastic picnic areas, and great places to spend a sunny Saturday lying in the grass sun bathing or reading a good book.

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  2. The Tier Garten.  Another great park and free to the public.  It is near the center of the city, and has all of the things I mentioned above. This park is also accessible from the Berlin Zoo as well as from public access points.   A family could plan a day of picnicking in the park watching the cruise ships pass through the locks, or visiting the surrounding historical sites such as Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building, the Holocaust Museum, Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, or the Victory Column.img_1121
  3. Brandenburg Gate.  Free tours are available for this area of the city; however, it is  good form to tip the guide.  It is open access to the public and many activities and celebrations take place here throughout the year.  This area is rich in historical background with many cafes and public vendors throughout the square.
  4. The Reichstag Building. A short walk from the Brandenburg Gate is the seat of German Parliament The Reichstag.  There’s and entrance and sometimes very long lines, but tickets may be purchased in advance online to avoid the waiting.  The view from the Dome at the top is amazing.img_1098
  5. The Victory ColumnIf you are up for a challenge, another site you won’t want to miss is The Berlin Victory Column. Challenging because there are 300 stairs from street level to the Golden Victory Angel at the top.  With an entrance fee of only 3€ it can get rather crowded, but you can snap some great photos once you reach the top.

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First 10 Things for Expats in Berlin

What are the first 10 things that come to mind for someone who is planning to move to Germany permanently or just on a temporary basis?  Probably not the things I have on this list, but these items can have you feeling right at home in no time.  Just a bit of pre-planning can provide a smooth transition to this beautiful country.  I hope you find them useful and encourage suggestions and corrections.

  1. Learn German. Learning a foreign language can be intimidating and take a lot of time, but just a few keywords and phrases can be very helpful.  Many Germans speak some English and they appreciate your efforts to learn German.  Thanks to online services like Rosetta Stone , and by devoting a few minutes a day, you can learn quite a lot.  Countless inexpensive or free apps are also available on smart phone App Stores teaching the basics.  If neither of those are an option English/German phrase books are easily found at local book stores or the airport.
  2. Establish German Residency & Apply for a Visa. It is important to establish residency in Germany at the earliest opportunity because there is a 90 day window in which to apply for a Visa.  Residency must be established before applying.  It is best to do this prior to coming to Germany if possible, but never fear, if you’ve already made the trip just start with Step 3: Find an Embassy.  Click here to learn more about Getting a Resident Permit in Germany .
  3. Find an Embassy. If you are a United States Citizen visit US Embassy & Consulates in Germany .  Not only can you find out what is required to apply for a German Visa, but a host of other information is here to help you.
  4. Start a bank account. Starting a bank account in Germany can be tricky, but it is possible.  The rules for personal bank accounts in Germany are different from accounts you may have in the United States, so if possible keep your U.S account open until you have a firm grasp on how to use a German Bank Account.
  5. Find an apartment. There are many fine real estate and rental agencies located in Berlin which are found easily by searching the internet.  Many of them are happy to line up rentals for you to see.  Things to keep in mind when apartment or house hunting are the location in relation to public transit if you don’t plan to drive, does the rent include utilities as well, and is renter’s insurance required.
  6. Use the Mass Transit System. Germany has a wonderful mass transit system called BVG for the Underground and Surface trains, trams, and buses in Berlin, or you can plan a trip around most of Europe on the Express Surface Trains (Sbahn).  Metro Berlin is also a free smart phone app which helps you plan your route on the Ubahn.
  7. Find a doctor or Get Help in an Emergency. The U.S. Embassy saves the day again with this List of University Hospitals and Clinics, Local Hospitals and Clinics with English speaking services and emergency numbers and points of contact.
  8. Buy Groceries or Over the Counter Drugs. In Germany many stores are closed on Sunday’s, especially grocery and drug stores.  However, some remain open, but finding them may take some pre-planning.  Grocery carts usually require a 1€ deposit, and stores charge a fee for grocery bags.  It is wise to invest in reusable grocery bags or a grocery cart for those who don’t drive.
  9. Living in Germany. Time, Telephone Etiquette & Recycling are viewed differently in Germany.  Punctuality is considered polite, being late is a definite faux pas.  All calls have a toll here, so it works well to lead with your identity rather than just saying “hello”.  Following the rules of recycling prevents annoyed neighbors while also helping the environment.
  10. Things to See & Do. Of course, the first thing many people want to do in Germany is see the sites, take a trip on the train, enjoy Oktoberfest, and cruise up the Rhine into wine country, but after you’ve seen and done it all you may want to pursue other interests. You might Join A Club , participate in Sports , ride a bike, or join a gym.  Germany is a physical fitness mecca, so enjoy!