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!

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!