Tipping And Table Etiquette In Germany

January 23rd, 2012 | Filed in Culinary, Culture & Art, Travel Tips

Ya know, Americans get a really awful rap about table manners when traveling abroad. I ain’t saying that it ain’t rightfully deserved (in some cases), but navigating your way around a restaurant in a foreign land could, well, be foreign.

As progressive as we Germans are, I’m sure we seem a bit foreign to the average traveler. So, I’ll help you figure out the simple nuances of eating like a German — even if you’re not eating traditional German cuisine.

Your first test is when you arrive at the eatery. You’re going to have to find your own seat (exceptions apply). Second, it’s not unheard of some stranger to come sit with you if the restaurant’s crowded — it’s an efficient use of space.

Don’t worry about making small talk — that’s definitely not the German way. Just eat your food and be on your merry way.

Next, see that basket of bread on the table? First rule of Economics applies here — no such thing as a free Mittagessen (that’s lunch in German), so chances are you’ll have to pay for what you ate. Just ask if you’re not sure.

You’ll even pay for condiments (ketchup, mustard, etc.) in fast-food joints. Although traditional fast-food in Germany is the Döner Kebap (served in a pita) — and never once have I seen ketchup on it. So eat that — and you’ll be fine.

All right, your food’s arrived, now what? Um, good manners say that you don’t eat until everyone has their food. Also, eating with your fingers — use forks & knives to eat pizza, will you?

It’s not bad form to eat “American-style” (that’s with the fork in your right hand, cutting with the right while switching the fork to the left) — it’s just not the most efficient way to eat.

And we know how much that makes a Kraut crazy, right? ;-)

Want to see a German get really indignant? Ask for a glass of tap water with or before your meal. You’d think you had just sprouted a third eye and a turned purple. Actually, I think that would garner less of a reaction. Do yourself a favor, if you want water drink Mineralwasser (sparkling water like Pellegrino or Perrier).

You’re fed. You’ve got your drink. Now it’s time to pay the bill. I sure hope you’ve asked if the restaurant took plastic beforehand. That’s right, even the best restaurants don’t always take your Master, Visa, or AMEX card.

And, never, never, never, leave your tip on the table for your server. It’s customary to round up your bill (usually 5-10%), telling your waitress or waiter what you’ll pay, then give it to them.

Just don’t ask ’em to wrap up your leftovers in a Doggy-bag. That’s almost as bad as asking for that tap water. ;-)

A Magical Mystery Tour Through Germany

January 16th, 2012 | Filed in Dream Trips, Parks & Nature, Sights

No, I don’t think the Beatles had Germany in mind when they penned their Magical Mystery Tour album in 1967. But, they could have.

Germany (or the land that IS Germany) has been around a very long time, and many places have seen the likes of Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age man (and woman), Celts, and Romans — each bringing their own aura of mystery to the land.

So, in honor of the Beatles — welcome to my Magical Mystery Tour.

Barbarossahöhle (Barbarossa Cave)
This vast network of caves northwest of Bad Frankenhausen in Thuringia has seen all sorts of ancient rituals and offerings from salt to hair, including human dating to around 3,000 years ago.

ISIS Temple & Mater Magna
Only discovered in 2000 (quite by accident) in Mainz, this Egyptian Goddess’ temple and one to the Great Mother was favored by Roman soldiers as late as the 3rd century A.D. Artifacts found have included everything from lamps to fruit (wow, talk about preservation).

Ohlsdorf Cemetery
While not a Roman or Celtic site, the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in the Ohlsdorf district of Hamburg is the final resting place for more than a million people (mostly the who’s who of Hamburg). It has 12 chapels, six memorials, museums, an area for World War I soldiers, and 17km of roads.

Mt. Untersdorf
Close to Berchtesgaden, there are more then 400 caves within the area of Mt. Untersdorf. One legend tells of the end of the world from here. It’s said to have haunted spirits, and even the Dalai Lama himself noticed the magical aura of the place.

In the town of Mühlhausen in Thuringia you’ll see a reconstructed Germanic Tribe village on the site of pagan sacrifices dating to the 6th century B.C. Want to learn more? Check out their website at www.opfermoor.de.

Witches Dancing Ground (Hexentanzplatz)
Yes, the Hexentanzplatz is a real place in the rustic Harz Mountains, near the town of Thale. The legend says that witches left from the spot before heading to Mt. Brocken to wed the Devil. Today you’ll find plenty of men, women, and children just having a good time.

Found in Horn-Bad Meinberg in the Teutoburg Forest are the so-called Exernsteine — 13 pillars made from rock standing over 37-meters tall. It’s also where artifacts dating to 10,000 B.C. have been found.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed about a gazillion other mystical places in Germany — so feel free to add any you know to the list. Then it’ll be OUR Magical Mystery Tour. ;-)

Enjoy Music At The 2012 Luther Decade

January 9th, 2012 | Filed in Culture & Art, Events

Would you believe that we’re halfway through the momentous Luther Decade? Every year for the last five, all sorts of festivals and other programs have taken place to lead up to October 31, 2017, the official marking of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

What makes 2012 so remarkable is that this year’s highlight is music, so many events and programs have taken this into account.

The year of music kicked off just right in Erfurt where the new year’s events started with a choir concert at St. Thomas’ Church.

It’s all right if you missed it (lucky if you got to go). Here’s a listing of other events for the rest of the year so you don’t miss anymore.

In Eisenach at the Bach House there’s a special exhibit on the Book of Songs from Feb 25–Nov 11. Not running quite as long, the Thuringian Bach Weeks (March 30–April 22) is one of the largest music festivals in the country — special church services will also be taking place throughout the month.

Also in Eisenach there’s a grand birthday celebration for Martin’s 528th birthday on November 10. Oh sorry, I jumped ahead there. ;-)

For almost a full year at the Wartburg Castle (May 4, 2012–March 31, 2013) all sorts of exhibitions are going on where Luther translated the New Testament into German. The room in which he accomplished this task looks pretty much like it did 500 years ago.

October 31 marks Reformation Day (Reformationstag) and celebrate with the Reformation Festival. There will be plenty of special services throughout Thuringia on the day that Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door; an event that started a revolution.

From November 29,2012 to January 30, 2013 at the Heinrich-Schütz-Haus in Bad Köstritz you’ll be treated to a special exhibit on Martin Luther and Christmas.

Stay tuned. I’ll certainly keep you updated for the upcoming 2013 Reformation & Tolerance, the 2014 Reformation & Politics, and the 2015 Reformation Art & the Bible yearly events. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? :-)

Celebrate Holidays In Traditional German Style

January 2nd, 2012 | Filed in Culture & Art, Events, Traditions

Every culture has their own particular way of celebrating their holidays, and the German Culture is no exception. Yes, it’s true that most festive occasions in Deutschland are of a religious nature, and it’s nice to know how the country celebrates.

No need to look like a tourist if you don’t have to. ;-)

Epiphany (Dreikönigstag) Jan 6
Known as Little Christmas, and where you’ll see children singing carols. Everyone’s welcome to eat some Dreikönigskuchen — but it’s supposed to be good luck to whomever eats the lucky object inside.

Candlemas (Mariä Lichtmess) Feb 2
Folks from the U.S. know it as Groundhog Day, but us Germans know this day falls right between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Celebrated exactly 40 days after Christmas, it’s all about the light. That’s why candle blessings are traditionally done.

Carnival (Karneval/Fasching) Feb/Mar
Here’s where things get tricky. The Carnival Season really kicks off on November 11th at 11:11 in the city of Cologne (and the Rhineland) — except during Advent and Christmas. Traditionally, everyone associates the lead-up to the Lenten season within a week of Ash Wednesday (40 days before Easter).

If you’re in the Catholic regions of Germany (generally the South & West of the country), you’re more for partying in a masquerade style parade festival (with lots of drinking); while the Protestant (North & East) are known for a more subdued affair eating Berliners (donuts) and other sweet treats.

Good Friday/Easter (Karfreitag/Ostern) Mar/Apr
Good Friday is a solemn affair in Germany, often without any public performances or even church bells ringing in the town squares. Most people are off work or school at this time (and traditionally not eating any meat but fish), and only true touristy places are even open.

Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) is a lively event (compared to the relative quiet the day before) with Easter bonfires and Easter Markets taking place. Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag) and Easter Monday (Ostermontag) are even more festive, with folks heading off to church and eating a hearty lamb dinner, and presenting kids with the play of searching Easter eggs and gifts (in the garden, living room, etc.).

Walpurgis Night/May Day (Walpurgisnacht/Mayfeiertag) April 30/May 1
Walpurgis Night is said to be the day that witches wait for Spring — but you’ll find plenty of Germans just dancing their hearts out by the bonfires. Hmm, maybe this is why the traditional saying is “Tanz in den Mai,” or Dance into May!

Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) Aug 15
Technically this mid-August date isn’t a “public” holiday (except Bavaria and the Saarland), but it’s common for people to head to church AND pick herbs out in the gardens.

Reformation Day (Reformationstag) Oct 31
Sure, it’s Halloween — but it’s also a special date on the Lutheran calendar. It’s a public holiday in the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia, celebrated with the Feast of the Protestant Reformation.

Advent (4 weeks prior to Christmas Day)
Almost every German city, town, village, and hamlet have Advent markets, bazaars, and concerts to ring in the joyous season of Christmas. These Christmas/Advent events are legendary — bringing people from all over the world to experience them.

And certainly a terrific way to end a year of celebrations.

You may want to bookmark this page as our holidays are scheduled to stay. ;-)

Fall In Love With The Hamburg Ballet

December 12th, 2011 | Filed in Culture & Art, Events, Music, Regional

A good friend of mine doesn’t remember the day that she fell in love with the ballet. But, she thinks watching Mikhail Baryshinikov dance in the 1985 film, White Nights, had something to do with it.

Her love of the dance means she doesn’t care where she sees it (New York, Paris, London); all she knows is she wants to go.

So, if you’re like her, and you’re going to be in Hamburg, why not check out this upcoming season’s fantastic ballets? A truly cultured activity for a truly cultured city, if I do say so myself.

Here’s just a few of the ballets playing at the Hamburg Ballet:

Nutcracker (Dec 14, 15, 23 (2 shows), 28, and 29, 2011)

Peter Tchaikovsky will forever be remembered as the composer for this Christmas ballet extravaganza, where a Sugar Plum Fairy and a Nutcracker come to life. Besides Scrooge, this is a Christmas Season must-see. Don’t worry if you don’t make this year’s performances—there’s always next year.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jan 14, 20; May 16, 18, 19, 27; Jun 20, 2012)

A classic ballet (choreographed by none other than Balanchine himself) based on a classic comedy by William Shakespeare. Graceful is always the best adjective to describe one of the best ballets ever.

Death in Venice (March 6 & 9, 2012)

This isn’t your typical ballet by any stretch of the imagination. It’s based on Thomas Mann’s novella about a writer with writer’s block who heads off to the beach in search of inspiration. What he finds is a boy that captures his… uh, imagination.

A Streetcar Named Desire (April 18, 23, and 27, 2012)

Choreographed by John Neumeier, there’s no Marlon Brando screaming “Stella” in this ballet based on the Tennessee Williams play. Even so, the tragic story of Blanche transcends any media format.

The Little Mermaid (Apr 21, 25, 28, May 9, 12, Jun 22)

John Neumeier does his own adaptation of Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. This ain’t no Disney version, that’s for sure. The “underwater” scenes are truly dramatic for us landlubbers.

In case you’re not a fan of ballet, or never seen one before—we do recommend watching Mr. Baryshinikov in White Knights or The Turning Point (with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine)—it did it for my friend.

And if you’re interested, here’s the calendar of the Hamburg Ballet.

Top 10 Berlin Movies

December 8th, 2011 | Filed in Culture & Art, Reviews

Berlin is a magical city. It has seen its fair share of ups and downs, political intrigue, and was once the capital of the dreaded Third Reich. And I’m pretty sure that not another international city has been the setting for as many movies as this gem of a city.

No, I’m not talking about movies shown at the annual Berlin International Film Festival, either. I’m talking about movies that center around a country’s capital.

You’d think that all the movies about Berlin would be about its separation into East and West Berlin during a divided Germany. They weren’t all Cold War spy films, though; and neither were they all about World War II (that’s another blog post, altogether).

I also decided not to add Berlin Express (1948) to this list, because it already made the Top 10 for the best World War II films, ever.

So, here’s my pick for the best flicks taking place in Berlin.

A Foreign Affair

Directed by Billy Wilder, A Foreign Affair stars German actress Marlene Dietrich in this romantic comedy from 1948.

Grand Hotel

There’s still something truly special about this 1932 Academy Award winning film, Grand Hotel, even after 70 years.

Kuhle Wampe

Kuhle Wampe is one of the best films taking place in Berlin that doesn’t have to do with World War II, Cold War intrigue, or anything else—it’s about a family struggling to get by during the Great Depression.

The Big Lift

Sure, The Big Lift is about the Berlin Airlift, but this 1950 film stars Montgomery Clift. Ain’t that enough for you ladies?


James Bond makes his appearance in Berlin during this 1993 flick Octopussy staring Roger Moore as the title character. Sorry, Mr. Sean Connery—Roger was great as the dapper and dashing British spy.


Don’t you just love movies that are total flashbacks? I do; and the Rosenstrasse film takes a look at the Rosenstrasse Protest that took place in Berlin from February to March 1943.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne in 2004 trying to escape the U.S. Government. I swear it’s not German politics at play in The Bourne Supremacy, my personal top favorite of all ten here. ;-)

Dr. M.

A 1990 whodunit film on a number of deaths that looked like suicides. Yeah, I enjoy a good spy thriller, but I sure like trying to figure out who did it, too.


Yeah, this 2004 Tom Cruise film had some controversy before and during its making; and although I didn’t add it to the World War II list, it does deserve an honorable mention somewhere.

I bet you were expecting a “Top 10” list, but I’m leaving it at just nine—this way you can add your favorite.

OK OK, I just thought of another one…


The 1985 Anthony Edwards film titled Gotcha!; it’s a comedic look into a poor college kid who’s suckered into bringing a package over to East Berlin from a girl he met in Czechoslovakia (it wasn’t nowadays’ Czech Republic back then).

Yeah, make that my 10th pick for the best films of Berlin—you can add number 11, OK?

German Art And Architecture Explained

December 5th, 2011 | Filed in Culture & Art

I’m sure by now you’ve managed to work your way through many of MyGermanCity.com’s web pages that talk about many different styles of buildings, architecture and art.

Words like Medieval, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo can easily get thrown around; and without any clear understanding of when these artistic and architectural styles were popular, it can make no sense of what you’re looking at.

I guess we’d all just be standing around some church or castle saying, “Darn, that’s just old.” ;-)

Germany is filled with many towns that were created during the Middle Ages, with defense walls (called Stadtmauern in German), churches, and castles. That’s all part of their charm, isn’t it?

But, did you know that the Middle Ages encompassed a time long before many of the 11th and 12th century churches and castles were built? The period known as medieval started back in the 500s ending around the 16th century.

That’s just about a thousand years.

Too bad not many buildings and sites are still standing from the Early Middle Ages. As the Middle Ages progressed into the 10th (right up to the 13th centuries), the popular architectural style became known as Romanesque.

Gothic architecture and art followed the Romanesque period. This is where you’ll find churches with “flying buttresses,” stained glass windows, and gargoyles adorning many buildings. The Gothic period finally ended as the Renaissance swept through Europe.

Following the enlightenment of the Renaissance, a two hundred year period from the 15th to 17th centuries, the magnificently opulent era of the Baroque and Rococo came to be popular in Germany.

Technically, the Baroque period started in the year 1600, lasting until around 1830; while Rococo was ushered in around 1650, and not lasting as long—ending right before the start of the 19th century.

Ha, which is funny, because the 19th century centered around Neo-Romanesque and Gothic Revival architecture.

I guess it was so popular the first time around, why not do it again?

A New Jewish Germany

December 1st, 2011 | Filed in Culinary, Culture & Art, Sights

When touring our German History pages, you’ll notice that a few of them have to do with, shall I say, some of the darkest events of the 20th century.

Throughout the reigning years of the Third Reich, Germany’s Jewish population suffered and many of their buildings were destroyed.

But, I’m here to tell you that Germany’s Jewish population is again on the rise (just over a hundred-thousand people)—and many of the country’s big cities have enough to see if you’re looking for a Jewish Germany.

Let’s start at the capital, shall we?


In what was once part of East Berlin you can see the Old Jewish Quarter and the New Synagogue Museum (the synagogue is thought to be one of the most beautiful in the country). Also in Berlin is the German History Museum with an entire Hitler exhibit—and the city is home to the Berggruen Museum, an art museum filled with works donated by a Jewish art collector.


Frankfurt’s Jewish community lived in a ghetto-like area known as Judengasse from around the mid-15th century. Its West End Synagogue is one of the very few to have survived the anti-Jewish Kristallnacht in November 1938. At the Old Jewish Cemetery you’ll find the names of every Jewish Frankfurter deported; and the Jüdisches Museum highlights the history of the Jewish community from medieval times right up to the 20th century.


Yes, Heidelberg was once a hotbed of Nazi activity. However, the city was home to a Jewish community since medieval times. 13th century scholar, Rabbi Meir came to live here. Today you can see one of the best preserved Jewish Quarters on the European Continent.


Ah, the city of Worms—this is home to Germany’s oldest synagogue (which is also known as Rashi’s Chapel), built in 1034. It did have to be rebuilt a few times over the last millennia—the last being after it was destroyed on November 10, 1938.


Dresden’s New Synagogue was built using parts of the original 19th century Semper Synagogue—that was left in ruins after the infamous Night of the Broken Glass.


The Swabian town of Augsburg has a beautiful Art Nouveau Synagogue and its own Jewish Museum.


There’s a whole lot of Jewish history in the big city chic of Munich, and part of a visit to it means heading towards the city of Dachau, and the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp. Guided tours are available of the camp 9am-5pm, Tuesdays through Sundays.

Within Munich itself, its synagogue finally reopened sixty-eight years to the day after the original was destroyed by the Nazis. You’ll even find Jewish manuscripts in the State Library—and a place that serves a kosher Weisswurst.

Hey, after all this touring around a new Jewish Germany—you’ve got to be hungry, right?

Top 10 World War II Flicks

November 28th, 2011 | Filed in Culture & Art, Reviews

I don’t know whose brainchild it was to give me the power of the pen (oh, I mean the power of the keyboard) for publishing on the Web. That’s the good thing about blogs—I can write (or let write) whatever I feel like.

In this case, I’ve decided to give you an all-time list of Best World War II movies. Stay tuned though, I’m pretty sure that I’ll bringing up other movie lists that center around Germany in the future.

Berlin Express

Receiving both criticism and cinematic acclaim, Berlin Express is a 1948 film that shows real-life footage of a post World War II Frankfurt and Berlin. The real plot, however, is a sort-of whodunit on a train where a diplomat is “killed;” and you never quite can guess who really is who they say they are.

Black Book

Filmed in Dutch with English subtitles, the Black Book movie is raw and graphic (to a point). And unlike most European films, it surprisingly has a sort-of happy ending.

Das Boot

Released in 1981 by West Germany and the Bavarian Film Studio, the Das Boot movie centers around the U-96 with an embittered crew and a war correspondent onboard. You can feel the crew’s low morale, high hopes, and fear as they try to get to a safe haven for Christmas. Movie creators used real-life U-boat officers as consultants to give the movie true brilliance.

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 tale of an alternate universe to assassinate Adolf Hitler is sheer genius. Actually, I think it was Christoph Waltz’s character as a Nazi SS Officer that did it for me—and the acclaim of his peers with an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival.


Alfred Hitchcock does it again and again, this time in a partial love and espionage tale with Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman, and Cary Grant in Notorious. I think the war is secondary to the kissing scene (quite scandalous in 1946) between two of the three characters in this love triangle.

Saving Private Ryan

This film’s first 25 minutes opening sequence of the chaos of the Normandy landing alone could earn this film a spot on this list. Add in the heartfelt journey to return home a mom’s only surviving son in this war drama; and you’ve got one of the best World War II movies ever made.

Schindler’s List

Filmed in black & white, Steven Spielberg brought the nitty-gritty of the war to center stage when he filmed this 1993 flick, Schindler’s List. Ralph Fiennes’s portrayal of Amon Göth is both chilling and cinematic genius. And you got to hand it to Liam Neeson who couldn’t play the lead character of war-profiteer and womanizer Oskar Schindler any better than he did.

Sink the Bismarck

The 1960 Sink the Bismarck film centers around the search for the infamous Nazi Battleship named for the esteemed statesman Otto von Bismarck; and shows how the Germans started an era of sea superiority—that is, until the Bismarck is sunk by British destroyers.

Sophie’s Choice

Meryl Streep won an Academy Award for her 1982 Sophie’s Choice character as a Polish mother forced to make the ultimate sacrifice, one of her children at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Sad. Poignant. Brilliant.

The Colditz Story

Based on the 1955 book by British Officer, P.R. Ried, the The Colditz Story movie deals with the escape of British, French, Dutch, and Polish POWs at the infamous Colditz Castle in Saxony. Fantastic.

While some of these films might be controversial, they’re certainly a conversation starter.

Care to add some of your favorites?

Greet Uta In The Naumburg Cathedral

November 24th, 2011 | Filed in Sights

This isn’t so much about Naumburg Cathedral inasmuch as it is about its most famous patron, Uta von Naumburg. Or, Uta von Ballenstedt as she was known before marrying Eckhard II, the Margrave of Meissen.

I first learned about the elegant Duchess and her story touched my heart.

Who would have guessed that a lady born over a thousand years ago (in what’s now the Harz Region) would have been considered “the most beautiful woman of the German Middle Ages”? There must have been something about her; and if she looks familiar, it’s because Disney used her as a “model” for the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Only her likeness, Uta wasn’t considered to be an evil duchess. She is, however, thought to be the epitome of the Teutonic Woman. ;-)

Don’t take my word for it, you go scour the globe looking at all the medieval art you can find (huge exhibits can be found in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and London); and let me know if you find a more marvelous medieval matron than the life-size limestone sculpture of her that sits in what is now Naumburg Cathedral.

It wasn’t always a cathedral, it started as a little chapel with funds bequeathed to the church after Uta’s death (Eckhard died only months earlier) and dying childless in 1046.

To be fair, Uta wasn’t the only patron—sculptures of 11 others (including Uta’s husband) were also done at the chapel.

Naumburg (Saale) has rightfully earned its place on the Romanesque Route, receiving more than a hundred-thousand visitors a year to the Romanesque Cathedral that was built in the 13th century. You’re welcome anytime since the cathedral is open year round (less hours from November to March).

If you want more information on Uta’s life, I would suggest taking a guided tour—although it’ll cost you more than just the 4 Euro entrance fee, I think for an audience with Uta that’s money well spent. Don’t you?


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