Sunday, December 8, 2013


Today is the second Advent, which Germans observe.  We've indirectly mentioned Advent before, but haven't done a post about it.  The four Sundays before Christmas are the 4 Advents.  They observe them by lighting a candle, sometimes on a wreath on the table.  On the first Advent you light 1 candle, the second you light 2 candles, etc.  Advent calendars are also popular.  You open one door each day, from December 1 to 24.  They either have a Christmas-related picture behind the door or a piece of chocolate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy Halloween!

In case you don't know, it's Totoro and the cat bus (

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I thought there should be some mention of three excellent things about Germany in the fall: fresh-pressed apple cider at the market, free apples, and neue wein ("noy-a vine"). Apples and apple cider are not specific to Germany, but I look forward them. A stand at the twice-weekly market starts making apple cider in the fall and continues for a few months. There are apple trees planted on public land, which is genius. I mentioned neue wein once before, but didn't explain much (you could also read the wikipedia article I linked to). Wine makers make it when they start harvesting grapes, so it's only available for a short time in the fall. You have to drink it within a few days of making it, because otherwise it will ferment too much. It has less alcohol than wine, so it's more like grape juice, which I like very much. Germans, at least in certain regions, eat it with Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart), which is also seasonal. I personally don't think onions should be a main ingredient, but many people would disagree with me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Things You Don't See in the US #12

Lederhosen and Dirndl, collectively known as Trachten (traditional costumes).  It's Oktoberfest!  Normal stores sell them this time of year. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another Visit from a Politician

Peer Steinbrück visited Ulm yesterday.  He is the main challenger for Chancellor.  There was a different setup than for Angela Merkel, so I was able to get slightly better pictures.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Die Kanzlerin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Ulm today. Elections are in September. I didn't get very good pictures.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


We went to see the Fischerstechen last weekend.  It only happens every four years.  It's like jousting on canoes.  The competitors and others parade through town beforehand and do some dances in some of the squares.  The competitors play different people from Ulm's (and Neu-Ulm's) history and townspeople, such as Emperor Karl V, the King of Bavaria, farmers, and jesters. New this year were the Sparrow (a symbol of Ulm) vs Albrecht Berblinger, who tried to fly across the Danube.  The winner, i.e., the one who stayed standing the most, was the King of Württemberg, so he will face this week's winner.
UPDATE: The King of Württemberg beat the King of Bavaria in the final.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alternate Universe

We've already talked a lot about how Italy and Germany are different from the US, like in these links, but here are a bunch of more mundane differences.  These apply to both Germany and Italy, except where noted.

  • When people ask for your name, they mean your last name.
  • Germans and Italians often don't have middle names.
  • People in Germany wait for the light at crosswalks, even if there are no cars coming.  In Italy anyone (pedestrians, cars, mopeds, bikes) goes anytime it is physically possible.
  • The recycling is divided differently (compostable things, paper of all kinds, plastic and metal, glass bottles), and they recycle more things, so you have less normal trash.
  • Riding buses is normal.
  • The metric system.
  • Commercial breaks in Germany are longer, but there are about 1/3 as many.
  • Europeans seem to know a lot about other European countries.
  • Electricity costs more, but appliances and buildings are more energy efficient.
  • I have not found central heating or AC to be common, even in newer houses.  Germany doesn't have or really need AC, and Italy just has it in larger stores.
  • Most beverage bottles and cans in Germany have a deposit, so when you return them, you get your deposit back.  Or you sometimes find them on the street and then you get 8-25 cents.  Wine bottles don't have this, for some reason.
  • Foreign movies and TV shows are dubbed.  They get most of the big-budget American movies and popular TV shows.  I'm told that the most famous actors usually have the same person doing the voice.  So, there's a German Julia Roberts voice, for example.  The countries also make their own movies and TV shows.
  • You don't have to pay for incoming calls on cell phones.
  • Health insurance is mandatory.  In Italy, they have a state-run system, so, as long as you go to public doctors and hospitals, you don't have to pay for anything (just the premium).  In Germany everyone has to have private or public insurance, and there are laws about what insurance has to cover.  The only thing I've found that I have to pay for are dental cleanings (the check-up and x-rays are covered).
  • Prescription drugs are much cheaper (5-10 euros, ~$6-13), but over-the-counter drugs cost somewhat more, since there aren't any generics.  Also, over-the-counter drugs are sold only at pharmacies, and pharmacies sell only drugs (and things like band-aids and thermometers.  but no shampoo or cosmetics or whatever).
  • Soccer is popular.  They have several different league levels, so that any tiny town has a soccer team.
  • There are no school sports or school music programs.  In Germany, to play a sport or in a band, you join a club in your area. I'm not sure how it works in Italy, but I think it's similar.
  • Handball exists.  It's broadcast on TV sometimes (at least in Germany).
  • Sometimes what I consider winter Olympic sports, like luge or ski jumping, are broadcast on TV.  Not just during the Olympics.
  • Germany has the term "black" music (they say black in English).  It's played in clubs, but I don't know exactly what it refers to.
  • Some bands that sing in English are more popular in Europe than in the US.  For example: Queen, Dire Straits, the Eagles, Genesis/Phil Collins, Deep Purple.  People know more than one song by them (or more than 3 songs by Queen).
  • They have all different car models.  Also different car companies (Peugoet, Fiat, Opel, Renault, e.g.), but Toyota or Ford or VW have different models here.
  • Libraries have an annual membership fee.
  • Refrigerators are smaller for some reason.
  • In Germany, it is standard to put your birthday, place of birth, and marital status on your resume.  Also to include copies of your diploma, degrees, any other certificates you have, and reference letters/certificates from former employers when you apply for a job.  In Italy, I have read that resumes are usually verbose and not bullet-point-oriented.  Like, 5 pages long.
  • German and Italian don't use serial commas.
  • DVDs from England often cost less, even considering the exchange rate.
  • When buying or renting a house or apartment, in Germany at least, the kitchen usually doesn't come with appliances or cabinets.  People buy all that and then take it all with them when they move.
  • Built-in closets don't exist.  You have to buy wardrobes.
  • Renting apartments is not common in Italy.
  • They have butchers and bakeries that are separate from grocery stores.  And people go to them.
  • Outdoor markets, like farmers markets, are more common, and the produce usually costs less than at the grocery stores.  That is where a lot of people buy their produce.
  • They observe or celebrate Catholic/Christian holidays, like Three-Kings Day (Epiphany, Jan 6), the Ascension, Carnival (Mardi Gras), and All Saints Day (Nov 1).  Though, not all German states observe all of those.  Also May Day (May 1) is a holiday.
  • In Germany, in small towns or residential areas, you have to yield to the driver on your right at all intersections.  Also, those streets are often not wide enough for 2 cars, but they are for driving both ways anyway.  I'm told that is intentional, so people have to go very slowly.  And many parts of the Autobahn have speed limits.
  • People drink carbonated water as though it were regular water.
  • Tissues are 4-ply.  They're like napkins.  
  • Toilet paper is rougher, even expensive kinds.  I can't figure out why.  Also the rolls are slightly thinner and the squares are slightly longer.
  • I don't think light beer exists.
  • Titles on the spines of books and DVDs are printed bottom to top (American ones are top to bottom).  It's just as easy to read when they're standing up on a shelf, but if they're lying flat, the words are upside down.
  • Computer keyboards have some letters and symbols in different places, like the @ symbol or y and z are switched, and they have letter keys with accents and umlauts.
  • Italy has bidets.  They exist in Germany as well but are not common.
  • The bathrooms in Germany are sometimes split into one room with a shower (and sink) and one room with a toilet (and sink).
  • Grocery stores don't give you plastic bags.  You have to bring your own or buy them there.  A lot of people have trolleys or baskets instead of bags.  Trolleys are particularly useful if you can walk from your house to the grocery store or market.
  • Movie titles are often completely different from the original titles, not just translations.
  • Glass cleaners (Windex) don't have ammonia in them (in Germany, at least).
  • The school systems are a little different, but not worth getting into.
  • The recycling symbol is different.
  • Milk is sold only in 1 liter containers (nothing bigger).