You can smell the fresh products and the vendors actually know what they are selling! The colours, the sounds of people discussing price and weather, the atmosphere of conviviality, and the fragrance of real food is paradise on earth for the gourmet.
The producers can explain to you what recipes to make with their vegies or their fruits, the cheese maker might let you taste a “Stück” (piece) of his best Käse (cheese) and the butcher a small Würst (sausage). And if you don’t know the name of one of the hundred kinds of bread, or cheese or sausages, don’t worry. Just explain which one you want by pointing at it. There might be someone close by who will be able to help in an approximate English that still might be better than your German.
If you would like to know what it’s really like to shop and live in Germany, we suggest A Year In Germany. An eBook full of discoveries and shopping adventures! A year in Germany, is a humoristic account of our life in a new country!
There are also still a few “real” (i.e. independant) bakers and pastry chefs (Konditoren; female pastry chefs: Konditorinen) in Germany, but unfortunately they too are victims of globalization and their numbers are in decline. More and more we see big companies making goods that are resold in smaller shops. It is very unfortunate, but you might as well go to the grocery store to buy bread for less money than in most of these small “bakeries”. Big production means lower quality, and therefore, less taste.
BUT, if while Shopping in Germany you encounter a real Backerei/Konditorei run by a real master where they make their own breads and pastries, stick to it. The difference in taste is like night and day.
The same is true for the Metzgerei (Butcher). Meat is one of the more expensive things to buy when Shopping in Germany, so you might as well try to get the best quality. Which usually means going to an independant butcher outside of the big stores. These stores now usually only sell pre-packaged meat.
Of course, if you are in a hurry, you can also go Shopping in Germany in big grocery stores such as Aldi or Lidl or Rewe. Those are similar to the ones in North America, Australia etc. They sell just about anything you’ll want – even peanut butter, but it is rather pricy, about 5 euros for a very small jar. We haven’t found Vegemite in these stores yet, only in a small speciality British Shop.
These big stores are also quite often open longer hours than the small ones and, contrary to smaller ones, they might also be open Saturday afternoons. But except for a very few stores in tourist areas and in some train stations and gas (petrol) stations, they all close on Sunday, all day. That is the law.
As mentioned earlier, most smaller stores outside of city centres are closed from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. So, it might be good to visit the farmers markets on Saturday mornings to do your shopping in Germany, after all!
Another important point is that stores in Germany are more specialized in their activities and the products they sell. They will often have an incredible selection in a very narrow field. For example, you might find a store that sell precision instruments of all kinds imaginable, from the small tweezers to tailors’s scissors. But, then, that is all that they will sell – precision instruments. Another example is the pharmacy (Apotheke). They sell medications of course, but ONLY medications. If you want toilet paper or deodorant, you have to go to the Drogerie (or a big grocery store).
On the other hand, Shopping in Germany for alcohol could not be easier: you can buy beer, wine and liquor at the grocery stores. But for a better selection, you might want to go to a Beerstore for beer and wine, and to a Spirituosen Laden for liquor.
Also, you can sometimes find local people making hydromel (Honey liquor) and other “Schnaps” and “Branntwein” or “eau-de-vie”, all liquors made from nuts or fruits or herbs. These are quite popular at country markets throughout the year.
And if you really can’t do without your shopping mall experience while in Germany, you can find shopping centers or malls in most big cities. They are not as popular here as in North America, but can be found at the outskirts of major cities or in outlying suburbs.
That is also where you will find the “big box” stores such as IKEA, MediaMarkt (electronics) and Baumarkt (building materials). But getting to them by public transports is not always very convenient. Fortunately most of these big box stores deliver to you door and you can also shop on-line.
If you have decided, like us, NOT to have a car while in here, Shopping in Germany is not that difficult. For one thing, German cities were generaly planed to be walkable and one result is that they have truly compact city centres. You will find a very good quality and diversity of stores in these centres and you can access them either by walking, riding your bike or taking public transport.
Also, at least once a week most cities and villages have a famers’ and producers’ market at the Marktplatz (market square). Some places have markets every day and others twice a week, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
As the refrigerators in Europe are usually rather small in comparison to what we are used to in North America and Australia, you will have to do the grocery shopping more often and buy in smaller quantities.
The markets are perfect for that. You buy just what you need for the next few days, and so can be sure that the products are fresh. It also helps the local economy. So, it is a win-win situation.
Another important point: bring your own bags or your basket when you go shopping in Germany, especially at the markets.
Few stores will give you bags of any kind, and those who have plastic “throw-away” bags, such as the big grocery stores, sell them. On the other hand, you can buy a cute wicker basket, or a collapsible fabric basket that is made in many different colours with or without patterns. It is a must in Europe.
Also, as Germany is a leader in environmental issues, it is not too surprising to learn that some municipalities are also thinking to ban the cheap throw-away plastic bags altogether. So, a nice re-usable fabric or wicker basket will be very useful.
Shopping in Germany during the Christmas markets is an extraordinary experience; the ambience in these markets is really unknown in the English-speaking world. If you are looking to buy something typically German, this is your chance.
Germans love Christmas (“Weihnachten”) and they prepare for it weeks in advance.
And Christmas shopping in Germany is NOT spoiled with awful muzak of Christmas music being played repeatedly for three months in advance, as it is elsewhere. Actually, except in the markets, you rarely hear any Christmas music in stores. In the markets, if one hears it at all it is usually local Carollers singing together while sipping Glühwein (a kind of spicy, warm and sweet concoction made with red wine. I think it is an acquired taste).
The castles of Germany are probably “The attraction” of the country: Everyone wants to see the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein that Walt Disney copied, or the romantic ruins of Heidelberg castle described in the German song!
But there are many more castles in Germany; there are even a few “roads of the castles” (Burgenstrassen) that you can follow either by bike, by boat or by car. There is a well known route along the Mosel River, close by Trier, and another one called “Die Burgenstrasse” that follows part of the Rhine, the Neckar and the Danube, all the way from Mannheim to Prague!
Many of these castles were built or entirely renovated in the 18th and 19th centuries and so have the Romantic style of that period (such as Neuschwanstein!). But you will also find some originals that are much older, dating from the Middle Ages of the 11th to 14th centuries. Some are only ruins, a few remain inhabited by aristocratic families, while others still have been transformed into hotels and restaurants.
The four Castles of Neckarsteinach
Several good examples of these older castles are found in Neckarsteinach, about 15 km up-river from Heidelberg along the Neckar. There, you will find not one, not two, but four fortress-castles! All of these castles were built between 1100 and 1300 AD, and two of them are still inhabited by the Lord of Steinach’s descendants.
The oldest one in the village of Neckarsteinach is probably the “Hinterburg” (translated as: the Castle Behind), built around 1100 AD. This castle, or fortress built on a “mote”, saw many modifications to its original plan throughout the years. It ended up with 3 concentric curtain walls, as well as the castle building itself.
The second castle built in Neckarsteinach, after Hinterburg, is one of the two presently inhabited castles and is called “Mittelburg” (Castle in the Middle), an apt name as it is situated between the Hinterburg and the other inhabited castle named “Vorburg” (Front Castle).
Then there is “Schadeck”, also known as the “Schwalbennest”, meaning the swallow’s nest, because of its location high on the hills overlooking the valley and the village below. This castle is more recent, dated 1230.
What is so interesting about these castles of Germany, apart from the fact that there are four of them within less than a kilometer of each other, is that at least two of them were built by Bligger II. Who’s that, you ask? It is believed that Bligger II wrote the well known German classic “Nibelungenliedes,” used by Tolkien and countless other authors in their own stories. Hitler was also a fan of these songs, extolling the exploits of a true German Hero.
Other castles of Germany that come to mind are Schwetzingen, for its magnificent gardens mainly, the “Kurfürstliches Schloss” of Trier, one of the most beautiful rococo style castles in the world, Bürg Hornberg along the Neckar, Hirschhorn Castle-Hotel also up river from Heidelberg and where you can stay for a few days, Marburg castle, Schwerin castle, the imposing Eltz burg overlooking the Mosel and many many more!
German Food might not be as well known as the French or the Italian, but it can be just as wonderful!
I will always remember the first Hungarian Goulash I had in the castle of the small village of Hirschhorn. It was simply deeelicious! The sauce was exquisite and the meat was so tender that a fork was all I needed to cut it!
Since then, we tried all kinds of German food from all over Germany. One of them, the Schnitzels, can be found just about everywhere and each region has its own way to prepare it; turkey (Pute), veal (the original Wienne Schnitzel), chicken (Hühn), pork (Schwein), even beef (Rind-), with cheese (Käse) or not, but always good and always serve with a good helping of Pommes (French fries).
But German food is not only about Schnitzels: we often have excellent fresh fish (the trout is usually very nice and just cook to perfection), and the meat in restaurant is almost always of better quality than what we can find on the “regular” market.
Eating at home!
On the other hand, you don’t have to eat outside to enjoy nice German food: most villages and cities have markets at least once, often twice, a week and the quality and variety of the produces are fantastic!
The veggies are often locals, while the cheese are from all over Europe (we recommend the sheep cheese (Schafkäse) from Austria!). You will also find the flowers from Holland and the fruits of Portugal, Spain, Italy, etc. And contrary to what most people think, the prices are not outrageous.
Actually, for similar quality they compare advantageously to what we would pay back home in North America. And frankly, they just taste better.
If you would like to know a bit more about what we are eating in Germany, we suggest A year in Germany . An eBook full of discoveries and some funny culinary adventures (the Christmas geese come to mind…)! A year in Germany, a humoristic account of our life in a new country!
If you want to have a true German food experience, you must try a Biergarten. They are everywhere and the food, without being too extravagant, is usually good, plentiful and satisfactory. And of course, the beer is cheap and delicious! Particularly the Dunklesbier.
We particularly like one of them, the Schwanen-Garten, which is about 10-15 minutes away from home by bike along the Neckar river. This Biergarten in Neckarsteinach is overlooking the river and it is shaded by nice huge Linden trees. It must be one of the nicest spot in the whole of Germany!
Other interesting places to eat authentic German food are the Weinstube and the Brauhaus. They are more or less the German equivalent of British pubs. And kids are usually welcome. In fact, teenagers 16 years old and older can drink beer in restaurants and pubs in Germany but have to wait until 18 to drink anything with more alcohol in it.
We have discovered that for some reason, the more south you go in Germany, the better the German food!
One of the best meal we ever had, including all the countries we visited, was in Passau, a little city at the German-Austrian border from which many cruise-boats leave for a visit on the Danube towards Budapest and further east.
The restaurant in question has a beautiful terrace at the back, shaded with very old vines and with a fish tank to keep the fish alive until it is time to serve them! No wonder the fish were, well, wonderful! From the entree to the dessert, everything was delicious. And in Germany, the coffee is always good too! None of that whitewash stuff that is too often serve even in the best of North American restaurants!
Some local Specialties
The Ungarische Goulasch is well known in many areas of Germany where deer (or venison) are served in restaurants. It is a bit like a very thick soup or a stew. There are usually a few vegetables in it, but it is mainly meat served in a delicious creamy peppery sauce.
The best ones are in the area of Heidelberg (try small restaurants outside of the big cities: cheaper and more authentic German cuisine). It is a specialty in Hirschhorn, as the name of the place indicates: it means deer antlers!
The best known German food specialty has to be the Schnitzels and in our area (the Neckar Valley) the make very nice ones with Puten (turkeys) and with Schwein (pork) . But if it is the authentic thing you want, the Wienne schnitzel made with veal, you might have to go a bit more south, towards, well, Wienn (Vienna). Although, you will still find some perfectly acceptable in other cities.
Speaking of Schwein (pork), you will find it on menus just about everywhere. And the butchers are full of it: sausages and saucissons of all kinds and shapes and sizes, some schnitzels already prepared, other meals and cuts ready to be cooked. In fact, it is a bit overwhelming all this pork.
And so, it is nice to see other meats, such as rabbits, goose and chicken on display once in a while.
But to get more variety of meats, we have taken the habit of going directly to the producers at the market once a week. It is where we will buy our fish too.
The Rouladen is also a well known meal in many Weinstube: it is simply put a roll of beef with bacon and pickled gherkins in it cook with some veggies. It is quite good and not too pricey. You can of course make it yourself at home, but finding good tender cut of beef is not that easy, even at the markets. And on top of it, beef is rather expensive. We think that the producers reserve their best animals for the restaurants.
For Christmas and for the St-Martin, most German families serve a stuffed goose for diner (for a funny account of OUR Christmas diner and the geese, we suggest A year in Germany ). And so, that is what we do too! We go to the local butcher who buy them from a local farmer specialized in poultry. We have to order it in advance but they are truly exquisite birds.
The Flammekueche, a kind of very thin pizza made with a bread dough, onions and other ingredients, is a specialty of Strasbourg and the Alsace. It is quite good when well made.
Then there are all the seasonal food that come only once a year, such as the Pfifferling (chanterelle mushroom) stews and soups and salads in late Summer to early Fall, the Erdbeere (strawberry) and Himbeere (Raspberry) cheesecake and Eis (ice cream) in June-July, the onion pies for the Christmas markets, the Weiss Spargel (the white asparagus) in the Spring,etc.
Each region has its own specialties, don’t be shy to try them: you might discover your next “best meal” ever!
This is a list about some interesting German Fun Facts that we have noticed during our travels throughout Germany. Some of these German Fun Facts might sound weird to outsiders, but we swear it is the truth and nothing but the truth.
By the way, have you ever wonder what it’s like to live in Germany? In a new country? If so, go to our NEW eBook “A year in Germany”. It is a travelog that I kept during our fist year in this wonderful country. It is full of the adventures and thoughts that we had when we first arrived! “A year in Germany” , NEW travelog eBook, for fun and discovery!
Back to the facts: We’ll start with the basics:
There are over 82 million persons living in Germany. And that, for a land about the size of Montana, U.S.A.(Germany is 357,021 km2, slightly less than Montana). Making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Even though there are that many people living in Germany, the Germans have succeeded in keeping almost 1/3 (31%) of the country covered with forests and woodlands. And, as you rarely see buildings on top of the mountains, you have the feeling of being surrounded by green vegetation and of wilderness close by. Which makes Germany one of the most beautiful countries in Europe.
Really Funny German Fun Facts:
Quark in Germany does not refer to a concept in quantum physic (at least, not only to that) but to a sort of cheese. It is made usually from skim milk and has the consistency of very thick yoghurt. It is in fact made from non-processed cheese or curd. It does not taste much and is used to make dessert such as cheesecakes.
The working week in Germany also includes Saturday! So, when looking at a schedule for the bus or the train and it is written “werktage” (work days), they mean Saturday too, even though most stores close at 1 pm on Saturday afternoon! The mail is also delivered on Saturday mornings.
Even though they have one of the best public transport systems in the world, a lot of Germans own a car. They love cars – just think of famous brands such as BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and the Autobahn where you can drive at 300 km per hour!
Still more German Fun Facts…
According to my Mann, only in Germany can you be almost hit by a supermodel riding a bike! Several times a day!
There are hundreds of castles in Germany! Some are still inhabited by aristocratic families, others have been transformed into hotels and restaurants, and still others are in ruins. All have their particular charm and they are “THE” Attraction in Germany!
German Fun Facts about food and drink:
You would have to try one kind of German bread per day for almost a whole year in order to be able to taste them all! There are over 300 different kinds of bread in Germany.
Germans really do love beer; they rank second in world-wide beer consumption per person after Ireland. Bier is officially considered a food in Bayern, where the normal size beer glass, the Mass is 1 liter.
Germany is the cheapest place in Europe to buy beer, but also the most difficult in which to make a choice – there are over 1,500 different brands and types of beer in this country! We recommend the dark beers – the “Dunklesbier”. Rich and creamy, it is the perfect cool drink after a walk or on a sunny terrasse with friends.
Germans like beer so much that they even have an expression with it: Das ist nicht mein Bier, meaning “That is none of my business!”
When answering the phone, Germans do not say Hi or Hello or Hallo, they first say their surname. At first it might take you by surprise, wondering if you have called the right place or whether you have a store or an agency at the other end of the line. After a year I still can not bring myself to do it.
Germans are very curious about who their potential employees are going to be: they want to see a photo on the CV and to know if you are married or not. Such thing would be considered a breach of privacy in other countries.
Schools are not all really full time in Germany as some of them finish at 1pm or thereabouts. So, the kids are sent home for the whole afternoon with homework to do, and as there are more and more families where both parents are working, it creates a bad situation. Kids are often left by themselves, or can be found on the streets because there are not enough after-school daycare spaces available and after school activities. There is a push to change this system and quite a few “Land” have changed it already.
There are more football (soccer for the North Americans) fan clubs in Germany than anywhere else in the world.
It is a German Fun Fact that Dogs are kings in Germany: they can go just about everywhere: first class restaurants, trains and buses, even clothing shops and bookstores. But NOT in a Metzgerei (butchers) and rarely in a Konditorei or a Bakerei. They even have their own pools.
The following are more true German Fun Facts. We swear it!
An un-furnished apartment or house in Germany means exactly that: there is NO furniture of any kind including kitchen cabinets, bedroom closets and light fixtures. Sometimes there is not even a toilet in the bathroom! For such an environmentally, recycling, re-using friendly country as Germany, this makes no sense at all.
At the end of the rental contract the renters have the very rare possibility of selling the cabinets and closets to the owner or to the next renters, or taking them with them or, as a lot of them do, throw them away!
So, when choosing a rental place make sure to ask what is included. You might end up having to pay during the first month: for 2-3 months of rentals, plus Kaution (security deposit), plus fridge, oven, cook top, kitchen cabinets, bathroom and bedroom closets, light fixtures etc. You will need a loan from your bank just to cover these costs!
And the only people that make money out of such a system are the cabinet makers and the companies such as IKEA. Maybe it is due to their lobbying.