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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Lüneburg Christmas Market in Pictures

Lüneburg street to Christmas market
The German boyfriend and I finally made it out to Lüneburg's Christmas Market today!

I really love German Christmas Markets. They are definitely my favorite part of spending the holidays in this country. So although we are leaving for Nuremberg tomorrow, where the biggest Christmas Market in all of Germany is, I still wanted to see Lüneburg's this season. 

So here is our little walk through Lüneburg's Christmas Market in pictures.

Lüneburg Christmas market stall

Lüneburg lebkuchen hearts

Lüneburg Christmas train ride

Schmalzkuchen at Lüneburg Christmas Market

Eating Schmalzkuchen at Lüneburg Christmas Market

Lüneburg Christmas Market

Merry Christmas!
Frohe Weihnachten!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our Christmas Decorations + Advent Calendar

It is almost Christmas here in Germany (and everywhere else, of course), so our apartment is decked out with all the decorations we've got. While I admit it's not much, I think it looks pretty nice. So I wanted to share some pictures of our Christmas decorations with you.

Christmas cards to Germany
Christmas cards from my family in the U.S. on a shelf with some candles above our dining room table.

Christmas stocking and poinsettia
Marco stocking, which I knitted for him last year, hung under the shelf, and a poinsettia on the table.

Christmas table decorations
A baby poinsettia and a candle holder wrapped in tree bark, which was Marco's Christmas gift this year from his professor. Inside I have a pine-scented candle to make up for the fact that our tree is fake, and it smells amazing. Also notice our festive place mats :)

Our first German Christmas Tree
And here is our baby Christmas tree! This year, we decided that instead of buying each other big presents for Christmas, we would just buy each other 24 tiny presents as a kind of advent calendar. In the picture, you can see that we each put our first 5 presents, all wrapped in newspaper, underneath the tree. Since then, we have continued to open one present each morning, which has been a lot of fun.

I hope you like our Christmas decorations. It isn't much, but we are happy with it :)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Key Considerations When Making a Move Overseas

Today, I bring you a guest post by Crown Locations. It is a helpful guide for figuring how what considerations need to be made before making the big move to a new country.

The planning and preparation involved with any move is paramount. Particularly so when managing an extended overseas adventure.

Make sure you mastermind the move to your dream destination, so that it no longer seems like difficult task.

Remember to Do Your Research
It’s crucial to settle on a single destination and to glean as much general knowledge about your chosen country as possible. From its customs and culture to expatriate opinions on lifestyle and standard of living, forewarn and forearm yourself with a wealth of knowledge.

Simply settling on a country won’t be sufficient. You need to decide upon the exact destination intended to be home.

Arrange Your Financial Affairs
From the cost of living to the practical costs involved with moving, you’ll need to make provision for the entire resettlement period and beyond. Considerations may include an emergency fund as well as financial planning for the future.

Listen to Your Loved Ones
From familial support to the needs of your nearest and dearest, it’s important to consider both the emotional and practical needs of your companions and those remaining in your home country. From school enrolment requirements to pet quarantine restrictions, make sure you manage your move positively and compassionately.

Guarantee Gainful Employment
It’s essential to be able to afford your new life abroad and earning a living is a key consideration. Some skills and qualifications are transferable, whereas others may require updating in order to be recognised in your new nation.

Whether relocating for the purposes of a new position or job hunting for a post in a foreign firm, relocation companies can help with the practical side of employment.

Research Red Tape
You must be in possession of the appropriate paperwork to be admitted by immigration officials. The visa application process can be painfully long for some countries so ensure your proposal for permanence meets with their requirements.

Specialists in this field can also offer useful help with the application form.

Hunt for a Home
Renting a property on a short-term basis is preferable to making a long-term commitment. Having somewhere to hang your hat upon arrival will lessen the upheaval and allow you the time to house hunt.

Purchasing a property can wait until you’re convinced that life overseas in your chosen community suits you. Securing tenants and hanging onto your home in the UK will provide the security of a fallback position should living overseas be short-lived.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Medieval Christmas Market in Lüneburg

Stalls at the Medieval Christmas Market in Lüneburg (Historischer Christmarkt Lüneburg)Known here in Lüneburg as the Historischer Christmarkt, this is a special Christmas market that takes place for just one weekend each year. Since neither the German boyfriend or I had ever been, we decided to stop by on Saturday evening.

Unlike a traditional German Christmas market, which has wooden huts draped in Christmas lights, the Medieval Christmas market attempts to remain authentic to the Renaissance style. This means no electric lights, traditional clothing, and handmade goods.

While this may sound sweet, we weren't really impressed. It was basically just a dark and dreary market with sparse points of candlelight.

There was one upside, however: the bratwurst cost one euro less than at the regular Christmas market in Lüneburg.

Eating a bratwurst at the Lüneburg Medieval Christmas market

I have attended Lüneburg's Renaissance festival in the summer, however, and it is a lot of fun. I just think that this style of market just isn't nearly as fun when mixed with the wet and cold Lüneburg weather.

What do you think: Do you like this Medieval style, or do you prefer the traditional German Christmas markets?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

On the night before December 6th, German children leave a shoe outside their door. In the night, Santa Claus comes and leaves treats in the shoes. I guess this is just his way to buy more time on Christmas Eve, since he has a whole country of children out of the way already.

So this year was my first time getting my shoe filled with candy from Saint Nikolaus! You can see that he really understands me and Marco's different tastes. My boot is on the left, filled with candy. Marco's shoe is on the right, filled with an assortment of salami.

Shoes filled with candy for Saint Nicholas Day in Germany

Another interesting part of this holiday is Knecht Ruprecht (basically Santa's evil counterpart). If children weren't good over the year, then he gives them coal in their shoes. According to Marco, small children also have to give up their pacifiers to Knecht Ruprecht, otherwise they don't get presents. Of course, every German I have talked to about these things have traditions and beliefs surrounding Santa and Knecht Ruprecht that are totally different, so this isn't true for all of Germany by any means.

First snow of the season in Germany on Saint Nikolaus Day

This year, however. Saint Nikolaus did bring another present for us in Northern Germany...

I woke up this morning to this beautiful scene outside the bedroom window, and it has continued to snow all day today.

But now I am curious, do you celebrate Saint Nikolaus day? I know there are many similar traditions in other countries as well. So, let me know!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany

This is my second year in Germany during Thanksgiving, and although nobody else here is celebrating it, I won't let that stop me. I already wrote a short guide on Expat Focus about how to celebrate Thanksgiving abroad, which included a little bit about what I would be doing this year.

Basically, I just tried my hardest to make a few of the Thanksgiving staples. These were most of the ingredients for my German Thanksgiving meal. I started cooking around 3 p.m., and we ate around 6:30 p.m. Here are each of the dishes I made:

Green Bean Casserole

For this, I just searched All Recipes (my favorite website to find recipes) for a green bean casserole and picked the best rated, which was this one for Grandma's Green Bean Casserole. We chose to use crispy fried onions on top, though. It was incredibly delicious, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Pumpkin Cream Soup

This was on sale at Lidl (a German grocery store) a couple weeks ago, since it is from their Halloween line of foods. We picked it up and figured it would be a nice and easy addition to our Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, it was disgusting. I spit my food out from laughing so hard when Marco made this comment, though:

Me: This soup has a really funny taste. I tried putting pepper in it to make it a little better.
Marco: Yeah... I can still taste the fun.

Yam and Peach Bake

This is a dish that my mother always made for Thanksgiving every year. It is my absolute favorite Thanksgiving dish, so I tried my best to recreate it this year. I found a recipe similar to my mothers online, which you can see here. The problem is that we had to substitute regular sugar for brown sugar (there is no brown sugar in Germany). This substitution did not work very well, and it didn't taste anything like my mother makes. We also chose to skip the marshmallow topping, but it was alright in the end.

Pumpkin Bread (Kürbisstuten)

We bought this bread at the bakery on Thanksgiving morning. The baker told me this week is actually the last week they will be making it until next Fall, so I lucked out. I really didn't know what to expect in terms of taste, but it is amazing. I've already eaten about half of the loaf, and I am sure the rest will be gone by the end of the day.

Roasted Chicken(s)

Since Marco's favorite food is chicken skin (weird, I know), we decided to roast two chickens. I seasoned them with salt, pepper, and rosemary. I also filled the insides with about 4 tablespoons of butter and half an onion. They turned out great. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture before Marco ripped most of the skin off, but here they are before they went in the oven, and some plated slices.

What was your favorite dish this Thanksgiving? Mine was definitely the green bean casserole. But let me know what you ate this year!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

German Apartment Tour: Living Room

Finally, here is a tour of our new living room!

One half of the living room is used as a dining room. On the left we have a cabinet with wine glasses, beer glasses, and shot glasses. Next to that is our dining room table. There are only two chairs at the table now, since it is just me and Marco eating there each day, but we do have two other chairs.

We also hung a shelf above the table, where we keep a bottle of wine from 1983 that Marco's father gave to him, some LED candles, and an orchid (that Marco killed, but claims he will bring back to life). We are actually pretty proud of this wall, as it is by far the most decorated of the entire apartment so far.

On the south wall is the door to our balcony. The balcony itself is quite small, but it is nice to have. The door and window also let in a lot of light, which is especially great during these cold months. It actually keeps our apartment so warm, that we still haven't turned on the heating!

Next to the window is the most important corner in the apartment (according to Marco). This is where we have our brand new TV. Marco actually wouldn't let me take pictures of the living room until he bought a TV, because he said it looked too naked without it.

And across from the TV, of course, is our couch. Don't worry, we plan on getting some artwork to hang over it soon. I know our apartment seems like a whole lot of big white walls right now...

Anyways, hope you like it!

Friday, November 22, 2013

German Apartment Tour: Closet

I know some of you saw my German bedroom tour and were thinking, "Where is the closet?"

Well, Germans do not build closets into bedrooms. Instead, they have to buy huge armoires for their clothes. The issue with this is that it takes up a lot of space.

Luckily, our apartment has a storage room (Abstellraum). The tenants of the apartment before us had used it as a walk-in closet, and we thought this was a great idea. The door into this room is directly next to our bedroom door as well.

Our goal was to buy all the shelving and supplies for the closet for under 100 Euro. First we bought the three Expedit shelves from Ikea for 20 Euro each. Then we went to a home improvement store, where we bought the wood rod and hardware to hang it for about 15 Euro. So we were able to do it all for only about 75 Euro.

The previous tenants also left us some upper shelves, which was nice. We use them to store the toilet paper, paper towels, and some boxes filled with extra light bulbs and such.

My father laughed when I showed him how we ended up hanging the rod. Since the hardware store we went to is going out of business, it was already half empty. So after finding the wooden rod, we asked some of the employees how we could hang it in a closet. Unfortunately, there was no proper hanging hardware left, and the employees had no ideas. So Marco's father found these metal pieces, and we made it work. My dad told me later that they are actually meant for joists, but whatever...

So that is our closet! I am happy to not have to have one of the typical German closets in our bedroom. It is much nicer to have a proper walk-in closet.

Hope you liked it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

German Apartment Tour: Kitchen

Unlike many German apartments, our kitchen is actually attached to our living room/dining room. This is one of the top reasons I like this apartment, as the other ones we looked at had the kitchen as a separate room down the hall. Our kitchen does have a door on it, but we removed it. So this is the entrance from the living room to the kitchen.

Our apartment's little German kitchen

It is a pretty small kitchen, but it's alright for just two people. Marco and I can both cook in here together without bumping into each other too much.

When you look to the right, here is what you see. We have an electric oven and stove, which is the norm in Germany. You can also see our toaster and electric kettle in the corner. We have these silly open shelves too, and we can't decide what to put in them. So for now there is just tupperware on the top shelf and some vegetables on the bottom. And, of course, everything is white like the rest of our rooms... I know.

Our kitchen in Germany

When you look to the left, there is our sink.
No, we don't have a dish washer :(

White German kitchen

And then we have a small window, an alcohol shelf (not that we have much), a table for extra counter space, a calendar, and a glass writing board.

German kitchen window

"But wait," my American friends are thinking, "where is the refrigerator?!"

I know, that's what I thought too. The Germans really like to hide their refrigerators by facing them to match the cabinetry. Also, our fridge is typical German size (aka tiny). Marco asked me recently if I ever had a small fridge like this where the freezer is inside, and I replied, "Yes, in my college dorm room Freshman year."

Small German refrigerator with cabinet front

So that is our kitchen. Hope you like it!

Friday, November 15, 2013

German Apartment Tour: Bedroom

Welcome to the bedroom tour of our new apartment in Germany!

Floor-to-ceiling German window in our bedroom

When you walk into our bedroom, the first thing you see is the floor-to-ceiling window. Our view is actually pretty nice. You can see another building on the left, but straight ahead there are just trees. Also, since windows open like doors in Germany, you can see that there are bars across the bottom half of the window so we can't fall out.

Marco was worried that we wouldn't find curtains that could block out all of the sunlight, but these dark blue polyester curtains we got at Ikea actually do the job very well.

Ikea Borgsjö desk in German apartment

When you look to the left, you see our corner desk from Ikea (Borgsjö). I am pretty proud of this, because I built the whole thing myself :) The desk works out very well, though, because Marco can keep his electronics and binders on the right side, and I keep mine on the left.

Our queen size bed in Germany

Next comes the bed. We actually bought this bed off of the guy that lived in the apartment before us. Funny thing is, he actually imported it from the U.S. after working there, so it is a queen size. Queen size beds measure 150 cm, which is between the two standard sizes of German beds (140 and 160 cm). After having a 140 cm mattress before, though, Marco and I are liking our extra 10 cm.

Expedit shelves in German apartment

For some extra storage, we also put in two Ikea Expedit shelves. These are across from the end of the bed. Marco and I keep our medical supplies and other miscellaneous stuff in these boxes. I also got two drawers, which is where I keep my makeup, nail polish, and jewelry. 

You can also see we hung a small shelf, which is where we put our perfume and cologne. This shelf actually came with the bathroom furniture, but we liked it better in here.

My German make-up and jewelry table made form Expedit shelves from Ikea

Hope you like it!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

German Apartment Tour: Bathroom

Today we journey into the bathroom, which is the door on the right, with the vents on the top and bottom.

The good thing about German bathrooms, is that they tend to be larger than their American counterparts. If I compare our bathroom now to the one I had in my one bedroom apartment in Chicago, it is easily double the size.

The bad part is that, like almost all rooms in German apartments, they come completely unfurnished. All that's there was a shower, toilet, and sink with exposed plumbing.

So we had to purchase our bathroom furniture on our own. You can see we bought this 3-piece set, which ended up being pretty decent. They hold all of our stuff, which is good since Marco and I really don't like when the shelf below the mirror is full of toiletries. Unfortunately, we ended up with white because buying the furniture in any other color cost at least double what white cost. Oh well...

Also, the connection for the washing machine is in our bathroom. I know this sounds weird to many Americans, but in German apartments, it is common to see washing machines in people's bathrooms or kitchens. Marco had the washing machine in his old apartment in the kitchen, but this meant losing a lower cabinet. So if you have the space, I definitely think it makes a lot more sense in the bathroom.

Our shower is pretty typical American style, with a shower/tub and shower curtain. Unlike most American showers, however, this does have a removable shower head. So you can keep it mounted on the wall, like in the picture, or you can hold it in your hand. Since I am used to shower heads that are fixed on the wall, I never touch it and just leave it like you see in the picture. Marco, on the other hand, told me he never puts it on the wall, but rather showers the entire time with it in his hand. To each his own.

Monday, November 11, 2013

German Apartment Tour: Entrance

Marco and I moved into a new apartment in Germany on November 1st. After building a lot of Ikea furniture, unpacking some boxes, and making it feel a little more like home, we are ready to share it with you!

Over the next two weeks, I will be giving a room by room tour of our new apartment. We will begin with the entrance. On the right, you can see the door to our apartment. In typical German fashion, when you walk through this door, this is what you see...

When you look left:

When you look right:

What the heck is going on here? Where do all of these doors go to?

Personally, I am not a huge fan of this typical German floor plan. Unfortunately, this is how every single apartment I have ever visited in Germany is set up. But no big deal, you can just leave all the doors open, right? Not when you're living with a German...

Luckily, our kitchen is attached to the living room/dining room (a rarity in Germany). Many other apartments we looked at had the kitchen down the hallway, and each of these rooms had doors on them. I asked Marco what the deal is with all the doors, and the answer comes back to German practicality.

Basically, you don't spend time in a hallway, so why waste energy heating it? Instead, you have a door on every room, and you only heat the room that you are spending time in. So in the night, you heat your bedroom, and during the day, you heat your living room.

I suppose the reasoning makes sense.... but I still don't like it. Do you?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Wear a Dirndl

The Dirndl is the traditional Bavarian dress that originated in the 19th century. If you are already familiar with Lederhosen, then you can think of the Dirndl as the female counterpart. Nowadays, they are typically only seen at Oktoberfest celebrations each year, although you can buy them year-round throughout Bavaria.

my first German Dirndl dress

Marco's father recently bought me a Dirndl as an early Christmas present when we were visiting him and his girlfriend in Bavaria. I was so excited going to the dress store and picking one out. Although, as soon as I got in the dressing room, I realized I had no idea how to put it on. His girlfriend had to actually help me get into it, and the store manager helped tie me up. After this experience, I feel that I am pretty fluent in how to wear a Dirndl, so I thought I would share what I learned with you.

1. Push Up the Girls

white push-up bra to wear under a dirndl

As we were leaving the dress store, Marco and his father's girlfriend started telling me that I need a new bra. What? Isn't this a weird thing to talk about? I guess not, because next thing I knew, we were driving to another clothing store so that I could get a white push-up bra. You see, when wearing a Drindl, your boobs need to "spill out of the dress" as they so eloquently put it. I have never actually owned a push-up bra, so this does make me mildly uncomfortable.

2. Put on the Blouse

Before going shopping that day, I never realized that women are wearing these funny cropped blouses underneath their Dirndl dress. You can see that the center is adjustable and can be pulled tighter or looser depending on how low you want the neckline to be. There are several different styles of these blouses, many that either go off the shoulder or have a cut-out that leave the shoulder bare. When I picked out this one, the woman at the store actually commented that this style makes me look prude. Oh well...

3. Slip Into the Dress

how to wear a German Dirndl

Squeeze into the dress would probably be a more appropriate title for this step. My dress is plaid, which is a very traditional print for a Dirndl. Nowadays there is a wide variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns, however. The dress zips up the back and then laces in the front. This is where it may start to get a little difficult to breathe, depending on how tight you want it, and the boobs get pushed up even more.

4. Tie on the Apron
How to tie a Drindl apron

To tie on the apron, you typically wrap the long ties around your back and then make a bow on the front. When tying your Dirndl for Oktoberfest, however, you have to make sure to tie this bow on the correct side. The left side means that you are single and ready to mingle. Tying it on the right, like in my picture, means that you are taken. This is my favorite part of my Dirndl. I love the shiny green fabric and the way the tie is double-sided. So I can choose to make my bow either plaid or green. 

5. Accessorize

Dirndl purse embroidered with Spatzl and an Edelweiss

The last step is to accessorize your Dirndl. Small suede purses are also popular. You can see that I have one that is embroidered with "Spatzl," which is a term of endearment like "darling," but translates to "little sparrow." Also, a necklace with a large charm (Kette), is a must. On the right I am wearing a large metal heart charm with an Edelweiss on it.  Most women also wear black leather shoes with a thick heel and braid their hair.

Wearing pigtail braids with my Dirndl

I hope you enjoyed my guide on how to wear a Dirndl. Unfortunately I didn't get to wear mine to an Oktoberfest this year, but hopefully I will in 2014!

Have you ever worn a Dirndl or Lederhosen?
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