Exploring your new city

Hamburg

This is another guest post by Megan, who recently moved from the US to Hamburg, Germany. 

All I wanted to do once I arrived in Hamburg was explore. I soon found, however, that exploring can be expensive, tiring, and at times overwhelming. There are a few ways to circumvent these problems of exploration, namely: a bus pass, help from locals, and bringing a book along with you.

Once you get to your new city, get a bus or train pass pass. Everyone will tell you that bus passes end up saving you money, and they’re right. Bus passes are fantastically convenient, and the little laminated card can make you feel that much more official in your new home. Be sure to get the best deal on your pass, though. If you are enrolled (even as a guest student) at a local university, you should get the pass for free. Even if you aren’t enrolled at a university you can still get a student price with your old high school or college I.D. Some Au Pair families will buy you your pass so you can take the kids on the subway, and you can of course use it in your free time as well.

Remember that locals are your greatest resource when exploring. Of course the internet is good, too. You can Google “Best places in Hamburg,” or read the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Honolulu (and you totally should!), but a local is almost always the best resource. Not only do you hear what actual citizens enjoy about their city, but you also hear their critiques about these places. The personal interaction of talking with locals about their city also adds more dimensions to exploring than an internet article ever could. And you  have the added benefits of practicing your new language, asking questions, and making new friends.

Exploring and reading are rarely thought of as complementary activities, but the two do go hand in hand. If you’re on a long train ride, reading is like a little mental adventure. Even better, reading a book that takes place in your city (or new language) is like a fictional accompaniment to your real adventure! Right now, for example, I’m reading Königskinder, a story which takes place in my new city, Hamburg. The book was a bestseller here in Germany, so I feel like I’m sort of joining a massive, underground German book club. Not only am I learning about Hamburg, practicing German, and being entertained, but I’m also partaking in contemporary German culture! Find a book that takes place in your new country, or is a bestseller in your country and bring it with you on your adventures. Reading gives you a reason to sit in the park for hours, take a long bus ride, or stop at a café. When you’re finished with the book, it sort of serves as a souvenir from that time you went to the Eiffel Tower or visited Central Park.

There you have it! A few (hopefully) useful tips to help you get to know your new home. We’d like to hear from you too … what do you do to find out about your new city or town? What have you found is the best way to learn how to get around? Please share any tips or ideas in the comments below!

Au Pairs in Germany – Germans do Christmas well

(photo by dreamstime)

Anyone who lives (or has lived) in Germany knows that Germans are pros at celebrating the Christmas season. I discovered this truth when I first traveled to Berlin as a teenager, and again when I worked as an au pair in south Germany. Currently, I am experiencing another lovely (albeit cold!) Christmas season in Germany with my husband and three children, and it is as gorgeous now as it ever has been.

Au pairs – especially those in countries with very traditional holiday celebrations – are lucky in that they get to experience the wonders of the holidays in a whole new way. For those working in Germany as au pairs, this probably includes the Adventszeit, or the weekly count down to Christmas, which includes lighting a candle on the advent wreath each Sunday leading up to Christmas. Each candle represents something relating to the coming of Jesus’ birth, including hope, preparation, joy, and love (some times there is even a fifth candle, which represents Christ himself). I love that although religion and faith do not tend to play a huge part of modern Germany, the rich church history of the country still influences people in a good way.

St. Nikolaus Tag is another part of the German Christmas tradition that au pairs and other foreigners in Germany get to enjoy. The tradition is that on the morning of December 6, children who have behaved will awake to find their shoes, which are filled with candy, fruits, and nuts. Au pairs who have thoughtful host parents will also wake up to either a small gift or, if they are lucky, some delicious German chocolate!

Christmas markets are another one of the benefits of living in Germany. Even though it is cold, it is more than worth bearing the elements to experience what I consider the best part of Christmas in Germany. The Christmas markets are collections of vendors with stands made out of tiny wooden houses. You can buy anything from roasted, sugared almonds, to hats and gloves, Christmas decorations, and more. And of course – as everyone in Germany knows – no visit to a Christmas market is complete without at least one glass of German spiced wine!

If you are currently an au pair in Germany, consider yourself lucky and enjoy the rest of the season! But where ever it is you find yourself this season, enjoy the winter holidays and make the most of the season!