Wie man Deutscher wird – How To Be German

When we were in Germany we picked up a hilarious book called “How to be German in 50 Easy Steps” by Adam Fletcher. We had great laughs reading it. With his dry British humour this Brit living in Germany has pinpointed many idiosyncrasies of Germans from drinking “Apfelschorle” to the word “Tschüss”.

Travelling with my Canadian partner and my Canadianized children, different German habits always stand out to me when they express their surprise or dismay:

STEP #1 of How to Be German

Sleep in a Bed with Two Mattresses


Each hotel or family home we stayed in for the night prompted my Canadian husband to sigh with dismay. He still hopes for a miracle. Part of him can just not believe that there are no single mattresses for double beds. Couples sleep in a double bed made up of two single mattresses and two single duvets; in fact, my German relatives shake their heads at how we North American’s can possibly sleep on the same mattress and share only one duvet. Their night sleep is holy and being woken up by your partner’s movements does not awake romantic feelings in them. You certainly have to admit that what the double mattresses lacks “in nocturnal romance, it more than makes up for practicality, the most prized of German possessions.” (Adam Fletcher)

STEP # 2

The Importance of Breakfast

Deutsches Fruehstueck

No stores are open on Sundays with the exception of bakeries! Germans feel very strongly that it wouldn’t be fair for anybody to work on Sundays, yet their desire for fresh bread outweighs that social concern. Every bakery is open for a few hours on Sunday mornings so one family member can run out to buy a variety of fresh Brötchen (rolls) for breakfast.

“German breakfasts are not meals but elaborate feasts. If it’s a weekend, every square inch of the table will be smothered in an assortment of meats, cheeses, fruits, jams, spreads and other condiments. It’ll look like someone broke in and, while hunting for valuables, just tipped the content of all cupboards onto the table.” (Adam Fletcher)

Eszet Schnitten

One of my favourite childhood memories is Eszet Schnitten. My kids stare at me with open mouths when they see me place one of the thin chocolate slices on my buttered Brötchen and take a bite of it as if I was catapulted back in time to carefree breakfasts as a child. “Really, mom? Chocolate on bread?” Yes, really, dear children. Nothing could taste better and chocolate for breakfast is just like eating Nutella—which by the way was created in the 1940s by Pietro Ferrero, the Italian pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company—and also not less healthy than sugar dripping donuts from Tim Hortons.

STEP # 3

Planning, Preparation and Process


When I read the chapter about the three P’s to my husband, he laughed so loud I though he might not recover. Apparently, the German love of planning, preparation and process explains everything for him, including why we have discussions that go like this “Let’s make a plan for…” with him replying either “What is there to plan?” or “It is way too early to plan for that!” To my slight distress we constantly seem to be having people over without plan and booking last minute vacations. And then there is the stressful habit of buying Christmas presents only two days prior to the festivities! I start putting away things for Christmas in May. By the end of November, I am done with family gifts. According to my husband, that resembles witchcraft and he continue to run out to the mall on the evening of the 23rd.

“Just because it is called spontaneity, doesn’t mean it can’t be scheduled. There’s a time and place for fun, and it’s to be pre-decided and marked in the calendar. All else is frivolous chaos. So sit down now and make a plan for the day, then the week, then the month. Then book your holiday until 2017. To make it easier, just go to the same place. How about Mallora? All the other Germans go there. Must be something to it.” (Adam Fletcher)

STEP # 9 & 10

Drink Apfelsaftschorle and Spezi


“Firstly, you must know, Germans fear any beverage that doesn’t fizz. It brings them out in a cold sweat. It’s a great comedic joy to watch tourists and foreigners in Germany buying water labelled ‘classic’, thinking that since ‘classic’ water—the kind that has fallen from the sky since the dawn of time—has always been still, uncarbonated water, it must be the same here, right? No! Millions of years of water history have been conveniently forgotten. ‘Classic’ means carbonated, of course. (…) Related to this is Apfelsaftschorle. You know the scene in movies when people go to therapy and then the therapist asks them to create a happy place? (…) For Germans that place is a lake of Apfelsaftschorle” (Adam Fletcher)

Germans like to drink fizzy water. Germans like their Apfelsaft (aka apple juice) and one day somebody came up with the idea of mixing them both. Apfelschorle or Apfelsaftschorle consists of 3 parts carbonated mineral water and 1 part apple juice. “Spritzer” or “Weinschorle” is wine mixed with carbonated water. Germans love mixing drinks. They even mixed Coke and Fanta and call it Spezi. You are doubtful? Unless you have tried Apfelschorle you cannot say you know what it is like to be German.

STEP # 11-14

Eat German Food

My husband’s eyes became as big as saucers each time we passed a butcher’s or a meat counter in a supermarket. There is German Wurst. And then there is other Wurst. And then there is more Wurst. “Being vegetarian here is probably about as much fun as being blind at the zoo.” (Adam Fletcher)

An oddity is Spargel (asparagus), not the green Spargel we usually get here but white Spargel, served with ham (there is the Wurst again) and a creamy sauce Hollondaise. “The only notable time of the year is Spargel-Saison, where the country goes gaga as the almighty Spargel is waved around everywhere, like a sort of culinary magic wand.” (Adam Fletcher)

What Spargel lacks in taste and imagination the German potato, which comes in many different dishes, makes up for. Wiener Schnitzel tastes best with Bratkartoffeln and Sauerkraut.

Schnitzel & Bratkartoffeln 2

When we visited family, my sister cooked “Kartoffelauflauf” (potato gratin with no less than 1000 millilitres of real cream for the seven of us) on the first night, Kartoffelpuffer (potato latkes) on the second and Kroketten (potato croquettes made from mashed potatoes and fried on the outside) on the third night.

When we were shopping in the city we had “Pommes with Mayo” (french fries with mayonnaise, which by the way tastes very different from our mayonnaise) and “Pommes rot-weiß” (French fries with mayonnaise and ketchup).

Kartoffelsalat 1

And the only appropriate answer to “Ihr seid zum Grillen eingeladen’ (“You are invited to a BBQ”) is “We will make a Kartoffelsalat”, a real German one of course.

The one thing that cannot be forgotten, just like German bread, is the amazing German Kuchen. When you are invited for German “Kaffee und Kuchen”, you are in for a treat. The hostess might even have baked the cake herself. If not, she has picked a variety of cakes at the bakery, one more delicious than the next. If only it wasn’t for all the wasps as you are sitting outside in the backyard drinking good strong coffee and having a piece of Pflaumenkuchen (plum cake), Erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake), both with lots of whipped cream, of course, or Sahneschnitte (a creamy roll).

STEP # 50


Greetings are different in different parts of Germany. You can say “Guten Tag” or plainly “Hallo” in most parts of Germany. When you get to the South you will hear the more Catholic greeting “Grüß Gott”. And instead of “auf wiedersehen” the South Germans will say “auf wiederschauen”.

However, one word seems to spread more and more all over Germany like a virus. It’s “Tschüss” which will vary from stretching it all the way out to singing a “Tschüüüüüüüss”, or even the more familiar “Tschüüüüssi”, or the more and more common “Tschau tschau”. It seems a short “Tschüss” or one single “Tschau” is not enough anymore.

So let me end my blog with the von Trapp family: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, adieu… and tschüss, tschau, tschau!

If you are interested in the other steps of “Wie man Deutscher wird” (How To Be German), check out Adam Fletcher’s bilingual book.

FOR GERMAN LESSONS contact Claudia Angelika Baum, 905-286-9466



Typisch Deutsch – Typical German

We land in Germany at 6:06 a.m. in the rain. “Typisch deutsches Wetter!” (typical German fall weather), I am thinking. What else is typical German, I wonder. Travelling with my non-European partner, I am looking at Germany through his eyes.

The first confusion arises for him when we enter the airport restaurant to have breakfast. Nobody waits to be seated in Germany. Customers walk straight in and choose their own seats.

We then pick up our rental car. Standing in line waiting our turn, we hear the interactions with other customers. My partner is appalled at the lack of customer service. The tone is unfriendly, bordering on what North Americans perceive as rude. The customer agents behind the counter are impatient and confrontational. This is bad customer service, yes, but also a bit of “culture clash” and a different perception of what an adequate way of communicating is. The staff is not educated or trained enough to go beyond translating their German almost word for word into English. Their mannerism and idioms are different. They are not able to soften the tone or adapt their manner of speaking—which is very direct. When the lady behind the counter discovers she can speak German with me, I would still call her anything but friendly but what is rude in English sounds different in German.


My partner can’t wait to drive on the German Autobahn after having heard all the tales of no speed limits and being able to cruise along at 200 km/h. The reality looks a bit different: Lots of constructions sites or areas on the highway where speed limits do exist. Sometimes the limit is 130km/h, other times 100km/h, or even 80km/h. When we are able to go 200km/h though, the high speed is barely noticeable. The highway and the cars are built for going fast. The road is smooth and the car easily glides along. If you are on the third lane, the other drivers get out of the way for faster cars. My Canadian is pleased. Does this make up for the personal rudeness in the interactions, I wonder? On the Autobahn, my partner also notices how everything is labelled very clearly and the exits are counted down in 100 meter increments. “Why don’t we do that in Canada?” he asks.

200km landscape

We stop at an en-route rest stop to have a coffee. He takes off into the direction of the restrooms to come back slightly confused. “Do you have 70 cents for me? It seems I have to pay to go to the restroom.” Yes, he does. Collecting money assures that the public washrooms are clean. If one buys something at the rest stop store, part of the amount (50 cents) can be applied to the purchase.


We leave the highway and drive into the first city. There are bike paths and bikers everywhere and often the bikes have a lane of their own on the street. You better pay extra attention, especially when turning. “Why is their light only on when they are riding the bike?” asks the Canadian puzzled. “Because the bike lamp does not have a battery but a dynamo. This dynamo clicks onto the wheel and ergo only works when the wheels are turning.” He also notices that the traffic lights are different. They are not across the intersection but on your own side of the intersection, so somewhat harder to see. And then he points something out I hadn’t thought of in a long time. In Canada, the traffic light goes from red to green. In Germany it goes from red, to both red and yellow, and only then to green. “Why?” he muses again. “One does not need a warning that the light is about to turn green, does one?”

We arrive at the apartment we are renting and he comments “Wow, German locksmiths must make a fortune!” Why? Because German doors lock when you pull them closed. If you leave the house without your key, you have locked yourself out. Next he looks at the bed with horror. “How are we supposed to sleep in that?” It has two mattresses with a crack in between! “Yes, my love, German beds have two separate mattresses and two separate covers”. He is bewildered that there are no closets in Germany, but admires the beautiful wardrobe we get to use instead. Then he visits the bathroom. Confusion hits again until he has figured out how to flush the toilet. Instead of having a water tank with a lever, modern German plumbing is behind the tiled wall and all you will find is a small button on the wall.

Then we are ready to go for our first walk through the city. We are soon walking through one of many pedestrian districts, often times covered with cobble stones. Lots of people are walking or riding their bikes. Many pedestrians are smoking. Even bicyclists are riding their metal horses one handed while holding a burning cigarette. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if the rain stopped and we could sit in one of those many outdoor cafes or pubs?” “Yes, honey, it would. However, there again you will find people smoking at the tables next to you while you eat or want to enjoy your coffee!”

outdoor pub

Only recently has Germany changed the laws about smoking inside. What used to be normal when I grew up here, smoking inside all restaurants and pubs, is prohibited now. By the end of the vacation, we have decided that 75% of Germans must be smokers as one can’t walk along the street without breathing in second hand smoke all the time. In fact, when I research the statistics, it turns out it is “just” 34% of the adult population who smokes at least one cigarette or more a day, which is still every third person. The German fondness for smoking is a contradiction of a nation otherwise obsessed with health and the environment.


We have lunch inside and enjoy a glass of Federweißer with Zwiebelkuchen (a warm onion tart made out of a thick yeast dough). Federweißer is an unusual alcoholic drink produced and enjoyed only in the fall. It is made out of the early grapes. Federweißer is the product of freshly fermented grape must. The alcohol content can be anywhere from 4 to 10 percent, depending on the stage of fermentation. The name Federweißer (which means feather white) is due to the milky white color, and to the tiny bubbles, or “the dancing feathers” that the process of carbonation creates.


My Canadian starts a collection of Bierdeckel—the paper coasters the server puts your drinks on and keeps a tally of how many beers you have had. Over the course of the holiday, we get to try out all sorts of different beers: the Pilsener, the Kölsch (drunk from glasses almost as small and narrow as chemical test tubes) and Schwarzbier.

As we walk back to our apartment, he discovers that dogs are allowed not only in restaurants but also in stores. Being a dog lover, he is thrilled. Then he stops the next couple with a dog on the street, like it is his habit back home. They look at him with great surprise. Somebody wants to pat their dog. The husband is delighted, his wife is suspicious. What a strange man from across the big pond…

From the North Sea to the Alps

Germans love to travel. On average, they spend a much larger part of their income on travelling, than any other nationality. They also tend to have more holidays than North-Americans. Most Germans start with 21 days of paid vacation time and with seniority in a job, are entitled to even more.

Austria, Spain, Italy, France, and Switzerland are popular European travel destinations. Germans also travel within their own country.

During the summer, many Germans head to the North Sea (Nordsee) or the Baltic Sea (Ostsee).


North Sea

Located south of Hamburg is an area called the Lüneburger Heide, a great place to hike.

Along the River Rhine many castles can be found, especially near the cities of Mainz and Koblenz. You can go on a boat tour on the river or enjoy one of the medieval festivals that some towns hold.

Deutsches Eck


Trier, the oldest German city, is 2000 years old. In the city centre is the Porta Nigra, an original Roman-built gateway.

The Black Forest (Schwarzwald) is located in the south-west. It is called black because the trees are exceptionally dense and create an unusual darkness.

Blackforest - Trees

Black Forest

Berlin, the capital, is the largest city in Germany. Its population is 3.5 million.

Another popular place to visit is the province of Bavaria with its biggest city Munich (München). After Berlin and Hamburg, Munich is the third largest city and is popular for its Oktoberfest.

A big castle south of Munich is Neuschwanstein. It has become popular beyond Germany through books and movies.


Schloss Neuschwanstein

In the winter, people go south into the Alps (die Alpen) for skiing. The area of the Zugspitze, near the German city Garmisch-Partenkirchen, attracts many vacationers. The Zugspitze is 2962 metres high and the tallest mountain in Germany. The border between Germany and Austria runs through Zugspitze.


Zugspitze (view from Austria)

QUESTIONS (posted by Tia Baum)

  1. Was ist die älteste deutsche Stadt? Wie alt ist sie?

What is the oldest German city? How old is it?

  1. Warum heißt der Schwarzwald so?

Why is the Black Forest called “black”?

  1. Zu welchen zwei Küsten gehen Deutsche oft auf Ferien?

Which two sea coasts do Germans often visit when they go on vacation?

  1. Was ist die größte Stadt in Deutschland?

What is the biggest city in Germany?

  1. Welches ist die dritt größte deutsche Stadt?  Wofür ist sie so bekannt?

What is the third largest city in Germany? Why is it so well known?

  1. Wo gehen Deutsche gerne zum Ski fahren?

Where do Germans go to ski?

  1. Wie heißt der größte Berg in Deutschland? Wie hoch ist er?

What is the largest mountain in Germany? How tall is it?