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Six months in: Finding our feet

Six months in: Finding our feet

We’ve been living in Germany for six months now, and it feels like we’re finding our feet. Our son has settled into school well, and the German words are flowing a bit more often (as are his corrections to our German!). Letters from the bank are less confusing, and I’m pretty good when faced with a wall of German signage.

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Our German washing machine

It’s very isolating, walking around and not being able to exchange small talk with the person next to you in any way. I can make my way through most cashier interactions – asking for a bag, understanding how much things are (just about), and saying have a nice day and goodbye. If I have time to plan ahead, I will work out what I need to say but I get flustered very easily. It’s ridiculous, everyone is incredibly patient and friendly about my halting German. More than friendly, nearly everyone seems thrilled I want to learn. Of course, they also want to practice their English, so it can be a battle to get someone to keep speaking German with you.

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As the weather slowly warms up, I’ve noticed the tourists starting to appear. Our little city has nearly 12 million tourists come through every year, so by next month I expect to see many more. We spend most of our time outside the Altstadt where most people go, but it makes me smile seeing people standing on our bridge and taking photos. Even when they back into the bike lane. I swore in German the other day when it happened, so that’s a step forward I suppose!

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Flammkuchen, mid-devouring

The food thing has been the hardest adjustment. German food is very regional, so what you hear about as ‘German’ in other countries is often only a very small window into what’s available. Where we live, there is a lot of Flammkuchen, which you can get in France in the Alsace and Lorraine region as tarte flambé. It’s a kind of flatbread, baked in a wood-fired oven, with creme fraiche, lardons (bacon), and leeks or onions. It can be very rich, it’s not something I eat regularly. There are the sausages, of course, and there seems to be quite a bit of weißwurst around, the Bavarian white sausage. Frankfurt has a vinegary green sauce that they apparently put on everything, I quite like it really. Swabia has its own distinct cuisine, but they are a bit east of us, so I don’t think I’ve had proper Swabian food yet. Because we are so close to France, we get quite a few very good patisseries and cheese shops, one of which he asks to stop at every day on our bike ride home from school. He and I often have a dinner that mainly involves half a baguette each, smeared with good cultured French butter and sea salt, when my husband is away.

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Post-school quarkballchen break at the French patisserie

I end up making a sort of hybrid meal of things I’ve learned here, with what’s available, from recipes I know from living in Canada and the UK. Strange things are difficult to find: broccoli is often sitting yellow on the shelf, and if it is green, it turns yellow within a day when I get it home. The ubiquitous-in-Vancouver kale is not often in the shops either. Cabbage, of course, in many, many varieties, is everywhere and very fresh. I’ve adjusted to using Savoy cabbage in place of kale. We’re on the edge of a wonderful wine region, so I take every opportunity to try out the local product.

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Walking home from school

My son gets a hot lunch served at school, and occasionally I hear reports of potato dumplings or pancakes for lunch with ham and cheese in them. I’m pretty sure he’s had more of the local cuisine than we have.

I wonder sometimes, will he remember Canada if we stay here until he is older? I was keen for him to experience Canada when we moved from London back to Vancouver. We don’t know when we will go back, but I can easily imagine him turning 10 before we do so. Seven through ten are such formative years, how funny to think he will experience them here. As I watch distressing things happening in the news, I think it can only be a good thing to feel yourself a citizen of the world, and meet as many different people as you can when you’re young.

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Day out in Ulm

Day out in Ulm

I spotted photos of the library at the Wiblingen Monastery on Pinterest, often included in Libraries to See Before You Die lists. When I looked it up on a map, it was only a two-hour drive away, so we checked the off-season schedule and drove over at the weekend.


IMG_5518 IMG_5560The Wiblingen Monastery was founded in 1093, and was the home of Benedictine monks from the Black Forest and surrounding area. In 1714, they undertook a massive renovation, which is where we get all the spectacular and over the top Baroque details. The library itself was incredible. Unheated, in the winter it is a bit freezing. While we were there, a couple was having photos done and the woman in the strapless dress must have been losing feeling in her arms. There is a museum in the Abbey as well, with audio guides in English. There are plenty of beautiful illustrated maps of the area, huge wax seals, and other ephemera. We found this fascinating, but we also live nearby, so it may not be as exciting if you’re visiting from afar – though if you’re in Ulm, it’s well worth a visit. If you’re visiting in the off-season, check their site to see what’s open and when.

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The Ulm Minster is impressive, to say the least. A classic extended building project, the foundation stone for the church was laid in 1377, but the final building wasn’t finished until 1890. As with many building projects in southern Germany, the Thirty Years War derailed everything. Incredibly, the Minster was not damaged in WWII, though most of the medieval town was destroyed.

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A totally unplanned stop on our day trip was the Museum dur Brotkultur, which translates literally to the Museum of Bread. This sounds hilarious initially, but the role of bread through history is quite central. There are three floors of bread-related history displays, and they provide English-language audio guides as well as a children’s audio guide, which was a big hit. It’s a short walk from the Ulm Minster, and I really recommend it.

Unfortunately it was freezing out, and we didn’t get a chance to find anywhere to eat in town, so I have no suggestions on restaurants I’m afraid! There are the usual little backerei around where you can get soft brezel and sandwiches of course.

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Castles in the mist

Castles in the mist

One of the things we love about this area of southern Germany are the castle ruins scattered over the countryside. For the most part, the original ones were built somewhere in the 11th and 12th centuries, and were destroyed in the Thirty Years War, which trampled over this region like a rampaging herd of dinosaurs repeatedly in the 17th century. We’ve been driving around, checking them out in the incredibly cold mist we’ve been having every day lately. Of course, this means our seven year old is completely over castles now it seems. *sigh*

St Michael’s Monastery

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The above is not actually a castle but someone’s house, directly below Heidelberg Castle.

Heidelberg Schloss (Castle)

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Dilsberg Altstadt (old city) and Castle

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I particularly like the sneaky storage box and wheely bin in this picture.

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Three days in Munich

Three days in Munich

One of the reasons we agreed to this relocation to Germany was the chance to travel around Europe. My husband goes to Münich often for business, so before school started, we decided to tag along.

three days in Munich with kids

I know we’ll be in Munich again, so we didn’t try and cram everything in. I find travelling with a seven year old is a lesson in picking a few things and taking your time.

Marienplatz, Munich
Marienplatz, Munich

Thinking about Oktoberfest with kids? It’s fun! Check out Babies & Backpacks for her experience taking her kids to Oktoberfest

The Englisch Garten

This huge park is in the middle of the city, and easy to reach by transit. There are many many playgrounds, and we just stopped at three or four as we wandered. Elliot’s favourite was right next to the big biergarten surrounding the Chinese Tower. You can ride a beautiful carousel from 1905 for €1 a go. Terrifically, no adults are allowed on it, so you can sit for a minute.

Surfers on Eisbach canal, Munich
Surfers on Eisbach canal

Check out the surfers on the Eisbach canal at the far south end of the park. It’s mesmerizing.

Englisch Garten, Munich
Englisch Garten

If you’re exhausted, you can flag down one of the pedicabs for a ride or a tour. It’s not cheap – €35 or so will get you a tour. A cheaper option is taking out a pedal boat on the lake, it’s €10 for half an hour.

Carousel in Englisch Garten, by the Chinese Tower
Carousel in Englisch Garten, by the Chinese Tower
Playground by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten
Playground by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten
Biergarten by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten
Biergarten by the Chinese Tower, Englisch Garten

The biergartens serve the usual bratwurst, french fries, soft pretzels (brezeln), sauerkraut, onion salad, and potatoes – as well as giant vats of beer. You can bring your own food as well, so if you’re planning to make a meal of it, swing by a REWE or Edeka beforehand for some vegetables.

Hellabrunn Zoo

Easy to reach by bus, the zoo can easily take up a whole day. There are several playgrounds, and a little mini theme park called Kinderland complete with ride-on cars, a minitrain, a beautiful carousel, and a digger. Kinderland involves buying tokens for the rides, so keep that in mind.

Carousel in the Hellabrunn Zoo
Carousel in the Hellabrunn Zoo

In the middle of the zoo there’s a biergarten right next to the biggest playground. There’s also a sit down restaurant on the terrace above if you’re looking for burgers instead of sausages.

Looking for a short excursion from Munich? Brittany from October Acres loved Berchtesgaden
Biergarten in Hellabrunn Zoo
Biergarten in Hellabrunn Zoo
Feeding the acrobatic pigeons at the Hellabrunn Zoo
Feeding the acrobatic pigeons
Hellabrunn Zoo, Munich
Hellabrunn Zoo

It’s worth checking the schedule of feedings and shows before you head out. The shows are in German, so if you don’t speak the language it’s a bit less interesting. We watched the acrobatic pigeon show, though, and it was fun anyway. The pigeons kept landing on people’s heads!

Our favourites were the Bat Cave, where the bats fly around your head and occasionally bump into you, and watching the penguins zip through the water.

Ask at the entrance gate for a map in English, and one in German to practice your animal names!

Taxisgarten, Munich
Taxisgarten, Munich

We visited Taxisgarten, a local biergarten recommended by my husband’s colleagues. Again, it’s furnished with a playground, and features the usual food options. It’s beautiful on a warm summer evening, with lights strung up in the trees. You can bring some of your own food here too, so bring some extras if your kids are like mine and will only eat Brezel.

How to get around >> Fellow Canadian Christina lives in Munich and has the full lowdown on how to navigate the Munich public transport system.

Where to find playgrounds >> should you be in Munich and need to find the nearest playground, try this great searchable outdoor playground (spielplatz) database. You can plug in your children’s ages and where you are, it will give you the closest playgrounds. It’s in German – I’m sure you can find your way through, but if you’ve got the Chrome browser with the translation plug-in it makes it very easy.

 

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The Black Forest Open Air Museum

The Black Forest Open Air Museum

The Black Forest Open Air Museum or Schwarzenwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof (sometimes pops up as the Vogtsbauernhof Museum) is well worth a visit. Deep in the Black Forest, it’s one of the rare museums we’ve been back to four or five times now, and enjoyed every visit. We regularly take visitors, and it never fails to impress. If you’d like a taste of the history of the region, this is the place. Family visitors and adults-only groups will both enjoy this extensive and well-presented open-air museum.

The dining room of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum
The dining room of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum

What you will see at the Black Forest Open Air Museum

The museum itself is a collection of farmhouses ranging from 16th to the 18th centuries. There was one house originally on the site, and the others were painstakingly dissembled and moved to preserve the way of life for future generations. Each house focuses on different aspects of farm life, or a different generation. The largest (pictured above and below) is such a trip through time – even the kitchen still smells like smoke. The audio guides explain what each room was used for, and it’s been so well set up with period furniture and textiles, that it’s impossible not to feel like you’ve stepped out of time when you duck your head through the door. Fascinatingly, you get a glimpse into how life in these farmhouses changed over time too. The one pictured above was originally home to one large family, but as times moved on, they took in others as boarders, and had to share their dining room amongst three or four different families. Each one of them had a corner to sit in. One of the little elements I loved was how families would hang their washing to dry under the eaves upstairs, but out on the balcony – it’s out of the rain but still has the benefit of not taking up space outside. My own balcony in our turn-of-the-century house has hooks to hang a washing line for the very same reason.

The outside of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open Air Museum. Note the beehives on the ledge!
The outside of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open Air Museum. Note the beehives on the ledge!

It’s a brilliant place to bring small children as kids can run around and touch most things. There are horses and chickens to look at, and an open-air bakery was operating the day we were there, turning out flammkuchen and loaves of bread. Every day there’s someone demonstrating elements of traditional farm life. Every day there are a couple people demonstrating local crafts – we had the good fortune to see a woman hand-weaving amazing ribbons (pictured below, and the fruits of her labour below that). Check the website for details on what’s on the day of your visit.

There’s a whole woodworking workshop full to the rafters with beautiful wooden toys to buy for ridiculously reasonable prices (this is a common theme in Germany). You can watch craftspeople making the toys right there behind the counter as well.

More gorgeous farmhouses in the museum area.
More gorgeous farmhouses in the museum area.

Lots of places for children

Upstairs from the woodworking shop is an incredible play area built to resemble an attic full of discarded furniture, old toys, and other detritus from earlier centuries – though you need to access it from outside. There are paths through the piled bits, just the right size for smaller people, and the dim lighting makes it the perfect amount of exciting but not too scary. There is a little puppet stage to play with, and lots of secrets spots to discover. Additionally there is another more open play area within one of the farthest houses, with a beautiful space designed to look like the forest. On top of all that, there is an extensive outdoor play area with wooden structures, play houses, a water feature, and a natural rock slide. This is all right next to the outdoor cafe that serves schnitzel, french fries, wurst, beer, wine and ice cream, with plenty of picnic tables with easy sightlines to the playground.

Woman weaving very detailed ribbons.
Woman weaving very detailed ribbons.
Incredibly detailed ribbons, woven by local craftspeople.
Incredibly detailed ribbons, woven by local craftspeople.

Even if you’re not with kids

The museum is fascinating if you’re not traveling family style too. The audio guide is very detailed, with options to learn more at many spots, so you can take in the whole place or dive deep into a few of the houses at your own speed. There are at least two houses I haven’t even managed to explore yet, despite four visits under our belt. There’s a lovely sit-down restaurant serving more complete meals, as well as the traditional and regional Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Cake. In fact, on display is one of the first known printed recipes for this regional specialty. The terrace is beautiful in the summer, with views over the rolling greens hills, forests, and picturesque farm houses, with horses wandering in front. If you’re lucky, you will spot some museum staff members in the traditional local costume, which includes the cherry-inspired headgear (pictured below). Unmarried women wore red pom-poms on their hats, and married women had black ones.

<em>Museum staff in the traditional clothes of the Black Forest. </em>
Museum staff in the traditional clothes of the Black Forest.
Another shot of the gorgeous old farmhouse, with a buggy parked outside.
Another shot of the gorgeous old farmhouse, with a buggy parked outside.

Getting to the Black Forest Open Air Museum, opening hours, and ticket prices

It’s worth noting the museum is only open from March to November, except a short period in December for their Christmas market. Do check their site for the exact dates each year. They are open from 9am-7pm, with a last entry at 5pm.

Ticket prices

Adults 10€

Children 6-17 years old 5.50€ (children under 5 are free)

Family prices vary on how many children you have but for two parents and one child 23€

For two parents and two children 28€

For two parents and three children or more 32€

Getting to the museum

By car, you want to put in 77793 Gutach, and make sure you use the post code, because there is another Gutach, and it isn’t particularly close by!

By train, there is a regional branch line station directly outside the museum. Search for ‘Gutach Freilichtmuseum’, and there is a train that stops there every hour while the museum is open. You can get a reduction of 1€ each on your museum entrance tickets by showing your train ticket too, including Baden-Württemberg day tickets. From Stuttgart, it’s about two and a half hours by train. From Frankfurt, about two hours. It’s a beautiful journey, however!




Schwarzenwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof

77793 Gutach (Schwarzwaldbahn) , 0 78 31-93560

www.vogtsbauernhof.de

 

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