Montag, 30. August 2010

Being British in Bavaria - and holiday after holiday!

When asked what I like most about living in Germany I smile gleefully and say it’s the endless holidays. 30 days statutory holiday and some 12 public days off (compared to 8 in the UK or 10 in the US) has to hit world top spot. The nice thing about Public Holidays here is that’s exactly what they are: the vast majority of the working public is free.

Emergency and other essential services apart, virtually the only people working on public hols are in the catering industry, dishing up mountains of Kaffee and Kuchen at touristy hotspots Deutschlandwide. OK, you might spend half the day in traffic jams getting to your top-of the-mountain or by-the-lake hangout, but no one forces you onto the roads.

This paints a stark contrast to the UK, where Bank Holidays are more about Shop Till You Drop. As I write, another August Bank Holiday Monday draws to a close in Britain. And yes, the tills in virtually all stores and corner shops throughout the nation have been ringtingtingling like one-arm bandits on a jackpot roll. With millions of sales staff parted from partners and family for the day this surely goes against the originally social-spirited Great British Public Holiday Act of 1871.

Just in case you wondered, Bank Holidays are so called because they were enforced by a banker, Sir John Lubbock. Sir John, like every good English gentleman, was an enthusiastic supporter of cricket. He believed that bank employees should have the opportunity to participate in matches whenever they were scheduled. Interestingly, since 1971 all British bank holidays have been held on Mondays. This was to circumvent the problem of employees missing their day’s holiday whenever it fell at the weekend. Unlike in Germany….

A propos Germany, the next Public Holiday is Tag der deutschen Einheit, or German Unification Day, on 3 October. No prizes for guessing which day it falls on this year. No offence, Bob Geldorf, but I for one do like Mondays.

Sonntag, 15. August 2010

Being British in Bavaria ain't easy - Or is it?

Today my local village community celebrated its annual Dorffest. In previous years villlagers have simply huddled together on beer benches, hands cupped protectively around their their “Maß“ and that was it. Apart from boozing and bulging nothing ever really happened. Typically Bavarian, you might say. This time, however, the Schützenverein had handed over organisation of the Fest to the Sportverein, who promised to jack up the level of physical activity a notch or two. Sporty villagers were encouraged to don lycra and crash helmets and assemble on the sports field early morning for a 30-km round trip through the local hop-growing countryside.

Gung-ho that people are finally waking up in our village, I signed up for the parcours with my 19-month old daughter – and immediately questioned my commonsense for parting with the five-euro admission fee. Matilda had never been out on a bicycle before and by the time I’d got her harnessed into the on-loan child’s seat I realised it was fast approaching her no-missing midday nap.

There was no option but to do just a short lap of the course, before hurrying the child back home to bed. So whilst a 100-strong army of cyclists raced off in one direction towards the first check-in, Matilda and I headed off in the opposite direction towards the final check-in point.

It was a lovely summery ride, not too hot and a nice cool wind blowing. We saw lots of cows, sheep and horses along the way and Tildy absolutely loved it. We didn’t see a single other fellow-villager cyclist, however.

Breezing over the finishing line an hour or so later the organisers seemed slightly bemused to see us again so soon, yet – did I detect them wink at each other? – dutifully confirmed our names would go into the lucky draw later that day.

We were indeed lucky. Called up onto the winners’ tribune as the Internationales Team (my daughter is German-British-Polish), we scooped up Second Prize – a 100 € voucher redeemable at the local travel agents.

Did we cheat? It all depends how flexible you wish to view Sportverein discipline in this fairly laid-back corner of Bayern. All I can say though is sometimes it ain’t too bad being British in Bavaria.

Know Howe is on holiday next week. His blog too!

Montag, 9. August 2010

Being British in Bavaria ain't easy - Reason Two

One thing I miss most about Britain is its daily newspapers.

Just before you missile me with mails saying I can find every single respectable British newspaper on line these days, let me just say, I know. I spend hours poring over I’m also fully aware of several outlets in Munich where you can pick up most quality British dailies on day of publication – albeit at almost thrice the original price.

The point is that I miss spreading my British newspapers over the breakfast table first thing in the morning to the accompanying whiff of freshly-brewed coffee and eat-out-of-bag croissants. Reading the news headlines online or in hard copy later in the day at rip-off prices just ain’t the same.

But ah, I hear you say, what’s wrong with a Brit abroad sipping his first cappuccino of the day over a German daily? Truth be told I’ve never been a great fan of this country’s press. The “serious“ dailies like the Süddeutsche tend to be far too in-depth, hyper-convoluted and painstakingly long-winded with not even a hint of humour to lighten things up. Reports invariably run for several pages before-the-end-of-the-sentence verb appears, by which time anyone with a life to lead has usually lost interest and gone off to walk the dog. Then there are the ridiculously über-parochial local papers, with headlines like „Traktor bleibt im Graben stecken. Feuerwehr rückt aus“ (Tractor gets stuck in ditch. Firebrigade to the rescue) or, even better, and I swear this is true, I read it in our local Hallertauer Zeitung just the other day: „Gestohlene Brieftasche taucht ohne Inhalte wieder auf“ (Stolen wallet resurfaces minus contents).

What all these newspapers lack is a sense of humour. Something which the British press is so good at. Take, for instance, the mountain of daily human-interest stories, with clever wordplay headlines that make you grin before you’ve even licked the first croissant flake off your lips. Today’s Daily Mail has a gorgeous headline: “Nuts! Woodpecker loses out in pecking order after cheeky squirrel steals his home.”

In summary, British newspapers serve non-news nicely packaged with ooh-la-la headlines and German papers offer a no-verbs, no-laughs diet of strictly regional news with too-logic-for-words headlines.

I’ll take the cheeky British option, please.

Montag, 2. August 2010

Being British in Bavaria ain't easy - Reason One

Being British in Bavaria ain't easy. At the moment I'm trying to enhance my credentials by gaining the State Teaching Exam. This theoretically gives access to the German state school system and a fixed teaching position for life. In troubled economic times not such a bad idea as a backup to temporary contracts and freelancing. Being Germany however things aren't ever as they seem: I've just learnt the whole exam has to be written in German and covers everything from a blow-by-blow transcriptional analysis of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles to a steady-as-you-go translation of the New Authoriszed English Bible (King James version). None of which is ever likely to appear on the state teaching curriculum, but that, so I'm told, is not the point. I guess it's more about just being always a few steps ahead of the pupils.....

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