Thursday, February 27, 2014

German Festival Season - Fastnacht

We can wholeheartedly recommend enjoying Germany in the touristic off-season. During high season from Easter to October touristic highlights are quite often overcrowded. Advent season also sees a surge of visitors – at least in towns with Christmas markets. Late winter though is a marvelously quiet time to visit much of the country (apparently not the Alps and other skiing regions). Of course some sights will be inaccessible but most stay open all year round albeit with restricted opening hours. If your one that gets tired of having museums and castles all to themselves and wants to seek some action then you should consider aligning visiting the country with the carnival season.

Theoretically this season starts on November 11th but it definitely is most lively in January and the beginning of February. The actual week of most of the parades starts the Thursday before Ash Wednesday like our Mardi Gras celebrations in the US. There are different types of carnivals in Germany with the oldest and most traditional  - and in our eyes the most stunning - being found in the South-West of the country. It derived from an age-old custom to dress up with terrifying masks and costumes at the end of the winter to scare away the winter demons which people back then believed in.
 This custom is still kept alive by hundreds of local communities, with each of those villages and towns having their very own and distinct ‘Häs’ (traditional costume) and masks called ‘Larve’, which are intricately carved out of wood. Some groups also have their own battle cries. On weekends and holidays those groups will gather in participating towns and show off their costumes, songs, music, dance and much more in processions that can be watched for free. Many of the spectators also dress themselves up in costumes which are widely available in shops during that time of the year. Fastnacht (or also called Fasching or Fasnet) is going very strong in Southern Germany with gatherings sometimes incorporating thousands of Hästrägern (people wearing traditional costumes) and processions lasting for hours. It’s great fun for kids, even more so since candy is freely handed out by the Hästrägern. But beware: There are also groups, which, instead of candy, drag ‚tortur’-aparatuses with them, so be prepared that you might be victimized by monster-pliers or end up in sort of a human blender......

Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Volkswandertag –Hiking in Germany

One of the best ways to get to know Germany is to hike it. With a network of sign posted hiking trails of almost 200,000 kilometers it is possible to tour almost any corner of the country on foot. The length of the trails can cover everything from short walks of under an hour up to trails that keep you walking for days. Very detailed maps are available at bookshops or online for any given region and quite often tourist information centers have some less elaborate maps of the near vicinity and it’s trails for a small charge or even for free. We do much prefer taking part in a ‚Volkswandertag’ though.

Volkswandern (public hiking) or Volkssport (public sports) is quite an international affair but is heavily centered around Germany and it’s neighboring countries. The idea of associations such as the DVV ( or independent local communities is to organize public events for people of all ages to communally do sports for fun and recreation. There’s biking, swimming and canoeing events but first and foremost hiking. Especially pristine or interesting hiking routes will be defined that would usually probably be lost to the eyes of non-locals.  Sometimes the path is marked with signs or it’s paper chase style other times the hikers will need to navigate with the help of a map. Quite often a puzzle is incorporated in the hike and whoever solves it is eligible to win prizes in the end. It is very easy to get in contact with other hikers – especially during the jovial get-togethers before and after the hikes.

A negligible registration fee is usually to be paid which quite often though includes a meal and a drink or a little keepsake. Snacks and drinks are also supplied along the way. After the hike there mostly is a little festival with good old German folk music.
There will also be checkpoints along the trail which will have to be passed in order to proof the whole distance has been completed and no one was lured away by shortcuts. For regular participators an official logbook of the hiked kilometers can even be kept and after a certain cumulated distance a distinction will be awarded by the DVV. For tourists this is a nice gimmick but for Germans it has the additional benefit of those official distinctions functioning as a sort of a discount ticket for health insurance premiums as insurance companies recompense fitness efforts like this.
Our motivation for partaking in those outings is less the saving potential on health care costs though but the possibility of getting to know regions in a very unique way. We’ve grown so fond of it that we even plan our vacations according to the scheduled Volkswandertage. Dates can be found on the DVV webpage and in local newspapers.

Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt

Friday, February 7, 2014

Airbräu at the Munich Airport

Ever felt like arousing envy? Here’s the perfect tip for all travelers exiting Germany via Munich airport – home of the one and only airport brewery in Europe: Airbräu. And let me tell you it’s not an airport gimmick or tourist rip-off but a real, authentic, fantastic, Bavarian brewery.  So here is your chance to – for once in your life – actually make perfect use of your time between check in and boarding. No lingering about in overcrowded transit area cafes or half-baked airline lounges. We certainly are regulars ourselves. Not only for a pint of beer but also for the hearty, classic, local food that goes with it.

You will be sitting around the copper brewing tanks (yes the ACTUAL brewing tanks) and ask yourself how they can spit out a liquid that lovely. Learning about how the beer is made will even increase your enjoyment, as you will feel good to know that only local ingredients of the highest standard are incorporated and of course like all German beers the German purity law of the year 1516 is strictly adhered to! And if that doesn’t wet your thirst for knowledge the master brewer himself is available for a tour of the brewery including areas that are usually off limits to guests. These tours are available for a minimum number of 3 guests and can and should be pre-booked online under 

Of course the tour doesn’t conclude without a beer tasting… Btw prebooking also goes for tables in the restaurant if you want to make sure or are in a big group.
The whole program of tour & beer(& maybe dining) –I guarantee – will provide for a perfect preparation for your flight.

I will never forget being picked up from the airport once hearing the usual ‘how was your flight’ question to which I could honestly and truthfully answer: ‘Oh I had the best sleep after that brewery tour and beer tasting at the airport’!

The only drop of bitterness for all guests leaving the country will be that taking samples of Airbräu beer back home is sadly not an option as that checked in baggage is already gone, remember? For a lasting rememberance purchase a nice stein of Munich to place as decor in your living room.

Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt

Rothaus Brewery and Birgit Kraft

We Germans love our beer. So much that at present more than 1300 breweries in Germany can make a living of that loving. There’s a little bit of everything going; from one man shows to multi billion dollar enterprises. And two breweries even have ‘official status’ – being state owned! Amongst them is my all-time favorite: The Rothaus brewery in the deep south.
Rothaus is just too special. Since it’s founding in 1791 beer is continuously brewed here; befitting its rank with the purest crystal water from the on-site Black Forest spring. Promotion – they don’t need. Hip style – they don’t want. They stay true to themselves and that is what we cherish. Besides the splendid taste of their specialty brew “Tannenzäpfle” (little pine cone) it is our good friend Birgit who enchants us with every sip we take, smiling at us from the label – since 1956!
Rothaus’s icon Birgit Kraft is a lovely lady wrapped in Black Forest garb, a beer in hand and a blackforesty backdrop. Her name isn’t just a random pick though but was born from deep local dialect. In old alemanic (which is actually still spoken beneath some of the darkest of the Black Forest pines) “bir git kraft” translates to “beer gives vigor”.  How much more truthful could she have been named? Due to that vigor she so freely gives she is not only a fancied after work date but also a well-liked companion on our hiking outings or a donor of remedy for excessive yard work after pains. Of course a grande dame like this mustn’t adorn just any bottle which is why Rothaus decided to crown her bottles with a patented seal design around her crown cap – in gold of course, goes without saying. A special technique applies the seal without having to use any glue or adhesives. This means it can be taken off unscathed and used as the perfect golden playtoy. And what a plaything it is! You would be surprised what awesomeness can be created out of a little piece of golden crown cap seal foil. A visit to classic black forest taverns might give you a first insight but for the most stunning you’ll have to wait for winter. Come Christmas there will be contests for the most elaborate Christmas tree decoration – made of Birgits crowns of course! I tried once myself but was a fool to think I stood a chance against those Black Forest ubermoms!

Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt