Friends of mine were asking me the other day, when would be the best time to visit Germany. I have not written anything for almost two years now but I thought it might come in handy if I wrote something about it down.
So, when is it a good time to visit Germany? I would say it depends what you want to do and if you have to stick to the school schedule.
We usually go in the summer since the kids are free for longer than two weeks (and we would have to organize camp otherwise), the cousins are off school, too, the days are longer and you can actually go outside without getting wet or cold (at least if you are lucky enough to catch a summery summer). We also went last winter for the holidays because we did not go in some time. Certainly long enough to make me forget how miserable winters can be. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with the family especially during the holidays (that’s why we went after all) and the Christmas markets and winter as an idea (curling up on the couch with a good book, candles and a hot tea, a fire in the oven – what else is there to do if it gets dark at ~4pm), but the weather usually really sucks. In our three weeks the sun came out on three days! Since the days are so short the jet lag seems even more painful. We are also not talking snow either but wet and cloudy. It sure reminded me how spoiled we are in the Bay Area where the weather almost always is good enough to go for a bike ride, hike or just out to play. I guess you can already tell I prefer going in the summer. But since we almost always go to hang out with family our situation is a little different. So, I am trying to be a little more objective:
Go in the spring or fall:
if you you want cheaper airfare (especially June – August and mid December- early January airfare can get steep)
good weather with less crowds (April, May, September and October) – attractions can get busy during the summer month when schools are out in Germany and booking might be easier as well since Germans tend to plan far in advance
For families with kids in school this might not be an option.
If you go in the summer:
weather is mostly nice
days are long
you can go to the pool and relax (no shouting at your kids because they are running, no serious checking on height restrictions on slides – just be responsible yourself)
go to the beach
enjoy nature, go for a hike or a walk or a bike ride
go to the beer garden
get an ice cream in a cafe
take a boat tour
walk the streets in old towns
everything is green
If you go in the winter:
days are short
go to museums
go for the food
go for the Christmas markets – some markets, especially in bigger cities, now stay open until after Christmas or even until New Year but some smaller ones (which can be really nice) happen before the school break starts
go for the snow (if you are lucky, more likely in southern Germany)
keep in mind that some attractions might close around the holidays (Christmas and New Year)
I am not saying that winters are always rainy but it is colder. I am also not saying summers are always great – we had some quite rainy summer vacations, but then you still can do all the things you can do during winter (except the Christmas markets). You might want to visit for Oktoberfest in Munich or the Carnival (about Carnival on Wikipedia). In the end you have to decide what works best for you.
I am curious: what would you want to see when visiting Germany?
Since September the kids keep asking me how much longer it takes until it is Halloween. But now pumpkin patch season is definitely here and the countdown is going. The visit to the pumpkin patch by now belongs to our getting-ready-for-Halloween tradition I would say. The last two years we went to a really nice one in Suisun City, California. A train from the Western Railway Museum will take you out to a pumpkin patch organized by the local Rotary Club. They have a hay stack with labyrinth, hay rides, games, pumpkin catapults, face painting, music and food among other things. The kids love it and we were planning to go again this weekend but now it looks like rain. It’s a real bummer but maybe the weather forecast will be wrong after all?
We already went to one pumpkin patch two weeks ago, so we won’t go without this year even if the rain keeps going. The Petaluma pumpkin patch has a corn maze and everyone was excited to make it through. They also had a big pumpkin field where you can pick your own pumpkins and a corn box for the kids to play with (they liked that part the best). It definitely was a lot of fun. I took so many pictures of sunflowers that day and feel like fall season is upon us.
I am not really sure how it is now but when we left Germany Halloween was not a very big deal there. Sure there were pumpkins and fall stuff but not related to Halloween but more to the harvest celebrations. By the way, how is that now? I seem to pick up more and more Jack-o-lantern pictures in my social media feed over the last couple of years. I am still not sure about the whole Halloween dressing up thing. Dressing up always makes me uncomfortable but I prefer Halloween to carnival (coming from someone who only wore black for a while in her youth). We still have two weeks left to decide what to do on the day and how to dress up. How about you? Do you carve a pumpkin or dress up for the day?
I think it is an excellent idea to have a weekend escape from every ones in a while it may it be oh so small. It helps me see what a great place the world around me is and makes me appreciate the possibilities that are out there in our neighborhood close and far.
Last weekend me and my daughter went to do an Indigo dye class at the Handcraft Studio School. It was such a treat to have some one on one time with her and make something beautiful along the way. I was thinking about trying it out for a while but was glad to not have the clean up at home. I might give it another go though. Maybe make some holiday gifts with the kids? We will see if that happens.
This picture pretty much is one of the reasons why I decided at the beginning of the year to commute by public transport and bike instead of taking the car. This construction site used to be the parking lot I frequented most but UC Berkeley decided to build yet another new building (and of course did not provide additional parking options that were in a reasonable distance). If I need to walk 20 minutes to get from parking to work after driving to work for 20 minutes I might as well take the bike (or BART) for 30 minutes. And I am doing something good for me and the environment along the way! The University actually has some incentives for people who want to switch to public transport like discounted ticket prices for BART and the bus system (AC transit). You can also sign up for a program that guaranties you a free ride home in an emergency by taxi or rental car (Guaranteed Ride Home). Since I have school aged kids that sometimes need to be picked up short notice I thought this was pretty clever. Luckily I did not have to use it yet.
It has all been really good actually. I already rode a little over 1000 miles by bike this year. One of the stereotypes that always comes up when talking about the US is certainly not true in the Bay Area: Everyone takes the car everywhere and nobody walks or takes their bikes. So not true! If you drive somewhere on the weekends in the hills around here you always have to watch out for bikes and the cities are pretty walk-able. Public transport might not quite compare with German standards but you can’t have everything. A couple of years ago there were so many people using the BART system that they actually were discussing to raise the ticket prices so less people were going to use it. What a ridiculous idea to maybe have more trains running.
How do you get to work or around in the US, Europe or other places?
When our kids go to bed they get to pick one CD from their extensive German radio play collection to listen to while falling asleep I actually had to look up what they would be called and I am not sure I picked the right word. Is it radio play or audio drama or..? Maybe someone can help me out on this one?
I have not come across them in the US really. Sure, there are very good recordings of audio books for kids (and they do like them) but my personal opinion is that it is so much more fun to listen to the story when the different characters are spoken by different actors and you get sound effects and background noises.
Audio dramas were very popular in Germany when I was growing up and as far as I can tell they still are. They were in fact so popular that the actors of one specific recording (“Die drei ???” or “Three Investigators” as is the original American title) toured theaters around the country to read life performances. It puzzles me why the audio plays are more and especially popular in Germany. If anyone has an idea I would be more than happy to hear.
In the meantime I am happy that my kids like to listen to them and I sometimes find them quietly sitting in their room relaxing or playing while doing so.
It really was wishful thinking that I would have more time during the summer. We are already back in the US for three weeks now and the kids both started school on Monday. The four weeks in Germany flew by. We spend good times with family and old friends. After being disappointed at the time I made piece with the fact that I could not see everyone I wanted to see but am glad for the people in my life I got to visit. Germany still and probably always will feel like coming home. Life in general seems to be quieter and simpler, but that might only be because we are usually on vacation there.
There was a lot of driving back and forth – from the North to the middle, to the South, to Switzerland, to the middle and then back to the North. We saw a lot, enjoyed good food and great company and packed up memories that will last for a while.
But I also have to say that after four weeks I was starting to look forward to coming back. Not having to pack up suitcases for three all the time and having my own bed and a day to day routine seemed very appealing and it is in some way.
We made it! Four weeks in Germany await. But as usual before we can really get started we need to get over the jet lag – sigh. For the first couple of days it is an annoying companion. By myself it would be okay but with little kids it can get a little tricky. When a four or five year old is sitting next to you at 3am in the morning ready to play there is almost no arguing. At some point in the last years I decided to just go with the flow and get as much sunlight and outside activity as possible. It never took longer than five days to adjust anyway (even though that can seem like an eternity). I learned not to schedule to many activities in the first days and not to expect to much.
How do you deal with the jet lag? Do you have any secrets how to get over it faster? I would be interested to know.
As I mentioned in my last post my “big” girl went ahead to Germany as an unaccompanied minor to spend three weeks with the grandparents by herself. I miss her like crazy but she has a great time as far as I can tell from our daily phone calls (best start to my day).
She is only seven and if she would not have requested to do this we probably would have waited another year or two. During my initial research I learned that most airlines take kids as young as five years as unaccompanied minors. I can’t imagine my son already flying alone but it depends on the kid I guess. Before we bought her ticket we talked a lot about the process of flying by herself – what happens when, what to do during the flight, who waited for her at the other end, etc. She had so many questions for us and would only stop if she was satisfied with the answer. That made me a bit more at ease and convinced me that she would be fine by herself on the long trip. We opted to get her a direct flight and have grandma make the trip to the airport a bit farther away from their home. On the way back she will be flying with me and her brother.
I found this document from the U.S. Department of Transportation helpful. It has general information and tips you might want to think about.
When I decided about which airline to pick I went with the one I felt would be most reliable. We have flown back and forth across the Atlantic quite a bit in the last couple of years and even though tickets from Lufthansa tend to be more expensive it was still the most pleasant flight experience with the least hiccups.
For all airlines you have to pay an extra fee (ranging between $50-$150 for one trip) and the airline makes sure that the kids are looked after.
When I called the ticket hotline to make the reservation (required at Lufthansa) they told me that someone would take her to the gate after check-in. Luckily I also inquired at the San Francisco Lufthansa counter and there they told me that I would be able to get a gate pass and accompany her to the gate. I had to wait until the flight is in the air anyway. During check in she got her little travel pouch and in went all the required documents: boarding pass, passport, the special service form with the flight information and personal information who would pick her up – I also had her immunization record and a consent letter from us. For Germany we probably would not need this but the online information was a bit confusing to me and I determined it easier than a call to the embassy. I was not able to check her in online but since we were early she was able to pick one of the six seats assigned for the unaccompanied minors and get her window seat. The woman at check-in was super nice and was asking immediately if she wanted to speak English or German. She had stories about her own children making the trip back to Europe a couple of times and assured us that she would be well taken care of and not let out of sight. We both were anxiously waiting for boarding to start – she because, she was so excited and could not wait to start her journey and I, because I was nervous to let her go. The unaccompanied minor kids got to board first and were escorted by airline personnel on the plane where the flight attendants took over. On the other side someone from the airline picked her up again and went with her through baggage claim and customs before she got handed over to her grandma (who had to show her photo ID with the right address first).
One day after I bought the ticket there was an article in a big German newspaper the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) about kids who are flying alone with Lufthansa. It is in German but if you know the language it might be interesting.
It all went really well and her little brother already said that next year he wants to go as well – we will see. For us it is an excellent alternative to summer camps. I am happy that she gets to spend more time with her grandparents and gets to know them better. The best advice I have: let them have a say in it and let them lead the way – at least for us that worked perfectly.
Tell me, would you send your kids on travels by themselves or would you rather wait?
Only five more days and me and my little guy will be sitting on a plane to Germany. I usually try to visit our families every summer for a decent amount of time. This year it is going to be a whole month! So looking forward to this. Since we live so far away this is the only time that the kids meet most of their relatives. The grandparents usually try to visit us ones a year but for everyone else it gets harder to make the trip work.
Compared to US standards Germany is not that big and luckily my dad and my parents in law live fairly close near Hanover, but there is also Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg and Zurich in the mix from aunts and uncles. Our friends are also scattered all over the place now but seem to mostly collect in Berlin. My best friend from Berkeley actually moved to Berlin for a year and I hope I get to see her. Back in the days when we did not have the Green Card yet we had to visit Berlin almost every time to renew our visa. As annoying as that was sometimes I also enjoyed it. I love that city! I would not mind living there – sigh.
This year it is going to be extra special since my sister in law is getting married. It is going to be so fun!
Did you notice that I only mentioned my son flying with me? My daughter went ahead for the first time this year! So exciting! I think I was more nervous than she was. But more about that tomorrow.
One more note: Whenever we are in Germany I fall back in the typical German pattern of not wanting to drive to far for a trip. Around the Bay Area an hour in the car is nothing but back in Germany it seems like a huge commitment and we will not do that on a daily basis if avoidable. What about you? Do you hesitate to get in the car for an outing what is the maximum time commitment you are willing to take for a day trip?
I never thought I would count the days down again until summer break finally comes. But there I was, mom of an elementary student (working mom at that and not a teacher), looking forward to it. And now school is out and the summer stretches ahead. My prediction is that I will have spare time (to be determined) and I always wanted to write a blog. So here I am. Not sure what it will be about or what I want from it other than trying something new. We will see.