M.Sc. Information Systems
Living in Germany and especially in Münster leaves you with many Germany-specific skills and habits, like the habit to swear in German or the ability to recite many famous German pop-songs (which are horribly sticky, by the way). So if you come here, I want you to be prepared and not miss on the little things that make the Germans the Germans. Here is a bucket list of what you need to try if you find yourself in a small German city like Münster.
1. Early Fall: Drink beer (Duh!)
Octoberfest is probably the most famous German holiday there is. It actually does not happen in October, but at the end of September, so don’t miss out. It’s a great opportunity to try as many sorts of beer as you can imagine and pick your favorite one (a hint: it should be Pils, otherwise you’ll never hear the end of it from the Germans).
You can and should, of course, drink beer all year round after that too, but first you need to learn to handle it properly.
2. Learn to open a beer bottle
You think opening a bottle of beer is an easy task? It would be with a proper bottle opener, but that’s just plain boring. The challenge is to open it with literally anything else; the most common tools are a lighter and another bottle of beer.
After all, a beer opener only has one purpose, when a lighter, for example, is also needed for smoking, not that it’s a break-dealer. Just recently, my non-smoking friend said that she bought a ‘cool lighter that works well’ meaning that it’s a good tool for opening a beer. She never even tried to see if it works as a lighter too, and I don’t think she would be very disappointed if it doesn’t.
And the last beer in the case can be opened with a cartoon case itself, folded several times for strength — because why not?
3. Christmas Time: Hang out at a Christmas market
Christmas is a very special much-loved holiday in Germany, always celebrated with family and close friends. And the time before Christmas belongs to the famous Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt). They are a beautiful spectacle, a place to buy some hand-made Сhristmas souvenirs, presents and just to hang out. It is also a place where everybody drinks mulled wine (Glühwein in German), because it’s cold outside and well… it’s mulled wine, hot, spicy and tasty. Not once we spent the entire evening at the market: your arms and feet are freezing, but the conversation is so nice and the wine seems to warm you up, and maybe just one more cup would only do you good, right?
4. Feuerzahgenbowl watching and drinking
This weird long but not for a German word is a name of another traditional Christmas drink Feuerzahgenbowl. And it’s also the name of a special movie with it’s own story.
A Feuerzahgenbowl (drink) is the strangest thing there is. For this brew, sugar in form of rounded cones is first soaked in rum and then burned right above mulled wine, so that it drips into the bowl. The whole process reminds me of making a fondu, only the result is a very strong alcoholic drink that tastes like old socks (never tried the latter, only imagining from the smell of them).
Now, making this drink is only a part of the Feuerzahgenbowl-tradition. There is also a really old movie, widely famous in Germany, called Feuerzahgenbowl. It’s an old (1944) German comedy, which even the native Germans watch with subtitles, because the sound is terrible and there are a lot of really old-fashioned words. But when students watch it, it becomes an action movie: you are supposed to ring a bell (any way you can, for example, by clinging your mugs together) any time a doorbell or an alarm clock rings in the movie; there are some names of characters you have to repeat loudly every time you hear them in the move; and of course you have to drink Feuerzahgenbowl all this time. The whole thing is weird, but always fun in a big company.
5. Spring: Barbeque
When the time of Christmas markets was finally over in Münster, we felt lost and abandoned: the streets and squares suddenly became too empty to walk through. Naturally, we wanted to know what is the next main occupation of the Germans’ free time. That’s when we were told to wait just a little while for a start of a barbeque season.
I’ve already talked about barbeque with the Germans, but here’s a nice part: they do it really, really often. We were skeptical at first — after all you don’t eat shashlyky every week of spring, do you? So we dared one of our German friends with a weekly barbeque challenge. He was to host a barbeque at least once a week till the end of this semester. It’s over now because exams are coming, but it was a great run.
As any German would, he took the task very seriously. Every week he chose some time when most of our friends could make it, brought a grill, coal, tools, and set up everything on the loan in his yard or near the Muenster lake, if the weather was really great. Sometimes it was just five or six of us for one or two hours, other times more of our friends and fellow students came in and we had a whole evening of leisure time near that grill. Once our host lost his grill right before the day we were supposed to be barbequeing (yeah, it’s a verb in Germany), and couldn’t find a new one in the store — they all were pretty much sold out before the weekend. That time we used a disposable aluminum grill, which turned out to be just right for 5 people. Very neat and convenient! Of course big barbeques with proper grill and many people coming, were our favorite times. Definitely a thing to do in Münster.
6. Learn to ride a bike
This last item is Muenster-specific, and again, not as easy as it sounds. Or at least the Germans make it that way. So, if you think you can ride a bike, check again below:
First, you need to know driving regulations for bicycle drivers in Germany: use the right side of the road; sign properly to other drivers (both car drivers and bikers) with your hands when turning; don’t drive anyone on pannier rack as a passenger and always have your front and your back light working properly. Without that I wouldn’t recommend even mounting a bike, since it’s dangerous and you’re up for some big tickets. For the Germans it’s even trickier: a policeman can actually take one’s car-driving license for some bike-related violation. And getting it back is costly and time-consuming!
If that’s all checked, what about useful skills you will need? Let’s see. Can you ride with a bag full of products in you front basket, while trying not to lose another bag attached to you pannier? Can you ride with one hand through a pouring rain while holding an umbrella in your other hand? Or ride through a horrible heat while holding an open bottle of beer without shaking it? Can you ride without holding hands at all while opening that beer?
If not, you most certainly will after a while in Germany. And you will love every minute of it, believe me — I do!