Posts Tagged ‘germany’

firsts and lasts

Friday, February 5th, 2010

*Ate a heaping plate of “spaghetti” ice cream

*Ate lunch at the Bonn university cafeteria (now I know why I’ve avoided doing so for the past five years)

*Had my banker offer me a glass of beer (went there to try and take care of business during the middle of a Carnival celebration!)

*Ate a slice of German cheese cake

*Got cut off by an Audi driver on the autobahn

faustian encounter

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

As my time in Germany draws to a close, I am madly trying to cram in as much German culture as possible. That meant spending the weekend in Stuttgart to see Goethe’s Faust at Theater der Altstadt. My German is at that dangerous level where I think I understand everything. But in reality, I didn’t did pick up on the fact that one of the characters was supposed to be God. Nor did I realize that Faust’s love interest had given birth and then killed her child. Oh well.

Another highlight of visiting Stuttgart was eating schwäbisch delicacies such as spätzle.

(photo credit: A.Currell)

Happy Birthday Deutschland

Monday, May 25th, 2009

So the Federal Republic of Germany turned 60 on Saturday. Which meant we queued up to walk through the former government buildings in Bonn, such as the Chancellor’s and President’s residences. Hate to say it, but the modernist style of Germany’s version of the White House left me unimpressed. It did, however, have a lot of nice windows. The President’s place was more in the classic style that one would expect. We didn’t go in, because we were sick of standing in line.

wedding marathon

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Went to my first German wedding. It had the whole nine yards: white wedding dress, bride’s boquet, sermon delivered by a German bureaucrat, convoy of honking cars, vegan wedding cake. There were even some US-influenced wedding touches: disposable cameras on the tables, blue garter, etc. The one rough part was that the festivities went from 1 p.m. until 1 a.m. That’s a lotta wedding.

synchronicity one: O Tannenbaum!

Monday, December 29th, 2008


Christmas Day in Germany is downright eerie. The entire country shuts down as everyone retreats to grandma’s living room for an intimate family celebration. There was literally no one out on the streets when I walked home from the railroad station at 8 p.m. on Christmas Day. The city was dark and seemed empty of people.

The scene:

Except for on one narrow side street between the station and home. This short street encompasses the most picturesque grouping of houses in the city. They’re turn-of-the-century multicolored row houses with cherub moldings and gargoyles.

The action:

As I’m walking down this dark street, feeling completely alone in the world, I begin to hear the faint sound of someone playing Christmas carols on a piano. It stops and starts, but the person is incredibly talented. I notice that all the windows of the grand old apartments are brightly lit, framing one perfect Christmas scene after another. I literally watch three generations of one family seated around a big table, the son getting ready to cut into some big piece of meat. In another, a middle aged man is sitting with his arm around his wife, both of them looking at their Christmas tree (which of course has real candles burning on it), a glass of red wine in their hands. At any moment, I expect the camera to swoop upwards for a bird’s-eye view, honing in on one ridiculously perfect Christmas scene after another.

(photo credit: dev_null)


Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Okay, so here is my second attempt at radio journalism. This time I delve into the wonderful world of German pawn shops and in one part slur my words like a drunken sailor:



healthy care

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Several different people have asked me how Germany’s health care system works. First of all, let me clear up one misconception: this is not Swedish-style socialized medicine. Everyone is covered, but there’s no rationing of services and doctors are not government employees. Here’s my best attempt at a summary:

Nine out of 10 Germans are covered under the public health care system. Each person can choose between “sickness funds”, which have no equivalent in the United States. Each sickness fund has to provide a standard level of care for a set price (currently set at 15.5 percent of your salary, which is split 50-50 between employer and employee, which means you pay about 7.5 percent, unless you’re self employed in which case you pay the whole thing). This fee also covers any dependents and spouses who aren’t working. The sickness funds compete for patients, but are non-profit. When you are retired or unemployed or whatever, the government picks up the entire tab.

There are co-pays involved in this system. Once a quarter, you have to pay 10 euros (about $12.50) for visiting the doctor. You also pay up to 10 euros for each night in the hospital and up to 10 euros for prescription medication. But the total paid in co-pays can never equal more than 1 percent of your salary. So if you make 40,000 euros, you might have to pay 400 euros in a year if you get really sick.

The sickness funds negotiate with doctors and pharmaceutical companies and set prices for how much everything costs. This helps keep costs low, but means that doctors don’t necessarily make a lot of money. All procedures (except what is considered “lifestyle medicine” such as a boob job or viagra) are covered. You can go to any doctor you want.

There are some waits, but relatively few. If you call the doctor with the flu, they will usually get you in within hours, if not the next day. If you injure your knee and need surgery, you might have to wait for a couple of weeks, but I don’t know of anyone who has had outrageously long waits for operations.

Patients never get any bills for procedures. You pay your copay when leaving the hospital or the doctor’s office and then everything else is taken care of. The down side is that doctors only make a modest amount of money, about $120,000 per year.

One out of 10 Germans are covered by private insurance, which is for-profit. Anyone making a good salary (as well as politicians and public employees) can opt to have private coverage. It can end up being cheaper. For example, if you only visit the doctor a couple of times in a year, you can get part of your premium back. Also, private insurance reimburses doctors at about double the rate of the sickness funds. So doctors really like to treat privately-insured patients. Which means that privately insured people can often jump to the front of the line, bypassing public health care patients. Also, you can get special treatment such as a TV in your room (yes, German hospitals are very spare) or the exclusive attention of the head honcho doctor.

But the bottom line is that everyone is covered. Showing proof of health insurance is a requisite for immigrants wanting to get a visa and can’t be opted out of by employers or employees. So we have universal coverage. The system isn’t as cheap as some of the other systems: it costs 10.7 percent of the GDP. But since the quality is good enough and there are no long waits, most people seem fairly content.

For those wanting more in-depth information, Frontline had an excellent interview with a German healthcare expert which can be read here.

(photo credit: zoomar)

chai on the rocks

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

In my ongoing effort to document the arrival of foreign foods in German supermarkets, I present Yogi Chai concentrate in a carton. Just mix with milk and *presto* chai latte. Of course, it’s no Oregon Chai, but it’s a start. And now that I’ve found a recipe for chai white russians, watch out world!

(photo credit: jk5854)

ode to poffertjes

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

One of the fun holiday distractions were the German Christmas markets. I went to five this season. They sell all kinds of artisanal junk as well as lots of greasy food.  I’m a particular fan of poffertjes, a tiny Dutch pancake. Delicious topped with Bonn-made Verpoorten, an egg liquor. Here are some photos from one of the last market days in Bonn:


christmas rush

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

In the end, I was a little overwhelmed by German Christmas. Four advent calendars to open, three days of German and American holiday celebrations, carols in both languages and crazy amounts of food. I’ve been winding down this week. Back to the reality that I’m living in a cold, dark place with the bulk of winter ahead of me. Here are some random pictures from the season: