education live in germany

Waldkindergarten – Forest Kindergarten

Waldkindergarten - Forest Kindergarten
© Pixabay

Do you feel tense whenever you see a young child playing video games and wonder if they even know where strawberries grow? You are not alone. More and more parents find themselves looking for a way to teach core values and environmental awareness to young children. They find a perfect answer to this predicament in Waldkindergärten, outdoor nurseries that focus on exposing young children to nature. In the busy world of globalization and smartphones, this education strategy is experiencing more popularity than ever.

Germans Have Always Loved Nature

The premise of a Waldkindergarten is for children between 3 and 6 to spend their preschool time with outdoor activities. Children play, climb, sing and work on craft projects, free from the pressures of technology. There are only wooden, crafted toys. Most day activities take place in the open air, no matter if it’s raining or snowing.

Valuing nature and the environment is a recurring theme in German culture. During the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th century, dozens of artists were inspired by the seasons, trees and plants around them. In medicine, time spent outdoors an der frischen Luft, ideally immersed in cold water was long considered the best way to stay in healthy and strong.

In the 1960s and 1970s, both East and West German political climates started seeing the rise of activist groups dedicated to peace, protecting the environment and eliminating nuclear power. And even in the 21st century, Germans find themselves sceptical of too much technology. The country is full of national parks, the green party has a lot of support, and  many Germans buy bio (organic) products.

So for many parents, the Waldkindergarten concept fits right into the idea of living a responsible life close to nature. The idea is an adaptation of a Scandinavian concept from the 1950s, although Germany’s first officially recognised version didn’t get its permissions until 1993. It is part of many other alternative movements in education, such as Montessori, Waldorf and Steiner schools.

Benefits of Being a Wald Child

The concept of a Kindergarten ohne Dach und Wände (Kindergarten without roof and walls) has found significant support in the scientific community. Waldkindergärten are preschool centres, meaning they aim to socialise children, aid their development and gently prepare them for school life which typically starts at age six. Some of the benefits of being a forest child include:

Increased verbal and language development as children don’t play with traditional toys. They are encouraged to create their own play environments using objects found in nature, and have been found to talk to each other more as they create their play environments.

Lower exposure to noise and stress compared to a regular Kindergarten building. You may have experienced the noise level generated by 20 children in a closed room, and in fact this has been shown to create stress for the children, too. *Wald* kids are less affected by noise as they spend time in an open-air environment.

Increased fitness, agility and vision as the environment inspires children to run around, climb and play. The outside world is a space designed for human development, without right angles and even floors. This has been proven to increase the coordination development of young children.

Better immune systems after spending many hours outside and learning to dress for and withstand different kinds of weather conditions.

In fact, in most studies which compare Wald kids to their peers, they outperformed the kids educated in traditional environments in every aspect of testing.

Where To Find A Waldkindergarten

If you are curious and want to find out more about the philosophy and availability of a Waldkindergarten (or Naturkindergarten) in Germany, the Bundesverband der Natur- und Waldkindergärten collects articles and contact information to get you started. It also lists partner nurseries in other countries, many of which teach German children.

german culture german media

Löwenzahn – A German National Treasure

Löwenzahn - A German National Treasure
© Pixabay

Ask any German under 40 about Löwenzahn and chances are they’ll start humming a jolly tune. That tune is the well-known theme to German public channel ZDF’s longest-running kids’ TV show, Löwenzahn.

The show started in 1981 and accompanied generations of Germans as they discovered the world. Its presenter, “Erklär-Bär” (explainer character) Peter Lustig was a TV grandad to millions of people, becoming one of the country’s national treasures.

In February 2016, Germany said goodbye to Lustig as the show’s creator passed away following many years of illness. But his legacy continues in the show, still running in its 35th year.

What Happens on The Show?

Löwenzahn takes place in the Schrebergärten (allotments) of a fictional of city called Bärstadt. In every episode, Peter Lustig greeted the audience from his home in the Bauwagen, a disused builder’s trailer which he had converted into his home.

Peter Lustig (that is the actor’s real name) was a casual character dressed in dungarees. He represented the archetype of an alternative dropout, sharply contrasted with his neat and conservative neighbour Hermann Paschulke. In most episodes, Peter and his neighbour started off with a little chat (or occasional neighbourly spat).

These chats inspired many of Peter’s curious questions about the world.He found himself wondering “Warum ist das so?” (Why is it like that?). He presented film clips and went out into the world to explore. The episode topics included answers to many children’s questions like “Wie kommen die Löcher in den Käse?” (How do the holes get into the cheese?) or “Was ist eigentlich Blech? Was passiert, wenn es rostet?” (What is tin? What happens when it gets rusty?).

Alternative Attitudes and Environmentalism in Löwenzahn

Peter’s show promoted excitement about nature and environment for several generations of Germans.

Löwenzahn and its understated, chilled out presenter were a product of Germany’s green consciousness. Peter didn’t wear suits or live in an expensive home. He wasn’t a professor, and his appearance celebrated authenticity and challenged the status quo.

The Bauwagen was a showcase of self-sufficiency and DIY skills, showing how everyday “junk” can be upcycled and reused. In this way, engineer Peter Lustig showed generations of German children how to make something out of nothing.

Throughout the show’s run, nature and environment were important core topics. Progress was acknowledged, yet regarded with a little skepticism along with Peter’s trademark curiosity. And for decades the programme’s most famous catchphrase was a variant of “.. und jetzt machen wir den Fernseher…aus.” (And now we switch the TV… off)

Löwenzahn Continues

Löwenzahn stood out because it was not shrill or oversaturated like many other kids’ TV shows. Peter Lustig himself designed his character to promote a grown-up’s curiosity about the world. He valued learning at any age and invited his viewers into a world of tüfteln, forschen, entdecken (tinker, research, discover).

In 2007, Peter Lustig received the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande, Germany’s highest Order of Merit. His legacy is evident not only in the love and praise he received but also in the show’s ongoing success.

Today, Löwenzahn continues with a new character: Fritz Fuchs, played by comedian Guido Hammesfahr, took over the show and the Bauwagen in October 2006. The original cast has grown to feature more diverse characters and create a faster-paced version of Löwenzahn. Hammesfahr and Lustig know how much times have changed. Lustig joked that he’s happy not to compete with PlayStation in this interview with the Bild newspaper.

The show also maintains its theme of encouraging young viewers to get away from the TV for a bit and step out into the world. You can find out more about the current topics on Löwenzahn’s official website.

transportation

5 Things you didn’t know about Driving in Germany

5 Things you didn't know about Driving in Germany
© Pixabay

Germany is known for its automobile-loving culture. From prestige cars like Porsche to the everyman’s Volkswagen, the Germans have claimed their place in any car lover’s heart. If you’re ready for a spin, make sure you know the following facts to stay safe and legal.

Can You Drive in Germany?

Germany accepts all international driving permits if your stay is temporary. EEA and EU license holders can usually keep driving after they become residents, though other licenses often need be converted. Check out this helpful page from the Federal Ministry for more details.

1. Compulsory First Aid Training for Everyone

In Germany, your path to getting a driving license is complex. It’s compulsory to show evidence of 14 hours of theory lessons and several driving hours with an instructor, depending on the driver’s experience level in different conditions (night drives and Autobahn drives for example). You may also have to complete a sight test, and after that it’s time to take the two driving exams: theory and practice. When you take a practical test, you will be accompanied by a driving instructor and the examiner, and have to complete a set of standard maneuvers like reversing, parallel parking and turning around.

All drivers are also required to complete the course Lebensrettende Sofortmaßnahmen, a modified first aid certificate for the road. This course is offered nationwide and teaches life-saving actions any driver can take in case of accidents.

2. There Are Speed Limits on the Autobahn

Most of my non-German friends believe in the legendary land of no speed limits: the German Autobahn. This is partly true as the Autobahn has no national speed limit, so you should prepare to witness some very high speeds. The law recommends a maximum speed of 130 km per hour (approx. 80mph), meaning you don’t break any laws if you drive faster but will be considered partly at fault for any accidents that may occur.

In reality, there are countless Autobahn stretches that do post a local Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit) which is absolutely compulsory, so remain vigilant and drive carefully.

3. All Our Sins Are Recorded in One City

Like many other countries, Germany operates a driving record system for offences like speeding, keeping no distance to other drivers, or running red lights. This system is officially called the Fahreignungsregister, but most people simply call it the Verkehrssünderkartei (traffic-sinner-register). All of a German driver’s sins are registered here, run by the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt in the Northern city of Flensburg since 1951. When you hear a German friend referring to their “points in Flensburg”, they are talking about those notes on a driving record. If you’re planning to drive in Germany, get yourself up to speed on all penalties today.

4. Flashing Your Lights Is a Problem

In many countries, flashing your car lights at a fellow drivers is considered good road etiquette. You may be thanking them for letting you pass, or offering right of way. But when in Germany, hold back on those flashes and observe how other drivers use them. Flashing your lights indicates “you’ve got a problem” and may mean they’ve noticed a problem with your car or even that they’re just an aggressive tailgater.

5. You May Not Need To Drive At All

With a public transport system in the world’s top 10, chances are you never have to drive at all. Our country is connected by the Deutsche Bahn train network and each metro area boasts frequent and reliable buses, trams and commuter trains.

And if you’ve got a little time, discover Radnetz Deutschland, the national cycling network which connects every corner of the country to get you places in a healthy, environmentally friendly way.

Whichever transport method you choose, make sure you stay safe and respectful of other drivers. Gute Fahrt!

german culture

Peinlich und blamiert – Embarrassment in Germany

What embarrasses the Germans?
© Pixabay

When you first arrive in Germany, you might think that we are totally immune to embarrassment. There are crazy events like carnival, nakedness in the sauna, and certainly no fear of disagreeing or asking direct questions in the workplace.

But of course, embarrassing situations affect Germans as much as everyone else. They fear being singled out in a group and drawing attention to themselves in a negative way, for example with unwanted physical slip-ups like rülpsen (burping), furzen (passing wind), stolpern (stumbling) or Magenknurren (a growling stomach).

Embarrassment is also caused by behaviours. Many Germans have been brought up in the European tradition of valuing humility. As a consequence, getting many compliments or being praised in front of others can feel embarrassing. When you pay a particularly enthusiastic compliment to your German friend, they may feel a desire to run away or at least emphasize that their achievements were actually nur ein Glücksfall (a case of blind luck) or Zufall (coincidence).

What’s more, angeben (bragging) and arrogance are considered extremely bad taste, and embarrassing for everyone around you. This is hilariously common when we catch other Germans speaking bad English – examples like “I lost mei längwitsch at se bietsch” from people who declare themselves fluent feel like a bad reflection on all of us. Yes, Germans take pride in their language skills.

How to Say It

The key words when you talk about embarrassment are peinlich (embarrassing), sich schämen (to be ashamed) and sich blamieren (to make a fool of oneself).

Peinlich comes from the Latin word “poena”, referring to a sin or punishment – football fans will recognize its English language cognate “penalty”.

The words schämen and Scham relate to the English word “shame”, and both words are related to the old English word “scamu” which means the same thing. They also both indicate “cheek redness”, so that we can conclude that even the wild Vikings had to battle feelings of embarrassment.

And to add a little Latin flavour to our shame vocabulary, blamieren and the related noun Blamage came to Germany through the French language, where “blâmer” means “to criticise”.

The Ground Opens Up

When Germans are embarrassed, they may rot werden (blush) or im Erdboden versinken (to sink into the ground).

Here are a few expressions to use when something embarrassing happens to you:

Mann, das ist mir aber peinlich! (Man, that’s embarrassing.)

Ich schäme mich ein bisschen. (I’m a little ashamed.)

Entschuldigung. Wie unangenehm! (I’m sorry. How awkward!)

Das ist mir total unangenehm. (This is really awkward.)

Herrje, was müssen Sie von mir denken? (Oh my, what must you think of me?)

If all that embarrassment has you scared of ever setting foot in Germany, rest assured that there are many ways it happens to others, too.

Fremdschämen and Mitleid

German society is not impressed by people who aus der Rolle fallen (stand out). Eccentrics, bad jokers and extroverts can cause embarrassment, and their actions feel like an awkward reflection on their friends or companions. If you can relate to those situations, the German language has a word for you: fremdschämen means feeling embarrassment on behalf of other people, just because they are being pretty embarrassing. It’s embarrassment by association.

When you’re expressing that embarrassment from your own point of view, you say es ist mir peinlich für or ich schäme mich für with the Akkusativ case.

Examples

Ich schäme mich total, wenn meine Begleitung unangebracht unfreundlich zu Verkäufern ist. Sowas ist ganz schön peinlich. (I am really ashamed when my companion is rude to sales people with no clear reason. Things like that is pretty embarrassing)

Meine Freundin hatte letztens Lippenstift auf der Nase, und sie hat stundenlang geflirtet. Mir war das so peinlich für sie. (The other day my friend hat lipstick on her nose, and she was flirting for hours! I was so embarrassed for her.)

Schadenfreude

This word is so powerful that it even made its way into the English language as a loanword. In essence, Schadenfreude is the pleasure you feel when bad things happen to someone you don’t like. It’s kind of the opposite of Mitleid (pity, compassion).

The Germans know that there is particular satisfaction in seeing the downfall of someone who would have previously commanded envy or admiration. Sayings like Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude (Schadenfreude ist the best joy) are heard in the country until today. The best way to express this feeling is to avoid any expression, so you can say the beautiful sentence Ich kann mir das Lachen nicht verkneifen. (I can’t stop myself from laughing.)

german culture german customs and traditions

How Germany celebrates November

How Germany celebrates November
© Pixabay

Light in The Dark

November is a month we often overlooked between the golden days of October and the golden lights of Christmas. But in Germany, this month does not disappoint. See how international and national occasions are observed in the following article:

Halloween and Remembering The Dead in Germany

In America, costumes and pumpkins come out on 31 October for Hallowe’en, a festival of ghosts and spooky things. At the start of November, Mexico marks its famous *Day of the Dead* celebrations, lasting a full three days. When the days get shorter and the nights get darker, Germany also takes a few moments to remember those that have passed.

Of course, the influence of American culture and commerce hasn’t gone unnoticed. These days, children in big cities might ask for *Süßes oder Saures* (something sweet or something sour, an adaptation of Trick or Treating) and you’ll definitely see the pumpkin theme in bigger department stores.

Even though the German-speaking world doesn’t have a traditional Hallowe’en, its origins are echoed in *Allerheiligen* and *Allerseelen* (All Saints and All Souls). These two Christian holidays mark the deceased. It is traditional to visit the graves of late relatives and light a candle for them.

Dedicating the month to those that have died continues in the tradition of *Volkstrauertag*, the national day of grieving. Just like international versions of Remembrance Day, the Germans take this day to remember those that have fallen in the wars. There is a minute’s silence held in the *Bundestag*, the German parliament.

Religious Holidays in November

Germany’s public holiday structure shows the influence of its different Christian denominations. In the predominantly catholic South, the *Bundesländer* are given a public holiday on 1 November for *Allerheiligen*.

This is different in the East, an area with a protestant majority. The five Eastern *Bundesländer* Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen observe *Reformationstag* instead. This celebration coincides with Hallowe’en on 31 October and marks the occasion of [Martin Luther] publishing his influential 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Sachsen-Anhalt. This act ended up leading to the formation of the Protestant Church of Germany. The Protestant version of All Souls is *Totensonntag*, held on the last Sunday before Advent starts.

11. November at 11 o’clock: A Quick Moment of Carnival

All that doom and gloom can only be lightened up with a bit of foreshadowing to carnival season. With precise German timekeeping, the *Faschingszeit* begins “am 11.11. um 11 Uhr 11” (on 11/11 at 11:11). Germany’s carnival clubs consider the number 11 the craziest of the numbers. The reason is not confirmed, though some speculate this is because it stands between 10 (commandments) and 12 (apostles). Either way, there cannot be much talk of any kind of “season” with this one. German carnival enthusiasts may spend the day storming town halls and spreading joyful mischief, but carnival quickly returns behind the scenes until February when the real fun kicks off.

St Martin’s Day is Celebrated with Lanterns and Bonfires

If you are British, you know that 5 November is a day for bonfires and celebrations in the dark. But did you know that Germany has a bonfire and lantern tradition of its own to offer?

*Martinstag*, the day of St Martin, celebrated around 11 November, is dedicated to St Martin of Tours. He was a rich and generous knight who was riding along on his horse one wintry night as he came across a beggar by the side of the road. Seeing the poor man freezing, Martin cut his own coat into two pieces and shared it with the poor.

The generous knight eventually became a monk and a bishop, recognised by the church for his modesty and generosity. You can practice your German and watch his story in this cute video by WDR. Today, children craft lanterns and go on a walk to a bonfire site, singing songs about lanterns and St Martin.

The easiest song to learn is “Laterne, Laterne”, with its three lines of lyrics:

*Laterne, Laterne*

*Sonne, Mond und Sterne*

*Brenne auf mein Licht, Brenne auf mein Licht*

*Aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht!*

(Lantern, Sun, Moon and Stars. Burn up my light, but not my precious lantern!)

No matter how you choose to spend your November this year, with this many celebrations and occasions we guarantee that your month more to offer than expected.