Before you read any further, grab a cup of your favorite hot chocolate, coffee or tea. Do you have it? OK. Now read on :0). Hot Chocolate with a Local will be a recurring post where I sit down with a guest and chat about travel over a delicious virtual cup of hot chocolate. I created this series to bring you real advice about travel from around the world. Today we catch up with the lovely Tatiana of Tatiana in Flux!
Tatiana: Guten Tag! or Guten Abend, I guess.
Imported Chocolate: Guten Tag,Tatiana! Thanks so much for having a virtual cup of hot chocolate with me!
Tatiana: Thank you for having me! I’m a big fan of Imported Chocolate.
Imported Chocolate: That is so great to hear! So what part of Germany do you live in?
Tatiana: I’m in Wolfsburg. It’s in the north central part of Germany and is mostly known for being home to the Volkswagen headquarters. It’s a small city (but bigger than a village, thankfully) but thanks to VW’s presence it has an international feel.
Imported Chocolate: So you have the best of both worlds! What is there to do in the city on a daily basis? Do you have nice cafes?
Tatiana: Exactly! Because I have a toddler, I wanted a place that had a small town feel but was still somewhat cosmopolitan. So–daily basis! Well, it’s a very green and very pedestrian city, so it’s really good for jogging or strolling. Near my house is the city’s centerpiece type park, called the Allerpark. There’s a huge lake with a beach, an indoor water park, an indoor playground/soccer court, bowling alley, hockey rink (for the professional team here) and soccer stadium (also for the professional team). There’s more stuff there, but you get the idea lol!
There are quite a few cafes and a surprising number of ice cream places which are busy even in this ridiculously cold German winter, but Wolfsburg is actually a pretty modern city. It was officially incorporated sometime in the 30s, and with so many auto-industry involved company here, a lot of stuff looks sleek and futuristic. But there’s a castle here and an “oldtown” type area that’s all cobblestones and old buildings—quite pretty!
Imported Chocolate: It sounds heavenly! I love castles and cobblestones!!!!!
Tatiana: Me too!!!!! I’m so nostalgic and hopelessly romantic. Whenever you’re in Europe you and I shall visit a castle. That’s all there is to it.
Imported Chocolate: So, why Germany? What inspired you to move there?
Tatiana: The reason I moved here is quite cheesy: I met my perfect guy, and he just happened to be from Germany. When it came time to choose between Alabama and Europe, Europe won hands down!
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaaw! I don’t think it’s cheesy at all! I think it’s really sweet! It’s what all girls dream of. How long have you been together?
Tatiana: Thank you! I feel very lucky to have such a sweet love story. We met in Alabama in 2010 and got married (in a little castle!) in December 2011, almost a year to the date of our first date.
Imported Chocolate: That is so beautiful! Was the castle in the states or Europe? I’m guessing Europe, Right? I so want to get married in a castle. Le sigh.
Tatiana: It was here in Wolfsburg. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a castle in Germany. We are so deprived in the states.
Imported Chocolate: Ha, ha! This is true! What’s your favorite thing about living in Germany?
Tatiana: Oooh! Good question. Let’s see…I would have to say it’s a tie between the pace of life and the proximity to so many foreign countries. Germans work hard, but they do it in such a balanced way. Most folks have at least one month of vacation per year, and people are really encouraged to do more with their life than just work to death. And being in Europe means that travel to a lot of the places I’ve always wanted to see is MUCH less cost-prohibitive
Imported Chocolate: Whaaaat?????? Sound like bliss! Especially the one month’s vacation part! I agree with you. It must be nice to just hop on a train to go to Paris or London or even Italy.
Tatiana: YES!!! The closest I ever felt to that attitude in America was when I lived in Los Angeles. But that’s probable because the city’s enveloped in a cloud of weed smoke.
And yes–last year we went to London for a weekend in the spring. Like, to be able to just up and go to a world capital for the weekend–how cool is that?
Imported Chocolate: Very cool!!! And a hardy, har, har at the “cloud of weed smoke.”
Imported Chocolate: What’s it like being a black woman in your town and the country of Germany?
Tatiana: It’s good and bad, but mostly good. When I first moved here, I got really irritated because people stared at me all. the. time. I thought it was because I was black, but I’ve since read accounts of other expats, black and non-, who all get stared at. So I think that’s mostly a German thing, though I do stand out WAY more than most so I think in some instances people stare because I’m black.
I’ve only had one experience of blatant racism directed toward me, when this old dude on a bike told my Turkish friend and I (and our kids) to ‘go back to Africa.’ as if I’ve ever been. But honestly that’s an outlier; I have found most Germans to be friendly, especially once you get to know them.
And of course, nobody can do my hair here. I’d have to go to a bigger city, and even then, it’d be a needle in a haystack situation. But I do my own hair anyway, so that’s not really a problem. No products for me here, though.
Also, there are way more black people here than I expected! All of the ones I’ve met come from different countries in Africa. I definitely give the women a “Heeey sista!” smile when I see them. 😉
Imported Chocolate: I’m sure the old man turned a corner and then fell of his bike after a nasty collision with Karma! I truly can’t stand racist people. They’re a waste of oxygen.
Tatiana: HA! You and me both. Like seriously, do you know how much energy you expended hating me? #girlbye
Imported Chocolate: Lol! I know, right?! My next question was going to be about hair, and you kind of already answered it for me, but when you do find one of those needles in a haystack places for black hair, where are they in Germany?
Tatiana: Ahh…hair! One of the ties that binds us. You can always find a beauty supply store in the bigger cities (Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, etc.). You can generally find them in the mid-sized cities too, though I haven’t tried one out yet. Also, I’m told there are good options in the towns with military bases. Kaiserslautern even has a natural hair salon owned by another American expat! But Afro-German women have a growing online community of natural hair bloggers, too.
For products, I check out the hair stores, but mostly I have my mom send them to me from the states because the selection is limited. Or if I’m in a city with a bigger black population, I’ll hit up the “ethnic” section of town to find a hair store
How was it for you in Buenos Aires? (Right? Buenos Aires?)
Imported Chocolate: Great info! In Buenos Aires, I only had one stylist for my hair. And forget about finding black hair care products—non existent.
Tatiana: Such a shame! Honestly, people don’t know how much business they’re missing out on. Even if black women aren’t a huge part of the population, the volume we buy would totally offset that. Folks STILL don’t understand our buying habits. SMH
Imported Chocolate: This is true, girl! This is true. I’ve heard Germany is relatively cheap compared to other parts of Europe. Is this true? And if it is how so?
Tatiana: Hmm…I’m not really sure! I don’t know enough to compare, but I can say that most people here are not struggling. Nothing seems exorbitantly priced to me, and the quality of life is definitely worth whatever costs you pay.
One thing that might factor into Germany being more affordable is that it’s not one of those places that you dream about moving to. People always say “I want to move to Paris! Barcelona is my dream city!” No one ever says, “Man, I sure wanna move to Frankfurt!”
Imported Chocolate: LMAO!!!! So True!
Tatiana: Lol! Sometimes I get expat envy! Like I’ll see people tweeting pics along the Seine and get jealous. But honestly, this is the perfect place for my family and me—bouts of jealousy notwithstanding.
Imported Chocolate: Lol! Aaaaw! What is the cost of living where you are?
Tatiana: I can’t remember how much our rent is (sad, I know), but I can give you a rundown of some other costs: we spend about 50-70 Euros per week on groceries (for a family of 3); filling up a midsized car is about 50 Euros; a monthly bus pass is around 70 Euros. There’s no sales tax (or it’s factored in, I’m not sure), but income taxes are pretty high.
Healthcare is way cheap, and public services are top notch, so it balances out.
Imported Chocolate: Not bad. Not bad at all. Can you give an average of how much it would cost to rent an apartment or stay a night in a hotel?
Tatiana: Ok, so the average rent for a 3 bedroom apartment outside the city center is 800 Euros. We pay around that much. Hotels vary. You can get a cheap but nice one for fewer than 100 a night. Something like 135 will get you a nice (not luxury) but high quality room with a nice German breakfast included.
Imported Chocolate: Cool! Sounds about right. Is it easy for an expat to find work?
Tatiana: It depends on what your field is. If you’re in healthcare, engineering or the auto industry, it should be a walk in the park. In fact, Germany has programs in place to recruit tech and healthcare workers because they have a shortage. Other industries might not be as easy. I’m in communications (journalism/social media), so it’s not an easy field to try to transfer too. I have found work teaching English—plenty of those jobs around.
Also, your level of German fluency is important. Many jobs require you to speak at least German, and the more languages you speak, the better.
Imported Chocolate: Nice! Let’s talk food! What are some of your favorite German dishes?
Tatiana: Food! My favorite is Wedding Soup; it’s a traditional dish here in this state (Lower Saxony). Of course, I love currywurst (sausage covered in ketchup that tastes more like barbecue sauce and sprinkled with curry powder—sounds weird but it’s delicious), and the BREAD! I just got through doing a full body Pilates workout because the bread is killing my waistline!
Imported Chocolate: Yuuuum! What’s in wedding soup? And the currywurst sounds yumtastic!
Tatiana: Wedding soup has noodles, beef, celery, carrots…and more stuff I can’t remember! Ha! I made it with my mother in law once and have been hooked ever since!
Imported Chocolate: It sounds so good!
If I wantd to travel around Germany, where would I go and what would I do?
Tatiana: Well, you would definitely check out a few castles. There’s a gorgeous one in Potsdam called Sanssouci, and though I have been yet, the Neuschweinstien castle is the model for the castle in Disneyworld. If you want to visit a cool city, you would definitely check out Berlin; it’s the perfect mix of edgy and laid back.
Hamburg is a really pretty city with lots of canals and great seafood. There you’d check out the port and the Reeperbahn. Hannover is a beautiful city a great mix of old and new, and if you want to see something less typically German, you should go to the island of Sylt. Also: the Christmas markets are not to be missed. You’ll feel like you wandered into a fairy tale.
Reeperbahn=Hamburg’s red light district
Imported Chocolate: I love all of this! I won’t need a guide book whenever I want to travel. I can just print out my “Hot Chocolate with a Local” interviews! Lol!
Tatianainflux: LOL! That’s not a bad idea!
Imported Chocolate: What about nice day trips? Or have you already mentioned day trips in some of the places above?
Tatiana: There are SO many quirky cool places here! Hannover is a nice day trip place, because it’s really pretty and has great shopping. It’s also got an aquarium and a zoo, which is good for family trips. Braunschwieg is a cool little city with a beautiful old church and a castle whose interior was transformed into a mall (!).
My favorite, however, was a trip to this town called Münchehagen. My son LOVES dinosaurs and this place has a dinopark filled with life-sized, realistic replicas of dinosaurs. They’re blended in with the landscape and make for some awesome, quirky pictures. My son asks to see the pictures from this trip at least twice a week
Imported Chocolate: I want to go shopping in the castle mall!!!
Where are some good places to go out to have a drink?
Tatiana: I LOVE the castle mall! There are all kinds of little bars tucked away. There’s a really cool American bar, but I can’t remember the name of it. Vapaiano is a chain restaurant, but its locations all look pretty different and have great atmosphere. Anywhere you go, though, the beer is awesome! I wasn’t a big beer drinker, but Germany does it right. If you ever visit, you’ve gotta try a Beck’s Green Lemon.
Imported Chocolate: I’ve heard their beer is off the chain! I must try German beer!
Tatiana: SOOOOOO delicious!
Imported Chocolate: You’re making me want to hop a flight to Germany!
Tatiana: come on over! But don’t come in the winter. It’s so cold and gray right now
Imported Chocolate: Oh! Thanks for the tip because I dislike cold and gray. What are your top five tips for being an expat in Germany?
Tatiana: I do too! So my number 1 tip is to be aware of how cold and gray Germany is in the winter. If you’re from somewhere sunny the winter weather will leave you drained and depressed. (Ok, maybe not my number one but it’s very important)
2. Learn German. If you live in a bigger city, you can survive with minimal German, but if you really want to feel like less of an outsider, then get to learning it.
3. Don’t expect Germans to be warm and fuzzy. They are WONDERFUL people when you get to know them, but most Germans are rather…brusque, shall we say?
4. Black girls: BYOHP. Bring your own hair products! You ain’t gonna find ’em here. Bring your own skin products, too.
5. Be open minded! Germany is more than lederhosen and Neo-Nazis. It’s more multicultural than you’d think, and it’s a beautiful place to live.
Imported Chocolate: Wonderful tips!!!! What would you say to all the black women still on the fence when it comes to travel?
Tatiana: Hop down off that fence, girl! Especially American girls! Mass media will have you feeling A) scared of everywhere and everything unfamiliar and
B) feeling like no one loves black women. But traveling will show you that most of those fears are unfounded, and that, in many places, black women are prized as the beautiful, complex, beings we are. It’s great to be looked at as human, and you may have to travel to truly experience that for the first time.
Imported Chocolate: LOOOOVE IT!!!!!! And this is so true and what I try to communicate here at Imported Chocolate. This is why I interview lovely woman like you!
Tatiana: And that’s one of the reasons I blog, and why I think your blog is necessary! I grew up on a dirt road, and any images I saw of people traveling were always of white people. No one who looked like me. Thankfully, I had my aunt to inspire me, but imagine how many black girls look at your blog and think “Hey–I could do that!”
Junot Diaz once said that he writes to create mirrors for people like him. So happy to have your blog as a mirror of me.
Imported Chocolate: Aaaaw! What you just said was beyond beautiful and I truly mean that. I am so glad that Imported Chocolate is in your life and I’m happy to have you as a reader!
Imported Chocolate: Is there anything else you would like to add before we take our last sip of hot chocolate?
Tatiana: Just that everyone should live a bold life. Don’t take unnecessary risks, but don’t play it safe all the time. Do something crazy–like move to another country–at least one time in your life.
Imported Chocolate: Yes! I agree! Thanks so much for joining us! How do you say ta ta in German?
Tatiana: Thank you again for having me! You can say “Tchüss!” (Chooss)
Imported Chocolate: Tchuss!!!!
Tatiana: Auf weidersehen!
Imported Chocolate: Auf weidersehen!