Living in Germany

  • Mushroom Picker Stick
    Ollie the Grey

    Jamie Oliver has been an inspiration for my son and I for many years. Recently Jamie challenged his Instagram followers to make him laugh in these difficult Corona days.

    This was the photo he posted of himself holding a hand-carved walking mushroom picking stick. How good would it be to have a mushroom picker’s stick signed by Jamie and Gennaro Contaldo?

    Is it Ollie the Grey from Lord of the Rings?

    I couldn’t resist! Time to get the creative juices flowing. The pose reminded me of Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, hence the name Ollie the Grey.

    We adapted the words of a well-known tongue-twister about a “Pheasant Plucker” (be careful how you say it!) and we came up with this little ditty.

    It’s Jamie and this is what he sings:

    I’m not the mushroom picker, I’m the mushroom picker’s son. We only pick mushrooms when the season’s come.

    I’m not the mushroom picker, it’s Gennaro with his mushroom picker’s stick. We only pick mushrooms cos the mushroom stick’s quick.

    P&Nuts (mystorydoor)

    I don’t for a moment think that we’ll win a Mushroom Picker’s Stick but we had fun coming up with our rhyme.

    Check out Jamie’s Instagram for other posts to cheer you up.

  • All Things Bright and Beautiful

    Here I am sitting in my garden under a tree. We may only have a small garden but in it there are 3 trees. When we first moved in there were 3 little ponds. Next you’ll be asking if we have 3 little pigs.

    Unfortunately I haven’t inherited my family’s green fingers. No pristine English lawn with its fresh green grass. My father must be ‘turning in his grave’ at the sight of our patch of moss. Oh well! You can’t be good at everything.

    We live in a village on the main street and there is a constant flow of traffic during the day, so I can’t say it’s quiet. We are lucky, however, to have visitors of a furry or feathered kind, especially early in the morning or in the evening.

    All Creatures Great and Small

    Let’s start with the birds, the names of which I’ve just about mastered in English (very difficult to remember in German). Sparrows, tits, chaffinches, dunnocks, redstarts, wagtails, pigeons, magpies, jays and a family of greater spotted woodpeckers.

    Of course, when you feed the birds you attract other animals who thrive off the supply of nuts which fall on the ground. Squirrels and mice I can tolerate but rats are so cheeky and fearless. I admit to being afraid of them and the diseases they can spread.

    As I am sure you know, pine martens (Marder) are quite common in German and can do a lot of damage. One winter’s night I had a close encounter with one on our roof as we looked out of our window. The tap tap across the tiles and their screams and yowling is enough to keep anyone awake.

    We love them all (well, almost all!)

    Snakes are another story! In the cellar we had a small grass snake (Ringelnatter). How sweet I hear you say. Totally harmless! At the time I thought it was a toy (“Schleich Tier”) which my kids had dropped on the floor. Noooo! As I went to pick it up, I soon realised my mistake. I swear it sat up and hissed at me. Paralysed with fear I called for help and then insisted that it be transported in a bucket to a field kilometres away.

    All this talk about little creatures has reminded me of a hymn I used to sing in the church when I was young. I listen to this and other rousing hymns while I clean the house (a job I don’t enjoy) – it seems to give me energy.

    All Things Bright and Beautiful (Cecil F. Alexander)

    All things bright and beautiful,
    All creatures great and small,
    All things wise and wonderful,
    The lord god made them all.

    1. Each little flower that opens,
    Each little bird that sings,
    He made their glowing colours,
    He made their little wings.


    2. The purple headed mountain,
    The river running by,
    The sunset and the morning,
    That brightens up the sky

    3. The cold wind in the winter,
    The pleasant summer sun,
    The ripe fruits in the garden,
    He made them every one.

    4. The tall trees in the greenwood,
    The meadows where we play,
    The rushes by the water,
    We gather every day.

    Happy cleaning!

  • Stereotypes

    National Stereotypes

    It is all too easy to categorise people according to their nationality. Putting people in pigeon holes (Leute in eine Schublade stecken) and assuming that all are the same can lead to misunderstanding, intolerance and narrow-mindedness (Engstirnigkeit).

    One thing I have learnt is that we all have prejudices, conscious or unconscious – it is human nature. I can understand my friends here who still think that English food is terrible, having had a bad experience on their school exchange 40 years ago.

    I recently read 2 books: “How to be German” by ex-pat Adam Fletcher and “English” by Ben Fogle. Both, in their own individual way, offer an insight into life in England and Germany. Take them “with a pinch of salt” but they are perhaps worth a read.

    National Symbols

    Sometimes I like to be a little provocative and to challenge people’s views, so please forgive me for wanting to play the “devil’s advocate”. Here is a list of what some consider to be stereotypical symbols or characteristics of the English and Germans. I would be interested to hear your opinion.

    Are they correct? Would you add anything to the list?

    I believe all of us carry an invisible rucksack packed with culture, experiences, beliefs, values and morals. These things have been collected over our lifetime. Wherever we go our rucksack is with us and influences who we are and how we behave.

    Perhaps the way to lead a balanced life is to occasionally unpack the things in our “rucksack”, take a good look at them and decide if we really need them, if not get rid of them. Nothing should be a burden or too heavy a load.

    Please don’t get me wrong- I am far from perfect. What I’m trying to say is that it’s never to late to change!

  • Going Nuts

    Recently I went for a walk in the woods and  noticed the abundance of nuts on the ground as they crunched under my feet. A great food supply for woodland animals such as deer, birds and squirrels.

    Beatrice Potter wrote a children‘s book about „Squirrel Nutkin. I thought of him as an acorn landed on my head. Had the cheeky rodent dropped his nut from the oak tree or was it just the wind?

    There are two species of squirrel in the UK; red squirrels and grey squirrels. Red squirrels are the native species and have lived in the UK for around 10,000 years. The introduction of  grey squirrels from North America in the 1800s has caused a rapid decline in the number of the smaller squirrels. Conservation projects have been set up to protect the ‘red’ e.g. on the Isle of Wight.

    Autumn is a time for collecting horse chestnuts – children and adults alike. As a child we played “conkers” in the school playground. Armed with our chestnut on a string we challenged our comrades to a duel. All kinds of tricks were used to ensure that our nut would be the champion. “All’s fair in love and war!”

    Unfortunately, due to health and safety issues this game has been banned in some English schools. In fact, kids are no longer encouraged to climb trees because it is considered to be too dangerous!

  • Panting or Crocheting

    I recently had a bit of an embarrassing moment – a typical “Pat faux pas”. I was listening to two fathers reminiscing about attending “pre-natal” classes and how their respective partners were encouraged to breathe or “pant”.  All part of the preparatory exercises for childbirth. I was quite, however, surprised to hear them talking about crocheting.

    In some ways it fitted – in my time, before the baby arrived family and friends frantically knitted or crocheted woollen baby clothes e.g. cardigans, hats or booties. Maybe it did sound feasible… UNTIL….I  realised they were using the German verb “hecheln”  (to pant) and NOT “häckeln” 🙂

    Just one of those hilarious moment where I have learnt to laugh at myself.  My motto is:  If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry!

  • Herbal Ramble
    Mixed Garden Herbs

    For some time I have been planning to go on a „Kräutertour“ (herb tour) with author and biologist, Ursula Stratmann. Finally I did it!

    We and about 20 others met at a car park in Nachtigallstraße, Witten Bommern where we were greeted with a snack of herb spreads and edible flowers. After tasting and attempting to identify the colourful array of petals we set off on our ramble.

    Enchanting Woman

    Hexenkraut (pressed)

    For 2 hours we were guided along the hedgerows and roadside, where we were introduced to various wild plants which can be used for medicinal purposes or for cooking. One such plant was the „Hexenkraut“ (enchanter‘s nightshade) with its mysterious properties stemming back to Greek mythology.

    With the support of her microphone system, Ursula kept us captivated in her witty and informative way. The booklet which we were given proved to be very useful as a reference and a notebook.

    Stalk Flute

    As well as collecting plant specimens to take home and press, we played a flute made from the stalk of knotweed (Staudenknöterich), ate dead nettle leaves and even learnt what to use as  „natural“ toilet paper.

    A well spent Sunday morning. Well worth doing.

    See for more information

  • Bricks

    Ruhrpott history

    In my attempt to become a “better”, more knowledgeable “Ruhrpott Kind”, I recently went on a jolly to our local mining museum. It is literally just down the road from me. I have been before but never paid any real attention to the site other than when we visit the “Oldtimer Festival” to look at the classic cars (not necessarily an event for old men- which is what most English people would understand from the expression “oldtimer”).

    Sitting on hot coal

    Zeche Nichtigall, Witten Bommern

    There is an area near Witten, south of the River Ruhr called Muttental (Mutten Valley) popular not only for its beautiful walk and cycle ways but also for its rich seam of coal which runs under the surface. This coal (black gold) was excavated over 450 years and even today there is subsidence in unexpected places. Local people are well aware that in times of desperation coal was mined and the tunnels not officially recorded.

    Zeche Nichtigall (Nightingale Mine) was first mentioned in the early 1700s and at the museum you get a real feel of how important this industry was for the local area.


    On the site of the museum are also the remains of an old brickwork (Ziegelei). Fascinating. I now know the correct word for “bricks” in German. Upto now I have always said “Steine”. Wrong! It’s “Ziegel(steine)”. As they say in Yorkshire: “Tha learns summat new everyday!

    It took us a little while to understand how the bricks were produced, especially how the tall chimney was connected to the oven. In the end we got there. The brick furnace was first put in to use in 1892 and closed on 1963.

    I have a question: “Did the Industrial Revolution happen at the same time in Germany as in England?”

    Queen Victoria

    I have been watching the BBC production of “Victoria” played brilliantly by Jenna Coleman with Tom Hughes as her inspirational German Prince Albert. In the last series it shows how desperate Albert was to improve living conditions for the common people. As well as the huge technical development during the Victorian era, there was a massive increase in the number of houses being built. 


    Brickwork chimney in Bommern

    During the time of urban development there was obviously a big demand for bricks in Witten too and, because there was a shortage of local labour, migrant workers (Gastarbeiter) were employed. At the Nightingale Museum you can see photos and items belonging to the men, many of whom were Italian. This reminded me of Bedford, a town north of London, where I lived for 10 years.

    My husband grew up near Bedford and remembers the London Brick Works which was one of the biggest brickworks in the World. At the height of its production it employed over 2000 workers, many of whom came from Italy, and there were 162 chimneys to be seen on the rural Bedfordshire landscape. The factory had to close in 2008 because the sulphur dioxide emissions were too high.

    The leaning chimneys

    Stewartby chimneys
    Stewartby chimneys

    In the 1930s the village of Stewartby, near Bedford was set up as a “model” village for the brick workers. 32 chimneys each standing 72 metres high could be seen near Stewartby. Today there are only 4 high chimneys remaining. These have been put on the presavation list because of their local historical interest. There is talk of them being demolished and replaced by a replica chimney because they are leaning and are not thought to be safe. The Stewartby chimneys are an iconic landmark and if you are ever passing-by, look out for them along with the lake (an old clay pit) which is a place for nature lovers.

  • Brexit Mess

    Up to now I have avoided the “elephant in the room” – BREXIT. I can understand if you have had your fill of this topic. If so, maybe it is time for you to stop reading. Sorry, but I feel it’s time for me to let off a bit of steam.

    Eton Mess

    There is a popular English dessert called “Eton Mess”: traditionally made at an elite private school for boys and consists of broken fruit, meringue, fresh fruit and cream.

    Can you spot any similarities with Brexit? The word ‘broken’ pops out and, in my opinion, the cream has ‘gone off ‘. Posh school boys have created a real mess!

    Brexit Roller Coaster

    Since the referendum in 2016 I have experienced a real roller coaster of Brexit emotions: at the beginning I felt anger and disbelief – shouting “What have you done?” at the radio when I first heard the result. These feelings have progressively waned into embarrassment and sadness.

    Sadness because The United Kingdom is broken. The nation is in pieces. Hopefully it’s not like the nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty”, where “all the Kings horses and King’s men couldn’t put Humpty (UK) together again“!

    Embarrassment because no-one outside the UK can understand why the British politicians aren’t able to get their act together – if I am honest, neither can I. I am never sure how to respond when asked about Brexit because I am still very protective of my homeland and its people.

    In or Out?

    Friday, 29th March was to be the day the UK leaves the EU. What a surprise! Today is the day after and we are still in. I hope a solution is found soon because it is time to move on. The population is split and is desperate for a decision.

    Recently I heard “Hot N Cold” by Katy Perry and thought how appropriate this is for Brexit:

    You’re in then you’re out
    You’re up then you’re down
    You’re wrong when it’s right
    It’s black and it’s white
    We fight, we break up
    We kiss, we make up
    (You) You don’t really want to stay, no
    (You) But you don’t really want to go-o

    Katy Perry

  • A Sweet Tooth

    People often talk about having a “sweet tooth“, but what do you have if you prefer savoury food?

    I don’t think it would be wrong to say that, as a nation, the English have got a “sweet tooth”. Brits are famous for their sweet cakes; such as, scones, Victoria sponge cake and apple pie – but the days of eating them everyday, for most people, have gone. Thank goodness!


    I remember coming home from school at 4 0’clock and setting the table for tea. This was my job. Everything had to be on the table ready for when my father came in from “milking the cows”. There were cakes galore; buckets full (literally) of jam tarts, buns, flapjack and Rice Krispie Crunch. In our house Wednesday was “Baking Day” when all the stocks were replenished – a never ending supply of sugar.

    Rice Krispie Crunch

    Recently we made some sticky Toffee Marshmallow Crunch. We ordered the box of Kelloggs Rice Krispies on the internet because you can no longer buy them here in Germany. You may remember this cereal – when you added milk to the bowl, the crispies made a popping noise and so the 3 cartoon characters, Snap, Crackle and Pop got their names. 

    If you are interested here are the ingredients:
    2 1/2oz (*ounces) Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, 2 ozs butter/margarine, 2 ozs caramel toffees, 2 ozs marshmallows and 6 tspns (teaspoons) lemon juice.

    Naughty but nice but be prepared for a sugar shock!

    *For more information about imperial weights and measurements which are often used in British and American recipes , see my article “The measure of English Cooking”

    Walkers Crisps

    When you get the “munchies” (Kohldampf) a good alternative to something sweet is a packet of crisps. Equally unhealthy. Unlike in Germany, most crisps sold in the UK come in small packets and are totally practical for a packed lunch or for sitting in front of the TV. I recommend Walkers Crisps which are similar to Lays Crisps: both companies are part of the PepsiCo group. Walkers are produced in Leicester and are well known, not just for their quality, but also for their unusual flavours.

    Instead of Ready Salted, Salt and Vinegar or Cheese and Onion flavours, maybe you can try Roasted Lamb and Mint or Prawn Cocktail (Krabbencocktail). Delicious!

    Go Crackers!

    On a savoury note: have you ever tried Jacobs Cream Crackers? I brought some back from England and ate them with some Cheddar Cheese , topped with chutney (unfortunately my favourite Branston Pickle was not available so I settled for another brand). I must say, I was a little disappointed with the taste – isn’t it funny how you remember things differently.

  • Roots

    I haven’t written for a while but my energy level is up again after a wonderful visit to my home city of York.

    We left Düsseldorf with its breezy -5 degrees and arrived, after a short flight in a small propeller driven “Flybe” plane, at Leeds/Bradford airport to +12 degrees. Why did we pack all our winter woollies?

    We got a taxi for £60 to York which took about 40 minutes. There are cheaper ways of getting about but we decided to do this because it was less hassle and for our 2 day visit we didn’t need a hire car.

    The Grange Hotel

    The Grange Hotel, York

    All this delicious food and wine (English white wine included) was a celebration of something very special: sitting around the table felt rather like being a member of an audience at an outstanding performance. Tommy your food and ethos are to be admired.

    Through “Secret Escapes”, which describes itself as an exclusive members only travel club, we booked an elegant double room in The Grange Hotel for a very reasonable price. If you are curious take a look at their website: I love the perhaps over-used expression boutique style hotel”, but in this case it is an appropriate classification for this Grade II listed building (built in 1830) in the affluent part of York called ‘Bootham’.

    Full English

    Many Germans believe that English people eat a “Full English Breakfast” every day. I can assure you this is not true! For me and my family this is something special, reserved for holidays. We certainly enjoyed our breakfast (porridge included) in the cellar (the brasserie) of the hotel; compliments to the friendly waiters and waitresses.

    Ancient City

    Saturday morning we sauntered (bummeln) through the ancient narrow streets of York. It is full of history. We popped into 2 antique shops, the best one being the “Antiques Centre”, centrally located in Stonegate. We were looking for a ‘fob watch’ (Taschenuhr) but unfortunately they were too expensive.

    York City FC

    York City FC

    I couldn’t go to York without a visit to Bootham Crescent, the home ground of York City Football Club. I am not a true supporter (I know others who are!) but have been to occasional games in this small cosy (gemütlich) stadium. With its capacity of just over 8000 (on this day attendance was 2669) you certainly feel part of the game and are exposed to some colourful language in a strong Yorkshire accent: a real education for non-Tykes (non Yorkshiremen)! Unfortunately the game ended in a defeat for York.

    Roots Restaurant

    Roots Restaurant sign

    The highlight of our stay in York. “Roots” restaurant is a must if you are ever in the city. It is the second of 2 restaurants run by the Banks family. Tommy Banks is a Michelin star chef whose food philosophy is based on eating food off the land and eating homegrown or local ingredients.

    Instead of the traditional four…I think there are three main seasons when it comes to growing your own: the Hunger Gap, Time of Abundance and the Preserving Season

    Tommy Banks, from his cookbook ‘Roots’ (2018)
    The White Horse, Kilburn

    Since our visit to York in January, I have read Tommy Banks’ book “Roots” and although I probably won’t be trying many of recipes, I found it an interesting read; especially as I know the area where he farms (Olstead), having often climbed the steep hill of Sutton Bank to see the White Horse near Kilburn, North Yorkshire.

    As we sat in the restaurant with its tasteful decor, we were guided by a very knowledgeable waiter through a “Feast Menu” aptly named “The Hunger Gap”. We had a “selection of sharing plates”- in total 11 different dishes. This sounds like over-indulgence but in fact the tapas-size portions meant we made it to dessert! I cannot say what the “pick of the bunch” was, but I can certainly recommend the following: –

    Halibut, Broccoli and a Smoked Bacon and Mussel Sauce
    Kale Dressed in Sheep’s Yoghurt, Pickled Walnuts and Cured Egg Yolk

    My husband’s choice would be ‘Glazed Savoy Cabbage, Wild Garlic (Bärlauch), Elderflower (Holunderblüten)’ and ‘Roots’ signature dish ‘Crapaudine Beetroot (Rote Beete) cooked slowly in Beef Fat’.

    The pièce de résistance for me was the Woodruff (Waldmeister) Toast, Rhubarb and Honey. Woodruff is a highly scented wild herb which grows in woodlands and typifies Tommy’s use of foraged ingredients.