Monday 9 Dec, 2013

An Insider’s take on Student Tours to Berlin

EF Education First had a chance to catch up with Marion H., an extraordinary group leader who was kind enough to answer a few insider questions about Student Tours to Berlin, Germany and her German heritage.

1.       Did anything stand out to you in Berlin and Germany that you thought was a great way of doing things?

Yes! The way houses are built is definitely something that would stick out to us North Americans. Germans are very energy conscious and the green movement is huge over there, affecting various aspects of everyday life. Some examples include:

  • Architecture and interior design: There are doors separating every room in the house, including the hallway, so that the temperature can be controlled in each room individually. If they are not using one of the rooms, they don’t turn on the heat. Each room would have its own radiator. Air conditioning is not built into the houses and is rarely found due to its massive consumption of electricity. Instead, the houses are built of mainly concrete, which stays cool inside in the summer, and all windows are equipped with built in blinds that can be closed to shut out all sunlight in summer, so that it doesn’t stream through the window and heat the room.
  • Garbage and recycling: There are usually up to five different receptacles in a German kitchen to deal with the various types of garbage and recycling: paper & cardboard, aluminum and metal, plastics, compost, and glass. Glass recycling stations are found throughout cities where people bring their glass recyclables and sort them into brown, green and clear glass bins.
  • Transportation: not only does Germany have an amazing transportation network connecting absolutely everyone by either bus, commuter train, regular train, streetcar or subway, but they also have policies in place enforced through the ministry of transportation to deal with vehicle pollution. For example, cars sold in Germany have an automatic shut off when they sit idle at a red light for more than a few seconds. Also, they have a Drive Clean program that tests engine exhaust similar to ours. And finally, the amount of money you pay in order to renew the sticker on your vehicle’s license plate is directly related to the size of the engine of the car to encourage people to drive smaller cars that produce less exhaust.
  • Check out the Berlin Student Science Trips.

2.       What can you tell me about the Berliner doughnut? 

A “Berliner” Jelly Doughnut

The “Berliner” is a deep fried pastry that resembles a giant Tim-bit. It is rolled in coarse sugar on the outside and is injected with jam or jelly on the inside. It’s ridiculously good and is something no visitor should miss. Of course the pun on the word comes from the fact that a “Berliner” is exactly the same term used to refer to a citizen of Berlin. This makes JFK’s speech so much more endearing when he said “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a citizen of Berlin), which could also be interpreted as him saying “I am a jelly doughnut”

Watch President Kennedy “maybe” call himself a Jelly Doughnut here:


3.       If you could have one meal in Berlin, where would you go and what would you order?

When it comes to food I listen to any local recommendations. Not being native to that area of Germany, I would rely on a Berliner for tips. But it would certainly include one of those jelly doughnuts. If you are going for German food in general, try a local “Wirtschaft” and try any of the typical foods,  such as Schnitzel (there are a tonne of different kinds, Jägerschnitzel is my personal favourite, as it is one made with ingredients that a Jäger, or hunter, might find, such as mushrooms), any yummy treat found in a Konditorei (pastry shop), like a Black Forest cake. Spätzle (a type of side dish, similar to pasta), or Schweinshaxe, which are pork hocks.



Black Forest Cake


Baked Spätzle
















4.       It’s been mentioned that you have some German heritage, can you tell me how far back that goes or what having a German heritage means to you?

I have dual citizenship (Canadian/German), as I was born in a town called Zweibrücken in the Rhineland Palatinate province in the southwest near the French border. We immigrated to Canada when I was three years old, but growing up, I spent most summers in Germany, we spoke German at home, I went to German school on Saturday mornings to learn to read and write it, and I also worked in Switzerland for a few summers at a restaurant, where I came into contact with the Swiss German dialect. I have an honours degree in German and have always taught German. I continue to teach German even now at Conestoga College in Kitchener. Growing up in Kitchener-Waterloo, where German ethnicity is present everywhere, I am now an active participant in the German-Canadian community and have joined one of the many local German clubs, the German-Canadian Business & Professional Association. I currently work on the executive as their vice president, and am also an executive member of one of their subsidiary groups, the Waterloo Education Fund, which donates thousands of dollars to students of German here in the region, who participate in the secondary school language programs and a German contest. My husband and I also got married in Germany. That was quite a fun experience, especially for him and his family, as they are typically Canadian with aboriginal roots. The Germans find this fascinating and even covered our wedding in the local newspaper.

5.       Anything else you think would be of interest to people deciding if they want to travel to Germany?

When travelling to Germany, just like travelling anywhere else, it’s important to do some research ahead of time about what you would like to see and do. Germans culture tends to value planning and organization, so I’d emphasize a less “spur of the moment” attitude. And of course, always be sure to learn a few key phrases in German (or any language of the country you are visiting), as this is well received by the locals.

I’ll leave you with some German phrases you should definitely know when you travel to Berlin on an educational student tour.

Yes/No. Ja/Nein. yar/niyn
Yes, please/No, thank you. Ja, bitte/Nein, danke. yar bitt-er/niyn dang-ker
Please. Bitte. bitt-er
Thank you. Danke. dang-ker
You’re welcome. Bitte. bitt-er