Monthly Archives: March 2009

Du versus Sie: the usage of You in German

German has several forms of the pronoun “you”. The “du” form is the singular informal you, and the “Sie” form is the formal you. I think that for us North Americans, it might sometimes feel awkward for us to use “Sie” as we tend to be more casual. If I am not paying attention, I sometimes accidentally use the “du” form.

Perhaps using “du” for an English speaker feels more natural because we just have the one form of “you” in English (formal and informal, singular and plural).

When I was an exchange student in Köln back in 1994-1995, I addressed my school friends and other people my age using “du” and “ihr” (“ihr” being the informal you – kind of like y’all), my host families as “du” and “ihr” and everyone else as “Sie”. I was always a little surprised when my German friends’ parents were also included in the formal “Sie” category, but I knew that it was respectful to address older people as “Sie”.

I was more surprised that my German host mother always addressed her very good friend as “Sie”. When I asked her about it, she said that even though they had known each other for years, using “Sie” with each other was a sign of respect for her friend.

I think that the rules have relaxed since then. Our friend Rafael in Mannheim, who is our age, tells me that nearly everyone in his age group and younger uses “du” with each other (we are in our early thirties, in case anyone is wondering!). And indeed, I have definitely found this to be true.

In 2006, during the World Cup, I was in Hamburg with a group of German students. When my students were in their classes during the day, I spent much of the time with the other teachers at the school. Nearly all of them addressed each other using the informal “du”. One notable except was an older teacher, close to retirement age, who still insisted on using “Sie” with everyone. I asked him about it and he sighed a little, and told me he uses it as a sign of respect toward his colleagues. He said he wished the usage would continue but that he felt things are changing toward a more casual usage.

When I go into stores here, of course the formal “Sie” form is used between the clerk and me; the same goes for people I meet while on walks with Rosebud and for other people I don’t know. Rosebud, of course, is always addressed as “du” because she is a baby! And she will learn quickly that adults and possibly much older kids will be addressed using “Sie”.

I expected the “Sie” rule to hold true with our neighbors as well.
We live in a rowhouse; there are two other homes/families in our building. The other two families have children who are about our age, hence my expectation to use the formal “Sie”. Naturally I began our conversation with “Sie”. It’s always a safe bet to use “Sie”. I have been pleasantly surprised that soon after our initial meeting with both neighbors, we were accepted right away and we were “geduzt” fairly quickly into our conversation. (German has these two cool verbs: “duzen” – to call someone by the informal “du”, that is, to address someone informally; and “siezen” – to address someone with the formal “Sie”).

Although I like the respect shown when I’m addressed as “Sie”, it does please me that our neighbors feel comfortable addressing us with the “du/ihr” forms. Certainly they respect us (and have complimented me on my excellent German!), but I feel like the “du” usage means that we are accepted as good neighbors. I suppose, however, the blueberry muffins and black bottom cupcakes* I brought to the neighbors helped spread feelings of good will toward us, too!

For the Easter holiday, we will be traveling to Köln, where we will visit my German host families. I am really looking forward to it. Both of my German mothers only have sons, so when I came to them as an exchange student, they were thrilled to finally get their daughter. In one of the families, all three of the sons are married and have their own children but right now, they’re all living abroad (in the US and China). In the other family, neither of the sons are married. So you can imagine that both families are quite excited we’ll be visiting them for Easter. They can’t wait to meet their new “Enkelin”, Miss Rosebud. I’m glad that Rosebud will have German “grandparents”.

*Speaking of baked goods, my German oven has a convection oven feature in addition to the standard over/under heating element. I am gradually learning that the convection oven takes less time when baking. We’re also at an altitude of 682 meters (2238 feet). It’s not quite high enough to be considered high altitude for baking purposes, but close enough. One tip I’ve read is to reduce the leavening a little so I will be experimenting with my recipes. Do I have any taste-testers out there? 😉


A Girls’ Day Out to the Spa

Before I talk about the spa, I want to tell you about my new German-American friend and neighbor, Mia.

In our neighborhood, there is a free Baptist church group; it was founded in the late 50’s by a Baptist mission from the States, and was originally a summer camp. The current pastor and his family, who are from Iowa, have lived here for about seven years. Mia and her husband, Steve, are also from Iowa, and they are associated with the church community. Mia was actually born and raised in Bavaria, but she met her husband in the States. They lived there for quite awhile before Steve found work here. Like me, Steve and Mia have their feet in both the American and German cultures.

They live just a few doors down from us and have been more helpful to us than you can imagine. Mia takes me grocery shopping in Bad Tölz, and Steve has helped us with the Recycling-Hof (Recycling Center), for example. Mia enjoys playing with Rosebud when we visit, too.

Mia had some vacation time, so about a week ago, she proposed we have a girls’ day at the Königliche Kristall-Therme. (The official website of the spa is here. The spa is located in the town of Schwangau, which is famous for two of King Ludwig’s castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. The town of Schwangau has its own castle as well, Bullachberg. I’ve not had the chance to visit Bullachberg before, and I’d very much like to. According to the website, it belonged to the noble Thurn und Taxis family.

But we weren’t in Schwangau to visit the castles; not this day, anyway. Instead, we wanted to pamper ourselves and let Rosebud play in the naturally warm, mineral-rich waters. Our spa day was fantastic! In the first place, the hour drive down to Schwangau was gorgeous, as we were headed closer and closer toward the Alps and the Austrian border. The elevation gradually climbed, evident from the amount of unmelted snow. And of course, once we reached Schwangau, we could see Neuschwanstein nestled among the mountains.

On the day we visited, most of the spa-goers were retired people, but there were a number of German mothers and their babies, plus a few older children. In fact, we bumped into a mother-baby spa group. There were about five mothers and their babies, around Rosebud’s age. She was so interested in seeing other babies, and even flirted with a baby boy of nine months. Later on, a boy of about four or five came over to Rosebud as we were holding her in the water, and she babbled at him, too.

The main feature of the spa are the natural salt water pools (temperatures between 32 and 38 degrees Celsius – warm bathwater temperature). One of the salt water pools had an outdoor portion with a whirlpool, from which you got a fantastic view of Neuschwanstein. (Just close your eyes and imagine swimming outside in comforting, mineral-rich water, while gazing up the Bavarian scenery of the fairytale castle, and the Alps covered in snow…)

The spa also features an oriental Hammam treatment, a salty steam room, a relaxation room decorated with semi-precious gemstones, a sun deck, and a sauna*. We enjoyed the salty pools – especially Rosebud. She was adorable in her little bathing suit. I often take her into the bath with me, so she is used to being in the water. I told her that the salty pools were like gigantic bathtubs! She squealed with delight, kicked her little legs, giggled at all the retired couples and thoroughly enjoyed herself. I had to laugh, though: when I first entered one of the pools with her, a German man kindly said to me, “don’t let her drown!” He was very sincere in his advice and meant it well, and really, I appreciated it – but all the mamas I know are very careful with their little ones.

Anyway, Mia, Rosebud and I really enjoyed our relaxing afternoon at the spa. After we were done swimming at the spa, we found a restaurant near Schloss Neuschwanstein and had Kaffee und Apfelstrudel. One of my favorite German customs is going for a hike or doing some other strenuous activity, and then sitting down to coffee and cake. After that, we drove across the border to Austria to buy gas. It was about twenty cents cheaper there; Mia told me the Austrian government subsidizes the price of fuel so it’s common for people in border areas to refuel in Austria rather than in Germany.

All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon – I can’t wait to go back! Next time, I would like to incorporate the spa as part of an overnight trip, and also visit the castles. There are some lovely hiking paths around the castles and I’m eager to do that.

*note: if you go to a sauna in Germany, you should know that nobody wears clothing, although you might sit on a towel… if you are really curious about sauna etiquette in the Germanic lands, here’s a link for you to read.

München (Munich), capital city of Bavaria

The weather is finally warming up and the snow is melting. Last week, though, was snowy, rainy and generally unpleasant. I wasn’t able to take Rosebud out on very many walks because of the weather. One day, in fact, I kept looking out the window to see if we could go out and alas, there was some sort of precipitation pretty much the entire day.

Saturday the 14th was forecast to be warm and sunny, so we took advantage of the change in weather and headed to München (Munich). If you’re planning to visit us, here’s the Munich city website in English:


We still don’t have a car and probably won’t have one for a little while yet, so we first caught the bus to Bad Tölz, and then took the train from Bad Tölz to München. I think I prefer taking the train to München anyway because parking is difficult to find and exorbitantly expensive, and also driving in München is an adventure to say the least (according to David who has, in his words, “survived driving in München”).

On the train to München, we enjoyed playing with Rosebud and she entertained many of our fellow travelers with her smiles. She was quite curious about the other travelers and liked peeking out at them.

Once we arrived at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in München, we then headed to the Fußgängerzone (pedestrian zone), which you can read about in German here. What I loved most was simply walking around the Marienplatz area, people-watching and window-shopping. Click here to view an online map of the area. (Note: the map associated with this link is a bit clunky!)

We stopped for an early lunch at the Augustiner am Dom restaurant – if you are in München and would like to eat a typical Bavarian meal for a good price, this is a good restaurant to try. Although plenty of tourists eat here, it has a nice local feel.

David, content after a meal at the Augustiner am Dom

David, content after a meal at the Augustiner am Dom

We stopped by the Neues Rathaus, which is a beautiful example of New Gothic architecture – it looks like it was built during the Gothic period, but was actually started in 1867. There happened to be a children’s bookfair going on inside. Most of the books on display were for older children than our daughter, so I didn’t find much for her, but I still liked leafing through the picture books in German. And, being a teacher, I always tend to look at books with an eye for learning! We plan to buy lots of German picture books for Rosebud and David, so they can learn German together.

After visiting the Neues Rathaus, we then came across the Viktualienmarkt – an open-air food market. It’s very well known although to be honest, this was the first time I had heard of it. (Not surprisingly – prior to moving to Bavaria, I didn’t know much about the region. I lived in the Köln – Cologne – area as an exchange student, and also have spent time in Hamburg, which are very different from southern Germany).

I am eager to go back to the Viktualienmarkt, because it has such a good selection of fresh foods available, including farm-raised poultry, local cheeses, honey products, charcuterie (Aufschnitt – cold cuts!) and the like. I suspect it’s probably on the expensive side and I can likely find the same products here in the country where we live, but it will be fun to look at the offerings nonetheless. Part of the fun will be in talking with the vendors.

At the end of the afternoon, we stopped for Italian ice cream to refresh ourselves before walking back to the train station. Italian ice cream is easy to find here in Germany, and it’s very creamy and intensely flavored. I do enjoy eating the ice cream here. I have a feeling that come summer, we’ll take walks to various towns with the excuse of finding a local ice cream shop.

We really enjoyed our little jaunt to München, and it’s quite easy for us to get there without a car (you can imagine that getting out of our house feels great, since we can’t just hop in the car). I would characterize München as having a festive and friendly spirit, which you immediately notice when you arrive there. I am certain that there will be many more trips to the Bavarian capital in the coming weeks.

(note: I will add pictures later, when I have a chance to upload them).

A visit to Bad Tölz

A few weekends ago, we decided to spend our Saturday in Bad Tölz:

It’s a lovely little Bavarian town, only 10 km from our house. Bad Tölz has a nice walking path beside the Isar River (München – Munich – is also located on the Isar). Once the weather gets nicer, I will enjoy walking there with Rosebud during the week.

Here are a few pictures of our day out in Bad Tölz! The little church is called Maria Himmelfahrt, or Church of the Assumption, which you can read about in German here. One charming detail about the church is that the pews are numbered with nameplates, marking the seats of the original parishioners from when it was built.

After visiting the church, we enjoyed a Bavarian meal in the Tölzer Bräustüberl”, a tavern/restaurant that features traditional Bavarian meals. The wait staff was dressed in Bavarian garb, and a number of the locals were, too. Everyone paid special attention to our charming Rosebud. The food was delicious; I had a lightly smoked, roasted pork chop along with sauerkraut and riced potatoes. The pork chops here are slightly different from what we have in the states, maybe because it’s smoked. The sauerkraut soaked up the juices from the pork chops – yummy!

We enjoyed our little jaunt to Bad Tölz and look forward to returning soon.

Edelhof & St. Johannisrain

On our very first weekend in Penzberg, we went on a lovely hike to the little farming villages of Edelhof and Sankt Johannisrain, which I posted about here.

About a month later, the day after a heavy snowfall, Rosebud and I took the same walk. I really enjoyed taking some more pictures of this very picturesque walk, and I hope you’ll enjoy the photos I took.

Some Rosebud pictures

I thought all of you might enjoy some recent pictures of our daughter! I believe you can click on a picture for more information.
In the next week, I hope to do some video editing, as I have many film clips of her being generally cute. 🙂

(note – I have been posting a few pictures from time to time on her own blog: )

Der Schnee

It’s been a snowy winter here in Oberbayern.  The previous two winters were quite mild and unusually snow-free. Several people have told me that they’re relieved this winter has been so snowy and cold, because it’s good for the environment and for the winter sports industry.

A few days before we moved into our house, I would say we got about eight inches of snow. Then on our moving day and for about a week after that, it pretty much snowed constantly. I think we may have got about two feet of snow, total. Here are some pictures that give you an idea of what our neighborhood and house look like, covered in the snow!

From Rosebud's balcony

From Rosebud's balcony


In this photo, our walkway/garden area is relatively protected from the snow because the roof extends quite far. Most of the bavarian houses have roofs like this to keep walkways and other areas protected from heavy snowfalls. It’s a very practical building design.

Our little walkway/garden area

Our little walkway/garden area

We had to really pile up the snow on the sides of our driveway. We tried hard not to put to much by our neighbor’s garden gate, because of the weight of the snow.

Our neighbor's garden gate

Our neighbor's garden gate

Here’s our driveway. I decided to put Rosebud in my baby carrier and attempt shoveling the snow. The other neighbors had done a good job of removing their snow, so I did not want to be outdone! (In case you are wondering why David hadn’t done it already, it is because he had left the house very early to catch the bus to work, and he was going to arrive home after dark.)

Our driveway in need of shoveling

Our driveway in need of shoveling

In this self-portrait, Rosebud looks dubious at my efforts of shoveling the snow. But actually, she had a great time riding around in the baby carrier as I piled the snow on the side of the driveway. She was chatty the whole time, as if she was giving a running commentary of my efforts to shovel the driveway. We did a good job cleaning off the driveway!

Mom, I'm not too sure about this.

Mom, I'm not too sure about this.

I rather like this self-portrait of myself, too:

self-portrait of Melinda

self-portrait of Melinda

It is snowing a little today, but not nearly as much as it had.
David told me he was really astounded by the amount of snow we got here. I must admit, it didn’t really faze me – having grown up in Rochester, NY, that amount of snow wasn’t unusual because of the lake effect. But now my husband knows what I mean when I talk about an upstate NY winter!