CONTRIBUTED BY LUCY B.
In Germany, we earn our summer fun. Whenever there’s freezing rain coming down in February, and it feels like it’s been dark and icky for months, I just consider it pre-payment for a gorgeous summer. Since winter is so blah and summer is so fabulous, Germans take full advantage of fun in the sun. This is just a short list of the fantastic things on offer before the weather turns grey again.
Festivals- From firework demonstrations to fundraisers for the fire department to outdoor concerts, there’s something (sometimes too much) to do every weekend. Check your local paper or keep an eye out for advertisements, like this one for Stuttgart’s famous Lichterfest. A few years ago a friend got us tickets to ride one of the boats in the Friedrichshafen Seehasenfest. I’m still not sure exactly what happened. The boats go out on the lake and try to capture the Lake Bunny (a man in a bunny costume) for some reason. The fun was mostly in the boat ride and a visit to the festival afterwards. It goes to show that you can have a great time, even if you have no idea what’s going on.
The Outdoors / Cycling– If you love hiking, bike riding, nature walks or the great outdoors in general, this is the place for you. You can often bring your bike with you on the U-Bahn or DeutscheBahn trains, but keep in mind that you need a ticket for your bike and the space is often limited.
German newspapers have been reporting that our particularly mild winter this year has led to a tick boom. The best way to avoid them is to cover up as much as possible when hiking or walking, tucking your pant legs into your socks, long sleeves, hats and so forth. Make sure to check bodies for ticks after a walk, and consider getting vaccinated for tick-borne diseases. If you’re looking for tick-spray (Anti-Zecken Spray), it can be bought at the local pharmacy.
Food/ Grilling- Germans love to grill. Some people even call summer Grilling Season. Don’t expect to see many burgers on the grill, though. Bratwurst is, of course, a favorite, and don’t forget that there’s more than one kind. Weisswurst and Rotwurst (sometimes called a Rote) and Käsewurst… make sure to try them all. We encounter quite a few chicken skewers and pork steaks as well. The meat section at the grocery store usually has pre-marinated meat that works great on the grill. Don’t forget to try your hand at making a real German potato salad to go with it. Depending on the region, the recipes can vary widely. Our home version is just potatoes, onions, cucumbers and vinegar and oil with some salt and pepper.
Beer Gardens (Biergarten) – The iconic German summer pastime! Who doesn’t love sitting at one of those long tables with a huge beer and listening to some live music or the sound of kids running around nearby? Make sure to look up local beer gardens for their specialties. We have a local one that has a great playground.
Travel- By car or train, there’s lots of ground to cover and lots to see in Germany in the summer. A visit to a castle can be combined with a family hike and a picnic, or you can dip your toes into a beautiful (and probably freezing cold) lake. Particularly interesting to families with small children: there is a growing industry of Kinderhotels and Familienhotels geared specifically to entertaining kids and their parents. Childcare and special programs are usually available, too. If you’d rather get closer to the ground, try a Bauernhof vacation, where you can stay in a real farm house and help out with the animals.
Camps and Kids’ Activities- There are too many of these to list, but you should be able to find a guide in the local newsstand. They come out in May-June and list all of the vacation programs and childcare options available in the region, as well as countless advertisements for hotels, birthday party locations, amusement parks, and other options. If you’re looking specifically for English-language activities, try calling the local bilingual school to see if they offer anything. Near us, International School of Stuttgart is developing a great reputation for their summer camp.
Public Gardens- I can’t say enough about our public city parks in Stuttgart (and I’ve already gushed about how much I love the Wilhelma Zoo and Killesberg park here on GermanyJa). You don’t have to fork out a bunch of money to have a good time with your kids this summer. Amusement parks are hot and crowded, but a large public park may have all you need and more. A picnic basket and a blanket and an open-ended schedule make for a great relaxing day in the sun without searching for a parking space and paying for a ticket and waiting in lines. We love the Ludwigsburg castle grounds, for example, but there’s a large public park across the street (with a great playground) that our kids like just as much.
Ice Cream- You think you already know ice cream? Prepare to be amazed. Germany makes ice cream into an event. At the lake shore, ice cream cafés abound, and you can’t help having a cone (or four) when you’re walking along in the sun. If you really want the full-immersion experience, get a table and order a Becher. Some come with fresh fruit, liquor, candies, syrup, and whipped cream. Seasonal fruit makes these particularly memorable. Our family favorite is the Erdbeerbecher (strawberry parfait), but I’m also partial to Heisse Liebe (hot raspberries over vanilla ice cream). (*If you’re lactose intolerant, like me, Lactaid pills are called Lactrase (Lock-trah-zay) here and you can get them at the pharmacy/ Apotheke.)
Swimming (and being naked)- Technically, the German swimming season starts in February (yikes!) We tend to wait until the weather gets pretty warm before going to the outdoor pools, but the good news is that many Therme type bathhouses offer indoor/outdoor swimming in heated waters until then. Unlike the US, lifeguards tend to be few and far between in German swimming pools, so it’s important to keep a close eye on little ones (and yourself) in the water.
Outdoor pools in Germany are often a kind of park/pool combo, so bring a blanket and plan to stay a while. Our local favorite has a kids’ area with a slide, a huge sandy playground (I’ll never know how they keep the sand out of the pools with all those tiny feet going back and forth), table tennis, a sauna, changing areas, snack bar, and a lap and diving pool. There’s also a huge lawn, where there’s plenty of room for everyone to lounge around all day.
Many swimming areas offer a clothing-free experience (usually identified by a sign that says FKK-Freikörperkultur). Depending on the place, this could be something like a fenced area where clothes are not required, or even not allowed. The proper etiquette dictates that you do not enter just to gawk, no pictures allowed, and that young people (sometimes defined as under 14) be accompanied by an adult. Just because that area is sectioned off doesn’t mean you won’t see quite a lot of flesh elsewhere, however. In some places a quick bathing suit change out in the open (especially for children, but often also for adults) is not uncommon. Topless sunbathing is acceptable in some places, and not acceptable in others, so it’s important to take a look around before taking off your top. Breast feeding is always allowed and acceptable, absolutely everywhere.