Balkan Musik, Dancing, and of course Sljivovica

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Next Friday, Sept. 7, the Ziveli Orkestar will be playing at the Forum with local DJ Doe following up. Thomas and I saw the Ziveli Orkestar 2 years ago, and we danced like lunatics until 4am. For fans of Balkan music, I highly recommend this concert. You can hear the band’s music at http://www.myspace.com/ziveliorkestar

The Forum (http://www.forum-bielefeld.com/) is a 5-10 minute walk from the Siegfriedplatz train and bus stop. The doors open at 20:30 and the band begins around 21:00. Tickets are 12€.

Does anyone want to come?

liebe Grüße,


Thrift Shopping in Bielefeld


Living here for a relatively short amount of time has made it difficult to know what to invest in, and how much to invest. This was the topic of one of our Trailing Spouses meetings in the fall, where we discussed everything from getting more involved in the community to saving up for the future financial well-being of your family.

However, in this post, I’m not talking about anything too deep. All I really mean is along the lines of: should I buy a spatula? Or is it worth it for me to devise my own scrambled egg-scraping device out of a plasticware top and some napkins, knowing that I will (or at least am planning to) be leaving the country in a few months?

We are now living in our second of two furnished apartments and, needless to say, the term “furnished” is used pretty liberally here. We have an interesting hodgepodge of pots, pans and plates, most likely accumulated from previous tenants who have come and gone. We also found ourselves missing some essentials (big knife that actually cuts things thicker than butter? Yes, please).

So what’s a trailing spouse to do when there’s no Wal-mart to be found? Here are some of the most promising places that I’ve found in Bielefeld where you can get the things you need for less.

Recycling Borse – For Americans, this is like  a Goodwill. I’ve been really impressed with the selection at both locations. It’s a great place to look for bikes, and even though we aren’t looking for furniture, I’ve seen good deals

Flohmarkts – Always fun!

Tedi – A good place for those little kitchen essentials (ahem…spatula, anyone?).

Kik – I almost cried when we wandered into this store for the first time. It’s like Big Lots, and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Big Lots. I got a winter coat here when my to-be-shipped jacket went MIA. You can also get tons of things for the home here, which makes it a nice place to stock up on knick-knacks and wall decorations for temporary housing.

Aldi – Ok, so I guess we have these in the U.S., but I’d never been to one, so I had no idea. It can be pretty hit-or-miss, though it’s a good place to go for some of the essential groceries. Plus, Aldi owns Trader Joe’s, so you get to experience the demented delight of seeing Trader Joe’s products translated into German.

Lidl – A more established grocery store than Aldi, but still at low prices. They have an aged goat cheese here that will knock your socks off. As with Aldi, it’s fun to paw through the central “household good” bins and see what kind of oddities you come up with.

These are just the ones that are important for the things that we need, and this is by no means the end of the list. For example, we haven’t been on the lookout for large items like furniture, but I know there are other places that sell home goods on the cheap in town. So, what did I miss? What other thrift stores or general good deals should a Bielefeld trailing spouse be aware of?


Open Studios this weekend!

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The yearly artists’ open studios event takes place this weekend. For those new to the open studios weekend, this is how it works: You buy an open studios booklet for 2 euro at the Bürgerwache, Kunsthalle, Tourist Info office, etc. The booklet lists all the artists with examples of their work, along with a map so you know where to find them. You pick the artists you want to see and go visit their studios.

Easy and fun! The event is this Saturday (September 1st) from 14-19h, and Sunday from 11-19h.


See this link for more information, including other places where you can buy the booklet:  http://www.offeneateliers-bielefeld.de/


liebe Grüße,


Rhine in Flames 2012

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My husband and I are festival people, and if there’s one thing Europe has, it’s lots of festivals!  Last year we went to the Rhine in Flames festival in St. Goar.  St. Goar is a beautiful little town on the Rhine river, right smack in the middle of the stretch of river with the highest density of castles….30 castles in 30 miles!

The Rhine in Flames festival is essentially an annual fireworks show.  During the summer months, the festival begins on one end of the Rhine and moves every few weekends down the river, celebrating as it goes.  At sunset, tourist ferries crowd the river, decked out in festive lights.  That alone is a sight to see!

A cannon in the darkness begins the festival!  Castles on either side of the river simulate a midieval battle with fireworks.  Barges on the river also shoot off fireworks.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because Rhine in Flames 2012 is here!  The festival will be in Oberwesel September 8th, and then in St. Goar September 15th.  More information can be found on their website: http://www.rhein-in-flammen.com/


No, the other kind of football!

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Last Saturday, my husband and I were walking through the Jahnplatz when we spotted some guys in American football uniforms!  They invited us to come see them play the next day.  This was exciting for us, as we didn’t realize anyone actually played American football here.  I’d finally gotten used to ‘football’ meaning ‘soccer’ in my mind, and accepted that nobody else in the world really cares anything about our sport.  But here they were!

Naturally, we went to the game.  They are called the Bielefeld Bulldogs, and their home base is Rußheide stadium, which is easily accessible by several bus lines.  Even though it was a rainy day, the stands were covered so it didn’t deter us.

The guy at the Jahnplatz was a recently-graduated American, who played in college and then moved over here to help grow the sport in Germany.  He told us that only 4 Americans are allowed on each team, and only 2 can be on the field at a time.  At the game, we noticed that the Americans are identified by a huge “A” on their jerseys, and on their helmets.  It actually felt a little weird to see that, being labelled and regulated like that.  I hope that if the sport grows over here and there’s more training for Germans, they won’t need to do that anymore.

We had so much fun!  The stands were packed, and our home team is currently undefeated!  They won 70:6, a score I’ve never seen before!  There were even cheerleaders.

Check out their website: www.bielefeld-bulldogs.de/  or their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bielefeld-Bulldogs/

And if you’d like to come to a game, let me know!


English-speaking Christian Protestant church

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Last year I came across an English-speaking church here in Bielefeld.  It is a Protestant church.  Here is the information:

International Baptist Church Bielefeld- Flensburger Straße 2, Bielefeld, Germany
Website: www.ibcbielefeld.com
Depending on where you are living in Bielefeld, it may take a bit to get there using public transport.  Sermons are given in English on Sundays at 10:30am.  The  congregation includes people from all over the world.  Childcare and Sunday School are available for kids.


Everybody loves lasagna….

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Italian food is loved everywhere, and no matter where you go in the world, there should still be a spot to get great, inexpensive Italian food.  For us, the Bielefeld branch of great Italian is the Spaghetti Haus!

Our favorite here is the ‘lasagne classico’, but everything is good!  It’s inexpensive too, and the portions are large enough for us to take half home and eat it the next day (that’s definitely not a normal thing to do in Germany, and they might look at you strange for asking for a box, but I can’t help it!  Some American habits die hard…)  The restaurant is located right in the city center (Mauerstr. 13, 33602), you can check them out and even order on their website: http://www.spaghettihausbielefeld.de/  and they even deliver!

One more perk….fluency in German is not required, because lasagna is universal!

Buon Appetito!


English-speaking doctors and the German healthcare system


If you do not already know German, you could be the most driven of students….optimistic, hard-working, determined, and yet when suddenly you need to see a doctor, it seems to go out the window.  I would recommend that you plan early for a range of doctors whom you can communicate with in your own language, before you need them.  We’ve had the scary experience of needing sudden medical care, and not being able to communicate with the doctors to tell them what is wrong, what your history is, and they can’t communicate with you either.  This inevitably leads to unnecessary procedures and unnecessary expense of time and money.  In my opinion, the doctor’s office isn’t a preferrable place to be learning German by immersion.

To see a doctor you will pay 10 euros per quarter. When you pay your money they will give you a pink receipt.  Keep it- if you go to the doctor again in the next few months you will need to show it to them to not have to pay again.  If you need to see a specialist, you will generally need to get a referral from your general medicine doctor.

Here are a few personal recommendations for English-speaking doctors in Bielefeld.  I have only listed people I have personally gone to and had a good experience.

Dr. med. Friedrich Hartog/ Christine Gass – Gynocology, Obstetrics (Frauenheilkunde und Geburtshilfe)

Kiskerstr. 15, 33615 Bielefeld                 Phone: 0521 9643228

Both doctors speak English, but not all of the receptionists do.

Dr. med. Peter Braunstein – Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist (Hals-, Nasen-, Ohrenheilkunde)

Jahnplatz 10, 33602 Bielefeld                 Phone: 0521 5217151

Very caring doctor, and made time for us on very short notice.  Quickly diagnosed and fixed a serious problem two other doctors failed to properly diagnose.

Dr. med. Andreas Kühle – General Medicine, and Allergy Specialist (Allgemeinmedizin/Allergologie)

Wertherstr. 444, 33619 Bielefeld             Phone: 0521 101542

This doctor and his receptionist are great, and I have never had to wait for an appointment…he usually gets me in the next day.

http://www.kvwl.de/earzt   This website allows you to search for a doctor in the entire Westfalen-Lippe area.  You can enter search criteria, including the type of doctor, your address, and your preferred language.  You should always confirm that the doctor takes your insurance before making an appointment.


Transportation tips

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If you’re not European, it’s likely that your new home in Bielefeld will come with a learning curve when it comes to using public transportation.  I was not used to being without a personal car, or riding the bus, and I had never been on a train before!  German public transportation is excellent, and while it is more expensive than other places in Europe, it is perfectly possible to live without a car here (and we do).  Like many things in Germany, things often run like a well-oiled machine, but it is not likely that anyone will tell you how that well-oiled machine actually works….well we will!

Deals on train travel-

Train travel can be quite expensive, but there are often deals to be found.  Like plane tickets, it is always beneficial to book in advance for non-local trips.  The German rail system is run by Deutsche Bahn, and on their website: http://www.bahn.de/p/view/index.shtml (which is available in English), you can find special offers and plan your trip.  There are a few special tickets which may come in handy for you:
NRW ticket- This ticket allows you unlimited travel in the entire state of North-Rhine Westphalia from 9am until 3am the following day.  It is good for all regional trains (NOT the IC or ICE), all trams, and also buses.  The cost for one person is 26€, or you can buy an NRW ticket that is good for up to 5 people for 36€ (this may change).  This is usually the cheapest way to get from Bielefeld to the Dusseldorf airport, or to Cologne.  Important: the ticket is NOT good before 9am on weekdays!  This ticket is particularly useful for a day trip to tour a city.  For example, you can go to Cologne on the train, and sightsee all day on trams and buses, and then come back by train, all with this one ticket.
Although the NRW ticket is only good within our state, every German state has their own state ticket.  This is often a good option if you are visiting a city as a tourist and want to see as much as possible in one day.  Keep in mind that two popular cities, Bremen and Berlin, are their own city-states.
Schönes Wochenende (good weekend) ticket- This ticket allows up to 5 people unlimited travel anywhere in Germany for one day, on either Saturday or Sunday.  The ticket costs 40€ when you buy it online.  It is good from midnight until 3am the following day (27 hours).  It cannot be used on weekdays, and like the NRW ticket it can only be used on regional transport (NOT the IC or the ICE trains).  It is also good for trams and buses.
This ticket is a good option if you are sightseeing in another state.  If you are travelling a long distance, however, it can take quite a long time because you are not allowed to take the fast trains.
Tram/Bus travel-
If you don’t frequently ride the buses and trams, the cheapest option is buying 4-er tickets.  Each ticket can be stamped 4 times.
Bus tickets can be bought from the bus drivers, but they cost less if you buy them from the electronic machines, which are located at all of the tram stops.  They can be confusing!  To buy a 4-er ticket for Bielefeld, press the green “1” button next to the image of 4 people.  Do not press the “4” button, this means region 4!
Stamping a ticket once will allow you to travel all the way to your destination, even if you must change trams or buses.   The stamp stays valid for 90 minutes, and you can travel as much as you want to during that time.
You can also buy week or month tickets, which allow you unlimited rides.  There is also a specific month ticket which allows one person unlimited travel, and an additional person can ride with you after 19:00 on weekdays and all day on weekends.  These tickets can be purchased from the Mobiel office underground at the Jahnplatz.
There is no difference between tram and bus tickets.  You can use all tickets for both.
Car sharing-
If you do not have a car here in Bielefeld, it is nice to still have the ability to occasionally use one, for example when you go grocery shopping and cannot carry everything on the bus.  Bielefeld has a number of ordinary car rental places, but there is also the option of car sharing.  Cambio offers a service in which rental cars are parked strategically around town (mostly near tram stops), and members can simply reserve one of the cars for a period of time, and then bring it back to the same place.  Everything is automated- once you become a member, you can reserve cars online in seconds, and then type your member number into the electronic box next to the car to pick up your key.
Several options are available for membership, depending on how often you plan on renting a car.  Members pay a small monthly fee, a flat rate per hour, and per kilometer usage.  An average cost might be around 10€ per hour.  A gas card is kept in the car in case you need to refuel, and members do not pay anything for gas.
You must have a valid European driver’s license to register.  International and foreign driver licenses are usually recognized for the first 6 months.  After that, you must obtain a European license.  An extension can be made if you are staying in Germany for less than one year, but you must prove this with paperwork.  Licenses from all EU member countries are recognized without time limitations, and there is no need to change your license.
More information about car sharing can be found at www.cambio-carsharing.de (German and English)



New Trailing Spouses

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Recently we have been getting a fair number of inquiries from new people coming to Bielefeld asking if it was possible to join ‘Trailing Spouses’. The answer is yes, please do get in contact with us, trailing.spouses@googlemail.com and we will tell you more about us and about our activities.

Although we are a contemporary art group, (we are interested in creativity and investigation of ourselves through self expression), we are most definitely not traditionally ‘artistic’. Many new people have been wondering about this fact, so we wanted to make clear that you needn’t worry about your drawing skills :=). An open mind and an interest in self discovery through creative means is all you need to feel at home with us.

So, to all the new spouses who have just arrived in Bielefeld and will be arriving in the next few months we wish you all a good start here and remember there is a place for you to meet people in a similar life situation.

All the Best,

Piia and Rachel