After college, my friend and I took a backpacking trip across Europe. We visited many countries but not on that list was Germany. A decision I regret. I mean history, food, and castles, O My! After working on this post, I am hoping to get there soon.
Alexandra Paucescu is from Romania and the wife of a diplomat currently living and quarantining in Berlin, Germany. She also recently became an author with her new book "Just a Diplomatic Spouse." Alexandra was kind enough to let us know a little about the highlights of Berlin and Germany and also opens up about the culture shock she has found coming from a Romanian background.
Berlin is definitely one of the most interesting cities in the world to live in. Due to its unique and also tragic history, it has emerged as a completely original metropole. The fact that it was brutally and almost completely destroyed during World War II, and then has been artificially divided by the Berlin Wall for more than 30 years, has put its mark over the city. Berlin has two Zoos, two Opera houses, two Aquariums, tern communist buildings but also iconic ones, like the famous Brandenburg Gate or Reichstag.
Check out the architecture. The architecture is a mixture of old buildings (most of them completely restored) and bold, modern constructions, all set in the greenest cityscape I have ever seen.
See the cherry blossoms. I also have to tell you about the beautiful Japanese cherry trees, with their gorgeous pink small flowers, in full blossom every spring. The city got them as a present from the Japanese government after the fall of the wall and they were mostly planted on the former border, in the middle of town.
Head to the lakes. The capital and its surrounding state of Brandenburg are called ‘the land of 3,000 lakes’, many of them with fine sandy beaches, a pleasure to go to in summer time.
Play at Tropical Island. Tropical Island, a man-made paradise, is just an hour drive away from Berlin. It is the largest indoor water park in the world, housed in a former airship hangar, home to the biggest indoor rainforest, a beach, swimming pools, water slides, bars and restaurants. You can even fly around in a hot air balloon!
More museums than rainy days. The Museum Island in Berlin is place to some of the most visited world class museums. ‘Pergamon Museum’, hosting the impressive Ishtar Gate of Babylon and my personal favorite, ‘Neues Museum’, Berlin’s museum of ancient Egypt, home to the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, are just few examples. They say Berlin has more museums than rainy days! If you want to visit any of these museums though, you should prepare yourself for long waiting hours, especially in summer time.
Shop at KaDeWe. For shopping addicts KaDeWE is the second largest department store in Europe (after Harrods in London) and is definitely the place to be ;)
When it comes to eating and drinking, Berlin is Heaven! You can find anything you want here, and at fair prices.
First thing BEER! Germany is home to beer, and not just at the famous Oktoberfest. There is good beer everywhere, they have even specialized supermarkets for drinks only!
Curry wurst mit pommes. Also, when you say Berlin, you think of ‘curry wurst mit pommes’, a trade-mark local food since 1949. It is basically a grilled sausage with ketchup, curry powder and French fries aside, which you can serve at any corner in the city.
Döner kebab. Berlin is also proud to have invented and make the best ‘Döner kebab’ (a Turkish dish originally made by the first Turkish migrants who came to Berlin after the WW II). A warm sandwich with bread, thin slices of meat, cabbage, onion, tomatoes, spices and a special sauce that binds all the ingredients… ‘Mustafa Kebab’ is the name that you will probably find in most tourists’ reviews about it. It is considered to be the best in the city.
Ice cream. When we talk about ice cream and chocolate… we are experts ☺ … so, if you come to Berlin, please stop by ‘Whoop Whoop’ store on Rosenthaler Street for their special and insanely creamy ice cream, made directly in front of you using liquid nitrogen technology.
Chocolate. If you are a chocolate lover, go to Rausch in Gendarmenmarkt for the best chocolate and best chocolate cakes in town.
Every time we moved away from home, we took only half of our possessions with us and then realized it was more than enough. However, I always bring...
lots of pictures of my family, two or three framed paintings done by my talented grandpa, some of our preferred books, and lots of decor stuff. I love decorating my interior, wherever I go. It helps personalize the house and make it feel like home.
There are plenty of books trying to help people moving here to understand the locals. However, after almost 5 years of living in Berlin, I can honestly say it is quite difficult☺.
Learn the language, as much as you can, and be particularly careful when talking to people. They are veeeeeery sensitive when it comes to German language and remember, ALWAYS use the polite form ‘SIE’ when talking to anybody!
Prepare for the climate. Rainy weather, short summers and long, dark winter seasons.
Careful with high heels. Don’t expect to see too many elegantly dressed people on the streets, Berliners have a truly unique sense of styling. And be careful wearing high heels, most sidewalks are paved with cubic stone, the nightmare of any stiletto…
Adjusting to different attitudes. The most difficult part about moving to Berlin was the general attitude of people here. I am from Romania, a Latin country, with friendly and hospitable people. Coming to Berlin, where people are not famous for their warmth, sometimes being even aggressive and rude, was a shock.
Winter nights. The long winter nights (roughly from 3:30 pm to 8:00 am the next morning) are quite depressing and hard to bare.
Germany is a beautiful country, with plenty of gorgeous places to discover, lakes, deep forests, few mountains, islands and also lots of historical sights. We enjoyed our weekend getaways from Berlin a lot. Never a dull moment! Berlin is also very offering. You can find everything, for any taste and preference, you can be anyone and feel free to live any kind of life you wish: hippie, bourgeois, aristocratic… you name it…
More about our life in Germany, you can find in my book, ‘Just a diplomatic spouse’, which is a collection of events that occurred over a period of more than ten years, rules of diplomatic protocol and ranking, advice for other women at the beginning of a similar journey, valuable travel and even shopping tips. It is a diary, a book on diplomatic etiquette, lifestyle and travel blog, ALL IN ONE.
I can't wait to read your book, Alexandra. And I can't wait to visit Germany! Beer, sausage and ice cream are right up my alley. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
In Love & Tacos
Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates looks like a gorgeous place to spend a few years. Maybe not as famous as its Emirati cousin Dubai, it still comes with beautiful gulf waters and a taste of the high life. Let me introduce you to Cécile. She is the wife of a Belgian diplomat posted in Abu Dhabi along with her diplo-babies. Cécile gives us a little peek into life in this Arabic, desert nation. I was shocked to learn there is no FaceTime or any video app to keep in touch with family and friends back home (a lifeline for any diplomatic family, especially during quarantine.)
Cécile is quite the photographer so please look for her on Instagram @desperatediplowife or follow her adventures on her blog www.desperatediplowife.com.
Grand Mosque. Of course, you have to visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque! It’s free, it’s partially Belgian build and there is an underground parking with a tiny mall! It doesn’t get any better that this! To get the perfect Instagram picture, I would recommend going to the infinity pool at the Wahat Al Karama on the other side of the street. Sunset is the best time but if you want to avoid the crowd, go at the opening, early morning.
Take an Arabic coffee at the corniche. Drive down the corniche and go to the marina. Over there, many little coffee places will offer you the perfect Arabic coffee, or karak (Arabic tea) with Shisha if you like it. The view of the city center and the presidential palace is gorgeous. If luxury is your thing, take your platinum MasterCard to the Emirate Palace for a Gold cappuccino.
Shop in Yas mall. This mall is one of the biggest of the capital and my all-time favorite. All white marble and windows, the sun can come inside and brighten your day. You’ll find anything you need and more. A lot of nice coffee places are also in there, and you have 50% chance of meeting me there!
An apéro in the desert. Never venture alone in the desert! Find friends with a 4x4 or go on an organized desert safari. Enjoy the silence, let run your kids while you’re having a drink, spot animal tracks and marvel to the incredible sunset light. Dune bashing is a fantastic option too, but you better not be car sick!
Visit the Louvre. If architecture or culture is your thing, go to The Louvre Abu Dhabi. The French architect did it good, I have to admit this dome is one of the craziest buildings I’ve seen in my life. Take a break at the restaurant, it’s a lovely place.
Take the sun at Saadiyaat beach. This beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The sand is white, the water is turquoise, you really think you’re in the Maldives. You can spot dolphins, turtles and stingrays. You can either visit the public part of Saadiyat beach (there is an entry fee, anyway, don’t be surprised) or take a day pass in one of the 5 star hotels on the beach.
Dates. In the desert, if there is one thing you can’t miss, it’s dates! My favorites are Medjool, but any sort here is very good. Be careful, there is an old saying here about dates “Eat only an odd number of dates: 1, 3, 5, maximum 7 a day, never more”. You’ll be warned.
Zaatar and cheese Manakeesh with a good Shawarma sandwich. I know, it’s more Lebanese, anyway in this country “Arabic” restaurants are everywhere, and they tend to share dishes from the whole MENA region so this menu is usually our easy lunch option (with a Fattoush salad).
Karak. It’s an Emirati milk tea with spices. The recipe is secret and differs a bit from place to place but there is usually saffron, cardamom and lots of sugar in it.
A lavish brunch. In every luxurious hotel in the country, Fridays at 12:30 starts weekly over-the-top brunch-time. Live-cooking, live music, tonnes of dishes and alcohols, it’s pretty much all you can dream for in a restaurant and even more! I recommend the Nahaam Brunch at the Jumeirah Etihad towers, the seafood is amazing.
Some Luqaimat. Those Arabic sweet dumplings are worth a try!
I took all my house’s content and then realized; you can find pretty much ANYTHING in the UAE. All American and European brands are here, plus you have all these gorgeous imports from Asia. Art galleries sell some amazing pieces from all over the world. We really live at a world crosswalk; I redecorated our interior with new things from here. Same with the wardrobe! You’ll find a huge choice of summer clothes and bathing suit. And if by big surprise you can’t find something, 90% of the population is expat here, so there is a big chance your neighbors will be able to bring it back to you after their next holiday.
Of course, I took all our souvenirs and some Belgian art, a piece of décor for every room to feel familiar, and I’m sure some pieces I bought here will become very important in the future. We bought a painting of a camel that is a part of the family already.
Get a phone contract with a lot of international minutes. The video and calling apps are banned here in the UAE. Unless hiding behind a VPN (which is illegal) you won’t be able to use FaceTime, WhatsApp call, Skype, … (Admin note 😱 WHAT?!)
Get used to living outdoors all winter and inside all summer. The summer is unbearable here, temperature is around 47 Celsius in the shade but don’t worry, there are plenty of things to do inside (we even have a ski slope).
Don’t stress! People are super friendly here and even if you encounter a problem (a car accident, a maintenance problem, an administrative problem, etc.) they will do everything to solve it quickly. The pace of life is different (I had to slow down a bit my walking speed to blend in) but they are very helpful and kind. If you have kids, it’s the perfect place to be. They love kids and will do everything for them!
The air quality. Living in a desert has a cost and it’s the quality of the air. Nobody will tell this to you before you come here, but air quality is very low in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Although you’re at the sea, sandstorms and the constant dust in the air put these cities in the top of pollution levels 75% of the year. of course, because it comes from natural dust and sand particles, it’s not as bad for your health as chemical particles, but still, many people (children first) are having respiratory issues and pneumonia quite often. We live with an air purifier in every room.
The cost of living. In fact, living in the desert has a second cost pretty obvious, the cost of living. The UAE is a gorgeous country, but it doesn’t produce that much. It imports most of the things for a market of very rich expats. Everything, except gasoline, is more expensive here than in Europe. Electricity, water, food, restaurants, clothes, … your bills will be higher than home. Last year, the UAE became the most expensive country to fly out in the world. I pay twice the price to go to Brussels than a regular ticket from Brussels to Abu Dhabi. Taxes on income don’t exist here, so people who work here and get paid here, are rich and can afford that cost of living. Diplomats are paid back home… ;)
The safety! It’s the safest place in the world. You can leave you car opened, running, with your phone and wallet inside, go to the shop to buy something and everything is still there when you come back! As a woman, it is super nice to be able to go for a walk in any neighborhood of the city at any time of the day or night and feel super safe. I can let my kids play in the street, go alone to the local supermarket, it’s safe and it gives a feeling of Europe 50 years ago.
If you are interested in knowing more about our life or the diplomatic life in general, follow my Instagram (@desperatediplowife) or my blog www.desperatediplowife.com
Thanks Cécile for showing us what expat life is like in the United Arab Emirates.
In Love & Travel
Guest Posts From Diplo-families Worldwide
What is life like all over the globe? This area is a window into the lives of diplomats and their families. These interviews serve as mini crash courses in expat living worldwide. 7 salient notes about expat life in a given location. Enjoy!