Volkshochschule: cultural and educational centre in Munich

The term Volkshochschule refers to a German institution that is dedicated to adult education and advance training in a wide range of areas. The German educational system is complex enough to take up one or two blog entries alone, but today I am just going to focus on why you should be pay attention to the Volkshochschule in Munich and what this school has to offer to you as an expat.

Screenshot of the Munich Volkshochschule website
To begin with Volkshochschule means: folk high school or school of the people. And this is the key to it: the Volkshochschule has a course/seminar/lecture for everyone, for everyone on this earth, no matter what your interests/education and time limitations are. 

Lobby of Gasteig
I'll give you some real examples of the Volkshochschule in Munich: 
  • one of my local friends has recently attended two wine tasting seminars (on the weekend) on Spanish and Italian wines and she is currently looking at doing a cooking course before the summer;
  • an Italian student that I met at LMU is currently enrolled in a C1-level German course twice per week in the mornings and
  • she told me of another ex-colleague from France that has registered for a seminar on German literature;
  • I once attended a two-hour evening lecture on how to bring up children bilingual in Germany;
  • my Russian friend, who is married to a Chinese, has learnt the basics of the Mandarin language there and
  • I will be doing a weekend-course on photography at the beginning of March. 
Gasteig Volkshochschule
All this (and much more) happens at just one place: the Volkshochschule. I would not have space enough to describe/nor list all the areas in which training is offered. That is one of the reasons why their course catalogue is so thick. I am not good with quantities but this catalogue could easily weight 1,5kg!! so imagine how wide the scope of knowledge is!

Check online: are you interested in improving your German or learning a new language (Japanese, Italian, French...)?; Are you interested in history, philosophy, politics or economy?; do you want to expand your knowledge in ecology, food or health? or maybe you are looking for a job or to study a new degree/master? 

Volkshochschule catalogues in Gasteig
In my experience the only problem that I have encountered with the Volkshochschule was to make a decision on which course was the most suitable for me. If that is your case: ASK! Germans might not be the best at customer service but they do know how to give advice when it comes to education and training. All Volkshochschule centers in Munich have an information office.

The Volkshochschule in Munich has many sites/centers across Munich, you can check online which one is the closest to you in this link. As for me, I usually go to Gasteig in Haidhausen, which seems to be the HQ and it is also a reference in the cultural scene in Munich. If you go to the Gasteig official site you will learn about the relevance of the Volkshochschule in Munich (MVHS)...: 
  • ... receives over 200,000 bookings for their anual 13,000 activities;
  • ... teaches German to around 20,000 foreign students per year;
  • ... offers courses in 50 different languages;
  • ... delivers specific courses for 1,200 teenagers and 10,000 pensioners per year;
The last bullet point is very important to remember because they are a popular and relevant platform when it comes to training and education for teens and retirees. For more info: check the Junge Volkshochschule  (and this link for further info) for teens and the Senioren Volkhochschule.

And back to Gasteig, this building in Haidhausen does not only host the Munich Volkshochschule, it is also a city library (Stadtbibliothek), the HQ of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (Münchner Philharmoniker) and the Munich school for Music and Theatre (Hochschule für Musik und Theater).

The library: is open from 10am to 7pm every weekday and half day on Saturdays.
Your city library card will cost you €20 per year (or cheaper if you are a student). With this "Ausweis", you can borrow books, music, films, language courses and more.

Besides you can download from the library media range directly from your home computer and get access to a very comprehensive range of magazines and newspapers. The library also has a section for current tv series that you can borrow to watch at home; their music collection is impressive (mainly classic) but also current (rock, pop and jazz) and if you need a space to read a book or prepare for your exam, they also have a desk in a quiet corner for you.

Gasteig also offers an amazing music program that includes concerts of the Munich orchestra or other musicians and groups. You can buy season/single tickets for the different weekly concerts/musicals and performances. They also have events for children. Again, check the program.

Evening seminars/lectures/exhibitions: for those of you that only have the evenings after work, there is an interesting program for you at Gasteig every day of the week and each activity costs around €8 - €2. What are they about? everything! At the entrance of Gasteig you will find a flyer like the one in the picture with details on what's on everyday. 

For February the program offers: i.e. a photo exhibition about Pekin as a metropolis; cinema for kids in the afternoon; a My Fair Lay musical; and lectures on war photography: reality or fiction?; psychology and the guilty conscience; are we alone in the universe?; current politics; the Jewish dietary law;  China in the global economic crisis; a NYC portrait... and much more... 

Gasteig culture program for Feb 2013
Finally let me tell you three reasons why your should consider a course/seminar at the Volkshochschule in Munich:
  1. Your German (no matter that it is basic/intermediate or advanced) needs to get out there and get a feeling of the real German. You will not get that in your language course with other foreigners;
  2. If you have a hobby, you have more chances to meet other hobby partners in a course/seminar on the topic at the Volkshochschule than sitting at home...
  3. An afternoon lecture on your favorite topic will cost you less than one night at movies; a language course will be more economical than in most of the private language schools in the city; a weekend training course (like my photography speed course) is very cheap in comparison with private institutions... 
TIP: use the Volkshochschule to improve your German skills: Do you have a good level of German or have you just started? It does not matter, if your goal is to learn the language or improve your skills, you need to get out there and get exposed to German!

Is there a better way of doing this than to get together in a classroom with locals that share your passion/hobby and spend an hour per week learning, discussing and talking about it?

The Volkshochschule offers you a platform for this improvement. Use it!

Your worse enemy is the feeling of embarrassment that is inevitable attached to the process of learning a new language. You have it, I have it, everyone has it... but you know what: when you spend enough time in Germany you learn that you should NOT feel embarrassed at all. Most Germans love to hear foreigners making the effort of speaking German... so please them!

I will be attending the Volkshochschule photography course on the 9/10 March, are there any of you by any chance also going? if so, drop me a line. If not, I hope that this blog post motivates you to go out there, register at a course/seminar at the Volkshochschule in Munich and improve your German, meet new people and enjoy yourselves!

And as always, if you have a tip or a story regarding this blog entry, please let me know by making a comment. I am getting a lot of emails from you guys but I believe it is also important that you make your comments public so other expats can benefit from our questions and experience.

Bye for now and have a great day.

Related posts:
Learning German in Munich
Going to the movies in English
German adopting English words
Is there a life beyond the intermediate level?

Sweets and chocolates from Germany

Last Thursday was "Valentinstag" (Valentine's Day). However I am not here today to talk about love but to talk about one of this day's most popular giftscandies and chocolate. 

Candy and chocolate section @ Galeria Kaufhof
Confectionery is a big business here in Germany (not only on the 14th of February) and I was not aware of it until I read that the Bundeskartellamt (the German government agency against unfair competition) had imposed a 60m fine on eleven confectionery manufacturers in Germany because of colluding in fixing/increasing the prices. (original press release in English).

Since then I have read a lot about this "Chocolate cartel" and although I do not approve (please note that most of the following companies were not involved) the topic raised my curiosity and led me to investigate further about the German manufacturers of chocolate and candies. 

Why should you be interested? Two reasons:

  1. Where do you think the best chocolate in the world comes from? I have always thought that it was Swiss or Belgian. And what about the best candy? my first feeling was to say the US and the UK... and they are maybe... I do not know... what I know is that no matter how good these countries do, Germany is also a world relevant (although silent and unknown) player when it comes to confectionaries.
  2. But also because I believe chocolate is the best gift ever. I get a lot of emails asking about: what can I buy as a souvenir from Munich/Germany? Well, there is a lot of crap out there that you can buy with the name "Munich" on it, but if I were to be the recipient of those souvenirs... I'd rather get a box with a note saying: "chocolates (or candies) from Germany":) ...wouldn't you?...
Munich souvenirs
According to the ICCO (International Cocoa Organisation): 4.3 million tonnes of cocoa are produced annually and over 40% of this production is grind in Europe, where Germany alone does close to 30% of the grinding process. And we do not only grind the cocoa:  we eat it!: Europe is the largest consumer of chocolate in the world and Germany is the greediest within the region.

We, Europeans, eat more chocolate than anyone else in the world, but the most eaten chocolates are American (or at least the brands are own by American companies). The world sales leaders are: Mars Inc (with m&m, Snickers, Mars and Twix); followed by Mondelez International (with brands like Oreo, Chips Ahoy, Cadbury, Milka and Toblerone). 

But back to Germany and according to Candy Industry: there are 12 German companies in the 100 ranking of the largest confectionary manufacturers in the world.  (The following numbers in brackets refer to the company's position in the ranking).

Do you want to know what to buy as souvenir from Germany? Keep reading:

Let's start with the "Gummibärchen" (Gummy bears). 

Do you know HARIBO (8)?... You do if you live in Germany and you will when you move here.

HARIBO @ Galeria Kaufhof
HARIBO is one of leading candy manufacturers in the world. I first learnt about them when a friend preferred to buy a HARIBO bag of candies than popcorn at the movies in a cinema in Berlin: "they are not only sugar, you know? they also have vitamins!" so she said... and it was true.

Screen shot of HARIBO online brochure
All German supermarkets sell the HARIBO range and if you usually watch TV you may have seen their commercial with a popular German TV entertainer named Thomas Gottschalk and of course you may have heard their song "Haribo macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso" (HARIBO makes children and adults happy).
(They do not pay me, it is just that I love HARIBO!)

Then you have Storck (10) with Werther's Original ("weil du etwas Besonderes bist" because you are something special), the chocolates Merci and the Nimm2 gummy candies. 

There is also Stollwerck (34) with my favourite chocolate bar in the whole world: Schwarze Herren Schokolade, although they also have other products and brands of course... 

Merci and Werther's Originals @ Galeria Kaufhof

Katjes (36) is Dutch for "little cat" and  this is a world successful German manufacturer of fruit gum and liquorices that you should not ignore. 

Lambertz(37) has been around since 1688 when it was funded in the city of Aachen, well known these days by its University. Lambertz owns the brand Weiss which I know very well because they sell Lebkuchen: a traditional German biscuit/sort of cake (similar to gingerbread) that Germans eat at Christmas and at Easter. If you have the chance: buy a packet to send to your family back at home! It is very German and it will cost you under €3. 

Then we come to Bahlsen (41), owner of the brand Leibniz (cookies) and Pickup (snacks) that you will learn to love: "wir versüssen das Leben" (we sweeten the life) and they have, at least mine...

Bahlsen @ Galeria Kaufhof

Mederer is the next one in the ranking (43). In 1948 Willi Mederer started his company by producing and selling nuts. Today is one of the world confectionery leaders and its brand Trolli is a direct competitor to HARIBO. 

Ritter Sport @ Galeria Kaufhof
Ritter Sport (54) is another of my favorites! A family business that started when Alfred and Clara (over 100 years ago) decided to dedicate their lives to make chocolate and this today means a square chocolate bar that comes in many flavours/mixes. 

Screen shot of Ritter Sport global website
And finally we have: Rübezahl Schokoladen (65), which I buy because of their Santa chocolate figures, Wawi Group (69), Rausch Schokoladen (75) and Ragolds (98).

These are a lot of brand names that you do not need to remember. They will (unfortunately) all be familiar to you once you have lived here long enough... But in the meantime: this blog entry should only serve as a suggestion to avoid lame souvenirs from Germany: ignore the shirts, the caps and the scarfs... just buy candy and chocolate from Germany, these guys do know how to make it!

What other souvenirs do you recommend to your friends and family?

I hope you had a great Carnival and a great Valentine's Day.

Related posts:
Pancake Day, Mardi Gras and Fasching Dienstag
Germany knows good food
Five tips to become a Munich local

Sledding in Munich (Spitzingsee)

Last weekend, I went sledding for the first time in my life and it was an experience I will be repeating soon.

My friend Janina invited me to her amazing plan for Saturday: a day trip to Wallberg with two other Germans, a new Munich expat from South Africa and another friend from Australia but living in London.

Southeast to Tegernsee (the most popular lake close to Munich) in Rottach-Egern you get on the Wallbergbahn (a small mountain train) that takes you up to the top of the mountain, from where you can sled run back down to the village and there you can enjoy a typical German lunch and go for hike in the surroundings of the lake.

The plan sounded great but I wanted to know more, so we checked my friend's book on winter tours around Bavaria and according to it: Wallberg is a very popular destination for winter hiking and sledding but unfortunately, it was not suggested for beginners. I was (still am) a beginner. 

As a consequence, we had to change the plan. My friend then suggested to move the location to Spitzingsee but the plan remained similar. We took the train in Munich, which by the way it is called BOB (sorry, but it makes me laugh every time someone in Munich says: I go with BOB to...). BOB is not a man but a train and the acronym for "Bayerische Oberlandbahn", which means a Bavarian train line that goes to (across) the region Oberland, located  south in Bavaria, boarding with Tirol.

Less than an hour later we arrived at the train station and we then took a bus. Many people drive or take the bus up to the highest point, but we stopped before because we wanted to do some hiking. There are very nice hiking tours that you can plan around the area, check online. For us, it turn out to be a very good idea! You will see in the pictures that we were lucky with the weather: sunny, no wind and no rain, but the most important part was that it was a very good exercise, the winter clean air, the scenery and the people we met along the way made it the best choice ever. (Leave your car at home!!!!).

Once we reached the Gasthaus, we ordered hot chocolate and sat outside to relax and enjoy the view. We met a family and spoke to some other customers. Most of them were there also for sledding and some others had been skiing (there are sky slopes nearby). 

After some tee/hot chocolate (some also had a proper lunch in the Gasthaus). We rented the sledges for 3.50€ per person. My friend showed us the basics (how to slow down, turn right/left) and after five minutes we were good to go. Sledding down was one of the most amazing things I have ever done, if you have not done it, please try it!  If you have and you are reading this and thinking I am lame, please excuse me:  we do not usually go sledding in my home country and so this was a new experience for me. 

Once we "parked" the sledges down, we had a another 30 minute walk round the lake till the next Gasthaus, where we ordered "Kaiserschwarrn", originally from Austria, this is a sort of caramelised pancake served with apple jam, plums, almonds, raisins... Just what we needed!

By the time we finished our Kaiserschwarrn, we had to rush to the bus stop to head back to the train station and to get on BOB and back to Munich.

We were a group of five and bought a Bayern Ticket. We paid 8€ per person and this included the train and the bus transport, two ways.

We left at 11am and I was back at 7.30pm. The perfect day trip thanks to the lovely Janina. I picked up some brochures of winter trips around Bavaria. All were published by the DAV, which is the "Deutscher Alpen Verein" (the German alpine club). DAV is an institution here in Munich, go check their website, go talk to them, go join them... in winter and in summer: they know what, where and how you should be doing the skiing, the hiking and the sledding...

I hope that my experience helps to inspire those of you new to Munich. The winter in Munich is long but nobody said that you had to spend it inside!!! 

There are many winter tours/excursions, which one have you done? Have you been sledding? where?

Related posts:

Biking in Munich
Rooftops and weather in Munich
Roof avalanches, archaeological findings and Rocky Horror Show
Barbecue and sunbathing in Munich
On a Sunday: why is it so cold?