He came into the office and put down a ziplock bag of sand on the counter. It was time for him to check out. Being in the hospitality business on an island in Florida, you have the joy of meeting a lot of interesting people. Seeing the questioning look on my face, he told me that he takes sand from every beach he stays at, writes the name of the hotel on the bag, and takes it home. Then, very calmly, and very seriously, he admits that he will die someday, and that he wants his children to visit the beautiful beaches that he’s been to, and when they do, to return his sand back to that beach. I was still baffled by his story when he drove out of the parking lot, and told all my colleagues about his idea.
While we do not collect sand from Germany to bring home, Denise is always on the lookout for children's books from local artists and I look for chocolate, mainly Milka and Kinder products. Every year we pack our suitcases to the maximum weight allowed, crammed with keepsakes that we treasure for many years to come (except for the chocolate, which gets eaten inappropriately fast).
When you go to Germany, here are 3 souvenir ideas to look for, either for yourself or a loved one back home:
1. When I tell someone that I am from Germany, another comment I always hear is that Germany has great beer. And traditionally we drink our beer out of a beer stein or glass. But don’t believe that every family uses a stein with a tin lid and paintings on it, many of which are kind of tacky. If you want a stein that Germans use, buy a normal beer glass, like a Halbe (0,5 liter glass, pictured on the right) or the Maßkrug (1 liter glass, pictured on the left).
2. The German sweets I miss the most after chocolates are German gummy bears. The German company Haribo is famous for their gummy bears, and has all kinds of wacky flavors and shapes not available in the states. You want Smurfs gummies? Done. Craving a peach? They make a peach shaped and flavored variety. How about small soda bottles that look like they're half filled with cola, but have no caffeine? Well, that's very specific, but yes Haribo makes that too! Happy Cola by Haribo is one of their all-time best sellers, featuring half clear, lemon flavor, half tangy, cola flavor. Even the smaller grocery stores usually have a good selection of flavors, so grab whatever you like. ...The German gummies have natural coloring and real fruit juice, making the taste and texture substantially different from American gummy bears, which are made in Turkey.
3. Even if you go to Germany in the summertime, choose a Christmas tree ornament that reminds you of your vacation months later, when the weather is cold and stormy. Most tourist stores which sell a T-Shirt or mug will also have a special corner dedicated to Christmas ornaments. You can pick one that shows an iconic landmark, a handmade nutcracker or a little pretzel ornament. Just don’t ask for a dill pickle ornament. It's a long story, and you might think of it as German, but it is an American tradition. If you're concerned about keeping it safe, go for a wooden ornament. If you love Christmas as much as we do, go crazy in one of the Käthe Wohlfahrt stores, which are entirely Christmas themed all year long. For more German Christmas souvenir ideas, check out our earlier post about Bringing German Christmas Home With You.
Perhaps most importantly, if you see something that you really like, go ahead and BUY IT! Don't wait until after dinner, or when you're on your way back to your hotel at the end of the day, or look around some more to see if you can find it for less money. There's a universal rule - Buy It or Forget It. The store WON'T be open after dinner, it WON'T be open tomorrow (even though the sign said it would), it will cost even MORE money in the next town, and so on. Go bargain hunting when you are back home. Don't stress out on your vacation.
Do you have something you'd add? Do you have a favorite souvenir? Tell us about it in the comments below.
• Taste Test Results of German Gummy Bears vs. American Gummy Bears! Who will win!?
• Read Collecting Souvenirs: A collaboration on What Souvenirs Travel Bloggers Collect from Wanderphile blog
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Denise and I were on the sixth floor eyeing the largest collection of gourmet food items in Europe, inside the largest department store in Europe, the KaDeWe, in Berlin, a city of 3 million people when I spied someone that looked familiar at one of the dozens of deli counters?!
Berlin is a small town of 3 million people.
There’s only one person I know who lives in Berlin, Mrs. B., who is a lifelong guest of the hotel where I work. Mrs B. is one of those people you just recognize: dramatic, loud and lots of fun. I walked up to that counter and stood right behind her as she informed the deli employee how to slice the meat better. Unmistakably, it was her, and I started talking to the employee over Mrs. B., who then turned around ready to give me a piece of her mind for interrupting her. The look of disbelief and surprise on Mrs. B’s face is still one of my favorite Berlin memories.
It was our very first trip to Berlin and I wanted to show my American wife that Germans also like to build and appreciate oversized shopping centers. KaDeWe, short for Kaufhaus des Westens, meaning Department Store of the West, based on its location near the centre of the former West Berlin. The KaDeWe opened in 1907 with only about a third of its current selling space, changing hands several times over the years, bombed down during WWII and re-opened in 1950. You will find almost all of the high-end brands together in the KaDeWe along with the largest deli food department in Europe.
You can find pretty much any food item here, starting in the fish corner with mahi-mahi from the Indian Ocean over to bison entrecote from Canada and dragon fruit imported from Thailand. Let’s not forget to be spoilt for choice with over 1,300 cheese varieties. While shopping there can be quite expensive, it is definitely worth a visit when you are in Berlin. I highly recommend going to the café on the top floor, which also has a beautiful view of the city from its position near the Ku’Damm.
Ku’Damm is an abbreviation for Kurfuerstendamm, which means prince-elector’s corduroy road, and is the name of a two-mile long avenue in the center of Berlin. The Ku’Damm led to the hunting lodge of Grunewald and castle Charlottenburg, and back in the 16th century was only to be traveled on by the royal family. Starting in 1880s, the avenue was extended to be 53 meters /174 feet wide. Ku’Damm has since transformed into an upscale shopping district with a large diversity of fashion and consumer good stores as well as condos, hotels, and car dealerships.
From a retail standpoint, the Kurfuerstendamm is divided into three sections:
• Mass-market-oriented retail | lower Kurfuerstendamm, Gedächtniskirche to Meinekestrasse | Here you will find stores like H&M, Apple, Urban Outfitters and Tommy Hilfiger.
• Upmarket-oriented retail | central Kurfuerstendamm, Meinekestrasse to Bleibtreustrasse| Here you will find stores like Lacoste, Karl Lagerfeld, Bogner and Picard.
• Luxury pitch | upper Kurfuerstendamm, Bleibtreustrasse to Olivaer Platz | Here you will find stores like Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Maurice Lacroix.
In between these large brand name stores you will find lots of small, unique stores and it is worth exploring a bit. We spent several hours during our Berlin trip going up and down the Ku’Damm, and then getting lost due to the horseshoe numbering system on the houses. This numbering system starts from one end, with the buildings on the right side of the street numbered sequentially from the near end to the far end of the street. The next number was then assigned to the last building on the left side of the street, the following numbers sequentially doubling back along the left side of the street. It ended up that the building with the highest number would be the first on the left side, facing the building with the lowest number across the street. Click for an example.
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