Note: this is the transcript of an audio interview which you can listen to in MP3 format.
Live Like a German.com about how a unique kind of German vacation can further your family's German.
Sarah: Hi, this is Sarah Mueller from Alphabet Garten, and today I’m talking with Bettina Kraft of Live-like-a-German.com. Hi Bettina, thanks for your time this morning.
Bettina: Thanks for your time, Sarah.
Sarah: Can you tell us a little bit about the “Live like a German” concept? Give us some background on what that means.
Bettina: Yes. Well, about two years ago my husband and I were sitting in our apartment in Germany and we were trying to figure out how to rent our apartment there. And at the time, we only used it once or twice a year, and we always had friends who were interested in going to Germany and we would always marvel and rave about what you could do. So we started building up this website. And the only apartment we had was our own, promoting our own apartment on the site. The site was pretty good, and sooner or later, we started having more inquiries through the site and because we only had that one apartment, people starting asking “Well, do you have things in Bavaria?” or in other destinations. So we started building these partnerships with owners in Germany who have apartments and slowly but surely added them onto our site. We’re constantly still growing. Our goal is to cover the entire area of Germany, every village, metropolitan area, or city so we can offer that onto our customers on the site.
Sarah: Oh, that’s so interesting! So you work, actually, directly with the owners of the individual apartments, then?
Bettina: Yes, we do. And we also added quite a few packages to our website that a lot of our owners actually put together for us. So we’re collaborating with a lot of owners on those packages as well.
Sarah: What kind of things belong to a package? How does that work?
Bettina: There are different packages that we offer. It could be a Christmas Market package or a castle tour and what we do is we use the expertise of our apartment owners for the area, and sometimes they do little tour guides, tour trips, they offer all kinds of different things, be it a trip on the Rhine river or something like that. So we use their expertise and put it into a package as well as, of course, their apartment.
Sarah: So people can actually get a personalized tour, or they can get to know the area?
Bettina: Exactly. We have these personalized tours and we have these customized tours so the customized tours are more or less pre-customized – pre-designed for the vacationer, there’s not a lot of give on these tours. But then we also offer these personalized tours that we pretty much put together to the needs of the person traveling to Germany. So we interview them, we ask, “What do you want to get out of this? How much time do you have? What do you want to do?” So I do a lot of those too, where it’s just put together with the customer, we tailor it to exactly their needs.
Sarah: Tell me, what does it mean to live like a German on vacation? How is that different from just going to Germany and I guess, you know, visiting the beer hall in Munich, things like that. How is this different?
Bettina: Well, it is different. First of all, it’s a more personal experience because you are going to live in an apartment that has been set up by a German family. There’s a lot of German culture, German designs in these apartments, German way of living. And we always encourage them to you know, visit the local markets, the local restaurants, the local bakeries, the butcher – you know, the typical things you would do in a village or in a smaller town. And to kind of mingle with the locals. That’s pretty much what that means, to “live like a German”. There are different things throughout the year, and other things you can do in order to get that German feel while you’re on vacation.
Sarah: That sounds like so much fun! That sounds like such a great way to go to Germany and get the whole language exposure and get way more out of it than you would if you were just going to a resort.
Bettina: We definitely encourage that, and there’s a lot of information on the website in regards to how you can do that.
Sarah: How can families who wish to improve their children’s German benefit from this kind of vacation? Do you find that they manage to speak a lot more German, interact with the other people around them?
Bettina: Yes, I mean, if you have kids that know some German or you want them to learn German, this is definitely the way to go. You can always find a play area or go to the city and just enjoy and interact in, I don’t know, an ice cream parlor or something, with local German-speaking families. And then, on top, as I can say from our own experience, we always put our children in German Kindergarten or a German school. It always has worked out so far, especially in the smaller villages where people are willing to help you out, you know, improve your German language skills, especially those of your children. So we’ve done a lot of that. I think that if you’re open to speak the language you can definitely get in touch with people and experience that.
Sarah: So your kids have actually gone to German Kindergarten when you’re over there?
Sarah: Oh, that’s fantastic! How does that work, is it like a half day thing that they go to in the morning?
Bettina: Well, it depends. So far we’ve had really great experiences with the locals, we’ve had the kids for five to six hours sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on your child of course. But they always had a blast, and it’s so different from your typical Kindergarten here. There are a lot of awesome things they do, different programs, a lot of holistic things and sensory things, and a lot of things that they do that I’ve never seen in American Kindergarten so far. On top of, of course, the language benefits. And then our oldest son has been regularly, every year, been going to school in Germany as well. He actually skips a grade there and goes to the upper grade. Of course, he has a friend there too, but he’s totally able to do that because we kept him on top of his German language skills. Of course, the improvement of the language while in school and in Kindergarten is so immense and within two or three days they speak dialect.
Bettina: But they do that. I mean, they’re such sponges and they pick up the language so fast again and all the special words the kids use there.
Sarah: That’s amazing! So your son was actually able to attend Grundschule? Is that where he went?
Bettina: Yes, exactly.
Sarah: Wow, and the school just let him attend for a couple of weeks?
Bettina: They did. They were very nice about that and I think that’s the thing. If you build this relationship with the apartment owners, be it in any village or city, they’re so willing to help you out with these kinds of things. We can definitely arrange something like that for your kids.
Sarah: That would be fantastic! That’s like a dream come true, I think, for a lot of people, to be able to completely immerse their children in that environment. That’s something that people try to recreate here a lot – with the German Saturday schools or maybe an immersion school. But to actually go over to Germany and do it, that’s like the real deal.
Bettina: It is, it is. It’s been a really good experience, I’d have to say.
Sarah: Let’s see… are most of your apartments in the smaller areas? What’s the best kind of environment to interact with the locals?
Bettina: That’s a hard one. I just think you have to be open and go out there and talk to people, the markets and festivities are definitely great. Just go and talk to people! I think people are very welcoming to Americans for sure. They just love Americans, and they’re always willing to talk. Just put yourself out there and start talking! There are definitely markets, and you know, I think there are a lot of ways to do that. Go out there and start speaking the language and you’ll see that people want to interact with you.
Sarah: So you find people can go to a big city if that’s what they tend to like, and they can find people to interact with.
Sarah: They can tailor it to their taste and it doesn’t really matter where they go.
Bettina: I think so, yes. There’s always people that like to chat and are interested in foreign people coming, and you know, I know a lot of Americans want to know about history and such things. What better way then to just grab a person who’s local in any area – be it a village or a big city – and just start talking and asking questions.
Sarah: Oh, it sounds like fun. Very cool. Do you have any ideas about what people could do to prepare beforehand to get the most out of this kind of vacation? Other than, of course, if they were going through you, they would arrange things and organize, and plan things out beforehand, but is there anything else that you find people like to do before they go to get ready?
Bettina: Well, I think it definitely helps to know a little bit about, you know, customs. A lot of things that I’ve sent my customers are this is how you tip, this is how you drive the autobahn, just small things like that, and then, on top, of course, just get as much information about the destination you’re going to as you can. Definitely, our site is really good when it comes to that. There are a lot of resources on that. Just start reading up a bit on the customs, and how you can immerse yourself in the best way. Of course, when it comes to flights and such, there’s high season and low season, and there are some good companies that sell cheaper flights to Germany than your typical United.com or any other major airline. There’s definitely some research that can be done in terms of that, too, to stay on a certain budget.
Sarah: Oh, that’s another thing I wanted to mention. Somewhere on your site it says that your apartments actually end up costing quite a bit less than you might pay.
Bettina: They do. We actually calculated that they are 30-40% less than a hotel and you have way more amenities in an apartment. It’s basically, you know, living at home away from home, because you can pretty much do what you want in an apartment when it’s an adequate size. Especially when it comes to families with children, you have so much more freedom in an apartment.
Sarah: Oh, absolutely, instead of being in one little hotel room. So the apartments come with cooking things and sheets and all that kind of good stuff?
Bettina: Yes, most of them do have a full kitchen, some have a smaller kitchenette. That’s something we always add as information on our site, yes.
Sarah: So it’s like a better vacation for a better price, then?
Bettina: I think so. Yes, definitely, definitely a better vacation.
Sarah: Wow, well, we’re going to have to look into this for next year. This sounds like an excellent opportunity. Well, can you just end by telling us maybe some of the great experiences that some of your clients have had when they get back and talk with you?
Bettina: Yes. So far, knock on wood, we only have great, great feedback from our customers that went. I have to say, most of them were really – they loved how people interacted with them and were interested in what they are doing. Above and beyond to make them feel comfortable and explain where to go and what to do, so we have a lot of fun stuff when it comes to that. Most of our customers rave about the quality of our apartments as well. They are all really good quality, really nice places and locations. So we did get a lot of feedback on that. Actually, there are testimonials on our website if anyone wants to look up on that. We’ve had really good feedback.
Sarah: That’s great. And you’re also on Facebook, is that right?
Bettina: We are on Facebook, yes, we are on Facebook. We’re steadily growing on Facebook, which is just absolutely great. It’s an awesome way to stay in touch with all kinds of customers and just Germany followers and fans who crave foods or destinations or just want to chat about all kinds of things. It’s a great way to do that.
Sarah: Yeah, right. I’ve become one of your fans, and I love to get the updates – even daily, you have some kind of an update about a new recipe or something going on in Germany, so…
Bettina: Yeah, we’re trying to do that. It just constantly keeps the conversations going. There’s so much flow and ideas and we have so many Facebook fans that collaborate with us now – they write articles or just add really interesting information to our site, and we of course value that immensely. Facebook is the way to go; it’s a great resource.
Sarah: Yeah, I really like to get on there. We just started our own page there so we’re starting to build up a fan base.
Bettina: Well, I’m your fan.
Sarah: Well, I appreciate that.
Bettina: Sure. I think you have a great idea there too, with your Alphabet Garten, I have to say, it’s awesome.
Sarah: Thank you, thank you, yes. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of interesting things going on on our site too. I think that there is a lot of overlap, so I think people will enjoy hearing about your side of things.
Sarah: You know, most people learning German are going to end up in Germany at some point so definitely a lot of synergies there.
Bettina: Yes, I agree.
Sarah: Let’s see, I think that’s all I have for now, but I really want to thank you for taking a little bit of time this morning to speak with me. I know that our listeners are going to be interested in the concept. Oh, and let’s see, once more, the URL for your site is www.live-like-a-german.com, is that right?
Bettina: That’s it, yes.
Sarah: Okay, and you’ve got travel guides and recipes and tons of beautiful pictures and all this vacation planning.
Bettina: Right, to get you ready for your trip. Get you inspired.
Sarah: Right, exactly. Well, and I hope to chat more with you in the future. Maybe we can set up another interview.
Bettina: Yes, that would be great.
Sarah: I think that’s all I have for now.
Bettina: Great! Thank you Sarah!
Sarah: Thanks so much! Talk to you soon!