Tuesday, April 30, 2013

This sign was not what I thought it was

I saw this sign in the small town where I was living in the US. It made me really laugh. I was wondering what kind of contest would this be? Would people bring their stuffed moose and then lip sync songs, using the moose as a puppet? (I think these thoughts make me either extremely imaginative or just plain dumb).

I was very stuck on the concept of the moose being an actual animal. I finally searched this online and found out that this sign is for an event sponsored by the Moose Lodge, which is a fraternal service organization. Apparently the Moose Idol contest was a fundraiser and I doubt that there was any taxidermy entered. The sign made so much more sense after I looked this up!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Driving in Germany: Straßenschäden!

This is a sign that one might encounter on German roads. Straßenschäden means road damage. Keep in mind that speed limits might be lowered in zones like this. For this case, the limit was lowered as evidenced by the 30 zone sign above it.

In the midwestern state of my origin, we call  Straßenschäden: how our roads always are.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

American products in other countries/places: Berlin, Germany

Store mentioned: Kaufhaus des Westens

When I travel, I'm always curious to see if stores carry American brands of food. I like to see what stores in other countries consider "American," and by extension, what they might consider "typical" food to sell. It's always fun to experience the sticker shock, too! Often the foods are so much more expensive than they would be in the States. Of course, it could be a bit expensive to import foods, but I think items are so expensive because of the novelty factor, too.

Our first stop is Berlin. I went shopping at KaDeWe (ka-day-vay), which is a huge department store in Berlin. I guess I could liken it to Harrod's in London (though it's not quite as posh, but is still quite nice). KaDeWe is short for Kaufhaus des Westens, which means "Department Store of the West." It's a store that opened in 1907 and has always showcased products from across the world.

I visited KaDeWe in April 2011. I made a beeline for the international foods section because of course I wanted to see the American food offerings and have my mind boggled by the prices. Below is what I found:

Ahh, Campbell's condensed soup: complete with high fructose corn syrup, just add water. Andy Warhol would approve of the soup, but not the price: almost 3 euros per can. In the US, it usually sells for between about 70 cents to $1 per can.

Ah, pop-tarts. Not a particularly healthful breakfast, but a fast one. Not a cheap one here, at €5.98, but hey, it was reduced from €8.98! They are about $2.79 in the US.

Ahh, Libby's pumpkin, a staple in American households during Thanksgiving for the ubiquitous pumpkin pie. Such an innocent-looking product gave me the biggest sticker shock: it was €9.98! It's usually about $3 in the US but can be purchased for less during Thanksgiving time.
I'm just very thankful that I can buy American products in the Commissary. If had to pay the prices listed above, I'd just do without. Of course, that wouldn't be the end of the world, either, but I do love me some root beer (which was being sold at KaDeWe for about $3 a can!) so I'd be sad about not being able to buy that at a reasonable price.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Just a bit behind: Fasching February

I'm just a bit behind with posting pictures and stories from this year's Fasching. I've been seriously derelict in that area, especially considering that that Fasching, also known as Karneval and other names, is held during February. It's a celebratory season where normally placid Germans act completely NUTS and wear freaky costumes, paint bystanders' noses red, throw confetti, and use the newscaster's bottom to pop balloons (or at least that's what they did on a news segment).

Fasching season can begin on 11/11 at 11:11 and goes until Fat Wednesday in February. It's a pre-Lenten season of parties, political parodies, witches (I kind of think they combined a lot of traditions here!), parades, and more.

Kaiserslautern, where I live, got into the Fasching fun too. There was a Fasching market at Stiftsplatz, a square in the middle of downtown. Below are some pictures from the market. There was also a parade on Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday, in Kaiserslautern. I was a sad panda because I had to work, but many for many lucky Germans in the area, it was either a half or a full day off.

There is more to say about Fasching, but this is it for now.

Let's accessorize with some Lebkuchenherzen!

Even the pastas are dressed up for Fasching! It's a bit creepy that you can see these dolls' pasta brains, I think.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Memory is full; clear cache!

My phone has been hollering at me for quite some time that its memory is full. I will admit: I've been lazy about fixing this because I've been so busy lately. Anything that is not Moo, work, or school isn't really being done in a timely manner for me right now (let's not even talk about the last time I mopped inside my house - though I have been good about cleaning the stairs in the building, which is required).

I half-heartedly deleted some photos off my phone but ignored it beyond that. Well, today my phone finally had enough; it wouldn't load past the manufacturer's logo. I had some panic; after all, I need it this weekend because we're going to be out and about on adventures. I have very little time to try to run back to the store where I bought it, and I wondered if the store would be remotely helpful with the phone. Customer service sometimes gets a bad rap here so I imagined they'd tell me too bad, I had to buy another phone. I don't know if this is logical or not but I was dreading the possibility.

Instead of continuing to fret, I got my act together, stopped panicking over something stupid, and found out online how to reboot the phone. I had to reset a lot of the preferences but it worked. Phew!

I actually wish I could do something like this for my brain ;) There are so many things going on right now with work, school, and travel that my brain is feeling a bit mushy. For example, when I was taking a test for my German test, I forgot some words I had just seen. They flashed right out of my head. Processing all this information seems to be taking so long right now.

If only I could clear my mental cache of information I don't need any more to make room for the new information.

Argh! My brain is on overload! Even this graffiti in an abandoned house near the Heidelberg Project in Detroit agrees.

Volksmarch to the Humbergturm


In February, some friends and I joined a Volksmarch (People's March) to the Humbergturm in Kaiserslautern. It was so much fun; it was a torchlit hike to the tower, which is located in the forest on the south side of Kaiserslautern. Once there, we enjoyed some bonfires, beer, pretzels, fireworks, and even a brass band.

My friends are from the UK and we were discussing how if this event were held in either the UK or the US, there's a good possibility that a lot of the fun would be sucked out of it because of all the rules. People would probably have to be herded like cattle into a roped off "pen" and then "tagged" (wristbanded) like cattle if they wanted to drink. Here, it's not a big deal to drink in public. People can handle a few beers and the event can still stay family friendly.

Also, we were eying the fireworks and imagined that they wouldn't fly in the US (har har), either. The guy lighting them was a bit blasé and actually launched most into the trees (though they eventually came out the other end).

We had a great time and were glad that the event isn't like ones in the US/UK. It was a bit more exciting that way!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Car towing, the urban version

In February, some friends and I took a trip to Wiesbaden for the Fasching parade. (Yes, I'm a bit behind on posting about Fasching; there will be more to follow!)

We noticed some police and a tow truck as we were walking to the parade. Some dingbats had parked at a bus stop - that's a total no-no! The cars were American so I'm 99.9% sure that some Americans did it. Not too smart!

The cars were getting towed. However, I had never seen a towing process quite like this before: a tow truck actually lifted the car out of the spot. It was completely nuts, but it makes sense; how else would a tow truck extract an improperly parked car in a crowded city area? I bet that owner of the car was really wishing that he had just paid to park in one of the parking garages after this situation.

As we were waiting for the parade, we couldn't believe the number of tow trucks we saw passing by. We imagined that they were making a KILLING that day.

Here's a video.

Fancy parking

This parking lot, near the Gartenschau, cracks me up. It's a dirt lot, but one must still pay to park there and there are signs stuck in the dirt.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Restaurant Review: Ristorante Villa Medici in Enkenbach-Alsenborn

Ristorante Villa Medici
Paul-Münch-Straße 1
67677 Enkenbach-Alsenborn

06303 8008555
My rating: 3.5 stars
A group of us went to celebrate an event at  Ristorante Villa Medici. There were about 15 of us and we ate lunch at the restaurant on a weekday.

We were the only group there initially; a few other small groups come in during the time we were there. There was only one waiter but he was attentive and did a good job serving the whole group by himself.

The restaurant itself is very well-maintained; everything was very clean. The entire interior is painted peach, which is somewhat intense for the entire room, but then again, I don't care for colors in the pink spectrum. However, everything did look crisp and clean. Additionally, there is an alcove with a couch and a table with coloring books for children. A garden terrace was available and looked very pleasant, but since it is a bit too cold out still we didn't sit outside.
The food was not bad, but not great, either. Fellow diners ordered the bruschetta and found that it was pretty much just tomatoes on Italian bread. There was no vinegar or other garnishments added to it. I ordered the gnocchi Gorgonzola, which wasn't bad. 
Another diner ordered a pizza and said that it was so-so. However, it's not uncommon for Americans not to be enamored with pizza in Germany; we often find that the sauce seems to be quite bland and is very scarce.

Overall, the experience wasn't bad, but not stellar, either. Our group was accommodated very well. The food was okay, not great. The restaurant was clean and suitable for groups. I would give the restaurant a rating of 3.5 stars.

Roadside Candy Machines: Kaiserslautern & Otterberg

I have this fascination with roadside candy vending machines, which are similar to the gumball machines one sees inside American supermarkets. I'm not sure that I have seen any that are just tacked to the walls outside in the US before, but I've seen them in Europe. I can remember them in Germany and Austria, for sure. They are usually on the side of buildings. Once in a while I've seen freestanding machines.

They strike me as slightly odd. Usually they look rather weather worn. I'm always curious who would buy and eat candy from them; they look so old and abandoned (and maybe full of dirt from the street!).

My friend and I were traveling in Wien (Vienna) and saw so many of them and were very curious, so we decided to throw hygienic caution to the wind and buy a piece of candy from the machine. We thought it might be chocolate because it was a foil-wrapped ball. We found that it was a gumball. We each ate half of it and did not die from weird roadside germs.

Below are some more machines that I've seen around.

Candy and toy vending machine, Mannheimer Strasse, Kaiserslautern

I love the sticky Fledermaus, which means bat. Hehe, they're calling it some sort of mouse.

See what I mean? Would you want to eat anything that came out of this machine in Kaiserslautern?
Otterberg machine.

Holy multifunctional sink, Batman!

In the bathroom in the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) in Kaiserslautern, there is a crazy sink, pictured below. There is a place to receive soap, wash one's hands and even dry one's hands built into the sink itself. Crazy, huh?

Monday, April 22, 2013

The local kitty

I was doing some staring out my window and heard some people exclaiming in happy tones. I looked out and saw a group of people clustered around a car. They were taking pictures of a cat sitting on the car. I found this funny because I had contemplated taking a picture of the same cat before on a different occasion so I took a picture of the people taking a picture of the cat.

I passed the cat later and made some friendly noises at him. He let me pet him so I'm guessing he's someone's house cat who goes out to sun himself on cars.

The subject of the hub bub.
Taking a picture of the people taking a picture of the cat.

He decided he needed a change of scenery so he moved to another car.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Trying to speak German...the Farmers' Market Edition

Today I stepped out for a typical Saturday morning excursion that I enjoy making if I'm in town: shopping in downtown Kaiserslautern. I really enjoy stopping by the downtown farmers' market.

I have tried speaking German when I order things. It basically works...and the vendors speak English back to me. At this point, it's probably a good thing, because I basically know what I need to say in German but that doesn't mean that I'll always understand the response.

I've had a few snags in the process, though. I asked one vendor for what I hoped mean "one orange." I was using the indefinite article, the equivalent of the word "an." I couldn't remember what gender the word orange takes (yes, that's fun - every word has a gender and the only way pretty much to know it is just to memorize it - don't EVER learn a German noun without its accompanying article!). I guessed; since the word "orange" seems like a French word in original and it even sounds French (to me, at least) when it's pronounced in German, I guessed that the word is neuter because usually foreign words are neuter.

WRONG! The vendor was more than happy to tell me that I wanted "eine orange." Okay, then the word was feminine; many words that end in -e are feminine. Usually the people I've met here have been really friendly and helpful, but I think this guy was having a bad day. Sorry, dude. Or, he was just introducing me to the error of my ways.

I didn't let this daunt me, though; after all, I now will remember the gender of the word orange! Today I went to buy some Spargel - it's that time of the year, after all! Spargel is asparagus. Germans are very, very fond of it in the spring and the white asparagus seems especially popular. Since it was €8 a bunch, I opted for the much more reasonable €2.50 a bunch green Spargel (plus I'm just not super into the white stuff anyway). It's so expensive this year because the growing season has been out of whack because of the long winter.

Anyway, I told the vendor "one, please" (auf Deutsch) and pointed at the bunch of Spargel. I was horrified when he thought about it, and said, "ok, one Euro is fine." I meant that I had wanted one bunch of Spargel; I didn't mean that I was telling him that I would only pay €1 for the bunch! At that point I was too embarrassed so I handed him the €1 coin and thanked him.

Maybe I just speak English around town, but then downside is that my German will never improve.

I get by with a little (a lot of!) help from my friends

I'm so thankful for my expat friends. There are some hurdles to moving somewhere new by yourself, and there are even more when one is moving to a new country. My awesome friends have helped me a lot since I've moved here and it's so kind of them. Luckily for me, they are much more fluent in German than I am.

When I went to buy furniture at Ikea (both times), it went something like this:

Me, to salesperson, in German: hello, good day.

German salesperson: something nice in German, which I only understand a few words

and then me saying, Sorry?

German salesperson, looking a bit panicky: some bits of English, but lots of German

My friend, swooping in and saving the day: saying everything for me that needed to be said, auf Deutsch

German salesperson: smiling and looking relieved

Me: smiling and looking relieved

Friday, April 19, 2013

Using My German dishwasher: thank goodness for Youtube vloggers!

I am lucky in that my apartment not only comes with a kitchen (i.e. cabinets, a sink, and an oven - which is not always the norm in Germany!) but it also comes with a dishwasher. In many ways, I like this dishwasher; it's built into the kitchen cabinet so it's even the same color (blue! love it) as the cabinet and there are no dials on the front so it blends in.

One thing that confounded me was actually using it. At first I wasn't even sure how to turn it on! There was a lot of careful studying of the dishwasher, pushing the buttons on the inside of the dishwasher, and maybe even uttering of a few naughty words. I tried spinning the dial to a picture of a pot and pushed the right button at some point and it started washing the dishes after I shut the door. Success! Well, mostly. No matter what I did, there was still a lot of water left in and on the dishes after the cycle, which was annoying.

I had heard that since this area in particular has hard water, one has to add salt to the dishwasher. This is not the same as table salt! Don't try to use table salt in the dishwasher; I'm serious! This is salt meant to reduce water's hardness and it's a particular kind. However, I was confused about where, when, and how to add salt. Last night, I ran across a video that made it all clear. I'll link it below. Thank you to the S. who put it together!

I bought some special dishwasher salt. The kind I bought happened to be Somat Special-Salz but there are other brands, too. I paid about $1 for a box of it at the Commissary. The salt is in clumps; it seems similar to the salt I used to buy for the water softener machine I had in the US when I had well water.

I found the reservoir marked "Salz" in the dishwasher; it was in the lower left portion. I unscrewed the lid and poured in a box and a half of Somat salt in. There was water already in the reservoir but I just poured the salt in.

I tried running a load of dishes. I was pleased to find that they seemed a lot dryer after this load with the salt. Most of them were dry enough that they could be put away immediately, instead of having to be toweled off first.

 Thank goodness for this helpful video! Thank you to the author for putting this together.
The buttons and dials on top of the dishwasher.

This is one brand of water softener salt to use in German dishwashers.

This is where I added the salt after unscrewing the cap on it. It's on the "floor" of my dishwasher on the bottom left.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I yolk you not, they're supposed to be like that

Colorful dyed boiled eggs at Real, a supermarket.

It's not uncommon to see these dyed eggs at the grocery store as well as the farmers' markets all the time. They're so festive! I was wondering about them so I asked my friends.

They said that the eggs used to be around just for Fasching (Karneval/pre-Ash Wednesday type festivities), but they are available all the time now. The eggs are boiled. However, I consider them slightly less than hard boiled, at least based on the couple that I have seen split open in a display at the farmers' market. The centers aren't all the same consistency.

What kind of freaks me out is that the eggs usually are just sitting out. I've seen some in the refrigerated section, but not always. I'm of the mind to refrigerate everything, just to be safe. I think that many would call that paranoia.

However, I'm not the most paranoid person out there. I was talking to someone from my Culture College class and she said that she bought one of these eggs and started to eat it but freaked out when she saw the the yolk was an orangeish color instead of the pale yellow she was accustomed to. She threw the egg out because she thought something was wrong with it, either that it was spoiled or not cooked properly. I actually knew why they were like this and told her that everything was okay. If the yolks are darker, like an orange color, for example, it just means that it's more likely that the chickens were free range and they had an opportunity to eat eat foods with more pigments.

Restaurant Review: Sam Kullman's Diner, Kaiserslautern

Sam Kullman's Diner
Mainzer Straße 119, Kaiserslautern

A dining partner and I stopped by Sam Kullman's Diner, which bills itself as an "American style diner." The parking lot was full, especially with American cars. It was a draw of something that should be familiar to Americans: diner food. However, this food was anything but familiar to an American palate.

We ordered an appetizer plate of "nachos," a milkshake, and a hot chocolate. It was difficult to catch a waiter and service was very slow, especially considering the small order we placed.

The nachos were a total disappointment and nothing that an actual American would consider nachos. They used some sort of Cool Ranch Dorito-style chips with what seemed to be some sort of goat cheese and unseasoned beef.  They were really quite unappetizing and they were way off: American-style nachos are generally plain (or salted) tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, and taco seasoned beef. Prices were quite high, especially for an appetizer.

Also, on the menu, they charge for everything extra, such as barbecue sauce or other condiments. That's not very unusual for a German restaurant, but for an American-style diner, it seems unusual, and the condiments were quite expensive at €1.50.

The one positive about the restaurant is the it actually does look a diner inside and is cute. However, I can't recommend the place. It's expensive; the food isn't good; and the waiters are difficult to pin down and don't seem particularly interested in providing service.

Can you spot the American cars? The owners will be disappointed if they want actual American-style food!

This is amusing: American-style diner with an "Einfart."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pub/restaurant review: Irish House, Kaiserlautern

The Irish House: cool building outside, a lung health hazard inside.

Irish House
Eselsfurth 11, Kaiserslautern

I don't know if this is an entirely fair review, but I think it's very important for people to know: this pub/restaurant is incredibly smoky inside. I wasn't even able to stay to order anything. I walked in, picked up a menu, but had to leave immediately. My hair instantly smelled as if I rolled it in an ashtray, my eyes were watering, and I could barely breathe. I was disappointed that I wasn't able to try the restaurant. Of course, it is a bar and in the past it was common that smoking was allowed at bars, but I thought that had changed. There are legal loopholes where some bars are able to allow smoking an apparently this bar falls into that category.

I read other reviews that said that the UK-style pub food wasn't bad. There is a biergarten outside, so perhaps the summer months are more bearable because one could sit outside for a beer or some Shepherd's Pie.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Driving in Germany: dealing with Monsters on the road - I mean priority roads

Looks a bit like Domo, doesn't it? This sign is faded; the outline is usually red.

When driving in Germany, one sees this sign often. This is an important sign to watch for and to understand: it indicates that the road one is on is a priority road. In Germany, unless otherwise posted, drivers entering from the right take priority (unless they have yield or stop signs, or signs that indicate that they are not on a priority road; definitely study this further in depth before driving!).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Driving in Germany: around and around the roundabout we go!

The roundabout: helping traffic flow. Too bad it's tiny in this picture!
In Germany, it's not uncommon to come across traffic circles, or roundabouts, in one's car journeys. They work reasonably well to help keep up the flow of traffic.

There are a few important things to know about them:

-often there will be a yield sign for the traffic about to enter the roundabout, BUT if there is no yield sign, that means that the traffic already inside the roundabout must yield to the incoming traffic. Duh, but this is something important to remember.

-do not use your turn signal when entering the roundabout. It's quite obvious that you are going to enter the roundabout. However, DO use your turn signal when you are EXITING the roundabout.

-some (hellacious) roundabouts even have a center where streetcars will cross. Look for yield signs inside the circle; you might have to yield to oncoming streetcars that cut across the roundabout. This is part of the reason that I don't enjoy driving in the bigger cities. It can feel like (organized) chaos sometimes.

-of course, always do your own research to keep up on German driving laws and don't just rely on what Around the Wherever has written.


I have really come to like the roundabouts. I love that there is no full stop required when approaching it (well, unless there is other traffic in it already and I have the yield sign). Of course, I'm spoiled in that most of the roundabouts I'm using are in less populated areas so I'm usually the only one entering. The roundabout near Globus on the east side of Kaisersautern/by Opel is sometimes nicht so gut because it can be filled with traffic. However, for the most part, the roundabouts really keep traffic flowing.

Lazy Sunday afternoon LOLz: Moo and the Muh Muhs Photoshoot

I bought some caramels called Muh Muhs (literally, Moo Moos) because who could resist candies named after Moo's nickname?

Since I'm feeling lazy and have yet to contact my friends to see if they'd like to take a Sunday stroll, I decided to do a Moo and the Muh Muhs photoshoot. I laughed and laughed. Crazy cat lady, you say? I have no problem with that.

This one's my favorite.

The most fabulous chocolates box I have ever seen

I was shopping at Rewe, a grocery store, in town. I especially like Rewe because its name is said kind of like "rave-uh" so whenever I shop there, in my head, I'm imagining that I'm going to an awesome rave and it's quite the party. Of course, once I'm actually inside, I feel the desperation of people trying to run through their Saturday shopping and it doesn't seem nearly so cool, but whatevs.

I was admiring the candy aisle. As small as the Rewe is in town, it sure has a lot of candy! I was especially amazed by this box of chocolates:

I was very impressed by him because he almost looks like a cartoon he's so fabulous -- and maybe that's a little bit of the creepy factor. His shoes are even sparkly! I took a picture of the back to translate eventually because I think he says something about the frau being a princess when she eats his chocolates...or something like that. When I first saw this, I thought it was just a take on Mozartkugeln.

I then hit the jackpot of information, thanks to a family member, who is also living in Germany. She told me that this marvelous man is Harald Glööckler and he's a German fashion designer. I found an English version of the German press release about the chocolates: "With the 'GLÖÖCKLER PRALINÖÖS' praline creation now snacking every woman feel like royalty and like a true princess."

Even better yet, an interview with him is available. According to the interview, he's the fashion prince and the women are the princesses. He's also very handsome, according to him. Good to know.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Go clean someone else's chimneys, why don't you!

DISCLAIMER: I was internally grumpy about all of this. I was very pleasant, externally, to the chimney sweep, lest you think that I was acting like an angry mudpuppy when he was here.

One night this week, I came home to a note in my mailbox from the chimney sweep saying that he had stopped by but I wasn't home.

This is my mental response: Of course I'm not going to be home, just waiting for you to stop by, especially considering I had no idea that you would be coming by. I work!

The rest of the note said that he would be here the next day at a certain time.

This is my mental response: you expect me just to drop everything and be here when you say to be?

Not that I acted out that response; I contacted my boss and told him that I'd be in late the next morning because I found out, last minute, that I had to meet the chimney sweep. I am lucky to have an understanding boss who let me do that.

I was quite suspicious of this so-called sweep, so I texted my landlady to find out if: a) the guy is legitimate; b) does she know he's coming and will she pay for it; c) is there even a chimney here to sweep? Her answers were all yes. In my Nebenkosten fees for the apartment, part of what I pay monthly is for the chimney sweep. My apartment doesn't have a fireplace but apparently there's some sort of chimney/exhaust somewhere. I do have hot water heating so I wonder if part of that exhaust must be cleaned.

The next day, the sweep showed up at the promised (unsolicited!) time and came in. He fiddled around with the heater, used an instrument that made a whirring noise, and stood on my bathtub. I didn't watch him too much because that seemed strange, so I'm not exactly sure what he did.

He then needed to access the attic. He saw my shoe cabinet under the attic and muttered "this isn't good." Since I was cranky about the whole unsolicited appointment, I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him that the shoe cabinet is there for my convenience, and since the attic is only accessed once a year, it's not a bad thing that the cabinet is there. Instead, I helped him move it.

He left the attic and slapped a sticker on my water heater. I asked him if that was the chimney sweeping for the year and he said something about it being a new heater and that the sweeping is in two months for everyone. I didn't quite understand him and he didn't quite understand me, so I'm not entirely sure what he meant. I really hope that it doesn't mean that we're going to have to repeat this baloney in two more months.

It might sound like I'm being a bit cranky about this. Well, I am! I don't know if it's a German thing or just this service provider, but I'm not pleased with a provider who shows up unsolicited and then just tells me when the appointment is. Is that how it works? I'm accustomed to setting the appointment myself so it's a time that's convenient (read: when I can get out of work for sure).

My extra crankiness comes from another service provider: my landlady's handyman. He was working on fixing the fronts of the cabinets. He's had them for two months now (and my kitchen looks horrible, with two missing cabinet fronts). I texted my landlady to ask her if they were done and she said that he had stopped by my apartment several times with them but I wasn't home. She was frustrated with him because she had told him just to drop them off at her house and she would rehang them herself. I was frustrated with everyone at this point. Of course I'm not just going to be sitting around home, waiting for people whom I didn't know are coming!

Are these just flaky service providers who don't make appointments, or is that how they do things in Germany? I really need to find out.

Rorr! I am angry, like a mupuppy piñata!

And I thought I couldn't get my car down that road...SWK, you rock!

Since I was "bed ridden" (read: really sick with a sinus infection for two days this week), I did a lot of German staring out my window. I was treated to a special sight: the SWK municipal trash truck! Yippie! Yeah, I'm weird; I thought it was cool. Part of my reasoning is that as a tourist, we don't always get to see all of everyday life in a foreign country; we receive a somewhat edited view.

Since I live here, now I can see what it's like for a resident. Usually I'm gone by the time the trash truck comes. Many of the side streets are incredibly narrow here. I was walking down a street on the other side of the block and was so glad that I had purchased a parking permit for the opposite side because I don't think my car could even fit down the narrow road.

So, imagine my surprise when I saw the HUGE trash truck maneuver down the street! It was totally crazy. You can see the two trash men in orange. They got out of the truck to help the driver navigate. There was a lot of backing up and pulling forward to make the turn. It made me feel not *quite* so guilty for doing this in my car -- hey, I'm used to big roads! What can I say.

Edited to add: when I made the picture bigger, I saw the woman in the window in the building on the left. Funny! She's doing some staring as well.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Now does this really make sense?

Add least cover your head if you're going out in the cold!

I was talking with some locals about the fact that I'm lazy environmentally conscious and don't use a hair dryer in the morning. I also like to sleep in as long as I can, so this means that I always leave the house with wet hair. The women I was speaking with were horrified and wondered if I'd get sick from doing that. Well, I've been doing this for decades with no ill effects (other than the fact that my hair has developed ice crystals a couple times).

We then were talking about German bathrooms and how they usually lack exhaust fans. Without batting an eye, my conversation partners said that I should just keep the windows in the bathroom open when I take a shower to avoid mold forming in the bathroom.

I just couldn't help myself, so I said: you were worried that I would get sick from going outside with wet hair, but I should be inside, trying to take a shower, freezing, with the windows open?

Internally, I was cracking up. Germany!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Assimiliation 1,001: visiting the German Apotheke (pharmacy)

I decided that I needed to dive farther into local life: I had a prescription filled at the pharmacy (die Apotheke) down the street from my house. I had stopped by before to ask if the medications I take are carried there. One medication is not but I was able to find a substitute. I had been trying to decide if I wanted to get my prescriptions filled locally, or on the base with the medical hospital, because I am allowed to use the pharmacy there.

Since the pharmacist was so friendly at the German pharmacy and since I couldn't get the exact medication I was looking for at either pharmacy, I decided to try out the Germany pharmacy. The pharmacist there laid out all the prices for the medications. The more one buys, the more one saves. In fact, it's possible to get a six-month supply if one's doctor writes the script for it. Of course, it depends on a person's insurance on what the insurance will pay for, but I've never heard of US pharmacies doing a six-month supply before, so that was cool.

Herr Pharmacist was also really nice about telling me all the options for medications and said that technically they are only supposed to accept German or EU scripts, but my American script would be okay as long as my doctor wrote it in a format they could understand (i.e. chemical names and amounts that are comparable to the German medications).

I took my script in tonight and was a bit shocked when...the pharmacist actually filled it as I was standing there. I'm so accustomed to having to drop off a script and wait and wait or come back hours later to pick it up in the US. Also, US pharmacy staff always seem so harried (though they've always been pleasant, but I can tell they're stressed out) -- probably because there are so many scripts to fill, they're understaffed, and overstressed. At the German pharmacy, I never felt that I was rushed or that the staff was rushed. I was thrilled that I had my prescription in the time it took the pharmacist to grab it from another room.

I'm not sure if the price is more or less than what I'd pay on base, but I was really happy with my experience at the German pharmacy.

Grocery shopping on base is just a little bit different...

Part of the perks of my job is that I can shop at the commissaries on the bases/posts. In doing so, I have access to quite a good selection of food from home, and of course, lots of GMO food, high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, etc....erm, I mean, a lot of things I find familiar. I've definitely been happy to be able to still buy MorningStar Farms stuff as well as frosting for those cupcakes I (still) need to make for my coworkers.

A big difference between this and the regular grocery stores in the States is this:

I haven't seen any other stores that reserve parking spaces for Officers :)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hotel Review: Hotel Barbarossahof in Kaiserslautern

Americans affiliated with the military stay here often.
Hotel Barbarossahof

While I was looking for an apartment (a process that took six weeks; eek!), I stayed at the Hotel Barbarossahof at the eastern edge of Kaiserslautern. It was  a very pleasant stay at the family-owned, non-chain hotel.

-Very friendly, helpful staff who always seemed cheery and professional, even as hordes of guests, including those with screaming/bratty kids, descended upon the hotel.
-Very clean.
-Excellent breakfast buffet with traditional German breakfast items like cereal, cold cuts and delicious Brötchen (literally, "little bread," or rolls), as well as hot breakfast items like bacon and eggs.
-Attached restaurant serves meals and drinks and the prices are moderate. There are special meals available during the holidays.
-Very comfortable bed in the room.
-Mini fridge in the room as well as the availability of renting a microwave for longer term stays.

-Free wifi internet in the lobby, nominal price in rooms.
-Sauna and workout room in the basement. There's even a tanning bed! 
-Very accommodating of pets - Moo was welcome for an extra €5 a day and he always seemed happy when I came back to the hotel. Even though the hotel allows pets, it's still super, super clean. It helps that most of the floors are marble/tile.
-Reasonably priced.
-Fast response from the hotel: I had emailed a couple times before I arrived to ask about various things and staff responded quickly.

Moo gives the hotel two paws up.

-The location is really good for military personnel in the K-Town area because it's very close to Kleber, Panzer, Daenner, and a short drive to Sembach. However, if one doesn't have a car, it's very difficult to get to any of them, even though Kleber etc. are pretty close. There really isn't a way to walk there without going way out the way.
-There is a bus stop right in front of the hotel but the bus stops very seldomly.
-Sometimes the hotel can be a bit loud because of the hordes of people staying there.

Overall impression: Staff at the hotel made my stay there a very pleasant one; they were so kind and helpful. The hotel was super clean, the included breakfast was delicious, and Moo loved staying there. I'd definitely recommend the hotel for those looking for somewhere comfortable and reasonably priced.

Old school bike rack in the main parking lot.

Really bad store placement?

The big box store shopping area is in an industrial area on the west side of Kaiserslautern. I saw a very bad placement of two very different stores when I was visiting Tschibo (a store I still don't entirely understand...it's a coffee shop, but it sells a strange assortment of clothes wrapped in cellophane, etc.).

Below is a picture of the FAIL in store proximity placement. Kinderland means "children land" and the Rofu chain sells children's toys. The store next to it...well, I think that one can guess the kind of things it contains. Yes, Germany (and Europe!) is a LOT more liberal about this kind of thing, but it's still a very, very odd placement.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Moo gets mail

The Easter Bunny (erm, my mom) was awesome and sent a package including items with way too much sugar as well as a fun toy for Moo: a small toy rabbit (wearing pajamas, no less!) that can be stuffed with catnip.

In theory, it's a great idea. In practice, it's a bit icky because Moo just sits there and licks the darn thing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kaiserslautern: Visiting the Japanischer Garten

Japanischer Garten
Am Abendsberg 1

Thanks to the sponsorship of my utility company, SWK, I was able to buy an annual pass to two of Kaiserslautern's city gardens for only 25 euros: the Gartenschau and the Japanischer Garten (Japanese Garden). This is a nice bonus to paying utilities, one could suppose.

I had already visited the Gartenschau so today I decided to take a walk in the lovely and long-absent sunlight to visit the Japanischer Garten, which is a short walk from my house. I had read that the garden is somewhat small, so I knew what to expect when I arrived.

Once I entered the gardens, it was even more obvious how long and drab this winter has been; the only vibrant color currently in the garden were the brightly colored koi in the pond. To be fair, it is not the park's fault that winter has been so long and I will visit again in the future to see the updates as spring unfolds itself. At this time, everything is so drab, and that's everywhere.

I strolled along the garden, stopping to sit on a bench and listen to the birds chirp, and the traffic whiz by. The garden is on a small plateau above a busy street leading in and out of town, the Lauter Strasse. The garden is reasonably peaceful but there is always the background noise of the street. Even with stopping to sit and listen to the birds, my visit lasted about half an hour. I walked by the tea house/concession stand and noted that the prices are very reasonable there, from about one euro for a cup of tea. I might stop by some evening after work for a stroll and a cup of tea.

It was a pleasant visit and I look forward to seeing the garden again when the trees are budding after waking from the long winter. Would I recommend a visit to tourists? Well, considering the Kaiserslautern doesn't have that many tourist attractions, I might say that it would be okay to spend some time here, but it wouldn't be a must-see. Tickets are 5.50 euros, which isn't especially inexpensive and the garden is smaller. Perhaps when I see the garden in full bloom, I might change my mind.

HUGE koi in the pond.

See how drab everything is? Spring, please arrive!

Buddha and his fake flower.