Friday, May 31, 2013

German sweet baked treats: not super sweet like US treats

Some American expats have sighed sadly and proclaimed that many German baked goods aren't that sweet. My German instructor even gave us a briefing on the sweetness baked goods, as well (unfortunately, nicht auf Deutsch) and he said that the order of sweetness for baked goods is German, French, and American (with American being the sweetest).

I have eaten some German desserts, in the name of research, of course ;) I like them and find them plenty sweet enough. I had some German cheesecake the other day and liked that it didn't make my teeth ache with sweetness.

Then again, some American baked goods are so sweet that I don't even like to eat them. I bought some cake mix at the commissary and baked cupcakes for friends, coworkers, and the neighbors. I tried one and found it so cloyingly sweet that it was overkill. I did take some to the neighbors, but I secretly worried they wouldn't like them because German baked goods are so less sweet.

In the German cooking class I took, the instructor told us that she doesn't like when the dessert is too sweet because all you taste is the sugar. That makes sense; one loses the nuances of the other ingredients.

This is the good stuff: local strawberries and spargel, together?!

Right in the parking lot of Praktiker!
Right now is the height of strawberry and Spargel season. Both are for sale in grocery stores, in roadside stands, and even in kiosks outside of retail stores! Around here, we're lucky to have  Pfälzisch strawberries and Spargel which were grown around here in the forest region.

I bought some strawberries (Erdbeeren) and white Spargel and made a wonderful salad that I learned to make in the cooking class. It's a salad with cooked Spargel that is then combined with fresh strawberries served in a crème fraîche sauce supplemented with vinegar, orange juice, and fresh green peppercorns. I know this sounds like a weird combination but it's quite delicious. I made it for some friends and they agreed, too :)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Some tips for cooking and eating Spargel (asparagus)

Spargel soup! Tasty, but very mild.
A few weeks ago I took a cooking class for the spring season's two specialties here: strawberries and Spargel (asparagus), which I wrote a little about earlier. I learned some rather useful hints and will share some of the Spargel information:

-White Spargel must be peeled; the outside is rather chewy. Peel it from just below the tip down to the stem. The thicker the white Spargel is, the more of the outside must be peeled off.
-Grown under a pile of earth, white Spargel is colored as such because it is not exposed to light before it is harvested. It was available in Germany starting in the 19th century. It is milder tasting than green asparagus. Honestly, it doesn't have much of a taste to me, but I find German cooking is blander than what I'm accustomed to so maybe it's a taste preference here.
-Green asparagus has more flavor, a high chlorophyll content, more vitamin C and more carotene than the other colors (white and violet). I personally prefer green asparagus, myself.
-There are different classes of asparagus, from Klasse Extra/I, which is the highest quality, to Klasse II, that meets the minimum standards. The higher the class, the higher the price.
-There is a lot of asparagus-growin' going on around Mannheim and Heidelberg. Schwetzingen, near both cities, has a nice castle and claims to be the asparagus capitol of the world. Good for them!
-Don't cook Spargel in an aluminum pot; they react negatively and turn the Spargel gray.

So, there you go! Definitely give some Spargel a try! It's really big in Germany during the spring, and is prepared in many different ways from being served whole with butter or Hollandaise sauce, to being made into soups and other tasty treats. In fact, green Spargel is good even raw! My favorite way to eat it is to lightly toss green asparagus with some olive oil, sea salt, and to bake it in the oven.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Frauenparkplatz: parking spots reserved for women

In some parking lots, one might see parking spots with a sign marked with the symbol for women. These are parking spots reserved for women. They are closer to the entrance of the building or are near the security booth. They are meant as a safer parking option for women, especially in parking garages. They are also for women with children so they don't have to schlep them so far.

In Kaiserslautern, I have seen them at the Pfalz Center, which is the shopping center on the east side of town.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Roadside Candy: Kaiserslautern: I bet that hammer isn't sticky any more

I was tooling about Kaiserslautern a bit and ran into more of those roadside candy machines. This machine was grungy and old. It had gumballs (which also looked grungy and old) and toys labeled as "Sticky hammer." You know those gummy things that you can often throw against the wall and they stick? I'm guessing it's something like that. However, everything was so old that the hammers were no longer sticky.

Aren't you just lining up to buy one of these gumballs?

I wish they'd also sell the rockin' shield with the sticky hammer. Imagine the adventures that would be possible!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Old ladies bodychecking me? Yep, it's the Kaiserslautern Pfennig Bazaar

First of all: yes, I'm really behind on writing stuff. I can't even keep up with myself, but living here is such a trip filled with trips and adventures.

In March, I attended the Pfennig Bazaar (auf deustch, Pfennigbasar) , a fundraiser hosted by the German-American and International Women's Club of Kaiserslautern (DAIFC/GAIWC). It is a giant rummage sale held in the event hall at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern.

I always love me a good rummage sale (garage sale, boot sale, yard sale, whathaveyou) so of course I had to visit.

It was basically mayhem, in which I kept getting body checked without an "entschuldigung" from elderly ladies, then I bought a Persian carpet and a purse and finished the event by eating a German torte. It was a fine experience. 

To explain in more detail: the sale is HUGE and super crowded. There are some great deals to be had; I bought a wool hall rug for only 5 euros. How do I know it's actually wool? Well, since I am allergic to wool and my arm started itching where the rug made contact, I'm quite sure it's wool. I missed out on a second rug because I was being polite and didn't want to race to it in front of someone else who was going to look at it. I also bought a purse for 50 cents. 

There are so many items available, from clothing to sports equipment to household electronics (though I'm a bit suspicious of those) to other household goods. If one is kitting out one's apartment, it is a great place to stop. 

However, did I mention how busy it is? It was absolutely packed when I entered about an hour and a half after it started. It was so busy that it felt almost feral. People kept ramming into me, no "excuse mes" (in German OR English) said. After apologizing to several people when THEY rammed into ME, I finally decided on the whole when in Rome (Germany) I didn't go out of my way to avoid running into people, nor did I go out of the way to say "excuse me," either. This is weird, but I found it oddly exhilarating and definitely feral. In the US, we maintain a lot of personal space and often will apologize if it seems like we have come close to infringing on someone else's space. Here it's not like that so much. 

After visiting the Bazaar, I have the following hints:
-parking around the Bazaar/Gartenschau is crazy. If you have one person who can wait by the gate with your stuff and one person to drive up from parking in the hinterlands, that is very useful.
-if you're hoofing it, you might want to bring one of those little grocery bags on wheels to carry your stuff home. Just keep in mind that you'll probably be rudely jostling other people with it as they jostle you back. Equal opportunity jostling is the name of the game!
-If you don't bring one of those grocery bag things mentioned above, do bring some sort of bag(s).
-Bring plenty of cash (euros). It doesn't hurt to have small bills/coins. Each type of goods is set up separately and you pay at each station. So, I paid for my purse at the purse section.
-don't come here if you have agoraphobia or hate crowds. It's a nightmare for either one. However, if you want to get out your unrestrained urge to bump into other people who bump into you and don't say excuse me, this is the place for you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It all depends on how you look at it

I have never enjoyed True/False questions on tests. My problem is that I sit and analyze the questions way too much. People who aren't so analytical do so much better on these tests because they look at the question on the surface and get it right. Instead,I pick the question apart and find cases where it might not be true and end up getting the gist of it wrong and therefore I lose a point on the quiz. Just give me a darn essay exam, will you? I figure if I write enough, eventually I'll hit the answer somewhere.

My final exam in German class was another case of over-analyzing true/false statements and I ended up being that person. It was the oral portion of the exam and our instructor gave us statements in German and we had to answer if they were true or false. The information in the statements really didn't matter that much; they were more of place holders to be used to see if we could understand oral German.

One of the statements (in German) was "Many people in Germany speak English." Oh goodness. I sat and debated that one with myself for quite some time, circled one answer, crossed it out, recircled it, and then made an annotation. Yes, I even rolled my eyes at that one, too. Feel free to do so yourself.

The problem was that I'm not sure what one would define as "speaking English." I also didn't have any stats on how many people speak it here and what one would consider "many people." A LOT of Germans here say they don't speak English, and then they'll have a full conversation with you. I think this stems from the definitions here of what Germans consider to be knowing English and also people are humble about it.

I wonder if I got the answer right, and if my notes referencing my thoughts on it were helpful. Probably not.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What I like and dislike about grocery store shopping in Germany

Even though I'm quite naughty and do most of my shopping at the Commissary on the military installation (it's ridiculously convenient), I do also like to shop at the local stores, but I do try to limit myself because there are way too many verboten delicacies awaiting.

Here are some of the things that I like about German grocery stores/supermarkets when I do go:

-they have delicious things to eat and those things are missing a lot of the nasty additives, dyes, etc. that American foods have; the bread here is especially fantastisch
-yummies like gourmet bread and cheeses are so much cheaper (and tastier!) than they are in the US
-wine is also quite cheap (oh oh on this one!)
-one must bring one's own bags for groceries, though it is possible to buy bags at the store. Initially, this is an inconvenience, but it's soooo much better for the environment.
-one must bag one's own groceries (though there is a downside to this, too) so things are arranged exactly as one likes
-the cashiers aren't chatty. You'll pretty much get a "hallo," "would you like a receipt," and a "tschüß." The cashiers are efficient and this makes them even more so. Since I am usually incredibly grumpy while grocery shopping (which I hide and am pleasant enough outwardly, at least), I am happy not to try to make small talk in a language I don't really know yet while keep track of the unfamiliar bills and coins that are always inadvertently mixed in with my American money and getting ready to bag my items.
-I like that the cashiers get to sit at their tills. Yes, that doesn't really affect me directly, but I think it would be really NOT fun to have to stand all day at a till. I don't see any good reason for this. United States, I'm pointing at YOU. Sam Walton, you especially! (well, I know you're not here any more, but you get the point)
-the stores' "international" food sections are usually a good source of amusement; would you like 10 different kinds of American BBQ sauce, anyone?

What I don't enjoy so much about grocery stores in Germany:

-they're closed on Sundays and most aren't open super late (around here, at least, but thankfully the Rewe is open til 10 pm). This is more a result of stores in Germany not being open on Sundays in general.
-when I go, they're usually a madhouse of people desperately trying to get their shopping done. I need to be fair, though, and note that I shop on Saturdays or sometimes in the evenings. Of course it's going to be a madhouse when everyone else who works must try to get everything done at the same time.
-one must insert a deposit to use a cart. While I like the concept of this, I never feel like I will buy enough groceries to warrant digging out the euro required as deposit. At the end of the shopping experience, where my arms are laden with groceries that I then have to furiously try to bag after they've been scanned, I wish I had a cart.
-while I like the idea of being able to bag my own groceries, it's a horribly rushed affair where I'm trying to pay the cashier, speak German, and bag my groceries at the same time that the next customer is impatiently  breathing hot breath down my neck like a raging bull. I should resolve this by just putting everything directly into my cart and pulling over after the transaction to bag things, but I don't buy more than would fit in my arms or in a basket so it only takes about an extra second to bag things. If I had more items I would definitely need to pull ahead.
-Oh lordy: I get into an utter panic when I enter the store that's impossible to leave unless one buys something, which is pretty much every single supermarket. Abandon hope if you enter and want to leave after not waiting in line to buy something. It's a sad, desperate thing because the only way to exit most stores is through narrow checkout lanes, which seems like a HUGE fire hazard to me. Don't even try leaving through the gates you entered; that will often set off an alarm. Instead, you have to "entschuldigung" your way through other grumpy shoppers and squish through the queue. It's not enjoyable for anyone involved.

I do like the German grocery stores. I just need to remember to never, never enter unless I plan to buy something ;)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Only in Germany...Spargel, its effects, and cooking

I just took a fun cooking class through one of the organizations around here. This class focused on cooking with Spargel (asparagus). After all, jetzt  ist Spargelzeit.

The class was great; I learned so much. The instructors gave us so much more information and hints than just about cooking asparagus; at one point, I think it turned into a support group for people new to dealing with German appliances! ;)

I'm going to write about a ton of the stuff I learned in class, but it definitely won't all fit into one entry since the information ranges from how to use your stove (har har, get it? ranges? stove? har har) to how to make quark, etc.

Tonight's funny thing which prompted me to think, "only in Germany!" [mostly fondly].

The instructor was excited about Spargel and its health benefits. She believes that it's healthy because it "cleans one out" and one supporting fact is that "you smell it twice!" I almost fell off my chair, laughing. This just seemed so German to me. After all, there is a commonly held belief here that sitting around naked in a hot wooden shack then leaving and dousing oneself with frigidly cold water is great for one's health. Some of these ideas here of what is healthy are very interesting, indeed!

I then thought about one of my friends. I ruined Spargel for him. He hadn't realized that Spargel causes most people's urine to smell nasty after ingesting Spargel. There are only few people who don't have that happen. My poor friend says he won't eat Spargel any more. I told him he was missing out. I'll just have to tell him that the whole unfortunate situation is a good thing, according to the German cooking instructor. It's not nasty, it's the smell of person being "cleaned out!"

Yeah, maybe not.

This is NOT the kind of German staring I had in mind

I was sitting in the living room, working on the computer. As I stood up, I glanced outside and into Cactguy's house. Egads, he was in there, wearing nothing but a bikini and eating a banana. Scary scary! I wasn't even trying to do any staring.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Last weekend, I was invited to my very first Eurovision party! Eurovision is a televised contest, established in 1956 among European countries (and some others) for  a song performed and voted on by the other countries in the competition. You can't vote for your own country. I've heard about it before, in the blog ether, but didn't really pay much mind to it before I moved to Europe. I have to admit that I never had any interest in American Idol so Eurovision didn't pique my interest when I was living in the States.

However, I did enjoy watching it in the nice party atmosphere at my friend's party. What was really cool was that there were people from all over at the party: Switzerland, France, Sweden, Germany, the UK, and even another American.

It was interesting to see the choices of the songs. A lot of them were pop songs and not too deep. Some songs were sung in the language of the country it was from. My favorite entry was the one from Greece called "Alcohol is free." That was the chorus and the rest was all Greek to me ;) It also included Greek men prancing around the stage in kilts. I'm not sure what that was all about but it was fun to watch and I do love me some prancing.

The performance I liked the most was from Romania, just because it was so freakin' weird. Cezar, the singer, was dressed up kind of like Dracula and he stood on this weird pedestal with fabric that looked like a volcano. Then, pseudo-naked people jumped out and started dancing. I didn't enjoy that part, but maybe it's because I've had too much of German saunas lately. I didn't really like the song, sung in an operatic falsetto, but I did like the dubstep interlude.

Denmark ended up winning with Only Teardrops. Since that country won, they will host next year's Eurovision. I hope the singer will be able to afford some shoes now that she has won (she was performing barefoot; I really dislike bare feet!).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Getting a haircut at the "German" salon

Store/Service Providers Reviewed:

Kaiserslautern Military Community Center Salon
(in the Ramstein air base's mall)

Sandy's Hair Styling Salon
67663 Kaiserslautern
Leipziger Str. 150
Telephone: 0631- 90 606

I have a confession: I've only had my hair cut twice in the five months I've been here. Since I have medium-length shorter hair (if that makes any sense) with layers, that's not the best because my hair gets funky looking in a grown out state. Well, I think it looks funky, but that's probably just because I know what it's supposed to look like.

The first time I got my hair cut, I was being really lazy and just made an appointment at the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center, which is the mall on the Ramstein Air Base. I was super lazy and just wanted to go where they're accustomed to dealing with Americans (as if places around town weren't already used to us - there are so many of here that it's ridiculous). Again, I was feeling lazy, but also a bit overwhelmed, since I hadn't completed all of the administrative bits of my PCS yet.

The salon at the KMCC isn't highly recommended, and I can concur with it. Well, it was okay and my hairstylist was pleasant, but she didn't cut too much of my hair and it didn't look super great. I can also appreciate, however, that she might have been cautious with cutting it because it's easier to fix something too long than something too short. The haircut was 16 Euros.

I needed another haircut and wanted to try somewhere different, so I made an appointment at Sandy's Hair Styling Salon in Hohenecken, which is quite close to Vogelweh, Pulaski, and Kapaun joint bases. I don't know if I can fairly call it a German salon, because the proprietor is English and most of the clientele is American, but the stylist I visited was most decidedly German and from the area (and I even heard her using the local dialect! I heard what sounds like "doe" and of course I can't remember what it means, but my German instructor mentioned this as a regional thing).

This place has been highly recommended in the American expat circles. One of my classmates goes there and her hair always looks cute, which is a good sign. She gave me a referral card which gave me 10% off the haircut and gave her 5% off her next service.

The stylist was very sweet. She (of course) said that she didn't speak English very well, but we had a very nice conversation so she just wasn't giving herself enough credit. When I told her I was studying German, she was thrilled and started speaking to me in German a bit, which I understood.

She asked when my last hair cut was and I told her it was about 6 weeks ago but the previous stylist hadn't taken much off. I liked this stylist's cut very much. She did a thorough job and cut a lot more hair off, which is necessary to make the natural wave in my hair come out and work for this style. She was also far more careful about making sure that the hair cut was even and balanced. I was very happy with the cut, which was 25 Euros (well, less after the 10% discount). I will visit Sandy's again.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Yoga, Moo, and the dangers therein

Moo has a keen interest in yoga. He is pictured here, seated next to his yoga kit.

I was doing yoga last night.

I'm a bit wobbly since my balance is terrible (all part of the being clumsy thing).

Moo entered the room and was excited to see me.

He knew I was a captive audience.

He made a bee line (moo line?) for me.

When he wants attention, he butts me with his head.

I saw him coming as I was doing a yoga pose, and I was like, dang it, Moo, don't come here and headbutt me and make me fall over!

Then I was laughing so  hard because it made me think of Jaws with ominous music and him approaching.

I was laughing so hard that I ended up falling over anyway.

As I laid on the floor, laughing, he came up and head butted me.

I laughed harder.

Grumpy Fahrrad Herr fixes my bike

Since the movers lost a pedal on my bike and neither friends nor I could get the replacement pedals on the bike, I bit the bullet and wheeled my bike down to the repair shop tonight.

Herr Fahrrad Repair was rather grumpy, but I think he was already in that state of mind before I arrived. I asked in German if he spoke English because I couldn't think of all the words to make the request of what I needed on the bike and he said he spoke some. I told him, auf Englisch, that I bought replacement pedals and was wondering if I could pay him to put them on the bike for me. He said he had pedals for sale.

I said, "I have pedals that I just bought; is it possible for me to pay you to put them on?" He then asked if I didn't like his pedals. Crap! I don't think he took that very well, but I had just purchased the pedals and really didn't want to buy new ones. Since the store is also a bike repair place, I assumed that people could bring in bikes for repair. Yes, I know, I went in, asking if he'd speak English and if he could install pedals that I had bought somewhere else. That's probably not a successful combination.

I told him that I had just bought the pedals and he agreed to look at the bike. He said he could put my pedals on for 12 euros. I thought that was rather high but at that point what I thought was a simple errand had blown up in an epic unhappy experience for both of us so I agreed. It took him less than a minute to put the pedals on; it turns out if one has the proper tools (or any tools, for that matter! Guess what I didn't pack when I moved here?), it's very easy.

He ended up charging me 10 euros instead of 12. That was nice of him, and I left, hoping that I hadn't made him too unhappy with me. It's so frustrating when I inadvertently piss someone off and it's even more frustrating to have to shell out about $20 for new pedals and labor when it's the darn moving company's fault.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pfälzerwald Salat: or, Am I Supposed to Eat That?

Ooh, pretty bouquet! Wait, am I supposed to eat that?

I like to try new things to eat, as long as it's not meat (there are many, many ways that meat adventures can go wrong, especially if one doesn't like meat anyway) or it's not super spicy hot (I can tolerate medium salsa, as a point of reference).

I saw what I think was labeled as Pfälzerwald Salat, or maybe it was Wald Salat, or something like that. Either way, it had the word "Salat" in it, which is salad, and it was next to a bin of what I definitely know is salad. That's not meat or super spicy so it was fair game for me to try. Plus, it was rather interesting looking; it looked almost like weeds (erm, wild greens) and some flowers. I've heard that some flowers are edible and this was next to regular salad so I was 99.9% sure it was edible for humans. This came from the forest around here, or at least that's what I thought, so I bought some.

It hung out in my fridge for a while until I bought some salad dressing. It dawned on me: does one put salad dressing on flowers? What kind should be used? Before I poured dressing on it, I thought I should try it plain first. What if it doesn't need dressing?

As I was debating this, I thought that it really didn't look like salad; again, it looked like flowers and weeds. What if I was wrong? What if this was meant for pet bunnies or something? Why would the farmer have put it by the regular people salad then? Is there something that Germans know that I don't?

My curiosity and lack of better judgment took ahold of me. I grabbed a leaf and took a tentative bite. It was bitter. I was wondering if I should call the poison center. Then I thought I should try one of the flowers (so smart, aren't I?). I may as well go down kicking. It really didn't taste like much. I wondered again if I had been sold rabbit food. I then wondered if maybe the bitter weed thing was a mustard green or whatever else it was that I skimmed over the description of in the hippie books I read on foraging wild plants.

I had enough. I dumped the salad in the trash. Some day, I will find out if this was actually a salad; if I ate it incorrectly and that's why it didn't taste good; or if I narrowly avoided being poisoned by rabbit food.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Happy birthday to me, late: well, I am writing about it late!

I had a nice birthday weekend (um, weeks ago; I'm a bit behind on writing!). My coworker invited me to Heidelberg and we went to Long Night at the Museums, which warrants its own blog entry for the enjoyable evening.

On the day of my actual birthday, I stopped by the Mexican restaurant. Earlier that day, I had a "Mexican breakfast," which wasn't really remotely Mexican, though it was tasty. However, it left me craving some "real" Mexican food, so I went to Papasote, which is as close as it gets around here.

They gave me a free birthday fried ice cream after I had my meal. The server even put a glowing candle on it; how nice, huh? I told him no singing, please. There was no need to embarrass the both of us.

So, here's a hint: if you go somewhere for your birthday, it never hurts to ask if they have something for the birthday person. Often, restaurants do!

Thanks, Papasote, for the birthday treat!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A bad case of "forget this stuff"

Every spring, I shave Moo the cat. I am quite allergic to him and can't really brush him so shaving is the way to go, especially as he's shedding like crazy.

Since we have moved to Germany, it's no exception that I wanted to rid him of some of the extra fur that's flying around here. I purposefully packed my clippers when I moved here. I broke out the transformer and plugged the clippers in. I rounded up the cat, who was suddenly trying to make himself very scarce.

I shaved a couple swatches of fur off but the clippers weren't working well. The blades are newer; they only have about one Moo-shaving experience on them, but they weren't working well. The clippers are 18 years old and were used on horses before; maybe they're reaching the end of their life. I then tried some clippers that a colleague gave me. No dice there, either. Moo looked super patchy.

In the meantime, I was sneezing and grumpy. The cat was trying to slink away. There was cat hair all over the kitchen.

All of a sudden, I had a huge wave of "forget this stuff" (well, maybe a ruder version of that!) wash over me. I let the cat go, unplugged the clippers, left the kitchen, and shut the door behind me.

I left it like that for two days. That's how bad the "forget this stuff" was. I had enough and the cat did too.

Two days later, I cleaned up the whole mess. Moo was partially shaved. He basically looks like he has a case of mange, but at least he's super soft still. That's good enough for this year.

One of the benefits of not spending much time in the kitchen: I could leave this mess, shut the door, and not think about it for two days.

I was like Honey Badger at this point: I just didn't care any more.

Japanischer Garten: so much better after spring has sprung (part 2)

Since it is now fully spring and quite pretty outside with budding trees and blooming flowers (and pollen, lots and lots of allergy-causing pollen), I thought I'd make another visit to the Japanischer Garten in Kaiserslautern. I have an annual pass so it's easy to justify visiting whenever I wish.

I have to say: the Garten is so much better after everything is in bloom! Duh, I know. Here's a word to the wise: I wouldn't recommend visiting it early in the season if things aren't in bloom. However, I do stand by my earlier review in which I say that the Garten isn't a must-see in Kaiserslautern.

The snack hut, with Buddha outside. Prices are reasonable for beverages.

Even Buddha is happy that spring has sprung!

A couple was having their wedding pictures done.

Some of the koi were HUGE!

One time, in the farmers' market

I was talking to my friend about the time that I told the farmer selling Spargel at the farmers' market "ein, bitte" and pointed to a bunch of asparagus. The farmer thought I meant that I was offering him one Euro for the bunch of asparagus when I actually meant that I just wanted one bunch of asparagus.

My friend told me that I should have told the farmer "einmal, bitte," instead. Einmal means "once," which would have meant that I wanted one bunch of asparagus.

Good to know.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

All the king's engineers and all the king's men couldn't put mein Fahrrad together again

I haven't been able to get the pedals back on my bike after the movers took them off to get my bike here.

One of my friends, who is an engineer, said he'd fix the bike for me.

It didn't work.

I believe that I must give up hope if even an engineer (mechanical, no less!) can't fix the bike.

I should just give up and take it to the bike shop.

That would stop my whinging.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Roadside Candy Machines: Mannheim

I went to Mannheim for what seemed like the billionth time several weeks ago and took some more pictures of roadside candy machines.

Looks dodgy, doesn't it?

This one has had its "guts" sucked out, basically.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moo takes liberties

Clean laundry on new couch = throne fit for a Moo-king

German word of the day: die Katze (the cat)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Die Hightech-Fahrschule: FAIL

I walked by this driving school in Kaiserslautern and got a chuckle out of it.According to its advertising, it is hightech.

However, check out the window: it has a computer display that: a) isn't working; it's showing the screensaver; and b) is from a computer running Windows XP.

"High tech" and low tech: or more aptly, low tech and low tech but with a nice reflection of the Fructhalle, circa 1843.

I'm not sure that I'd trust the school to be high tech after this display!


German word of the day: die Schule (the school)

Where to buy stamps in Germany

I needed to mail a letter to a British friend. Usually I send all correspondence through US post since I have access to that where I work. However, it would take super long to send a letter to England from here since I believe that the mail first gets shipped back to New York where it's processed, then it's sent out again.

So, I decided to buy a stamp and send my letter through Deutsche Post, which is, I have heard, quite speedy. The problem is that I didn't know where to buy a stamp, besides at the post office. My colleague told me to try buying a kiosk that sells newspapers/magazines.

I found a kiosk and indeed was able to purchase a stamp. I then found out that Deutsche Post has a super handy website, even in English! It gives locations of places to buy stamps and even automated stamp machines, based on your zip code. How awesome is that?

Deutsche Post Website

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How I communicate with the Motherland, or, how I keep in touch with America

I'm not the best person to catch on the phone. Where I lived before in the US, my cell phone's reception was horrible (darn Sprint! I need to write a rant about that company later; I don't recommend them, for many reasons). Anyway. It was rather difficult to actually have me pick up when the call came in since my phone usually wouldn't even ring or the call would drop as soon as I picked up, anyway.

Also, I was super busy with work (two jobs), volunteering, taking German lessons, and having fun with friends. I'm the kind of person who, if I'm doing something (especially with friends), I won't be rude and take a phone call for an extended time and ignore the people I'm with. I'm more of a excuse-me-while-I-answer-this, then I tell the person that I'm out and about and can I call back later. Or, most of the time, I just let the call go to voicemail. That's what it's for, right?

As a result of this, I'm not known for being very reachable by phone. Want to talk to me? Email or text. That's the way to go. Or, even better yet, let's just hang out in person and catch up, which is so much better!

It is still nice to have a voice conversation once in a while, though, especially now that I live so far from home. I had to find a way to do this. I only have my cell phone (no landline), so this is how I maintain contact with the Motherland (and most often, my Mother).

I use Skype, which is really nice because it's free. We both set up accounts and can talk for hours through our computers and the internet connection. We usually just do voice calls because sometimes Skype hiccups with video calls if the connection gets bogged down. Heck, Skype is so useful that I even interviewed for my current job with it!

The one problem I have is trying to reach people on Skype without an "appointment." My family doesn't stay logged into Skype or sometimes our schedules don't sync up because of the time difference. I need to have a way to actually call people to tell them to go onto Skype. It would be insanely expensive to call the US on my cell phone (I have a pay as you go plan so while it's cheap for limited usage, it would be expensive for anything beyond that). I plan to buy some calling credit on Skype where I can use Skype through the data plan on my phone or use wireless internet to call landlines in the US. This is where Skype would cost money, but it's still really reasonably priced.

Another calling service is Viber, which I've heard good things about but haven't used yet. It's similar to Skype.

A coworker set up a VoIP phone at home through Vonage, a powerhouse of VoIP. She had a US number so people could call her and she could call them in the US for standard US rates. Since I'm pretty much never home, that solution doesn't work well for me, but it did for her.

I also downloaded an app called Whatsapp. It allows me to text anyone in the world who also has Whatsapp. It works more like an IM service, I guess, but your "user name" would be your phone number. It's free for the first year then 99 cents for the next. It works really well and it's even what I use to text my friends locally since paying for regular texts is so expensive. It just uses the data plan on your phone, but it really doesn't use much data. We can send pictures and even create group texts.

As a result of all of these great free (or low-cost) services, I've used for my phone very little for what it's actually intended for: to make phone calls. Instead, it's more like a mini computer that I use to make VoIP calls and email or text friends.

I'm totally okay with that. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013


I saw this graffiti outside the library in Kaiserslautern.

It made me wonder: gangs ever...what?

And it made me realize that whomever wrote it: a) doesn't have full command of the English language yet; b) didn't realize that pink is a really girly color for gangsta graffiti; and c) has nothing to do with a real gang.

If the person were involved in a real gang, wouldn't he just spray paint the gang's sign on the wall? Isn't that how it works?

German word of the day: die Bibliothek (the library): kids, please don't do graffiti on/near it

Reason #whatever that I love living here: friends over for an impromptu dinner!

Some friends and I originally planned to have dinner last night at Quack, a restaurant/hostel in Kaiserslautern. We wanted to try the Pfälzer Buffet, which features regional Palatinate Forest (i.e.  Pfälzerwald) specialties. It is reasonably priced and I was looking forward to trying being able to try small amounts of things I wasn't sure if I'd like or not, vs. taking the risk of ordering a full meal of it. Plus, it's Spargel season, darn it, and I haven't had any at a restaurant yet. My friends made reservations and we were all set to go. 

Then we heard that the restaurant canceled the dinner. What the heck? They gave no reason, and we were all disappointed. It was actually funny how disappointed we all were!

I wanted to save the night (and hang out with my friends) so I suggested dinner at my house and my friends happily agreed. Of course, I only offered after I did a frantic scan of what I had in the cupboard/fridge. I'm horrible about grocery shopping (it makes me very grumpy) and I'm very much a bachelorette; I have no problem with eating cold vegetable soup out of a can. In spite of this, I discerned that I could offer a spinach souffle, cheddar biscuits, and roasted potatoes/carrots. Having all those fresh ingredients was a total fluke!

I scrambled to put all the ingredients together and clean the apartment (die Wohnung - there's your German for the day!) since I hadn't been planning to have guests and I was originally going to clean the place on Sunday. 

An hour later my friends showed up with a delicious rhubarb crumble and we had a great night. I was so pleased that the spinach souffle turned out deliciously; it was a new recipe and I'm not super domestic so I was a bit worried about it. After we enjoyed dinner, Moo the Cat paraded around and had attention lavished on him. He really enjoys when I have people over for dinner.

I am loving living here. I love that my friends live so close that it's possible to have a last minute dinner together where they just walk over.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Union Theater in Kaiserslautern: films AND books!

German word of the day: das Buch (the book)

Union Studio für Filmkunst
Kerststraße 24

Some friends and I were strolling through Kaiserslautern and stopped by the Union Theater in the pedestrian area of downtown. It's an art theater and shows foreign, independent and art flicks. Sometimes movies in English are available.

In the archway of the theater's front door, there's a book shelf where people can take or leave books for others. Cool, huh?

The book exchange shelf, outside the front door.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Desperate times call for desperate measures...and crummy photos

German word of the day: machen (verb: to make)

I wanted to make some rice krispy treats. One night after class, I stopped by the commissary. I thought that it was a home run to pick up some marshmallows to make the treats. Well, marshmallows were available, but only in the jumbo size. Have you ever seen them? They'd give the Stay Puft man a run for his puffy money!

The need for the treats was too high so I bought the ginormous marshmallows and thought I could just MacGyver them into submission later. I was a bit miffed that only the large marshmallows were available; after all, I visited the big(ger) commissary and they usually have a reasonable selection. However, I also remembered that as part of the federal budget cuts, the commissaries won't be ordering as many items and they won't restock proactively, either.

I bought some rice krispies and was on my merry way. However, being the dumbkopf that I am, once I got home I realized that I didn't have any margarine/butter. I furiously Googled and decided that I'd take my chances using cooking oil. I also then realized that I had no clue how many jumbo marshmallows to use. What ensued next was a combination of information retrieval, math, breaking out the kitchen scale, and conversions to grams, with a bit of Girl Scout skillz thrown in with whittling down the marshmallows to a more melt-able scale.

After all of that, the result was definitely satisfactory. So yes, it's possible to do the following during rice krispy treat machen: a) use jumbo marshmallows; and b) use cooking oil (i.e. corn oil) as a substitute for butter or margarine.

When in doubt, use the digital scale you bought for soap making to come up with the conversion for how many grams of monster sized marshmallows to use.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sign edits

We were biking on a trail in rural Michigan (well, the town in a rural area, I guess). Some person felt the need to edit the sign:

Farther down the trail we saw a sign that a bird felt the need to edit. I don't know what's up with that trail!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It is not possible! Oh yes it is!

I have noticed that sometimes Germans, when explaining in English something that is not allowed, will say "it is not possible."

In my head, I'm a total smart Alec and I think, oh, it's possible, but it's just not allowed. I keep this to myself, though.

I have also heard the French say that something is impossible when it's not allowed.

It might not be allowed to draw on this ad in Vienna but it is certainly possible!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The German sauna and spa experience : some things to know

Many an expat from a formerly Puritanical country has probably experienced a bit of a culture shock when visiting a German spa/sauna.

You see, Germans haven't had the Puritans here. They (in general) are not hung up on nudity. It's not necessarily a big deal. In fact, nude sunbathers sometimes enjoy a bit of au natural sunbathing in sections of parks in the larger cities.

So, it should not come as a surprise that it is likely that a sauna (or spa) in Germany would offer or even mandate a textile-free (textil-frei, clothing free) spa/sauna experience. There is a possibility that all of the spa would be textile-free; none of it would be; half might be with textiles and half might be without; or that during certain hours it might be with textiles and later it would not be.

Basically, if you feel strongly any of this, it's very important that you understand the rules and times. Otherwise, you might find yourself very surprised during your visit.

Some other tips to consider for your spa visit:
-bring flip flops;
-if it's allowed, bring your own towel and robe; it's possible to rent one, but the rental isn't always cheap and the deposit can be especially high;
-bring a towel along to sit on; you shouldn't sit directly on furniture or in the sauna if you're going textile-free;
-be prepared for the possibility of a uni-sex area with changing booths (or no changing booths! my friend just visited a spa that was set up like that). The actual showers are separated but there might not be partitions there even though it's just for women or men.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Danger: Bacon!!

German word of the day: der Speck (bacon). Be careful with this, though; sometimes Speck can also be the bacon fat and is served as a spread. That might or might not be to a bacon lover's delight. A safer bet would be to ask for Frühstücksspeck, which basically means "breakfast strips."

Bacon lovers, beware!
Woop woop! Danger!

Bacon is not just bad for your arteries!

I met someone who broke part of her tooth off when she was eating a piece of bacon.

I'm not sure how that is even possible, but what a chilling discovery it is.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The rest of Saturday: Renaissance Festival at the Gartenschau

After taking my colleague to the airport this morning, I came home for a really long nap today (which might have been related to the wine that a friend and I drank last night). I needed to get up and move around a bit so I decided to mosey down to the Gartenschau, which is an outdoor garden and dinosaur sculpture park in Kaiserslautern (I'm not quite sure how the dinosaurs ended up there, but kids love them).

This weekend, there is a Renaissance Festival being held there. Plenty of people in Renaissance garb were milling around their canvas tents. I've found that Renaissance Festivals tend to be mostly the same, no matter where they are. People walk around, drinking expensive beer (though at this festival some were drinking beer out of animal horns, which was new to me) and eating chunks of meat. There is expensive soap, wine, jewelry, and leather goods for sale. Once in a while one stumbles upon a Medieval lass with a mohawk. I get it, you're a medieval punk...or something.

I did notice a few differences in the festival from the US festivals I've attended. They mostly were in the garb; I saw people wearing animal furs a lot more here. I don't think I've seen it so much in the US. I'm not sure; maybe they're rather expensive. Also, the clothes were a bit more colorful and seemed better made in some cases.

On my way home, I saw a contrasting sight: there was a cute elderly gentleman strolling along, wearing lederhosen, matching socks, and his little alpine hat. In his rucksack, nordic walking poles stuck out jauntily. In case anyone has a romantic, but inaccurate view of Germany, let me be clear: people don't just wear this stuff around. Granted, I'm not in Bavaria, but I am in a forest region. People are more likely to be wearing skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors. I've never seen anyone in lederhosen here before.

I wonder if the guy was returning from a Volksmarch (hike)? Even then, I've never seen anyone wear lederhosen to those, either (though to be fair I've only been to one). I wonder if they would be comfortable to wear for hiking....something makes me think that leather trousers might not be the best.

It's kind of like Where's Waldo, but it's more like Where's the Lederhosen Dude?

There he is! Isn't he adorable?

Happenin' Kaiserslautern on a Friday night

My friend popped into town last minute yesterday, so we hung out. We decided that hanging out needed to involve some wine, so we trotted down to Rewe to pick up a bottle.

Apparently Rewe is the happenin' place in town, at least for teenagers it is. There was a pack of them, hanging around the front door, eating takeaway Chinese food. They left a pile of cups from their drinks.

I was a teenager once (it's getting farther and farther away!) but it still flummoxed me a bit that a prime hangout spot would be in front of a grocery store.

However, it then occurred to me that in high school, sometimes we would take a trip to Meijer, a grocery store, and try on the free little nylon footies in the shoe department, wander aimlessly through the store and conclude the evening with a visit to 7-11 for Slurpees.

I guess that teenagers are basically the same everywhere.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wherefore art thou, mein Fahrrad?

Sombreros and cycles: that's the way I roll (get it? roll? har har)

German word for today: das Fahrrad (the bike); fahr means driving and Rad is a wheel (driving wheel)

As I was preparing for my move here, I packed two bike: one for me, and one to let a (future) friend ride (it's always good to plan ahead for friends you haven't made yet ;)  The packers, being no fun (or perhaps not wanting to bash their legs), removed the pedals from the bikes.

One of the bikes was missing a pedal when it showed up on the flip side (of the ocean). The movers couldn't find it so I had to buy a new set. I haven't been able to get the new set installed.

Why is this so? Well, I'll admit it: I'm fully incompetent with anything mechanical.

The other explanation might be that I bought the wrong size pedals. However, I believe that this is still related to my ineptitude with mechanical issues.

The second bike's tubes in the tires need to be replaced so it's not a ready option, either.

I need to find some sort of resolution for this because it would be very nice to ride the bike. Plus, I need to get ready for the big event in August on the Weinstrasse: Wikipedia, oh so "reliable" source that it is, notes that "On the last Sunday in August, the route is closed to motorized traffic for German Wine Route Day (Erlebnistag Deutsche Weinstraße) with many wineries and Straußwirtschaften open air (seasonal wine bars) open to the hundreds of thousands of hikers, cyclers and inline skaters who visit this festival."

I would hate to miss that! And, some day before that, it might even be not rainy, cloudy, and cold here so I could enjoy some biking in preparation.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Driving in Germany: waiting at the red light

There's something that I like about the way they do traffic lights here: when the light is about to change from red to green, the yellow light will flash to alert drivers of the change.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

There are more hands in the public restroom

I was looking through some old pictures and found this one from a visit to Phil's Junk, in Grand Rapids.

Creepy, eh?

German word of the day: die Hand. Figure it out.

Driving in Germany: turning right on red

When driving in Germany, one is usually prohibited from turning right at a red light unless there is a green arrow mounted on the side of the light (this arrow isn't lit).