Sunday, June 30, 2013

Restaurant review: Cafe Vienna, Mannheim, Germany

Cafe Vienna
S1, 15
68161 Mannheim

In April, I made one of my many visits from Mannheim and had lunch with a very nice Mannheimer who gave me the low-down on the city. I love meeting locals wherever I visit and it's great to learn about their favorite places to dine; these places are usually outside of your typical travel guides.

We met at Cafe Vienna for some drinks and lunch. My dining partner, R, told me that the Cafe is something of a local secret, in a way. It's a very unassuming-looking cafe from the outside and is even more rustic looking inside.

It's a very popular restaurant and meeting place among students. It really reminds me of the coffee houses I used to visit when I was a student myself: it's gritty, a little sarcastic, has band stickers all over the place, and is a great place to hang out with your friends if you're younger or have a younger mindset. The menu says something sarcastic about the servers; we found ours to be pleasant.

Meals are inexpensive and taste good but the menu is not extensive. I ordered a small käsespätzle and a hot chocolate and my bill was about 5 euros. Käsespätzle is pretty standard, as what I was served, but it tasted good and I couldn't beat the price and it was filling! Other offerings include spaghetti, currywurst, schnitzel, and bratkartoffeln. There are both cafe drinks and alcohol drinks available and both are inexpensive.

Even better yet is the atmosphere. Yes, the cafe is plain looking, but as R says, it's like a living room for the people who visit, and even has some couches! It's not that uncommon for people to meet here for breakfast, kick back with some conversation, and find themselves ordering lunch because they've been enjoying themselves so much and the time has flown. When we were visiting on a Saturday, the place was packed.

There is a Sunday buffet that's extensive, well-priced, and tasty. R says it can be difficult to find a seat because of how popular it is, but recommends it.

So, if you enjoy a good chat with friends in a cosy but rustic environment frequented by students, stop by Cafe Vienna for some inexpensive grub and a good time.

Do what you want, man: wearing lederhosen at Renaissance Festivals

In my blog, I have a stats counter that lets me know what country blog visitors to the blog are coming from, and if they arrived via a Google search, some of the search terms they used and stumbled across the blog. Some of the search terms are funny, some are strange, and some are downright disturbing. I'm trying not to judge; who knows why people need the information they do; perhaps they're doing a sociological study or something. I guess what should should disturb me is why my blog would show up in such Google results! I mean, there is nothing bad in here, but then again, I don't know what the Google robots are doing behind the scenes.

One benign search term was this: "should I wear my lederhosen to a ren fest," which directed the user to this blog entry.  In interest of being informative, I will give my answer to this, but take it with a grain of salt because I'm still new here. Hehe, it's kind of like ask Ann Landers or something.

I didn't see anyone wearing lederhosen at the Renaissance Festival I attended; I only saw a guy wearing lederhosen when I got home and he had nothing to do with the festival. I saw people either in regular clothes or in Renaissance clothes with a lot of dead animals (i.e. furs) as accents. I did see one girl with punk hair juxtaposed with her Renaissance dress. Lederhosen are definitely not from the same time period. Some people feel that the festivals are for entertainment purposes; others feel that they should be historically accurate. I think that most attendees are more likely to fit into the former category so I'm not thinking anyone is going to call a person out on wearing lederhosen.

Here's my thought on this: lederhosen are expensive. How many chances does a person get to wear them? I'd say carpe diem and wear them, brother. You're already going to stick out because you're American, so why not roll with it?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Store Review: Teehaus Elsässer

Teehaus Elsässer
Riesenstrasse 5, Kaiserslautern

Have you ever visited a store and thought, "wow, this place is nuts. I like it!"? Well, maybe you haven't felt that way, but that sums up my feelings about Teehaus Elsässer in Kaiserslautern.

Located in the eastern edge of the pedestrian shopping district downtown, the Teehaus is an adorable store that sells tea, gourmet foods and spices, gifts, and cards. The small store is stuffed to the gills with things that are tasty and cute. It's so stuffed that if there are more than about three people inside, it's a really cramped environment. This has happened often when I've been visiting because people really like the store and its staff. 

Oh, and the staff! I went shopping and asked a few things and found myself getting teased in German. I have no idea what the owner was saying but it didn't seem mean in any way, so I let him roll with it. I took a tour of Kaiserslautern once and mentioned the store. Our tour guide says she loves the store; the owner teases her too and feeds her chocolates. 

It's a strange but interesting little place and a good spot to find a gift for someone. In the food section, there are spices for meats and pastas, flavored vinegars and oils, and even some fine chocolates. In the gifts section, there are things like wind chimes, cute gnome mugs (guess who bought one!), small chest of decorative drawers, small sculptures, and more. Of course, there is a large selection of loose tea, as well.

So, if you want to buy some gourmet food or drink, or just get mocked in German, make a delightful visit.

Friday, June 28, 2013

American foods week at Aldi

I saw more "American" style products than usual earlier this week when I was shopping at Aldi; I wrote about "BBQ" marshmallows and pickled hot dogs here. I was speaking to a colleague and he said that once a year, usually around the 4th of July, Aldi has an "American week" and they feature additional American products.

I noticed in an advert that there was "American popcorn," but the description said it was sweet. Um, no, that's not American style! It wasn't caramel corn; it's popcorn with the light layer of sugar on it. Sorry, Aldi, no dice.

My colleague said that the American hamburger patties and the spare ribs weren't so great at Aldi. However, he raves about the American style ice cream there and the bonus is that it's available all the time. When I perused the Aldi website, I saw that it's called the Premium American Ice Cream Selection and includes such flavors as Vanilla Caramel Brownie, Chocolate Cookies, Chocolate Brownie and Cookies & Cream.

Something's a foot in Mannheim

In April, I was taking a tour of Mannheim with a group when I spotted this horrible sculpture:

Eww, yuck. Yuck eww.

I was both delighted and disgusted, so of course I had to take a picture. I strongly dislike feet and find them rather gross. When asked why I was taking a picture, I told everyone it was because I don't like feet. They wondered why I would take a picture then. I told them: "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

Part of it is that I wanted to document the dubious choice of such "art." Come on Mannheim, step it up a bit! No one wants to see sculptures of feet. Well, except for people who have a "thing" for feet, I guess.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

*Contains Spoilers!* My Tongue in Cheek Review of Breaking Dawn

**Warning: contains spoilers!** The whole thing is spoiled. This is my review of Breaking Dawn, Part 2, from the Twilight Saga. 

So Bella is turned into a vampire because she had a horrible pregnancy. You know she’s a vampire because she has red eyes and long eyelashes. She is now supposed to be cool and finally have a personality (unlike the pathetic shell she was before, always sulking around) and be a strong woman. They show that by having her push everyone around. I don’t call that being a strong woman; I call that domestic abuse, and she’s still lame any way. She gave birth to this weird half vampire half human kid who freaks all the vampires out. The kid meets vampires and puts her hand on their faces and they decide she’s ok. Then the mean vampires from Italy come and are freaked out by the kid and want to kill her. There’s going to be a vampire battle but then the kid puts her hand on the lead vampire’s face and someone else stares at him and he’s all like, never mind. The End.

Restaurant Review: Spinnrädl, Kaiserslautern, Germany

The namesake.

Schillerstrasse 1, Kaiserslautern

Spinnrädl means "spinning wheel" in German, but in Kaiserslautern, people think of a restaurant specializing in German food instead of a domestic implement. According to the City of Kaiserslautern's website, Spinnrädl is the only remaining half-timbered building left in town. Built in 1740, this restaurant serves traditional German food, including Pfälzisch specialties from the area.

I visited this restaurant with a tour sponsored by one of the organizations on post and our grouped enjoyed a lunch there. The menu is, of course, very German; it included things like schnitzel, salads studded with meat, spätzle, flammkuchen, and a local dish, saumagen (sow's stomach; it sounds a bit terrifying to me, but meat eaters who've eaten it often like it). I am mostly vegetarian, and even vegan for the most part, so I did stray into the dairy path and ordered käsespätzle. It was tasty, if not a full on cheese overload, and was a HUGE amount of food. It came with a salad, which was fresh and tasted good.

The other members of the tour ordered things like salad, schnitzel, and a few hardy souls even tried the saumagen. I couldn't believe the size of the schnitzels; they took up the whole plates, which were big themselves! No one could finish the whole plate because it came with fries and a salad, too. Those eating meat remarked that it was delicious. Someone ordered a flammkuchen and said that was tasty, as well. This is considered a nicer, traditional restaurant but prices weren't bad; I think my very filling meal was about 8 euros or so and the meat dishes were in the 13 euros range.

The waitresses were pleasant and attentive. They handled our group of fifteen efficiently. 

The restaurant inside is very traditional German with white stucco walls and dark beams of wood. There are some interesting paintings and mosaics on the walls. The downstairs dining area can be a bit cramped. Upstairs offers dining halls and groups meet there.

We had a pleasant lunch and I recommend this restaurant for those seeking a tasty, traditional meal at a nice restaurant with prices that are reasonable enough. Vegetarians might be a bit disappointed at the offerings beyond käsespätzle, but this is a German restaurant and it's not a cuisine known for its vegetarian-friendly meals so I won't fault Spinnrädl for that. My expat friends bring their visiting family members here for traditional German food and I'm sure that I'll do the same.
Look! Meat cookin'!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

American products in other countries: Aldi, in Germany

Aldi had a big display of American food. Okay, tortillas = technically Mexican food, but Americans commonly eat these.

Marshmallows! However, I think things are *just* a bit off. These are labeled as "Traditional Barbecue Marshmallows." Um, I can't say that I've ever grilled marshmallows over what I consider a barbecue, but the package says it's American,'s okay? Dear Germans: we grill our marshmallows over a campfire :)

Where to buy pita bread in Kaiserslautern

One of my two favorite cuisines is Middle Eastern food. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of that type of food where I live, so I am left to make my own versions. That is a sad thing because I'm not domestic.

However, if I want to have success, I'll have to at least arm myself with supplies. One major supply is at the base of much Middle Eastern food: the tasty pita. I've looked at the local grocery stores like Lidl, Rewe, and even Globus and haven't found what I needed. I've seen some thicker, more Greek style pitas, but those don't work that great for scooping up hummus.

A colleague came to my rescue: she told to find a Turkish or a local ethnic grocery store. My friend who lives in town suggested Naz Market, at Mannheimer Strasse 5-7 in Kaiserslautern. It's on the east side of town, near Kik and Tedi stores.

It has a section of canned vegetables,fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, spices, a butcher, and of course, the very important pita bread! There were some other types of bread, like white bread baked in a ring. The pita bread was reasonably priced at 80 cents a bag and tastes just like what I would buy in Dearborn, the mecca (har) of Middle Eastern food in Michigan (heck, probably in the US, since the city boasts the highest number of Arabic speakers outside the Middle East).

I liked Naz; in addition to the food section, there is a very small section for kitchen goods and cleaning supplies. The staff who worked there were very friendly and attentive. I was also thrilled to see that they had doughnut, or Peento, peaches, which are these silly little peaches that look flattened but taste great. I bought a couple of those and told the cashier that I hadn't seen those very often. We chatted about them a bit and he said the ones he was selling came from Spain.

Now that I have the pita bread from Naz, I just need to get making that baba ghanooj that I was thinking about.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Restaurant Review: Steak Hut, Detroit, Michigan

**Update: Steak Hut closed in 2013 or so. It's going to be replaced with something even more hipstery. Yay gentrification?

I'm feeling a bit of nostalgia for my old stomping grounds, so I thought, why not write about one of the restaurants there that I enjoyed?

Steak Hut
1551 W. Lafayette
Detroit, MI

One thing I love about Detroit is its grit. That is a strange thing to love, but the grit is both physical and metaphorical. Detroit has been battered over the years but its magic is in its grit, for sure. I've seen and done things there that would not be possible anywhere else; that's a good thing. The grittiness both allows and encourages such a thing.

Remember, a bit of grit can turn into a pearl, given the right conditions. Steak Hut is one bit of grit in the clamshell that is Detroit. Ooh baby, if you want an awesome dive restaurant, here you go! Steak Hut of course has on offer plenty of fried foods, breakfast delights, and divey diner food.

The menu is reasonably simple and focuses on a diner staple: tasty breakfast. My friend from Hamtramck had been raving about the diner and said we had to go and eat what I heard as "Eminem" pancakes. I thought, how quaint is it that the diner named pancakes after Detroit's most famous rapper? Imagine my "oh, duh!" moment when I read the menu and realized that they were M&M pancakes! I really didn't think that such a thing was possible. Of course, I had to try one of these things. They usually are only sold as a stack but since I didn't really want to eat a heap of what basically amounts to candy encased in white flour, I politely asked if I could just have buy one pancake. The staff at the restaurant are quite friendly and were happy to let me have just one. Let me tell you, just one is more than enough! It's not that it didn't taste good; in fact, it was delicious, but I felt that I was slipping into a sugar coma after just one as it was quite a large pancake. If you want to eat something surreal, order one.

Their other breakfast food is good, too, and inexpensive; it's possible to order a breakfast platter for about $5 and it's cooked fresh in front of you. My fellow diners ordered various dishes during our trips there and were not disappointed.

The restaurant itself is in a somewhat desolate area, near a leather company. The restaurant is a small, unassuming brick building. Inside is a no-frills interior that of course could use a remodeling, but just accept it as part of the restaurant's charm. It's not dirty but it's not super clean, either. It's a small restaurant so keep in mind that it can get a bit cramped at times...or you can be the only one there. Such is Detroit!

Steak Hut isn't just about cheap, tasty food in a gritty neighborhood; it also becomes a community gathering place, especially on Sundays when there is free, live music. This isn't just some high school talent show of music, either; actual, recognizable bands have played, such as Black Jake & the Carnies. The last time I saw them, I was jamming along with 300 other concert goers in the stage at Wheatland; see below! How awesome would it be to listen to this music while eating a pancake stuffed with M&;Ms?

So, if you want to sample some of Detroit's grit, as well as some M&;M (or, heck, if you want to call them Eminem) pancakes, motor on down to the Steak Hut.

Black Jake & the Carnies, at Wheatland Music Festival

Whoa. Writing this post is making me feel just a tad homesick; I'm not going to lie.

Gratuitous Moooooo

This is what not working on my to-do list looks like.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Things I've learned about other places by living in Germany

Before I moved to Germany, I felt that I had a reasonable, basic knowledge of how things work here. I read a lot of blogs, books, and even talked to some real, live Germans. I knew, though, that once I lived here and didn't just visit, I'd learn even more.

That I did, and I am still doing. However, I didn't realize how much I'd also learn about other places, including even the US!

Here are some of the things I learned:

-they call water fountains "bubblers." It sounds so quaint ;)
-they might call ATMs "TYME" machines (pronounced "time"); it was an acronym given for the name of the machines. It sounds so retro-future-y that it's awesome! I would be very excited about going to the time machine, I think.
-traffic lights are called stop and go lights. Makes sense!

-I am still confused by this one. Having "tea" doesn't necessarily mean having a cuppa; instead, it could be a meal. Whenever my UK friends invite me for tea, I find myself asking if they mean a meal or the drink.
-oh lawdy. I was trying to talk about pudding (you know, what Bill Cosby was always hawking?) and we had a super confusing conversation about it. My friend was envisioning some sort of cakey thing and I was seeing J-E-L-L-O.

-really good Indian tea takes a while to make, about 15 minutes or so, and involves spices, tea, etc.
-Americans' use of the term "curry" just to mean spices is not correct. Curry is the sauce. Curry spices are varied. I think we need to tell McCormick spices that!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

And why is it that I do this to myself?

Since I work at a foreign entity that is almost a world of its own here but live outside of it, I feel as if I'm caught in the middle of two worlds. I have dollars and cents and euros and...euro cents in my wallet. I know the euro cents reasonably well at this point, but I always have the moments of panic at the grocery store when I'm trying to sort out the various euro coins as an impatient German is breathing down my neck and I'm simultaneously trying to pay, bag my groceries, pretend that I can speak German, and still remember to breathe all the while.

It certainly doesn't help that I also have American money in my wallet, as well, for use at work and I accidentally grab some of those coins in the mix when I'm trying to pay at German stores.

Even worse is the time when I grabbed a really weird coin out of the mix and realized that, for some reason, I had a Canadian loonie in the wallet. Recently I even got caught up when I realized that I have a car wash token, as well. Why on earth do I do this to myself?

I know I have Czech Koruna and Hungarian forints somewhere at home. Maybe I should throw those into my wallet, too. It might liven things up even a bit more!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bike parking at Kaiserslautern Hauptbahnhof

Entrance to the bike parking area.

The Kaiserslautern Hauptbahnhof, or main train station, offers a keen traveler the best of both worlds for more ecologically friendly ways to travel: one can ride her bike to the train station, lock up it, and hop on the train to enjoy mass transit.

Lockers that can be rented for bikes.
The main train station in Kaiserslautern offers a dedicated, covered bike parking area outside, just to the east of the main entrance to the train station. It is free to lock up one's bike. There is even a paid option to rent a bike "locker" for those wishing for added security.

The devil's in the details, or at least he's on the wall at Nanstein Castle

The devil! He's in the details...of the wall.
 Information about visiting the castle

In March, I visited the Nanstein Castle ruins in Landstuhl with my German class. It's a castle that has been built, knocked down, rebuilt, etc. Wash, rinse, repeat. I guess that sounds a bit flippant but it's so strange to see a historic looking castle and find out that it's a replica or was rebuilt from the ruins. Obviously Germany has had a very tumultuous history.

Burg Nanstein was built in approximately 1162, per Frederick I's (Barbarossa) orders. One famous resident was German knight Franz von Sickingen, who took over the castle in 1504. He is considered one of Germany's last knights.

The castle is being restored from the ruins. It's possible to visit the ruins for about 3 euros.

Sea serpent, anyone?

Sickingen died in this room after he was injured when the castle was besieged.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Thrift Store Review: Die Schatzkiste, Kaiserslautern
Die Schatzkiste
Pariser Str. 28
67655 Kaiserslautern
Tel 0631-4147401
Open Hours:
Monday - Thrusday 8:30 - 17:15;
Friday 8:30 - 15:45; Saturday 10:00 - 14:00

On to more thrift stores! I was excited to find Die Schatzkiste, which means "the treasure chest." Doesn't that sound like an exciting name for a thrift store? Like a pirate, the shopper can go on a treasure hunt for the best booty ever. Arr, mateys, I be lookin' for bargains!

Um, sorry. I'm not sure what just overtook me there. Ahem.

Anyway, this is a fun store to visit. It's very big with two floors full of secondhand items and merchandise turns over quickly there. In fact, that's sometimes to the store's detriment. There is quite a bit of secondhand furniture available, but browsing through it can be frustrating. It seems like every time I find a piece that looks perfect, I notice the sign on the item that says it has been sold and is just awaiting pick up by its new owner. However, don't let that deter you! It's a huge store and having that much selection in one place is a major bonus.

There is such a random of assortment of things for sale; want to buy a wetsuit or kitchen cupboards? How about children's lederhosen? No joke, this store has these items, as well as typical household items like furniture, kitchenware, home accessories, etc. There is even a small section of clothing for men, women, and children.
The store has a really random assortment of items, such as this, um, "interesting" painting. It sold, though!

Prices on the furniture tends to run from moderate to slightly high for thrift store prices, but also take my opinion with a grain of salt. I feel as if thrift stores both in the US and abroad seem to have really upped their prices in the last five years or so (don't get me started in this post about how Goodwill at home was charging the same, or more, as the discounted price that Target had marked on merchandise they donated!). At Schatzkiste, I saw a cheap Ikea folding chair. I had just bought a similar chair at Ikea for about six euros so I thought if I could buy this used one for a few euros, it'd be worth it. I asked, auf Deutsch, the lady working there how much it was and she said ten euros. Obviously I put it back! However, prices aren't too bad overall and it's possible to find a nice piece of furniture at a reasonable enough price.

This store is a really good place to pick up reasonably priced kitchenware. I have made it my goal to buy an ice cube tray every time I go there. So far, I have paid sixty cents and now have two ice cube trays. A girl can never have enough ice, especially when her German freezer compartment is "huge" (by German standards).

Upstairs, with lots of furniture and houseware.
The staff at the store are very pleasant. I've spoken my "I'm pretending that I actually speak German unless you ask me a question and the ruse is up" and it has been received pleasantly, even when I outed myself a few times when I had to switch to English. Don't worry if you can only speak English; they've been nice about that, too.

A bonus is that the store will even deliver purchases in the local area for a reasonable price! My friends bought some dining chairs and a small loveseat and had it delivered.

It's worth a visit (or many visits!) to Die Schatzkiste. Who knows? You might find a buried treasure.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Restaurant Review: Eiscafé Rialto (ice cream shop), Kaiserslautern

Mühlstrasse 2

All you basically need to know is: this place's ice cream is awesome. Go there now.

I can provide other information, I suppose. In my explorations, I walked by this unassuming storefront this winter. The place looked totally abandoned; there were only chairs and empty freezers inside. I wasn't hopeful for its opening, but one March day, I walked by and the place was hopping! I wandered in, and I almost wish I hadn't, because now I know how delicious the Eis, or ice cream, is here.

I'm quite sure they make it themselves. There is an extensive array of flavors; I'd have to say that there are at least about 30 flavors or so. They range from fruit ices like melon, strawberry, etc. to super sweet and chocolatey treats like Snickers, mocha, etc. My absolute favorite is sahne Kirsch, which is cream cherry. I also love the raspberry yoghurt flavor, too. I'll be honest: they do these two flavors so well that I haven't been able to stray from ordering them! Friends have ordered a kiwi ice cream sundae, covered with kiwi fruit and kiwi fruit sauce (holy kiwi fruit, Batman!) as well as some chocolate based ice creams and have raved about them, too. Everything has such a vibrant and true flavor, if that makes sense. The ingredients taste fresh and very real.

Prices for take away ice cream cones are very reasonable; it's 50 cents per Kugel (scoop). I think that part of the reason is that this shop is not in the main downtown pedestrian area; it's between there and the Kammgarn.  

There are a few bistro tables and chairs inside to sit and some outside as well, but usually people just take their cones with them. 

I think that the shop is family owned; the same lady is always there. She's not super friendly to me; I know that my German is awful at this point, but hey, at least I try. However, I don't care. I'm there for the cold ice cream, not the warm fuzzies. Don't let this deter you; the ice cream is absolutely delicious, fresh, and reasonably priced at Eiscafé Rialto.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Restaurant Review: Pizzeria Milano, Kaiserslautern

Pizzeria Milano
Schoenstrasse 15, Kaiserslautern

A neighbor to the Gartenschau and the Kammgarn, Pizzeria Milano in Kaiserslautern is a local favorite. It's located in an old train depot which is a brick building with wooden floors mixed with modern metal support beams and glass on one side with an outdoor seating area. The view isn't necessarily anything great since it's in a former industrial area, but at least the buildings are old and those who like urbanex might be thrilled.

It is with regret that I inform you (doesn't this sound like a rejection letter?), dear reader, that I was nonplussed by the pizza. I've heard many happy reviews. I have also heard that the pizza is huge (it is) and reasonably priced (it is). I've walked by on the evening and the place is hopping; in fact, on weekend evenings, it's recommended to have reservations.

I just wasn't feeling it, and I so badly wanted to like the place. It can be hard to find decent pizza in Germany; Americans often find that the sauce especially is lacking in flavor and in amount. I found this to be true at Pizzeria Milano.

The crust was okay; it's stretched by hand and cooked in a wood-fired oven. However, without good sauce to back it up, it was just wood-fired dough to me. It seems common to have very little sauce on a pizza here; it's not that I like my pizza dripping with sauce, by any means, but I want there to be enough that I know it's there. The other problem is that the sauce wasn't very flavorful; it wasn't tomato-y and it really didn't taste like anything at all. The other toppings really didn't have much taste, either; they included mushrooms, Gorgonzola cheese, and mozzarella.

Service was okay, but not stellar. It was hard to catch the attention of a waiter and they could be seen standing a clump, talking to each other at times. I didn't have to wait very long to receive my food; the restaurant was not very full when I was there, but it took about 5 minutes of trying to get a waiter's attention before I could pay.

The upside was that the pizza was inexpensive at less than seven euros for the largest size. Everyone always comments on how big the pizza is there and it's no joke! The pizza I ordered was 33 centimeters and it took up the whole plate.

I might consider trying the restaurant a second time for the pasta, but I'm still undecided since I was nonplussed with my first visit.

A visit to Böblingen, Germany

I visited Böblingen, which is known for...well, it's a southwest suburb of Stuttgart.There isn't a huge amount to see in the city of less than 50,000 residents, but apparently there's a butcher's museum there. Darn, I missed it!

I drove into town, which is not my favorite thing to do. Böblingen is rife with speed cameras, so drivers, beware. They had some of the newer ones that I just read about; it looks like a post with black bands (cameras) around it. Apparently those kind can catch several cars at once.

The traffic light system is interesting. I was there on a weekend so many of the traffic lights were dark. However, they're "on demand" traffic lights, so to speak, for pedestrians. They are mounted on the side of the road and there are only two lights: amber and red. When a pedestrian pushes the walk button, the light will turn on and turn to yellow for the car to slow down, then turn to red to allow the pedestrian to cross. There are regular traffic lights that cycle through all of the colors, but those seem to be located at busier intersections.

I took a stroll around the city. In one area, the pavement for the length of a block was painted with figures and decorations like this:

I also walked to the "see" (English: sea). I always feel my lips twitching into a smile when I see signs for German "seas." Many of these are glorified lakes. However, "see" can refer to a lake, as well as even to what I would consider a sea. I walked through the Stadtgarden and gazed upon the beautiful, muddy waters of the glorified ponds, I mean, "sees". The park was rather nice, though, and there are trails that extend from the park for bike riding and walking.

There were a lot of slugs on the path. I recently watching a horrible wildlife video about slugs so I wanted to be nowhere near these two. Yet, oddly enough, I found myself taking a picture of them.

I saw this sign within a sign: Stop [eating animals].
I then finished my 3 mile walk because I was tired after working all day and then driving several hours to get to Böblingen. I'm glad I went out and enjoyed the evening, though.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Park your doggies here! A place to tie your dog outside the grocery store

At Edeka in Kaiserslautern, I saw another cute sign. Near the bottom of the post there is a place to tie one's dog while one goes shopping at the supermarket. Cute, huh?

I've seen something similar at a supermarket in Vienna, Austria, too, but the even better thing was that there was an actual dog tied to it when we walked by!

The sign says "I can not enter."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Questions answered: German measurements & baking

I am taking a class that deals much with German history and life, and I have learned so much that I feel like my brain is going to burst with new information...and happiness at learning it!

I wrote earlier about being really surprised during a cooking class when the instructor said that she just uses any tablespoon or teaspoon she has on hand when it's called for. Before I got here, I didn't realize that Europeans often use a scale when preparing food from a recipe. Germans also would use a regular cup from the cupboard and not a specific measuring cup, I learned from the comments on what I wrote.

Imagine how delighted I was when I learned more about this from the instructor teaching a class I'm taking on life in German and its history. Seriously, yeah, it's nerdy, but the whole thing made me very curious so it was great to satisfy that curiosity.

Here are the interesting things that I learned from the instructor:

There have been many units of measurement used over time, but they have been highly variable because they were often based on something that could vary greatly. That doesn't work so well when, for example, the length of a "foot" was based on someone's foot, thanks to the curiosity of differing genetics. Merchants selling bolts of cloth were happy when they sold a short arm's length for the going rate but when they came someone with long arms using the arms as measurement, they found themselves being shorted.

Another interesting thing is the size of cups and bowls. Usually a town had the same person (or group) making pottery, often for the life of that person. The depth of the cup would be dependent upon the length of the thumb of the person throwing the pottery. Therefore, for the career of the person, the cups would be approximately the same depth. The problem arose when the next person took over as his thumb would be a different length.

Napoleon, after conquering much of Europe, had the idea that standardized measurements were in order. It helped regulate trade. Of course, it was a slow process to try to force what had been hundreds of kingdoms, many with their own measurements, to adopt standard measurements. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck found himself enforcing the last of standardization 50-60 years after Napoleon's decision.

All of this ties into the questions I had about German cooking. Why is it that Germans would just take a cup out of the cupboard in recipes that say to measure a cup of thing? Why are those recipes not specific? After all, cups are all of such varying sizes! My instructor says it's simple: many of the recipes or cookbooks had been in use in the family for so long that everyone knew the correct amount of ingredients to put in, and they would use the same cup to measure things. With experience on her side, the cook or baker had a feel for what was the correct amount. I'm floored by this, mostly because my domestic skills are very much wanting, but I'm impressed, nonetheless.

Store review: A&B Secondhand Boutique in Kaiserslautern

A&B Secondhand Boutique
Richard-Wagner Strasse 1

I love thrift stores and most of my clothes come from them or from garage sales. I admit that freely and happily. It's good for the environment to recycle items that are still in good condition and usable; it gives some pocket money back to the owner or helps a charity; and it helps to afford fun travel experiences. Who can beat that?

I've been on the hunt in Kaiserslautern for thrift stores. I came across A&B Secondhand Boutique, just on the very edge of the pedestrian shopping district downtown. Neatly arranged and merchandised, this store carries many name brand clothes. Prices are reasonable for name brands and all clothes are clean, in good shape, well-displayed and organized.

There are clothes, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and children, though most of the clothes are for women. There are some plus-sized clothes for women but I didn't really see any for men, but I also didn't look that hard, either. There were also some maternity clothes for women.

Staff at the store are pleasant. I enjoyed that the store was clean and well-organized. I found the prices reasonable; I bought two nice shirts for work, a skirt, and a cute purse for 12 euros.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dear Mannheim Schloss: why is the SWAT Team here?

Friends and I took a trip to Mannheim for the day in March. A trip to Mannheim means...that people are probably going shopping at Ikea, which is nearby. This was the case for us as well, but we thought we should take a peek at the city for a bit, too, since we were close. I've visited several times since then because I've met people from there and it's an interesting enough bigger city (at least compared to Kaiserslautern!) to go shopping or grab a tasty meal.

During our first trip we visited the Schloss Mannheim ( It was heavily damaged during the war so much of it was rebuilt and  part of it also houses the University of Mannheim. We grabbed some excruciating audioguides in English and managed to listen to an hour of them. There was some good information in them, but they were so long-winded that it took 10 minutes just to get through one room.

While we were listening intently to the first 10 minutes of audio, we notices many police vans pull up in front of the castle and out spilled cops who started donning what looked like riot gear. At that point, we were all confused. No one was around except for the cops.

At the end of the tour (or, more aptly, after we had enough of listening to the audioguides), we asked the museum staff while all the police were there. They told us that there was a football (soccer) game later on that day and they were there for that, if need be.

Again, this is why I don't like to be around football fans on game day! Luckily, the day continued for us without any mishap.

Friday, June 14, 2013

German phrases I hear around Kaiserslautern

These are some things in German that I hear often around here. I'm sure I'll add more as I learn more German and recognize more words.

Alles klar = all is clear, or "I get it"
Geil = cool. Be careful with this one; it can also mean "randy."
Ja, ja = yes, yes.
Ach so = I see. Ach kind of sounds like "ah." I hear this one a lot and it usually stands alone in a sentence when the listener is confirming that she understands what the speaker just said.
Nä = no, used instead of or in addition to nein. It's a regional thing I've been told and it sounds like "nay."

and the top one...

Genau = exactly; you're right. Goodness! I feel like I'm being genaued to death around here. People say it ALL THE TIME.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Saving money while living in Germany, or, how do I afford these adventures?

I like to go off on one adventure or another as often as possible. It usually means taking a day trip to a town  nearby (or heck, another country!), and occasionally, a weekend away somewhere. The main thing keeping me from taking off any farther away is that I don't have enough vacation time saved up yet.

This might make one wonder: how can ATW afford this? I guess one answer might be that it's noneya business, but another part says why not share how I make it work? There might be some useful hints.

First of all, my travel lifestyle is not that extravagant. Friends and I usually take public transportation and the awesome thing about Germany (and some other countries, too!) is that there is a group day travel ticket available for a reduced fee. For example, my portion of a 4 hour round trip train ticket to Trier cost about 12 euros. Even paying US prices for gas I couldn't have driven that cheaply.

Also, we often stay with friends in other cities if we're visiting. I've been known to pack my own air mattress, air pump, and head out to sleep in air mattressy style after a day of fun with friends. It's like a sleepover and so much more fun! I feel a bit silly saying that because I'm quite a bit beyond being a teenager, but it's enjoyable and so much more personable than staying in a hotel. On the flip side, I enjoy hosting my friends at my place, too.

Another savings area is that when dining, I don't order a huge meat-filled meal and I don't enjoy expensive restaurants, because again, they're full of meat, which does not interest me. When traveling, I like to stop and buy something at the farmers' market or get something cheap from an ethnic restaurant like take-out Turkish food. I just found this thing that's like a spicy durum wheat in a pita thing in Mannheim; sehr lecker! yum, and less than 5 euros for a filling meal. I also usually avoid ordering a drink at the restaurant as it might cost almost as much as the meal! I bring a collapsible water bottle and keep it in my purse. If I'm thirsty, I drink after I leave the restaurant. Even if I'm not getting take-out food, my meals are still reasonably priced because I avoid meat.

One can afford a meal out because there are so many events to enjoy that are FREE or cheap around here. There are many festivals, concerts, hikes, etc. Many of the festivals don't have an admission fee; the only cost is what you spend there.

Much of my everyday living contributes to being afford these fun trips. First of all, I don't have a tv hooked up, much less do I have cable tv. Think about your cable bills and how much extra money that would be. I could imagine that cable tv is anywhere from about $25-100 a month. I don't miss tv one bit and I enjoy going on adventures with my friends so much more.

In order to keep in touch with people, I have a cell phone and high speed internet. My phone is a cheap pay-as-you go plan. I rarely call people; instead, we keep in contact using Whatsapp, a free text messaging app. I use Skype on the internet to keep in touch with people in the US.

On the other side of the homefront, I maintain mostly vegetarian, if not vegan, shopping habits (well, when I can resist the Siren call of German dairy products!). Not buying meat and limiting buying dairy yield great cost savings. I usually eat pretty boring stuff on a day to day basis, like vegetable soup and when I'm behaving, meals made from scratch. One of my favorite things to make is pizza, from scratch, and it's less than $2 to make a large pizza.

I also don't buy a ton of stuff; if I do need something, I usually thrift shop for clothes and housewares (poppin' tags because I have $20 in my pocket...sure!). For entertainment by myself, I get my books and movies from the library. I go for a walk. I hang out with Moo.

I also don't have kids, either...I hear those are really expensive ;) 

So, with savings in my daily life, doing things that don't cost a lot of money, and staying with friends and taking group mass transit, I am able to afford to experience many fun things. And of course, I save my pennies for some of the bigger trips, too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

American food in other countries: at Globus in Kaiserslautern

Globus is another chain store in Germany. The one in Kaiserslautern is HUGE; every time I go in there, I feel like I get sucked into a shopping vortex that eventually spits me out, slightly grumpy from the crowds and trying to translate things...and attempting to resist the siren call of the most delicious olives and quark (and I'm so not referencing Ferengi here) from the Turkish food vendor at the front of the store.

Globus is pretty much like Walmart; it's a discounter, has a giant grocery section, and carries home wares, hardwares, etc. I hate to keep comparing everything to Walmart but if I liken these stores to Meijer, only people in the upper middle of the Midwest will get that reference, I believe. The one bonus would be that Meijer doesn't have the stigma associated to it. Anyway, I digress.

I went to buy, of all things, a steam mop. Ah, what a glorious thing it is, the steam mop! Now, if I could just avoid on going some adventures so I'd actually stay home to use the mop...

While I was at Globus, I also quickly tooled over to the foreign food section to see what "American" food offerings there were. Below is a pictorial sampling of what was being offered. I even saw some "Cheese Zip" again. I wonder if there's a run on it? Ick. Their offerings were actually quite good at Globus; these are things that Americans might miss from home and the prices aren't horrible for "fine imported goods." Giggle. As if high fructose corn syrup-laced food and white bread is fine dining.

Jelly Bellies: okay, these ARE super American!

These also are quite American. I bet there are some people who are thrilled to see the Pepperidge Farm cookies. I could take them or leave them; in fact, I was given a package of some that I once then gifted to a homeless gentleman in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, strangely enough.

Look! Oreos. I hear that a lot of US expats miss these.

Hot dog and hamburger buns, and American "toast." Poor Americans, having this as the main kind of bread at home!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Seen in Heidelberg: the Ampelmann!

When I was visiting Heidelberg, I was excited to see that some of the pedestrian signs featured the Ampelmann! I was thrilled because the Ampelmann is super cute. I was also a bit surprised because this style of crossing light tends to be more common in the former East Germany (especially in Berlin).

I was very pleased to see Herr Ampelmann in Heidelberg. Here he is, blurry picture from my phone and all:

On this trip, we also found Mr. Concerned Goat at the Italian grocery store:

I'm not sure why he was so concerned. The food we bought there was delicious!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Restaurant Review: Red, vegetarian buffet in Heidelberg

Restaurant reviewed:
Red, die grüne Küche
Poststrasse 42, Heidelberg
In February, I visited a friend in Heidelberg. At that point, I had been living in a hotel for six weeks and had been eating bacon and eggs every day. While that kind of breakfast is nice once in a while as a treat, it is not really a meal to eat all the time. I was really jonesing for something that was not made of animals by that time. I felt like a sailor, who, fearing of scurvy, craves fruits and vegetables.

Imagine my utter delight when friends and I had lunch at Red, a vegetarian buffet in Heidelberg. And what a buffet it was; everything was vegetarian, super fresh, and super delicious. Red's offerings include organic, fresh, and seasonal foods. There were warm dishes, a salad bar, and desserts. There were German dishes but also many foreign and fusion dishes. I had a hard time deciding what to get but did restrain myself by not taking a tiny sample of everything, since there were so many options. I did sample some hummus, a beet salad, some eggplant dish that was cooked, and other items. Unfortunately, I wrote this review too long after I ate there to recall each item I ate, but I promise, everything was quite delicious.

There is also the option of ordering from a menu, which changes daily to reflect fresh and seasonal offerings.

The main attraction at Red is the vegetarian buffet. Diners grab a plate, make their rounds, and then take the plate of their choices to the cash register where it is weighed and rung up. Drinks are available for purchase there, too. Dining in or take away options are both available.

The restaurant itself is quite cute, too. I'm a bit of a sucker for gnomes and their images were all over the place -- in a cute way! The buffet is set on what almost looks like a repurposed dresser.

We all very much enjoyed our meals. My meal "weighed in" at 11 euros for a large plate, piled with many different types of food. I felt the threat of scurvy lessening as I left, my stomach happy and full.

Wanted and unwanted time to practice German

I was invited to a party in Heidelberg this weekend, and while it was a very international party, of course there was a lot of German being spoken. I sat with some people and listened to their conversations (I couldn't contribute much) and sometimes got the gist of the story (woot woot!). Man, if I did this every day, my German would REALLY come along great! Listening to the radio or CDs just isn't the same.

Some people were speaking Spanish, too, and I understood the gist of that, as well, but every time I wanted to say something and formulated a sentence in my head, "yo" because "ich" and things started sounding German so I just kept my mouth shut. I think at this point I just need to operate in two languages.

The party was fun and reasonably big. I was surprised that the neighbors didn't complain; the music was loud past quiet hours, but I guess it depends on your neighbors for that one. We had a great view of the castle. It was the first party I've attended with a view of a castle ;)

I had another chance to speak German, on the train home, but I didn't really appreciate this chance. An elderly man sat across from me and asked if the train was stopping at a certain city. I told him yes then he started saying something else I didn't catch. I must've looked confused because he asked someone else about where the train was stopping. He then asked me again! I confirmed it and he asked another woman, who did, too. At that point, I thought, what the heck! I wonder if this guy has dementia or something and forgot that he had already asked about the stop.

He later took out a brush and a mirror and combed his hair and grinned and said something about him looking nice. If the train weren't so crowded and I weren't so sleepy, I would have moved. He seemed harmless enough, but dude, leave me alone.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

And this is why I don't like to be around on game day

One Sunday, I decided to take a stroll because the stormy, angry skies and their potential torrential downpours looked very appealing. Well, I actually needed a change of pace so I decided to take a walk.

I noticed some people wearing FCK, the local soccer (football) team), gear, which was a signal that it must have been a game day. In other words, I wanted to be nowhere near the train station (which is near the stadium).

I turned on my heel and headed home but heard some loud singing. Great, I thought. I really don't like to be around soccer fans, especially ones who sound like they've been drinking.

Bunch of rowdy men + unbridled enthusiasm for their sport + liquor = unbridled stupidity at best and possible physical harm at worst

(for the record, I feel that it's like this everywhere, not just in KL)

They started bellowing a song in English (which had nothing to do with me; they weren't close enough to even see me).

Well, the words were technically English.

It was something about "if you can hear us..."

I took off before I could hear the rest because I really wasn't interested in what stupidity they had on tap!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Having problems with the kilos: cooking and baking in Germany

The kilogram is the base unit of mass in the International System of Units, so items are weighed here in its various forms.The problem is that whenever I hear someone mentioning a "kilo," I imagine the that drugs are the items being mentioned, because after all, in movies they always mention a "kilo of..." whatever drug.

I don't think that this is a very useful way to think about this measurement!

This especially comes into play with cooking and baking. I feel as if I'm stuck between two worlds here. I brought all of my American recipes with me but am constantly pulling out the baking charts to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius to actually bake what I've assembled. 

Here's a hint, Americans moving to Europe: bring your cooking measuring utensils! Even if you're not much of one to cook, do it any way because there might be an American recipe you'd like to try and it's so much easier just to use the US measurements instead of having to convert everything.

It didn't dawn on me that folks here don't use measuring cups or measuring spoons like we do in the US until my friend commented that she thought my measuring cups were so cute. I was a bit confused; they were just standard measuring cups so I didn't see what was so cute about them. She then told me that such things aren't used in Europe.

That totally blew my mind (it doesn't take much). I asked her how one would measure ingredients if one didn't use measuring cups. Yes, I was being a bit dense. She told me that she uses a scale to measure her ingredients.

Duh on my part! That makes sense; I had noticed before that recipes from the UK and Europe call for amounts of items by weight, not measured by cups. The kitchen scale is so handy-handy here. I actually just bought one, but that's because I wanted to make soap and it's necessary for that. It also worked really well when I went on a rice crispie treat making adventure that was off the beaten path.

My friend said that the bonus was that she had fewer bowls to clean because she can measure all of the ingredients in the bowl and mix it from there. I would assume that dry and wet ingredients would be mixed separately.

How does one measure ingredients in a bowl? If the bowl is already on the scale, one wouldn't want the weight of the bowl to be included. Maybe this is obvious to most people, but I had to find out that you put the bowl on the scale, press "Tare," and that will set the scale's weight to 0 and you can add your first ingredient from there. After weighing the first ingredient, you'd press Tare and add the second one and so on.

My mind was blown a second time when I took a German cooking class and learned that Germans just use tablespoons and teaspoons for measurements. And by those measurements, I don't mean spoons specifically designed for measuring in cooking, but I mean spoons just from the spoon drawer! Isn't that wild? In the US we have specific measuring spoons and they're even divided in by halves, quarters, and sometimes even smaller than that. Recipes usually call for a very specific amount of an ingredient and being off can adversely affect the food, such as adding too much or too little yeast in bread. I wonder how it's done here to avoid that problem? Maybe the important ingredients are weighed, too.

Cooking, here I come! However, there's also the German oven, with its multitude of settings, to deal with...and that's a whole other blog post, for sure.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Milk at the German grocery store

During some of my first forays into the German supermarket, I noticed that the refrigerated section of the store had very few milk containers. I knew, after living in England, that goods that might be refrigerated in the US might not be refrigerated outside the US because of the different ways they might be processed. I poked around a bit in the store and found shelves and shelves of milk in shelf-stable packaging.

There was a huge array of choices; it was mind boggling. I had some friends explain the different types of milk to me but I felt dazed and confused by the descriptions. I usually don't buy/drink cow's milk anyway, so it seemed a mostly moot point to me since when I do need a milk-like substance, I buy soy, almond, or rice milk.

The main thing I can say is that if it seems like there isn't much milk in the refrigerated section, look elsewhere in the store. Another blogger, A Vegetarian in Germany, writes a good description of the different types of milk in Germany here.

Milk in German supermarkets: rows and rows of cardboard boxes!

Milk in the refrigerated section. Unlike the boxed milk, this milk has a Pfand, or deposit, on the bottles. Return them to the store to get it back.

Look at this carton of milk! Isn't the Snuggle Bear knock-off CREEPY? He has the creepiest look on his face, and it almost looks as if he's dumping poison into the milk. Well, that's my take, anyway. My cousin saw this picture and she noticed the logo; she thinks it looks like it's a bear abducting a baby! If I do find the need to buy cow's milk, I will not be buying this brand.

Creepy creepy! What is he pouring into the milk?
No baby kidnapping!

I just got set up!

I had a big smile today at work: a colleague from another department in our organization stopped by the office today to see me. She said I was just the person she was looking for.

She knows someone who is new to the area and that we have a lot of things in common and wanted to know if she could give the woman my number and maybe we could hang out. We started laughing because it was like setting someone up on a "friend date." I said sure, why not. I like meeting new people and thought it would be nice to expand my circle of people I know here.

I had just been thinking about how I should meet more people here. I have a nice group of friends, but unfortunately, as is common in many expat groups, their time here is somewhat limited. My own time is uncertain, but there is a likelihood that I would be here a bit longer, so I have to make peace with the idea that most of my friends here will be moving away at some point. Such is life, and that just means that I'll have to visit them wherever they go next.