Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Please don't get run over by a bus, Mädchen

I was on my way to meet a friend when I saw two young Mädchen (girls) attempting to cross the road. They were quite young, dressed head-to-toe in pink, and grasping an umbrella. They would start to step into the road then stop as cars whizzed by, then they clambered back to avoid being hit.

This practically gave me a heart attack so I approached them and said, "Braucht ihr Hilfe?"  (Do you need help?")

They hesitated and I tried not to give off creeper vibes. I just couldn't stand the thought of them being run over by a bus. "Laufen wir zusammen," I said, and we crossed the road as a group. After they were safely on the other side, I said goodbye and continued on my way as the girls called out a relieved "thank you" in English (dangnabbit, even the kids can tell that I'm not a native speaker).

It's definitely different in Germany (as well as other parts of Europe) with younger ages at which children are given autonomy. It is not unusual for young children to walk to school and home on their own. However, these girls seemed about my nieces' ages (younger than 7) and they looked so small, holding hands and the pink umbrella as the traffic sped by. I won't lie: it freaked me out to see them on their own so I'm glad that I helped them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pets and cultural differences

It's funny sometimes what we take for granted and believe to be "universal" knowledge when in fact everything is so relative. For example, I recently had some visitors from non-Western cultures and their reactions to Moo made me realize that house pets are not universal.

For example, Moo fell in love with one guest. Initially, the guest was alarmed when Moo jumped next to him on the couch and laid out in all of his Moo-y glory to be petted. I asked him if he wanted me to remove Moo. He didn't, but was worried that Moo was going to bite him. "No worries," I said. "He's super friendly."

Indeed, Moo and the guest became very good friends in a short time as the guest petted Moo. However, he was worried about Moo, asking if something was wrong with Moo's breathing. I listened and laughed. Nope, Moo was just happy and purring! My guest comes from a place where there are cats but they are usually feral so he hadn't encountered purring before. I'm glad that Moo was such a good pet ambassador.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Passing up a perfectly good opportunity to speak German

In July, I finished my associate degree in German. It feels so good to be done! I loved my classes for the most part. I wasn't enamored with the online ones since online learning isn't my thing, but I am thankful for the extended knowledge of art history and European history that I gained through them. I was also thankful that I only had to take two online classes for the degree and that the remaining six classes were in person, which afforded a much more connected and rich experience.

However, since my last class in German language ended in May, I have done pretty much nothing with speaking German (with the exception of some chat in German with a French guy while we were in Brussels :) I should be very ashamed of myself, since there are plenty of opportunities for me to practice here. I had some tandem partners available from a local group and I am also feel very lucky to have a decent number of German friends and Bekannten (friendly acquaintances) with whom I could practice.

So, why haven't I practiced more? The short answer is that I am lazy and hate to sound "stupid." I also have a degree in English and am generally picky (for myself) about using correct English grammar and pronunciation. Unfortunately, that feeling exists when I speak German and as a beginner, I make mistakes all the time. I can't stand it. I doubt that my German speaking partner is judging me as much as I judge myself so I just need to get over it. The other problem is that my German will never improve if I don't sound stupid for a while and listen to a native speaker's corrections.

The other excuse I give is that my native German-speaking friends are a super intelligent bunch and we enjoy many intellectual conversations. I entirely lack the German vocabulary to discuss engineering, computer science, linguistics, advanced directives (yes, we've had that conversation; we're a bunch of weirdos ;) and so on.

Excuses, excuses...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Falling to pieces in Amsterdam: the mannequin edition

I'm a little bit obsessed with mannequins, especially when they look as if they've been through the wringer. It just always strikes me as odd that a store would put a beaten-up mannequin in the window. It doesn't seem to be the best way to display one's goods.

In Amsterdam, I saw a mannequin whose hand was taped on, in least artful way possible. Hmm...

Friday, August 22, 2014

An American birthday in Germany

It was one of my (American) friends' birthday, so we got together at our (German) friend's house to celebrate. We enjoyed some wine from the Mosel region (sweet white German wine, my favorite), told some (dirty) jokes, and ate sweets.

Then we loaded ourselves up like pack mules and hiked to some local castle ruins for a bonfire. We had ourselves in hysterics as we looked like a very strange religious procession. One friend wore a Mexican blanket and the other wore a Teppich (rug). I was the least strange one in the group (for once) with just a book bag.

It was a fantastic night; we had a bonfire in the ruins, enjoyed some wine, listened to music, and enjoyed each other's company. It was such a lovely night and the first time I've ever celebrated someone's birthday at castle ruins.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mannequins gettin' down in Weesp, North Holland

We stayed in Weesp, a suburb of Amsterdam, during our 4th of July trip. Weesp is a beautiful old town and we spent some time downtown. I saw these mannequins in one of the storefronts. It seems that they were so excited about the sale in the store that they fell to pieces!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dear Germany: Mexican food (other than dulces) should not be sweet!

America gets a bad rap for sugary food. It is true that our food can be overly sweetened, but I have been surprised to find that some foods in Germany are really sweet too.

For example, I tried buying some Old El Paso brand taco seasoning from Rewe, the German supermarket. I know that OEP is more of an American brand and it's in the American aisle here, but I was curious if it tasted any differently from what I buy in the US. It did -- and I was very thankful that I tasted it first before I added it to the dish I was cooking! I actually threw it away because it was ridiculously sweet and I felt it would ruin the savory Mexican dish I was making. Most Mexican food, with the exception of desserts and some things with mole sauce, are not sweet. Germany, it is worth noting this ;)

I also bought some German spaghetti sauce that I ended up giving away without eating. For some reason, I had a suspicion that it would be sweet so I tried a small spoonful first. It hardly tasted like tomatoes because there was so much sugar in it!

I guess that I was just surprised by all of this; I would have not thought that some savory foods would have so much added sugar.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Brussels, happiness, and friends

This past weekend, I took a trip to the Netherlands for some business-related needs, then moved on to Brussels to see a friend whom I had met in Detroit three years ago. Later we made a stop to Ghent and met up with my friend's friend who lived there. It was a fantastic weekend of reuniting with an old friend and making some new friendly acquaintances!

It was such a wonderful weekend that made me so happy. It made me think of the saying that it "made my heart swell with joy." That is a really cheesy saying, I think, but that's how awesome it felt. Well, until I started dissecting the statement; I was thinking that if one's heart were swelling, it might indicate a build-up of fluid and heart failure...then I told myself to stop being so dang literal.

Regardless, it was a fantastic weekend. I love how small the world can be; after all, I was able to reconnect with a friend I had met thousands of miles away and years before. We now live and hour and a half from each other but reconnected in Brussels. I made plans to meet with the couple from Paris when I'll be visiting the city soon for other reasons.

There is more to say, but that's it for now as it's late.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Another turducken, at the office

One day at work, my coworker came running up.

"You must see this! It's like your turducken!" she exclaimed.

I was very confused because I imagined that a bird thingie (read more here about my Amsterdam bird experience) was in her office. She saw my confused look and said, "No, it was a BUG and it was touching me! I don't know what kind of bug it was!"

As soon as I saw the bug I could see why she'd say it was like a turducken. The bug looked like several different types of bugs made into one. I mean, it looked part beetle, part something with a nasty stinger, and part...dragonfly? I don't even know what it was supposed to be, but I saved the day by crushing it as otherwise there didn't seem like a good way of getting it out of the office alive without getting stung.*

I also like the idea of using turducken as a term for when things are made from other things, and not just within the realm of poultry. That suits me just fine.
*Well, I accidentally kind of didn't crush it enough so I told her that she had to finish crushing it because it was disgusting. I couldn't allow either one of us to be ridiculously girly and not willing to deal with a bug. We both saved the day.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm on Germany Ja! again

My article about things I thought would be worrisome when I moved to Germany (and those things weren't a bit deal after all) has been published on Germany Ja!

Here's the link to the Germany Ja! version.

For the record: neither Moo nor I are pictured in the article.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

We partied like rock stars at the Deidesheim Wine Fest

**Note: the Deidesheimer Weinkerwe (wine festival) is continuing next weekend,  15-17 August. More information is available here.**

Some friends and I took a jaunt over to the Deidesheim wine festival. We ended up partying like rock stars, but more like if one thinks about geriatric rock stars ;) It's been a busy time for each of us and after about a glass of wine each, we were all ready for a nap! This is what happens when one gets old. However, I'm not sure if that's entirely true and we didn't have any excuse because I saw a lot of adorable elderly German couples who were partying and didn't seem sleepy.

We took a 40-minute train ride to the picturesque town that is situated on the German wine street. Once there, we disembarked the train and examined booth after booth of wine and food. I settled on drinking a Hugo, which is a mix of sparkling wine, soda water, elderberry syrup, and a mint garnish. It was fantastic! Of course, I do love elderberry syrup (which I only recently learned about, and only knew about elderberries before that because of Monty Python). My friends chose wine and we also grabbed some food.

The band that seemed to play 30 second clips.
We sat near the stage, under the trees, which was quite lovely. Eventually, the band came in, dressed in tracht (i.e. lederhosen). It was the strangest thing, though: they did a few warm-ups, then left. They came back, played about 30 seconds of a song, then left again. Then they came back and played some other songs, too, but it felt as if they didn't play the entire song. It was really strange!

In addition to listening to music clips, we also took a walk around town. Deidesheim is really quite lovely, with many Weinstuben and restaurants tucked along the streets. There is also this lovely Gasthaus zur Kanne, from the 12th century. The whole time we were walking around, I was imagining what my dad's response to this town would be. I could hear him in my head saying, "Oh! This is so gezellig!" The amusing thing about that statement is that gezellig is a Dutch word and my dad isn't remotely Dutch. However, my mom's family is and for some reason, he loves that word. It does fit the town well though: it cozy, cute, and quaint. When my family comes to visit, I have to take him to this village or a similar one.

During our wanderings, we also came across another fountain with Gernot Rumpf's sculptures. He has created other fountains and sculptures throughout the Pfalz and I love his whimsical creatures. They also have some naughty jokes within them. At this fountain, visitors can stick their heads into the statue and look like an old fashioned man and woman. However, the woman is a bit different, though I'm not going to say how. You'll just have to find out for yourself.

The fountain is filled with goats. It turns out that Deidesheim has a traditional festival near Pentecost in which a goat is auctioned off. Actually, the festival seems more invested with drinking and partying, but it's traditional, eh?

Rumpf really has quite the sense of humor. He includes goat "pellets."

Rumpf's signature mouse.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Beggars and Caritas's Approach to Helping Them

Caritas, a non-profit, faith-based welfare organization in Germany, has introduced a method to help those who are begging on the street. The organization has developed tokens that concerned citizens can buy for 1 euro each. In return, the recipient of the token can exchange them for meals, showers, laundry, and other services.

Caritas introduced this system as a means to discourage beggars from using money they received for drugs or alcohol. Also, some beggars are actually being used by organized gangs to generate money.

Some think that this is patronizing. However, I think that Caritas has good intentions with this project and it certainly has value.

More information (in German) here

Friday, August 8, 2014

Seen on game day

I'm really behind on writing about this, but I thought I'd mention that everyone around here was really excited for the World Cup last month, especially since Germany won. On the day of the last game, I saw people like the ones below, walking up to the stadium for the public viewing of the game.

I didn't watch the game, but did hear people cheering, yelling, setting off fireworks, blowing horns, and partying until about 2 a.m. following the game.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ah, that ever-present toilet brush

I saw this sign in the bathroom stall at the Technical University in Kaiserslautern. Oh, German toilets. I wrote about them before here, but let's just say that almost every toilet does have a brush available and one is expected to use it on the toilet if necessary.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Moo, undercover

Moo was hiding under the covers, all fuzzy and cute. I took this picture of him and he looked angry, which was not the case. He doesn't photograph that well because he's always suspicious of the flash and squints.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Second Autofreies Lauteral Bike Ride

Bike riders on the B270. Photo by J.

Sunday was a great day! Some friends and I grabbed our bikes (or, more accurately, 2 of the 3 bikes were mine ;) and headed out for the car-free day on the B270 road from Kaiserslautern to Lauterecken.

I did this ride last year with some friends (read about it here) and loved it. It's a day to enjoy the two-lane highway without the threat of motorized vehicles. Most people ride bicycles but we also saw rollerbladers, skateboarders, and even some unicyclists! It's a great day for all ages; we saw everything from grandparents to children along the route.

Along the way, there are food stands, oompa music dance parties, rock music parties, plenty of town fests, sausage and meat stands (lots of them!), booths with community information, and even bike repair stations. It's basically a 20 mile-long party. That's right up my alley!

We began at the Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern, the first stop, and rode along the river to join the B270. In Otterbach, we had the friendly Technisches Hilfswerk people adjust the bike seat on my old bike that J was riding and add air to my bike's tires.

Our next stop was at the hippie corner. Okay, it wasn't called that, but it certainly appealed to my inner hippie with an organic snack stand and a drum circle. We enjoyed some Holunder schorles (elderberry-fizzy water mixes) from the friendly ladies at the Bund Freunde der Erde stand, then proceeded to play drums with the welcoming drum instructor. Everyone was jamming!

My friends were hungry after all that jamming so we made a meat-packed stop. M had saumagen, which is a very typical regional meat for the Pfalz (more info here). J. gleefully announced that Helmut Kohl, a former German chancellor who was from this area, always proudly offered it to guests. We snickered as it is not something that everyone would like; M's serving of it looked like a huge hunk of meat, but she did like it. I could imagine a few international guests choking it down and trying to appear to enjoy it.

Meat fest! From left, clockwise: steak, Rotewurst, and Saumagen. Photo by J.
The next stop was my favorite: we visited with a herd of Haflinger horses on the side of the road. I fed them some delectable grass that was just out of their reach and J played horse paparazzi.

A horse enjoying some of the grass I gave it. Photo by J.
We finished the ride in Wolfstein, stopping to eat some ice cream. Originally, we had planned to bike all the way to the end, Lauterecken, but a sudden downpour of rain divested us of that idea. We loaded our bikes onto the train (which became more and more cramped with bikers) and returned home. It was a great ride! Had the rain held off, we probably would have biked back for a total of 30 miles, but the 15 mile ride was also good. Even better yet was that I was barely sore afterward, a welcome change from last year.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Things I freaked out about when I was moving to Germany

The other half of the the blog title should read as: and weren't such a big deal as I had been expecting.

The problem is that I spend way too much time in my own head and think and think and think about things. On the one hand, I very rarely get bored or lonely because I always have the company of my own thoughts. Conversely, that means that I have plenty of time to over analyze things.

Below are some things that I thought would be a big deal as I was moving to Germany. It turns out that most of them weren't.

1. Very little, if any, air conditioning during the summer. For the most part, this hasn't been a big deal. Last summer produced some really hot weather so I did spend some nights after work holed up in a dark apartment, sticking my face in front of a fan. We also did pull out a portable air conditioner for a few days at work, but beyond that, it's been tolerable. On the hottest of days, a trip to the city's swimming pool was enough to cool us off (though the title warmfreibad was misleading because the pool was definitely not warm!).

2. No screens on the windows. I thought that I'd never be able to open my windows because of lack of screens; I was worried about being overrun by bugs. I do come from Michigan, after all, where the joke is that our state bird is the mosquito. However, I leave my windows open and get very few bugs. It's probably because I live in the city. I do kip my windows (open them so they tilt open from the top) since I have Moo the cat and I don't want him falling out of the windows.

3. Being naked at the spa/sauna. I freaked out about this one big time when I first got here. It turns out that it's really not a big deal and is quite a relaxing place to visit.

4. Moving with Moo the Cat and finding an apartment that would take us both turned out to be a lot of paperwork and steps but nothing unbearable. The most important thing is to make sure to follow all of the procedures properly. I also lucked out and have a landlord who loves cats and was okay with Moo living here.

5. Not being able to use my credit card at many places. I've made peace with this and get cash out when I need it. I found out that I save a little bit on foreign transaction fees by using cash instead.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Irony at the cigarette machine

I love riding my new bike around. I thought that I knew Kaiserslautern reasonably well, but Stevens, my bike, helps me learn even more about the area as I venture forth into new frontiers.

During one new expedition, I saw this cigarette machine at the end of someone's driveway. The cigarette machines are similar to the roadside candy machines: they're often attached to either an office building or a house house. I have to say that this is the first one that I've seen attached to a garage.

I thought it was funny that the sign right above it says that smoking is forbidden. Um, why sell cigarettes then?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

American week at Aldi

A couple weeks ago, it was American week at Aldi. In other words, the store offered products it believed were the epitome of American dining (or something like that). I do have to give Aldi props for carrying foreign themed food. They also do British week, Italian week, and I'm sure some other weeks too (I don't grocery shop a lot so I'm not usually sure what's on offer).

Here are some of the American-themed foods:

Sesame bagels. Okay, we do eat those.

BBQ chips: yep, we do that, too.

Canned hot dogs. Um, not really. We usually buy them in refrigerated packets.

Sandwich sauce: not like this! It has sauerkraut in it. Weird!

We do have granola bars, which are somewhat similar.

Pancakes in a pouch. Well, we have frozen pre-made ones, so...