Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Itchy Silvester: exploding into the new year

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! Yahoos have been setting off fireworks all day as today and tomorrow are the only days of the year that Germans do so without special permission (thank goodness).

People will be celebrating Silvester, named in honor of the saint. I'm going to have a quiet night in because I'm worn out for some reason and C is sick (I'm hoping that I am not getting what she has). I did enjoy a nice dinner at Safari and Moo's hanging out with me so I'm appreciative of a peaceful night. Well, it's peaceful in my house...outside, not so much, with all the fireworks. Moo is taking it all in stride. I would like to think it's because he's a rather calm cat but it also might be related to the fact that he's not the sharpest crayon in the pack.

To learn more about German new year's traditions, you can read this article.

I'll leave you with a funny Silvester cartoon, created by Malachi R. Rempen.  To enjoy more of his amusing (and very spot-on!) take on expat life, check out Itchy Feet. 

Roadside candy machines: Rüdesheim am Rhein

Rüdesheim am Rhein was all made up for the holidays when we visited a week ago. I was thrilled to find a roadside candy machine and it too was decorated a bit for the holidays, with pine boughs.

It contained some weird toy fish things, jungle fruit sour gumballs, and some little rope things that may or may not have been jewelry (or a rope crucifix, as I had been disappointed to receive once when I thought I was getting jewelry).

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting screws at the German hardware store

After an incident that I want to name something snappy in the vein of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I found myself in need of a new screw for a bathroom fixture. I think that the new name of the incident should be My Mom, the German Sink, and the Loose Screw that Went Gosh Knows Where When She Was Trying to Be Helpful. In other words, the screw from the drain stopper for my sink was lost so the drain turned into this open black hole of doom; I needed a replacement screw. The next book in the series might be called The Lost Toothpaste Cap That Did Go Down the Drain and Countless Other Things That Almost Went Down the Drain While I Had a Heart Attack While Trying to Fish Them Out.

Since I felt that this series already had a much longer run than it should have, I finally got off my lazy tukus and stopped by Hornbach, a very Home Depot-like place*, which even has an orange logo. C came along with me (mostly because she had no choice as I was driving). We made a game plan to speak German and I tried to quickly learn the German word for screw (you know, in the hardware sense; I had already learned the other word after laughing at some graffiti where I thought the "artist" had misspelled the English cognate).

I asked, in German, for the "the lost thing for this thing," holding up the other parts of the drain stopper. (I have finally realized that visual props greatly help understanding of my ridiculous spoken German.) The store clerk actually took us to the screws department to help us (I was a bit shocked at this level of service; at many businesses  one would just receive half-hearted or incorrect instructions of where to look in general). He started speaking to us in English, then stopped, giving us a grin and saying in German, "oh, I'm supposed to be speaking in German."

We finally found a suitable screw and he walked us to the end of the aisle where he stuck it in a plastic bag, entered the SKU from its bin, weighed it, and printed a label for it. I was very happy that he helped us because I probably wouldn't have thought to do the last steps and probably would have been sent back in shame by the cashier to do it the right way.

After our adventure, I reassembled the drain plug to realize that the screw is slightly too long and the plug sticks up a bit too much in the drain.

Screw that. I'm not going back and it'll just have to do.

*minus the gun owners carrying their weapons around the store just 'cuz they can, as they do in the US

Monday, December 29, 2014

A dramatic reading of Shall Mackin Chiees

We saw this letter written by a young student and decided that it deserved a dramatic reading.

"Jalow" makes me think of "helau," which is a Fasching greeting.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My week: December 28 ed.

I had no German classes nor a meeting with my tandem partner so this week felt incredibly free. Heck, I even felt slightly antsy from all the free time! I actually was able to read several books for fun (including the hilarious tween book series, The creature from my closet and the travel book From Paris to the Pyrenees). I also exercised, which made me happy.

-I wrote about how I spent Christmas here. It involved hiking and hanging out with friends.

-C and I went to Traben-Trarbach for the Wein-Nachts-Markt on Saturday. We also visited Bernkastel-Kues, a town down the road. The roads were not good from snowfall but the towns were lovely.

-I had been quite lazy this week so I took myself out for a Sunday stroll of 5 kilometers. It was a bit cold at 28 degrees. I made the mistake of not wearing some tights under my trousers so I was cold all night after coming home. Moo tried to help by lying on my legs but I had really gotten chilled. What a helpful kitty, huh?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How I spent 2014 Christmas

This year's Christmas day was somewhat low-key. I spent half the day lounging around then texted a friend to go for a hike. I needed the diversity in activities, after all.

He brought a friend and the three of us hiked from the university up to the Humbergturm, a tower with a nice view over the city of Kaiserslautern. We had a fun time hiking; both guys are Bangledeshi and very merry. We chatted about different holidays, including in their country, and how people celebrate them.

On the way, we passed a decent amount of hikers, including two cute older ladies. They wished a merry Christmas and told us to hike faster to get to the top. Considering that we were already going at a good clip, it was pretty funny! I'm always so impressed by the active elderly Germans. They totally kick it on the trails.

Once at the top, we climbed the tower and admired the view and debated what various buildings were. One can see the whole city of Kaiserslautern from there.

Humbergturm Kaiserslautern
Humbergturm, Kaiserslautern: built 1900

Kaiserslautern view from Humbergturm
View of Kaiserslautern, to the north, from the Humbergturm
On the way back, some German hikers asked if we were returning to the city and if they could follow us, which we agreed to, stating that we were going back to the university. I can totally understand how it's easy to get lost; the only reason I knew where I was going was because I had been up that way two years ago for a volksmarch to the tower. In total, we hiked about 12 kilometers.

When we returned to the car, I said bye to the guys and hustled home. C was cooking Christmas dinner and I threw together a side dish and a pie. In total, we had:
  • Crock pot ham, marinated in cranberry juice with cloves stuck in the top (for every pound of ham, add an hour of cooking in the crock pot at low heat)
  • Mashed potatoes with bacon, leeks, celery, and garlic
  • Cornbread stuffing with added cranberries, celery, and bacon
  • Brussels sprouts cooked in a glaze of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar with blue cheese and fresh cranberries (I used this recipe but steamed the brussels sprouts first because otherwise they are too bitter for my taste; I also omitted the barley and pecans)
  • Apple pie, using Uncle Paul's Pie Crust recipe

All of it was delicious! C did a wonderful job of creating everything and gave it that special touch, which is, in my book, pork products, which she knows I like ;) Since I am done with the vegan challenge, I could enjoy it all.

After dinner, we watched The Signal, a sci-fi thriller about alien abduction. It was super interesting, with lots of moving pieces. The plot kept building and building without us being able to see where the movie was going. In fact, they did such a good job of it that we couldn't exactly get the ending! A bit of Googling made it clearer. We both that the director had quite a bit of talent and will only get better as his style matures.

It was late so C turned in. I skyped my family for a bit to wish them a merry Christmas. It was a lovely day, spent with friends and connecting with family.

Kaiserslautern is getting a Primark

I came across an interesting sign while I was out and about walking around with the copious amounts of free time I now have during the break from German lessons. I walked by what will be the new K in Lautern, a mall that's being built/reconstructed from the former Karstadt building, and took this fuzzy picture.

Primark is coming to the new mall. Now we can all buy sweatshop inexpensive and fashinonable clothing in a warehouse-style environment similar to Old Navy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Seilbahn in Rüdesheim am Rhein

Seilbahn Rüdesheim
Oberstraße 37
65385 Rüdesheim am Rhein
Buy tickets and board the cable car at this address in the pedestrian area.

After enjoying the Christmas market and the mechanical instrument museum in Rüdesheim am Rhein, C and I continued our touristy fun with a ride on the Seilbahn.

To the Seilbahn!
The Seilbahn is a cable car that whisks visitors from the middle of town up to the Niederwald monument that overlooks the Rhein and town. For seven euros, we purchased round tickets and braved the blustery winter wind during the ride.

This guy zipped by. I wonder if he was on his way back to the Christmas market?

The ride affords a good view of the Rhein, the local vineyards, and the surrounding countryside.

Looking south, toward the Rhein

The ride ends at the Niederwald monument, which celebrates either the founding of Germany in 1871 and/or the French-German War of 1870-1. Both answers seem to be correct on that one. Germania is the fancy lady up top.

In addition to the monument, there is also the Niederwald temple (more like a big gazebo), a restaurant (closed for the winter), and bathrooms (which require 3 10 cent pieces or a kind prior patron leaving the door open to use).

Since it was cold and we had enjoyed enough fun at the top, we hopped back in. We enjoyed the chilly and touristy ride that gifted us with some great views.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

With warm regards, Around the Wherever & Moo the Cat

Rüdesheim's getting funky with holiday decorations this time

Rüdesheim am Rhein really decks itself out for the holidays, which is no surprise given how large its Christmas market is compared to the size of the town. As C and I strolled along, we saw some interesting Christmas decorations.

They ranged from unusual and very clever, like this Christmas tree made from crates... straight up unusual, like this leg-Christmas tree thingie in Siegfried's Musikkabinet.

Some things were a bit over the top, like this house...

...and some decorations tried to get in through the top, like these guys, whom I called 007 Santas.

(Seriously, Europeans, why do you like to decorate with Santas who are trying to break in by scaling the walls? Many houses have chimneys and front doors so those are possible entry points. Or, do the chimney sweeps have a monopoly on the chimneys?)

Last but not least, some decorations seem grumpy, like this Santa...

"Dang it! The chimney sweep monopolized the chimneys again!"
...or this guy.

Either way, Moo and I, who are not grumpy, want to wish you a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett, Rüdesheim am Rhein

Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett
Oberstraße 29, 65385 Rüdesheim am Rhein

Best for: those who love gadgets, musical instruments, or curiosities

As part of our visit to Rüdesheim am Rhein for the Christmas market, we also wanted to visit some local attractions. The town isn't big so there aren't many, but one was odd enough that we had to visit: Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett.

It's a mechanical instrument museum located inside the Brömserhof, a former residence of the aristocracy. For 6,50 euros, we were taken on a tour that lasted about half an hour. It is only possible to see the collection by tour; the guide explains the collection and plays a selection of its pieces. Photography and video were allowed during our visit.

When we went, the tour was only in German but I was given a description in English to use to follow along. C said that what he was saying in German was exactly the same as what was written in English, so don't worry about missing out.

The guide played such interesting things as a Hupfeld-Phonoliszt-Violina, which is a combination of a player piano and automatic violins.

We also listened to a Weber-Maesto Orchestrion, which included even more instruments.

My favorite part of the collection was the group of music boxes with tiny birds that would pop up and sing via mechanical means. These were developed beginning in the 18th century. I was completely fascinated by their beauty and intricate details. The museum shop sells replicas created in the workshop of the museum's owners and I entertained the impulsive idea of buying one if they were several hundred euros. I found out that they cost several thousand euros, so I had to shelve that idea, but they are very lovely, nonetheless.

Our short jaunt through the museum was worth it, in our book. It was a bit touristy but I love strange and beautiful contraptions from bygone days. The museum offers just that, in a building that is interesting in its own right; within the former chapel, 16th century frescoes remain. It's worth a visit for those who love curiosities.

In the courtyard of the residence with Christmas attractions. Enter the museum through the door in the middle.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rüdesheimer Weihnachtsmarkt der Nationen

This past Saturday, C. and I drove a bit more than an hour north to Rüdesheim am Rhein, a wine-growing city on the north bank of the Rhein. Our plan was to visit the Rüdesheimer Weihnachtsmarkt der Nationen, or the Christmas Market of the Nations.

Rüdesheimer Weihnachtsmarkt der Nationen Welcome Sign

Getting There

I had been talking to my dad about the plans for the weekend and he was excited about the trip; he had visited the city in the 70s. He mentioned that he had to take a ferry across the Rhein to get there. I doubted that a ferry would still be necessary; after all, it had been forty-ish years since he had been there and wouldn't a bridge have been built?

Well, I was wrong; indeed, a ferry is still necessary. Mr. GPS directed me to Bingen. We parked in a free lot and walked onto the ferry. During the winter, it doesn't run as often, but we didn't have to wait very long. Just be sure to check for the last boarding time! The trip is about 4 euros round trip, per person.

After the short ride across the river, we followed the crowd to the town of Rüdesheim, a short walk. I was glad that I had left my car across the river in the big lot because parking on the Rüdesheim side didn't seem to be super abundant and people were walking everywhere.

The Market

The international Christmas market lines Rheinstrasse, which faces the river, and continues north along the small side streets until it reaches Oberstasse. As an international market, it has more than 120 booths with specialties from 12 countries, according to the tourist information website.

Most of the offerings were German, which makes sense. There was plenty of wurst, Glühwein, potato pancakes (reibekuchen), lebkuchen, and other typical German things to eat and drink. The international portion of the market was much smaller; it included things such as African masks (perhaps slightly dubious in authenticity), Australian hats, a jaunty British bus with cocktails and snacks, and some others.

There was one booth quite unlike the others: the Hanf-Beckerey, or Hemp Bakery! It was an old-fashioned looking booth filled with cheery workers cooking up sandwiches with hemp seeds. On offer were chicken or vegetarian sandwiches, served on grilled bread. The workers were quite silly; if one ordered a vegetarian sandwich, he had to sing a song! The booth cracked me up because it all looked so traditional, including the cooks wear chef hats. However, the hemp stenciled on their hats and their flag broke that illusion.

Though some of the "international" offerings seemed a bit forced, we were enchanted by the Scandinavian (sub) market located in a courtyard in Drosselgasse, a small passage that's worth visiting on its own. We passed beautiful fachwerk buildings as well as the beautiful stained glass windows on the Rüdesheimer Schloss. Once in the market, we touched the soft elk skins and I very purposefully avoided touching the multitude of wool offerings as I'm allergic. Grilled elk and salmon were available from food vendors.
Entrance to the Drosselgasse; it's even prettier at night!

There is certainly enough within the market itself to make for a pleasant visit in its own right. In addition, the town has some other offerings of interest that make a visit definitely worth it. More information will follow, including details about our trip to the mechanical musical instrument museum and the ride on the cable car.

Monday, December 22, 2014

German Christmas Words

Christmas time is a big deal in Germany. To more fully experience Christmas, you can learn some German words related to the holiday. We came up with this list in my German language class.

In General
Christkind - the Christ Child  
Frohe Weihnachten - Merry Christmas
Geshenke - presents
Heiliger Abend - Holy Night, or 24th December
Nikolaus - St. Nicholas, who brings small gifts on 6 December 
Plätzchen - cookies
Räuchermann - literally "smoking man," a wooden sculpture that is used to burn incense and looks as if he's smoking
Weihnachten - Christmas
Weihnachtskugeln - Christmas ornaments
Weihnachtslieder - Christmas carols
Weihnachtsmann -  Santa Claus
Weihnachtspyramide - Christmas pyramid, a traditional decoration that often uses heat from candles to turn the figures on it

Things at the Christmas market
Bratwurst - pan fried or roasted sausage
Eierpunsch - a hot, egg-based alcoholic drink, similar to eggnog
Dampfnudeln - steamed buns often served with vanilla or cherry sauce (read more here)
Feuerzangenbowle - fire +alcohol = oh my! Rum-soaked sugar is set on fire then drips into mulled wine
Glühwein - mulled wine
Heisse Schokolade - hot chocolate
Kinderpunsch - basically like Glühwein but for kids, minus the alcohol, of course!
Mandeln - almonds; these are often roasted and coated in sugar
Maronen - (roasted) chestnuts.
Mit Schuss - watch out for this one! You can add a shot of alcohol to many of your drinks

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My week: December 21 ed.

-Thanks to a fun and relaxing weekend preceding this week, I didn't feel quite so frazzled.

-In the German class at the university, we talked about Christmas things and practiced other sayings.

I came up with this gem of sentence when we worked further with trennbar verbs: "Die Dummheit meiner Katze nimmt immer zu." Poor Moo.

In the Volkshochschule course, our teacher took us out for a drink following our last class. It was so sweet of her! I enjoyed her class and was always impressed with her mastery of teaching.

-I had a nice meeting with my German tandem speaking partner.

-Moo got his stitches out but must still wear the Cone of Shame because the surgery wound is not healed enough yet. He does everything he can to make me feel guilty about this. I can't wait until he's better so he'll stop sulking.

-I met up with some guys from one of our other groups and we sat by the fire outside at the Kaiserslautern Christmas market, a cozy place to meet. It was supposed to be a tandem speaking night but as is customary, we spoke mostly English. That's okay, because we spent most of the time laughing. For the record, they're German - the stereotype of Germans who don't like to have fun/laugh is certainly not right! To further shatter stereotypes, I'll report this: one of the guys gave me a hearty hug upon leaving and he had just met me. I haven't found the stereotype of unfriendly Germans to fit in my life. I have met so many kind, thoughtful, and generous locals here.

-C and I watched Detroit Unleaded. I loved this movie so much that I actually bought it, which is a rarity for me as I don't like to own a lot of books/movies. She was impressed and of course I enjoyed seeing it again. I love that it's a romantic movie with Arab-American characters set in Detroit that shows the city, warts and all, without exploiting it or the characters. I pointed out the references to Better Made, Faygo Pop (dear diet Red Pop: I miss drinking a can every so often), and I think even City Club pop. Plus, it's on Hulu now so it can be watched more easily. Here's an article about it.

-We went to the Rüdesheim am Rhein Christmas Market of the Nations on Saturday. It was about an hour and 15 minutes from Kaiserslautern. I'll write up more about it, but we enjoyed it and C said it's one of her favorites.

-On Sunday, I had a lazy day. I read two books for fun, enjoying my two weeks off from German classes. When I'm in class, I don't get to read for fun very much because I feel as if I should use any free time to study or do homework.

I then wandered down to the Christmas market in Kaiserslautern to enjoy some hot chocolate. It was hopping with a merry and festive feeling.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Düsseldorf trip, day 2

We wanted to fill our our second day in Düsseldorf with art. We started with a visit to the K20 Art Museum, which houses works by 20th century masters, including Picasso, members of the Munich Secession, the Blaue Reiter, and so on. Admission was a bit steep at 12 euros but we thoroughly enjoyed the art. 

Following the K20 visit, we had every intention of attending a really cool art market with djs. Unfortunately, we didn't note which district housed the address and the two places we visited were nowhere near where we needed to be. We ended up at the far edge of the local trains and then gave up.

We decided that it was time to head back to get the car, eat some lunch, then head home with a slight detour to Cologne. For lunch, we made a stop to Jade Vegatarische Küche, a vegan and vegetarian Chinese restaurant near the hotel. We enjoyed an inexpensive, filling, and vegan lunch.

After lunch we hopped into the car and made a quick journey to Cologne. I visited the city last year with my cousins and we enjoyed ourselves. However, we only saw about three of the seven Christmas markets. One market was especially curious; it was the gay and lesbian market. Though I'm not part of that community, I was extremely nosy and wanted to know what it would be like. Would there be naughty ornaments? Strangely shaped foods? Lots of sparkly things? I honestly had no idea what to expect so of course I had to find out.

C. and I wandered over after driving around the block several frustrating times while trying to enter the parking garage. The market was similar to most other Christmas markets but there were indeed shiny/sparkly decorations and some naughty chocolates and lebkuchen with very saucy things written on them. There was a booth of men's underoos and a booth with some mermen ornaments, which I thought were pretty cool; if I had a Christmas tree, I probably would have bought one.

The underwear booth! See the shiny decorations to the right?
We were delighted to learn that we were in time for a men's talent show hosted by drag queens. The show was fantastic and we thought that the guys were adorable. The whole show had such a local feeling to it; I wondered if the guys had been talked into competing by their friends. They had to showcase their talents. One guy made snowmen as a fundraiser and another guy did yoga. That totally cracked me up because it's not what I would think of as traditional talent show offerings. See where it felt like they were talked into competing by their friends? The winner lip synced and danced to Beyonce with one of the drag queens as his dance partner, which the crowd enthusiastically received. The whole thing was fantastic! C. and I decided that it was totally worth the trip.

As we headed home, we reflected on our trip and our impressions on Düsseldorf. Though we enjoyed ourselves and were glad that we checked out a new city, we weren't super impressed with Düsseldorf. It just felt kind of...soulless, perhaps. It had been bombed heavily during the war and it seemed to have a lot of ugly post-war buildings. The whole city is great for those who want to shop, but...well, it feels a bit like Mannheim in a very commercial sense (without Mannheim's great music scene). Most cities have some sort of pulse and we just couldn't connect with Düsseldorf's.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Düsseldorf trip, day 1

My friend C. and I decided to spend the weekend of November 29 in Düsseldorf as we hadn't been there before and wanted to check out the Christmas markets.

I made a hotel reservation at the Hotel Astra, which is in the southern outskirts of the city. As I turned down the hotel's road, we ran into traffic resulting from the flea market right in front of the hotel. I was looking forward to perusing it after checking in at the hotel but was denied entry to the parking lot of the hotel. What the heck?! As a result of the flea market, there were no spots available. When I asked the guy guarding the gate where I should park instead, he shrugged his shoulders and said "somewhere downtown." Thanks, dude. I was NOT pleased with any of the situation; I had chosen the hotel because it was inexpensive and had free parking. Since I wasn't from town, of course I wouldn't know a good place to park elsewhere!

Thanks to Mr. GPS finding us a Park and Ride lot, I calmed down from my Hulk Angry mode (I greatly dislike driving anyway so the parking situation didn't make me any happier). We ditched the car at the Südfriedhof P+R lot about two miles from the hotel.  We fumbled a bit with figuring out the tram lines but we were soon on track and made our way to the Hauptbahnhof and then to the tourist information office across the street from it to get some information.

We visited the following places:

-Gut & Gerne Schockolade shop: in this quaint building with hardwood floors and light walls, the chocolates are anything but quaint. The store offers a wide variety of fresh chocolates in interesting gourmet flavors like balsamic caramel (actually really quite good without tasting like salad dressing). The chocolates are presented in display cases throughout the room; ask the staff to bag up your selections. Other gifts, such as chocolate bars, sauces, creams, and assorted sweets are also on offer and an adjoining cafe offers beverages.

-Christmas market at Flinger Strasse. There was a drink hut with a huge Christmas pyramid on top with somewhat frightening characters twirling around. We had no idea who they were or what they meant but I sensed some potential satire.

We wanted NO part of this!

-Christmas market at Marktplatz. There was a Ferris wheel, among other things. We thought that the portion with fronts painted to look like old timey businesses was especially neat.

-St. Lambertus Basilica. Gothic and Baroque art and relics lay beneath modern stained glass windows that manage to enhance, rather than detract from, the interior. We stopped by the parish rummage sale and I picked up some ridiculous tchotkes that I plan to use to fully tease a friend for a somewhat inside joke.

-Stier Royal: we ate dinner at this burger place. I normally would run far, far away from burger places but there was both a vegetarian falafel burger and a vegan chickpea burger option. I picked the latter, served with marinated and grilled veggies on top and enjoyed the surprisingly hearty "burger." The sweet potato fries were crisp and delicious. C. enjoyed her very meaty burger and regular fries. We were impressed by the friendly and attentive waiter who helpfully explained the menu.

-More Christmas markets, followed by a trip to Primark, just because I haven't exploited any child laborers lately. I bought a sweater and a pair of gloves, a purchase that was most definitely influenced by how cold I was after walking around.

There was even a Gepäck Bus, which we took to mean that it was a bus where one could store one's purchases and continue shopping without being weighted down. It appeared that we were correct as we saw another one with an employee checking in some bags from a shopper.

There was an actual human in addition to Santa to watch over the bags.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Markets in Kaiserslautern

Um, I'm a bit behind on this, but better late than never...

As is common with many cities, Kaiserslautern is hosting a Christmas market. It's primarily held around the Stitftsplatz, Stiftskirche, and Schillerplatz. Located in the center of town and in the middle of the pedestrian zone, it's a convenient and cozy place to stop for some Christmas spirit (or spirits like Glühwein - he he).

Market in front of Stiftskirche

Giant Christmas pyramid under which one can order drinks
There is also an arts and crafts market in the Fructhalle, near Schillerplatz. Called the Kulturmarkt vor Weihnachten, the market is continuing until 21 December and is a lovely place to shop for handmade jewelry, soaps, textiles, and more. I enjoyed my trip there this year and here's a blog entry from last year about it.

The Fructhalle is located right across from the tourists' information office downtown. The market is open from 24 November until 21 December and is open daily from 12 p.m. - 7 p.m. There is no admission charge.
Crafts in the Fructhalle

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dodgy Berlin Bear looks dodgy

In Berlin, we saw a very strange Christmas market vendor's stand. It was the day before the market opened and I couldn't figure out what the stand was supposed to be (further research to follow, I guess).

Anyway, this bear painted on the stand is just plain weird. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. He just has a very dodgy look to him.

He looks a bit shifty-eyed and frat boy-ish. Still, something else seemed wrong. Bear has people hands with four fingers that bend in strange ways! He also has hair (that freaks me out more than him wearing clothes, for some reason). I do not recommend trusting this bear for an instant.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What does the fox say? Welcome home

I was at the Frankfurt Airport when I saw a guy carrying what looked like a piece of a cardboard with a dead fox skin and some branches on it. Of course this piqued my curiosity so I had to snap a picture. Was this someone creating a display in a store?

I wasn't sure what I was looking at but I later found my answer as we both waited for our people at the arrivals gates: it was a sign to welcome someone home! I was just seeing the back of it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My week: December 14 ed.

This week has been a roller coaster of stress, Incredible Hulk-angry moments, tiredness, cat surgery, cat acting alternately like a spoiled brat followed by being the sweetest fuzzy dude ever, German learning and lessons, party-throwing/friend hosting & hanging out, favorite Christmas market-visiting, and relaxing in PJs/movie night. I can happily say that the stressful beginning of the week gave way to a relaxed and full of warm fuzzies end of the week.

-Moo had surgery. He had a benign tumor on his calf that the vet thought should still come off. I had to zip him over to the vet before work and was able to pick him up after work.

Of course I had very little time and too many things to do so he had to sit in the cat carrier while I ran to the store to buy glasses for the party I was hosting on the weekend and some treats to mail to my previous coworkers. I felt a bit guilty about that but the stores close early so it had to be that night.

He has been very unhappy about wearing the cone of shame and has been acting out a bit. He found out that he can use the cone as a battering ram of sorts, slamming against the bedroom door and demanding to be let in when I'm sleeping. He even figured out how to get out of an earlier cone of shame! C. had to shove it back on him when I was away at German class. Moo has been demanding and needy since the surgery. Can one blame him? He finally settled down (mostly) by the end of the week. I think it's because he received a lot of attention during the party and from friends staying over.

I made him 3 cat beds and he laid on the house shoes for guests. Silly kitty!

-I had German classes three times. I didn't meet with my tandem speaking partner because of Moo's surgery.

-Work has been incredibly busy. I gave a presentation at another location and rushed to get ready for that. I probably would have worked on it a bit more at home the night before but I just had nothing else to give at that point; I was flustered and exhausted most of the week from everything going on.

-Finally the weekend came! I rushed home to co-host a party. There's no way that I could have done it without the help of my friend C. who's visiting right now. She planned, shopped, cooked, cleaned, and decorated! It was completely awesome and she did a great job. She even bought gold "medals" made of chocolate so I came up with some games so we could award them.

The party was a holiday party and White Elephant gift exchange (optional). Since only two people brought things to exchange, I decided to liven it up by going "shopping" in my house and added some things to the bag so everyone could take something home. Considering that I try not to have too many extra things in my house, it got interesting! One friend won a packet of cat food, which Moo said was okay to give away since it was the friend who normally cat sits him. Guests also won cool things like a package of tissues and a piece of chocolate.

We then played charades that I devised at the last minute and became the hit of the party. I came up with Christmas-related characters or things doing strange activities. For example, Little Baby Jesus received a parking ticket and a Christmas pyramid was angry and breaking ornaments. We were in hysterics as the players acted them out.

I also love that we were such an international group. Half of the guests were from non-Western countries and only three guests speak English as a first language. When I was coming up with characters and situations for charades, I tried to pick things that everyone would know. However, I did have to explain to one guest was a sled was. That was fair enough, as her country doesn't ever see snow!

-Two out-of-town friends spent the night after the party and we had a lazy morning of eating leftovers. One friend left and we then went to the Haus der Nachhaltigkeit's Christmas market in the woods, picking up another friend along the way. I explained that this was my favorite market and my friends loved it too. We drank bio Glühwein (the only kind I'll drink now), wandering among the booths in the forest.

Along the way, we ran into the Big Boss from work (our boss's boss's boss, if that makes sense) and his wife so we said hi. I was surprised to hear that Mrs. Boss did not like the market. She was unhappy because she had gotten bopped by umbrellas (it was raining) and she felt that there wasn't much to buy. I can see where it might not have made for an experience that she would enjoy.

It's still my favorite Christmas market though; I think it's partially because of the lack of a feeling of overt commercialism there. Sure, every booth is selling something, whether it's food, drink, or a product, but items are handmade and high quality. Not everyone needs a sheep's fleece or hand-made brooms. However, it feels like a magical place in the woods where the main point is to celebrate with friends.

-On Sunday, we ran some errands and dropped off our friend M, who had stayed one extra night since it was reasonably late by the time we came home the night before. Later, C. and I had a lazy evening of watching Detroit Unleaded and Adventures in Babysitting, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. It was the perfect ending to a busy and previously stressful week.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My favorite Christmas Market Begins: 13-14 December, Trippstadt

I'm super excited, despite the dreary weather: my all-time favorite Christmas begins in a few hours!

The Haus der Nachhaltigkeit, or House of Sustainability, is a nature center, of sorts, located in Trippstadt, which is twenty minutes south of Kaiserslautern. It is offering its annual one weekend-only "Romantische Waldweihnacht," or "romantic forest Christmas" on its grounds. It is truly a special Christmas market, quite different from most other German markets, being held partially in the forest in a beautiful setting.

Offerings at this market are most often organic, handmade, and high quality. There are many local specialties, including some that are hyper local and put the focus on the forest: it's possible to eat venison and wild boar products made from animals from the very woods!

The market is only open during the second weekend in December and is held in Trippstadt, twenty minutes south of Kaiserslautern. Parking is almost impossible; do not even attempt to drive. I mean it! Instead, enjoy a stress-free (though sometimes packed) ride on the special VRN bus that makes frequent trips during the market. Plus, it allows everyone to enjoy some Glühwein! Group tickets allow for a very inexpensive journey.

For more information:

Haus der Nachhaltigkeit's Website, with more info

My blog entry from last year, detailing my experience

Tips for enjoying the market (#1 tip is: don't drive yourself there! Take the bus!)

Friday, December 12, 2014

A fun new German word

I've been learning many new things and refreshing many old things in the two German classes I'm taking. During the VHS class, we were working on an activity to compare two things and we were given the card below.

I saw Herr Schlange, who put a group of us women in an earlier community ed class into a horrible fit of giggles. I then named another classmate in the American university "Schlangejunge," or Snake Boy, after I had learned that he had eaten snakes. It's a bit of a long story but he didn't mind being called that (though he did rue the day that he fessed up to having eaten them and I teased him for an entire class about that).

Even better yet is "der Regenwurm," or "the rainworm." In English it's just the earthworm. I love the German version; I imagine a worm wearing rain boots (okay, a rain boot) and a little raincoat and hat combo. Isn't the picture from our teacher adorable?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A life-changing moment

One such moment was when I realized that the Italian word "ciao," which is both hello/goodbye, is pronounced (somewhat) like "chow."

I had read it all the time and the word flummoxed me. I had also heard people saying "chow" as a greeting but it took forever for me to put the spelling and pronunciation together. I'm not always the sharpest crayon in the language pack, apparently.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pharmacists really do know everything!

I stopped by the Apotheke (pharmacy) to pick up a prescription. Of course I only had my brain half-inserted and didn't bring enough cash to pay so I told the pharmacist I'd be right back after I got some more. He got a sheepish look on his face and asked if I wanted to know the closest ATM. As soon as he said it, I knew exactly where it was and he apologetically noted: "in front of the lap dance place." I cracked up and told him thanks because I never think of that one and it is indeed the closest!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Berlin mannequins: they're laughing as I'm screaming inside

During the third weekend of November, we took a trip to Berlin. I returned to the Frankfurter Tor Humana, a huge thrift store.

We saw these creepy mannequins, one who appeared to be spray-tanned with orange rouge and the other one was in the midst of a maniacal laugh.  Oh yeah, and they were just torso-length and suspended from the ceiling. I hope that I don't have nightmares. The last mannequin just looks sickly beneath his Sharpied-in facial hair.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My week: December 7 ed.

-I decided that our conversations in the German class needed some spicing up so I started introducing weird sentences and talking about cats. When I was working on my degree at the American university, I talked about cats for three classes in a row so it became my tongue in cheek "thing."

I decided to continue the tradition at the German university. I suggested that the imaginary holiday party we discussed should take place at the Tierheim and that cat food (Kibbles and Bits), chicken, hot cocoa, and Hawaiian Punch should be on the menu. I had to explain Kibbles and Bits and Hawaiian Punch as they're super American. At the party, humans and animals could choose either type of food. To elaborate, I told the story of my high school job in a retirement home where one of the more senile residents showed up at the door, eating cat food.

The main point of this rambling is that I'm now to the point where I can make stupid jokes in German and tell weird stories that are not entirely grammatical but people can understand (as well as they could be understood as they're strange and don't even make much sense in English).

-We may or may not have gone out to dinner at the Thai restaurant that has, as my German friend puts it, "high octane drinks." We then may or may not have drank several of what I call "flaming volcano troughs." I can say with certainty that we parted with side-hugs (we had been talking about the Duggars) and eating snow that fell from the sky (my idea). On the way home we found a chair in a pile of furniture that someone was throwing out. We may or may not have considered taking the chair since I need extras for a party, later becoming disinterested because the chair was not in a usable condition. I can say with certainty that we ran into a drunk bunch of young guys who were thrilled with their friend's discovery of a purse in a trash heap. He was carrying it around, quite proud of himself, reminding me of the purple Teletubby. It was a fantastic night out.

-I had two more German classes. In one, we were using the subjunctive to express wistful thoughts and things that were not actually true. We were supposed to write things like, "the workplace would be a better place if..." I was feeling saucy again so I wrote "if coworkers would not be 'jerks.'" I wrote all of it in German but the "jerks" part in English with quotes. I see things written like this (or sometimes without the quotes) in German signs. This German teacher is a bit strict and doesn't want English used in class so she told me in a conspiratorial voice that she would tell me the German word for jerks and wrote it on my paper. I tried explaining to her that the German word is MUCH stronger than what we'd use in English as one wouldn't say it in a polite conversation but one could use "jerks" instead.

To add to the ridiculousness, in my other German class, we had to jot down some sentences. I thought that it was just for our own use so I grabbed a piece of used paper from my notebook.  Then we were told that we had to hand them in and of course I had used the "jerks" paper. Sigh.

-With my busy schedule and not getting enough alone time (which is very important for even introverts who are still social, such as myself), I've been feeling very tired and somewhat frazzled. Of course it would then make *total* sense that I decided to throw a holiday party next week, because why not add to the stress? I'm thrilled, though, that my friend has taken care of the planning, including decorations and the menu. I am incredibly NOT crafty or creative and she has already decorated my house in a totally cute way. Yippie!

-I went to Heidelberg with my friend who's visiting me right now but actually lives there. A friend, with whom I spent New Year's day hiking, met up with us. As we were waiting for him, we ran into yet another friend who was doing a field trip for work in Heidelberg. I love it when things like that happen! We walked around Heidelberg, stopping at the various Christmas markets and doing some shopping. Everything was soooo busy and crowded, including the train, where everyone had to squeeze in and at some stops, there were announcements to squeeze in even more so that the doors would close. I think it was a combination of football game day and shopping.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The guacamole hitter

I saw this super cute video of a cat playing Whack-a-Mole.

Then I saw this even cuter video of someone (gently) using kittens as a live version of Whack-a-Mole.

I was telling my mom about these videos and she referred to the Whack-a-Mole game as the "Guacamole Hitter." I was incredibly amused by this.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Multitasking in Amsterdam

During our 4th of July trip in Amsterdam*, we tooled around the city and came across this interesting store. One can get a haircut and/or buy skateboards and clothes. I'd love to know the backstory on that one!

Shortcut & Hardware, Amsterdam

*uh, I'm behind on writing about everything and am just now sorting through pictures on my camera.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

This is the worst Wurst I've seen!

During our Halloween celebrations, we stopped by the store to get some more wine and party things. My friend picked up a jar of Halloween Würstchen, which were somehow dyed or marked to show pumpkins on the skin.

My friends took them back to the party and ate them right out of the jar. I don't even...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Veterinarian Review: Dr. Rahimi, Kaiserslautern

The little tables next to the orange chairs say "for your cat box" so owners can put the cage on top of it :)

Kleintierpraxis Rahimi
Lothringer Dell 48, Kaiserslautern
  • Clean, cosy office
  • English-speaking staff (at times, you might need to speak a little more slowly for undertanding)
  • Open until 7 p.m. (great for those who work)
  • Kind veterinarian, who takes the time (and treats!) to help the animal feel more comfortable
  • Located in a residential area in the west side of Kaiserslautern
  • A few parking spots in front of the practice but mostly street parking
  • Cat boarding is available
  • Physiotherapy is available for dogs
  • Wide variety of medical treatments for dogs, cats, and other small animals, including surgery, laboratory work, dentistry, etc.
  • Only cash or German EC (debit card) accepted; payment is expected at time of service
I took Moo to this vet for an appointment and wrote more about it here, but thought I'd give a quick synopsis in this post. I was happy with the service that Dr. Rahimi gave and especially like how he treated Moo.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Some resources for being vegan in Germany

Being vegan takes a bit of added work, but that doesn't mean that one must be stuck eating uninspired salads. Doing a bit of research first makes all the difference. Earlier I wrote some tips for being vegan in Germany. Now I'll share some helpful sources.

  • Happy Cow is a restaurant guide with reviews and listings of vegan restaurants around the world and there is coverage of many areas in Germany. It's a great way to identify some restaurants of interest. There is also information about vegan stores, organizations, and even B&Bs! 
  • A Vegetarian in Germany is an eclectic blog filled with useful reviews of restaurants in and around Saarbrücken (as well as information about living in the area). The author provides helpful information about the menus and the ability of the restaurants to cook vegetarian and vegan dishes or modify existing dishes.
  • Finding Vegan Strength blogger Shannon G. wrote a comprehensive guide to being vegan that was featured on the Germany Ja! blog.
  • Visit the Reformhaus. What, go to jail, you ask? No, silly, go to the health food store; Reformhaus is the German name for that. (I love the name, because I imagine that if the store could talk, it would say that it intends to reform people into veggie and organic eating machines). Alnatura is a chain of health food stores in Germany.
  • Use the interwebs as additional inspiration and a DIY approach; find a new favorite blog or recipe website for ideas. I recently stumbled across The Vegan Stoner and was totally charmed by the site's adorable illustrations and easy, delicious recipes. I have to admit that I a bit confused about the "Stoner" part of the title (after all, there didn't seem to be hemp seed recipes or anything like that). I read on the site that the recipes are so simple that even a stoner could make them. Um, okay. It's a cute site though.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Being vegan in Germany: at home, at a friend's, and at the restaurant

Well, here I am, 30 days into the Vegan Pact I made with some friends. Being vegan in Germany isn't the easiest thing ever, but then again, it's not the hardest thing, either. I would say that it takes some planning and thought, and I would rate it as a bit more difficult than it is to do in the US. I'll discuss some considerations.

At Home
Being vegan at home is the easiest place to do so. Once you have some staples of vegan cooking, it's reasonably easy to whip up something.  I am a huge fan of stockpiling vegan cooking staples to throw together quickly. I will also admit that I'm naughty when I'm a vegan: I don't always buy fresh fruits and vegetables so I turn to dried, canned and frozen goods to take me through the busy times (which is mostly all the time for me).

At a Friend's House
Oh boy, this can get awkward. It's always such a kindness when a friend invites you over for dinner and who wants to hurt someone else's feelings by saying that you can't eat something she cooked for you?

There are several different approaches to take with this. First of all, let your friend know that you appreciate the invitation. Explain that you're vegan and you do have some dietary restrictions; would it be possible to accommodate them? Elaborate on what you can/can't eat as not everyone understands what goes along with being vegan. Offer to bring something (at least you'll have a "safe" thing to eat then). Perhaps you can eat the side dishes? Be diplomatic and be careful with your friend's feelings. After all, she probably just wants to spend a nice evening together and here you're giving her a list of what you can't/can't eat!

At the Restaurant
I have found that being vegan in a traditional German restaurant can be somewhat difficult. Much of German food focuses on meat and potatoes. The potatoes might include some sort of meat (such as Speck)  and/or might be covered in some sort of cheese or cream sauce. Even the salads tend to have dairy in the form of yogurt or cream dressings.

It's not impossible to eat vegan at most German restaurants, but you'll have to think carefully and there's a strong likelihood that you'll end up with a green salad topped with some sort of vinegar and oil dressing. Perhaps a dish can be made in a vegan fashion? It never hurts to ask. If that fails, check out the side dishes and see if a combination of those works.

That's not my favorite dinner, so I like to take a different route for dining out in Germany: I try to visit ethnic restaurants or vegetarian/vegan restaurants. For ethnic foods, I love Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Mexican restaurants. It's easy enough to find vegetarian and vegan foods there.  Even better yet is to visit a vegetarian and vegan restaurant. They're not super common but they are out there.