Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Signs you've been living in the Kaiserslautern Military Community too long

You know you've been living in the KMC too long when...

1. You know better than to talk about That Wing Place (which shall not be named).

2. You've made peace with the fact that sometimes almost always Mexican food is going to have curry powder in it.

3. You start to know what all the acronyms for everything means in the KMC. For example, the KMCC is part of the KMC and one can eat there if he doesn't want to choke down a MRE.

4. You don't choose TKS. You've heard the horror stories.

5. You know people who get inexplicably excited about Starbucks and/or Chipotle. You may or may not be one of those people and you may or may not have driven to Frankfurt for one or the other.

6. You know to call ahead first to an office where you must conduct business. You also know that the phone number, building number, hours of operation, and other important information on the organization's website and/or the Find-It guide will probably be hopelessly out of date. Once you finally have the correct number to call, the person who's supposed to answer it will either be on TDY or the office will be inexplicably closed. If you're a n00b, you drove to the office without calling first and were sent on a wild goose chase. Even if you're an experienced person, you might drive to the office only to find a sign taped up that the office isn't open or it moved for some odd reason.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Roadside candy machines: drama in Kindsbach!

It may seem so innocuous but apparently this poor candy machine in Kindsbach, a suburb of Kaiserslautern, had experienced some rough times.

The note says: "This automat was badly damaged. For the seizure of the brainless young hoodlums a reward will be paid up to 500 euros." Poor candy machine! People need to be nice to these hardworking machines that only wish to dispense candy and tchotchkes, despite the weather and the possibility of health hazards associated with eating things from a machine that is somewhat susceptible to the elements. (This brings a thought: do these things ever get infested by bugs?)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

My week: March 29 ed.

As usual, it was a busy week, made even more "exciting" by the opening of K in Lautern, the new shopping mall in downtown Kaiserslautern. I have mixed feelings on it but I see it as mostly positive as it is a reuse of an existing space.

-I had German classes two times this week. We're reviewing Subjunctive II, which always gets me tied up in knots (for whatever reason, my mouth never wants to say "würde"). As the German About.com page notes, "Despite their nicknames, it is important to understand that the subjunctive (in English or German) is a verb mood, not a verb tense. Both the so-called "past" and "present" subjunctive forms can be used in various tenses in German." Knowing that it's a mood and not a tense makes things so much easier, but the whole verb mood thing is still a bit weird to me. We're reviewing Subjunctive II in order to form subordinate clauses, which flip around the verb order, to introduce another layer of mind-blowing German rules.

-Some colleagues and I tried out restaurants in the new mall. We weren't too excited about the food at any of them. I visited Primark and bought a rain coat and reflective coat for bicycling for 22 euros total. I've been looking for both a while a now, especially the rain coat, since it folds up neatly when not in use for travel. The mall was a complete madhouse, especially the day it opened. It's been a major deal around here. I always say that Kaiserslautern is a small big town so it's almost like local yokels getting all revved up for the county fair (I would be one of the yokels).

-I took my German tandem partner to Ancho's Eule in Erfenbach for dinner. It was quite good; I hadn't been expecting that at all since it's a small restaurant in an out of the way suburb of Kaiserslautern. I ordered an enchilada, which ended up being more similar to a burrito filled with super fresh and deliciously seasoned veggies. Even better yet? The enchilada sauce was homemade, delicious, and NOT sweet like so many other places make around here. The absolute best thing? There was NO curry powder in it, for the win! My friend had a chicken sandwich and liked it too. A more involved review will follow.

-I met up with the language cafe people and ran into a lady from another one of the German classes when I was on the way. It's such a small world!

-I met up with some friends for a Sunday brunch at Cafe Krummel in Kaiserslautern. Dang, does that place have some fantastic cakes and such. It's another place that needs a review.

-My blog post showed up in Young Germany. The funny thing was that I clicked on their blog roundup because there was a posting about learning German. I always enjoy reading about that so I clicked on the link and laughed when I saw that it was my own dang blog!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Making a game out of learning German: spielen und lernen in the classroom

Even though Volkshochschule classes are geared toward adults, teachers of the Deutsch als Fremsprache (German as a Foreign Language) courses often use games and other activities as an opportunity for students to practice speaking German. It's a fun and low-key way to improve vocabulary, work on the imperative case, and practice grammar.

Here are some of the activities from class that our teachers used to help us practice:

1. Children's games, in German: often the rules are more straightforward and the game is simpler, which allows the players to split their concentration between playing and speaking.

2. Word games for adults: we've had great fun in class while playing Tabu, which is the German version of the game that English speakers know as Taboo. During the timed event, the player draws cards with a set of words from a pile; she tries to get her team to guess the word without using any of the words printed on the card. It's a timed event and whichever team guesses the most cards wins. This is a great way to practice vocabulary and use synonyms.

3. Play acting: to encourage us to practice using the correct endings for adjectives and comparative words, our teacher set up a Flohmarkt (flea market) in the classroom, labeling various household items that she brought. Each person led another student through the "market" and described and compared the various items.

4. Throwing things at one another: yes, we actually did this! We would form a circle and would ask one another questions, related to that chapter's theme, at random. Using a koosh ball, the first person chose the second person by tossing the ball and asking the question. This really kept everyone on their feet!

Even though they sound somewhat basic, these activities were well-received by the students and resulted in a lot of laughter. From a perspective of learning theory, they are excellent, incorporating many different learning styles, including bodily-kinesthetic. Traditional classroom methods, especially those geared toward adults, often neglect this style of learning. The traditional idea of classroom lectures doesn't work well for people who need to move or touch things to help learn. By playing games and incorporating movement into learning German, every learner can benefit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Initial restaurant reviews of K in Lautern mall, Kaiserslautern

Today, some colleagues and I joined the insanity that was the grand opening of the K in Lautern mall in Kaiserslautern. It was jam-packed with people, to the point that it was difficult to use the escalators since people would disembark and then just stand there, letting the people behind tumble into them.

As we jostled our way to the food court, we split up and made different culinary decisions. I'll give a basic review of the four places where we purchased food. Spoiler alert: none of them were good.

Mexican Cabana
I opted to eat here. I should have known better. I ordered a plate of what turned out to be lethargic enchiladas, beans, and rice, served with a side of tortilla chips and salsa for 10 euros. I added a virgin strawberry frozen daiquiri for an additional 3,25 euros.

The presentation of the food was unappetizing, slopped onto the plate, and I found that the food itself was unappetizing too. The beans and rice had hardly any taste at all, other than tasting vaguely salty. The enchiladas were covered in what tasted like pizza sauce, not enchilada sauce or even salsa; it was somewhat sweet and I swear that I detected a hint of oregano. The enchiladas were barely warmed and were not appealing.

The daiquiri was drinkable but reminded me of a more expensive version of a 7-11 Slurpee. With the addition of the drink, my meal was more than 13 euros and not worth it, especially considering that it's a food court take-away place. I would much rather spend the same amount of money (if not less) and visit one of the sit-down Mexican restaurants around Kaiserslautern for unauthentic Mexican food that at least tastes decent enough and is presented in a more appealing way.

Manju Indian Express
J ordered daal and rice and only ate a small amount of it; he didn't find it to be good. I tried a bite of it and proclaimed that it tasted like "salty nothingness."

El Chico Taqueria
E ordered three tacos, two of which were in hard shells and one which was in a soft shell. He received what looked like a salad thrown on top of some tacos. He said that there was hardly any meat in the tacos and even after eating all of them, he was left unsatisfied and hungry.

Ciao Bella Italian Food
Since E was still hungry after the disappointing tacos, he bought two slices of pizza and was astounded at how expensive they were; he paid 4,80 for them. He admitted that he wasn't sure if he was overcharged or not. When I asked him what he thought of the pizza, he said "it's better than Anthony's Pizza" on base. I wouldn't take that as a vote of confidence, though, as I've eaten Anthony's pizza once and will not do so again.

None of us were impressed by what we ordered. We went to the food court without high expectations; after all, it's a food court with offerings that are not indigenous to the area. However, we didn't expect that some of the things that we ordered would be unappetizing enough that we wouldn't even finish them. I'm not writing off the food court overall, until I've tried some of the other offerings, but I can say that I will not be in a hurry to return to any of the restaurants that we sampled today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Warning! Do not anger the Kaiserslautern parking meter deities

My friend just learned of the wrath that the Kaiserslautern parking meter readers will bring upon anyone who parks improperly. Her parking permit was an hour expired and she was assessed a 45 euro parking fine as a result. Yikes!

The really crummy thing is that this happened in November and she only just learned about it on Monday. I think it's lousy that it takes so long to get notified.

Take this as a word of warning, visitors and residents of Kaiserslautern: pay close attention to parking meters! It's also important to observe whether it's a shopping district parking meter where one can only park for 2 hours and 55 minutes vs. a parking meter that allows 24-hour parking.

Monday, March 23, 2015

K in Lautern: one more day until the mall's opening

Website for K in Lautern shopping mall
Hours: Monday - Saturdy 0930 - 2000
Downtown Kaiserslautern

Kaiserslautern's citizens are all abuzz about the grand opening of K in Lautern, the new mall in the center of town. It's set to open on Wednesday and there has been a big to-do made of it with lots of advertising. I even saw signs for it in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse this weekend.

The big to-do within my group of friends has been more related to us being smart alecks. It's hard for us to believe that the mall will be ready in time; the area around it is still very much a construction zone. On Saturday, I took the following photos of the progress, knowing that there were only two more work days before the grand opening (they couldn't work on it on Sunday, per German law). The stores looked as if they were under construction too. Even the mannequins in the windows were missing clothing!

As someone who's worked in fast food and who has trained employees, I also wondered how on earth the stores were going to have personnel trained in time for the grand opening when the stores weren't even fitted out yet. I speculated that experienced staff from other stores would come in for the opening or that new staff members were trained at existing stores. I'm a bit nosy about this; I imagine that I'll find out the answer to this eventually.

I walked by the mall tonight and saw through the windows that the stores seem to have really come along; the mannequins are naked no longer and many of the stores have goods in them. The outside, however, is still under construction. My curiosity will be satisfied on Wednesday when the mall opens to the public!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My week: March 22 ed.

My allergies are still bothering me (surprise surprise) but I can breathe a bit better now than I was before. If I could just muster some more energy, that would be great. I'm not sure what there is about allergies that make me so tired.

-On the German learning front: I had German class and a meeting with my tandem partner. I had been bad about speaking German with her during our last few meetings but we got on track. I understood 99% of what she said, except for a few words I didn't have in my vocabulary. Woot woot! I'm lucky to have such a great tandem partner; she speaks very clearly. I also met up with a German language cafe group and a language cafe for German speakers who wanted to practice English. A member of the latter group helped me finish up my homework, which she proclaimed to be difficult.

The one thing that drives me bonkers about my progress in German is that it takes me a long time to "warm up." I need to listen and then talk a lot to find a more fluent flow to the conversation. This just points to the need to practice more. I'm considering looking for an additional tandem partner but I'm not quite sure where in my schedule I could add another time commitment.

-On the work front: I've been putting together training for employees in my organization. I really, really enjoy this. Originally I was going to be a teacher; my undergraduate education focused on that. However, I moved into a different field and area of study and do not regret moving away from the K-12 field. I have really been enjoying working with adults because, for the most part, they are choosing to attend the training but yet we still have moments where we all get excited about learning something new. I love that. I also had some fun conversations with colleagues and helped troubleshoot some issues so that felt really good.

-On Friday, there was a solar eclipse. A colleague and I tried to take pictures of it with our cell phones, which didn't work that great, since we hadn't done the whole pin hole viewing trick.

-I attended a Danish dinner party. We enjoyed open face sandwiches made in the Danish style; some had reindeer, some had roast beef, some had ham, and some had none and ran all the way home. Oops, I couldn't help myself with the little piggies reference. Anyway, I enjoyed one made with bacon but bypassed the others since I don't eat the other meats. It was delicious, for sure, and we finished the meal with gin.

-I returned to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse to meet my friends there. We hiked along the Weinstrasse and enjoyed the almond blossom festival.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Habits that hinder learning German

Learn from my mistakes and avoid these habits if you are attempting to learn German. Your life will be that much better for it, and so will be your mastery of the language.

1. Compartmentalizing German. If you delineate it as "this is German learning time for X minutes and then I'm done" instead of trying to incorporate it into your daily life, you won't make a lot of progress. 

2. Trying to be perfect. It's never a bad idea to think about grammar and proper usage, but your conversation mates might grow old if not bored while you try to perfect all of the articles in your head before you speak.

3. Going back and correcting a sentence after saying it (unless it was understandable or it didn't have the meaning that you intended). This totally breaks up the flow and acts like a verbal red pen. Just keep going!

4. Constantly trying to directly translate idioms. That will only make your head hurt.

5. Always hanging out with people who are the same nationality as you are or who speak the same major language(s) that you do. Even with the best of intentions, you'll most likely end up speaking the majority language that is easier, all the while not practicing German. Of course, it can be difficult to find people who speak no English, for example, so try making a pact with friends to practice a lot of German.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It must be spring in Kaiserslautern

All signs are pointing to the arrival of spring in Kaiserslautern with the following observations:

1. My allergies are making me miserable, more so than my usual baseline. Thank you, flowers and trees. I love how pretty you are but am not happy with your pollen.

2. My favorite ice cream shop, Eiscafe Rialto, has reopened! (review located here) I'm looking forward their delicious treats and the semi-surly demeanor of the proprietor. Okay, I'm only excited about the first part.

3. There are daisies in the lawn at work :) It always makes me smile to see their cheerful little flower faces (full of POLLEN, trying to shorten my life expectancy).

4. The best thing of all has happened: that wonderful glowing orb in the sky has reappeared! It's amazing the difference that having sunlight makes; even though I'm tired from being so busy, I've really gotten a boost from it. It's so nice to drive to and from work in daylight. One doesn't realize just how drab and depressing the cloudy skies of winter are until the sun finally returns in the spring.

Even Mr. Vacuum Cleaner Dude is happy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pfennig Basar 2015: Clowns, marionettes, and...marionette clowns?

I love the Pfennig Basar, the annual rummage sale the first weekend in March that's hosted by a local non-profit women's club in Kaiserslautern. It's a huge sale and benefits the community.

At this year's sale, I noticed a theme. It can be a slightly disturbing theme, depending on how one feels: there seemed to be an unusual number of marionettes, clowns dolls, and clown marionettes for sale. I don't know at what point it becomes creepy to see clown dolls, but my threshold is set to one. This year's sale had quite a few; I'm wondering if someone had donated a collection?

Is that a clown parachuting in?
A box of clowns and marionettes
The clowns scared this teddy bear and made him cry.

Though the clown dolls might have given a few people a fright, the rest of the sale was much fun, with many deals to be found and delicious cake to be eaten.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How I prepared for St. Patrick's Day

I'm not Irish, but I do enjoy some aspects of St. Patrick's Day. In preparation for the celebration, I made cupcakes for a potluck at work. One of our colleagues made a corned beef and sauerkraut stuffing/casserole thing and it was the hit of the potluck! Based on what my colleague told me about the recipe, I would guess that this is similar to the recipe she used if it wasn't the actual recipe.

Even better yet? When I picked up the official mail for work, I did my interpretation of Irish dance in the mail room. I really enjoy harassing people (in a nice way) and I always tease the Post Office workers because they taped a line on the ground that visitors aren't supposed to cross. I regularly taunt them by placing my foot over the line. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I took the harassment to a whole new level by Irish dancing on the wrong side of the line.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The inside scoop on Mäuseroulette

I sometimes find myself afflicted with a sense of insatiable curiosity and must know how things work. Upon reading an account from B., of the blog Ami in Schwabenland, about Mäuseroulette (mouse roulette), I had to know more about it.

She wrote a charming description of the game that was available at the medieval Christmas market in Esslingen. Basically, there is a ring of small medieval-looking houses set up on a table. Bettors place stones on top of the house of their choice. The proprietor lets a pet mouse free and it runs into a house at random. The bettor who had placed her stone on that particular house wins. How cute, huh?

I recently heard the "inside scoop" on the game and was completely thrilled about that because it helped to satisfy my curiosity. I met a German woman who is a seamstress and craftsperson who spends about six months of the year traveling to medieval markets to sell her wares.

Her son runs a Mäuseroulette game at her booth. I asked her if the houses have a snack inside (the word "snack" often makes more sense to Germans than the word "treat"). Oh no, the lady said; the mouse just runs into a house at random because it doesn't like being out in the open.

This family's mouse is not just a tool of the trade; she is part of the family. They have a cat too, and I smiled when the owner told me that they held the mouse up to the cat, saying that the mouse is family and is not to be eaten.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My week: March 15 ed.

-I attended German class and met up with my tandem speaking partner, as is customary.

-I went to a language cafe meet-up with a classmate from last term and his wife and dog. It's the first language cafe where Dog was a language option; how cute it was!

-I purposefully stayed in on Friday night; the unfortunate side-effect was that I missed a party. However, I'm glad that I stayed in. After my illness in February, I'm still feeling under the weather. I think I never really recovered and now my allergies are going nuts with spring on the horizon. I'm stuck with a sinus headache, my asthma is being obnoxious, and I'm completely exhausted by the end of the workday. I think I will make an appointment with my doctor to see if he has a different treatment plan that could help.

-Despite that, I woke up bright and early on the weekend (well, by 8 a.m.). It's a good thing that I did, too, because I needed to bake a pie for a party and it turns out that the party was earlier than I had thought it would be. By 11 a.m., I had baked an apple pie for the party and apple muffins for a potluck, cleaned the hallway, and run a load of laundry. It felt a bit wrong to be that productive on a weekend morning because I usually enjoy sleeping in and being lazy after a busy week. ;-)

-The party was really fun; our group met to celebrate Pi Day (3.14.15), eat pie, and play games. It's such a fun group of silly and smart people. We played charades, my style, in which everyone contributes verbs and nouns on separate strips of paper. The charader (is that a word?) picks a verb and noun at random to perform for hilarious results, especially since our group is a bit warped.

-I also met up with some friends for a grill party on the roof of the host's apartment. It was cold but we were in good company and I can now mark off that I've experienced a German grill party.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Day 1 of Lautern blüht auf

More information about the event here.

I was downtown today for a different event and had a few minutes to visit "Lautern blüht auf," an event hosted by a business association. It's a way to welcome in spring with specials from the merchants, vendors of special goods in tents, and cultural presentations.

For example, the group below presented a cheerful dance routine.

Artisans and community groups set up tents to sell wares and raise awareness of various causes.

Downtown was completely chaotic today. In addition to the Latuern event, there was a soccer match, a political demonstration, and a counter-demonstration.

Friday, March 13, 2015

More adventures in learning German

I was perusing real estate ads downtown and came across one in English. I thought it was funny that they spelled "Garten" wrong. Then I realized that it was in English and that "garden" is correct.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Adventures in learning German

I keep hearing the word "festgenommen" on the radio. I thought maybe that it was something about going to a party or throwing one. I finally got around to looking it up. It means "arrested."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This just slays me

I saw the item below and had quite a few giggles. Should I send a note to the organization to bring to their attention the irony of the course descriptions?

For the record, I must note that Americans wrote this. I would cut non-native speakers of English a lot more slack.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Kaiserslautern in bloom 14-15 March: shopping and events

This upcoming weekend (14-15 March) is the annual event,  "Lautern blüht auf," which means something along the lines of "Kaiserslautern is blooming," is "in bloom," or is "blossoming." It is coordinated by a business association in Kaiserslautern and is a weekend meant to bring shoppers and citizens downtown for store specials, children's activities, performances by local groups, and more. There's even the special event of shopping hours on Sunday, when the stores would normally be closed.

My 2014 visit to included performances by Renaissance pirates; read more here.

2013 was all about a muppet kitty marching band and chasing down the Easter bunny; read more here.

Who knows what 2015 will bring? I'll find out and report.

If you want to attend, here is this year's flyer with the schedule and more pertinent information.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My week: March 8 ed.

Whew, was this week busy! I had German lessons, a meeting with my tandem partner, and a jam-packed weekend.

-Three of us attended a night wine hike in Bad Dürkheim, the Weinbergnacht (literally, the "wine mountain night"). We hiked up the hills above the town and sampled wine and local cuisine. A light show illuminated the vineyards. Tickets sell out every year (the coveted Saturday tickets sold out at least two weeks before the event, if not earlier) and even on Friday, we were swarmed by the crowd. Despite that, it was a lovely evening. I was envious of the people wearing special purses (for lack of better word) to hold their wine cups. Little did I know...

The three of us sat on some stone benches to eat dinner. An older woman sitting behind us was quite curious about us speaking English with various accents, turning around and asking where we were all from; we answered the US, France, and Germany. She thought that was very nice and seemed pleased to practice her English. When she was leaving, she shared how great she thought it was that international young people (har - I'm definitely not so young) were friends and gave me a handmade wine purse that she had made. How cool is that? I told her, in German, "thank you" and that she was very nice.

-I volunteered at the Pfennigbasar.  Whew, it was fun, busy, and a lot of German speaking for me! I spoke German about 60% of the time overall, and about 90% of the time with customers. I did experience a slightly awkward situation: I asked a shopper if I could help her with anything and she started telling me some involved story about...um, I think her family living in the US and them trying to buy her an expensive purse. There was something about her granddaughter and maybe not setting the dinner table. At least that's what I think she was telling me.

Since I couldn't understand the whole thing (and I didn't really want to know such personal information from someone I had only met 30 seconds before!), I just kept nodding and desperately hoping that she wouldn't ask me any questions. About eight panicked minutes later, she said she had to go and patted me amicably on the arm. I wished her a good day and thought, "my, wasn't that interesting!" She was quite nice though, but it's slightly unusual behavior for a German as it is not always customary to make small talk nor talk about very personal matters with strangers.

One of the funny things I heard this weekend: Me: "I eventually want to get a piece of cake." M, a German member of the club, eying the cake booth: "You better go now." Me: "I can wait." M, "No, you must really go and make...what do they call it. A reservation? You need to make a reservation for cake. Germans like cake, you know, and there will be none left." We looked over at the cake table, which was surrounded by Germans munching on cake, and laughed. I went and bought a piece.

Some of my friends from Mannheim visited the sale. They brought me some Turkish pastries from Pasa, which I will enjoy later.We had a laugh because Ma. of course had to buy a box for himself and as he was making his selections, he even ate a pastry while doing so, perhaps to allow himself to think better.

-I had a house guest who was a delight. She invited me to visit in the Eifel region of Germany, where she and her spouse live near a LAKE (!!!! squee!!!). I am really looking forward to a visit this summer for swimming and kayaking because this Great Lakes gal really misses lakes and rivers.

It was a great weekend. I was able to visit with friends who made special trips from out town, meet some interesting new people, and volunteer.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What do Germans have against green peppers?

I drove more than I normally would today because I went to another location to train staff. I listened to the local-ish radio station and caught today's topic, which started in the morning and was still being blathered about during my commute home:

bell peppers, and colors that people like to eat. There was a lively discussion about how no one likes green peppers, which prompted calls from people who did like them. However, they seemed to be in the minority.

I haven't researched this further, but people in the know about Germany: is this really a thing? Do Germans not like green peppers that much?

In the US (or at least in Michigan), red and yellow bell peppers cost more. I'm not sure why but I will admit: I do like their taste a bit more while not displaying any distrust of green peppers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Some mid-week revelations

Here it is, the middle of the week already. The time has come fast and I've realized some things:

-I discovered that I'm taking part two of German B1. The course guide was really confusing and I wondered why the textbook mentioned part two. I confirmed with a classmate. This is a good thing, since I already did part one, and it also explains why it was a bit more difficult than I had expected. I'm thrilled, though; the next term, I can start B2.

-I have been training staff members at another location. I really enjoy teaching people new things and it's so rewarding when students' eyes light up with delight at learning something new.

-Apparently, I've been living under a rock. I just heard of Hozier, a musician, this week, and am hooked on his music. Parts of it remind me of The Black Keys, maybe Jim Morrison, and a mix of everything else too. I even bought his album, which is something I very rarely would do.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

C1 and B1 meet on the train

On my way back home via the train this past weekend, I pulled out my German textbook to make the most of my time. The man sitting across from me was watching me work for a bit. Whatever, I thought. It's not uncommon here in Germany for people to be curious (sometimes to the point of staring).

I think he finally couldn't stand it any more. He asked what language I was studying. I was taken a bit aback because people don't usually make small talk with strangers in public here. Once I recovered myself I said it was German and he asked what my native language is (at this point we had been speaking German). Smiling, he pulled out his own textbook, showing me that he is learning English (he's C1, which is starting to become advanced).

We continued the conversation, code switching between English and German. He thought it was nice that I was learning German. He told me that I need some German friends so I could practice German. I responded that I have some really nice German friends but because our conversations can be rather complicated, we usually speak English.

He was just returning from a New Zealand trip and was keen to practice his English, especially since he doesn't talk to Americans that often. We had a chat for a while. Soon, his train stop came up and he said goodbye as he was on his way to visit family. We wished each other good luck on language learning.

I was a little bit surprised by the exchange, to be honest. As I said, it's not super common for Germans to make unsolicited small talk with strangers. Also, to be honest, I don't project a very welcoming or friendly persona when I'm traveling alone, either. As much as I love Detroit, I have to say that going to school there toughened me up and taught me to be proactive and protect myself especially when traveling alone as a single female. Since this cheery bloke seemed harmless enough and we were surrounded by others, I felt okay having a conversation with him and enjoyed the exchange.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Week: March 1 ed.

After being knock-down sick the week before, I was glad to (basically) return to health (punctuated by some very unhealthy-sounding coughing) and my regular schedule.

-I started the new German class. With the new teacher, I am finding myself needing to adjust to the way she speaks (which does include dialect). This is very good practice for me. The textbook is also a bit of a challenge too. There is a decent amount of vocabulary that I don't know and I am also a bit confused on the sentence construction. I'll have to push myself; this isn't bad, though, as it's a great way to keep one's mind sharp.

-Our group of friends arranged a tandem speaking meet-up. I met another American who attended the same American university that I did for his German classes.

-I had an absolutely lovely weekend. I traveled to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse to spend the day hiking with some newer friends, a German and Romanian couple. We planned to hike through the vineyards and part of the forest from Neustadt to Bad Dürkheim, visiting the light show at the end.

It was a good day to hike; the weather was rather warm (high 40s) for this time of year and it doesn't hurt that the Weinstrasse area is one of the warmest in Germany. We walked from downtown then north through the vineyards. As we walked along, C pointed out the almond trees along the way. They are starting to bud out and he believes that they will be blooming next weekend; it is likely that there will be an almond blossom festival at that time. He's funny; he said that by "festival," it is meant that there will be two tents set up for people hiking along the way (I'll have to confirm that one). He continued to tell us about the trees and plants along the way. I've been wanting to learn more (especially as it relates to foraging) so I was thrilled.

As we progressed through the forest, we stopped at the Waldgasthof Pfalzblick, a restaurant in the woods with a lovely view over the vineyards. K and I drank hot raspberry wine, which was incredibly sweet, and C enjoyed a beer.

The Blick (view) from the Pfalzblick, looking east.
After finishing our drinks, we walked to Wachenheim and visited the Wachtenburg castle ruins. It's possible to climb up the former tower for a great panoramic view over Wachenheim to look west to the Pfalz forest and east toward Mannheim. As we climbed down the tower, our energy was flagging after eight miles of walking (none of us are in shape yet this year). We did manage to rally ourselves to finish the walk a few miles farther in Bad Dürkheim.
Looking up toward the Wachtenburg from the vineyards at its base.

View from the Wachtenburg tower, looking over Wachenheim.
By then, I was waddling a bit because my hip flexors and calves were so sore. I felt a bit like a duck! While I love birds, I don't like walking like one so I tried not to limp too much. We wandered through Bad Dürkheim, which was celebrating (W)Einkaufsnacht, an evening of late night shopping, light shows and decorations, and performances. The name of the event is a play on words; "wein" means wine and "einkauf" comes from "einkaufen," which is shopping. "Nacht" is just night. C and K sampled some wine that was on offer from local vintners. I saw several performers whom I recognized. For example, I saw the van from a touring fire dancing troupe and had a fit of giggles because I have a back story that I share with my other friend C. 
Glowing "sculptures" for (W)Einkaufsnacht.
Then we saw these guys (gals?). Dressed in strange light costumes and walking on stilts, they reminded me of some performers (sans stilts) that I had seen the year before at an Easter Market in  Sankt Wendel. At that point, they were dressed and performed as silly aliens, if indeed they are the same people.
Silly pictures with the performers; see the guy in front?
Soon we were heading back to take the train back to Neustadt. We enjoyed a delicious, late night meal of fondue. C and K had bought packages of fondue from Globus (like a German Wal-mart, but they treat their employees better, I'd imagine). I can recommend it! I've tried to make fondue from scratch before (and it turned into what I call "fon-don't") so I can appreciate a packaged fondue that only requires reheating and tastes quite good. It definitely didn't smell the best, though; it was very strong and we made jokes about it actually being our feet after a day of hiking.

The next morning, they cooked a lovely breakfast and gave me a gift of homemade Quitten (quince) jelly. I thanked them for the lovely time and hopped on a train to Mannheim to meet up with some other friends for lunch. Lest one thinks I'm a hobbit and eat a ton of meals, I had a small amount of breakfast so I could eat a small lunch too. ;-)  We ate at Meydan, which is in the shopping district of Mannheim (note to self: walk all the way to the main gates of the schloss next time and then walk straight there! Silly self, I always don't walk down far enough and get confused).

My friends brought a new friend of theirs and he wasn't that familiar with Mannheim. I told him about the wonders of Pasa, a Turkish bakery just around the corner. There are delicious pastries there so he just had to see it. We laughed as he bought almost one of everything. He had to take pictures of the place and rated it online even before he tried anything; we had a good chuckle at his enthusiasm. Pasa really is good though!

With a bag of pastries in tow and hugs to my friends, I trundled off back to the train station to take the train home. I was incredibly satisfied and filled with warm fuzzies (and Pide). It was a perfect ending to a wonderful weekend spent with friends, new and old.