Monday, February 29, 2016

Product review: Backwerk Vegan Sandwich

It's Germany.

If you're a vegan and you need food from a chain store that's not a grocery store, what are you going to eat?

That's a question I asked myself last month, as I reverted to be vegan for a new year's reboot. It's hard enough to find vegan food in the US; once I was reduced to ordering a bowl of oatmeal and some French fries from a diner. In Germany, it's even harder because this is the land of meat n' potatoes or salads drenched in yogurt dressing.

Backwerk, a chain of bakeries, offered a pleasant surprise with their new vegan menu. One can choose among wraps, bagels, and sandwiches filled vegetables, falafel, avacados, and/or tofu. Vegan yogurt topped with fruit is also available.

I bought the "Frische Schnitte Vollkorn Vegan" sandwich, which was on whole-grain bread with a vegan spread which seemed somewhere between a butter and a fake cream cheese, with tomatoes, rocket lettuce, and cucumbers inside. I enjoyed the nutty, thick bread and found it quite filling, though not calorie dense - a win! I think it could have used some more vegetables inside but it hit the spot and cost less than 3 euros. For vegans who need something on the go, Backwerk's offerings can help one avoid a sad and unhealthful lunch of pommes frites.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

My DW language learning material thought of the day

Warning: this contains spoilers if you use the Deutsche Welle German-learning materials. However, since the point is to learn the language, it's probably not the end of the wold.


Dear Deutsche Welle: thank you for the free language learning materials. They're well-produced and interesting enough. However, what the heck is up with the themes of really weird boy/girlfriends? For example, Jojo sucht not only Glück, but also tried to find the guy who stood her up all the time even though she moved from another country to Germany to date him (and he ended up being a creepy stalker, which strangely enough didn't bother her friends). I'm getting ready to listen to the Warum Nicht podcast and it's about Andreas and his invisible ex. Does he hallucinate? Does she really exist? Or is it just that DW couldn't afford a female narrator too?


Despite these irregularities, DW has some great materials to help German learners and everything is free. Check it out with this link.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 Kaiserslautern Pfennigbasar: 4-6 March

Yippie! It's almost time for a most amazing event: the German American & International Women's Club of Kaiserslautern will be hosting their annual Pfennig Bazaar (auf deustch, Pfennigbasar) again in March.

March 4-6 2016,
March 4: 11 am-6 pm
March 5-6: 10 am - 5 pm

Pfennigbasar at the
Veranstaltungshalle (Banquet Hall)
An der Kalause 9
67659 Kaiserslautern

An der Kalause 9 · 67659 Kaiserslautern
An der Kalause 9 · 67659 Kaiserslautern)

The Bazaar is a major fundraiser for the club and is a giant rummage sale at the Veranstaltungshalle located just across from the main entrance to the Gartenschau. There are many great deals to be found.

The goods for sale are organized very nicely, by various departments. Beyond that, the sale is complete mayhem. Be prepared to be jostled, but all in the pursuit of finding some awesome deals and supporting a great non-profit organization.

Want some tips and more information for shopping at this crazy event? I wrote a whole entry about my experiences one year; click here to read more.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My week: 21 February ed.

This week flew by. (Gee, is that a theme here or what?)

-I met with my tandem partner and also met two new tandem partners. Yes, I'm "cheating" on my original tandem partner. I really want to step up my German learning so I'm hoping to meet with each person at least once a week. In addition to one lesson a week, that's four days of practicing German plus some homework on the other days. Phew! I also attended a language meeting, which was enjoyable, as always.

My new German class started this week and it's C1. I had hoped for the other part of B2 but it wasn't available and I didn't want to repeat the first part so I went with C1. I worried that it was going to be above my head but after attending the first class, I feel fine because I'm probably in at least the top half of the class as far as understanding and speaking. My new tandem partner confirmed that I speak clearly and am understandable (if not always correct - he didn't say that though ;) so I think I'll be fine. I also like the new teacher's teaching style and feel that we'll learn quickly with him.

-A group of us went out to a local restaurant for dinner and karaoke. It was both a major disaster and a hilarious save. When we got there, the restaurant was very cold because the heat had been out for several days. There was no real waiter, just the friend of the owner, who had absolutely no idea what he was doing. Seriously! He didn't know what black tea was or if that was the kind of tea on the menu. He took about 10 minutes to take our order and got it wrong. The owner returned and re-took our order but messed it up too. My friends ended up dancing to salsa because it was so cold and they needed to stay warm. When we wanted to sing karaoke, the owner didn't know how to use the equipment. Despite all the failures, we had fun. Some of the ladies danced with the owner and his friend; we made up songs and screeched into the microphone. We were the only guests except for a random elderly German gentleman who stopped in for a beer. He looked both bemused and confused by everything. When I returned home, my stomach hurt from laughing so hard. It was an incredibly absurd evening.

-Our social group had a lunch and games day. The Americans engaged in a heated discussion about whether carbonated beverages are called pop or soda. Of course pop is the correct answer. Those who weren't from the US were caught in the debate's crossfire and looked like deer in the headlights, which was a bit hilarious. It's a hot topic, I tell you.

-Oh, man. I found this video. I can't tell if my life has been enhanced or ruined by this.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The annual Pfennigbasar (charity rummage sale) seeks donations

It's that time again! Every March, the German American & International Women's Club of Kaiserslautern hosts the Pfennigbasar. It is a giant rummage sale that serves as the club’s main fundraiser. The non-profit organization aims to foster German and American (as well as international) friendships and it is involved in both charitable and social works.

Here's your chance to get involved: you can donate extra items that you have at home. The Club will be hosting several collection days for items to sell at the rummage sale.

Collection times
Saturdays from 0900-1200 at Hackstrasse 4, Kaiserslatuern (through February 27)

2 March from 0900-1800 at the Gartenschauhalle,
An der Kalause 9
67659 Kaiserslautern

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The bothering gnome

Some of my family members keep track of my adventures and wonder if I ever work. Indeed, I work full-time, yet it doesn't feel like a chore. I'm also lucky that I thoroughly enjoy my job, my coworkers, and our customers.

We mainly support our internal customers; that is, our colleagues who provide service to our target population. This is very enjoyable; our colleagues are fun, smart, and service-oriented. Some of them call us quite a bit, mostly because they're very engaged in our processes.

S calls us often; he's always on the ball with our initiatives. He's a good egg and I always enjoy our conversations. One time I mentioned how I talk to our customers when they do something that doesn't fit in with our organization's rules. I always talk about the situation in the passive voice. While it's not exactly good style, it helps diffuse a situation with customers and it avoids the accusatory "YOU did X wrong" since that is not a positive experience for anyone. I pretend that it's little invisible gnomes who did the misdeed and concentrate on solving the situation. Obviously I don't tell the customer that as it would probably sound a bit insane.

S thought this was funny and somehow he decided he's a bothering gnome. Since he's German it seems to work. Now, every time he calls, he chuckles and says that the bothering gnome is on the phone. This stemmed from his call where he had a lot of questions. He had promised me that he'd only ask 3 questions. Those questions multiplied so I teased him and said he was only entitled to 3 questions. He's a quick one so he asked, "per day or per phone call? What about if I have my staff members call? Do they get 3 more questions?" From that time, he identifies himself as the bothering gnome when calls. I'm happy to answer the gnome phone.

My week: February 14 ed.

Oh. My. Goodness.

This week was intense! It was also awesome. I reveled in a week full of activities and made it through the weekend without falling asleep in my Ghourmeh Sabzi. Even better yet? My scientist friend from Freiburg, S, visited for the week while she was conducting research at our local uni. She fell in love with Moo and now he has yet one more fan club member.

-It was the last week of the uni German classes. We played games in our class, including Querdenker ("out of the box" thinker), Tabu, and more. Class members brought in food for a mini potluck, which is always fun because people often bring in treats from their home countries. We sampled Russian cookies and an interesting drink from Indonesia called "Bandrek 2 Pigeons." It is a drink powder that is gingery and peppery with smoky tones. It's one of those things that I'm not sure if I like it or not. I can also believe that if I were to drink it more often, I would grow to enjoy it. That might make no sense at all, but that's how I felt about hummus originally and now I love hummus.

-My tandem partner and I tried out a new restaurant called Schubis (more to follow) where we enjoyed a tasty meal and good service. I also attended a language meeting and a cultural evening.

-It was the annual Grünkohlessenabend (kale eating evening)! The ladies' club hosts this cultural event to acquaint attendees with northern German cuisine, culture, and, let's be honest here, ways of drinking. Here's a more detailed description of what exactly happens at this event; I wrote this after attending last year's event.

The "tools" of the trade - one spoon for drinking and one to extinguish the fire.
This is my second time attending, so I knew what to expect. Of course my friend W was invited, too, since she was an excellent, shenanigan-inducing, dirndl-out-of-place-wearing partner in crime at last year's dinner. We introduced Scientist Friend S to the joys of northern German cooking and their varied ways of drinking alcohol too.

The three of sat next to two sassy American ladies and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, doling out sausages, kale, and the shots of liquor that we could drink out of a spoon or from a flaming row of shot glasses that used a wooden shoe as a serving tray. Dang, do those northern Germans know how to party!

Flaming alcohol. Let it cool first before drinking it!

 I even (accidentally) set the table on fire and found myself gleefully exclaiming, "happens every year!" (Ermergerd, I'm turning into a regular!) I felt a bit distrustful of drinking the alcohol that was on fire. Turning to W, I said, "Didn't one of us burn her mouth on this? For some reason that stands out to me." Well, apparently I was the dummy who did that. Maybe I didn't remember who suffered from it but at least I didn't repeat the same mistake this time.

-I drove S back to Freiburg. On the way back, we stopped in Colmar for a rainy visit. We walked through the downtown area, using the map with the walking tour, which we received from a very friendly and helpful employee at the tourist center. Even though I'm not really supposed to eat sweets right now (I'm working on a cleanse), I said forget it, I want some French treats and stopped at a bakery. It dawned on me that I had no idea what language to use in the bakery since I can't speak French. I watched the person ahead of me and she spoke German so that's what I did too. Phew! I felt somewhat at home. Since Colmar is so close to the German border, it makes sense that residents would be multilingual.

I found a surprise: a restaurant named "Cafe Le Michigan." It even knocked off the logo for the University of Michigan. It's funny to see a bit of home in France.

Finishing with Colmar, we arrived in Freiburg and ran to an international grocery store, Daria, to grab some Persian food. I'm totally hooked on Ghourmeh Sabzi, which is a mix of green herbs and kidney beans (sometimes with meat too). I grabbed a couple of cans of it to take home with me.

The next day, we took a bus to Basel in Swizterland, an easy hour-long journey. We visited some museums and wandered around in the rain again, running into people preparing for the Fasnacht celebrations to be held the next day. We took the train back and finished the weekend with dinner at Enchilada, a Mexican restaurant in Freiburg, enjoying the Sunday buffet.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A playful way to practice German

In several classes and some language meetups, we've practiced German in a childlike way: by playing children's games. At first it seems a bit silly to play games intended for school-age children, but when one is a beginner or intermediate level learner, the games are very helpful. The learner can focus on speaking the foreign language instead of worrying about higher-level game strategies.

Absolute beginners can start with games intended for young children, such as Go Fish or memory games. Those with more experience can move on to games like Tabu (Taboo) or Querdenker ("lateral thinker" or someone who thinks outside of the box). Those who really want to ramp up their brains can play Äpfel zu Äpfeln, the German version of Apples to Apples. It presents not only a vocabulary challenge but also a cultural knowledge challenge too.

Board games can quickly become expensive when brand new so it pays (har har) to find used ones. I picked up two games for 6 euros total at the local thrift stores in Kaiserslautern, the Schatzkiste and Fairness. I'm looking forward to having some friends over so we can play!

What are your favorite games to play to help learn a foreign language?

Monday, February 15, 2016

My week: February 7 ed.

My main focus this week was the final test for my German class. This time, I knew that I needed to study the format of letters (both formal and informal) better because that's a major part of the grade. Listening comprehension is also big but it's something that's a bit less focused for studying needs.

I felt as if I had bombed the test; there was one section where I only knew one answer out of ten! It was a miserable section; we had to fill in the blanks with missing words. That is actually quite harder than one would expect, and the test was even worse because it was an article about Olympic sports and I don't know that subject or vocabulary well at all (and to be honest, I have absolutely no interest in it). We had practiced with a similar exercise in class and did much better because it was on a familiar topic, watching movies.

I was in a foul mood after this because I felt like a failure and that I had been feeling too good about my German learning. Every time I start to feel confident, I feel as if I get slapped down somehow. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic or whiny; I just feel that it's a sign that I should feel more guarded about my progress.

I had to shake these feelings off because I was on my way to the Chinese spring celebration at the Uni. I met one of my other classmates there and she said she had a difficult time with the fill-in-the-blanks section too. As we were speaking, my American friend K showed up and a classmate from last term bumped into us too. My mood improved as we caught up.

Everyone had to go; I stayed behind and bought some Chinese food and ran into someone from another language group; we then sat together to watch the cultural program. I've recently met her and enjoyed getting to know her more. I had to stifle some giggles during the very talented performance of a dancer. I kept thinking that the graceful dancer's costume still looked like a wacky waving arm guy. It was no fault of her own; I have a bit of an obsession with them, thanks to my cousins.

Here's a funny clip from a game that seems to be a form of charades mixed with the telephone game. It was hilarious! This guy is about 2 people deep in acting out what was supposed to be "tofu." Obviously no one guessed that correctly.

I also watched a play that was entirely in German. I took my friend, A. The ridiculous thing is that while we understood most of the play, we weren't exactly sure what really happened at the very end because the actors were off stage and yelling their lines. D'oh! See what I mean about not overestimating one's foreign language skills?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My week: January 31 ed.

Phew! I felt very accomplished to have gotten everything done this week, especially because it was a very social time.

-Language learning: I attended the last meeting of the Volkshochschule class, horrified a classmate there, and also attended the other two German classes. I met with my tandem partner and was very touched that her language goal is to sound like how I sound one day. That may or may not be a good thing; next thing she knows, she'll be playing euchre. For the record, I'm not a very good Michigander because I don't know how to play it! I prefer to play Uno at the bar, but that's another story.

Besides my four evenings of language learning, I also crammed in a visit to a newer language group. Everyone meets to practice German (or other languages) through games and other activities. To start with, we played a version of musical chairs. I enjoyed it and plan to go as much as I can, depending on my upcoming schedule. As it was, I stopped by this meeting before attending my German lesson.

-I also planned a baby shower for a colleague at work. Since she's far from her family, we wanted to put together a nice little party for her and we collaborated to make it work; I made the lunch, decorated, and found little games to play online and my colleagues made the cake and brought the decorations. I even made the obligatory lemon pop/sherbet punch.

-Feeling even more ambitious, I planned an outing to Mannheim. We first ate dinner at Bustan, a new Persian restaurant. It was delicious though slightly expensive for those on a budget. From there, we hiked through the rain and a beautiful section of town to Luisenpark for the Winterlights exhibition. The park is lit up with various light displays. We loved a psychedelic paisley pattern over a bridge and took some fun group photos where we took on the appearance of some wildly colorful beasts. Entry was six euros. Would I say that it's worth it? Well, I'd say that if you want to make a trip to Mannheim to see the city, have a good meal, then visit the light show, then it would be okay. However, one can live without seeing the light show.

Most of the group returned home but I stayed in Mannheim with the friends who live there. I stayed up late with L, watching Rick and Morty, a cartoon from Adult Swim. That show is so funny and wrong. I kept getting this Back to the Future vibe from it, even though the humor is a lot naughtier. Later, I read up on the show and learned that it's very loosely based on Mary and Doc Brown. Okay, that makes sense.

The next day, we traveled to Weinheim to visit the sauna. It was a year and one week from the last time we did this. This time, though, my friend's baby was born instead of being in a state of gestation so that was a bit surreal for him to visit the pool. I ended the trip by bashing my finger in one of the slides and cracking my nail halfway down. It didn't bleed much but was an awkwardly-placed injury that's going to take a long time to heal.

Beyond that, it was a great week. It was a pleasant surprise that I managed to accomplish everything. I definitely relied on lists and lists to keep everything together!