Sunday, July 31, 2016

A loosely defined problem

Since I spend some of my free time strolling around downtown areas of Germany, especially the  Fußgängerzone (pedestrian zone) of Kaiserslautern if I'm home on weekends, I've found some wonderful treats here. One of my addictions is loose-leaf tea but I'd like to say it's a loosely defined problem ;)

I hardly ever drank tea in the US; when I did, it was herbal tea packaged in tea bags and made by big corporations. I thought that tea was okay, but not that great. However, after wandering a downtown area and picking up a bag of loose-leaf herbal tea on a whim, I found that I like it so much better. In Kaiserslautern alone, there are some fun tea shops, including TeeGschwendner, which is a chain; Teehaus Elsässer, which is kooky and fun (I reviewed it here); and the fair trade store just down the street from the Teehaus.

The loose-leaf tea seems to have a much more vibrant taste. I feel as if some of the bagged teas seemed somehow strangely chemical-y, which sounds totally bonkers, I'm sure. However, maybe there's something to that since they do have the bags and it's possible that they could've been made from bleached material. The added bonus of loose-leaf tea is that there's less packaging and it's easy to compost. I'm not sure if loose-leaf tea is cheaper; it normally costs between 2.50-5 euros per 100 grams. I get a good number of cups of tea per bag.

Especially during the summer months, I like to make iced tea. I fill up an infuser with tea and let it soak in a cup or two of boiled water, removing it after. Then I fill the rest of the jug with cold water and stick it in the fridge, and enjoy a drink of it when it's cold. There are no added sweeteners nor overly strong flavors for me. I like a drink that has a decent flavor yet is still somewhat subtle. Of course, one could add more tea and dump in sweeteners, but the drink is very pleasant by itself.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In which I make an expat living in Germany joke

Here's my attempt at expat living in Germany humor.

Person one: "Tell me something hot."

Person two: "It's summer and I live in the Dachgeschoss."

Monday, July 25, 2016

My week: June 19 ed.

It's been more than a month since I've written one of these updates. It was for a very good reason: I took a much-needed vacation to the US! It's the longest vacation from work that I've taken since...I think I was 13. I'm serious; I've been working since I was 12, starting with babysitting and a paper route, and it's been a long time since such a vacation. Doesn't that sound dramatic?

Of course, I was busy right until the end. I had the pleasant surprise of one of our colleagues (different department, same organization) from the US stop by. Originally we were going to try to meet for dinner but I'd really hoped to have an early night in and we wouldn't have been able to go until late. Instead, we managed to have a catch-up lunch, which was a bit calmer than the last time we'd all met and almost fell into the San Antonio River (from laughing).

That night, I double-checked my packing and hung out with Moo a bit. Since I usually pack somewhat last-minute the night before a trip, this time I decided to have my act together and have 95% of the packing done a few days before I left. The strange thing was that I didn't feel completely at ease; I then felt as if I was forgetting something. Gah! If only I could find a happy medium. One of these days I'm going to write up checklists or something. I have a lot of respect for super-organized people who have their act together all the time. I always finish what I need to do, but in my personal life, it's not usually done in an orderly manner.

The next morning, I had the Airport Runner shuttle service pick me up (review to follow; I have enjoyed their service). Unless there's a conveniently-timed Flixbus and I don't leave my car at work, I think that from now on, I'm going to use the shuttle to get to the airport instead of taking the train. I don't have a BahnCard right now and the shuttle isn't much more expensive than a regularly-priced train ticket. Plus, the shuttle is way more convenient.

When I arrived at the Frankfurt Airport, I stumbled upon the yoga room, next to the prayer rooms. This was a fortunate find; I like to stretch before a flight but don't like looking like some weirdo working out in the seating area.

I had to pick up a connecting flight in North Carolina. A positive result of this (the only one I could see, actually, especially after how that state treats some of its citizens) was that a friend I met during high school lives near the airport. She kindly picked me up and we enjoyed lunch at a BBQ place. A lot has changed since we last hung out; she now has a young daughter and is pregnant with her second child. Dang, how the years fly, especially when one lives abroad!

The rest of the flight was uneventful and I arrived in Grand Rapids in the evening. The next day, my mom and I went shopping for supplies related to the festival I'd be attending the next day. I had the great idea to make Käsespätzle for about 40 people and serve it while wearing a Dirndl. This is absolutely not that strange for this festival.

As any good mother-daughter team should do, we bonded over hours of making homemade Käsespätzle -- when it was 80 something degrees out and until 1:30 a.m. My mom's always had my back like that; she's an awesome one. The whole operation was a bit daunting since I've never made Käsespätzle for anyone other than myself, much less for 40 people! Also, we didn't have a Spätzle press so we used a cheese grater instead. I think it took about 3 hours and we trashed the kitchen.

My friend H picked me up the next morning and off we went. The festival was fantastic and it really felt like coming home. It's my third time attending and I love the freedom of expression. As I said, it was not at all weird that I was wearing a Dirndl and serving German food; in fact, people stopping by our camp were happy to try what I'd cooked and I was even able to speak German with some of them.

I'm still smiling about the festival. I caught up with friends I haven't seen in years; in fact, some of them, I haven't seen in about five years or so. It was an excellent start to the trip.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Kaiserslautern gets weird

Can I just say, what the heck, Kaiserslautern? I go away for a month and when I come back you're total verrückt!

I went downtown for dinner earlier this week because I had nothing at home. As I was eating my burrito bowl, two guys were yelling, singing, and blabbing on about "Jesus Christus" as they paced around, agitated. There seemed to be no takers on what they were peddling, and I'm sure that if someone were mildly interested in that info, their delivery method would not encourage anyone.

On the next block, a straight-up neo Nazi, dressed in red and black and Lonsdale (in case there was any question about his affiliation) was carrying around a boom box that was blaring music. Farther down the road, some undercover cops were arresting a migrant. To top it off, a(n American?) guy without a shirt was blabbing "so what that I don't have a shirt on? I look good. Are you going to arrest me? Now I'm talking. So what?" He did have a point; he did look good, but what on earth was going on downtown that all the nutty people were coming out?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kaiserslautern's Kunstautomat

About two years ago, I saw a Kunstautomat in Nuremberg. It's a former cigarette vending machine that's been converted to vend art. How cool is that? I wrote about it here and here.

I recently returned from a vacation in the US and found out that Kaiserslautern will not have only one, but two, Kunstautomaten, installed this month. Of course I was curious and had to go find them.

The first one is on the southeast corner of Stiftskirche, somewhere near the free-standing Imbiss. Each piece of art costs four euros; the machine accepts one and two Euro coins, and artists are both local and regional.

I shoved my coins in and pulled out one of the locally labeled drawers. In the packet, designed to look similar to a cigarette box, there was a small white piece of paper with an embossed relief in it. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it's interesting, and I was glad to satisfy my curiosity.

It hadn't opened yet when I stopped by, but by now the other Automat at the Union Studio will be open too. I stalked it (on the west side of the building) and took a picture of it before its unveiling. If you're in Kaiserslautern, take a look!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Differences between the US & Germany: music in restaurants

Service in restaurants in the US and Germany is a hot topic among expats, and can effect some heated discussions. There are some good cases for either side, for sure. One issue is the playing of music at restaurants: although it is not the rule, it is quite common for American restaurants to play music and it for it often to be quite loud, whereas German restaurants tend to have no music or it tends to be quieter.

I side firmly with the German restaurants on this one. Going out to eat with one's family or friends is not just a time of sustenance; instead, it is meant to be a time to relax and enjoy the company of one's dining companions.  If the music is too loud, it's hard to hear and it's also unpleasant to have to shout to be heard. Since the focus is on conversation and a relaxed evening, it's not a surprise to find that many German restaurants don't play music.

On the other hand, many American restaurants do, and it can create quite the cacophony! The music is often rather loud and patrons have to speak louder to be heard over it. As it is, Americans are considered to be loud, but who knows if this is a chicken or the egg question as it relates to noise at restaurants.

I would much rather meet my friends and dine somewhere without music. I'm there to spend time with them, not to try to yell over music to be heard. I was at a hotel restaurant in Minnesota and could barely stand to stay there. We were seated in the corner and had to listen to a staticky radio station playing country music (which I abhor) while the bar that was through the French doors was blaring rock music. Meanwhile, the kitchen was playing its own station! It was an awful, loud mix of everything. I let the waitress know that it was a bit overwhelming to be able to hear three loud radio stations in one spot and asked if she could do anything about it. She did get the kitchen to turn down their music a bit. However, it was still loud and distracting. I gave up at that point and we quickly finished dinner.

Give me the peace and (relative) quiet of a German restaurant any day over this!