Friday, March 24, 2017

My week: March 19 ed.

This week was stressful, friend-filled, warm fuzzy-filled, with another dose of stressfulness.

The week before, a German lady hit and totalled my car. She was the one who almost immediately asked where I learned to speak such good German. Looking back, I can admit how absurd it was that this was about the second thing she said to me. We then had some conversations about how we were like a tv program for the obnoxiously nosy bystanders as we waited for the police. One nutty woman even came nearer for a better look at the crumpled cars then walked away, smirking. Oh, for Pete's sake!

Anyway, I spent much of my week dealing with the car issues but on top of that my calendar was full. I felt a bit frazzled but not full-out stressed (believe me, I've been way more stressed than this before and made it through everything). Despite not feeling that mentally stressed, I couldn't sleep well; I was getting about 5 hours a night and felt as if I was going to get sick. I was thankful to catch up with sleep on the weekend, which seemed to reset everything.

I met with my tandem partner and she had put together more practice activities for the telc B2 test. Can I just say that the test's speaking components are so boring? I am getting sick of reading an article about a touchy topic and then explaining my opinion about it. I'm fine with conversations in German but I don't enjoy making a presentation. Despite this, I do greatly appreciate that my friend is willing to help me practice with these exercises because they must be boring for her, too, and it's a great help to prepare for the exam.

In addition to my other activities, I decided to join a club in the German community. It's all German speaking, all the time. Actually, the leader did have a side conversation with me and very kindly offered to speak English. I politely declined, since it's a German club, and feel that it's only right to speak German there (if I weren't fluent enough to grasp mostly everything going on, I wouldn't have joined). Man, if I had two hours or more of speaking full-on German a day, I'd be up to C2 reasonably fast.

I mentioned a Really Big Idea I had and some members were interested. It's an idea developed by a community group in Australia and it helps protect the environment, reduces waste, saves money, and unites the community. Obviously it's right up my alley and the other women were very interested, too. I'd like to work on the behind-the-scenes planning and have the other club members be the official face of the program because I don't really want to be on tv again after my five minutes of fame. Plus, I think I've embarrassed myself enough by speaking halting German in front of the whole (local tv-viewing) world. I've already been thinking about other community groups we could include, as well as stores and sponsors. Press your thumbs for me that we can pull this off :)

German class also met as usual, but I had such a hard time concentrating because I was stressed about the car. I had taken some time off to go car shopping and visited about ten car dealers. They were polite and helpful but it's not something I enjoy.

I met with another club and participated in some of their activities. I'm hoping to pull them into the Really Big Idea too as it fits their mission well.

During the weekend, I looked at cars some more but had already mostly decided on a particular one so was able to back off the search.

Another group was offering a cooking class so I joined that and enjoyed myself. The funny thing was that I didn't eat any of the main dishes that we had cooked. I really don't care for fish, and that was in most of the dishes. I was happy to learn about another cuisine (even if it doesn't appeal to me personally :) and destress with some company and cooking so I didn't mind only being able to eat mashed potatoes and a carrot salad. The organizer was sweet; when he found out that I didn't eat most of the stuff we were making, he was worried that I wouldn't have anything and wanted to know what he could do. I told him I'd have no problems eating the potatoes and salad and not to worry.

Some friends and I met on Sunday to wander around downtown Kaiserslautern for the advertising association's event "Kaiserslautern in Bloom" (KL blueht auf). Marching bands assaulted the city with their raucous, fun-loving tunes and the city was awash with people. My friends W and M from an hour away made a quick appearance and we shared some good laughs (and our elbow sidehugs). Plus, A and I finally caught up. Normally we hang out quite a bit but we've both been busy and/or traveling. After the downtown events, I invited her over for homemade pizza. We chatted and hung with Moo, a peaceful end to a stressful week.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poland: a Katowice and Krakow Trip, day 1

In February, my friend A and I took an extended weekend trip to Poland. We caught a low-cost flight on a Saturday night from Frankfurt Hahn and before we knew it, we were in Poland.

We hopped into the shuttle we had the forethought to book with our plane ticket and within 30 minutes, we had arrived in Katowice city proper. We asked the driver where the bus station was because we were going to use that to navigate to our hotel. He asked our hotel name and offered to drop us off because it was on our way back. Awesome! It wasn't a super long walk, but it was late and cold and we were tired so we welcomed the good fortune.

We stayed at the Novotel Katowice Centrum, which is near the university, and even better yet, the main part of the Silesian Museum (though sadly we had very little time there during the trip). It's about a fifteen minute (easy) walk to the heart of downtown and the main bus and train stations.

It was one of the less inexpensive hotels to choose for our flight package and it suited us just fine. Actually, it offered more amenities than I had expected (yes, I'll admit, I was in a hurry during booking and didn't look at too much). A pool, hot tub, and even a casino are available. We didn't have any interest in any of those things but were happy with our room, which included a refrigerator. Had we wanted to buy snacks, we would've had a cold place for them. Since we normally stay at hostels, it was also quite a luxury to find ample towels, nice soaps, free coffee and tea with a corresponding coffee pot. We were living the high life, I tell ya! 

My initial impressions of Katowice, which are not entirely to be trusted after arriving late and shivering, was as follows:

-Oh, this city is way bigger than I had thought; there are quite a few apartment blocks and even some skyscrapers with shorter buildings tucked in.

-The air smells...uh, polluted, like sulfur. I later read this article from Well, That Was Different, and it explained a lot. I wish I had read it ahead of time.

-Why is there sand all over the sidewalks? Wow, there is a lot of sand. Finally my duh moment subsided as I realized that it's probably used instead of salt to deal with icy or snowy pavement. 

-Where our hotel is seems really deserted. Actually, the whole city seems rather deserted, especially for a Saturday night. Yes, it was late, but I thought we'd see a few more people.

-I'd like to explore downtown more. It reminds me of Detroit because the mix of new(er) and older buildings were in various conditions; some were abandoned, some beautiful historical buildings had been spruced up, and others were in rough shape. A renovated, central square with benches around a water feature would probably make an excellent place to enjoy some drinks with friends during summer; this is totally a foil for Detroit's Campus Martius. As someone who likes Detroit, I see it as entirely positive that a city that's been run-down is revitalizing itself but is not completely perfect.

Note: I am not affiliated in any way with the hotel, nor do I receive any compensation for my review. All thoughts are mine.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Illinois people describe Michigan dialect

Illinois people, are you cannibals? Geez, we'd NEVER eat fudgies. Ew. Gross. Post "lol" in the comments if you get this.

The video shows a lot of things we say but the IL folks don't quite get it :)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday in Germany: a cartoon

I'd say that this cartoon video is a reasonably accurate portrayal of Sunday in Germany, shown through a bromance.

(Though not everyone goes to the sauna.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What 11 euros buys at Aldi

First of all, this isn't a sponsored post for Aldi. I can't imagine that the company would agree to sponsor some of the (true) things I'm going to say about it. So there's that.

Anyway, above is a photo of what about 11 euors (technically it was 10.79) buys at Aldi. It includes: 2 packages of Muesli; two one liter packages of milk (not actually for the Muesli, for the record); a package of onions; 3 Pink Lady apples; and a 3-pack of garlic.

I thought it might be interesting to share how much it costs to shop on the German economy. Even though I can shop at the Commissary, I try to avoid the produce section there at all costs. I've bought items there that went bad the next day. Even worse was when I bought a packet of produce and the majority of it was already bad. I could've taken it back, I guess, but I didn't want all that work. Instead, I know better now and buy fruits and vegetables "on the economy," as people here say. They're fresher and often cheaper than buying them from the Commissary.

Anyway, the fruits and vegetables I bought on this shopping trip were a good deal. The more expensive part of the trip was the Muesli. However, as Edith Piaf said, I regret nothing.

I wanted to illustrate how Aldi in Germany is very different from the Aldi (of the past) that was in the U.S. When I grew up in Michigan, I visited Aldi several times, but it wasn't a store we'd really use for shopping. At the time, Aldi was, well, gross. I don't mean that the store was dirty or anything; I mean that the food offerings weren't palatable-looking.

The majority of the goods were composed of frozen, low-quality convenience food. For example, there were tons of sketchy-looking frozen pizzas, frozen fried potato concoctions, etc. The non-frozen food was mostly packaged junk food of low quality. Plus, there was the weirdness of bagging your groceries yourself and not being given grocery bags. Aldi just wasn't for us in Michigan.

When I moved to Germany, I was pleasantly surprised by Aldi. Yes, one still must bag one's own groceries and pay if one doesn't bring her own bag, but that's better for the environment, allows one to pack the groceries as one wishes, and the food is so much better here. It's one of the cheapest places to buy decent produce. The store's offerings are basic, but I can usually find what I need there. Weekly specials sometimes offer gourmet food from other countries.

When I was back in Michigan last summer, I wanted to buy some inexpensive wine and we were near Aldi so we decided to stop by. I had heard that Trader Joe's and Aldi are now part of the same company in the US, and was pleasantly surprised to see what that means for Aldi now. The store is still basic but the food offerings are things that I actually would -- and did -- eat. There were organic, gluten-free, and Basic White Girl offerings (read: hummus). Plus there was plenty of fresh produce. Good for you, Aldi, for not being so gross any more!


I showed great restraint as a Michigander and did not call it "Aldi's."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My week: March 12 ed.

This was a week of studying and practicing German, along with an (unwanted) encounter with real-life speaking skills.

The unwanted encounter was with a German woman and it wasn't my fault and it's been dealt with, so at least there's that. Just about the first thing out of her mouth after the incident was "Where did you learn how to speak such good German?!" I almost started laughing because it was completely absurd; out of all the things she could've said, I wasn't expecting that one. She was also relieved because she doesn't speak the best English.

During the meeting with my tandem partner, she asked me a question from the telc test preparation site: what do you think of pre-nuptial agreements? Well, I can't form an opinion unless I know what the existing legal protections are for Germans, so I had to ask what the divorce rules currently are, whether Germany has an equality-based concept of divorce, etc. I then related it to Michigan laws. 

At the end of this, my friend said that she wasn't sure that's what the testers were looking for because instead of giving my own opinion, I quizzed her on German law and took her on a tour of Michigan law. Haha. I can't help it that I think like a lawyer and can't give an opinion until I know what I'm dealing with. I'll need to get it together for the test though.

I spent several hours during the weekend studying German. I also practiced a bit more in real life during a lovely brunch a colleague hosted. She invited some German neighbors.

About two weeks ago, the weather here started a minute shift from winter into not-so-wintery: the sun peeked out a bit; it started raining like crazy; and it's been warming up. This weekend was glorious, with sunny skies and wam(er) weather. I took a leisurely bike ride along the Lauter and only wore a light sweatshirt. I love spring time.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dear Kaiserslautern: you really need this

Dear Kaiserslautern:

can I just say how disappointing it is that so many of your bars/restaurants allow smoking inside them? For the most part, smoking is not allowed inside but thanks to special interest lobbying, there are a ton of loopholes that allow certain establishments to have smoking areas.

This means that one can't enjoy a drink with friends at a bar without choking on the smoke and smelling as if one has rolled around in an ashtray. Even worse, that means that the waitstaff can potentially sicken from lung cancer by proxy. In the meantime, they can develop asthma and other lung issues.

It is surprising how many establishments in Kaiserslautern allow smoking. I'm not exaggerating when I say that one would be hard-pressed to grab a drink at a bar without getting "smoked." Why can't the smokers go outside to enjoy their vice?

Oh, and I don't want to hear that there are the smokers' rooms and those are sufficient. Unless there's an airlock and separate HVAC systems, smoke from these rooms escapes into the main area and we still have to breathe that crap.

Hardrock-Cafe (yes, I see you trying to rip off the name of the real chain - lame!) doesn't even try to preserve the aura of the "smoking" room. We sat in the "non-smoking" room, whose door was left open into the smoking area (i.e. the bar, and where one enters the building). I asked to close the door because the smoke was entering but the staff wouldn't do it because they had to walk through. I ended up leaving because I couldn't breathe with the clouds of smoke hanging in the room.

Since most of the coffee shops and cafes close early here (you'd think we were a town of 10,000 and not a city of 10 times that), there really aren't many non-smoking options of somewhere to be cozy and hunker down with one's friends out in public for some drinks.

Consider this, Kaiserslautern: it would be good for everyone's health, and probably for business, too, to fully ban smoking. I've heard from so many other people who won't visit these places that allow smoking, either.

Signed, someone who doesn't want to choke on smoke

Friday, March 10, 2017

Apparently my "fame" has no bounds

I ran into a family member of my neighbor the other day. We've had some nice conversations in the past. When I saw her this time, she asked, "Were you on TV recently? I swear that I just saw you on the X show. I thought to myself, oh, that has to be ATW!"

Here I thought that I could go to the event and avoid the cameras; instead, everyone can see the embarrassing footage of me fumbling through German and people I know saw it too. Oy vey.

Yes indeedy, that had been me. She thought it was very nice, or that's what she told me at least ;) Can I just say that German folks I've met have been, overall, so sweet and nice?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My week: March 5 ed.

This was the highly dreaded anticipated week when I was supposed to go on the radio to promote an organization. I've never done such a thing before and I think my voice sounds dumb so there was some anxiety on my part. After putting together some notes, and even a quiz for the DJ to take about the organization*, I did some metaphorical breathing into a bag to compose myself, only... find out that our radio spot was canceled. I regretted this because there was some special programming that I wanted to highlight. Plus I had some rather dramatic feelings about the whole thing and I had finally screwed up enough courage and just wanted to get the darn thing over with.** How anticlimactic!

However, can I also say that I feel lucky to have opportunities where I get to move out of my comfort zone, promote topics I care about, and add new skills? Even if one such skill might only include trying not to sound like an idiot while being broadcast.

Anyway, many other things happened during the week, too. I met up with tandem partner #2; we hadn't seen each other since before the holidays because we'd both been so busy. We probably won't see each other for quite some time again because we are both having a busy upcoming month.

I also met with my original tandem partner. I'm preparing to take the B2 telc German test; this week, I described a book I've read and even timed myself. From this exercise, I learned that I really need to get better at this. I think I'm going to write up several reviews and try to memorize them because I'm so bad at speaking in German off the cuff in a more formal context.

German class met this week, as usual. An out of the ordinary activity is that I signed up to take the telc B2 German test. There's no turning back now! I had considered taking the preparation course too but now I'm on the fence about it. The telc test is already expensive enough (around 150 euros) and the prep course costs about the same. 300 euros to prepare for and to take a test that I don't officially need for anything is seeming a bit unreasonable at this point. Last fall, my VHS teacher told me that I could pass the B2 test even before I'd finished all the classes in that level and a month ago my Uni teacher told me that she thought I could pass it so maybe the prep course would be overkill. I've downloaded some of the free prep materials from telc and will see how those go.

For work, I planned a networking meeting with colleagues from various locations and organizations. One of the participants was talking about bringing a special exhibition to the area and expressed some interest in including it in the local community. I have met the leadership at two different German organizations and offered to make an introduction for her. My colleague is German herself and said that she can't believe how integrated into the community I've become and that she thought it was great that I know our professional counterparts who work in the German community. I told her that it's because I'm nosy as heck so I've had the opportunity to meet people and learn more. :)

This weekend was the annual Pfennigbasar (more about the sale itself here). I volunteered, as I usually do, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Now that I'm conversational in German, I've hit my groove and experienced the sale more fully.

During my first volunteer shift, I was placed with two sweet French ladies, who spoke English in a lovely way. The only snag was that I was the only one who really spoke German, which is a bit unusual for an American to actually be (mostly) helpful in a foreign language, given that we're not known for such capabilities. For the most part I held my own, except for with the elderly German man who spoke Pfälzisch in a deep and quavering voice. Any part of that combination is difficult for me and when they're together, I just can't understand the person.

My next shift partner was a sweet Polish lady who spoke no English but did speak German. This is a great exercise for me because I couldn't be lazy and fall back to English. We enjoyed good conversation and a pleasant shift together.

I spent my last shift with some women I had met in another group for a cooking demo. They welcomed me warmly and were excited to reunite after our last meeting. I have decided to join their club too so it was a good opportunity to ask more about their activities. One of the women doesn't speak English so it was another good push to only speak German.

Can I just say (again) how cool it is, after years of gnashing of teeth, studying, and whining, to finally be conversational in a foreign language? Connecting with people, experiencing the local culture, and becoming active in the community are just so different -- and awesome -- now.

For example, I wouldn't have felt right trying to join their club if I couldn't speak German. They're a very nice group of women and I doubt that they would have been unwelcoming to a non-German speaker, but it probably wouldn't work out well to join the group because they don't speak English during the meetings. It would not really be reasonable to ask them to translate everything.

I also really enjoyed being able to be actually helpful at the Basar. If the German speakers had to leave the booth, they could, because I could manage on my own.

When I got home, I received a phone call from my friend R, whom I haven't seen in ages. He was in the area and stopped by. I cooked up a huge pot of gobi aloo from a recipe our friend A taught me. That was an even better way to end the weekend.

*I got the idea from listening to one of their radio shows where they answer quiz questions about music. I had no idea if the DJ would've wanted to answer my questions, but I prepared some anyway because it's the Girl Scout Way. Or Boy Scout Way. Well, I'm not entirely if it's any Scout's Way, but whatever. I like to plan for contingencies.

**For things that are anxiety-inducing or are Really Big, I of course have to consider them in great length, discuss my feelings about them/confer with friends, family, and perhaps post office staff (okay, not always the latter), then consider them a bit more. Once I've done that, I'll basically just jump into the activity, which may seem rather sudden if one doesn't know the backstory.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My week: February 26 ed.

On Monday and Tuesday, A and I were in Poland. (More about that later, or so I hope that it's not an empty promise.)

During the rest of the week, I attended German class and also lazed around the house a bit. The lazing-around gave way to a party at some friends' house in a rural village. A dozen of us descended upon the house for the weekend to cook together, play party games, enjoy some adult beverages, and to hike. 

It was a wonderfully international group of people; those who attended hailed from India, Syria, Egypt, Germany, the US, and Morocco. That also meant that we enjoyed many different types of food. I made grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs. It took forever because the jar of leaves I bought is deceiving; it's about the size of a pickle jar but contains about 100 leaves! Some of the guys helped me and after 40 minutes we finished the darn things. I used the Syrian recipe I had learned a couple weeks ago during the international cooking night.

Even better yet than the marathon of rolling grape leaves? We took a hike in the middle of the party. To more accurately describe it, I'd say we grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and hiked a quarter of a mile up a hill, overlooked the rolling scenery for a bit, then trundled back to the house in the middle of the night.

The next morning we wanted to cook breakfast but didn't have the foresight to bring eggs or milk. My friend said there was nothing to fear for we could buy some at the store. This was Sunday in Germany; where in the world could we find such a thing, since almost everything is closed? 

There was indeed a solution: an automated farm store in the area! How cool is that? In a tiny, sidedoor type store, one can buy milk from a machine, or choose jam, sausage, or eggs from another vending machine. We crammed into the room and my friend filled her milk jug. One can bring her own or pay a small fee for one from the dairy. I had wanted to buy eggs but unfortunately they were all out, which is the first time my friend has seen that happen. 

Seeking an alternative to make for everyone's breakfast, I instead bought 5 kilos of potatoes. Why did I buy 5 kilos? It was the only option. That is a lot of potatoes, folks. I was cooking hash browns for an hour when we got back and I hardly made a dent in the sack of potatoes. For the record, I have very little patience for cooking and prefer baking. I felt as if the task would never be done and that it takes an unreasonable amount of time to cook small strips of potatoes to make hash browns.

All in all, it was a weekend full of just what I like: a diverse bunch of friends and silly adventures.m