Archive for the ‘Deutschland’ Category

It seemed like the logical thing to do, officer…

December 26, 2009

Sogar die Deutschen Kinder sind fleissig. (Translation:  Even the German children are diligent.)

via Dave Barry’s Blog

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Fröhliche Weihnachten!

December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!  The sentiment’s a bit late due to my sporadic internet access, but it’s sincere.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.  I did.

At first my week was rather lonely and boring.  For once in my life, I genuinely, wholeheartedly missed being in school.  I always had such a good time conversing with my teacher and classmates, and with everyone I knew flying off in every direction to spend Christmas with friends and family, I felt rather deserted.  But I did what I always do:  I kept walking through my days (just like mom always told me to), completed whatever tasks were necessary, then cuddled up under my duvet with a movie or book.  And I looked forward to Christmas.

I was invited to spend Christmas Day with a family from the church I’ve attended a few times.  It’s a non-denominational Protestant church with an English service (thank goodness) called MICC (Munich International Community Church).  They paired you up with a volunteer family if you were away from home and didn’t want to be alone for Christmas.  You can always count on church folks to feed you, literally and spiritually!  But in all seriousness, I was very grateful.  They were so kind and hospitable to me, and the food was delicious.  So I had a merry and blessed Christmas, and I hope you can all say they same!

Notes from Nürnberg

December 21, 2009

American exportation is everywhere.  It’s inescapable.  Every radio I hear blares American pop music.  Every train station I arrive at has a McDonald’s, a Burger King, or both.  The central train station in Munich has two Burger Kings.  Seriously.  They are literally within two minutes’ walking distance of each other.  Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbucks, they’re all here too.  It surprised me a little at first.  I knew these chains existed in other countries, of course; I just didn’t realize they operated on such a large scale.  Many of the Europeans I’ve spoken with say they abhor all these American chains, but someone must like them, because they’re booming.  So I’ve gradually gotten used to seeing the logos of American enterprises tucked in between the cozy Bavarian pubs, restaurants, and bakeries.  Then, just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by my own country anymore, I went to Nürnberg last Saturday and saw the very last American chain I ever expected to see:  a Sally’s Beauty Supply.  I stared at it as I walked by, thinking to myself, “What’s that doing here?”  I was a business major for Pete’s sake!  I took D 301 (International Business Environment).  It should come as no surprise to me that multi-national companies are so successful, but somehow it still does.  Guess I should have taken D 302 after all.  My professor is probably chortling somewhere.

At any rate, someone else can have the burgers.  I’m too busy enjoying all the excellent German food.  I had a fantastic dish at a restaurant not far from the Sally’s Beauty Supply.  It was seared turkey pieces cooked in a sherry-mushroom cream sauce and served with spätzle.  It was so delectable it would have been sinful if I hadn’t spent the whole day walking off the calories.  The flavor of the sauce reminded me of another dish I love.  My Peruvian readers may remember Grant Street Bar & Grill, which has sadly been closed for a few years now.  They had a seared fillet of beef in a brandy-mushroom cream sauce on their menu.  It was delicious.  So tender and flavorful.  Okay, I’ve got to switch topics now.  I’m making myself hungry.

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, angst over swine flu is everywhere.  Upon arrival, I received not one, but two tip sheets from the school about how to avoid it, and what to do if I thought I might have it (See a doctor and don’t come to school.  Logical, no?).  Many restrooms now have pages of instructions on how to avoid it tacked on the wall, all with the same basic theme:  wash your hands.  One hopes people do that anyway, but maybe that’s being overly optimistic.  Anyway, not to be left out of this furor, the shopkeepers in Nürnberg are also taking appropriate precautionary measures.  See below:

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…

December 16, 2009

…and I’ve never been to confession.  Not in the Catholic sense, anyway.  I speak directly with the man upstairs when I’ve been naughty.  Like last Tuesday, for example.  Southerngirl, get the polishing cloth ready; my halo’s in the mail.  Time to ‘fess up and ask forgiveness.

As a rule, I generally try to keep my language pretty clean.  I’ll admit, I’m not always successful.  Swearing is a bad habit, and a hard one to break.  Sometimes when I’m frustrated (i.e. when I’m in traffic), the words just slip out, but I’m penitent afterward.  And if mom’s around, I’m also rebuked afterward.  That said, I’ve tried to behave myself in Deutschland.  I’m familiar with German swear words (as in the States, one hears them too frequently not to be), but I try not to use them.

Then last week I went to the Kreisverwaltungsreferat (try saying that three times fast) here in Munich to see about obtaining a visa.  The man in the office began rattling off a list of all the various things I needed:  statements from my parents and my school, a photo, an application, and…  Krankenversicherung (medical insurance).  Which I don’t have.  My coverage with my parents ended two years ago, and I was waiting until I found a “real” job to deal with that particular issue.  With that single word, the tower of frustration and stress that had been building for the previous few days imploded, burying my composure beneath the rubble, and the first words to come into my head popped out of my mouth with profound depth of feeling before I could stop them:  “Oh Scheiße.”

Fabiana was quite shocked.  Not at the word, just its source.  I couldn’t believe I’d said it, either.  Nary a bad word for 6 weeks, and then her “heilige” Beatrice came out with that one.  In the Kreisverwaltungsreferat, of all places, where I should have been on my best behavior, considering I was seeking their permission to remain in the country.  That’s the problem with swear words.  Once they’re in your head, they pop out when you least expect it at the most inopportune (and embarrassing) times and places.  Fortunately the man was very understanding.  Fabiana followed up my unfortunate exclamation with, “‘Schade,’ Beatrice.  ‘Schade’ ist besser.”  But the man just laughed and said I’d had it right the first time, then named a couple of insurance organizations I could look into.  So here’s hoping I can obtain a visa.  In the meantime, I’ll try to watch my mouth, and not to do anything to get myself deported.

A Fortnight and a Half of Miscellanea

December 13, 2009

Sorry for being MIA so long; it’s been a stressful week on several fronts, but I’m ready to get caught up now.  Over the years, I’ve gotten in the obsessively frequent habit of writing long notes and lists for myself to remind me of things I don’t wish to forget.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  I’ve been keeping a detailed list of things to blog, and it’s starting to get long, so now I’m going to plunge in and purge it all at once.  Here goes.

A Concert

A little over three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a classical concert.  The music was by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bartók, and was performed by Die Münchner Philharmoniker, with piano solos by Alice Sara Ott.  It was unbelievable.  I’d had a rough day, and was feeling down on myself because I wasn’t picking up German as fast as I would’ve liked.  All things school-related have always come relatively easy to me with minimum effort, and learning German has proved to be something of an educational ego bruiser at times (which is probably a good thing).  At any rate, I felt much better after the concert.  The music was so powerful and uplifting, and the piano soloist was unbelievable.  She was only 21, and she played everything from memory with perfect precision.  There wasn’t a single key on that piano that she didn’t use.  She extracted every note, every sound possible from the instrument.  It was incredible.

A Castle, A Tangle, and a Pastry

The following weekend, I visited Schloss Neuschwanstein with a group from school.  I’d already seen it once in 2007 and, having forgotten how strenuous the walk up to the castle is, I decided to go back.  I was under the weather that day, having just come down with a sinus condition of some sort, and the mountain climbing required to reach the castle just about did me in.  I decided early on that my second tour of Neuschwanstein would very likely be my last.  But that aside, it is quite amazing once you get there, and I do recommend seeing it if you’re ever in Deutschland.  The train trip was two hours each way, but we had plenty to keep us occupied.  One of the students from Finland often knits socks during our train trips.  She had acquired a giant pink ball of discount yarn somewhere, and it had quickly morphed itself into one big knot.  I offered to help her with it, and three of us spent the entire trip down and back untangling it and rolling it into balls for her.  I told her afterward that she owed us all a pair of socks.  🙂  I don’t know why yarn and thread skeins are always like that, but whenever I do needlework, I seem to spend as much time untangling as I do stitching.  I was interested to learn that needlework is often taught in European schools.  Perhaps if I’d studied here, I wouldn’t have been considered such a nerd.  Oh well.  Speaking of balls, I also tried a new sweet that day, a specialty from Rothenburg ob der Tauber called a Schneeball (snowball).  It was basically a wad of pie crust about the size of a baseball with various flavored glazes.  I chose coconut.  It was interesting.  It tasted good, but as desserts go, it was a little on the dry side.  And messy.  I left a Hänsel-type trail of crumbs through Füssen.

Boys…

…will be boys.  Case in point, a recent outing in Augsburg, where the men of BWS enjoyed the latest marketing strategy from Vodafone.

A Random Act of Kindness

Late one evening I was standing in front of a ticket machine in the subway station, trying to figure out which ticket I needed to get me home.  You can purchase multiple types of public transportation tickets for various time frames and areas.  Normally I buy a weekly ticket for central Munich, and then I’m covered, but that week I hadn’t for some reason.  Anyway, a woman who was leaving the station asked me if I needed a ticket, and then gave me hers.  She’d bought one that morning which was good for a whole day of travel within Munich and outlying areas, and was apparently finished with it, so I got to ride home for free that night.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do.  I really appreciated her kindness.

Random Acts of Unkindness

With the notable exception of the waiters in Hofbräuhaus (who I think have spent too much time with drunk tourists; they all need vacations from the service industry), most everyone I’ve met in Germany has been infinitely congenial and good-natured.  Whether they be teachers, retail personnel, or random people on the street they are, as a rule, friendly, cordial and helpful.  Of course, there are exceptions.  The Monday after I arrived, my first day of school, I was standing in Sendlinger-Tor-Platz with my sheaf of Google directions, trying in vain to locate Hauptfeuerwache.  A young blonde twerp dressed “punk” style, perhaps 13 or so, walked by with another boy.  He ran his fingertips over my elbow and said “dicke,” and he and his friend walked away laughing.  Mind you, I didn’t understand much German at that point, but I knew what “dicke” meant.  Fat.  Not cool.  I was reminded of that incident on the night of the great gelatin debate.  As we were walking to the grocery store, we met two large, boisterous Italian men who were playing with a dog.  One stepped sideways to allow us to pass, then yelled something after us in Italian (which, as I later learned, begins with “b” and ends with “itches” when translated to English).  Fabiana threw some irate-sounding Italian back over her shoulder at him, then explained what had happened.  I have no idea what we did to irritate the man, but seeing as he’d just exited a pub, I imagine he was three sheets to the wind.  Or maybe he was just a jerk.  It happens.  But looking on the positive side, I’ve been in a foreign country for 7 weeks now and had only two unpleasant encounters, which are more than balanced out by dozens of pleasant ones.  Mercifully, the scales tip heavily to the favorable side.  I love it here.

Yet Another Grocery Rumination

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of reading about the novelty of grocery shopping in a foreign country (what is this, the fifth time?).  If so, feel free to skip this section, because I’ve found this subject to be a deep well of curiosities, wonderment and cultural contrast.  The typical American supermarket is a massive complex with infinite variety.  The choices for every product are endless (perhaps sometimes excessive).  Most of our grocery stores cannot be called “minimalist” in any sense of the word.  Even the biggest, most diverse grocery stores here carry only a fraction of the choices the average American could expect to find as a matter of course.  Products that have entire aisles all to themselves in the states (breakfast cereals, chips and baking products, for example) have only a moderate rack or a few shelves dedicated to them here.  Instead of fifty choices, you’ll have five or ten.  Or one or two.  But in contrast, there are also areas here which offer much more variety (and sometimes more quality).  Meats and cheeses, for example.  At home, we combine the two with a few inedible noodle salads and prepared foods and call it “the deli.”  In larger supermarkets here, meats and cheeses have separate counters, and they are massive.  Instead of two kinds of salami, there are a dozen or so.  My favorite example of quality and variety here is the chocolate.  Galeria Kaufhof has a section the size of Rhode Island dedicated to chocolate.  I reveled in this the Monday before last when I went shopping for an advent calendar.  There were dozens to choose from, and they weren’t the cheap, flimsy affairs with small lumps of milk chocolate one finds in the states.  Well, some were, but most weren’t.  Most were gourmet chocolates from well-known candy makers such as Lindt.  One calendar could cost up to 30 Euros.  I went with a middling one for 15.  Perhaps it was a little steep for what is, essentially, a glorified 24-piece box of chocolates, but I haven’t been disappointed.  Every new day reveals a little piece of sweet, chocolaty bliss.  Merry Christmas to me!  I may be “dicke,” but at least I’m jolly!

St. Nikolaus Cometh

Speaking of jolly, we must have been good students, because St. Nikolaus and his… umm… “unique” angelic assistant paid BWS a visit last Friday, and we all got some goodies.

 

We didn’t quite jell…

December 3, 2009

Fabiana and I went grocery shopping in Tengelmann last night, and I found something that surprised me a little bit: Jell-O cups.  They weren’t Jell-O brand, of course (Dr. Oetker brand Götter Speise, actually), but really, gelatin is gelatin.  I was tickled by this, and bought four cups.  Fabiana, on the other hand, was a little bit horrified, particularly when I suggested she try one.  She said she’d wait until I’d eaten one and see if I was still alive.  We ended up having a lively debate over the pros and cons of gelatin in the dairy section, much to the amusement of an elderly lady shopping for cheese.  Fabiana argued that the gelatin was made from chemicals, and was therefore unhealthy, and icky to boot.  My argument was that it was only sugar, water and gelatin (which is a natural product), and was therefore no worse for you than the average sweet snack.  In point of fact, it’s actually healthy in some ways.  Eating gelatin products strengthens your bones, teeth, and fingernails.  At any rate, we had to agree to disagree, so now I’ll let the majority rule, democratic-like.  Please do me the honor of participating in my first blog poll.  Gelatin: good or evil?  Cast your vote below, and Fabiana and I will “crow or eat crow” depending on the results.  Make your voice heard!

FYI

December 2, 2009

For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve decided to extend my stay in Munich.  I won’t be home until the end of January, and I’ll be remaining here over Christmas break.  When I began my course, I realized very quickly that two months would not be nearly enough time to learn as much as I’d like.  Three months probably won’t be either (one requires 30 years according to Mark Twain), but I’m going to run out of money eventually.  The more I learn, the more I realize how much there still is to learn, and I want to make the most of my time here.  I’ll miss being with my loved ones for Christmas more than I can say, but learning a second language is important to me, and this trip is such a wonderful opportunity.  So, when you’re carving your roast beast this year, remember me, and know I’ll be thinking of you.

“Beans, beans, beans, beans, all kinds of beans!”

December 1, 2009

The thanks for that title go to my darling nephew, who learned a song about beans in school last year, and was kind enough to sing it for me.  Love you, C!

Mom, I have good news for you.  The other night, I ate more beans in half an hour than I had in the previous year.  The “restaurant” (re: “bar”) I went to with the other students on Saturday night was Mexican.  I ordered tacos which, as I gathered from the menu, had something to do with pork.  As it turned out, they had a great deal more to do with beans.  I’m not a fan of most beans.  For the most part, I limit myself to those of the green or jelly varieties.  I hate all the ones with the starchy, mushy textures:  pinto, navy, kidney, lima, butter, etc.  When my tacos arrived, they were littered with a soupy mixture of kidney and pinto beans.  I was too hungry (and had paid too much) not to eat my meal, and it was so dark I couldn’t see well enough to attempt picking them out, so I just dove in.  I managed to eat all of the first taco, but the texture of all those beans just did me in; I ate very little of the second.  I’ve now had my quota for the year, so I beg you:  no soup beans when I get home, ‘kay?

I’m so cool, too bad I’m a loser…

November 30, 2009

That’s the first line of the Barenaked Ladies song, “Falling for the First Time.”  I’m normally not into popular music.  My iPod is filled with what Harvey Reid calls un-pop:  a mixture of classical, folk and musical soundtracks, with a few other oddities thrown in here and there.  But while working at Bath & Body Works and being forced to listen to the same annoying CD on a repeating loop every day until the next one arrived, I fell in love with “Falling for the First Time.”  The lyrics of that particular song just really struck a chord (har!) with me.  After hearing it maybe half a dozen times, I had the whole thing memorized and had worked out a harmony part for myself.  Every time it came on, I sang along, provided there were no customers in the store (which in the Logansport Mall was usually the case).  I eventually wound up buying the CD.  I just love the lyrics; they’re a perfect metaphor for how I’ve felt most of my life, which is to say out of place, out of touch, and utterly misunderstood within the realm of my peer group.  It’s a wistful song of contradictions and confusion:  of sometimes feeling helplessly out of control.  But in some strange way that’s difficult to pinpoint, it’s also a little hopeful.  Just like me.

We learned a charming little concept in 7th grade science:  “Diversity is normal.”  It’s a nice thought, and when asked, anyone would tell you they agree.  Das stimmt.  But in reality, I fear most people rarely think on such terms.  They believe they do, but they don’t.  Everyone, to some degree, has personal biases and opinions that they define as “normal.”  If you don’t conform, you’re weird.  Crazy.  Abnormal.

I bring all this up because these thoughts and feelings I’ve always mulled over to myself were prominent in my mind this past weekend.  Fabiana took a long weekend and went home.  She invited me to go, but I would’ve had to miss school for a couple of days, so I decided to wait and visit her over Christmas break.  I was so desperate for companionship after my lonely Thanksgiving that I wound up spending both Friday and Saturday night with large groups of other students.  I tried to like the smoky bars.  I tried to like the music so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, let alone converse with anyone.  I really did try, but I just couldn’t.  The other students may well think I’m nuts (or anti-social), but I simply can’t enjoy myself in that kind of environment.  Everyone is so kind; they always make every effort to include me.  I genuinely  appreciate their thoughtfulness, but I just can’t get into it.  Every time someone invites me somewhere along those lines, I think, “How bad could it be?”  And every time, I wind up sitting quietly and miserably with my own thoughts, which are usually along the lines of “I’d so much rather be in bed with a good book right now.”  I’m just going to have to stick to quieter activities; that’s all there is to it.  Or maybe I should have my head examined.  Think any of Freud’s descendents are still practicing?

All-American: Thanksgiving and Peanut Butter

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I am so thankful to have all of you in my life, and I wish we could be together today, but I’m also very thankful for the opportunity to learn German, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who played a part in making this trip possible, especially my family.

Last night I did a little baking in the school kitchen (I don’t have an oven in my apartment, unfortunately).  I made peanut butter cookies and lemon bars to share with my class, and today we talked a little bit about the origins and traditions associated with Thanksgiving while we ate them.  We always have fun talking together.  I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group or teacher for myself; that’s such a huge blessing.

Shopping for my baking project was a little stressful.  Everything I needed was in the store; the problem was recognizing it.  I’ve always taken for granted how very easy it is to shop for groceries when I’m home.  I don’t have to stare at each item for ages, reading every word (sometimes consulting a dictionary), and wishing the manufacturer had thought to put pictures of the contents on the package.  I recognize what I want immediately, usually by the logo of whatever my preferred brand happens to be (the marketers got me, Dr. R!), and I just grab it and go.  In and out.  Not so Tuesday night.  I spent about an hour and a half shopping for 15-20 items.

The only product I had no trouble  identifying was the peanut butter.  I’ve bought peanut butter twice now (in Germany, that is), and I find it endlessly amusing that the German marketers/manufacturers go to so much trouble to make the packaging scream “American!”  It’s as though they want to be absolutely certain everyone knows they bear no responsibility for the creation of such a product.  The labels are invariably some combination of red, white and blue, and sport a U.S. map, or flag, or both.  One jar had the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline on it.  As far as I know, New York has no more to do with peanut butter than any other city  (George Washington Carver certainly wasn’t from anywhere near there, and while he didn’t actually “invent” peanut butter, he is certainly responsible for improving the recipe and popularizing it), but for some reason Europeans seem to associate all things American with New York.  Whenever I tell someone I’m from the U.S., they’ll say, “Ah; New York!” and ask me how far away I live, and whether I’ve been there.  Fabiana is dying to go.  New York was a nice place to visit, I grant, but there are many other places I would visit before I’d go back.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  Certainly not the peanut butter.