Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the importance of being resourceful

When I moved into my new apartment, the living room was a big empty room. See, the girl I replaced owned everything that had previously been in there, so when she went, it all went with her. 

After a few weeks (or so) of patiently waiting for the ordered couch to arrive, matching furniture at stores, and finding out just how expensive tables are (I mean, seriously, it's 4 legs and a slab), it was time to get serious putting the rest of the living room together. 

Enter: Ikea and Roller. Roller is like the German version of Ikea, perhaps a little cheaper, but same concept - buy the pieces and put it together yourself. So after the back breaking task of carrying the many heavy boxes of pieces of living room up 4 flights of stairs, we set to work building every piece of our living room. 

We built chairs, we built a coffee table, we rebuilt chairs. And as we were completing the final step of putting together the table we realized we were lacking the necessary tool to finish the drill. A wrench (spanner if your British). But we refused to let this stop us! We had come so far and had an entire toolbox of every random tool at our disposal (except a wrench, of course).

We tried a custom tool that came with another piece that was too large, we tried a nail remover. Eventually we found it - a wrench. But not just any old wrench. A giant plumber wrench.
The process was slow, but ultimately effective. At least, our table hasn't broken yet. And I have to say, even though we're still need to add the finishing touches of some plants and pictures, the result of our building is one of the nicest living rooms I've ever had! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Turning cookies into Kekse

Last week I decided to do some baking. And what better to bake, than my favorite American cookies: Snickerdoodles!
Baking with American recipes in Germany is always an adventure for me. There are many hurdles to clear when translating a recipe before those American cookies become German Kekse (you guessed it, that's German for cookie)

First, you have to make sure you know the correct, specific translation for every ingredient. This part is pretty easy for most things like flour and sugar, but sometimes you really have to dig around to figure out exactly what you need. If I have a particularly tough ingredient to figure out, my favorite source is wikipedia. Type in the ingredient in English wiki then, when you get to the article, change the language to German on left hand toolbar. And if you're feeling extra thorough, take that wiki post and plug it into google images, so you can know what some German brands for that product look like when scanning the aisles at the store. 

Also, in regards to ingredients, it's important to double check that all your ingredients are available in Germany before you commit. One very normal American ingredient I always have trouble finding is baking soda. Luckily there are many cheats for not using baking soda - tripling the required amount and using that in baking powder (which is readily available in Germany) is my general solution. Somethings, however, you really just can't find. 
Finally, you have to convert all your measurements. For liquids this is really easy - plug it into a convertor from cups to liters. For most other ingredients this can get a little tricky though. See, the American system tends to measure things in volume (teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, etc.), but the European system is measured in weight (e.g. grams). To deal with this problem, I use one of two methods - I just eyeball it or I google the conversion. Google is a magical tool that knows everything. Don't be afraid to use it! When I bake in Germany, it usually goes something like "oh, that looks like a good amount. Wait, maybe I need a little more. Yeah, that should do it. Oh no doesn't taste good, let's add a little more of this" and so on until it looks, tastes and feels like I want it to. 

So now that you know how to bake an American recipe with German resources, here is the Snickerdoodle recipe, and I'll even include all my ingredient/amount translations for you! 

1/2 Cup Margarine (1 stick) - soft
  • I used a little less than 3/4 of a 250g tub of Margarine
1/2 Cup Shortening
  • Pflanzenfett. This is usually served in hard blocks in Germany, but this last time I happened to find a tub of soft Pflanzenfett, and it made a noticeable difference! I used maybe about 1/3 of a 500g tub. 
1-1/2 Cup Sugar
  • about 200g of Zucker 
2 Eggs
  • .... I'll let you figure that one out yourself
2-3/4 Cups Flour
  • I think I used almost 350g of Weizenmehl
2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar  (MUST HAVE!)
  • Sad news, this is NOT easy to find in Germany. I brought my own private stock from the US. However, after much intense googling, we found out that IF you can find it, it is called "Weinstein backpulver." Also, my sources say you're most likely to find it at Bio stores. For teaspoon measurements, I use an actual teaspoon. 
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • Since I can't find baking soda in Germany, I use Baking powder and increase the amount. So that becomes one 15g packet of Backpulver
Cinnamon Sugar (heavy on the Cinnamon)
Heat oven to 400ºF (205ºC) Mix together until creamy - margarine, shortening, sugar & eggs
Add Cream of Tartar and Baking Soda, continue to mix.  Add flour and mix. In a separate bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar. Roll dough into balls and cover in cinnamon sugar.  Place on cookie sheet, spacing apart
evenly.  Bake 10 - 12 minutes. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tis the [official] Season

In the US, the Christmas season official starts the day after Thanksgiving. In Germany, the official season starts on the first advent. And that just happens to be today!

The Christmas season in Germany is a pretty amazing time. Between the Christmas markets and the lights and the delicious Christmas treats, it is one of my favorite seasons in Germany.
So to spread the Christmas joy, I'm going to be keeping my December posts Christmas themed. Trust me - there really is that much to say about Christmas in Germany! 

I'm also going to be highlighting some Christmas markets from last year that I neglected to post about (sorry, I just had bigger things to worry about last December). 

So get ready for Christmas to take over das Blog on December 1st. Until then, here is a clip of me playing at the Forchheim Christmas market with the Musikverein last year to get you in the Christmas spirit. And, for the record, it was so cold my valves were freezing as I was playing! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It doesn't take much

Since the first time I came to Germany in 2005, there has always been something that has amazed me, amused me, and entertained. 
That's right, you guessed it - Windows!
wait... that's not what you were thinking? What can I say, it doesn't take much for me and German windows are awesome. 
American windows go in two directions: up or down. How two dimensionalGerman windows, on the other hand, are much more versatile. 
See, if you turn the handle this way:
The window opens like a door---------------->
But if you go a little bit further and turn the handle all the way up:

They open like this.
Mind = Blown! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

this is what I'm thankful for

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I think maybe because it's such a simple concept: here's day, let's cancel school and work, get families together and spend the day eating and drinking. Fabulous! There's no pressure of presents, no extreme decoration necessary, no other expectations than spending time with family and friends and enjoying good food and good company. 

This year marks my second Thanksgiving in a row and third one ever that I haven't been home to celebrate. But doing Thanksgiving abroad isn't as depressing as it sounds - I've found it can be quite great to celebrate with other displaced Americans and also with non-Americans who've never had a Thanksgiving before. 

And since I've had some pretty great Thanksgivings throughout my years, I thought I'd share my 5 favorite Thanksgiving memories

Cooking my First Turkey
Thanksgiving 2010 - Forchheim, Germany
Now this wasn't really me at my best, but last year, when Gemma and I hosted the ETA Thanksgiving potluck, we were in charge of the Turkey. And as I didn't actually have to work on Thanksgiving, I was responsible for prepping the bird. Yes, that meant pulling the neck and giblets out from the inside. Unfortunately, Gemma and I forgot to plan ahead and allow enough time for the turkey to thaw completely. So not only did I get stick my hand up a turkey, I had to fight with a turkey popsicle for about 30 min before successfully removing all the bits and pieces. So maybe this wasn't so much a favorite memory as much as just unavoidable memorable. And that turkey actually tasted pretty good!

Shahida's Thanksgiving Visit
Thanksgiving 2008 - Charleston, South Carolina
I loved having Shahida come experience my favorite holiday with my entire family! It was great to include her on the all the family games and traditions - including the annual day after Thanksgiving dinner at a mexican restaurant (and the ensuing margaritas). 

My First Franken Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving 2007 - Bamberg, Germany
What's that?! I was in Franken before I lived there?! Why yes, during my year in Switzerland I spent Thanksgiving up in Bamberg with Kristen who was doing her year abroad there (remember?). It was that Thanksgiving that I learned the magical powers Bamberg has to ensure every visit is amazingly fun. That Thanksgiving is always recalled with Kristen and I get together. 

The First Thanksgiving Re-enactment 
Thanksgiving 2010 - Forchheim, Germany
Another memory from last year. What can I say, it was just that good! Since it was Gemma's first Thanksgiving, I decided we should really make sure that she understood the meaning behind this most American of holidays. And as she was a British settler and I was a native of America, the roles were already set. Our rendition of the First Thanksgiving is on it's way to becoming a holiday classic. And the original Mayflower used in the video is still up for viewing at Hotel Baptistella. 

The Turkey Trot
Thanksgiving 2006 - Charleston, South Carolina
This is not only - hands down - my favorite Thanksgiving memory, but probably the one I'm most proud of! It all started when our family signed up to run the Charleston Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving morning. Well, if there are two things that don't sit well with my family, it's getting up early for a race and running races at all. The night before Thanksgiving we discovered some pretty great Halloween costumes at my aunt's house. So AJ and I pulled out the most ridiculous two we could find and decided add a little excitement to the Turkey Trot. Even though we showed up about 20 minutes after the race started and cheated with short cuts the whole way through, AJ and I were honored during the award ceremony for Best Costumes (a category I'm pretty sure was created just for us about 5 minutes before we won) and even made it into the local paper the next day. 

I hope every one celebrating has an amazing Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Remember that time I said that Germans didn't understand Halloween the way Americans do? It turns out I was wrong. They just do it at a different time of year. 

Karneval is a festival leading up to Lent. It's kind of like an extended Mardi Gras. If this sounds familiar, it's because I posted about it last year, but in the south they call it Fasching instead of Karneval. Although the main festivities of Karneval happen the week before Ash Wednesday, the Karneval period begins every year on 11/11 at 11:11am. And of course this year was a once in a century opportunity the celebrate on 11/11/11.
The elfte elfte (that's German for eleventh eleventh, which just a quick way to say the eleventh day of the eleventh month) just happened to fall on our last day in Düsseldorf, so after we were released from official conference duties, we made our way into the city center to check out the festivities. And what we encountered can only be described as Halloween meets Oktoberfest

The costumes were exactly what you would see on Halloween in the US. 

Some were intense
Some were hilarious

 Some weren't even really costumes

And the indescribably uniquely traditional German pop music (After much thought, that's really the best way I can describe it) was very reminiscent of my time spent in the beer tents at Oktoberfest.

It was a great party, but really only the precursor to the festivities that await in February! 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts from a friend.

I know you've heard about my good friend Jennifer who was an ETA with me in Franken last year. I know I also mentioned that she and I have very similar European history.

But just to recap our stories go something like this: We studied German in college and never had any real intentions of a big study abroad at first. But somehow we both ended up on year long exchanges to beautiful alpine regions - Jennifer in Salzburg, Austria and me in Zürich, Switzerland. When we returned to the US we both did everything within our power to get back to Europe. Which is how we both ended up as ETAs in Franken last year.
I might have also mentioned at some point that Jennifer keeps her own really amazing blog (that you should all check out!) and she recently posted an amazing post on the truly disorienting effect of an exchange year. When I read this post, I'd never been able to relate to anything more, so I wanted to share it with you. When you read it just replace "Stillwater, Oklahoma" with "Athens, Georgia" and "Salzburg, Austria" with "Zürich, Switzerland" and you have my story. 

My response (which is in the post's comments) was: 

I've decided Study Abroad years rip you of the ability to be content. 

My Europe love-history timeline looks almost identical to yours. And after having a second less thrilling go at Europe I've realized that I never wanted to just be back in Europe. I wanted to be back in that first study abroad year. With those same people, in that same place.
And that's why studying abroad, while probably the best year of my life to date, has pretty much ruined me as far as being content with where I am.

But hey, better to have loved and lost.... right?
Now, to be fair, I am loving being in Germany and I'm at that point where I am not ready to even start thinking about leaving. But I cannot deny that right after my return last year it took some time to accept the fact that, although I'd returned to Europe, it wasn't Zürich.
June 25, 2008 - Zürich, Switzerland

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I think got the black lung, pop

When I lived in Switzerland, the area was known for, well, pretty much being the most beautiful place ever. Surrounded by water and mountains everywhere, what more could you ask for?
When I lived in Forchheim, the area was well known for having a charming, traditional look.
When I moved to Dortmund, I learned the area was well known for it's history in coal mining. 
The Ruhrgebiet is so named because it is the area (in German: Gebiet) surrounding the Ruhr river. The Ruhrgebiet has a long history of coal mining and has unfortunately gotten a pretty bad rap because of it. Most people think of it as being completely grey and industrial. And in comparison to the previous places I've lived, it definitely isn't the most beautiful. But it isn't the ugliest place I've ever seen. 

During our conference in Düsseldorf (which is not part of the Ruhrgebiet), we headed back to the coal mines for a day. Ok, no, we didn't actually go into the mines, but we did visit the Ruhr Museum, an old Gasometer (basically a gas holder) with an art exhibit inside, and an old steel factory. 

I'm not going to lie, it wasn't the most exciting day I've ever spent in Germany, but it was interesting to learn about the area. It was also cool to see what they have done with all the left overs of the coal mining era. For example, we saw two Gasometers - the first hosted regularly changing exhibits and the second was turned into a practice diving pool. They filled the water with various objects like cars and parts of planes and use the tank for anything from amateur practice to professional training. The Steel factory had basically been turned into a giant work of art, the entire factory being lit in colored light every night. They also host an open-air theater in the summer. 
So I might not be in the most beautiful place in the world, but I'd have to say it's still pretty cool. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The bar on the boat

Last week a conference was held in Düsseldorf for all the language assistants in my region. We were a group of around 80 people from Australia to Russia and everywhere in between (if you go west to east, that is...). From Wednesday to Friday we had the unique opportunity to meet people from all over the world, visit the NRW parliament building (I know "parliament" sounds super British, but I can't really think of a better translation...), and get a closer look at the workings the position of language assistant within the over all school system. We went on tours, learning about and seeing first hand the history of Düsseldorf and the industrial region known as the Ruhrgebiet. 

But all I really wanted was to get a beer at the bar on the boat!
On our first evening set free in Düsseldorf, we passed this bar on a boat and I was immediately obsessed. you might think it's because of my love of alliteration, and you wouldn't be completely wrong. I also just thought it would be awesome enjoy a drink on a boat on the Rhein. What can I say, I'm easily pleased.
This could have been my view, see the appeal now?
Unfortunately, after we spent the last hour of sunlight we had left getting quick look at the impressive altstadt of Düsseldorf, my dreams were crushed. We returned to the bar on the boat shortly before 7 only to be shoo'ed off the entrance plank for closing time. 
For the next two days, the hopes of enjoying a beer at the bar on the boat became increasingly distant until I found myself on the train back to Dortmund having missed my chance completely.

So it's settled, Düsseldorf. I'll be back for my beer at the bar on the boat. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Carpooling with strangers

I know that my last post proclaimed my love for trains, but I have to admit that sometimes taking a train is not always the best options. My trip to Forchheim, for example, would have cost over 100€ roundtrip even with all the special savings prices. Not to mention it would have lasted about 5 or 6 hours and I would have had to change trains at least once.
With the help of (a literal translation being "carpool opportunities"), I managed to get to From Dortmund to Forchheim and back for a grand total of 50€ in one ride. Oh and did I mention each ride only lasted between 3 and 4 hours. 
This website is basically a place for people traveling by car to offer up any free seats to people traveling in the same direction in return for a little gas money. Genius. 
The first time I used Mitfahrgelegenheit was on a trip to Berlin with 2 friends last year. So the fear of climbing into a car with a total stranger and traveling across Germany didn't seem quite as daunting. For this trip though, I was all by myself. 
Luckily each post on the website has a little personal message written from the drivers, so you can take your pick of who you think is most likely to get you to your destination alive. (just kidding, mom!)
Of course, if your still nervous, you can always refer to my hitchhiking guide created in the aftermath of last years actual hitchhiking extravaganza.*
Both my trips went smoothly and I never felt uncomfortable with any of  my drivers (and it's pretty fun to watch the spedometer hit 180** on the Autobahn). Mitfahrgelegenheit is definitely an option I would recommend to anyone looking to travel quickly and cheaply throughout Germany!

*I was 2 friends when we missed our last bus to catch the train home, 
so we stood on the road, stuck out our thumbs and hitched  a ride to 
the train station. After posting about our success on Facebook there 
was quite a lot of backlash from concerned parents, which lead to the
creation of this video of safety tips for hitchhiking.

**180 km/h, so around 110mph. Which is still pretty impressive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

People on Trains

People on trains can be pretty great. Kind of like people at airports. They make for good people watching. Which happens to be one of my favorite activities. This is the story of mine and Gemma's train ride to and from Bayreuth.
On the way there, Gemma and I were on the fairly empty train sitting across the aisle from and old man and his wife. After a while this [slightly paraphrased] conversation happens [in German]

Old man: Excuse me, can I ask where you two are from?
Gemily: The US and England
Old man: Oh, I thought you were speaking English! What are you doing in Germany?
Gemily: Well we both work and live in Germany now.
Old man: Our granddaughter is in Australia right now working as an au pair! She'll be so excited we met English speakers. What are your names?
Gemily: Gemma and Emily
Old man: Evelyn?
Gemily: Emily.
Old man: Amelie?
Gemily: Emily.
Old man: Evelyn?
Gemily: E-M-I-L-Y
Old man: Oh, well I have a very German name, Reinhard. Could you write your names down? Just the first names! 
Gemily: of course.
Old man: Then we can tell our grandkids we met English speakers!

This conversation completely made my day. They were absolutely adorable and so sweet. And it was further proof that Germans just don't seem to get my name. 

On the ride home it was less exciting. We just sat across from two teenage boys who kept talking about us and commenting on their inability to understand us in German. Not to mention the total ETA and Famous stares they were blatantly giving us the whole time.  Hey, news flash - you didn't understand us, but we understood you perfectly.
These train rides also happen to be a perfect example of the two most common reactions you get to speaking English in public here.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Ugliest Rathaus in Germany

Rathaus is German for city hall, and in every German city the Rathaus is usually on the list of sights to see. That's because it can be a really amazing building like these from Munich and Aachen

Even if they're not architectural wonders, though, they can still be known to have a certain charm about them. Like in Forchheim and Bamberg.
But even then, if they lack both the spectacle and charm, they tend to at least be nice looking buildings. For example, in Berlin and Düsseldorf.
On my recent trip to Bayreuth, however, I laid my eyes upon the worst excuse for a Rathaus I've ever come across in this country. 
Congratulations, Bayreuth. You have the ugliest Rathaus in all of Germany

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Climbing on Statues with Wagner

Before you start to believe that Gemma and I spent my entire 5 day trip to Forchheim in our PJs (I'm sure I don't know what would give you that idea), let me confirm that we did not! We spent one day visiting the city of Bayreuth.
Bayreuth is most well-known for being the home of Richard Wagner back in the day and the current location of the annual Bayreuther Festspiele, a summer festival where only Wagner operas are performed. I therefore referred to Bayreuth as Wagner-land for the entire day.
And we did get to visit all the Wagner highlights. We saw the Festspielhaus (where the operas are preformed during the festival).
We saw his bust in the Wagner park. 
But we did miss visiting his grave because we were too busy taking this picture...
You have to admit, it was kind of worth it. In fact, aside from Wagner sight-seeing, we spent most of our day staking out spots (usually involving climbing on statues) for a good photo op or two. I'd say we were pretty successful. 

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