Friday, December 30, 2011

próspero año y felicidad

2011 marks the first calendar year (as opposed to school year) that I've spent abroad. I've seen what Germany has to offer in each of the 12 months. So usher out the old year, here is a little recap of 2011, according to das Blog

I rang in the new year at home in Georgia, then jumped on a plane 14 hours later to head back to Germany. Not much much happened this month thanks to the onset of seasonal depression due short days and the unabated cold. Gemma and I did manage to miss our train home one night and I did start really getting into some German culture, as evidenced by this vlog

This was the month I reached great heights with my culinary skills. I also tackled some cultural differences encountered in Germany - including different social ideals and American stereotypes. Sometimes I missed life in Georgia, and sometimes I really didn't. I accepted that I'll probably never be happy with my level of German, but I was comforted by the most amazing seasonal treat ever!  I got to see the largest wine barrel in the world and put on a pretty dress - in the same trip!

I headed back to my favorite city with my favorite person, where we reminisced over old beers and danced with boys in skirts. I went to the amazing Berlin for a week - and forgot my camera. I dressed up like a boat, got presents from Mama and Papa B, and discovered the worst of hair trends in Germany.

I did a lot of things I didn't have time to post about. I got a visit from this girl and these boys. I got to travel to some amazing cities and locally take part in an historic event.

The month started with a visit from Shahida! I celebrated my 24 birthday, Franken-style. My students taught me new things and I got yet another laugh out of some cultural differences. I jumped the gun and bought a return ticket to Georgia, before knowing if I'd have a job to come back to. Instead of panicking, I finally got around to developing these pictures. And in the end, the whole job thing worked out.

Summer had finally arrived for me to enjoy my favorite place in Forchheim. I went to a beer festival in Erlangen and became a minor celebrity with my friends. I rode my bike lots and forgot how to work a washing machine.  Did more laughing at German oddities and counted down some of the best parts of an amazing year. I realized I'd really miss my Franken friends.

I headed back to the good ol' US of A, but not after a quick stop in a new city. I got a big surprise at the airport and got to wish America a happy birthday. I made some time for reconnecting with my American ways. I got a special Franken visit and got to drive a car again. I headed back to Germany to take part in Forchheim's most prized event. 

I did a whole lot of nothing. Then I went camping. It was pretty much the highlight of my month. I got officially initiated to the cool kids club, I cooked bread on a stick by the campfire, I passed on some american games, and I realized I'm physically incapable of speaking Fränkisch correctly. On the 23rd, das Blog celebrated a special day

This month saw the end of an era as I left Forchheim, but not before conquering the local Walberla. I said my goodbyes and headed up to Dortmund. My first week in Dortmund, I had an even harder goodbye to say.  I then spent the next 2 weeks running all over the city until I almost broke. But after a good start at school and some good news, things started looking up. I even made another vlog!

Even though I had moved into my new apartment, Dortmund was still trying to give me hell. I spent most the month extreme budgeting and dreaming of my first pay day. When it finally came, I treated myself to a little home improvement at my favorite place ever and visiting some new places.

Since the month started with the second week of fall break, I made my great return to Hotel Baptistella. I enjoyed playing all over Franken with Gemma, but eventually I had to head back. I spent a few days at a totally legit and important conference. I got to celebrate a traditional regional event but I missed my favorite American holiday. I got creative when it came some important baking and building that had to be done. 

das Blog went all out Christmas this month. Reminiscing about some favorite past Christmas memories and telling lots of new Christmas stories. I visited a lot of Christmas markets. no really, a lot. My sister came to spend the holidays with me, and then I got busy and stopped posting. But I can promise the rest of December's events will find there way onto das Blog eventually! 

When I look back at this year I have two thoughts: I can't believe it's already over and I can't believe it's only just now ending.  I got to do so much, see lots of new place and old friends and vice versa, that this year could have been a lifetime, and yet all went by so quickly. I'm so excited to see what 2012 has in store (just hopefully not the end of the world). 

But for now I'd just like to wish everyone a 
guten Rutsch 
a very happy new year! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Island of Misunderstood Christmas Songs

As with 90% of the songs played year-round in Germany, 90% of the Christmas music played here is in English.  They don't have quite the repertoire of American radio stations, but the range is quite diverse. The two that I've noticed to be the top dogs of the Christmas genre in Germany are John Lennon's Happy Xmas, War is Over (which I hear more often pronounced here literally as "x"-mas instead of just saying "Christmas", which I enjoy) and Wham's Last Christmas

I realized this Christmas, though, that there are a couple American Christmas classics that could easily lead to a couple misinterpretations in Germany. 
The first, and probably less severe, is Blue Christmas
In the English-speaking world, to be "blue" is a commonly used term to classify someone's mood as sad. It's common enough that I feel confident about 99% of English speakers would understand the meaning if someone just randomly said "I'm so blue" without context clues or anything. So the title "Blue Christmas" is generally pretty self-explanatory. 

In German, however, the word for blue (blau), when used to describe someone, carries a completely different meaning. Over here to be described as "blau" would mean calling them wasted, hammered, fall-down drunk, etc. Not quite the same meaning. But, I do think it gives the song a pretty good twist when you listen to it to mentally replace every "blue" with "drunk". I had a good chuckle, anyway. And oddly, it still kind of makes sense :-p

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, on the whole, is actually ok. It's just one little line in the often-overlooked introduction. To be more specific, it's another reindeer - you know, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen. Although the last two are the actual German words for "thunder" and "lightning," respectively, they are not the magical beasts I'm referring to. The reindeer in question is dear old Vixen, whose name has much cruder meaning in German. 

By "name in German," I don't mean the German version of the reindeer's name (they only have Santa and his reindeer from the English speaking world, so they all have the same names over here). The problem the word "vixen" in English is pronounced exactly like the German word "wichsen." Now, since I haven't completely overcome the standard American bashfulness/awkwardness when talking about sex, you can click the word for a link to the definition (I promise it is just a link to a dictionary!). Or we could just say if this reindeer's name in English was the same as the German meaning he would be Mr. and Mrs. Off's youngest son, Jack. 

This really puts a kink (LOL! I did not even plan that, but I can't change it) in the plan when teaching this song to 5th graders. So, when the giggles wouldn't stop I had to give a little lecture: "In English the word is a reindeer's name, and since this is English class there are no other meanings right now!" It didn't totally work...

So be careful the next time you go caroling in Germany, make sure to double check your song choice before heading out. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

We wish you a German Christmas

Every year around Christmas at school, I get a lot of questions about American Christmas. Which usually then leads to me asking questions about German Christmas. Unfortunately, I've never actually experienced a traditional German Christmas (celebrating a German Christmas is very different to celebrating an American Christmas that just happens to be IN Germany), but I have learned quite a lot about them. So I'd like to share some fun facts about German Christmas - the ones I always find most interesting
a very ETA and Famous Christmas, 2010
Christmas is celebrated on December 24th. 
now, if we're getting technical, December 24th - 26th are officially holidays in Germany, but all the action we normally save for the 25th in the US is done on the 24th in Germany. They go to church on Christmas Eve, they open presents on Christmas Eve. Basically Christmas Eve is where it's at in Germany.

The whole world shuts down for 3 days. 
From the afternoon of December 24th to opening time on December 27th nothing in Germany is open. Ok, ok, so maybe "nothing" is a bit of an exaggeration. But no grocery stores or shops open for over 48 hours. Just imagine - no emergency run to the store when you run out of wine, or when you realize you forgot the key ingredient for tiny Tim's favorite Christmas dish, or - if you're like my family - just because you need a daily run to the store during the holidays (surely there's something else you need)! Andrea and I went shopping yesterday afternoon to stock-up for the big shut down, and I'm pretty sure we got enough food for the whole week.

"and who are you?"
Baby Jesus brings the Christmas presents
In Germany, there is really no Santa Claus as the Americans know him. Instead, the traditional bringer of gifts on Christmas is the Christkind (Christ-child). The story goes, that the Christkind comes in the evening Christmas Eve while everyone is at church. I asked some of my students what happens when they don't go to church on Chrismas Eve and they said they were always told they had to go up to their rooms for the Christkind to come then their parents would ring a little bell that was supposedly baby Jesus letting them know they could come down again. 

St. Nick comes on December 6th 
December 6th is the feast day of St. Nicolas, so that's when he comes to Germany. He is basically the closest representation of the American Santa Claus and he fills the kids shoes with candy and toys if they've been good all year. Over the years the Germans have started to adopt the American image of Santa during Christmas time due to all the influence of American pop culture (I can't tell you how many students have told me they love Christmas Vacation and Home Alone). But American Santa Claus is still associated with Christmas day after Nikolaus comes on December 6th and they call him the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man)

You put the tree up right before Christmas
In the US, Christmas decorating - including the Christmas tree usually happpens between the day after Thanksgiving and December 1st. In Germany, putting up the tree and decorating it is usually done as late as Christmas eve. Prime tree buying time the week before Christmas and a lot of my students said their tradition was to go on the 23rd to get the tree and decorate it on the 24th. For those of you who think this is a depressingly short time with the happiness that is a Christmas tree, don't worry, they keep it up till January 6th, the official end of Christmas in Germany.

But no matter where you are in the world or how you celebrate Christmas - I hope it's a good one!
Merry Christmas from das Blog!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

You go Glenn Coco!

Yesterday when I came in to school, I had this little gem waiting for me at my seat!

And of course I all I could think of was this

Sorry the blogging has been minimal this week (although, I'm sure my facebook friends are thankful for lack of blog post notifications....). Got the sister in town and we've been hittin' up Christmas markets like it's our job! 
We're planning on a super lazy Christmas, though, so expect some updates on our adventures - maybe even from Andrea herself! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grandma got runover by a reindeer

That was all I could think while at the Christmas market in Cologne last weekend. 
Being one of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne has a few different Christmas markets sprinkled around the city.  My adventures took me two of them - one at the cathedral and one in the Altstadt, or old city
I wish I could tell you all about how beautiful the market at the cathedral was with its tent of Christmas lights. Or cute and traditional the Altstadt market was. But all I really can to say about my visit to the Christmas markets in Cologne is that they were PACKED full

I've seriously never seen so many people in one place in my life. I didn't really get to see anything in Cologne besides the back of the head of the person in front of me. I sort of went with the flow of the masses as I fought my way around the markets. I was in Cologne for about 2 hours and I'm pretty sure I spent an hour and a half just trying to figure out where to take my next step. Even in my pictures, when trying to capture the bright Christmas decor all around, I just ended up with some lights shining above the sea of people I was fighting through.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Ok, so maybe there wasn't a hippopotamus, but I did find some pretty unusual things at the Weihnachtsmarkt in Bonn last weekend. 
The award for most disturbing piece of decoration goes to the giant moving, talking moose head on this Glühwein stand. I wish I could tell you what he said, but I think when I realized this life-sized mounted moose head was actually speaking and moving I was sent into such a deep state of shock I repressed any memories more specific than the sheer befuddlement I felt. 

The award for most original Christmas market stand theme goes to Löffel Julius. 
Löffel means spoon in German, and that is exactly what Julius sold in his stand. But not just any old spoons. Löffel Julius sold only the finest wooden spoons of all shapes and sizes. It was the kind of marketing that made you realize you'd been searching for the perfect wooden spoon your whole life, you just never knew it till you gazed upon all Löffel Julius had to offer. Who knew there could be such variety in the wooden spoon business? Löffel Julius, that's who.

And the award for most culturally inappropriate stand goes to the Churros stand. Now granted, my only previous knowledge of Churros is from Taco Bell, but I think that sends a pretty clear message that they're - if nothing else - definitely not German. Ok, so there are plenty of stands at Christmas markets everywhere that sell food and goods that are from other countries and cultures. But those stands usually use the exotic nature of their product as a selling point. Except for a little fine print on the wrapper, there was absolutely nothing identifying this delightful snack as non-German in origin. They would totally have you believe Churros are the your common, everyday German treat. Don't be fooled - they're not! But they were still delicious!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul

You know Shahida? We met during our year in Zürich, but our story is really a Christmas story. A Swedish Christmas story, to be exact.

See, at first Shahida and I didn't really know each other that well, but we hung out with the same group of mutual exchange student friends. One fateful fall night while we were out on the town everyone was discussing their Christmas plans. As most of my friends were European, they all planned on going home. When Shahida heard that I still didn't have any holiday plans she immediately insisted I come back to Sweden with her. Years later, looking back on it, we both always laugh at the randomness of the invitation. We really barely knew each other at that point, but she still asked and I still immediately agreed. For the next month or so leading up to Christmas, Shahida and I decided we better start hanging out more often if we were going to spend Christmas together. And, as they say, the rest was history. 
By the time Christmas rolled around, it was safe to say we had become pretty close, and getting to spend Christmas with Shahida and her family only made us that much more awesome together. Not to mention it helped condition my love of all things Swedish. Like this delightful Marzipan cake. 
And I also got a total kick out of this sauce (and I totally forget what kind of sauce it is exactly) because it's from Sweden and it's called Abba... just like something else I know! 
It was my first Christmas away from home and absolutely amazing! Not only was it the catalyst in meeting one of my best friends, I felt so welcome by Shahida's family and loved getting to experience a Swedish Christmas. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The most wonderful drink of the year

You might have noticed at this point that the Christmas markets are all located outside. And as common sense might have led you to believe that Germany can be quite cold in December. So standing outside for hours at a time to enjoy the markets can get a little bit chilly, to say the least. And when you're moving your feet just to make sure they're still there, the last thing you want to do is drink a cold beer. 

But fear not! After centuries (give or take) of Christmas market practice, those clever Germans devised a way to keep you hydrated without turning your stomach into a giant beersicle. 

Glühwein literarally translates to "glowing wine," and the reality definitely lives up to the name.This ingenious beverage is a staple for the holiday season. And the concept is wonderfully simple. It is a wine (traditionally red, but I have seen a white variation here and there) with different spices added (I could look them up, but that would ruin the magic that gives Glühwein its incomparable taste) and served warm. It is basically impossible to go to Christmas market without enjoying a mug of Glühwein. Especially if you're me. 
Speaking of the mugs. Each Christmas market makes their own unique mug  and they are totally free for the taking, if you so please. 

Of course, by free, I mean you have to pay a deposit when you buy your drink if you don't return your mug, you don't get your deposit back. Some people might point out that you could just buy a clean mug for the regular deposit (usually about 2.50€), but I prefer to keep the mugs I've enjoyed a drink from. It's a bit of a rite of passage for me. And as a person who doesn't often buy souvenirs, I'm all about the Glühwein mugs. I have one from every Christmas market I've ever visited from my past 2 Christmases in Europe and this year's collection is coming along quite nicely as well. 
Glühwein is definitely one of my favorite parts of the Christmas markets. Even if it's snowing and below freezing and all you want to do is stay inside in the warmth, the promise of enjoying a Glühwein at the Christmas market is all the motivation I need to head out on a cold December night! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sister Claus is Coming to Town

As Christmas gets closer and my post titles get lamer.. 

Speaking of the approaching holiday, I'm pretty excited about my plans. And as you might have guessed from today's awesome post title - my sister is coming to Germany!
She gets here on Monday and is staying in Germany for 2 weeks. Then in the new year we're heading to Scotland together to one of my favorite cities with one of my favorite people

I'm super excited she's coming and that she'll get to see Germany during my favorite season! Don't worry - we have plenty of Weihnachtsmärkte on the itinerary! :D

Monday, December 12, 2011

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas

When I last saw Gemma at the beginning of November, we decided our next rendezvous should be at a halfway point to enjoy a Christmas market together. And it turns out there is a pretty good half way point between our two cities - Frankfurt
On that Sunday morning not so long ago, I woke up at 5:30 am (something I'd only do for Gemma) to make the 3 hour journey down to Frankfurt. Of course, when one is relying on Deutsche Bahn to get your around, you have to prepared to stop randomly at any given place for over an hour and arrive at your final destination almost 2 hours late. But after that, minor hiccup, our visit to the Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt went smoothly. 

We got to enjoy each other's company... 
the festive scenery...
and the rain. 
That's right, it rained the entire day. But don't you worry, this did not dampen anyone's Christmas spirits. If you thought a little precipitation could keep the Christmas market enthusiasts away, you would be completely wrong. As we made our way back to the train station at the end of our day together, it was through a sea of umbrellas and an otherwise uninterrupted Christmas market atmosphere! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

baby, it's cold outside

Last year's Christmas season is defined in my memory by insane amounts of snow. But, ironically, the coldest I can remember was actually one without snow. I remember it so well, too, because it was the day Gemma and I visited the Christmas Market in Nürnberg

You may notice that the market in Nürnberg is called a "Christkindlesmarkt" instead of a Weihnachtsmarkt. That literally means "Christ Child Market" and might have to do with the fact that in Germany the Christkind (or Christ child) is the one that delivers presents on Christmas night, not Santa Claus (but more on that later). But regardless of what it's called, it's still the same thing.
The Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt is probably the most famous in Germany. I'm not entirely sure why, but I can confirm, it is well deserved. 
Luckily, living less than an hour away, I got to visit the Nürnberg market on more than one occasion last year. But on particular visit sticks out as the absolute coldest I can remember. Now, I couldn't tell you exactly what the temperature was, just that Gemma and I were so cold we bought Glühwein just to hold on to something warm and spent 30 minutes walking through a grocery store just to get out of the cold. 
Even after we lost feeling in all our extremities, were still able to enjoy the perfect Christmas atmosphere at the market. I mean, set in the idyllic Nürnberg market square, how could we not?
The absolute best part of the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt, though, is hidden around the corner from the main market. Now, most people wouldn't really call Nürnberg's sister city market the best part, but most people don't come from (well, almost come from) one of Nürnberg's sister cities - Atlanta! 
I almost peed my pants with excitement when I saw the Atlanta stand! When I proudly told the girl working the stand that I was from the area, she did not seem nearly as excited as I had hoped. I then spent the next 20 minutes pointing at every item for sale and going "oh! I know that!" And for those 20 minutes, I forgot just how cold it really was. 
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