Saturday, May 31, 2008

Schwabing flohmarkt

I decided to give Stefan quiet afternoon to study by heading out for my first flea market. I've read about flea markets and probably got a bit of a false reality of what they were like. I guess I wasn't aware there was so much crap for sale. Adults and children alike cleaned out their things and set up shop on the streets and inner court yards. Some sold interesting items, while others had pure junk, however that's probably in the eye of the beholder. Even some of the stores through the neighborhood offered sales.

The strangest things that I saw, were things made of fur and surfboards. I guess the surfboards shouldn't be so odd since we have the Eisbach where people surf, but I didn't expect that.

I also really liked the war time money, old typewriter, and red metal chairs. I left those treasures for someone else to find.

Other great things that I saw through the day were an adorable little girl on her tyke bike (without peddles), floral shadows on someone's box of junk, and a hip version of a granny cart made out of a rice bag.

My treasures for the day for less than 12€ were: two kitschy + vintage looking steins - complete with lids, an old school atlas from the early 1900s, and a German English dictionary.

Stefan and I have been talking about old maps for some time, because there is the most beautiful antique map shop called Antiquariat am Gasteig, that I pass on occasion. It's located at Rosenheimerstraße 8. Opening hours are Tuesdays and Fridays from 10:30am until 2:30pm, so I have yet to visit.

My fascination with maps, travel, and trade routes gets the best of me when I see these beautiful antique depictions of the world, so naturally this old outdated atlas grabbed my attention. I love how Canada is 'British North America'.

I know I probably have a large variety of bilingual dictionaries already, but this one had old German and the beautiful font made it special. I'm curious at what point they decided to change their scripted letters. Stefan's grandfather taught him how to write old German, although he forgets.

After the flea markets I walked through town. I noticed that tourist season is picking up, and it made me appreciative for less trafficked short cuts around town. I also saw that dean and david was finally open inside of Fünf Höfe - and they are utilizing the beautiful little courtyard perfectly. As soon as Stefan has some time we'll head over for lunch. The dotted screen that casts the most beautiful little shadows has a zen quality to it and drips water into the pools below. I think it's such a pretty little place.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The best bread in Munich

Ihle bakery is my absolute favorite bakery in all of Munich. It's located inside the Hauptbahnhof. Not only do they have the most delicious bread, but they are very friendly. Each day, without the sake of sounding boring, I buy the same loaf of bread - a 'Tomate Pane'. Even in Europe, good bread doesn't come cheap - it's 3.10€ /$4.82 a loaf.

The man that works behind the counter has grown accustomed to seeing me. He always reaches for the freshest loaf and then is a bit flirtatious. He follows up my order with an original and random question that makes me laugh. Examples are: if I want to eat it there or take it with me, if I want it with ketchup or mayo, if I want a bag, or if I want a tomato and mozzarella sandwich or the tomato bread that I order every day.

I love when people have fun doing their jobs. I know several grocery store cashiers here that could learn a thing or two about that. I think being kind to others would make them happier too. All I can offer is a smile and appreciate when I cross the path of someone else that enjoys life.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

everything is shifting

The natural ebb and flow of the Earth and it's plates seems more prevalent lately. I just heard about the earthquake 30 miles SE from Reykjavik.

Despite it's tiny size, Iceland has a fault line running through it, making it not geologically stable. I really hope it gets all of it's tremors out of the way before we visit in August.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The World Without Us

Right now I am reading the New York Time's best seller + Time Magazine's #1 Nonfiction book of 2007, ‘The World Without Us’ by Alan Weisman. It contains all of the things that fascinate me: people and their reactions to the world, nature and how hard humanity must fight to maintain what they have created, architecture, history, and the environment - all tied together. I'm really loving it and don't want it to end.

The book takes into consideration what the world may be like if humans ceased to exist due to a virus outbreak or some other unforeseen catastrophe. While it may sound like a doomsday type of book, it's really more of a reality check and an interesting look at how nature rules the world.

I love that the author is creative and well researched. He writes with both scientific and investigative styles, but it's never dull. He intertwines some interesting things that are my favorites: Gaudi, Varosha - the dilapidated and deserted resort in Cyprus, building things to last, and subway systems... and that's only the beginning of the book.

I'm amazed with his theory that despite nature taking over, bronze statues would still remain for over 10 million years. That would definitely make people from the bronze age and artists that continue using this old medium to feel as though the contributed to the memory of mankind.

Another interesting point according to Turkish civil engineer, Mete Sözen, who now works at Purdue University in Indiana, is that Istanbul will experience a major earthquake in the next 30 years. That prediction was made in 2005, so I should say 27 years. Since the city grew so fast and wasn't built well it would suffer immense devastation.

I majored in Art History and am very interested in places like this and of course Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine sanctuary and museum. It's one of the few structures that is predicted to remain, in part because Mimar Sinan's architectural skills. I really want to see it before any natural disasters occur. I've been telling Stefan we need to make it to Istanbul and now I know it's more pressing.

Lately I really fear with oil coming to an end that technology may have to regress since it's necessary in making current machines function. When I think about the things that were achieved without tons of technology, but sheer man power, like the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China, I am just amazed. It will be interesting to see in my life time how humans are forced to cope with things.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

balcony biergarten

While I was at class today and Stefan was procrastinating, he decided to get our biergarten ready for the summer season. I almost had to put one of my dirndl's on to celebrate... almost.

Not only did he surprise me with that - he also went to get Indian food at Ganesha for lunch. I love surprises like that!

We enjoyed breaking in the biergarten for the 2008 season and sharing radlers as we discussed how much we love how quiet things are, despite living so close to the city center. Evenings like this make me really appreciate our little home and cosy balcony.

Our biergarten has a fair amount of history - the table and benches were bought right after the world cup for 30€ total and our custom made bronze sign was a bridal shower gift from my parents. We even have our own half litre mugs bought at the lovely Tourist Information office at the Hauptbahnhof. I wish I had bought one from Oktoberfest 2006. I still have to look near the tourist alley by Hofbräuhaus and hope I find one.

The table set came from Fünf Höfe and I decided we had to have it. It was a smaller set so it would fit nicely on our balcony without taking up all of the space. Unfortunately it was a Saturday and Sunday the stores would be closed.

We went to another store on the outskirts of town to see if they had one that we could easily transport. I'm not sure what persuaded Stefan, but I'm guessing it was a combination of promises of beers and cookouts with Bavarian flair. He may have also added a little something about not wanting to hear me whine all of Sunday. They didn't have it and I was devastated. Sunday he probably heard about my disappointment some more and then we went as soon as the store opened the next day. (Yes, I know this is a very American thing of me to do).

The only problem was he believed taking our car was not an option, since there wouldn't be anywhere to park. We decided if they had it we would have to carry it on the UBahn. While moving things on the public transport is frowned upon, we didn't have a choice - this table had to come to our balcony.

I was impressed that Stefan honestly believed a small little lady like myself would be able to carry this thing even with his assistance. However, that was short lived - it continued to get heavier and heavier and he continued to offer more support about my great strength. Suddenly my hands were feeling the pain. As soon as we reached our subway stop we caught glares from people as we navigated the escalator. I was happy that we were almost home. That's when my strength stopped and I requested he go get the car. And there I sat with our table and benches waiting for him to come back.

Now the rest is history and we can enjoy our very own 'Stammtisch'. The biergarten sign is much nicer than it looks... I covered up our last name so we wouldn't have stragglers inviting themselves over. Hopefully I will get more pictures up once it's complete and filled with friends!

Aren't summer evenings with loved ones wonderful?

Monday, May 26, 2008

chili chocolate ice cream cakes

I love chocolate and anything spicy, so naturally I really enjoy chili chocolate. Surprisingly, I didn't even have to use one of my bake mixes from home. Isn't it impressive they have chili chocolate cake mix and ice cream here? With that I decided to make the obvious paring.

After a lot of patience and freezer time, my petit chocolate chili ice cream cakes were ready today. I grated a little bit of Vosges chili chocolate over the top with a sprinkle of salt to make the little air bubbles less prevalent and make them a little prettier. What I like most about them, besides the flavor, is how tiny they are. It's a decadent little treat that provides a nice study break for both Stefan and myself. Can you believe he never had ice cream cake before this?

Here's how I made them:
First, I put ice cream into the silicone mini heart cupcake pan and froze it. 
I then baked the cake in another mini heart cupcake pan and waited for it to cool. Unfortunately getting them out didn't work as well as planned, so I had to make them à la Ben + Jerry's, and simply mash the cake crumbles onto the ice cream and refreeze them. 

The next day they were finished and came out nicely. They are so simple.

I can't wait to delight the inner child of other Germans that aren't familiar with the ice cream cake concept.

Now I can just dream of a larger freezer so I could make them more often.

If you didn't know, May is cupcake + ice cream roundup month, get to baking + freezing!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

wedding gifts

I am very excited to be going to my first German (Bavarian) wedding in just a couple of weeks. Stefan's cousin Andi is getting married and we are celebrating their church wedding. They already had their legal wedding last December, however the big celebration will happen in June.

We are trying to decide exactly what to give them and how to present it. I was amazed at the generosity and creativity of people when we were married. Among my favorite gifts were my aunt tailoring my wedding dress so it fit perfectly, another aunt designing and making our programs, a piece of artwork from our reception site (the site itself was a gallery / restaurant), personalized platters and ornaments, and of course one gift that almost wasn't.

Every wedding has it's snafu's that end up making things memorable. Mine still makes me slightly upset, but that's also probably typical. We got married before noon for a variety of reasons, but namely because we wanted to enjoy the evening with friends that we knew we wouldn't see for quite some time due to our move.

This didn't leave a lot of time to get things done in the morning, however being the wise bride that I was, I decided that we should get more flowers at the market the morning of the wedding. I thought it would be easier to send Ryan, one of my attendants, to pick them up. He and my mom went and didn't find any white flowers that were tall enough for my vases.

The morning chaos continued when Ryan and I went to Panera for a quick breakfast, while my Mom was searching for open flower shops that also had tall white flowers for the vases. Rather than giving my Mom time to get ready, or be present to help me get ready, she was getting the flowers according to my wishes. I never realized it would be such a task.

My parents arrived just in time to walk me down the aisle. It would have been nicer to have them witness the first time Stefan and I saw each other, and the other sentimental moments brides go through. The difficult part is realizing they were doing everything in their power to make me happy on my special day. It was a bitter sweet time since they were happy that we were getting married, but only preparing themselves for me to move so far away. Of course I was wrapped up in making things nice.

My Mom found white dendrobium orchids and white roses for the vases. Some were used to decorate the church, while others were used at our reception. Unfortunately some got left behind in someone's car, which I would have preferred not to know, especially considering the circumstances.

After the wedding she suggested that I get my flowers freeze dried and preserved. My bouquet was not going to stand a chance, since it was made of cattleya orchids, however the dendrobiums that she purchased were still able to be salvaged even days after the wedding.

I decided to get an ornament made, and I am very happy that I did. Now when I look at it I am reminded of my parents and all that they sacrifice to make me happy, as well as the chaos of my wedding. It's a lasting memento reminding me that time is fleeting in many ways.

So as I think about things that we could give Andi + Steffi, that would be meaningful and special, I realize that sometimes the most meaningful things come when they are least expected. Simply having all of the people you care about together is a feat in itself. Surely their day will also be filled with snafus, however I hope they are lasting memories that make them smile in hindsight.

And in the meantime I'll be trying to think of something original and sweet. Unfortunately Germany isn't up with the times in freeze drying flowers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

the ben + jerry days

Many moons ago I worked at Ben + Jerry's and it was one of the best jobs I could have asked for. Ice cream is such a simple thing that always make people happy. I also loved my job because I was able to sample all of the new flavors and eat as much ice cream as I desired.

I knew certain customers and their preferred flavors, and could rattle off the flavors and ingredients without batting an eye. Other perks were being entertained by some of the strange characters that would come in. What's not to love?

One of my favorite people that would visit on occasion was 'The cab lady'. She was very particular. If she paid for anything she would want you to put her change on the counter, or sometimes she'd offer up 'I'll pay you later' (later never came). She often left her shoes outside on the step, although once she completely left them.

The real reason she came in was to ask if we would call a cab for her. The first time I encountered her I went into the back room and asked a coworker to deal with it because I was in tears from laughing about the fact she really did exist. I could hardly speak. The lore of the cab lady lived on.

Her cab was called and after she sat around for nearly an hour I called the company back. They responded that she was already picked up, to which I told them, 'If she was picked up she wouldn't still be sitting here waiting'. I knew they also had encountered 'The cab lady' and probably didn't take too well to her 'I'll pay you later' approach to doing business.

Finally a cabbie came in and said, 'Did someone order a cab?'

I said, 'She did', as I motioned in her direction.

The look on his face was priceless as he said, 'Oh shit.'

Another time there was 'the laughing lady'. She was laughing hysterically while she was standing in line and by the time I was trying to take her order she was still laughing. It was the kind of laugh that you wonder if something hilarious is going on around you, so you join in out of uncertainty. Except - it didn't stop. I stood there laughing with her until I realized she had some kind of problem. Somehow she was able to order what she wanted and then went to sit down continuing her laughing spell. If I had to have some kind of mental illness I'd take what she had.

Don't get me wrong - the job did have it's downsides, although they were usually over by the time the day ended. Unless a flavor was sent to the 'Flavor Graveyard', especially if I liked it.

One summer we did run into a bit of a problem because the man that had recently bought our Ben + Jerry's franchise decided he was going to invest as little as possible into the store. When the air conditioner went out the store was a sauna... especially with the large freezers working overdrive.

Other days I would worry about a regular that would come in with his walker and his slippers rubber banded onto his swollen feet. He always ordered 'Dilbert's World Totally Nuts' and had his $1.99 in his hand. I often gave it to him free. The days he didn't come I was worried he was no longer alive after he commented on his declining health. Not long after he stopped coming 'Dilbert's World' was retired.

Vermoster groups were also dreaded. They usually entailed many children surrounding a bucket of 20 scoops of ice cream and a myriad of other toppings that typically turned into a soupy mess. Excitable children, sticky things, and sugar mixed together are a force to be reckoned with.

Free Cone Day was also not my favorite, since the line wrapped around the block, but it was easy enough.

Another funny memory, was when I opened the store to learn that a cake order was not made ahead of time and we were supposed to also work at an Oktoberfest, make waffle cones, and the day's cookies + brownies. My parents came through to help and by noon we all felt like hell from racing around. We survived and can now laugh about how ridiculous it was.

Lately I have been craving an ice cream cake and I can never again think of ice cream cake without reminiscing about Ben + Jerry's and all of the cakes and obscure requests we worked to fulfill.

Tomorrow I am making mini chocolate chili ice cream cakes. I'd love to make them tonight, but let's be serious... I have an incredibly small freezer so I will have to make some space.


Lately I go back and forth with the idea of moving. Ideally we would appreciate a larger space, however we love our neighborhood and being so close to the city center. While we could always find something in the same area, it will probably take some time considering it's a desired place to be. Not only that, there are certain 'must have' features we'd want for an apartment when we already have most of them here. 

It's also nice to not acquire more things that will only tie us down. This will enable us to put money towards savings, traveling, and investing in other worth while things.

I'm also very happy with the possibility of acquiring art work. I already have my eye on another Joe Sorren piece.

The more we think about it the more we are content with the idea of staying here and making our home more tailored to our needs. It's great that Stefan is helpful in that department as he offers up suggestions as opposed to saying 'sure whatever, it looks nice'. 

As we discuss interior design aspects, I think of the beautiful things I have seen and saved from magazines, the internet, and design stores. I instantly recalled seeing beautiful and organic looking plastic pieces while I was 'working' in Salzburg. I must have the best job if I get free time to shop! These unique pieces are designed by French brothers, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec. They can be restructured according to the owner's wishes, but what I like most about them is their versatility... they can function as a room divider or a wall hanging and come in a variety of colors.

I've also considered getting one of Tord Boontje's beautiful midsummer night hanging lights. I just don't want to go overkill on the delicate lacy effects. Plus, it's such a dramatic piece and I'm not certain it would go with the rest of our design aesthetic.

I guess the notion that we are even entertaining ideas of redecorating is exciting. Since we don't have a large place, it will be easy to invest in nice things and make it cohesive and tailored towards our personalities and interests. I'm sure I'm making it sound more simple than it actually is. Maybe we'll even enter the Apartment Therapy tiny spaces contest next year!

I'm also on the look out for a modern buffet that opens into a table. My Grandma has one, although I'm hoping to find an updated version. Unfortunately it was one of those days where I enter every descriptive thing I'm looking for into google and still come up with stories on Warren Buffet rather than a buffet. The closest match for a modern white buffet is one I saw in that catalog of Interio, a design shop in Salzburg. While it's beautiful, it's still lacking the table aspect.

I'm certain we can't be the only people living in a small space that want versatile pieces of furniture! ... The search will continue or perhaps we'll have something custom made.

Friday, May 23, 2008

chilly weather

Lately we have been having constant rain. You'd think we lived in Seattle. I'm really kind of enjoying it though. I've always been one for rainy day accessories - umbrellas and rain boots are just wonderful, and I don't think there is anything more precious than a child in their wellies and rain slicker. When I was kid, we were allowed to go outside and play in the rain if it wasn't storming. We called ourselves 'puddle ducks'. It's been a puddle duck kind of week although the temperature is slowly rising.

I'm also enjoying the colder weather because it has me thinking about our upcoming trip for our 2nd anniversary. Last year we did the romantic thing of heading to Paris + Reims, however this year we have some adventure up our sleeves... we are going to go to Iceland and Greenland!

We figured it's a once in a lifetime kind of trip and we might as well check out both islands while we are there. I am a little sad that we will most likely miss the Northern lights, but we'll have plenty of daylight since we're visiting in the summer. We won't be far enough North for the midnight sun, but I'm still happy there are more options with the long day light hours. It's fascinating just how much day light really tricks your body. When we went to Stockholm for New Years it was dusk at 3:30PM and we definitely felt tired around 7PM.

The funny part is that my in-laws are also heading to Iceland in August. We just found out they booked their trip, although they are going towards the beginning of the month and we are going towards the end.

(photos of Iceland by Ragnar Th. Sigurðsson, photos of Greenland from Greenland tourist information)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Home vs. Heim

The US vs. Germany (Bavaria)... obvious cultural differences

This is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but it's interesting for me to step back and look at the oddities that make each culture unique. These are a few things that continue to strike me about Bavaria.

In America you would never see someone on TV with bad skin, a unibrow, or that was sweating. Here people are allowed to be more human. I recall the first time I saw newscasters in Germany and it surprised me how unpolished they were. People are much more comfortable with their bodies here.

Germans also love anything that claims it helps the body and health. There are tons of thermal spas as well as entire communities devoted to calm and healthy living. Ironically, when we went to a thermal spa, there were people outside smoking - so much for that. 'Bio' (organic) food is also quite popular even with discount stores, such as the German chain Aldi, selling organic produce. People here like to believe they are healthy. Weekend activities often include hiking and going on walks - complete with walking sticks, which regularly can often be spotted in the city as well.

Today in my German class we had an entire lesson devoted to reading a letter written by the 'Hausmeister' (janitor) regarding what was appropriate and what was not. There are plenty signs designating when things are 'verboten' and neighbors will on occasion tack a message in front of the mail boxes if they believe someone is violating the rules. This anonymous passive aggressive behavior is quite normal. Even if you are a foreigner, you had better be one that follows the rules and understand them! Especially watch out for 'ruhetag' - Sunday's day of rest, when drilling, hammering, lawn mowing and generally anything causing noise are also 'verboten'. 

Here everything is sorted - forget throwing trash in one dumpster... there are separate receptacles for organic matter, glass (which is sorted by color), paper, and finally packaging. Even at fast food chains they have places to put trays where someone gets the glorious job of picking through the refuse and putting it in the proper place. The people here are very disciplined and expect everyone else to be as well.

There are receptacles for used clothing, although from what I am told even that is then sorted and they are picky about what they take. There is no good will type store - either you afford things or you don't. I believe the donated things go to some kind of Red Cross. In all fairness, people here don't buy as many clothes since they are expensive, so there is probably less of a 'that's so last season' approach in getting rid of things.

Helping one another
This is a matter that I am torn on. For instance, last week I was riding the S-Bahn and there was a children's group with a couple adults. Whenever I see these groups I wonder how they are able to take so many little ones on mass humanity transportation. The group was disembarking and I noticed two little children looking confused and I quickly hurried them off after the rest of the group.

Just as the doors were closing another woman noticed a child with the same visor sleeping. She scooped her up and we tried to rush her out, only it was too late. We rode up to the next stop and got off with this little girl who was in tears. I was holding her and trying to console her by asking what her name was and what she did today (obviously in German). We waited at the next stop and someone fortunately came to retrieve her. Instances like this people watch out for others. Typically people here don't speak to each other, yet there is less personal space, so perhaps that's the trade off.

During embarrassing situations there seem to be more gawkers. I really feel like people enjoy watching other people go through hard times. They must if they even have a word for it, 'schadenfreude' (pleasure derived from other's misfortunes). Examples of this would be: being 3 cents short for something and no one offers spare change - instead the cashier makes a scene... or getting on the bus at the last minute with cash to buy a ticket - only it takes coins and no one offers to help you so you have to get off despite having money to pay.

This is one of Germany's trademarks. Everything has a place and there is a job for everyone, although there is a caste system - you won't often find a German as the bathroom attendant or janitor. Everything from the Post office to the Kreisverwaltungsreferat (office for foreigners) follows this mode of getting things done. The strange part is that it doesn't seem readily regulated. If you go one day you will get a a different price for your letter or different answer regarding your visa. It's really strange to me.

In the US people are very strict about putting food in the refrigerator and not 'double dipping'. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not going to contract some kind of disease if things aren't refrigerated, but it's something that is difficult to adjust to. I still don't think I will ever grow accustomed to warm beverages and the lack of ice. I have to bag my own ice and store it in an already small freezer so I have enough for margaritas and other drinks.

I am all about the holidays here, which seem to be at least once a month. Many of them are religious (Catholic), but regardless of what religion you are everything is closed. It is nice to have time with family and have some downtime, however it also leads to avoiding the grocery at any and all costs.

What's amazing is that even if the grocery is closed for one day during the week, the night before the shelves will go bare and people act as though they must ration food. Then begins the fight to get in line and inevitably having someone with a large cart of groceries slide into line ahead of someone with only a few things. You can guess which one of those people I am. Another invention that hasn't made it to Germany is an express lane. I can do without stores being open 24 hours, 7 days a week, however the mad rush for one day is a bit much... especially when you only need eggs to bake a cake.

cross cultural lessons

Often times I am learning much more than just German in class. Here are things I learned this week, according to random classmates + my teacher:

Angelica, a woman from Chile, told me all about her new permanent makeup (aka tattoos). She got her eyebrows done and eyeliner tattooed into her eyelashes. She said the woman that did it came to her house. It costed 200€ total compared to 500€ if she had gotten it done at a salon here.

I tried to ask more questions but she struggles understanding. All I got was that the woman that did it came from Paraguay and didn't have it done herself. The funniest part was that she started asking random classmates if they also had it done, so I then asked her if she actually finds other women that say they also have permanent makeup and she said yes. She wasn't sure how often she would need it refreshed, although she guessed twice a year.

According to Matsumi, who comes from Japan, women in Japan don't get this done. She says the industry is big with Korean women who also love plastic surgery.

Other revelations for me this week were about our CV's / resumes. Our teacher said said that it's required in Germany to put a picture on your CV, as well as your marital status, birth date, and whether or not you have children. (I've heard some of this before). She was very frank that people are discriminated against, especially for their age and appearance. Again, I could not hide my shock and dismay.

It sounds like photos on CV's are the consensus around the world (at least from the countries of my classmates, save Peru + the US). Matsumi even said that people in Japan must hand write their CV. And I'm supposed to think Germans are going to want to hire me, an 'Ausländer' (foreigner)? Fortunately I have a job I love.

Since Germans are health loving and very body oriented, somehow the topic came up in our book that it was healthy to take cold showers. The teacher asked everyone if they did this to increase their immune systems. Angelica says she does, and then turns to me and says, 'keine Cellulitis' (no cellulite) as she pointed to her hips. And here I thought I had my good genes to thank.

Germans also have a sickness, which they call 'kreislauf'. The word translates to 'circulation'. All I can figure is that it's dizziness or an ailment unique to the German population. I have to laugh when I hear someone say they have kreislauf and act as though it's a major issue, although it seems to be unique to them. If I have a dizzy spell it's hardly worthy of labeling with a sickness.

During our breaks the conversations are always rather interesting. The two South American women were saying how great German men are when compared to the machismo attitudes of the men from their homelands. They loved having the ability to work if they desired to and that they weren't expected to stay home and cater to a man's needs.

Lastly is pop culture. Valeré, a young woman from Kosovo, always plays music. Even if it's early morning and she's working on her homework, she will start playing music on her cell phone. It's always something that evokes a lot of energy that I envision playing in a dance club... only it's not even 9AM.

In our unit on music we discussed what types of music we prefer. Matsumi and I were asked what our favorite music groups were. She said Radiohead and I said Coldplay. While I would say Radiohead is slightly more obscure than Coldplay, she was passed over and I was met with blank stares. Not even the young people in my class had heard of Coldplay. I went into it further by saying the lead singer is married to Gwyneth Paltrow... still nothing. Thankfully Matsumi shook her head and reassured me that we weren't complete freaks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bavaria... Germany's Texas

Bavaria's brother from another mother...
Germany is slightly smaller in size compared to Texas, however I'm concentrating mainly on Bavaria, after all I'm only comparing the two states. 

This may come as a surprise to many, however there are many reasons why I have come to this conclusion and lucky for you ... here is my rational:
  • They are both Southern and central states - Texas is central in America, Bavaria is southern in Germany and central in Europe. 
What Germany is lacking in size compared to Texas, they are clearly not lacking in their Bavarian amour-propre.
  • I have noticed that if you confront an American that is from Texas they will proudly reiterate they are from Texas and may also throw something in about being the only state that was once it's own country. Bavarians also have immense amounts of pride. On my train ride to Ljubljana, I overheard someone in the next compartment telling tourists from Australia that he was 'Bavarian'. I had to laugh... then I had to laugh a bit more as I walked past and noticed he was a police man. He continued to recount to the family that they were in Bavaria. 
They both have a unique distinguishing 'uniform' and women with hair unique to their area of the country.
  • Texas has: cowboy boots, blue jeans, cowboy hats, and bolo ties, and women with big hair.
  • Bavarians have: lederhosen, woolen jackets, and women with burgundy hair (OK, so the burgundy hair is not unique to Bavaria.) 
Both places are recognized internationally for one state. 
  • When I travel, people I meet that have never been to the US instantly tell me how they also want to lasso horses and live the 'wild west' that is portrayed in movies. 
  • Americans see lederhosen and instantly think 'Germany'... au contraire - that my friends is strictly a Bavarian thing.
Texas is a state with many immigrants and distinct sentiments on how they should behave or contribute to society - Bavaria likewise, has many immigrants and distinct sentiments.
  • Both states under many circumstances, don't really follow a politically correct way of approaching the matter.
  • Politically both states are traditionally very conservative.
Munich's own, M. Sasek, wrote children's books about many wonderful cities of the world... and also one about a state, you guessed it - Texas.

Another area of similarity is that both states have very distinct accents. 
  • Bavarians have so much pride in not being understood by people that speak 'hoch Deutsch' that they even have a name for it - Boarische Språch (Bairisch). If you end up on a subway and the driver sounds like he's under the influence, chances are good he's just speaking with a Bavarian dialect. As for America, I'd like to say President Bush has a Texas accent, however I think he has something uniquely his own going on - some would even debate he sounds like he's under some kind of influence.
The connection isn't so far fetched according to Wikipedia:
"In 1842, German nobles organized the Adelsverein, banding together to buy land in central Texas to enable German settlement. The Revolutions of 1848 acted as another catalyst for so many immigrants that they became known as the "48ers". Many were educated artisans and businessmen. Germans continued to arrive in considerable numbers until 1890."
There is even a 'Boarischn' Wikipedia.

So there you have it... 

Sunday, May 18, 2008

weekend of cooking

There is a really beautiful and inspirational website called Tastespotting that has images of food and recipes linked from various blogs and websites. The food always makes me want to cook so that's just what I did this weekend.

First, to curb hunger pangs, we enjoyed a simple tomato and mozzarella salad with creamy balsamico. When I used to visit Stefan I ate this with ciabatta bread every single day. I still have not grown tired of it. Fresh mozzarella is a wonderful thing. As a funny side note, when Stefan was in the US he really liked mozzarella 'string cheese' that kids grow up having in their lunch boxes. We had to show him the way the kids eat it. I really love how excited he gets about the small things he never experienced as a child. You can imagine how exciting Halloween was for him.

The next course of the day was coconut baked shrimp with a curry dipping sauce and watermelon. I love all things curry and there is a delicious 'Hochzeit' (wedding) curry that I have found here in Munich. It is made by Alfons Schuhbeck, the famed German chef who also has several ice cream shops that I frequent. When in doubt his shops have tons of flavor varieties. Carrying through with the curry theme we also had a curry for dinner.

I made a tikka masala that we always enjoy. I love Indian food so much that I had to learn to make it, or else the workers at Ganesha would wonder why I came so often. I've yet to master making paneer, which is Indian cheese, but that may be an upcoming project. Thankfully the Indian grocery has a lot of interesting things and I am always able to find something new to try.

I really should learn how to cook more Bavarian types of food, however I'm just not a wurst eater. It's also difficult to make pretzels when delicious ones are so easily accessible here. I'll have to set aside a coming weekend to make Obatzda, a Bavarian delicacy made with cheese, and make a special German meal to take to the biergarten. If biergartens weren't great on their own, patrons can also bring their own food according to the Bayerische Biergartenverordnung (Bavarian beer garden decree). I also love that many people bring their own table cloths.

It's just about time for us to open our balcony biergarten for the season!

salted peanut butter brownies

My mom is notorious for making brownies for breakfast and today I decided to do the same. I made mine with a mix of peanut butter and a sprinkle of salt. They are heavenly.

I often feel as though I have to ration my baking mixes. Inevitably when I go home, my bags are stocked with cake mixes and other cooking and baking necessities. One of my favorites to bring, is an Oreo whipped dessert that is completely effortless and yet people go crazy over it. I also bring American peanut butter. We have peanut butter here as well, however it's not as creamy.

Last time I flew back to Germany I had an economy sized peanut butter in my carry on. Unfortunately they considered it a gel and therefore I had to go back to recheck it in another bag. The man behind the counter asked if Germany didn't have peanut butter. I felt guilty admitting they do and that it's a bit grittier. He laughed. I didn't expect him to understand. German peanut butter is edible, however I only use it in sauces so I can conserve my beloved Jif.

I read a great book called 'The Culture Code' by Clotaire Rapaille, that said peanut butter is to Americans what cheese is to the French, because it's a comfort food from childhood. It's not nearly as popular here as something like Nutella, but it does give me happy thoughts - particularly if it's paired with chocolate.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My latest venture

I was just realizing just how many books I have made through the past few years. While most of them are more personal in nature, I'm working on making some that are beautiful and more general.

It's unbelieveable that Stefan and I have been married for nearly two years... the time certainly flies. For our wedding I decided to forgo the old guest book or signature mat picture frame and I created a book of our years together with blank spaces for our guests to write wishes, advice, or whatever else the found suitable for the occasion. It turned into a really nice keepsake.

After our wedding I made a book of our photos and another one for our honeymoon. It's nice to have our memories in these nice leather bound books and also to be able to show them to our less techno savvy Grandma's.

My latest venture is making a book of our travels each year and occasionally transforming images into birth and wedding announcements for my friends. Since I love color and traveling it is no surprise that I really like to combine the two and thankfully I have plenty of international friends that are expecting.

I also think a child's first year '365 project' is such a special gift idea, of course that requires a diligent and dedicated parent taking photos every day.

The book making site I like best (if you are willing to do it on your own or with the help of a creative friend) is Blurb. The results are very professional and beautiful. Another tip - if you sign up for emails they occasionally send out offers like free shipping.

If you end up making one send me the preview link - I'd love to see them!

Happy book making!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

language school culture clashes

Sometimes I have to remind myself that people coming to Germany bring bits of their own culture along with them - other times it's very blatant. One thing that I am continually surprised about here is how people aren't politically correct on many fronts - Germans included. I find myself feeling like I should pick my jaw up off of the floor after hearing the way people talk to one another or make assumptions (and voice them) about other people's home lands.

An example would be Alex, a classmate from the Ukraine. He's always seeking attention in what I perceive as an attempt to bring humor to the class, although he's not typically successful. Not only that, he's the character that likes to question the teacher to death and bring up obscure examples about how a carpet doesn't necessarily have to lay on the floor because if you roll it up it's also able to stand on the floor. I usually end up confused by most of the things he says so I try hard to ignore him. That's not always easy because he sits next to me every single day. No matter how I try to rearrange the chairs so that he's not thisclose he's always too close for my comfort, especially because he reeks of cigarette smoke. Today he showed me a provocative photo of his daughter on his cell phone, which was odd, although I could tell he was very proud. I had nothing better to ask than how old she was, to which he responded '19'.

This week he told a Japanese woman in the class he could speak Japanese and then he started making noises. We all looked at him like he was ridiculous and shook our heads. Fortunately body language can cross language barriers.

Some people are talkers even with language barriers. It's probably because we've all been thrown in together and share our new German life as a commonality, but there aren't many topics that are off limits. I realize we all want to know a bit about the faces we share our weekdays with, however I am surprised when I'm immediately asked not only how old I am and if I have children, but when I plan to have them. People get personal very quick.

Today the woman in my class from Iran was telling me all about her surgeries. She was told she would never have children after 4 surgeries and then she woke up sick one day and it took two months for her to figure out she was pregnant. She said since she's a Christian she attributes her daughter's birth to many prayers. She was very vocal that although she thinks I'm still young I should have a child next year so we can 'grow up together'. (She had her daughter at 36 and thinks people shouldn't have children after 30.)

I'm intrigued that she knows so little about my life but is already deciding that next year would be a good time for me based purely on my age. Being a bit of an idealist it would be great if life just happened, but many women spend so much time feeling in control of their fertility since the are able to avoid getting pregnant they believe it should be just as simple to get pregnant. The consensus among the women was it's really not that simple. It's interesting to see the unique perspectives - here I spend so much time thinking about everything and trying to make educated decisions to perfectly time things. I start feeling like I'm among the few that use logic and reasoning in my decision making.

I also find situations like this difficult because inevitably among the group is at least one woman who isn't able to have children, and I hate for the conversations to reiterate that. I'm accustomed to woman in the US taking fertility medications and going to drastic measures to conceive which doesn't seem as common here.

I'm so surprised that I am already halfway finished with this class. There will be more tales from language school coming soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

care package + customs

We aren't always successful at receiving mail. Germany and the United States like to tell us that it's the other country's fault. Finally our packages aren't being lost into the abyss, although often times they aren't delivered to our door - we have to drive to the customs clearing to open them and determine the contents and it's value.

The trial and error issues are slowly decreasing as we learn what the parameters are. Today we learned that anything valued over 45€, even if it's a gift, we will owe a duty on. It's a good thing that exchange rate is working in our favor right now considering my parents sent things worth over $200.

Whenever I walk into the customs house I think this would be one interesting place to work. They have a glass showcase of their confiscated items, which includes a cobra fermented in alcohol, band aids made from leopard bones, counterfeit shoes, jewelry, and clothes, as well as animal pelts. I often wonder what happens when they see these items and if it's difficult to communicate to the recipient that these aren't legal for importing. When we went this morning, there were many exotic cars out front.

Our packages are exciting, although for different reasons. I was happy to wake up early knowing there were surprises sent for Stefan's birthday and of course a couple for me as well. Among them were Wüsthof paring knives, ironically made in Germany imported to the US and shipped back here, because during my parent's visit my Mom thought I could use them. Sometimes it's unbelievable how much things traverse the world and the sad part is these knives are undoubtedly more expensive here. We've seen the same thing for Stefan's adidas soccer cleats, which are made in Germany.

We also received a few more travel guides for upcoming trips - and my favorite... my München Munich book by M. Sasek. I can't stop looking at the beautiful illustrations and I love that I can read the German and double check it with the English.

It also states that the oldest surviving house in Munich is located at Burgstraße 5 and dates back to the 15th century. I pass by all the time and never knew!

Thanks for the package - we loved it!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Birthday at the Zoo

Every year I ask Stefan what he wants to do for his birthday. This year I offered up suggestions such as day trips, doing the Olympia park roof climb, or something else that is unique and special.

Ever since we've lived in Munich he always responds with 'why don't we go to the zoo?'

We started the day celebrating the same way he did as a kid - opening gifts at breakfast and enjoying some cake. I love watching how anxious and excited he gets. I also love all of the pictures of him as a child when he looks like he just woke up and he's surrounded by gifts. Today was no different. Aren't family traditions great?

After repeatedly asking if I should skip class today, where I was continually met with 'Emily you'll be out late afternoon, we can go after that'. I went to class. I wanted to make sure he was happy with his day and able to do whatever he decided.

The zoo was a better visit than the last time. One thing I appreciate about the Munich zoo, is that it's shaded and right next to the river, which adds a nice nature feel. What I don't like about the Munich zoo, is that things seem over grown and not entirely kept. I also hate seeing many of the animals in their small habitats (especially the polar bears that always look like they are sweltering).

Munich hasn't reaped the financial gain from polar bears, however they are hoping to have a birth like Berlin's Knut and Nürnberg's Flocke. I was curious why the penguins get a block of ice and the polar bears don't.

Last year when Stefan also opted to go to the zoo it was a much warmer day and it didn't seem like there were as many animals out. This time there were plenty of babies in nearly every habitat.

Sometimes I get tired of going to the zoo and seeing animals cooped up with the occasional person deciding it's smart to bang on the glass or feed animals. For some reason I don't feel like I see that as much in the US, although I'm sure it happens.

Some of my favorite animals are the seals, which always seem to put on a show and attempt to splash the visiting children. They are definitely smart!

My other favorites are the Orangutans. I could sit and watch them for hours. I really have to remind myself that they are people, but they make me wish people were more compassionate towards animals. When I look into their eyes they express so much without saying a word. They also seem so bored.

The details of the animals are always so beautiful. This mischievous alligator could have come from the pages of a children's book.

Last time we visited they also had art made by the elephants where they are given a paint brush and paint using their trunks. They are another one of my favorite animals - they are so majestic.

Besides the zoo animals, something I find fascinating is that you can bring your dog along. It's rather strange for me to think about these house pets watching other animals - I even recalled a woman holding her dog up to look at the monkeys and he whimpered when she put him down. The cutest dog of the day had to be a Golden Retriever puppy sitting in a wagon with three kids. Seriously adorable.

After gazing at the animals we made our way home to prepare for dinner at Cocoon. We opted for the four course menu with wine paring. The food and wine were both wonderful, but of course the company was the highlight. It's always nice to have time together and although we were still interrupted by several phone calls, I knew Stefan's co-worker's hadn't forgotten him.

We ended the evening saying that we both wished birthday's came around more often. It was a terrific day for me and Stefan.

I also smile when I think this is just the beginning of growing old together.

Monday, May 12, 2008

For the love of kitchen gadgets

I really enjoy the challenge of cooking and baking, which can sometimes be a bit more of a struggle living in a country that uses the metric system and that doesn't always have the same ingredients. I like to think it's made me more of a creative cook or at least one that has made me resort to making a lot of food from scratch. Fortunately I have plenty of time for that.

Some of the best things that I have in the kitchen are my Emsa perfect beaker measuring cup and my kitchen scale for converting weights. I loved my scale so much I brought one to my Mom during a visit home. The man at customs looked over my form and promptly said, 'A scale? Is that for like weight watchers or something?'. I didn't expect him to get it, but I love being able to switch from grams to ounces with the touch of a button.

Not only do I love all things practical - I am really a sucker for all of the things that make food appear beautiful... flower waffles, ocean inspired cookie cutters, and sea shell molds are a few examples. Stefan requested a chocolate cake for his birthday and I decided to go out on a limb and use the beautiful sand castle pan for a bunt cake.

The difficult part is that many of my cooking and baking things are still in the US. We've done a good job of not purchasing multiples of things, however I have several cake plates and an assortment of electrical items that are patiently waiting at my parent's house.

I dream of the day that we have a larger kitchen to contain my ever expanding array of dish ware and serving pieces.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Yesterday as I was walking through an increasingly crowded Marienplatz, the flower shops were buzzing with people. There were plenty of signs proclaiming not to forget Mom. How could anyone? Days like this definitely make me miss family get togethers that we have at home and wish I wasn't so far away.

Sometimes it's funny what a coincidence things are that can remind me of my Mom. Today Stefan and I went to enjoy the weather at the Englischer Garten and then to have a beer in her honor. Low and behold we saw a Great Pyrenees - the same breed as Mieka, our family dog. That instantly brought a smile to my face, especially since they are quite rare. I don't know that I have ever seen one in Munich. I also loved that this Pyr had enjoyed some time in the water. I know she would have loved this - fortunately I am the strange girl that takes pictures of other people's pets.

We had a lazy afternoon at the park, where everyone seemed to be speaking English. Sometimes it's nice just to eavesdrop and understand everything, although some of the conversations were rather interesting. On our bike ride back home we stopped to test out a relatively new restaurant called Pommes Boutique.

They claim to have fries like those in Belgium, and I must admit they did quite a decent job of replicating them. They also have about 20 different sauces to choose from. It's definitely a niche restaurant they don't have a huge menu, but the restaurant itself is quite simple and nice.

We chose to celebrate Mother's Day at the Wienerplatz beer garden since we hadn't visited this season. Although I appreciate the small reminders of my Mom, nothing beats having her around.

I think tonight I'll enjoy some salt chocolate (something we both love) and think of you Mom! I can't wait to hear how you spent your day - or for the package I sent to arrive!

Happy Mothers Day with love from Munich!