29 December 2005

The Last 10 Days

Just a day after I wrote my last blog post, Jeannette and I hopped in a rental car to drive "up north" to see our friends Alex & Carolin, among other things that I will get to. We decided to rent a car instead of taking the train because there were a couple stops along the way that we wanted to make.

Weihnachtsmarkt in Limburg

We had always wanted to stop in the town Limburg ever since the first time we drove by it in 2003 and said "Hey that looks nice, we should go sometime!" It is only slightly out of the way when driving to Alex's, but quite a major headache to work into the train routes (even though the trains stop in all 3 towns, there are different major routes that service them, apparently). Anyway, we finally stopped there and it is a beautiful town. While we were checking it out, the snow started falling, and the flakes were bigger that I can ever remember seeing.

Jeannette in the Snow

After a nice lunch and a quick exploration of the town, we hopped back in the car and continued driving past the town of Montabaur, which is another place I have seen many times from the window of a train or car.

Montabaur Schloß

It is quite exciting to see this huge yellow castle on top of a hill appear out of nowhere from the corner of my eye as I drive or ride along. And it is a yellow castle. There must be some significance to that, right? So, we stopped there too. I was a bit dissapointed to find out that it is a posh hotel, and not a tourable castle with stories of knights and damsels in distress locked in the tall tower. Funny how my imagination played this castle up to be something better than it actually is. But don't get me wrong, the architecture is nice, the shade of yellow is really nice, and to be honest, better up close than it is from afar.

After the quick stop in Montabaur, we continued on towards Mönchengladbach, where Alex lives. Less than an hour away from his door, I popped a piece of chewy candy in my mouth, and something didn't seem quite right. I pulled it out of my mouth to find one of my crowns stuck into it. What a way to start a vacation, with a dental emergency.

OK, not an emergency, because it really didn't hurt. In fact, we continued to Alex's house, chatted with him for a while before we even tried to find an Apotheke to get the phone number of an emergency dentist. It turns out, there wasn't one available and we went on to dinner. Alex took us to a restaurant whose incredibly awesome food more than made up for the outrageously priced beer. (€3.50 for a 0.3l beer! That's robbery!). It had the best Thai curries that Jeannette and I have ever had in Germany. Possibly even the States. And they made it spicy, not wussed out like so many ethnic foods are here.

The next morning we visited Carolin's dentist, who repaired my crown quickly and cheaply. He even complimented my German ability, which was tempered a bit shortly after when I found out he was Dutch.

The speed was a critical factor, because we were due in Köln (Cologne to the English speakers), at least an hour's drive away, mid-morning to meet our friends from Colorado, Michelle & Trevor, on their first-ever trip to Germany.

I will talk about the rest of the trip later, until then, I will leave you with a scene from the chocolate museum in Köln...

Samples from the Chocolate Museum

(Yes, you heard that right, chocolate museum. The free samples were yummy!)

18 December 2005

Schwäbisch Lasagna

Inspired by a selection from the rotating menu at Barfüßer, I present my new, favorite thing to make for dinner, Schwäbisch Lasagna.

• 3 packages of the €0.99 Maultaschen. That's 900 grams or 18 individual Maultaschen, if you buy a different sized package. As the story goes, the Catholic Schwaben people invented Maultaschen in order to hide meat so that they could eat it on Fridays without anyone knowing. If you are going veggie, you may have to be a little picky about the contents of your Maultaschen to find some that are "ohne Fleisch".
• 800 ml (2 jars) of tomato sauce. We have had the best reults with the "extra spicy" (for Germany) arrabiata sauce. If your sauce is boring, add spices as deired.
• 0 - 500g Hamburger (we use the pork/beef mix, actually) This can be omitted, if you want the veggie option.
• Cheese. The more the better, in my opinion. 400g grated cheese is a minimum. Nicely enough, they sell bags of grated cheese in this quantity. Variety is up to your taste, but Mozzarella works nicely, or "pizza cheese". Or gouda. Stay away from swiss.
• 1/2 of an onion.
• 375g of frozen mixed veggies. The one we like is called "Italian mix", and it contains zucchini, onions, olive, green beans, peppers, ???
• Seriously evaluate the cheese quantity. You probably need more.

Preheat your oven to a convienent baking temperature. 180° C or 350° F. Coat the bottom of a 9x13 pan (import from America, if needed) with a thin layer of the sauce. Line the pan with Maultaschen (import from Germany, if needed or make your own), cut up the last couple to fill in the inevitable cracks between them. Brown your meat (skip this if you are a vegetarian). Chopitta chopitta chopitta your onion into the size of onion bits that you like (which could be as small as indidivual Carbon, Oxygen & Hydrogen atoms, if you are anti-onion). Having a spouse do this while you brown the meat means you can eat dinner faster. Wipe tears from your (and/or your spouse's eyes if they are helping). Mix meat (if you swing that way) with the onion and one of the sauce jars. Mix the other jar of sauce with your frozen vegetables that are no longer frozen thanks to Mr. or Mrs. Mircrowave. Those two steps can be combined, I suppose. Consider putting cheese on top of your Maultaschen, but only if you have more than the bare minimum 400g. Layer the veggie & sauce mix on top of the Maultaschen (that may or may not be covered with cheese). Layer the meat & onion & sauce mix on top of that. Then evenly distribute the remainder of your cheese on top.

Pop in the oven and bake for a while. More experienced spouses may recommend putting foil on top for the first 25 minutes or so, then taking it off for the last 5.

Serves 2 people for 3 meals or 6 people for 1 meal. You do the math if you have a different number of people.

Serve with a nice Heilbronn wine. Like this one:
Marathon Wine

17 December 2005

"Santa Claus" in Germany

The company I work for has a bi-monthly publication for the employees of all of the German sites (there are at least 4 that I know of and have visited), and they recently have had many articles from the non-German employees writing about how life is different outside of Germany, especially the bit of "Schwaben" that is Heilbronn, where the majority of the German workforce of my company was born and live.

The latest issue arrived a day or two ago, and one of the articles was a series of short pieces by the foreigners explaining how Christmas is celebrated in their home countries (France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Serbia, Vietnam, and thanks to my wife, the USA). I wish that there was a section about Germany, so us foreigners could compare and find out what we're doing wrong and why the Germans look at me funny when I talk about the Festivus pole.

Along those lines, I have noticed that the entity in Germany equivalent to the USA's Santa Claus apparently resorts to breaking and entering via rope ladders (and, unfortunately, ends up hanging himself while committing this dangerous process). This makes sense to me. You wouldn't belive how troubling it was for me as a kid knowing that my house was chimneyless - how the heck was Santa gonna get in? Since it was always explained to me as magical hocus-pocus in the USA, I think it is interesting to see Santa (or whatever he is called here. I think I will call him Fritz for now.) out in the open, doing his thing. So, one day, I followed Fritz around while he did his job.

Santa Invasion #1
Here, Fritz shimmies up a knotted rope. He never would have cut it in gym class, where you don't get knots, at least at my 1337 school.

Santa Invasion #2
Here Fritz is busting into a church. Someone should tell him that churches usually keep their doors unlocked, during the day.

Santa Invasion #3
Now Fritz has a rope ladder. How does he get it up there? Or does he start at the top?

Santa Invasion #4
Here Fritz (center) seems to have gotten himself tangled up in his rope ladder. Because of this problem, the backup squad has been called in. Wolfgang (left) is finshing the job, and Gunter is going to cut his (soon-to-be) fallen comrade down.

Santa Invasion #5
In this picture, Wolfgang has been caught in the act of his criminal activity. He knows he's busted!

16 December 2005


Today is the first day of my vacation, so I will take the opportunity to say "Happy Holidays" to all of you, from both me, Helmar, and my wife, Marvin.

Since I know you are going to ask, we don't have big plans for this holiday. Mostly we will be at or near home, but at least we will have friends from the US coming to visit, so we won't be alone or bored showing them around our little bit of Deutschland.

Last weekend was the grand opening of a new train route to some towns near here, so we took advantage of the free trains that weekend (along with 49,998 other people, according to the newspaper). Here are a couple things I saw...

Flaming Log


Reserved Parking

15 December 2005


I think I made my first intended joke in German today. At least I intended to be funny, and the audience laughed, so I think it was successful, even though it was a pretty lame joke.

The joke requires some explanation, which means it will not be funny by the time you finish reading this.

The facts:
A) The german word "Mandeln" means both "Tonsils" and "Almonds".
B) "Gebrannte Mandeln" are a treat that one can buy at the various markets in Germany, especially now during the Christmas markets. The translation is something like "burned almonds", and they are tasty, candy-coated almonds.

So, when someone at work was talking about his son's tonsil operation, I said something about his gebrannte Mandeln and hilarity ensured for about 2.6 nanoseconds.