Feb 282013
Feb 282013
Feb 282013

One of the few really pleasant aspects of living some distance from your closest friends and family is that when they visit, you have a lot to share!  This week my Mom, Holly, and Step-Dad, Mark, came to Germany.  In this case the joy of sharing was reciprocal since they had parts of Germany they wanted to share with us, as well.  Mom lived in Germany while my Dad was in the army in the late 1960’s, and both Mom and Mark have traveled through Europe much more than we have.

After a couple days of getting acclimated to the European time zones and weather by tromping around Strasbourg and Offenburg, Mom, Mark, DS and I waved goodbye to our homebody loved-ones (DH and DD) and took off on a Grand Adventure by train.  Our route took us up to Nürnberg (Nuremberg), all the way up to Dresden, back through Würzburg (Wuertzburg) and finally home- about 1,600 km or 1,000 miles.  Along the way we had a couple minor mishaps, ate very well, slept badly in several different beds and a few train cars, worked hard to stay warm, played in the snow, spent time with old and new friends, enjoyed some amazing hospitality, explored some really impressive sites and museums, ate even better, watched a crackling fire, saw more snow by train than the film crew from Dr. Zhivago, and generally built memories that we will all be processing for quite some time.

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Since we went by train, our route here is very rough.  But, you get the idea.  We spent about 20 hours on the train over the course of 5 days.  Over the next couple days I will post photos and thoughts on the trip!


Feb 152013


Today DS decided to take advantage of the late-season snowstorm and make himself a nice, large snowman.  He worked on it for over an hour.  I tossed him a couple of carrots and a couple of kumquats for the face, and then when he was ready to work on hair, I went down to help.  All in all, I think it was a really excellent effort!  A little Easter Island, a little Ghostbusters, a lot of personality!

DS and Big Snowman Face







Just as he was finishing up, over toddled a frail, petite older woman, straight out of central casting.  She was trim and well groomed and carried a neatly folded laced pocket hanky with which she would occasionally dab her frozen face.  She hailed us and began speaking slowly and clearly, but with a thick Swäbish accent that made her conversation nearly incomprehensible.  Even DS was having trouble.  She seemed to indicate that she had been watching DS work for some time and that there was something she wanted to show him.  She beckoned us across the street to the neat yellow house on the corner.  We followed as she slowly made her way carefully across the icy streets- sticking to any patch that had been cleared.  When we got to her porch she motioned that she wanted us to wait, so we did.  But, as she searched in her purse it became clear that she was missing her keys.

I looked and noticed keys hanging on a lanyard decorated with a small Igel (hedgehog) charm.  They had become tangled in the door and  slammed between the door and the jam.  She looked a bit confused.  So, DS reached down and tugged on the lanyard.  It wouldn’t come free, but it had an easily detachable clip that he released.  He handed the main key bunch to the lady.  She thanked him and set about opening the door.  Only, it still wouldn’t open.  DS politely offered to help again and yanking firmly on the handle eventually managed to unstick the blocked door, wriggle the uncooperative mechanism into compliance and swing the door open.

The woman thanked him and then invited us in.  We followed, unsure what she wanted.  Cookies?  Help reaching something?  I really hadn’t a clue.  She babbled blandly and pleasantly at us, and seemed only a little concerned when we admitted our German was “nicht so gut”.  Eventually she slumped down into her kitchen chair and dug through her wallet.  She pulled out 3 five EU notes, and counted to 15.  I smiled non-noncommittally and nodded- yes, that is 15 EU.  She handed us the money.  We tried to refuse, but she insisted.  I tried to introduce us, but she clearly didn’t understand our accents either!  She asked what languages we speak and we told her.  When I tried French she pooched out her mouth and rolled her eyes- French was completely out of the question.

Once again we tried to return the money, but she wouldn’t hear of it.  We thanked her politely and took our leave, still unsure if she was paying us for making the snowman or helping with her door- or simply because she is an old German woman and that is apparently what they do from time to time.

We talked it over with some of our German friends and they insisted that this was not a particularly odd situation.  Old women give you money.  It is one of the things they do!  Why would this be a problem for me?

Well, it isn’t a problem, of course.  But, it was awkward and weird.  And, yes, my Inner Shy is kicking in hard core, now!  I feel like we ought to have been more helpful to the lady- or at least gotten her name so we could greet her on the street.  But, all in all, a pleasant way to pass a few minutes and a new cultural experience for DS and me!

Feb 092013

Just like in the US, the McDonalds here have monthly specials.  We especially like the fried Emmentaler with cranberry dipping sauce!  In any case, we don’t eat at McyD’s all that often, but we make a point of trying out the more interesting offerings when we get a chance.  This month they had the promisingly-named “Golden Corn Nuggets”.

The ad copy translates to: Now go for it with the crunchy nibble Golden Corn Nuggets cheese preparation of tender and sweet corn.

Here is what you get:

IMG_2299 IMG_2301

Here is what it tastes like: awful.  Just horrible!  They have some sort of tex-mex seasoning in with the corn and… well, it says cheese and I will take their word for it, but it is just a sort of paste.  Not pleasant.  I was afraid that there would be onions, and made David sample them before me.  I should have known when all he would tell me was “well, there are no onions”.  No, I should have known when I realized it was an attempt at something American by German McDonalds.  That rarely goes well.  Save your money.

Feb 092013
Feb 052013

ArmbrusterIt was snowing heavily as David left BFG on his daily lunch forage.  Earlier rain had ensured that the massive cotton-candy flakes would not stick as they touched the puddled sidewalks.  But, the chill in the air was enough to guarantee David’s outing would be a quick one- just to the train station bakery and back.  The small bakery sits outside the main station and serves as a bastion of German efficiency, two women manage to churn out the daily snacks and lunches of hundreds of commuters- and, often, David and other local workers.

On this particular day, there was a sparse gathering in the shop.  But, after Crazy Man came in, most of the customers fled.  He wasn’t initially harmful, just too uncomfortable to be around.  He started by pulling cards and papers out of his wallet and setting them on the counters.  Then, he became fascinated with pushing his items under the bakery display glass into the area with the food.

Crazy Man had a rangy scruffiness.  He was easily taller than David’s near 6′ and he had that dissociated lack of focus common to toddlers and the mentally ill.  Crazy Man started in lifting one of the display cases and gathering up the price placards labeling all the goods.  The ladies behind the counter tried to shoo him away, but without effect.  The one in charge of David’s meal hurried things along so he could take his lunch and leave.  But, he wasn’t interested in abandoning the bakery ladies, especially as now he was the only customer left in the small shop.   The ladies continued their attempts to dissuade Crazy Man from holding their placards hostage.

“No one will want to buy things if you have touched them!” they pleaded.  Eventually he handed over the placards- a bit like a proud dog relinquishing a chew toy- then he trotted over to begin on the second display case.

“No no!” they told him, “We will have to call the police!”

That is when Crazy Man noticed David.  Dressed for the snow, David’s jacket had a fluffy collar. Crazy Man came toward him, obviously intent on stroking the softness; specters of Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men filled the little shop.

“Nein!” David said firmly.  His arm swung up with a strong, controlled movement to block the man’s outreached hand.  He echoed the movement a moment later as Crazy Man persisted.  David shifted his stance to project more authority.

“Nein!” he repeated, “Aus!”  He pointed at the door.

“Aus!” he demanded again, just as firmly.  The man, at last, made a wandering retreat.  The bakery ladies visibly relaxed, but the flustered woman holding his sandwich thoughtlessly set it down in a puddle of cappuccino left by a prior patron.  She flushed and started over.

Outside a small, elderly woman noticed Crazy Man as he entered the square.  She swooped in on him, clucking and chattering her admonishments and he obediently followed her away from the area.

David may be a Badass, but we have learned in our time here that no one is Badasser than older German ladies on a mission!

Feb 042013

Mailbox Items

The first week when we moved into this apartment, we were the victims of a prank.  Someone put juicy cherry pits into our mail slot.  We were rather annoyed, but as pranks go it was pretty mild.  The envelope of one bill got a little stained, as I recall, and we felt distinctly less-than-welcomed to our new home.

Since that time, however, several other small, odd items have shown up in our mail slot.   First came a grungy deck of playing cards.  The box is clearly a promotional item from a local bank- and, indeed 1/2 the cards inside match the box.  The other 1/2 have a different business name on them.  The deck only had 32 cards, the 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A of each suit.  Apparently this is called a SKAT deck?  The face cards are significantly warn and grungy.  The others show signs of wear, but are in far better shape.  The entire deck smells of cigarette smoke.

Open ItemsThen today, another small offering: a tantalizingly tiny film box and canister.  The film expired in 2005.  David had all sorts of horrible ideas about what might be on it.  But, in the end, the canister itself proved empty.  Both a comfort and a mild letdown to our hyperactive imaginations.

When we made our initial drive around the neighborhood to get acquainted, we noted a very grey man peeping out of the window of one of the buildings.  His sunken eyes, gaunt face and thinning hair gave him an almost alien look.  He didn’t seem to be extremely old- in fact a much older woman soon emerged at another window.  I couldn’t be sure, but I think she shooed him away.  The incident faded, but at the time I had two thoughts: Serial Killer or Boo Radley.  We laughed over it and moved on- still reticent to walk down the little end street with the creepy watchers inside.

These little treasures refresh my memory and pique my interest, though.  Honestly, I expect they are fanciful gifts from a child.  There is a young girl who lives on the top floor of the apartment.  Perhaps these are offerings from her.  Or, maybe Boo has taken our family under his watchful beneficence.  Whatever the case, there is clearly no malice.  Just a pleasant little puzzle.