Thursday, April 30, 2009

Phone vs E-mail

We were recently invited to a mystery place (I will tell you more about it when I return) for the holiday weekend here.

The holiday is Labor Day but here it is called Tag der Arbeit - 1. Mai. If you click on the link you can read some very interesting history about it.

I was told that Labor Day here in Berlin can be pretty messy. Demonstrations and car burning are regular activities and are expected. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that in this economy, this year won't be any different. In fact, last year, Berlin's police chief warned that fancy cars should not be parked in Kruezberg (Kruezberg is an area of Berlin in the West). So I was happy to have made plans to leave this weekend (although in my area, demonstrations are HIGHLY unlikely unless the pensioners decide to leave their walkers at home and go to bed late!)

Back to my point. Our friends that invited us away for the weekend are German. We have been making plans for just a couple of days.

I noticed that every time I send her an email, she uses this

and actually calls me.

At first, I thought it was just a coincidence but after thinking about this and other occurrences, I am starting to wonder if Germans would just rather use the phone. Those of you who live in Germany, has this also been your experience?

I don't mind talking on the phone. It seems much more efficient in some cases but I will have to get used to listening for and actually picking up our home phone. :)

Culture Shock continues to happen... even in month 10.

GUEST POST: Baumblütenfest

Yelli was busy with choir on Sunday, so Baby Bird and I headed off to Baumblütenfest in Werder with the TOBAMO parents group of Berlin. We met in Potsdam early on Sunday. Baby Bird and I didn't have any problems catching our trains to Potsdam, but once we got there, finding the ferry to Werder was a different story. We were walking across Lange Brücke and followed the signs to the ferry and followed some signs down some steps to the ferry Kasse. But grizzly old man fishing at the bottom of the steps told me that the way to the ferry is back up the step and all the way around. At least, that's what I think what he said, as far as I can understand grizzly old man German.

Anyway, Baby Bird and I made it to the ferry with only minutes to spare. We went to the deck above to hang out with the flock of TOBAMO boys and dads. BB noticed that all the boys were wearing shorts, so he insisted I change him into shorts! The trip to Werder from Potsdam is about an hour, and we say many boats, birdies, and dead fish in the water. The boys were in heaven:
Once at Werder, we disembarked and made our way to the fest. 50 meters from the pier, one of the parents was already handing me a cup of Obstwein (fruit wine). This is, apparently, the whole point of Baumblütenfest; drink liters and liters of Obstwein. Every fifth stand is an Obstwein stand, and they sell them in cups or in 1 liter plastic bottles. For not much money. More on this later.
We made our way to a little more "upscale" food stand, which happened to be serving slow roasted pork and potatoes. Good stuff. Right next door, though, the kids were transfixed on the electric bull. S and L knew they had to take a spin!
Then, we made our way to the rides:
We ended up trying out the bumper cars, the ferris wheel, and this super-tall slide:
We walked past the hammer of strength game. T, a dad in the group, gave it a try:
And had great success:
H, another dad in the group, didn't fare as well and ended up with a rose as a consolation prize (alas, so did I when it was my turn):
Baby Bird did his best:
One of the cool things about the fest is that average folks make cake and coffee and just sell it from their driveway. This was our group taking a breather while H was fetching some plum cake and toast with schmalz or lard with drippings. (he is German, after all):
The kids were fascinated with a nearby tractor:
and a giant bale of hay:
We finished the day with a mad dash back to the train. But that didn't stop us from another round of Obstwein:
I now know that Baumblütenfest is a nice little folksfest in a cute town not far away from Berlin. But I also learned that there are essentially two Baumblütenfests. Both happen to have the same average age, but the standard of deviation is much larger during the day: mostly parents and old folks along with little kids. Lots of fun, nasty but tasty wurst, and tons of Obstwein. In fact, the whole fest is just an excuse to drink tons of Obstwein.

But there is a transition come night fall. The parents and kids go away and are replaced with tons of sun-studio knuckleheads laden with tattoos and lip piercings carrying around the liter bottles filled with cheap Obstwein. Not a good combination. Thus Baumblütenfest has a reputation for fighting and drunken revelry. This was especially obvious to us as we passed lines and lines of cops with riot gear on.

Germans know how to put on a Fest, I guess.

It is still going on so if you are looking for something to do this weekend and you always wanted to try Birne or Pear wine, Baumblütenfest is the place to be!

Ohhh....and don't forget to say Guten Tag to the 2009 Baumblütenfest Königin!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unplug Your Kids - Yellow

For this week's project, we did the color Yellow.

First, we read this wonderful book that Baby Bird has insisted on reading almost every night since he got it for his birthday last week called Mouse Paint. (You can also find it in English on Amazon Deutschland).


Mouse Paint is about 2 mice who find some paint. (Duh) The mice discover that colors mix to form new colors. Yellow is of course included. The story is fun to read and the illustrations are clever.

Then we walked around the house and took pictures of everything that was yellow. Here are a couple of pictures that Baby Bird took. These are from his little Fisher-Price camera which does work. He got it for Christmas from one of the grandparents.

He noticed his cars and airplane first.

He was so cute. He kept putting everything in the same pile. (He is so orderly-he will make a good Scientist someday!) (Wait - OH NO!)


He LOVES this game called Obstgarten (or Orchard in English)

I never noticed our light was yellow!

I had some other ideas but the first perfect weather we have had in awhile kept us outside. Maybe next week!

For more great project ideas -see Unplug Your Kids!

Real German Cuisine Challenge: Spargel mit Kratzete

For Amiexpat's Real German Cuisine Challenge, we made Spargel mit Kratzete or White Asparagus with pancakes.

I don't know much about Spargel except that around this time of year, you can't miss the Spargel signs everywhere! Every restaurant has Spargel specials and the grocery stores and vegetable stands are overflowing with them. Luckily for us, Amiexpat visited a Spargel growing farm where I found out things like "Why are they white?" and "How are they different from green asparagus?"


I LOVE asparagus and I used to make it all of the time (but only the green-the white was not that common in the US). To get rid of the woody stems (like I did with green asparagus), I held up the asparagus and broke it where it was natural. I am not sure if this is a good method for white asparagus since they resulting pieces seemed kind of small.

I made cute bundles of Spargel and boiled them in salt water for 20 minutes. This might have been too much as they were a bit softer than I would have liked. I would not say "mushy" but softer.

Then I started on the pancakes. I love it when I measure the flour exactly right on the first try!

I cooked 2 pancakes at a time because I had one hungry toddler saying "Eat, Eat."

After I flipped them over, I cut them with my spatula instead of a fork and knife.

The finished product was so delicious that even picky Baby Bird ate it!


The salty prosciutto was a perfect match for the asparagus and torn pancakes. I even wrapped a couple of prosciutto in asparagus just so I could pretend I was battling an Iron Chef!




Notes:
  • Peeling the white asparagus was not that difficult. This will surely not prevent me from eatin' me spargel! My peeler was a bit clogged but it gets clogged with carrots and so I think my peeler just sucks.
  • This dish was incredibly easy to prepare. The pancakes were fantastic even though prepared with egg whites which I have never used in pancakes before. Folding in egg whites is easy if you remember what I think of as the 12:3:6:9 Clock method.
  • Every part of this dish was important to the overall flavor.
  • I used 1.5% milk because that is what I had in the house. It still tasted fine.
  • I didn't put the extra butter on the asparagus afterward. I don't really care about the calories all that much but I REALLY enjoy the taste of fresh cooked veggies instead of butter... :)
  • Before any of you comment on this, Yes, white asparagus looks very phallic to me too. (oh wait-is that what you were going to say?) Keep it clean people! PG-13 blog here!

Empty Train?

Normally the trains in Berlin look like this: crowded and a few empty seats that you can squeeze into.



However, in my 10 months of living here, I have never encountered an empty train. Until now. What do you do on an empty train?

Jump!

Dance!


Be Loud!

I hope you get to experience an empty train soon. What will you do?????


P.S. These posts are in lieu of some other posts I had planned but the camera cord is with The Scientist! If you reading this, one more reminder to bring it home! :)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Humor or Humour?

A new study finds that British humor, full of self-deprecation and sarcasm, is linked to genes found in Brits but not Americans!

Those of you who don't get my humor, please remember kindly that my grandmother immigrated from Britain to America when she was a young adult. :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bored and in Berlin this weekend?

Need some culture?

My choir, along with other choirs from Germany and Scotland, are singing Britten's War Requiem with a full orchestra on April 26th in Berlin.

More details can be found at my shameless self-promotion page. :)

Funny Foto Freitag

This week needs 2 pictures to explain.

Ahh.....A beautiful serene coastline of Sardinia. Wait, what is that I hear? Meowing? I look down...


A crazy cat lady with cat colony. WTF?

Do you want to join in on the fun this week? Blog about your funny picture and post the link below! Happy Linking!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What's Up Germany Wednesday

I am a Midwest girl. I like to talk to my servers in restaurants. I smile at people walking down the street and give the friendly nod of the head. I have even been known to say "Excuse me" when someone else bumped into me...

I moved to the west coast after university and even lived through the Seattle Freeze and found friends regardless of their polite but distant attitudes. But Berliner Schnauze is getting me down! (Berliner Schnauze = Berlin Snout)

What is Berliner Schnauze you might ask? Berliners rarely say excuse me when they knock you or your small child over. Getting on and off slightly crowded trains is a free-for all of elbows and legs. Cutting in line is not only an acceptable pratice but their glint in their eye as they order before you tells you that this was no accident. Snooker also does a great job of describing it here.

So far this week, I have been cussed out (in German) for:
  1. getting on my bike too close to the actual sidewalk forcing an old lady to take ONE extra step around me
  2. stepping off the train too slowly (really-It was quite quick but I waited until the train actually stopped)
  3. Slowly pedaling my bicycle on the sidewalk where I live because my building was right there (Normally, one should ride in the bike lanes but the sidewalk was almost empty and I had to get to my building somehow!)
  4. Someone thought that Baby Bird's hat was too far down on his head and he couldn't see. (Pick your battles with toddlers folks-he wanted it like that!)
It is just the general attitude of all who live here. I think I almost caused the supermarket cashier to faint when I made small talk and said "I hope it doesn't rain!" (again, in German). The horror! She mumbled something to me awkwardly. I won't make that mistake again!

You may be chalking this up to the fact that I am still a relative newbie to expat life here in Berlin but I have evidence! Here is an article about a €200,000 campaign to teach Berliners to smile in German and in English. (This is conveniently timed to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall)

Will it work? I am skeptical considering that while in Paris and someone bumped into me, they said "Pardon." Pardon??? I tapped the Scientist.

Me: "Someone just bumped into me and said Pardon"
Scientist: Really??
Me: Pardon means excuse me in French right?

There you have it folks. Parisianers are FRIENDLIER than Berliners!

Die Welt, a national newspaper, wrote: “The campaign is of course doomed to fail. It’s easier to milk an ox than to convert Berliners.”

Yet somehow, I have learned to love this adopted city of mine. Schnauze and all....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Les Catacombs

When we asked around for advice about what to see and do in Paris with toddler, our friends, namely D & I (and mostly D) emphatically told us to visit the Catacombs. Oddly enough, some people we talked to had never even heard of the Catacombs. (I knew about them from my obsession with the book AND musical Les Miserables)

I was intrigued with seeing something so unique. Basically, the catacombs are long underground tunnels made from old quarries from the late 18th century. They built the catacombs because the cemeteries in Paris were filling up and and were thought to be causing disease in the nearby residents. So, the politicians at the time condemned the cemeteries and placed all of the skeletons to be respectfully displayed here. You can read more about the history here.

As we entered, I began to question my sanity of bringing myself and my small child here. Nervous disposition?

"Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead."


The tunnels are long, dark and narrow. The Scientist's 191 cm had to duck his head more often than my 170cm frame. If you are claustrophobic in the slightest, I would skip out on this attraction.


The first thing we saw were these beautiful carvings that a worker did while carving out these tunnels. The sign said while he was imprisoned, he saw these buildings everyday and carved them out from memory.


As you walk around, the bones are skulls are artisitically displayed in different shapes.

Hearts?


I don't know what this was but it was hauntingly beautiful. Yes, those are all bones in the background.

Many famous people were buried here. Among them Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry.

I paid my respects...by lighting a candle and acknowledging that oxygen helped it to burn. :)

I did enjoy seeing this amazing sight. Evidently, these tunnels were only a small fraction of the tunnels underneath Paris. I read reports that 300 km more exist. Baby Bird was very interested in "skulls and bones" and didn't seem the least bit frightened. I wouldn't always recommend taking your children here but you parents out there know your kids and only you can decide if they can handle this or not.

Be aware if you decide to visit. The tunnels were long (1.7km or ~1 mile) and the steps to get down and up (20m or 66ft!) were steep and cumbersome. Be also aware that the entrance is not that close to the exit. Be sure to bring a map.

Around six million people are buried here and I tried to remind myself that each one of those bones was a person; peasants buried with nobles, farmers buried with scientists. Each one had a story to tell. Be respectful as those who are here made it possible for the Paris above to expand and prosper.

Note: I have had a few people tell me they almost had their camera confiscated when they took pictures here but we didn't have any problems. There seemed to be an official person hanging around and he only told us not to use a flash. He shined his flashlight whenever anyone wanted to take a picture.

Monday, April 20, 2009

He is 3 not 13...

These posters for the newest ballet production are all over Berlin. For my non-German speaking readers, Schneewittchen is better known as Snow White in English speaking parts. What did my son notice when he saw these?


Baby Bird: What's Dat?
The Scientist: A Naked woman laying on a pile apples.
Baby Bird: Apples?
The Scientist: Yes Red Apples.
Baby Bird: She holding green one too.
The Scientist (trying not to laugh): Yes, BB - There are red AND green apples.

Yup Folks. Apples were the important part of this poster. Obviously...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paris Part II - What to Do (especially with toddler!)

What to do in Paris?

I know we just got back from Sardinia and I promise I will post from that trip but I felt like I needed to finish Paris first. And since I have been a lazy blogger of late, without further ado... Baby Bird goes to Paris! (I wonder if he will mind that we took him to Paris when he was so young?)

We used a lot of resources to help us plan. The Regensblogger's Planning List was quite helpful. Our friends in Belgium encouraged us to check out Les Catacombes, a man-made underground quarry where old cemeteries were emptied and their bones displayed "artistically." Even my plea for help on my own blog for tips was great - thanks to Blogging Mama for her hints!

Of course, we saw the Eiffel Tower. The line was not too long ~ 45 min. For future reference, even if the line looks short, giant tour groups have priority and will get to go directly into the elevator in their own seperate line ahead of everyone waiting.

The view was spectacular. It was nice outside regardless of the scarf you see me wearing (I am always cold).

We also saw Notre Dame. We didn't go inside because the line looked too long. However, we learned that the line was only for people who wanted to go to the top. D'oh!

We spent a lot of time in playgrounds. The playgrounds are really spectacular. A lot of them require 1 or 2 Euros to enter, but they are well maiuntained and worth it. The playground equipment was very different from anything I had ever seen before. They had giant windmills for the kids to pedal (energy crisis solved!), small rolling hills for kids to run back and forth on and these bumpy, air-filled lanes for the kids to...do whatever kids do on these! Baby Bird prefered to run like a wild animal back and forth.

They also had many old fashioned merry-go-rounds. Of course, Baby Bird picked the Motorrad.

Baby Bird and his Biker Babe

We strolled in a few parks. This park in the 19th district called the Parc des Buttes Chaumont was simply amazing. There is a cliff on which lies Sybille temple, a temple modeled after the Roman Temple of Sybille (in Italy). You can climb to the temple from a ramp or a suspension bridge (Bridge was closed for now) and see the most amazing views of Paris. On a totally random note, the 19th district is also where one of my favorite animated films was set, Les Triplettes de Belleville.

The park was also outfitted with man-made water falls and caves. I should also mention that this seemed very un-touristy. I would guess that this is more of a local spot. If you want to hear French and not more American English while in Paris, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is the place to do it!

The Louvre was also a must-see sight! This was just one of many buildings surrounding the famous glass pyramids. I had no idea it was so big!


We didn't go into the Louvre (am I sounding like a broken record yet?) but Baby Bird did enjoy walking around the fountains over and over again.


Paris was not flattened during the War and we really enjoyed walking around and enjoying the sights. It seems so much older than Berlin. It felt more like what I imagined a European capital city to be like.

We were never bored. There are lovely open air markets almost every day of the week and fascinating people-watching to do. We even saw a person dressed as a sheep dancing on the oldest bridge but named the New Bridge or Pont Neuf. (I didn't take a picture-I felt too much like a tourist already)

We did visit the Les Catacombes but I think that deserves its own post.

The key to traveling with toddlers is low expectations. We didn't see the Arc de Triomphe and weren't able to go into any museums but I guess that we will just have to go back someday (and maybe withOUT the Baby Bird-Mom - you want to babysit?)