Saturday, November 21, 2020

Don't Forget to Breathe!

I have always liked the look and feel of Lederhosen. I don’t mean the kitschig ones you find in Bavarian tourist shops, but serious Lederhosen that are worn for real purposes.

However, he (my son) looked darn cute in these!

Many Jäger and Falkner wear Lederhosen, and when M and I went to die Hubert (an outdoor hunter’s trade fair) a few weeks ago, we found a stand called Only Kumar Leathers. The Lederhosen on display looked so fabulous, and fit the models perfectly, of course. We passed the booth twice and I finally inquired about trying on a pair. Kumar sized me up, grabbed a pair, and pointed me into the changing stall. As I went in he said something to me that sounded like, “If you can’t get them zipped, let me know.” Uhh…Right.

In the changing stall there hung a sheet of instructions in German and in French. It told me, if I can’t get the Lederhosen past my thighs, to wackel my Po and dance around a little. We women have plenty of experience doing this with jeans, so I was undaunted. Suddenly an arm appeared inside the stall attached to another instruction sheet, this one in English. Kumar had overheard M and me speaking English to each other. Nice gesture. A little pulling, a little wackeling, a little more wackeling… Ok! I got them up so that my Po was in the seat of the pants. However, ain’t no way those Hosen are closin’.

I stood there undecided and not a little dejected, loving the feel of the leather but knowing these Lederhosen would not be going home with me. Kumar inquired from the other side of the curtain, “How’s it going?”  I told him they’re on but won’t close. He said, “No, no, we’ll get them closed. Come on out!”

Now, when I tell you these Lederhosen wouldn’t close, I don’t mean it was close. I mean there's no elastic in that waistband and I had a good 6-7 cm of empty space between the button and the button hole.

I opened the curtain, he told me to hold up my sweatshirt, and he reached over, grabbed the open sides of the waist and said, “No problem.” I’m thinking, “YES Problem!!” He told me to suck in, he wrenched the waistline from left and right until…holy cats. He got them closed. What black magic is this?? He told me to zip them up, which I could now do.

Ok, super. Now that I feel and surely look like 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound sack, I start to wonder how long I should wait before I say “Thanks, but no thanks,” wiggle my way out of those pants and flee. Kumar then told me to do 5 knee squats. Are you mad?!?! If I even take a step, the snap is going to fly off and take someone’s eye out! He told me to trust him and do the squats. I did, and nothing broke. Those seams must be sewn with the devil’s sinews.

He told me to sit in the chair. Again, as any woman in tight jeans knows, standing is wiser. By now I began to trust that Kumar does, in fact, know what he’s doing, so I sat down. Still nothing burst. Interesting. Kumar convinced me that Lederhosen have to be tight at first. With wear they mould to your body and shape and end up fitting you like a second skin.

Skipping a bit here, we ordered a pair and they arrived the other day. They came with instructions for putting them on, and this is where it gets funny.

My translation:

So that the Lederhosen fit and sit well for the long haul, they need to be tight at first. If you don’t get the pants over your butt right away, wiggle your hips side to side, pull your gut in, and hold your breath (just like you do when you try on jeans)!

IMPORTANT: When you’ve got the Lederhosen closed, breathe again! If, when putting them on the first time, you did not break into a sweat, you have not found the right size yet! [Note: Apparently I had found the right size.]  Lederhosen will stretch with time in the waist about 2-3 cm and below the waist 3-5 cm. But only when there is tension!

After you’ve got the Lederhosen on, hold the waist snap and do 4 to 5 knee bends and notice how the leather gives. [Not feelin’ that just yet, Kumar.] Keep the Lederhosen on for a while even if you don’t yet feel good in them. When they take on your body temperature and stretch a little, that nice feeling will come by itself.  [Still waiting, Kumar.]


Armed with those instructions, I gave it a whirl. Although I got them over my Po with just a bit of effort, I definitely had to lie flat on the living room floor to let gravity help me get them snapped, hooked and zipped (another trick with which we women are well familiar). Not being a quitter, I eventually succeeded and was even able to get myself off the floor. Knee bends, sitting on the coffee table, walking around, all good. Relaxing on the sofa with a book, not so much.

Hey, they're closed. Gravity be praised.

The second night was more of the same, and I wore them for about an hour including washing the dishes and walking down the basement stairs to get some wine. The third night it was less of a struggle to get them closed, though I still needed the gravity trick. I’m wearing them now as I sit at my desk typing. And every now and then I do remember to breathe!

I do trust Kumar. These Lederhosen are not cheap (good leather never is), and he would not still be in business if he didn’t know what he was doing. They’re still tight, but there’s nothing like the feel of leather and I’m confident I’ll eventually be able to wear these Lederhosen in public.

M ordered a pair of hunter's Lederhosen from a different source at a more reasonable price, and naturally they fit and look great on him. HE doesn't have to lie on the floor to get them closed! According to Kumar and his instructions, though, M's Lederhosen are too big. Time will tell, I guess. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Expat Adventures

 Expat Adventures, Ep. #134

I don't generally go to the doctor unless the pain I'm experiencing has me in tears or I can't walk right. This means I've been to the E.R. or a family doctor - the former resulted in several referrals - twice since moving here eight years ago. I usually say in the U.S. we commonly avoid the doctor - many of us can't afford what it costs - but my daughter has informed me that this is yet another Midwestern thing - that we wait until things are serious because otherwise we feel we're wasting the doctor's time.

However, I messed up my trigger finger while - I kid you not - cleaning my gun. I was shoving a cleaning thingy through the barrel with M's carbon Putzstock (cleaning rod?), which broke at the handle, slicing through my finger and leaving it blackened and meaty. Unpleasant words were used. I've suspected a carbon splinter has been stuck in there since then, but I figured it would probably work its way out like a sliver.

It didn't, and I'm starting to lose part of the nail. So I called a nearby doc, whom I'd visited a few years ago when I had a gammy ankle. I was surprised to get an appointment for the next day (today).

He asked when this happened.

Me: "On October 4th."

Doc (raising an eyebrow): "That was six weeks ago."

Me (thinking, You know about health care in the US? We don't go to the doctor for a flesh wound): "Yes."

Doc (looking at the digit): "Yeah, there's a Fremdkörper (foreign body) in there. When was your last Impfung (vaccination)?"

Me: "Probably when I was five."  (I've never even had a flu shot.)

Doc: "You don't have an Impfpass (vaccination passport/record, which all Germans seem to have)?"

Me: "No, that's not really a thing where I'm from, except for children."

Doc: "Where are you from?"

Me: "The U.S."

Doc (wry grin): "Whom did you vote for?"  (I am not kidding)

Me: "NOT Trump. Most of my family did, though - except for my children."

Doc: "Really?"

Me: "Yep."

Doc (back to the business at hand): "Ok, you'll get a tetanus shot, and then I'll write you a referral to see the surgeon in Horb now."

Me: "Do you mean right now?"

Doc: "Yes, it would be best you go straight there this morning."

Seriously, you wouldn't go
to the doc for that either, would you?

It turns out I should have called first, but I have an appointment for tomorrow morning. The surgeon is apparently going to slice my finger open and dig the carbon piece(s) out. That should be fun.

seemingly random falconry-related photo

When the nurse came in to give me the tetanus shot, she asked if I'm right-handed, which I am. She said then she'll put it in my left shoulder. Hm... When I work with the falconer and his Habicht, the 1-kg bird sits on my Falknerhandschuh on my left hand. If an arm is going to be sore, I don't want it to be my left one. I asked her to stick it in my right arm after all.

I also made an appointment for next week to get my first flu shot. The nurse said I should wait a week after the tetanus shot.

So maybe I'll get my very own Impfpass now! I wonder if I can also find out what blood type I have.

Update (19.11.2020): They x-rayed the finger but nothing showed up. The surgeon says it's a cyst caused by the injury, and he'll numb the finger and cut it out in two weeks (first available appointment). He said I'll be krankgeschrieben (have  sick note) after that and might not be able to work until after Christmas. For a small finger wound? I think that's a bit much. 

P.S. The episode # of my Expat Adventure is totally random.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

I'm a Jungfalknerin!

The short version of this post is: I passed my Falknerprüfung and am now a Jungfalknerin!!

Falkner = Falconer

This has been one hell of a journey, and it's really only just beginning. 

In September 2017 M and I saw our first falconry show at Burg Hohenzollern and thought it was really cool to see hawks and falcons soaring free and returning to the falconer's glove. A month later we went to another one at another Burg and were equally impressed. They had owls as well, and having adopted a love of owls from my Schwiegermutter, we snapped many photos of them. Our third falconry show was at Burg Hohen Neuffen, and that one was our favorite. Music, costumes, big owls, little owls, falcons, hawks, a golden eagle...

The people working with the birds of prey and owls looked like normal people, and I started seriously wondering what I would have to do to work with these birds. This would be my first serious taste of what German bureaucracy has to offer.

Me: "Hey Germany, I'd like to work with birds of prey. How do I do that?" 

Germany: "How do you feel about gutting deer?"

Me: "Wait, what? No...birds of prey. Raptors. Owls."

Germany: "Right. How many different types of plants can you identify by fruit, flower, leaf or seed?"

Me: "No, seriously. BIRDS. Hawks and falcons."

Germany: "Uh-huh. Internal organs of a wild boar? Symptoms of illnesses you need to look out for in wild animals?" 

Me: "Come on, my German is not this bad. Why do you not understand me?"

Germany: "The 11 parts of an egg? Can you list those?"

Me: "Hey! We're getting closer! Wait. There are 11 parts of an egg? I thought there were 3."

Germany: "Legal minimum dimensions of a dog kennel?"

Me: "Oh, FFS. I don't want a DOG, I want a BIRD. Do you mean dimensions of an aviary?"

Germany: "Nope, dog kennel. In some states if you want to hunt with a bird, you need a dog."

By November 2018 I had spoken to some people and learned that I would indeed have to become a hunter first, and then I could pursue falconry. I could do the hunting class (170+ hours studying 5 different subjects in comparison to the 10 hours of hunter safety required in Wisconsin) without the shooting bit, but it was recommended to me by two falconers to just go for the full Monty and learn to shoot as well.

In early January 2019 I visited the Landesjagdschule, and a short time later I was registered for the summer course. Those were a grueling three weeks that included many hours of studying at home, and M had to help me so much with the language and understanding guns and German hunting laws that he eventually went for his hunting license as well at a school in Saarland. I delayed my test until early March 2020 to give me the extra study time and passed two of the three parts (written and oral-practical). For the gun handling and shooting I needed more practice and with the help of our great trainers in Stuttgart, I passed that part at the end of July. With that, I became a Jungjägerin! M had passed his whole test in one try in June, so he had become a Jungjäger before I did. On to falconry...

We both signed up for the falconry class at the Jagdschule where M had taken his hunting class. This was a brutal 6 days of class! Eight to nine hours of classroom work followed by 3 hours of reviewing in the evenings every day for 5 days, one day at a Falknerei handling birds and watching a Habicht (Goshawk) hunt crows, and on the seventh day was the test.

At the Falknerei we all practiced tying the Falknerknoten (falconer's knot) with our faces centimeters away from the Weißkopfseeadler's enormous beak, we had Harris Hawks on our gloves, and we flew the Weißkopfseeadler between us a few times. At the end they flew for us a very annoyed Sperbergeier (vulture), answered the rest of our questions, and let us go for our final review.

The Falknerprüfung consists of four subject areas (law, ornithology, practice of falconry, and care of birds, hunting dogs and ferrets) and is oral-practical, which ultimately is four separate interviews where we are asked questions or given tasks such as tying a secure falconer's knot with only one hand. I did very well in two of the subjects: law and ornithology. In the other two I was not impressive, but good enough to not fail. The tough thing is that the test administrators are experts in their fields but not teachers, and we'd been warned that sometimes their questions are phrased rather oddly to the point that the student doesn't get what they're going for. 

During the waiting time, as the 20 of us aspiring falconers waited to hear our fate, we all paced around nervously. Businessmen and -women, 3 foreigners, a zookeeper's assistant, teachers...most well over 30 years old were all shitting ourselves wondering if we'd performed well enough. In the end we had.

In case this all sounds kind of fun and cool, I can assure you it is the most difficult thing I have ever done. As I've written here before, raising my kids was easier. I did that in my native language and there was no test in the end. College finals? Pffst. You read and learn for one semester and take a test. I have never experienced anything like this - as well as the feeling of accomplishment afterwards, which is only just now sinking in.

Now that the theory portion is behind us, we will take some time to gain practical experience and learn from a real falconer (our Lehrprinz!) before we decide about getting a bird of our own. We will eventually build an aviary (according to the dimensions required by the animal protection law of course!) and make or buy the equipment one needs to have a bird of prey. 

For now I'm going to enjoy a few weeks of not having to study, learn and review things like the parts of an egg and a feather, list of new- and old world vultures, weights, wingspans and breeding patterns of birds, which types of birds hunt what type of prey, and relevant parts of 15 different German laws and ordinances. 

It's been quite a ride so far!

a curious Harris Hawk

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Americans on German TV

When the editor of the local newspaper contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I’d like to write a weekly column about US politics from an expat’s point-of-view, I asked my few Facebook friends if they would do it. One commentor replied that he would consider it if the paper would have articles from both sides (Republican and Democrat) to avoid readers thinking the opinions in the article are what most expats think. I answered that I don't know any expats in Germany who are Republicans.

Well, a friend of ours found one. She's a member of "Republicans Abroad" and was an invited guest on the Markus Lanz talk show. She so shocked the host and other guests 45 minutes in (at that moment my jaw dropped so hard I'm lucky it didn't snap off) that he insisted that part of the discussion end because what she’d said was so abysmally below the line of decency that he would not allow that level of discourse to continue. It was clear she had no idea what was objectionable about her statement.

Our friend said that only since watching this can he understand the depth of the division in the US and he had never realized how bad it is. I can verify that the Spaltung in America is indeed this bad between strangers, some friends, and family members, and I really do not see how its citizens can unify and become a cohesive country again. The only thing keeping some semblance of peace is the fact that most Americans do not enjoy talking face-to-face about politics. Keyboard warriors are in abundance, but few are willing to risk actual in-person conversation about anything controversial, especially - but not only - with people whose views differ from their own.

The host told this woman (before she made her most absurd comment) he reproaches her for only one thing: the fact that no matter what topic is brought up, no matter what anyone else on the panel says or asks, she does not even attempt to approach the others or meet them anywhere in the discussion. She shows not the slightest will to acknowledge that the other side might be right or even have a reasonable point. Everyone else is just wrong. She shrugged her shoulders at the more than 200,000 deaths in the US from Covid as a small percentage of people, she blew off so many Americans not having access to affordable health care, she said all men talk like that when asked how, as a woman, she felt about Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment, and she said the problem within the black community is that all the fathers have disappeared (no, that was not her most absurd comment). Even at the most outrageous things, she excuses Trump and backs him up rather than even once saying, "Yeah, he didn't handle that very well."  When she had no good excuse for Trump, she employed "Whataboutism," even saying "Look at England..." when the topic was mail-in voting.

This is a well-known talk show. The news occasionally reports on what was said there and I'm actually very surprised I hadn't heard about this particular show since it aired a week ago (M had, however). That woman was presented as representative of Trump supporters and Republicans, and it is no wonder if many Germans find such people batshit crazy.

In contrast to her, when the German guests spoke about their topics (the Covid situation, right-wing extremism, a book written by one of the guests, and anti-Semitism, for instance), they were able to also be critical, meaning show critical thinking, about Germany and the Western world. They sat in such contrast to that American woman, coming across as people who have some depth and have thought deeply about all the topics at hand, including the shit show in the US.

I watched this because I want to know what kind of Americans Germans are seeing and because I converse often with this friend of ours about politics. There's one other American I've seen on talk shows a few times who is a Trump supporter, and he also has parroted the same things Trump wants his supporters to believe. I have yet to see an American liberal/Democrat on a German talk show, in the news, or in the newspaper. When the evening news reports about America, they show the rapturous crowds cheering Trump, maskless fans being interviewed about how great Trump has been for the country, the lines of voters waiting 10 hours to be able to cast their votes, etc. The only mention I've heard of Biden other than clips from the debates is that he is leading in most polls. But the people who support Biden don't make it into the German news. I think we're probably not interesting enough.

By the way, do not believe the polls and do not become complacent.


...but vote only once, either by mail or in person. Do not do both, as #45 advised his fans at a gathering in September.

My first column (in German) was put in front of the paywall and the topic is how I go about absentee voting as an expat from Wisconsin.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Trouble with Melchior

A friend of ours recently told me about some news out of Ulm. The Ulmer Münster is a Protestant minster/cathedral and boasts the tallest church steeple in the world. I’ve climbed it (there is no elevator) plenty of times with our exchange students during the summer exchange. The news is that the figures of the Heilige Drei Könige (wise men) are being removed from the Nativity Scene this year due to controversy over Melchior, the African wise man, and the debate over racism.

Traditionalists, mostly white, will roll their eyes, scoff, and shake their fists in outrage because the Magi belong to the Christmas story as much as Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Some say the wise men - they were not kings, but rather astronomers - are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa. Around the end of the 15th century European artists started depicting Melchior (Americans say it's Balthazar) as a black African. Many have come to consider this more authentic than versions of all the magi being white." In fact, though, all we know from the Bible (Matt 2:1-12) is that the wise men came from "the East."

So why are the Heilige Drei Könige being booted out of the crib in Ulm? Not having interviewed the dean of the Kirchengemeinde and only having read a few articles in German and one badly translated into English about it, I admit this sounded odd. I don’t think it’s racist to depict one magus as having dark skin if we are agreeing he was from Africa. But then I had a look at a photo of the figure in question. It can be found here or here.

The figure was created in 1920 and looks to me like a ridiculous caricature of a black man the likes of which racists of the 20s would find amusing and the rest of us disgusting. I have seen serious and respectful paintings and sculptures of the Heilige Drei Könige, and this is not one of those. 

And what’s with the pretzel? That’s not controversial, it’s just weird. Melchior brought Myrrh (or is it frankincense, who knows when we can’t even agree upon which magi was African?) and a Bavarian pretzel to the Christ Child?

the epiphany blessing for 2020 chalked onto our doorframe
For an explanation of the blessing, see here.

Each year on Dreikönigstag (January 6, the official end of Christmas) children in many towns in southern Germany go from door to door dressed as the magi, recite a poem or sing a song, collect for a children’s charity, write a blessing on the door frame and usually receive fruit and chocolate treats to boost them on their journey. This nice tradition is not without controversy because some church organizations (not the one in our village!) feel it is necessary to put one child in black face to represent Melchior. Never mind that girls often portray the kings and don’t have to bind up their hair and paint on beards to disguise themselves as men. Never mind that we can all pretty much figure out that these children are not really the actual wise men or authentic actors portraying them and don’t need one of them to charcoal his or her face for us to understand who they are supposed to be. 

The tradition continues in many communities, however, and it seems many do not understand that black-facing white children is, to say the least, not appropriate in this day and age. No one can convince me of the necessity for black-facing a child or that the figure of Melchior I saw in that article above was an attempt at an authentic and serious depiction of a wise man from the African continent. 

Personally I think it’s time for white folks to stop excusing black face and vaudeville caricatures of black people as “no big deal.” Look into the origins of this and how it has been used. It is not a gesture of respect or an honoring of African culture or people. It was and is a way of mocking them. I don’t think church groups who organize the children for Dreikönigstag and have black-faced one of the children are intending to mock Melchior or black people in general. I think they do it out of ignorance and a sense of “that’s how we’ve always done it, so what’s wrong with it?” 

It is long past time to stop. 

Admittedly, I have questions.
Which one of you is Caspar?
Where exactly are y'all from?
Which pot holds the frankencense?
What the hell is myrrh?

By the way, I have re-read the only Bible passage in which the wise men are mentioned. We've made several assumptions about this story that have become "Christian tradition," so don't come at me with "But that's what the Bible says!" Matthew never tells us there were three wise men, only that there were three different gifts. The wise men are unnamed, and Matthew only tells us they come from "the East." Most of Africa is west and south of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and even the horn of Africa is more south than east. There's nothing wrong with depictions of Melchior as a wise black man, but there is a whole lot wrong with black-facing children and having a figure that looks like a gollywog in a nativity scene.

Are there more important issues to address regarding racism and its prevalence in our societies, churches, and neighborhoods? Absolutely. But for mercy's sake, people. Some thing are pretty easy and need no debate.