Saturday, December 1, 2012

unsere Metzgerei / our butcher

I love our local butcher. The women who work there are so friendly, and very patient with me despite the fact that I often come in with unusual requests or forget a word I need to make clear what I want.  They know me somewhat by now because I go there about 3 times per week, and sometimes I fear they're thinking, "Oh no, here comes the American again..."

For some time I've been perplexed by the size of the chickens here. They look more like hefty pidgeons, and the biggest one I can find at the grocery store feeds just Martin and me for one meal. On Monday I'm planning to cook a bird for my parents and us.  A friend told me recently, when I brought up the "tiny chicken issue," that I need to look for a Poularde (spring chicken?). Those are larger than the grocery store birds. This morning I asked the butcher if I can order a Poularde from her. She said "Für Weihnachten?" ("For Christmas?")  "Nein, für Montag" ("No, for Monday"). It turns out I can get a Poularde, but I need to order it a week in advance. It looks like I'll be roasting 2 small grocery store birds on Monday, but at least I know for next time.

There is a meat department in the big grocery store, but Martin is always more impressed with the quality of the meat I get at the local butcher. When I go there to get gemischtes Hackfleisch (mixed ground meat - pork and beef), they grind it as I wait. It doesn't get ground early in the day and then sit in a display case for hours, like in the grocery store, and it's not pre-packaged. They grind exactly as much as I want and then package it. I believe this is why, when making Maultaschen, it's ok to taste the ground meat mixture repeatedly to see if the spices are right, even though the meat is raw.

The butcher has a delicious array of sausages and cheeses for sale, Wurstsalat and other salads, marinaded or prepared meats (I could buy Schnitzel already flattened and breaded, but Martin always does that himself) and some poultry. They also have a few staples available - eggs, breadcrumbs, canned broth, etc. A bakery from the next town over delivers bread and rolls daily, and one can order a sandwich to go. They also have a daily meal special of a meat, a side dish and dessert or salad. There's one small table where one can sit and eat lunch.

So far perhaps none of that is terribly different from an American butcher. The big difference is that I rarely went to a butcher in Wisconsin. The best one I knew of near me was a 20-minute drive away in Eden, WI. I just bought packaged meat at the grocery store.  Life in the U.S. is in some ways about convenience and quickness. The meat tends to be better at a butcher, but it's more convient (not to mention cheaper) to buy everything at the same place. The same is true here, but since the butcher is so close (it's a 10-minute walk from home, or a 7-minute walk on a day as cold as today) and the meat is a finer quality, I'll happily go there several times a week even though it's an extra trip.

I should mention that the butcher at the grocery store is very friendly and helpful as well. A few weeks ago on a Wednesday Martin wanted to grill steaks, but the local butcher is closed on Wednesday afternoons.  Martin - who is German for those who don't know that - often grumbles that German butchers don't understand about grilling big steaks, because they're always cut too thinly.  I asked the butcher at the store for Rindersteaks zum Grillen, and he said those are in the pre-packaged section. He mentioned that they are "Big American Steaks," (is it SO obvious that I'm an American??) and asked if he should help me find them since he wasn't busy at the time. I said I was sure I could find them myself. I went to the beef section, walked along and browsed, but didn't see exactly what I was looking for. The butcher came over and asked if I'd found them, and I had to admit that I hadn't. He reached into the cooler and pulled out a package with a huge American flag on the label. Really? I missed that?  Good grief...  They were still not thick enough for Martin's taste, though, so there was more grumbling at home about German butchers.

One of these days he'll come with me to our local butcher and describe exactly what he wants for grilling - 4 cm thick, marbeled, and from the loin or rib. Then we'll see if they'll give it a name - "The Hejl Grill Special" or something like that - to make ordering in the future easier.

We're planning on having a 4th of July Grillfest next summer, and the butcher is either going to love us or hate us when it's time to order the meat for that. Yes, we'll be ordering a lot of meat, but we'll have very precise expectations for what we want.  At least we know to order early!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

der Gemüsemann - Our Vegetable Guy

In an earlier blog I wrote about the bakery truck that stops on our street every Wednesday morning, and I also mentioned that a truck full of fruits and vegetables stops on Tuesday evenings. I had written that I don't get very excited about vegetables, but I've since changed my mind.

The vendor's name is Mustafa, and he's like our own private year-round farmer's market. He's got just about everything related to fruits and vegetables, and some unrelated - I bought a dozen eggs from him last night!
Between the bakery truck and Mustafa, this was a sampling of what I bought this week.

Lately I start my shopping list on Sunday evenings, revise it Monday, and finalize my week's meal plan on Tuesday morning so that I'm ready for Mustafa.

Last night the first thing I grabbed was a Blumenkohl (cauliflower). I set it on Mustafa's little counter and turned to look for something else, but he put the Blumenkohl back and grabbed a different one. "Dieser sieht schöner aus" ("This one looks nicer"), he said. Then I started looking through the red peppers, and he said "Rote Paprika? Warte*..." ("Red peppers? Wait...") and pulled a box out from under his shelves. The peppers in that box were much brighter than the ones on display. I feel like I've finished my probationary period, and now Mustafa will bring out the best stuff.  I bagged up a bunch of little potatoes and asked if he could weigh it for me because I needed 500 grams. He took the bag from me, and without putting it on the scale, he said "Das ist 520 gram." I just looked at him blankly, he looked back and me and said "Schau mal..." ("Watch.") and set the bag on his scale. It came to 508 grams. "Ach! I was off!" he grumbled.  Ah, so he's a showman, too!

What a schmoozer... :-)  But it's working! He makes me smile, asked me my name last week and wrote it down, is very friendly, and I'll happily keep buying from him rather than from the impersonal grocery store. I told him last night that I won't be here next Tuesday so he doesn't think I forgot him.

Just wait until summer when he has berries. I better warn him, or he won't be able to keep enough stock to get past us!

*For my German readers: Yes, Mustafa uses "du" with me. I was surprised at first, but like me, he is not a native German, and I think that "du-Sie" thing is too cumbersome for many of us. And I don't mind. If he brings vegetables practically to my door every week, he can darn well use "du" with me!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

German License Plates

In the U.S., one can tell which state a car is from based on the license plate. That can make for fun "Car Bingo" games for kids on long road trips, and it provides a reason for why another driver is driving so irratically.  "Well, no wonder. He's from Illinois!"

In Germany, one can tell what city or county a car & driver are registered in based on the license plate of the car. This gives passengers, who want to distract themselves from the speed their husbands are driving, something with which to occupy their minds.  "Oh look - there's a car from Esslingen!  And there's one from our area!"

The first one, two, or three letters on a German license plate indicate where the car's home is. Typically, the larger the city, the fewer the letters. Berlin is B. Stuttgart is S (and cheeky residents like to pay extra to choose the next letters - EX, followed by several numbers). One notable exception to the "big city, one letter" theme is Hamburg, whose license plates are HH, for Hansestadt Hamburg (indicating it was in the Hanseatic League back in the Middle Ages).  Esslingen, which has a population ca. 93,000, has the code ES on its license plates, and I still get a warm fuzzy feeling everytime I see a car from there.  One gets good at figuring out what the various codes indicate.

Since we live in a very small village near a very small town, we don't get our own code. We have to go with FDS, for Freudenstadt, which is the capital of our county. That abbreviation felt a bit awkward at first, since that was the common abbreviation of a feminine product sold and advertised when I was young.  I got used to it, though, and whenever we're traveling out of area and I see an FDS license plate, I get a homey neighborly feeling.

That's Martin's license plate.  You already know what the FDS means.  The EM is for Elizabeth & Martin, and the numbers indicate our anniversary in American date format. That's supposed to help him remember each year.  The blue bit on the left has 12 yellow stars in a circle (the symbol of the European Union) on the top, and a D for Deutschland below.

Recently a decision has been made that folks living in Horb can have their own license plate code again!  Old-timers are thrilled because they can reclaim their identity and not have to ally themselves with those city folk in Freudenstadt. Newcomers can claim their allegiance to Horb and assimilate more quickly. There is much excitement about this decision, but changing to the new plates is optional.

Horb's new license plate code will be HOR.  

I think we'll stick to FDS.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Getting Around in Germany

We live, as I've already explained, in a very small town. The somewhat larger town of Horb lies in the valley below and has a train station.  The station is probably a 40-minute walk from our house, or an 8-minute drive.  From this station I can get to any city or town in Germany that I want to visit, relatively easily. I don't need a car to leave town and go somewhere shopping for a day.

My daughter and parents are coming to visit in December, and they would like to see some Christmas markets during their stay. Martin will be in the office most of the time, and I'm still not comfortable driving, especially long distances. In Wisconsin, this would have been a problem, and we would have spent a lot of time sitting at home. Here all we have to do is get down to the train station, and we can go to Nürnberg, Ludwigsburg, Konstanz, Esslingen, Stuttgart, Freiburg, and any number of charming towns.  We can get to the small nearby towns by bus, and the bus stop is a 4-minute walk from our house. The bus schedule is available online, so we don't even have to stand around and wait at the bus stop.

This is one of the brilliant things about life in Germany - the accessibility of public transportation. In Fond du Lac (Wisconsin), one is stuck if he doesn't have a car. There are buses in Fond du Lac, but I never met a person in 19 years of living there who used them. Oshkosh is 20 minutes away by car and has nice opportunities for shopping, but if you don't have a car or know someone who does, you can't get there.

Martin's mother has been staying with us for a few days, and tomorrow she takes the train back to Esslingen. It will cost her €8.40 ($10.80), and the trip takes about 75 minutes.  She doesn't like driving out of Esslingen, and so if it weren't for the train, she wouldn't be here unless Martin had driven there to pick her up.

When I go to Esslingen without Martin, I take the train. I always bring a book, but I usually nod off for a nap. I couldn't read or sleep if I were driving! Driving in Germany is no fun anyway. The roads are packed with cars, campers, and semis, and although there are sections of the Autobahn where there is no speed limit, there are so many cars on the road, constructions zones, and traffic jams that one rarely has a chance to drive faster than 70 mph. Besides that, parking is a big pain. Parking garages are your only hope, and squeezing into those tight spots takes some real talent or a Smart car.

It's just one more reason why I feel lucky to live here - I live in a small, quiet town where there's next to nothing going on, and I don't drive much yet. If I get bored and have a free day, I can choose a town to visit and buy a train or bus ticket for a day trip there and back. It usually takes longer than driving by car, but it's convenient and makes travel possible even for those who don't drive.

Checking the arrival time

Since I still don't plan on driving further than to and from the train station in Horb anytime soon, I am grateful for the accessibility of the buses and trains. I feel somewhat environmentally friendly, as well. The trains and buses are still going to be running their routes whether I'm on them or not, and leaving the car in the garage saves us gas and  doesn't cause additional air polution.

I'll use that as my main reason for not doing much driving over here!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rolling Bakery

Bildechingen is a very small village of 2200 inhabitants. The closest bigger town is Horb, which has 6000 inhabitants, and it takes about 5 minutes to drive there by car. Horb is down in the valley, and Bildechingen is on the top of the ridge overlooking the valley.  There is a shopping area about 20 minutes away by foot, where one finds such businesses as Real (a super center with just about everything plus a grocery store), Norma (which is like Aldi), a hardware store, a garden center, two car dealerships, a beverage market, a pet store, a saddle shop, and a McDonald's.  Down in Horb there are several grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, cafes and clothing shops, a flower shop and a bookstore, and quite a few restaurants and pubs.

Germans are very proud of their bread, and rightly so. Unfortunately, though, as has happened in the States, the small local bakeries are having a hard time competing with big we-have-everything stores, especially in smaller towns where people have to drive to a grocery store for most of their purchases anyway. At the big stores the bread, pastries, rolls, and cakes arrive in bulk frozen and are baked in their ovens. It tastes fine and it will do, but it's a treat to go to a real bakery, where the baker makes his own dough, pie crusts, and cakes from scratch.

We don't have a bakery in Bildechingen or in the shopping area 20 minutes away.  We have something better. Every Wednesday morning a van drives into our neighborhood and stops right in front of our neighbors' house!  The driver honks the horn to let us know she's there and opens up the side of her van like a kiosk. She has loaves of many different kinds of bread, rolls, baguettes, pastries, big pretzels, and a few cakes.

I can't believe my luck! This van doesn't stop down the street or around the corner - it's 10 paces out our front gate.  She arrives in the morning around 8:45, which is right around the time I get hungry. My biggest challenge is going to be holding back and not buying too much.

Every Tuesday evening around 7:30 there's a fruit and vegetable truck that does the same thing, and we'll happily support this farmer's business as well. I don't get quite as excited about healthy veggies as I do about bakery, but I definitely appreciate the convenience.

I am very happy to support the local farmers, butchers, and bakers, even if their prices are a little higher than in the big chain stores. The food is better quality and fresher, they appreciate the business, and they're very friendly. The baker this morning asked me if I'm new here (today was the first time I saw the van - I don't know how I've missed it in the past 4 weeks!). As I left with my treasures, I said "Auf Wiedersehen; Bis nächste Woche!" ("Good bye; see you next week!")  She will definitely see me again next week and every week after that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Things to Get Used to 2: Doing Laundry

Another thing I'm glad I knew better than to take for granted while living in Wisconsin was the ease and speed of doing a load of laundry. I don't know how the high-efficiency washers and dryers work in the States, but I had to listen, watch, and take notes while Martin did a few loads in order to get down the steps of doing laundry here.

Just to compare, I'll start with the 6-step and 4-step processes with my machines in Wisconsin, followed by the processes here.

Using the washer in Wisconsin:
 1. Open washer.
 2. Throw in clothes.
 3. Pour in soap.
 4. Close washer.
 5. Select "cold, warm, or hot".
 6. Push "on".

The usual load took about 45 minutes.

Using the dryer in Wisconsin:
 1. Transfer clothes from washer to dryer.
 2. Set dial to the mark between "drip dry" and "very dry".
 3. Clean out lint trap.
 4. Push "start".

The usual load took about 40 minutes.
Total steps: 10   Total time: 85 minutes

Using the washer in Germany:
 1. Turn on faucet.
 2. Open washer.
 3. Throw in clothes.
 4. Close washer.
 5. Open soap drawer.
 6. Pour in soap.
 7. Pour in fabric softener.
 8. Close soap drawer.
 9. Select desired temperature in degrees celcius (this turns machine on as well).
 10. Push "start".

A normal load takes 2 hours 45 minutes in the washer.

Using the dryer in Germany:
 1. Turn off faucet to washer.
 2. Transfer clothes from washer to dryer.
 3. Turn off washer.
 4. Turn on dryer.
 5. Select how dry you want the clothes - cupboard dry, ironing dry, damp dry, etc.
 6. Tell dryer how fast the washer spun the clothes (default "1000", change to "1400").
 7. Push "start".

The clothes are usually "cupboard dry" in 1 hour, 58 minutes.  THEN...
 8. Remove clothes.
 9. Empty water collection tank into sink.
 10. Clean out lint trap.
 11. Rinse additional filter and lay out to dry.
 12. Turn off dryer.

Total steps: 22  Total time: 283 minutes (or 4 hours, 43 minutes)

It's going to take HOW long to wash this load of darks??

Even though the washer takes much longer, less water is used. The water comes into the washer and the machine spins the clothes once or twice, and then the clothes sit for a bit. Then the drum spins again, and the clothes sit for a bit. Apparently it costs less than 20 cents to run a load, considering water and energy use.  But if I don't put the load in before dinner, I'm going to be staying up late!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sorting Garbage in Swabia

We live in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg, in the area called Swabia.  Entertaining and informative books have been written about the Swabian people and their quirks, characteristics, dialect, and habits.  Swabian frugality is legendary, and they are also known for their orderliness, even more so than the average German.  If I ever write a book about immigrating to Swabia, I think I'll start with the garbage sorting.

In our kitchen we have three garbage containers. Three different garbage containers, with three different purposes. And there's another one in the hall. Each of these containers has a corresponding bin in the garage, and those are set out on the curb on collection day.

First, there's the gelber Sack (yellow sack). Into the gelber Sack goes all kinds of plastic and foil packaging waste: yogurt containers, foil tops of containers, tin cans, tin foil, deli meat wrappings, Zip-lock bags, empty tea candle holders and milk containers, etc.

Then there's the Biomüll (biodegradable waste). That's a small brown bucket with a lid, lined with a paper bag and newspaper on the bottom to absorb moisture.  Into this container goes food and garden waste, paper towels, toothpicks...anything that can biodegrade.

There's also a small Hausmüll (regular garbage) container for things like used tissues (though I think those could go into the Biomüll), diapers, cigarette butts, dental floss, and basically anything too gross to go into one of the other containers. One can purchase from the city (for 5 EUR each) specially marked small additional bags to put next to the garbage bin on collection day if one has more garbage than one should.

The last container we have in the house is for Altpapier (waste or scrap paper).  Newspapers, magazines, store receipts, junk mail, small pieces of cardboard, etc. go in here.

It doesn't end there. One can't throw glass bottles or jars into any of the above containers. Once a week or so I walk a bag of these items several blocks to the public recycling center, where I throw them one by one into containers separated for color. This must NOT be done on Sundays or holidays, however, due to the noise disturbance of crashing bottles.

Crates of beer bottles can be returned to the store where we bought them and put into a machine that spits back Pfand (the money we paid on deposit when we bought the crate). The other day we got about 14 EUR back in Pfand for returning several months' worth of stored up empty bottles.

For years I've had to ask Martin which garbage to use for various waste. Sometimes he's not even sure! In Esslingen rules for the Biomüll are stricter than here - egg shells can go in, but not eggs. Raw meat scraps can go in, but not cooked. Luckily for me, it's easier here in Horb and I have lists printed showing me what goes where in case I'm in doubt.

I should mention that "garbage day," which was so easy in Wisconsin, requires electronic reminders if there's any hope of us remembering what to put out on which day.  The gelbe Säcke are collected every 4 weeks on a Monday.  The "regular garbage" is collected every 4 weeks on a Tuesday. Biomüll is collected every 2 weeks on a Wednesday, and the Altpapier is collected every 4 weeks on a Thursday.  It would be nice if the collection all fell on the same week, but it doesn't. So our garbage schedule this month looks like this:
 Oct. 5  Altpapier (paper)
 Oct. 10 Biomüll
 Oct. 15 gelber Sack (plastic)
 Oct. 16 regular garbage
 Oct. 24 Biomüll

Woe unto you if you put out the wrong garbage; they won't take it, and you're stuck for another month with your old garbage in a container that's already full plus the new stuff.  If that happens, I think it would be best to go on vacation for 4 weeks, which of course you can't because then you'd miss all the other collections as well and be no better off.

This is the way it is here in Swabia, and there are no apologies or reasons to complain.  I've been somewhat familiar with the system for enough years to never take for granted the simplicity of garbage collection in Wisconsin, which would make most Swabians snort and shake their heads: two containers - one for garbage, and one for all recyclables. Garbage is collected every Friday, recycling every other Friday.  Among the Swabian quirks and characteristics, one will not find "simplicity."  :-)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sonntag in Deutschland (Sunday in Germany)

Sunday is truly a day of rest here - by law.  Wikipedia tells us Sonntagsruhe is the "legally protected peace and quiet on the work-free Sunday" (my translation).  It's 11:20 a.m. as I write this, and I truly hear nothing outside except for a lonely dove and an occasional car passing by. Yesterday our neighbors were cutting down a tall tree, mowing their lawns, trimming hedges, hammering fence posts...but today it's quiet.

Unlike in Wisconsin, this is not a day to do yard work or wash the car.  We are not allowed to use machines of any kind outside today, though hand-held tools and brooms that don't make noise are ok.  If we did, the neighbors would have a right to complain directly to us, and summon the police if we are repeat offenders. Making noise with machines puts a person in bad relations with his neighbors, so it's less about the police and the law and more about the fact that it just isn't done.

Stores are closed today. There are exceptions in large touristy cities like München and Berlin, but in our small community there is no shopping today. Tough luck if you are cooking and forgot a major ingredient or ran out of wine last night. You should have planned better, and you won't likely make that mistake next Sunday.

I bagged up some glass bottles this morning to carry to the recycling containers, but before I left I fortunately remembered that it is not allowed to put things in the containers on Sundays - certainly not loud bottles that clank and break when tossed in.  Those living close to the containers would be out scolding me in no time, and that's not the way I want to meet the people of Bildechingen.

The one exception to loud noises on a Sunday is the call to mass, when the church bells go crazy. This happens at about 9:45 a.m.  It's a lovely sound, at least when one doesn't live directly across the street from the church.

Quite honestly, I find this a wonderful cultural tradition. How nice to have one day each week when the neighborhood is tranquil. It's a good day for a walk or bike ride, to sit outside on the patio enjoying nature, to get together with friends for Kaffee und Kuchen in the afternoon... There are no errands to run (because next to nothing is open), no heavy chores to accomplish (because one can't use power tools), and no appointments except those with friends and family.

I do like Sundays here very much.  In Wisconsin I could choose to relax on a Sunday any time I wanted to, but my neighbors were still mowing, sawing, blowing leaves, and trimming bushes, so there was little peace. Here in Bildechingen I only hear the sounds of the birds, an occasional dog, our fountain, and now and then a human voice.  Sunday may very well become my favorite day of the week.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things to Get Used to 1: Locked Doors

One of the first things I need to get used to is the doors over here - doors to rooms, houses, offices, garages, and cars.  Our front door, for instance, has no handle on the outside. It is permanently locked, and there is no way to leave the door unlocked so that coming in and out while doing yard work, for instance, is easy. If I go out our front door, I better have my key in my pocket, or I'll be walking to the office to get a spare from Martin to let myself back in. The only way to open the front door is to insert and turn the key. This is quite nice for a feeling of security, in addition to the fact that the door is made of very solid heavy wood, and I don't even think Fezzik could break it down.

This did make me wonder what paramedics do if I'd ever need to call them and can't get to the door to open it.  Martin said they'd have to break in a window.

Next we have the garage door. The garage is separate from the house, and although there is a handle, Martin keeps it always locked.  When we go into the garage to leave with the car, we unlock the door and then lock it again with the key from the inside.  The other day while Martin was at work, I wanted to put our shopping bags into the car so we wouldn't forget them later. I left the house with my house keys so I could get back in, unlocked the garage door, went to the car and found the car doors locked.  This is just a difference in habit, I think, and it's obviously more sensible to lock one's car wherever it's parked. My children do this in the States, too, and I'm glad it's their habit.

Unlike in the States, almost every room in a house here has a door that closes. The "open concept" and "great rooms" that are popular in Wisconsin are not common here. The kitchen, the living room, the hallway leading to the bedrooms, and in some homes (but not ours) the dining room can all be closed off. I'm sure this helps with controlling heat and noise - Martin often closes the kitchen door when he's making coffee because his coffee maker is so loud as it's grinding the beans.  He has spent enough time in American homes, though, and our inside doors to the various rooms stay open most of the time.

I come from Smalltown, Wisconsin, and I was not very good about locking my doors. I never locked the car doors when the car was in the garage, if I had to step out and knew a friend was stopping over before I'd return I would leave the back door unlocked. Once recently I left for a few hours without realizing that I'd not only forgotten to lock the front door to the house, but I left the inner door standing wide open. I usually locked all the doors at night before I went to bed, but I sometimes forgot.  This won't happen here, which is good.

Lastly we have offices. Martin and I have spent considerable time in the last 10 days driving into town to visit a bank, the Ausländeramt ("Alien Department"), the Finanzamt ("Taxation Office"), the Standesamt ("Registrar's Office") and at least one more Amt (office) to get my papers in order so that I can work, get health insurance, and acquire a residency permit, Lohnsteuerkarte (salary tax card) and bank account. Many offices in these old buildings also have solid doors and no windows to the hallway, so you're never quite sure if the person you need to see is available or if you're in the right place. One needs to listen briefly to see if there's chatter inside or if it might be a convenient time, knock on the door, and hopefully hear someone say "Herein, bitte" (Please come in).  Today at the Ausländeramt we heard lots of talking inside, so we waited in the hall. When a family came out of the office, we started in but were told to please wait. So we closed the door again. It feels awkward to not really know if anyone knows you're there waiting, not wanting to interrupt, but also needing to get your business taken care of. Eventually I was able to turn in my application for permanent residency, record my fingerprints, and turn in my biometric photo.  In a few weeks I should have my Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit).

On the way home we stopped at the store, where Martin selected the meat for tonight's dinner.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shopping for Meat

Sometimes it seems even the simplest things are more difficult in a foreign language.  Today I walked to the store to buy a cut of beef for the steak sandwiches we're making tonight.  I needed a 12-ounce beef strip steak.  I'm not actually all that confident with choosing cuts of beef in the States, either, so I looked up what that is. I decided sirloin could work, too, so I looked that up on and found Filet or Lende.  On the way to the store I realized I did not remember how much beef I'd need.  This would not be a disaster except that I would need to guess in grams rather than pounds or ounces, and I have not yet learned the conversion equations. I also don't have a sense of how much a gram is, which makes estimating tough.

I went first to the cookbook section of the store to search for a beef steak recipe.  I found one for roast beef for 4 persons calling for 1 kg of roast beef. I'd need enough meat for two persons.  Ok, on to the meat department.

Although I was hoping for little signs next to the cuts of meat so I could be sure I was asking for what looked like the strip steak I needed, the signs are all lined up in the front part of the window. Those identify what they have and how much it costs, but not which cut of meat in the cabinet belongs with each sign. I'm sure they're assuming that shoppers know what the heck they need.  Hm.  I saw advertisement signs also - near to the cut that looked promising - for "irisches Beef," or Irish beef. Wait. That's not going to be corned beef, is it? Isn't that only sold around St. Patrick's Day? It  could, and probably does, just mean the cow was a former resident of Ireland.  But I don't want to take chances here. Beef is expensive.

So I said to the kind butcher "Ich hätte gern 500 gram Rinderfilet [I'd like 500 grams of the Rinderfilet]." Rind is beef, and told me Filet is a word for sirloin.  What he reached for was not strip steak or sirloin.  I recognize that cut - it's tenderloin!  NO!! Wait!  Not the...oh never mind. He hacked the tenderloin in half and weighed it - just about 500 grams. I can do these sandwiches with tenderloin, right?  I held my breath while he printed the ticket for the beef -  20.57 ($26.43). 

Maybe Martin would prefer to grill our dinner tonight.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Week One

I've been living in Horb (southern Germany) for about a week now. I am originally from Wisconsin – grew up in Sheboygan, went to college in Appleton, and lived and worked most of my adult life in Fond du Lac.  My husband is German and has lived in southern Germany all his life. We have been good friends for 22 years.  He and I were married in June 2006 and have been living apart for more than 6 years, with one or the other of us flying overseas several times a year for visits, holidays, family occasions, and so on.

But now, after what seems like a very long wait, we are starting our married lives together in a lovely little house Martin found for us in the perfect location.  It's about a 4-minute walk to his office, where he spends most of his daytime hours, and a 20-minute walk for me to the shopping area where I can buy just about everything we need for day-to-day life.  We have a rather elaborate garden with roses, lavender, mint, rhododendron bushes, a fountain, and an angry artificial owl that sits on a stone pedestal and oversees the goings-on of the yard.  The garden and yard are surrounded by a tall hedge, so typical in southern Germany, to prevent passers-by from peeking at one's lawn. We also have a pergola on the far side of our patio – a 3-sided garden shed in which we store Martin's Weber grill and the lawn furniture when the weather is bad and during the winter.  It's a lovely place to sit during rain storms, as well.

Our house has three bedrooms and an office, so we have more space than I would have anticipated.  Nearly everything here is on a smaller, more conservative scale than in the States.  Kitchens are smaller, bedrooms are smaller, and yards and garages are tiny in comparison.  There is just not the space to spread out here as there is in America, and land costs much more.  Still, our yard is much bigger than we need, and I'm not complaining - until it's time to do yard work, which I've never enjoyed.  Perhaps I can learn to enjoy it here.

The garage makes me laugh.  We have a two-car garage, which is not at all common here. Most homes have a one-car garage, and some also have a carport.  German garages are just a bit larger than their cars. One has to squeeze into the driver's seat and hold one's breath backing out (at least I do, fearing what will happen if the wheel was turned at any point after entering the garage).  If one has a car of a reasonable size, there may be some space in front of it for a bike.  Germans must be flabbergasted by American garages and the junk with which we fill them.  When we put our house in Wisconsin on the market before my move here, one of the things we were told was that our 2.5-car garage was a negative point.  Americans buying houses today want 3-car garages, because even if they don't have 3 cars, they have another garage-full of stuff they need to store in there.

We have a Wintergarten (sun room) on the south side of the house with windows as three of the walls (two face outside to the back yard and patio and one faces into the living room), and I'm sure we'll be using that room often during all seasons.  But perhaps the best feature of the home is the very German Kachelofen (tiled stove or masonry heater)! This is in the Wohndiele, which is the main entrance area, or foyer.  Martin has made a fire for me in there nearly every night since I arrived. The wood goes into a little metal box inside the tiled "fireplace", and once it's burning the box is closed – so unlike fireplaces in the States, one doesn't see the flames.  They heat up the tiled walls of the heater from the inside, and the heat from the tiles warms the whole room.  When I get a slight chill, all I need to do is sit down on the bench of the Kachelofen and lean my back against it.  Hmmmmm…. it warms me straight through in no time.  I'm very lucky that Martin has not yet tired of building me fires.

One last interesting feature of German homes is that when a buyer moves in, he typically finds the rooms empty. Totally empty.  There are few – if any – closets, and the sellers usually take the lights, including the ones fixed to the ceilings.  The sellers usually take the kitchen cupboards and counters with them, and often the sink as well.  A buyer may come in and find only a faucet sticking out of a kitchen wall. This is the case in the bathroom as well. There are no cupboards under the sinks, or counters - those go with the sellers. In the bathroom are only sinks, the toilet, and the shower and/or tub.  The woman from whom we bought this house was down-sizing to an apartment, and she included the kitchen sink, cupboards, and counter tops with the house. She also left the curtains in all the rooms, which was really nice for us.  We can change them gradually as we like, but at least we didn't have to add those expenses to our move right away.

This week has been mainly about getting used to the house and making it feel like home even though our shipment from the States isn't here yet.  I'm getting there, and once the shipment arrives, I'm sure the house will feel completely ours.  There will be plenty of work to do, and I'm looking forward to being productive and truly settling in.