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!