Saturday, November 29, 2014

November Highs and Lows


  • reaching 10,000 hits on my blog, then by month's end 11,000

  • buying tickets to....wait! I can't say because that's a surprise for my daughter!

  • goose dinner at our favorite restaurant on Martinstag

  • a trip back to Wisconsin to spend time with family and friends:
    Dad's grilled beef tenderloin, a 5-pound bag of Tootsie Rolls from my best friend, fresh string cheese, squeaky cheese curds, Christmas shopping with Mom & Dad in Milwaukee, making pretzel turtle candies, dinner out with my two best friends, Mom's homemade spaghetti, 3 full days and 2 half days at my family's cottage "up North" with my bestie, fires in the fireplace, dinner with Udo and my parents at Pine Hills, visiting my son at his college, and planning my bestie's trip to Germany in 2016

    Pretzel-Turtle Candies

    Up North

    Up North - Duck Lake on a foggy morning

    Really? This wooden plank pathway is also slippery when icy?
    Thank heavens for this posted warning sign.

  • Enjoying a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all my family's favorite side dishes the day before Thanksgiving, followed by a Christmas celebration and gift exchange that evening. My parents had decorated the dining room for Thanksgiving and the rest of the house for  Christmas!

  • returning to Germany with my daughter, who will spend the next month with us

  • returning home to M

  • First Weihnachtsmarkt of the season - in Horb. This also meant the first Glühwein of the season.


  • wasting two full days with what was probably a migraine. I couldn't even read because it hurt to move my eyes. I spent the sunny afternoons in bed with the shutters closed because the light hurt and the only time my head wasn't throbbing was when I was asleep. Poor me.

  • the digestive response to eating too much cheese while in Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin weather (too cold and too much snow & ice too early) and icy, bitter wind

As usual, and happily so, my highs outnumbered my lows. I am glad to be home with M, who is also happy to have me back. He made us one of our favorite meals for our first night home (Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti), we're going to our favorite restaurant tonight, and Schnitzel (my daughter's favorite) is on deck for Sunday.

Weihnachtsmarkt season is upon us, and my daughter loves them as much as I do.
We're planning on going to the following this year:
  Esslingen (we never miss this one!)
  Stuttgart  (huge!)
  Bad Wimpfen  (new for us)
  Horb  (local)
  Tübingen  (love the town; never been there for the Weihnachtsmarkt)

 Let the fun begin!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Martinstag, 11. November

On November 11th Americans celebrate Veterans' Day. This date is special in Germany as well, as it is Martinstag, or the Feast Day of St. Martin. If your name is Martin, this is your day!

The tradition of the Namenstag goes back to the Middle Ages. Birthdays were not seen as very important, and often a person didn't even know his own birthday. Perhaps this was because the mortality rate among infants and children was rather high, and by the time a child had made it through the most critical period, the family members may not have recalled on exactly which day the child had been born. Dates other than significant church calendar dates weren't terribly important anyway.

A child named Martin therefore celebrated his Namenstag on 11. November every year, because that was the day assigned to the name Martin (to honor St. Martin of Tours). The Namenstag or feast day was normally assigned based on either the baptism date (as in the case of St. Martin of Tours) or the death date of the saint. Although the custom began with Christian origins, it has become more of a cultural thing than a religious one nowadays. At the same time, the Namenstag tradition is more common in Catholic regions and in Catholic families. Protestants don't have to feel guilty about recognizing the day, though, since Martin Luther was baptized on 11. November.

There is at least one saint assigned to every day of the calendar, but some Namenstage are more significant than others and recognized with various traditions or rituals. One that's known throughout the western world is, of course, Nikolaustag, or St. Nick's Day, which is celebrated on 6. December. There's a really lovely story behind the tradition of hanging stockings by the fire that are filled in the night with treats, which I'll write about at the appropriate time.

In Germany Martinstag is (somewhat surprisingly) not a holiday, but it is recognized and celebrated by many. Like the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a bird is the traditional beast to be consumed, but while Americans prepare and eat turkey, Germans cook and serve goose. And of course there's a story behind that!

"Die Gänse haben St. Martin verraten, dafür müssen sie jetzt braten."

St. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier who was baptized when he was an adult and became a monk. When the citizens of Tours wanted to make him a bishop, he did not feel up to the task and ran away. While his pursuers were hot on his tail, he hid in a barn full of geese thinking they'd be thrown off the trail. Unfortunately the noisy beasts weren't too thrilled with their visitor who was stepping on their food and stinking up the joint, and they honked their disapproval and annoyance. His goose was therefore cooked, as they say, and he sheepishly accepted the ordination.

The quote above is "Because the geese St. Martin betrayed, today they land upon our plate." (I tried to make it rhyme, but it sounds much better in German.)

"Run, damn you! RUN!"*
November also happens to be the time of year when geese are fattened and ready for eatin'. Not everyone could afford a fattened goose, so it was also common to serve a duck or chicken. And not everyone wants to eat goose. It's a very fatty bird, with about 30% fat to its meat. In its defense, though, it's also high in protein and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zink. M has had goose on his Namenstag before, but I have never tried it and don't recall ever seeing it on a menu in the U.S.. Our plan for this evening is to have dinner at our favorite restaurant, where they are serving a special Martinstag menu of Martinsgans. I can't wait!

And here it is. Goose, stuffing, dumplings, roasted chestnuts, Rotkohl, and gravy.
I'd write more, but I'm in a food coma.

For those who want more history and tradition...the Martinsgans was served traditionally on 11. November as the last big meal before the Advent fasting time. At the end of Advent, goose was served again - on Christmas Eve. If I'm not mistaken, the "Christmas Goose" is mentioned near the happy end of the well-known Dickens tale. Nowadays approximately 10 million geese land in an oven or pan between Martinstag and Christmas.°

In the Middle Ages the traditional Christmas dinner was a Schweinbraten - pork roast. Why was this replaced by goose? The most popular explanation is that Queen Elizabeth I was in the middle of a Christmas feast of goose when she received the news that her navy had defeated the Spanish Armada. She took this as a good omen and declared the goose as the Christmas Roast in 1588.

I can't end without mentioning another Martinstag tradition that those of you living in Germany may see in your villages - the Martinsritt. Elementary school children make paper lanterns (with candles inside) in school and then gather - usually in the early evening - with their teachers, classmates, and parents, and parade through the streets singing songs about St. Martin. There is almost always a rider dressed in a Roman costume with red cloak on a horse leading the procession. The parade ends with a bonfire and snacks for all. This tradition reminds people of the story of St. Martin before his conversion, when he was a Roman soldier who came upon a poor man freezing in the cold winter. Martin stopped his horse, split his cloak down the center with his sword, and gave the homeless man half of his cloak to keep warm. The next night as Martin lay sleeping, he saw Jesus in his dream wearing the half of the cloak he had given the homeless man. This story (yes, told even in public schools) helps to teach young children the value of sharing and being kind to strangers.

My daughter The rider is wearing a red sweatshirt instead of a red cloak,
but this will have to do until I actually witness a Martinsritt.
Had I known of this story when I was a child, I would have asked my dad to tell it to me over and over again. My mom would have felt touched that I wanted to hear a story about sharing, but really it would have been because there was a horse in it.

11:11 (am) on November 11th every year is also the official start of "the Fifth Season", or Fasching. Things don't get nutty until the weeks before Ash Wednesday, but the season has begun nonetheless.

°Source: "Dem heiligen Martin zu Ehren." Schwäbisches Tageblatt; Südwest-Presse/Neckar-Chronik. 31. October, 2014.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Traveling back to the Homeland

In less than a week I'll be traveling back to Wisconsin to spend two weeks with family and friends. M is staying behind, and I don't like traveling without him. That's why I have mixed feelings about the travel part of this trip. I know I'll enjoy the time in Wisconsin with my people - they are my only answer to what I miss about my home country - but my world is out of whack when he and I are so far apart. We spent the first six years of our marriage living an ocean and six time zones apart seeing each other three times a year for 1-3 weeks, but neither of us would handle that well now that we have experienced more than two years of living together.

But I intended this post to be about traveling to Wisconsin, what I'm packing, and what I'm planning to bring back, so I'll get on with that.

Where I'm going:

Sheboygan River boardwalk in June

Sheboygan Marina, on Lake Michigan
Duck Lake, Northern Wisconsin, Nov., 2011
My family has a cottage (Ferienhaus) here

walking around Duck Lake in October

Duck Lake in October

What I'm packing:

  • enough clothes for 3-4 days. I'm a light packer anyway, and I stock up on affordable clothes when I am in the U.S. because everything from shoes to sweaters is cheaper there than in Germany.
  • coffee. I've been drinking Dallmayr coffee for years, as M always brought it over for me when he visited, and nothing else really does it for me.
  • Advent calendars for my family and friends
  • Swiss and German chocolate
  • several recipes because I want to cook for family and friends
  • Nutella (I don't like it, but my kids do)
  • scarves, gloves, hat, wool socks (it's already been snowing in Wisconsin)

In my carry-on (in order of importance):

  • passport, Aufenthaltstitel, Auslandskrankenschein, credit card, Euros and dollars
  • noise-cancelling headphones & mp3 player
  • German book: Gebrauchsanweisungen für Schwaben, by Anton Hunger
  • English book: Rick Steves' Guide to Rome
  • Nexus tablet
  • my small camera
  • a change of clothing because I only have 45 minutes in Frankfurt and even if I'm lucky enough to make that connection, my suitcase surely won't
  • my ziplock "Freedom Bag" containing my dangerous hand lotion

What I'm bringing back:

  • fuzzy slipper boots
  • several new sweaters and shirts
  • gifts for M that I ordered from Amazon and had delivered to my parents' house
  • Carnation chocolate malt powder
  • walking/running shoes
  • Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips (Germans go mad for Nestle Tollhouse cookies - I bake and bring them every time I visit someone or want to bring an American treat)
  • Aleve

What I'll be doing:

  • going Christmas shopping with my parents in Milwaukee
  • visiting both my kids at their respective colleges
  • visiting my former school and bringing penpal letters from my Englisch-AG students to the German students
  • attending a community orchestra concert (possibly)
  • spending several days with my bestie (beste Freundin) at my family's cottage retreat in northern Wisconsin
  • getting my hair cut
  • watching two Packer games (on TV)
  • cooking several meals
  • having Thanksgiving turkey dinner with my parents and kids, then after clean-up celebrating an early Christmas since we won't be together in December. My parents will have the dining room decorated for Thanksgiving and the living room and sun room decorated for Christmas!
  • flying back home with my daughter, who will be spending a month with us here in Germany during her college winter break

I may not write any blog posts while I'm away - we'll see. This is my first time back to Wisconsin in more than a year, so there will be plenty to keep me busy. I'll keep up on my reading, though!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Holiday Hike

Yesterday was Allerheiligen, or All Saint's Day, which I wrote about last year. It's a day to remember the saints we honor throughout the year on their feasts days. Today is Allerseelen, which is a day to honor and remember the regular souls who have passed away. These are both Catholic days, and though I'm not Catholic I live in the predominantly Catholic south of Germany, so yesterday was a stiller Feiertag. With today being Sunday, southern Germany is essentially closed for business the whole weekend. Restaurants and museums are open as well as most gas stations along the Autobahnen, but I had to make sure the grocery shopping was done by Friday.

I should mention Friday as well - that was Reformation Day, which of course is a Protestant holiday. In most of the northern states that is a holiday, so they had a long weekend but could do their grocery shopping on Saturday.

After having a nice lazy morning, one of us came up with the idea to go for a walk to some nearby Burgruine (castle ruins) which we've known about but have never searched for. We've made a mental note to wear our hiking boots next time we go exploring.

The castle has some history, of course, but it's a little dull so I'll only mention that it was built in the second half of the 13th century.

This would have been a cool time for a train to go by -
I would have loved that photo. The trains were scheduled,
however, to pass only when we were too far away for photos.

Here are the ruins. There are a few informational signs,
but this is not a former castle that people come from
far away to see. If we hadn't known what we were looking
for, we would have missed it.

There's just something about castle ruins.
The lighting wasn't great, but oh well.
There were trees growing out of the sides of
these stone walls. Nature always wins in the end.
We like to hike off the beaten path when we can.

From here we could choose the unadventurous route of going back the way we'd come, which would have been pretty strenuous, too. The damp leaves made the steep slope rather slippery, and going back up the side of a valley sounded less than appealing. So we opted for the flatter dirt road which we were hoping would angle upwards gradually.

It did not. We got to the level of a stream as we heard one of the trains roar past a few hundred feet above us as the road continued heading downish with an occasional optimistic slope upwards. The picture above shows the springs from which this stream originates. The water is deliciously pure and clear.

At one point I was a little ahead of M and saw something that brought out an "Oh my GOD!" M automatically braced himself to fight a stag or wrestle a rabid wolf while I fled to safety, as I said, "It's a horse!" A woman on a beautiful black steed was trotting along the road on a holiday trail ride. I grinned like an idiot for the next few minutes - that's what horses do to me.

By the time we saw the rooftops of the town on the Neckar east of Horb we realized we'd have to climb up the side of the blasted valley anyway. Good thing we're so fit (yeah, right). We huffed and puffed our way up the hill visualizing the dinner we'd reward ourselves with later.

We keep finding new places for walking/hiking that are right around where we live, and despite the huffing and sweating, we enjoy taking these walks. It's great exercise (even though this walk was only 7 km, it was enough up and down steep hills to burn a few calories), we're out in the fresh air on a beautiful fall day, and we're exploring new sites right in our area. We're surrounded by history and wilderness, and I think that's pretty cool!

We ended the day at our favorite restaurant, and I ordered this as my appetizer:

Ziegenkäse im Speckmantel gebraten und hausgemachtes Pflaumenchutney
Fried bacon-wrapped goat cheese with homemade plum chutney

To savor the dish I made three bites each out of the bite-sized bits of cheese and bacon. I followed that with locally shot Wildschweinrückensteak mit süß-scharfe Pfeffersoße und glasiertes Gemüse, or wild boar in a sweet-spicy pepper sauce and glazed vegetables.

Before we left we reserved a table for Martinstag (11. November), when I'll try goose for the first time! Goose is the traditional German bird to consume on 11. November - more on that in a future post.

It was a really nice way to spend Allerheiligen and my birthday, and a good start to the quiet weekend.