Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March Highs and Lows 2015

Thank goodness January, February, and March are over. Seriously, I think the sole purpose of those months is to remind us what is to love about every other month of the year.


  • meeting my exchange sister in Esslingen for lunch at her mom's house. This is worth explaining: We were exchange partners in 1985-1986. She is from Esslingen, Germany, and I am from Sheboygan, Wisconsin (USA), which are sister cities. In 1994 she married an American and moved to the U.S.. They now live in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2006 I married a German and now live in Germany. Who would have thought?!

  • seeing through our living room window the meteorite that flew over Baden-Württemberg on March 16th, though we didn't know what it was until the next day when it was mentioned on the news.

  • two meals at our favorite restaurant in three days, one of which was venison. The deliciousness was indescribable.

  • another meeting with our exchange students and their parents for the summer Sheboygan-Esslingen exchange. We have another great group and are so looking forward to our adventures!

  • spending several hours with my Schwiegermutter in Stuttgart at the "Romans in Baden-Württemberg" exhibit at the Altes Schloss (old castle).

  • signing up for our third Kochkurs at the above-mentioned restaurant in May. 

  • being invited to a Kaffeekränzchen, (afternoon coffee party) by one of the women who participated in last month's Kochkurs. There were eight of us - the others all knew each other - and it was such a lovely afternoon! We talked about everything - politics, religion, dialects, education, the GermanWings crash, Flugangst (fear of flying), family stories, the Kochkurs, told jokes... They were truly delightful, and the afternoon flew by.


  • It was March.

  • learning of the crash of the Germanwings plane, on which was - among others - a group of 10th grade German exchange students returning from Spain. Breaks my heart.

That's about it, and good riddance, March! I think any other lows of the month were over-shadowed by the Germanwings crash and the aftermath as details and information were released. The weather has been, is, and will remain crappy through Easter, but isn't it April that "comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb"? I'm sure things will pick up.

Upcoming - Easter  Weekend

For a peak at what Easter weekend is like in Germany, have a look at this former post about stille Feiertage (quiet holidays) or this one from last year about the Osterhasi and the Tanzverbot. I'm off to place our order at the local butcher for the meat we need through Monday night.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Was ist Typisch Deutsch?

Was ist typisch Deutsch?  What is typical German?

This post was approved by one German and tolerated by another.

Germany and the USA are both civilized "First World" Western countries. On the surface Germans and Americans don't look very different from one another. The citizens and residents of both countries come from a variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Both countries have areas of beautiful landscape, dirty industrial cities, national parks, and poverty. As a whole we have much in common.

Germans and Americans do, however, see the world differently in a lot of ways as well. Keeping in mind that all generalizations are false and therefore that the following points do not describe all Germans, these lists might be helpful for those Americans who want or need to know what makes Germans tick.

The average German...

  • spends a lot of time outside - going for walks, playing sports, waiting for public transportation, working in his garden, sitting on her balcony, eating outside at a street cafe, biking, hiking through a forest or in the mountains...

  • dislikes small talk.

  • pays with cash rather than a credit card, even for amounts over €100.

  • is very wary of Facebook in part because of the lack of privacy and because she knows that Facebook is constantly collecting data and information from its users and can use that data for any purposes that its officials choose. Only about 25% of Germans are active Facebook users.

  • is knowledgeable about what's going on in the world outside of Germany's borders - not only in other European countries but also in the United States, Asia, and Africa.

  • does not care what celebrities have to say about current events and political topics unless they are directly and personally involved.

  • is critical of himself and others.

  • is serious, industrious, and believes in hard work, but he also knows how to take time off and leave behind the stress of work when it's time to do so.

  • follows rules (like observing the midday and Sunday quiet times and waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green before crossing even when there are no cars coming).

  • wants to know where her food comes from. Signs in the produce section, packaging on other products, and stamps on every individual egg tell German consumers which state or country the food item came from.

  • knows something about life in the Middle Ages because of visits to castles and trips to museums during his formative years if not also as an adult.

Burg Hohenzollern

  • can recognize from where a person's ancestors originated based on his last name. Keckonen is clearly Finnish, Akdemir is probably Turkish, Gustaffson is likely Swedish, and Shevchenko sounds Ukrainian.

  • does not understand Americans' obsession with guns, violence, and war.

  • is not uptight about nudity and doesn't understand why Americans are.

  • is very private and will not readily offer personal information about himself.

  • is a realist with realistic aspirations and desires.

  • is sincere and does not dish out compliments she doesn't genuinely mean.

Most Germans...

  • live in an apartment, duplex, or townhouse rather than a single-family house.

  • take pride in their cars, which means they don't eat and drink in them, they keep them clean and tidy, and they fix dents and scratches when they occur.

  • are orderly, organized, tidy, and punctual.

  • are interested in the USA and Canada and intrigued by the wide-open spaces.

  • are tired of such questions as "Are you still mad that you lost the war?"

  • pay the mandatory church tax but do not regularly attend church.

  • prefer to dine at a table outside rather than inside, especially on a hot day.

  • drink a lot of coffee. Germans drink more coffee per capita per year than beer. source

  • have spent vacation time outside of Germany.

  • don't smile at strangers.

  • do not have air conditioning in their houses or apartments.

  • are difficult to get to know at first but are warm, kind, and friendly once you become well-acquainted.

  • consider fresh air important for one's health.

In Germany...

  • climate change is accepted as fact in much the same way that "smoking is harmful to your health" is accepted in the U.S..

  • being a Holocaust denier (or rather being publicly vocal about it) is against the law.

  • movies are more strictly rated/censored for violence than for nudity and sexuality.

  • English curse words are not bleeped out or censored on TV shows or in songs on the radio. Not even the "f-word". 

  • many stores and businesses do not accept credit cards.

  • fast food is more of a last choice than a viable option for a warm meal.

  • it is illegal to overtake in the right lane on the Autobahn (or any other multi-lane road).
  • you need to bring your own grocery bags from home or pay up to 15 cents each to purchase plastic shopping bags at the store.

  • most stores do not have restrooms for customers to use. Cafes and restaurants do, however.

  • one often must pay 50 cents to use a public restroom, even those in many museums. The money is put toward maintenance and cleaning, so the restrooms are usually clean.

...and flowers. Germans love flowers all year 'round. As soon as it's almost warm enough, they start planting!

downtown Stuttgart, March 5, 2014

window boxes

fountains and flowers

stunningly beautiful cemeteries

Strangely, I don't think I could write a post like this about my Landsleute.  What about you? What do you think is typical American?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Exchange Students: What You Should Know About Traveling to Germany

I am one of the organizers for a summer exchange program for middle school students. The program is for students in the sister cities of Esslingen, Germany, and Sheboygan, Wisconsin (USA) and was established in 2010. In July the group of Sheboygan students and their chaperone fly over to Esslingen to spend three weeks living with host families, attending a few days of school, and touring with the group and with their families. Then the Esslingen students and their chaperone fly with the Sheboygan group to Wisconsin where they spend three weeks getting to know what life is like in the U.S.. It's a fantastic program and we have had really wonderful groups of students participating each year.

As a former teacher I'm a big fan of handouts and written information for students to read and study on their own time and then come back with questions. In an effort to be more eco-friendly, I thought this year I would put my advice on my blog and provide families with the links to read online.

Exchange programs are close to my heart because I participated in one during my junior year (11th grade) in high school. The dear woman who is now my Schwiegermutter was the coordinator of the program in Esslingen, so she has known me since I was a silly 17-year-old. Now she and I work together for the Esslingen program, have both been chaperones for the German students, and do what we can to provide students with a wonderful and educational experience in both countries.

So what advice do I have for American students (specifically those from Sheboygan, WI) coming over to Germany for an exchange program where they will be living with a German family? I'll start with the following. If you have any advice to add, please add a comment!

What to Know About Traveling to Germany

  1. It is essential that you pack good, sturdy walking shoes. Tennis/Gym shoes are probably fine; just don't rely on flip-flops even if you go everywhere in them in Wisconsin. You will be walking on uneven cobblestones and up and down hills and stairs, probably climbing up tall church steeples (the tallest church steeple in the world is in Ulm, a city we will be visiting together!), running to catch a bus or train, and hiking in forests and possibly in hills or mountains. On the days we take day trips together as a group, we will be walking many miles to tour the towns and you will need to wear good walking shoes (not flip-flops) on those days.
  2. Bring a rain jacket, spring jacket, or some jacket that keeps you dry in the rain. We do not cancel day trips because of rain. Your family will surely have an umbrella for you to borrow; in  Germany if there's even a chance of rain, wise people have an umbrella with them. They're not uncool here. :-)

  3. You will likely be riding the city bus and perhaps a train with your partner (never alone!) to get to school, to go into town, or to go to a friend's house. Most Germans use public transportation on a regular - if not daily - basis.

  4. Do not lose your passport. Your passport is the single most important thing you possess when you are traveling internationally, even much more important than money. Without your passport, you cannot get on the plane to return home. Your host family will have to drive you to Munich or Frankfurt (a minimum 2-hour drive each way) to spend several hours waiting in line for an appointment to get a temporary replacement passport so that you can return home. Because this will take all day, tell someone immediately if you think you have lost your passport. Do not delay for fear of getting into trouble, because delaying will make the situation worse.

  5. If you go on a trip with your host family, take your passport with you. If your family wants to take you into Switzerland, for instance, you need your passport to cross and re-cross the border because Switzerland is not a member of the EU. Feel free to ask your host parents to keep your passport safely during your trip to reduce your chance of losing it.

  6. Make and bring TWO copies of your passport with you on the day you leave for Germany. Give one copy to your chaperone and keep one copy in your carry-on.

  7. Once you've arrived at your host family's home, I recommend you put your passport in a safe place (in a drawer in your bedroom, for instance) and keep the copy of your passport in your wallet or purse. Verify visually every single day that you still have your passport and know where it is.

  8. There are not public restrooms all over the place, and even when you do find them, you often have to pay 50 cents to use them. Before you leave a restaurant, pizza parlor, cafe, or home, use the bathroom there - those are free and readily available.

  9. "WC" (Water Closet) is a common abbreviation or sign for a restroom.

  10. Sunday is not a day for shopping. Almost all stores are closed on Sundays in Germany.

  11. A lot of people smoke in Germany! Smoking is generally banned indoors, but you will often find yourself walking behind someone who is smoking, walking through a cloud of smoke, or standing near someone who is smoking at a bus stop, train platform, or waiting to cross a street.

  12. Water is not free in restaurants, and Germans don't drink tap water. You buy bottled water, and you'll want to ask or look for "stilles Wasser" - still water, rather than the very common unflavored carbonated water. There's nothing wrong with the tap water, though, so feel free to drink it at your host family's home!

  13. Air conditioning is not common in stores or homes. On hot days you will be warm.

  14. Clothing is very expensive in Germany. A normal pair of jeans costs around $100. Price tags and signs show exactly what you will pay for the item; the 19% sales tax is already figured in.

Potential Hot Spots

Avoiding or dealing with potentially awkward situations...

Foul Language

English curse words are not bleeped out on TV or in songs on the radio - not even "the f-word". Game show contestants express their frustration often enough by using the English curse words "f---" and "sh--". Curse words in German or in English are not really considered a big deal in Germany - students even use them in school without getting scolded.
A teen comedy movie about students and teachers came out last year called "Fack ju Göthe", and I heard a young child shout that on his way past me out of his school the other day.


Young children play in wading pools, fountains, and streams on hot summer days, often wearing nothing at all, not even a diaper. This is not sick or weird - Europeans are not as uptight about nudity as we Americans are. Do not stare. Nudity is natural, but staring is rude.

At beaches it is generally allowed for women to be topless. Most wear a top, but not all. Do not stare or giggle.


Avoid public ones. In Germany swim suits are not worn in saunas, and they are co-ed (for men and women together). Some people cover themselves with a towel, but many do not. Again, this is not weird; it's just the way its done here. In fact, Germans find it odd that Americans wear swim suits in saunas.

Movies and TV

In Germany Movies and TV shows are rated more strictly for violence than for nudity or sexual scenes. Movies that are rated R in the U.S. because of sexual scenes are commonly rated "not to be seen by children under 12" in Germany. 


Do not waste anything - water, electricity, food, beverages... Europeans tend to be much more conservative than Americans (in other words Americans tend to waste much more than Europeans). Keep your showers as short as possible, turn off lights as you leave rooms, and eat and drink what you take. (When you are served and have no choice about the size of the serving, you do not need to stuff yourself sick. Eat as much as you comfortably can and try to waste as little as possible.)


Ask your family what time you need to be ready to leave, and make sure you are ready before then. Germans are highly punctual; do not make them wait for you.


Do not begin eating until someone has said "Guten Appetit," which means "enjoy your meal." Usually this comes after everyone has served themselves or been served. Follow your partner's lead.

While I can't cover everything in one post, I think these are the most important for young travelers. What do you think, readers? Any other advice for 7th grade students coming to Germany for three weeks this summer?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Question EVERYONE Asks...

"So, do you SKYPE with your family?"

I've been getting this question since Skype came into popular use when I was still living in the U.S. and my husband was here in Germany. My answer has always been the same: Nope.

I don't blame other people for using Skype and video chatting, but it's not for me. I call my parents every Monday on the old-fashioned landline and our calls often last 90 minutes. I call my daughter every week or two when she has time. I don't talk to my son quite as often because you know how boys are. All of us, regardless of phone calls, send lots of emails, and with my kids we chat via Facebook. I also write postcards to my kids, who are both in college, every few weeks. That's right - postcards. Three of them fit into an envelope for the price of one international stamp, and they get to see pretty pictures besides.

When M and I were living an ocean and six time zones apart, we emailed daily and talked on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, and often mid-week during the summers. We also used Instant Messenger to chat online. Often we preferred the online chatting to talking on the phone, especially when we needed to multi-task. I don't need to video-chat; I know what my family and friends look like.

So no, I did and do not skype.  Why not?

Think of all the things you cannot do while you're video chatting that you can do while on the old-fashioned (though cordless) phone:

  1. pace (I try to sit on the sofa while I'm talking on the phone, but I always end up pacing.)
  2. go down into the cellar to get something
  3. check Facebook or email
  4. not worry about how you look
  5. play solitaire
  6. fold laundry
  7. roll your eyes at something the person on the other end said
  8. scratch your nose ("I wasn't picking, I was scratching!")
  9. scratch an itch in an awkward spot
  10. change clothes
  11. drink a glass of wine during an afternoon call (which I only did sometimes in the States)
  12. dust
  13. sweep the floor
  14. eat a messy snack
  15. facepalm

And this is why online chatting (typing) is sometimes even better than talking on the phone. After typing a response to whatever the person you're communicating with last wrote, you can do any of the following undetected:
  1. put laundry in the washer or dryer
  2. grab a snack
  3. take a bathroom break
  4. empty the dishwasher
  5. eat a noisy snack
  6. answer a telephone call or the doorbell
  7. express frustration out loud in response to something the person wrote
  8. take the garbage out
  9. listen to music
  10. watch a Formula-1 race or anything else on TV
  11. facepalm
True, every now and then one of us ended up typing "Still here?", but M and I knew the other one needed to multi-task sometimes. It is, of course, best to give the person you're communicating with your full attention, but these international phone calls sometimes last several hours and multi-tasking is sometimes necessary and sometimes desireable.

In 10 years or so if I have grandchildren (no rush, kids!), I can see the point of video chatting. Children change so quickly and forget people they don't see frequently. But until then, I'll keep using the telephone and email.

M told me recently that Skype isn't just about video chatting. One can also use it like a phone or use it to type-chat online. For me that would mean learning how to use new technology and a new system, so no thanks until I'm forced. What I've been using for the last 12 years or so works just fine.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

German Idioms I

Germans...they have a saying for everything! At least my husband does.

The other day I sighed in frustration because I had gone down into the basement to get something, but forgot what I went to get by the time I got down there. This happens to me way too often. I stood there for a moment hoping I'd remember, but didn't. So I went back upstairs, went into the kitchen, saw my coffee cup and remembered I'd been headed to the pantry to get a new pack of coffee beans.

At my sigh, M asked, as he often does, "Na, was fällt dir so schwer?" ("What heavy burden has fallen upon you?")*. I told him my First World hardship of having made a wasted trip down and up the stairs and now needing to trudge back down again because I remembered the coffee. He replied,

"Was man nicht im Kopf hat, muss man in den Beinen haben."

"What one doesn't have in the head, he must have in the legs."

I asked if he makes this shit up on the fly, or if he has an endless store of adages and idioms just waiting for opportunities to be used. Turns out it's the latter.

*It really just means "What's wrong?" in response to someone making a frustrated sound, but of course it's so much more poetic than that.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Getting Along with Germans

I've heard and read from many different sources that Germans are cold, distant, unfriendly, and inflexible, that the German language is harsh and scary, and that life in Germany is stiff and over-regulated.

Well, enough.

I shouldn't speak for all Germans, but I shouldn't speak for all Americans either and I do that often enough. What's the saying? "All generalizations are false, including this one." That's attributed to Mark Twain, appropriately enough (favorite American writer and all that).

Anyway, it's just not that hard to get along with Germans, folks. It's just not. Do you work with a German? Do you have a German neighbor? Exchange student? In-law? Are you thinking about marrying a German? Lucky you! I have a couple of tips for you, gleaned over the last 25 years in my interactions with Germans: exchange students, host parents, colleagues, a supervisor, friends, relatives, strangers, salespeople, students' parents, friends, someone for whom I did freelance work, my husband, his business partner, and his employees. I'm not an expert, but I often have an easier time dealing with Germans than my own Landsleute.

I've done my research, but most of what follows
is from practical, real-life hands-on experience.

Be yourself, but...

Mean what you say.

Germans lean more toward subtle understatement than gross exaggeration. Mostly they are realists, though. Americans go for superlatives ("That was the best movie/meal/concert ever!") and loaded words that lose their effectiveness because of the exaggeration.

Don't say "I hate my boss" to a German as a way to indicate that your boss made a decision you didn't like. "Hate" is a loaded and powerful word and is best saved for murderers, thieves, and brussel sprouts (which I happen to love like quite a lot).

Likewise, don't say "I love swimming/chocolate/Russell Crowe." Love is also a powerful word best saved for your children and spouse. You enjoy swimming and you like eating chocolate, but you don't even know Russell Crowe. 

My tip is to choose your words consciously and avoid excessive exaggeration when speaking with Germans. "I'm dying of starvation!" sounds ridiculous to German unless it's said with an ironic tone. In all likelihood, you're hungry, not starving.

Update: I need to change what I wrote about using "love" above. Watching various TV programs during the last few days, I have heard both kids and adults say "Ich liebe..." quite often. I still don't hear "hate", so I'll stick to that one for now, but I guess you can love whatever you want, even in German. :-)

Don't make empty promises.

Don't promise you will accomplish something if you do not know for a fact that you can accomplish it. If you have agreed to tackle a project and find it's too much for you, don't just drop the ball. Tell him you weren't able to do it or that you need help, and don't wait for him to call you for a progress report.

Don't promise something you cannot deliver.

Don't promise a German that someone else will do something. Don't tell your German friend, "My sister's English is really good. I'm sure she'd be happy to translate that document for you." Don't volunteer others; let them volunteer themselves if they wish to do so. And for heaven's sake, don't volunteer a German without first asking him if he's willing to help.

If you have said you will do something, do it.

If you say, "I'll send you that document on Tuesday," then write yourself a note in your calendar and make sure you follow through on Tuesday. If a German has to write to you with a reminder, he has already written you off as unreliable and insincere.

If you say, "I'll call you next week," do it. If you might not have time next week, don't say you'll call then. If you are creating your own "deadline" anyway, give yourself more time than you think you need, but do what you said you would do. We all have unexpected conflicts that arise or find ourselves busier than we expected to be. In that case let the German know things have changed.

Be punctual

This is a matter of respecting other people's time. If you are choosing a time to meet a German, be realistic and plan to arrive early. If you plan to arrive 15 minutes early and you are slightly delayed by traffic or whatever, you'll still be on time.

For three years running I have been involved with an exchange program in Esslingen, and each year in January we have an informational meeting for all families who have applied. There have been around 20 families each year, and our meeting starts at 19:00 in the Rathaus (city hall). Not one family in three years has been late for that meeting. Not one.

Skip false or exaggerated praise

Getting all bubbly over a gift or going overboard praising a German for doing something he said he would do comes across as insincere. "Danke, das ist sehr nett" (Thank you, that's very nice) is sufficient to show you appreciate a gift, and the German equivalent of "Great job!" ("Tolle Leistung") sounds completely stupid unless you're talking to a four-year-old child.

Germans don't need praise for doing what they said they would do, or for bringing a gift to a birthday party. A calm and sincere "thank you" is appreciated.

M and I were watching a fun game show once (Das ist Spitze!), and after one pair of celebrity contestants finished a task having done an ok job, the audience erupted in very un-German crazy applause and cheering as if they were cued to do so. M said, "That's a bit inflationary, don't you think?"

The other side of this is that if a German pays you a compliment, it is sincerely meant. They do not dish out compliments just to be polite or conversational.

Don't talk about money

Germans are not impressed by big houses, fancy lifestyles, and expensive vacations. They enjoy talking about vacations, but not when every other sentence is about how expensive something was, how ritzy the hotel was, or how much money you won or lost gambling. When you are invited to a German's home, you will not get a home tour. If you are dining with a German do not comment on the cost of the food. If you just bought a new car, do not brag about how expensive it was. And for heaven's sake do NOT ask a German what he makes for a salary! It may even be in his contract that he is not allowed to discuss his salary outside of his immediate family.

Don't use an invitation as a good-bye

"Let's have lunch one of these days!" is American for "See ya!" or "Good bye!" Use "Let's have lunch" with a German only when you are actually prepared to look at your calendar and schedule a lunch date. Americans see this vague, noncommittal lunch invitation as a polite way to pretend they want to spend more time with someone. Germans see it as insincere and superficial after they realize the speaker had no real intention of getting together. I have seen this advice in books and articles about how to deal with Americans - "'We must get together' may not be an invitation but [rather] a polite way to bring closure to a conversation." (Culture Smart: USA) The same book describes a recently arrived expat who "like many visitors [to the U.S.], misinterpreted the warm, open, American communication style for an indication of friendship."

Conversely, if a German extends a verbal invitation to you, he means it. He's not just being polite when he says "My birthday is next Thursday and I'm having a few friends over; stop by anytime after 16:00,." He really wants to you show up!

When greeting a German, give eye contact and a handshake

I'm terrible at the second half of this. Of course I look a person in the eye when I'm saying hello, but I often forget the handshake. I'd prefer not to shake hands during the Grippewelle (flu season), especially with strangers, but it's just what's done here. When arriving at a meeting (on time, of course!), shake each person's hand, look her in the eye, and say hello. The American "Hi!" while waving across the room is dismissive, but acceptable here if you've already arrived late for the meeting. This is usually done at parties as well, as a person leaves. Yes, you shake hands with guests you don't even know - not just the host and hostess - so plan ahead and start saying your good-byes a good 10-15 minutes before you actually want to leave.

Have I ever "broken" one of the above guidelines? Of course; more than one. But - except for the handshake - it's been a good number of years since then. Everyone understands that public transportation can throw a wrench in the "Be punctual" one, which is why it's a good thing most of us have cell phones. Everyone forgets now and then to do something he said he would do. Apologize and make it right. And just stop telling people (Germans) that you'll do something unless you are willing to do what it takes to follow through and do it.

I'll say it again - it's just not that difficult to get along with Germans. They are genuine, sincere, serious, and industrious, and they appreciate foreigners' efforts to learn and join the flow of life in Germany.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Asiatischer Kochkurs

On Saturday M and I attended our second Kochkurs (cooking class) at the fabulous restaurant in our little town. The Kochkurs is something the Chefkoch is starting to do more regularly, much to our delight! The theme this time was Asian cooking, which we don't do a lot of, to be honest - but we knew it wouldn't matter. For us the point is the skills and information he teaches us, the tips on where to buy various ingredients, learning how to make our own sauces, and listening to anything else he has to teach us.

Our menu:
Glasnudeln mit Rindfleisch, Chili, und Koriander
Thai Curry Suppe mit Garnelen Zitronengras Spieß
Chicken Teriyaki mit Wokgemüse und Eiernudeln
Sago Pudding mit Mango und Sesamkaramell

the kitchen, before we messed it all up

The Kochkurs started at 10:00, and we only returned home around 16:00! The restaurant is normally open on Saturdays for lunch, but on the days he does the Kochkurs, the Chefkoch closes his restaurant and the students invade the kitchen. We each got an apron and a copy of our menu and instructions. He started out explaining the food we'd be preparing for the four-course menu we'd also get to enjoy, answered whatever questions we six students had, and then we dug in.

Under his instruction and guidance we did all the preparations that could be done ahead, so lots of schnibbling of vegetables, combining ingredients for the marinade and dressing, preparing the meat and shrimps, and mixing and cooking the pudding, which would then be poured into dessert cups and chilled until the end.

Our Chefkoch is not only a master chef but also an excellent teacher. We weren't just putzing around in his kitchen - he taught us the best way to peel a clove of garlic, that it's best to peel peppers for something like stir fry because the peel is hard for many people to digest, that it's essential to get the pan very hot before adding meat to fry, how best to peel ginger (with a cheap spoon!), and which ingredients can be easily substituted for the ones in his recipes ("If you don't have maracuya juice, just use orange juice"). Those tips were especially helpful for me, because I'm one of those who tends to stick blindly to a recipe out of fear of screwing it up by substituting. He explained the how and why of almost everything we did and always got our attention when moving to a new major step so we'd know what to do at home when we try to recreate these dishes.

One major difference between German and American recipes is that German ones tell you which herbs and spices to add, but often not how much. It says "etwas Curry" ("some curry). When asked "how much more [herb] should I add?" our Chefkoch often answered with, "about double what you just added."  I know that's one of my big cooking problems - I never season anything enough.

using a scissors to cut loose the right amount of glass noodles
from the package

showing us why meat loses its healthy red color so quickly

anrichten: dishing up the Glasnudelsalat

I think he's telling us here about his fabulous mixer that also heats
while mixing, which is excellent for making Hollandaise sauce, for instance.

Although we worked with ingredients we've never used at home before (lemon grass, mango, curry paste, coconut milk...), he showed us that these recipes are absolutely do-able at home by mere mortals like us! Everything was hands-on instruction, demonstration, and explanation.

He gave us some tips on where to buy local fresh produce and that we should always buy seafood frozen, since there is no fish that comes to our area fresh from the fisherman. What's marketed as "fresh fish" in our grocery store, for instance, has been frozen (and thank goodness) on its journey from the sea to Horb.

I learned that when I buy a pot of herbs, they'll last longer if I re-pot them right away into a bigger pot. Perhaps I should have known that already, but I've never bothered except in the summer when I plant the herbs outside. When asked, the Chefkoch told us which type of pans he prefers and why, how to clean a stone mortar (don't ever put it into the dishwasher!), and what parts of a leek are good for which purposes (you can use more than just the middle white part!).

one part of the dining area - the open kitchen where he works is just
to the left, so guests can watch the action while they dine!

It was a perfectly enjoyable and informative morning and afternoon! Just like last time, I came away having learned a lot, and having tried (and helped prepare) several dishes I may not have ordered. The Thai Curry Suppe was admittedly too hot for me (I have a wimpy palate), though I did enjoy half of the serving. And that soup is what confirmed what I have long thought - although there are foods I don't like and foods I haven't yet dared to try, I am pretty sure I would eat anything cooked by this chef. That soup contained three ingredients I really don't like (curry, ginger, and coconut [milk]), and yet I found it tasty. If I ever get the courage to try sauere Kutteln (sour tripe, which I think is the lining of a cow's intestine), saure Nierle (kidneys), or Hirnsuppe (brain soup) - all dishes I've heard of here in Swabia - it will only be at this restaurant. I, however, am not sorry those dishes aren't currently on his Speisekarte!

butterflying and skewering the shrimps with lemon grass

One of the other students said that she had grown tired of going out to eat because there just aren't many restaurants around that offer such a fabulous dining experience, delicious and special food, and that "extra something" that she would eagerly return to or recommend them to others. But then recently she came to Straub's Krone and was really impressed. Swabians don't give empty praise, and we could only nod in agreement. That's why we dine here about once a month!

We are in Swabia, after all. What would a Kochkurs be without
a bottle of wine with which to toast our first course?

tossing the strips of beef  - make sure the pan is HOT!
grinding coriander seeds and mixing the Teriyaki sauce
Don't bother with a lightweight mortar - this sucker weighs
7 kg (15 pounds)
explaining the next step while M keeps stirring the pudding

After our first preparations were completed, we finished and dished up the salad course and sat down with the Chefkoch to enjoy our first course with a glass of wine. We chatted about all kinds of topics, some related to cooking and some not, and then we cleared the plates and got back to work. Each course after that worked the same way. Despite the chatting and relaxing, our Chefkoch never once rushed us or indicated that we should quit yammering and get back to work so he could have a rest before having to open up for dinner business! He gave the impression that he wanted to be right where he was, teaching us whatever he could in those several hours, and enjoyed doing it.

At the first Kochkurs we attended in 2013, he taught us how to make Bratkartoffeln at my request, and I haven't failed at that since (before then it was kind of hit-or-miss for me). We learned tons of basics that day which have become normal for us now, and I have no doubt that we'll keep learning new techniques with every class we take.

This is the Sesame Caramel garnish we made for the dessert:

Mix soft butter, warm OJ, sugar, and 1 Tbl of sesame seeds.

Spread thinly on parchment paper.

Bake  for 10-15 minutes and let cool.
Gently break it into the size pieces you want.
We are already looking forward to the next Kochkurs, which he said will be during the Spargelsaison! We couldn't get enough of his asparagus dishes last spring (Germans go mad for white asparagus during the roughly 6-week season), and since we only have one (delicious) home recipe, we're eager to learn more from him!

I will end with the final products - the dishes we prepared.

Glasnudeln mit Rindfleisch, Chili, und Koriander

Thai Curry Suppe mit Garnelen Zitronengras Spieß

Chicken Teriyaki mit Wokgemüse und Eiernudeln

Sago Pudding mit Mango und Sesamkaramell