Monday, August 31, 2015

August Highs and Lows 2015

August started off hot as hellfire, but by mid-month it was lovely! Actually it was cloudy, cool, sometimes rainy, dreary, gray....and I loved it! To be able to wear jeans and socks again, and to wake up in the middle of the night cold because I'd kicked off my blanket...Ahhh! Heat is fine, but that was a hellish stretch, and I won't complain if September is cool.

Our 14 middle school (7th & 8th grade) exchange students flew to Wisconsin for the second half of their experience, and while our chaperone is still on duty watching over them, my Schwiegermutter and I can relax while they have a ball in Wisconsin. The German students return next week.

In September we head to Scotland for two weeks, including one week on the Isle of Mull where we got married. My probationary Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit) expires while we're gone, so a few weeks ago we applied for an extension. We were  told it would take 2-3 weeks and I would receive a letter from Berlin saying I can return to the Ausländeramt in Horb to pick up my new permit. It's been a month so far. I went to the Ausländeramt today to see where things stand, but nothing concerning my extension has been mailed from Berlin yet.

Anyway, on to my highs and lows of the month.


  • celebrating my Schwiegermutter's 70th birthday by surprising her at a restaurant at the foot of Castle Lichtenstein, where M's sister and her family treated us to a meal. The chef fished our dinner right out of the stream that flowed passed our table!

    This was M's meal. I ordered the expressionless fileted trout.
  • the group (my Schwiegermutter, M's sister, her husband and 2 sons) spent the weekend with us, and we grilled shish-kebabs on Fire Wires (google it - they're pretty cool).

    pork tenderloin, bacon, onions, peppers, zucchini, & mushrooms
    marinaded in a teriyaki sauce my parents bring or send me from the U.S.

  • not all my highs this month were about food, but we also signed up for our next Kochkurs at Straub's Krone in October, where we'll be learning about Wild (wild boar or venison), pumpkin, and Quitten (quinches)

  • our day trip with the 7th and 8th grade exchange students to Ulm
  • spotting on Facebook that Straub's Krone was offering T-bone steaks for the weekend special. I called to reserve a table and happened to mention we were both looking forward to the steaks. It was a good thing, because when we got there the next evening, they had run out of T-bones except for the two the chef had put aside for us!

T-Bone Steak mit Kräuterbutter, Röstzwiebeln, und würzige Kartoffelecken
(with herbed butter, roasted onions, and tangy potato wedges (not pictured))

warmes Schokoladen-Himbeerküchle mit Joghurteis
warm chocolate-raspberry cake with frozen joghurt
  • planning which walks we're going to do and which meals we're going to cook on the Isle Mull next month. We're also exploring what to do in the Trossachs, as we'll be there for two days on our drive back to Edinburgh. We have a fine weather plan and a bad weather plan for our day in  Edinburgh and will be visiting the MAPA Scotland as well as Rosslyn Chapel and a castle ruin or two in East Lothian.

  • taking a Sunday drive around the Nordschwarzwald, first to a trout farm in Höfen where M and his family went several times when he was young, and then just meandering around aimlessly and ending up in Nagold for ice cream. It was a beastly hot day again, so a drive in the air-conditioned car was a treat.

me: "That does not look nice. I wouldn't want to live like that!"
M: "Well, they don't live for long."


  • finding this link to the U.S. Customs Declaration form (you know, that blue form every fool person traveling into the U.S. has to fill out on the plane) with these instructions saying one can fill the form out online, print it at home, and use it for the official customs declaration, telling our exchange families to have their kids do this to save time in Atlanta, and then learning that the forms were rejected by the border patrol at immigration in Atlanta as "invalid" because they don't accept copies of forms. I wrote 2 weeks ago to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to respectfully ask why forms they provide online are invalid. Their response time is 2-3 weeks and I haven't received one yet.

  • going into the office to shut down my computer before going to bed one night and finding an enormous spider (big body, thick legs) on the wall very near my laptop. How long had that beast been in the office under my desk?!? Does she have family?!? When will I stop feeling like something horrible is crawling on me?!? Even M - my hero, who "took care of" the beast - said that was the biggest one he's ever seen inside.

  • Thermomix fails for the month: chocolate brownies (delicious at the edge, raw pudding in the middle), chicken with vegetable sauce (bland and boring), salmon with mushroom-cream-sauce and potatoes (tasteless and dull), steamed potatoes (for the second time, they came out covered with a layer of slime), and - just today - zucchini and carrot ribbons (would have been tastier raw). Smoothies were good and hard-boiled eggs are perfect.

  • Wasting too much time fussing about a situation that has been bothering me for years on top of wasting lots of mental energy being frustrated about Facebook and my participation in it.

  • This shrub trimming fail:
    "Do we still have the number for the landscaper?"
I hope you had a good month, and I wish you a happy September!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bully Herbig und der Schuh des Manitu

When I read that fellow American expat blogger, Adventures of La Mari, was pondering a post about Michael "Bully" Herbig, I contacted her and tossed about the idea of tag-teaming a few posts about his work from the point-of-view of a couple of Americans. She wrote a great introduction to Bully and I started contemplating how I could follow up.

Bully has recently taken over the ads for Haribo Gummibärchen from Thomas Gottschalk, another famous German TV personality, and that transition was fun:

For those whose German is shaky, Bully says he's not sure about taking this job because he's never done commercials before... Gottschalk tells him to think about it and leaves the room. When he pops his head back in, he asks Bully. "Everything ok?" Bully says, "I'm still thinking about it."

Humor is usually a tricky thing, especially cross-culturally. I've heard and read so often that Germans don't have a sense of humor, but that is so completely untrue. To a German not everything "is the funniest thing ever"; their humor is often more subtle, which is probably why their humor is missed by many of my Landsleute.

But not so with Bully's three most popular movies, which La Mari mentioned in her post. These are spoofs of films that are well-known in Germany (ok, Star Trek & Star Wars are known almost worldwide), and I decided to write a little about my favorite of the three - der Schuh des Manitu, or Manitu's Shoe.

No child growing up in Germany can reach the age of 12 without knowing who Winnetou was. Winnetou was a fictional noble hero and son of the chief of the Apaches, who is once saved by and becomes blood brother to Old Shatterhand, a greenhorn from "the south". He got his name because he could knock a guy out with one punch. His rifle had a name, too - Bärentöter (Bearkiller), because...well, you know. The stories were first a collection of novels written by the German writer Karl May (1842-1912), who never got further west in the USA than St. Louis. Through Winnetou German boys learn that "ein Indianer kennt keinen Schmerz!" (an Indian knows no pain!"). They learn about doing one's duty, being honorable and fearless even in the face of death, and protecting one's womenfolk. I asked M if he had a crush on Nscho-Tschi, Winnetou's virtuous and beautiful sister, and he said, "Oh sure. Everyone did."

My students affectionately called her Nacho Cheese, because her name
is pronounced "N'Cho-chee"

If you haven't seen any of the  Winnetou movies, you can still get a laugh watching Schuh des Manitu if you've seen a few westerns. You'll miss the language puns and jokes aimed directly at Winnetou, but here's the bigger issue - it's just not as funny in English. The "Extra Large" DVD has an English track, but a third of the fun of the original is Ranger's Bavarian (ähm...southern) dialect. Those who dubbed the voices into English sound like midwesterners. 

Some of the funny bits still work, like this one:

But if your German is ok, this clip is a good example of where the humor is lost in translation:

I can't tell you how many times M has used the lines, "dann morgen hamma koan Stress mehr" and "Ich bin mit der G'samtsituation unzufrieden."

Here it is in English:

The meaning of the original text is there, but it's just not as funny. This commenter (Addison DeWitt) on IMDb explains the problem really well. Monty Python doesn't work in a language other than English because much of the humor comes from word puns and cultural quirks of the Brits, and Mel Brooks' films lose much their humor when dubbed into German. Dramas, mysteries, action and suspense films work well enough when dubbed. But comedy is too closely connected to culture and language to be simply translated or dubbed.

Films are very useful tools for learning about culture and language. I used films in the German classes I taught at all levels - with English subtitles for the lower levels and German subtitles for the upper levels. There were always memorable lines that the students retained, even as simple as Ranger and Abahatschi's greeting, "Servus!" (Bavarian for "Howdy!!"):

Der Schuh des Manitu is a real gem and loads of fun. It gets a bit silly at the end as spoofs often do, but I think the plot is easy enough to follow even if you miss some of the dialog.

Back to you, La Mari!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Loving Southern Germany 2: the Landscape

In his book 111 Gründe, Schwaben zu lieben (111 Reasons to Love Swabians), Jo Müller includes a section of chapters entitled "Living where others vacation." A recent article in our local newspaper backs up that sentiment with facts from the department of tourism. 2.1 million foreign visitors came to Baden-Württemberg in the first half of this year - which is 9.4% more than in the same time frame last year. Every 4th foreign visitor is Swiss; vacationing in southern Germany is significantly less expensive than in Switzerland. Although there was a decline in the number of visitors from Russia, the greatest increase was 62% in visitors from China (77,000). The article says Baden-Württemberg is well on track for its 6th consecutive record year for visitors, whether tourists or business travelers.

Even residents living in other parts of Germany consider Baden-Württemberg a worthy travel destination - 7.2 million "Inländer" made up the lion's share of visitors to the state in the first six months of this year.

My second reason for loving living in southern Germany is mentioned at the beginning of the article as well as described beautifully in Müller's book - the landscape. Within two hours' drive we have the Schwarzwald (Black Forest), the Bodensee (Lake Constance), the Schwäbische Alb (Swabian jura), the Allgäu, lovely waterfalls including the tallest one in Germany, the Neckar Valley, the Danube River, and oodles of vineyards.

Bodensee / Lake Constance
Forest walk near Esslingen

die Schwäbische Alb / Swabian Jura
View from Herrenberg

Horb and Neckar Valley

On the Lotharpfad in the Black Forest
Lothar was a hurricane-like storm that swept through
France and southern Germany in 1999.
Schwarzwald / Black Forest
Titisee in the Black Forest
Wasserfall im Schwarzwald / Waterfall in the Black Forest

Nagoldtalsperre / Nagold Valley Reservoir

Ulm and the Danube River

vineyards and a Swabian village

vineyards in early October

fields of Raps / Rapeseed

When you look down on the landscape of Baden-Württemberg from the air as you're landing in or taking off from the Stuttgart airport, you see lots of nature - both wild and farmland - dotted with villages. During the Middle Ages people lived together in villages surrounded by protective town walls, and they went out into the fields and forest to farm, hunt, and gather wild fruits and herbs. To this day you see this rather than farm houses out near the fields. Farmers still live in the villages and drive their tractors out to work in their fields, often to the dismay of the drivers stuck behind them on narrow windy roads. The cities and towns tend to feel crowded and the population is dense, but the countryside and space between villages is left largely to plants and animals, both wild and domestic.

There are walking and bicycle paths and farm roads all over that we can use without being accused of trespassing. I could leave home on foot and choose a different route to walk every day for a month before I would be repeating any one. Within ten minutes I am out of town and usually don't cross paths with more than 3 or 4 people on a 90-minute stroll.

When I travel by train I am commonly the only person looking out the windows at this beautiful area while most have their faces buried in their smart phones. They've probably lived here too long to feel the "WOW effect" I feel when gazing at the landscape. I just can't get enough, and every season brings new beauty.

I should mention the following to avoid confusion:

Baden-Württemberg is the state in which we live.
Swabia is a region of that state and a bit of the neighboring state, Bavaria.
Southern Germany to me encompases the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.

Despite using the term "Southern Germany" in the title, I admit most of what I'll write about in this series will be in Swabia (the Schwabenland or Ländle). I know I will sometimes venture out of the Ländle, though let's say I'll stay mainly below the 49th parallel (draw a line between Karlsruhe in B-W and Regensburg in Bavaria; that's roughly the 49th parallel).

Loving Southern Germany 1: Beautiful Towns
Loving Southern Germany 3: The Food

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Loving Southern Germany 1: Beautiful Towns

Although I am an expat, I cannot write about culture shock or homesickness. I can't write about missing things like certain foods or conveniences from my passport country. And I can't write about longing to return.

What I can write about is why I love living in southern Germany. I belong here. My soul is completely at rest and at home. I'm filled with gratitude during the simple act of walking to the local butcher or going for a stroll around our 1250-year-old village on a cool summer night (I'm waiting longingly for one of those again!). I wonder sometimes what on earth I ever did to deserve this.

So I've decided to start a series that will explain what I love about living here in the Schwabenland and why I won't ever leave, at least not by choice. The list is long and new reasons pop into my head almost every day. Perhaps this will explain why I am not eager to return to Wisconsin but hoping friends and family will consider planning their next trips to visit me and see this beautiful place.

Where do I begin? How about with the lovely little towns nearby? These towns have been here for hundreds and hundreds of years. Many saw damage from fires that wiped out entire sections of town in the Middle Ages and from bombings in WWII but were rebuilt painstakingly to their former glory, at least in the Altstadt.
The closest many Americans get to Europe is EPCOT at Disney World, but here the half-timbering is real and the houses and churches are hundreds of years older than the United States.

The market squares have served for many generations as gathering places and produce and livestock markets, and the cobblestones - which are still repaired as needed by brick masons - were laid for carts and carriages rather than for cars.

Except for the plastic garbage bins, parked cars, and fashion styles of passers-by, you can walk along streets and alleyways of the Altstadt not just imaging, but seeing what the town looked like in the Middle Ages. Luckily we don't get to smell what it was like on hot summer days back then, when people seldom bathed and chamber pots were emptied out of upper windows onto the streets.


Esslingen and Tübingen are my two favorite towns in the area, and they are so rich with history, intriguing secrets, tales and legends... I learn something new every time I visit, and I have scads of books about them. Other delightful old villages not far from home are:




These are just some of the towns I've explored within the last 3 years since moving here, but there are others I still need to spend more time getting to know: Freiburg, Rottenburg (not the Rothenburg ob der Tauber you're thinking of, but the Rottenburg near Tübingen), Sigmaringen, Ravensburg, Kirchheim, Karlsruhe...

Waldkirch, in the Black Forest

Schwäbisch Hall

When I visit towns here I take a guided tour if I can, but most often I buy a book or pamphlet at the Stadtinfo and set off on a self-guided tour. I read and learn everything I can about the town's history, find the significant buildings, and go into the churches.

Information I expect to learn - and I'm rarely disappointed - includes

  • When was the town established?
  • How many city fires were there and when were they?
  • Is the town Protestant or Catholic?
  • What were the effects on the town of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)?
  • What and where is the oldest building?
  • Are there any Stolpersteine here?
  • How many old town gates are still standing?

Yep, those are the things that interest me - not where the clothes and shoe shops are. And I will keep returning to the towns near to us until I know them well enough to give at least a mini tour even though few visitors will want to hear as much as I want to learn. That's ok with me, though. I want to learn it for me.

This is the first reason I love living in southern Germany. On any day I have free, I can pick a town and go learn something new. And if I only have a short time free, I can go down into Horb and learn more about my new home town.


Loving Southern Germany 2: The Landscape
Loving Southern Germany 3: The Food

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Strasbourg and the EU Parliament

Last month I was invited by a friend of mine to join a group of Rotarians on a day trip to Strasbourg, France. The group was invited by Herr Joachim Starbatty (then AfD, now ALFA) to visit the European Parliament, sit in on a plenary session, talk with him about the EU, and have a city tour as well as dinner with him in the evening. I felt very privileged to be included!

EU Parliament building
The "unfinished" tower is said to resemble the Tower of Babel.

inside the tower courtyard looking up to offices

I'm certain this has symbolic significance.

I definitely did not take this picture, because photography inside the
assembly hall is not permitted.

the Rotarians, the extras, and Herr Starbatty
During the short time we were in the assembly hall, the representatives were debating the pros and cons of TTIP, the proposed and quite controversial free trade agreement between Europe and the U.S.. We could use headsets and set them to our language of choice to listen to the interpreters. I found that fascinating, though admittedly I have not followed the debate enough to feel informed.

I would have liked to learn more about the job of the interpreters, and I wish that with each speaker (who only had 60 seconds to relay his or her thoughts), the screen that displayed their names had also indicated which country they were from. I suppose, though, that part of the point is to speak representing the EU as a body rather than individual states.

We met with Herr Starbatty in a smaller room just for us, and he told us about his responsibilities and his role as MEP (Member of the European Parliament), and he answered questions. I found him to be very personable and I enjoyed listening to him though I didn't understand everything.

Lunch was next, so our bus brought us to the Altstadt. By now it was beastly hot, and I had to just decide to embrace the dripping sweat. Since the reservations were made before weather could be determined, our tables were inside, where there was no air conditioning and no breeze. The palms of my hands were sweaty, and it was too hot to enjoy even a small glass of wine. Water, water, water. Flammkuchen was pre-ordered, and it was very good. Flammkuchen is an Alsatian thin crust pizza, for simplicity's sake.
We ate lunch here, at zuem Strissel

After lunch we met our tour guide, and she gave us a very interesting tour of the Altstadt. If it hadn't been so flaming hot, I would have remembered more about what she told us. She was an excellent tour guide who clearly enjoyed her job and was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And I could listen to French speakers speak German all day. Their intonation is lovely!

The minster looks much better on postcards.
main portal and window

the fascinating and beautiful astronomical clock in the minster

The stone figures on the pillars are not free-standing.
They were carved out of the pillars and are one with them.

At each hour, Death chimes the number of hours. Nice.
An old man disappears through a door on the left,
and a child appears from the right.

We were told this is a stone carving of the clock maker,
but Wikipedia reports a different explanation...

the river Ill (L'ill)

our lovely tour guide
After the tour we had two hours of free time, and my friend and I walked around the town exploring with Frau Starbatty and her guest. Eventually we found a cafe and I had a refreshing Radler (beer mixed with Sprite). We met the group again for dinner in another hot restaurant, and by then I was so done taking pictures that I didn't even take one of our food.

Despite the blazing, brain-melting heat, it was a great day, and I am so glad I was able to join this group!