Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Highs and Lows 2017

This has been a busy but good month. I finished my most recent Integrationskurs and my students took their test (results not in yet), M and I had a mini-vacation, and then my dad arrived. It's a lot of fun to cook for him because there's almost nothing he doesn't like, and he is very appreciative of our efforts in the kitchen.

On with it. Here are my highs and lows for April:


  • meeting several of my students for two extra review sessions before their Deutschtest für Zuwanderer. I offered to spend some extra time with them during the free week between the end of our class and their test, and a handful came!

  • three days with M at the Engel wellness hotel in the Schwarzwald, delicious food, relaxation, saunas...

  • participating in another Asian Kochkurs, this time with sushi. Admittedly not my thing, but I tried quite a few! This was our ninth Kochkurs.

fish Vorspeise

anrichten - I take my jobs very seriously
  • our first Spargel überbacken of the season, and driving to the Spargelhof to get the white asparagus
  • lamb stew for Easter

  • my dad's arrival. He's spending several weeks with us while attending classes at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg because he wants to improve his German! He has been working really hard and asking great questions. He's in an A1 class, but I taught him adjective endings this week just for fun.
    My mom will come over in mid-May for a few weeks of fun and travel, and they'll fly home together the day before M and I fly to Scotland.

  • my daughter spending a day at the Rolex Three-Day event in Lexington, Kentucky, where local boy Michael Jung and his horse fischerRocana are competing. She attended the cross country day, and snapped this amazing photo of the two of them!
Michi und fischerRocana

  • today M and I made Maultaschen from scratch. It's quite an undertaking - we started at about 15:30 (having made the pasta dough earlier so it could rest) and ate around 19:00 with only one 10-minute break for a Feierabend glass of wine. After learning a few things at our Swabian Kochkurs more than a year ago, we have fixed almost all the mistakes I made in that first attempt from 2013. My dad took some photos, so perhaps I can write another updated post about the Herrgotts-B'scheißerle.


  • April weather. Frost. Snow. Just...No. My tulips and I protest!
"No, no, Mother Nature. Go ahead. We'll just be sad."

  • uh...ten minutes ago I discovered a crack in my fake tooth (crown, I guess). It's one of my two front teeth, and it's a holiday weekend. I can only hope it won't get worse before I can get my dentist to look at it!


dinner at the home of a hunter friend
That's Tyrolean mountain goat with Spätzle and Rotkohl.

On his first day of class I gave him a Schültüte
filled with treats, an eraser, a pocket notebook, etc.

Spargel dinner at Straub's Krone - with breaded pork tenderloin

Dad and I went for a walk yesterday to photograph the Rapsfelder
(rapeseed fields)

It's my dad's turn to sit and have a glass of wine
while someone else grills the tenderloin!

This morning we drove into the Schwarzwald
and walked the short but interesting Lotharpfad.

at the lookout platform on the Lotharpfad,
looking over the Schwarzwald toward France

sharing a laugh about any number of things...
We're having a good time!

I hope your April was awesome as well, despite the weather!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Things We Do in Swabia but not Wisconsin, Part 1

It's been a while since I compared life in the Schwabenland to life in Wisconsin. It's also been a while since I last blogged! The will is there, but I've lacked inspiration. We had some lovely weather recently, which was perfect for Easter (and then it got cold and snowed, but never mind that), and I started thinking again about things we do differently here vs. in Wisconsin.

So let's see what comes of this.

Things We Do in the Schwabenland that We Don't (Didn't) Do in Wisconsin

Plan Easter meals well in advance

I think Easter has always been my favorite holiday. When I was little it meant a new Easter dress, an Easter bonnet, white gloves, new white shoes, and a wonderful fancy brunch at a local country club. The music in church was uplifting and beautiful, and even though snow was not uncommon at Easter in Wisconsin, at least Spring was on its way.
ca. 1970, probably Easter Sunday
Here in the Schwabenland Easter is even more special in some ways. The best part is that we have three days of forced family time and relaxation. Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday are stille Feiertage, which means all stores and businesses are closed. No shopping (even for a last-minute ingredient one forgot), and M doesn't go to the office unless there's an emergency. Lamb is the traditional meat served on Sunday and/or Monday, and we typically make our lamb stew.

Since [loud] yardwork is frowned upon on stille Feiertage (weeding is tolerated if you feel guilty while doing it), we quietly get indoor jobs done, read, watch TV, cook, and relax. It's really nice to have M home for basically four days in a row (he spends a short time in the office on Saturday). So while Easter has always been my favorite holiday, it's even more special now. It feels strange to me by now that Good Friday and Easter Monday are just normal days in the U.S.

Bring our glass bottles to the recycling center

In my hometown, items that can be recycled - paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, and cans - all get thrown into the same huge rubbish bin and collected by the city every week. Here only the gelber Sack (plastic and packaging recyclables) and Altpapier (paper & cardboard) get picked up from the city, and that's only once a month. We have to haul glass bottles to the recycling containers, which is not a big deal. 
This is in Wisconsin, and I'm pointing at the recycling bin.
The other is garbage, and ours here is 1/3 the size of that.
Wisconsin garbage pick-up: once a week.
Horb garbage pick-up: once a month.

Sort the recyclable glass by color

White (clear), brown, or green? Unfortunately the wine M and I drink comes in bottles that are greenish-brown. I have no idea which bin they belong in.

Buy our meat from the local butcher (and lamb from the Turkish butcher)

There's just something about a small local butcher where everyone knows your name. I have the luxury of not having to worry about convenience, which is why most people just buy everything at the grocery store. I have lots of free time and am good at planning ahead. And although I never cared about that in Wisconsin, I like knowing where the meat we eat comes from. All the meat our butcher sells comes from farms within our state. If I ask where the Rinderfilet is from, the butcher will tell me a farm in the Black Forest (for example). I once asked the butcher in a store in Sheboygan where the tenderloin was from, and he said (I kid you not), "a cow." I could tell from his smile he was being funny, but he also had no idea where the shipment came from.

Drive to local farmers to buy fresh produce (especially Spargel)

We buy most of our produce from Mustafa, our vegetable guy who comes with his truck on Tuesdays and parks for 20 minutes in front of our neighbors' house. He also tells us where everything comes from, though he gets it all from a Großmarkt. Being an American, I don't care if the strawberries come from Italy or Spain as long as they are nice and red, but I know Germans who will buy one but not the other. 
Mustafa and his seasonal produce
Spargel, however, I only buy from the Spargelhof  seven miles from home. Picked freshly that morning from the field I have to drive around to get to their shop.

the white blankets cover fields of delicious weißer Spargel

In fact...

While in Wisconsin I bought everything in one grocery store, the other day I drove to the Bäckerei one village away to get fresh rolls and pretzels, then to the Spargelhof  above for a kilo of that deliciousness, and then to one more village beyond to the Kartoffelhof for potatoes. Total time: ca. 45 minutes. The grocery store would have been a 3-minute drive, but fresh local products are worth it!

Bring our own reusable cloth bags to the grocery store

There's a sensible charge for plastic bags in most stores in Baden-Württemberg, so any self-respecting Swabian will bring her own bags or shopping basket with her to avoid this charge and damage to the environment. It just makes sense, and would even if there weren't a charge. We bag our own groceries here, which I also vastly prefer to waiting for the bagger in Wisconsin (especially the ones who insist on chatting).
I love my granny basket. Don't judge me!

Change tires twice a year

M calls this "putting the summer/winter shoes on the car". Although he did teach me several years ago how to change and pump up a tire with a foot pump, I would have had someone at a garage do this for me in Wisconsin. Of course, despite several layers of frozen snow on city roads for three solid months, I had all-season tires on my Jetta (damn, I still miss that car). Here in Swabia we have summer and winter tires, and M changes them himself. 

It goes without saying that he thoroughly cleans each tire after removal. And this had to be done on Easter Saturday (not a holiday), because again, it is frowned upon to labor publicly on holy days.

This list goes on, so I decided to make this a two-part post. My dad arrives tomorrow to start his month of learning/improving his German, so I should have all kinds of things to write about in the next few weeks. He'll be taking a class at the local language school, and I'll be his evening tutor.

Expat readers: What kinds of things do you do in your adopted country that you didn't do in your home country?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Film Review: Willkommen bei den Hartmanns

I've never actually written a movie review before except when I was asking my students' parents for permission to show a German movie in class, and those weren't really reviews. I just watched this new release yesterday, though, and I feel like trying my hand at writing what I thought of it.

The film is about a privileged three-generational family and their relationship problems - Opa should retire but doesn't want to because he's trying to fight off "being old", Oma is a retired teacher who wants to save every unfortunate creature she comes across, including the mice her cat catches in the yard, their son is a divorced workaholic who ignores his teenage son, their daughter is 30 and still studying, having changed her course of study six times, and the grandson is experimenting with all kinds of teenage things from hip-hop to drugs.

And the Oma decides to "adopt" a refugee.

I am willing to say that I'm glad I watched the movie, but I'm baffled by the praise: "Die Komödie des Jahres" (Bild - "the comedy of the year") and "zum Brüllen komisch" (die Welt - "howlingly funny"). Deutschlandradio said it "zählt zum Besten, was das deutsche Kino zu bieten hat" (counts among the best that German film has to offer") - ouch!!

You can watch a trailer here.

It is billed as a comedy, but unfortunately too many of the comedic bits get ridiculous. The hippy former colleague of Oma brings "der Afrika Club" to the Hartmanns' house after she hears they've taken in a refugee from Nigeria and throws a spontaneous wild party which includes a zebra and a howler monkey. Opa has a mild heart attack, and while his daughter's boyfriend (a young doctor he can't stand) is ministering to him, a swat team bursts through the living room windows to arrest the refugee, Diallo (but then they are ordered to abort the mission because Diallo is not the militant they're looking for). Opa, in his fight against getting old, hangs out with a creepy plastic surgeon friend of his who goes to discos to hook up with younger women, but he can't hear anything anyone says to him because the music is too loud. There's a Pegida-like protest outside the Hartmanns' glamorous home after the daughter's stalker finds out a refugee is living with them...

The most likeable character in the movie is Diallo, the Nigerian, and I wish the story focused more on him. He seems like little more than an incidental catalyist, though. The writers didn't allow him much depth, though the actor did the best he could with the content he was given. He often speaks volumes with just his eyes.

There were several opportunities for conversations that the writers just dropped. Diallo occasionally tells his hosts what he thinks of their behavior toward each other, such as when the daughter gets in a fight with Opa. Diallo tells her she should not speak so disrespectfully to him, but the discussion ends there. After the grandson tells his father on the phone "Either you come back [from Shanghai] to help Diallo, or you're an asshole for all time!", Diallo tells him he should respect his father and not speak to him like that again. The boy just rolls his eyes, and that's it. Diallo tells the daughter she is old and should be married with children, and she responds that things are different in Germany. Any of those moments could have turned into an exploration of cultural differences, but instead the writers just dropped it.

I wish the writers had treated the subject matter with respect and sensitivity - along the lines of The Blind Side. The movie surely had its moments, and I even got choked up a few times - when the focus briefly turned to Diallo and his struggles and hopes. But I think that had more to do with thinking about the refugees I know and the stories they've shared with me than the scene I was watching.

The supposed subject matter of this film (refugees integrating into German society and Germans overcoming their fears and reaching out to asylum-seekers) had so much potential, but the focus is far more on the wealthy, privileged family and their First World problems. It and the characters - except for Diallo and the daughter's eventual boyfriend - are superficial and cliché-ridden.

I don't really know who the intended audience is. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who is looking for an honest portrayal of what is happening in Germany these days, nor would I recommend it to someone who wants to see an hilarious comedy. It's not a film that would change anyone's mind about or encourage one to think meaningfully about refugees, Islam, Germans, cultural differences or family conflicts. And it's not that I didn't get the humor - I just think it missed its mark.

Never having awarded stars before, I'll give this movie two because I'm not sorry I watched it and because I had an idea what I was getting into.

This afternoon, though, I'm going to our shelves to find one of the many really good German films I have and watch one I think does fit in the "Besten, was das deutsche Kino zu bieten hat."

Bis bald!