Amateur Hour Baking: Lauchtorte Twice Over

Back in April I was on a savory kick in the baking project. After my attempts at Zwiebelkuchen had yielded varying results, I thought I’d give Lauchtorte, a savory leek cake, a try. It’s a similar idea to the onion cake, but I’m more of a fan of leeks, plus it didn’t involve any yeast so… easier, right? Famous last words.

I set out to make the Lauchtorte, whipping the ingredients for the crust together. Since the recipe called for 130 grams of butter and it’s sold here in pats of 225, I decided that was easy enough to eyeball, and tossed it all together while I got my leeks cooking.

I quickly encountered a problem when I tried to stuff it into the pan. Side note on the pan: I had been very excited that we somehow already had a fluted torte pan. Just another instance of BV already having everything when I moved in here… amazing. Again, famous last words.  Anyway, here’s how my crust looked.

Not great. But I was already hungry and decided I was too far down the path to stop now, so on I pressed. I didn’t think my pastry was anywhere near deep enough to fit all the filling that was in the pan, but again, at this point there was no chance of getting it out of the tin so I improvised.

Somewhat deceptive as there is a well around the edge of this tin.

The Lauchtorte went into the oven, as BV stalked the kitchen, lured by the scent of bacon. It came out smelling great and looking not entirely terrible. However, due to the well around the edge of the torte pan, there was no chance of getting it out of the tin as instructed. Instead, we scooped as best as we could…

The filling tasted great, though it needed a bit more salt and pepper for my taste, but the crust was utter crap. Dry, crumbly, definitely wrong. Another try was in order, and a week or so later, I steeled myself for round two.

Key point: MEASURE YOUR BUTTER DUMMY. I don’t know what shenanigans are going on with the butter measurements and the package, but 130 grams of 225 looks like significantly more than what this dumb-dumb had eyeballed. This crust came together like buttery perfection. Looks how much nicer it looks!

I also was much more judicious with my leeks on the second bake. The first time I had left a fair amount of the dark green leaf in the mix, and this time I stuck to white and light green. My pan was still full, but much more manageably so, particularly after adding the bacon, cheese, and all the other ingredients.

I also upgraded the pan this time, going from the yes, fluted, but very wrong tin that SHOULD be used for a fruit tart, to a tin with a smooth and removable bottom. Observe…

This time the crust pushed right into the tin with zero extra effort required. It was amazing. And the filling was the exact perfect amount to fit inside. No extra dish required today!

The house filled with the same delicious aroma, but that wasn’t my concern. I couldn’t wait to see what the crust situation was going to be when it came out. A couple of minutes of cooling time and we gingerly removed it from the tin…

Are there cracks? Yes. Would Mary Berry wrinkle her nose at that? Probably.

But I don’t care. Much.

It held together, the bottom was fully cooked, and it came out of the tin perfectly and I wasn’t going to have to soak and scrub and soak and scrub the well on the other one again. Perfection.

In addition to the clean-up factor, the crust tasted much better this time too. It tasted much better, because of much butter, clearly. I’m okay with that, which means that henceforth I will be accurately measuring butter. Every time. In fact. BV told his parents that I wanted a digital scale for my birthday this year. I’ve been bugging him about this for awhile since ours is analog and not very accurate, so fingers crossed they find a decent one!

 

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Amateur Hour Baking: Peach Brie Strudel

What’s going on here? Two posts in a week? Hot damn.

It’s summer, I’ve got time, and I really wanted to write this one before forgetting how it went… again. Strudel time!

This bake was a combo platter. I saw this recipe for a peach brie Strudel over at Dirndl Kitchen’s blog, and thought it sounded delicious. I’m a huge fan of anything that combines cheese and fruit, and since I’ve been tripping over peaches at all the markets I thought it’d be the perfect choice for my next bake.

In her recipe, she opts to use pre-made puff pastry, which is definitely a great option if you’re short on time. But since I had a free Sunday and it was raining, I thought I’d be a bit more ambitious. I hadn’t yet tried any of the Strudel featured in Classic German Baking and thought the time was ripe. As were the peaches. Heyo!

There are a few different Strudel featured in the book, but they all use the exact same ingredients and method for the pastry portion. I flipped to the Apfelstrudel recipe and gathered my ingredients. After tossing them together, I got kneading.

It was… a struggle. The dough was incredibly firm, and tough to knead. The recipe states that you should have a smooth and elastic ball after about 10 minutes kneading, and mine was… yeah, still firm. I gave it a few more minutes, and decided I’d let it rest as instructed and see what happened.

Post-resting time, it felt deceptively softer when I poked at it, but that was just the surface. Inside it remained far too firm, and I worked up a sweat trying my damnedest to roll it out as instructed. After a valiant effort, I gave it up, tossed it into the bio waste in frustration, and got the mixing bowl back out.

The second attempt also wound up in the bio waste. It started off feeling a bit better when I began kneading, but was still pretty dry. I thought, ‘let’s just give this a quick squirt of water from the tap’ and that was a TERRIBLE TERRIBLE IDEA. A few drops probably would’ve done it, but instead I got a splotchy, sticky gob of mess.

Third try. IT’S ONLY FOUR INGREDIENTS THIS SHOULDN’T BE THAT HARD. Turns out, the key is to add the water slowly, as directed in the book. I thought I had added it slowly the first time, but clearly not slowly enough. Dribble, knead knead, dribble, knead knead, repeat. That worked. This ball of dough was stretchy, smooth, and had not a hint of blotch.

That’s better

Resting time up, I stretched my arms for another crack at rolling it out. Strudel dough should be almost impossibly thin, giving me flashbacks to my great-grandmother’s insistence that Norwegian Lefse should be toilet paper thin when rolled out. HOW? I don’t know.

After the first bout of rolling

I even got out a measuring tape because, according to the recipe, my dough should be the size of the towel. It wasn’t. It matched the see-through requirement though, so when tearing became impossible to avoid, I called it a win.

And after even more rolling and stretching

Finally it was time to gather the filling ingredients. I was a bit confused by how big this whole thing was getting, but I followed the directions as best as I could. I suppose when you buy Strudel at the bakery, typically you’re only getting a few pieces, and it’s easy to forget how massive these get. For reference, please enjoy this ancient photo of my friend Katie and I ogling this giant Strudel in Prague.

I layered the fruit mixture on top of the cheese and gathered my strength to try and fold this monstrosity together. Using the towel to flip it was key, but there was no stopping the tearing. Trying to patch it up was pretty futile, so into the oven with tears it went. No points for aesthetics today, but man did it smell good in the kitchen!

Ignore the tears, please

It looks light in the pictures but the pastry itself was surprisingly firm when the baking time was up. I think it could have done with just a few more minutes as the pastry on the bottom was a bit soft, but I also think it would’ve helped if I could have rolled it over once more before baking. But I couldn’t so… oh well. A river of sweet peachy goodness was flooding out, and my fork was in that pretty much immediately.

Fresh out of the oven + river of tasty goo

We gave it 20 minutes or so to cool off, but due to the first pastry disasters, coffee and cake time had already been delayed enough. We dove in right away, because who cares that you still have to eat dinner? Not me, my friends.

For me, I think I’d give it a bit more cinnamon next time, but the peaches and brie are really just always a winning combo. The brie we bought was fairly mild, and I think I’ll look for a stronger one next time as well. The rum taste comes through nicely, with the nuts giving everything a good extra crunch factor.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with the way this first Strudel came out. I’ve been wanting to get out of the cakes and savories and try some of the trickier things in Classic German Baking, but there hasn’t been much baking lately in this heat. When it cools off, I might even get crazy and try some rolls.

Have you made a Strudel? Got any tips to share? 

Hütte Hiking for Beginners

It occurred to me while on our latest Hütte overnight stay, that while I’ve written about some of our previous tours, I’ve never really written about the Hütten themselves.

In case you’re not familiar, the word Hütte translates into hut, cabin, lodge, barracks, hovel, and on and on and on. Leo.org gives me 23 different choices. Growing up in Wisconsin, I knew tons of people who had “cabins up north,” and so cabin has always struck me as the wrong word for a Hütte, at least the ones in the mountains. I usually go with ‘lodge’ or ‘shelter’ since those seem more appropriate for a large wooden or stone structure that can accommodate anything from a few people up to 200 or so.

Hiking to and staying the night in a Hütte is one of my very favorite ways to spend a weekend this time of year, but I wouldn’t say it’s an experience for everyone. It is however, often the only way to get views like this.

At the Kemptner Hütte

So, think you want to stay in a Hütte? Read on and let’s see…  Continue reading

Amateur Hour Baking: Rüblitorte

Oh my lord. It’s been nearly three months since Easter, and thus nearly three months since I made this cake.

*note to self: start scheduling these better so you don’t forget EVERYTHING*

At any rate. I had mentally bookmarked Rüblitorte, a Swiss carrot-nut torte, for Easter when I started this project. It had tiny carrots piped adorably onto it, how could anyone possibly resist?

I’m a big fan of American-style carrot cake, particularly the buttercream frosting portion (sweet tooth for days), and was intensely curious as to how this would compare. In the description, Weiss mentions that it’s quite a bit lighter, with a more crumbly texture than its American counterpart. It also needs a bit of resting time before serving, so this couldn’t be a “last minute” bake again. Thus, a few days before Easter I got to work.

The first step to this carrot cake was to grate the carrots. Since we have no food processor, the second step was to put one on my “kitchen needs” list.

More grating followed for the lemon peel, and then the first few ingredients were all mixed together. It looked… not super appealing, to be honest.

With a few bowls of different things in progress, I hoped the appearance would improve. I again used pre-ground almonds for this recipe (darn you food processor), and I don’t *think* they were blanched but I could be wrong.

All the bowls were combined and I hoped for the best. But yeah… that didn’t look much better. With all the lemon and cinnamon, it smelled decent, but appearance-wise, nope. I crossed my fingers and popped her into the oven.

About an hour later the house was filled with a great cinnamon aroma and the cake was ready to come out. It looked beautifully even, and was a lovely golden brown. Not that that really matters, since it was getting frosted but oh well. I saw it. Now you can, too!

Since it needed some time to cool, BV and I had a nice shrimp taco interlude. This is a house favorite, if you need more tacos in your life.*

Nom.

Stomachs filled, I settled back in to get started on the decor. I couldn’t find almond paste at the store, but I had found marzipan. They’re both almonds, so they must be the same, right?

Nope, no they’re not. Marzipan has a lot more sugar than almonds, whereas the almond paste is a more even combination. BV loves marzipan, so he was fully on board with this change. However, if you want that nice, soft color, as opposed to bright and slightly shiny, try to find the almond paste. I’ll really have to have a harder look next time, because our Edeka has to have it, right?

I was rather pleased with how they came out, considering I’ve never tried making wee carrots before. Minus the impossible stickiness factor (maybe the almond paste would be better?), it was pretty fun.

And then, it was time to mix up a simple glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar, and top it all off with our carrots.

A little messy around the edges, but not bad… in my totally unbiased opinion, of course.

The cake went into a dome to hang out for a few days, and then it was off to Easter lunch at BV’s dad’s house.

A massive lunch (Schweinebraten mit Klößen, if I remember correctly) later, it was time to cut into dessert.

How cute is this?

The difference to American carrot cake was really obvious. This was all lightness, with the citrus and the spice really dominating. The carrot was there, of course, but it wasn’t too carrot… for those who are suspicious of such things. The lemon icing complimented the cake perfectly, and we were all very pleased with it. I think people may have had seconds. Can’t do that with American carrot cake… at least I can’t.

I was a little concerned that the rest of the cake might dry out too much over the next few days, but it didn’t really do that at all. It maintained the flavor and texture quite nicely. Now, I only have to figure out where to get almond paste for next time. And also talk someone into giving me a food processor.

 

*We have also tried the beer-battered version. They’re great, but that only comes out when I have a decent amount of time.

Amateur Hour Baking: Russischer Zupfkuchen

What’s that? You’re like me and you’re saying, “what the hell is that?” Or worse, trying to pronounce it like a good little German and instead sounding like you just chugged a bottle of Kirschwasser and are doing a drunken imitation of a German accent? If that’s the case, feel free to just call this one Chocolate Quark Cheesecake, because that’s what it is.

Quark was not something I’d ever heard of prior to living in Germany, but it’s incredibly common here. It’s a fresh, soft cheese, with a slightly sour taste. If you’ve happened to order a slice of cheesecake in Germany and been confused as to why it was a bit sour, that would (most likely) be why. A New York Cheesecake is hard to come by in these parts.

I didn’t choose to make this cake for any other reason besides sheer curiosity. I love chocolate, I love cheesecake, and I had no idea what this one was even supposed to look like. And as an added bonus, BV had purchased some Quark that had been floating around the fridge long enough for one of the packages to expire. All good reasons, am I right?

So, expired Quark in hand, we were off. It wasn’t terribly expired, but I was really hoping those few days over wouldn’t affect the taste too badly.

The chocolate base came together fairly easily, and didn’t involve excessive egg beating, which always makes things speedier.

A mix later, I had a tightly packed lump of chocolate goodness, which went to the fridge to hang out for an hour.

When it came out, it got divided up and half went back into the fridge while the other half was rolled out to form my crust. I have a fairly strong hatred for plastic wrap, and trying to roll it out between two layers of that crap was a lot of peel and stick and roll and peel and stick and rerolling.

The recipe directed me to lay my crust in a 9-inch cake pan, but since our only current cake pan* is 10 inches, I was really trying to roll it out enough to cover that extra distance. But even the best-laid plans (or extra crust area) can’t compensate for a clumsy toss. Which means that my crust initially looked like this.

I retrieved some of the reserved dough from the fridge and got rolling again. That, plus a whole lot of patchwork, resulted in a much more even crust.

Luckily a somewhat imperfect crust is not at all noticeable once filled, right? Speaking of which, it was time to mix up the Quark filling.

Once filled, it was time to sprinkle the remaining crust dough all over the top of the prepared cake. Turns out, I needn’t have worried about making the crust nice and thin, because I had A LOT of dough leftover here. This was after I had covered the top of the cake, and done a few rounds of “one piece of dough for the cake, one piece for Heather.”

Mmmmm, dough. Mmmm, raw eggs.

I tossed a few more bits on top, a few more bits in my mouth, and then went around the edge of the crust one ore time, just to give it some more height for fun. With that, it was into the oven.

The buzzer sounded and I eagerly pulled my extremely fluffy cake out. The recipe had said that it would be puffed up, which it certainly was. It was also a good inch or so higher than the crust was. I wasn’t sure what to think about that, but a few minutes later, it settled back down and looked much more like the proportional pictures I had referenced online. Next time, give it a minute, self!

Why did I cut it before I took a picture of it? I DON’T KNOW. I’M NEW TO THIS, I’M SORRY.

*ahem*

Luisa Weiss advises giving this a day before eating it, but BV and I decided restraint was an overrated trait and dove in after dinner.

This is also a super-heavy cake, and I chickened out trying to get it off the cake pan and onto the plate. I was pretty sure I’d push too hard and end up with a mess, hence the cake pan on plate strategy pictured here.

Over the next few days, we figured out why the recipe said to give it a day. While good on day one, the sour taste of the Quark was more obvious at the beginning, and seemed to mellow as the cake rested. Or perhaps I was just more prepared for it, and thus less surprised. Could go either way, really.

The chocolate crust here is dense and rich, like a really good, soft, chocolate cookie in the States. It provides a nice balance and change in texture to the creamy and rich (again, so rich) Quark filling. This is not a cake to eat when you’re already half-full. This is a cake to eat after a light dinner, because this is FILLING.

Considering I had no idea what this was supposed to look or taste like before I started, this was an excellent surprise. It’s not going on the table for a hot summer day at the BBQ, but this is going to be a house regular for sure.

Have you tried Russischer Zupfkuchen? Or can you teach me how to say it without sounding like an asshole?

*Adds more stuff to “kitchenware to-buy” list

 

Not sure what’s up with this baking stuff? Read about my goal here!

Amateur Hour Baking: Dunkler Kirschkuchen

One of my goals for 2018 is to cook more new things. To be specific, at least 50 new recipes. At first glance, this may seem like a strange goal for someone who already cooks dinner at least four or five nights a week.* So why set this goal?

At some point last year I realized that though I cooked a lot, I hadn’t really tried many new recipes lately. I had pinned and bookmarked plenty of things, but a more demanding work schedule had me relying more and more on things I already knew and liked, rather than branching out. My work schedule hasn’t lightened much, but I don’t want that to be my excuse for filling up my virtual recipe box with things that will forever go untested.

Additionally, I really wanted to bake more. Besides the yearly cookie-baking weekend and the occasional other bake, I don’t do much of anything.

Taken the day of Black Forest Cake, hence the Schnapps.

I got this magnificent book for Christmas last year, and had only tried three recipes from it up until now. A quick flip through the pages and it’s easy to see why that’s such a shame. Thus, this new (hopeful) blog series.

While I won’t be doing a write-up of *every* new recipe I try (because 50 is a lot), I will be doing a quick recap of how I’m testing my skills as relating to the glory of German baked goodies.** I live in Germany, I love the hell out of all the baked goods and I want to be able to make them myself. My pre-Germany baking experience mostly consisted of Betty Crocker boxed mixes (which, let’s be fair, have their time and place), but can hardly match up to a freshly-made piece of cake in nearly any bakery here.

It is important here to note that I will NOT be sharing the recipes or the exact steps. If you’re looking for those, hello, go out and buy the book. It’s right here, it’s gorgeous, it’s thorough, and Luisa Weiss deserves all the credit in the world for writing it. If I try out any recipes that don’t come from this book, I’ll link to where those can be found as needed.

What I will be sharing is how it went, what I learned, and how many eggs I may or may not have broken in the process. I’m a decent cook, but I’m no pro. This is amateur hour baking. Welcome.

Today’s bake is Dunkler Kirschkuchen, or Spiced Chocolate-Cherry Cake.***

Technically this was the second bake of the year from Classic German Baking. The first was a Black Forest Cake, and that post is forthcoming. Both of these cakes involve chocolate and cherries, but luckily no one in this house thinks that you can have too much of a good thing.

My first very important piece of advice to is to clean your kitchen first. This is especially helpful when you haven’t done so since Wednesday and it’s a disaster area. It was nearly 5pm on Saturday by the time I actually got started, but at least that made it more acceptable to drink a Maisel’s IPA while I worked. Time to gather the supplies.

Since we don’t have a real food processor, I opted to use already-ground nuts in the recipe. I managed to just toast the nuts, which I count as a win. I made up for it later by breaking the hell out of an egg while trying to separate it, and also burning chocolate in the microwave. Whoops.

I managed to salvage the chocolate, as it only burnt a bit in the middle and that was easy enough to extract. I added more chocolate, opened the window,  threw the bowl back into the microwave, and watched it like a hawk. Soon I had a bowl of melted goodness and we were on our way.

The whole thing came together rather quickly, and apart from the cat trying to trip me constantly, without further incident.

A pile of sour cherries on top, and into the oven it went.

Pre-bake

As it baked, BV commented that the house smelled like Lebkuchen and he was spot-on. Really, I don’t think you could ask for a higher food-related compliment from a native Nürnberger! The whole place had the delightful aroma of chocolate and cinnamon, mixed with just a bit of wood smoke from the fire. It was intensely cozy, and I highly recommend trying it on a chilly February day.

Eager as we were to shove our faces directly into the cake when it came out, we opted to be adults about it and let it cool while we put together and ate our pizza dinner. It was game on after that though.

Sunday afternoon is for Kaffee und Kuchen

This cake is GODDAMNED DELICIOUS. A highly nuanced assessment, I know. But seriously. It is so dense, so moist, so rich… I’m not sure what could be better. It is a beautiful balance of of chocolate and those somewhat Christmassy spices. BV is a very big fan of fruit in cakes and thought he’d perhaps like a few more cherries on top, so next time we may completely cover it and see what happens. I worry that may bring in too much liquid, no matter how well-drained they are, but I guess we don’t know until we try.

Though it looks a bit dark on top (and more so in the pictures), it wasn’t burnt in the slightest. All in all, this was a fairly easy cake to make, and took just about two and half hours including baking time. It could probably be done faster but I’m not one to rush on a Saturday evening. What can I say… Licking the melted chocolate out of the bowl took a bit of time.

What do you think… does it sound good? Or have you already given this cake a try?

 

*Side effect of living in a village and having insanely limited take-out options? Little bit. Another goal is to do 300 days of yoga and yes, that is partially to offset all this cooking and eating delicious things business.

**I also did Instagram stories for the first two bakes… may continue doing that in the future. I find it amusing now but it may get old. We’ll see.

***Shoutout to A Sausage Has Two for the recommendation. She knows her stuff.

Blown Cover

Ah, Germany. Most of my day-to-day interactions at this point go fairly smoothly. I can get in and out of most normal situations without incident, and only occasionally end up with two extra slices of bread (Brot) instead of two more beers (in that case, Rotbier) in a crowded and loud restaurant.

Tuesday was not one of those days.

A stand in the Fürth Market

When I came up into the Farmers’ Market in front of the Fürth train station, I was already a little bit out of sorts. I’m currently dragging myself out of bed at 6:30am on Tuesdays for one class. Though I do like the group quite a lot, it hardly seems worth it on those cooooold winter mornings. This Tuesday was especially frigid, and so on my way home I decided to go the long way around, taking a bus to an U-Bahn to another U-Bahn to my train back home. My thought process was that this way I would at least be in a vehicle the entire route, rather than taking a bus directly to my train. That would have meant at least 15 minutes of pacing the train platform in order to keep my feet from freezing while waiting for that train.

Got all that? No? Clearly, my overtired self didn’t either, as I completed neglected to realize that would delay my arrival home by 30 minutes. *headdesk*

Anyway. That finally occurred to me as I was ascending the escalator in Fürth and noted the time. Like I said… very tired. This is all a very long way of saying that my head was not functioning at this point in time, and I was already fairly confused (not to mention feeling like a dummy).

I figured the best course of action was to at least do something useful while I had a few minutes at the station, and I headed over to the market. I knew I needed broccoli and cauliflower for dinner that night, and circled around the market until I found my favorite stand. Naturally, they weren’t open.

The next stand appeared to be open, or at least stocked. However, there was still quite a bit of the blue tarp covering up one end, so I tentatively wandered around, wondering if they were still setting up for the day, or if that was just to block out the wind.

I was still in my slight daze when I was surprised to find the woman at the stand talking to me. Sometimes you can just walk in and help yourself, but if they aren’t busy, they do help you collect your goods. She asked me what I wanted and I completely blanked.

What do I want?

Cauliflower.

What’s the word?

Oh God. Rosenkohl? No, that’s brussels sprouts… shit. What is it?

Not cauliflower.

I stammered and sputtered as I walked closer to the veggies, not even seeing the stupid cauliflower. I spotted the broccoli and though, yes, that too! Broccoli! I know that word!

Of course, what came out of my mouth was a very-American sounding version of broccoli and not Brokkoli, which sounds very much how the Count on Sesame Street would pronounce the word (minus the ha-ha-ha afterwards).

The woman was just finishing grabbing my head of broccoli and turned expectantly to see if I needed anything else.

My head was still rattling through different versions of Rosenkohl when I finally saw the cauliflower. I wasn’t able to read the sign but something clicked into place and Blumenkohl finally flew out of my mouth mid-stammer. But the damage was done.

“Where are you from?” she asked in German.

America, I replied.*

“Ahhh, the best land,” she replied, in English. Knock me over with a feather.

“How long?” she asked, in German again.

Huh? Did she just ask how long? Or did I mishear her and did she ask if I want anything else? Oh God, she’s staring at me and I am such a spaz today what is happening?

“Sechs Jahre,” I venture.

“Sechs?” she looks confused. What?

Apparently I need to speak up… I repeat years.

She then asked if I was in language school, or just learned by speaking. By speaking, I answer. I would hope that actually having had lessons would have avoided this complete brain malfunction. But, who knows?

She wished me a good day, and I did the same, hustling towards my train.

Though she was perfectly friendly, I still spent the whole rest of the day kicking myself for being so tongue-tied over a perfectly normal human interaction. Everyone forgets words, right? In your own language as well as a foreign one… these things happen.

I spend a good majority of my time here trying to blend in. As much as I enjoy visitors, I hate speaking English on the train because I feel like everyone is listening. When BV and I are out and about, we tend to speak a lot more German than we do at home, specifically for this reason. Anytime I feel like my cover is blown, I feel a bit like a fraud. I’m all about pretending like I belong here, and it’s all fun and games until I open my mouth.

Blumenkohl. I had better not blank on that one again.

Whomp, there it is.

Have you had a super-simple brain fart? Tell me about it in the comments, it’ll make me feel better. Danke! 🙂

 

*Also not the best answer, I know. But it’s reflexive and comes out much easier than USA or Vereinigte Staaten, both of which I completely mangle the German pronunciations of.

 

 

Expat/Immigrant Qs

When I ran across this Q&A post earlier today on the very enjoyable blogs of Bev and Ami, I thought “that sounds like a good topic for a rainy day.” Turns out, it was a rather lovely day here but I’m home alone and have watched everything new… so there’s no time like the present!

Some people call me an expat, some may call me an immigrant, but either way I’m an American in a place that isn’t the United States. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

1. WHERE WERE YOU BORN, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP AND WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?

I was born in Menomonee Falls, WI, lived in Milwaukee until I was seven, then we moved to Eagle, WI. Eagle is mostly known for its smiley-faced water tower, and that’s about it. After a stint in Prague, I moved to Nuremberg in 2011, and eventually here to the ze Dorf outside Nuremberg in 2013.

Our village has a castle, and the castle has this cool gateway.

2. WHAT MADE YOU LEAVE YOUR HOME COUNTRY

Floating in a sea of “what now?” post-college, I decided that my best bet to travel while still making money was to get a TEFL certification and try to teach English. I had no idea how long I wanted to do it for, and where I would end up going, but nearly nine years on I guess it has worked out okay for me.

3. WHAT TYPE OF REACTIONS DO YOU GET WHEN YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE AND TELL THEM WHERE YOU ARE FROM?

This has definitely shifted in the last year and change. It used to be an “okay, cool, where in the U.S.?” and now it’s a decidedly less relaxed conversation, thanks to 45. Germans have been pretty used to an American presence in most places since the end of the Second World War, so we aren’t really anything that new and exciting here. I do find the reactions of military-affiliated Americans funny sometimes, in that they’re confused by what I’m doing here of my own volition.

4. WHAT WAS THE EASIEST/HARDEST PART IN ADJUSTING TO YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

After coming from Prague, a lot of things seemed really easy. The paperwork had some sense of order to it, whether or not everything was being done correctly, was something I wouldn’t get into trouble with for a couple years though. The hardest part was not being surrounded by a group of built-in friends right from the get-go. I’ve found people here but it took some time, and if you’re not the most outgoing, social person in the world (introverts unite! Separately!) making friends here can be tricky. The good news is that once you are friends with someone here, they are sticking around. To me, that’s invaluable.

One of the first girls I met here six years ago got married in June. It was lovely.

5. IMAGES, WORDS OR SOUNDS THAT SUM UP THE EXPAT EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD SO FAR.

In Prague it was the sound of the tram. My bedroom window overlooked a stop where six trams stopped during the day and four at night. The drivers ring the bell every time they start so that sound is inextricably linked with Prague in my brain. In Germany, it’s a lot of things… Red trains. Red trains for days. Alpine bells, or the sound of the rooster next door crowing. The smell of roasted almonds at the summer festivals, or that smell mingling with the scent of Glühwein at the Christmas markets.

Red trains > other trains.

6. YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD OR DRINK ITEM IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY

Käsespätzle is life. Not to mention a frosty glass of whatever local beer is on tap (minus Tucher, that is).

Kirchweih libations.

7. WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU SAID “YES” TO IN YOUR NEW CITY THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY “YES” TO, BACK HOME?

Probably spending as much time on public transportation as I do here. First of all, where I grew up there was no public transportation. If I wanted to find a public bus, I’d have to drive 30 minutes in Waukesha, and get on a bus there. Doesn’t make much sense, really. I took a Greyhound one time in college and that was enough to freak me out on the Greyhound experience. The only times I can remember taking anything like public transportation was a shuttle bus down to the Milwaukee lakefront for Summerfest, a Brewer game, or some other sort of special event. Otherwise it was all cars, all the time.

8. ARE THERE ANY CULTURAL NORMS/PHRASES IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY WHICH YOU CANNOT STAND?

Sometimes I’m amazed that Germans are able to get anything done when they spend half of their lives shaking hands. I now know that if BV and I have to leave a family gathering, it’s necessary to start that process about an hour before we actually plan to leave, especially if we have to catch a train. Give me an “Irish Exit” any day of the week, because to me, that’s better than demanding people’s attention, interrupting conversations, etc. in order to have a formal goodbye.

Additionally, I’ve found that since a good deal of my classes have taken place in more technically-oriented companies, I’ve had to hear a fair amount of “women be shopping” sort of jokes (or half-jokes) from my mostly male groups. My usual strategy is to laugh it off and give them a bit of shit for that attitude, but I’m really not a fan. I have also tried out the tactic of switching the discussion to their hobbies because guess what? All that specialized sporting equipment, all those electronic toys and gadgets you have at home? Those are not cheap, buddy. Just because you only have two pairs of shoes does not mean you are a supreme example of fiscal responsibility. Most of these guys would say that women and men are equal in their companies, and in Germany as a whole, but they have a long way to go on a lot of things here.*

9. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST DOING IN YOUR NEW COUNTRY?

Any frequent readers of this blog can answer this one, I think. Get me south to the Alps and I am a happy camper.

Hiking in Austria this August.

10. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER MOVE HOME FOR GOOD?

That is a question that I have a hard time answering. Never say never is usually a good philosophy for me, but the chaotic way that things seem to be unraveling at the moment makes me lean towards no way. If something should happen that means I do have to go “home” for a period of time, that’s one thing. But after nearly nine years gone? In those nine years, I think I’ve seen enough of this way of life to make me confident that this is what I want, and what fits the life I want to live best.

The water of the Eibsee is as refreshing as it looks.

 

*Not that the U.S. is doing much better at the moment.

Sunday Snapshots: Drying Out in Dresden

Dresden, 2016

Not dry, weather-wise, mind you. But after all those fest-related posts, it’s time for a change. Today’s picture comes from last year’s trip to Chemnitz/Dresden for our anniversary. We stayed in Chemnitz for a few nights, and took the train into Dresden for a day. One day was definitely not enough, and we pretty much just spent the day wandering around the city ogling all the grand architecture, as you can see in the above photo from the Zwinger palace.

The most German part of this picture to me, however, isn’t the palace. It’s the background. Check out all those cranes. Seems that no matter where you go in this country, what city or village you are in, the cranes are everywhere. Building, building, building.