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!

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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.

Six Years In

Yesterday marked my 6-year anniversary of living in Germany. I spent the majority of the day teaching in company Zap, which was rather fitting as that was the company that I was originally hired to teach at here. Tuesdays at company Zap are full days, and usually by the time I get home I’m completely bushed. Unfortunately yesterday the workday wasn’t over, as we had a few stops to make on the way home, and when we arrived I had to  get on the phone for two quick phone lessons that I’m doing as part of a multi-facet business course.

But, let’s be honest, none of that is all that exciting for such a momentous occasion as surviving yet another year among the madness of the Deutsch.

Instead, allow me to present some pictures of what’s been going on in just this last week. As I mentioned back in May, June has been pretty jam-packed. I have missed writing more often, honestly, but there’s been so much going on that I haven’t managed to settle myself down at the computer to do anything about it.

So what have I been up to? Well let’s dive into last weekend…

On Friday after I finished work, I met BV at home where he was lounging and enjoying yet another ‘bridge day.’  Since it was beautiful weather and not ungodly hot, we decided to take a long walk to the lovely biergarten on the river about eight kilometers away. While on the way there we spotted this restaurant in a small village, and thought its terrace looked rather inviting. After the biergarten and a salty pretzel or two, we got back to this village and decided our thirst needed another drink to quench it. So we stopped, had a drink, watched the birds swooping in and out of the barn across the street, and I admired the window boxes. Lush window boxes are delightful.

Then we wandered our way back home, and juuuuust so happened to come across the entrance to our village’s Kirchweih, which had just begun. And you bet your ass we stopped off to get some roasted nuts and yes, another beer. It wasn’t the plan, but we managed to turn our nice walk into an impromptu beer hike. Whoops.

The next day we slept later than planned (wonder why), frantically packed our bags, made ourselves presentable and headed off to the chapel…

My very lovely Sprachduo friend E. was marrying her fella of 12 years, and it was quite the occasion. Previously I’ve attended two German weddings, both from friends/colleagues of BV, and they were lovely. But this couple were both village mice, and the events of the day reflected that. For starters, they’re both involved in music groups, so there were several performances by various bands scattered throughout the day. His soccer and Kerwa clubs showed up during the ceremony, and sneakily erected a tiny Kerwabaum* while we were all in the church. Naturally they also brought and tapped a pony keg for the occasion.

Then everyone was off to the reception location, minus us, as we had to make a short detour to the nearest town with a store (any store) that sold shirts because guess who managed to bring two pairs of shorts for Sunday but not a shirt? That would be me. Again, whoops.

Shirt acquired, we joined everyone else at the reception location where everyone was already deep into the Sekt and another couple of kegs. Dishes of appetizers were passed around while everyone mingled and photos were done. Eventually the cake made an appearance, and after everyone snagged a slice or ten (so many cakes at German weddings!), all the men scampered off to another hotel bar up the road. This is fairly common. Sometimes the bride also gets kidnapped but not this time. They just got a little more sauced up while all the ladies organized themselves for more pictures. BV declined the additional sauce, so he even got to play photographer. Good man.

I’m currently in a phase where I actually don’t hate photos of myself, and I wanted to show off my grandma’s ring, which I can finally, somewhat miraculously, now wear. I always planned to get it resized but turns out? My fingers were just chubby.

Please enjoy a rare nice picture of me, especially with svelte fingers and a cocktail ring.

As is typical with German weddings, we made ze all-night party, yah. When the band finally started to break down the equipment, I checked my watch and was shocked to see the time… damn near 3am. We packed it in but rumor has it that the party continued until nearly 7. I don’t know how the couple managed to appear functional at breakfast but they are troopers.

Since the wedding was in the very lovely area close to the Franconian Switzerland, we planned to do a bit of hiking on Sunday. And hike we did, picking a round tour through the area. It promised a stop on top of a nearby hill at a Hütte, which was lovely but closed. The Franconian Switzerland strikes again!

We soldiered on, around a few more villages, admiring the overflowing gardens, and hunting for anyplace that could serve us something liquid. Preferably a yeast-based beverage. Mostly, it was just Fachwerk and flowers though. It’s okay. I do love Fachwerk, regardless of how thirsty I am.

We ended up right back where we started which was good since 1) it was supposed to be a round tour and 2) that’s where the car was. Even better, there were a few restaurants open and they had cold drinks. Sunday was the day when the temperature really started to creep up and we almost knocked over the waitress in our attempts to ensure they were still serving.

The day’s tour over, it was time to head home again and prep for the week ahead. Class papers to sort, grills to be lit, all of that good stuff.

Which brings us back to Tuesday. Six years in. I can’t say that I have any wise words or deep thoughts on what it’s like to have been here for so long. There have been ups, there have been downs. That’s life. But lately, it’s been a lot more ups and I can’t say that I regret anything that has happened along the way.

I love living here. I love the life that BV and I have created for ourselves in our little Franconian nook. I love the friends that I have made here. And I love that I’m still surprised and amused by the oddities of ze Germany. Boredom kills brain cells and I need those little guys. So Prost to that.

 

*See Kirchweih link above for clarification on that one.

31-Day Challenge: Day 3

I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair today, enjoying my cup of cappuccino, when I heard her make a familiar phone call. I very often make an appointment for the late morning, or early afternoon, which means that she normally times her lunch to coincide with the thirty minutes or so that it takes for my hair color to process.

No, she doesn’t use an app to order a burger or pizza, she doesn’t even use the newly-popular Foodora to order from various restaurants around town, instead she calls a little place up the street and asks for the daily specials. Then usually right around the time she’s finishing with the foils (or the cut, in today’s case), a waiter from the restaurant comes through the door laden with a dish or two containing her order.

What’s so unusual about this, you may think? To an American who is shocked that people are allowed to drink with glass bottles in public without adult supervision around here, so much.

When I say a dish is delivered, I mean an actual dish. A restaurant plate, sometimes even with a snazzy domed lid, is delivered to her salon. The waiter also collects the plates from the day before, before wishing us both a good afternoon and skipping back up the street. It’s so goddamned civilized I can’t stand it.

Okay, so she has a preexisting relationship with this restaurant, right? They’re both local businesses, she’s a loyal customer, so she gets special treatment. Perhaps. But it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing.

Cut to a few years ago, at the fantastically amazing Arezzo antique market. We were wandering through stalls of treasures around lunchtime, when we noticed a curious sight. The vendors at one stand appeared to be getting ready for lunch, but instead of them unpacking wrapped sandwiches, or even pulling paper-wrapped burgers from fast food bags, there was a waiter coming over from a nearby restaurant. But he wasn’t just delivering food. He was delivering plates, cutlery, wine glasses, a tablecloth, napkins (cloth as well, of course)… you get the idea. And in a few minutes, there was a full table setting from the restaurant on this little card table in the midst of the market. Because why take a lunch break when you have treasures to sell?

These things just amaze me, even after all these years. Coming from a place when damn near everything is now served in plastic, where people can’t be trusted with real knives on an airplane or at a picnic table, the fact that people here can act like adults is just so. Nice.

It’s also worth noting that this same principle applies even in motion. Now that fest season here is coming up, I expect to see the usual groups of people in Tracht riding the trains on their way to whatever festival is happening that day. Very often these groups also take the train ride as their opportunity to do some pre-gaming, and once again, they often do it responsibly. Even teenagers can be seen quaffing from wine glasses and sparkling wine flutes in the train. When their stop arrives, the glasses are packed back up into backpacks and handbags, and off they go to their next adventure. Cases of beer are carried on and off trains, stashed in lockers and retrieved (I assume they remember) for the trip home. I’m not saying I never see garbage in the trains, but I ride A LOT of trains, and their cleanliness, and the personal responsibility taken by the passengers never ceases to amaze me.

When Germans laugh that I find this so impressive, I always like to trot out this little anecdote.

Being from Wisconsin, one of the things that I miss the most about the summers is Milwaukee’s Summerfest. It’s a huge festival, sprawling along the lakefront for about two weeks every summer. There are about ten stages and hundreds of acts to see, for only the price of admission. On a warm summer night, there’s nothing better than heading downtown for a show of a one-hit wonder, some festival food, and, (it being Milwaukee), a couple of beers. Those beers are served in plastic cups, and Wisconsinites are world class beer drinkers. That, plus a combination of sheer laziness, hard-to-locate garbage cans, not wanting to lose your seat/standing place, not wanting to lose your friends in the crowd, and American entitlement means that where do those cups go? Wherever you drop them.

USA! USA! USA!

After the last chord sounds, when the police start herding the crowd towards the parking lot, one sound fills the air over the laughter, chatter, and occasional “wooooooo!”

*crunch crunch crunch*

The sounds of thousands upon thousands of feet walking over a carpet of plastic.

Since pulling out my phone to take a picture of the faces of my German students when I finished the story would be weird, here’s a fairly accurate approximation of the usual reaction.

You win this one Germany. And don’t worry about the Americans coming for you, they’re only armed with plastic knives.*

 

*Also, guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

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Sunday Snapshots: Eis Strolls

Franconia, 2014

Nothing says “summer is on its way,” more than walking up into our little town’s center to buy two scoops at our gelato shop, then strolling through this gate and around the castle gardens. It’s a bit under construction at the moment, but rumor has it that the castle will be reopening after a multi-year renovation project sometime soon!

Sunday Snapshots: Out and In

Cologne, 2017

March is a bit thin on the ground when it comes to travel pictures, so instead of delving into the archive today, these photos are from last weekend.

An old friend of mine from college was traveling through France and Belgium with her mom, and she was lovely enough to work a day in Cologne into their short trip. BV and I doubled down for the trip, and stopped by his grandma’s for a visit before heading to Cologne on Saturday night.

The only other time I had been in Cologne, it absolutely poured rain. That theme continued on this trip, with a *slightly stressful* drive into the city in the midst of a spring storm. We arrived much later than planned, ran out into the deluge to try to find a restaurant that would still serve us dinner, and were rewarded by both a silent city and an epic view of the Kölner Dom* lit up at night.

Thankfully by the next morning the rain had passed and we had blue skies for the majority of the day with my old friend. We took advantage of the weather to explore more of the old city center, the lovely walk along the Rhine, and a short dip into the cathedral itself. Sunday is not the best day to visit if you want to see the entirety of the church, but at least we got in the door. Besides, if they’re traveling through France, they’ll be cathedral-ed out in a day or two anyway, right?

*Cologne Cathedral