Monday, December 15, 2008

Flensburg Weihnachtsmarkt- that's more like it!

Our friend Jan is back from almost five weeks in the U.S. and on Saturday we celebrated his return by attending the Christmas market in Flensburg. Downtown was packed and the pedestrian mall was dotted with stands selling punsch and food, mostly meat! In the square there were Christmas trees for sale, along with stands with sweets, crafts and more punsch! There were twinkle lights everywhere, a pretend Alpine ski hut and this giant Christmas pyramid. We saw people wearing Santa hats, reindeer antlers and even red bunny ears with white fur trim (something new)! This is the Christmas market we'd been looking for!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just a few photos...

Aaron on his birthday this year- back in Sept.

November walk along the beach

A cold but lovely morning!

Delighted by a care package from Kalamazoo friends

So many treats!

Running in a tunnel for 6.8 miles

That's what it felt like when we joined the Atec running club for a jog at 6:00 pm yesterday. The temperature was hovering just around freezing and it had rained nonstop the previous day so there was this tremendously thick fog. And it was, of course, completely dark by that time of day. We all had headlamps but they seemed effective only in reflecting their own light off the fog instead of illuminating the road. And of course I had no idea where we were headed. A cold, dark, foggy run in a foreign country with a bunch of strangers- what could be better?

It was great! I ran with two of Aaron's female colleagues and we passed through several villages and by farm houses where we could see Christmas lights twinkling on the trees or in windows. We even passed by a bus stop shelter that was all decorated with garland. Inside, three old men were sitting together talking and drinking spiced wine! If only I'd had a way to capture that image... I got to practice some German and spend some time with some potential friends. And I completed one of the longest runs I've ever done!

We are looking forward to joining the running club on a regular basis starting in January. It will be a great way to exercise and socialize, and we will be training for the Coast-to-Coast race in June. Atec will have two teams in a relay race from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. We can't wait!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cookie catastrophe- almost!

I think I may have mentioned my love for cookie baking once or twice. Since arriving in Germany I have overcome a number of challenges in this regard. The difference in several ingredients, the complete absence of brown sugar and chocolate chips, the voltage problem for my Kitchen-Aid mixer. I thought it was smooth sailing now that I've worked through these things. I've adapted to the different texture in sugar (it's coarser here), I have found baking powder or something similar that works, friends and family have helped me import chips and brown sugar and we have a hefty transformer to step down the voltage for the mixer. I thought the way was clear for me to start baking some holiday treats.

I got out all the measuring cups and spoons, set out the ingredients and hauled the transformer over to the mixer. I plugged it in and turned it on--- and nothing happened. I unplugged it all, replugged it - still nothing. Okay. Don't worry. Maybe something is wrong with the outlet. Tried a different one- nothing. I started to panic and called for Aaron. He tried the transformer with a different appliance and it worked fine. Really panicking! My mixer can't be broken! I love this thing. It's expensive. Who can repair it in Germany? It's too heavy to pack in my suitcase to get repaired in the U.S. Meanwhile, Aaron suggested trying an extension cord. I scoffed. "Why would that work if the mixer is broken? But how can the mixer be broken? Nothing happened to it! I've never plugged it in without the transformer and...." Aaron left and got a big long orange extension cord, and voila! The mixer worked perfectly! Aaron says that's why he's the boy. He does not panic. He just analyzes the problem and deduces a solution. I might have figured it out on my own... eventually!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Not all that we had hoped for...

We have heard a lot about the Christmas markets in Germany. Of course, the big cities have them but we were excited to find out that Soerup also has one. All of November, we looked forward to attending it on the first Advent weekend. We planned to taste the hot spiced wine complete with souvenir mug, check out the handmade crafts, listen to German holiday tunes and maybe have a tasty snack. We were in a festive mood after our Thanksgiving feast last Friday, and the weather even obliged by sending some big fluffy snow flurries on Saturday afternoon. We walked toward the town center, noticing our neighbors' trees lit with strings of lights and the town decorations- shooting stars outlined in twinkle lights along the street.

As we approached the Weihnachtsmarkt, we heard not Christmas carols but really awful children's music from an odd trio with a cat puppet. Nothing like seeing a 50-year-old woman in pigtails playing bass guitar and singing off-key to a dozen preschoolers to get you in the holiday spirit! What? Is this Christmas in Germany?

We wandered over to the area of wooden huts and bought two mugs of punsch- in styrofoam cups. Not an inspiring souvenir. The only foods for sale were hamburgers and french fries. Seriously. And there was not a single craft or holiday item for sale. Not that I miss the insane commercialism, but my people want cool German Christmas presents, right?

Aaron and I looked at each other over our empty styrofoam cups and decided we'd seen all we needed to see. As we started to walk home, the "cat trio" started a countdown and we got to see the lighting of the lovely big Christmas tree- the best part of Soerup's holiday market!

We went home and watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which never fails to kick off our holiday season right! :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

The pull of tradition is strong!

Yup, we did it! We said we weren't going to bother with a big Thanksgiving dinner. Without family and all the hype around the four-day holiday weekend, without any other ex-patriots around or even German friends to cook for, we didn't want to set ourselves up for disappointment. There is no Thanksgiving in Germany, after all.

But we went for groceries on Wednesday evening and there he was, a big Tom Turkey in the freezer case! We could not resist. Aaron had an extra vacation day and decided to use it today, Friday. So this morning we found ourselves cooking up a storm- turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans and apple pie! Thanksgiving came a day late to us in Soerup, Germany, but it came. The potatoes were lumpy, the stuffing was dry, the gravy was soupy but it all tasted great!

We sat and lingered over the meal, reminiscing about past holidays and funny family moments. We reflected on the many things we are thankful for this year. We are so grateful for the loving family and friends we have- absence really does make the heart grow fonder. We are so glad we have each other to lean on in this grand new adventure. Neither of us could do it alone. And we are thankful for new opportunities and all the doors God has opened to us. It is exciting to think about where this will lead.

So, even though things are business as usual here in Germany the spirit of Thanksgiving is here at our house. Not the same as always but a special day all the same.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh, Tannenbaum!

Our Christmas tree, still bundled up from
its big journey from Michigan

Not lookin' too good! I guess four weeks
in a container rockin' on the ocean wasn't so fun!
Fluffed and trimmed- as good as new!

So, we not only started our Advent calendar on Sunday (which is tasting very good, by the way) we also decorated our house! We really laughed as we took the "coat" off our tree to see how smashed and flattened it was. Branches were falling off and it was quite pathetic! But a little wood glue and some bending of branches got it back in shape. So, we are starting to get into the holiday spirit.

Hope you are too!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkeys survive first Transatlantic flight!

Wow! I’m nearly speechless. And not just because my mouth is full of cookies!

In my family, Aunt Bev’s turkey cookies have transcended tradition to become legendary. Baked only at Thanksgiving, they are the perfect combination of crisp and chewy, spiced and sweet, and they have a pretty translucent icing. And like anything you can only get once a year, they are a hot commodity. When Aunt Bev knows that the Rileys are gathering for Thanksgiving, she sends the cookies to one house to be shared and enjoyed by all. More than once, we’ve asked her for a cookie "head count" so they can be rationed accordingly.

And now, wonder of wonders, I have turkey cookies here in Germany! They flew overnight from my aunt’s house to my mom’s house, in time to make a bigger shipment of treats she was sending. Aaron and I opened the package at lunchtime today and marveled over our good fortune and kind family members. Now do we keep with tradition and save some until Thursday? Something tells me they won't make it that long!

Thanks, Aunt Bev!

Advent begins- for us, anyway!

Advent calendars are definitely the "thing" here. Starting back in October we started seeing them everywhere! Of course, there are lots with candy and chocolate but what really amazes me are the toy Advent calendars. You can buy several varieties of Playmobil Advent calendars, Legos, Barbie, Polly Pockets, etc.- all with 24 little toys inside! Wow!

We didn't think we would get a calendar since we will be leaving on Dec. 16 to spend the holidays back home. But where there's a will to eat chocolate, there's always a way to rationalize! We went shopping on Saturday and found this beautiful Lindt calendar with three-dimensional towers that you assemble. How could we resist? It turned out that, starting yesterday, there are 24 days until we fly back to America. So, Advent has begun! Hurray! And Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

America's biggest export- culture!

Some things are completely the same- like a McDonald's cheeseburger. I am not a big fan of fast food for myriad reasons so it was with some dismay that I agreed to eat lunch with Maren under the golden arches. There were so many different things on the menu that I got overwhelmed. Then I realized that I could surely just get a burger- simple, familiar, less than 1000 calories. We ordered up two cheeseburgers and two "colas" and what do you know? It tasted just like America!

We also have Burger King and Subway if we get the urge. In Berlin and Hamburg, I have seen Starbuck's coffee shops. I'm sure there are other franchises...

Generally, we have been surprised by how many "American" products are available here. M&M's, Pringles potato chips, Doritos, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Snickers bars and most other major candy bars. And the things we've tried have been just like what we know.

There is a Tommy Hilfiger store right in Flensburg. I've seen Wrangler jeans in the department stores. People wear The North Face jackets.

And they know all about U.S. television programs. I watched "Happy Days" dubbed over in German at a friend's house! Ha! We have another friend who is hooked on "24." And of course they see American movies. Many are dubbed over in German and they always use the same voice actor for a particular American actor. So they think Brad Pitt sounds totally different than he really does. Funny!

American (and British) music is played on the radio a lot. The good, the bad, the 1983 ballads! I think I've heard "Africa" by Toto more in the last few months than I did in the last 25 years in the U.S. And it's such a hard song to get out of your head.

They even import some of our words-e-mail is e-mail, shopping is shopping, computer is computer! It's crazy! And sometimes frustrating!

But one thing they can't duplicate here is all the fantastic friends and family we have in the U.S. We miss you! Looking forward to holiday visits with everyone!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Miscellaneous musings about the weekend

Soerup's Christmas tree (and me)
Friday night we were invited to dinner by Aaron's boss. The kind of thing you don't say "no" to but don't exactly look forward to, multiplied by language issues and a wife who seems cool and aloof (the boss's wife, not me of course)! We went to their family's favorite Italian restaurant in a nearby, slightly larger town. A nice young waitress came up to our table, overheard English being spoken and immediately switched to English-only service. She sounded just like a teenager in the United States. When we told her that we moved here from Michigan, she lit up, "I've been there!" What do you know? It is just a small world. We had great pasta and a nice evening. Boss's wife turned out to be quite nice, apparently has been nervous to speak English in the past but spoke fluently and we were able to understand when they spoke German to us. All was well...
Saturday we went out for a jog and came back to town to find this enormous tree on Main Street! I wonder how they will decorate it. Do they have Girl Scouts in Germany? Isn't that who usually takes care of such projects? Anyway, seeing the Christmas tree and eating homemade tacos were the highlights of the day, a very good day!
Sunday morning the sun was shining so we went for a walk on the beach. There were tons of people out- I guess we are all tired of the rain! And we found sea glass. We weren't even looking and I noticed a piece in the sand. I was never able to find any on Lake Michigan! After that, I was sort of obsessed with looking down as I walked. Not exactly the way to take in the scenery but it felt like a treasure hunt.
Our weekend was not exactly a big adventure like seeing Berlin last weekend but sometimes normal life feels good too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


That basically translates to crossing light man and he is a pretty big deal in Berlin! This fellow, who seems to be universally described as "jaunty," is the East Berlin version. Over the years he became very popular in East Germany for teaching young children traffic safety. In the early days of reunification, he was in danger of becoming extinct. There were great efforts to turn Berlin back into one city instead of the two that had existed for over thirty years. They were anxious to get rid of reminders of the differences and separateness. East Berlin needed some modernization and the traffic signals apparently had antiquated electronics so they had to go. But Ampelmann was adopted by an industrial engineer and soon there was an outcry from the media and the public to save him. He has now showed up at some street crossings in former West Berlin, and elsewhere in western Germany. It seems that time has lent some perspective and not all that was East German is discarded. He has grown over the last decade into a kind of cult symbol of Berlin and the merchandising has been quick to follow. Now you can find Ampelmann keychains, bottle openers, pasta, gummi candy, t-shirts, bags, soccer balls.... Even though we knew it was a tourist trap, we couldn't help but go into the shop. It's hard not to like Ampelmann, both for his jaunty stride and for what he represents in Berlin.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Berlin

Standing in Pariser Platz square looking at the Brandenburg Gate
(Aaron is pretending that he's on this tour because he likes to look of their bicycles!)
The Berlin Wall ran just behind this structure and was the first place where East Berlin was sealed off from the West. This is also where the Wall first started to come down on Nov. 9, 1989, nineteen years ago this week!
In Gendarmenmarkt square (former East Berlin): a monument to poet/playwright Friedrich Schiller, with the German Cathedral to the left
and the Berlin Concert Hall to the right
There is so much history in every building and structure. First built by the Prussians, expanded and beautified later, damaged in WWII bombings, rebuilt after the Wall came down... I felt like I should be reading a history of Germany as I looked around the city. You just can't appreciate everything by looking at it.
Trying to be good Germans: Drop everything for afternoon coffee and cake!
The cake at this cafe was good but the crepes we had for dinner were the highlight of our day of eating. Entree crepes filled with ham, cheese, mushrooms- yum! And dessert crepes with Nutella and citrus flavors- heavenly!

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Friends, New City

Actually, Adrienne and I go way back- back to diapers! But we haven't stayed in touch over the last two decades even though our moms remain good friends. Since she and her husband Ilarion moved to Berlin two months ago, it was a perfect time to reconnect.

We headed to the city Friday afternoon and made it by dinner time. On Saturday we explored a lot of Berlin on foot. There is a huge park in the center and they live just at the edge of it. It was lovely to see such open space in the midst of a metropolis. We came out the other side near the Reichstag- Parliament building, where we got to witness a protest march regarding unemployment benefits. Then we walked through Brandenburg Gate, which stands at the former East-West border. It was packed with tourists but still felt symbolic and important. In most places we could not tell whether we were in former East Berlin or West Berlin. There are some remnants of the Wall, and in ths photo Adrienne, Ilarion and I are standing in front of a section.

The four of us talked and talked about our experiences of living in this country and it was great to share it with others who are going through the same things. Between the four of us, our German got us around without any problems until we encountered a waitress who didn't speak it! She was French, and thankfully could speak some English. You just never know! It was refreshing for Aaron and I to be in a city, where foreigners are not so uncommon and you hear people speaking many different languages on the streets. Here in Soerup we sometimes feel a bit isolated being the only Americans in town.

We had a great time and realize how much there is to see in Berlin! I'm sure we'll be back to take in some of the many museums and cultural offerings, and visit our friends again!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Having a Smurfy good time!

They're back! Or maybe they never went out of vogue in Germany. Whatever the case, The Smurfs, or Die Schluempfe, turned fifty years old in 2008 and Germany is celebrating by featuring them in the Kinder Surprise eggs.

Kinder Eggs are the most popular candy among children here, with very good reason. A foil-wrapped chocolate egg shell that contains a toy surprise inside. Often a very good toy! I cannot imagine why these are not available in the U.S.

Naturally, Aaron and I are hooked. What do you mean we're too old for toys? Now that there is a possibility of getting a Smurf I absolutely can't resist the thrill of the hunt. (Okay, well, there's also the thrill of delicious milk chocolate melting on my tongue...) The odds of getting a Smurf were 1 in 7 and we had no luck. So, when we found these 6-packs at the store last night with 2 Smurfs guaranteed we were so excited! So far we've found one Smurf out of the four eggs we opened! The anticipation is killing me. It feels just like Christmas, and like my Smurf-themed seventh birthday party!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Way to go, America!

Of course, we're all feeling some emotion about who won the election. But what makes me really proud of our country is the stories I'm reading about us- the people of America! There was a record number of voters, and so many first-timers. How wonderful that more people are finally engaging in what is a citizen's obligation and privilege. I hope everyone will keep right on caring and speaking up.

The voting lines were so long in some places. And I heard stories of people being friendly- sharing umbrellas in the rain, making coffee runs, directing strangers to free parking spots! I love it! It really makes me wish I had been there.

Like him or not, Barack Obama has inspired a lot of people to believe again in the future of this country. A lot of responsibility now rests on his shoulders. But I think that the real possibilities for the United States rest with each one of us. If we can all just share our umbrellas, think what might happen!

Friday, October 31, 2008

What have I gotten myself into?

There is an explanation for this, but I don't know how much it has to do with living in Germany. It might have more to do with me having a bit of extra time on my hands and being determined to conquer domesticity!

It's the time of year when we all start thinking about soup. The leaves are falling, the air is brisk, we come inside with cold noses and cold hands. Nothing sounds better than pulling up to the table for a bowl of fragrant steamy soup and a thick slice of fresh bread! Mmmm!

So, I've been pulling out my recipes and headed to the store this morning. Just one problem- I couldn't find broth! Soups have to start with that, there's just no way around it. As I was strolling past the freezer section, I happened to notice a sign that said soup chickens. I thought, "Well, they say there's no true substitute for real broth and since I can't find the canned stuff I might as well go for it. How hard can it be?"

I seem to have momentarily forgotten how much I hate handling raw meat, especially when it is still basically shaped like the animal it once was. So I got her home (I have now read that soup chickens are "spent breeders" and I can't help thinking of it as she) and thawed her out in the microwave. Then I rinsed her in the sink and started crying! I know it sounds totally ridiculous, and I don't know if I was crying for her, having spent her life laying eggs and then ending up in a soup pot, or for myself because it was right then that I realized that I would not only have to get this thing into the pot to cook but also get it out again, take its skin off and cut all the meat off the bones. Just thinking of it is giving me goose bumps, or is it chicken skin?!?

But I feel like I have to complete the task that I started, even if Aaron does get home in time to do the dirty work. I am less certain of whether I'll be able to eat anything that comes from this endeavor!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Late October Weather Update

The tidal flats (or mud flats) on the North Sea coast

Remember back in the summer when I was complaining about the weather? Well, it hasn't changed much! Only now, it seems seasonally appropriate and maybe even better than what some of you are experiencing in the Upper Midwest.

Although we did have some "hot" days, July and August were more notable for the rain and 63-degree high temps. And when my parents came from Illinois in mid-September they suffered from the "It's still hot here, it surely can't be that cold there" packing error, one that we've all committed at some point. It was still in the 80s at home but in the 50s here and their layering was a bit on the light side. Now I am hearing about first frosts and first snow flurries in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois. We still haven't had frost, or a temperature below the freezing point. Just yesterday, Aaron's boss asked him how he was doing with the cold weather and promised that it wouldn't get much colder- it was about 35 degrees!

So, I'm really excited by the prospect of a winter without mounds of snow, frozen eyelashes and bitter cold that steals your breath away! We'll see if that makes up for the lack of a real summer. If not, well, you just might see us back next summer to soak up some tropical summer sunshine on the shores of Lake Michigan! Of course, I hear the coast of Spain has some lovely beaches...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Excuse me- do you know where we might find the North Sea?

It sounded simple to us. We live on a fairly narrow strip of land with the Baltic Sea 10 km to the east and the North Sea about 45 km to the west. We've spent a lot of time at the Baltic Sea and we were anxious to check out the other side. So, on Saturday we packed a little picnic, got in the car and drove west. We stopped in Husum, a harbor town where we enjoyed walking around and having the local specialty- shrimp sandwiches- which are a lot better than they sound. But Husum is situated back along a canal so we didn't really see the coast. We jumped back in the car and started driving. Our view westward was mostly blocked by large dikes but we didn't feel like we were close to the shore. There were just vast expanses of pancake-flat pasturelands and lots of sheep. We drove over a narrow causeway, which made us feel that we were going to an island even though we still saw pastures on both sides. We drove all over, seeing homes built up on little hills and trenches dug in the fields for water drainage. It seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere, but still no sign of water. Eventually, we came to a small parking lot that butted right up to a large dike. We paid a Euro to park and climbed up the hill expecting to reach the top and gaze out at the picturesque water view. Instead it felt like standing on the edge of Kansas with grassland stretching out before us as far as we could see. Not a single tree, just sheep munching grasses and a paved path leading out farther than our eyes could see. But there were lots of people walking the path so we figured that it must be the way to the beach. So, we walked. And we walked and we walked and we walked. Meanwhile, the sun was starting to sink and the wind was picking up and we even scheduled a "drop dead" time for turning around. But we couldn't give up! After about an hour, we approached a collection of buildings that looked like an old farm. By then we had figured out that we were at Wattenmeer (Tidal Flats) National Park. We veered off to the left where we followed a puddly path toward some steps with the shimmering reflection of light on water beyond. We reached the top of the stairs, the reward of our long journey and looked out- at a sea of sand and mud! Technically, there was water there, about the amount you could safely put in a toddler's wading pool. Lots of shells and tiny crabs. But no beach and no crashing waves! If only we had been there at high tide.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gettin' ready for winter- German style!

I have seen a lot of things in Germany that make sense. Things that make me say, "Huh? I wonder why no one does this in the U.S."

This, however, is not one of them! I have noticed that people here seem a little wimpy about cold weather. But seriously- shoulder warmers? Elbow warmers? Let me give you a tip that we use back in the old country- just put on another shirt!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reflections on our move

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. -Henry David Thoreau
It kind of makes you think, doesn't it? Moving is a pain. We've all done it and we wonder why we have so much stuff. As soon as it's over, we hope we never have to do it again (or at least not for a very, very long time).
We are having a particularly unpleasant moving experience, mainly because it's not over yet. We packed up our house in the middle of May and we are still fighting with the moving company that is supposed to be sending the rest of our stuff.
And as I feel my blood pressure rising in dealing with crooked companies, I wonder about the true cost of our move. Sure, it was expensive to ship our household over here but even that feels small compared to the cumulative time, energy, and stress involved in the whole process. I'm talking about weeks of sorting, days of packing, days of unpacking, days of wrangling with a company that won't call me back!
After talking with a friend who took a decidedly different approach to her international move last month I have to really consider which is better. She went through a painful but liberating separation from most of her belongings. She and her husband packed several suitcases and their two cats and moved to a new continent. They are certainly missing some of the creature comforts but it doesn't take much time to clean her apartment and she can be off to her language lessons or exploring her new city. We are both learning some lessons in our new lives, maybe the same lessons for different reasons...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shanty Choir of Schleswig

We happened across this performance one Saturday afternoon, at a garden show of all places. A bunch of old sailors singing drinking songs! These guys were the real deal- weathered, rowdy and retired! Except for that young guy in the back row with his bushy blond beard- gotta love him! Most songs were in German but "Rum- fa-la-la, rum- fa-la-la!" transcends the language barrier! And they even sang "My bonnie lies over the ocean..." and the crowd really got into it! Some people, mostly those with white hairs, knew the words to every song and were joining right in. It was fantastic!
Later, Aaron and I discussed what folk songs we have in America that we could share with our German friends. It's been a long time since I learned those songs in elementary school, and I'm pretty sure they didn't teach us any drinking songs. I can remember "Yankee Doodle Dandy," but what is that about? "Oh, Susannah!" "Home on the Range"... we need help thinking of more! Because if there comes a time when we're called upon to sing, we want to be ready!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


We were driving back from Baden-Baden to Soerup, feeling tired and little let down after several days of fun and exploration. Mom was snoozing, Aaron was seeing how fast the car could coast down hills on the Autobahn, and I was thumbing through the guidebook. I knew we needed a break from the care so I rather randomly chose Goettingen, a small university city that, according to the book, has a Ratskellar with some of the best food in Germany! Sounded good!

We drove into town as I read to everyone some of the highlights of Goettingen, including the statue of the Goose Girl in the square who receives kisses from happy students who have passed their final exams. Close to the city center, things were abustle and we saw signs for the Goose Girl Festival- that very day! We just happened upon a five-hour festival in the heart of Germany on a beautiful Sunday afternoon- how can this be?

We sat outside in the square and ate lunch, listened to some music, soaked up the sun and wandered through the crowds. This was another of those golden moments... maybe they aren't so rare if you are looking for them!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Finally, our absentee ballots arrived yesterday! We've been watching the presidential debates online and preparing ourselves to vote in what feels like a monumental election. It has been interesting to see coverage of American politics from outside the country. Everyone here has an opinion!

And I know you do too. So, whatever you believe in, get out there and let your voice be heard! The best political bumper sticker I've seen says, "If you didn't vote, don't complain!"

Friday, October 10, 2008

My fearless Mom

Even at the ripe old age of 31, I can still learn a thing or two from my parents. When they arrived for their visit, I was admittedly more than a littled stressed out. I didn't feel like I had my act together, I was still nervous about the amount of German I could(n't) speak, I hadn't learned to drive the manual transmission car, and I had no idea how to be a good tour guide! In short, I was totally wrapped up in the details. This is a recurring theme in my life... but most of you already know this.

Two days later we drove to Denmark, a country so close to us but with a different language and a different currency. We did some shopping and eventually came to a grocery store. We were on a mission to find brown sugar and peanut butter, since both are unavailable in Germany. So we ventured in and found both items, along with several other goodies worth buying. But we didn't know how to pay. We thought that the store would surely accept credit cards but looked around and didn't see any signs to say so. I was panicking because I didn't know what language to try to speak- the best choice, Danish, was out of the question, and I didn't know if it would be more polite to speak the foreign language of the neigboring country or just go for English. Meanwhile, Mom walked up to a young cashier and asked, "Visa? Mastercard?" And he said,"We only accept Danish Mastercard. You can pay cash with Euros but only with currency, not coins. However, just outside the door around the corner is a withdrawal machine where you can get krone." Except that he stumbled over what to call an ATM/cash machine, his English was perfect! And he didn't seem to be alarmed or irritated in the least at being spoken to in English. Why do I worry so much?

So Mom, ever determined, led the way and withdrew some Danish krone from her Illinois bank account. She said, "You need some brown sugar and we're getting that peanut butter for Aaron." (There was a tragic loss of some crunchy and extra crunchy PB to the TSA at O'Hare Airport. Don't ask her about this- I am not sure she's over it. It was supposed to be Aaron's birthday gift. And one thing you just don't want to mess with is my mom and parties/gifts.) In the end, we had a fun new experience- checking out a foreign grocery store, we got what we wanted, and I learned to be a little bit braver! It really sounds like such a simple thing but it was profound for me. Quit fretting and start living!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

It's ALL about the bread!

I don't think this is unique to Germany (maybe a European thing?) but these people L-O-V-E bread! Seriously. I mean, I like bread- who doesn't? It's very functional for making sandwiches, soaking up the soup at the bottom of the bowl, holding Nutella. And fresh-baked bread is so yummy. But bread is like a way of life here. Our little town of 3,000 people-including surrounding countryside- has four bakeries. And they always seem to be busy! When I told Aaron's boss that we hadn't been to a certain bakery, the best one according to him, he just could not believe it. He said to me, "Bread is very important to us here." Yeah, I'm getting that. People go to the bakery every day. On his way to work, Aaron meets his colleagues riding home with bread for the family.

My parents and I spent an afternoon in Schleswig when they were here. There was a bakery on every corner. We chose a self-serve one (because why speak German to someone if you don't have to?) and loaded up a tray with various treats- pretzels with and without cheese, pastries with nuts, and even a plain white roll with a giant chocolate-covered marshmallow sandwiched in the middle. I couldn't resist. It was just so odd. It turned out to be the best thing I ate there. Which was good and bad, since I decided to start a quest for the best hot pretzel in Germany. I think I live in the wrong end of the country for this, though.

Anyway, the bakery must have been around the corner from the high school because teenagers started pouring in. We sat near the cash register and we couldn't believe that these kids could eat two or three rolls and call it "lunch." Student after student passed by with trays of carbs only. I don't think they have ever heard of Doctor Atkins over here. Or maybe he came over and tried to sell his diets and they just threw him out!

Aaron and I occasionally have the conversation about our favorite food/beverage item. "If you could choose only one treat, what would it be?" "Which food would you refuse to give up?" The tops choices are always cheese, coffee, chocolate or beer. We discussed this recently with our new friend Jan and you know what his answer was: "Oh, bread of course!" We looked at each other is disbelief. It's never even been a contender.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Not your average highway motels

Although we did see a Holiday Inn Express in Baden-Baden, we were happy that it was an anomaly! If our experiences are any indication, small family-run businesses are thriving in Germany. At both hotels, we worked directly with the people who owned it, and in both cases one of the owners was also the chef in the hotel restaurant.

In Cochem, at Zur Schoenen Aussicht, roughly "With a Lovely View," a husband and wife greeted us by name when we arrived. When was the last time you checked into a hotel and someone said, "Oh you must be...! We've been expecting you." She led us up the narrow old staircase to our third-floor rooms. The doors had counted cross-stitch decor with the room number and bunches of grapes and I would have bet anything that she made them. And our rooms did have lovely views looking out at the river!

The next morning when we went down for breakfast, the resident dog was hanging out in the dining room. He was clearly a veteran, as he barely noticed our comings and goings. I have noticed that dogs here have many more freedoms than in the U.S.- it is common to see them in restaurants and shopping centers. And they are astonishingly well-behaved! Perhaps they know that bad dogs wait in cars or on sidewalks.

Breakfast was different- an assortment of sliced deli meats and cheeses, with a huge basket of bread and rolls. It think we would call this lunch! But, they also had Nutella, marmalade (homemade by the lady of the house), muesli, and yogurt. Whatever you call it, it was tasty and a good start to our days.

In Baden-Baden we stayed in Rathausgloeckel, Town Hall Bells- located right next to the town hall, of course. It is a 16th century building and they used to bring prisoners there for their last meals. We saw the iron rings where they chained them up to eat! Luckily for us, we got to eat dinner in the dining room instead and it was one of the best meals we ate (though by no means did we suffer through our other meals)! Two men owned this hotel, which has just nine rooms in addition to its well-known restaurant.

Beds are different in Europe too! Aaron and I don't experience this at home since we brought our bed with us. They are almost always platform beds, so no box springs and they tend to be low. For bedding, there is a fitted sheet but no top sheet. Each side of the bed has its own down comforter in a duvet cover and a big square down pillow. That's it! Harder to snuggle up with your honey under the covers but much simpler to make the bed in the morning- just fold up your comforter.

Staying in these places was so different from staying in a standard American-style hotel. The hosts knew who you were and you had the feeling that they would help you however they could. They served fresh-cooked meals and were proud of their businesses, their livelihoods. It was refreshing and gave us a better understanding of the areas that we visited.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Golden Moments-hard to put into words!

During this tourist adventure with my parents, I just had some of those, "I can't believe this is my life" moments! In a good way! (In the last few months, there have also been some of those not-so-good moments of disbelief, but that's for another entry!) Sometimes you just stop and realize that the "right now" experience is precious and wish that you could make it last. It may be a few seconds, or the time it takes to sip a glass of white wine along the Mosel River. I think those moments give greater meaning to our lives. Seeing new things and living new experiences expands our minds and broadens our reality. We cannot help but be changed by them.
There are far fewer differences between Germany and the United States than you might expect. But the differences seem meaningful. Things seem slower, more considered. The streets are impossibly narrow in these ancient towns, but they don't just tear down buildings to make big roads and bigger cheaper buildings. Cars are faster and can haul more stuff, but people still take their bicycles to the grocery store. There are places to go and things to do but people linger for hours over a meal and a glass of wine with friends or family. So it was those times on our adventure- when the four of us sat lingering together, slowing down and soaking up the "now," laughing, joking, already talking about the memories we'd made- that were golden. Maybe those moments could have happened anywhere but I think they were especially magical because it was so new and exciting for us all!

Thursday, October 2, 2008


We felt like we'd stepped into fairytales! The whole idea of castles is something so exotic to us as Americans that we had no idea what to expect. I had read that Burg Eltz was one travel writer's favorite castle in all of Europe so I figured that was a good place to start! That is what lead us to stay along the Mosel River in Cochem, which happens to have a castle too. They couldn't have been more different from each other.

We arrived at Burg Eltz after driving up out of the river valley, across farmers' fields and into a forest. There we parked the car and set out on foot down a winding wooded path. When we caught our first glimpse of the castle, we were looking down at it! There was just a bit of cloud and mist and Mom commented that it didn't look real, more like a miniature, a picture in a story book. It is nestled into the midst of a forest, with the little Eltz River curving around it on three sides. And even though it seemed hidden away, it was quite grand with its many turrets pointing up to the sky.

What struck me as most amazing was the history of the castle. They think it may have been built as early as the 12th century, with additions added over the course of 500 years of changing family needs. It has always been owned by the Eltz family- 33 generations and 850 years! For several hundred years, a group of joint heirs shared the castle, each building his own "house." In the inner courtyard you can see the three separate entrances and the differences in the architecture of each. It is also unique in the area because it was never destroyed. Almost all castles in the Mosel and Rhine regions were burned by French troops in a land war in 1689, but Burg Eltz survived because of good family connections. There are 100 rooms in the castle and we saw just a few but they have been preserved to reflect the way of life in the early Middle Ages.

Unlike Burg Eltz, Reichsburg castle in Cochem stands proudly above the town. You can't miss it! We walked up through the narrow streets, past Catholic alters and vineyards. The foggy morning leant a bit of mysticism to our journey. We were the only four people for the first tour so our guide spoke English (we were prepared to read along in an English pamphlet while being guided in German), a stroke of good luck! Cochem castle has an ancient and interesting history dating back to the 1100s. It passed through many hands in the political chess games of mideval Europe until it succumbed to the same French troops that spared Burg Eltz. Only a single turret survived and was dubbed "the witch's tower." The castle was rebuilt in the 1870s by a wealthy Berliner; it was en vogue at the time for wealthy people to restore castles for their summer homes. This was the Romantic period so everything is ornate and "over the top!" There are rich furnishings, suits of armor in the living room, balconies overlooking the river... not at all accurate to it's original form. But lovely and interesting none the less!

I've posted more pictures of our trip at:

If you are really interested in these castles, check out their websites:

Monday, September 29, 2008

We're home again!

We returned late Sunday evening from our whirlwind trip down the length of Germany! There were so many wonderful sights and experiences I think I could write for weeks!
In the first picture, Aaron and I are walking along the street in Cochem, in the heart of the Mosel River valley- wine country. This was a touristy village, but still very quaint- set into a steep hillside beneath a castle and overlooking the river. We stayed for two nights, did some fun shopping, wine and mustard tasting, and ate some delicious meals. We also toured two castles- the second picture shows Mom and Dad just outside the courtyard at Burg Eltz. This castle was breathtaking and has such an amazing history! It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. (More details to come)
After Cochem, we drove to Baden-Baden and took in the world-famous bath/spa there. It is famous with good reason- we spent three hours there and all came out feeling pampered and relaxed! Delightful! On Saturday we met up with Jurgen, a friend Mom and Dad met when he stayed at their home through an international Rotary exchange program. He and his girlfriend Steffi gave us a walking tour of the city and then took us into the Black Forest. We finished our day at a harvest restaurant that is only open in September and October and serves fresh harvest meals to the locals. It was very interesting!
Sunday was a really long drive home and today is a rest day (except for Aaron who is back at work) because we will be up at 3:30 to get Mom and Dad back to the airport for their morning flight tomorrow! It seems that the time has gone too quickly but we have packed a lot into the visit. I'll continue to hit the highlights of the trip this week now that I'll be back to my slower daily routine!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our First Guests

I have been a bit neglectful of the blog this week, so I'm sorry for those of you who have checked and been disappointed. BUT, it is with good reason. In the first part of the week, I cleaned, shopped and cooked in preparation for the arrival of my parents on Thursday morning. They had a relatively smooth journey and are recovering quite well from their jet lag.

This is their first trip to Europe and we have had a great few days so far! We showed them around our little town, visited a few old churches, treated them to an authentic German meal and ventured to Sonderborg, Denmark (where we finally found brown sugar!). Dad and Aaron also went for a long bike ride there as part of their annual fall tradition. Tomorrow we will meet our German tutor and her family for the traditional afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at a restaurant by the Baltic sea. On Wednesday, we will head south to the Mosel River valley and then to Baden-Baden, so more on those adventures later.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main...

Last night we had another fun "first!" We got to go sailing in the Flensburg Fjord on the Baltic Sea! One of Aaron's colleagues (in picture) just got a sailboat this summer and has been going out whenever the weather is good. As you can see, we had sunshine and lots of wind so it was a great day for it! The wind was so strong that the boat really got leaning. The waves were big- up to 6 feet- and we got splashed by the waves several times!

The Flensburg Fjord separates Germany from Denmark so we were able to see the coastlines of two countries as we sailed. It was interesting to watch 21st century kiteboarders skimming across the water against a backdrop of 18th century wooden windmills!

Afterwards, we ate fisch broetchen (sandwiches on fresh mini-baguettes) at the marina restaurant. This is a regional specialty and you can get them with Matjes (salted) herring, Bismarck (pickled) herring, tiny shrimp from the North Sea, or fried fish. Of course, our friends insisted that we try all types! Not bad- better than smoked eel!

It was a boost to our spirits to be out in the wind and water! We came to Germany because we wanted to experience a different way of living and try new things. But some days at home feel mundane and other days we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of this life change, frustrated by the effort required to accomplish the most basic tasks in a different culture and language. So these days when our experiences transcend all of that are truly a breath of fresh air to revive us, and we feel blessed!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sea monkeys are not real pets!

We miss our cat! I know we did the right thing by leaving her with Gramma and Uncle Joe. She is eighteen years old- too old to start cavorting around the globe. And I know she doesn't miss us. When we visited her at her new home just a few weeks after she arrived, she seemed to barely notice us. (Okay, it could have been the silent treatment but I'd rather believe that she just didn't care.)

But now we're here and I am in the house all day with no one to talk to! We can't exactly read the newspaper yet, but every week we turn to the last page and pour over all the animals that need to be adopted. Cats, dogs, pot-bellied pigs, ponies, goats, koi fish... gotta love the variety! We are trying to be rational and it just doesn't make sense to get a pet while we're here. We want to do a lot of traveling within Europe and we know we will have many visits back to the U.S. We don't know how long we will live here and I'm not sure I would want to put an animal through the stress of a prolonged journey to a new home on another continent. So...

We decided to grow the sea monkeys that my nephew Will gave me for my birthday last year. I purified the water, added the eggs the next day, fed them on day 5, and now we have a little aquarium full of tiny brine shrimp that you can barely see. They provide about 30 seconds of entertainment in my day. But they are not warm and furry, they don't follow me around the house, and I don't even feel like trying to talk to them!
Maybe we can borrow a cat...

Friday, September 5, 2008

How many books does it take...?

We first visited Germany together back in March and before we came, Aaron picked up a pocket-sized German phrase book. It has already proved invaluable when we're "on the spot" in a restaurant or store. When Aaron started private lessons in early June, our teacher loaned us two large hardback dictionary volumes- one is German-English and the other is English-German. Wonderful, but bulky! I had picked up a smaller dictionary at a used bookstore and that too is helpful because you can actually carry it around with you. We each have a set of books for our lessons- a reading book and a workbook. Phrase book, complete dictionaries, pocket dictionary, lesson books- that's six books! And we're not done!

How many of you recall your English grammar lessons from elementary school? Direct and indirect objects, predicate nouns, adverbial prepositions, relative pronouns- starting to ring a bell? No, me neither! So, we had to have a book of English grammar because if you don't know the rules of your own language you're hopeless for learning a second language!

Then, we started to tackle verb conjugations. In English this is not so complicated as in many other languages. There is a different form of a verb for "I" "you" "he/she/it" "we" "they" and the plural form of "you" (which we don't have but use "you guys," or "y'all.") And that is true for every tense of the verb- present , past , perfect , subjunctive, future. So, we needed The Big Yellow Book of German Verbs, featuring 555 fully conjugated verbs with a cross-referenced index of 4,200 verbs (see photo)! Could it possibly get any better than this?

Yes! There's more! We are moving beyond basics, starting to build sentences and asking a lot of questions about sentence structure, use of prepositions, etc. We found that we needed a reference book for German grammar. So, after extensive research on, I located Hammer's German Grammar and Usage, 4th Edition. I am waiting for the post man to ring the doorbell any minute to bring this latest treasure, which will bring our total number of books on German language to NINE!

Oh, and don't be fooled by the picture! I hardly ever look so cheerful when I'm studying!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Deutsch follies!

It's not so easy- learning a new language while living in a country where you require its use. I'm amazed at how many words I know after two months, but my vocabulary is nowhere near what I need to be able to read, for instance, the manual for the washing machine!

I had been here for about a week when I decided I should tackle the laundry. Aaron was at work and I thought, "How hard can it be to get this thing going?" It is a style that is new to me- front-loading with a separate compartment for soap. Actually, the soap drawer has three different compartments- labeled with symbols which are decoded (in German) in the manual. I knew I wouldn't get far with that so I poured the detergent in the spot that had a little soap bubble on it- perfect! Hit "Start" and an hour later I have clean clothes. I went on like this for five or six weeks feeling quite pleased with myself for figuring this out without reading the instructions first!

One day I walked in while the machine was on its final spin. "Hmm, looks a bit soapy," I thought but carried on without further thought. A few days later, after I had finished all the week's laundry I decided to try reading the manual since I had now acquired a small German vocabulary. With the help of my pocket translator and my German/English dictionary I deciphered the symbols. It turns out I had been adding the detergent where the liquid fabric softener is supposed to go! I was so embarassed that I didn't think I could tell anyone, but in the end I couldn't resist. Aaron got such a good laugh. He now knows why he starts to "suds up" when he's running! Ha!

But he has had his fair share of mishaps too. Since our freezer is too small to hold a frozen pizza, our grocery shopping day corresponds with "Pizza Night." It was Aaron's turn to choose and he had his mouth set for a sausage pizza. He picked it out, threw it in the cart and off we went. At home, while it was baking it smelled... different. When it came out, he said "I think something is wrong." "It smells like fish," I agreed. A photo of TUNA pizza on the packaging looks quite like sausage pizza! As we later learned, tuna is a common topping and sausage as we know it is virtually nonexistent in Germany. Once you got over the fact that it was fish, it wasn't so bad but Aaron could not be assuaged!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

See how their gardens grow!

When I arrived, I was amazed by the beautiful flower gardens at nearly every home in town. Roses were blooming in profusion, there were beds overflowing with annuals, clematis vines like blankets of blossoms! I was inspired and thought, “Maybe now my thumb will turn green and I too will be a successful German gardener!”

I am less enchanted now because I think I know the secret to their success- rain. Almost every day- sometimes all day, sometimes several brief showers. And cool temperatures. I may be biased but it seems that the average daily temp has been 65 degrees. Do keep in mind that I have been here through July and August- summer months! Hot, dry months, right?

At first people were saying that this weather was normal, but now even the natives are restless. The summer has been cooler and wetter than normal. It’s creating a problem for the farmers who can’t harvest their oats and wheat. It is no fun for all the tourists who come to north Germany’s coastlines for summer holidays on the beach. And it’s not easy for me, trying to dry my clothes on the line, looking at the sky twenty times a day trying to outmaneuver the rain clouds!

So, for better or worse, rain and cool summer weather seem to be the keys to lovely and colorful gardens. When it stops raining I’ll have to head out and take more pictures for you!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I haven’t planted a single flower!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Our New Car

When we lived in Kalamazoo we drove a Volkswagen Jetta - a German made automobile. In Germany, we drive a Ford Focus. I know, hee hee, laugh it up. I’ll have you know, our Ford Focus was made in Düsseldorf, Germany. Here are a few more interesting facts about our new automobile:

  • "6.3 L/100” or 6.3 liters of diesel fuel per 100 kilometers or 38 miles per gallon.
  • It will comfortably fit 2 expatriates, 3 visitors and lots of luggage.
  • It can haul 1 dining table, 2 chairs, 2 shelving units, 1 shower rod, 4 bathroom light fixtures, 1 kitchen light fixture, 4 closet organizers, 2 sets of curtains and 4 passengers home from IKEA. (See photo).
  • It has a “navi” (GPS navigation system) for all of Europe. The navi lady speaks both German and English fluently.
  • It is equipped with fog lamps and heated seats, but not cruise control.
  • It has manual transmission, as most cars in Germany have. This is still quite notable to Jackie…
  • It has front wheel drive and special tires for the winter.
  • The driver and passenger have power windows, but people in back have to crank the old fashioned way.
  • It has a plug for your MP3 player.
  • The stereo controls are on the steering wheel.
  • It has a turbo engine, plenty fast on the autobahn where there is no speed limit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Small-town Carnival

What's the same? What's different? We ask ourselves these questions for just about everything we encounter here. A few weeks ago, we went with our friends to a summer festival in a nearby small town called Suderbrarup. On most accounts, it was just what you would expect for a small-town carnival- junk food, corny games that you aren't meant to win, dangerous-looking rides, beer tents and loud music from twenty years ago!
There must have been a dozen candy stands! That's one (bright pink) just behind us in the photo. They were filled with chocolates, licorice of many flavors, nuts, gummies, etc. There were also giant heart-shaped cookies elaborately decorated with icing, with strings so you could wear them around your neck. I didn't bother getting one, as I think they were gingerbread cookies (not my favorite). Instead, we tried apfeltasche, which is the same concept as a McDonald's apple pie but tastes ten times better.

We rode the ferris wheel and that gave us a neat view of the surrounding area. Rolling fields and pastures as far as the eye could see, dotted with eighteenth-century church steeples and ultra-modern wind turbines. We also rode something whose name translates to Dream of Love! It was just one of those mini-roller coasters that go in a circle- fast, slow, backwards and all the while blaring music by Bon Jovi and Backstreet Boys. We got laughing so hard at our friend Maren, who is easily excitable and screamed the whole time, that we had tears getting ripped out of the corners of our eyes! Such fun!

There were helium balloons and stuffed animals. Spongebob Squarepants is very popular. You probably didn't know that he and his friends speak fluent German! They do- I've seen them on TV! Bob the Builder is also popular, but people seem to know all the pop culture cartoon characters from America.

Some of the carnival rides seemed really outdated- one for kids had the Smurfs painted on it! Another ride had this picture of Uncle Sam with the sign that reads,"I want you!" Huh? Surely, we are not recruiting for our armed forces in Germany! Aaron and I have so many good laughs over stuff like that. I'm sure our friends think we have strange senses of humor, but then again, with our mangled German they get plenty of chances to laugh when we don't know what's funny!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Denmark for a day

We needed a day out! Aaron had a few rough days of work, I had a lonely few days at home so we overcame our trepidation and ventured to another new country!
We live so far north in Germany that we are just a few minutes from Denmark. Someone had recommended that we check out Sonderburg (imagine a diagonal line through the o and it will be Danish). It is a small resort town, along the Flensburg fjord and Baltic Sea. It was a perfect summer day- warm, breezy and sunny! In the photos you can see the boardwalk along the water where there were dozens and dozens of sailboats enjoying the weather. The second photo is the pedestrian shopping street. We had lunch outside a little pub/cafe here. We were amazed by, and envious of, our waiter who went from table to table speaking English, German and Danish as needed. Oh, to be multilingual!
Denmark is also part of the European Union but has not adopted the Euro as their currency. So, we paid for lunch with Euro, but received Danish Kroner in return. We couldn't tell if it was the correct amount of change (and it probably wasn't!) but it was fun to see the coins. Next time we will know to pay by credit card!
After lunch we took a long walk along the water. There is a great bike path that goes for miles, past a huge marina, a great beach and into a forest- all with views of the sea! Ah- this is the reason we came! Such a privilege and joy to see new things!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

American Week!

Well, the fun continues at our neighborhood grocery store! Our helpful next-door neighbor alerted us to the Big American-Week at the LIDL Market! With great interest/amusement we browsed through the sale flyer in the Sunday newspaper. It essentially read as a "best of the worst" of American foods. When we actually went to the store this afternoon, it was even less than we had hoped! There was no peanut butter- one of the few items we would have actually liked to get, nor could we find cranberry juice or popcorn. But, the freezer section was packed with chicken nuggets, onion rings and- rib burgers? Huh?
There were American Style Pizzas- Barbeque Chicken or Western (with ham and corn- really, who puts corn kernels on pizza?). Hot dogs I can accept as being typcial of the USA, but in a jar? Yikes! We ended up coming home with a package of Chocolate Cookies (as seen in photo) and they are quite good. I'd say they are a fair representation of good store-bought American cookies. And potato chips are much the same, so that's okay. As for the rest, we're sticking with German food this week and hoping that Big Asian-Week at the LIDL brings a more palatable selection for next week's shopping!