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!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Summer Fest

Every year, Aaron's company has a family party at the lake cottage of the owner's parents (rustic- think Up North, not South Haven). This year the event was Saturday, July 12, so I had had a total of four German lessons! We were very curious about what this potluck barbeque would be like. What should we bring? How long will it last? Aaron had heard some interesting stories about people waking up without their pants because they had gone skinny-dipping and dropped them in the lake! Hmmm?
We arrived about 3:30 in the afternoon with a plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies. This was a double experiment. First, the cookies themselves: it was the first batch of cookies I had made here using German flour, sugar, butter, etc. You wouldn't think ingredients would be different but you never know! Had to smash up a chocolate bar for chunks as "chips" are not sold here. Also, I had to plug my mixer into a voltage converter and wasn't sure how that would work. And I had a new oven and of course I couldn't quite figure out the settings as they are in German. Alas, the cookies turned out just fine. So, the second part of the experiment was the Germans: do they know about chocolate chip cookies? I myself can hardly imagine an existence without them, but perhaps with all the other yummy chocolatey things, they had overlooked the best one! Anyway, the cookies went over well and did not seem to be a novelty. But I digress! Back to the party...
I was also very interested to see what everyone else would bring. Mostly salads- several varieties of potato salad, pasta salad, and tomato and mozzarella salad. There was a big bowl of hard-boiled eggs, several loaves of fresh bread, BUT, unbelieveable as it may seem, hardly any desserts! There were bowls and bowls of gummies and wrapped chocolates, but aside from my cookies there were only two small cakes. A little disappointing...
The owner's father, who used to be a butcher (see posting re. smoked eel), was in charge of all the meats for grilling! There was an amazing selection! Filet mignon, lamb, pork chops, chicken breasts, many types of sausages. Everyone chose the meat they wanted and gathered around one of the three big charcoal grills to cook it! It was very fun to have everyone mingling and chatting about their meat as it cooked. And it made the eating last much longer, which is kind of nice since that's the part everyone looks forward to anyway.
There were all kinds of alcohol- beer, wine, Sekt (German champagne), mixed drinks. Everyone was very excited to make caipirinhas, which I just learned from Wikipedia is Brazil's national cocktail. I didn't know Brazil had a national cocktail (Susan and Chris- friends who lived in Brazil for five months, I hold you personally responsible for my ignorance of this beverage. I can't believe I had to come all the way to Germany to find out about it.) So, it was quite a festive atmosphere in spite of the damp weather!
There were two kayaks and anyone could take them out on the lake. There was also a big net- maybe five feet across- that could be lowered with a pulley into the water to catch fish. That was a big hit for the kids. Mostly, as you would expect, people just sat around talking and laughing.
As the evening wore on, more and more people seemed able to speak English. We were very relieved to have people talk with us since we really were helpless in German. But it was also rather entertaining to see how a few cocktails got peoples' tongues loosened up and all of the sudden their high school English lessons came back to them!
We finally left the party at around 11:00 when strangers started hugging us! We heard that the last people left at four o'clock- whether anyone lost their trousers I do not know!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A peek inside the house

Someone asked to see photos of the inside of the house. The best thing to do, really, is to just come visit and see it for yourself, but here are a few pics in the meantime! The shot in the hallway is taken from the kitchen doorway in the front of the house toward the living room at the back of the house. The others are fairly self-explanatory I think!
I don't have any pictures of the guest room at the moment, but there is one and we are accepting reservations!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weather Report

A windy, wavy day at the Baltic Sea!

Summer here hasn't been like the Midwestern summers we know. It rained almost every day for three weeks of July and the high temperatures were only in the mid-sixties! People said it was typical. I'm sure it sounds good to those of you that have suffered through blazing heat waves, but it did not feel at all like summer should feel. We have now had almost two good weeks, with sunshine and warmer weather- highs up to 83 degrees but usually in the 70s. It has not been humid but it is almost always breezy or downright windy! I imagine this is because we are on a peninsula between two seas. The Baltic Sea (which the Germans call the Ostsee, or East Sea) is just about 10 miles away. The North Sea (Nordsee) is 30-40 miles to the west.

If you look at a world map, you can see how much farther north we are here, somewhat equivalent to Edmonton, Canada. That means that summer days are long, long, long! I arrived here just after summer solstice and the sky didn't get dark until after 11:00 PM! It started to get light again just after 4:00 AM! But, it will also mean dark winters and I am not looking forward to that. Interestingly, they say the winters are not as bad as those in the Upper Midwest. I hope they are right! It will get below freezing, but the lakes won't freeze over solid and there is rarely snow that sticks on the ground. After seven winters in Michigan that sounds just fine to me!

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's a Fiesta!

For the most part, we have been eating well and can find the same foods here as in the U.S. It's funny, though, how you sort of forget everything when your life goes upside down. I remember walking through the grocery store here for the first time and I couldn't think what to buy. For the life of me, I couldn't think of a single meal idea besides sandwiches. And we have never been big sandwich eaters!

But as time has gone by, we've gotten the hang of shopping and have had more variety. We eat pasta, fresh fruits and veggies, some sausages (though our grill is still waiting to be shipped to Germany), etc. I do believe we have seen the first and last batch of smoked eel in the Merley household, though! The dishwasher still smells like fish! Yuck!

Now, neither Aaron nor I have any claim to Hispanic heritage but we both really love Mexican food (authentic and otherwise). Tacos, burritos and quesadillas were standard fare for us back in Kalamazoo. On our first shopping trip together we tried to find flour tortillas. We found them in the "Ethnic Specialty" section of the store for almost 4 Euros for a package of eight! Whoa! We're a long way from Mexico, I guess! We bought them and had a version of tacos on the 4th of July! Hooray for American independence! Ha!

The next time we went shopping (different store) we were excited to see tortillas for only 2 Euro. Alas, when we got home and opened them, there were only THREE in the package! So, imagine our suprise and delight when we walked into our usual grocery store on Monday to find a big special on Mexican food items! We were nearly giddy as we piled six packages of tortillas, flour and corn, into our cart. Further down the aisle we found jars of taco sauce (turns out to be like salsa) and jalapeno peppers! In the next aisle, there were jalapeno flavored tortilla chips, like Doritos! As we unloaded our cart to check out, we had to supress our laughter. I'm sure it screamed, "Not from around here!" But we were happy and had some delicious tacos this week!

After the eel experience we needed something familiar and tasty but don't worry, we are still having lots of new authentic German experiences!

Auf Wiedersehen!