Do you prefer your head the English or the German way?

I’m sitting in a small café in downtown Oldenburg, named ‘Cupido’. Sylvia and I came here for lunch two weeks ago when I was on the hunt for a proper winter coat. Which I found, by the way..in a thrift store for only 29 Euro. It’s a soft, sage green leather trench and is by far the coolest piece of clothing I have ever owned. Anyway, today Ernst had a Hebrew class in the city and said if I liked, he could drop me off for a few hours. So here I am, enjoying a coffee and sammich. I just purchased three new watercolor pencils from the art store and am singularly pleased by my acquisition. Due to the limitations imposed upon me by my wee little suitcase, not to mention my budget…I rarely buy anything non-essential. Perhaps that is why my small 4 euro purchase is bringing me so much pleasure. (Warm grey, cold grey and brown ochre, if you care)

I don’t know if I mentioned it previously, but before I left York in September I helped out at a pub for a couple of days that is run by my friends Sherrilee and Paul Turner.   (http://www.bayhorsemarygate.co.uk/)  I learned all sorts of things and had a blast. Of course the first order of business was to learn how to “pull a pint”. This is harder than it looks. Getting the perfect foam to liquid ratio without making an unholy mess took me a few times and a number of bar towels and apologies. (In my defense, I did offer to drink all of my mistakes) It’s a complicated process of tipping the glass at the appropriate angle, placing the nozzle correctly, knowing when to stop…etc. Also, each type of beer foams differently due to the amount of carbonation which varies from brand to brand. I learned that the perfect amount of foam…or “head” should be 1/2 to 1 inch and with a slightly rounded top. Definitely no more than 1.5 inches, or customers will feel they aren’t getting their money’s worth and might call you a  wazzock…or even better… a mingebag. Luckily for me, the clientele at the Bay Horse were much too genteel to resort to name calling. Here is a picture of a typical English beer. Not the best pour mind you, but typical.

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(And also ironic, because I met my friends who own the Bay Horse Pub about 2 minutes after I finished this beer . They were inside the pub I am sitting outside of in this picture, and began singing “Country Roads” quite loudly. As this was my second pint, I was feeling friendly and conversational and went inside to meet the John Denver fans/ possible West Virginian’s. What I found was a lively group of Yorkshire folk, plus one Scot. )

Fast forward to yesterday. Sylvia invited me to walk with her and Motek into Sage (pronounced “zaga”) to attend a small crafts festival. I am a huge fan of any event with the word “festival” in it, so was delighted to accompany her. (One of the best parts of arranging my lodgings via the pet sit website (mindmyhouse.com) is that I often have the opportunity to experience a part of the world as the locals do. I am the only tourist for miles. Of course that also means that everyone I meet expects me to speak German.) Sage is a wee little town only a short walk away, which as far as I know only contains a few houses,a gas station, restaurant, and brothel. And on this particular day…a craft festival. It had everything you would expect out of a small German town event, including traditional food and drink. (I just remembered that when I was 5 I lived in a town in Maryland named “Germantown”. Coincidence?)

The building with the crafts in it was very small and crowded, so I volunteered to stay outside with Motek so Sylvia could take her time exploring. Now, Motek is a very large and gorgeous white shepherd who draws attention wherever he goes, and I was a complete stranger in a very small town…so we stood out a bit. Many friendly people approached me with the intent of starting a conversation…only to be foiled by my ignorance of their language. I must have said “Entschuldigen Sie, Ich bin aus Amerika und spreche sehr wenig Deutsch” at least 15 times. (My apologies, I am from America and speak very little German) Only two people spoke any English at all, and only one on a conversational level. There were two beautiful little German girls who looked to be around 7 years old or so who were not the least bit deterred by my limited language skills. We chatted for 5 minutes about all manner of things, and even though they understood zero English…we communicated effectively via hand gestures, facial expressions and tone. They took turns asking me questions and when I would respond in English, they would very solemnly nod as if I had just confirmed for them the validity of their statements.  It helped a bit that I had been the parent of my very own talkative and friendly seven year old girl person, so I knew I could probably get by with a few well timed Ja? Ja. Ja! Ja? Ja’s.  I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and was sad to see them go, even though I have absolutely NO idea what we talked about.

Sylvia eventually emerged from the building and it was my turn to explore the craft hall, the inside of which turned out to be a perfect replica of a Disney version of a German craft hall. There were wooden toys, and holiday items and baked goods and knitted things…and everything was high quality. Not a bit of shab to be seen. There was even a group of women spinning their own yarn! I was completely charmed…even more so because these were real Germans and real handmade goods…not some sort of pre-packaged “German Experience”.

After I perused the crafts, it was food time. There was bratwurst and steak on offer, so of course I decided to get both. I was informed by Sylvia that the “steak” was not beef, but pork. I got in line and managed to order my food without embarrassing myself too much. “Ein steak und ein bratwurst bitte.” It was after I had been handed my plate of food that I realized there was one very important phrase of German I had neglected to learn…”On separate plates, please.” You see, I am not a big fan of food touching. Especially anything juicy or saucy. But I am a 47 year old grown up who does understand that sometimes I cannot have things my way. And there was no way in hell I was not eating this food. So I managed. One of those milestone moments, you know? Now, there was only one thing missing from my meal. The beer, which Sylvia graciously went and got for us. This is what she came back with.

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I must have had an odd expression on my face, for she promptly explained that this is how beer is served in Germany… that the head should be at LEAST three fingers wide.  And don’t bother complaining about it, because that’s how beer is done here and they give zero shits what you care about it. An attitude which I found right and just. Here is an article explaining in more detail.

http://www.businessinsider.de/how-to-pour-beer-like-a-german-2015-8?r=US&IR=T

Needless to say, I downed the beer (and two more) with gusto, and despite the overlap on my plate managed to thoroughly enjoy my food, along with the company of my friends.

I will be interested to find out how they serve beer in Italy. Oh, I haven’t told you yet have I? I’m heading to Florence next! For two weeks, right in the city, near the the river Arno. I have my train ticket already. Ernst(bless him ) is going to drive me into Bremen on Monday the 7th, and I will take the train from there to Munich where I will switch trains for the overnight trip to Florence. I even managed to score a bed on the train! Its in a room with 5 other beds, but its on a train, which makes everything much cooler. I will be arriving in Florence the morning of the 8th. I am pet sitting a kitty this time, named “Lemmy”. It will be difficult to leave Germany and Sylvia, Ernst and Motek. I have become inordinately fond of my Dutch trio and will miss them, but the journey must continue.

I have added photo’s below of the craft festival. Its time for me to pack up here and go meet Ernst in front of the pharmacy. I am hoping to get back to Oldenburg one more time before I leave. There is a church and a museum I am keen to explore.

Ciao for now!

Rebecca

Sylvia and I
Sylvia and I
Motek
Motek
The craft hall
The craft hall
The interior of the hall
The interior of the hall

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The spinning club!
The spinning club!
Three wheeled car
Three wheeled car
That opens from the front!
That opens from the front!

 

Bratwurst and "Steak"
Bratwurst and “Steak”

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My meal. Bratwurst, Steak, krautsalat (coleslaw) and bread.
My meal. Bratwurst, Steak, krautsalat (coleslaw) and bread
Beer and booze tent.
Beer and booze tent.
That's a happy girl right there!
That’s a happy girl right there! And wearing my new schnazzy coat!

 

Staving off an unexpected prick

 

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As of yesterday, I have been on this mad adventure for four months. And wow, what a ride it has been so far. You name an emotion, and I’ve felt it. From astonishment, adoration and agony to zany, zealous and zen. Most of the time my psyche has been rockin’ the pleasant vibes…but when you are on your own and 80 billion miles from your home and loved ones…well…unpleasant thoughts manage to creep in and do their asshole best to destroy your groove. Especially when you are an artsy-fartsy-smartsy moody sort to begin with. Even though I left behind all the stresses and exhaustion that were killing me, the one thing I couldn’t leave behind was my nature. I am lucky in that for the most part I bop along through life in a state of perpetual inquisitiveness and good natured bonhomie tinged with benign sarcasm. But, like the Force…I do have a dark side. It’s really only a danger to me though…I won’t be slaughtering any younglings.(unless they crack their gum)  And as I have no desire to be defined by the less stellar characteristics of my persona…I do my utmost to ride out the mental shit-storms with a minimum of fuss. At home I had close friends and family that I could turn to for hugs, strong shoulders and snuggles when things got bad. But…what do you do when you are 173 million miles away from home and you need snuggles? This is a real problem people…one that I did NOT see coming. And I seriously doubt Conde` Nast  or Budget Traveler have written any articles on this topic. “Cuddling Your Way Through the Schengen Zone”…or “25 Best Hostels for Finding a Snuggle Buddy”.  I feel this is a vastly neglected aspect of solo traveling and should be addressed immediately. Someone contact Michael Palin. (I would absolutely snuggle with Michael Palin. He’s the cuddliest of all the Python’s in my opinion.)

My clothes are starting to look a bit shabby. I have two pairs of jeans. On one of them the zipper broke so I sewed myself into them. Luckily, like most jeans today, they have enough lycra in them that I can just pull them on and off without having to unzip them. The other pair has a giant hole in one knee and are not appropriate to wear to any place nicer than McDonalds…but I do anyway because sometimes I have no choice. My favorite sweater has holes in it. All of my socks have holes in them, and the zipper on one of my boots will only go halfway down, so I have to inch my foot in bit by bit, making sure as I tug I don’t pull the pleather away from the heel. (I am calling my new style “bourgeoisie hobo chic”. Pretty sure it will catch on.) This is what comes I suppose of having a very limited wardrobe…everything is getting worn out at a much quicker pace. And don’t even get me started on my bras. The poor things are just exhausted! They need to keep it together for me though.. and not give up. There are only so many places on a bra that you can use a safety pin without chancing an unexpected prick.

(There it is. You were wondering, weren’t you?)

Four months!! I still can’t believe it. When I started out, I had no idea how long I would be able to keep going. As of right now, it looks like I will still be abroad in the New Year. My daughter Hannah will be joining me in London for Christmas and New Years. I’m sure we will create quite a scene at Heathrow when we see each other. Neither of us are timorous about expressing ourselves.

Even though both my psyche and my wardrobe have experienced some wear and tear in the past four months, I wouldn’t change my decision to take this leap for all the new bras in the world. I’m still going strong. Although if you are an affectionate person and heading my way…pack a hug or two in your luggage for me. 😉

Rebecca

 

‘Schwangerschaft’ doesn’t mean what I thought it meant

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It’s cold here in Germany. Down to the high 30’s(F)…which for this Florida girl might as well be -20. Time to start wearing a hat. Amber lent me one before I left York, along with four sweaters. And thank god she did, otherwise I would be dead by now. I have got to toughen up.

I saw a wild hedgehog last night. They are all over the place here. A bit of information about Germany that was not mentioned in my obviously sub-standard Maryland public school education. Other things I’ve learned:

  • The left hand lane on the highway is for passing only. If you are caught cruising on it you will incur a hefty fine. Also, you may NOT pass on the right.
  • Graveyards in Germany are insanely manicured and sculpted works of art.(see more below)
  • German traffic lights use yellow twice- between the green and red, and then again between the red and green.
  • There ARE areas of the Autobahn that have speed limits, usually 130 km/h, but in more rural areas it is Speed Racer time!
  • Some restaurants still have a ‘smoking section’, although they have to be completely enclosed and separated from the rest of the eating area.
  • In order to get a grocery cart, you need a doober. (I have no idea what they are really called.) Its a small round plastic “coin” about the size of a nickel(or pound coin) that you slide into a mechanism that unlocks the cart, and when you lock it back up you get your doober back. They often have advertising on them. The one I have was accidentally left in a cart by the person who used it before me and has the logo for a Neo-Nazi group. I spit on it before I use it. (I think you can also use coins, but I will stick to my spit covered Neo-Nazi doober.)
    Doober next to a pound coin
    Doober next to a pound coin

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    Doober putter inner
  • There is a German version (not affiliated) of Home Depot called ‘Hornbach’. It even has the orange theme. I went inside, and other than everything being in German, it felt and smelled exactly the same.While some words in German are easy to figure out, others try to fool you. I was in a bookstore, and had no problem with ‘Physik, ‘Chemie’, ‘Biologie’…etc. Then I came across a section called ‘Schwangerschaft’. It was right next to the Psychology and Sexuality section, and based on my towering intellect, I deduced that it was the porn section. In my defense, I am well aware that Germany is not as prudish as the US, due to the brothel boldly located only a ball toss away from where I am staying. And lets face it…’schwanger’ and ‘schaft’? Come on…you would have thought the same thing. (Turns out it means ‘pregnancy’)

    Home improvement store
    Home improvement store
  • Prostitution is legal in Germany (since 2002)…hence the local brothel. It just looks like a strip club. I admit to being disappointed. It should look like the set of Cabaret. I should offer my services. (As a scenic artist…not a prostitute. Having a brothel on my resume/C.V. would definitely make it stand out.)

    Brothel
    Brothel

On Sunday, Sylvia and Ernst took me to the town of Visbek. But before we headed to the town proper, we stopped by the ‘Visbecker Braut and Brautigam’, which translates to ‘Visbek Bride and Bridegroom’.  In the middle of woods that would do the Grimm brothers proud lay a series of very large stones…AKA Megalithic structures…that date from about 3700-3200 B.C. and mark burial sites. The ‘Visbecker Brautigam’ is 104 meters long, and is the longest barrow in Lower Saxony. Needless to say, I found these fascinating and couldn’t resist climbing onto a few of the bigger rocks. As far as megalithic structures go, I prefer these to Stonehenge. You can’t even touch Stonehenge, let alone climb on it. Underneath a few of the structures were interesting looking niche’s that I would have liked to crawl into and explore. Especially knowing that lying beneath would be the bones of people who had lived here over 5000 years ago and lived lives so vastly different from my own as to be almost beyond comprehension on both sides. (I would like to go back and bring my laptop…see what stories the atmosphere can inspire. ) There are many of these megalithic structures scattered all throughout Northern Germany. This particular cluster happens to be in the woods behind a restaurant. Also passing through the area is the German portion of the Camino de Santiago…or ‘The Way of St. James’, a pilgrimage route that passes through Europe ending at the shrine of the apostle St. James in Spain. There are markers all along the way, and I came across a couple of them near the stones.20161009_125638

Stone at the other end that looks like a loveseat.
Stone at the other end that looks like a loveseat.
Standing on one of the stones on the end of "The Bride"
Standing on one of the stones on the end of “The Bridegroom”
The Bride from the side
The Bridegroom from the side
The small blue sign is the trail marker
The small blue sign is the trail marker
This is the kind of tree that at night, would grab you by those Medusa looking branches and munch you right up.
This is the kind of tree that at night, would grab you by those Medusa looking branches and munch you right up.
Aint this some Hansel and Gretel looking shit right here! You justknow an witch lives in it.
Aint this some Hansel and Gretel looking shit right here! You just know an witch lives in it.
Marker for "the Bridegroom". Its much much smaller than"the Bride".
Marker for “the Bridegroom”. Its much much smaller than “the Bride”.
Map showing the location of all the Megalithic structures.
Map showing the location of all the Megalithic structures.

After exploring the forest, we then moved on to Visbek proper where they were having a street festival. Sadly it was raining, so the festival wasn’t terribly festive. Still and all, it was fun. Many of the shops were open, and there were street vendors selling food and merchandise. There were even a couple of carnival rides and games. This was also where I explored the local graveyard. I have never seen the like. Perfectly sculpted landscaping on each individual family plot. As beautiful as this one was though, I still prefer the wildness of the one in Leeds.

The sweets vendor. So tempting!
The sweets vendor. So tempting!
Bumper cars.
Bumper cars.
Wet, sad streets. The weather was better the next day though.
Wet, sad streets. The weather was better the next day though.
Hard to believe this is a cemetary.
Hard to believe this is a cemetary.
One family's plot
One family’s plot
Everything was perfect...not a twig or leaf out of place
Everything was perfect…not a twig or leaf out of place

Next we moved on to the town of Wildeshausen. Larger than either Grossenkneten or Visbek, Wildeshausen has a high street with chic shops and eateries. We stopped into a café and had coffee and strudel before strolling down to take a look at the local Lutheran church…St. Alexanders. It was originally a Catholic church of course, from the year 851 A.D.  After the reformation the relics and statues were removed as was standard during that time. The exterior is impressive and very solid looking, and the inside is plain but elegant in its simplicity.

"Finding Dory" advert in the café.
“Finding Dory” advert in the café.

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I was surprised to see a crucifix. They are typically more Catholic
I was surprised to see a crucifix. They are typically more Catholic
Choir loft
Choir loft

I’ve been here in Germany for a little over two weeks and can’t believe how quickly time has passed. There is a peacefulness to this area, and I can feel myself beginning to truly relax. Ernst and Sylvia have been wonderful, and I adore Motek, my handsome occasional charge. Deutschland ist gut!

Motek!
Motek!