beefjerky, Germany, Light Crap

A Difference of Taste

I still like to write people letters occasionally. And generally, if you receive a letter from me, it will include a clipping from a magazine or the weekly grocery store circular. When I lived in Germany, my favorite clippings were in the weekly Angebote at Rewe or Edeka. Most of the stuff was standard and of little interest, but the pictures of meat were exactly that: meat in the raw.

Big slabs of Kalbsbraten bleeding Schweinenackenbraten, pasty Hähnchenbrustfilets, or flaccid Puteschnitzel. They had it all – and all was presented rather matter of fact. Sure, there’d be the occasional decoration propped nearby, like the slices of pepper next to that floppy chicken breast below, but most of it was blissfully unadorned.


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duh, Germany, petpeeve

My Four Most Productive Months


About halfway through the summer of 2015 I discovered it – a large, scaly callous. And once discovered, I was bewildered. How do you even achieve a callous on your ankle bone? It wasn’t until two weeks later that I realized what had happened.

I woke up with our baby one morning and we began our normal routine – the same routine we’d had for the past few months. We sat cross-legged on the rug and played before I did my morning exercises. As I went to rise, I leaned in and felt my ankle scrape the rug.

At the time I was coming to the end of three months of paid parental leave. Being your typical desk jockey, I wasn’t accustomed to this much sandal-wearing, floor-sitting or child-lifting, and all of the cross-legged sitting had taken its toll on the old ankle bone.

In total I had taken four months of paid (60% or so) leave. My wife had taken 10 months. This is parental leave in Germany. Fourteen paid months in total between us. Along with state mandated protection for the mother’s job (or an equivalent post) for up to two more years of leave unpaid. Not to mention the special eight weeks of ‘Mutterschutz’ for the mother before and after birth.

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this post in a constructive way.

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Germany, Light Crap

Throwing it all away…

When I arrived in Germany, Spermüll was God’s gift. As a newly arrived ex-pat working for an NGO, I had little cash to spare furnishing a home. And so I looked forward to every third month, when people dip down into their basements to find that old Ikea cupboard missing a handle. Or that bookshelf that your second child colored on in a fit of jealous rage.

You take and drag all that bulky waste (translation of Spermüll) to the curb and the next morning trash trucks come and whisk it all away. For those of us living on a non-profit wage, it was an opportunity to clash with Eastern European van drivers to scavenge choice articles.

But at some point (namely when I found a 3-foot tall garden gnome), it got old. By that time I had furnished my home with about 40% trash – mostly Ikea detritus still in good condition, but for a few dents, scratches or smells. But each successive Spermüll seemed like a bigger and bigger waste.

There seems to be no middle ground here. There are no garage sales really – I’m uncertain if it is illegal or what the deal is. There are flea markets and people will try to unload old things there, but then they’ll look at that Ikea shelf missing a handle and charge roughly 90% of what they originally paid for it. So the motivation is not necessarily on cleaning out the basement, but rather making some cash. Then if it doesn’t sell, well, then just drag it out to the curb and it disappears in the morning.

This is a problem (as you can see from the short film above). Every week, nearly every day, some neighborhood in Germany is having Spermüll.  It bothers me to think that every day, somewhere there are orange trucks loading up all of that perfectly good furniture to be taken to the dump… Continue reading

Germany, Light Crap

It’s still funny, Freund.

I’m not sure who did it first. Our name anyway. It’s German. It’s spelled ‘Freund’, properly pronounced ‘froind’, but our family pronounces it ‘frend’. Throughout my youth we were confronted with frequent misspellings and a barrage of jokes. Actually, it was only one. Exactly one. The same one, every time.

This is the image you find when you search 'fat guy cigar office chair'

This is the image you find when you search ‘fat guy cigar office chair’. Found here.

One day I drove to the dump in our old rusty Chevy with the old bumper sticker ‘I got the crabs at Durty Nelly’s’ (which I never understood until much older)  to drop off the trash. You had to stop in at the office and let them know you were bringing trash. On this particularly brisk, fall day a cute girl I knew from school who never looked my way was working.”Freund (friend),” I said sheepishly.

Behind her was a large man in striped overalls leaning hard into a creaky office chair. He had a couple chins that folded into his chest as he leaned back. His lips hung loose like those people who smoke too many cigars and once they get to the nub, it just sort of hangs there from their calloused lower lip. If I remember right, he even had some burn marks on his shirt from when he probably fell asleep smoking.

Anyway, at that instant this comic genius decided to take a moment from ogling the girl at the desk and rasped out, “Huh, hey friend, are you my friend? Wa huh, huh, huh, *hack*cough* heh, heh.”

The joke went the same way, every time, without fail. And the witty reply was always the same, “yes.”

Beyond that we would have to spell out our name for every phone call or any time we went to the bank. F-R-E-U-N-D, but pronounced ‘frend’. I thought that things would change upon moving to Germany.

Obviously I’d have to get used to pronouncing my name correctly, but there would be no more spelling it over the phone. No more confusion with the mail. No more explaining, “Nope, I don’t know when they changed the pronunciation.” Just smooth sailing.

Granted I like the fact that we pronounce our name this way against all logic of spelling, but I did think it would make things much simpler. But I’d never expected the hospitality I’d encounter here. While most people would read it properly as the German word that it is, any time I went to a bank or had any other verbal interaction and said, “Mein Name ist Freund, wie Freund,” they would write down F-R-I-E-N-D.

It seems the obvious – and very considerate – conclusion was always something around, ‘Oh, he’s American, so he must be just trying to fit in. Even though he says his name is Freund, it must be spelled the English way.’

And so now, four and a half years after moving to Germany, I still find myself having to spell out my last name. Although fortunately, I do not have to deal with the jokers anymore. No one here bats an eye.


Germany, Light Crap

Way to go, Germany, Pt. II

There is a massive backlog of things occupying my mind I’ve been meaning to unload. Some are more recent, some are from long ago, but all require your immediate attention.

In addition to my previous post, Way to go, Germany!, here is a place you should go.

The Walther Collection outside of Ulm, Germany, is just one more chapter in that age old story of ‘son-leaves-town-becomes-partner-at-Goldman-Sachs-leaves-it-to-become-big-fancy-art-collector-accumulates-a-pile-of-amazing-African-photography-decides-to-turn-house-where-he-grew-up-in-middle-of-nowhere-into-world-class-art-space.’


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Germany, Light Crap

Heiliger shitstorm!

In the tunnels beneath Köln

A shitstorm is brewing in the tunnels beneath Köln

The first shitstorm hit me when Vicky passed me a flyer in German for an upcoming social media conference in Köln featuring one of those tag clouds that everyone was crazy about 2-3 years ago (before everyone went crazy for infographics and totally forgot about tag clouds). It had all sorts of words associated with social media – ‘strategy’, ‘sharing’, ‘reach’, ‘like’, ‘connectedness’ and there in the middle in big letters was ‘shitstorm‘.

We laughed about it that day. It’s a treat to see what English words make it into popular parlance in German. Since my German language skills are still severely lacking, any English word that pops up in the morning news on the radio gives me whiplash piping meaning directly into my squishy brain.

And so it was with shitstorm.

After seeing it in that flyer, it began to appear with greater frequency. An article here, a radio program there. And always in the context of social media. It seems the Swiss had even invented a scale to measure the relative shittiness of a social media shitstorm.

Our chief financial officer approached me one day regarding a potential social media consultant he had sent my way, “You know, I was just thinking, they might be able to help when you’re having a shitstorm or something.”

We hadn’t really confronted any full blown social media shitstorms yet, plenty of regular media shitstorms, but not so many of the social variety. But it was comforting to know that when a shitstorm rears its ugly head, we will be at the ready.

I asked friends why people don’t  just translate the word into German – der Scheißesturm – and they looked at me as if crazy. Like a literal storm composed of shit? No, you would never ever say that. But ‘der Shitstorm’  is okay? Yes.

There were times when I felt like I was just noticing it because I was tuned into it. Like when I bought my first Subaru and noted every Subaru on the street thinking I had never seen so many before. But it was just because my perception had been tuned to Subaru. Was I now cursed to consciously note every occurrence of the word shitstorm?

And so it was with great relief when I saw an article in the Guardian noting that shitstorm was among 5,000 words that officially entered the German lexicon this year as of late June. It states that the word shitstorm was first noted in 2010 – coincidentally the same year I arrived. Perhaps my arrival was the tip of the proverbial shitstorm turtlehead? Or maybe just a drop in the bucket. I don’t if we could ever be sure.

But just in case, I am eager to try introducing new English words into the German phrasebook. If you have any clever ideas, please place them in the comment bucket below.

And without further ado, here is the word cloud to accompany this post thanks to the good folks at Wordle where you too can create beautiful word clouds.


drinking, Germany, Light Crap

Enter the Schlager

Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

Pulling my jeans out of the laundry one summer day, I found this. I had carried Dieter Thomas Kuhn for nearly two weeks in my pants to remind me to do a bit of research. His mystical glower, page boy hair, mascara-scarred eyes, and unrepentant chest hair layered into a sequined vest reminded me of Bobby Conn*, whose song ‘Winners‘ is one of the triumphs of modern man.

And so it was my lucky day when Ms. Alina popped up on the Skype chat.

“So there are two tickets here to see Dieter Thomas Kuhn. Want to go?”

“But do you really want to see a schlager show?” I asked.

Schlager, loosely translated as ‘hits’, from the word schlagen or to hit or knock, is the pop music du jour in much of Germany inspiring loathing as much as delight. It is a divider of people. There’s not much middle ground on it, either you’re a lover or a hater. Alina tended toward the latter.

“Well, no one else entered the office raffle, so why not,” came the reply with smiley emoticon.

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