Germany, Holy crap

Jelly Meat Dream World

It was on the menu of the day, Einbeinsülze mit Bratkartoffeln.

Now, I love me some Bratkartoffeln, but this Einbeinsülze, what, where, how? I turned to Johnna, trusted friend and arbiter of all things good here in Germany.

“Pig knuckle,” she surmised.

I put in my order expecting pig knuckle, something akin to what Steve here enjoyed.  I love taking chances on the unknown dish. But the plate that arrived quickly changed things.

My brother* is the world’s biggest fan of Better Home and Gardens’ Cookbooks from the late 60s when brilliant photography joined forces with adventurous typography and whimsical drawings to create something beyond cookbooks, more like works of art. We often tittered over the photos of ‘aspics,’ meat and vegetables encased in gelatin molds.

Who would eat this? Why would you do this? Can God exist in a world where this would be allowed?

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beefjerky, hell, Holy crap

Lot of departures going round

I wrote about him before, but Andy Rooney has played a fairly important role in my life. I can remember back in high school when Brock Gourlie and I would compete to see who could check out “And more by Andy Rooney” the most. It was a good time and I fondly remember his sage response to the check out woman at the grocery store.

“Is that all you need?”

“Of course it’s all I need. If’ I’d wanted more, I would have put it there, bitch!”

I added the ‘bitch’ part because I thought it would make this post more entertaining. But that was the gist of a three-page story in this book and helps explain how I learned impatience and crotchetiness and how to be ornery.

It saddened me to see he will be retiring at 92 years of age. If you ever read this Andy, stop being such a lazy ass. Just kidding, I salute you and I’ll miss you dearly.

Here is a video you might enjoy.

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Holy crap

Cats! Turkey! Delight!

Hello happy friend.

There are cats, cats all around. There are cats on the streets and they are wandering through my mind by day, by night and in my private times. I thought this was going to be an interesting post, but then I realized that everyone else in the world had already experienced the overwhelming quantity of stray cats overrunning Turkey. And they do a better job explaining it than I would.

Like this one, one of the few useful stories I’ve ever found on Fox News, “Stray cats strut Istanbul’s streets, a symbol of tradition in a churning metropolis.

Google does a pretty good job of compiling mentions of the stray cats in Turkey, so I’m not going to bore you with all sorts of observations on the subject.

Though I was impressed at how tame they all were and I don’t think I even got lice or feline herpes or anything from handling this little fellow.

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drinking, Germany, Holy crap

Enter Karneval, Pt. I

Karneval evidence #1 - scary wig girl

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while and now I’m so past due on it that anything I write will be mostly irrelevant, but it’s an important bit of local culture so we’ll do a three-parter to give it the proper treatment.

Welcome to Karneval.

There is a special time once a year when the good people of Germany throw off their woes, drop the angst and partake in the debaucherous season known as Karneval. The epicenter of Karneval culture is Köln, about a half hour train ride from Bonn. At first blush this festive time appears to involve:

  • Some sort of detailed pageantry.
  • Spending a lot of time picking out a costume.
  • Gathering with friends in said costume.
  • Drinking until you pass out or pee your pants.

I really have no right to talk about Karneval since I skipped out of the most important weekend for a trip to Paris. But that did not stop me from procuring my very own Karneval costume, which actually seems to be the most worthwhile part of Karneval.

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duh, Germany, Holy crap

Friend, Farmer and so on…

It’s all kind of obvious when I think of it now, but when I was a child we used to think Native American names were much more fun, interesting and descriptive than our names. Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Black Hawk – these are all so much more exciting than Bacchuber, Bauer, Freund and the like.

Growing up in a very German area, I assumed our names just appeared, attached to us on a tag as we shot out the womb. No meaning, no history. Nothing but a name. But now as I struggle to learn German, I’m beginning to realize that  these old names have old meanings from the old country and I’ve just turned the corner to interesting-town.

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beefjerky, drinking, Germany, Holy crap

Living in Danger

Verboten! Only laser-eyed, black-handers allowed here.

Here’s to more than two ‘monats’ in Germany. Blending in hasn’t been much of a problem, which is kind of a problem. I look German, I have a German last name, so maybe I should speak German. But I do not.

When I first arrived, I felt like the baby who drinks drain cleaner. Not because baby likes drain cleaner, but because baby thought drain cleaner was tasty apple juice.

Most of my vocabulary up until this point has concerned survival. In my second week here, I learned an important lesson about uncontrolled intersections. While in the US, the straight line at a ‘t’ intersection has the right of way, here the person to the right always gets first dibs. As I cruised through an intersection on my way to work, I was rudely interrupted by a truck laying on its horn and a fender within inches.

A woman on the street shouted, ‘Vorsicht,’ which I mistakenly assumed was a curse word, but really just meant “be careful.”

Just a friendly reminder... that you have to get the hell out of our country!

A few weeks ago I received a letter from the post office that said ‘Mahnung’ on top. I put it aside with the collection of papers that piles up and eventually gets taken to the office where kindly co-workers help me translate.

When I brought this letter in, Vicky, my cultural broker, voiced concern.

“Oh my, this is no good.”

Apparently I was a month and a half behind on paying a bill to customs. Since I am a visiting worker, that bill immediately jumped to the head of the pay line. Later we discovered two overdue electric bills in the same pile of papers.

Since arriving, words like ‘achtung,’ ‘warnung’ and ‘verboten,’ though familiar in the past, have taken on greater urgency. Without the benefit of language, I feel like I’m bumbling through life. A pinball being bounced to extremes by a blind, dumb, deaf kid.

It all seems similar to being a small child again – without that whole need to put everything in your mouth. Though I can’t read the packaging, I really don’t think I will ever mistake canned meats for something tasty.

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Germany, hell, Holy crap, Uncategorized

Hearty Faith Once Shaken, Now Breakin’

I’d forgotten to post this when it happened, but today at breakfast I was reminded of it by a new friend who had just bought a used bike, so here it is:

I have no faith. I believe in no God.*

This image by Denny Bond comes up when you Google search 'losing my religion'

Okay, now with that out of the way, I can explain. Back when I first arrived in Germany, Gianinna from human resources at Fairtrade International was taking me to the Stadthaus to get all of my papers in order so I could live and work here. As we approached, she briefly guided me through the process.

“And when they ask if you have religion, you should say no.”

Really? As if paying nearly half your wages in taxes wasn’t enough (actually, it’s really pretty sensible), the German government also wants to know your religion so you can pay 30 Euros a month in church tax. The only way to evade this tax is sign a paper officially stating you have no religion.

Interesting fact: Back when Germany was reunified, there was a mass exodus from the church. At the time, a reunification tax was implemented so everyone would contribute to sewing Germany together again. Though Germans respect the power of public services and the taxes that make them possible, this was a burden too large and many opted out of the church tax by renouncing their faith.

I really didn’t think it was a big deal. I rarely go to church. I kind of consider myself more of a Quaker than anything at the moment. Buddhism is pretty interesting and the meditation meetings were pretty great in Santa Fe. But as the woman at the Stadthaus methodically went through the questions, I paused when the religion one came up.

My parents raised me Roman Catholic. They made great sacrifices to put me and my five brothers through Catholic grade school and I was confirmed back around 1995, knighted by the archbishop and all that jazz. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and I have had some great times.

And here I was, ready to renounce my faith. Turn my back on my old pals for a measly 30 Euros a month. I blinked and paused. The whole question seemed ridiculous. And given German history, I was loathe to give the government any more identifying information than necessary.

But publicly renouncing my faith, whatever that may be, in a wide open office smelling oddly of bureaucracy cranking along under the steady hum of fluorescent lights was harder than I expected.

Actually, it wasn’t really that hard: 30 Euros a month is a lot. So I signed myself over to the legions of officially unfaithful. I thought about this as I rode my bike home this morning. And the more I think about it, religion is bigger than the state, faith is beyond government.

So yes, sorry mom and pop, I have no religion.

*In Germany

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