Monday, May 25, 2009

My Doitch Skillz

I am proud of myself, and must tell the world...I can read signs now (not all, only if they are written for children under the age of 10)! I was walking along the road, looked up at a billboard that I would normally glance over, but realized I could read the thing! Must mean my Deutsch skills are improving.

"Sitting on the train, rather in traffic. Gain more, ride the S-bahn."

Our courses are taking a break until June 8, so I hope I dont forget it all by then hah

Ticks

UGGGGH we have ticks in the backyard! We had heard about them being common around here, but didnt expect them so soon. Totally gross. Found 2 on Oskar the other day. Hopped on the google and read removal horror stories, ranging from using sterilized tweezers (dont have any), your fingernail between its jaws and the skin (nasty) and burning them off (dont think Oskar would stand still for that). I read about not leaving the head in the skin because it may become infected, how these little bastards give Lyme disease. Then I stumbled on this article. Couldn't be that easy--just molest the little beast, make him dizzy, and he loosens up?? Had to try it. So I pinned Oskar down on the back terrace, fondled the tick in a clockwise fashion for about 10 seconds and you can see him loosening his grip. Then I just plucked him off. DONE. I am tick removal master! Luckily we havent found any on our bodies yet, just on Osky's. I felt like the knight in shining armor who saved the day...Jenna was sure not going anywhere near these vermin.

There are lots of bugs here...we have heard that it is because of the lack of pesticide use. Interesting. What are the signs of Lyme Disease? Is it hyper activity and licking you when you least expect it and lunging at your face for a lick and snoring and peeing at sight of visitors and excessive gas? Oskar for sure has it then.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tourin'

A relaxing sunday afternoon, Mayzie is being entertained by the in-laws, so I have some time to blog. Jenna's parents arrived thursday morning...the drive up to Frankfurt was successful although we managed to keep them waiting since we were a little late. Their flight from Portland (Lufthansa, Portland to Frankfurt direct) actually arrived 20 minutes early! Good ol German efficiency. After the hellos, we headed back south towards home, driving through Heidelberg and the amazing countryside around that area. Everything is so green and lush right now...I think they were surprised by the large expanses of forest, farmland and other chloriform-filled goodness. Driving around, we came to a classic car ferry crossing over the Neckar river. 2.50 euro, never done that before...

Before the jet lag completely consumed them, we had lunch at our favorite biergarten, near our house in Marbach. It is difficult to avoid meaty dishes in Germany and we had pork and more pork (with tzaziki on the side) for lunch. It was good, but a bit heavy. Beers and heavy food.....Jack and Rae were soon zombified and fell asleep in our apartment at 5pm or so, and not waking until 10am the next day! Amazing. I thought for sure they would be up at 3 or 4 in the morning, ready to go.

The next morning Rae wanted to see a castle, so we drove down to Berg Hohenzollern, which we visited back in February. This castle is everything your mind pictures in fairytale land. And on a fine spring day like this one, it was a great destination. Jack was super into the history of it all, even though we couldn't understand the German language tour, it was still fascinating to look around inside, which we didn't do last time (cheap ass alert!). The views over the countryside and the sun hitting the castle made for some nice pics.





The Ritter chocolate factory was in a nearby town, and we are all chocoholics, so we made that a must see. There was no tours or anything going on, but the shop was open, so we were able to buy the mixed packs and every variety possible. This is some damn good German chocolate...I think I had seen it at Trader Joes in the states, but had never tried it before. Try it if you see it (although it tastes better in Germany, I bet, like a Guiness does in Dublin). After gorging on chocolate we headed up to Bietigheim (10 mins north of Tamm) for a brewery/classic German meal at Rossknechts brewery. These guys brew some good beers and we were able to sit outside amongst the cobblestones and enjoy some fine (HEAVY) grub.

The next day we headed toward Munich to see the Dachau Concentration Camp and to visit (eat and drink their beer, at least) the brewing monks at Andechs Monastery. Dachau was the first concentration camp setup by the Nazi's in 1933, and is a sombering experience. Jenna and I had been there back in 2000, but it was high on Jacks list so we had to get him out there. The place had changed a little bit (new visitors center) but the effect was the same. You can see the cellblocks, the execution wall, the "Work Brings Freedom" gate, the crematorium and a very vivid video explaining the history. Free entrance! 




A beer was essential after that place. Andechs should be on the list of any beer geek, because these monks brew the best beers in Germany (in my opinion, of course). We had been here in 2000 as well, but I had wanted to return (I never wanted to leave!) since we left that fateful day. The setting is awesome...rolling green Bavarian hills surrounding a hilltop monastery. We had some beers (Dopplebock, Helles, and Apfelweiss) and even a pork knuckle out on the terrace, overlooking what seemed like a Monet painting.






2-1/2 hour drive back home and we were tired. Our Ford kombi has turned out to be a great car! Super reliable and we almost got 30 mpg out of her. Driving on the autobahn requires complete focus and we topped her out at 130kph (80mph) but were always in the slow lane. ALWAYS. Its crazy out there...on an unrestricted stretch, you would see cars going 150mph easy. And at night too. Better take it easy with our car...its not able to hang with the big boys. She starts quiverring at high speeds hah.

So that was a fun weekend...I am excited to have the car, and feel more at ease about our travel restrictions.  Back to work this week, so we will be hanging around Stuttgart. We have 2 nights booked next weekend in Interlaken, one of our favorite places that we have ever visited (back in 2001... we shall see if it is still as great), and a night booked at that hostel castle that we stayed at back in February, on the Rhine. 

Its nice to have visitors--we are seeing the best of Germany, stuff that normal tourists see. The stuff that sucks about Germany a tourists doesnt see, thats how we fell into this trap haha. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ferien in Deutschland

Holidays in Germany. There are alot of them. Seems like every other week there is another one. Tomorrow is a holiday, and because it is on a thursday, there is no work on Friday ("Bridge Day"), so 4 day weekend. I am not sure what holiday it is. Jenna's parents are in town tomorrow, so we will be driving up to Frankfurt to pick them up (1.5 hours drive). Hope the car makes it! I asked for some days off of work when they are here, and one of the days I asked for (June 1) is a holiday. Should have know. Of course, all shops and stores are closed, but its a good reason to hit a biergarten or a restaurant, unless you prepared and stocked up the night before. 

Happy Whatever Holiday this is!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pferdemarkt und BrauTage in Ludwigsburg

Ludwigsburg was going off today! Strange to see a familiar place overtaken with people and tents and events. A parade, a carnival, horse shows, tons of craft and crap stalls, and a brewfest. Awesome weather, too. Within minutes of arriving to watch the parade, we were handed free alcohol (local red wine and some Ouzo!). I love German parades!

We are not sure why the festival and parade, but the horses and the traditional dress were out in full force, so its some kind of farming festival. Had some beer from a local brewery that was special for the weekend, and it was a surprisingly hoppy NW-style IPA (it was not an IPA but tasted like one). Brought me back to Portland beers. I was not expecting that. It was a good day...here are some pictures.






Friday, May 15, 2009

Fast and Furious

In the land of fine German automotive machinery, we ended up with a 1995 Ford Escort:


They are made in Germany (in Cologne), so I guess it's ok. My friend Matthias and I looked at alot of cars in the last 2 weeks, and this is the one that fit our criteria the best, regardless of make (we mainly looked at VW and Opel, this was the only Ford).

The important things that we looked for and what the Ford has:
Style: Kombi (stationwagon)
Low kilometers: 96000km (60,000 miles)
Current smog and inspection reports
Single owner (older guy)
Detailed maintenance records
No major body damage
No accidents
It runs great
...and the best part is the price...1100 euros!!

There is nothing fancy with the car...no auto windows, no A/C, nothing special inside, but it is perfect for our needs. It has a sunroof even (hand crank style, but whatever)!  The muffler vibrates loudly at about 2800 rpm's but it's tolerable. There is a tear in the seat. We had seen some cars that were 1700 euros that were not as nice, so I am happy. We will need some luck for sure to get through 2 years of travelling and driving without it breaking down, but thats the case with any old car. Gotta get the AAA equivalent so we dont get stranded anywhere (better learn "help, we are on the side of the autobahn" in Deutsch).

I could never have done this without Mattias' car knowledge, german and people skills, this guy has gone way beyond in helping us out. I gave him some gas money :) 

I do not have my german drivers license, but I can use my Oregon one for up to a year. I dread the beauracracy invloved in getting a new one. I have to take a theoretical test and pay a bunch of money.

Car insurance is 181 euros a year! That blew my mind. Why is it so expensive in the US? I was thinking maybe because everyone is covered with health insurance over here that the insurance companies dont have to pay any medical bills. I bet that is it.

There is a law over here that you must have a first aid kit, one of those orange triangles for the road to put around your car when it's injured, and a bright orange saftey vest. So we got all that tonight at the German Wal-Mart (Real its called, but its just like Wal Mart). We had never been there because it was in the boonies and away from public transport, but now we can! Lots of cheap stuff. You should see the beer, chocolate, meat, and yoghurt aisles...I must take pics next time. I did get one pic of the 5L mini keg stand:

So now we have wheels. I am daydreaming of another pilgrimage to Westvleteren. Need some belgian beer back in my life. Jenna's parents are here in less than a week, so we will do some travelling around, for sure. It will be nice to have the car, but we will still be using our bikes, the trains and busses for short journeys and to work and school, etc. Makes no sense driving around Stuttgart. There are some lakes in the black forest that are perfect for swimming, so i hope to hit those in the near future. I feel free again! Just pile the kid and the dog and all our crap in the car. EASY.

I dread the "our car is broken" blog posting :)

Kindergeld

Kindergeld (kid money) is the money you get in Germany when you have a kid. It comes to about 164 euros ($221) a month per kid. The idea is that the government helps with school supplies, school tuition costs, food for the child, etc. We applied for the money when we first arrived in January and we got notification last week that we would finally be paid. I was shocked to learn that they will pay us for the months up until now, from when we applied, and I looked at our bank account and we were 820 euros richer! Thank you German government and socialization! They also gave us a 100euro "kinder bonus" which I have no idea what that is for.

Better have another kid so we can get more free money! Seriously though, this helps us out alot. Mayzie's kindergarten is 100 euro a month (including lunch everyday) so a little extra cash is nice.

Here is a great article about how Germany is softening the blow of the economic crisis on it's citizens with built in aid for all...pretty cool stuff. They talk about the kurzarbeit, which is the shorterm working pay that I am on now....:


and while I am at it, if you have time and want to know why the Netherlands kicks so much ass and makes for the happiest people in the world (and the most free, in my opinion)...where it's ok to get taxed alot, because you know you will be taken care of in ill health and when you are old....check this out.



Taste Test: Oettinger's Bier Cola


Oettinger Bier Cola
Stats: 0.5 liter bottle, 36cents (euros), 2.5% alcohol.

Going along with German fascination of mixing beer (see Berliner Weisse, radlers, etc) with sweet drinks, I bring you the Bier Cola. Surprisingly good, basically tastes like a cola, but with a tiny bitterness of beer. One for the kids....16 is the legal drinking age over here, but I can see Mayzie enjoying one of these on her next birthday (under my strict supervision of course). HA


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marbach--Beer and Cobblestones

This little, quaint town near us has the best biergarten. Right on the river Neckar, chill out music, a playground, lots of shade under the big trees, and of course good beers and greasy German food. The perfect biergarten. There is even some whine in there (courtesy of Mayzilla)....click the pictures for the videos....
 
...and the town aint too shabby either. Here it is on a quiet saturday afternoon.

(the uploaded video quality is pretty crap...sorry about that.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Car Hunting

So we are on the prowl for a car. Jenna's parents are going to be visiting us for 3 weeks in late May, and my mom and Bill will be here in late June. Both were going to rent a car, plus it will be super nice to have a car for weekend outings and such, so we felt now was a good time. Things are a bit settled at work (at least there is no word of them sending me to Hamburg right now), so I have some time to think about it. Our budget is around 1500 euros. There is a government plan right now that says if you have owned a 9 year or older car for the past 1 year, they will give you 2500 euros towards a new car. It's a good idea that seems to working, at least it seems to be keeping the auto industry from completely buckling over here. But this means that there are not many older, cheaper used cars around. So it is taking awhile to find the right one, and they go quick. 

What do Bon Jovi, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Steffi Graf all have in common? They have thier names on a German car! Couldn't believe it. Guess in 1993 when Pink Floyd had their big reunion, VW sponsored them. Bon Jovi is huge over here, especially 10 years ago. Genesis sold thier souls to car compaines in the 80's sometime, soon after Phil took over. And Steffi Graf was a big stud in tennis for while, so she gets her own car. Wonder if there is a David Hasselhof car haha. KIT! Glad they didnt make a Michael Jackson car, nobody would want that now. I just set up a bad joke about Michael Jackson seat covers, but I won't go there. The funny thing is that the cars arent anything different from their normal versions. The Pink Floyd is just a VW Golf with "Pink Floyd" on the trunk. No Dark Side of the Moon roof art, or Pipers at the Gates of Dawn steering wheel. Nope, just a plain ol car. 









Visiting a used car lot over here is much different than in the US. At home we would be approached immediatly and pressured by multiple salesmen with baited breath. Over here it's the opposite. You have to seek out somone to help you and then they don't even care if you buy it. So strange. We had to convince one salesman to let us take the car for a drive. Like he is doing us a favor.