Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Real Castles

As I said in a previous post, Schloss Sanssouci and Schloss Schwerin were not built for defense. When you say the word castle to someone like me (from the US, reads about them in fantasy books), pictures of stone towers come into mind. Ugly, ones, too...probably English. So when Michael said that Heidelberg had a real castle, I voted to go there.

I wasn't disappointed!

This castle had been built for defense, and it showed. Both in location (top of the hill) and condition (well, to put in bluntly, broken,). It had been repeatedly stormed, including lightening (pun discovered and left in on purpose). In 1764, lightening struck the castle. The event was seen as a sign from God, and the prince (one of the many Karls) decided to stop work on the building.

Parts of it have since been restored. There is a pharmaceutical museum there, and it was even translated into English! But none of the pictures turned out because I couldn't use a flash. Except for this really really big beer keg. (Because a flash was used. But not by me. )
The sundial probably would have worked if the sun was out. But it wasn't.

The gargoyle is kind of cute.
Anyway, enjoy the view. I did. It was raining that day, but I bought a book (of course) where they photoshopped clear blue skies in!
Update: For those of you not on Facebook, the younger daughter sided with the French Kid! Probably out of pure sympathy. But, on the good news front, the French Onion Soup was approved of by the Fench Kid. (And no one else, but who else's opinion counts?) Now I make something Dutch!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Kitchen of Babel

The French Kid decided that we have to cook a French recipe. This is not a problem, I can make a decent quiche, but his recipe for a quiche did not resemble anything I knew. So, after getting home from church, I announced that we were having a bake-off.

The French Kid panicked.

And called his mom.

Getting instructions from his mom over the computer, he put together a recipe that called for a yeast risen dough with a sour cream mixture (actually creme fraiche, but sour cream (Tillamook brand) is the closest thing we have), bacon and onions on top. While he is making bread dough for the first time ever, the Dutch Kid and I fried bacon. And taste tested it to make sure that it was good. The first test, of course, was inconclusive, and we had to try another. Then we had to call Jack for his opinion.

Instructions were given in French and translated into English. Just for fun we threw some German and Dutch phrases. A Spanish word even made in it at one point. (Callate, shut up)

At one point, the French Kid called for flour. So I went outside and brought in a Chrysanthemum. At least his mother laughed, the French Kid was still too panicky.

The dough looked...lumpy. Until someone (the Dutch Kid) who knew how to knead bread dough took over.
The official request for oven temperature was "the highest possible." Since the highest possible temperature on my oven is the cleaning temperature, I was pretty sure that this was really not required. He should know by now that I speak metric, and can even translate into Imperial Units. So they gave me the Celsius temperature (200) and within seconds I had it in Fahrenheit (392) -- before, I might add, the Dutch Kid had performed the calculation on his phone.

It took an hour for the French Kid to get his entry together and put it in the oven. It took me about 15 minutes to put together my quiche. That includes the time it took for the Dutch Kid to fry more bacon (blame the inconclusive taste testing).

The results: The Foreign Kids liked the French contribution, and adults from the US liked mine. I suspect that the judges were biased. An independent expert (my daughter) will have to break the tie. Unfortunately for the French kid, she is a picky eater and she will like mine better. (RIGHT CONNIE?)

The French Kid made a pretty good bread for a first timer.

There is lots of leftover onion. Looks like part of tomorrow's dinner is French onion soup.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


After getting tired of WW2 history, my Berlin family and I went back in time to Frederich the Great's Schloss Sanssouci, outside of Berlin. This translates to Castle Without Care. From two different languages, but oh well. Perhaps he was getting along with the French at the time.
The first thing I noticed was that this was not a castle that was built for defense. It has wide, tall windows and a garden planted with figs and grapes. (It actually reminded me of pictures from "Babar the Elephant.") Further investigation was that he used it as his summer palace. If you like gold, you will like this palace. There is gold filigree everywhere...except where someone "upgraded" the rococo to a more modern style. And except for one room where, instead of gold filigree, there was painted metal.

I also got to visit Schloss Schwerin, in Schwerin. The highlight of that castle is the wooden floors. Inlaid wood everywhere, absolutely gorgeous. There were some really intricate designs, too...that, upon closer inspection, were painted on. Thy certainly inspried the quiltmaker in me...tought to copy those designs with fabric! There was a ceramics collection and armory from swords to more modern guns. I'm glad I went.

Sanssouci is closer to Berlin, so the tourist attraction value is high, and so it has been fully restored. Schwerin, while still gorgeous, was showing some wear and clearly needed updating. It has been painted a fairly uniform yellow, which I guess is easy. The interior courtyard, under renovation, showed more instricate painting.

My mantra this visit: I wish I had more time. To spend at the castle, to stroll the grounds at Sanssouci (which were over a kilometer long), to do everything. Last time I spent 3 days in Germany, this time two weeks. I think I could spend a year there and still not have enough time.

Photographing the interior of either castle required aspecial permit that cost 3 euro. So I bought a book instead. which means, to see what I'm talking about, you get to go poking around the internet. Plus me and the camera weren't getting along. Again.

Friday, October 15, 2010

German cooking

When we hosted our first German student 24 years ago (Yes, that makes us old. I'll just cut through the suspense and say that i am 55 and my husband is 53!), it was difficult to find a German cookbook. Mind you, that was back in the dark ages before the internet (before cell phones, but after dinosaurs) and we did not have large bookstores in our small town. I finally found (probably in Seattle) a german cookbook, and, just for good measure, an International Cookbook.

Sidebar: It is an interesting cookbook. Sometimes my students don't recognize food from their country. And sometimes the choice of foods is ridiculous, like 3 whole recipes from "West Africa." This is a country that does not exist, but the area encompasses a whole lot of territory!

Anyway, I picked several recipes from the German cookbook and discovered that German cooking is very much like US cooking.

Well, we are descended from them.

Breakfast was bread and toppings: cheese, meat, Nutella (of course!) and jams. I tried liverwurst for the first time. It was great, and doesn't taste like liver at all -- and this is a good thing. Although I still object to eating waste organ meats. Dinner was also bread and toppings. Lunch was the variety meal. Most everything was familiar.

Anyway, I did not expect great culinary adventures, like in Taiwan. At one restaurant I ordered "Matjes Hausfrau Art." I found out a week later that, yes indeed, the fish was not cooked. At a reception I thought I was reaching for bread with salami toppings; when I went to eat it I discovered I had instead gotten the one with raw pork sausage.

I think I prefer my meat cooked.

Everyone seemed to be worried that I did not have enough to eat. I felt sure I was going to gain weight. Instead, I lost 6 pounds over the month.

I need to visit Germany more often.

Especially because I still haven't had currywurst, and this time I had NO SAUSAGE!

Friday, October 08, 2010

French Cooking

In which a French man is introduced to the fine art of baking in the U.S.

From a box.

And licking the bowl afterwards.

Things that aren't. Reprise

French Fries are not French.
German Chocolate Cake is not German
Chinese food (on this side of the lake) is not Chinese.
Haagen Dasz is not Danish.
Neither are Danishes.
French, Italian and Russian salad dressings aren't
Russian Roulette, however is. This is not necessarily a good thing. (Beer Roulette is safer!)
Swiss Cheese is not Swiss, it is American. Fortunately it is not American Cheese, which is little more than flavored fat.
Jarlsberg Swiss is Norwegian.
Dutch ovens pre-date the Dutch, but they had the best process for making them in the 1700s.
French braids might be.
French knots might be.
French kisses probably are.
the French disease, syphillis, was given to them by native Americans.
French Toast is neither French nor Toast.
Italian sodas are not Italian.
French dip sandwiches can be partially French if you use a bagette instead of a hoagie roll, but the purist (and I may have one in the house) may object to US made bread just on priniciple.
Arabic numerals are Indian (not native American, either).

world war 2, again.

History in Germany is dominated by World War 2. One of the trips I took was with my Berlin Host Family to the house of the Wannsee Konferenz, where Hitler presided over the final solution of the Jewish problem. It is in former East Germany, so the house was emptied and the furniture taken by the Soviets (if it was good enough) or firewood (if it wasn't). It consists of panels describing the events from early in Hitler's rule to statements made 30 years after the war.

The most chilling was a statement made by Hitler to the effect that, since history is written by the winners and he was going to win, the methods didn't matter.

That explains a lot.

And then there is the Cecilienhof in Potsdam, where Germany was divided up after the war.

I also went to the Olympic Stadium built for the 1936 Olympics, and since refurbished. My impression was big and powerful. It wasn't refined power, either, it was a brute force power. There is no grace to the statue of the man and the horse. There is no personality, either.

They have since added stelae with the names of German Olympic medalers. Since reunification, East German winners have been added. These have a bit of grace added to them in carvings of performing athletes.

Of course, what is most famous about the 1936 Olympics is Hitler leaving the stadium so he would not have to award medals to Jesse Owens, a black man. (According to wikipedia, he actually did this to a different black athlete.) So this is a nicer venue to visit.

Talking to my first exchange student, he has said that Germans have been taught to be ashamed of WW2 and not to be patriotic. The 2006 soccer world cup in Germany (held at the 1936 olympics Stadium) changed all that, people were waving German flags all over the place because it was only a game.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Berlin Wall

One of the neat things about traveling is history. My city is really only about 70 years old, so there isn't much, and you can cover it pretty much in a day. And then get on with more important things, like shall we go to Starbucks or someplace else that has a larger selection of flavors. I enjoy going places with actual old buildings and history and fleshing out what I know.

So I went to Berlin and I went to the Berlin Wall and I put together more history. I had this mental picture of the wall going through the middle of the city, which it did, but it also encircled West Berlin. (D'oh moment. I'm used to those.) It was a double wall, with a no-man's land inbetween. The Brandenburg Gate, which is the soul of Berlin, was in the no-man's land -- this is a slap from the Soviet Union to any German, allied or not.

When the wall came down in November 1989, I watched live coverage while feeding my infant daughter in the dark hours of the morning. I was thrilled beyond thrilled, because I knew a German (our first exchange student) and now his country could be whole again. He spent some time in Lubeck, one of the border cities, handing out Deutsch Marks to East Germans when they crossed into West Germany.

In the underground station near the Brandenburg Gate, there is a continuously playing movie about 10 minutes long that shows some of the celebrating when the wall came down. My favorite cut shows people cutting up pieces of the wall while sitting on top of it.

Now I know a couple of people who were actually on top of the wall when it came down.

And I know someone whose first project out of college was working on a re-design of the Reichstag...something that didn't make sense really, because the capital of Germany at the time was Bonn. He figured out that something was going to happen. This was after Reagan's statement, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Now people paint the wall that is left. This is actually not much of a change, but now there is a sense victory and of humor...there was no Japanese sector! Now you can walk under the Brandenburg Gate. Now you can get your picture taken with soldiers in period uniforms at Checkpoint Charlie. Now you don't see the wall, you see markers where it used to be. Now there is a Starbucks right near the Brandenburg Gate in former East Berlin. We won.

International incident

The Germans eat chocolate on their bread in the morning. The Dutch eat chocolate sprinkles.

Yesterday I finally told the Dutch boy about our chocolate sprinkles, and he proceeded to make several sandwiches for lunch of bread, butter and chocolate.

I wandered over to the French boy and asked if he put chocolate on his bread in the morning. He was aghast, and told the Dutch boy that this just isn't right.

Today I caught them both eating coco puffs for breakfast. I guess because it isn't real chocolate, and actually barely counts as food, that it was OK.

I should probably get a large jar of Nutella.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Random Thoughts on a Trip to Germany

It is amazing how skinny a street can be and still allow two way traffic and parking on both sides. A nice, comfortably wide street, which in the US would be two lanes wide, was actually a four lane street.

Your average Berliner is particularly adept at creating a legal parking spot when all hope is gone.

Riding a train from Karlsruhe to Koln, I passed cars going 100 mph (that is 160 kilometers per hour) on the autobahn like they were standing still.

Pictures are cool, but nothing compares to actually being in a cathedral.

I marvel at all the old buildings, and the people living here treat them like they are normal.

When you don't leave explicit instructions for the folks back home to clean the counter and table everyday, they won't.

It would be nice to know the unwritten rules.

Being where history was made is just plain great. Even if it has nothing to do with me personally.

Pork sausage is better cooked.

So is fish.

I still have two teenage boys in my house. I now realize that I did not bring home enough chocolate. Or cheese.

Of course, some of the candy I brought home I am NOT sharing.

Everytime I go abroad, I buy feminine napkins.

The books and postcards always have better pictures, but they never have the pictures you want.

German in the classroom is nothing like what is actually spoken.

Eating this much bread, how do they stay so skinny?????