Hamburg

Snow, Soccer, and some Kalter Hund

Since I stopped being productive on my thesis about three hours ago, I decided it was time to update my blog. You’re in luck, since I’ve actually had a pretty eventful weekend!
First, there was this:

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To you, this may seem standard winter. To me, this was a winter wonderland!!

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Sunrise in Hamburg… in the snow. Like how Germany has parking lots for bicycles?

I woke up Friday to find a slight dusting of snow on the sidewalks and the trees. But it melted by the end of the day, so I could only enjoy it for a few hours.

Then, yesterday, Saturday, what started as a normally cold morning turned into a snow day. It started snowing and didn’t stop until the late afternoon. I haven’t seen snow since I was three or four, so this was an exceptionally exciting vision! I ran in snow, went grocery shopping in snow, took out the trash in snow, made a snowman in sand (jk, also in snow), and when I woke up this morning, I was still in snow!

Now most of the snow is melted and I got to experience getting wet slush in my shoes, but it was worth it!

As for what I’ve done to take advantage of being abroad lately, let me talk a bit about joining a soccer team here.

As the Germans showed during the world cup, (can I remind anyone of that semi-final against Brazil? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLZUKqpXYzU) they have a rather good national team, and they are huge fans of soccer. And just like there are pick-up games of tag-football and basketball in parks all over the States, one can find a game to join on nearly any outing out in the city of Hamburg (assuming one walks near an open space and the ground isn’t frozen).

As someone who grew up in the US, I’m actually not sure how I got into the sport already at the age of five (maybe because as an active little girl in the States, one really only chooses between tennis and soccer?), but I do know I had fun with the sport from the start- I also haven’t stopped playing since. Yet while I always found opportunities to play in the States, be it for city recreation leagues, for high school, intramural leagues at college, or nightly pick-up games on the tennis courts (since my school couldn’t afford lights for the field we had), I’ve never played it the way I do in Germany.

One of the first decisions I made when coming to Germany on my study-abroad exchange was to sign-up for something that would a) get me involved with a group of native Germans, b) keep me active in the community somehow, and c) give me a group of people that would remain the same even when everything else was different nearly every day.

To meet these requirements, I was considering auditioning for a play that was being put on by some Universitaet Hamburg students. I also considered joining and being active for the left-wing student government party (I was told I’d be the only U.S. American who ever held a conversation with them when approached about it… I guess they’re used to the U.S. capitalist loving, commie-hating stereotype?). However, the option that really captured my imagination from the beginning was signing up for a soccer team, or Verein, as they are called here.

I’m going to assume that most readers will know what the Bundesliga is. It’s the level of competition at the state level. What may be new to the reader is that there are lower levels than even the 2nd Liga. One has Landeliga, Bezirksliga, and then the lowest (to my knowledge) is the Kreisliga. Any team has the mobility to move up in Liga between these different levels, but it usually is determined between series of seasons and not just a single season.

I unwittingly initially contacted a team manager in the lowest Liga, but its practices and home field happen to be located closest to where I live, so it’s a fair exchange. Plus, this means I came onto the team (after an expedited trial period) as a fairly well looked-upon player. I also can leave my dorm five minutes before practice, which is quite practical given my busy schedule and my late Mondays at the Uni.

So, something unique to my experience of the German soccer system (which is not that much different than travel soccer in the states) was the practice of moving the practices and games indoors during the winter, and of hosting tournaments. Today, my team played in a tournament (sans moi, because I have only just started running and playing again)

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Here’s my coach setting up the computer for arranging the tournament line-up. You can see the sweet trophies too.

But, because my team also hosted the tournament (in which ten teams played each other for the glory of not winning a gold spray painted pineapple– this was awarded to the fourth place finisher), we used the opportunity to raise money for the summer training camp as well. Thus, I came early today to help set up the hall where we played, I stayed to provide some team support (and tried to do some work in between) and I brought something to sell.

Even though I don’t eat sugar (sugar had been a mental and physical health issue for a while and after trying sugar-free for the year 2014, I decided to make a life-long thing), I was asked to bring a cake. Fine, I guess I can do that. I don’t have to eat it.

But after trying and failing twice to bake brownies at the beginning of this year, I decided to make something that did not require an oven.

On the first day of my stay abroad, I was given an interesting cook book by the nice lady who picked me up from the airport and helped me do a bunch of important, first week Hamburg things (see here). She is a club member of the Woman’s German-American Club in Hamburg, and she had participated in a German-American exchange herself. Inspired by that time and her love of baking and cooking, she wrote a cookbook written in both German and English. She generously gave me a copy.

Honestly, I initially didn’t think I would use the cookbook much. After all, I don’t really cook a lot from recipes (lately, my cooking consists of heating up soup with some scrambled eggs and boiled semmel-knoedel) and I can get any recipe I imagine online. But after glancing through it, I found a lot of traditional German dishes that actually looked easy to make, I also found one for Kalter Hund. I remember my mother talking about this dessert as one of her childhood memories, so I decided to try it. The cookbook was especially helpful, because even though I can read German quite fine, being able to see the measurements in the U.S. system gave me a better idea of how much of each ingredient I needed.

2015-01-24 10.14.59It’s really easy, and while I didn’t try any, my Kalter Hund looked really good and it was the most popular thing on the table.

To make “Kalter Hund,” or “Cold Dog,” one needs: 5 oz.s of Coconut fat (or Crisco), one egg, 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp vanilla sugar, 4 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tsp run flavor (I used vanilla extract) and 5-6 oz.s of butter cookies.

It is done by:

  1. In a small pan, heat the crisco or coconut fat until just melted. Put to the side.
  2.  In the meantime, beat egg with the sugar and vanilla sugar, add cocoa. Slowly work into the lukewarm crisco as well as the rum-flavoring. Stir until smooth.
  3. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or baking paper [another one of those German cultural differences in baking].
  4. At the bottom of the pan, place an individual layer of the butter cookies. Spread the chocolate mixture overtop. Repeat this process until the last layer is chocolate. Spread this last layer of chocolate evenly.
  5. Chill for a few hours (the pan, but you can too). Preferably, chill overnight. The total preparation takes about 45 minutes (without chilling) and prepares at least enough for 12 delicious servings.

Kalter Hund Rezept There are different ways of preparing this, but this version came out really well. (the image is not mine, I stole it off the interwebs here because the picture I took did not come out well). I was told it’s delicious.

So ja. That’s my update. Hope you all had a good weekend!

 

aufdate

How do you say “up” in German? Originally I wanted to make this an überdate, but that wouldn’t have been linguistically appropriate. So I’m giving you an auf-date.

But first, a few notes about the fascination with “über.” Basically, it’s because it has an umlaut and an umlaut is just another kind of accent… and accents make everything sexier.

… though it is possible to go overboard

At any rate, it’s common knowledge that the German language involves umlauts (and actually, the part of the fascination with über comes from Nietzsche’s übermensch, but this is neither the time nor the place). But after dealing with the language long enough, one doesn’t think twice about umlauts. Do you think twice about the letter “g”? Didn’t think so.

But what takes longer getting used to is that these umlauts make the keyboards in Germany funky. The image below shows the differences.

I lug my laptop to and from the states for my academic work, so it’s easier to get through my writing assignments, e-mails, and papers. But occasionally I find myself at the library, on German computers, and I struggle through everything I type… though admittedly, when writing in German, those keyboards are convenient. The “z” is used more than the “y,” and it’s handy to have the key to press rather than a key-combo and finger-twister to produce umlauts on the screen.

But whoa, way off track.

This post is supposed to be an update and basically an apology that I’ll have to be a little scarce producing for this blog. I am currently challenged by finishing up the German winter semester and producing my MA thesis (and three papers) by the end of February. Once it becomes apparent I can’t finish by March, I may return earlier. Otherwise, I have to focus and spend more time in my room, which means I’ll have less to observe anyway. (just kidding, VDAC! I still plan to take advantage of all the cool things I can experience here! most recently, it was a slam competition in this gorgeous building:

Hamburger Laeiszhalle Saal

). I just can’t write about them all.

The good news is, I have a whole semester break and summer semester to comment on after this ordeal, so there will be enough forthcoming that I don’t have to give up this blog quite yet. 🙂 In the meantime, post questions about what you’d like me to comment on (there’s so much to talk about! A little focus helps), or what you think about the umlaut (or accents). Don’t you think it’s sexy?

Cheers!

Commuting in German

Life in Hamburg is pretty sweet. I’ve paid my rent for the month. Have groceries (of course, this makes it on top of my list of things going well! The convenience of being able to go to the kitchen and grab something to eat? So underrated). Classes have started up again and I’m generally in good health (sigh, sans foot issues). So what’s there to write about, in the new year of studying abroad?

Since it’s pretty easy to talk about things I do on a daily basis, I’ll share some tips I’ve learned about commuting in Hamburg. One can drive, use public transportation, or ride a bike. Since I don’t have a car, I’ll focus on the latter two options.

Public Transportation in Hamburg (S-Bahn, Bus, U-Bahn…Straßenbahn [those still exist?])

The S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems are really quite similar. Similar enough to not spend time describing both individually. The main difference is that the U-Bahn is designed to be underground (hence, untergrund Bahn) and the S-Bahn (Schnellbahn) is often designed to get you further distances slightly more quickly than the U-Bahn. I live half a mile from an s-Bahn station, which is pretty good considering that some people live up to two miles from a station even if they’re in the city.  My university is five sub-way stops and one change away from where I live, so I’d say I’m in an excellent location!

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common S-Bahn sign

Hamburg U-Bahn S-Bahn map

said colorful lines

My first experience with the S-Bahn was on my first trip from the university to my dorm on the first night. Since I’ve been in other major German cities and in the world, I know the standard layout of a subway system: there’s stops connected by railway lines and these lines, while not always overlapping or allowing for a three stop missed stop (i.e. woops, I should have gotten off three stops ago), will get you where you need to go. There’s usually a network, represented with colored lines on a background and a lot of foreign sounding names. There are copies of this network in nice large, I don’t need my reading glasses print at every station.

So as I mentioned before, I took on this network at 7 PM  on my first day in Hamburg after not having slept for 40 hours. But I knew which stop I was heading towards and the name of the line that would get me there. There are signs at the front and back of each entrance to the  platform showing the line that come and go at the platform, what stops are on those lines, and how long it will take to get from the current location to that stop. I relied on these signs to makes sure I was about to step in the right train. I still find these very helpful when I am unsure if I am heading in the right direction (which happens a lot). 

There’s also a sign overhead saying the final destination of the Bahn that is coming and how soon it will be there.

These tools are enough to help most people navigate around the city if they know the name of the stop they want to get to. For those hopelessly lost, there’s info-call boxes at every station as well. And finally, if one can stand the embarrassment, there’s almost always a Hamburger who is more than happy to help, or throw a few words at you over their shoulder while they run to catch the next train.  

A few things I learned as I used the system more is that some lines run at certain times while other don’t. Just like I only later discovered that at some stops, trains will coordinate their rides by waiting for another train to come in or, rather than having the opposite track be for the train going in the opposite direction from whence you just came, there will be connecting lines just across the track. This is especially convenient if you happen to be changing trains. I also realized that trains come at scheduled times (no randomness here!) throughout the day and I can avoid the feeling of a missed train if I time my exit from my dorm properly.

As I mentioned before, the U-bahn is similar in theory to the S-Bahn. A bus is a bus pretty much anywhere you go, except in Hamburg, they aren’t associated with the similar stigma there is in the US. They are just as clean and well organized (with electronic signs at stops telling you when the next buses are arriving) as all other public transportation in Hamburg (and Germany) and it really is a shame that the US never caught on to this trend of public transportation properly. There’s a lot of catching up to do!

hvv.de is a nifty site that allows to me to put a stop name or an address and it will give me the names and times of the quickest and least complicated routes, whether it be bus, trail, U-bahn, s-bahn, or tram (which is nothing like the old-school tram image I had in my head. It’s just an electric vehicle that goes on the street).

Bike 

Oh no. I spent so much time on public transportation, I’ve run out of steam (and you’ve probably run out of patience). But I’ll comment all the same about all the reasons it’s great to bike to commute in Hamburg:

  1. Bike lanes are for bikes only. And they’re most usually off the street.
  2. Bike riders often have their own crossing lights. These lights come equipped with a yellow, start-up light that tells you when the light is about to turn green and you better get those feet on the pedals, because the little kid behind you is going to run you over.
  3. You don’t have to wear a helmet (on second thought, that’s a negative aspect about riding in Hamburg, people here should take their brain bucket more seriously. I wear mine with pride).
  4. It’s absolutely normal to ride through the city dressed in a suit.
  5. It’s law to have functioning lights for nighttime riding. Most bikes have it and you can see other riders at all times- and be seen by cars.
  6. The weather here is often fine enough to ride. And even if it’s raining, there’s a lot of fashionable rain pants/jackets to wear over clothes to protect them.
  7. Cars here must yield to bike riders and are usually well-behaved enough to do so.

Need I say more? Bike riding in Hamburg is much more convenient and normal than it is in Florida or many places in the US. Plus, it’s a way to get out some much needed energy when, say, you can’t run.

So, tell me, how would you chose to commute?

Vorweihnachtszeit: St. Nikolaustag und Advent

I’m heard from a few people that when one thinks of Christmas, one cannot avoid thinking of the Germans. This is because so many of the world’s Christmas traditions originated in Germany. There’s the Christmas tree, coal for bad children, coming on a sleigh…

Yet, I’ve discovered that a lot of what makes Christmas in Germany special is that it is really a whole season, not just a day or two for Holy Night and Christmas Day. It actually starts on the first day of Advent, which is the first of four Sundays before the 25th of December. As the word describes, Advent recognizes the waiting for the birth of Christ. It is, of course, observed in church, but many German households also host an Adventskranz and sit around the table on the Sundays before Christmas with traditional German Christmas cakes and pastries, such as Stollen, Spekulatius, Lebkuchen…

Adventskranz

Photo from an article in the Hamburger Aberndblatt paper describing the Hanseatic origins of this tradition.

Another way Germans spread out the season over the whole month is with Adventskalendern. Throughout the month of November, I saw these calendars all over Hamburg. Nearly every store had a collection of them somewhere. I’ve seen these in U.S. stores too, but not nearly with as much variety (or quality) as they are in Germany. One can put out forty Euro or more for a calendar of especially good chocolate or creative design. Yet most calendars are in the 10 to twenty range, and are usually filled with chocolate. Tasty. Yet they can also be filled with cereal, perfume, lotion samples… I also like how various German establishments (like the university of Hamburg) hosts a web-based, interactive calendar.

The terrific online German-English dictionary Leo.org also supports an Advent calendar each year, and I look forward to opening the calendar each day to read a slightly off-beat poem or story.

So the calendars and Sunday celebration of Advent herald the Christmas season. There’s the Weihnachtsmaerkte to go to and Christmas shopping stress to get through. Yet another German tradition that I think makes the season in Germany especially special is the observance of St. Nikolaus Day. Celebrated on the 6th of December, St, Nikolaus is known world-wide for his charity and for being the precursor to the modern day Santa Claus. His feast day is celebrated differently all over Europe, even differently within Germany, but the way I’ve learned it (the north German way) is that he comes overnight to all the children and puts something in their boot (Nikolaus-Stiefel), which is placed outside. If the child was good, s/he gets sweets or other things like “Apfelmuss and Mandelkern, essen kleine Kinder gern.” If s/he was bad, s/he gets coal (or a stick, Rute).

I didn’t get a Rute. Greeted by the women’s club of Nuremberg during my stay for the second VDAC seminar, I got a huge bag of an assortment of chocolates, and traditional German treats like Lebkuchen (gingerbread, but not) and Dominosteine (one of the most delicious things ever) given to me out of St. Nikolaus’ bag. Then, on the morning of the 6th, I opened the door of my room that I shared with three other students (alum of the program) to find four little chocolate santas with our names on them. It was very cute, made me feel like a kid again, and started the day in Nuernberg just right. Thank you, Nuernberger Frauenklub, and thank you Germany for making the pre-Christmas season fun to participate in, despite being away from home.

Not that I can complain about that anymore, since I am writing my post from my room in the States. It’s good to be back with my family and our traditions, but now I can see that no one does Christmas like the Germans.

 

Die Weihnachtsmärkte öffnen

Weihnachtsstimmung in Deutschland faengt an. German tradition calls for decorations to wait until the day after Toten Sonntag. This is a day of observance for those who passed away in the past year and it is recognized in Germany. I was surprised that I haven’t heard Christmas music yet, but it’s because the observance of this day is still respected across Germany.

I think it’s good that commercialism doesn’t take over everything. Even though Christmas specialties, advent calendars, and decorations have been out in the stores since the end of October, it was a little low-keyed. However, I’m about to see the transformation of Hamburg into a winter wonderland.

I found this in the paper on Thursday. All the markets open on November 24th.

I found this in the paper on Thursday. All the markets open on November 24th.

Because today is Toten Sonntag, this means  the markets open tomorrow! I already saw some markets being put up over the past two weeks. However, I didn’t see how much they’ve gotten done since last weekend, and so I was impressed by the Berlin decorations I saw over the weekend. I imagine Hamburg looks similar (sans Europa Center and Gedaechnis Kirche). I’ll go exploring throughout the rest of the time here before I return home for the holidays.

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I am super excited by all of this because it’s something I don’t get to experience in the States, never mind sunny south Florida. Although there are many Jewish and Muslim people in Germany, it’s culture is still largely oriented around Christian holidays and so the state supports the decorating and  logistics for holiday celebrations. So much sparkled and glittered…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.