Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Deutschland Part II

Snow is coming down in our part of the world. We had our first "real" snowfall this weekend. We also had a chance to attend a German soccer game. It was INTENSE! We had a lot of fun and nearly froze ourselves in the below zero degree weather we've been having here. Beautiful, but cold!

Here's what the small quad area right next to our house looks like. Kids were taking advantage of the snowy weather on this Saturday morning.

Our house (once more)

The Borussia Dortmund soccer stadium

At the Borussia Dortmund game. FREEZING at this point--- reason I look ridiculous.

No matter the weather, soccer is something of a religion here in Germany (and all over Europe). It's similar to our football fans in the U.S. One side of the stadium (opposite to us) was where it appeared all the di-hard season ticket holders sat. These people were intense with their flags. No joke, all of them were jumping at exactly the same time up and down repeatedly.

A closeup of the intense fans area

Before the game

These horizontal lines you're seeing are scarves people are holding. Scarves are popular for soccer fans to have of their favorite team. They are the American equivalent to a hat or t-shirt.

Blurry scarves and faces

We happened to be there on their 100th anniversary. So, naturally, they would create the largest banner in the world and cover the fans with it, right? This thing was HUGE!!!

Fans on opposing sides were equipped with either a black or yellow (their colors) sheet of contruction paper to stripe the team colors all over the stadium. We didn't have paper because we were on an end.

Huge, right?

Give it more perspective... check out the goalie and then look at how enormous the flag is!

At the end of the game, this is what happened. It was planned. We were leaving as this was happening.

After the game, we set out to explore Dortmund. It's a pretty big city and we hadn't been there before. It appeared that the Dortmund folks really like their fish. It was everywhere. Here's a fried fish stand.

Big Christmas tree in the center of just one (of many) Christmas markets in this town.

Eating the spiciest meal of my life. We bought Chinese takeout (love it!) and I poured on some spices that I had no idea would create an intense fire inside my mouth. I did, however, finish the meal. Thank you.

This is a huge version of a German Christmas pyramid. We plan to purchase one that's much smaller for our decorations someday. We already have it picked out, too!

You can't make it out too well because of the lights, but here's a mulled wine stand.

Christmas in Germany = Weihnachten ..... and Weihnachtsmarkt = Christmas market. The German language uses a lot of compound words. This is just one of many examples.

Church in Dortmund

Many Christmas markets have rides for children. Here is a driving track in the middle of the city.

Cookies. We thought this was only a Munich Oktoberfest thing (first place we saw them), but it turns out they're year-around fun! The heart says "Ich liebe dich" meaning... I love you.

Ray proudly sporting his new Borussia Dortmund soccer hat!

A few more Christmas scenes from our house...

We've been craving cinnamon rolls... but they don't really exist in the same form here in Germany... so we made some! Here's our first attempt making "from scratch" rolls. We were pleased with the results!

I think I made these too big. I envisioned Cinnabon... but got a loaf of cinnamon bread instead. The small ones turned out perfect, though. With icing, they'll all taste just fine...

Speaking of icing... a little butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. LOVE.

Except... German vanilla tastes and smells like Pina Colada. Don't ask me why.

Driving in to work on Monday morning for a few hours before the official kickoff to our holiday break!

Beautiful, right?

And finally... to leave you all with Christmas joy here's this: Our virtual Christmas card
(it's the same video you can see on the side of the blog, don't watch it twice if you already saw that)

And the journaling for the last few days:

Mittwoch 16.12.2009 (day 93)
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. Like, I woke up every hour or so. Needless to say, coming into work with Ray this morning was low on my list. When the alarm sounded, I said, NO. I’ve also had a sinus headache that I think was the reason my sleep was so restless. I’ve never had insomnia before and I certainly am not welcoming it now. I headed downstairs when Ray left to check out the flurry of snow outside and sleep a little more on the couch. Ray came home at lunch and picked me up for our German lesson. We planned to make apple cider for the employees, but noticed that when we walked in there was a spread of food in the kitchen already. It was Margaret’s last day. She worked at the company for forty years! I guess it’s tradition for the person who is leaving to bring in celebratory food for lunch. The spread was per usual for a German party: mincemeat burger patties (no bun or toppings… just patty), schnitzel, tomatoes, baguette, and potato salad (Kartoffelsalat). We stashed our box of goodies in our office and left the brownies and cookie bars in the kitchen. Sabine showed up for our class and we got started. We just about shut down the building again and left around 6 p.m. It was nice and frigid in our car as we drove home! It definitely feels like Christmas around this area. I made a nice Italian meal for dinner (aka pasta) and we sat in front of the television frustrated about British Airway union workers’ decision to strike at this time of year. My parents are flying BA on the 21st—ONE DAY before they are said to begin their strike. Luckily, they also end before my parents head back to the States. But, I feel for those who may lose their chance to see loved ones this year.

Donnerstag 17.12.2009 (day 94)
Oh, how I hated the sound of those bells again this morning. When I know that I have an early wakeup, I automatically trigger something in my brain that forces me to sleep extra light and hear those darn bells. Ray and I both. We had to wake early because Sabine wanted our lesson to begin at 8:15. OYE. That’s pretty early for German. Not that I can’t wake up early—since I do that when I work anyhow, but it just isn’t fun when we automatically assume we will hurry up and get ready to wait when we arrive at work. On a positive note, we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning! A coating of white was on everything outside. We’ve had a bit of (schnee) snow for a few days, but mostly just a flurry. This was real snow and it was still coming down! It came down until around noon and was just beautiful. Sabine arrived after 8:30 and we started our lesson at 8:45. She had to hurry because she had a massage appointment. Apparently with socialist health care, you have to wait maybe four weeks to get in for your massage. Insert sarcasm here. Our lesson went well and we had four worksheets and a book activity for homework due tomorrow! That’s probably the most we’ve had yet. We all said our goodbyes to Margaret because today was her just-kidding-today-is-really-my-last-day-day. We all gave her hugs and said something sweet. Since she speaks no English whatsoever, Ray and I had to use German. Ray congratulated her on her retirement and I ended with “Net Sie kennenzulernen” – which means, “Nice to meet you” in German. Everyone clapped. I felt very special. Ray and I made apple cider with all the yummy spices, put out a few boxes of Cracker Jacks for everyone to try, and peanut butter with pretzels. It was nice to complete our German lesson early and to have the rest of the day to work (Ray) and do homework, write and search the Internet (me). We headed home around 6 as the rest of the employees were leaving for the day. We stopped by Netto to grab a few things and headed home to cook a stir fry for dinner and relax…

Freitag 18.12.2009 (day 95)
Ray went in to work and left my lazy behind at home. Yes, I was being lazy. I didn’t do anything this morning other than veg out. I guess it’s allowed. I feel like I am one with my teacher friends right now. It’s almost Christmas break and I want it now. Not that I personally need a break from living a leisured life, but I want to spend all my time with Ray exploring. Or friends. Or family. I just want someone to hang out with. I can’t wait to finally get connected to a church in Illinois and meet people our age. I could have them over for coffee (though I drink coffee only socially, really) and dessert. We could go for walks together. I am excited for the future, but excited to be in the present, too. I watched a bit of women’s skiing qualifiers for the Vancouver winter Olympics and fixed lunch for when Ray arrived home. When he got there, he told me that he saw his first deer on his drive up the hill to Neuenrade. So exciting! This marks the first wildlife either of us had seen since we stepped foot in Europe (other than squirrels, rabbits, dogs, and cats). We headed back to work and Ray got back to work and finishing his German homework. Did I mention we had 4 worksheets? I’m sure glad it was all review. Ha! As if I didn’t have to look up a ton to complete it. Alas, it’s still done. Sabine arrived for our lesson around 2:30 and we worked until around 5:00. I have to say, learning German today was painful. We feel like children in the last hours of school before summer break. It was hard to focus and care whether it is “eine” or “ein” in the accusative or nominative form. Frankly, either will do. Haha. We had some great goodbyes and lots of “Frohe Weinachten” and “Frohe Neues Jahr.” We left work around 5:00 because everyone else was and headed to the grocery store. Before heading to bed, we had a long talk about our time here in Germany. We’re so excited to be here, but admit that many things are hard and limiting. For example, we receive our mail (sometimes weeks to months late) and we cannot correct anything in due time. We’re both so proactive, that living in another country on a different continent and completely different time zone makes things frustrating. We love our weekends and the traveling. Ray is really enjoying the learning experience and I’m enjoying all the wonderful people we’ve met and learning about another culture. But, of course there’s a learning curve—one we’re just getting used to 3 months after our move here.

Samstag 19.12.2009 (day 96)
I don’t think we’ve ever been colder in our lives or inhaled more secondhand smoke than we did today. We can thank European soccer for both. Just after we had lunch, we headed to Hit supermarket for some items on our list. We’re trying to get everything ready for our families when they arrive! Since we’d received a few inches of snow last night alone, it made for some fun play opportunities for the German kinder. We drove by sled tracks in a few places and were pretty excited ourselves to see everything covered in snow. It’s been pouring down on us for the last few days and our town remains cold enough to keep the pile high. We bought a few items at the store and wondered if they would freeze if we left them in the car during the soccer game we were going to. After the store, we drove to Dortmund, a really large town about 40-50 kilometers away. We saw the Borussia Dortmund team play the SC Freiburg team. Our seats were 1 and 2. You’d think they would be on the end… but no, in the middle of the row. Ha. This one game was also in celebration of their 100th year as a soccer team. It was pretty exciting. Seeing a soccer game in Europe—where it’s way more popular than in the States is a great experience we knew we had to experience before we left. This weekend was as good as any, considering we didn’t have many plans, and we would be really busy after this weekend. Our seats were pretty good. We were in the 14th row slightly diagonal from the goal. There were tons of rituals and songs just like at any game you’d see in the U.S. We can most associate it with a U.S. football game. The fans were energized. They even sang “When the Saints go Marching in” – in German! That part was really fun to see. It’s always neat to be a fly on the wall (though we sat in seats) of others’ lives. We were amazed at how energized they were in below 10 degree weather. It was frigid. Here’s the part I mention how we shaved off a few days of our lives: the guy in front of us, and the guy directly next to us (who didn’t have a ticket for that seat, of course) were chain smokers. Miserable! For the most part, we really enjoyed ourselves, if we had any feeling in our feet or hands. We wore ski socks, Under Armour cold gear, sweatshirts, jackets, and shells, hats, scarves, thermal pants, jeans, and ski gloves (I had a cloth pair underneath, too!), and we were still freezing. When it’s that cold, people don’t usually subject themselves to sitting in it for 2 hours… but we were determined to see a soccer game! We even had blankets. Nope, still numb. I went to the restroom during the half and women were huddled around the heater in the restroom. Many didn’t even want to use the restroom, other than to stand and thaw out. Overall, it was a great time, though. The Dortmund team won, 1-0. Sadly, we had to watch a guy have a stroke and be carried away on a stretcher with 12 minutes left in the game. I sure hope he’s alright. We left the game and somehow made it to the car on feet that couldn’t move. Ray bought a Dortmund hat. I joked that I would have to write his name and phone number inside because he’s always losing his hats. Ha. Of course I won’t… but it’s funny. We headed to the city center since we had never been to Dortmund to explore before. It reminded me a lot of Trier, a city we visited with Andy & Jen a few weeks ago. We parked in the best possible spot ever and walked up (they have mostly underground parking structures here… because there’s no other room!) right into a Christmas market. It was a really big one, too. Every corner we turned, it seemed another section would pop up. There was tons of food at this one. There were almost no other vendors other than food, actually. We particularly noticed the amount of fish being sold. We’ve never seen so much fish at a Christmas market or in a town before. There must be something we don’t know about that town. We bought some Chinese takeout—no, I can’t get enough—and I foolishly poured about 2 tablespoons of the spicy red sauce on. It wasn’t a regular sauce, though. It almost seemed homemade. I regretted it. I have never in my life eaten something so spicy. I was sweating and hurting. My mouth burned for a couple hours later. We had to race down to the car and grab some drinks to put out the fire in my mouth. Absolutely flaming! We walked around some more, took some photos, went into some stores along the shopping district strip, (maybe grabbed a piece of Pizza Hut pizza to share), and headed back to the car. We got home and watched “Das Super Talent”—the equivalent to “America’s Got Talent” in the U.S. There are mostly singers, but they have fire dancers, dancers, and people with other talents on there, too. I also found out that their version of American Idol—I think it’s something like “Das Deutches Super Star” will be starting on January 6th. Since I’m missing our American Idol and The Bachelor (so sad), I’ll have to find some temporary replacements. What’s even more interesting is that they sing mostly American songs, in plain English. We had a great day. Tomorrow is all about cleaning, relaxing, and dinner with our tutor in the evening. Monday my parents come!!! One last cold note… as we drove into our town (it’s elevated a few hundred feet from the company), the temperature dropped to -17 degrees Celcius. That’s 1 degree. ONE degree.

Sonntag 20.12.2009 (day 97)
We had no reason to get up early this morning… especially knowing it was snowing outside. Speaking of snow, our house has been feeling the cool effect lately. Being 300 years old, it’s not hard to imagine why heating in these old houses sucks. Insulation is close to none. The heaters themselves are universal in Germany as we’ve noticed. They are attached to walls in all of the rooms and run hot water through them to radiate off of them. I would say these are rather inefficient, but I hope they’re cheap. They warm small rooms fine, but do little to heat and large room. And since the whole house is run on the same heater and on the same water line, it often weakens the heat if you shower, do dishes, or laundry, etc. But, we have managed to make a few rooms especially warm. The kitchen and living room are both always comfortable (if not too hot) to be in. The upstairs region is a different story! It continued to snow all day to the point that we have at least a foot on the ground at the moment. I still think it’s snowing at 10 p.m. We spent time mopping, shaking out rugs, scrubbing, and cleaning all things in preparation for our parents’ visits! We’re very excited and figured after 3 months we should do a deeper clean anyhow. We were supposed to have dinner with Sabine (I planned tostadas because I had some corn tortillas left from our visit to the U.S. last month and Sabine has been wanting to have a “cooking” class or something like that… to share our cultures). Well, she canceled. We still had delicious tostadas though, don’t worry. Her car wouldn’t start because our weather has been around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Also, she was worried that even if she could get it to start, that she may not be able to get back home after it snowed considerably more being at our house. She drives a small European car called a Volkswagen Polo. They’re pretty tiny hatchbacks. We had a random lunch of whatever leftovers we had around that I wanted to get rid of (that’s just about every lunch we have. Hey, we’re living like the Germans!). Of course what we really want are sandwiches from Quiznos, but that’s just not realistic. So, leftover randomness it is. We both did some workout videos and decided to make cinnamon rolls. I bought all of the ingredients awhile back because I anticipated making them on Christmas day when our original plans were to be home. Since those plans have changed and we’ll be on the road, I figured we’d make them anyway--- just a few days early. Perhaps since my parents will be here tomorrow, we can have them on Tuesday morning on our way out of town. This was the first time I make cinnamon rolls from scratch. Honestly, if we could access the Pillsbury-in-a-can kind, that’s what we would be doing instead. But, ever since we moved to Germany, I’ve been more daring with cooking. Since some things we crave just don’t exist on this continent, we’ve had to improvise by making our own. I even found a website for a woman who is an expat living in the Netherlands who makes her own corn syrup even! Ray helped me make the rolls and everything appeared to work pretty well. We cut the rolls and made a few monsters, too. We’re rebels. The rising, cooking, and all things related took forever… which is why I probably won’t be doing this again. I also had a traumatic experience while mixing the ingredients. Pretty basic: flour, oil, water, yeast, salt, sugar, and a couple eggs. Yeah. I hate eggs. I’ll eat them in baked goods, though. So, off I went to open the refrigerator and grab the eggs. I picked up the first one and bam, instant disgust. These “fresh labeled” eggs were fresh alright. Complete with FEATHERS! I’m a vegetarian for so many reasons, and this just adds to my disgust of all things animal. So there’s that. As the rolls began to expand to the size of a child’s head, I prepared the frosting. Butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Pretty simple, pretty delicious. Except, we live in Germany… which means, learning curve. I had vaguely remembered reading online that the vanilla in “Europe” (not sure how general that should be) is just not the same as American vanilla. Well, I finally understood. The vanilla I bought was called “butter vanilla”—I like butter and vanilla… so what’s the problem? Well, the vanilla tastes like Pina Colada. So confusing. Either way, it doesn’t really matter as long as there’s sugar, butter, and cream cheese. That was not so traumatic. I was also pleased that the yeast actually worked. Earlier this year when we lived in California, Ray and I attempted to make homemade bagels. We were pretty excited until the yeast did nothing to assist in rising. Our bagels were a disaster. After that, I swore off yeast because it obviously just doesn’t work for me. My faith is reinforced with these buns! Overall, today was super relaxing and we’re really excited to hang out with my family tomorrow! Praying for no delays (Europe is being blasted right now—as well as the U.S. Northeast with unprecedented snowfall!) and a safe flight for my family!

Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr!
(Merry Christmas and a good "slide" into the New Year!)