Monday, November 29, 2010

Grüβ Gott!, part 4 of 10

Me: Who turned up the gravity?

The artful Roman Ruin (1778)
As we arrive in Vienna about half past six in the morning, the sun is rising.  We deposit our luggage in a locker and maneuver through the commuter rush at a bakery to have breakfast.  Then we set off for Schloβ Schönbrunn.  It lies a good ways away through a commercial district, but we still manage to arrive at this iconic Viennese summer palace before the crowds.  The rooms are gorgeously appointed and still representatively furnished (except the ones being renovated).  We eat an early lunch in the park, whose gravel paths are liberally dotted with joggers on this unseasonably warm autumn weekend, before hiking up the hill behind the most famous of the “beautiful fountains.”   From there we have a magnificent view of the city, which has grown out to meet this one-time hunting lodge.  After some hemming and hawing over the prices, we decide to skip the greenhouses and head to our hotel.   Lying across the bed, I utter the line above.  It isn’t sleepiness as much as a general exhaustive heaviness of the limbs that has settled upon us.  DH naps while I get on the internet and look for a place to eat dinner.  That evening we eat at the Balkan restaurant around the corner before hopping on the U-Bahn to the small Kammeroper, where we watch Josef Haydn’s one-act D’isola disinhabitata.  Programs apparently cost money, and neither of us knows the story, so we just watch and read the supertitles (auf Deutsch).  The company puts a post-modern twist on this love story with stage directions that undercut the hunky-dory ending, and we both enjoy it.

The Glorietta (1775) at the top of the hill
The glorious view in the other direction (2010)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday in Advent--Heinzelmännchen

While DH was visiting, we were lucky enough to see a collection of paper sculptures in the Schiller Galerie mall at the transit stop in Blasewitz, just across the river from my apartment.  They illustrate in amazing detail the myth of the Heinzelmännchen, nighttime elves who were said to do all the work for the tradesmen in either Köln (Cologne, dort drüben in western Germany) or Cölln (now part of Berlin); my internet sources couldn't agree.  The men had it easy, until one housewife (of course it was a meddling woman!) became too curious about the mysterious visitors and left peas on the floor, presumably so whoever it was would trip and wake her up to discover their identity.  This made the little men so mad that they never came back, and from then on, the unlucky laborers of the city had to do their own handiwork.  You can read August Kopisch's (1799-1853) famous poem about the Heinzelmännchen in its entirety in German or English here.  This rambunctious tumbling of verbs was first published in 1836, and the author of the site I link to has made it into a children's song.  This story reminds me of one of Grimms' fairytales, of "The Elves and the Shoemaker."  My mother has this Märchen in a little book with the most adorable illustrations of wee little shoes and clothes for the elves.  It was one of my favorites as a kid.

These are DH's photographs (the link takes you to my Flickr page).  Even though the dioramas are made almost entirely of paper, the artist managed to capture many different textures: bread, brick, lace, beard, metal, wood, stone.  Unfortunately, as they are white on white, most of the whimsical details are difficult to make out in a small picture posted online.  Hopefully you will still enjoy them!

Presumably Schiller Galerie purchased the display rights for these showcases from the artist as a lead-up to the holiday season (and it probably costs more to display the closer to Christmas).  I am not sure why the Heinzelmännchen "fit" with Christmas.  I guess because there is supposed to be something "magical" about the season: singing snowmen, stable animals talking at midnight, a fat man in a sleigh squeezing down chimneys to bring toys to children the world-over, etc.  This must also by why the Overture to Mozart's Die Zauberflöte is currently playing on the Classic Holiday station on my online radio.  (The Magic Flute, get it?)  At any rate, we are finally officially in the Christmas season: may it be merry for you!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The night train, part 3 of 10

Friday: As though we are trying to score the hat trick of my research venues, Friday we head to the German Hygiene Museum. I work in the library with the friendly librarian, while DH visits the two special exhibitions, Was ist schön? (What is beautiful?) and Kraftwerk Religion (Religious Energy).  I really like the exhibit on religion, which asks all sorts of interesting questions about faith rituals, the place of religion in modern society, and the history of religion in interactive displays.  My favorite parts were a cartoon about the Reformation and the opening of the exhibition, about how people are wont to take over and trivialize other religion's faith objects (usually without malice...or consideration).  I am hoping to write a separate post on "What is beautiful?," so for now I will share the images DH took with the lens filters, in the section of perception.  Can you image opening your email only to see one of these, with the caption, "Bin ich nicht schön?" (Aren't I pretty?)??  Don't worry, what's fair is fair.  I'll share my picture in that up-coming post!

For dinner I whip up a vegetables-beans-and-potatoes dish that is becoming familiar fare for me, and we pack for the trip to Austria.  While double-checking the departure time of I train, I discover it’s 10 minutes earlier than I thought.  So I ask the Dresden public transit website to give me a new itinerary.  We catch our first bus with plenty of time.  We even have time to nab a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cup from the Subway (open until 10pm!) while waiting for the Strassenbahn.  But in the heart of town, amid the construction, we can’t find the bus to the main train station.  With increasing desperation and less than 20 minutes to go, we engage one of the taxis waiting nearby for the 5-minute ride to the station, where further confusion ensues, as we try to match our reservation to the trains listed on the board.  At last, our train, wagon, and compartment are located, but not our seatmates: the first and only luck of the night is that we each get three seats to ourselves. (We were cheap and hadn’t reserved bunks.)  I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow description of what was a fairly unpleasant ride, what with the noisy beer-drinkers in the neighboring compartments, the seemingly random conductor announcements interrupting what was for DH a sleepless night, and the fact that we hadn’t purchased a ticket for the Czech portion of our trip.  I have to admit I wasn’t entirely blindsided by this loop-hole in our travel plans, but I was mightily ticked, as I had specifically told the Deutsche Bahn ticket agent back in Dresden that we had a German-Austria Pass and wanted reservations for this train, but she never asked if we had a ticket or pass for the Czech Republic.  So we paid on the train.   At any rate, if (IF!) we ever take a night train again, we’ll certainly pony up for the Liegeplätze in the hope of more comfortable insomnia.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The mountain train, part 2 of 10


This morning we attempt our walking tour of Loschwitz from the other end, as the Standseilbahn (funicular railway) is still in service.  This kind of Bergbahn has two cars on one track that splits in the middle so the cars can ride past each other as the descending one's inertia pulls the ascending one to the top.  It is a warm but quick ride up to the stop (middle picture), whereupon it begins to sprinkle rain.  We press on past a DDR physicist’s house to another lookout (bottom image).  Then we find the shuttered remains of Lahmann’s Sanatorium (below left), which may feature in my dissertation (it’s a little before my time period, but they published several cookbooks).  We gamely try to continue with the tour, but after taking a picture of a church that we don’t know why it’s important, we call the whole thing off and catch the streetcar to the train station, where we make reservations for the night train to Vienna.  Then it’s on to the library to work before meeting with my sponsor from the university.  His secretary forgot to send me directions, so we get lost, but all is forgiven. I unfortunately missed the first colloquium of the semester while in Vienna.

DH’s favorite part of the day is the jelly donuts we eat for afternoon snack. Most Germans know them as Berliner, but here in Saxony we call them Pfannkuchen (this is the word used in the rest of Germany for pancakes; here we call those Eierkuchen, or "egg-cakes," which the uninitiated might confuse with omelets or quiche, but the German words for those are Omlette and Quiche.  Really.).  In Austria we learn these are called Krapfen--they taste just as good, despite the unappetizing name!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two weeks ago, Dear Husband (DH) came to visit me!, part 1 of 10

Two weeks ago, Dear Husband (DH) came to visit me!  We spent the first couple of days here in Dresden before taking a week-long trip through Austria.  He is, after all, half-Austrian, but it had been almost 20 years since he had been there; and I knew some about the country, as the theme for my brush-up German course the summer before last was Austrian geography, culture, and literature.  We’d been talking about and planning this trip since before I left the States, so it was exciting to finally go.  But first, DH got a small dose of what my days are like in Dresden.  (These posts were all written by the time I got back here, and I will publish them one or two at a time, with photos.)

I spend the day at the Main State Archive, where there is no internet.  I am supposed to leave from there to meet DH at the train station at 5pm.  The night/day before, I suggest he call the archive if he doesn’t make his train, so the archivists can let me know.  (No cell phones allowed in the reading room, of course—although why I didn’t just have him call my phone directly, for me to check on break, only just occurred to me.  Especially since the archivists speak English, but apparently the receptionist does not.)  After my lunch break, in fact, one of the archivists tells me a Herr Hammer called and that something happened with his train.  I didn’t know the word(s) she used, but since we set it up that he would only call if things weren’t going to plan, I guessed he was coming in an hour later.  We did eventually manage to meet each other at the train station.

It turns out that DH would have made the original train, but that after he bought his ticket and went down to the track, he discovered the train had been canceled.  Why they still sold him a ticket, neither of us knows.  At any rate, he was able to sleep some on both the plane and the train he eventually took.  After the usual pleasantries, we head out to catch the street car home, and manage to catch it after a sprint.  We listen to Miles Davis while catching up with each other and cooking dinner.  DH is thrilled to bathe after 18 hours traveling.
Him: Are we on our way to meet God?
Me: You know, if the builders of the Tower of Babel had started here, they wouldn’t have had so far to go!
I thought we might combine a little business with pleasure by taking a walking tour of my neighborhood, Loschwitz, which was once the home to a number of health spas and some of Europe’s richest and most famous.  The attraction for DH, a train enthusiast as a kid, are the two Bergbahnen (mountain railways): the Schwebebahn (the first mountain suspension railway; built 1901 at 274m long, 84.2m up, at a 39.9% grade) and the Standseilbahn (a funicular railway; built 1895 at 547m long, 96m up, with a maximum grade of 29%).  Unfortunately, the Schwebebahn is out of service for annual repairs, so we don’t get to ride this antique transit specimen: Strike 1.  We do look at the little church down the street, which was built by the same architect as Dresden’s famous Frauen Kirche, but earlier.  So as to be able to continue our tour, we decide to “walk” up to the lookout point at the upper tram stop.  You’ve heard about the enormous hill/small mountain of which I live at the foot, right?  Well, back in the day, the residents used dog-carts to carry things up and down the slopes, because horses and donkeys weren’t sure-footed enough (!).  We had to hike up another one of those ridiculously steep paths to get to the lookout, laden with our laptops, books, and provisions: strike 2.  Once we get to admire the view of the Elbe River and Valley, my camera battery icon starts blinking red.  I snap a few quick shots before it dies for good: strike 3.  By this point it is nearing noon, and I had hoped to spend the afternoon working, so we give up on the tour, vow to try again the next day (with re-charged batteries!), and find the bus stop.

Luckily for us, the bus we want, which only comes twice an hour, will arrive in 10 minutes.  We snack as we wait.  The ride was actually pretty cool: the street just seemed to go up and up and up.  Eventually we do reach the top, where the woods give way to fields of some unidentifiable crop.  The rest of this day consists of transcribing, reading, and (for one of us) napping in the archive.  Dinner is pasta and salad back at the apartment.

To the right you can see the Schwebebahn tracks stretching down the hillside.  The trams hang underneath the rails.  I suppose this could be a vista picture from just about anywhere, but on the right-hand side in the middle ground you can see the Blaues Wunder (Blue Wonder), a suspension bridge that was a "wonder" when it was built in 1893 because it does not have any pylons in the river proper, just one on either bank, and the bridge is suspended between them.  Supposedly it is "blue" because of the paint, but I think it looks more "sea foam green."

Friday, November 5, 2010

On German and American baked goods

"Here is bread, which strengthens man’s heart, and therefore is called the staff of life."
~ Mathew Henry (1662–1714), Commentaries. Psalm civ.

While at DAAD orientation in Bonn back in October, we did a group activity in which each group of 20 of us American and Canadian undergraduate and graduate grantees was supposed to discuss and present a topic about German life.  I directed my group in “The Germany University, in 4 Scenes,” in which I also played the Kontobeamtin taking semester registration fees from the suave German student and our bumbling American protagonist.  I’m sure it will be starting off-off-off Broadway any month now.

Anyway, one of the other groups’ assignments was German food.   They talked, for instance, about being vegetarian but still wanting to sample the meat-heavy local cuisine.  Someone recounted a story from his German language school: a student from New Mexico was shocked and dismayed that not only don’t Germans eat pie, but there is no word in German for what we Americans mean by “pie.”  Moreover, although he resolved to bake one himself, there are no pie tins.  So on the last day of class, on which they also celebrated another student’s birthday, he brought in what tasted like pie, albeit one baked in a bread pan.   I wouldn’t have pegged New Mexico for a pie-loving place, but there you go.

Although DH makes really scrumptious strawberry, cherry, and raspberry pies, I have not missed that particular baked good, as there are so many other delectable German goodies to choose from. These are the ones I've tried and can remember their names: Berliner, Bretzel, Buchtal, Eierschnecke, Fettsemmel, Kaisersemmel, Kirschkuchen, Kranzkuchen, Kürbiskernbrot, Laugenbrötchen, Milchknoten, Mohnenbrillen, Pfannkuchen, Pflaumenstruhsel, Roggen(misch)brot, Rosini, Sandtaller, Schokomilchbrötchen, Vollkornbrot.

I've also had a yummy pecan pastry with an Italian name and Reformationsbrot.  In the two or three weeks leading up to Reformation Day (October 31), you could get Reformationsbrot and -brötchen in all the local bakeries.  It's a traditional Saxon yeast bread based on the Stollen recipe (more on that during Advent!) with raisins, almonds, and a strong taste of citrus.  Unfortunately, I ate all my Reformationsbrötchen before I could take any pictures, but you can see someone else's photo here.  Reformation Day is, of course, the day Protestants remember Martin Luther's 95 Theses from 1517 (properly titled the "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences"), usually by singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" ("Ein' feste Burg ist user Gott").  I asked the German pastor at my church about Reformation Day, and he said that while he finds it a reminder of the ability of individual Christians to have a personal relationship with God, most Germans nowadays just like getting the day off (it's a government holiday here in Saxony).

As it happens Reformation Day is also Halloween.  Germans have learned this holiday from the Americans.  Trick-or-treating is very rare, but if my roommate and her daughter hadn't been in Berlin, we would have gone to a public party for kids; there were two in my area, one in a mansion and another at the lookout atop one of the funicular railway.  All weekend I watched kids in superhero capes, witch hats, and face paint parade across the bridge to one of these, where there were orange and black cupcakes, scary stories, and a "creepy visit" by spiders and snakes from the zoo.  As it was, I co-opted another friend's kids to make pumpkin cookies from scratch.  Now there's a baked good you can't get here in Germany!  Canned pumpkin neither.  So I bought two little hokkaido pumpkins from the local farmer's market, gathered the ingredients (I brought my recipe from home), and took over their kitchen.  After you butcher the pumpkins and reserve the seeds for baking, you just steam the flesh for 20 minutes, at which point it can be scraped from the skin and mashed by hand.  We got exactly 4 cups (= 2 cans), which was good enough to double the recipe, just like I do at home (otherwise the results are just gone too soon).  The resulting dough was very aromatic and the cookies are delicious, so I don't think I'll go back to canned pumpkin again.  We played games on the kitchen floor while the cookies were baking and then had mini pizzas for dinner.  Definitely one of my all-time favorite Halloweens!

Besides fresh for canned pumpkin, I got sultanas for raisins, crystallized vanilla for extract, Hausnatron for baking soda, and Backpulver for baking powder.  Apparently the brown sugar here is not as moist as what we get back home, and that can make baking chocolate chip cookies difficult; but this recipe only calls for white sugar.
Yes, that is really the color of the cooking pumpkin, the image is not photo-shopped! 
Isn't it gorgeous?
"MMMmmm they smell good and done!"

Monday, November 1, 2010

Riddle Me That

AAAAnd now, the moment you've all been waiting for: explanations of the cryptic photographs I posted last week. You all are very clever!  Some experience in Europe probably helped.

This is the "push for signal" box on my corner.  It's one of the old boxy ones that you actually have to push; the newer ones are rounded and have some kind of sensor you just have to put your hand over.  Both kinds, however, light up to tell you "Signal kommt," and usually the wait isn't long, as most seem to be set up to favor pedestrians over vehicular traffic.  Germans almost always wait for the grüner Ampelmensch* (the green-light man) before crossing the street.  This not only speaks to their cultural desire for Ordnung (order) but to mere self-preservation: I've seen some crazy traffic patterns, and you just never know when a truck is going to round the corner.  In addition, cars will stop if you are standing at a crosswalk without a light, and they wait well back of the buses and trams so passengers can get on and off.

My house and the bridge across the river are to the right in this image; to the left across the street is the bus stop I use to get into town.  The car is turning from Schillerstrasse, that mondo big hill I rode down after my first day at the archives.

On the right is the shower head on the wall above the bath tub.  I thought it would be more awkward to shower sitting down, but it's not.  Of course, I only run the water when I'm getting wet or rinsing. ;-)

Below is the light switch outside the door to our apartment.  The light switches in the common hallways here are pretty clever: you can turn one on downstairs when you come in from the street (by pressing down, of course!), and the hallway and staircase is illuminated for several minutes--plenty of time to get up to your Wohnung (apartment).  Then the environmentally-friendly compact light bulbs switch off again.

I've been air drying a lot of my clothes since my freshman year in college: it's cheaper than drying them when wet and then having to replace them when they fade.  This monster is not as compact as the racks I have at home, but it works like a charm.  I can either wash socks and such in the sink and hang them up, or I can bring back tops and what-not from Waschsalon (laundromat) in a plastic bag and dry them in my room for my less than in the large but inefficient dryers.  Unfortunately, there's no way it's coming home on the plane with me. :-(

Here you see our hot water pot.  It's faster than a microwave (which we don't have, anyway).  I use it to boil water for tea and couscous, and sometimes to measure water.  (A few mLs are within my ken, but what's 250ml??)  That's a bowl of Kandiszucker (rock sugar).

The serrated bar to hold open the outer window in my room was the inspiration for this exercise.  There's nothing inherently foreign about this mechanical technology, but it was very satisfying that with a little investigation (there's a small knob on the underside of the window frame), it became apparent how to use it.  For all I know, it dates to the building of the house c. 1906.  The floors may be original, too, as there are heel-sized divots in the wood of the hallway, right where you step when coming out of the kitchen or bathroom.

If you use public transportation at all in Germany, you must know how to use one of these!  These time Stempel (stamp) machines are found either at the subway entrances or in the buses and trams.  After you buy your ticket, you stick the end into the red "mouth" so it can be time- and date-stamped.  German public transit runs on the honor principle, supported by random Kontrollierungen (inspections).  Sometimes the agents are stealthy: my ride has only been kontrolliert once so far in Dresden, by a very unassuming middle-aged woman in everyday clothes and carrying a purse.  After we left the stop, she asked for our tickets and showed us her badge.  I had my monthly pass, of course, but I can't help but get a little sinking feeling in my stomach when that happens, because the first time I was in Berlin on my own, I forgot that I had to stempel my ticket.  The agents, who were wearing camo-type uniforms, were not impressed with my pleas that I had just bought my pass.  They marched me off the tram and showed me the Stempel machine.  Thus, when I couldn't find my pass the other evening, I went ahead and shelled out the Euro 1,90 to ride 3 stops on the trams, just in case.  Otherwise, it's a Euro 40 fine.

This medieval-looking device is a can-opener.  Maybe readers of a certain age are familiar with such a one?  I learned about it when I could not, for the life of me, open a jar of Essiggürken (pickles).  My roommate showed me how to break the vacuum seal with this handy little lever.  She says she learned the trick from her Russian mother and grandmother.

The last item is the generator for the head- and taillights on my bicycle.  When engaged, the turning of the back wheel powers the lamps.  I think that I may have had one of these on the bicycle Dear Husband bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago, and that I tore the wire (at that time not yet connected to a light) on my first ride.  Whoops.

All in all, you made an excellent showing.  Thank you for participating in this fun little exercise!