Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feb. 13 Protests -- Part 1

Part 1

Feb. 13, 2010

The trams had stopped running well before the city proper of Dresden started. Our tram conductor instructed everyone to get onto the awaiting bus to get us further in. Many of the occupants, seemingly normal Dresdners, ran the length of the tram, avoiding ice, jumped off the platform, climbed up the other side and into the bus. Most riders calmly walked.

The bus driver dropped us at the beginning of the meaty part of town and I walked, along with many other riders and various citizenry, down to the Neustadt. It was mid-afternoon and not yet hatefully cold.

The sky was overcast. Not a dramatic, steel-gray or gunmetal black. Rather, a slightly depressing every-day grey that one comes t expect after having lived through a winter or two in Dresden. It would have been seven in the morning or 3 in the afternoon or even the cusp of darkness. The sky offered no clues.

Soon after we’d started walking I saw the first sign. A tram, one of Dresden’s modern yellow-orange caterpillars, the feet concealed underneath its skirting, sitting on its tracks in the middle of the road, its driver missing. I kept on walking until I hit the first roadblock, blocked by police officers and military-grade police transports. I saw smoke coming up from behind the blockade and managed to get a look: a trash bin, its contents, a pallet and some kind of wooden thing with wheels had been set ablaze and were still burning, throwing up plumes of foul black smoke.

I took the side street with all the other spectators, walked for a block before having to turn left again because the APCs and cops were blocking the way. Yet again, behind them, laid burning trash. A helicopter hovered overhead – just hovering, adding the sound of its blades to the music, from somewhere far off and the sounds of our footfalls in the crisp air.

The police were not just the normal beat cops. Rather, almost all of the police were decked out in riot gear of one form or another, with dark blue uniforms, forest green uniforms. Police from Dresden and police from elsewhere.

A few of the punks, dressed in customary thin black hoodies and suspiciously tight black pants walked by with beers in hand. In Germany, the normal bottle of beer is a half liter, but looks just like its smaller American counterparts, when not placed next to a smaller bottle. And normal people, men in tweed suits, women in thick jackets and teenagers bundled against the cold walked by, all with open years. Even one man who’d shaken his beer before, the foam bubbling out the top.

Alcohol is allowed to be consumed on the streets in Germany, there are no open container laws. Which is nice but adds a surreal sense of party to the streets closed by heavily-armored police, filled with nothing but burning trash and snow. And the music playing from somewhere, as the folks walk around with their beers.

Neustadt literally means “New City” and is filled to the brim with bars, pubs, dives and clubs. During Bunten Republik Neustadt (BRN – a play on Bundesrepublik Neustadt – The free state of) the streets fill with people, over the brim. A crushing, congested crowd, carried by whims of movement. It becomes a literal fight to walk, with a solid stream of people, all pushed up against one another heading down the street like traffic.

The party comes to a head during BRN and keeps on during the summer months. When its warm in Neustadt, the people take to the streets or the Biergartens.

The streets are filled with alcohol, little containers seemingly in every hand. During BRN, restrictions exist on glass bottles but the rest of the time, they’re perfectly legal. However, this is not a judgment on street drinking. As Major Colvin, a police officer in HBO’s crime series The Wire, tells his troops: “the corner is, was and always will be the poor man's lounge”

As I said, alcohol is perfectly legal and normal on the street. Usually, there are no more problems than I’ve seen in the US with our open container laws. The folks do not run down the street, screaming bloody murder. Nor do broken glass bottles litter the sidewalk. Sometimes a broken sekt bottle lays strewn across the street but it is not overly-common, probably because of the deposit on glass (and plastic) bottles (called a pfand.) When the (beer) bottle is returned, empty, to a store the buyer gets his money back. Instead of seeing men with large tarps-turned-bags on their backs, searching through the trash for aluminum cans we see people with bags looking for beer bottles with a pfand.

Despite the lax rules on alcohol consumption and its all-night availability, (specialty night liquor stores stay open during the wee hours and various food joints, usually doner and sometimes wurst carts, stay on the streets serving food and alcohol until the morning) the Neustadt is usually pretty calm and safe. I feel safer, most of the time, in Neustadt at night than I ever did in Reno at night.

But it wasn’t the least bit warm as I walked and I found myself taking few notes, possibly due to cold fingers. And not many of the people seemed happy. Although there were a few people in the streets, it was sparse enough, with more than enough APCs and fully-armed, fully-outfitted police, to give me apocalypse-movie ideas (zombies, nuclear war/fallout zone.)

I kept on trying to make my way down town, having to redirect every few blocks to get around sealed off streets. Every time I caught a glimpse of the main street, I saw tram after tram, big yellow caterpillars stranded in the middle of the street.

When I got to Albertplatz, a roundabout/tram interchange near the end of the Neustadt, I made my way around left-screaming protestors, waving flags and chanting and listening to a speaker talk passionately about something.

I saw the main road leading to the Bahnhof Neustadt, cordoned off with fences, police and APCs. This trifecta was becoming a common theme. I should clarify though: I don’t mean a few police officers here and there. I mean, a veritable wall of blue, green and dark green.

I asked a police officer if there was some way I could get through to the train station; I said (truthfully) I wanted to see a friend of mine off. She was an au pair like me but unlike me she had to go back to her country. She was taking a bus back to Ukraine – she’d bought/accumulated too much stuff to bring on a plane. And the bus was going to leave from the train station.

The officer directed me down a side street, saying the way was open further down. He was wrong but I managed to get through.

I met Nadja in my second German course. She was an easily excitable, big, Ukrainian girl, not yet an adult with all the accoutrements but not no longer a teenager. She, as I, was working as an au pair with a German family. Unlike me, she had a relatively horrible family and children. She confessed to us, the Volkshochschule group, (long after the course had finished,) that she still spoke to her guest-parents in the formal tense of German, which is the same as the third person plural, “they.”

Nadja is a Ukrainian. I’d like to keep from making stereotypes or generalizations about a large group of people, but Nadja epitomized Ukrainian women to us. She was loud, in a boisterous kind of way. She was big, in a matriarch kind of way. She opened beer bottles with her teeth, in a Ukrainian kind of way.

Nadja was half my reason for going to the train station. I, along with our old teacher and a classmate, wanted to see her off. We weren’t sure of the next time we would see her, if at all.

The other half of my down-town-adventure reasoning was that I’d asked to cover the protests for the University’s newspaper, the Universitätsjournal. I didn’t even know the Nazis were corralled in the Neustadt train station – when I asked a police officer of how I could get there, to see Nadja off, he said this would be hard to do, but to ask the police at the barrier. I then asked which protestors were stamping their feet and yelling and clapping and waving flags in the middle of the street in Albertplatz. The counter-protesters, he said. And the Nazis? At the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

When winter arrives

break out the glühwein.

Doesn't that look like a great place to have a glühwein?

In America, we're missing a bunch of things. And when I write that, please don't take it the wrong way. I don't mean it in a combative way, nor do I mean it to say my love for America has decreased any. (Notice: my cultural difference shows when I state that my love, love being the key, for my country has not decreased)

I mean it to say that we're missing things. Often times it's not just that we don't have the culture of glühwein drinking or sekt drinking. It's that we don't have the culture of doing it and we don't have the words. We have our own words and ours are inferior. By far.

For glühwein we say "mulled wine" or "hot mulled wine" It doesn't do it. It doesn't carry the connotations of steaming into the cold air, of being held tightly by gloved hands as a measure against the cold. It doesn't look good on large heating/serving containers for vendors.
It doesn't work.

Sekt is sparkling wine. But sekt is good, sekt is worth drinking. Sparkling wine seems childish and a improper substitute for champagne. Which sekt is not. Because it's a matter of nomenclature and the Germans have it right and have some better drinks as a result.

I say to you, freezing in the cold on the slopes, freezing in the cold watching your kids game, freezing in the cold at some event, at some (god-awful) outdoors party, at some thing, think of glühwein. It's wonderful.
And think that it takes all of us, together, to bring glühwein and sekt into our culture, to properly propagate them. Because they're worth it. They really are.

Both images taken during my ski trip with the family in the alps

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting your angry on

I thought I'd post that picture, of one of the Communist statues in the post-Soviet statue park, outside of Budapest. Seen during my first visit to Budapest.

To the potatoes: Ferdinand degenerated during the latter-half of the day, after the parents had left (a little past 7) to go to a birthday party. We fought a little, I thought everything was OK. I asked him to start working on cleaning his room while I got ready to make a little something for dinner.
I came in and started working on cleaning his room, while he just sat there and moped. He had done very little whilst I was in the other room and had said he was done -- not that he was put-a-fork-in done but rather he'd completed his work.
He seemed to sour before my eyes. I think this happened:
He formed an idea in his head, started repeating it and then started believing it, until he fully did. He told me he was upset because he'd thought he'd got to do NO fun things the entire day -- that the whole day was consumed by un-fun things. He then proceeded to sulk and was pissy for the rest of the night. I think he even tried a mini hunger strike. He refused to eat more than one egg for dinner.
He proceeded to not talk to me for the rest of the night, at his dinner alone in his room, read in the room. I cooked dinner for myself, went upstairs and listened to Talk of the Nation. He came up around 8:10 and started to watch TV, not uttering a word to me. At nine, I asked him to go brush his teeth and get ready for bed. He turned off the TV, threw the remote down onto the chair and stomped down the stairs. He slammed the bathroom door. He came out after awhile (I was washing dishes) and slammed his door.
One should know: we'd play-fought for quite a bit, he'd talked with his mom and otherwise not done too many productive things for a large part of the day (he came home at 2:45 or so.) It was a huge struggle to get him to unpack and repack his backpack and he took a long, luxurious bath once he got home from soccer practice, at about 6:45.

Life is tough, isn't it?

I really think he worked himself into a froth. I think he wanted to be pissy and angry and frothed.

As William Goldman wrote for the Princess Bride movie:

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

To round it out, a picture of a house in Denmark. From the sailing trip with the Kretzschmar family.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mustard -- a love story

I wish this post had some kind of better subject matter. But it doesn't. I'm like that. I'm that way. I could talk about Halloween, or notes on what happens when one over beats cookie dough (such as my au pair child did) or other seemingly more interesting things. But to me, they're are merely seemingly and never really.
Instead, I will write of mustard. That's right, mustard. Because I love the stuff. It might very well be hard-encoded into my genes to love mustard -- it may be a trait I pass down to my prospective children.
Mustard is to me what chocolate is to many other people. Yet, mustard is so much not-fattening. And so cheap! Which doesn't exactly bring me to in any other than a superficial way to my subject: Bautz'ner Mustard, or in the native language, Bautz'ner Senf. (Senf is mustard in German.)
It's a middle-spicy mustard, it's slightly pale in color but is not a French mustard. Nor is it the incredible Sierra Nevada Porter & Spicy Brown Mustard, the best mustard in the world. That I've tasted so far.
But the German mustard is delicious. It is incredible. It does create an addiction to Wiener Würstchen dunked in the mustard.
It's like crack, without the drugs, chemical dependency and an incredible taste. As seen in the photo above, the glass of mustard (for Europeans sell mustard [often times] in glassware that is meant to be reused -- in France mustard comes in the much more useful wine glasses) features the, or, Unser Sandmännchen -- Our (diminutive) Sandman. He's a feature of German TV, especially East German TV.
And he's not scary like the 3D talking piece of toast. Which is a nightmare for another day.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The below post outlines why I have a problem with writing such short posts. Because I feel the reader is owed more content. Because I feel a one-liner does not do the reader justice. However, I'm a human. Which means that I'm not always consistent about what I feel.
And I feel that what my host father, André, said about music deserves to be written down. And, I figure, to fluff it out I'll write about the night.
Nothing spectacular, nothing involving recipes. Sad. Maybe I'll write the cookies recipe down soon, with pictures! And maybe I'll do the snicker doodle recipe too.

He (André) said 50 cent, the rapper, has created many perfect songs.

That is all.

The night and day:
After a fight with the boy over cleaning his room, he cleaned his room, played computer for an hour as I went out to get bread and read the economist.
He contested that whenever I tell him to do X Y or Z before he may play the computer, I increase the workload or trick him and seemingly don't allow him to play at all.
I said no, all I'm asking you to do is clean/tidy your room and when you don't do it fully, me telling you to finish cleaning it is NOT me making more or new work up. It's the same work he hasn't yet finished.
I then said, arguing for me for 30 minutes merely detracts from the amount of time he'll ultimately have to play on the computer.
I then (being the mature adult I am) suggested to him things he could do to finish tidying up his room, emphasising that what I was suggesting was neither all he should do nor some kind of binding contract.
When Anja came home, she was happily surprised at how clean or tidy his room was. I punched him lightly in the back and said "Told you so!"

On buying bread: because everything's closed on Saturday, I was asked to go buy bread. I did, however, the normal baker was out of bread. (It was also manned by a new-to-me employee with a slightly tepid attitude.) I went to the baker down the street in the Netto shopping complex. I walked back home and I saw Nadia on my way back, waiting for her bus with her two au pair kids.
We hugged, we talked. Life is apparently better with her, she's taking free German classes (I don't get how it works) and looking into doing a year of civil service here in Germany. We talked until her bus came -- we said bye and I walked home.

After the parents came home, we got our cold weather clothes on and went to the Bio-Dad and his partner's house for dinner. Theo, Ferdi's half-bro and his mom (the partner) were there hosting us. We talked, drank wine, Theo showed me his (awesome) model train set. We ate, we drank expresso, I drove us home. I couldn't really see out of the window for the first few minutes to to condencesion.

We got home, after I had trouble parking (I have a hard time backing up in the dark when I can't see out my rear window) and found the cat waiting for us. Ferdinand proceeded into some sort of pseudo-crying fit over his new bedroom furniture. Anja had suggested in the car that Ferdinand get their old bed -- the parents are getting a new one becuase Anja had trouble sleeping on the old one. Mind you, it's just Anja, but Ferdinand has the idea that this bed isn't good enough for him. I think. But, it was past midnight and past midnight is not a good time to discuss anything with Ferdinand -- he just needs to sleep and discuss in the morning.

Such is life.

Still, saying that 50 Cent songs are perfect, or incredible . . . Atrocity. Really.
And, because I round out posts, here's a picture of a poster found in Tulcea, Romania:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A note on alcohol in Germany

A feeling of obligation exists at the onset of each blog posting. Or the beginning of each written work. The trepidation is engendered between the inception of the idea and the moment the writer sits down to write, or, while he is writing. It is often times so much that the written work is never started for fear of not finishing, for fear of lacking the content should the work be written.
What a bastard, this feeling of obligation is.
I should write here about my summer travels, or, about my fall travels. Or about something important, something interesting, something other than mundane or vaguely alcoholic. Alas, this is not my way. For:

A sense of amazement and relief swept over me on Wednesday evening after I'd settled in at the bar the English club was meeting in. After I'd checked to make sure no clubbers had arrived yet, I went to the bar, checked the menu written in chalk and decided that I was going to have a .4 liter Budweiser. Not a Budweiser we know in the states but rather the Czech Budweiser, (Booed-vy-ser.)
It was from the tap. It was only two euros. I knew I was back in Dresden, that I was back in Germany, that I was back in a place I love to be. And, that the beer is affordable and cold here in Dresden. And that I love that.

And then, in club, when I said how nice was it was to only pay two Euros for a beer, I was told that you only pay one Euro in the Czech Republic.
Still. It's nice to be back in Dresden and to have a decent, cold beer at a price I can afford.

But, to round out the post, here's a picture from the mud volcanoes I visited in Romania. And these were the mud volcanoes I did not pay to see but rather hiked to.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recipe: Wine-Fruit Brownie Sauce

Wine-Fruit sauce for Brownies

Adapted from: Rebekah in Germany

Note: This recipe is a work in progress

I invited my former Volkshochschule classmates to the house for dinner on Saturday night. The family was out for the weekend; I had the entire place to myself. Only Ingrid, a classmate from Columbia, replied. She brought her husband and son along.

We started out with a beef stew made with a ¾ to ¼ red wine to water base. As a side I’d roasted Kohlrabi. However, in trying to keep them warm I managed to burn most of them to a crisp. Note to self: don’t leave Kohlrabi in the oven while baking anything else. Also, I learned NOT to use sea salt on roasted kohlrabi. The sea salt adds too much saltiness in too little space. Ingrid’s husband seemed to like them though; we had an entire conversation revolving around Kohlrabi. It’s a cousin of the turnip. I’ll write its recipe later.

I also picked up .40 Euro cents garlic bread baguettes. Quite delicious by themselves and go great with the beef stew.

After the stew we moved on to a “Bavarian Apple Torte,” which did not turn out as planned, and brownies coupled with the subject of this recipe: a syrupy wine-fruit sauce. As I wrote, brownies. Gotta love ‘em.

The definition of a perfect brownie changes from person to person. To me, perfect is on the just-cooked, fudgy side; the cake side is reserved for cake. However, this recipe is not for brownies. It’s for a sour, sucker-slapping syrupy fruit-wine sauce that goes with, on or next to a brownie.

The wine to use changes with the fruit. Peaches and nectarines go well with a white wine, possibly with a splash of red. Strawberries and raspberries go better with a red wine, possibly with a splash of white. But, ultimately, the cook should make the decision on wine-and-fruit paring. I’m no wine authority. It doesn’t hurt to remember that red wine usually goes great with chocolate. However, a glass accompanying dessert is probably better than putting peaches in a red wine sauce.

Wine, wine, wine. Wine is a beautiful thing. And wine is an inexpensive thing here in Germany. I find myself using it all the time when I cook now. The not-very-good tasting wines are downright cheap. They’re close to the price of organic milk, if not cheaper in some cases.

I used terrible-for-drinking (and downright cheap) boxed wine for the sauce. Not space-bag boxed wine but honest-to-god, wine in a box. Much like milk comes in a 1-liter container, so does crappy wine. It cost under a euro. 9.5% alcohol content.

The sugary taste of the sauce gets both chopped down and spiked with the lime. I’m very much a chocolate and fruit person, so this recipe is love to me. The sour, with the wine, really brings a new taste to the brownie.

My personal favorite matching is raspberries with anything chocolate. When I made this with nectarines and juice of about ½ a lemon it contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the brownie. Ingrid’s husband and I were in love with the combination. Ingrid and her son didn’t like the sauce because of the sour. I loved the sour. The recipe and pairing are, alas, not for everyone.

The recipe calls for boiling or cooking/reducing the wine to about half of where it was. One can reduce it more, or less. The alcohol taste was gone from the sauce when I called it quits on reducing.

I’ve yet to work on presentation. You’re on your own for that.

This recipe/concept came (to me) from a fellow expat who’s living on an Army base here. In a previous life she cooked professionally. We’re in good hands.


2 cups chopped fruit, separated into 1 cup each

2 cups red, white or rose wine

1-2 tablespoons white granulated sugar, to taste

Juice from ½ a lime or lemon


In either a deep sauce pan or a small pot add 2 cups of chosen wine. Bring to a boil, mix in the desired amount of sugar until its dissolved and half the fruit. Boil or cook/reduce the sauce until it’s about half the amount it was before boiling. The previously strong (warm/hot) alcohol taste should be gone. Add the rest of the fruit and serve with the brownies or other dessert.