Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why The Germans Are Going Nuts This Time if Year!

As the first signs autumn is upon us start to appear (diminishing light, cool air,  colorful leaves), Germans begin to look to the heavens in anticipation.  They are looking up for good reason, it's about to start raining Castanian Nuts.  What begins as a drizzle, soon turns into a downpour within only a few weeks.  Castanians, or Chestnuts, fall from the trees with a well armored protective coating complete with nasty looking spikes.  While I have yet to discover a single case of Death by Castanian, my wife (along with many other Germans) insist that one should NEVER find themselves directly under the path of a falling Castanian!

The same adults who fear for their lives, now send their children out into the streets to collect them. Once a Castania has landed it becomes perfectly safe for children.  The armored, spiky shell of a Castania is no match against the power of small, determined fingers.  As Castanians begin to pile up in parks and streets, children aappear in droves collecting them in baskets, buckets, bags bicycle racks and all sorts of makeshift containers.  The Castanians used by Kinder (children) for a variety of creative projects, including: Painting, Jewelry and making Castanian Menchen (figures made by using wires, glue, paint and Castanians).   Many schools encourage children to bring in Castanians for their art projects.

Adults (no longer in fear of their lives after a few weeks) also venture out to collect Castanians for many uses, including:  Christmas Decorations, making laundry detergent, eating and of course, roasting over an open fire.  The smell of Castanians (Chestnuts) roasting over an open fire is the first sign of the next German Juncture:  The WienachtsMarkt Season.  As a child growing up in Chicago, I never fully understood the significance of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" being the first line from The Christmas Song until moving to Berlin.  The smell of roasting chestnuts truly is the first sign Winter and The Holiday Season are getting closer.

With the Castania playing such an important roll in the lives of children and adults this time of year, it's a good excuse for Germans to go a little "nuts"!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Berlin is a Great Place to Play.

Something I've noticed a lot, is just how child and family friendly Berlin is.   Berlin has plenty of parks, fields and natural areas and almost all of them have playgrounds for children/young adults.  Some of the larger parks even have little mini-zoos with a few animals that can be observed and even fed.  There are skates parks, bike parks, tennis courts, mini and full sized football (soccer) fields as well as areas set aside for playing a variety of different activities.  Along the canal, there are lots of little courts where they play a game called "Ball"  (I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it looks like a great excuse to get together with friends and drink a few beers outside).  There are basketball courts, volleyball nets (complete with sand) and in every park, and even in a few unexpected places like street corners and bridges,  there are a few stone table tennis tables.  Although I haven't noticed any baseball diamonds, there are certainly enough parks that have the capacity to accommodate a game or two.  
The residents of Berlin enjoy being active.  Even when the weather is horrible, it is not uncommon to find people outside taking advantage of the parks and play areas.  These areas even have their own unique cultures.  Some areas are local hangouts, some are social gathering places for young singles, some are family friendly and some are more relaxed for those who want to smell the roses (There are flowers everywhere).  When visiting Berlin, don't forget to bring a ping pong ball and a paddle...  It's a great way to meet a few friendly folks and spend a little quality time outside.

- Brian.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Next Adventure Begins

 After a two mouth hiatus, I am returning to the blogging world with a wonderful announcement: My wife and I are now the proud parents of a beautiful and healthy baby girl! Both my wife and daughter are healthy, happy and doing extremely well.  For many, this wonderful news is coming as a bit of a surprise.  My wife and I did not keep it a secret, however we both decided to keep the pregnancy away from social media.  Between my move to Germany and a variety of events that placed both of us in the public eye, it was nice to have something for my wife and I to enjoy together.   We've also decided to keep pictures of her away from social media as well.   She's absolutely perfect, but you're just going to have to take our word for it.

As one might imagine, I now have a whole new set of priorities!  It might not be as easy to keep this blog updated, so I've decided to write less posts but make them more worthwhile reads! There are still plenty of differences between the United States and Germany to explore and I (being me) will still make, and write about, plenty of my mistakes.  Only now, I get to do so with the pleasure of being a new parent.  In addition to being a loving husband, I am now a loving husband and father trying to adapt in a new country

- Brian.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dining Differences between The USA and Germany

Dining out?  Here are some important differences between restaurant dining in Germany and restaurant dining in The United States.

In America, water is free and is refilled often.
(usually filtered tap water)
In Germany, water is not free and is refilled upon request only.
(usually sparkling mineral water)

In America, the food is expensive but many drinks are cheap.
(free water, free refills on most beverages)
In Germany, the food is cheap but many drinks are expensive.
(water, juice, coffee are not complimentary and do not come with free refills)

In America, your server will stop by often to check on you.
(to ensure that you are having an enjoyable experience)
In Germany, your server will not interrupt you unless you flag them.
(to ensure that you are having an enjoyable experience)

In America, it does not matter where you place your fork and knife while eating.
(your server will ask you if you are finished)
In Germany, positioning you fork and knife on the plate at 5 o'clock means you are finished.
(your sever will uses this as a signal to remove your plate without asking)

In America, the fork is held in the right hand and the knife is held/used when needed.
(Americans find this efficient)
In Germany, the fork is held in the left hand, the knife in the right and both are held continuously.
(Germans find this efficient) 

In America, you are politely encouraged to leave after your meal is completely finished.
(your bill will be placed on the table, the server will ask if you need anything else)
In Germany, it is expected that you will stay for a while.
(you will not be given a bill unless you request it, and even then it might take a while)

In America, your server will politely thank you for your business.
(to appreciate their customers)
In Germany, the owner, manager or server might offer a free round of schnapps after desert.
(to appreciate their customers)

In America, it is customary to give tips of 15% and higher depending on the quality of the service.
(usually an estimate of 15% and then rounded up to the nearest dollar)
In Germany, it is customary to round up the entire cost of the mean to an amount you feel comfortable with.
(tips are appreciated, but anything over 10% is perceived as being a bit outlandish / also, the servers are much better compensated by the restaurant)

An important side note:
Not all establishments in Germany have public washrooms.  If an establishment has a bathroom, it is usually for in house guests only.  If the bathroom has an attendant (which is often the case) you are expected to pay a small fee for it's use.  In return, the bathrooms are exceptionally clean compared to bathrooms in The USA  (always keep some spare change in your pocket in case of emergency)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Chicago / Berlin Temperature Survival Guide

Although Chicago and Berlin have similar climates, the reaction of the citizens of these cities to the environment is vastly different:

From 90º  (32.2º) to 110º  (43.3º)
In Chicago: 
The City announces a State of Emergency.
There are mass power outages due to strain on the electrical grid from air conditioning.
The murder rate sky rockets.
Everyone complains about the weather, no one goes to work or school.
In Berlin:
The City takes proper precautions
The few people who own air conditioners, consider turning them on.
Concerned neighbors check on each other.
Despite Complaining about the weather, everyone goes to work and school.

From 70º  (21.1º) to 90º (43.3º)
In Chicago:
The City is alive and filled with art, markets, festivals and concerts.
The beaches are packed, sporting venues are full, neighbors are friendly and the crime rate is average.
People would rather enjoy the weather, than go to work or school.
In Berlin:
The City is alive and filled with art, markets, festivals and concerts.
The parks are packed, people are out playing sports, great weather for drinking beer in public.
Everyone goes to work and school.

From 40º  (4.4º) to 70º (21.1)
In Chicago:
The City is absolutely delightful.
People enjoy outdoor activities, dining out, theater and a lower crime rate.
Everyone goes to work and school, but no one is happy about that.
In Berlin:
The City begins to brace for Winter.
People are cautiously optimistic about the weather
Despite Complaining about the weather, everyone goes to work and school.

From 0º  (-17.7º) to 40º (4.4º)
In Chicago:
The City goes about business as usual.
People enjoy the colder nights and the crisp, clean air.
Everyone goes to work and school.
In Berlin:
The City becomes concerned about the brutally cold temperatures.
Multiple layers of clothing must be warn at all times
Despite Complaining about the weather, everyone goes to work and school.

From -30º  (-34.4º) to 0º (-17.7)
In Chicago: 
The City cautiously goes about business as usual
Extra precautions are taken for the sick and elderly
People start wearing Winter coats but still go out jogging in shorts by The Lake
Despite taking out the trash or shoveling snow in T-Shirts, it's too cold for work or school
In Berlin:
The City is quietly panicking.
The only thing preventing people from crying is the fear that their tears will freeze.
Going outside becomes a dangerous, life threatening event.
Despite a complete inability to survive the weather, everyone goes to work and school.

A MUST READ (to protect yourself)!

So, you're visiting Germany for the first time and enjoying the sights!  Thus far, the people have been friendly, the food has been delicious and the beer is plentiful.  Strolling along the canals you might discover little markets filled with all sorts of interesting goods, including plenty of chocolates.  You will notice, even enjoy plenty of the imbiss stands selling curry sausages along your journey.  But not to be worried about as all this walking is clearly burning off the calories.  As the day progresses, you start to feel like you might be falling in love with German living!  Life is good...   Everything is beautiful...  People are wonderful...   Food is plentiful and delicious...  and, just as this feeling of euphoria is about to reach it's climax... 

Suddenly, abruptly, without warning, you feel like you've been punched in the stomach by an angry Mike Tyson!  You are in trouble, and you know it!  Although the quality and freshness of the food here is exceptional, indulging in too much sausage, bread, butter, potatoes, chocolates and interesting vegetables and then washing it all down with carbonated water and carbonated beer has taken it's toll on your digestive system!  Simply put, you now dealing with a potentially explosive situation!

You take a deep breath and relax.  It's going to be alright, just look at how many people are out and about.  Clearly, there must be a bathrooms somewhere nearby.  While passing through the little markets and stands, it becomes obvious that none of them contain bathrooms.  But, you relax and try not to panic.  Panicking will only make things worse, right?  After a quick scan or the surrounding area, you become frighteningly aware that there are no bathrooms within sight.  Now, with a potentially explosive situation becoming progressively worse as a feeling of panic starts to set in, you decide to ask someone where the closest toilet is.

Asking a German where you can find a public toilet is a lot like asking your third cousin to describe his friend's latest Big Foot sighting.  "I may or may not have seen one, perhaps over here or perhaps over there, in an area somewhere behind or in front of something, or next to the woods, near the creek, but I'm not sure it's true, oh, you're just going to have to take my word for it..."   Public toilets are far more rare in Germany than they are in The States and I get the impression that the Germans who know where these toilets are, try to protect them from the amazingly destructive powers a typical over indulging tourist's digestive system! 

Now in a CODE RED situation with the panic and fear clearly visible in you eyes, someone will probably take pity on you and point you in the direction of the "closest" toilet.  Although it's not as close as you've hoped for, it will have to do...   You try to breathe and relax as you make your way to the nearest center, all the while repeating:  "I can do this, I will be alright, everything will be fine..."  over and over in your mind.  Each time you pass another imbiss stand, you start to curse the day you ever decided to visit to Germany!  Life is horrible...  The food is greasy and disgusting...  The people are cruel and have an odd sense of humor...  and, just as this explosive feeling and panic is about to reach it's climax...

You finally reach the public toilet only to realize that public toilets aren't free and the last of your change was spent on Currywurst!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Temperature Guide: Fahrenheit/Celsius

To easily figure out the temperature in Fahrenheit from Celsius, one could use this equation: 
Degrees Fahrenheit - multiply by 9, divide by 5, add 32 = Degrees Celsius

For those of us who don't appreciate math, here's an easy chart for converting temperature:

The boiling point of water is: 212 / 100
Human Body Temperature is: 98.6 / 37
The freezing point of water is: 32 / 0

Earth Weather Temperature Fahrenheit to Celsius Quick Guide:

-40 / -40.0  Extremely Cold
-30 / -34.4  Extremely Cold
-20 / -28.8  Extremely Cold
-10 / -23.3  Extremely Cold
0 / -17.7  Very Cold
10 / -12.2  Very Cold
20 / -6.6  Cold
30 / -1.1  Cold
40 / 4.4  Cool
50 / 10.0  Mild
60 / 15.5  Comfortable
70 / 21.1  Comfortable
80 / 26.6  Warm
90 / 32.2  Hot
100 / 37.4  Extremely Hot
110 / 43.3  Extremely Hot

German By The Numbers / How to Count in German

Counting in German is much the same as counting in English, with one rather big exception.  Rather than just explaining this exception, I will write this segment in such a way as to help train your brain to properly count, speak and read German numbers.

First, Learn The Basic Counting Elements:

0 - zero / null
1 - one / eins
2 - two / zwei
3 - three / drei
4 - four / vier
5 - five  / funf
6 - six / sechs
7 - seven / sieben
8 - eight / acht
9 - nine / neun

10 - ten / zehn
11 - eleven / elf
12 - twelve / zwolf
13 - thirteen / dreizehn
14 - fourteen / vierzehn
15 - fifteen / funfzehn
16 - sixteen / sechzehn
17 - seventeen / siebzehn
18 - eighteen / achtzehn
19 - nineteen / neunzehn

20 - twenty / zwanzig
30 - thirty / dreissig
40 - forty / viersig
50 - fifty / funfzig
60 - sixty / sechzig
70 - seventy / siebzig
80 - eighty / achtzig
90 - ninety / neunzig
100 - (one)hundred / (ein)hundret
1000 - (one)thousand (ein)tausend

Alright, here comes the tricky part.   In German, when counting from twenty to thirty, thirty to forty, etc..  the smaller number is written/pronounced before the larger number.  Although I will continue to write the numbers in both English and German, to train your brain I will only write the numbers as they are arranged in German

Second, Practice and Learn The German Number Structure:

21 - one and twenty / einundzwanzig
22 - two and twenty / zweiundzwanzig
23 - three and twenty / dreiundzwanzig
24 - four and twenty / vierundzwanzig
25 - five and twenty / funfundzwanzig
26 - six and twenty / sechsundzwanzig
27 - seven and twenty / siebenundzwanzig
28 - eight and twenty / achtundzwanzig
29 - nine and twenty / neunundzwanzig
30 - thirty / dreissig

21 - one and twenty / einundzwanzig
32 - two and thirty / zweiunddreizig
43 - three and forty /dreiundvierzig
54 - four and fifty / vierundfunfzig
65 - five and sixty / funfundsechzig
76 - six and seventy / sechsundsiebzig
87 - seven and eighty / siebenundachtzig
98 - eight and ninety / achtundneunzig
357 - three hundred seven and fifty / dreihundretsiebenundfunfzig
3764 - three thousand seven hundred four and sixty / dreitausendsiebenhundretvierundsechzig

Monday, January 12, 2015

Die Hundescheiße

There are many social, occupational and bureaucratic issues facing someone who has recently moved to Berlin from another country.  Registering your residency, applying for a work permit, obtaining a tax identification number and opening a bank account...  There are many things to be considered, issues to be addressed and plenty of questions need to be asked.  But before you get started figuring out your new life in Berlin, the first question you will ponder is:  What is the deal with Die Hundescheiße?

Die Hundescheiße just might be the number one social issue effecting residents of Berlin, especially the Neukölln area.  Die Hundescheiße controls where you walk, where you go, what you wear, how you smell, who you visit , how you think and your disposition throughout the day!  Die Hundescheiße is both feared and respected!  What is Die Hundescheiße, you ask?  If you're not already aware, it's not a government agency or secret underground agency...  Die Hundescheiße literally means: The Dog Shit!

After spending any length of time walking around Neukölln, one can completely understand why Germans are obsessed with house shoes.  Die Hundescheiße comes in every size, shape and color imaginable...  It's location is splattered all over the sidewalks, bike paths and patches of Earth.  However, Die Hundescheiße is also discovered in strategic locations where one might least expect it.  Upon my arrival to Berlin in November, I thought residents passing one another refused to make eye contact with other people.   Later, I learned that they're not refusing to make eye contact, rather they are concentrating carefully on their environment.

If a error in judgement has been made and shoes have become contaminated, the worst thing you can do is panic!  Cobblestone streets and slippery conditions can make the situation worse, and panicking may result in a slip or fall where one is sure to discover additional loads with other body parts.

If You're Not Sure, Always Ask...

I am a social person, but I also enjoy being independent as well.  Moving to another country has forced me to rely on a lot of help from others.  Within the two months I've been here, I have learned enough German to get around.  But, overconfidence can occasionally get me into trouble.

While enjoying a delightful meal from a Middle Eastern Restaurant in Neukölln, I noticed something on my plate that I didn't recognize.  Earlier that day, my wife had been teasing me about smelling everything before I ate it.  So, rather than ask what it was, I decided to chance it and take a spoon full. No sooner than the spoon left my mouth, the look on my wife's face became priceless!  I assumed it wasn't poisionious, or it wouldn't have been on the plate to begin with...   The discovery I made, was that hot sauce sometimes comes in a paste and can look almost exactly like a side.   Fortunately, I am used to exceptionally spicy foods...  But even at that, I learned an important lesson!  Ask!

Lesson learned, right?  Less than a week later, I was opening an Advent Calendar filled all sorts of goodies!  The chocolates were amazing, but the calendar also contained other fun, luxurie items. There were little candles, candies and a strange little bag covered in hearts and strawberries.  Assuming it to be candy, I opened the bag (without asking, because I wanted to be independent) and gave it a try!  Fortunately, it didn't take long to realize that bath salts are not eatable!  This time, the "lesson" cost me an hour of my life hovering over a toilet...

As of right now, I'm back to smelling everything before I eat it and asking lots of questions.  As soon as I gain more confidence, I'll update this blog with other items that I have accidentally consumed!