Monthly Archives: December 2009

OK Germans, it’s payback time!

New Year’s Eve is fast approaching, so my mind has turned to preparing for all the strange rituals that this involves in Germany. I’ve checked the times for Dinner for One, I’ve selected my fireworks, organised the menu…. and now I’m sorting out the Bleigießen.

Bleigießen, for those who have not had the pleasure of spending New Year’s Eve in Germany, is a form of teutonic fortune telling. The equipment you need is a small set comprising a metal spoon and some lumps of lead. You will also need a lit candle and a glass of water.

The idea is to melt the lead over the candle in the spoon, then pour the molten metal into the glass of water. The lead sets immediately into some shape… and from your analysis of the shape, you can predict your fortune for the coming year.

So far, so simple. On the back of the pack there are even instructions for the fortune reading. According to the blurb, your lead lump will come out looking like a goat or a ring or a sword, or something which is then attached to some predicted fortune such as “unexpected wealth” or “secret admirers”.

The problem is, first that my lump of lead never looks like any of the shapes described on the packaging, and second that if I do suspend disbelief and stretch my imagination as far as it will go, I end up with something that either predicts my own death or foresees a year of disease, ruin and  misery.

So this year, I have decided to throw away the packaging and write my own “fortunes”. This, I guarantee, will have far better results. Firstly, because the lump of lead is definitely going to look like one of my predicted shapes (I’m writing from long experience here), second because my predicted fortunes are far more likely to happen than “unexpected wealth” or “secret admirers”, and third because I’m only going to tell the fortunes of my German neighbours. The ones who for years have been foretelling doom for me.

So here’s my patented Bleigießen interpretation kit:

Used chewing gum: You will spend most of 2010 in the emergency room, bleeding profusely from wounds inflicted by savage animals

Roadkill: Impoverished investment bankers will take over your house and turn it into a squat frequented by illegal gambling syndicates

Traffic accident: You will suffer an unusual medical condition which results in massive overproduction of earwax

Rorschach test: Your German residency papers will be mixed up with those of an illegal Mongolian drug smuggler and you will be accidentally deported to Ulan Bator

Silly putty: A meteor will fall on your house, destroying it completely. Fortunately you are out at the time. Unfortunately you will have to spend the rest of the year sharing a one-bedroom apartment with your in laws

Lump of cheese: Giant rodents will invade your home and infest your family with bubonic plague

Have a great time at Silvester everyone!

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Images of Christmas in Germany

This year felt like a proper German Christmas.

For a start there was snow. Proper snow, rather than just a dusting which turns to slush on contact with the ground. This is what our driveway looked like.

For a couple of days it looked like we might not be able to get out and buy a Christmas tree at all. But eventually we did venture onto the roads… and found to our surprise that they had been cleared enough to be drivable.

For once it was pretty late when we put up the tree… Christmas Eve no less. We must be turning German!

One of the things I like about Christmas trees is all the different types of decorations you can buy here. I’ve been collecting a few every year for the 18 years we’ve lived in Germany. I went for non-breakable, child oriented designs mainly, because for a lot of those years we had young children… and for some of the other years we had kittens in the house.

Here are some close-ups from the tree.

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Happy Christmas from snowy Germany

Getting ready for Christmas is one of those mammoth tasks that I usually can’t even get my head round without either going back to bed or reaching for the sherry bottle (usually in vain as we finished it last Christmas).

This years preparations were particularly fraught, because just when there were vitually no shopping days left, all of a sudden huge quantities of snow fell from the sky. Lovely and Christmassy, you might say….

… but not if you’re trying to do the shopping and the car looks like this!

So during the week running up to Christmas, we were all stuck at home. It would have been possible to dig out the car, of course. But in Germany it would have been illegal for me to drive it in these conditions, as I don’t have snow tyres.

For four days we sat tight, huddled round a log fire, eating whatever was already stored in the freezer or in the pantry. We went back to making traditional Christmas decorations, rather than putting up bought ones. My youngest daughter made some lovely scented baubles from oranges and cloves.

Finally the roads cleared enough for us to make one big supermarket run and stock up on everything we need for Christmas. The tree is up… the lights are on… there’s a huge stack of logs by the fireplace…  so Happy Christmas everyone!

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A butter Christmas tree? What?

This is another alien moment. You know. Just when you think you’ve become immune to every weird thing life in Germany can throw at you… something happens that makes you feel totally, utterly abroad.

This was what happened yesterday when my daughter came home from school. She said she’d called in at the bakery in Düsseldorf to pick up a belegtes Brötchen on her way into school.

“And they gave me a free Christmas gift, Mum.”

“Ooh, lovely dear. What was it?”

“A butter Christmas tree.”

What?

It was all true. On the table was indeed a butter Christmas tree. There was no denying it. I might not immediately have recognised it, but it said “Weihnachtsbaum” on it in big letters, so there could be no doubt.

Just when you thought you’d got the Germans completely sussed… the sensible, practical Germans. People who can build Audis and Porsches, precision tools and high powered microscopes. And then they bring you the butter Christmas tree.

What a remarkably impractical gift, first thing in the morning, for any school child or office worker who is buying their morning sandwich. For a start, a 100 gram lump of butter is not an ideal extra little snack to round off your breakfast. No, you’re going to have to carry it around with you all day. First into your centrally-heated classroom or office, where it will sit, melting in your coat pocket for several hours.

At the point when it has reached maximum squidginess, you’ll be just getting onto a crowded commuter tram home… with other passengers pressing up against your butter-tree, crushing the packaging (trust me, the lid pops off easily!) and letting the sticky butter embed itself into the lining of your jacket.

For the lucky ones who get a seat on the tram, there will be the heater next to your leg, gently liquefying the butter sludge, so that it oozes from your coat lining and forms an oily puddle on the tram’s upholstery. Soaking into your trousers in the meantime, of course.

I can guarantee that I won’t be taking public transport into Düsseldorf for the next few days… or if I do, I’ll avoid the rush hour and be very cautious about sitting down. I wonder how often they clean the seat covers….

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There goes the neighbourhood…

As the nights draw in, we’ve been having some unexpected visitors in our garden. I like to refer to them as Hell’s Bambis.

Initially they tended to hang around the far end of the garden, checking out the old garden house and the kids’ football goal. But over the course of the week they’ve become bolder and I’m finding deer in the courtyard, or on the drive or even in my vegetable patch.

Of course, after all the hedgehogs, rabbits, mice etc. this year, I thought I was used to wildlife around the garden. Deer, however, are on a completely different scale than any of these. You can be walking from the house to the office and all of a sudden you’re confronted with something the size of a small horse… which is looking at you with a look of: “Whoa. Where the heck did that human come from?”

When startled (and I’m confident by now that my appearance is terrifying for a deer… it’s probably the way I do my hair), deer make a strange sort of movement which involves their legs going in lots of different directions at once. It’s as if one leg is saying: “Quick… over the back fence” and another is going: “Yikes – scarper down the drive!”  It generally takes a good half second for the deer to work out an exit plan. During this half second, if you’re unlucky, its flailing limbs will be making hoof-shaped dents in your car, or smashing the cucumber frames or if you’re really unlucky, hitting you in the midrif.

As a result, these days when I go outside, I’m like a member of a SWAT team. I reccy the courtyard before setting off. I check places where I can take cover… and always run when on open ground.

Of course this doesn’t stop the problem when you’re actually in the house. Just when you’re pouring boiling water into a teapot, or plunging samosas into hot fat…you’ll look up and leap five feet backwards because right in front of you a deer is staring right through the window.

A deer at that distance appears to be looking down it’s nose. The expression is very much one of: “There goes the neighbourhood” as it surveys the state of your kitchen and the pile of washing up in the sink. It’s bad enough having Germans round… they who always seem to keep Ordnung in their kitchens. But now it seems I’m expected to tidy up for visiting deer. Fortunately, the state of my kitchen is such, that I doubt they’ll be popping in for a cup of tea just yet…

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