Monthly Archives: August 2010

Herd of deer invades!

I just looked out of my office window and there was a herd of deer crossing the courtyard just outside.

Now I know who has been nibbling my courgettes!

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A good omen?

There is a lovely rainbow over my garden office this morning.

I hope it’s a good omen for a great week!

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A secret addiction to German maps

I am addicted to maps. I love them… I collect maps wherever I go. It must be related to ex-patism and travel-buggishness. Or maybe just a need to reduce my ignorance level of the places where I ended up with no prior local knowledge.

Once I bought a giant map at a flea market in Germany. It was one of those enormous scrolls that used to hang in schoolrooms.  I had to haggle like crazy with the stallholder to get it down to a reasonable price… and then spend an evening pacifying my map-sceptic family who wanted nothing to do with this monstrous item which threatened to dominate the living room. I ended up hanging it in a storage room, but whenever I’m going somewhere I sneak off and consult it.

Where are we going today?

On our kitchen wall is an old map of the Rhine which was another flea market find. It shows the Rhine from its source all the way to where it reaches the sea – with pictures of the main cities it passes on its way. It’s a little difficult to read at first, because it is horizontal – so the North is to the right. But you get used to twisting your neck round and trying to visualise which way you need to go.

Some of my favourite maps, though, are in old atlases. These you can often find in second hand bookshops and junk stores. Of course, all the borders have changed nowadays – so often the places you find in the maps are no longer even in Germany.  Regions like Prussia change shape and size depending on the date… and different cities take on new prominence over time.

As for my own little town…well, in this map from 1901, it is not even shown. Was it really such an insignificant place in those days? The village up the road warrents a mention though… even though nowadays it’s relatively much smaller.

Oddly enough we do, however, get a mention in a map around same period showing the region’s coal mining assets. Which is odd… because to my knowledge there has never been any mining in our immediate locality. From all the local history books I’ve read, we have always been pretty much a farming community.

Perhaps I should start excavating the back garden… maybe there’s black gold to be found here after all!

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Filed under About Germany, books, german education, Germany maps, Life in Germany

Beware: Christian drivers on the German Autobahn…

One of the strangest things about travelling on the German motorways is that every now and then you will pass a sign which looks like this.

Germany, it seems, has an entire network of specialised churches for the use of drivers on the Autobahn.

Now, given the way that some Germans drive, there is an obvious logic here. Before setting off into the maelstrom of grannies and boy racers, Dutch caravans and Polish trucks… including substantial stretches where no speed limits apply, it might be prudent to have a quick word with the Almighty regarding the afterlife.

I do worry though,  that German road users on the vast high-speed Autobahn network might be putting a little too much faith in divine intervention.

Many years ago, I once accepted a lift from a German nun, who was a case in point. Her vehicle was a tiny light blue VW beetle with a rosary dangling from the rear view mirror and a small statue of the Holy Virgin on her dashboard. Before setting off, the good Sister uttered a cursory prayer to the Virgin to keep us safe on our journey. Having ensured our safety in this manner, she clearly saw no further purpose in using secular means to get us to our destination in one piece…. things like mirrors, brakes or indicators. No, at a speed which was clearly inspired by the angels rather than VW’s engineers, we hurtled along the Autobahn, swerving from one lane to the next with only an occasional Hail Mary to see us safely around the next forty tonner. Only the sheer strength of her faith got us to our destination in one piece… it was certainly nothing to do with any driving skills. My nerves have never recovered.

Recently I have noticed that many Germans put a discrete fish-shaped sticker on the back of their vehicle, which shows that they are practising Christians.  Clearly, this is intended as a warning to other drivers. A car with a fish-sticker will pull out without indicating because a higher power is protecting it. A fish-sticker car can travel at whatever speed it likes, because speed cameras will miraculously not blitz them. I have become very wary of fish-sticker cars.

So I am planning to develop a range of bumper stickers which say atheist. These will be used to denote that the car relies on the driver looking in the mirror, indicating, travelling at an appropriate speed for the traffic conditions and generally obeying the rules of the road.

Anyone want one?

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A most indiscrete pumpkin

Followers of this blog will know that I have become a fanatical vegetable gardener this year, much to the dismay of my family.

The displeasure on their part is because I will not stick to growing things they actually like. No, I plant all kinds of “vile” items, such as turnips, courgettes, beans and kohlrabi.  However, there is one vegetable which even I knew I’d have to hide if I were to plant it. The pumpkin is the most despised of all vegetables in our house. Nobody likes it… except me. So early in the spring I secretly got up a dawn and snuck a couple of seeds into the soil right at the back of the vegetable patch. Carefully hidden behind cabbages and califlowers, beans and peas.

The pumpkin plants clearly had other ideas though. Oh they came up discretely enough at first… but all of a sudden, after a week of heavy rain, they took off across the garden and the next thing I knew they’d even reached the path. Not only were they trying to trip  everyone up with their leaves and tendrils… they actually decided that the path was the place to deposit their pumpkin fruits.

Of course I’ve been rumbled. How could all my family not notice these bright orange items the size of footballs? I tried the “Oh, it’s just a big tomato!” line…  but it fooled nobody.

Tomorrow I’m planning to make pumpkin soup. This will be noticed by the hawks. They all know that there are pumpkins on the premises… and as soon as they spot the absence of the pumpkins on the path, they’ll all be making playdates and other Termine just to avoid eating at home until they know the soup is finished or thrown away.

But they haven’t reckoned with my cunning. You see… I have a freezerMuhahahaha!

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Terrifying German Toilets

Nothing when travelling in a foreign country, is ever as daunting as that first trip to the lavatory.

German toilets are among the scariest. You see, on first sight, German toilets masquerade as normal toilets. This creates a false sense of security in the unsuspecting foreign user, who then lifts the lid and finds…. the inspection shelf.

German toilets are modelled back-to-front. Anyone sitting normally on the device cannot aim last night’s digested curry squarely down the hole.  One option would be to straddle the toilet while facing the cistern, however this requires the user to divest all their lower clothing. Obviously the time taken to do this means that the queue of Germans outside the door becomes restless. People start banging and shouting: “Sind Sie immer noch nicht fertig?” in an increasingly hostile manner.

What the locals do is to sit on the seat as though it were a normal toilet … and emit their excrement straight onto the shelf. SPLAT.

The shelf, I am informed, plays a key role in the health of the German nation. The user, on rising from the throne, will inspect (I’m not sure whether with satisfaction, disgust or curiosity) the resting turds and make a note of the consistency, shape, colour and any abnormalities. Once the inspection is over, the toilet will be flushed… and the bowl cleaned as necessary using the brush provided.

The scatological information gleaned from the study of this morning’s dump can be passed on to a member of the medical profession if anything untoward were found (possibly with accompanying photo). Alternatively the experience will form part of the cheery response if any unsuspecting English person is silly enough to enquire after the Teuton’s state of health.

So when in Germany, remember to take your camera to the toilet… and never ever ask a German how they are. Especially when they’re just emerging from the bathroom.

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Mushroom season in Germany!

It’s my favourite time of the year again. As the summer draws to a close the shops and the market stalls start to fill up with mushrooms.

Of course proper Germans don’t buy mushrooms. They put on their hiking boots and head off to the fields and woods to pick their own. Good mushrooming locations are passed down like guilty secrets in families, told only to trustworthy members of the next generation, who are sworn to eternal secrecy.

Germans also tend to be fairly well versed in the identification of edible versus non-edible varieties. While unsuspecting Brits would probably wipe out three generations of their family with one home-picked mushroom omelette, Germans usually survive the experience to tell the tale. If in doubt, the local Apotheke (pharmacy) will offer a professional mushroom identification service.

Being an ex-pat Brit, I have to admit that I just buy my mushrooms at the local market, fry them up in butter with a hint of garlic and some fresh herbs and serve with a fresh salad from the garden.

But one day… if I ever become German enough to be initiated into the secrets of the mushroom pickers… I shall join the ranks of the elite.. the teutonic mushroom harvesters.

Baskets at dawn?

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