Monthly Archives: November 2010

Today…

…I shall be staying at home.

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German versus British beer drinking

I nearly died of a heart attack yesterday.

I was sitting, minding my own business in my office when Birgit suddenly piped up: “We should go down to the Christmas market next week – I’ll buy you a Glühwein.”

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankfurt_Roemer_Weihnachtsmarkt_2004-11-28.JPG

Please observe and witness those words, readers. I’ll buy you a Glühwein. Spoken by a German. Not just any German, either. A Swabian. The legendary race of South German tightwads.

Is it any wonder that I was left reeling on my swivel chair, clutching my chest and gasping for air?

When I recovered the power of speech,  I enquired what had brought on this sudden and unexpected burst of generosity.  The response was no less extraordinary than the original offer.

“It’s my turn.”

Now, given that it’s been Birgit’s turn for the past twenty years, this came completely out of the blue. In the event that she actually goes through with the offer, I won’t know whether to drink the Glühwein or have it inscribed and display it in a cabinet.

You see, readers, there is a huge difference between British and German drinking culture. In Britain, when you go to the pub in a group, everyone takes turns to buy a round. In Germany, everyone buys their own drinks and pays for what they consumed themselves.

The problem for Brits arriving in Germany is that they make the fundamental error of opening the evening by getting a drink for everyone present.  The Germans are delighted. But it never occurs to them to buy you one in return. The British drinker will finish his beer and spend the next twenty minutes waiting in increasing agitation for one of the Germans to stick their hand in their pocket. Peering through the bottom of the empty glass at them will not work. Nor will pointed comments like: “Whose round is it?” Eventually the waiter will bring a beer over for the hapless Brit and mark his beermat with a line which means he will have to pay for that beer too at the end of the evening. He will descend into a sulk, the Germans will judge him a peevish lout and fifty years of improved international relations between Britain and Germany will have been wiped out in one single evening.

Wer soll das bezahlen? Wer hat das bestellt? Wer hat soviel Pinkepinke? Wer hat soviel Geld?

Of course the real reason why the beer-buying system is different in Germany and Britain is that German pubs have waiter service. In Britain, if everyone had to go themselves to the bar and buy their own drink, there would be a permanent rugby-scrum around the counter and nobody would ever get served. The act of buying for a group ensures that not everyone in the pub is permanently crowding around the bar.

In Germany, as the waiter comes to each table, they can mark each beermat quickly and efficiently and at the end of the evening it is simple to add up who drank how many glasses.  There is no pressure to keep up the pace with the heaviest drinkers. Everyone has as much or as little as they fancy.

But now I have Birgit offering against all odds to buy me a Glühwein. What am I to make of this? Is the entire edifice of a thousand years of German drinking culture collapsing around us? Is this the beginning of the end for the Fatherland?

More blog posts by Cathy Dobson can be found on Birds on the Blog

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Münster – town of bicycles

We spent yesterday in Münster, helping eldest daughter move into her new super-shiny new studio apartment.

We drove the van with all her worldly goods across town, while she rode her bicycle to her new home.

In Münster bicycles are the main form of transport. There are more bicycles than cars. I sometimes wonder whether there aren’t actually more bicycles than people. You can judge the popularity of certain locations by the number of bikes parked outside. In fact approaching certain buildings can be a bit of an obstacle course as you have to negotiate your way around bikes chained to every lamppost, tree and “Fahrräder hier nicht abstellen” sign.

, from Wikimedia Commons”]What particularly impressed me, though, in the town of bicycles was the ready availability of bike-repair equipment at all times of the day and night. An evening stroll through one of the streets adjacent to our daughter’s new place revealed a late night bike workshop and a “Schlauchomat“, a 24 hour inner-tube vending machine, catering for all the main sizes and gauges of tyre.

 

The only downside, obviously,  is that that puts paid to the most obvious excuse for missing the first lecture of the morning!

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Planet Germany as a university set text

I was alerted this week to a small ad on the Leipzig University notice board. It was from a Russian student and she was looking to buy a second hand copy of Planet Germany.

I emailed her and found out that she needed the book because it was a set text for her univerity English course. She was looking to buy it second hand (and for this she apologised to me profusely) because as a student without a grant or scholarship, she cannot afford all the course books she needs.

Of course I was delighted to learn that Planet Germany is being pored over now by students of English. I hope it turns out to be one of the course books which genuinely gives delight, rather than loathing and last-minute pre-exam panics (what was that quote about the cat and the enema again?)

Of course, I sent a copy to the Russian student – and I hope she manages to sail through her exam with a top grade now!

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Rhineland Tapas…

We were out the other night in a local pub, and I noticed an intriguing menu suggestion on the blackboard. Rheinische Tapas… or Tapas from the Rhineland.

Of course it just had to be tried!

So here is what it looks like…

Rheinische Tapas

Meine Damen und Herren… carpaccio of Blutwurst (black pudding) with a mist of chopped onion…. raw pork…. salted herring and beetroot puree… with a side of chopped raw onions… snipped raw spring onions…  bruchetta of chopped Blutwurst and raw onion with radishes… fried onions… and toasted baguette… mustard was optional. Altbier (local dark beer) was not optional… it was most definitely a Pflicht (duty)…

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Yikes! Call the fire brigade!

It was very lucky that my son was suffering from a bout of vomiting yesterday.

I admit, I wouldn’t normally consider this to be lucky. But if he hadn’t regurgitated his breakfast, he would have been at school at the time. And if it hadn’t been a case of a dodgy stomach, he’d have been sitting at the lunch table with us, oblivious to what was happening outside.

As it was, he was walking across the courtyard, so it was him who smelled burning and spotted the small column of smoke rising above the garage next door.

The rest of us were having lunch, when he wandered in saying: “I think something might be on fire outside.”

It is not often that the dear members of my family witness the amusing sight of me sprinting. But when someone mentions fire, I tend to break into a canter. I’m nervous of fire, you see.  And in this case, it was a good thing I did. I dashed outside, just in time to see what by now was a large column of black smoke rising into the air. A second later orange flames shot thirty feet up… a pine tree burst into flames above the neighbours garage.

I ran back inside.

“Call the fire brigade!” I bellowed. “Feuerwehr anrufen!” I shrieked for emphasis. (There was at least one German present.)

What followed indoors was a brief and unseemly game of pass the telephone as though it were a hot potato while the Brits panicked… “What’s the number?”

“One One Two!” I yelled as I sprinted out again (once I start sprinting momentum sets in…).

Indoors Birgit wrestled the telephone from the inept island-monkeys and jabbed at the keypad, while I dashed first to one neighbour’s house then the next to ring the doorbells. The flames were about three metres from each of these houses and I could see that one of their garages was already alight.

There was nobody home.

By now the rest of the family had come outside. I sent my daughter  over to the neighbour on the far side to ring the bell and alert anyone in the house to the fire – she was the person to do it because she knows a secret short-cut up the stream-bed. We then split up tasks… two to the top of the road to direct the fire brigade. Two stay and help the emergency services down this end.

At that moment our neighbour whose garage was burning arrived in her car.  She ran up to the open garage and hauled out her lawnmower and bicycles near the entrance before deciding that personal safety was more important than anything further back in the building.  The heat from the fire was quite fierce by now. Next came a police car, with the policewoman driver radioing details of the inferno back to base.

As there was nothing I could help with there, I went in search of my daughter to find out what had happened to the neighbour on the other side. I found her at the top of the road with the others. It seemed that half the neighbourhood was hanging around there gawping – but nobody but us had thought to dial the fire brigade or check if lives were in danger.

Finally we heard sirens approaching. Again, the neighbourhood watched as though it were primetime TV – but nobody moved a muscle – so I stepped into the road and gesticulated which direction they should go in. First fire-truck down to the far neighbour where the fire had started. Second one down our lane to the burning garage.

The next few minutes were a haze of flashing lights, unrolling hoses and burly men in helmets. It turned out that our nearest fire hydrant was defective. Fortunately the hoses reached as far as the next one which did work.

The sound of sirens was everywhere by now. Our little neighbourhood fire had been classified as a “Großbrand” so several fire engines, 25 firemen, many police cars and even a police helicopter were called. The roads between Meerbusch and Kaarst were closed off and we were pretty much in lock-down.

The source of the fire, it turned out, had been our neighbour on the other side, tinkering with his old camper van in his home-made car-port. He’d been running the engine when the van caught fire – and then set light to the entire structure. The car-port was built against our direct neighbours’ garage so that went up too. The members of the fire brigade were quite excited to learn that there were also some old gas cylinders stored in the car port. This may explain their very rigorous approach to squirting foam all over the property. This is what it looked like afterwards...

Luckily the fire brigade were able to prevent the fire spreading to our neighbours’ actual house, and nobody was hurt. But that was quite enough excitement for one day…

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