Posted by James

Our First Piece of Furniture

Our First Furniture

I realize we’ve only been here for 7 months, but it’s time we had a table. Thanksgiving is coming up. You can’t have Thanksgiving without a table. Everybody knows that.

And it folds! We wanted something that would expand to seat 8 in a Thanksgiving-like setting, where it’s totally fine to have one guy hanging off the side of a corner, but small enough for our tiny apartment. It folds up to a mini-table 11 inches deep (2.794e-4 km), to throw against a wall when we don’t want it taking up valuable empty space.

And now, nobody can claim that we don’t have furniture! Take THAT, Texas friends!

 

Konstanz

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of my success capturing Alissa in marriage, we bought the wrong train ticket, and headed toward a small town in Germany called Konstanz. We finally know enough German to understand the conductor when she yells at us, and Alissa knows enough German to argue back. Pretty awesome. After a minor 25 Euro fee, we made it to our destination.

Konstanz is on a giant lake, right above Switzerland. The area around the lake is supposed to be beautiful in the summer, but in the winter it’s just a cold lake next to a nice old warm European town, filled with hot tea and beer breweries. So we didn’t see much of the lake. We did walk by it once.

Lake Konstanz

I didn’t try my best to take a good photo.

In the morning, we decided to walk to Switzerland. As we headed out of our hotel room and into the early morning streets, we realized that we both forgot our passports back in Stuttgart. What happens at a border crossing when you don’t have your passport? Do they shoot you? Prison for life? Maybe just a quick punch to the face? We didn’t know. But Switzerland was right in front of us! Maybe we should risk it! If we were separated and tortured in some kind of crippling way, wouldn’t it be worth it for a glimpse of real Swiss cheese??

Switzerland Border Control

You can’t tell from the photo, but they have lasers mounted to kill intruders.

Of course it was! We walked through border control without them even noticing. Could have been too early in the morning for Swiss government employees. Could have been our ninja skills, blending in as locals. For whatever reason, we found ourselves at a farmers market in Switzerland. I say farmers market, but it was really a collection of five stands, set up in a small intersection about 50 meters from a plaza with electrical hookups.

We got some cheese and a bottle of fresh yogurt from one stand, and a few kinds of weird bread things from another. We paid in Euros, even though they asked for Francs. We didn’t have any Francs. The yogurt was delicious, and since we didn’t have any utensils (or manners), we drank it.

A large part of the country speaks something called Swiss German. It’s like normal German, but reeeeally strange. We could understand people without much trouble, probably because we only understand 60 percent of what people say anyway, so the weird words and odd accents don’t phase us. We did notice it though. I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say it’s a bit like the way someone from Minnesota sounds to someone from South Carolina, including weird alternate words. Like “pop” and “soda”.

We ninja’d our way back through border security and spent the rest of the day wandering through Konstanz. The huge church in the center of town was surrounded with large cobblestones. A glass window in the center of the square looked down into one of the last surviving Roman fortresses, which was awesome. The streets were quaint. I’m pretty sure we walked down every street there. We walked a lot.

Street near Joh. Albrecht brewery

That red building in the photo is a house brewery called Joh. Albrecht, which we just ran into without doing a single bit of research. We normally research our trips a bit, but this time we just wanted to explore.

We like house breweries. There’s something comfortable and homey about them. They have shiny copper kettles and stained wood floors. Old photos of men in overalls shoveling grains decorate the walls beside hop and beer advertising. Old mugs and bottles sit on high shelves, and the food has always been delicious. Joh. Albrecht was no exception.

We’ve adopted the German habit of spending far too long in a restaurant. It’s really nice to spend three or four hours just sitting in a warm bar, trying every beer they have on the menu and ordering delicious food. We almost went back the next day, and that’s saying something. The beer was unique and great. The Kupfer, in particular, was fantastic. Described as a ‘malty, mild dunkle”, it was probably the best dunkle I’ve ever had. The Weizen was quite good too, and the Messing (“the hoppy, bitter light beer”) was yet another example of Germans stepping (slightly) out of their typical styles. I would not describe it as bitter, but it had a nice full, unfiltered, bite-into-fruit-while-standing-in-a-field sort of flavor.

Joh. Albrecht Copper Kettles

They had a modern brewery downstairs. Silver pipes and large kettles. The kettles were pretty great; they had water pouring over the sides, presumably to cool the fermentation. And they had wart fermenting in large open tubs.

Joh. Albrecht Wart Kettles

Delicious, delicious new beer

During our walk, we stopped in a bar for some hot tea. You know how bars sometimes leave a bowl of peanuts on the table? This one left peanuts and week-old Lebkuchen (a spicy gingerbread soft cookie), piled artistically on top of each other.

Dry Bar Lebkuchen

That piece of white Lebkuchen was terribly dry. Alissa wouldn’t even try it, so I had to finish it all myself. Gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Toward the end of our stay, we passed an art store that had a giant photo of the Brooklyn Bridge in the window. It was focused on the exact spot where we got married. It’s pretty great to have been married in a spot that the rest of the world appreciates as much as we do.

It’s been a crazy year. We quit our jobs, gave away most of our things, and moved to another country. Through all the stress and excitement, we’ve found a place we really love to be. And think of all the great things we get to do THIS year!

Happy Anniversary, Darling!

The Life and Death of Twoface McPumpkin

He began his life as a pumpkin that sat on our floor for a few weeks. Right before Halloween, we both took a crack at giving him a face; one on each side. We only had a paring knife, so we had to make do.

McPumpkin, Day

He looks happy, but he has guts hanging behind his eyes.

He was born to delight and terrify the neighbors, and we propped him up on a plant pot so he could look out over the edge of the window, giving fellow Stuttgarters a delight or a nightmare, depending on how he was turned.

McPumpkin at Night

At the right angle, you could get his reflection, underscoring that while he gave the world a happy face, his evil side wasn’t so far away.

McPumpkin's Reflection

Then I came home one day to find this.

McPumpkin's Death

Suicidal? Was he pushed? The mystery may go unanswered.

There were a lot of disgusting pumpkin juices all over the counter and floor. Did you know that rotting pumpkin juices stain marble? Well, they do. I tried cleaning it up with this generic cleaner that we use a lot. However, the main ingredient of this cleaner is vinegar, and vinegar ALSO stains marble.

Things have really spiraled out of control in this household.

 

Bookstores

It’s pretty disappointing, halfway through a long trip across the country, to walk into a bookstore and realize all the books are written in a foreign language.

EVERYBODY GO TO THE CHILDREN’S SECTION! Oh look, here’s a book about a cow and a girl on a farm. The purple cow is probably up to come crazy antics. Perfect.

If I have any questions about the plot, maybe I can ask those cool teenagers for help.

“Was macht die Kuh?!”

A Visit to Gengenbach, Ohlsbach, and Offenburg

We adventured off to the Black Forest a few weeks ago. Our hotel was in Ohlsbach, about 2 km away from the train station and 20 km from France. The hotel was closed when we arrived, so we wandered around until we found a cafe with beer. A good German pils is delicious when you’re hungry. And even though it was 3 pm on Friday, a perfectly acceptable time for stores to remain open, everything but this cafe was closed. The cafe was outside of a bed-and-breakfast, but it felt like it was right smack in the middle of someone’s private driveway. Cats roamed around. An old lady checked on us from time to time, as she took care of household chores. An old tractor contraption rusted nearby.

The next day, we walked the 2 km to Gengenbach. Apple season is in full force, and apple trees along the road were bursting with apples. They tasted delicious, and nobody shot at us.

Apple Picking Farmers

Apple Picking Farmers

The scenery was beautiful, but Alissa never noticed.

Alissa Reads Her Dictionary

“We can look at the mountains later. There are so many great words in this dictionary!”

First, we went in search of Brauerei Willmann. Unfortunately, it had apparently shut down many years before, and the building was converted into a Greek restaurant that serves two shots of alcohol with dinner. The lady outside let us go in and look around anyway. Lots of old pipes and such.

Brauerei Willmann

Old brewing kettles at the former Brauerei Willmann

I think the best word for Gengenbach is ‘quaint.’ Their city website highlights all the best tourist attractions, so we decided to check it out. Who doesn’t want to see an old grain house?! But we eventually forgot what we were doing and just wandered around, poking our heads into any street or alley that looked cool. We later went back and checked off all the items on the list. As it turns out, 80 percent of the attractions were centered around this oddly tiny statue.

The Röhrbrunnen

The Röhrbrunnen

The farmers’ market in the background was a win. We bought some young cheese and ate it with bread. It was a sour cheese, and was the best thing I ate all day. Seriously delicious. We also tried every kind of grape we could find. I even picked grapes off the vines growing around town. Alissa couldn’t stop me, because everyone knows grapes are delightful, and not poisonous in any way.

All The Grapes

But they had seeds in them and were extremely sweet. We couldn’t even finish these three tiny branches. And the social-acceptability of spitting out seeds onto beautiful cobblestone streets is questionable. Storing the seeds in a pouch in your cheek, and then barfing them into the closest trash can is not much better.

View from Bridge in Gengenbach

View from Bridge in Gengenbach

The next day, we hopped on a bus to Offenburg. We heard there was a wine festival there, but we never found it. Instead, we found another abandoned brewery. It’s hard to accept that two presumably awesome places are permanently closed. We sat in front of the building for a few minutes, hoping someone would come by and open, but it didn’t happen.

After wandering to the other side of the city, we found ourselves at the Brandeck restaurant beside the Kronen Brauerei, the brewery of the local common beer. It was pretty much just us and a bunch of elderly people. So we drank every beer they had, sipped neuer wein, and sat under the chestnut trees in beautiful, sunny weather.

Cushion Box

All my photos are terrible. Possibly because we got drunk. I think we were there for four or five hours.

There’s an awesome castle on the hill overlooking the city, but we didn’t visit.

Offenburg Castle

I know what you’re thinking. “But it’s a castle. Why go to abandoned breweries when you can go to a castle?” And you have a valid point. I don’t know. Honestly, it’s a little depressing. I bet you can hit those houses from the castle wall with a bow and arrow. If the people living here don’t already have a town competition like that, it’s time to start one.

Right before we left to get on the train, Alissa ducked into a bakery and grabbed a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (“black forest cherry cake”). It was the most delicious cake I’ve ever had. Super rich cherries in a chocolate cake drenched with alcohol.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte

Like taking five delicious shots of cherry vodka

We may have been drunk again for the train ride home.

Bag Of Meat

Bag of Meat

It was very tempting to buy this and mail it to one of you. “Dear Steve, Here’s a bag of meat. Sincerely, James”

But I had a 3 hour train ride coming up. It was a judgement call.

Five Weeks of Travel

I’ve jumped straight from Hausfrau into Crazed Traveler. I was content to visit areas outside of Stuttgart once a month, and we had done a pretty good job exploring other areas on the weekends. But after I started my new job, the next five weeks were dedicated to getting to know the company across four different cities. I met engineers. I met non-engineers. I hacked out awful sentences in German.

I thought living in a hotel for a week would be glorious, but I was wrong. I thought I’d have plenty of time in the evenings for exploring and blogging, but the villages were tiny and internet was scarce. I thought the office coffee would be respectable. It was not. On the plus side, the mountains of Germany are gorgeous.

Eichenzel, Germany

I have about 100 photos of this scene, because I walked by every day for two weeks. Every day it looked different; sometimes I got there just as the sun was coming up, and the entire landscape would be blazing with oranges and reds and yellows. The field in the foreground started as dirt, and by the end of my time, sprung small green plants.

The second hotel was in Eiterfeld. This is a town of perhaps 7 people. The first morning there, I heard loud squawking as I left for work, and curiosity got the better of me.

Flamingos

Do… do they taste good?

And then I started noticing flamingos everywhere. There was a flamingo painting on the wall of the hotel. Flamingo trinkets for decoration. I never asked the 80-year old man about them, because he didn’t speak much English. But I went out and visited the flamingos every day. They liked me. You could tell because they screamed a lot.

Eiterfeld was also the region where I saw the most solar cells on rooftops, and wind farms in the distance. It seemed so high-tech and sophisticated.

The hotel was located on top of a Flescherei (butcher shop) and the old man managed both the hotel and shop. Breakfast included a lot of meats from the butcher shop. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t recognize the significance of this until the second day, so I missed out on a whole plate full of fantastic meats. A typical German breakfast has so many breads and cheeses and jams, that it’s easy to avoid the meat. But from then on, I ate every meat on the table.

Hotel Meats

They were the best sliced meats I’ve ever had in Germany. That olive loaf on the right made me consider buying a pack of it for later. Even the slices that made me instinctively recoil in horror (the chunks of meat in meat goo slice under the fork), were really, really good. Which is why, at the third hotel in Dermbach, I stated out eating all the meats. Catastrophe. Bologna on a plate. The hotel in Dermbach was clearly not run by an old man who runs his own butcher shop.

But the hotel in Dermbach had it’s own charms. For example, internet was easily attainable by taking your laptop into the hallway, and then holding it up in the air to try to snag WiFi.

Dermbach Church

One morning, fog rolled in like a dam burst to the east. It was really beautiful to watch from my office on the second floor. And the town was quaint. Lots of really old, decrepit buildings tucked away behind well-kept homes.

That’s finished now. Despite all the adventures and exploring, it’s hard to express how nice it is to be back sleeping in my own bed at night. Stuttgart isn’t quite a beautiful as the mountains up north, but it’s home.

 

Cat Food

It took six months, but I think we’ve finally found a German meat product that, as Alissa puts it, “It’s not bad, it’s just…”.

Lutz Bierwurst

The package shows it cut into round slices. It’s a serving suggestion. So we did that.

Bierwurst Slices

Then we tried a little.

Then left it in the fridge to dehydrate for a couple days, before we threw it away.

But I’m not sure if I can consider this one a bad “German” meat product. Sure, they need some points deducted for including the word “bier” in something that is clearly unrelated. And they should probably be required to include a “This Is Cat Food” label on the front, perhaps with a picture of a cat, so nobody gets confused.

I’m going to chalk this up to a mix-up.

Wedge Of Delight And Good Fortune

I’ve decided that all strange aspic-related dishes are bringers of good fortune. Why? Because they are. That’s why. Which is why I picked this bad boy up from the expensive grocery store.

Delightful Wedge

A cold, delightful slice of goo pie.

It came vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag, and I ate it for breakfast.

Wedge Enlarged to Show Texture

Enlarged to Show Texture

It was delicious.

The next day, I won the lottery and I gave all my winnings to charity. When you live in a country that sells goo pie slices in the local grocery store, you can always win again tomorrow.

 

Rother Apfelbier

After expressing interest in good local beer, a coworker demanded that I come with him to find apfelbier. I had some pretty serious reservations, because the words “apple” and “beer” should not typically be used in the same sentence, much less the same word. Alissa pointed out that it was probably like cider, and not beer at all.

We took the train into Fulda, and found our way to the old part of town, where the streets are exclusively cobblestone, and the houses look like fodder for postcards. The bar was dim and filled with nobody. We were early.

Rother Apfelbier

Rother Apfelbier in a heavy mug

Disappointingly, the beer was poured from a bottle. But it arrived in a nice heavy mug.

If I had to guess how they made it, I’d say they probably mixed beer and apple juice. Or maybe beer and cider. My first sip made me think it was nicely balanced between the sweetness of apples and the bitter of beer. But after my third sip, I decided it was just too sweet. The apple flavor was good, the beer flavor was… overpowered… and the mug was heavy.

And it was interesting. No harm in that. Kinda gives me shivers thinking about it now, but I distinctly remember thinking that it wasn’t so bad.

We also got some delicious sausages. Which we ate with our hands, even though I have always been under the impression that such behavior was illegal in Germany.

White Sausages in Bar

Delicious sweet sauce.

On the way home, I remember having to wait for 50 minutes for my train to come. Trains do not travel often in this small town.