Filed under General

A Hand-Crafted Bench

Alissa and I have been looking for a good hallway bench for a long time. We leave our shoes near the door, and it’d be far more convenient to have a place to sit. We’ve been doing it for 6 months, and it was starting to get on our nerves. Luckily, there are a lot of benches in German furniture stores. It seems as though a large family table with a bench along one side (for the kids?) is a pretty typical setup, so if you wander around the dining room section, you’re apt to see several benches. But most benches don’t have room for shoes; they put a crossbar underneath for support. The benches that don’t need the support bar cost 800 Euro, and that seems a bit much for three pieces of wood and some wood glue.

So this Friday, we took matters into our own hands.

Making the bench

Expert craftswoman at work.

We went to Obi, the local Home Depot, and found some surprisingly nice, solid wood. We had the store cut it into proper sizes, and picked up some angle brackets and screws. The angle brackets had a brass finish on them, which would have looked really nice against dark wood. But the only piece of wood we found (without dents) was lighter, so I sanded the brackets until they turned silver. That might have removed all the anti-rust protection, but that’ll just make it look more awesome with time. We went back to a friend’s garage to build it.

Bank

Finished bench.

It’s super sturdy and doesn’t sag at all. Even with three people sitting all at once. We decided not to stain it or apply polyurethane, because we want to see how it ages as the years go by.

Bench Detail

It’s so nice to put on my boots without sitting on the floor.

Bench at Home

In its natural environment.

New Years “Advent” Calender

Silvester Kalender

 

In Germany, it’s legal to sell fireworks three days till New Year’s Eve. So all the stores set up a fireworks booth or fill a bin with different stuff. It’s like being a kid in a candy store. Or a kid in a fireworks store. I want to buy everything.

I’m not sure what’s in this “Silvester Kalander” (“New Year’s Eve Calender”); it can’t be fireworks because that’d be illegal. Maybe pop rock candy?

Whatever it is, it’s awesome.

Merry Christmas!

We’ve started a Christmas tradition of hanging stockings. This was more difficult than you might expect, since we didn’t have stockings, and our house doesn’t have a mantel to hang them from. Germans don’t seem to do the stocking tradition, so we couldn’t find them in the stores. We saw a stocking in one of the booths at the Frankfurt Christmas market two days ago, but by then, we had already made our own. As it turns out, Alissa is an expert at stocking-making.

Alissa's Christmas Stockings

Sewed by hand, with extra room for gifts in the toe area.

Pretty great, right?? The fuzziness you see is the light doing strange things on the material. The tops are kinda reflective.

Since we don’t have a mantel, we hung them with care on the back of our rocking chair. And as it turns out, Santa comes to Germany, too.

To all of you, have a wonderful holiday!

First Annual Knusperhäuschen Competition

This weekend, we decided to host a gingerbread house competition between Alissa, myself, and three friends. The instructions were simple.

  1. Take the next few days to design your house, and come ready.
  2. Bring a small cash prize. Winner takes all.

Nobody followed any of the rules.

Joerg Gingerbread House Plans

A nice, southern home.

I gave everyone a sheet of paper and a pen, but the other three people grouped together, pooling their collective artistic ability into one master house. You can see a sketch on the right. Alissa and I were just going to wing it. We wanted a pitched house, and we wanted a dog house in the back yard. Those were our only considerations.

Nobody had any idea how to make a gingerbread house, so we explained the theory:

  1. Roll out the dough.
  2. Cut out the shapes you want.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Assemble somehow.
  5. Decorate.
  6. Blog about professional-quality gingerbread house.

The instructions Alissa got from her coworker recommended rolling the building pieces 0.5 cm thick (0.19685 inches), which didn’t seem right. So we made a few test pieces and came to the conclusion that 0.2 to 0.3 cm (or 0.0082 feet) looked better. They dried harder.

We went first. Our house was measured in inches. We had 6 pieces for the real house and 4 for the dog house. Our guests went next. They measured in centimeters, and built windows and doors and a chimney spread out among 16 pieces. Ours was starting to look like a 3-year-old slapped it together.

After the pieces came out of the oven, we assembled them by dipping the edges into molten sugar, and holding them in place for five seconds. The sugar made a strong seal; much better than frosting. But it was also very dangerous. To make the sugar-glue, you literally pour dry sugar into the bottom of a pot, and watch as it melts into lava. As it turns out, it’s impossible not to drip it on your fingers and shriek like a little girl.

Gingerbread Construction

Come on, dogs are hard to make. What about a pet snake?

We realized we had a big hole in the top of our house after we turned the cutting board over to the other group, but were too lazy to do anything about it. We agreed we would fix it by “filling it in with something.” This is not how you win competitions.

Sophisticated House

They have shutters on their windows!

Then we decorated. It went very well.

Our Gingerbread House

Beck Family Residence – Note the awesome wreath on the door, and the fine berry bushes.

We left the rooftop open to allow cool winter breezes to flow in and out. We like it that way. Also, the snake ate our dog, and we decided to keep it as our new pet. And look, our friends “the four bears” are coming to visit! They helped us cut down the tree in our yard last week, so we invited them over. You can see the brown stump there on the left.

Unfortunately for our guests, the other end of our table is a hurricane evacuation zone. Hurricane Sandy hit our area around 5:30 PM, local time, and caused quite a bit of destruction. As you can see, they boarded up their porch with plywood; partly to protect from flying debris, and partly to hold up the roof.

Their Gingerbread House

The dog sitting by the porch was sadly mistaken for a cat, which the owners tried to force by writing “I am a cat” its back.

Their House, Side View

It was once a very nice house.

The construction company in charge of this house decided that the best course of action was to place the entire house in the oven for a few minutes to dry the gingerbread a bit. But they forgot to consider the load-bearing columns holding up the porch. This caused the roof to visibly move from the position you see in the photo above, to a position just inches above the floor.

As the evening drew on, it became clear that the house was going to require some major renovations.

Gingerbread Renovation

 

They tried holding the walls together with a large candy rope. This seemed to work pretty well, and the project was considered a success.

But another hurricane blew through overnight.

Second Hurricane

With a shocking lapse of judgement, we had placed our house beside theirs before the second hurricane passed through. There was nothing we could do.

Those bite marks on the front wall are not your imagination.

Those bite marks on the front wall are not your imagination.

And there you have it. The results of the First Annual Knusperhäuschen Competition! You can vote for “best house” in the comments. The judges will consider every vote when making a decision.

The Last Date Alignment Ever

December 12, 2012, 12:12:12

Edit: You’re welcome, America.

New York Time, December 12th 2012 12hr 12min 12sec

 

 

 

Nikolaustag!

It’s “St. Nikolaus Day” today, which means everybody brings candy and lebkuchen to work, and you just eat sweets all day and then aren’t hungry for the delicious lunch I packed for you.

It’s traditional to shine your boots and leave them in front of your bedroom door, so that St. Nikolaus can drop in a toy, fruit, or candy. We were unaware of the tradition, and thus forgot to both shine our boots and leave them in front of our door. It’s a little heartbreaking.

As we left our German classes and walked home, a pack of 20 people dressed as Santa rode past on bikes.

SantaCon or Perhaps St.-Nikolaus-Con

It was the Stuttgart version of SantaCon. Or maybe they were St. Nikolaus. I hear they dress the same.

Anyway, with so many of these guys in the city tonight, they’re bound to do one more round, right? So we shined our boots and put them in front of our door, just in case. If St. Nikolaus is reading this, I don’t want fruit.

Lebkuchen Schmidt Nürnberger Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen Schmidt - Nürnberger

Lebkuchen are soft cookies. I don’t know much about them, but I know they can be absolutely delicious. Sometimes they have a lot of spice. Sometimes they have more sweetness. Sometimes they have awesome pockets of jam in the center. They all seem to have a giant communion wafer stuck to the bottoms, which feels like you’re eating a cookie off a sheet of paper.

I picked up these in a stored dedicated to Lebkuchen. I walked in and was immediately overwhelmed with all the different products, most of which seemed to focus more on the detailed tins than on the cookies themselves. I picked these because they had some guys on the package who advocated for their deliciousness.

Lebkuchen-Schmidt Gentlemen

But as it turns out, they’re not so trustworthy. The cookies were average. I think they were the sweeter variety, and I’m more interested in tracking down the spicy versions. I want a mouth full of Christmas spices, with jam. Anyone know where I should start?

 

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.