Monthly Archives: December 2012

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.


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





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.

The Remaining Beer From June

June 2012 Beer Collage

I have to admit, I can tell my tastes have changed in the past six months. I think some of these may be more “good German pils” style than I was capable of appreciating initially. But anyway, since posting each one individually would take forever and flood the blog with whitespace, this seemed like a good idea. I’ve built a table as a handy reference.

Beer Brand Name Verdict
Kaiser Bräu Grafensteiner Export No.
Cluss Kellerpils Meh.
Kaiser Bräu Grafensteiner Pils No.
Bayernbräu Falkenfelser Premium Pilsener Meh.
Turmbläser Landbier Meh.
Fischer’s Brauhaus Fischer’s Frisches Heinerle I forgot.
Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu Kleiner Mönch Good!
Duckstein Rotblondes Original Meh.
Dinkelacker Schwabenbräu Meister Pils Okay.
Schönbuch Ur-Edel I forgot.
Paulaner Hefe-Weißbeir Dunkel I forgot.
Wernesgrüner Brauerei Pils Lengende I forgot.
Dinkelacker Schwabenbräu CD-Pils No.
Schwaben Bräu Original Meh.
Sauer & Hartwig Deutsch Premium Bier Kinda Weird!
Augustiner Bräu Lagerbier Hell Okay.
Lausitzer Schwarzes Porter Too sweet.
Kapuziner Weissbier I forgot.
Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse I forgot.