Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Germany in Three Lessons

I've learned three important lessons in the last few days that I believe might sum up German culture, politics and history.

1. Germans are not being silly when they tell you that every building in Berlin or Bonn, which is made of glass, was built that way to represent transparency ("Transparenz") in government and business. To an American (even one who knows German history,) this concept seems a bit forced. I think of the US Department of Education building, which was made to look like a school house when President Bush created the "No Child Left Behind" program. Just because the building looks like a school house, doesn't mean the programs that are being created there are good for children. The same goes for glass buildings and transparency. (This lesson was learned when I made a joke while touring the Federal Chancery...oops!)

All of this talking about glass makes me think of the US expression, "those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." There has got to be a joke that can be made about trans-Atlantic relations in the last three years and stone throwing but I will try to avoid such sarcasm!

2. Germans are also not joking around when they talk about German Purity Standards for beer. Purity standards...for beer...oh brother! I started teasing my boss about this yesterday and I think he thought I was using the Lord's name in vain! His comment back to me was "you put weird junk in your beer like fermenting rice and corn."

3. Since I am trying my hardest to "be German" this year, I have been sorting my trash like a German-- plastic, glass, paper, organic and everything else. Sorting trash is fine, I am actually amazed at how little you have to throw away if you sort stuff. The lesson I missed in the whole process, however, was that it is not advisable to go away for the weekend and leave decomposing food in the organic waste trash can in your kitchen! Gag!!

So there you have it: lessons about the fallout from WWII, beer and recycling. At the risk of German:-)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Road Trip

Since I am now settled in Berlin, I decided I should take a road trip. So this weekend I headed west to visit Torsten in Cologne. The first highlight of the weekend was taking the ICE high-speed train. The ride is super smooth and watching the fall-colored countryside from the window provided my latest “Germany is incredible” moment.

Once I arrived in Cologne, we dropped off my bag at Torsten’s apartment (a cool Japanese and IKEA inspired place northwest of the city center) and headed for Paeffgen, a very Colognian restaurant/pub “where the locals go.” We sat next to a “bloody” cool Australian and his German friend and discussed everything from beer to Australia as we ate. The Aussie turned out to be a bigwig for Bayer Australia and said he planned on turning in his beer coaster that indicated how many beers he had drank as his receipt for his expense account…good luck mate! For dinner I had potato pancakes and Torsten had blood sausage. I wanted to try this local delicacy but Torsten ate the last bite before I had the chance;-) A liter of Koelsch later, we changed venues and headed for The Whistle Stop café and then headed back to Torsten’s place to rest up for a day of sightseeing.

For breakfast the next morning we had “Weckmaenner,” a bread/pastry that is made around this time of year because November 11 is St. Martin’s Day, the start of the Carnival season (see picture.) The first stop of the day was the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, which is known for its collection of 13th-19th century paintings, including medieval works by Cologne masters. The variety in the collection was very impressive! After a break on the banks of the Rhine, it was off to the Chocolate Museum—from art masterpieces to edible masterpieces. The highlight was a chocolate fountain. I was just waiting for Augustus Gloop to run past me and jump in! Of course the visit would not have been complete without a trip to the gift shop where I bought an Advent calendar filled with truffles—I can’t wait for December:-) The final stop of the day was the University of Cologne, where Torsten recently received his Masters degree (Hoorah!)

The evening found us at Cubana, a Cuban cocktail bar near the university. Between Sex on the Beach and Coconut Dreams we discussed everything from olive oil to politics;-) (GWB makes discussing politics in Europe very interesting these days!)

After brunch on Sunday morning (a German institution,) it was off to the cathedral, Germany’s most popular tourist site. The sun streaming through the stained glass produced spectacular rainbows on the stone columns lining the center aisle! We squeezed in another quick exhibit and church and then it was time to hop the train back to Berlin.

A great city + an equally wonderful host= another fun weekend in Germany!