Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Freiburg Express

Now I think I know how Harry Potter feels when he boards the Hogwarts Express each fall. While I was not waiting on platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station to go to Howarts, I eagerly waited on platform 3 at the Zoo Station yesterday afternoon for the ICE train that would carry me to the equally magical Freiburg!

My adventure began when I sat down next to a woman carrying a Trader Joe’s bag. She looked relieved when I asked her (in English) about it. As it turned out she works for USAID and just moved from DC to South Carolina. She had been in Berlin for 2 months with her husband and was returning back to the States via Frankfurt. Of all the people I could sit next to on the entire train…incredible!

The ride flew by and I felt very at peace arriving at the train station. The weather was mild, the people friendly and I knew the streetcar system already. On the way into town, I was happy to see that little had changed. There was still a swanky hotel near the train station, the concert hall and movie theater are still going strong and the main intersection in town still seemed to be the center of activity.

Schlappen is even better than ever. Of course it is best shared with friends, but the fries and garlic sauce were still AWESOME! I didn’t visit the men’s bathroom this time, due mainly to the fact that I didn’t have a cohort in crime egging me on. If you have no idea what I am talking about, all I can say is visit Freiburg;-)

I worked off the fries with a walk to the cathedral. While it is not Germany's oldest, tallest, most visited, etc... cathedral, it is glorious! It can best be described as the wise old sage of the town. It stands quietly and humbly in the middle of the Munsterplatz, imposing and welcoming at the same time.

Later in the evening I caught the end of the star-studded World Cup Soccer first round game announcement. It was quite a shindig--Heidi Klum, Pele, prancing German magicians and Angela Merkel (who looked really out of her element!)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Feels Like Home

For a brief moment yesterday I wondered if I was back in "warm and fuzzy" Washington. Helicopters hoovered overhead all day and there were police officers near my office. On my walk home, police blocked the street causing rush hour traffic problems. This had all the markings of DC security. Indeed it was! Ah home sweet home! As it turned out, Condi was staying at the swanky hotel behind my office. A 30 euro/night hotel special near the train station it was not!

I wonder if she took the #100 bus to tour the city like I did with my family a couple weeks ago;-)

On a somewhat related note, I recommend that everyone check out for some important information about global warming from "George Bush." You might have to download Quicktime to view the clip, but it is well worth your while!

Monday, December 05, 2005

For the love of chocolate

I am most excited that we are now in December, because I am able to enjoy my Advent calendar. Since I live alone, I suppose I could have eaten all of the chocolate out of my calendar weeks ago. But something about the little doors with dates on them keeps me honest! The coolest thing I have noticed about advent calendars in Germany is that they are definitely not just for children. They were being snatched off the shelves on November 30 like people were stocking up for a storm. Not only can you get calendars with molded chocolate inside, you can also find truffle calendars and chocolates filled with liquors.

Talk of chocolate calendars brings me to a related topic: Kinder Chocolate (chocolate for kids.) Made by Ferrero, the stuff a German institution and is practically marketed here as a health supplement. 5 pieces contains an extra serving of milk! I had more than one intern in Washington try to convince me that it had no caffeine in it and was healthy for kids. (Umm, if the chocolate is brown, there is caffeine in it and each piece also has 7 grams of fat!)

My favorite version of Kinder Chocolate is the Kinder Überraschungseier, which are chocolate eggs with a toy inside that you have to put together. I bought them for dessert one afternoon when my family was in town and they provided minutes of entertainment:-) I have started a small collection of the toys in my apartment. As I see it, I am getting extra calcium and decorating the windowsill in my kitchen-- a 2 for 1 special!

Just today, however, I heard news of a Kinder Chocolate crisis. I would like to draw your attention to It seems that the company has changed the poster boy from Günter to Kevin. If you visit the "away with Kevin" website, you can vote for which kid you like better and then sign a petition that will be sent to Ferrero. The creators of the website explain that not only is "Günter" a part of the Kinder Chocolate institution, Kevin uses hair gel, has probably had his teeth whitened and is wearing a polo shirt that is Angela Merkel orange (her election campaign color.) This is a pop culture crisis of the first degree. I hope that all Germans make their voices heard on this issue!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Weihnachtsmarkt Mania!

With over 50 Christmas markets in Berlin alone, I knew this month would be busy! While I don’t know that I will make it to all 50+ this year, I did visit two fantastic markets this weekend.

As Carl, Christina, Niels and I walked around the Alt Rixdorf Market in Neu Koeln on Saturday night, I felt as if I had entered Germany 100 years ago. Wooden houses with shutters lined the cobblestone streets. Christmas stars and lights decorated balconies surrounding the central square. Choirs sang Christmas classics (and “Don’t Worry Be Happy”) and the aroma of wurst, gluwein and roasted chestnuts filled the air. In the open space behind the church, children rode camels and horses. The booths lining the street were filled with wooden toys, handmade books, church rummage sale items and other hand made goodies. Though Neu Koeln is known as a shady part of town, Alt Rixdorf was absolutely charming. Good call Carl for realizing that this market was only open this weekend!

Totally different, but equally fun, was the Christmas market I visited Sunday night with Matthias in Spandau. The Spandau market must be one of the largest in Berlin. Last year 750,000 wursts and 450,000 liters of gluwein were sold to an estimated 1.4 million visitors. The market was PACKED with people—children were playing carnival games, the gluwein was flowing and vendors offered everything from beeswax candles to dream catchers. As it got a bit later, the crowd thinned out, we had dinner and I increased my Christmas market mug collection by two (thank you Matthias!)

Work should keep me busy and out of other Christmas markets this week, but I am just 5 days away from the Freiburg Christmas Market. The countdown to “the happiest place on earth” has begun!