Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fire, fire!

As we get closer and closer to Christmas and the nights get longer and longer, I was very excited to participate in two very unique holiday celebrations this week.

On Tuesday Carl invited me to the Santa Lucia celebration at the Swedish Embassy. Guests chatted over glasses of glogg and ginger snaps (courtesy of IKEA) while they waited for “the main event!” Neither Jennie nor Carl would tell me exactly what "the main event" was, so I was very curious! Santa Lucia Day is a traditional Scandinavian holiday that celebrates light and one of the longest days of the year. Carl explained that most schools, businesses, apartment buildings and towns in Sweden have Lucia celebrations. It is, of course, a big honor to be Lucia.

Back at the embassy, the building went dark as flickering candlelight and singing began filtering down the glass staircase. The first girl to descend from the third floor was Lucia. She wore a white dress with red ribbon around her waist and five lighted candles on her head. The other girls in the choir also wore white, carried candles and wore wreaths on their heads. The boys (Star boys) wore white robes and cone hats (think dunce cap, or the KKK as Carl brought up.) They sang a collection of traditional Lucia songs. Though I didn’t understand the words, I could imagine the enchanting lyrics inviting people out of the darkness of winter and into the light. At the end of the performance, the kids quietly walked outside as the wind extinguished their candles. Very impressive!

The first photo I "borrowed" from another website. The second one is from the evening.

The other fun event in my social calendar this week was Christina and Niels’ Christmas party, complete with Feuerzangenbowle. I’m not sure how to translate this word other than “fire punch.” Basically you warm red wine, oranges and maybe some spices, then rest a sugar cone on a thin metal rack over the wine, douse the sugar with rum and set it on fire. The blue flame didn’t show up on the photo below, but as you can see from Christina and Niels’ expression, they were thrilled the alcohol was burning and no one lost their eyebrows!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

All in favor of censorship

Though I am not in favor of censorship as a general rule, I would like to propose that the US ban certain television programming from leaving our borders. Two shows I have seen on German TV recently have led me to this decision.

Two weeks ago I saw Jerry Springer dubbed into German. What a sad scene! The title of the show was something like "My nephew could be my father's brother." I don't understand how that would work, so maybe I heard wrong, but you get the general idea. Airing the show in German was made better by the fact that there is no way to translate poor grammar and southern accents. But what made the situation worse was the German moderator who would cut into the melee every 45 seconds or so to add editorial comments.

The other show was America's Funniest Home videos. It is unclear to me whether Americans are the only group of people who accidentally light themselves on fire while on vacation, pass out during weddings, etc... or whether we are just the only ones who video tape such events. The videos of course required less translation than Jerry Springer, but there was still healthy a dose of southern accents that could be heard behind the dubbed comments.

And America wonders why foreigners have misperceptions about the US!

Germany does have ist own version of Judge Judy/The People's Court. The judges are much more polite, but the stories are just as crazy. Maybe we should bring that kind of programming to the States to be "fair and balanced."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Final Thoughts

Allow me, if you will, one more Freiburg entry…

Here are a few final thoughts:

1. I had just enough gluwein to keep warm, but not so much that I thought running through the baechle would be a prudent idea. (Baechle are streams on the side of every street carrying mountain water. Legend has it that if you walk through one you will marry a Freiburger.)

2. Schlappen’s special French fry sauce recipe remains a secret for a little longer. Back to the test kitchens!

3. Sponge Bob Square Pants and his friends are Catholic. I have proof--look who I found at the top of the cathedral!

4. Freiburg is much more preppy than I remember. Burberry scarves and Polo sweaters were everywhere! Maybe my observation is just in comparison to Berlin, but I think it might be a Freiburg thing I didn’t notice 5 years ago. There were so many flipped collars I almost I thought I was at GW.

5. It would be very helpful if I won the lottery so I could found a NGO with an office in Freiburg and ones in the States so I could jet set between all my favorite locales.

6. Freiburg is crazy hard to get to, but if you ever even remotely near, I highly recommend a visit. I heart Freiburg!

The weekend has ended

Alas my trip to Freiburg has ended. After dropping my bag off at the train station on Sunday morning, I took the streetcar to my old dorm. Other than a new Aldi at the tram stop and a Vietnamese restaurant nearby not much had changed. When I looked up to the windows that used to be mine, I found myself wondering if the girl/guy who lives there now is enjoying their time in Freiburg as much as I did? Will she/he be back in 5 years to reminisce? (Wow, I was a junior 5 years ago!)

After my trip down memory lane, I headed back to the Christmas market. I had a couple more gifts to get and hoped that it would not be too crowded on Sunday morning. It was still packed but my mission was accomplished on the gift front. As a gift to me, it flurried all morning long, adding a brisk but beautiful touch to the market. The flurries also added a white cover over the hills above the city, which was my next stop.

It was on my way to the overlook point that I found the slide in the picture below. Holy Moly! That is not for the young or weak-stomached! It must be new because it would have provided hours of entertainment for me had it been there in 2001.

After a bit of lunch it was time to head back to the train station. I think something fishy was going on in the Black Forest because I kept seeing guys carrying lighted lanterns (and one carrying a giant flashlight) walk through the station to wait for a train. Very peculiar!

I am typing this entry on the ICE Sprinter, a train that will make no stops between Frankfurt and Berlin—WOOSH! The train is packed and I think the girl next to me plans to cry all the way to Berlin after a most romantic and tragic goodbye with her boyfriend at the train station in Mannheim (how insensitive of me, I know!)

Woo, a stewardess just came through and offered complimentary chocolate and newspapers… I like the Sprinter☺

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Are there any Italians left in Italy

Day number two in Freiburg was just as wonderful as evening one. I woke up to blue skies and the sound of the church bells. After a gray week in Berlin, I was happy that Freiburg lived up to its reputation as Germany’s sunniest city. After a German-style breakfast at the hotel, I headed for the gummi bear store and the Cathedral market. Town was already busy: families doing their Saturday shopping, musicians singing and playing on the street corners and Italian tourists…LOTS of Italian tourists!! Freiburg is a great town, but other than proximity to Italy, I can’t explain why there are SO many Italians here this weekend. Between Italian and the regional dialect of Freiburg, I heard little “high” German this weekend☺

Okay back to the market… it was just as I remembered it, but with a winter and Christmas flare. Spring flowers had been replaced by Christmas greens and berries and juice stands added gluwein to their menu. The farmers sold wonderfully fresh looking produce, including piles of Feldsalat (field greens that look like individual heads of lettuce) that I love more and more each time I visit Germany. Handmade candles, brushes and pottery, along with numerous wurst stands rounded off the offering.

After the market, I shopped and reminisced, and shopped and reminisced! Extended store hours have made their way to Freiburg, so there was less pressure than in 2001 to finish all your shopping by mid-afternoon on Saturday or be in big trouble until Monday.

The Christmas market was nice, though EXTREMELY crowded! Minus the hordes of Italians, you got the sense that the market was a very local event. Unlike some of the Berlin markets, there was a good balance of craft and food stands. I’m headed back to the market on Sunday because nothing else will be open☺

In the evening, I walked around the winding streets behind the cathedral. During the spring, wisteria vines form a canopy above the streets. The wisteria has been replaced this time of year by equally picturesque christmas lights.

There is just nothing like Freiburg. I wonder how I could justify research German public diplomacy here for the rest of the year?! I was looking at real estate ads and saw something I could feel at home in: a 1200 meter castle near Baden-Baden (for the “bargain” price of 5 million euros;-))