Friday, February 03, 2006

Murmeltier Day

Two notable American events (with German tie-ins) happened this week: The State of the Union address and Groundhog Day. Since my thoughts on the State of the Union and the German reaction to it will take a bit longer to explain, today I’ll tackle Groundhog Day. (Incidentally, this is my mom’s favorite holiday because it is not commercial!)

For those who don’t know, Groundhog Day is celebrated each year on Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Phil the Groundhog is pulled out of his hole (well it’s actually more of a little house that looks like a tree stump.) If he sees his shadow he will theoretically run back into his hole meaning there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, spring is just around the corner (in approximately a month and a half;-)) Groundhog Day is a well-known American holiday, though it is only in Punxsutawney that people really celebrate. The town swells from about 6,700 to 35,000 around Feb. 2.

Now for the German tie-in. There really is one, this is a German holiday! When Germans came to PA they brought with them Candlemas Day. A Groundhog Day website explains:

“It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold. For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of Winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home. The day's weather continued to be important. If the sun came out February 2, halfway between Winter and Spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.”

The next part of the story gets a bit fuzzy, but basically it seems that the Germans would judge how sunny or cloudy the day was by looking for badger shadows. As immigrants moved to Pennsylvania they looked for groundhog shadows instead. Apparently there were lots of groundhogs in the area and the Delaware Indians who lived in there believed that they were groundhog descendants.

Phil saw his shadow yesterday meaning that it might be a snowy February in PA (my mom will be so pleased!) Phil would not have seen his shadow in Berlin yesterday, meaning that spring is just around the corner. What’s Berlin’s forecast this weekend: snow! What’s Phil’s historical rate of accuracy: 39%.

P.S. If you are ever looking for a fun movie to rent I can recommend Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


My colleagues were carrying on at lunch today about German actors when one of them said that her favorite actor had obviously be "gebotoxed." That's awesome! If I could simply add a "ge" and "ed" to the front and back of every English verb I would be fluent in German!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cultural Differences

I spent a most enjoyable afternoon with a German friend of mine who was visiting Berlin. The afternoon can only be described as one of cultural differences.

Cultural difference number 1: What began as lunch turned into an entire afternoon. This was later described to me as “a real German lunch break.” Though a strange concept to this American, I thoroughly enjoyed the extended lunch with a fun friend☺

A fascinating conversation then arose about German men and German-American relationships. (Note: please refrain from writing inappropriate comments about this posting, this was not a lunch date, my friend is a friend and has an American girlfriend, hence the conversation!) Anyway, there is apparently a book on cultural differences that explains American dating habits to Germans. It explains first date etiquette, second date etiquette, having “the talk” to “define the relationship” and the importance of when and how to say “I love you.” All of these things are un-German, as was explained to me today. Hmmm.

Other topics of conversation included what American women think about men with lots of female friends, how German men can have more “flare” than American men and still be straight and why it is that a German man would feel completely comfortable liking a woman and yet not making a move for an extended period of time. Hmmm.

Like I said, I found all of this extremely interesting. This was education of equal importance to learning about public diplomacy to be sure.

Another interesting comment was made that still has me somewhat baffled. A discussion about how funny it is to take Americans to the Reeperbahn in Hamburg (red light district) led to a conversation about Americans being ridiculous about nudity (a conversation I have had with other Germans.) This then led my friend to make the comment I am still thinking about. He said, “I bet you haven’t seen your friends naked.” Ah no! With the exception of the two who were hanging naked in a tree over a lake in Berlin during high school, this is very true. Do Germans really see their friends naked or was this just one person's experience? Hmmm. What’s wrong with being naked? Nothing I suppose, though the thought does make me giggle a bit (I think I have the maturity level of a 13-year old.) There is even a German word to describe the appropriateness of nakedness, “Freie Koerper Kultur.” (the culture of being naked as a jay bird.) Hmmm.

Maybe some things are better explained simply as a cultural difference.

With that “liberating” thought I sign off for today!

Monday, January 30, 2006

"New Europe" part II

On another level, my trip to Prague somehow epitomized Europe today and how I constantly find myself surrounded by history. Having become so accustomed to the Euro, it did not dawn on me until the night before that I would need to change money in Prague. I even considered not bringing my passport because the Czech Republic is now part of the EU. Changing money was not a big deal, though it was strange having to constantly remember that how many Crowns equaled a Euro or a Dollar. Forgetting my passport would have been a larger problem, since I discovered upon arriving at the border that police still board the trains and stamp passports. (Crisis averted!)

It also dawned on me how “Europe” my weekend was as I easily took the train from west to east, passing under the shadow of the TV tower on Alexander Platz and long abandoned guard towers. I also passed by a number of buildings whose flags were flying at half-mast because Friday was the first Holocaust Remembrance Day (and 61 years after the Russians liberated Auschwitz.) Flags were not flying at half mast in Prague but they certainly were in Berlin.

As compared with my last trip to Prague, I was more aware of the history of the Czech Republic and the role it played in the Cold War. Seeing the square where the ’68 and ’89 protests against Communism took place, among other sites in the FORMER Czechoslovakia really made me look at the country as much more than an inexpensive tourist destination.

Maybe Budapest will be my next Eastern Europe adventure!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

From “Old Europe” to New

I took my first trip out of Germany this weekend-- heading east to visit Christina, a college friend, in Prague. Though I visited the city during while studying in Freiburg, I was looking forward to stepping outside of the tourist zone a bit and getting a better sense of the city.

We grabbed dinner the first night at a great vegetarian restaurant near Christina’s house (not typically Czech but vegetarian and Czech don’t easily find their way into the same sentence.) Afterwards we met up with her boyfriend and some other teachers from her English school. What a riot… you bring together 2 Brits, 2 American gals, a guy from Northern Ireland, another from Wisconsin and throw in a Pole for good measure and you’ve got yourself an entertaining evening. I guess a few Czech beers were thrown into the mix too☺ (As a side note I learned that Czechs out perform Germans in beer consumption each year. Who would have thunk it!?) Christina is also pleased to announce that she currently holds the record for keeping me out late (2:30am.)

Saturday was filled with sightseeing—Prague castle, the Charles Bridge, the Strahov monastery and library, Old Town Square, Wenceclas Square and the astronomical clock. It was FREAKING FREEZING so frequent warm up breaks were also required. Old Prague reminds me architecturally of East Berlin in many ways. My favorite teeny-bopper movie, “The Prince and Me,” was filmed in Prague, so it was also fun to recognize some of our sightseeing stops as scenes from the movie.

Christina had picked out another super vegetarian restaurant for dinner on Saturday (I had my first eggplant parm since leaving the US in August—my fav!) We met up with her boyfriend later in the evening at chatted at a local pub. I thoroughly enjoyed his accent (and all of the other teachers’ accents for that matter.) Even more enjoyable, Christina now seems to be speaking in a normal/West Virginia/British accent!!

Since I couldn’t convince Christina to shop for amber jewelry with me, I headed out on my own this morning. I didn’t find anything that screamed “take me home” but enjoyed walking around the old town area some more. My final meal in Prague was Czech (so I am told.) For about $1.50 you can get warm breaded cheese in a bun with mayo—heart attack on a plate, but man was it good!

Děkuji Christina