Saturday, July 15, 2006

BBQ for Bush Besuch

For the last few days, President Bush has been in the northern (and former Eastern) town of Stralsund, Germany. He spent a notable 2 overnights, had meetings with Chancellor Merkel and was treated to a BBQ dinner. Stralsund is the Chancellor’s home district and a charming German town on the Baltic Sea. The invitation to visit came in May when the Chancellor visited Washington. In return, Merkel has supposedly received a most coveted invite to the ranch in Texas.

I could make a few jokes and snide comments, but the truth is that I was most impressed by the visit and fascinated to see how it was portrayed in the media! Things started well when the President said “Guten Morgen” to the crowd. Laura Bush was supposedly saying Guten Tag and Danke Schoen as well. Media specifically commented on the effort at a bit of Deutsch! I also thought the speech was just the right intensity—direct, but not religious or too lofty (that scares Germans.) During the press conference, both leaders seemed to be on the same page when it came to policy issues, and genuinely seemed to enjoy bantering about the upcoming BBQ.

The BBQ, complete with a giant roasted pig, was the main event of Thursday evening. Props to the Germans for having a BBQ and not a stuffy dinner! It’s light, it’s different, and the president supposedly does not like fancy dinners anyway. The other dinner guests were handpicked, but did include members of the community. Media seemed very concerned that Bush interacted with locals. Give the guy some credit, he can’t go around meeting everyone! I can’t remember ever seeing Merkel or Schroeder at a local crab boil in Maryland on their trips through town.

Much like the visit to Mainz last year, overwhelming security (12,500 police officers) did not sit well with the locals and the media covered the story with vigor. I don’t know what to think about this. On the one hand, it is embarrassing that people who live near the spot where the president gave a speech were told not to leave their houses. It was also a terrible moment to watch the Secret Service make people remove the flags (German and AMERICAN) they had brought, off the small sticks on which they were attached. These people had been hand selected to be at the speech, were they really a threat? On the other hand, the President is the most powerful and, some polls say, most disliked leader in the world. And the sticks did look like spears and the timer’s in the recent India train bombing were found in little pencils, so anything is possible I guess.

But in an effort at a bit of public diplomacy, Laura Bush did a live interview on Morgen Magazin (German “Today” show.) She did a great job! In typical Laura fashion, she kept her cool when the reporter asked repeated questions about whether she and George discuss politics and whether they ever disagree on political issues. (I think the reporter was really expecting she would say, “I told George there were no WMD in Iraq.” Fat chance buddy!)

On a personal note, I sure hope that by the time I am Sec of State or President, the Chancellor is from Freiburg… what could be better for trans-Atlantic relations then a picture of Frau Chancellor and Madam President sitting down to a plate of fries at Schlappen;-) Then again over falafel in Berlin, Koelsch in Cologne or cheese spaetzle in Ulm wouldn’t be bad either. (I bet we could go to Mrs. Schlecker’s!)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Watermelon Ice Cubes

Inspired by a recent Herr Exit blog entry and because Lexy and Anuradha requested it (see comments,) I thought I would post the recipe for Granny's Watermelon Cubes.

Watermelon Cubes
4 cups cubed (and de-seeded) watermelon
2 TBS lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

Process all ingredients in a blender until mix is smooth and sugar is dissolved.
Pour into an 8-inch square pan. Cover and freeze for two hours or until firm.
Remove from freezer and cut into ice cube size pieces
Keep cubes in freezer until you are ready to serve with Sprite or 7-Up.

(note: I don't have a blender in Berlin and have had success with smashing the watermelon with a potato masher and then pouring the mix through a strainer to make sure it is somewhat smooth.)

This is a delicious summer treat--best enjoyed with Granny and Grandpa Lee, but good even if you don't know them;-)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Today was both a happy and sad day. Happy because today was the Humboldt Foundation’s annual meeting, including a reception with the president of Germany and a boat cruise on the Wannsee. But today was also sad because I had my last meeting with my fellow Russian scholars. Though I certainly hope I will see them again soon, there is nothing officially set up, like there is with the Americans.

On my bus ride back home after saying goodbye, I reminisced about how we have all changed and grown. Our German is much better! We have all learned more about Russia, the US and Germany. We all survived the process of registering with the proper German authorities! And perhaps most importantly, I think we all view the group less as Russians and Americans and much more as one group of “German Chancellor Scholars.”

I lamented to one of the Russians that it would be great if I won the lottery—I wouldn’t have to make a choice of what to do next. I could have an apartment in Germany, one in Washington and we could all get together for BUKA parties. Very sincerely, and very accurately, he said, “but Erin, we have already won the lottery.” How incredibly true! To have been given this opportunity, to meet such a fantastic group of people in the program, and to reconnect with even more wonderful friends who I knew before, I am truly blessed. There are few other things that I could have hoped for from this year!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Power Tools

As a slight distraction from working yesterday, Lexy and I went to the salon—I got a pedicure and she got a manicure. I guess I would have to describe the afternoon as wonderful, terrifying and then wonderful… let me explain. It started out wonderfully—what is there not to love about a pedicure. Everything was great until the technician pulled out the ELECTRIC SANDER!! Holy Crud!

Now first of all, in my defense, I think that my feet are reasonably cute, and certainly not so bad that power tools are required to tame them! That said, I was amazed at how well the sander worked—both on my nails and the bottom of my feet. A quick Ebay search revealed this is not just a German thing. You can buy such a machine in the US, but this was definitely a first for me!

The other funny moment of the appointment came as the lady was painting my nails. I thought I had picked a fun summer red color. But after already painting a nail or two, the lady says, “You know we have a saying in Germany about people who paint their nails red… Boese Frauen tragen immer dunkelroten Nagellack.” Um, yeah, thanks, you couldn’t have mentioned that before you started painting!

Whatever, my toes look cute and I learned a new German phrase:-)

Thanks Lexy for a fun afternoon!!

Monday, July 10, 2006


Day three in Bayeux was by far the most fun, most interesting and most emotional. I had signed up for a guided tour of the German cemetery Le Cambe, Point du Hoc, Omaha Beach and the American cemetery Coville-sur Mer, so I could easily get between the sites and hear a bit of the history of the area. After filling the van with 2 Frenchmen, a lady from New Jersey, a father and teenage son from Washington State and a father and daughter from Florida and Texas, we headed to the German cemetery.

Almost 20,000 German soldiers are buried at Le Cambe, two together in a grave. Each grave has a marker but there are also dark stone crosses throughout the cemetery. Anywhere where you can see that the crosses form a standard configuration five (like on dice) there are 400 German soldiers buried. Walking through the cemetery brought me to tears. Regardless of the side a solider fought on, the cemetery was a tangible reminder of the human toll of war. The loss of a child or parent must be excruciating, regardless of the circumstances under which the person was lost. I was also struck by the general darkness of the area, in contrast to the pictures I had seen of the American cemetery with its thousands of white crosses. Interestingly, I also learned that there is a German cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the Germans who were taken to the States as POWs and later died.

Our guide Olivier told us an interesting WWII story that got me thinking about Guantanamo. He said an American who once took the tour had a German father and American mother. They met after the father was released from a POW camp in the States and decided to stay. The father once told his son that being a POW in the US was one of the best things that ever happened to him. Of course most of those at Guantanamo are the worst of the worst. But I wonder if our situation would be different today had some of those taken POW in Afghanistan been mainstreamed into American society. I know that culturally there are many more differences between the US and Afghanistan than the US and Germany, but I think it is an interesting “what if” to ponder anyway.

Stop number two was Point du Hoc, where 225 US Army Rangers scaled 100-foot cliffs to take out the German guns capable of shooting miles in either direction up and down the beach. The area had been heavily bombed before the rangers arrived, leaving the land heavily pot-holed. As we walked around it was hard to imagine being able to maneuver around the land during combat with the terrain being so rough. By the time the rangers were given backup, two days into the fighting, only 90 of the original 225 were still alive. As we were looking at the cliffs, the rainy weather started to clear, leaving us with dramatic skies and even a rainbow!

Omaha Beach was our third stop. It was on this 5-mile stretch of coast that 34,000 American soldiers landed and attacked the Germans who had been left to defend the coast. The better soldiers had been sent north because the Allies had deceived the Germans into believing that they were readying troops and supplies for an invasion near Calais. The coastline is now dotted with creperies and inns, but to see how large the beach is and the terrain that the men and later tanks and equipment had to forge through was amazing.

Our final stop was the American cemetery. Around 9,000 soldiers are buried there, in graves marked with either a white marble cross or Star of David, all facing west towards home. Walking through the gravestones here was extremely emotional for me. On the one hand I cried for the loss of life and the madness of war. On the other hand I cried knowing that young men were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for my country and so others who they would never meet could life in freedom. For that I am proud to be an American.

After leaving the cemetery, the day turned markedly lighter. I visited the Bayeux tapestry, which tells the story of William the Conqueror on a 70-meter long tapestry created around 1066. The detail in the tapestry is amazing, especially when you consider when it was made. I can imagine it was the talk of the town when it first appeared in the cathedral! I then walked around town a bit more, and just happened to run into Bill and Kate, the father and daughter from my tour. They invited me to dinner, so we made plans to meet up later in the evening and go to a place where Bill had found good spaghetti earlier in the trip. They had been a riot earlier in the day because as soon as Bill realized that I was 26 and not 16, he wanted to set me up with his grandson who lives in Washington and Kate kept apologizing for her father’s forwardness. (As I later found out, the grandson has a girlfriend, but Bill is looking for other options:-)) I met them for drinks at their hotel, where Bill gave his famous toast to Adam and Eve and then we went to dinner. Dinner was fascinating! At 87, Bill is as sharp as a tack and told stories about working on a meteorology plane over the Gobi dessert during WWII. Kate, a Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom veteran, also had lots of stories to tell about the trips that the two have been on as father and daughter and about all the interesting people they have met along the way.

Kate and Bill were on my train back to Paris the next morning, so I split a cab to airport with them, chatted some more and then bid them adieu!

So that was my trip—new sights, new friends, new thoughts... a blast!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tour de France

Day two started with a French breakfast at the B&B. I’ve never stayed at a B&B before and most enjoyed meeting the other guests in the dining room. First, I discussed international affairs and Germany with a family of 4 from Vancouver. The daughter was getting ready to start school in Ottawa and be a page in Parliament, so we had lots to discuss. Then I met a couple from England. They had a daughter who married a Canadian in Ottawa and a son who met an Australian in Thailand and is getting married in England. I am just fascinated by “small world” stories!

Anyway, after breakfast I took a short train ride to Caen and had no plan for the day other than to scope out the Tour de France race route and enjoy the sights. Caen has not hosted a stage of the Tour in 22 years so the city had gone all out with musicians stationed all along the race route.

I ran into these monks first (still unclear to me whether they were really monks)

and then a group dressed up like cyclists, then hippies on stilts and then this group that looked, well, French.

I was surprised that people were not already lined up along the street by noon. I expected the motorcade to go through around 3:45pm and the bikers soon after. As I later discovered (and as everyone else already seemed to know,) the bikers did not go through until almost 5pm. But this misunderstanding didn’t matter in the slightest. I scoped out the whole route, watched the crew set up the finish line, bought souvenirs, people watched, had a baguette and just enjoyed. I was amazed how many police officers were on duty—every 50 feet or so! (As a side note, French police, inn keepers and tour guides remind me, in some ways, of the Austrian ski patrol ;-)) It was also fun to watch the groups of little kids who were obviously members of childrens' cycling clubs around Caen. They were all dressed up in little cycling outfits. American kids play T-ball, maybe French kids bike!?

I was also surprised by the parade before the race. That’s something you don’t see when you watch the coverage on tv! It wasn’t a people parade, but rather 45 minutes-1 hour of cars and trucks advertising different products and passing out samples. In some ways, the parade reaffirmed a few French stereotypes. When my section of the crowd wasn't making noise, one of the guys passing out samples made a face, gave us the “to heck with you” with his hands and didn’t pass out free stuff to the people around me. Another truck was spraying the crowd with fairly high-powered water hoses. Parading in France is obviously serious business!

Were it not for the pictures I took, I would not believe that I actually saw the next part of the day—THE RACE! I would guess that the first 180 riders flew past me in less than 2 minutes. I remember hearing cheering from down the street, leaning over the fence to take pictures, realizing that I was going to get hit if I didn’t move back, taking one more picture and the race was done. WOOSH! There were a few stragglers, including one rider who had obviously crashed, but for the most part it was over before I could even process what I was seeing.

An equally cool part of the day happened as I walked to the train station. I stumbled upon the Team Discovery (Lance Armstrong’s old team), Liquigas and Ag2r team busses and chase cars. The crew was washing all of the bikes by hand and completely taking them a part to travel to the next destination. Best of all, I noticed this bumper sticker on the inside of the Team Discovery truck. The guy in the foreground may have been one of the riders, but I am not sure.

I would love to come back to the race one year with my sister, as she is the real Tour expert. Here are my favorite Katie quotes of the last week:

“What, Jan Ulrich was kicked out of the race for steroid use? Well maybe if he hadn’t been so big he could have beaten Lance in the mountains. After all these years of accusing Lance of the same thing, isn’t this an interesting turn of events.” (Ouch, KT with the slam-a-jama!)

“Erin, did you see Tom Boonen ride by?” “Katie, they came by really fast.” “No, but did you see him, go find him.” “Sure, no problem Katie, he will be the guy wearing tight shorts, sunglasses and a helmet, I am sure I can spot him.” “But Erin, he is really hot.” (The joke of this is that I am sure Katie could spot any number of the riders because she does follow the race so closely. This is why she needs to come with me next time:-))

I headed back to Bayeux for dinner—a Camembert and walnut crepe and then a pear caramel crepe for dessert. Again YUM!

More tomorrow…