Archive | March, 2014

5 x 5 German/Bavarian Foods

31 Mar

Food glorious food! No, German cuisine is not renowned the world over, but then again neither is British food and I bloody love that stuff.

So todays 5×5 is food inspired, in part by a blog I’m loving at the moment FoodEssen (go check out some wonderful German American foodiness) and part because I really love food, don’t you?

Five best German dishes 

Schweinshaxe – Pork knuckle. Only order this if you are hungry, and even then be prepared to admit defeat and take the remains home in a doggy bag. Usually huge, with crispy crackling and meat that just melts off the bone, oh and bonus it comes with gravy, proper meat gravy (sometimes flavoured with beer or cinnamon) like your grandma used to make.

Apfelkuchle – Deep fried apple rings in donut batter. Try these in a restaurant or if you can find them fresh at a market, an old sad soggy apfelkuchle is just not worth putting in your mouth. A good one however is bliss, sharp apple cutting through the puffy doughiness of the batter and usually accompanied by a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and vanilla ice cream, now I’m starving, these are the best.

Apfel Küchle at Kitzmann Brewery 2014

Apfelkuchle at the Kitzmann Brewery 2014

Spanferkel – Suckling pig. This is available at certain short times of the year, when it is available I always order it and it has never let me down. In Germany you get very used to eating pork, before I moved here sausages and bacon were the only times I went near the stuff, now I can appreciate the best quality meat just like a good (beef) steak, try it.

Obatzda – A Bavarian biergarten speciality (and a bit of cheesy heaven). A mix of camembert, brie, soft cheese and butter, flavoured with salt, pepper, paprika, caraway and sometimes things like beer and chive. It will usually be delivered to your table with bread and pretzels and garnished with raw onion, chive, paprika, caraway, radish or whatever the chef has around to make it look pretty. This is perfect biergarten sharing food.

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Obatzda with Pretzel (and beer) at Entla’s Keller 2014

Käsespätzle – The German version of Macaroni cheese. The pasta is somewhat thicker in consistency and they can be like tiny dumplings or longer and straighter, both taste the same and you can even buy (and make obviously) spinach and wholewheat ones now too. It can be eaten on it’s own or as an accompaniment to a meaty meal with gravy, it is usually one of the few vegetarian dishes on the menu. My personal favourite comes topped with crispy onions for sweetness and a crisp side salad to counteract the stodge.

Now I don’t want to say worst, but, these are the least preferable things you could put in front of me

Currywurst – The worst quality hot dog type sausage thrown onto a plate of chips which is then covered in ketchup and topped off with a sprinkle of curry powder. No it doesn’t sound appetising, it doesn’t look appetising and it doesn’t taste it either, too wrong for me.

Kloß – Potato dumpling. Now I was hugely surprised when I didn’t like these, I love English dumplings but these are just a wobbling mass of jellified potatoness, impossible to cut into elegantly and due to their large roundness are liable to roll right off your plate and down a hill (and kill someone) if you are not careful. I would say that I once had a fresh one of these and it was fantastic, but german customer service has eluded my having one ever again as I confirmed they were fresh on ordering only to taste them and know they weren’t, you just can’t trust some people.

Apfel strudel – The nuts and raisins and squishy apple and soggy pastry do not a good dessert make.

Maultasche – Think a large ravioli. You only need a couple of these and you’ll be full, though I doubt you’ll be satisfied. They are the poorer cousins of ravioli and I think that their origins come from the lenten period, that’s no excuse however for these stodgy bland things, none at all.

Hot sauerkraut – Hot vinegar and cabbage, who thought that this would be a good idea? The consistency of the cabbage is great, really tender but the vinegar just kills everything near it, if you have this with sausages, you won’t be able to taste the sausage. Maybe that the point!

So technically this is a 5x5x5 but I just wanted to add my top German meal accompaniments 

Essiggurke – Pickled cucumber/Pickles – Be it the huge garlic/dill/chilli etc ones you can buy at festivals to the lovely sliced up ones I find in my side salads, I love them. Just the right amount of acidity, sweetness and crunch for me.

Rotkohl – Red cabbage. It doesn’t normally come with apple here (insert sad face) but it does come gently spiced with caraway, clove, cinnamon and star anise. This is a lovely accompaniment to any pork dish you choose

Brezen – Pretzels. You just can’t get away from these things, they are a pretty awesome snack, a ‘butterbrezel mit schnittlauch’ being my absolute favourite train journey snack. Buy a huge festival pretzel at the Bergkirchweih to share and soak up some of that beer you will be ingesting!

Radishes – From the little pink ones to the larger white ones, they are actually a good accompaniment to outdoor beer drinking. At Entlas Keller you can get an A4 sized slice of cheese, some sliced onion and a bunch of radishes (dirt and all) served to your table, and when the sun is out, that’s really all you need.

Fresh sauerkraut – This stuff is amazing, vinegar, caraway and fresh crunchy cabbage, it is my pickled onion substitute.

This blog is also featured on the Young Germany Expat Bloggers Blog Hop

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5 x 5 Drink time

28 Mar

Top five beers brewed locally

Steinbach Bräu – Storchenbier
I love this stuff, it’s amazing. Smooth and subtle, a light cloudy beer with a clean, fresh taste.

Eichhorn-Brauerei – Vollbier/Festbier
Also another favourite here. This is the true amber nectar, clear with slight sour notes, wonderful stuff.

Brauerei Neder – Schwarze Anna
A dark beer as the name would suggest. It looks like stout but the taste is surprisingly not bitter or thick at all

Zirndorfer Brauerei – Kellerbier
Dark amber coloured with slightly sweet back notes, smooth and clean, easy drinking and a good choice to take to BBQs and parties. Also super cheap and sold in most supermarkets.

Kitzmann – 300
Auburn coloured with a full and earthy flavour, perfect accompaniment to proper German food. Made especially for the Breweries 300th anniversary and it thankfully stuck around afterwards.

Bottom three beers brewed locally and two other types of drink (because the beer here is really good and I couldn’t think of another two dislikes)

Tucher Bräu – Festbier
Worst hangover provider ever, never again (and no, quantity had nothing to do with it)

Kitzmann – Weizen
Smells like bananas, tastes really sweet, no, just no. I do love actual bananas though, just FYI

Schlenkerla – Rauchbier
A beer that smells like bacon! I love bacon, obviously I will love this beer too, right? Wrong, so wrong. This is a very dark thick bitter beer, that does not taste like bacon at all. I will happily only sniff this stuff because I’m not drinking it again.

Banana Weizen or Cola Weizen
I like a decent Weizen as much as the next person, but why Franconia, do you insist on messing with simple perfection? Suggest a Weizen radler (half beer half lemonade) and see a room of people stare at you in disgust, pour banana juice in there and no one some much as raises and eyebrow.

Spezi/Mezzomix
Whoever decided to mix cola and orange was clearly insane! I will drink cola, and I will drink fresh orange juice or squash (diluted cordial), but this is cola mixed with artificial orange flavourings. Try it by all means, you might like it, but it’s never getting into this house under any circumstances.

I’ve tried everyone of these drinks and I would encourage you all to do the same, I’m a firm believer in the saying ‘you have to have tried something before you can dislike it’. But what I will say is, you have been warned (insert evil smile here). Let me know if you try these out and shout out is you have other recommendations I should try!

As always, drink responsibly people.

Sunday, not always a day of rest

27 Mar

For a long time I struggled with the shops being closed on a Sunday, especially when its drab and rainy outside so bike rides and sightseeing are out of the question. Clearly I’m not the only one who feels this way because twice yearly in Erlangen (and most of the surrounding towns and villages) the shops open up on a Sunday!

Verkaufsoffener Sonntag (Shopping Sundays) are a wonderful invention, and I encourage you to spend an occasional Sunday, shopping, enjoy the delicious feeling of naughtiness when you make that special purchase. Most shops will have special offers for Sunday opening so if you are looking to make a large purchase it might be worth waiting to see what the price will be.

If you think shopping on a Saturday is busy, you won’t believe how much more packed it is on a Sunday, thankfully there are plenty of shops outside the Arcarden so you can enjoy the sunshine too. There will also be extra street vendors and entertainment throughout the town, usually the a big market will rock up for the day, it’s an excellent day for people watching.

Most importantly Erlangen will be open this coming Sunday 30.03.2014!

plakat-erl.fruehling-2012

And these are my suggestions for the others you might also want to check out.

Fürth – 30.03.2014

Nürnberg – 06.04.2014

Forchheim – 13.04.2014

Neunkirchen am Brand – 13.04.2014

 

A-Z local Edition

16 Mar

I do love a good list, doesn’t everybody? I have various lists of things to see, countries to visit, foods to eat etc which are all part and parcel of trying to make the best of my time in Germany (and mainland Europe). Getting out and exploring is a fabulous way to learn about your new home, practice your German, make new friends and soothe homesickness. Even if you only get endorphins from the bike ride to get somewhere, a little lift is better than none.

My lists are usually very haphazard and probably not easy to read or understand to anyone but me, so I thought I’d try the A-Z format here. Some letters, have more than one idea.

Next weekend, pick a letter (or three), and go exploring…

A  – Arcarden – So I’m starting small, and central, the Arcarden is the only shopping centre in Erlangen, you just can’t miss it. All budgets are catered for and the place is always clean and tidy, the heating however is on at full blast from September to April and whilst the air con only appears about two days a year! Whilst the shops are all shut on Sunday, the cafes are open, brunch, ice cream or just an Aperol Spritz, the people watching is always good.

B – Burgberg – Or Castle Hill is one of the most sought after and expensive places to live in Erlangen, the hill stands to the North of the city and is the location of the Bergkirchweih. The hill provides storage for the beer producers of Erlangen and a tour of the underground tunnels (in English) can be arranged with the owner of Entlas Keller.

Bamberg – Slightly further afield, but not too far away is this beautiful city, the old town is a UNESCO world heritage site and since it was barely touched during the war it has retained it’s historical charm. There is plenty to see here both old and new, and it is a great place to take visitors for that ‘typical Franconian experience’. Famous for it’s special Rauchbier (smoked beer), which smells like bacon, but does not taste like it. I’d recommend trying a smoked Weizen (smoked wheat beer) or a very strong Bockbier (8% min) at Schlenkerla, but take it easy on the later.

C – Christmas Markets – Seasonal yes, but Erlangen hosts two wonderful Christmas Markets, both of which are worth checking out from the end of November to lunchtime on December 24th.

D – Dechsendorf – Is a small village about 8km from Erlangen, when the weather is good people flock here to visit the Dechsendorfer Weiher (the lake) where you can camp, relax at the ‘beach’, bike and explore. There is even an open air music event at the lake every year, get your tickets early. There are also some lovely family run restaurants here, the Forsthaus overlooks the lake , booking is recommended.

E – Effeltrich – A village famous for it’s fortified church and the massive tree opposite. Not the tallest tree ever but it is between 400 and 1000 years old and does have an impressively large circumference, is so big that it has a specialist frame to keep it upright as it’s own weight would cause it to split. In former times the space under the tree would have been used for meeting or dancing, hence it is referred to as the Tanzlinde.

Ebermannstadt – A beautiful village in the Frankische Schweiz, no matter what time of year you visit! Getting there by train is what I recommend so that you can appreciate the scenery on the way. There is also a Dampfbahn (steam train) which runs from here and if you have kids at Christmas they can meet Santa on Steam train.

F – Forchheim – The ‘Gateway to Franconian Switzerland’ and a lovely town too. Check out the leaning houses and the secret passages over the river, it is like stepping back in time, watch your step on the main street if you don’t want to get wet! Famous for the biggest advent calendar in the world, the town hall transforms into one for the whole of December and every night when a window is opened, a Christmas Angel will read part of the Christmas story, Oh and Annafest (See K).

G – Gößweinstein – Check out the castle at the highest point in the village. There are plenty of walking tours in this area and plenty of breweries to try out if the exercise gets too much for you.

H – Huttendorf – A small village with a big secret, Huckepack. Pick your own on a huge scale, pick up a knife, a basket and some bags from the shop when you arrive and then explore their acres of produce, salad to raspberries, potatoes to peppers and the price is unbeatable. Digging up your fresh produce is bound to make you work up an appetite, their onsite shop also sells produce from the fields (albeit for a higher price) as well as cheese, cakes, wine, ice cream etc from local producers. An in depth blog is coming soon, after they open at Easter.

Herzogenaurach – The land of Adidas and Puma, the majority of residents here work for these companies but the old town still retains a village type feel. The town square is always a hive of activity for any fests that pop up throughout the year.

I – Innenstadt – Erlangen town centre just cries out for exploration, go off the beaten track and discover specialist shops and quiet corners for relaxation. For nature and relaxation try the Schlossgarten, Bohlenplatz or the Aroma-Garten, for non standard high street type shopping try Bel Mondo or Contigo (Fair trade shop).

J – Jazz in Erlangen – If you are so inclined this place is the place to go for Jazz happenings in Franconia.

K – Kellerwald – Literally, ‘Cellar forest’ and yes it’s a pretty accurate description of this place, 23 cellars in a forest (on a hill). Located just outside Forchheim its easily accessible from the station at Forchheim by bus or foot, all the cellars are open for the famous Annafest and others open from Easter (or good weather time) to September (or when the good weather leaves). Well worth trying out this place in the non Annafest season, it’s a lovely chilled atmosphere and you’ll get some decent exercise climbing the hills, wear good shoes.

L – Live Webcams – That sounds so dodgy but I assure you it’s not those kind of webcams! Check out the views of the Huegenottenplatz and the Dechsendorfer Weiher, as well as other towns and cities in the area. Here

M – Marloffstein – A beautiful small Franconian town, boasting four castles, due to its high position the views from here can be fabulous.

N – Nürnburg – The place you always tell people from home you live near to, though Erlangen is quite well known especially if you have any connection to Siemens, the University, adidas or Puma! There is so much to do here, my advice is only to try everything, museums, festivals, concerts, beer and sausage can be your spare time staples here. Order a Drei im Weckla and drink coffee like the locals.

O – Osterbrunnen – Franconia being in Catholic Bavaria celebrates Christian festivals with gusto and Easter is one of my favourites. From Good Friday onwards (and for about two weeks after Easter) every Brunnen (well or fountain) will be decorated with chicken egg sized decorated eggs, some are plastic now (more hard wearing and less easy to vandalise) but some are real eggshells and evergreen shaped to form crowns over the fountain. They really are something to behold, especially the biggest in Bieberbach  which draws in bus loads of tourists to the small village, Take a drive through the Frankische Schweiz and see how many you can find, and go hunting to find Erlangens.

P – Pottenstein – A small town in the Frankische Schweiz, great walking, caves to explore and the obligatory castle of course. It does come into it’s own every year on the 6th January, on the Catholic celebration of the Eternal Adoration, as dusk approaches fires are lit on the hills that surround the village, hundreds, if not a thousand are lit and the whole village is filled with the smells of freshly burning wood and the noisy crackle of all the fires in unison. Go early to get a parking space, dress warmly and enjoy some Glühwein to keep out the cold.

Q – Qwirkle – For those long cold nights in the winter you will need a little something to keep those brain cells ticking over. My German friends are avid game players, in our house a game of monopoly usually ends in a full on argument and later sulking, if it even gets finished. So, I wasn’t too keen when Qwirkle turned up at our place, after the rules had been translated (lest we play wrongly) and within one game, I was hooked. It’s suitable for ages 6 and up and way easier than scrabble.

R – Röthelheimbad – Erlangens premier water fun facility, in the summer you can enjoy the outside pools and it’s a pretty safe environment for all the family. It can get very full at peak times of the summer but if you go early you can sometimes get the place to yourself.

S – See (Brombachsee) – Not the sea, but as near as you can get living in Bavaria, a huge lake (or reservoir). Go and relax on the beach, or enter the water for swimming, water skiing, windsurfing and other such exciting pastimes. Sometimes there can be a problem with algae in the lakes, meaning that you shouldn’t use the water, so look out for warning signs.

T – Tennenlohe – A district of Erlangen located to the South of the city. Since it is convenient for the motorway, more and more houses have sprung up here, but parts of it are still covered in forest and woodland, wonderful biking, running and walking. The woodland to the east  is a protected woodland called Tennenlohe Forst, a lovely place to escape the heat of midsummer in.

U – Uttenreuth – Still in the district of Erlangen, but about 5km from the city centre. Mainly a residential development, it still maintains a rural charm whilst still being easily commutable to Erlangen by bike for work. The bike network in and around Erlangen is superb and bikers are respected on the roads here, if you do have a small child riding a bike though, please attach a high flag to their bike, so they are visable.

V – (Fahrrad) Versteigerung – ‘(Bicycle) auction’, every now and then, the Council round up bikes which have been abandoned in and around the town and sell them off. Do not leave your bike around town if you are going to be away for three months and you still want it to be there when you return. On the plus side the bikes that are sold here go cheap, dirt cheap. The auction is in German but as long as you have your numbers straight you can join in, it’s pretty straight forward. You can even check the bikes out in advance and there is an auction at least twice a year, Spring and Autumn. There is one on next weekend

W – Walberla – First Sunday in May, walk up a mountain and enjoy a beer festival at the top. I kid you not, this is one of my top ten things to do in Franconia. Sounds bizarre? it is the oldest spring festival in Germany in honour of St Walburga and dates back to pilgrimages in the 9th century. You have to do it at least once. Wear good walking shoes, take suncream, raincoats and money.

Weisendorf – A lovely little town, about 15km from Erlangen centre populated by mostly families, enjoying the countryside whilst also having a short commute to Adidas, Puma, Siemens etc

Würzburg – Further afield but a city which definitely needs visiting. The historic sights include the Residence, the Marienberg Fortress, the Cathedral, the Old Bridge and the Julius Spital. The place is packed with history, and also wine. Nearly all the towns surrounding Würzburg will host wine festivals, as will the city itself, you can even see vines growing in the fortress gardens. I used to be snobby about German wines, but I’ve made a full U turn and really love this stuff now.

X – (St) Xystus – This beautiful Catholic Franconian church is located in Büchenbach.

Y – Yoghurt bar – Despite being called the yoghurt bar this place does also do delicious homemade, healthy soups, as well as frozen yoghurt, which is pretty damn gorgeous too. It’s pretty close to the University library and pretty cheap so if you want lunch go early or late to avoid the hoards of students, or take away and enjoy your lunch in the Schlossgarten around the corner.

Z – Zirndorf – Not far from Erlangen and famous for two things Beer (what else right?) and Playmobil. Zirndorfer Keller and Landbier are sold in most supermarkets, bars and restaurants in and around Erlangen, try them. Playmobil, well that might interest your younger less beer drinking friends, but their head office is also located there, just incase you are looking for a job.

Keep exploring near and far and make the most of your expat experience.

The expat adjustment life cycle…..

7 Mar

An explanation of why you feel fantastic at times, and downright crap at others!

Now I’m no psychologist but the cycle of highs and lows you experience as an expat is common to expats the world over. I’ve have done quite a bit of research in this because I did feel like I was going slightly crazy at times, I thankfully wasn’t and was grateful that I was not the only one going through great and hard times.

I like to break the cycle down to five main stages (I’ve amalgamated a few different articles and stages that I’ve read about) – preparation, honeymoon, hostility, adaptation and integration. Now not everyone will go through these stages the same way, you may repeat stages, but you are unlikely to skip one altogether. There is no timescale for this cycle as it is very personal to you and dependent on your personality type, coping strategies, life situation and available support.

Preparation – Remember the feeling of excitement when you knew you’d be coming to live in Germany, followed by the overwhelming list of things that have to be done before you leave. Most anxieties are tucked away whilst you focus on packing, finishing work, planning your new life, only to surface at the goodbyes to family and friends, when your move becomes ‘real’. The second guessing may surprise you, watching your worldy belongings start their trip to Germany, leaving you in an empty house ‘am I doing the right thing?’. Excitement takes over as your leaving becomes imminent and by the time your plane lands, your next phase begins.

Honeymoon – Wow your new home is wonderful, full of new shiny toys and a first time for everything. This excitement makes even unpacking and going back to work things to look forward to and enjoy, everyday is full of achievement. You also start making your initial adjustments to living in Germany, ‘how quaint that the shops are closed on Sunday, more time for bike rides in the sun’, everyday is an adventure and you love to share this new life with your family and friends back home.

Hostility/Culture shock – The first times have now become routine. The realization that you are now living a regular life, just in Germany, and the things that you once found adorable are now merely annoying. Cultural differences become more apparent, waiting for the green man, queuing and staring to name a few of my favourites. Feeling overwhelmed and annoyed that everyone around you seems to know exactly what to do, and you don’t. This is not a feeling that most adults will be familiar with and this frustration can manifest itself in many ways, anger, resentment and a general feeling of wanting to get back on a plane to the homeland.

The ‘I hate Germanys’ as I like to call them are common to all German expats, and whilst there is no known cure, acknowledging the symptoms and developing a coping strategy will assist your survival. A cup of tea and some English telly, skyping with your best mate, gin, bitching with another expat and getting some exercise are all great ways, I find, to help me get back to a happier place.

Homesickness is hard, but the first time you realize that you are now out of the loop is harder, your family and friends don’t want to trouble you with their problems, but all you want is to feel normal and, less like they’ve forgotten about you and less isolated. It is hard for non expats to understand that your life may not always be peachy, to them you are on one long adventurous holiday, so make some expat friends and let the whining commence.

Adaptation/Acceptance – Small changes happen almost without you noticing, you take your bottles back to the shop for the deposit, you always have enough milk (even on a long weekend) etc You begin to understand the ‘German way’ and accept that this is just the way things are here, for better or worse ‘When in Erlangen…’

You will be building a social network, settling into your work and picking up the language. You will be less phased by surprises and more able to laugh at the moments that in the previous phase would have made you cry and hide under the duvet with chocolate.

Integration/home – Integration is very personal to you, some people place the emphasis on learning the language, others on excelling at work or having a large social circle. Personally I felt integrated when I considered Erlangen my home, England will always be my ‘home, home’ but I love where I live (welcome to the ‘I love Germanys’) and feel a connection to this place that I didn’t expect to ever feel towards a temporary home.

Most articles on this subject show a nice U shaped curve from honeymoon, down to hostility, travelling back up through adaptation to integration which ends at the same or higher level than honeymoon. It’s a good guide but I have yet to find anyone who went through the cycle so smoothly, mine was probably more corkscrew in shape, and it’s still ongoing.

As I said there is no hard and fast rule for how and when you will experience these stages. It can feel like the boundaries are constantly shifting like sand, and they are, but you’re an expat, and expats are flexible, adaptable, knowledgable people. We know that somedays we will check what the price of the next flight home too many times and devour way too much Cadburys chocolate and the next spend an age looking at houses for sale in our new home city and contemplating spending half a wage packet on a new bike. There will always be something about Germany that I have yet to learn and a something new to find amazing or annoying, that’s life, and not everyone gets the opportunity to try this life out, be an adventurer and make the most of it.

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