It is Easter break in Germany, and we are taking the opportunity to do a bit more exploring. Saturday we spent the day in Luxembourg city. It was surprisingly quiet, in my opinion. It felt much more like a Sunday than a Saturday. Perhaps this was partly due to the shoddy weather, which alternated between wind, snow, rain, and graupel
We managed to have a good time anyways. We got to experience a glass elevator which connects one part of the city to another. We explored the casements, a system of tunnels built several hundred years ago to connect the various military towers protecting the city. That was about all we had in us for the day, given the weather, so we then headed to Trier to find our apartment for 2 nights. We stopped at the grocery store on the way to grab a few things to eat. We made the kids some noodles, and then Clare and I went out to a very nice restaurant featuring local wines.
In the fourth grade in Germany, students have to take a bike test. This includes both a theoretical and practical test. They had about 6 days where they practiced on the road. I was fortunate enough to be able to go into work late one day and help out once. I was very impressed by how well behaved all the kids were and how serious they took the training. And indeed, there was quite a bit of traffic on the road that day, even in our little town of Würselen. There was a police officer there to help teach the kids, as well as the teacher and several parents. They had to practice how to enter traffic from the side of the road using UHU – Umsehen (look around), Handzeichen (hand signal), and another Umsehen. Also note that UHU is the sound of an owl, which of course can see very well.
The theoretical portion included learning many different road signs, and analyzing lots of different situations to see who has the right of way.
Spencer did a great job with it all, and was very proud to show off his license
Today was the big parade in Aachen. We learned our lesson from yesterday’s parade in Würselen that it might take awhile for the parade to get to the center of town. Clare did some research on the parade route, and it kicked off near the East cemetery at 11:11, so we figured if we got downtown near Elisenbrunnen around noon that should be okay. We got on the bus around 11:30, and it was already very full when we got on. We managed to squeeze a few more people in along the way, but not many. We got to the central bus station a little after noon, and the parade still hadn’t gotten that far yet.
While the floats mostly hand out candy, some also handed out other stuff like coupons, small bottles of liquor, or perfume and cologne samples. Spencer got a Puma cologne sample and liked it so much that he wanted to go to the drug store today to buy some. We decided to do that while waiting for the parade. It turns out they were closed for Karneval. Then it started to rain, so we ended up going to the Curry Palast for some lunch. By the time we were finishing lunch, the parade was finally getting to us, and the rain was letting up. So we were able to enjoy the parade for an hour or two. We got back on the bus around 2:30, which was not nearly as crowded as on the way there.
At dinner I asked the kids what they liked better – Halloween or Karneval – both said Karneval – lasts longer, more candy. I think you can consider us all Karneval Jecken now.
Last night I slept terribly because it was very windy, and there was some really annoying clattering sound every so often which would wake me up just as I was about to dose off. Clare actually went out on the balcony in the middle of the night to try to figure it out but was unsuccessful in the dark. This morning I looked again, and discovered it was a loose vertical shingle right by our bedroom. I started wondering how I could fix it, and Clare suggested bubble gum. So I decided to give it a try. I chewed up a bunch, put it onto a fly swatter attached taped to a broom stick, and used another broom to kind of hammer it in. So far it seems to be working. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep.
Karneval is a big deal in the Rhine region around Aachen. We have been looking forward to it for quite some time, peppering co-workers with all sorts of questions about what kind of costumes to wear, where are the best parades etc. It turns out that most of the people we asked actually don’t like Karneval much. Many people described it just as drunken debauchery. Nevertheless, we decided to try it out for ourselves.
Thursday is known as Fat Thursday, which means eating lots of Berliner – jelly filled doughnuts. At 11:11 at my workplace there was a whole buffet of them. The kids got out of school at 11:11 after a bunch of partying at school, with no homework for the break. At 11:11 the women of the town typically take over the city hall. There is also a tradition of the women cutting off the ties of the men. Meg made me a paper tie just for the occasion. Interestingly enough, no one at work cut off my tie, so Clare did that evening.
Friday we took a day off from Karneval. Saturday we went to the Neanderthal museum which is near Düsseldorf. We enjoyed learning about our closely related ancestors near where their fossils were first discovered. Afterwards we went to Düsseldorf to check out the Karneval scene there and get some Asian food (Düsseldorf has a large Asian population). We enjoyed seeing all the different costumes. We did see some drunken unruliness, but not too much.
Sunday we went to the parade in Würselen. It’s nice that we can just walk there. The parade started at 12:30, but we met some friends and neighbors near the end of the parade, so it didn’t actually reach there until almost 2 p.m. There were quite a few nice floats pulled by large tractors, lots of candy, and several bands. It was very nice.
Oh, and “alaaf” is what you say around Karneval time. It is sort of a greeting, plus also just a fun thing to say when you are at the parade and want to get some candy hurled to you. That is, unless you’re from Düsseldorf, where they say “helau”. And of course Düsseldorf and Köln are rivals, so you shouldn’t say “helau” in Köln, or “alaaf” in Düsseldorf. One of our neighbors had constructed a little mobile party wagon, with a place for several cases of beer, a built-in bottle opener, and a boombox for playing party music. And it also had a sticker with “helau” crossed out on it.
Yesterday we celebrated Spencer’s 10th birthday and Meg’s 8th at the local pool – Aquana. I think everyone had a great time. We ended up with 6 girls and 6 boys total, plus Clare, Rob, Dave, and Ellen. Meg had requested a rainbow cake. She and Clare spent quite a bit of time researching recipes, and even made a practice cake. The final result was quite stunning. Spencer wanted an ice cream cake again, and we also had to do experimenting with ingredients and different types of ice cream. His turned out quite nice too. It was a little tricky to figure out how to transport the cakes. We eventually decided that Clare would drive back home quickly to pick up the ice cream cake when it was time to eat, since it is only a few minutes away. That ended up working out really well. As usual, Dave and Ellen were really helpful. Thanks for making the long trip from Colorado!
While we were enjoying Thanksgiving dinner this year, I happened to notice that the milk bottle from our guests was unlabeled, so I asked them where it was from “von der Milchtankstelle”, came their reply. “What’s that?”, I wondered. It is basically a vending machine for fresh raw milk from a farm about a mile from our house. The German word for gas station is Tankstelle, which literally means filling place. It does not specify what you are filling. The default is assumed to be fuel for a vehicle, but in this case it is milk. We decided to try it out, and we have been very happy with it.
Besides the fact that we get local milk which means less transportation, which is good for the environment, the vending machine is open all the time, which is handy, since Spencer usually drinks at least a liter every day. They also sell fresh eggs and butter. As the weather gets nicer, I am hoping that we can make it a chore for Spencer to go get it. It is a short bike ride, and most of the way is on a bike path.
One interesting thing I have noticed here is all sorts of different meat that we don’t usually see at the grocery store in the USA, like goose, duck, deer, and rabbit. Clare recently got some frozen rabbit on sale.
First Clare baked it with some potatoes and carrots. The meat was really chewy, so we threw it all in a pot with some water and simmered it for another couple hours. Then it got very tender! An interesting taste. Sort of in between chicken and lamb. Very lean. The stew turned out very well.
The kids have lunch everyday at an after school program. Elementary school here gets out about noon, but the after school program helps with homework, has enrichment courses, and includes a hot lunch. One of the kids favorite lunches has been pfannekuchen, which translates to pancakes. Pancakes here are more egg-y than American pancakes, somewhere between what we think of as pancakes and crepes. We used this recipe: www.oetker.de/rezepte/r/pfannkuchen-eierkuchen.html They turned out great and were a big hit!