Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some More Fort Worth

Everyday at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., about 15 longhorn cows are paraded down Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards section of Forth Worth. The Stockyards section was home to large, working stockyards. Cattle were brought in and out of the area before being shipped across the country in the late 1800s. Later, they were brought to the stockyards to Armour and Swift meat processing plants.

Today's parade is a tribute to that past. Tourists line both sides of the street to watch. I really enjoyed my day in the Stockyards. You can feel the history of Cowtown. I learned that Fort Worth is more than highways and shopping centers.

Here is a view of the pens that used to hold cattle.

Mission Creek flows underneath and behind all the activity in the Stockyards.

On Exchange Street, stands a statue of legendary bulldogger Bill Pickett.

This African-American cowboy invented the bulldogging technique. His method required biting steer on the lips to get them to submit. He learned that from the dogs that helped him in his work.

The remains of the stockyards.

Fort Worth or Bust!

Downtown Fort Worth. Note the tan building on the right and the brick building on the left.
Those are two very popular building materials in those parts.

I had a horrible flight. After flying international, American domestic flights are real letdowns. There is no legroom. No legroom. Right before the woman in front of me went to sleep, she put her chair back as far as it could. That meant that her chair was about eight inches from my faces. When I checked in, I was offered the opportunity to buy an first class for $135. I thought about it but skipped it. I would have paid five times that amount in order to move. There was also no food, no movies, no television shows, no nothing. The four-hour flight from Newark to Dallas-Fort Worth was about three hours shorter than my flight from Germany and I got all of those things.

Texas is blessed to have Dell company call it home. There were computers with free Internet access sprinkled throughout DFW. I sent Kara an email that I was early and my cellphone was not working. I went outside and waited.

After living in brusque northern Germany, it was nice to be inundated with "Please," "Thank you so much," "Have a good day," "Yes, Ma'am," and "Oh, I'm so sorry."

I was met with a world of tan. The outside of the airport was tan. The parking garage was tan. The nearby hotel was tan. I waited and was excited. It observed all the cars. There were a lot of white cars. In northern Germany, there are a lot of black and gray cars. Go Figure.

Kara pulled up in a white car with her young daughter in the backseat. I feel old. I used to hate it when my parents friends used to note how big I had gotten. It was obvious to me that I had not gotten any bigger. I was the same size as always. I was tempted to say this but I kept the words in. It was so relaxed and cool.

I had some goals for my time in Texas and fulfilled all of them.

Eat egg foo young. [This faux Chinese food makes me very, very happy. This delicacy has not made it to these shores.]

Eat big pieces of meat, especially with bones/

Eat good Tex-Mex.

[Michelin recently started awarding Germany a lot of stars. However, these accolades are mostly for gourmet restaurants that serve great French fare. Germany is not an ethnically-diverse nation, so the food reflects it. The most popular cuts of steaks have no bones and no fat. Mexican food has no kick but does have cream in odd places. Chinese food is as bad as it is anywhere but there is no egg foo young. Germany has many "Asian restaurants," serve food allegedly from China, Japan and Thai under one roof. Therefore, there is a variety of bad food to be had in one place.]

Visit one of the amazing art museums in Fort Worth.

See the place where JFK was shot.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.

It was cool to hang with Kara and her parents. Parents make me nervous. I am constantly making sure that my elbows are not on the table. However, Kara's parents are welcoming and interesting. Her mother, Kathy, was sincerely interested in my life in Germany. I felt honored to go to a blues club with her father, Robert. It was like hanging out with Frank Sinatra in 1965.

Kara had so much going on. Graphic design class and coordinating Angel's various lessons was a sight to behold. Plus, she and her husband, Josh, are renovating some cool houses in Fort Worth. Despite all this activity, we talked, ate, shopped. I love gift shops. I was happy that Kara and Angel moved as slowly through the superb Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth as I did.

As polite and delicious as Texas is, I didn't fall in love with Fort Worth or Dallas. From my short, three-day visit, it seems that the area is beige buildings and shopping centers connected by highways.


A view of downtown Fort Worth on the way from DFW airport.

I needed to go to the store for some juice. To get to the Albert's supermarket from my hotel, I had to cross over a wide highway without a fence. It was the most stressful that I have done in a long time. I had to do this twice. Residential and commercial areas do not mix.

If you need bread, you need to hop in your car to drive along I-30 to get to a store. Also, museums are segregated. The Amon Carter Museum, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Modern sit away from the houses and stores in city's Cultural District.

While one shopping center looked like the other, houses were not carbon copies of one another. Plus, there were no rowhouses or massive housing projects.

I enjoyed my time in the company of Kara and her family. I cannot wait to see them again. It will happen before 2016.

Back in the USA

A brick from the stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas from the Thurber brick plant.

Christmas just passed but I must mention Thanksgiving because I spent it in the country of its origin. Yes, I went home! Twice in one year. I wanted to take a trip somewhere but not spend much money, so I headed to the United States of America.

I left the hustle and bustle of Germany and landed in JFK a week before the big day. I got the inquisitive immigration officer. But I didn't flinch:

Holding my American passport in my hand, she asked:

Sooo, what brings you here?
Umm, the chance to argue with my family after a big meal and feel awkward in front of an old friend. [Note Bene: Her quotes are real. Mine are not.]

You reside in Germany, right?

Do you work there?
I'm a freelance writer and I teach English. The English language.

Soooo, you moved to Germany to teach English?
Exactly, I got tired of using my degree in journalism, so I decided to move to a nation where I am .0000000001% of the population. I don't get enough weird stares here in New York.

OK, have a good trip.

That hurdle was over. Now all I had to do was get my luggage. Yes, my luggage. My dear husband, Asmus, decided not to come with me because he wanted to use his remaining vacation days in 2011 to program in his underwear. [Note Bene: This is not an exaggeration.]

Well, of course, my luggage was in Heathrow, while I was in JFK. That was annoying but fortunate. I planned to pick up my luggage and taking it to a FedEx office near Penn Station after catching a monorail and the Long Island Railroad. Now British Airways was going to send it to my friend Marie in Pennsylvania for me. I just had to stand around for about an hour to discover the loss [Fortunately, I stood at the baggage carousel next to an airline employee. While we chatted about nothing and she pulled suitcases off the machine, she told me that my bag was not coming. I learned that baggage handlers put a little plastic basket on the conveyor after the last bag. The little basket arrived and my little black suitcase had not.

I was late to meet my friend Jennifer for dinner. That didn't matter much because my cellphone didn't work in the United States. I sat in the Starbucks at Penn Station and sent an email apologizing to her and then went to Newark.

I was flying to Fort Worth, Texas, the next morning at 10:15, so I booked a room at Comfort Suites not far from Newark Liberty Airport. Cory Booker is a great man but Newark at night is still a spooky site. It reminds me of Midtown Manhattan in 1989. I hopped in the dirtiest taxi I have ever sat in. I was a shade too tired to argue with the shady cabdriver. A shade. I asked him if he knew where the hotel was and he told me to get in. I asked him if he knew where the hotel was and he told me to get in. I asked him how much it cost to get there. He said ten dollars; I sighed and got in. Five minutes later, we pulled up to the hotel.

The room was huge, takeout food came directly to my room, there were lots of newspapers in the lobby, and a nice woman helped me make my Belgian waffle [a little too much help. The maneuver was quite similar to the contraption we used at college. Every college probably had Sunday Belgian waffles. It is nice but not very complicated to eat on the Lord's day. I took her instructions with a smile]. The heat in my room didn't work but when I asked for help, someone came quickly. When the Wi-Fi went out, someone quickly fixed it. That's all I want for $70 a night.

Then it was off to Texas.

I had never been to the Lone Star State, but I had a good feeling about it. I like places where people are super proud. I had a roommate who went to college in Texas from Pennsylvania and she was always flashing Hook 'Em horns and talking about how Badass Texas is. When people in Germany learn that I moved here from New York, they ALWAYS respond, "Why?"

I was really excited to see my friend Kara. Kara and I fall in and out of each other's orbit. However, when our worlds meet, it was always amazing. I have Spock-like tendencies and experience most human interaction with confusion. People do things and say things that may or may not be true or correct. It takes me a few seconds to understand to separate fiction from non-fiction. I never have to worry about that with Kara. She is real, so I am just relaxed when I am with her. I was going to see her after an absence of about five years. I was 90% certain it would be great

I was 110% correct.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We shall not be moved

Occupy Wall Street protesters were evicted early Tuesday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While Zuccotti Park is being "cleaned," American demonstrators can join their German bretheren at Occupy Kiel. Yes, there are people protesting in the capital of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein [Population: 238,000].

There are about 15 tents and, I guess in a nod to the movement's American roots, a teepee set up on the law outside Förde Sparkasse, a bank only located in SH. They are not camped out in front of a national bank because this bank has a space.

About a month ago, there was a lively protest on a shopping avenue. A nice woman offered Asmus and me a flyer against a different bank. As bank's being the source of our income, we kindly declined the offer. Since then, the protest is mostly silent. There was a demonstration last Saturday. Mostly, the protest consists of people sleeping on the grass and slogans spray-painted on the ground throughout central Kiel and signs glued on posts throughout the entire city.

Part of me is proud to see people protesting things in Germany. This nation is a great welfare state. People live, not survive as they do in the United States, for years on government money. Unemployed people have dogs because they get money to feed the dog.

Part of me thinks the protests are funny because there is no 99% versus 1% here. Banks got a lot of money from the government. However, the opera and the ballet gets millions every year. No one seems to mind that. I admire that government wants to preserve the high arts. However, I am not sure if the millions should go to art forms that relatively few people enjoy.

I am not sure about the impact Occupy Kiel is having here, but it is cute, isn't it?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's one of my favorite time of the year. It seems like it comes earlier and earlier each year. Yes, it is already Grünkohl Saison. Northern German supermarkets and restaurants are full of collard greens and kale.

I think it is crazy that a vegetable that is very popular in the South is also popular in northern Germany. Two different types of people all in love with the same delicious food that is cooked very similarly. The vegetable is cooked almost to disintegration with hunks of pork on two continents. I had a heaping bowl of greens with a hunk of pork as the lunch special at local restaurant in the middle of Kiel. I ate it and several other people wearing suits had some.

I remember about ten years ago, my friend Isabel mentioned her mother cooked a meal similar to our Thanksgiving sides. I was blown away that greens were not the secret food of Black people.

Germans are health-conscious people but they do like to put sugar in odd places. I love mayonnaise. Love it. My nephew brought me an economy size jug of Hellman's in August and I was happy. He was mule because mayonnaise brands here have a sweetness. I stopped ordering garlic dip with my sandwiches from my neighborhood pizza delivery service because there seems like way more sugar in there than garlic. I tasted a hint of sugar underneath the delicious pork goodness. I added some vinegar to make up for that. I must be the only one who has ever made that request because I confused two servers with my request for a bowl and vinegar. I had a big plate with greens, a hunk of ham and small potatoes. To save the meat and the potatoes, I got vinegar and the bowl and everything was all right.

At home, I cook them so they still had some body. I found a dreamy meat that was smoked and fatty. I sprinkle the dish with with hot sauce and I'm happy.

I can cook it often because German supermarkets sell 1-kilogram bags of greens that have the stems cut off, and the leaves are chopped and washed. Asmus is adverse to non-meat foods, so it's just me and a big pot of greens for three or four days. Hungry at 11? Greens? Hungry at nine at night? Greens.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Beginning of the End???

I never thought this would happen to me but people like me never think that something like this will happen to them. But it has to happen to someone, so why not me?

Today I discovered that I have so many accessories that I need organizers. I have jewelry box that is almost full. How did that happen?!

Well, I have officially moved into the temporary apartment that I have lived in for two years. Asmus and I have been slowly moving our earthly possessions into one place at one time. The official movers come next weekend, so I brought my favorites last Sunday. My favorites includes shoes, jewelry and makeup. To my surprise, the person who lives in sweatpants and a pair of loafers has a collection of jewelry. I also needed an organizer for my makeup.

Also, I have enough shoes to fill two racks.

That is a photo of most of the shoes. There are more under my bed. That is their home until I decide where to install the rack. As a woman with wide size 11 feet, I do not have much luck finding cool loafers but it is easy and fun to find fierce sandals. So summer comes around I add a pair to my collection. I look up and one day I require "dozens" to describe the number of shoes I own.

I am completely shocked by all this.

The jewelry thing [By "jewelry," I mean cheap hoops from souvenir shops, stud from Claire's and heirlooms from my mother-in-law] blows my mind. This means that I have no excuse for more shopping. It also means that I need new ideas for presents.

I guess this is what happens when you get older.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hello from West Oak Lane

I was blessed with a visit from my sister's son, Christian.

Christian is 12 11/12 years old. Just about a teenager.

He was an interesting mix of mumbling, excitement over Lady Gaga, sullking over everything else, fear of everything, and over-whelming confidence with anything computer related.

I love my German husband but it was nice to talk about minutiae related to Philadelphia, American television, assorted family members, and pop music.

Since he was about six, Christian has been a great travel companion. We hung out in New York and did Disney World. Over three weeks, we hit Kiel, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin and Copenhagen. We rode long-distance trains, commuter trains, buses and subways in each city. It was easy and enlightening.

Christian's reflection in a photo from Brasilia at the Kiel Art Museum.

Jan, the elder son of Asmus' brother, and Christian climb Roman ruins in central Frankfurt.

Of course, the American had an affinity for castles. He took a ridiculous amount of pictures of royal chambers in Denmark. We took a train to the tip of the Scandinavian nation to see the model for Hamlet's home. It was my second tour of Kronborg but I still enjoyed the trip. I think I could live in Copenhagen. The people are friendly, lots of American television, great shopping, and cool water views.

I hope his eyes were opened to how the world is a bigger place than in some respects and a smaller place in others.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ham & Cheese, Please

Those spots on the floor are the result of fat dripping from the hunks of pork.

The tour was all in German but I caught a lot. We sampled ham at a farm that has been smoking ham since the 1600s. I am not sure of the of the mechanics but it is a cold smoke. They roast pork, lamb and, sometimes, Canadian bear.

Our host held up a a hunk of pig while he talked that was a bit spooky. While he spoke, he got to taste the smoked meat. It was smoky and good but not as pungent as I like, so I didn't buy any.

At the cheesemaker, we got a movie about the history of the company and the cheese maker. During specific points, the speaker handed out samples of cheese. Our group had about 8 chunks of cheese. We started with a very creamy and mild cheese and ended with an overpowering piece. We got to see the cheese maturing room and hear more about the process. At the end, I bought two huge pieces of cheese.

That was the best part of the day.

I hopped un-air-conditioned train with no windows you could open. I crappy ending to a great visit.

I surprised Asmus with an apricot-mustard from a cool housewares store, stinky cheese and bread.

Summer in the City

Two great tastes that taste great together???

Work has slowed down this summer, so I have focused on the writing and organizing my life. Last week, I got bored of my life and hit the rails. I took off for the good life in Eckernförder.

Never heard of Eckernförde. Of course not. It is a tiny fishing village that morphed into a major tourist city. The big lure is the beach.

Notice that there is almost no one in the water. While the East Coast of the U.S. is baking, Germany is freezing. It was about 70 degrees when I was in Eckernförder, so the water was too cold for swimming.

A cool statue at the water's edge

The 700-year-old city maintains the narrow streets, low buildings and layout. Only 23,000 people call the city home.

I hopped a regional train at 11:45 am and in 35 minutes I was in the heart of the Eckernförde. It was a pretty spontaneous decision, so I didn't know much about the town. After getting off the train, I headed straight to the tourism office. I read a little about a Käse und Schinken Tour [Cheese and Ham Tour] online and that seemed the most interesting thing happening that day. I was worried that I would be the youngest person on the tour, so I didn't want to commit to the excursion unless I knew there was nothing better to do. The tour didn't kick off until 2, so I hit the streets.

In 90 minutes, I saw all that was to see of the tour, except the squirrel sanctuary. Yes, there is a sanctuary for squirrels. With nothing better to do, I bought a ticket for the tour of farms, country homes and cheesemakers sprinkled throughout the Danish Country [ Dänischer Wohld ].

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Profiling Amongst Neighbors

Tuesday afternoon, I had one of those crazy encounters I often have in Germany. I am an unwanted celebrity. Everywhere I go, everyone remembers me. I am the Black Angelina Jolie of Northern Germany.

I was on my way home from buying a sandwich in the shopping area a street away from my apartment. I was rounding the corner at this store, no kidding, called Assmann [It sells health aids.]. These two friendly-looking ladies stopped me. I am not used to older women who don't look like they hate me, so I decided to be polite and stopped. They were both smiling. Now I know why. They were Jehovah's Witnesses, not intrinsically nice people.

Only one was talking. She chose her gambit poorly. She started by saying that she had noticed that I speak English and waved her hand around the Alter Markt. So, she is watching me as I walk to and from my home. I automatically hate her but I decided to be polite, so I am sticking with that.

She continued on her broken path. She said she and her partner were sent out to talk to English speakers like me.


I stayed nice. It takes a lot of courage to talk to strangers and there is no need to be rude. Despite my hating these women, I maintained my polite facade.

She asked me would I like to attend an introductory meeting in English.

I politely said no.
I assumed that would be the end of it but nope.

She then politely asked me what religion I was.

I tried to quickly scan by brain to create something that would end the conversation quickly. I came up with nothing, so simply said, Right now, nothing because it was a short answer that would hopefully end our conversation on a positive note.


Smiley looked surprised and explained,
Oh, I'm surprised. Most people from Africa are usually something.

I am sure that I had a bit of an edge when I said, I am not from Africa.

Of course, she asked me where I was from.
She seemed a bit taken aback I reported that I am from the United States of America.

Then she asked me if I was living in Germany or visiting.
I sighed and said, I live here.

I am not sure what all this information had to do with my learning about her religion and the fact that she just seemed to be surprised by everything I said was just pissing me off.

If we were on a first date, we would not go on a second date.

Norway is for Lovers

Norway and the rest of Northern Europe were shocked by the insane violence that one man committed in Norway. Not shocked like rich people who are shocked when bad things happen in their neighborhoods but horribly shocked by someone who can do such evil. The concept of senseless violence is foreign there.

The only positive that can come from the dozens of deaths is that Europeans will squash the anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant ideas. Recently German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany's attempt at immigration failed. This year British Prime Minister David Cameron and French president Nicholas Sarkozy have been giving speeches that attack immigrants who have not assimilated appropriately. I hail from Philadelphia, where the owner of a famous cheesesteak place won some fans when he tried to only serve people who ordered in English, so I am familiar with anti-immigrant sentiment's growing acceptance. This European intolerance is so Borg-like. Now, it is also scary.

I am a university-educated, legal immigrant from the United States who is struggling to learn the native language and not Islamic or Middle Eastern, so I am good immigrant. However, not everyone can fit into this category.

There are people who moved to Germany and live in German neighborhoods with other immigrants from their home countries. They dressed differently, worshiped differently, did different things in their free time than natives. To that I say, So what!

It is my hope that deep feelings of loss that spread across Europe and the world after the bombing and shootings in Norway will keep others from following the suspect's example and open some minds to the danger of intolerance.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

One More Win

Au Revoir, France!

Lauren Cheney carries Alex Morgen after Morgen scores the winning goal. (AP)

American Girls

Midfielder Carli Lloyd steamrolls Brazil's Formiga Sunday's tense win. (AP photo)

I was an island of cheer in an ocean of gloom this weekend.

German women were knocked out of the World Cup and, thereby, the 2012 Olympics.

But the American team beat Brazil. The team started the final as a favorite to win but along the way they became underdogs in the media. Well, Goliath beat David Sunday night.

I just checked the score. America is kicking Gallic booty now. They are up 1-0 over the favored French team. I am so happy. Who doesn't want to see France lose?

Fourth of July, Kiel Style

Moving to a foreign country in your 30s puts you in a weird place psychologically. You are really not a native, so native culture is often lost on you. Yet, you really cannot celebrate your own culture as naturally as you would at home.

Germans just celebrated a slew of holidays. All of them religious in nature but few people here attend any religious service or activity. I don't get that but I took time off from work anyway.
Ascension is always on a Thursday, so most people take off the following Friday. The day of ascension or Himmelfahrt is celebrated with a rush of people going out of town. The day is also the nation's unofficial Father's Day. Yes, Germany has a Mother's Day but not Father's Day. To honor the role of fathers, many men gather together and get drunk while strolling around town.

Pentecost or Pfingsten, the day that Apostles were instructed to preach the gospel to the world is celebrated with a day off from work.

In cities with large American ex-patriate populations, there are picnics and fireworks on July 4. I am guessing that there are about 200 Americans in Kiel, a city of 250,000. Although we are few, we are not united. Asmus and I got together and celebrated with cookout food cooked in our kitchen.

I made two kinds of potato salad. I made the traditional mayonnaise-mustard-relish-onion-green-pepper-boiled-egg version that I grew up loving. I also mixed up a batch of fancy tater salad that I fell in love with last Christmas at Asmus' mother's dinner on one of the Christmas days [There are two here]. There is dill and apples. I couldn't choose which salad was the best, so I had both.

Traditional potato salad on the left. Dill & Apple potato salad on the right. I made a more of the traditional one because I love customs.

Plus, corn on the cob, spare ribs and hot dogs. I had to search for spare ribs the way that we eat them in America, full of fat, but I got them and they were good.

Our Fourth of July spread. Notice the yellow and green cob holders. I hunted for those and paid the equivalent of $12 for four pairs. Money well spent.

It was quiet and a little chilly but it was my celebration.

Around the World in 80 Beers

The results of a night of beer drinking at the International Market at Kiel Week.

It was not quite 80 beers. It was never going to be 80 beers because there are only about 35 countries at the International Market. Plus, I am not an alcoholic. The night started off with Asmus and me. Near the end of our first stop, Mario, one of Asmus' co-worker joined the tour.

Mario kept our tally one country lower than it should have been. The woman pouring Carlsberg was cute and he tried to secure her digits. I can't hate a man for trying. Plus, Carlsberg is pretty good beer.

The scary long lines for the bathroom -- even the men had to wait 10 minutes [I know because I hopped in their line because the womens line was toooooooo long] -- made us cap the evening at 10:30. Because we started around 6, we got in some. [FYI-In the summertime, it doesn't get dark until about 11:15 in northern Germany.]


Tuborg from Denmark.
Denmark had an unfair advantage -- Carlsberg.
Carlsberg sits in Copenhagen but it is a beer emporium that owns
brands from around the world, such as . . .

The eponymous Carlsberg brand.
Next to the glass sits the former home of a sweet licquer (I think) shot in which a piece of fig sat. Delicious! Like Mom used to make.

Ringe from Norway.
See the little green glint at the bottom of the cup. That's a light that glows when you pick up the glass. It's pretty distracting to see red, green and yellow lights twinkling at you when you drink.

Yes, we paid 5 euros to take these cups home. No, we don't have them anymore. For some reason, my husband, who studied physics in college, decided to clean them in the dishwasher. The battery-operated mugs with a bad seal between the cup part and the electronics part didn't survive.

Budweiser from the Czech Republic.
Not the crap that your cheap friends bring to a barbecue but the well-crafted brew from the former Czechoslovakia. It is actually pronounced Bood-vys-air.


Another round of Carlsberg from the cutie but no phone number.

Kronenbourg from France.

Spain does many things well -- soccer, flamenco, ham, architecture -- making good beer does not seem to be one of them. Estrella was bitter and boring. Tuborg was flat. Perhaps we got a bad batch. The rest of the contenders were great but my favorite was Carlsberg.