Monday, January 12, 2015

Fun in Freistadt

Like I've said in my previous post, I have needed the week to re-acclimate myself to life in Austria. It's nothing out of the ordinary, but it can feel frustrating that something, which was normal to me a month ago, is once again a foreign entity. Nonetheless, little by little, I'm finding a balance in Linz. And if I can get to bed before midnight, I'll be humming.

Friday was low-key, meaning Netflix and then a documentary about Edward Snowden. It left me with mixed feelings about constitutionality and a citizen's right to privacy. I see Snowden's actions from both sides of the debate: he betrayed his oath to the NSA, yet he informed the world of the US' best-kept and invasive secret. For me, the jury is still out.

After developing some slight paranoia about being technologically stalked, I needed to get some fresh air and away from my electronic devices. From Saturday into Sunday, I paid a visit to MaryBeth in Freistadt. It was January 10th in Austria, and the thermometer read 61ºF/16ºC and windy. We took advantage of the blue skies and extraordinary hiking weather along the Waterway Hiking Trail (Wasserwanderweg) around Freistadt and St. Peter. The pictures speak for themselves.

 Looking over Freistadt

 Waterway Hiking Trail
 MaryBeth and I
In the wooded part of the trail, we shuffled across some slush and snow.

Miniature adult cars? I anticipate some culture shock when I see the big rigs in the US again.

 Freistadt Old Town/Altstadt

Famished from the hike, MaryBeth and I went into a cooking and baking frenzy. We followed a recipe for Whoopies from MaryBeth's new German cookbook. After thinking that we could make whipped cream without a mixer, preparing dinner, and acquiring an electric mixer from one of MaryBeth's colleagues, four hours had gone by and we had successfully baked some tasty Whoopies. With many laughs, some improvisation, and a few pathetic Google searches, it was totally worth it. I think we will be seasoned professionals the next time around.

 We had some technically difficulties, but the final result was a success. :-)
Chocolate Whoopies

Our cooking spree continued the next morning with pancakes and eggs for a genuine American breakfast. It was the chicken soup for my soul. In the afternoon, I returned to Linz for several Skype sessions. 2015 has already been full of news, exciting changes, and big decisions...who knows where it will all take us?

Bis bald
Matt

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jedes Unglück hat auch sein Gutes.

Life back in Linz has required a bit of a learning curve. By that, I mean readjusting to Austrian German, the single life, preparing food, and waking up for school. I enjoyed two more relaxing days before school started on Wednesday. Monday evening I was invited to one of my English teacher's house for dinner. The four-hour meal was delicious, and I had a fantastic time meeting her family and close friends. The evening marked a wonderful welcome back to Linz in 2015.

Tuesday starts with T, so that's what I had: tea with another teacher from one of my schools. Those were my first two get togethers with colleagues outside of school (beyond the Maturaballs / Austrian proms). Again, it was lovely as we discovered a delightful teashop - Madame Wu's. Believe me, it'll woo you over. I'm on a roll this week because I got invited to go to the movies on Friday with another colleague of mine! The movie about Edward Snowden looks like it will be interesting. :-)

Wednesday required a change of gears: school mode. My lessons were about ObamaCare, a look at Ferguson, Missouri through Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and the dangers of social media while searching for a job. This was a drastic change from my week of Christmas lessons. After school, it was the first time I saw most of my fellow teaching assistants since winter break. Dinner was lovely and fun to hear everyone's Christmas stories.

Thursday morning came before the sun was up. School went well, although I felt like I was more in auto-pilot than full throttle. Like I said, I'm finding the right gear. My last class had a lesson change from fair trade to the HIV epidemic. The teacher provided me with materials for class, but I suppose that's what teaching can be all about: improvisation and going with the flow.

After that, my weekend started. (Yes, I still love having my weekends start on Thursday mornings.) I was doing laundry when I went to hang up my wet clothes, I forgot the key to my apartment. I had my cell phone and house slippers, but unfortunately I had no access to my apartment nor could I leave the staircase for fear of freezing. I called and texted everyone who I thought would help me out. My roommate, Matthias, was in class, and told me he wouldn't be back till 5:20pm. I had over four hours to kill outside the apartment door.

The silver lining came an hour later when my neighbor saw me sitting outside the door. I explained my situation and it was the first time we actually ever crossed paths, even though I've lived here for over three months. It seems common for Austrians and Germans to be more reserved than Americans.

I had already met her husband, Matthew from Texas, back in October. (Yes, I know, it's a small world.) She invited me to wait for Matthias inside. She went food shopping with her son and trusted me to stay alone in their apartment by myself. (I don't know if I could have put that much trust in a stranger. I was overwhelmed by the kindness.) Three hours at their kitchen table was much more comfortable than the tile staircase. Before I was saved by my neighbor, my friend, Harriett, had planned to stop by with reading materials and snacks - what a lifesaver!  In the end, I was excited to re-enter my cozy room and find the pizza I planned on eating for lunch now served as dinner. My key is now a permanent necklace. And I have to be thankful for the experience that shook up my day to show me the overwhelming generosity of those around me.

Schönes Wochenende
Matt

P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Silvester 2014

Frohes Neues Jahr! Happy New Year! I'm pleased to say that I had a very good slip into 2015. My final days in Krefeld were wonderfully chill.

In German, the term for New Years Eve is "Silvester" (yes, like the cartoon cat). I spent Silvester with Britta and her family. In comparison to the traditional German New Years celebrations, it was a tranquil evening with dinner, board games, and many toasts to the conclusion of 2014 and an optimistic outlook for 2015.

I shouldn't forget to mention that at midnight this quiet evening was turned up a notch. Everyone bundled up and stepped outside for the fireworks. Germans set off their own fireworks. They are so relaxed about this that you can purchase them at your local supermarket. I have to cut the Germans some slack. It was pretty fun to shoot off a firework or two. Everything was handled in a cautious and precise manner that no one would fall victim to reckless stupidity.

Watching the fireworks go off.
(It was a bit smoky, so sorry for the blurry images.)

Breakfast at noon on January 1st could be categorized as a recovery brunch. As a matter of fact, the entire day was quite low key. It was a great way to start 2015 with Britta and her family and then head back to Barbara and Claude's place. There I had the opportunity to catch up with family at home and enjoy a delectable dinner with the whole host family.


One of my colleagues from school gave me these "lucky charms". You melt them down over a flame and then drop the metallic liquid into water. It solidifies and should resemble a form that represents what sort of luck you should expect in the new year. After several attempts, none of my charms could be identified from the direction sheet. I suppose my luck shall remain a mystery for 2015...

My weekend was even more low-key. I met up with Yasmina, an old classmate of mine from the Marienschule back in my exchange student days.
Yasmina and I at Café Extrablatt

Barbara, Claude, and I enjoyed an early Saturday night dinner at Hans im Glück. The foresty burger joint had a creative design. Unfortunately, it was also there that I witnessed a terrible crime to burgers everywhere. The customers were enjoying their hamburgers by method of knife and fork. I've observed this with pizza before, but with hamburgers?! I think the people at the next table might have heard a bit of my rant. When my burger came, I enjoyed every morsel in American fashion: with my hands.
 
The fork and knife culprits
Barbara ordered a "bunless" burger
 
My delicious bacon cheeseburger

The rest of the weekend was spent hanging out with Barbara and Claude and watching a bunch of movies. It was a bittersweet farewell as I flew back to Austria. Krefeld is certainly my European home, and after two weeks there, I fell back in to my old rhythm. There was more of a culture shock and adjustment period than I expected. These holidays were emotional, and I'm grateful for the support of my German family.

I got back to Linz last night with snow flurries. My cupboard is filled with Christmas sweets that will last me months. It's nice to be back but strange that we're nearing the halfway point. I'm both excited and curious to see what Austria and 2015 have in store for me and this adventure.

Schöne Woche
Matt

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Freundschaft in Frankfurt

The reunions with some of my favorite Germans have been flying by. Once again, I find myself in a coach bus returning to my host family in Krefeld. I have heard from several tourists that Frankfurt am Main is not worth the visit. I beg to differ because I have met a few extraordinary Frankfurters from my days at TCNJ, who I regard as very dear friends. They certainly made the last few days very special and helped to prevent my typical post-Christmas slump.

Saturday was a relaxing afternoon with Svenja and Wilke at a café, from where Wiebke picked me up. There was a fair amount of catching up that had to be done since my last visit in February 2013. Of course, it was reminiscent but also rejuvenating to hear all the (exciting) updates.

(Right to Left) Wiebke, Wilke, Svenja, and I

City Snowman

Saturday evening and Sunday morning was spent with Wiebke and Claudius. These two are amazing to have made time for me. They had gotten back from Italy on Saturday afternoon and Wiebke was flying to Australia the next day. We went out for pasta and hung out at their apartment, but it meant the world that I got to see them.

Claudius, Wiebke, and I

After breakfast with Claudius and Wiebke, I had breakfast with Liss, my next host. Our reunion was just as magical as with Wiebke and Claudius. Every time I see Liss, the weather is sunny and beautiful. Again, this was no exception. We went for a wintery hike before lunch at my favorite Döner joint in Frankfurt. After thawing off our winter chill, we visited the German Architecture Museum for its Frankfurt High Rise exhibit. Frankfurt is distinctive in the fact that after World War II, the city decided to build a skyline unlike other major German cities, which rebuilt themselves like before the war. For that reason, some refer to Frankfurt am Main as "Mainhattan."

Snowy Frankfurt

Wintery Stroll with Liss


Liss and I

Best Döners in Frankfurt!

Frankfurt Skyline

German Architecture Museum

Monday was a time for Tonja from my senior year I-House family. We met for breakfast before Liss and I want ice skating. The looniest memory with Liss would have to be our search for Club Maté.
This refreshment was a personal favorite of mine back in Leipzig, and we both had a hankering for it. Five supermarkets and three subway rides later, we reached the jackpot! We concluded the evening with some television, card games, and Glühwein.

Tonja and I

The penguin works like a "training wheel" or crutch for young/beginner ice skaters.

Just causally, you can buy firecrackers in the supermarket.

We found Club Maté!


View from Liss' apartment

Tuesday morning, Liss and I made an American breakfast for us and her roommates. By American, I mean pancakes, bacon, and eggs. We set off the smoke alarm and savored every bite. In my opinion, the whole process of preparation and the meal with in the finest American form.
Our American breakfast :)

Farewell, Frankfurt! I hope to return soon.

Lieben Gruß
Matt

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weihnachten in Deutschland

It's been so long since I wrote a blog post like this, it feels like when you have to write the first paper of the semester - like a molehill has become a mountain. I have three hours with my iPad on a bus to Frankfurt that has shotty internet.

I have been in Germany for over week already. On December 19, I arrived in time for Claude's birthday (Claude is my German host dad from my exchange year in Krefeld). After my early flight from Vienna, sheer exhaustion led to a power nap before I toured my old stomping ground. Not much changed other than that they have made some progress with construction. The day really got started after that when Claude and Dominique returned home. We enjoyed an intimate family dinner to celebrate Claude's anniversary of birth. It was nice to be back.
This post-it has hung in my old room for the last 5 years. 
It's a nice reminder of the progress I've made since then with German.

In typical fashion, I wasn't even in Krefeld for 24 hours and it was time to make my usual rounds. The first stop was Britta - some of you in NJ had the opportunity to meet my bubbly friend. I hadn't seen the rest of her family since July 2013, so it was a splendid reunion all-around. Britta and I toured her university in Mönchengladbach and then the starry Christmas market in Kempen. The night concluded with drinks back in Krefeld.

Fachhochschule Niederrhein (Britta's university)

Kempen Christmas Market

"Market under the Stars"

Britta and I

Sunday was a rainy, hang-out kind of day. Back in November at a Viennese Christmas Market, I discovered mulled beer (Glühbier), a sweetly warm delight that outdoes the traditional Glühwein (mulled wine). Britta and I concocted some Glühbier for the family's Sunday afternoon gathering with some aunts, uncles, and cousins. It turned out to complement the coffee, cookies, and cake nicely.
Glühbier / Mulled Beer

Monday was another day for another reunion. This time I had breakfast with Wiebke, my old fencing partner. It was nice to catch up over breakfast, but it went by too fast as Domi and I were to take the 4-hour ride down to Saarland. Intense discussion about religion, education, and politics helped the time spent in traffic go by, while the crummy weather and the early sunsets made the driving conditions rather challenging. Nonetheless, Domi drove like a champ and we go to see the whole Saarland gang (a.k.a. the grandparents).

Wiebke and I in Fischeln, Krefeld


On Tuesday, I got the get behind the wheel to bring Marie-Claire back to Saarland. Yes, I drove on the Autobahn, and no, I drove a car with an automatic transmission. After another round of visits with the grandparents, the day had come to an end. Also, my brain had been in overload since I went to Austrian German to standard German to the Saarländisch dialect in a matter of four days. At least, I could dream without getting corrected by anyone, or so I thought...

Christmas Eve had finally arrived, and so did some homesickness. The final Christmas preparations took up most of the day, but I had been ready since December 19th! (This is not typical, so I impatiently waited for Christmas Eve, or Heiliger Abend, to start.) We had dinner with Claude's parents' place - oysters, prawns, and steak. The oysters and prawns were so fresh that I made eye contact with the prawns prior to consumption. I did give everything a try, but I honestly preferred the steak and salad. We opened presents after dinner, followed by dessert, and lastly the midnight church service. Everything was beautiful and nostalgic. At the end of the evening, I could only count my blessings with my host family and their generosity.

Christmas Eve dinner: Course 1

 Christmas Eve dinner: Course 2

Christmas Eve dinner: Course 3

Presents!

Christmas Eve service

In Germany (as well as Austria), they celebrate December 25 and 26 as the two days of Christmas. The first day was spent with Barbara's family: her brother, his kids, and Oma Josefa. There was a large afternoon meal (Spätzle with roast beef) followed by more presents. Overall, it was a quiet day at Oma Josefa's house with board games, movies, food, and spectacular company; the complete opposite of my Christmas celebrations in NJ, which I described so many of my Austrian students in the weeks leading up to my departure for Düsseldorf.

 Christmas Day meal

By day two of Christmas, I felt like this holiday was eternal. We had time for one more visit to Claude's parents for lunch. We had rabbit. By that I mean the ENTIRE rabbit. After seeing the head, I managed to have a leg and eat the have the remainder of the salad. (Sorry, Fluffy!) It was a lovely conclusion to the family Christmas celebrations. I made my way back to Oma Josefa's, where I had crashed for the week. We had another round of coffee and cookies. I was so full, I needed another nap before seeing the movie, Exodus, with Barbara's brother, Johannes.

Christmas away from home is not always easy. This year hit me with spells of homesickness, which I boil down to the fact that I spent so much time hanging out that the desire to head home crept in. Also, the passing of my uncle and the news of two cousins expecting babies this upcoming summer has left me with a flurry of emotions. This is another example that when it seems like one's life has found a rhythm, something gets thrown into the mix to change it up. Like Oma Josefa says, "Life goes on. We have to continue on as well."

So with that, I am almost to Frankfurt and hope you continue enjoying the last stretch of 2014.

Viele Grüße aus dem Saarland
Matt