We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging…

After a long, drawn-out illness that had appeared this week to be in remission, Jul’s computer died suddenly this morning. Emergency surgery was performed, but it was too late. The computer is survived by Jul’s Eee PC which will have to serve as Jul’s only contact to the interwebs until an appropriate mule can be identified to deliver a new computer can be purchased.

In lieu of flowers, um, you could donate to Jul’s new computer fund, I guess.

In the meantime, I apologize for what is likely to be a temporary drop-off in posting here. I promise, I’ll be back soon…

PS – if I owe you email, um, it might be a while.

Starkbierfest Munich: when regular beer isn’t strong enough

Finally we’ve made it to that time of year again – time for a beer festival in Munich. Starkbierfest is a lot like Oktoberfest, with a few key differences:

  • Different beer (duh). Starkbier is very strong and so sweet it’s practically undrinkable.
  • No smoking! Smokers have to go outside. Your throat will still hurt from shouting your conversations all night.
  • Starkbierfest takes place in the banquet halls of the breweries around town, rather than in tents at the Wies’n.
  • Um… Starkbierfest is a wee bit smaller than Oktoberfest. And possibly a little less famous.

Other than that, Munich’s two big beer annual beer festivals are pretty similar. Lots of dirndls and lederhosen, beer by the Maβ (liter), drunk people dancing on long wooden benches, and a band playing ‘Country Roads’, ‘Cowboy und Indianer’, ‘Walking on Sunshine’, and ‘Skandal’ over and over and over again. That’s just the way they party here in Munich.

In comparison to last year, a couple indicators let us know that the Global Financial Crisis of Doom has hit Munich’s Starkbierfest, too. For example, even at the steep toilet price of 35 cents, customers are only allowed one squirt of hand soap each. Use it wisely.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the security budget obviously shrank, as well. Instead of real security guards, they could only afford the fashion police. At least they did a pretty good job of controlling the dirndl and lederhosen faux pas (when not directing traffic around fresh piles of sawdust on the floor).

Luckily all this didn’t seem to influence the level of drunken revelry, which was substantial, as always.

Germans love Obama and his body parts

By now you have probably heard about Obama Fingers, the tasty new frozen chicken snack food* available in Germany. Although much ado has been made over the possible racist overtones of the convenience food’s name, personally I doubt that those behind the name intended offense. I’m guessing the only reason the fried chicken strips are named after Obama and not Bush is because no one would buy Bush Fingers.

Obama is a marketing machine over here in Germany. Notice him here pimping glasses at a optician in Munich’s Gärtnerplatz, in the most enthusiastic window display ever created by a German optician.

He does look lovely in those gray frames, doesn’t he?

* As a vegetarian, I’m going to have to sit the investigative journalism out, but other bloggers are all over it.

Ask the Expat: temporary or permanent?

Hey Jul: I see that you have lived in some of the most difficult countries in Europe to obtain citizenship (Switzerland and Germany). Are you planning on making your stay permanent or are you planning on coming back States side?

I really don’t know if we’ll ever move back to the US. We have no plans either way. Certainly if we do stay in Europe for a longer amount of time, EU (or Swiss) citizenship would make parts of our lives easier (and allow us to vote in local elections), but it’s not essential to staying here long-term. So far I haven’t lived in a single country long enough to become eligible (the number of years required for eligibility varies from country to country – from a few years in Ireland to over a decade in Switzerland).

If we did live in Germany long enough to become eligible for citizenship, I doubt I would apply for it. Germany would require me to give up my American passport, and I don’t think I’d ever want to do that. Permanent residency will just have to do.

The main reason I don’t want to to return to the States just yet? I’d have to find a new name for this blog.

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

wheeeee giggle bump ow

I’d almost forgotten how much fun sledding is. I’m happy to report that the Bavarian version is almost as good as the Swiss.

Wallberg is on the Tegernsee, about an hour’s drive outside of Munich. A quick 5-10 minute ride up on the gondola is followed by at about a half hour of flying downhill on a tiny wooden sled with absolutely no steering or braking capacity. And oh, the views.

The trail gets a little mogully towards the end of the day, leading to more shouts of “ow” in between giggles and squeals of delight. If you’re lucky, your bum is numb from the cold so you don’t feel the impact as much (well, until the next day).

Ask the Expat: Cute Switzerland

Jul – I’ve spent the last hour or so being super jealous of you, sucked into your old blog entries about Switzerland and happening across Chagall exhibits, big cows, and castles and such. Man. I’ve got to get out there. Could you please tell me a couple cities in Switzerland you think are the cutest?

Switzerland is all kinds of cute, and a great place to vacation. I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to just a couple cities, so I’ll name a couple in each region. Starting in the German-speaking part of the country, I’d recommend Lucerne (the wooden bridges are charming) and Bern (about as quaint as a capital city can get).

Moving on to Ticino, or the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, I’d suggest Lugano and Bellinzona (castles!) for their adorableness. Lugano (which I visited pre-blog) is a lovely lake town combining the best of Italy and Switzerland – great architecture, yummy food, and clean streets. In Francophone Swiss cities there’s also plenty of cuteness to be found, especially in Fribourg and Lausanne.

If you want to get out of the cities, the cutest parts of Switzerland overall are the mountain villages. My all-time favorite is Mürren, which is in the Bernese Oberland and is so cute it will make your cheeks hurt. The whole area is fabulous – don’t miss Trummelbach Falls or Grindelwald, either. Interlaken is the gateway to this area, and from there you can take cog-wheel trains and other quaint forms of transportation to get up to the various little villages.

But really, Switzerland is just so chock-full of cuteness it’d be impossible to get it all into one post. You’re likely to find it wherever your trip takes you.

Ask the Expat is a new feature I’m trying out here at the blog. If you have a question for me, go to this post to find out how to submit it.

How do I learn photography without overtaxing my lady-brain*?

Now that we own a DSLR camera, I figured it’s high time I learn something about photography. So I turned to that local bastion of adult education, the Munich Volkshochschule. Perusing the online course offerings, I was pleased to find a variety of classes on offer. Like this one:

Basiswissen Fotografie – Photography Fundamentals
Sie erwerben die wichtigsten Grundkenntnisse in der Handhabung von analogen und digitalen Fotokameras und erfahren Wissenswertes über die unterschiedlichen Funktionen und Möglichkeiten in der Anwendung. Themenbereiche sind Aufnahmetechnik (Blende, Verschlusszeit, Tiefenschärfe etc.) und eine Einführung in die Bildgestaltung. Eine Exkursion bietet Gelegenheit, das Erlernte in der Praxis auszuprobieren. Die anschließende Bildbesprechung schult das fotografische Sehen sowie die Wahrnehmung und Beurteilung der eigenen Fotografien.

[You will acquire the most basic skills in the use of analog and digital cameras and learn to use the different features and capabilities. Topics include recording technique (aperture, shutter speed, depth etc.) and an introduction to image making. A field trip provides an opportunity to learn in practice. The subsequent picture critique will teach students about photographic vision and the perception and assessment of their own photographs.]**

That sounds like what I’m looking for, right? Well, only if I’m willing to take a course that’s not tailored specifically to my genitalia. Luckily, I won’t have to settle for that. The next course on the list:

Basiswissen Fotografie für Frauen – Photography Fundamentals for Women
Wie gehe ich fantasievoll mit dem Medium Fotografie um? Welche Kamera ist für meine Bedürfnisse die richtige? Welche Technik brauche ich wirklich? Was ist der Unterschied zwischen analog und digital? Praxisnah werden die Grundlagen der Fotografie wie Blende, Zeit, Belichtung und Bildgestaltung vermittelt und geübt. Dabei spielt es keine Rolle, ob Sie mit einer analogen Kamera, also herkömmlich mit Filmmaterial, das entwickelt werden muss, oder mit einer digitalen Kamera, bei der die Bilder auf einer Speicherkarte gespeichert und dann am PC weiterverarbeitet werden, fotografieren.

[How do I work creatively with the medium of photography? Which camera is the right one for my needs? What technology do I really need? What is the difference between analog and digital? We will practice the basics of photography such as aperture, time, exposure and image design. It does not matter whether you are using an analog camera, ie a conventional one with film which has to be developed, or with a digital camera, in which the images go on a memory card and then are processed on a PC.]

And it wasn’t only this class. While the Digital Photography with Picture Editing course covers ‘the basics of photography in theory and practice’, the Digital Photography with Picture Editing for Women course description starts with the difference between old-fashioned cameras and those new-fangled digital thingies (in case you were wondering – they’re the same except one has film you have to develop). They didn’t mention it specifically, but I’m pretty sure all the pictures taken in this class are going to be of flowers and jewelry, too.

Um, huh? What’s the theory behind this? Does photography involve a competitive sport element I’m unaware of? Are certain parts of the camera best adjusted using one’s penis?

*Props to the fabulously funny Samantha Bee for the term “lady-brain”, which I use as often as possible. Video and transcript here.

** Translations are lazy approximate.

Skiing Sheffau

This past weekend we bummed a ride with the Munich International Ski Club for a day of skiing at Sheffau, Austria. Sheffau is just one of many entry points into the irrsinnig gross* ski area which includes 91 lifts and almost 300 km of slopes. There was lots of fresh snow, and a little too much sunshine. Very good conditions.  Continue reading

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