Monday, February 27, 2012

Merkel Takes Beer Down the Collar


For all you Merkel fans out there - aside from being startled when all the beers hit her back, she remains pretty chill about the whole thing. :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spaghetti-Säule in Pieces!


When we arrived in Heidelberg, I heard an English speaker describe this landmark as the "Spaghetti Statue". I thought it was just their personal term of affection for it - but later, waiting to meet someone at the statue, a popular Treffpunkt in the Bismarckplatz, I overheard Germans calling it the "Spaghetti-Säule" ("Spaghetti Column").  Apparently that's the known term for it. :)

Unfortunately, the poor thing, rather hideous though it may be, is in pieces at the moment!  During our recent cold snap, the base cracked. You can see the crack on the right side in the photo above. They've taken it apart (the Spaghetti-ish pieces are usually on top) to prevent it breaking apart on its own, and they plan to replace the base.  Until then, the Bismarckplatz just won't be the same...

More here (auf Deutsch):

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Price of Chicken


Does anyone understand why there is such great variance in the price of chicken breasts?  It used to be €8.99 per kilo on expensive days, but then it moved up to €9.99 on expensive days, and now it routinely gets up to €10.99 per kilo.  When I see it for €6.99, like it was today, I feel compelled to get in on the deal regardless of my shopping list and meal plans.  But it sucks when you want to have chicken and it turns out to be €10.99.  (Still preferable to the days they've run out of it entirely...)  Sometimes you can get around it by buying the schnitzel-ified chicken pieces for less per kilo.  Meat is just expensive - we've been digging deeper into our bean repertoire!

Where do you get chicken, and what's the price?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Christmas Mail 2011: The Final Story

Remember the Christmas cards that were too big to mail at the standard letter price? Let's start this mailfest with the final result of that one. My husband stopped by the post office to see if we could be refunded for the stamps on the envelopes, since we had gotten nothing in return for the price. The line was out the door, so he asked an employee who was standing outside. She said that he would be able to get the money back, but he had to take them to the desk because she couldn't do it. Later we went back together to take them to the desk. Turns out, you CAN'T get the money back. The money paid for the people in Mannheim to process the envelopes and send them back to us. At the time, it didn't occur to me to use the argument that sending mail to Mannheim costs less than the price of the international-rate stamps we used, but whatever. It's not worth it anyway. Bottom line: don't fuck up on envelope sizes, there's no recourse.

What else is there no recourse for?  Being the victim of idiotic package handling by the Packstation people.  To update on that story: The package my Dad mailed us for Christmas - at our Packstation address - was held by customs for unknown reasons. We never received notice that the package had been held.  Therefore, the package was returned to him.  He had to pay to send it all over again - and as it was a large box, shipping was about $85 each time. (The second time, customs ignored it and it came right to us. Shrug.)  I was utterly livid about it and we made many phone calls and sent many emails.  The end results were a useless apology lettter and an email saying that my father could not be compensated by Packstation for the mistake since he didn't pay DHL/the Post/whoever dropped the ball the money in the first place.  They said he should try to seek compensation from the USPS.  He did, but couldn't get it, and that's no surprise - they weren't the ones who made the mistake.  So, the Post got off scot-free for a massive fuckup, and my dad was out $85 he shouldn't have been out.  I was previously a big fan of Packstation, since it makes it easy for us to receive packages if we're not home when the mailman comes.  Without Packstation, missing the mailman results in a trip to Czernyring, which is a bit inconvenient. However, what a price to pay - apparently it's rather common to not get customs notices if a Packstation address was used, rendering Packstation completely useless for anyone whose packages come from out of the country.  I suppose at this point it would be best to revert to using our street address for packages and just having to make those annoying Czernyring trips.  I find it rather crazy that they haven't figured out a system to tell us about packages stopped in Customs - it really can't be anything new.  Packstation has all our contact information.

On the topic of customs this Christmas, have they really kicked it up a notch?  In our first five years here, we only had to visit Customs for a stopped package one time.  Then this Christmas we had two packages held and one completely rejected.  Looking at the ones that were and those that weren't, I couldn't find any pattern - things with marked values over the taxable limit slipped through, and things with marked values under the taxable limit were held.  It seems a bit random.  You can't really be mad about it when you get to the Customs office, though.  The people are nice and you just feel bad for them that they're forced to waste their time watching you open a package that was stopped for no reason at all. After having just watched someone else open a package that was stopped for no reason at all.  And another before that...

And that concludes the mail stories that I started earlier.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Tale of Two Faschings

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Fasching, Fastnacht, Fasnet, Karneval, Mardi Gras, or whatever you call it in your region has come and gone once again.  Every year we say we'll go somewhere new for it, and every year February sneaks up on us again and we forget to make plans.  This year, though, we did manage a small excursion over the weekend - to Bad Wimpfen, one of the first towns we visited after we moved to Germany.  The town is still as charming as ever, and we enjoyed their parade, which is longer than Heidelberg's! We saw some cool masks there and caught quite a bit of candy - not to mention some baking goods, oddly enough. (There's a mill in Bad Wimpfen.)  Photos are below, or check out the short videos I took of guys wearing enormous cowbells (same ones we saw in 2007?...unsure) and people in tree masks using noisemakers.  My camera's not built for getting great sound so the videos don't really do the racket justice.  You can also hear some shouting in them - in Bad Wimpfen, they use the greeting "Helau!" during Fasching, rather than Heidelberg's "Hajo!" or the "Narri! - Narro!" we heard in Endingen.

Bad Wimpfen Faschingsumzug Feb 12

On Tuesday, we went to Heidelberg's Fasching parade, which was comforting in its sameness. Every year we see the Perkeo guys with flags, the creepy goat float, the Ratz Fatz marching band, the witches from Ziegelhausen, and the big Sunshine Live roving party at the very end. The weather was beautiful and a good time was had by all...though I'm still finding confetti around the apartment after having a big handful of it rubbed into my hair by a Buehlertal Felsenteufel. ;)

Heidelberg Faschingsumzug Feb 12

Lest anyone think I only get excited about German parades, here are my photos from what could be considered my "first love" when it comes to parades - my hometown's yearly Big Parade.  I hear lots of bitching every year about how lame Fasching/Karneval/whatever is, but I love getting to see some marching bands, enjoying some lovingly half-assed homemade decorations, and getting beaned by a few Maoams or Tootsie Rolls.  It's fun! And free! :)

Some previous years:
Heidelberg 2007:
Endingen 2007:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Frozen Neckar, February 2012

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Not sick of all my gushing about the ice yet? I made a Picasa album just for the 2012 Freezin' o' the Neckar. The forecast calls for a return to our usual winter weather - cloudy and rainy - by Wednesday.

Frozen Heidelberg Feb 12

Saturday, February 11, 2012

More Ice!

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Overnight the ice built up all the way to the Old Bridge! With all the water frozen, Heidelberg feels colder than ever. Some boats still charged through today so I guess it's not that thick.  Could it get thick enough to walk on, though?  Wouldn't that be cool?  The Monday forecast has been revised to a high of 0'C....

We went to Mannheim to meet with a friend for dim sum today and caught the S-Bahn at Karlstor, giving us the opportunity to walk over the Wehr and see what's going on there.  Water was pouring over, and thin sheets of ice that had been floating on top were cracking off and falling over the edge, with yet more satisfying ice-related noises.  I took a video to demonstrate. :)  All those broken chunks then float down to the big ice patch and glom on, resulting in that bumpy, patchy look above. 


Friday, February 10, 2012



As of now, ice is accreting all the way across the river by the Neckarwiese! All these thin sheets of ice are floating downstream and getting caught up in a big mass. Where the free-flowing sheets meet the big ice, there are these incredibly satisfying ice-crunching noises, a lot like stepping on big crispy leaves.

Also: brrrr.

Winter in the Cave Apartment

Our windowsills in winter.
It's that time of year again - the time when the German Apartment-Airing-Out Religion becomes a very unpleasant chore indeed. It's been below freezing for days, but the airing out of the apartment must continue to be done for many minutes every day!  Brr!  Yet I still find myself wiping condensation off the windows multiple times a day.  Thankfully, there has not been any recurrence of the mold problems we had in previous years, even though I haven't been as vigilant about airing-out as I'm supposed to be.  I think the change is mostly due to our purchase of a dehumidifer and to keeping a door in the building hallway open to the stairwell, resulting in subtle but possibly significant changes in the air circulation here in our cave. 

Last night the air in Heidelberg was incredibly still.  The lack of wind combined with the thin sheets of ice forming on the river made the Neckar appear to not be moving at all.  Today the breeze has picked up again and it's back to normal (with a side of ice).  I don't think we'll be walking on the Neckar any time soon, and it's supposed to thaw on Monday - but you can party on the frozen Alster in Hamburg