Follow-up to Olympic Fashions

Dear Germany,

What????  Wie????  Are you trying to prevent gender-related scandals?


from Washington Post

I’m glad to see you’re sticking with the scarves though.



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Fashions of Olympic Proportions

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics is tonight, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I have had a love/hate relationship with Olympics my whole life.  As a kid, I loved the interesting [to me] events, like gymnastics, figure skating, and track.  However, it always bothered me that an entire television station was essentially blocked out for the duration of the games.  Living in a house without cable only compounded the effect.  I also like camaraderie of the games, the whole “Yeah, we hate each other, but what say we all get together and play some games?” feeling.

One thing the Olympics are good for is fashion.  Remember Björk’s dress in the 2004 opening ceremony? Nuts!  Fashion helps us identify with a team.  How about the moment in Cool Runnings when John Candy reveals the matching uniforms to the Jamaican bobsled team?  You know you got choked up and rooted for Jamaica.  Everyone knows that sporting events are no fun to watch if you don’t care about which team wins.  With the Olympics, it’s easy, because even if they aren’t over-the-top patriotic, almost everyone has a team: you will probably root for your country to win. Those teams represent us. The outcry about the American uniforms having been made in China illustrates this beautifully.  I think deep down people were actually more upset about how perfectly our Olympians represented the clothing most Americans wear.

Scandal aside, what does one wear to support USA in its Olympic endeavors?  If you had spent some time in Germany over the past year, you would more than prepared.  Just look at this scarf I bought:

How about this store window in Lübeck?

And this example:

Have I gone super-patriotic on you? No. Do all Germans just love America?  Wrong again! The American flag is hot in Deutschland right now. I bought that scarf because I wanted to be on trend in Germany.  Women’s fashion in Germany is built around the scarf, and, somehow, the ole stars and bars have become popular for purely aesthetic reasons. (It was also sort of ironic for me to wear it around, and it made my friends laugh.)  I admit I didn’t quite get it. Why wear someone else’s flag?  Primary red and blue aren’t colors that most people combine for fashion. It finally clicked when I walked past a bunch of kids wearing British flag T-shirts one day.  Of course!  We do that in the US all the time.  I remember seeing keffiyehs, or what a friend dubbed “Yasser Arafat scarves,” all over the place in Freiburg in 2003-4.  They may have been pro-Palestine, but now I think it’s more likely that they thought black and white patterns look cool.  Alles klar.

For me, of course, this trend worked out perfectly. I got to get some unique USA gear to cheer for my teams as they go for the gold in London.

Fire up US Women’s Soccer!!!

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American Girl

While in Germany, I tried to read either novels in German, or books about people who were traveling or spending time in another country.  These people have experienced what I have.  If you are living or moving abroad, I recommend trying the same.  One of the books I read is called “A Cook’s Tour” by Anthony Bourdain.  Parts of the book felt like he was filling space on a page for a deadline.  However, other parts, like his opening letter to his wife, the chapters on Vietnam, trying to reconnect to his late father in France, barhopping with women in Spain, are profound and beautiful.  About Vietnam he wrote,”I’m leaving Vietnam soon, and yet I’m yearning for it already… There’s a lot I haven’t tried.  I’m still here, I tell myself.  I’m still here.”

You may be wondering, and rightfully so, why it’s been nearly three weeks since my last post.  I have been busy.  Very busy.  In fact, the last post I published fell on my last weekend in Germany.  That’s right: I’m back in the United States.  I had planned to write every single day of my final week, but I ended up spending that time with the people and the town that had made my experience so wonderful.  I was already missing them.

This is not my farewell post.  I haven’t written about Auschwitz, Lübeck, East Frisia, Norderney or Schützenfest.  I haven’t discussed readjustment to the USA.  I haven’t talked about home.  I haven’t told you about the new city I now call home or the perils of unemployment.  I hope you will stick with me, readers, as I recall the last of my adventures in Germany and tackle the new adventures awaiting me in New York City.

Photo from an exhibit at the Bremerhaven German Emigration Center.

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German Products 8: Bread

I have been wanting to write this post all year.  Before I die, I would like to contribute to calling attention to German food.  German cuisine does not have a great reputation.  I can’t say it’s maligned because that would imply that people think about.  I suggest, rather, that it is more or less ignored.  We Americans have a certain image of German food, and we never thought more about it.  If you ask one of us, “What do Germans eat?” they will probably say bratwurst, sauerkraut, and pork.  Those items do appear more often than they do in the US, but if you ask me, one item dominates the German diet: bread.

On my first trip to Germany, I never really paid attention to the bread.  My attitude was Why would anyone enter a bakery and not purchase a pastry?  I was so young, so stupid.  German bread is wonderful.  Delicious.  Amazing.  And nobody knows it.  Common knowledge tells us that German bread is dark, heavy and probably made of rye, and that it is mostly Pumpernickel.  There is dark, heavy rye bread, and there is Pumpernickel, but that is the tip of the tasty iceberg.  In Germany, there are bakeries everywhere: street corners, train stations, airports, grocery store lobbies, etc.  Those bakeries are filled with the most incredibly delicious and varied assortment of bread you can imagine.  Grains like wheat, rye and spelt are standard features, as are sesame, pumpkin and poppy seeds.  This is not a health food trend; they have been doing this for a very long time.  These are also not rock-hard loaves of tasteless hippy bread.  This is fresh, healthy, delicious bread that is 1/3 the price of a loaf of Pepperidge Farm or Ezekiel bread.

The French get a lot of credit for their bread, which is admittedly delicious.  From my perspective, though, making something delicious out of white flour isn’t so difficult.  How about flaky, buttery, seed-studded, whole-grain croissant?  Now you’re speaking my language.  Which other bread products can you find in German bakeries?  Loaves of bread are terrific things, but German bread reaches its highest expression in a.) the Brötchen and b.) the pretzel.

The Brötchen, lit. “little bread,” is a roll about the size of a hamburger bun.  If I explain it, it is really just what it sounds like: a tiny loaf of bread.  Tasting one, however, is an out-of-body experience.  The outside is crispy and the inside is chewy.  It doesn’t matter if you get white, whole wheat, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, poppy seed, rye, spelt, or, my personal favorite, the Weltmeister (world champion); they are all delicious.  The Brötchen is typical German breakfast fare.  Cut it in half, slather it with butter and top it with jam, cheese, cucumber slices, cold cuts, liverwurst, Krabben, smoked salmon, quark, meat salad, egg salad, etc. (Yes, these are breakfast items).  Eat.  Repeat.  Be thankful you are alive.

The pretzel is another of the best German bread products.  We Americans need to rethink our stance on the soft pretzel.  Note that I said bread and not snack food.  This is not some spongy junk product to throw in the microwave and dip in liquid cheese.  It deserves butter, jam and love.  We have to take the pretzel seriously!  Another thing about pretzels is that they come in many forms here.  Pretzels get their characteristic color and taste by being soaked in lye solution (Lau) before they are baked.  Hence the modifier “Laugen-” that appears at the beginning of all pretzel-y products.  Since nearly anything can be dunked in a lye solution, you’re not limited to the standard twist shape.  Anything can be lauginated: croissants, rolls, bagels, even whole loaves of bread.  It is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

I hope I have convinced you that German food may be a bit more interesting than you thought.  Maybe my photos can convince you even if my words did not.

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Christi Himmelfahrt 1: Bremerhaven

May is a goldmine of German public holidays.  There’s May Day on May 1st, Christi Himmelfahrt, Ascension Day mid-may, and Pfingsten, Pentecost one week after Christi Himmelfahrt.  These holidays = days off from work.  Pretty groovy, right?  What I am about to write makes it even better.  If one of those days off falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, you also get a Brückentag, lit. bridge day, off of work!  Get it?  The bridge day bridges the gap between the holiday and the weekend.  I had three four-day weekends in May.  This type of planning is nothing short of glorious!

I spent Christi Himmelfahrt visiting two more northern port cities, namely Lübeck and Bremerhaven.  As luck would have it, I was very sick on the days before Christi Himmelfahrt, so I lost two travel days.  The trip turned out to be great anyway.  I will start with Bremerhaven.

Bremerhaven is a port city on the North Sea that belongs to the city-state Bremen.  Bremerhaven is not pretty; it is a working city.  Still, I like blue-collar towns, and I wanted to visit the Deutsches Auswandererhaus, or German Museum of Outward Migration.  This museum is dedicated to the people who have emigrated from Europe.  Bremerhaven is a logical choice for location, because 7.2 million people left Europe via Bremerhaven.  The museum was voted European Museum of the Year in 2007, and after a visit, I can see why.  I enjoy interactive museums, mostly because I like to touch things.  There are listening stations, costumes, stairs, and neat lighting throughout the museum.  Of all the exhibits I got to interact with, I have two favorites.  The first is the room filled with maps and tiny drawers. The maps show changes in European borders.  Each of the drawers contains letters and other information that belonged to a person who actually emigrated from Bremerhaven.  The second interactive exhibit was the bathroom in the reproduction living quarters on a typical ship used during the high point of German outward emigration.  If you sat on the toilet, the screen in front of would activate and impart all sorts of interesting ship bathroom and hygiene knowledge.  The same is true for the sink.  Turning the knob activates the screen on the bottom of the basin.  Very creative!

I spent the rest of my one day in Bremerhaven walking around, taking photos of boats and eating fish rolls.  A second day would have been lovely, but I am happy that I got the chance to see Bremerhaven at all.    This trip was the first I have ever done alone.  It was lonely at times, but mostly I enjoyed being able to do whatever I wanted to at whichever pace I wanted.  It was a liberating experience.


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