Feuerzangenbowle and those silly dogs

What in God’s name is this one? I’ve lived in Germany this time around for nearly two decades, and there are still times I feel like I’ve just arrived. Regularly, I have an expat problem that’d be solved by me being a bit more tolerant.

That’s preposterous, isn’t it? I’m a guest in this country, and yet I still want them, the natives, to fulfil to my expectations. I expect them to change in order to make me a bit more comfy. Really?

Now why am I calling Germans ‘natives’? It’s easy really. Normally you might think of my host country as a group of hard working and dour people. That’s the stereotype at least. One exception, of course, is Karnival, which is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or even Carnival in Rio.

They’re wild, and I’m not exaggerating. Around the Christmas season, they also get a little freaky when they have holiday parties and celebrate like they’ve got no care in the world. A few weeks out of the office and heaps of time with the family – it’s a recipe for heavy drinking.

Speaking of heavy drinking, have you heard of fire tongs punch? Here’s a description:

Feuerzangenbowle (German: [ˈfɔʏɐtsaŋənˌboːlə]) is a traditional German alcoholic drink for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine. It is often part of a Christmas or New Year’s Eve tradition. The name translates literally as fire tongs punch. The popularity of the drink was boosted in Germany by the 1944 comedy film Die Feuerzangenbowle.

It is a traditional drink of some German fraternities, who also call it Krambambuli, as the red color is reminiscent of a cherry liqueur of that name which was manufactured by the distillery Der Lachs zu Danzig in Gdańsk, Poland.

Wikipedia

That drink will get one incredibly drunk, I assure you. I know from personal experience, but that was a long time ago. I’ve not anything to drink in quite a few years, but I still vividly remember what drinking this stuff was like.

Apropos of the Feuerzangenbowle, I’ve been invited to Weilheim to see a performance of the original stage play, and I’m going. Even have an extra ticket I’m trying to give away. If you live near Munich (or Weilheim, even better) and want to go, call me. I’m not online on Sundays, so you’ll have to use that old-fashioned telephone.

The last thing I want to mention is that although I’m not posting about it as much as I’m feeling it, the turmoil of losing Ella has been a bit breathtaking, but not in the positive sense. I’ve found myself in the weirdest moments tearing up at the thought of her and her brother frolicking in the wild yonder there.

Yes, I was lucky to have them for such a long time. They cared for me in a dark time, and more importantly they gave me a daily opportunity to take care of someone else. Bear with me here, ok?

Despite me being a new parent, I’ve got plenty of opinions on parenthood. If you listened to me talk, you’d think, ‘Why’s this guy mansplaining raising children to me?‘ Having said all that, my takeaway is that as a father (or mother) must often put his needs on the back burner. It’s how it is – for me, it’s the feature I most need. To think less of Lahikmajoe, I mean.

Searching out a uniquely Teutonic answer to those rowdy refugees in Cologne

 

Cologne is Nordrhein-Westfallen’s largest city and not to be messed with
 
A whole bunch of refugees freaked out on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and allegedly both robbed and sexually assaulted women who unfortunately were at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t immediately covered in the German media, but not because of any conspiracy. It simply wasn’t known about. 
There’ve been allegations that the local police played down the event to avoid attention to their poor handling of events. Politicians insisted that the perpetrators’ countries of origin weren’t as important as the fact that they were criminals and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

To say that this has been ignored by either the German or the European press is disingenuous. It just took a while for the story to come to light, but come to light it did. And then some. It’s been a major topic on political talk shows, and the opinion pages of the major papers have explored every possible angle. And then found entirely new angles. 

One particularly opportunistic politician has said aloud what many citizens have thought – that German taxes should not go to pay for keeping lawbreaking refugees in prisons. It’s gotten plenty of airtime, as well it should. Many Germans have a long fuse when it comes to this sort of thing – especially in public – as they would generally like to avoid being seen as racist or xenophobic, but this has hit a nerve. 

There’s certainly a sense that what happened in Cologne, as well as similar albeit much smaller incidents in Hamburg and Stuttgart, has crossed a line. Staying quiet and trying not to make too much of a fuss might’ve worked a week or so ago, but for increasing numbers of Germans it’s no longer an option. 

As I write this, there’s a huge protest going on in Cologne. Hundreds of women protesting against sexual abuse, as well as the newest incarnation of the Pegida protests which made so much noise this time last year. In addition, there are counter protests that insist the rhetoric on the streets is dangerously reminiscent of darker times in Germany in the Thirties

I’m not going to wade into a debate here about either Pegida or those protesting against their tactics. Not that I won’t at a later date; I just don’t think it’s particularly useful at the moment when these events are still so fresh. 

However, I have seen people insisting that Germans don’t care about what’s happened in Cologne or what’s going on in Germany right now. These assumptions are being made with little or no connection to what’s happening on the streets here. Whether during conversations at the dinner table or in cafés or pubs, people are talking and arguing and figuring out what needs to happen next. 

Here’s one of the things I like about living in Germany, though: there will be a measured response. Something positive will be done. Will it be as much as either radical fringe wants? Absolutely not. Will there be a thoughtful consideration of multiple possible ways to deal with all of this? I can almost guarantee it. 

Stay tuned for a uniquely Teutonic answer. One often seems to be found. 

Sylvester spoil sport – get those damned fireworks away from me

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The best part of New Year’s Eve? The next morning

New Year’s Eve in Munich is awful. I like almost every aspect of living here, but there are a few things I simply cannot tolerate. What the locals call Sylvester is one of those things. I loath it. A lot. More than a lot, if that were possible. A whole lot.

It really comes down to one thing. It’s not the drunken morons; you get those everywhere. Well, everywhere I’ve ever lived. Even far up in the mountains in Colorado or Austria, they’ve got inebriated idiots. Not as many, but they tend to make up for their lower numbers with more noise.

But it’s really not the drunks. I enjoy a bit of good cheer. Truly, I do.

It’s personal fireworks. Call me a Spielverderber, I won’t take it personally. That’s a spoilsport for the non-German speakers. Or a party pooper. Or a stick-in-the-mud, even. You’re welcome to call me all of those names and more. Doesn’t bug me at all.

For me, fireworks displays are for professionals. There’s a reason why civilised places don’t allow the man on the street anywhere near fireworks. Each year, I imagine the hospitals filled with people who’ve blown off one of their extremities.

When I first moved here, I had no idea that New Year’s Eve was a night for such mayhem. I went out on the street at midnight, and there were people shooting rockets down the thoroughfare. At each other, at the cars and pretty much anywhere they could.

Aside from a few exceptions, like Karnival time or during the Oktoberfest, this place is a model of ‘Ordnung muss sein’ (order must prevail). There are other nights of the year when disorder is tolerated or even encouraged, and I’m totally ok with all of those.

Do I have friends and/or acquaintances who spend a small fortune on their own personal stash of rockets and whatnot? I do. Plenty of my circle of friends are chomping at the bit to light the damned things and run around like imbeciles. They’ll carry on like yahoos at a prison rodeo, and then they’ll go back to being model citizens the next day. As if Mr. Hyde had simply never existed.

Am I tolerant of these folk? Nope, not a bit. Not even a little.

I’ll be up early on New Year’s Day taking my dogs to the park and stepping over the refuse left over from the psychotic frivolity of the previous night. I’m pretty sure I’ll still have both of my hands.

It’ll be great.

 

holding off on discouragement

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view from the Friedensengel looking down on Munich from Bogenhausen

My friend Dermot held off on telling me how impossible it is to find a place to live in Munich – especially with dogs. And one more thing against me? Many or most people here have secure employment. I’m a freelancer with work in a variety of fields. It’s never boring, but it’s anything but guaranteed.

I’d heard over the years that finding somewhere to live in Bavaria’s capital was difficult, but had never experienced it firsthand.

Here I was looking for a flat during Advent and the Christmas/New Year’s holidays. It was a bit of drudgery and appeared to be all in vain. I was looking at places as far-flung as Augsburg, Landshut and even Regensburg. All perfectly acceptable places, but definitely a commute.

Then I unexpectedly ran into my dog trainer, who I hadn’t seen in years, and told her my plight. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, she informed me that before she found her present abode, she was couch surfing and some nights even sleeping in a barn. For how long was she virtually homeless?

Seven months.

You heard me right. I thought in that moment that my situation was completely hopeless. Here was a woman very connected in the community with tonnes of clients and very well-behaved dogs. She was essentially a vagabond for what seemed like an unbearable amount of time. Where would that leave me?

She took my contact details, but I had no illusion that she’d provide anything different than the many friends who’d been looking/listening for any rental-related possibilities in my adopted hometown.

Everyone wanted to help, but it’s really a jungle here. And each year there are more and more students and professionals making their way to this beautiful city on the River Isar.

Didn’t want to say anything till I was certain it’d work out, but a flat opened up in her building. My dog trainer, who’s the closest thing I’ve found to a real-life dog whisperer incidentally, sent me a text message on New Year’s Eve, and said that if I wanted to, I could live in her building.

It’s been renovated, and is much better than anything I could’ve hoped for. Although I could’ve done with a bit less Sturm und Drang in the search for a home, I’m glad Dermot waited to tell me how screwed I was.

‘Two dogs? At Christmastime? As a self-employed foreigner? I didn’t have the heart to tell you it was nearly impossible.’

Impossible, my arse. Munich Bogenhausen here we come.