Monthly Archives: November 2009

Cute video of Rosebud

I made this video especially for the grandparents, but it is adorable. Rosebud is eating cream of broccoli soup.


The Malt beer that wasn’t

Funny story – when I was grocery shopping on Friday, I wanted to select a few beers that David had not yet tried. I decided to try some Oettinger beers. As I was scanning the vast selection of brands and types of beers, I caught sight of an Oettinger label that said Malz, or malt. I thought, “Great! I love malt beers!” and proceeded to add a few bottles to my basket.

When I got home, I excitedly showed David that I had found a malt beer to try. Then my eye fell on the label and I noticed it said that it was alcohol-free and also an “erfrischende Malztrunk für die ganze Familie” – a refreshing Malt beverage for the whole family. Hmmmm….

We chilled one down, opened the bottle and poured it into a beer glass. David took the first sip. His first thought was, “What IS this? It tastes like soda-pop.” Then he said to me, “I’m not too sure of this. It doesn’t taste right.” I was curious. I took a sip and it was definitely not what I was expecting. Maybe if I had been expecting a malt beverage rather than a malt beer I would have liked it.

I am going to try making beer bread with the remaining bottles, because I think that might be the best way to use up our refreshing malt beverage for the whole family.

A date in Bad Tölz

One of the challenges for parents with children is when to find time to spend with your spouse. Living in another country, across the pond, has made that even more challenging for us. I must admit, when David was first offered his position here in Penzberg, our daughter was only three weeks old and my immediate reaction was absolutely not! I wanted Rosebud to grow up close to her grandparents in Cincinnati and our dear friends in Indianapolis, who, of course, could also babysit for us.

Since we moved here last January, David and I had not had the opportunity to go on a date without Rosebud. Our four-year anniversary was this past Thursday, so we decided to find a babysitter so we could spend some much-needed time together without having to worry about Rosebud. One of the American families in our neighborhood are missionaries. They have four children, the eldest of whom is about 16 or 17. I brought Rosebud to meet her this past Tuesday and was so happy with how she interacted with our daughter. She came over to our house yesterday and watched Rosebud for the afternoon. Rosebud was very happy and seemed to enjoy herself.

As for David and me, we had a fantastic day of shopping in Bad Tölz. For lunch, we went to the Ratskeller Restaurant, which primarily serves Bavarian specialties. David had Pfefferhaxe, which was a deep-fried ham hock (also called pork knuckle) with green peppercorn sauce. Since Thanksgiving is coming up, I joked that perhaps this is like the fried turkey of Bavaria. I had a venison goulash with Pfifferling (chanterelle) mushrooms. Both dishes were outstanding. I’m glad we tried this restaurant because now I know it will be a great place to bring our family and friends when they visit.

One of the shops we visited was the Enzianbrennerei (or Enzian distillery) Max Schwaighofer. In addition to offering Enzian and other spirits, they have a coffee and wine bar in the back of their shop, wine tasting tables and an impressive wine selection. We had the opportunity to try some Austrian wines, including a Zweigelt Barrique. Zweigelt is a grape crossing of Blaufränkisch (also called Lemberger or Franconia) and St. Laurent (a grape from the Burgundy family) and barrique means the wine was aged in an oak barrel. We decided to purchase the Zweigelt Barrique wine for our Thanksgiving dinner, so we are looking forward to that on Saturday. We’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving then because David has to work on Thursday and Friday.

The other amazing find at the shop was one of their specialties, Lebkuchenlikör. It’s a Schnapps that is so popular, they now offer it year-round instead of during the Christmas season. Lebkuchenlikör tastes like Lebkuchen, which is essentially German gingerbread. The Schnapps itself has an amaretto base with the added Lebkuchen spices and it’s one of the nicest Schnapps I have ever tasted. I picked up an information sheet on the Lebkuchenlikör, which suggests it is not only nice as a digestif, but also lovely added to tea, coffee, hot chocolate; or you can pour it over ice cream; or add it to cake batter. All of these possibilities sound pretty darn good to me. The next time I am in Tölz, I am going to see if they have miniature bottles of the Lebkuchenlikör because I think it will make a nice gift.

Small improvements each day for Karen

I called our Dad this evening. He was with Karen, and I got to talk with her on the phone! It was so wonderful to hear her voice. Dad said that her replies to me were the most he has heard her say. I told Karen some Rosebud stories, notably Rosebud’s obsession at the moment – cows! I asked Karen if she is relatively comfortable, and she said she is. I asked if she was warm enough (in our family, we women are notorious for having chilly hands and feet when everyone else is comfortable). She took her time finding the words, and although I didn’t really understand what she was saying, she was clearly processing what I asked and taking her time to find the words. As I was talking with her, it was definitely my sister. Dad said she was able to walk 80 feet today with a walker, and each day brings small improvements. This is encouraging and I feel optimistic.

Enough Stollen to feed a small militia

More and more, you can find Stollen (also called Dresdner Christstollen or Weihnachtsstollen) in the United States. It’s a traditional German Christmas fruitcake, although it’s more like a lightly sweetened bread. Usually it contains rum-soaked raisins, chopped almonds and citrus peel. Believe it or not, the Aldi’s grocery store chain has excellent Stollen, imported from Germany. I think I have seen it at Trader Joe’s in the US as well. You may have also seen Italian Panettone in stores, which is similar to Stollen.

Originally called Strietzel, Stollen comes from the city of Dresden. The story goes that during Advent, Catholics fasted and were not permitted to consume any butter or milk. They attempted to make a cake using only oil, but it was tasteless. Prince Elector Ernst von Sachsen and his brother Albrecht wrote to the pope to ask if it would be permitted to use butter and milk for the special Strietzel cake. The pope allowed this, in a letter that has gone down in history as the “Butterbrief”, or Butter letter. A more detailed explanation in German is available at this Backland Bakery website. There is a lovely picture of the Stollen on this page, showing what it traditionally looks like, and they even say that you can order Stollen for delivery. Do you suppose they would ship Stollen to North America? It does keep extremely well…

When I was an exchange student in Köln, I discovered Stollen for the first time. It was a store-bought variety, and although very tasty, I was interested in finding a recipe so I could make it myself. At the end of my exchange year, I purchased a German cookbook for my mother which happened to have an authentic Dresdner Stollen recipe. I’ve made it a few times before, and although it takes a lot of work and time to make a Stollen, it is so worth it. Homemade Stollen is far better than the store-bought kind.

Dresdner Stollen – German Christmas Fruitcake
in metric

Ingredients (dough):
1 kg flour
100 g fresh yeast, in cubes [or 2 teaspoons active, dried yeast]
400 ml whole milk, lukewarm (around 80 degrees F)
75-100 g sugar (to taste)
one vanilla bean
2 eggs
grated peel of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
400 g butter
200 g flour
350 g raisins (or mix of raisins and dried black currants)
100 g blanched, chopped almonds
50 g candied diced citron
100 g candied, diced orange peel
4 to 5 cl rum (that’s about two shots worth)

Ingredients (icing):
150 g butter
150 g powdered sugar

Soak the raisins, black currants, almonds, candied citron and orange peel in the rum. Set aside.

Get the largest mixing bowl you have.
That bowl you have there? It’s too small. Get a bigger one.

Then measure and sift the 1 kg of flour. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a whole kilogram of flour, plus 200 more grams of flour are added later. Did I mention that my recipe makes enough to feed a small army?

Make a well in the center of the flour. In the meantime, dissolve the fresh yeast cubes in 400 ml of warm milk (best at around 80 degrees F/26.5 degrees C). Add a pinch of salt, stir, then pour the milk-yeast mixture into the well. Form into a very dry dough and let rise for about ten or 15 minutes.

Carefully cut the vanilla bean down the center with a sharp knife and then scrape the vanilla bean pulp into a small bowl. Add the sugar to the vanilla bean pulp. Then add the zested lemon peel, salt and the eggs. Beat together, then knead into the dough after it has finished its first 15 minute rise. Let rise for another 15 minutes. Then take the remaining 200 grams of flour and knead the butter into it. Then work it in to the yeast dough. Let rise for another 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (about 390 degrees F). Quickly work in the rum-soaked fruit and nuts into the Stollen so that they are evenly distributed. Be careful you don’t get too tipsy from the rummy fumes as you are kneading the fruit into the yeast dough. Why yes, this did in fact happen to me, why do you ask?

Form two rolls out of the dough, about 30 cm long. Then shape the rolls into Stollen loaves. Traditionally, the loaf is thicker in the center than on the sides. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet (or on baking parchment paper) and let rise until the dough has doubled in size, about twenty minutes although it might be longer. Bake at 200° C for about an hour. Watch carefully, because your Stollen may need more or less time to bake. You may also need to rotate the baking sheet so that it browns evenly, depending on your oven. Test for doneness using a toothpick.

Coat with melted butter, and then using a sieve, shake the powdered sugar onto the loaves.

Let cool, slice and enjoy. I personally enjoy my Stollen for breakfast with a cup of strong German coffee.

*notes – although it’s not traditional, sometimes you can buy Stollen with marzipan in the middle. If you wanted to add marzipan, you could do so when you form the loaves.

Also, feel free to vary the dried fruits to your taste. Chopped, dried apricots and cherries, though not what was traditionally used, would be quite tasty.

You can take the scraped vanilla bean and add it to a jar with sugar to make vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar is useful for baking, for your coffee or whenever you want to add a little extra flavor when you’re using regular sugar.


Boarisch/Baierisch, or the Bavarian language, is nigh impossible for me to understand. Germans from other regions say the same thing, as it really is a different language, although one that is based on High German. Gradually I am learning a few words here and there. For example, one of my neighbors seems to speak a blend of regular German and Boarisch. Consequently, I only understand about half of what she says, although usually I can get the gist of what she means. Sometimes it’s quite funny when she’s explaining something to me. I get this look of “what?” on my face; she smiles and thinks of another way to say what she means. And then there are times when I simply have no idea and I change the subject!

I just discovered that there are some Wikipedia entries written in Bavarian. It’s rather fun for me to try and read the words and attempt to wrap my head around what it all means. If I pretend I am speaking German with a Bavarian accent (ha!) it starts to make a little more sense.

Berliner Mauerfall

Happy 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall! Here’s a report in German about the celebrations, including gigantic decorated dominoes lined up in Berlin to commemorate the fall of the wall.
Video of Berlin Wall celebrations
You can read an article in English about the domino wall.

I was in eighth grade at the time the wall fell, and remember watching Tom Brokaw with the news on TV. My mother was astounded at the news and couldn’t believe it. Even though I didn’t quite understand the ramifications then, I knew it was an historical event of huge import. Once I was in high school, and learned more about the Cold War, Communism and the Eastern Bloc, only then did I start to understand the significance.

Here are some stories related to the fall of the wall that I like to share with my students.

In 1993, my dear friend Janet was in Germany as an exchange student for a few weeks. During her visit, she traveled to Berlin and was able to hack off a piece of the wall. She gave it to me, and I’ve treasured this unassuming bit of grey concrete ever since. Not only do I value my bit of the wall for its historical significance, but it’s also made for a great classroom aid. The piece I have is about the size of an apple. Doing a quick search online, I could probably sell it for about $200 if I really wanted. (Not for sale!)

In June 1995, just a few years after the wall fell, I traveled to Berlin with some of my host siblings. One of my host sisters was studying medicine in Berlin. To save money, my host sister rented an apartment in East Berlin.

The apartment had originally been owned by an elderly couple. They had lived at least since the war, and possibly earlier than that. The wife had passed on in the early nineties, after her husband had died. Essentially the apartment was in its original state. It was on a Soviet-style, drab-looking street, with very little greenery. The buildings were built of red brick, and the streets and sidewalks were paved with greystone.

The apartment only had a Kachelofen or masonry heater for heat. It’s a cost effective way to provide heat, especially in a smaller space like that. My host sister didn’t have to pay rent for the first few months she lived in the apartment, provided she did renovations. She removed a chandelier from the 1950’s. Only later did she discover the exact same chandelier in one of the museums in Berlin, realizing it was a fine piece of artwork from the time period. While we were visiting, we helped my host sister pull up the front hall vinyl flooring. Underneath the flooring, we found several aluminum coins from the DDR period, and also two 20 Mark notes.

I only have some of the above coins, not a full set. Perhaps I should look into getting a full set of coins, for my own personal interest, historical interest, and for my future German classes.

I have two of the 20 Mark notes.

Here’s a picture of all the DDR Bank notes, excluding the 500 Mark note:

DDR, by the way, is the German term for East Germany. It stands for: Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or the GDR – German Democratic Republic. I am so used to referring to East Germany as the “ehmalige DDR”, I sometimes forget that a non-German speaker wouldn’t know what I mean by DDR. Ehmalig means former.

Anyway, when we discovered this old DDR money underneath the vinyl flooring, I was bewitched by it. My imagination invented wild stories as to why this couple had stashed about 45 Marks under their hallway flooring. Perhaps it was just an extra stash of money, or maybe, just maybe, they were saving up to flee the DDR! You can imagine the stories that swirled in my mind. My host sister was totally uninterested in the money, as were my other host siblings. They gladly gave it to me, partially amused by my interest in something they saw as worthless. I still have the bank notes and coins, and loved showing them off to my students. The reverse side of the 20-Mark note has a picture of school children gleefully heading to school, in order to learn about being a good citizen of the DDR.

On the same trip to Berlin, we spent a day in Potsdam. I would like to go back and see how it has changed since the reunification of Germany. At the time, a lot of construction and renovation was happening in Potsdam, to help it regain its former status as an important historical city. I was struck by the stark difference between the beautiful historic homes and the castle Schloß Sanssouci, and the Soviet-era buildings that often incorporated propagandist artwork, elevating the status of the humble worker.

When I started teaching German, most of my students were born after the fall of the wall. It’s always interesting to see their reactions. Some of the them are true history nuts and know a lot already about the Berlin wall. But most of my students never gave much thought to what life would have been like living in a divided city, or in a communist country during the Cold War. In my classroom, we could see a major road from the windows. I had my students imagine that the local government decided to erect a huge wall in the middle of that road. This worked pretty well as a tool to help students start thinking about what a divided city would be like. I then told my students that if they had friends or family on the opposite side of the wall, they would never be allowed to visit them, unless they got special permission. And, of course, they had to imagine that there was a no-man’s land, heavily guarded by the military. Once my students started thinking more and more about the difficulties such a wall posed, they began to understand what faced the citizens in Berlin and in the DDR.

There have been some excellent movies in recent years highlighting this time period. The movie Good Bye, Lenin! (or click here for the IMDB synopsis) is about a woman who is in a coma during the fall of the wall. When she reawakens, eight months later, her son attempts to hide the fact that her beloved-DDR is no more.

Another movie I’ve shown to my students is called Sonnenallee, which I don’t believe is available in English, unfortunately. It’s based on a book about Sonnenallee street, which was divided in two because of the wall. This movie takes place during the seventies, when Rock ‘N Roll was more or less forbidden in the DDR. It’s a humorous view of a teenager, his friends and his family and how they live behind the wall.

And finally, the fabulous movie The Lives of Others details what happens to a DDR Stasi officer when he becomes more and more interested in the lives of two stars he is spying on.

I am sure there are other films about this time period I am not thinking of; feel free to add your suggestions in the comments. Even though films are fiction, ultimately, I think the stories and situations helped my students understand the serious nature of the Cold War time period, and the role the DDR played in the politics of the time.