Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Art of Skiing

The other day, I was watching some vintage Goofy cartoons with Rosebud. One of the cartoons we watched was The Art of Skiing, released in 1941. It’s a classic!

I laughed when in the beginning, you see a book titled The Art of Skiing and then underneath, it’s written: “pronounced SHEEing”. You see, in German, that is in fact how you pronounce Ski (originally, German never had an “sk” sound; the word ski likely came from Norwegian which does have the “sk” sound). Although this cartoon doesn’t necessarily take place in the Alps, I liked all the allusions to this part of the world: the yodeling, the Almglocken (alpine bells), some of the background music and also the alpine-looking mountains.

When I was growing up in upstate New York, I took some alpine (downhill) skiing classes and went skiing at a few ski resorts south of us (Swain, Bristol Mountain, also Cockaigne in the western part of New York State) and also in the Adirondacks once or twice. But I’ll be perfectly honest: although I had fun downhill skiing, I wasn’t ever very good and I’m actually a bit frightened of downhill skiing.

I absolutely adore cross-country skiing, however. Not only is it fantastic exercise as it’s both aerobic and great for all your muscle groups, I always feel so at peace when I’m cross-country skiing. It’s kind of too bad that I’m a stay-at-home-mom while we are living here in Bavaria, because there are lots of cross-country skiing trails around our house. My cousin tells me she went cross-country skiing with her twins when they were babies, but so far I haven’t had the courage to go out on skiis with Rosebud on my back, and now Superdude. I have thought about getting some toddler cross-country skis for Rosebud, because I think she would really enjoy doing a little skiing, but then I never get any further than thinking about it. Maybe that’s something for next year, if I can find toddler skis like that here (I’m sure I can, I just have to look!).

But back to the alpine skiing. Within half an hour of our house, we could go downhill skiing at Blombergbahn or at Lenggries, and of course, one of the most famous skiing areas in Germany is in Garmisch, which is also pretty close to us. In fact, you may have heard that the recent Skiing World Championship 2011 was held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I listened to some of it on the radio here. I didn’t watch it on the tv here at home, because our television isn’t actually connected to the German network. When I was visiting my neighbors next door one afternoon during the WM (Weltmeisterschaft, or World Championship), I enjoyed watching the Skispringen – the ski jumping with them. The first time I really thought about ski jumping was in 1988, when the Brit Eddie the Eagle competed in the Calgary Olympics.

Watching the above Goofy cartoon also made me think of a former student of mine, who is a fabulously talented competitive skiier, so here’s a little shout-out to her (she knows who she is – she’s amazing in all respects!). She could teach Goofy a thing or two!


Carnival Traditions in Germany

I wrote this for the blog Gen X Moms Blog and wanted to share it here.

Carnival Traditions in Germany
Or Why Bavarians Eat Donuts After the Christmas Season

In the United States, if someone mentions either Mardi Gras or Carnival, we’re likely to think of the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana, or we might think of the carnival festivities in Brazil. Carnival is celebrated here in Germany and throughout Europe. In the Rhineland region of Germany, it’s called Karneval. Particularly famous is the Cologne Carnival, and most small towns in the region have their own festivities.

Here in Bavaria and Swabia, it’s more commonly called Fasching or Fastnacht. To be honest, I don’t know as much about the customs here in southern German as much as I do about the customs in the Rhine region, but just like Mardi Gras and Carnival, it has to do with preparing for the Lenten season.

Carnival celebrations start in early November but cease during Advent and the Christmas season. Then on Three Kings Day, January 6th and the twelfth day of Christmas, carnival celebrations begin again.

Throughout the rest of the winter, there are various parties and celebrations, culminating on the last Tuesday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. In southern regions of Germany, Mardi Gras is called Faschingsdienstag, which means the Tuesday before fasting. Other special days include Weiberfastnacht, a day for women to be in power, and Rosenmontag. On Weiberfastnacht, among other things, women get to cut men’s ties, symbolic of the women taking charge (men are advised to wear an old, unfashionable necktie). Rosenmontag is the most important parade day of the Cologne carnival.

One of my friends wryly commented to me that carnival is just an excuse for the young people to go out and party. As with most holidays here, the festivities are rooted in religious traditions, but likely originate from earlier customs.

When I was an exchange student near Cologne, Karneval was taken very seriously – nearly everybody in my little town participated, and we were given a few days off from school. Our town had its own parade, and I had the chance to dress up and take part. I distinctly remember getting to waltz in the streets with pretty much everyone in our group, even though I had never danced the waltz in my life! We also tossed candy to all the kids who lined up to watch the parade.

But what about the donuts? Why do Bavarians eat donuts before Lent begins?

The answer to this question goes back to the religious meaning behind Mardi Gras and Lent. The Tuesday before Lent is about getting ready to fast (which is why it is called Fasching or Fastnacht in Bavaria) and to give up meat and fatty foods, for example. The word carnival itself has to do with “carne” or “meat”, so the meaning is similar; Mardi Gras means “fat Tuesday” in French, also referring to fasting during Lent. Basically, the period leading up to Mardi Gras or Faschingsdienstag is an excuse to revel in excesses before giving them up. And that’s where the donuts come in.

In other words, a perfect food to enjoy before going on your Lenten fast would be donuts! Donuts are, after all, cooked in hot oil. In this part of Germany, they’re called Krapfen. Yes, go ahead and giggle – the word sounds funny in English. I must confess, whenever I go to our bakery and look at the donuts and ask for Krapfen, the eight-year-old inside me says, “She said Krapfen, tee hee.” Being non-natives living in Bavaria, I consider it our duty to try everything. Krapfen are no exception.

How about a glazed donut filled with… Nutella?

If you think this tastes as good as it looks, you would be right. Rosebud completely agreed, and this particular donut rapidly disappeared.

I heard it on the radio

I’ve always been a fan of listening to the radio. If I had been growing up in the mid-twentieth century, I think I would have been one of those kids who would have listened to radio dramas like Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story:

As it is, I am a big fan of NPR and nowadays, there are so many excellent Podcasts out there which you could consider the modern version of the radio program.

Here in Germany, each state has its own public broadcasting channels, including radio, which are similar to the BBC in the United Kingdom. All German public broadcasting (both radio and television) is organized under ARD. The German public broadcasting network is more extensive than what we have in the United States. I would say, though, that public radio in states like Wisconsin and even more like in Minnesota are somewhat similar in terms of scope and offerings.

For instance, the Bayerischer Rundfunk, or Bavarian Radio (BR), offers seven different channels, including pop music, classical, talk/news and cultural programs. I’ve always thought it neat that many of the state radio organizations in Germany, like BR, have their own recording orchestras which often perform live on the radio or pre-record broadcasts. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the most best-known radio orchestras. (The BBC Symphony Orchestra is another well-known radio orchestra.) Given that we listen to lots of classical music in our household, I really enjoy the classical offerings on BR’s classical music channel.

When I was an exchange student living in Köln, in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, I remember switching through the various channels to listen to all the different public radio stations there (also organized under ARD), under the name West Deutscher Rundfunk, or WDR. Their music channel, Funkhaus Europa is a particularly fun mix of tunes.

In March a year ago, it was especially fun for me to listen to all the radio stations as I was driving from our town to the NRW city of Wuppertal. As I was driving along, I even picked up the American Armed Forces Radio Network.

There are, of course, privately-owned radio stations. One that I often listen to when driving around with Rosebud and Superdude is Antenne Bayern. This radio station, commercially supported, plays a lot of music from the 80s and 90s as well as the current pop hits. It’s nice for the kids, and in listening to it, I’ve discovered a number of German pop music singers that I like. Since I know there are a good number of German students out there who read, I thought I’d share some of the music I’ve been hearing on the radio.

1. Ich + Ich – great pop music group. Check out their album Vom selben Stern on iTunes, or a more recent album, Gute Reise which you can find on Their latest radio hit from Gute Reise is a song called Pflaster, which means Band-aid, and is very catchy indeed. You might be able to hear it on Youtube:
(music doesn’t always work because of copyright issues).

2. Unheilig – I am not too familiar with Unheilig’s music, but I heard the song Winterland the other day. It’s a lovely song about winter and someone who is thinking about being home, and I was actually thinking this might be an excellent song to use in the German classroom. The lyrics are fairly easy to understand.

3. Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester – Raabe and his orchestra specialize in performing music from the 1920s and 1930s, and also covering modern songs in that style. This song, “Küssen Kann Man Nicht Alleine”, is his latest top hit – “One can’t kiss alone” (or maybe I’d translate it as, “It takes two to kiss”). The video is really cute, and the puppet reminds me of Kermit the Frog.

Speaking of this kind of German language music, in the early 90’s, Max Raabe recorded a song called “Kein Schwein ruft mich an”, or “Why does no one call”, which was originally a Comedian Harmonists song.

I especially like the double bass player in this rendition.

When the Swine Influenza epidemic broke out a few years ago, Leo Wundergut and the Swiss tenors recorded a humorous version of the same song called “Kein Schwein steckt mich an”, or “No swine will infect me”:

4. Lena Meyer-Landrut and her winning Eurovision song (sung in English), Satellite:

There’s not much to this song, but it’s been quite popular here, so I hear it from time to time on the radio.

5. If you like jazz, especially with an eclectic flair, maybe you’d like the Austrian jazz musician David Helbock and his recent project, Random/Control. I heard several excerpts from this album on BR-Klassik, along with an interview of him. You can listen to music and Helbock in his own words (with English subtitles) in this promotional video:

6. If you like rap/hip hop, check out: Kool Savas and their rap/contemporary R&B song, “Der bester Tag meines Lebens”.