Monthly Archives: December 2011
So, yeah, Christmas happened. Came and went. How about that?
Last year we didn’t exchange any gifts because we didn’t have any money to spare and it felt excessive. This year, we still don’t have any money. Just not as badly I suppose. I got Chris an electric kettle as he’s taken to making tea as of late and it’s a nicer option than microwaving or using a saucepan on the stove. I also got him a pasta bowl, olive oil, and chili flakes from Vapiano, our favorite/default restaurant in town. That way he can make his Olio e Olio pasta at home. I had no real wants right now (aside from some games, which are too expensive to import) so we took a day trip to Kassel and went shopping for clothes. I found a nice blazer/hoodie thing at Esprit that I really liked, as well as a shirt and sweater at H&M. Shopping is still kind of a drag as I’m somewhere in that range between an XL and an L, which makes me not want to buy anything until I can just fit into the L. Regardless, I don’t think a M is ever really happening. My shoulders won’t allow it.
The actual day itself was nothing special. We wound up at McDonald’s since Vapiano wasn’t open like I thought it would be. The entire country all but shuts down from early afternoon on the 24th until the end of the 26th. The afternoon and evening of the 24th is more important here. That’s when people meet with family and exchange gifts and stuff. No Santa here, he comes on the 5th (more efficient). Instead baby Jesus brings the gifts, which is very odd to me. Why’s a baby bringing gifts? Of course, they’re not nearly as extravagant when it comes to gift buying anyhow. Some of my students told me they don’t exchange gifts at all amongst adults, only if kids are involved. And even then, just one or two things. Books are the most popular gifts here, that should say something.
I sent the niece and nephew some goofy stuff for Xmas, since I couldn’t find anything especially German worth sending (other than some chocolates). They get so very many gifts and it’s hard to compete. Apparently they got laptops this year. Not sure if they’re kiddie toy laptops, or the real deal. What kind of kid needs a laptop? Anyways, as you can see, my gift was at least a minor hit.
Since Chris is taking two deserved weeks off from work I’ve also sort of kind of “taken time off.” Not that I do anything that actually warrants time off, or you could even tell really. I haven’t worked on any writing or anything, just hung around with Chris, done errands, and so on.
Since it was the last week of the Weihnachtsmarkt this week, my Xmas gift to myself was a week off from the diet completely. I haven’t gone crazy or anything, but I certainly eat whatever the hell I want. I have had A LOT of candied almonds this week. And I mean a lot of them. Man they’re good. And, surprisingly, just a handful keeps me full for a long time. Regular almonds don’t seem to do that, maybe it’s the butter/sugar/cinnamon/vanilla coating? Had some Proffertjes too, which are amazing and make the Schmalzkuchen taste like turds. Little UFO shaped pancake bites swimming in liquid butter and powdered sugar. Drool. Some Bratwursts, Krakauers, crepes, lebkuchen, and so on. I wonder what the damage will be when I weigh in tomorrow. Don’t care though. At least I tell myself as such.
Tomorrow is New Year’s eye, which is called Silvester here, and is also a big deal. People are already lighting fireworks outside. Last year, the entire town was lighting fireworks for a good 45 minutes. It was absolutely insane, I’ve never seen anything like it and we were completely surprised. The entire skyline was light up with a constant stream of them. Germans spend a lot of money on them, apparently, and they’re only on sale for this week. It may rain though, so I wonder if that will hamper their efforts. Then they’ll just be left with a stockpile of pyrotechnics with a limited time to light them legally.
So now that the holidays are all but over I’ve got little on the horizon to count down to. Birthday is in a few days, but no plans for that. Prague is still on the schedule for March. And then nothing. Well, except leaving, but that’s still a big question mark.
On Sunday we took an afternoon/evening trip up to the small town of Goslar to visit their Weihnachtsmarkt. As I’ve gone on and one about on here in the past, I love the Christmas Markets. I adore the crap out of them. The best Weihnachtsmarkts are, I’m told, in Nürenberg and Munich (and maybe Cologne). Large and bustling and full of interesting stalls and so on. Unfortunately, those places are far away and expensive to get to/stay in. So that was a no go. But Chris had heard that the one in the town of Goslar, which is nearby, was one of the best ones in northern Germany. So we went.
The town is about an 80 minutes away from here on the slow train, about 65 kilometers or so, at the base of the Harz mountains. We got there at dusk which, in retrospect, was probably a bad idea as we didn’t get to see much of the town otherwise, and there were some cool looking buildings. But I wanted to see the pretty lights, so we waited until dusk (the late, late hour of 5pm these days). The town is awfully quaint and adorable, with a strong medieval feeling. I liked the layout out the downtown streets, it felt easier to get lost and spend time there (and they had lots of shopping options, which is nice). So it’s certainly an option to visit again.
We started off with some delicious hot cocoa before we scoped out all the stalls. It wasn’t as big as we imagined (though I swear there was another part somewhere that we flat out missed), but it still had more variety than the one here in town. Unlike the market in Hannover, which seemed like the same six or seven stalls on repeat, this one had many different kinds with arts and crafts stuff for sale. Another section had a bunch of enormous Christmas trees with some drink stands inside, kind of like a mini forest. It snowed ever so slightly while were there, which made it just that much nicer.
Then, of course, there’s the food. The greatest allure of these things. So many different things on sale, all fresh, and all looking/smelling amazing. One item, which I think was called a Pfeffer roll (though I think I’m wrong) was the most phallic looking thing we’d ever seen. I regret not bringing a camera. It was basically a big, thick sausage above a large roll, served on a stick. Chris opted for a fresh pretzel for dinner. Boring.
I went for the thing with the the longest line, of course. They took some dough, slathered it with herbs, Gouda, and ham, and baked it. Served fresh out of the oven in batches (along with other fresh breads that were quite popular), it was delicious. Too large to finish, but delicious. Chris had schmalzkuchen for dessert, which was sweeter and tastier than the stall at our market. I went for some warm apple strudel and Brombeerepunsch (blackberry punch), both of which were just OK. Not bad, but maybe I should have opted for something else. We also picked up a Schneeball (snowball), which we had seen in Hannover but had no idea what it was. Turns out it was just some thin cookie dough strips rolled up into a big ball and then baked/fried. They had some with different stuffings and coatings (like Cointreau or cappucino), but the plain one is the only one Chris would try. It was good, but difficult to eat.
I’d go again in a heartbeat for more of the food, but we have the one here for that. I’m sure I’ll go to the one here again a few more times anyhow. I’ll need more almonds before they disappear for the year. Maybe a Bratwurst too while I’m there. Throw in a crepe while we’re at it…
I splurge on my diet roughly one and a half days a week. I bend the rules a little here and there sometimes, as people are want to do, and there are always special occasions. December has seen a lot of splurging so far, what with the Weihnachtsmarkt, Andrew visiting, our anniversary, and so on.
Anyways, on the splurge day (Saturdays) we’ll inevitably wind up at McDonald’s. Because it’s really only one of two places Chris will willingly go to eat at on a regular basis. Our other restaurant of choice, Vapiano, is Italian and I usually just get a salad. That ain’t splurging. Sure, there’s a Burger King, but we’re not animals.
The McDonald’s back home could learn a lesson or two from the ones over here. I know every country is a bit different, so I can only base this off of the German ones. And it’s not just the year-round availability of the McRib that would make some Americans happy, it’s the constantly changing menu.
I’m not the biggest McDonald’s fan, though I don’t dislike it. But once or twice a month is more than enough even with the standard options. A Big Mac here tastes like a Big Mac anywhere else. So it’s the specials I’ve come to actually enjoy. Well, most of the time. Some of the time.
This week, for instance, was a chicken sandwich with emmentaler cheese (aka Swiss cheese, but that sounds fancier) and ginger applesauce. Ginger applesauce on a sandwich? Why not? Tastes good.
Other specials I’ve enjoyed include the Nürnburger sandwich (three Nürnburger sausages, crispy onions, mustard), the Big Rösti (beef patty, hash brown patty, cheese, bacon, cheese sauce, bun with melted cheese and bacon bits), Thai chicken sandwich (cabbage, carrots, curry sauce), Napolini sandwich (chicken, lettuce, sour cream, salsa), and so on.
The list of things I’ve seen but haven’t even tried goes on and on. Right now they have fried brie nuggets with cranberry sauce, a chicken cordon-bleu sandwich, a burger with roast beef slices, and a chicken and Camembert sandwich. They’ve had chicken wings, greek wraps, seasoned fries, shrimp wantons, fried shrimp, and an endless variety of burgers with different sauces and toppings (I had a great one with arugula and other stuff, but can’t remember the specifics). Some locations also serve, of course, beer. This is Germany after all.
Really, the US is the only country where the McDonald’s menu stays so static. But why? Too many locations? Too many markets? Not feasible? Why not roll them around regionally? Are we just not that adventurous? Probably. But it’s a shame, they could probably help improve their image some if they did. Places like Jack in the Box and Carl’s Jr. seem to be able to have menus change enough.
A lot of the McDonald’s here also have a separate McCafe section. Sure, in America they have that brand, but it’s just what they call the coffee. Here it gets its own section, almost like an independent coffee shop within the store. Nicer seating, a full coffee menu, ceramic cups, lots of pastries and such. It’s good stuff too.
The best though, oh the best has been the McFlurries. Because you haven’t had one until you’ve had one with hot fudge mixed into it. Seriously.
Sorry, I’ve only had vegetables today, so my mind was wandering…
I guess snow by this time last year was an anomaly, which surprises me. It will be a kind of bummer to possibly not have snow by Christmas. It’s been raining as of late, off and on, but it just hasn’t been cold enough. It’s been cold, hovering three or four degrees above zero, but not much lower.
We got a letter from a German law firm in Hamburg threatening to sue us if we don’t pay them 800 euro by Monday. They accuse us of downloading an episode of a certain TV show. I haven’t translated the entire letter, nor will I, but often what they are really asking for is for us to admit guilt, agree to never do it again in the future, and pay them the 800 to cover the costs of finding us out. If not, they can take us to court.
It’s essentially blackmail. We know you done did bad, pay us a tidy sum of money to go away, or we’re telling.
Unfortunately, it’s very, very common here I’ve since found out. I had heard of people getting letters and such before, but I had been careful about my downloading. Just not with TV shows as, to the best of my knowledge, no lawsuits have ever been filed over an episode of a TV show (at least not in America). So I’ve been less careful in that department. And as far as I can tell, this is really the only show any Germans are doing this about. Go figure.
I’m not proud about turning to torrents and such while here. It’s just so difficult to stay up to date and current over here, which is unfortunately important to me. A lame and terrible excuse to be sure. But if such items were available for legitimate purchase (in most cases) or viewing, I gladly would. It’s not something I’d ever do when home as there are plenty of easy channels to see things. And I’d still never do it with music as there’s no trouble legally acquiring that (and I don’t do it that often anyhow). Same goes for games. I don’t, however, feel guilty about ever downloading anything that aired on broadcast TV, because that was free to watch in the first place. And some networks still have their heads in the sand about the age we live in that you have no other choice. That and the CBS website player always makes my computer crash.
Anyhow, so what now? It’s complicated, of course. There are three options.
1) Pay the money and be done with it. That’s not happening. Not just because we simply don’t have 800 euros to give them that fast (or ever), but also in principal. It is a sleazy tactic. They send out over 500,000 of these letters a year. One firm sent out 79 million euro worth of requests. If just 10% of those people just pay as requested, and more than 10% probably do, that’s 7.9 million euro made from simply sending out some letters after running some software. They’ve stopped doing it in America as too many law firms are being sued for the practice. In the UK they never even had a chance as the courts threw the cases out at the start. Germany, unfortunately, is one of the remaining places where it still happens so frequently (though there are lawsuits happening to stop it, I’ve read). No one should take this option, and every lawyer around highly recommends doing anything but this.
2) Ignore it. La la la la la, this isn’t happening. This is a slightly tempting, if foolish, option for our circumstances. The short turnaround from request to payment deadline is on purpose. It’s meant to intimidate. If we did ignore it they’d probably send us another letter. And another. It may raise a red flag for our case. If they were to actually mean it, they’d send it via registered mail so we’d have to sign for it. We’d then legally have six weeks to respond or not. THEN they could take us to court if they wanted. If they did it would be for the penalty of doing such a thing. Their legal fees are capped at 100 euro in such a case (which makes the letter also very annoying as they know they’re not entitled to that much). I don’t know how fast lawsuits move here, but if it’s anything like the rest of German bureaucracy, it would take a little while. By that time, we’d most likely be out of the country and back home. Since it’s a civil case, and not a criminal one, there’s nothing they could really do. They would win the case, of course, but they’d have no way to actually get the money without suing us in the US. Which they’d never do. So, worst case, Chris would never be able to work in Germany again without paying that fine. Bummer?
3) Talk to a lawyer and try to negotiate. Usually the lawyer will send them a modified cease & desist letter basically telling them to back off, they have no real case (ISPs aren’t supposed to hand over the info that easily unless the offender is doing a whole lot of sharing), and so on. Or, if you just want it to go away, you tell them you won’t admit to anything, but you promise never to do it again and are willing to pay something. Then the total is pared down and you pay it off for less than the original (even including your own lawyer’s fees). Or just reject that and hope they give up. Considering less than 100 of these cases have actually been brought to court, that’s pretty likely.
Luckily for us, there is a law firm that handles cases like this as a specialty just down the street. Literally. I can see the building from our window. How handy.
I brought the letter to them and our nice new lawyer friend gave us the rundown. She will send them a letter basically telling them we won’t admit to doing it, we don’t do it again, we don’t speak German, we have no money whatsoever, we’re leaving soon anyways, so if you want the money you’ll have to follow us back to the courts there. They’ll probably counter and ask us to pay half in a lump sum or over time. What to do after that? Who knows. Hopefully we’ll be close enough to leaving that we can just ignore it and move on.
Regardless. It is stressful. It’s our own fault, but also a heaping pile of bullshit.
Ignore all that no rain stuff (not that anyone read that post yet, no one has visited this site in 3 days). The forecast seems to have completely reversed since the day before yesterday.
November was the driest month in Germany since…well, since they started keeping records. But, sure enough, December 1st, it’s raining. And will rain off and on for the next week. Still not cold enough for snow though, so, yeah.