Confuzzledom

Just a place for me to gather my thoughts


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The loveliness of Mainz

Mainz

Mainz Marktplatz

On Friday, I had to go to Mainz for a two-day seminar on the world of banks. I was worried that it would be boring, but the presenter did an excellent job of explaining things in an interesting and understandable manner. Always a bonus!

So, it turns out Google Map directions are crap! I took the train to Mainz Römisches Theater, which the seminar holder had said was the nearest train station, and followed a mixture of instructions from Google Maps and the website of the place to get into town. It was all fine to start with, but then Google Maps tried to make me go in a massive circle around the building to approach it from the other side while the website instructions simply said “walk straight down the street until you see the destination on the other side”. Needless to state, I went straight ahead. Silly Google…

After the first day’s seminar, I hung around for a bit with the others who were staying in Mainz and didn’t have plans so that we could arrange to meet up for dinner, then I headed off to find my hotel. The Google maps directions were fine up to a point, then they suddenly stopped making sense. I then bumped into another girl from the seminar who it turned out was looking for the same hotel. We compared maps and found that Google wanted both of us to “take the steps”… except there were no steps on that street! We eventually asked somebody, who said he’d never heard of that hotel or the street it was on, but the streets surrounding it were definitely on the other side of the train tracks. We were standing next to a bridge at the time, so we went under that then started comparing our maps to the street names again. At that point, a woman came up and asked whether we needed any help. She did know the hotel and was able to give us directions (basically follow this hill allll the way round until you get to a REWE. The hotel is next door). Lovely Mainz person number one :-)

We’d taken so long to get to the hotel that I only had time to quickly wash my face and renew my deodorant before heading back out. Part way down the hill I actually spotted some steps. As I was hesitating at the top wondering whether that was what Google had meant, a voice behind me asked whether I needed any help. I said I was just trying to get back to the cathedral area and was wondering whether these steps led anywhere useful. The guy replied that this was the shortcut and that he could tell me where to go. We then went down the stairs and I found myself ona platform at the Römisches Theater train station! So if those were indeed the stairs Google meant, it would probably have helped to be told to go through the station! Helpful Mainz guy then pointed out the ruins of the actual Römisches Theater (Roman Theatre) beside us… I had been wondering! I knew where I was now, so my “saviour” and I parted at the front of the station and I headed off on my way. Thanks to the shortcut, I ended up being early to meet the others and had some time to take photos of the old town. It was a gorgeous day, and the blue skies made the pretty buildings look even better!

I recognised these buildings from when I was in Mainz for the Christmas market If you look closely at the top right-hand corner, you can just about spot where the weird concrete/glass shopping area starts. Soooo not in keeping with its gorgeous old town surroundings!

Mainz

This is where we had the seminar. It’s a weird place, with many twists and turns. We had to go through the cafeteria to get to our seminar room, and finding the toilets was an adventure in itself!

Mainz

After we’d eaten, I headed back to my hotel. It was easy to find now I knew the way! I took the shortcut through the station again, and since it was still light I grabbed a few snaps of the old theatre. The next day, with some time to spare before my train left, I climbed the stairs again and took some photos from above. This is a combination of the photos from both days:

Back at the hotel, my first act was to fling open the window. Outside, things had actually cooled down for the first time in days (actually, as far as I know Mainz had been cooler in the evening all along…) but inside the room it was still hot. I lay on the bed savouring the breeze and following the BBC live stream of the Netherlands match (my TV appeared to be broken). Mainz is on the flight path for Frankfurt Airport so I also got to see some planes coming in.

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

After breakfast the next morning I checked out and headed off for day two of the seminar. We started earlier on Saturday, but were also finished earlier than planned, meaning I was able to get a train home at  5 p.m. instead of the 6:15 that I had originally planned! The seminar was interesting and this time Mainz had showed me its lovely side (the old town, of course, but especially the people – who I would literally have been lost without!).


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A meeting with some expats in Heidelberg

A while ago, Charlotte from Sherbet and Sparkles suggested that the English-speaking bloggers in Germany should arrange a meet up (that’s a long-winded way of saying expat bloggers purely so that I can avoid referring to myself as such ;-)). The meetup location was Heidelberg – which I was happy about because it’s incredibly easy for me to get to – and the chosen date was Saturday 26 April.

Before I left, I was both excited and nervous. What if I couldn’t find everyone? And what if nobody liked me when I did? Luckily, my fellow bloggers were all just as lovely in person as online and I managed not to make a fool of myself or accidently say anything weird or offensive… at least I don’t think I did. And if I did, then I apologise!
Despite the weather forecast’s claims that it would be cold and cloudy, it actually turned out to be a lovely day. My raincoat was quickly relegated to my handbag as we enjoyed a lovely walk up to the castle and then around its grounds.

Having seen all the castle had to offer (including the giant wine barrel, which claims to be the world’s largest… as does the one in Bad Dürkheim. I shall refrain from hazarding a guess as to which one’s lying, but will say that the one in Bad Dürkheim has never actually contained wine…), it was time to head into town for lunch. We ended up going to Café Knösel, mostly because we happened to be near it at the time and it had a decent choice of food (including a few vegetarian items). Also, those with access to TripAdvisor were able to find out that it had good reviews. Steven has since discovered that it’s actually the oldest café in Heidelberg, so it seems we accidently picked something traditional ;-) I had the Flammkuchen with spinach and goat’s cheese, which was delicious. I loooove goat’s cheese! No photo for you because I’d eaten it all before the thought even occurred to me…

After lunch, we headed down to the bridge – the Karl-Theodor-Brücke (also known as the Alte Brücke, Old Bridge) – which was just around the corner. Steven discovered these cute little metal mice that I had never noticed before in all my visits to Heidelberg. Thanks Steven!

DSCN9622

On the bridge, a group photo was taken and we all admired the view of the castle. We also spotted some ducklings down on the riverbank, but my zoom didn’t stretch far enough to get a photo of them. Never mind, here are some shots of the castle and bridge:

Sadly, Frau Dietz and her gorgeous baby son had to leave us after the bridge, but the rest of us continued on to the Studentnkarzer – student prison. This was another thing that I did not know was in Heidelberg! How do I miss these things? The prison is unique to the University of Heidelberg and was in use from 1823–1914. Students could be sent to prison for offences such as being drunk and disorderly, messing with the police or fighting. Many o the prisoners documented their “crime” on the walls… for example, one rhyme told of how a student being “concerned about the police getting their rest” snuck into the guard room at the poolice station and switched off the gas lamp. You could be sent to prison for anything from a few days to several weeks – the writing on the wall in one room told of how a student had been sentenced to four weeks! There was no mention of what he had done though. (All the prisoners were male by the way – the first females were admitted to Heidelberg University in 1900, but apparantly they managed to behave themselves for the next four years until the prison closed). The prison has been preserved in pretty much its original state, with all the old graffiti on the walls and the original furniture – although the straw mattresses that would probably have been on the beds are no more.

The ticket for the student jail also includes the University Museum and the Große Aula (Great Hall). There were no halls at my university that looked like this, I can tell you!

Heidelberg

With the sun now firmly out, our final stop of the day was for frozen yoghurt… or FroYo. I had never tried it before and I must say I’m grateful to everyone for introducing me to this delicious treat!

Frozen yoghurt

Yoghurt eaten, the group slowly strolled down Hauptstraße (the main street) to Bismarckplatz (Bismarck Square) where we caught a tram back to the main station then carried on back to our final destinations. I can’t speak for the others, but I certainly thought the day was a success, and I hope we can do it again some time.

The other bloggers I met up with were (in no particular order):
Charlotte from Sherbet and Sparkles
Frau Dietz from Eating Wiesbaden
Kathleen from Leher Werkstatt
Steven from Doin’ Time on the Donau
Jordan from Beer time with Wagner
Nina from Indie Rock Kid

Go check out their blogs and say hi to them… they’re a fantastic bunch.


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Gutenbergplatz Weekly Market, Karlsruhe

tea stallThe market on Gutenbergplatz is Karlsruhe’s oldest weekly market… and, according to all the people who told me to go there, also the nicest. It’s probably the largest, too, along with the one on Stephansplatz, which it alternates days with. I’ve been meaning to go ever since I first heard about it two years ago, but until now I’d never made it. Everybody I spoke to recommended getting there early and, let’s face it, I’m far too lazy to get up early on a Saturday, especially since Gutenbergplatz isn’t exactly around the corner from where I live! But the Take 12 Trips challenge gave me just the kick up the backside I needed to actually drag myself out of bed and head on over there.

According to the Karlsruhe city website (view it here, in German only), the Wochenmarkt Gutenbergplatz ( Weekly Market on Gutenberg Square) takes place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. Both Tuesday and Thursday are out for me – I’m already on my way to work by that time – and there was absolutely no was I was going to be anywhere near Gutenbergplatz that early on a Saturday, but I did manage to get myself there for 5 to 10, which is still pretty early – especially considering I walked there, which took me half an hour! Yep… I definitely think this can be counted as a trip. I even took a couple of photos for you on the way there, almost like a real tourist ;-).

As well as the usual fruit & vegetable and flower stalls, this market has stands with spices, fresh herbs, tea, cheese and various international specialities – I saw a stand selling Asian goods, a van with Italian goods (lots of parmesan!) and a stall selling “südländische Spezialitäten” – literally Mediterranean specialities, but what I saw there mainly looked Turkish and Greek. And, being Germany, there of course had to be bread! I spotted two vans selling various different kinds, both with huge queues in front of them. Here are a few photos. I apologise for the terrible quality of some… in such situations, I’m always paranoid that the stall owner might tell me off for taking photos of their wares instead of buying them!

The square itself is actually really pretty as well, although it’s difficult to notice it. Here’s a photo that might give you some idea of how nice the old buildings are:

Gutenbergplatz

The trees also look much nicer when they’re in bloom or completely covered in leaves. There are two fountains on the North side of square – the Krautkopfbrunnen and the Pelikanbrunnen – but neither has been switched on yet. It went cold again last week though, so they’re probably waiting to be sure that the spring is going to stay!
And now for tourist information part…

What: Weekly market
Where: Gutenbergplatz, between Gutenbergstraße and Nelkenstraße, Karlsruhe Weststadt
When: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays starting at 7 a.m.
Nearest tram stop: Yorckstraße or Sophienstraße (more lines serve Yorckstraße)

The market is quite nice and certainly offers more choice than my own local market (which I think has about 6 stalls!). I wouldn’t say it’s something all visitors to Karlsruhe must see, but if you’re into markets and stuck for something to do on a Saturday give it a go! It’s a produce market though, so don’t expect to find clothes, books or anything of that sort! Saturday is probably the best day to go to that particular market as may of the stalls aren’t there on Tuesdays/Thursdays. Alternatively, if you’re around on a Friday, check out the market on Stephansplatz instead. It has many of the same stalls that go to Gutenbergplatz on a Saturday and is much more central (I believe Stephansplatz is considered to be “Innenstadtwest”, with the actual “centre” of town being the castle).

Do you like to get up early and go to the market? Or do you prefer sleeping in on a Saturday, like I normally do? Let me know in the comments.


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Look Up, Look Down – Signs

This morning, my train was full of people dressed as monsters and snake charmers and ladybirds, all drinking beer and wine at 7:30 a.m. I assume they were all on their way to Cologne for schmutziger Donnerstag (Wikipedia tells me it’s actually schmotziger Donnerstag, but in my region it’s schmutzig!), aka Fat Thursday – not to be confused with Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). It’s the last Thursday before lent and part of the Fastnacht/Fasching/Carnival season. I’m not actually sure what schmutziger Donnerstag is for… apart from yet another excuse to wear costumes and get drunk. I would have tried to get some sneaky photos for you, but I fed to the quiet carriage with all the other commuters. The Fasching celebraters all had beer, wine and – most annoyingly – bells! Not what you want to put up with on the way to work. So instead, here’s my entry for the weekly Look Up – Look Down photo challenge with Travel With Intent.

When out and about, I often take photos of interesting signs and random features that I spot high up on the walls of buildings. All of the photos below were taken in Weil der Stadt.

Do you ever find yourself taking photos of random interesting signs? Which of the above is your favourite?


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A spontaneous trip to Bruchsal

I woke up early on Saturday and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to take a spontaneous trip somewhere. I arrived at Karlsruhe train station with no real plan in mind, checked the board and decided to jump on a train to Bruchsal that was about to leave. Technically, I’ve been to Bruchsal before, but only to the castle so I had no idea what the town itself was like. I knew it wasn’t that big though, so I thought it would be the perfect place for wandering around by myself. In a proper city, I would only go and get myself lost! At Bruchsal train station, I had a quick look at a map, made a note of the general direction of the town centre then was on my way. Here are a few photos:

After about 45 minutes of walking around, I found myself at the castle. As I said earlier, I’ve been there before, so I didn’t go inside. There are some pretty interesting exhibits in there though – including the Deutsches Musikautomaten-Museum (German Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments) and an exhibition showing the history of Bruchsal from the Stone Age until now . I had a quick wander around the grounds, took some photos, then headed back to the station where a train was conveniently waiting for me to jump straight on!

In terms of tourism, Bruchsal isn’t actually all that interesting. There are some nice looking streets and a few parks, but the main attraction really is the castle. Once you’ve seen that, there isn’t actually a great deal to do. I definitely wouldn’t come from further afield specifically to visit Bruchsal! It was good enough for my purposes though – not too far from Karlsruhe and it got me out of the house for a few hours. I didn’t want to stay out for too long in case there was any word from England, so this gave me the perfect opportunity to explore a place that I didn’t really know without going too far away from home. If you’re ever in the area with an hour or so to spare, I would certainly recommend visiting the castle.


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Travel Theme: Yellow

It’s been a while since I took part in one of Ailsa’s travel themes, so I thought it was about time I did another one. This time, the theme is yellow, so I thought I would start with some cheerful daffodils – one of my favourite flowers (along with poppies, but they’re not yellow).

daffodils

ObviouslyI had to get a lantern picture in somehow. ;-) This one was taken in Berlin.

Berlin lantern

I spotted this hot air balloon hovering over Karlsruhe a few years ago, and I just had to take a photo. Smile, everyone! (Coincidentally, the building it’s next to looks pretty yellow as well!)

balloon

Finally, a photo I’m particularly proud of… a night shot of Salzburg. I love the yellow (and red and blue and green) reflections of the lights in the water!

Salzburg by night

You only have today to get your entries in for the yellow theme – a new travel theme will be up tomorrow (Friday). But you should check out Ailsa’s yellow post anyway, if only for her seriously amazing photo of a goldfinch. And, of course, stop by her blog tomorrow to find out what the next travel theme is.


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Karlsruhe Christmas market 2013

I did go to the Christmas market last night, but my train was delayed so I went straight into town from the station and had no time to pop home for my camera. It was dark and my phone has no flash, so photography was impossible… but I had to go into town today and I made sure to put my camera in my bag before I left. Sooo here are a few impressions of Karlsruhe’s Christmas market for you…

There's always a children's carousel at German fairs...

There’s always a children’s carousel at German fairs…

Glühwein pyramid

Glühwein pyramid

The Glühwein pyramid may look cool, but be warned… they make you queue twice for your Glühwein! First you have to buy tokens at a stall off to one side, then you queue again at the actual pyramid to order your drink.

Just a few of the yummy treats on offer...

Just a few of the yummy treats on offer…

 

All the stalls have something on the roof...

All the stalls have something on the roof…

KA Weihnachtsmarkt


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Let’s play Holiday Season Tag!

Sherbet and Sparkles

Charlotte over at Sherbet and Sparkles tagged me in this little game that she made up. Like me, Charlotte is a British girl living in Germany and she was interested in finding out how other people who are living somewhere other than their home country spend November and December… and so Holiday Season Tag was born. The idea is very simple… answer the questions then persuade fellow bloggers to join in. Got that? Then let’s go! First of all, my answers:

1. Do people celebrate anything at this time of year where you are? Are there any special customs?

In many ways, the Germans are the masters of Christmas! First of all, there are the Christmas markets. These are so good that, in recent years, they’ve even started popping up all over Britain! And imitation is the greatest form of flattery (or however the saying goes), after all. Nothing can chase away the blues of a damp, cold November better than a giant sausage and a Glühwein (or several) at the local Weihnachtsmarkt! Then there are the stands selling all kinds of things… from handmade soaps to Christmas tree ornaments, sweets, wooden toys, jewellery… I like looking around all the stall almost as much as the Glühwein!

Another thing the Germans do well is Christmas treats. I think most people know about Lebkuchen by now, but there are also Vanillekipferln (vanilla flavoured soft shortbready type biscuits (cookies) shaped like little moons), “Christmas” chocolate, such as the one by Lindt that I am drooling just thinking about, Nussecken, and – my favourite – Dominos. These have a soft Lebkuchen (gingerbread) base followed by a layer of fruit jam/jelly stuff (similar to the middle of Jaffa Cakes) and finally a layer of marzipan. The whole thing is then covered in chocolate. They are seriously addictive and I’ve actually had to ban myself from buying any before November. If I didn’t, I would eat nothing but Dominos from September to January…

Something that I didn’t know at all before coming to Germany is Nikolaustag. During the night from 5-6 December, St Nicolaus comes round to people’s houses and fills children’s shoes with sweets and small gifts… if they’ve been good! Apparantly bad children get a lump of coal, although I doubt that ever happens. Nikolaus has never filled my shoe with treats, but I do usually get a chocolate Santa from work on Nikolaustag.

Finally, something that shocked me when I first came to Germany is that Christmas here happens on 24 December! It still seems odd to me that Father Christmas comes in the afternoon, when everybody is awake. Also, it’s not always Father Christmas (or the Weihnachtsmann as he’s called in German) who delivers the presents. My boyfriend’s family had the Weihnachtsmann, but in other families – especially Catholic ones – it’s the Christkind, or baby Jesus, who brings the presents.

Phew, sorry that was so long! On to the next question…

2. Do you feel that you are missing out on anything by not being in your home country around the holidays?

Apart from the obvious fact that I don’t get to see my family, not really. Actually, Christmas at my dad’s house was pretty low key for a long time after my step mum died (on Christmas Eve). It’s only since my little brother has started to understand what’s going on that things have become a bit more festive again. I used to miss my Christmas dinner, but since I’ve started making one for friends a few weeks before Christmas I no longer feel deprived.

3. Do you go back home at all?

It depends. This year I am because I spent the last two years in Germany so I promised my grandparents that I would spend Christmas in England this time. I hope it won’t be as stressful as the last time I tried to go home for Christmas, when half of Europe’s airports were closed because of the snow! Annoyingly, both the airport I was flying from and my destination were open… but every one of the places we could have changed planes was closed… and there are no direct flights to Newcastle from here.

4. Back to your expat country! What’s the weather like during the holidays?

Cold! I’m actually lucky in that I live in one of the warmest parts of Germany, but it still tends to get colder than back home… and I come from probably the coldest part of England! So far, it’s not too bad here and the forecast is telling me we’ll be seeing daytime highs of around 3–4°C (roughly 37–39°F) over the next few days, but I fully expect it to get into the minus figures (°C) at some point. There will probably be snow as well once we get towards mid-December – in other parts of Germany, the snow has already started!

5. Is there anything you’d recommend a visitor do/see/have if they are visiting your expat country around this time?

Obviously the Christmas markets. I can’t possibly praise them enough! Even if alcohol is not your thing, you can grab a warm fruit punch or a hot chocolate and soak up the festive atmosphere.

BONUS! Post a photo that best shows what it’s like in your expat country around the holidays.

Snow at Karlsruhe Weihnachtsmarkt, December 2012

Snow at Karlsruhe Weihnachtsmarkt, December 2012

I would love to hear all about your experiences of the holiday season, so I tag everyone… but especially Lady of the Cakes, Expat Eye on Latvia (because I need to know whether Latvians are as Grinch-like about Christmas as everything else), Sara in Le Petit Village,  Molly from The Move to America, Katrin from Land of Candycanes and Deanna of From Casinos to Castles.

For ease of copying and pasting, here are all the questions together:

1. Do people celebrate anything at this time of year where you are? Are there any special customs?

2. Do you feel that you are missing out on anything by not being in your home country around the holidays?

3. Do you go back home at all?

4. Back to your expat country! What’s the weather like during the holidays?

5. Is there anything you’d recommend a visitor do/see/have if they are visiting your expat country around this time?

BONUS! Post a photo that best shows what it’s like in your expat country around the holidays.

Now go grab the button from Charlotte’s post on Sherbet and Sparkles and let’s play!


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Look Up, Look Down – The Vierordtbad Tower

For today’s look up, look down entry, I’m using an old photo that was taken right here in Karlsruhe. It shows the tower of the Vierordtbad swim baths at sunset.

Karlsruhe Vierordtbad tower

The “tower” is actually a chimney, and all that remains of the former thermal power station, which provided heat for both the Vierordtbad and the neighbouring Tullabad. The rest was torn down in 1989 when the Gartenhalle was built – that green roof that you can see in front of the tower on this photo is the Gartenhalle, which is part of the congress centre. Here’s another photo of the chimney/tower taken on a different day and from a different perspective:

Krlsruhe Kongresszentrum + Vierordtbad

Got a photo that would be perfect for the theme? Check out Travel With Intent’s blog post to join the challenge and view everyone else’s entries.


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How to bake in Germany – a guide for foreigners

It’s no secret that I like to bake. Scones, cakes, biscuits… I’ve tried them all. And 90% of the time, I use English recipes for my baking adventures, mostly from the BBC. Unsurprisingly, this can sometimes be a bit of a problem here in Germany… from problems actually finding ingredients to getting all excited about my scones only for them not to rise at all, I’ve had my fair share of baking disasters! But after seven years I’ve finally reached the stage where I can be fairly confident that any recipe I try will actually work out. I know I can’t be the only Brit who wants to bake cakes in Germany, so I decided to put together a list of tips for my fellow bakers. Some tips may work for American/Australian/whatever resipes as well, but I make no guarantees! British ingredients are what I know…

Carrot cake, made using German ingredients

Carrot cake, made using German ingredients

  1. Caster sugar does exist in Germany, but you won’t find it in Aldi! Look for “feinster Backzucker” at REWE, Edeka or REAL.
  2. German “Backpulver” is not the same as baking powder! It looks the same and is used for the same purpose, but it’s not as strong. It took me years to figure this out! If using a British recipe with German baking powder, use about 1.5 to 2 times the amount. Otherwise you too will end up with flat scones. *Sob*. As far as I’m aware, this applies to American baking powder as well. I’ve also found that RUF Backpulver works better than the Dr Oetker one.
  3. Self-raising flour doesn’t exist in Germany! It really, truly doesn’t… Jan and I even asked a baker once, who looked at us as if we’d just grown extra heads. To make your own self-raising flour, add 2 teaspoons of baking powder for each 150g/6oz/1 cup of plain flour. Again, if using German baking powder, use extra.
  4. Most butter in Germany is unsalted, so for any recipe that uses butter, you will also want to add a pinch or two of salt. This applies for recipes from any country where the normal butter is salted. (On a side note, what’s the point in unsalted butter? It tastes of nothing but fat!)
  5. Dr Oetker food colouring is crap! Also, I personally find it has a weird after taste. The Crazy Colours type works better, and you get more colours in the packet.
  6. Do not substitute vanilla extract with those little bottles of “Vanillearoma“. It’s not even close to the same thing! If you can’t get hold of vanilla extract or don’t want to pay Scheck-In’s extortinate price, your best bet is to use Vanillezucker.
  7. The Karamell version of Grafschafter Goldsaft makes a good substitute for golden syrup. The ordinary one is much less sweet, but can also be used if you don’t mind that.

And finally, some basic baking ingredients vocabulary (German to British English). No order other than the one I thought of them in.

Sugar = Zucker
Raffinade or Kristallzucker is granulated sugar, feinster Backzucker is caster sugar and Puderzucker is icing sugar.

Flour = Mehl.
The 405 type is the equivalent of plain flour. You can also get special bread baking flours, like Roggenmehl, which is rye flour.

Eggs = Eier
Salt = Salz
Cinnamon = Zimt
Ginger = Ingwer
Hazelnut = Haselnuss
Walnuss = Walnut
Almond = Mandel
Coconut = Kokos or Kokosnuss
Cocoa powder = Kakaopulver
Cream = Sahne (or Obers in Austria/Bavaria)
Raisins = Rosinen
Oats = Haferflocken
Chocolate chips/drops = Schokotropfen
Chocolate flakes = Schokoraspeln

Happy baking!

The cookies I made last Christmas...

The cookies I made last Christmas…

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