German foods I love and loathe

Recently, Deanna at From Casinos to Castles wrote a post on the German foods that she really cannot stand. This has inspired me to write my own list, but to balance things out a bit, I also want to talk about the German foods that I love and will really miss if I ever leave here. I’ll do the ones I hate first so I can end on a high note…

German Foods I Loathe

1. Wurstsalat. I have talked about this abomination that dares to call itself salad before, here. My boyfriend loves it, but I cannot stand it. Firstly, I’m not keen on the meat it’s made with (some kind of soft, mushy stuff), secondly I don’t like the vinegar-based dressing it’s drowned (yes, drowned!) in, and thirdly, it nearly always comes with raw onions, which I also can’t stand. YUK! This is a German food item that I definitely don’t need in my life!

2. Weizenbier (wheat beer). Sorry, sorry, sorry. I know this is practically sacrilege, but I just cannot get on with wheat beers. I don’t like the taste of them at all. Too bitter… too wheaty. Give me a Pils any day (but please not Becks! I don’t like that stuff either…)

3. Mett. The boyfriend insists that good Mett is really nice, but the one time I tried it, I was nearly sick. And now you’re probably all wondering what Mett is. Well, it’s minced pork. Raw minced pork that Germans like to spread on bread. Did I mention that it’s raw! Bleurgh… keep that stuff away from me!

4. Leberknödel. Literally meaning liver dumplings, Leberknödel consist of ground liver that’s mixed with bread crumbs and egg to form a ball. They’re usually served in the form of Leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup), which is basically a bowl of beef broth with Leberknödel floating around in it. I don’t like liver anyway, and it doesn’t taste any better floating in beef stock. Sometimes, Leberknödel also turn up on meat platters, where they are friend rather than drowned in stock. Still not tasty…

5. Erdnussflips. These are basically peanut flavoured corn snacks. They’re shaped like Wotsits (UK – I think Cheetos are the US equivalent), but instead of being flavoured with deliciously morish cheese, they’re covered in peanut dust. The Germans love these, but I find them really dry and the peanut taste is weird… not like real peanuts. It’s a bit like eating vaguely peanut-flavoured cardboard. I definitely will not miss these if I find myself back in the UK.

German Foods I Love

1. Bratkartoffeln. Literally fried potatoes, my family always called these “fritters”. In their most basic form, Bratkartoffeln are potatoes sliced very thinly and fried in oil until they’re crispy. In less basic versions, bacon or onions are fried in with the potatoes to give them flavour. Either way, they are delicious! (Technically, I wouldn’t actually miss these if I left Germany as I often make them myself anyway, but they’re definitely one of my favourite German foods!).

2. Maultaschen. Usually translated as Swabian Ravioli, this sourthern German dish consists of filled pockets made from a pasta-like dough. The traditional filling is a spiced minced pork, that I find very similar to English sausages. You can also get Maultaschen in other varieties, such as vegetarian, beef, turkey or even salmon. They are usually served in one of three ways: in broth as a soup, cut into slices and fried along with scrambled egg or “geschmälzt” – fried in butter along with onions that have been caramelised in the same butter. In Karlsruhe, the third variety is often sold alongside potato salad for a carb overload!

Sausages
Om nom nom

3. Sausages. Obviously they need to be on the list… after all, that is what this country is all about! Little mini Nürnberger Bratwurst, huge Thüringer Bratwurst, Käsekrainer (a type of boiled sausage filled with cheese) or even Currywurst – I’ll take them all! The only German sauage I’m not too keen on is Weißwurst – literally “white sausage”, a veal sausage that is boiled and then eaten by removing the skin and eating the filling. The traditional way of doing it is to suck out the filling… errm, no thanks. I ate mine “normally” with a knife and fork, but wasn’t too keen on the flavouring (cardamom and lemon, among other things)

4. Schupfnudeln. A Schupfnudel, meaning rolled noodle, is a type of dumpling or noodle similar to Italian Gnocchi, in that it is made using potatoes. Unlike Gnocchi, Schupfnudeln are fairly long and thin, with pointed ends. In my region of Germany, they’re sometimes called “Bubenspitzle “, meaning little boys’ willies. It’s probably best not to ask! Schupnudeln are prepared by frying them in butter and can be served alongside sweet or savoury foods. At Christmas markets and the like, you’ll usually find them friend up with Sauerkraut (I never eat Schupfnudeln at markets because I don’t like Sauerkraut!).

5. Kartoffelpuffer, or potato pancakes. Are you sensing a theme here? I may be slightly obsessed with potatoes. Kartoffelpuffer are pancakes made by mixing together grated potatoes, flour, egg and seasoning, forming them into a pancake shape and then frying said pancake. The traditional way of serving them is with apple sauce, but at fairs you can sometimes get them with other things, like garlic sauce or sour cream.  I almost always eat Kartoffelpuffer at the Christmas market.

And there you have it. I could go on forever, but I think five of each will do. Are there any German foods you love or loathe? Or, if you’re living somewhere else that isn’t your own country, what foods do you love and hate in your adopted home?

A taste of home: Sausage rolls

I’d been living in Germany about 5 years, buying sausage rolls every time I went home, before it finally occurred to me that I could make them myself! I’ve made them a few times since (Jan loves sausage rolls!) so when I was trying to think of something to bring to a party on Saturday, sausage rolls seemed like the obvious answer… easy, fairly quick and I knew nobody else would be making them! I thought other ex-pats who are craving sausage rolls might like to know how to make their own, too, so I decided to share mine. There are loads of recipes all over the Internet, of course, but mine comes with instructions on what to do if you live in Germany 😉

Vegetarians and others who are disturbed by the sight of raw meat might want to look away now…

You will need the following:

  • These are the sausages you need
    These are the sausages you need

    1 packet of pre-made puff pastry – Blätterteig in German (yes, I’m that lazy!)

  • 500g sausage meat or pork sausages that you can easily remove the filling from (in Germany, you need to buy the fresh “grobe Bratwurst” type… Nürnberger and things like that won’t work!)
  • About a teaspoon of dried parsley (or chopped fresh parsley if you have that stuff around. I never do, unless I buy it specially)
  • About a teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1. If using sausages, remove their skins then place your skinned sausages or sausage meat in a large bowl. My bowl contains a lot of sausages because I tripled the above ingredients to make sure there would be enough…

Skinned sausages
Skinned sausages

2. Add the crushed garlic and mash/stir it into the sausage meat until it seems evenly spread.

3. Add parsley, thyme, a small dash of cayenne pepper (seriously… just a small dash, unless you want spicy sausage rolls, in which case feel free to add more) and as much freshly ground black pepper as you like and combine everything together well.

The sausage meat mixture
The sausage meat mixture

4. Unroll your pastry and place a thick line of sausage meat close-ish to the edge, leaving a gap slightly larger than the width of your sausage strip for rolling.

sausage meat and pastry
sausage meat and pastry

5. Fold the edge of the pastry over the sausage meat and cut the pastry just past where it comes to, then roll the pastry around the sausage meat. If the end doesn’t stick by itself, use a tiny bit of water. Repeat this step until you run out of pastry (hopefully you will also run out of sausage meat at the same time).

Rolled

6. Cut the rolled-up, sausage-filled pastry into whatever sized pieces you would like. I tend to make mine fairly small because I’m paranoid about poisoning people and think if they’re small they’re more likely to cook through properly.

All ready for the oven
All ready for the oven

8. Brush the top of the sausage rolls with a little milk, if you want (I didn’t because I knew at least one person attending the party is lactose intolerant) and bake them at the temperature shown on your pastry packaging for about 15-20 minutes.

The finished article...
The finished article…

9. Leave the sausage rolls to cool for a bit before enjoying. I’m serious… they may look tempting, but those things are hot when they come out of the oven!

I’m going to England!

Thank you for all the lovely messages on yesterday’s blog post. After speaking to Jan and to my dad, I decided to ask for time off work and book the first flight to England I could. I thought getting time off would be quite difficult because my boss was off on Friday and the other person responsible for approving holiday was working from home… but I messaged the colleague who was at home, he contacted my boss then he got back to me later in the day to say it was fine and we’ll just do the signing of the holiday form when I get back. Jan also arranged with his work to be away next week (although he will be taking his laptop with him and working while we’re over there), so we’re flying to England tomorrow and coming back on Friday. It means I probably won’t make it over for the funeral, but I decided seeing my grandpa while he’s still alive is more important to me.

At times like these, being in another country is hard. I’m so grateful to all the commenters who know what it’s like, and of course to my boyfriend who immediately volunteered to come with me despite how busy he is at the moment. The situation is crap, but I feel loved, which helps.

I won’t actually be able to post while I’m away (my crappy BlackBerry won’t let me on WordPress), so I’ll “speak” to you all when I get back.

p.s. Apologies for the lack of pictures, but honestly… what picture should be used to illustrate a post like this?!

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!

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…

What is an expat?

*Warning: Long and possibly boring post ahead. I’ve tried to break it up with some pictures, but I will forgive you if you decided not to read…*

The question “What is an expat?” is something I’ve been thinking about recently. You may have noticed that nowhere in my “about me” do I refer to myself as an expat. English girl currently living in Germany, yes… but never using that word. The main reason is that, until this year, it had never even occurred to me to refer to myself in those terms. I basically moved abroad straight from university… my entire real (i.e. grown up) life has been spent outside of my birth country. And after moving around so much with the army, the question “Where are you from?” had always been a difficult one anyway. I’m here now, what does it matter where I was before? And for most of my time abroad, I’m not sure anybody else would have referred to me as an expat either…

Deutsches Eck
All the German state flags

I first came to Germany for a year abroad as part of my degree. Spending a year in a German-speaking country was a requirement to gain my Bachelor’s, and Karlsruhe was where I ended up. I had actually wanted to go to Austria, but we only had one place there and somebody else was quicker, so I got my second choice. During that year, I wasn’t even sure whether I would ever come back to Germany. And I certainly wasn’t experiencing anything like “real life”! As an exchange student, I spent most of the year partying, with the occasional trip thrown in there as well. Even lectures didn’t seem too much like hard work… apart from in German class, I didn’t have to do anything. My university only required us to attend a certain number of lectures, there was no requirement to take part in any assessments. (We did have to make a year abroad dossier to submit to our home university though).

A trip to Speyer during my year abroad
A trip to Speyer during my year abroad

Back in England, a few months before the end of final year, I realised I should probably start thinking about what I was going to do after graduation. Jan and I had been in a long-distance relationship for almost a year at that point (he was actually in America during my final year at university!) and I thought it might be nice to live near him again, so I started looking for opportunities in German. I came across an application form for British Council language assistantships and decided to apply. Then I saw the list of available countries and realised Austria was on there! Immediately, I changed my mind. Sod Germany! I had been dreaming about Austria for years. And Austria and Germany are at least neighbouring countries… nothing like the distance between England and the US! I applied, and managed to get an assistantship in Feldkirch. During that year (well, ten months… an academic year) I still wasn’t really an expat. To all the Austrians I met, I was just another graduate on a gap year. My time there was finite  and, while it would have been possible to extend the assistantship for one more year (two is the maximum they allow), it didn’t take me long to realise that I probably wasn’t going to. My boyfriend was in another country and, although I loved Austria, I had trouble making friends with the other language assistants and no idea how to go about meeting Austrians. I wasn’t supposed to socialise with the people in my classes (although some of the older ones were almost the same age as me!) and most of the teachers were as old as my parents! When it came to time for reapplications, I did, in fact, ask to extend my assistantship… but requested to switch countries. I chose Baden-Württemberg as my Bundesland and added a note saying I was familiar with Karlsruhe… and almost got my wish. I actually ended up at a school closer to Pforzheim, which meant nearly an hour’s tram journey there and back, but it was worth it to be with Jan again…

A snowy day in Feldkirch
A snowy day in Feldkirch

… and still I didn’t think of myself as an expat! I had no idea where my relationship was going or whether we could even survive actually being in the same country again after two years. Until almost the end of my assistantship, I hadn’t even thought about what to do next! Initially I had thought I might go in for a CELTA qualification, but when I ended up hating teaching at the school in Germany I was lost. In the end, I decided to go for a Master’s in translation. I was all set for a move back to England when I discovered two things. 1) A university in Bristol that was offering a Master’s in Translation via remote learning and 2) An internship in Germany that was actually paid! (Very, very rare). I applied for and managed to be accepted on both… so I now had a one-year internship and a three-year study programme ahead of me.

Once again, I had chosen something with a definite end date. At that point, I was also still living in a student residence (I was a student as well as an intern so it was allowed) and couldn’t have afforded anything else. It still all felt very temporary. During my internship, Jan finished university, started a PhD (which comes with a research position and pays a better wage than I get!) and decided to move out of the student residence. A that point, he didn’t want to get a flat with me… in fact, he chose to move in with someone he was only sort of friends with rather commit to us living together! I’m sure you can see why I wasn’t expecting to stay in Germany for too much longer…

As my internship drew to a close, Jan and I discussed what I should do next. For the first time, he actually expressed an interest in me staying in Germany, so I started looking for jobs. I managed to land one at a translation company close to Karlsruhe and, after a few months earning a proper wage, I moved into a little flat of my own… the very first time I’d had my own place! Jan still didn’t want to live with me, although he might as well have considering he spent more time at my place than at his! After ten months of work, I lost that job for financial reasons (the company had lost a lot of customers) and ended up on unemployment benefit (Hartz IV for anyone who is in Germany and knows about these things). At that point, I was seriously considering giving up and moving back to England… but for whatever reason I decided to give it one last try. That’s when I managed to get the job at my current company… and was immediately given a permanent contract.

The bed in my old flat
The bed in my old flat

Roughly six months later, Jan wanted to move out of his flat… and actually agreed that we could move in together! Initially he wanted to look for somewhere big enough for two that I could move in to later, but I was having none of it! There was no way I was moving in to his place. If we were going to live together, I wanted somewhere that would be both of ours from the start!

The sofa, just after we moved in... at that point it was the only item of furniture in the living room
The sofa, just after we moved in… at that point it was the only item of furniture in the living room

Which brings us to today… I’ve been in Germany for seven years, at the same company for four and living with my German boyfriend three and a half. My exchange student days are far behind me and , while I’m not sure whether I’ll stay in Karlsruhe permanently, my gap year days of trying to figure out what I want from life are behind me. Somehow, over the past seven years, I’ve gone from being English girl spending some time away from “real” life to something that, realistically, can only be defined with the term “expat”. I haven’t quite decided what I think of that yet…

What’s in a name?

E
Photo credit: duncan

*No Friday letters today because I couldn’t actually think of a single one…*

Recently, Linda over at Expat Eye on Latvia was talking about some of mistakes her students make in English – both the amusing ones and those annoying ones that come up over and over, no matter how many times they’ve been corrected (you should really read her post by the way, some of the things her students come out with are hilarious!). This got me thinking about something that really annoys me when Germans speak English… their absolute insistence that we pronounce the letter “a” as if it were an “e”. The classic example was when somebody from the student residence I used to live in started telling me about “Nettley Portmen”. What? She is not covered in nettles. Her name is Natalie! No nettles involved, thank you! Also, it’s Portman. With an A!

Coincidentally, my friends and I were talking about something similar the other day… namely most Germans’ complete inability to cope with my name. This is an actual conversation that I’ve had more than once with native German speakers:

Me: Hi, I’m Bev.

German: Beth… like Elizabeth?

Me: No, Bev. Short for Beverley.

German: Aaah, Bethany! Pleased to meet you, Beth.

Me: No, it’s Beverley. Like Beverly Hills Cop.

German: Ohh, right! (Pause) But… isn’t he a man?

Me: *Stunned silence*

To be fair, I’ve only had the “but isn’t he a man” comment about twice. The rest happens almost every time I meet a German though. And don’t even get me started on the trouble that the e between the l and the y causes! (Yes, there really are three e’s in my name. No, that does not magically change the pronunciation… I’ve only had this name for 30 years, I do know what I’m talking about!). Ironically, all three of my siblings have names that would be perfectly normal in Germany (although my middle brother’s name would be pronounced differently here). My name is as English as they come, but I’m the only one who lives abroad…

Do you ever have trouble getting people to understand your name abroad? How do you deal with it?