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Wine Fair in the Altstadt

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September in Germany marks the beginning of all the wine and beer festivals.  A wonderful time of food and drink and smiles.  People of all nations come over to join in the festivities.  Now most of us have visions of men in lederhosen and women in dirndls and beer served in glasses bigger than your head.  Yes that is down south at Oktoberfest. But here up north has its own festivals and traditions and the beginning of September always means the Bielefeld Wine Fair and Festival, minus the funny pants.

Starting tomorrow (Sept. 4) and running through Sunday, over 20 different wineries will be selling wines from all over Germany with music and food on offer too. I recommend trying a little from each region, but definitely a glass of Federweisser.  It is traditionally a light, sweet wine with little bubbles that is only available in late summer/early autumn.  And do try the Flammkuchen, a yummy flatbread with ham and spring onions.

The weather forecast looks good this week, so take advantage and enjoy some of the tastes of the region.

Viel Spaß!

Grace

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The Smile Factor

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“Don’t let them turn you into a cold person.”

I can still remember how shocked and somehow offended I was when my friend Betsy told me this before my move.  Being an overly sensitive liberal (minus the bleeding heart), I have never liked stereotypes.  “I have several friends from Germany and they are wonderful people, but they are colder. It’s just they way they are.  Don’t turn into one.”

OK Betsy. I will try. I guess I come from an area of the world where almost everyone smiles at each other when they make eye contact, strangers talk to each other on the bus, people who have never met think nothing of making a connection even for a few moments. San Francisco is known for free earthquakes, love, and friendliness. In fact the entire USA is known as a talkative bunch.

When I first moved to Germany in 2005 this was something that I obviously took for granted.  I assumed (as we all do) that things would be different here, but that people would generally be friendly in the same way, if I was friendly to them.  What I didn’t bank on was the difference in culture in regards to strangers.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The people of the greater Bielefeld area that I have met are friendly, funny, and loving people.  They are there for you when you need advice, or when you need someone to come with you to the Auslanderamt. They are there for you when you need someone to talk in German to your potential landlord and explain that you are reliable and they should let you take the apartment. They really truly want you to like Bielefeld and Germany.

Then why doesn’t anyone smile when they make eye contact while walking through a park?  Why do I have to say “Guten Tag” when I enter the doctor’s office but as they answer no one even looks at me? Why was I only ever approached by strangers needing directions?  Was there really no contact between strangers here?  I needed more data.

I started with my smile experiment.  I would smile at random strangers who made eye contact with me and keep track.  On a good day my return smile rate was somewhere around 20% (Almost all return smilers were male over 60. Women, especially middle-aged women, looked at me as if I were mentally ill.).  I then moved on to small interactions.  I would try to ask people at markets or in town easy small questions that would maybe start a conversation (things like I really like your hair/tattoo/shoes/produce etc., did you get it here?).  My response rate was 100% positive.  My questions were always answered, but usually in one word or very short answers (yes, no) and with no offer of additional information, just the basics.  My conclusion was maybe that these questions were not viewed as engaging, rather they were just for information for this strange lady (me) in the orange wool coat speaking German with the funny accent. Okay intriguing.

Armed with this data, I started asking my Bielefeld friends what was going on.  Doesn’t Bielefeld realize I am lonely? That in place of actual friendships, I would happily take a little stranger interaction to fight the feeling of isolation? Don’t they know that I want to meet new people and learn new things?  One of them gave me the following joke as an answer:

“A Bielefelder walked into a small bar for a drink after work.  The bar was empty except for the bartender and two people, one seated at one end of the bar, and the other near the front. Upon seeing this he turned around and walked out of the bar.  Do you want to know why? Because there was no where to sit!”

Everyone I was talking to (all native to the area) began laughing at this joke!  They are completely aware that in general they are a bit closed off to strangers.  Friends and people you interact with are the people in your local club, VHS class, at work, or parents of your children’s friends, and not the stranger at the farmer’s market or in the coffee shop. They know that in the rest of the world it is not always that way, but somehow the social culture here pushes this behaviour.  And the best part is that they are able to laugh at it.  Somehow, that made me feel better.  Anyone that can laugh at their faults earns a little notch of respect in my book and it gave me a little more courage.

So fast forward a few years later and I realized that my friend Betsy’s advice was maybe not so far off. I went back for a visit in 2010 and was out for a jog by my parent’s house in California.  It was early morning (don’t ask why but this cures my jet lag) and there were a lot of dog walkers out and about. I realized that I found myself struggling to say good morning to everyone.  I was actually a little annoyed that I had to say it to everyone even though I didn’t know these people!  I was just trying to have my morning jog and I kept having to smile and wave… and nod… and say hello even when I wasn’t making eye contact!  The fact that we were sharing sidewalk was reason enough.  The nerve of these overly-friendly people!

I have often heard that this friendliness we Americans show strangers seems fake.  I once had a man spew for 10 minutes about how “nice to meet you” was a lie.  How could we know it was nice if we didn’t even know the person?  Now cultural sayings and norms aside, I see his point.  To a culture that often takes everything we say literally when translated, this idea of kindness to strangers seems to many wasted and fake.

I get it now. Really. I have even adapted. However, I still like to share smiles with strangers. I still really think it is “nice to meet you” because I like meeting new people.  I relish the small conversations at the market I have experienced and have found that the more I try, the more people open up.  I just have to work harder. In fact, with a little effort it seems many want to have a conversation with a stranger. It turns out they just are not that good at our English small talk in German. And that’s OK.  As long as they smile while they are talking to this strange lady in the orange coat with the funny accent, I will keep smiling too.

Grace

Afternoon Koffie and Carrot Cake

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Coffee outside in the sun is also an option….

I admit I am not a big fan of cake.  When given the choice between ice cream and cake, or cake and luscious blueberry crumble, I will pick the crumble or ice cream every time!  However, there is one type of cake that makes me weak in the knees…so much so that Dear Husband (aka DH) and I made it our wedding cake back in the states.  I am, of course, talking about carrot cake.

In all its incarnations, I am a fan.  I like it with pineapple, I like it with nuts, I especially like it with cream cheese frosting.  And to my surprise, a sweet little café opened with a wonderful selection for cake lovers, as well as my favorite for me.

When you walk in to Koffie met Gebak, the homey atmosphere is apparent.  Cozy chairs, fresh cut flowers and sunshine streaming through the windows, all lend itself to a lazy afternoon drinking cappuccinos and trying a few choice desserts while chatting with a friend.

They serve some savory items like ciabatta with salami and cheese or soup, but the real reason to come is for the thick foamy cappuccinos (My sugar was still sitting on the foam 5 minutes later…now that is some good thick foam!) and the delicious carrot cake. Just look at it!!!

Yum!!

Rüblitorte, which roughly translates to turnip cake which I guess is in reference to the grated carrots, is every bit as good here as it is back home.  So moist and with hints of ginger and other spices and big pieces of walnut.  Mmmmmmm Heaven!

Okay I will stop gushing now.  But seriously, I am so happy to have found this little piece of home. Even after 7 years here, there are still some things I really miss and this is something that can bring me back to my childhood, flood me with feelings of love and family, and make me feel at home, even in a very foreign place.  It also just tastes really good!

Grace

Treasure and Cake.

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Treasure and Cake.  It doesn’t get much better than these two things, especially together on the same day.

Saturday was glorious here in Bielefeld. For those of us used to the perpetual rain clouds over our heads, or what I affectionately call “our Charlie Brown Town”, it was a weekend not to be misused by staying inside.

Klosterplatz Flea Market

So Saturday we rolled ourselves out of bed and decided to hit the double flea market day. My two favorite flea markets in Bielefeld are the Klosterplatz Flohmarkt and the Siegfriedplatz Flohmarkt. Normally they fall on different days of the month, but because of holidays and the City Fair, this year they both fell on the same day. How will I choose which to go to? Will I miss the treasures of one if I go to the other? No worries here, because one is in the morning until about 1pm and the other does not start until 3pm! Oh Joy!

So our first stop was the morning maven’s treasure chest at Klosterplatz. It is located in the plaza behind the Catholic church (Süsterkirche) right in the heart of the Altstadt and usually falls on the third Saturday of the month. It starts at some ungodly hour in the morning, I think 6am. I can’t be sure because I’ve never ventured out so early on a Saturday.

In any case, I normally get there around 9:30am and I promise you there are still fantastic things to be found. Furniture, bikes, clothes, shoes, always great lamps or some funky artwork.

A few years back I found an awesome old fashioned shaving kit and straight razor.  The sweet lady had said it belonged to her husband, but had been in a drawer for over 40 years! By the looks of the design on the boxes, I am betting longer!   I love old boxes with design from yesteryear.

All for just 2 euros!

And this past year I found a new love in Agnes my sweet little pinhole camera. The lady even had flash cubes and film for it! All for 6 euros. She thought I was crazy and maybe I am 🙂 Really.

Agnes and her accoutrements

I’m short and stout…

I found an old tea set and the lady practically threw it at me! I think I ended up giving her 4 euros just because I couldn’t take a 24 piece set for free. Of course I still haven’t figured out where to put it in my kitchen.

However, today was not to be for me at my lucky Klosterplatz. I got there a little late and the fine weather was making the vendors want to close shop early and go somewhere fun. No problem, I have another market in a few hours to hit and right now we could use a break in the shade and order a latte!

Stop #2 was our afternoon favorite that starts at 3pm (2:30 is when everyone can set up and thus business starts as soon as the sellers are putting things out) on the last Saturday of the month. My advice for this particular market is to get there at 2:30.  The official start time is at 3pm, but by then 100s of transactions have already taken place, and good things have been snatched up.  If you are just looking for clothes, they will be there all afternoon, but the interesting finds (like dressmakers dolls, mannequin arms, top hats that fold, sputnik stools and glass beads) disappear quickly.

Siggie Flea Market

Vendors are given the option of paying for their stall with home-baked goods that are then sold for the community center (our fair Bürgerwache). So that gives you two reasons to go. Oh and of course there is also the Supertram selling beer in the shade. So when you need break from your hunting, or if your dearest needs a place to wait for you, Supertram has you covered.

Enjoying a beer at the Siggie Flea Market

The thing I love about both of these flea markets is that they are neighborhood markets and have very few if any “profi-vendors”. Most of the time, the tables are full of one man’s trash with the potential to be one man’s treasure.

My booty this time included jewelry and a crystal serving dish.  All for 7 euros 🙂

Looking forward to next month already!