TGIF Chronicles: Viel Glück!

How much do you know about luck and traditions in Germany? While I’m taking a German language test throughout the day this Friday, take this quiz (with 7 lucky questions) about German superstitions to wish me & the gang from class some luck!

1. Which of these animals is not a good luck symbol?
a) Ladybug – Fly away home!
b) Cat – Loveable, but so sassy
c) Pig – Oink!

2. Which of these foods brings good luck?
a) Mushrooms – Wait, can I eat this?
b) Currants – Little red berries with a sour flavor
c) Pretzels – Salty and twisted

3. Which of these people is a bearer of good luck?
a) Mayor – He or she has an awesome title in German: the Bürgermeister
b) Chimney sweep – If that guy doesn’t come, you might have big problems ahead
c) Firefighter – These folks save lives

4. What is the English translation for an unlucky person (i.e. a “walking disaster”)?
a) Bad luck devil – Sounds super bad
b) Bad luck rabbit – Hopping all over the place
c) Bad luck bird – Tweet, tweet!

5. What is considered bad luck when clinking glasses in a toast?
a) Not maintaining eye contact with the person you’re clinking with – Look at me!
b) Crossing your arm over someone else’s in a group – Hey, I’m clinking here!
c) Both a and b – Wow, this is one focused toast

6. What do friends and family do to wish luck and happiness to a couple about to be married?
a) Break a lot of porcelain – Um, thanks a lot.
b) Give mirrors as gifts – Just what I wanted to see.
c) Carve their names in wood – It’s all about us.

7. What is considered a typical German housewarming gift for bringing good wishes?
a) Flowers and chocolate – How thoughtful!
b) Beer and bratwurst – Now it’s a party!
c) Bread and salt – Get me a glass of water!



Marienkäfer - lucky ladybugs
Marienkäfer – (lucky) ladybugs
Lucky marzipan pigs and chimney sweeps from New Year's
Lucky marzipan pigs and chimney sweeps from New Year’s


1. b) Cat. The black cat is even considered bad luck, like in the U.S. and many other countries. Many good luck cards (and houseplants, desserts, etc.) are decorated with ladybugs and four-leafed clovers. Piggy banks are quite popular – and lucky – here.

2. a) Mushrooms?! In fact, a perpetually lucky person is called a Glückpilz, or lucky mushroom.

3. b) Chimney sweep. Chim chiminey chim chiminey chim chim cheree. It’s common practice to touch a chimney sweep, who visits every home and apartment regardless of whether it has a chimney or not. The modern Shornsteinfeger is more of a maintenance/heating repairman.

4. c) Bad luck bird. It’s bad news if you’re a Pechvogel, or bad luck bird. Unrelated but also interesting – a Putzteufel, or cleaning devil, is someone obsessed with cleanliness and an Angsthase, or anxious hare, is a “scaredy cat.”

5. c) Both a and b. Keep eye contact and don’t cross over someone else – These are both absolutely essential when toasting with drinks. Prost!/Cheers!

6. a) Break a lot of porcelain. Polterabend is a pre-wedding party where guests bring and break porcelain items to wish the happy couple good luck. The bride- and groom-to-be must then clean up the mess, accomplishing their first of many difficult tasks as a team. Note that breaking mirrors, of course, brings seven years of bad luck.

7. c) Bread and salt. With bread and salt you can never go hungry. These two basic foods are traditionally given to wish people happiness and good fortune in their new home.


Viel Glück und Viel Erfolg!/Good luck and much success!


Weathering the North Sea Zone

Hotel neighbors in Scheemda
Hotel neighbors in Scheemda, Netherlands

Four hours north of us (or a few more if you have to wait for the Autobahn to be declared safe again after a massive fire destroys a semi) sleeps the town of Scheemda in the Netherlands. It’s little more than a skip across the northern border of Germany, but both of the countries forming this region by the North Sea are a world apart from home in Mainz.

We pulled into the hotel close to 10 p.m. on Friday – a stately old house with a high-peaked roof within a neighborhood of similar but smaller houses, all old-fashioned in style but modernly built (many with solar-paneled roofs). Next door napped a cat in the sunny driveway surrounded by chickens meandering in the yard. I thought gardens were well-kept in Germany, but every house in this Dutch village boasted a garden more impeccable than the last.

Every restaurant in town was closed by this time, despite the fact that there were still a few customers and/or owners lingering with drinks on the patios outside in the warm late evening sun. We were finally pointed toward a pizzeria/grill and split a chicken shawarma calzone on top of paper placemats representing Dutch artist Pieter Breugel’s famous painting “The Peasant Wedding.” Villagers milled around on bicycles as the sun set around 11 at night.

Late night sunset
Late night sunset in the village

We spent most of the weekend in Germany in a heath town near the North Sea, visiting an aunt. While the common greeting in Germany is “Hallo,” up north it’s “Moin moin” or just “Moin.” This was as foreign for us as hearing “Grüβ Gott” in Bavaria and Austria. We automatically returned the florist’s greeting with “Hallo,” as we’re used to doing in our area.

Emden locomotive and mini trains
Emden, Germany locomotive and mini trains

And the northern particularities didn’t stop there, for this is a seafaring region. We stopped for dinner on the way back to the hotel in the port town of Emden, Germany. After getting a close-up of the large black locomotive that hid a miniature train display (maybe not so mini, as children and employees could ride on top of the trains), we chose a docked firefighter ship restaurant to eat in.

Feuerschiff Amrumbank - Fire ship restaurant & museum
Feuerschiff Amrumbank – A fire ship restaurant & museum

Of course we ordered the local specialty, Matjes, which we could tell from the menu was a fish dish served with pan-fried potatoes. What we hadn’t realized was that it was a smoked fish (read: seemingly raw) wrapped around a “housewife” sauce that was both creamy and chunky, containing chopped apples and pickles or some such mix.


I was so hungry that I ate most of the Matjes, but luckily (and perhaps inevitably), there was a festival in town going on as well. Immediately afterward we found an ice cream stand and walked around to the tunes of various rock bands, electronic carnival game music, and the many whirs and dings of the rides.

World Champs!

Party prep ads
Party prep ad

Fireworks, music, and car horns pierced the air last night, even for me living just on the edge of the city. I know being American has usually been contradictory to being a soccer fan. But, while not the most intense fan, I’ve always loved international soccer and watching the World Cup every four years more than I ever cared for the equally periodic Olympics.

My earliest and clearest memory of the World Cup finals is from 1994 when it came down to Italy and Brazil. My brother, parents, and grandmother huddled in excitement around my Italian-born grandfather, who at that time had lived in the U.S. for almost 50 years, as he sat in his favorite easy chair in the living room. It was the first time the world championship had been decided by a shoot-out, to no one’s complete satisfaction, after a full game plus overtime score of 0-0. Brazil won by one goal in the shoot-out, burning them in my mind forever after as an invincible force.

In the next World Cup, four years later, Brazil again made it to the finals, this time against France. I bet one of my friends from school a dollar that Brazil would win, and considered it easy money. I was stunned when instead France won 3-0. I begrudgingly gave up my dollar, but not before writing BRAZIL across it as large as I could in markers the colors of the Brazilian flag.

A few more World Cups went by… Brazil won again in 2002 against Germany; Italy finally won in 2006 against France in a tie breaking shoot-out; and Spain beat the Netherlands in overtime in 2010. This year, 2014, finds me living in Germany while their team wins the World Cup and becomes, as they say here, Weltmeister.

Post-game celebrations
Post-game celebrations

And what a finish. First they beat my childhood image of Brazil as a world class team to a pulp (7-1?!) in the semi-finals. Then they kept up a scoreless tie with Argentina in the final game right up until the last few minutes of overtime, when Mario Götze scored the goal that made Germany this year’s world champions.

What’s it like being in the world-winning country? I’ll spare you the background details of the tacky soccer décor and foods that have been available at every store for the past month and skip straight to the winning moment: Germany is five hours ahead of the host country of Brazil, so the extended grand finale ended around midnight last night. From a minute or so before the official end of the game on, fire crackers exploded in every distant direction. Flags and beer and cheering spread a wave of national pride across the streets that caught like fire. The partying in the cities continued for hours afterward, with every car honking as it passed.

I may have been disappointed years ago when Italy’s fate was determined by a few final kicks. But I never imagined I’d one day be living in the country whose team takes home the title of international champions, earned in Brazil no less.


TGIF Chronicles – Recycling in Germany: A Choose Your Own Adventure Story

First enjoy decoding the pick-up schedule

Page 1

It’s a dark and stormy night. The steady drizzle is beginning to pick up and a burst of lightning cuts the late evening sky. Boom! As you rush to close the windows, you sigh as you think of the task ahead of you, as dreary as the weather. All of your guests have left, but the mess from dinner remains. And that means it’s time to sort out the trash and recycling.

Do you start with the food? (Go to page 2)

Or sort out the rest? (Go to page 3)







Page 2


Müll can labeled only with a raptor (?)
Müll can labeled only with a raptor (?)

Egg shells, coffee grinds, avocado peels, cherry pits, leftover rice… you scrape them all into the Bioabfӓlle, or “Bio-rubbish,” container. Chicken bones, salmon skin, and the rest of the leftover meat and fish go into the regular Müll, or trash, can. Another crash of thunder shakes the window panes. You’ll have to work fast if you want to take the trash outside tonight.

Do you stay inside and finish sorting? (Go to page 3)

Or are you in the mood for a drive? (Go to page 4)










Page 3


You pat yourself on the back for being a good citizen and start collecting the rest of the junk to sort out. You’ve done this so many times that it goes quickly. You toss the milk carton, egg carton, yogurt cups, and so on into the Verpackungen, or packaging, container. Along the way, you come across a cardboard cereal box and remember that you have some old mail and newspapers on the table too. You throw these into the Altpapier, or old paper, container.

You put the empty plastic water and soda bottles and glass beer bottles into the crates from the Getrӓnke (drinks) shop. You’ll have to wait until the store is open again tomorrow so you can return them for change back. The dead batteries will have to wait too – you can drop them into the battery recycling box at the office supply store tomorrow.

All of a sudden, the wind picks up outside and you think you hear a knock at the door.

Do you answer the door and take the recycling out with you? (Go to page 5)

Or do you wait and finish what you’re doing? (Go to page 6)









Page 4


You find all of the miscellaneous glass jars and bottles – a mustard jar, a salad dressing bottle, a lone bottle of wine you bought on vacation – and pack them into your car. With the windshield wipers on full blast, you drive around the corner and down the street a ways until you come to three large dumpsters. Now you have to sort the glass by color: clear, brown, and green (which also includes any other colors). Your umbrella blows inside out and you can hardly hear the clink of the glass being sorted.

Do you go home? (Go to page 9)

Or do you stay here and try to wait out the storm before driving back? (Go to page 10)








Page 5

It’s your neighbor Stefan. He’s come by to see if you need anything and you immediately hand him all of your recycling and trash to dump in the larger containers outside. He is surprised, but helps anyway.

Do you invite him in for a piece of cake? (Go to page 8)

Or do you turn him back out into the storm and get back to work? (Go to page 4)













Page 6

You stand still for a moment but don’t hear the knock again. Maybe it was just your imagination. You sweep up the kitchen floor and put the dust and crumbs in with the regular trash (Müll). Raggedy paper towels and any other scraps or things you aren’t sure of get put here too. You do wonder if anyone was at that door though…

Do you answer the door now? (Go to page 5)

Or are you too afraid to do anything but stay inside? (Go to page 7)













Page 7

Nervously, you turn the lights out and wrap yourself in a blanket. You hear more knocking, clearly this time, but it becomes fainter and fainter until it stops altogether. You look around and realize you still have more recycling to do. Hopefully things will seem better tomorrow when the sun comes out again. You go to bed safely but dream of being swallowed up by a mound of trash.














Page 8

Stefan declines your invitation. Maybe he was a little put off by your rudeness. At any rate, you wave goodbye and get back to work. (Go to page 4)
















Page 9

You survived yet another night of recycling and you go to bed content. You dream about saving the earth and creating more complicated rules.

















Page 10

You get back into the car and doze off for a while in the parking lot. You dream about flying over a sea of colorful broken glass. Slowly you begin falling and the colors fade to total darkness…

You awake with a start and find that your car is sinking in a mudslide! (Unlikely in Germany? Maybe. But in a choose-your-own-adventure story, it’s only to be expected.) You try to get out, but it’s too late. Your last thoughts revolve around wondering whether you and the car can become compost or whether one of you should be somewhere else…


American Mental Vacationing

Once again, Happy 4th!
Once again, Happy 4th!

Because this weekend was a break from traveling, and in celebration of the recent 4th of July, today I look back on the U.S. from Germany to think about travel.

I’ve been thinking a lot about recommendations I would give to anyone visiting the United States. The country is so big and diverse that, really, where you’d want to visit is a matter of personal taste.

Other Americans I’ve met in Germany are from all different parts of the country, so what each person considers a must-see or must-do is completely different. People who like nature or grew up in the country recommend national parks. People who like culture or grew up in the northeast suggest New York City.

Times Square in New York City
Times Square in New York City

Most of the Germans I’ve met who have traveled to the U.S. went to Miami and/or Las Vegas. You probably can’t find a climate or culture gap much wider than that. California is a popular destination too, and I haven’t even traveled there. Many are also fascinated by the south or the old west, probably for the same reason that Americans find Lederhosen and cuckoo clocks appealing. They’re just different from what we have.

Old downtown Las Vegas
Old downtown Las Vegas
Alligator in a Louisiana bayou
Alligator in a Louisiana bayou

Personally, I recommend Washington, D.C. for most visitors regardless of their interests. It is, after all, the capital, not to mention home to more than a dozen excellent and free Smithsonian museums. A few of my tips for international (or American) travelers? Visit the National Museum of the American Indian, tour the national monuments at night, and see the Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring if you can. And do yourself a favor and take the Metro to get around. It’s the simplest major subway system I’ve found anywhere in the world so far.

What’s your favorite American city and what do you recommend visitors see or do?

D.C. Capitol in the background
D.C. Capitol in the background
Park benches in D.C.
Park benches in D.C.

TGIF Chronicles: A Day Off Here and There

"German-American Friendship Festival - 4th of July:  Big Fireworks" Other than this fest, today is just an ordinary day.
Other than this fest, today is just an ordinary day. “German-American Friendship Festival – 4th of July: Big Fireworks”

Happy 4th of July! As I spent the start of American Independence Day in school for the first time ever, I’ve been thinking today of all my family and friends watching parades and having cookouts back home. I might even see fireworks here tonight too after the Germany-France game.

July 4th may be a holiday in the U.S., but here there is an entirely different calendar of days off. I look forward to next year when I’ll know when the banks and grocery stores will be closed before I drive to them.

Most of the German days off are Christian or specifically Catholic religious holidays. Easter is a four-day affair, including Good Friday and Easter Monday. But it doesn’t stop there. Many traditionally Catholic states including those in our area celebrate the Ascension, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi in the summer. Somewhere in between Easter and its follow-up holidays is May Day (May 1), or German Labor Day. The reunification of Germany is celebrated on October 3 – Germany Unity Day.

Then we return to religious holidays on November 1, when All Saints’ Day is observed in this area as well.  Christmas is a long season here in which most people have a week or two of vacation. The main gift-giving celebration is on December 24, Christmas Eve. Christmas Day and the day after, St. Stephen’s Day, are both official days off.

p.s. If it seems like there are a lot of days off in Germany, remember the U.S. also has Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, and so on. Not to mention a range of religious holidays celebrated by a diverse population. We just don’t celebrate each of them with a fair or festival in each town. (Schade! Too bad!)

What is your favorite holiday or tradition?