Monday, March 28, 2011

Beer vs. Pils--Urgent Update

We have been contacted by a major German brewing corporation. We’ve been strongly encouraged to redo our beer experiment or face a possible slander lawsuit. So in the interest of maintaining amicable German-American relationships and, even more importantly, not to piss off a manufacturer of the amber nectar, we decided a redo was in order.

Actually, after the previous science project and the resulting significant difference between the quality of head (so to speak) between the beer and the Pils, we did notice difference between the two. Although both the beer and the Pils both tasted quite nicely there was a noticeable difference in temperatures. The Pils had been cooled in our main kitchen refrigerator but the beer had been cooled in the kitchen beer refrigerator. Yes, we have two firdges in our kitchen, big main one for food, small one for beer. There really was a definite temperature difference; the Pils much colder than the beer. So we put both the beer and the Pils together in the beer fridge. 24 hours later we were ready for a second experiment. Here it is.

Contrary to the U.S., here in Germany a large, toamy, full-bodied cranium (Jeff told me to stop saying head) is highly desired on an amber nectar. We think during the first experiment that the beer was so cold that it hindered the cranium building qualities of the amber nectar.

So there you go. Call off your Deutscher lawyers and how about throwing in a couple cases of Bitburger Premium Pils? Since this is all behind us now lets create a partnership. You make your beer and we'll drink it. What could be better?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Schnapps--The Drink You Love to Hate

Germany is obviously well known for its beers but also its wines, especially white wines. However, there's another beverage that Germany is internationally famous for, schnapps. In a German restaurant or gasthaus it's not uncommon for the proprietor to offer you a complimentary shot of schnapps after your meal. But, what the heck is a schnapps? What makes schnapps, schnapps? (In Germany it's spelled with only one P, schnaps, and means swallow.) We've been into a small schnapps shop near us a couple times and recently we went in and got a little lesson on schnapps.

Schnapps is a distilled drink containing 32% to 45% alcohol by volume. It's normally distilled using fruits and berries but it can also be made from vegetables, grains, nuts, roots, flowers and even beer. Schnapps is not a liqueur. Schnapps is pure, clear, non-sweet with no additives. Liqueurs, such as cordials and crèmes, are sweet alcoholic beverages made from highly refined spirits, like grain spirits, brandy and gin, to which is added sugar, fruit, peels, seeds, herbs and flowers. Liqueurs normally have an alcohol by volume of 15% to 30%.

In Germany, fruit Schnapps are often referred to as Wässer (water) because of its clear appearance, such as Kirschwasser, made from cherries and Zwetschgenwasser, which uses blue plums. Apples and pears are the two other most common fruit Schnapps. Some of the most familiar German Schnapps are Korn, normally made from rye, Kümel, which uses caraway seeds and cumin and the famous Jägermeister, which uses various herbs and spices.

Of course, Schapps are produced all over the world. Just across the border in the Alsace region of France, Schanpps type drinks are called eau de vie, in Italy, grappa and in eastern Europe, rakia. So, even though Schnapps is an acquired taste, lots of folks are making it and a lot more are drinking it.

We like the little Schnapps shop that we've gone to a few times because there you can sample all types of Schnapps, and liqueurs, and purchase what you like in very small bottles that they fill right there in front of you. Above you can see some of the oblong glass containers in which they store their Schnapps. The sales lady is pouring a small sample for us from the rubber tube at the bottom of the container.

Huge selection of Schnapps and liqueurs. At the bottom are the various types of bottles you can choose from to be filled there in the store if you make a purshcase.

Mango Jalapeno Limes sounds interesting but there on the right is the infamous Absinthe. Absinthe was called the "Green Fairy" because it was claimed to have hallucenagenic powers. The culprit was a chemical ingrediant called thujone which caused the alleged mind altering affects. In the late 1800's and early 1900's it was the rage among the artistic crowd; Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and many more. By 1915 it was banned in the US and most of Europe. Recently, it's become available again; the European version still contains traces of thujone, the US version does not. We tried it few months ago. Let's just say it didn't give us wings.

This is what we came away with on this visit. 200ml bottles, they cork and heat shrink-wrap the top to seal it up. On the left is a Alter Williams-Birne (Old Willaims Pear) and the right, Haselnuss (Hazel nut).

There you have it, Schnapps, the drink you love to hate. Sometimes you almost cringe when in a gasthaus, at the end of your meal, and suddenly, there's a tray of schnapps placed on your table, one for each of you. Of course, it would be rude to turn down your hosts gesture of generousity but you never know what you're going to get. Usually, it's an ice cold, very smooth Apfelkorn, apple Schnapps, but other times, a biting, heavy licorice flavored firewater. Either way, it's part of the fun and experience of living in Germany. Cheers!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Beer vs. Pils

Here in the Ramstein Air Base area you can buy, what Bitburger claims to be the identical product; Bitburger Premium Beer purchased on base at the Shopette or, off base, on the economy at a Germany getränkemarkt or anywhere else, Bitburger Premium Pils. When we toured the Bitburger brewery a couple months ago the tour guide told us the Bitburger you drink in the U.S. is the same as the Bitburger you drink in Germany. The Bitburger you buy on base here in Germany is the same as the Bitburger you buy in any German city or town. Nothing added, nothing taken away. The only difference, the label on the U.S./on-base version says Premium Beer, the German economy version says Premium Pils.

However, we had noticed that the Bitburger Premium Beer, purchased on base didn't seem to pour with the same quality, foamy head (Jeff told me to say, so to speak) as a Bitburger you get in a gasthaus. We wondered if it was a differnce of bottle beer versus keg beer or was there really a difference between the Premium Beer and the Premium Pils? So we set up a little experiment and here it is.

Eureka!! You can hear the amazement in our voices at what we discovered. What did we discover? Well, like Jeff said, we're not sure. Both beers tasted the same. We did a quick eyes-closed sampling and couldn't tell the difference. But this could shake the very foundation of the German beer industry. We may have stumbled onto an amber nectar cover up of huge proportions.

Our research is ongoing, we will keep you up to date on our findings. This is really exciting and indepth beer reporting is so much fun.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ramstein Club

This isn't a blog about Germany but it does take place here. It's about the Ramstein Club. You'll note I didn't say O Club or Officers Club. Those don't exit anymore in the Air Force, most bases now have some sort of all ranks club; another cost cutting measure.

Back in the day, when fighter pilots ruled the Air Force, and F-4s, then F-16s were based at Ramstein, the Ramstein O Club was an exciting place to be on a Friday night. Now Ramstein is a C-130 base and the closest fighter squadrons are eighty miles away at Spangdahlem. The only Friday night that is really worth attending at the O Club here at Ramstein is the first Friday of the month. The club puts out a pretty good spread and there's probably a 100-150 people that show up for that but most of them are gone by 1800. Usually, Rowdy is the only flight suit in the entire place. But we've been stirring things up. E-mailing friends here to come out and have some fun and we've had some pretty good results. Of course, it will never be like it was in the Cold War days when 400+ people would pack the old club, but we've had some good times here at the Ramstein Club.

Here's an example, karaoke at the club; yeah, it's come to that. Rowdy's new protege, Dude.

As you can tell, Dude is a pretty high energy guy and lots of fun. Regretfully, if you noticed in the video, not many people were still in the club; just a handful. That's pretty typical, even on a first Friday night. Even on those nights, by 2100 it's mostly us and a few friends. But, we're not here in Germany to go to the club, so most other Friday nights we're on our way somewhere. Even so, the demise of the Air Force Officer Club is a sad thing to see.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fasching in Mainz


This past weekend Jeff and I spent the night in Mainz to participate in some of the most magnificent Fasching festivities in all of Germany. Mainz is just an hour drive north of our home. The city is on the west side of the Rhine River, actually south side in this part of Germany where it flows east to west, across from Weisbaden. Mainz has a two thousand year history originally established by Roman legions. It had a central role in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire and became a major Catholic church center of power north of the Alps. The city is the home of Johannes Gutenburg and where he developed the use of moveable type printing around 1455. Mainz was repeatedly occupied by the French and various German powers. It was heavily damaged during WW II. After the war it became the capital of the newly formed German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the Pfalz, and today is the center of the state’s wine economy. But, as I mentioned, Mainz’s famous Fasching activities is what brought us to the city.

The reasons for Fasching are pretty much the same as Carnival in Brazil or Italy and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But Fasching is much more wide spread around Germany. In some parts of Germany it’s called Fastnacht or Fasnet but either way it’s all about celebration. (Here on the right is Mainz's Gutenburg statue with his festival hat on. Ready to party!!)

In Germany, Fasching begins on the morning of 11 November at 11:11 and ends on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Although there are big festivities on 11 November, with a break in the festival season for Advent and Christmas, not much really happens until the Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday. Parades happen through the weekend with the really big parade on Monday, Rosenmontag. In many places, “fools” take over the city government and “wild” woman run through the street kissing any man they choose and cutting off the neckties of others.

The most famous Fasching festivals take place in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz but celebrations occur in big cities like Berlin to many small towns. Fasching festivities very early on developed as a way for Germans to display anti-French and anti-Prussian subversive statements during occupation periods through mockery and parody. Even today, government ridicule is a strong theme in Fasching parades. Carnival clubs build huge floats that are occupied by their members who, during the parades, throw out all types of snacks and children’s toys and, at the Mainz parade, greet the crowds with a large sweeping wave a loud yell of "HELAU!!"

The Mainz parade on Rosenmontag lasted four hours. There were thousands and thousands of participates and of the couple hundred thousand parade viewers, just about everyone had some type of festive costume on; folks dressed as cowboys, black and white striped prisoners, a herd of sheep, carrots, strawberries, Smurfs, cavemen, everything imaginable. So many of the bands, horsemen, and general marchers were dressed in magnificent old-style European military uniforms, complete with white wigs.

When you look at these pictures and videos realize that the temperatures were about 38-40 degrees F. Pretty chilly. But most Germans seemed totally oblivious to the cold. Lots of folks had short, thin costumes; some guys no shirt at all. Jeff and I were bundled up but the cold seemed to be no factor to this Fasching crowd.

At this stage there was band afer band, all full of energy. That certainly helped because the temperatures were around 40 degrees. Germans love their bands and they love to participate with the band and sing along to the music. One thing that was interesting, if you go to Oktoberfest in Munich, or any of the other big beer festivals around Germany, over half the songs you hear played are sung in English. Here, in Mainz, during Fasching, none.

At festivals like these Germans have no fear of making fools of themselves. These guys did a pretty good job at that. You can probably guess from their attire that eventually the jackets and pants came off.

I love these big head clowns.

Here's part of the social commentary that is involved in these events. This float will be in the parade on Monday. It shows the Pope with blown up condoms on a stick. Remember the current Pope, Benedict XVI, is German and recently made comments saying it was OK for gays to use condoms to prevent spread of disease. I think this float is belittling those comments.

This is another float that will be in the parade on Monday. Not sure what the message is here.

Almost every German at this Faschining celebration had on some sort of costume; really everything imaginable. These four guys with Jeff were dressed up as an airline crew. Jeff told the guy dressed like a flight attendant that he was prettier than most American flight attendants.

Hey, let's dress up as a herd of sheep.

A gaggle of witches waiting for the parade to start. Germans like to dress up as witches, trolls, goblins and other scary stuff.

In this video you can hear the loud "HELAU" yell and see the big sweeping wave to the crowd. The kids are yelling "HELAU" back to attract attention and try to get snacks and toys thrown their way.

These big head clowns are funny.

Here's one of those politically charged statements on a Fasching float. The scantily clad beauty here is Julia Klöckner, a very pretty politician here in Germany. She's portrayed here as one of the sirens on the Lorely rocks in the Rhine River that attract sailors to their doom. She's attracting some other local politician to a wreck on the rocks.

Germans do not mind looking like dorks when it's time to celebrate. In fact, the more dorks the more fun. This is one of the hundreds of bands in the parade.

This video shows another band that's not afraid to look a little foolish. Their smurfs and really not very good smurfs. Some bands went with the dorky, fool look, others were trolls, hideous gargoyles and vampires.

A lot of the big floats were pulled by tractors but wanted to give the appearance of something more grand. So this carnival club went with fake horses. It would seem to be easier to just get some real horses than to make those fake ones.

There were so many impressive uniforms in the parade. Here's a guidon barrier carrying the colors of a band. Impeccable uniform and that silver guidon just amazing.

Now this carnival club got it right. If you're going to use horses, use real horses.

The sign above this little float says, "Red wine in blood, is good for our veterans." You can see a bag of blood hanging above each guy. Amazing uniforms.

A big wine barrel with an inebriated old-world soldier on top, pulled by real horses. More glorification of alcohol consumption. Just disgusting.

I can't get enough of these.

This is to give you an idea of how tall some of these floats were and so that you can see the cool Fasching hats that most carnival clubs wore.

One last video of a big ass float. You can hear the "HELAU" again and this song, "Joanna," seemed to be one of the more popular songs during the parade. Here you can see what a nice job most carnival clubs did to cover the tractor pulling the float, making it part of the overall image.

Fasching is referred to as the "Fifth Season" here in Germany. I think it's kind of a celebration marking the end of the winter and the beginning of spring. And with the coming of spring all sorts of great times in Germany and across Europe are just around the corner.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Village Parking

Not surprisingly, parking can be quite an issue in cities, towns and villages throughout Germany and across Europe. Many of these streets aren't much wider than the horse carriage or farmers cart path that originally established its route hundreds of years in the past. Beyond parking, once a few cars are actually parked on these narrow streets driving becomes much more of a challenge. Here's what some of the village do to alleviate this problem.

This is a marked single parking spot. Many of the local villages mark these spots on some of the main streets that pass through their town. On those streets, if there's no painted parking spot available then you don't park on that street.

Looking down this street you can see a couple marked spots on each side of the street. When these parking spots are occupied you can see that drive along this street becomes pretty much a slalom course.

When all spots are filled and you meet an oncoming car someone's going to have to wait. Germans are very good about giving way when necessary. If the parked car is on your side of the street then you wait until the oncoming traffic passes. Then you swing around the parked cars and continue on your way. You can totally incense a German by disregarding this simple rule and bullying your way through before it's your turn.

Now, here's a parking criminal. Parking without a painted spot. Strictly verboten.