Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You fest, We fest, Let's Oktoberfest!

Last month, I went to Oktoberfest.  It's taken me a month to write about because, there's honestly a lot to process about Oktoberfest!

Living in Bavaria, and so near to Munich, taking part in Oktoberfest seemed a no brainer. I tagged along with my friend S (and fellow Vancouverite!) and her boyfriend M one fine Saturday afternoon. M used to work in Munich and part of his job used to be to entertain people during Oktoberfest. He was literally, the walking Wikipedia of Oktoberfest. Suffice to say, that thanks to them, I had the BEST first timer experience you could have.

First stop was at the Sheraton, S & M were staying overnight there. While they were checking in, I met this hottie in the glass case of the lobby. I decided he was coming home with me. I also bought one for S&M. I named them Hans and Franz. The lady behind the front desk did look at me oddly when I requested 2 male ducks (they had females but weren’t nearly as sexy as Hans & Franz) I had to tell her they were going to be brothers and not a couple.

It’s hard to beat Hans' sexiness

With Hans in tow, we headed to the Theresenwiese, basically the “fair grounds” where Oktoberfest is held. It was 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. In my first five minutes, I saw these people laying on the grass. It could be they were taking a nap, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t. Also, I saw a girl get rushed on a gurney with an IV in her arm. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the beer they served…

not napping...

Now, people make reservations a year in advance to get into the tents. And if you don’t have reservations, you have to be in the tents at the crack of dawn. However, M is a superstar and knows people. So bearing gifts, S&M and I got into a tent thru the backdoor, like rockstars. I was impressed.

The tents are massive and loud. Almost everyone is dressed up in lederhosen and drindls. In the center there is an oompa band and they play “ein prosit” about every 10 minutes. If you only drink when they play “ein prosit” you’ll be on the floor in an hour.

At Oktoberfest, each tent only sells the beer of the Keller (or the brewery) that owns the tent. Beer comes in one liter “mas” and the beer is about 7% alcohol. Crazy tourists think that they have drank only 3 beer, but that’s really 3 litres of beer. It goes without saying that the washroom lineups are massive.

Even though I’m a Canadian living in Bavaria, I haven’t been able to stomach beer since an incident involving sleeman’s and bubblegum when I was 20. So I was prepared to only be a spectator at Oktoberfest. Again, because M is a rockstar, the waitress friend of his managed to smuggle me in a bottle of prosecco. So I drank Prosecco from a mas.

The Germans take their beer drinking very seriously. Oktoberfest is basically a time where you sit. And drink. It’s too loud to have a real conversation. But they did think ahead and thought 6 hours of straight drinking might get old so they worked in some exercise. A mas cup easily weighs 2 lbs. So every time you take a sip, you’re burning calories and strengthening your biceps. Since it’s too loud to talk, you just sing. The Germans may complain a lot in real life, but get them drunk and they sing. Far better than the English if you ask me. Get them drunk and they just pick fights!

At this point, Hans was feeling neglected and thirsty so he got it on the action. Unfortunately, he overdid it a bit…

The man (cause you know it was) who invented the mas was smart to make it out of glass. You see, there is a lot of cleavage around thanks to the girlies in their drindls. As a matter of fact, it’s no small feat of defying gravity to get those babies up and out (I failed- even Victoria’s secret best is no match for the dirndl bra, noted for next year) The glass bottom of the mas cup also doubles as a magnifying glass. If you’re a guy and you’re smart, you sit yourself opposite a girl with nice cleavage and you drink. Every time you take a sip, her cleavage is magnified in the bottom of your glass. As a result, every time I had a sip of my prosecco, I saw S’s cleavage. I’d show you a picture, but I’m pretty sure she’d kill me.

You’d think that Oktoberfest is a beer celebration and you’d be wrong. It’s in fact a wedding reception. The fact that the wedding reception is 17 days long and has been celebrated for 200 years is beside the point. There is lots of Oktoberfest food to be sampled, the most famous being “hahnchen” or roast chicken, but I was too busy people watching and drinking prosecco to take part in any of that.

The evening ended with me taking the train back to Nurnberg and this was arguably the best crowd watching if uncomfortable 2 hours I spent. I’ve never seen a train so full in my life. I was standing in the compartment between the two trains with 30 of my new closest drunk friends. At one stop, a young fellow couldn’t take it and stopped to vomit at the stop. He clearly took too long, because the train left without him. One couple was standing so close to each other, they decided they may as well make out. Despite the fact I was 20 years older than them, I think they may have wanted me in on the action. Or at least that’s the impression I got every the guy tried to grab the girl's breast and mistakenly (or drunkenly) tried to reach for mine.

I’m still reeling from my Oktoberfest experience and I still don’t get the point of dressing up and drinking. I guess it’s sort of like Halloween except everyone’s wearing the same costume. I do recommend it though as a once in a lifetime experience, but be careful, don’t fall asleep napping on the hill, rumour has it your wallet has a high chance of getting stolen during your nap!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I traded this for that

Before- Last year, my commute to work was 10 minutes and looked like this

This year, my commute is 40 minutes and looks like this

9 months ago, I moved from Vancouver, Canada (we like to call it a world class city since we hosted the Olympics even though we riot the city when we lose big hockey games) to Nurnberg, Germany (famous for cookies and WWII trials). My commute went from a 10 minute drive involving a bridge and ocean inlet and views of mountains. Now, my commute is a full half an hour longer (to be fair it is usually 30 minutes, but because of never ending German road work is 40 minutes) and involves driving thru garlicland (the literal translation) and being stuck behind tractors.

While I was stuck behind a tractor this morning (I had time to kill since he was only going 10 km/h) I got to thinking… “how was it again that I traded in that for this?” add to the mix a tough settling in phase and I was going to start to look crazy by arguing with myself. In my car. On the way to work. Behind a tractor. But then it hit me. No not the tractor! The reason I moved here. I WANTED A CHALLENGE. Sure, I came from a world class city that was beautiful and had a decent job with a great company but after 7 years of feeling “comfortable” I decided I needed to shake it up. There was nothing WRONG with my life nor was I running from the law anything and to be fair a lot of people thought I was crazy for leaving it. But I was stagnant. And I wanted to be stagnant no more.

If I did the math, it seemed like a perfectly logical move. Stagnant at work, stagnant in my personal life, no financial or relationship ties and a big world class company comes calling for my skills and moves me (and my dog Lucy) across the world.

So yeah, some things are and have been 100 times more difficult than I could have ever imagined, but at the end of the day, I got what I wanted. A challenge. So who am I to complain… right? Then again, I do live in Germany which is essentially the birth of complaining so if I didn’t have something to complain about, there’d be something wrong with me!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Great Cockblock

When people ask me what life is like in Germany, it’s hard to put it into words. There’s no ONE thing that makes me want to pull out my hair and sometimes life here can be pleasant. But if I had to sum it up, it’s that daily life is one. Big. Cockblock. For those unfamiliar with the term, wikipedia defines cockblocking as:

"To cockblock is to prevent another person, intentionally or inadvertently, from having sexual intercourse with a third party. A cockblock, or cockblocker is a person who engages in such obstruction or intervention. According to an article by a freelance writer, Joshua Bernstein, in the New York Press, cockblocking is a "foul act in which someone interferes with another’s attempt at finding happiness inside someone’s pants."

 It's kind of like a road block, but not for roads. After thinking about it, I think the cockblock is the perfect metaphor for life in Germany and I’ve even broken it down into different types:

The language cockblock-

First and foremost. This is obvious. If you can’t understand what’s going on, that’s an instant cockblock. To be fair, I did expect this to happen and it obviously happens daily. I get language cockblocked at work (though this one really isn’t necessary because we are supposed to work in English, but people forget) cockblocked by mail, phone calls, newspapers, you name it. After nine months, I accept this cockblock, that’s just part of life in another country.

The bureaucratic cockblock-

Hands down, this is one of the most frustrating things about living in German. Heck, even the Germans complain about the bureaucratic cockblock (just maybe in different words…)

Example 1- my collegue’s computer died. In order for her to get a new one, she had to find a form no one knew where to find, get said form signed by 4 varying levels of managers and wait. That was 6 weeks ago. It turned out it was the wrong form (where no one knew where to find) and now she has to repeat the process.

Example 2- My famous plumbing experience. In order to get workers to come, the hausmeister had to call the project management company, they then sent out a guy to do an estimate, the guy reported back to the project management company, the project management company told the insurance company, the insurance company approved each repair and told the project management company, the project management company called the contractor, the contractor called the hausmeister, the hausmeister called the landlord, the landlord called me. Now, this process had to be done for 6 different workers. I’m still not ok with the fact it took 3 months, but I understand.

Example 3- I had to get a form signed by work. I needed to get pictures done, my manager to sign it and some lackey in some office to sign the paperwork. Now, of course there was no procedure that told me the order of preference they wanted these down. So I found myself at the lackey’s office 3 different times. Instead of him telling me, get picture, fill in form, get manager to sign, see me at the beginning, it was a guessing game.

Example 4- Cancelling contracts. German rules around contracts are extremely bizarre. If someone (ie a telemarketer) were to call you, you could unwittingly get into a contract (especially if you’re dealing with said language cockblock) But getting OUT of a contract in Germany is a whole thing onto itself. In order to cancel most contracts, you need 3 months written notice (there’s even a website- www.abo.de which has preprinted forms ready and tips on how to do it) If it’s a YEARLY contract, you have a window of about a month to send in your 3 month written notice. I’ve heard nothing but cockblock stories about contract cancellations and I’m dreading my first one.

Example 5- Though I hear this is a lot better than ten years ago, in Bavaria, they still mix the whole church and state thing. This is great for holidays, we get 12 of them a year, but you can’t do much on the holidays. Nothing’s allowed to be open. Nor are stores allowed to be open on Sundays or after 8pm. Home from a late night of work and out of groceries? You’re cockblocked.

The physical cockblock-

This sounds bizarre especially for such a first world country and I still can’t understand why it is, but it somehow is. There exists a sort of physical cockblock in this country. I’ve described this to German collegues and friends and though no one was consciously away of it, they eagerly agree it exists. Case in point:

When there is a sidewalk and a group of people are walking, they will walk in a line across the width of the sidewalk. Courtesy would indicate that if you are 4 or 5 abreast on the sidewalk and a person is heading your way, you part to let them pass. Not here. You’ll get pushed off the sidewalk. I call it sidewalk mafia mentality. It’s the same deal for elevators and trains, courtesy indicates let people off, before letting people in. Not here. S/he who is the pushiest wins.

After nine months of the physical cockblock, I’ve stopped being mad. It’s obviously not part of the culture and if people aren’t aware of this, it’s hard to be mad for something that’s not inherent. But it still annoys the shit out of me!

On their own, none of these is a dealbreaker and hardly the end of the world. However, dealing with cockblocks daily is just part of every day life here. The next time I’m at a bar and I see a guy get cockblocked, I might raise my glass to him. I know what it’s like, if in a different way!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fun with German!

It’s been nearly 9 months now that I’ve been living in Germany and my German is starting to improve. Don’t get me wrong, I can hardly have a conversation in German, but I can make appointments in German- on the phone, without humiliating myself and I don’t break out in a cold sweat at the grocery store when they ask me one of the 5 different ways of either “Is that all?” and “do you need a bag”.

Despite my noticeable improvements, I still sound like a 4 year old and I do primarily live in the now. Not because I read some 70’s hippie book of living in the now, but because my verb conjugating skills only extend to the present tense.

Like when I learned Spanish, I’m finding German vocabulary “fairly” reasonable to learn. Even if I’ve never heard the word before, I can make a reasonable assumption of what it means, a lot of the nouns seem to be similar to either English or French or have a root from another German word. Sentence structure has been my enemy though. The sentence structure is not at all like any language I know and the fact that two verbs can (mostly) not be together is weird. One verb seems to always be at the end. It’s like when they were developing the language, they decided that the listener should pay full attention to the speaker and wait til the end of the sentence to know it’s meaning. Why else would you have a verb at the end? Makes no sense!

Speaking of whomever developed the German language, I do know they must have had a bit of a sense of humour, because some of the words are cute. Herewith, are some of my favorite German words I’ve crossed paths withs….

German Word               English Word                         Literal Translation

Auspuf                           exhaust pipe                          out puff

Handshuhe                    Glove                                     hand shoe (not  exactly rocket science!)

Krankenschwester        Nurse                                    sick sister

Operlipbart                     Mustache                            Over lip beard

Brustwarze                      nipples                                breast warts (more creepy than cute!)

Then there are just instance where there might not be a literal translation, but it’s wrong. Case in point, the picture above. I knew that saft was juice, but when I saw dick saft? Well, it was just creepy. I’ve since discovered that dick is thick. And so, it’s thick juice. But still, it seemed far more perverted at first glance!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The independent women’s conundrum

Recently, I was having a conversation with a single guy friend of mine who was saying that it was harder than ever to figure out women these days and argued that a generation or two ago, it was easier, because men and women had more clearly defined roles. It’s true, back in the days of my grandparents, men were expected to be the providers and women the caretakers. Then came my mother’s generation and the women’s revolution. Women started breaking away from tradition and hung up their apron strings (at least during the day) for jobs. Thanks to the hard work of the women of my mother’s generation, I grew up believing I could be and do anything I wanted thanks to the cracking of the old glass ceiling and equal opportunity laws.

Perhaps because I was a product of a single parent home, I grew up believing that I didn’t “need” a man for anything. My example was my mother who raised 3 kids, worked all day and would rewire the vacuum when sparks came out of the old plug and knew how to install a dimmer switch.

Enter my adult dating life. I’ve been dating since I was 18 and to say I haven’t been successful is an understatement. Could it be because I don't “need” someone, this vibe is somehow picked up by everyone I’ve dated? Interestingly, when I was an emotional basket case in my 20’s, this somehow seemed more attractive to guys. Were they the wrong guys? Or was it just that because men haven’t (arguably) gone thru such a major role shift, that they still think their place is that of the role of provider?

There’s a lot being written these days about modern men and they are struggling to find their place. Before, being a middle aged white guy was the dream. You would almost be assured a good job (white or blue collar), have a nice home in the suburb with a stay at home wife and 2.2 kids. Us women have embraced our role shift of the past 40 years, but have men?

For most of my adult life, I’ve lived independently and felt fairly proud of myself for doing it all “without the help of a man”. However, what I’m starting to realize at the ripe age of 38, is that just because I CAN do it alone, doesn’t mean I WANT to do it alone. For me, moving to Europe was my eureka moment. I had moved several times and set up apartments before, but this time, it really hit me. It.is.really.hard.to.do.it.alone. And suddenly, I realized how with a partner, dragging ikea furniture up 3 flights of stairs, calling help lines and hanging up pictures could be at least a little bit easier. Sure, I didn’t NEED someone, but god, wouldn’t it be damn nice to have someone help you with that damn ikea cabinet you just dragged up three flights of stairs only to watch the box break from the top of the stairs and see all that chipboard go sliding back down to the bottom…

I’m not looking at this shift of belief as “giving in” or going back to tradition. There’s no way I want to be barefoot and pregnant wearing an apron and greeting my man with a manhattan and a kiss when he walks in the door, but I am willing to relinquish some of my…independence. God, did I just write that? Giving up the independence that was so hard won? Ok, maybe not give up independence so much as share. Maybe the ideal modern relationship isn’t so much based on traditional roles but more like a business negotiation. Maybe these days, once you get past all the lust and wooing it goes a little something like this:

Partner 1: “ok, so I hate dishes, but I’ll cook”

Partner 2: “Perfect, I hate cooking. How about laundry”

Partner 1 “I’m good with laundry, if you look after car maintenance”

And so on and so forth… It’s hardly a romantic approach, but I can go on and say how I think romance is dead anyways. I am of course focusing on the practical approach to things. Us independent women may gag at Hollywood romance movies and though we don’t “need” someone who can argue that having someone you look forward to coming home to is a great feeling.

All I know is that for me, moving halfway across the world has softened up my views on being the strong independent female, and yes, I CAN do it alone, but god, it would be so much better to have someone around who in addition to being a great companion can install a dimmer switch.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Heaven is a place on earth...

Last month, one of my best girl friends, J, was in Italy for trade shows.  Since she was there, we decided to meet up and do a mini vacation together.  Since hearing about it ten years ago, Cinque Terre has been a dream destination of mine.  Surprisingly, Cinque Terre is "relatively" untouched.  It's a UN heritage protected zone and since the write wrote about Cinque Terre a few years ago, it has gotten a lot more popular, though it still has kept it's charm.  In Cinque Terre there's not a single chain restaurant or hotel.  All of them appear to be small locally owned places.  I had high expectations of Cinque Terre and I'm happy to report, it lived up to them.

J and I are unconvential tourists, so of course, we did it unconventionally.  Typically, most people start at the first town from La Spezia: Riomaggiore and make their way to Monterosso.  But the distances are so short between the towns that by train it takes no more than 20 minutes from Monterosso to Riomaggiore and you can even hike in between the towns.  Though hiking between the towns sounds cute and charming (and mostly is) unless you want to feel like a donkey, opt for leaving your luggage at a home base, between the heat, steepness of some of the terrain and incredible views, lugging luggage is going to be the last thing on your mind.

 For the first two nights, we stayed just outside the five lands up in the hills above Framura.  We stayed at a family run small b&b above the hills of Framura

Each of the towns has their own charm.  For instance, Mannarola is best for beaching.  Most of the town is along the ocean and for less than 10 euros, you can rent a chair and umbrella and spend a day on the medditeranean. 

Vernazza, is the most commercial of the town and probably the easiest accesible.  You can walk from the train station to the harbour in no time and pass thru all the shops (Vernazza has the best shopping)

We didn't make it to the middle town: Corniglia, for a number of reasons.  We ran out of time and it was the hardest to access.  The trail between Manarola and Corniglia (the easiest way to get to Corniglia) was washed out and we didn't want to spend the effort to find another way to get there!

Manarola had the biggest harbour, but the town felt a bit disjointed.  The town was divided into upper and lower parts but we enjoyed some good eats along the lower parts near the harbour where there were some amazing sunsets!

For 3 nights, we rented an apartment in Riomaggiore.  It was high on the hills above town (read- lots of stairs up) had 2 balconies and a tremendous view of the medditeranean.

On our last night in Riomaggiore, we experienced quite possibly one of the more random sights... it was an end of season street party in front of the train station and the town put on a foam party.  Having never been to a rave before, this was a new experience for me. So when I was all the sub 10 year olds playing in the foam, I was the first adult to join in.  Many other adults, happily followed me and there we were.  In the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth, throwing foam (and having foam thrown at us) by 8 years olds. 

It was a sad place to leave and a month later, J and I still envy the feelings of peace and beauty we had!


* Book your hotels ahead.  There aren't many of them and they book quickly.
* Have dinner at Pie de Ma in Riomaggiore.  Every night there is a chef's menu and the sunsets from the cliff are amazing.
* Hike the trails.  The most strenuous one is from Monterosso to Vernazza (though if you do it from Vernazza you avoid crazy narrow steep stairs that will make you feel like a donkey)

* Don't go in July and August unless you find great comfort in crowds.  One day in Riomaggiore, a cruise ship day tour was in town and I got a feel for what it was like and all I can say is: DON'T DO IT!
* As charming as it sounds, leave the luggage behind.  With such easy access, stay at one or two spots and travel between them.

The Vernazza Harbour

Monterroso al Mare from the water

Doing the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.  The hiking boots are

because of this sign! We wanted to be ironic and hike in dresses.  But we're still practical, so we had proper footwear!

The view of Vernazza on the hike to Monterosso

Along the hike was this cute old man playing tunes on his sax

The view of Monterosso halfway thru the hike

After our hike, some much needed beach time

The hills above Monterosso

the foam party in Riomaggiore
 Just too phallic for words...

then the adults joined in.

One of the prettier and easier hikes.  From Riomaggiore to Manarolo on the Via Del Amore (way of love)
 A gorgeous stop on the hike for a capuccino or gelato

On The Via Del Amore, couples come to "seal" their love.  All of those things hanging on the rail are locks.  Couple come to seal their love with locks.  The cynic in me wonders if they come back and cut the locks off if the love doesn't work out...