Sunday, May 11, 2014

Traditional German Dishes

When I visited my host family for Easter in Göttingen, I got to experience once again the quality home-cooked meals that I've missed so much.

Champignon Mushrooms in an Herb Sauce

Fried Zucchini with Tsatziki

Typical Dinner

Rhubarb Cake with Icing
Now that I'm back in Freiburg, I've made some traditional German meals myself, such as Kartoffelpuffer and Semmelknödel, and some more exotic dishes such as Fattoush. The recipes are fairly simple; you can find them below.
Semmelknödel (Breaded dumplings)

1-2 eggs
100 g Flour, and a bit extra
250 g Semolina*
200 g bread crumbs**
200 g ham bits***
an onion, finely chopped
chicken/beef/vegetable broth/stock
salt and pepper to taste

* Semolina is important for the consistency and texture of the dumplings
** It's best to use stale bread - it tastes better and it has very few other purposes
*** We don't quite have an exact equivalent to Speckwürfel in America - or at least, it's hard to find. Here is what it looks like:

I think the best substitute is lightly cooked ham, which you then break into small pieces. Bacon bits could also work as well.

In a medium sized bowl, mix the semolina and broth well and let stand for ca. 5-10 minutes. In a large bowl, mix all other ingredients. After letting the semolina mix stand, fold it into the other mixture and combine thoroughly.

Start heating a large pot of water in which you can imagine 4-5 fairly large dumplings can swim around comfortably. Next roll the dough into fairly large balls, coating them with flour as necessary. When the water has started boiling, place the dumplings in the pot and cook them for approx. 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes, they should be ready to enjoy with some herb sauce, Quark and some potato salad.

Kartoffelpuffer (Potato pancakes)
1 kg potatoes
1 onion
1-2 eggs
100 g Flour
salt to taste

Peel the potatoes and then grate the potatoes into a large bowl. Then grate the onion into the bowl. Be warned: you will cry; it's even worse than cutting onions! Add the flour, salt and egg and mix thoroughly.
Heat a pan with oil or butter over medium heat. Then cook the potato pancakes for about 2 minutes on each side, until browned, much like you'd cook a pancake. These are traditionally served with Kräuterquark (Quark mixed with various greens and herbs), or with apple sauce.

Fattoush - Lebanese Salad
1 head of lettuce
2 slices pita bread
3 large tomatoes, chopped into quarter size pieces
1 cucumber, chopped
2-3 radishes, chopped
2-3 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup of mint
1/2 cup fresh parsley
olive oil
tablespoon sumac*

teaspoon sumac*
juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

* sumac is a reddish purple powdery spice found in any Middle Eastern market.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius (approx. 390 degrees F). Cut pita bread into small strips, coat with oil and place generously on a cookie sheet. Bake for approx. 10-15 minutes, until slightly browned and crispy. Mix all other salad ingredients and then top with toasted pita bread. Top with sumac dressing and enjoy.

Yogurt with Honey & Raspberries

This is a really simple and tasty breakfast that's perfect when you're feeling too lazy to make yourself a meal but you still want something with substance. Just mix liquid honey with yogurt and top with nutmeg, cinnamon and raspberries - or whatever other fruit you'd enjoy.

Almond-cranberry Sauce over Brie

This is a really simple appetizer that has never failed to impress people before. I've made something very similar to this is the states, so I thought since Massachusetts is well-known for its cranberries, it would be a good dish to introduce to some of my German friends. Of course, I used cranberries that were likely imported from eastern Europe, where production is also very high and where the cranberries have a slightly different taste.

1 block Brie
100 g almonds
200 g cranberries
raspberries to top

Preheat oven to around 175 degrees Celsius (350 fahrenheit). Bake brie in a baking pan for just under 10 minutes, so that the cheese is soft but has not yet started to melt. Remove from the oven and top with cranberries. Continue baking for another 5-6 minutes, then remove from oven and add the almonds and raspberries. Keep warm and serve it with some crackers.

Eurovision Song Contest 2014

Each year over 30 European countries and a few neighboring countries among the European Broadcasting Union compete in an international song contest. Each participating nation submits a song, which is then performed live at the contest.

This year's Eurovision Song Contest is another stride forward for the LGBT community, with the landslide victory of Conchita Wurst (Tom Neuwirth), an Austrian transvestite artist, with his song Rise Like a Phoenix. His performance met widespread controversy, especially in much of eastern Europe. After the announcement in September 2013 that Wurst would represent Austria, the Belarus Ministry of Information received a petition to edit Austria's performance out of its broadcast. However, despite this opposition, Austria received a significant number of votes from many conservative countries such as Azerbaijan and Armenia, where LGBT rights remain taboo.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Deutsche Bahn Passenger Rights

Know your rights when travelling with the Deutsche Bahn. Many people do not realize that they may be able to request reimbursement in the case of a delay. If you miss a connection due to even a 5 minute delay, you may be eligible for as much as 50% of the cost of your tickets. The following link will direct you to the appropriate form: Fahrgastrechte bei der Deutschen Bahn

I learned about this the hard way. We had planned an overnight train ride from Freiburg to Budapest with stops in Munich and Salzburg. The train from Freiburg to Munich had approximately an hour delay, which meant we missed our train to Salzburg. In theory, the Deutsche Bahn is responsible for finding and paying for a reasonably priced hotel and a taxi ride to get to that hotel, in addition to reimbursing a portion of the travel costs. Unfortunately, it was the night of the Football Champions League Munich vs. Manchester United; in other words, every single hotel and hostel was fully booked within 50 km of the city. Although the Deutsche Bahn was still obligated to find us accommodation, they didn't. They also refused to give us internet access and would not pay for a locker for our belongings. So we had to "sleep" on the ground in the cold train station that night.

At the end of my trip, when I returned from Münster to Freiburg, there was also a delay. I had to change connections in Düsseldorf and I was expected to arrive in Freiburg at 15:59. Due to the delay of the first train, I knew I wasn't able to make my connection in Düsseldorf. So I was given a new route: From Münster to Cologne, then to Mannheim and then to Freiburg. I arrived in Freiburg at 16:59, exactly an hour late, which means I was eligible for a 25% reimbursement on my ticket. I was also lucky enough to see the Cologne Cathedral, in the 1880s the tallest building in the world, which sits right outside of the main train station.

If a delay of even 1 minute causes you to be more than an hour late to your destination, then send in this form (Fahrgastrechte bei der Deutschen Bahn) along with a copy of your tickets and any additional proof of your arrival time in order to receive a 25% compensation on the costs of your tickets (excluding tickets valued at 4 euros or less). If you arrive at least 1 hour and 30 minutes after your expected arrival time, then you will receive a 50% reimbursement.

And have a nice, safe trip with or without the Deutsche Bahn.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Mitfahrgelegenheit (Mfg., lit. opportunity to ride with s.o.), is a very convenient and cost-effective way of travelling between European cities. I would describe it as registered hitch-hiking. Just log into and enter your start and destination, and you're likely to find someone who will be able to take you along. It's mostly very safe, because people are required to register before offering rides, but users should make sure only to ride with people who have confirmed their phone number, email address, and/or Facebook account and have a reasonable picture to their profile. Also make sure that the meeting location is safe, central and easy to find.

I had no reasonably priced means of getting from Geneva back to Freiburg. So I decided to ride with a woman who works at CERN in Geneva. She was on her way back home to Germany and was offering rides for only 20 Euros. Since she wasn't headed to Freiburg, I decided to get off in Zürich, where I could get a Fernbus back to Freiburg. I was even able to spend a couple hours in Zürich! And I had the pleasure of speaking with an engineer from CERN.

Mein Fernbus

If your traveling throughout Germany and its surrounding countries and are looking to pay a fraction of the cost of a train ride with the Deutsche Bahn, look no further than Mein Fernbus. Until 2013, the Deutsche Bahn had monopolized public long-distance inter-city transportation by land within Germany. Following the Passenger Transportation Act (Personenbefördersgesetz) in 1964, no long-distance bus lines can compete with the existing German rail or bus lines, which enabled the Deutsche Bahn to successfully monopolize this service for nearly 40 years. Then, with the help of the internet, students offered trips with rented buses so that people were able to travel around Germany inexpensively. The Deutsche Bahn was not very pleased and brought the students to court. It was then decided that the Fernbusse could not be considered bus lines, because they did not have regular departure and arrival times. The case even gave Mein Fernbus so much publicity, that they were able to develop their company further. Now, hundreds of Fernbusse travel throughout Germany regularly, at only a fraction of the price the Deutsche Bahn would charge.

I took a Fernbus from Zürich (CH) to Freiburg (DE) for only 8 Euros, whereas the Deutsche Bahn would have charged me nearly 60 Euros...The driver in the advertisement above was actually my driver, if I'm not mistaken. He was great! I highly recommend travelling with these buses if you want to get around Germany.

The Undercut

The Undercut hairstyle has been recently gaining popularity among men in the USA. In Germany, every other guy I see has this haircut. On the side, the hair is much shorter than on top, where its usually styled upward or toward the side. I decided I would give this "European" hairstyle a try.

I usually don't like taking pictures of myself, but I was mostly satisfied with my new haircut. The woman who cut my hair recently came from Romania and we had a fascinating conversation about our travels to Freiburg.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Orientation in the Black Forest

This weekend the UMass exchange group took a trip into the Black Forest. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, everything from the landscape to the 400-year-old farm we toured to the sunrise over the hilltops to our midnight stargazing. For UMass students who plan on studying in Baden-Württemberg, make sure to hike back after the orientation weekend is complete. You'll get some of the best pictures. Also don't touch the harmless-looking wires on the side of the road unless you like getting shocked.
Here are some of the pictures I took with my phone: