Sankt Nikolaus and Krampus

Today is December 6th, a day awaited by all children and also all those children at heart in Germany. The first Christmas Markets have already opened. Grandmothers, mums and all those who enjoy it, have started baking Christmas cookies and cakes. We could say that Christmas is in the air…

Who is or who was Saint Nicholas? Nicholas was born around the third century A.D. in a territory that used to be Greece, and that is nowadays Turkey.  He was from a wealthy family though his parents died when he was still young. He was named bishop of Myra and he dedicated his wealth and life to help the suffering. If you want tor read more about him, follow this link http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/.

Saint Nicholas is not only well known in Europe, but also in the US in cities that have a big German heritage, such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, among others.

In Southern Germany not only the good ones will get a present from “Nikolaus”, as he is known over here. No, those who have been bad or naughty will start sweating as St. Nikolaus doesn`t always come alone. He has a “partner” called “Krampus”. He is sometimes represented as a demon with a big sack where he packs children who have been bad and takes them away. I can imagine that having such a figure at your door will make you regret a lot, if not all of your sins in the past year.  And yes, it is a tradition in Southern Germany to engage someone to play the part of  Saint Nicholas and to ring at your doorbell. Parents with especially “difficult” children can also engage a “Krampus”… He would also be good for some difficult partners, don’t you agree? 😉

Krampus

Krampus, one of his representations

There is even a parade dedicated to this character, in an Austrian town at the Wörthersee.

To celebrate Saint Nicholas, families gather on the eve of the 6th in the warmth of their homes sharing cookies, a steamy tea and some “Glühwein” (spiced wine) for the adults.

There are many different recipes to prepare your own spiced wine. I would say that the classical ingredients for a red one are a 1 liter of a not very dry wine, an organic lemon sliced, some cinnamon ( 2 pieces of bark), 3 cloves, sugar white or brown, some cardamon.  You can also add orange peel and some aniseed, if you like. Add the ingredients to the wine, heat it, but be careful not to boil it, and leave it warm for an hour or so. Ready, enjoy!

Some families will be awaiting the visit of Nikolaus with his presents singing the Nikolaus song:  “Lass uns froh und munter sein…”, which would be more or less “Let us be happy and cheerful…”

Other families will leave a shoe with a small letter for him at the main door. On the next morning, the morning of the 6th, a plate with “Lebkuchen” or gingerbread  cookies, oranges, clementines, nuts, a chocolate Nikolaus and maybe some extra present for the little ones.

Nikolaus plate

Brought by Nikolaus

 

Especially on the weekends, the Christmas markets with all their smells, lights and charm are very attractive. There are cities famous for their markets, such as Nürnberg. You may book a tour to visit the Christmas market. However, Munich has also got a wide selection of markets, from the very commercial and well known one at Marienplatz to smaller ones. Almost every neighborhood has got its own. There is avery nice one, specialized in handcrafts at the Münchner Freiheit, which is a square in the neighborhood Schwabing with the same named underground station. There you can find exclusive handmade jewelry, lamps, paintings, knitted clothing and very good food.

There is another very popular Christmas market downtown, called Medieval Market. The artisans sell their handmade products, such as leather goods, wood, ceramics and of course, mouth watering specialties, such as oven baked bread with sour cream and scallions.

Other smaller ones are the “Weihnachtsmarkt” in Haidhausen, next to the S-Bahn, or suburban station “Rosenheimer Straße. You can eat a delicious 1m “Bratwurst” or sausage and drink some hot honey wine from the horn, the same way the “Barbarians” did… There is a very small one, but not a secret one anymore, in the “Residence” yard. They mostly have food and spiced wine booths, and while enjoying your hot beverage you can listen to live Christmas music playing.

One of my favorites is the “Weihnachtsmarkt” at the Rotkreutzplatz, a square in Munich West. Here you can buy very nice candles, stoneware and wooden toys and before you get real cold, you can drink some “Glühwein”, too.

The last market I’m mentioning is the “Tollwood”. It is not only a market,it is really called “Tollwood Winter Festival” and you can find it in the same area where the famous Oktoberfest takes place, in the “Theresienswiese” with direct underground access.  It’s nice to visit this place when it’s dark and snowing. As you may remember, it’s already dark at 4.30 pm However, on Saturday and Friday evenings you may rather stay home or go somewhere else because it will be very crowded. The good thing about it, you will forget everything about the cold weather, especially in the tents 😉 Another important thing to remember, most of the Christmas  markets will be open till 8 o’clock, except Tollwood.

Tollwood

The Tollwood Christmas market

 

I know that this tradition is now very popular all over the world, so look for the Christmas market close to your place and get some Christmas inspiration 🙂

 

Advertisements

Bio and organic… Really?

Nowadays we ask each other, if what we are eating is really what it is supposed to be. Some of us try to be fair to ecology and look for sustainable products, avoid eating meat and only buy “bio” or organic products… What would my grandmother think, if she could see that everything healthy is now ‘bio’? Aren’t we all biological beings, that is, ‘bio’?

What is Organic? Lets see the definition of http://usorganicproducts.com/why-us-organic: “Under USDA regulations, “organic” is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used.” Aha, now we know a little bit more.

Doing the groceries week after week we encounter different types of organic or bio products in every supermarket, in a food discounter, a standard one or in the specialized, certified organic supermarket. If we are looking, for  example, for: eggs. Every place has an enormous amount of organic eggs. Is this possible?  How come? Where do these happy, well fed chicken live? If never seen such a farm while traveling around, and judging by the tons of eggs that are sold, there should be many of those farms everywhere. Close to where I live, there are some ‘Bio-Bauernhöfe’ or organic farms. Some of them sell not only season vegetables, but also eggs, honey and sometimes even pork or beef. How do I know, if the eggs are really organic? In German supermarkets eggs are all and each of them marked with a seal with a series of numbers. These ciphers show a 0 (zero) for organic eggs in the first place, followed by other digits that encode the country they are from and even the original farm or producer. In this way, as a customer you can decide, if you stick to national German eggs or if you buy some foreign eggs… (http://www.deutsche-eier.info/das-ei/erzeugercode/).

The prices are a little higher than for non organic eggs, but they are still affordable.

bio_eier

German bio or organic eggs

 

Trying to buy some ecological correct chicken or organic or bio chicken in the supermarket will leave you quite breathless. I have seen half a chicken breast for up to 10 €, so that for a whole chicken breast you’d easily pay about 20€! There is even an online shop for organic chicken. http://www.biohaehnchen.de/Bio-Haehnchenbrust

Are bio turkey or chicken really happier and healthier than their counterparts?

In this article, http://www.biohandel-online.de/cgi-bin/mobil/display.pl?file=/public/HTML/2013/mb20131201.shtml, in the magazine biohandel.de, they reached the conclusion that there is no perfect type of bio turkey. The breeds used for the food industry are very prone to illnesses and are of course treated with antibiotics. There are some specifications for the bio animals, for example, they are allowed to medicate the bio turkeys only once in their life… However, the dosage will then be prolonged as much as possible. And chicken? Well, you may draw your own conclusions. I try to be conscious and I buy ‘bio’ chicken, if we ever want to eat some meat. However, last week while looking at the 10€ for the mini chicken breast, I was thinking that this chicken was maybe one of the Royal organic chicken of Prince Charles in England!

I know, some of you may be thinking that the solution is to stop eating meat and convert to a strict vegetarian diet… Mmmm, are all the biological vegetables we find in the supermarket really ‘safe’ and politically correct ;-)? Nowadays, every supermarket has its own ‘bio’ brand, always with a very green etiquette and biological sounding name, e.g. BioBio or simply Bio… Are they to be trusted? I doubt it. Bio or organic grown products are usually more expensive. Searching some web sites for tests and opinions, I found this article from one of the official TV channels in the north of Germany, the NRD. After having tested bio products in discount supermarkets, which are very popular over here, they came to the conclusion that their bio brands are ok. They taste better than conventional products and are less expensive than the products from exclusively organic-supermarkets. Are there any negative points? Of course, the long transportation having products traveling thousands of miles from other continents to get to our racks and the packing. Most of these bio-vegetables or fruits are packed in plastic trays covered with plastic… Really ecological or bio?

Bio spinach

Organic spinach from Italy

 

If we start questioning our ‘modern’ way of life… we wouldn’t be here anymore. We are more than 7 billion people on this planet. How can we get organic food for everyone? If I remember that there are millions of people suffering famine, without water and no medical care to be able to grow healthy. I consider our ‘first world problems’ and lose my appetite.

Have a healthy week!

Tying the knot

For many the wedding day is the most expected day in their lives, it’s the day a dream comes true. It is the day when you officially commit to your best half. Every culture has its own traditions and rites. Rites are more often observed on such a day than in normal life. We all want to show our best face and share joy and happiness with the guests.

I remember the weddings of my older cousins, lots of planning, deciding and excitement. Who will be invited to the religious ceremony and who will attend the party afterwards? Where is it going to take place? Coming from a country where the extended family plays a very important role, weddings are usually very big events. However, the longest weddings I have attended to have been German weddings. I know that Indian weddings may last for days and that brings to my mind the funny film ‘Monsoon Wedding‘ where bride and groom hadn’t met before. Their marriage had been arranged by their parents. Although this doesn’t sound very nice to our “Western” ears, I sometimes wonder if this method is not better that our ‘marrying the love of our lives’.

Monsoon Wedding

Film “Monsoon Wedding”

Thinking of the weddings I have attended in Mexico City, I remember every one of them as being quite formal, except mine. Everything designed and well combined. They usually started with a religious ceremony in church and then a big meal in a luxurious restaurant. After the meal, mostly a dinner, live music was played and everybody would dance. Sometime later, the just married couple would cut the Wedding cake and shorty afterwards the party was over. Weddings in small towns or villages in Mexico are very different, depending on the geographical location. In general, they last longer and may even include the whole village to celebrate the marriage.

In the city there is always a dress code that should be followed unless you would like to stand out… I remember that for the wedding of one of my brothers, one of the younger ones who had been working in Europe, came into the restaurant, that was a colonial hacienda with a big garden, in a kilt. It was quite a surprise! When the dancing started the nicest couple was my brother in his kilt dancing with my daughter, at that time 5 years old, in her Bavarian dress, a dirndl. They were very sweet!

In Sao Paulo, women like to dress feminine and elegant, I would say, very sexy, with deep décolletés and very high heels. However, many of them are catholics and want to get the blessings in church. Therefore, the witty Brazilians always have a box with all kind of shawls in different colors to lend to the ladies while attending the mass. Clever, isn’t is? Another great idea for ladies wearing really high heels is that the couple orders many pairs of flip-flops in all sizes to be given out when the dance is starting. The flip flops or thong sandals may be designed in the colors used for the flower bouquets and the table decoration and they can even have the name of both printed, for example Pedro e Leopoldina 😉

I have also attended a couple of traditional weddings in Bavaria. Lots of food and tons of cake! Weddings over here are either Bavarian or simply different. I like to see the families in their traditional costumes, called Trachten in German. For younger men shorter Lederhose and knee high Lederhose for older men. In these occasions women are the ones wearing the longer dresses! There are also long ‘Dirndl‘, that’s the name of the traditional dress for ladies, middle ones and the very short ones, very popular among young girls, and men… All men, at least all Bavarian men, will agree that a Dirndl is the best way to underline a woman’s treasures… for the dirndl women usually wear a special brassiere called “balconette” that offers a very good support and forms a perfect décolleté… a little bit like a balcony…  Traditional clothing has become so popular that during the world’s famous Oktoberfest it is now normal to see Asians, South European, African Americans wearing a dirndl, an imagine, even Mexicans!   I’m mentioning those origins, because it is difficult to distinguish a blond Swedish or Austrian from a blond German girl, that’s why, me, a small dark haired Mexican looks very different indeed…(Me 😉 )

That to the dress code. Other German weddings are not that strict regarding the dress code. You can wear what you want, a little bit more elegant than everyday… and I think that sometimes that is the problem… Some guests keep their blue jeans and if lucky, wear a shirt instead of a t-shirt keeping their comfortable walking shoes.

A Bavarian wedding is not only Bavarian fashion, there are also lots of food, music and anecdotes.  Some traditional weddings start early, at about 10 or 11 o’clock and while waiting for the guests and family to gather,  “ Weißwürstchen und Brezen” are served. For those who are very thirsty, they can start the day with a Weizen or Weißbier, a wheat based beer.  After this “light” second breakfast, there is usually a ceremony in church, catholic or protestant.

weißwurstfrühstück

Brezen, Weißwurst und Bier

(Image from: http://www.typisch-bayerisch.de/index.php/essen-trinken/weisswurstfruehstueck/248/)

After mass, guests and the just married couple go to the restaurant where the party takes place.  Drinks will be served, yes, you’ve guessed right, more beer: a Pils or a Helles or a Radler or… and of course, other beverages. If it’s noon or half past noon, lunch will be served. A typical starter is a broth with some “Spätzle” or thick noodles made of eggs and flour and others with liver. There is a special “Wedding soup” also made of broth, usually no chicken broth, served with two or three dumplings, one only made of eggs and flour, and the other one with liver, too.

Afterwards they serve a traditional salad, not very big, with raw red and white cabbage, rasped carrots, rasped turnips and maybe lettuce and tomatoes. Ah, and of course finely sliced paprika, red or yellow. The dressing is usually thin and a little milky and it shouldn’t be sour.  Sometimes in between the courses there are stories on the life of bride and groom, usually funny, sometimes indiscreet… depending on the person telling the story. The now married couple expects their friends and family to perform some sketches with funny and nice episodes in their lives for example, how the couple met, or the first visit to the in-laws, among others.There may be some games and word games, but not for everyone to take part in, but only as clapping and laughing spectators. That would be too spontaneous… Continuing with the menu, usually some dish with pork meat, may be some filet medallions with champignons or pepper sauce, and to be fair, there may also be a “meatless” option for the many vegetarians here.

Afterwards the dancing music starts and the couple and guests start to dance usually in pairs and strictly following the steps they have learned in dancing school. It is very common for teenagers in Germany to go to dancing school to officially learn the most popular dances, especially the Waltz. The ladies are the ones who enjoy this part of the party while many of the gentlemen discreetly engage in deep conversations about football or they simply “disappear” out of the room to stretch their legs 😉

Everybody brings the presents and congratulates the freshly baked couple. Hopefully, everything turns out fine and the couple may start their honeymoon…

I also hope not many of the delighted couples organize dress, wedding car and honey moon on a boat with these items I found close to my place.  They remind me of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”…

Bride's paradise

Brautparadies… (= Bride’s paradise…)

Have a nice week!

Ulysses and coming home

I feel like the female Ulysses, may be Odyssey would sound more feminine. Yes, after a very long trip that lasted 27 years I am now heading home… Is it really home? To a certain extent yes, but I’m really also leaving home behind…

Do I have someone like Penelope who has been waiting for me all that time and who has been faithful all those years? I’m pretty sure that no, nobody has been waiting for me all that long spending time and weaving. However, many old friends, acquaintances and my family are vey happy, or so they say…, of having me around. It’s been a very long time and I’ve lost many names on the way, names of friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, but I’m sure that new names are waiting for me in the new old shore in the New World… Leaving Old Europe is difficult, all the culture and cultural differences so close and easy to reach… provided time and money are there to enjoy it.

Going back to Ulysses. On his travel he encountered giants, cyclops, witches, sirens, females who tried to spellbound him… Have I encountered those creatures? making some analogies and if you imagine me of a very small size trying to compete with German men for the only free space in the subway, I would say yes! I’ve encountered giants, cyclops and strong amazons, too. Those women who reach to the sky and look healthier and stronger than an olympic athlete. They have been part of my reality for a long time.

Sometimes when I have to fill in official forms asking me about my country of birth, believe me, I’ve been very tempted to write: Lilliput… Some other times I’ve had to control myself to avoid writing the name of some capital in one of the countries of the Mediterranean or in the Middle East… So, imagine me living in this side of the world where the ‘natives’ are almost always fairer and much taller than myself… I’ve got mostly used to it. However, I have been very scared once or twice with the aggressive behavior of the cyclops trying to crush me… Don’t worry, I survived and the experience made me even stronger ;-).

A giant

Help! A giant!

(Image from: http://pdp-meghanhill.blogspot.de/2012/12/research-for-guess-who-giants.html)

The very first time that I lived in Munich was in the ’80s and the physical appearance of the city hasn’t changed that much. Although one the first things that caught my eye was the colors used in this part of Germany to paint the exterior of houses and buildings. They were what we could call ‘autumn or fall’ colors. They had all shades of brown, ochre, and especially that green that reminded me of the trees in the fall changing from green to brown. Many of the official buildings were decorated in ‘Moosgrün’ or mossy green and dark brown and lots of wood, preferably oak, not shiny but in an honey shade. Everything looked very sober and sad, at least to my eyes used to the extremely colorful Mexico… Sometimes too colorful. This has changed and you can now find warm yellow and the traditional white with red or brown tiles on the roof as being the most used colors for buildings and houses.

I remember that the most exotic place you could eat was the Chinese restaurant in one of the main streets close to the university. I don’t remember any other Asian food, no Indian, no Thai, no Vietnamese, no Sushi and of course no take away food. If you didn’t want to eat Bavarian food you’d have to choose the Italian or the Greek restaurant nearby. However, Italian restaurants were not the fancy and expensive restaurants that you can find now on every corner in downtown Munich. They compete against each other in exclusivity and price, swearing to be the most authentic one. Germans have always admired the Italian culture, we all have, but with such a fervor, only the Germans in Munich and surroundings. They even call Munich the most Italian city north of the Alps. As for the German love for Italy you may be interested in Goethe’s Italian journey. You can find a précis here: (http://www.nytimes.com/1986/09/21/travel/goethe-s-italian-journey.html)

I think you now understand better what I mean. I also love the Italian culture, the food, the art, the cities, everything, but… in Italy! I love my Italians friends, not because they are Italians, but because I like them and we understand each other. The best thing of all is when I go to ‘eat Italian’ (This is the expression you use in German) in Munich with an Italian friend. She usually speaks German to the waiters, who always greet you warmly with a “Buona sera, signora”. One day I asked her why, and she explained that most of them are not Italians and don’t speak Italian. I laughed and said that I knew what she was talking about because it also happened to me in some so called ‘Mexican’ and ‘Spanish’ restaurants. So we both stick to German. That to authenticity. As for that, yes, some of those places have a very good selection of dishes and very good wines, but the prices have reached such heights that I don’t find it affordable anymore… Let’s better save some money and enjoy some authentic Italian meals in Italy.

Munich… ‘Weltstadt mit Herz’ or City of the World with a heart… (Image from: http://www.amazon.de/Magnet-mit-Motiv-MÜNCHEN-Weltstadt/dp/B00H19QP0M)

münchen weltstadt mit herz

Weltstadt mit Herz

Going back to the eighties, Munich was not really an international city, as I was mentioning. There were, and still are, only two or so cinemas where you could watch movies in English or in the original language. On TV there were only the ARD, the ZDF and the BR … what are those? The official channels, the first, second and third German television programs and, if you were lucky and lived close to one of the borders you could maybe receive one of the foreign channels. Living in Munich we could also watch the Austrian official channels. What does that mean? First of all, we had to pay a TV tax that was calculated according to the number of TVs and the number of adults living in your place. Ah, and also the number of radios you had… and the radio in your car was counted extra… Yes, quite an amount to be able to watch 3 TV programs that promised you a very high quality and no advertisments! … Well, only some allowed commercials from 19:59 to 20:00 when it was time for the news.

By the end of the Eighties I moved to Munich from my “Third World” country and was shocked to not being able to watch my well known TV series and the end of some of the very popular shows at that time, such as Dallas! People here were very proud of having no commercials, we know, almost none, on TV… I always thought: Guys, you don’t have TV!  Change got here, too. We finally got some ‘private’ TV chains, the bad guys, with lots of commercials and American series… very bad for children… Nowadays, the official channels are struggling to keep their audiences and they are really worried because the average age of their viewers is about 65 years old… Imagine!

(http://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/183279/umfrage/durchschnittsalter-der-fernsehzuschauer-nach-sender/)

Durchschnittsalter der Zuschauer 2011

Age average of TV viewers 2011

We now have a lot of channels, which doesn’t mean that the quality has increased and we still pay TV taxes. You have to pay even if you don’t have a TV… The first cable TV was “Kabeldeutschland” and if I remember right, it was also “official”, which means they were monopolized, no alternatives. Currently we have also “Sky” and the Internet provider “Netflix” has just arrived.

I was mentioning the cinemas. There was a very big cinema called that way, Cinema, that showed films in English. It still exist and has enjoyed a popular comeback after and extensive face lifting. One or two art cinemas showed films in French or sometimes even Spanish or Italian. I was used to watching films in English with subtitles and got a little bit frustrated having to wait longer to watch brilliant films till ‘the actors learned German’, that is till they were doubled into German. It was also a shock listening to the German voices of my favorite actors… it still is and I still prefer to watch films in English… sigh… Going to the cinema was very expensive and that hasn’t changed. Although Germany is one of the countries that develops the best technology in cameras and other devices, they don’t like to change their old ways. If you go to the cinemas that show films in original versions you will feel like transported to the early eighties. The screens are better, but the rest is really retro, not pretending to be retro, they really are…

I don’t want you to think that I didn’t like living in Munich. No, I did enjoy it. Munich has a lot of good sides and attractions. I was only mentioning the difficulties, the difficult tasks to compare it a little bit to the Odyssey of Ulysses… And I am still looking for the female form of the name, I hope I find it before I leave Munich 😉

p.s. I found it in English, it’s Ulyssa!

 

 

 

The Other Senses

In elementary school and before that, we learn about our five senses.  We use them since the day we were born. We remember the sound of a song we used to listen to in our early childhood. When we smell something nice, for example, cinnamon and oranges, we think of Christmas. When we open the fridge and close the door because of the pungent smell like a blow to the nose, we suddenly remember the cheese we bought some weeks ago and we had forgotten because it was hiding, on purpose,  behind the big bottle…

In literature we find several references and associations to our senses as we come across metaphors. Some of these literary constructs may help us to read with more than one sense while others help us to get the whole picture, e.g. He (or she) is the black sheep in the family.

If you want to read about bad metaphors, and speak Spanish, you may want to read at the blog post “Malas metáforas” (http://boeneker.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/las-malas-metaforas-la-bici-lxix/) of a friend of mine, Heiner Boeneker.   For examples of sublime metaphors you can read the poetry of Ernesto Cisneros, also in Spanish. http://ernestocisnerosrivera.wordpress.com/page/2/

My topic is not metaphors or literature, but our senses, especially the other ones. The first sense that came to my mind was common sense. What does it mean? Why is it called common when it is so difficult to find? Is it true that some of us have more of it while others almost lack of it?

Does common sense have to do with safety, precaution or even fear?  Does it have to do with intelligence or education?   Here the definition: “Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.”  Mmmm, all people?  Do we learn it, are we born with it, can we acquire it?  What if we don’t have enough of it? And in our modern times we could ask, can I buy it?  or can I find it in the Internet?

You may laugh at the idea and wonder, but the answer is yes.  http://www.wikihow.com/Develop-Common-Sense.  There is another web-page full with common sense http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/common_sense.html

It’s maybe easier than I thought. However, I’m not sure if this would be the right way to get some common sense.

Another sense that comes to my mind is the so called sixth sense. With this concept I start with the first definition that I found in the all knowing Internet 😉 Sixth sense: a supposed intuitive faculty giving awareness, not explicable in terms of normal perception. As this doesn’t really clarify the term I found another definition in the Merriam-Webster: a special ability to know something that cannot be learned by using the five senses (such as sight or hearing). This one is much better. However, what do they mean with special ability?  Do we all have it? Can we learn it? Are we born with it?  Sixth sense, it is a special sight? Have you ever had premonitions? Are prophecies true? Have you ever had your future told either by a card reading, a coffee reading or maybe runes or bones reading? Well, I have, which doesn’t mean I believe in all that the psychic person told me. It was however very revealing…

There are many films based on many of these psychic abilities. I think of the Sixth Sense (1999) with Bruce Willis. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/?ref_=nv_sr_1   Another example is Carrie with telekinetic abilities, the first version from 1976, a horror classic of the seventies,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074285/?ref_=nv_sr_4  which has been recently redone (2013).

The horror movie genre usually uses the idea of a sixth sense and “special abilities” in their plots to achieve fear and suspense.

Let’s leave the imaginary horrors and come back to reality 😉

Another sense I can think of is the sense of humor. I start from the premise that we all have one, good or bad, that depends on our definition.  A good sense of humor, how can we define what that is?  A person who makes a lot of jokes is a person with a good sense of humor? In my opinion, it’s not that simple and I would say no. Does it mean you laugh a lot or do you make a lot of “good jokes” or are your jokes cruel or sarcastic? Do you laugh at the expense of others?  Do you never laugh or almost never laugh?   Mmmm, this is getting more complex…

Is a good sense of humor defined by our house and family? By our nationality or rather the culture we grew up in? Have people who grew up in contact with many cultures a good sense of humor or is it really a personal matter?

Let’s take a look at the things that are considered funny in some cultures. What do we laugh about in Mexico or Germany or the USA?

If we take a look at comedies in TV or cinema, we find out that the most popular ones usually come from English speaking countries. I find it difficult to have access to comedies form other countries, even if I live in the so called “European Community”. What everyone can watch in free TV is American or, if we are lucky, British comedies. Among the newest American comedies we find “The Big Bang Theory”, “Two and a half men”, “Two broke girls”, “Modern family”, “Family Guy” or “South Park”. The brits have “Mr. Bean” and I cannot think of other examples.  Of the Golden Era we all know and enjoy “Laurel and Hardy”.  Are they international, can we all laugh at their jokes? I personally think that yes, indeed, some more, some less.  While living in Sao Paulo I was amazed to learn that a Mexican comedy was so popular there, “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulín Colorado”.  However, this show never made it across the ocean.

El Chavo del Ocho

El Chavo

Here in Germany there are some popular comedians, and by that I mean popular, which means “almost” everybody laughs with them. Some of the films are “Lissi and the Wild Emperor”, a parody of Sissi and Franz-Joseph which could be internationally understood. Another comedy of Bully Herbig is “Traumschiff Surprise” a parody of Star Trek. The humor is plain and sometimes funny, if you know the originals.

Lissi and the Emperor

Lissi and Franzl

 

Germans in general are not well known for their good or light sense of humor. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like to laugh or that they don’t laugh at all. However, to laugh with them you have to have a pretty deep knowledge of the culture and of the language 😉

German humor is heavy and they sometimes don’t know the limits. That is maybe why they are what in other cultures would be considered as rude.

Although I have been living here for more than 20 years I had to look away from the “humor” in one of the posters hanging these days in the streets. These are part of the political campaign to elect the Representatives for the European Parliament.

Radical poster

Controversial Poster of the right

Does humor have to do with taste? Good or bad?  I imagine that you will agree with me that this goes too far…  This party, a radical party of the far right, is asking “What a… are you going to vote for in September?” With this image they’re referring to representatives of the bigger political parties: the CDU/CSU the conservative right or the Black party, the Green Party, the social democrats SPD in red and the liberal democrats in yellow.

This radical party has not got the majority and is not representative of the country. However, it amazed me that such an offending poster could be used publicly all around the city! Have we lost our senses?

Good or bad taste? Good or bad humor? This last example is not an example of German humor, but only of one small group of people with narrow minds. They want to use hate and fear, if you see other posters in German cities,  claiming that the Islam and their mosques should be in Istanbul and not here in Germany.  Very populistic!

I’m sure that common sense will prevail in the elections so that we can continue with our good humor in this country.

 

Rabbit or hare?

I decided to go hunting… At the beginning I really didn’t mean to. I thought that finding an explanation to the “Easter Bunny” would be easier. However, I’ve come across the most interesting things.

Easter Bunny close to Bamberg, Germany

Easter Bunny close to Bamberg, Germany

The first thing that caught my attention is the fact that sometimes rabbits were used to symbolize “Christ” in early Christian times. This convention was continued and was even used in the decoration of some churches, e.g. the three hare window in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Paderborn, Germany, where three rabbits or hares are united in a triangle with only one ear of each showing. They are meant to symbolize the Trinity.

http://www.american-buddha.com/cult.hieronymusbosch.plate9.htm

If you’re interested in this topic you may want to take a look at The three hares project of Chris Chapman. He shows different versions of the motive and its depiction in Medieval Europe basing its origins in Asia.

http://www.chrischapmanphotography.co.uk/hares/index.html

In the late 15th century and beginnings of the 16th some famous painters included rabbits or hares in their religious painting, such as Albrecht Dürer on his woodcut The Holy Family.

Albrecht Dürer's The Holy Family

Albrecht Dürer’s The Holy Family

He also created the most detailed painting of a hare, his famous Young Hare (German: Feldhase) in 1502 in watercolors.

A very informative page is http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=28531 where you can read a very interesting, however personal view of Easter and its symbols.

 

Going back to the “Easter rabbit”, that by the way was a hare, like Bugs Bunny and not a sweet fluffy rabbit, it is usually seen as a symbol for fertility.  Hares and rabbits are very prolific and can give birth to several litters a year. They are very early sexually mature and can conceive the second litter while still pregnant with the first!

 

In the early 19th century, Jakob Grimm, tried to explain the myth of Easter, the eggs and the bunny. The idea of the German goddess Ostara became popular with his version. She wasn’t really well known or popular before that. Grimm based his version in some medieval writings, some from the British Isles, and word semantics from German and other northern languages. However, up to now nothing has been scientifically proven.

Another interesting fact I found in my hunt was this image:

Ixchel_Rabbit_maya

Ixchel with rabbit husband

It has been sometimes used to portrait the goddess Ostara and his mate, the rabbit or hare!  If you look very carefully, especially for those of you acquainted with Mesoamerican art, you will recognize some facial traits… Yes, indeed! This is a Mayan sculpture representing the Mayan goddess of fertility, Ix-Chel. She was the goddess of fertility, motherhood, the moon and the menstrual cycle. She was mother of all. In other representations she holds a rabbit in her hand as a symbol of fertility while sitting on the crescent moon.  On this image she is standing with the rabbit at her side to symbolize fertility.

As you now know, this image has nothing to do with Ostara, the Old German goddess!

The Aztecs, another Mezoamerican culture,  used the rabbit for the name of a day: “tochtli”. http://www.azteccalendar.com/day/Tochtli.html

 

Are there any other rabbit or bunny versions? Many for sure…

In conclusion,  the version of Easter as we know it,  with colored eggs and bunnies, is the one transmitted from German and Swedish cultures to other European countries and brought to the US of America in the 18th century mostly by German immigrants, many of them Lutherans.  This tradition has now extended to many parts of the world without really knowing what it stands for.

Does it really matter? Enjoy your chocolate eggs and rabbits… though I prefer chocolate hares as they have longer ears 😉

Happy Easter! 

red egg

Berlin, Berlin…

Last November I spent two weeks in Berlin. For some of you Berlin may be of no interest or it may offer less compared to Paris or London. For others, Berlin as the capital of Germany may have a difficult or bad reputation.
 
I’ve been living in Germany for more than twenty years and had the opportunity of experiencing the Fall of the Wall here. Before those years I had only been once in West Berlin. The city was very crowded and the Wall was impressive. In the West part of the city there were observation points where you could take a look over the Wall at the East part. The German Democratic Republic was really another country although everybody was German. To be able to get an idea of this period in time there are some locations in Berlin to visit. First of all, Checkpoint Charlie which was the official point to cross from West to east Berlin during the Cold War and which has some old pieces of the wall left. 
 
Another interesting place to visit is the DDR Museum that offers a vivid view of every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic. It is interactive and some products of the old DDR can be bought there, too.  A nice film to watch, Goodbye, Lenin.
Leaving the Cold War era, Berlin has experienced a fast modernization and is a proud example of modern architecture. Nice buildings are in and surrounding the Potsdamer Platz. One of the most famous is the Sony Center finished in the year 2000. It has place for restaurants, cinemas, offices and some living area. Next to the Sony Center there is a very big complex with more restaurants, cinemas, a new shopping mall, a theater and some first class hotels. 
If modern life with all its glamour gets to be too loud and “schrill” or jarring in about 15 walking minutes distance you can find a cultural oasis called the Kultur Forum. The famous Berliner Philharmonic is the first building that will attract your attention. If you cannot visit a concert there, take a tour and enjoy the building. Another idea would be to go on Wednesday afternoon to the small conference room where they show cultural films and other cultural events. And don’t forget that there are also “lunch concerts” to enjoy.
 
 
Next to the concert hall is the Gemäldegalerie or Picture Gallery where you can find the Old Masters of the European painting. The Gallery also offers special exhibitions like last year’s ‘ Picasso, women and animals’.  Funny title, but I loved the pictures.
Crossing the Matthiasplatz in front of the gallery, is the New National Gallery in an impressive modern building with glass walls and almost no columns to sustain the roof. It is dedicated to the twentieth century masters.
 
If you rather prefer to enjoy fresh air and green areas, very close to Potsdamer Platz you can visit the zoo or simply take a walk through the many paths along the water behind the zoo. You can smell the animals and can take a short look at some birds and lamas without having to pay an entrance 😉  If the weather is sunny and more or less warm, you can enjoy the hidden Biergarten close to the zoo. 
 
Berlin has many green areas and parks. The Spree river and its affluents offer idillic views that you can admire  taking the U-Bahn line, German for subway,  that goes to the Main Train Station. If you take one of the S-Bahn trains and leave the city for a while you will be surprised by the many lakes and woods that surround the capital. Very beautiful!
 
Going back in time and reviewing history, there is a very special area that you shouldn’t miss, the old Jewish Quarter with the New Synagogue and a lot of jewish shops and cafés. There is a building complex called Hackesche Höfe that has been modernized keeping the fashionable architecture of older times.
To handle this difficult topic, it is a good idea to visit the Jewish Museum from Daniel Libeskind. I found the building very impressive because it makes you feel the tragedy with only walking through the long aisles.  After the visit and to get you moods up a nice hot-chocolate in the coffee is the best.
 
 
Last but not least, the nightlife in this extraordinary city. Every neighborhood has something to offer:  the alternative bars in Prenzlauer Berg, the Turkish and Arab coffee shops in Neu-Kölln, elegant and classy restaurants in Berlin Mitte or nice places in other bourgeois neighborhoods like Charlottenburg or Steglitz.
Berlin is a very open minded city and you can find the best gay cafés, shops and clubs in Schöneberg ever since the 1920’s.  This makes me think  of Marlene Dietrich and her unforgettable “Blauer Engel”  and of “Cabaret” with Liza Minelli. 
 
 
 
The city hasn’t changed that much. There is fun for everyone: men and women, men and men, only women or all together… Why don’t you dare visiting a club where not only the doors swing? That would be another side of the wonderful city, Berlin. 😉