Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Learning from Experience

I learned two semi-important things today.

1. Do not go to Vöner after 7:30 pm. You will be too late and may have to face the possibility of them having run out of Vöner for the day. Then you will be obliged to buy a Wagenburger, but it is nothing special in comparison to the amazingness of Vöner.

2. Buying vegan eis after the Vöner failure is perfectly acceptable. Getting two scoops with double chocolate and lemon is not. No wonder the guy behind the counter double checked to make sure he heard me okay. Lemon has no place being eating before (an amazing) chocolate. Orange might go with chocolate, but the flavor of lemon just puts everything else off.

Ah well, sometimes one just has to learn things the hard way.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ich hab' mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren

So goes the line of a famous folkslied. If the past weekend has taught me anything, it has been that even though Heidelberg is fast a kitschy typical old castle/uni town, it still has a special place in my heart because of the great memories I have and the people whom are there. I cannot believe that I was there for only a mere six weeks two summers ago. At the time, six weeks seemed like a long time to be studying abroad. I know so much better now, and I am amazed at all the things I managed to cram into that short time.

Visiting my old host family was amazing. They are such nice and helpful people, which is probably why I recall my time in Heidelberg so fondly. Sadly, I did not get to see their two songs who are a little younger than my own brother. (They are hosting a student right now, so the reason that I was able to come this weekend was because the boys were gone and I could use one of their rooms.) I did get to speak with the younger one when he called his mum's handy. His voice is lower (though not too much), and he sounded so much older and more mature than the cute/curious youngster that I remember. We did not discuss anything complicated, but it made me feel good that I was able to talk to him all in German.

The weekend went by so fast, but we managed to actually do a few things and relax a bit as well. Friday was a little exciting on my end since I almost did not make my train. I did not want to get into Heidelberg very late as a courtesy to the family. My problem was that I did not wake up early enough to finish packing and needed to have a few minutes between getting home from my internship and going to the hauptbahnhof so that I could throw my stuff into my bag and backpack. (At least I already had everything scattered haphazardly all over my couch.) Of course, this was the time when the S-bahns in Berlin were not punctual. Due to waiting for 15 minutes for one that usually comes every 5 and then other ones being a minute or two late, this really adds up. Upon reaching the hauptbahnhof, I literally jumped into the first open door of my train that I saw just as they were issuing the final boarding call. We left not even two minutes later. Talk about cutting it close.

At least the rest of the night was low key, and we went to a neighbor's birthday party when I got there. I of course had a 'how stupid of me' moment when, while discussing something food related with my host mum, I recalled that I had not mentioned of my switch to vegansim. Whoops. Last time I was there, I had only been vegetarian (of which she had been lovingly accommodating to). I had eaten a few quick things on the train, but at the party I discovered how tasty wasabi peanuts are and that basmati rice with fresh squeezed lime juice and Thai hot sauce is actually really good.

Saturday consisted of a nice leisurely breakfast in the small garden out back. Then we went into the old part of the city by bike (I borrowed the younger son's), but took our time on the way there. Ate Italian, where the noodles had no eggs in them (score!), and the tomato sauce was amazingly fresh. This was followed by a 1 1/2 hour boat tour on the Neckar, the river that runs through the town, adding to its quaint charm. By the time our tour had ended, there were some massive storm clouds that were approaching, and the wind was already starting to make the formerly hot day seem rather cool. We booked it on the way back home, as we did not want to get wet. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing. We had an outing to the grocery store and media store later in the evening, but it was fun to ride around on a bike again. Plus, the grocery run was insisted on by my host mum so that we could get some soymilk so I could have it with my muesli the next morning. Isn't she the sweetest? Dinner was rather late, and, sadly, we ended up not watching a movie together as the parents were tired and ready for bed.

Sunday began with a relaxed breakfast as well. (Yes, I loved how my family was all about the relaxed breakfast. Even on a school day, I would sit down for 25 minutes or so and chat with my host mum.) I got educated and was given a copy of the Goethe poem that inspired the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment in Fantasia. It was funny how we got onto that topic after discussing politics and the actions of people and needing to think ahead. Then, I was told to take a quick ride to the old city by myself via bike because, according to my host mum, I could not visit and not go into the old city. (We had only been on the river the day before and not actually in the old part.) I was proud of myself that I was able to remember the way to get there and back. It was a quick trip because I did not have much time, but fun nevertheless. So many tourists, but I was able to smile at the memories.

By the time I had come back, my host mother had managed to cook up something for lunch. (I hardly had any hunger yet, despite my bike ride, because I had eaten such a big breakfast.) It was so simply vegan orientated that it made me smile. Rice and (boxed) falafel with a coconut milk curry sauce. (She and her husband had fish as well.) But regardless, her flexibility was greatly appreciated despite my earlier absentmindedness.

So there was another amazing weekend away from Berlin visiting acquaintances. Plus, I got to use so much German. Yes, I could not recall a few words every now and then, but I was glad that I could converse more than my last time in Heidelberg. (Sometimes, while we were talking politics, I was unsure of what exactly my opinion on something was, but I was able to, for the most part, understand the views that my host parents were explaining.) It is actually surprising how much over the state of the world and politics that we talked about. Last time I was there, we talked about a lot of stuff, but it was mostly me listening, trying really hard to understand half of what was being said, and not really participating in actual conversation. I can only hope that they were pleasantly surprised by my improvement since last time (even though there are times when I question how much that I have improved, but such is the nature and tribulations of learning another language.)

The rest of Sunday was spent in Tübingen, visiting a friend who was an exchange student at my Uni this past year.  Tübingen is not too far from Heidelberg, and I figured that I ought to go because I had heard, like Heidelberg, it had much old-world charm as well.  The afternoon was a great success, and I rather enjoyed the tour of the town that I was given and speaking about so many different things with my friend.

I got back to Berlin at 1:30, which means that I just missed the last S-Bahn out of the Hauptbahnhof. Just my luck. I managed to take a night bus for a few stops and just walked the rest of the way home. It was not as bad as I thought it would be and only took 45 minutes.  I had eaten so much earlier in the day and had slept on the train, so I had plenty of energy for my trip. It made Berlin seem smaller by the fact that I could actually do something like that.

All in all, this weekend has been a great change of pace, and I was reminded how I need to always remember to mention my (maybe relatively new to my hosts) dietary status. It was even cute how my host dad looked up veganism online so that he could ask me a few questions about it Saturday morning. If only everyone could be so open-minded and accepting, this world would be so much better in dealing with all sorts of differences.

(How is that for ending an insanely long post on a philosophical note?)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ob nur für einen Augenblick

(If only for a moment)

(Originally written on the train from Berlin to Heidelberg yesterday)

Sometimes that seems exactly the span of my summer. With two and a half weeks to go, I am constantly in disbelief of how fast the time passes. (Yes, this is going to be a constant theme until I leave Berlin.) This past week has been a gift in the fact that I have been getting to leave work relatively early in comparison to the long hours that I had previously been keeping. Getting to go home at 4 (or even 3 on one occasion) makes me feel like I am being lazy or something. Such is the way things go when you are doing more with peptide (biochemistry) synthesis and not organic synthesis. This week in the lab has been interesting (though slightly monotonous at times) and has reinforced the feeling that I probably will not go on to study biochemistry. Even though some ideas might be interesting on paper, the work in the lab has to be so meticulous and is often don on a smaller scale. Such an attention to detail is not for me. (Do not get me wrong, I have to pay attention to stuff in organic synthesis as well but I feel like you can have a little more leeway with things there.) At least working with a different chemist has proved to be funny even if we are speaking auf Englisch and not auf Deutsch since he is French.

Actually using my German handy on a regular basis has also helped me keep in contact with other students so much better this past week. Except for one day, I think that I have gotten to hang out with other students every evening. Not too bad. This was especially good since I have gotten to know some more of the newer people as more and more of the people that I met early on are leaving.  And to think that it won't be long until I join the ranks of those whom 'sind weg.'

As for vegan food, whittling down my small stash of food is proving to be interesting. I basically only have lentils (red and brown) left and a bit of brown rice. (Well, I still have agave, soy sauce, cumin, and coriander but those aren't hard food staples.) I might be giving the brown lentils away to a friend since even though Isa's Snobby Joes might be amazing, I must not have cooked them right and have been having digestive issues afterwards. Not very fun. I plan on using the rest of the red lentils to make a very vegetable filled dahl later this week. As for the rice, I think that I am going to splurge on nori and try sushi. I have never had sushi before (cue gasp here) and there is a neighborhood grocery down the street owned by some oriental folks. The nori seemed to be pretty cheap there (cheaper than back home), and I know that my host family does have a sushi mats o that I could roll them correctly. I am really curious as to the taste of it, and I think it will be a great way to use up my rice. 

Also, it will prevent me from visiting Vöner again. That place is dangerous, so cheap and so good. Though replacing my Pfefferminz Ritter Sport addiction with Vöner might be better since I am unable to visit Vöner as often.. Not to mention Carmello Eis Cafe nearby. Berlin is spoiling me with vegan options, and I do not know how I am going to adjust to being so limited for dinging out once I return back home. (Though, I might try to try really hard to get my parents to eat tat the Chicago Diner after I fly back before we drive home. I don't think it will be that easy to convince them though. Perhaps I can swing it as a late birthday present...)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A jam packed weekend a.k.a. be ready for a really long post

I love how good intentions never really make it sometimes. That was my day yesterday. I planned on making a day out of thrifting and markets, but I got a rather late start. As in me not waking up until 1:30 pm. Ah well, I guess that is what I get for staying up until 4 am with friends.

Unfortunately, I have been getting home late from my internship this week, and, as a consequence, I have hardly been cooking. Plus, midway through the week I completely ran out of produce due to not being here over the previous weekend. Oh horrors! Needless to say, I have eaten several falafels and much bread this week. Probably not the best thing, but this next week is going to more than make up for it (hopefully).

As usual, I visited the market on Kollwitz Platz to get my week's produce on Saturday. My 10 Euros worth of produce this week is 6 carrots, a zucchini, small garlic, red bell pepper, 3 apples, small container of raspberries, and a large (500g) container of red currants. Not too bad of a haul. I wasn't sure what to expect with the red currants (johannesbeern here) because I have only eaten them (or their black relatives) in  jam or cake. I ended up being pleasantly surprised, and they might be going on my favorites produce list because of their perfect amount of tartness. I rather enjoy fruits that are more tart than sweet (proved by my love for raspberries and lemons). Red currants are in season right now here in Germany, but I am not sure how long it will last. Hopefully long enough that I can make them as an addition to my usual breakfast of muesli, fruit, and soymilk. Until now, I have been switching between strawberries and raspberries (and even a peach on a few occasions). My purchases at the market also consisted of two homemade jams (strawberry and a black currant with mint) for my host family in Heidelberg when I go visit them next weekend.

As for the rest of the day, I had only eaten a light brunch, so I decided to start things off by heading to Vöner first. Wow is that place addicting. I bet most people would not have guessed that vegan döner can be so filling, but for a mere 2.90 Euros, I walk away feeling rather full. I got to visit a few smaller second hand shops in the area between Vöner aznd Carmello, but I did not find anything good. At Carmello Eis Cafe, I proceeded to get a cone with two scoops of vanilla and chocolate with chips soy ice cream. Sooo good and the chocolate was a new flavor as well. Enjoying my good vegan ice made up for the fact that it had started to rain rather hard.

Sadly, I got to my main thrift store destination too late and discovered that it was only open until 6 on Saturdays. I will try to go back sometime soon because it looks promising. Four floors of second hand goodness. That is correct- four floors. See why I was excited?

Sunday was also started a little late (but not due to my laziness this time) but because of me doing laundry. Then there was the other complication of the other student doing laundry as well and not enough drying racks to go around. (What to do? My host just took me to visit some neighbors upstairs and borrow two from them.) Then I had to spend a bunch of time going to/from the laundromat, hanging clothes, etc. But that is all boring stuff no one wants to hear about.

As for fun things, I went to the Flohmarkt (flea market) in Boxhagener Platz for the first time. As usual, there was so much absolute junk like the one in Mauer Park. Strangely enough, I did manage to buy a few things. The first of which was Flintstones wallpaper. Exactly, and it was only in black and white, so I guess that I could color it if I wanted to. I paid too much for it (6 Euro), but I just could not pass it up. I could make a banner or two with it, use it to cover boxes, or as wrapping paper. My other purchase was some cool patches cut out from used clothes. Two are very vegan. One is a chicken that says, "Isst mehr tofu!" (Eat more tofu), and the other has a sheep saying "Friends? Not food o.k.?" The third is a heart surrounded by the triangle recycling symbol. Because I was in the neighborhood, I stopped by Carmello again and got the same flavored cone as yesterday because it was just so freaking good.

Diner was fun as I actually cooked Isa's Snobby Joes, albeit a totally bastardized version. They were still amazing though. I also got reminded of how I need to be more careful when guessing amounts. (That's right. Since I have been in Berlin, I have not been measuring anything at all.) I did the 4x water ratio to the lentils correctly, but I had way too much water in the pot that I was using. Oops. It proceeded to overflow a little several times in the cooking process, and I was afraid that my host was going to come home at any moment and complain about the mess I was making on the stove. I also spaced out and did not pay attention to the time when the lentils started to cook, so after a bit, I just tasted a few to make sure they weren't too crunchy before proceeding with the recipe. Apparently, using a load of cumin makes up for not having chili powder, oregano, or salt. Ha.

Sorry about having no pictures to go along with these adventures, but all the ones that I took ended up being blurry. Schade. To make up for it, here are two pictures of a new friend of mine. He was worried that the Ritter Sport Pfefferminz that I was eating was not vegan and insisted that he had to double check the ingredients for me. Here are the before and after expressions because they are just too cute. They make me smile every time that I see these pictures.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Little Things

A single weekend is too short of a time to visit a friend that you have not seen for two years. This, I have discovered. My time in Köln was short, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Also, getting falafel at 3 a.m. is worth it when you say no yogurt sauce, and the guy questions you so that you have to clarify by saying no milk products. Then his answer sort of made my night because he asked if I was vegan and said that the garlic sauce was, in fact, vegan. So random and so great.

Visiting my friend was great in that we just enjoyed being around each other. I also got to meet one of her best friends from Uni and ta
lk German with him. I was actually surprised at how much German I understood when it was being spoken around me. (This is a very good thing.)

I feel like have a renewed sense of energy now that I am back in Berlin. Strange how getting away for a weekend can do that to you. Whatever the reason, I am ready to throw myself back into the last 30 days that I have here (why yes, I am counting, but only because I want to cherish the few that are left).  The time is going by so fast that I can scarcely believe it.

I have so many things to do in my time before I leave Berlin, plus, I have a ton of lentils and quinoa that I need to eat before leaving as well. Clearing out the small pantry that I have should be interesting, and I will have to try to not eat out much until my last week here when I will hardly have any food left.  How sad that I actually have to start planning ahead about this sort of thing.

Na ja, the summer of adventures still will continue.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Oh der Regen

This post is brought to you from the cheery kitchen of a good friend of mine in Köln. She goes to Uni here, and we have known each other for a three years after my Sister City exchange when I stayed with her. (Then of course our excursions to both sides of the Atlantic the following summer.) It is very interesting that this is my first weekend actually adventuring a ways out of Berlin.  Last night was rather long in getting here since I did not get off work until 6 and had less than an hour to catch my train. Lucky for me, we ended up having technical problems on the way, and a 4 1/2 hour ride turned into a 5 1/2 hour or so one. Apparently this is to be expected since there was some sort of minor train accident in Köln last week. I definitely did not hear about that...

Regardless, Köln has been rather nice. My friend and I have a good system going on in which I speak auf Deutsch for the most part and she auf Englisch. We walked around the older part of town for a bit and saw the overly tourist-y dom.  I had seen it two years ago when I was here for a day with my mum, but this time I took way better pictures.  The weather has been playing games with us all day, though. At first it was sunny then rainy and has been switching between the two all day. Then we went to an art museum that was down-right strange. It had modern art next to older pieces from the baroque or middle ages. It made us laugh quite a lot.

Tonight we will go to a local band's concert, and I hope to speak a lot of German when I meet more of her friends. Other than that, we are just relaxing, which is nice. Catching up. Sharing pictures, music, and stories.

This week has also been my first week in the lab at my Praktikum. It has been rather interesting.  The days are rather long since I do not start until 10:20 and stay until 6 or 7.  I have learned a lot, made a few mistakes, the usual. The first few days my graduate student mostly talked auf Englisch when we discussed what I needed to do for reactions or in getting data. Later in the week, she started talking mostly auf Deutsch and only switching over when she wasn't sure if I understood directions. It makes things very interesting that is for sure. Plus, I am still trying to build my German chemistry vocabulary. Many words are similar, but many are also very, very different. I enjoy being back in a lab, but I did not have any chemistry practical last semester (only physic), so I am a little rusty in some techniques. 

The time here is going so fast. I have been in Germany for 7 weeks and have only 4 left. Unbelievable. I am not sure if my German has been as improving as much as I would like, though my friend argues that fact. She claims I could hardly understand people and her friends last time that I was here, and she can tell things are better this time around. Plus, the fact that I am speaking mostly German with her and talking faster then last time.

This weekend is good since I have spoken so much English the past week or so since a friend at the school had friends from Britain visiting, and I got to know them reasonably well. I had a lot of fun, but it is time to get back into German mode.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


As promised, I am going to wax a little about farmers markets.  Back in the states, I go to markets almost religiously.  In Illinois, there is a reasonably good market downtown where I go in my attempts to get my family to eat more local produce. At University, I am very lucky that there is a market only 10 minutes away. It has even more vendors than the market in IL. I was such the atypical college student in that I would get out of bed early on Saturday mornings so that I could be at the market between 8 and 8:30 to get my weekly produce fix. Yes, you heard correctly. I would wake up early for fruits and vegetables.

But what about the cost? It may not always be cheaper than the grocery store, but it also depends on what you buy. Regardless, I do not mind paying a little bit more because I know that what I am buying is locally grown, usually with less chemicals and such than you would find in the store if not organic. My favorite thing about the market is how I can browse around and try to find the best prices, especially for things like bell peppers. It might have driven my roommate a little crazy last year, but I really do love red bell peppers. I could eat them just raw all day. Sadly, this vegetable can be rather expensive when it is not in season. What I discovered is that after you chop it up, bell peppers freeze really well. Just spread them out on a cookie sheet or pan and stick them in the freezer. After they are frozen, you can transfer them into plastic bags. This enables you to have peppers to add to dishes all year around. I bought so many when they were only 75 cents or $1.50 for the really large ones.

Here, the market is a little bit different. Not quite all of the produce is local. Some of the more 'exotic' fruits have been shipped in by the farmers from other places such as Spain. For this reason, I try not to buy peaches or nectarines too much. I have typically been spending 10 Euros each Saturday when I go. This is not too bad at all, though sometimes I have less produce because I buy most of it organic. What I like about Germany is that most of the produce is pre
tty reasonably priced, (not to mention the bread).  Today I got 2 containers of raspberries (I couldn't resist my favorite fruit, and the last of the seasons strawberries didn't look as good), 1 small zucchini, 315g cherry tomatoes, 1 red bell pepper, and 3 apples.  This is pretty
 good considering I still have a few things left over from my trip last week. 

 Naturally, I used some of my goods to make pasta with garlic, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and bell pepper. Not too bad of a way to get my vegetables, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thrust into the (semi) real world

Things have been changing around here. Last Friday was my last official day of classes at my language school. It was very bittersweet for me since I always enjoy school. But, it is time for me to move on to better things. This week, I have officially started my internship at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie. This week is going rather slow because I am working in the office. (My first assignment is to randomly go up to everyone in the department, take their picture, and have them say a few things about what they do here. Then I am supposed to make a collage of sorts.) Next week, however, things will start to get really exciting. I will get to be in a lab doing organic chemistry research! I am a little rusty, since I have not thought much about chemistry for the past 7 weeks or so. Nevertheless, I am really excited to be in a lab and assisting a grad student.

What has also been interesting is how my days have become so much longer. This week, I have to be at work at 9 am. This is the same start time as the language school, but it takes me 50 minutes to travel here by tram, S-bahn, and bus! The days are longer since I do not leave until 4:30. Next week will be even more interesting since I will have a start time of 10, and my end of the day is more open-ended. I have to make sure my reactions are completed, and I have done the work up. Unlike last summer, these reactions cannot be paused overnight and finished the next day.

Also, I had forgotten how non-teachers speak German really, really fast. That, or they have interesting accents or do not enunciate the best. Needless to say, my brain has been going into overdrive trying to keep up. Even then, I am not always able to catch everything. I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I will be able to adjust quickly.

I already miss my friends at the language school because I only see them in the evenings if I see them at all. This week is also sad because several of them are leaving to go back home this week. At least I have a few things to look forward to in the near future. This weekend I will be going thrifting in Berlin and will take some pictures of the farmers market near my house so that I can talk about how much I love them.