Friday, March 15, 2013

Around Town

Before a refreshingly short less long entry, a couple of quick items. First off all, I'd like to announce improvements to the blog itself. I've added a blogroll of the blogs that I follow (most purely for entertainment) in case you have even more time to kill. And I've figured how to make web links in the text open a new window. Well, OK, my friend Nate showed me how -- in general, historians and code don't mix. So now you can click on all the great links I provide without worrying about losing your place.

Speaking of Nate, if anyone needs web work, I highly recommend him. To see his craft, please visit the new page he's designed for my book: (yeah I know, pretty lame subterfuge for a self-promotional aside). But if you can spare the minute, I'd appreciate it if you would quickly Google "state and the stork" or "state and the stork Derek Hoff," try to find the site, and then open it. This will help improve the site's Google ranking. And please feel free to send along to your policy wonk friends. 

We've enjoyed a quiet last ten days getting to know our city and working on our German, ok restaurant German, well ok Denglish. If you want to understand something of the absurdity of us trying to learn how speak this language, go to Google Translate and enter the words "Italian" and Chinese." Then click on the little microphone icon to hear the pronunciation. And suffice it to say that my pronunciation and usage of "chicken breasts" left our language instructor in hysterics.

After this great stretch in town, I thought it was time to offer a few completely random, unsolicited, mostly cliched, and low-N observations about Germany.

1) As I've already described on this blog, the coffee culture here is different and better. I love the ubiquity of properly served espresso. (As Loss writes, coffee culture in Europe its completely superior to "what we have on this side of the pond: paper cups, frappa-this and that, a total zoo.") I was roaming around our neighborhood one morning and popped into our Joey's pizza, which looks like a walk-in Papa John's with no tables in a seedy neighborhood in the states. But even here I could get an espresso served in a porcelain cup. (Indeed, one of my favorite things about Germany is the culture of almost all food being served with real glasses, silverware, plates and trays, even in pretty-close-to-fast-food-e.g.-Donar restaurants -- haven't been to our McDonald's yet.) But they drink so little drip coffee here that Jeanine and I spent a very pleasant couple of hours walking around Old Town looking for a little electric Kaffeemühle (grinder) and honestly couldn't find one, only hand-crank manual machines. I'm as much in favor as the next guy of the smugness points that come with a hand-crank Kaffeemühle, but not for 90€. After a couple weeks of grinding our precious stock of Jack Mormon beans in a food processor -- too coarse even for our French Press -- we've been reduced to freeloading off the big machine in the Kaufland so we can use our American-style maker. Also, it's different in Berlin, but coffeehouses where one can sit and work are still unknown in Tübingen. Every little neighborhood spot that would be a coffeehouse in a U.S. university town is taken up by a salon or a florist or a bakery. German per capita flower consumption is off the charts compared to America ... and as for bread consumption, well, you can read all about that here in this classically German extended white paper on the baking industry. Ireland has 7 bakeries for every 100,000 people -- Germany 47.

2) Despite our stereotypes, Germans aren't that orderly, at least as measured by their failure to rack their weights in the gym. (They also don't use trash cans the way you think they do: see next item.) It is true that one of the employees at Clever Fit was getting awfully perturbed by the fact that he kept spending the time to put the barbells back in place, only to see them get messed up again soon thereafer. But when I suggested -- after some difficulty -- that the gym purchase stickers to label where the weights should go, he was absolutely floored by the novelty of my idea. And then there's the little matter of the gym providing no water of any sort (except for the bathroom sink -- and yes, I've been reduced to as much) unless you pay an extra 5€ per month for the fancy and sometimes-flavored mineral water. But I could write a whole entry about water ...

3)  [writing credit: Jeanine] The trash is Kafka-esque. We have a calendar that the previous tenants left us that theoretically tells us when to put out which type of trash. There is Gelber Sack (plastic and recycling), Bio (compost), Restmull (anything not recycling, compost, or paper), Papier (paper), and about four times the rate of large-item pickups as in the states. At first we were stressed about the elaborate calendar, but it turns out there's no need to stress at all -- everyone puts out their trash so far in advance (I'd estimate Tuesday morning if the pick-up is Wednesday), that you can always tell what's next, especially as they don't use bins (other than the collective large but not as large as in the U.S. dumpster for our building's Restmull, which comes complete with a padlock). That's right, here in one of the neatest countries on earth, on trash day the sidewalks are pretty much strewn with trash bags (even if these bags do hold compost).

4) All joking about trash aside, the sustainability ethic here is absurdly ahead of the American ethic. The mail is delivered on bikes, the bottle deposits are massive, the dryers are tiny, etc. (One exception: even if you can't get a plastic bag here at a store, they use plastic for everything else liberally: I mean, even a pint of strawberries will sometimes be ensconced and sealed in plastic.) And the results, by the way, are real. The average American produces twice the greenhouse gases as the average European.

5) Germany has a wonderful look-we're-happy-with-pretty-darn-good, we-don't-need-an-overpriced-boutique culture. If you want to find some of the world's best artisan bread, cooked in a 600-year-old oven imported from Spain brick by brick, go to Brooklyn. If you want truly innovative beer, go to Salt Lake City or St. Paul or Portland or Jackson Hole or any number of American cities with our over-the-top high-end craft beer culture (about which even young German computer scientists are woefully ignorant). But if you want damn good Kürbisbrot (pumpkin seed bread), not made with crap and available everywhere -- even if chains have swallowed up a lot of the Mom 'n Pop bakeries and much of the bread is made in big facilities in the suburbs -- come to Tübingen. (What will my Dean think when, for my sabbatical-activity report, I record that my next research project is now a history called "How Did American Bread End Up So Crappy?"?). If you want amazingly good Pils(es?) day in and day out, cheaper than water, and you can make due without triple hopped Barley wine aged in organic whiskey barrels, this is the place. Jeanine has a theory that Germans do more things pretty darn well in higher volume than we do because they have a more vibrant and still-expanding middle class that can still afford pretty darn good. I think she's on to something.

Anyway some shots around town ... here's our adorable local pub:

Here's Jeanine's first beer at said pub, captured a few weeks ago:

Here's one of the 2 bakeries we have within a 3-minute walk from us:

Here's the slightly larger bakery more like 8 minutes from us. Is anyone in Manhattan reading this?:

Here's our gym in the ugliest building in Tübingen, on an ugly day (but hey, at least they share a building with the offices of one of the local breweries):

Here's a first view of the Neckar River and Old Town (more of these to come I'm sure):

Here's the creek near our house where we go on unbelievably satisfying, what-a-great-break-from-Utah, completely flat runs on a nice path:

Here's my new favorite beer. Abt means Abbott. Aaron says the guy on the left looks like the new Pope:

1 comment:

  1. Melinda may argue with your characterization of that last picture of a water body being a creek. That is uber-channelized! The shot of the Neckar River and Old Town is fabulous, and reminds me why I enjoyed living in Germany/Europe.

    There are rumors flying around that Manhattan is about to get it's first Indian restaurant! Can we really support two Thia's and an Indian?