Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Tübingen Chooses You" (aka Around Town part 3)

I begin with a weather-related prelude. Some of you have already heard about the powerful and surreal hail storm we had the other day. First, clouds started racing across the sky as fast as I have ever seen them move, and then the sky turned biblical.

I almost could have broken out the skinny skis. 

It's remarkable our windows were not broken like everyone else's around us. Here's what it looked like on our porch, when we weren't huddling in our window-less bathroom. I wish Blogger would stop rejecting my efforts to upload the real video.

"Tübingen Chooses You" is what the owner of our local and newly discovered Jamaican vegetarian restaurant told us when we asked him how he ended up here. I'm not sure what he meant, and I'm pretty sure that he's wrong -- the Max Plank chose Tübingen, and the Humboldt Foundation chose Jeanine -- but I think his line captures what a special place this is and how much we've enjoyed our time here.

Which is not to say that we haven't hit the wall on certain aspects of Germania. Our Utah friend Colleen visited us while in France, and it will suffice to say that we didn't put forward German cuisine in the best light. I won't pause too long on the mediocrity of the $22 strawberry dessert at the fancy place we went to in the lovely countryside with the completely un-deconstructed German food (First World problem) and servers in traditional kitschy garb. But really, $25 for trout at one of the highest-rated restaurants in Tübingen -- named Trout -- and on the plate there's no green vegetable and only boiled potatoes? In addition, I've practiced and practiced the German sentence "No sauce, please," and yet still, with Colleen, we bottomed out on the burger front at a place called Reefs. Notice not only the unsolicited Thousand Island dressing but also the thickness of the patty for $12. Dear Reefs: providing two frozen patties does not make up for their crappiness, and nor does the Sysco cheese.

I really wanted to like Reefs, too. I mean, how many restaurants have a view of a running track?

Meanwhile, I've taken to prayer in the beer gardens. "Dear God, please deliver unto us a miracle and turn the German Pils I just ordered into a hoppy IPA. 

As always, the solution is to do what the Germans do best. The punt boat ride on the Neckar with Colleen was sehr schön. 

Maria and my comrade-in-population-history-arms friend Tom visited us on his way to Nepal. We went to Bebenhausen, our local monastery, where we saw a live-action fairy tale being filmed (it was a bit disconcerting to see the teenage medieval damsel in distress taking a Zigarettepause in full costume, but I enjoyed chatting up the Abbott in the bathroom). And of course Tom's visit called for a trek to Schwärzlocher Hof .

J and I just took a daytrip to Baden Baden and enjoyed one of its famous bath/spa/sauna/pool complexes (though not this historic one). 

In Baden we also saw an exhibit of the Danish/German expressionist Emil Nolde. Visit us in SLC and see a larger version of this one. 

We went out with our German class for a surprising good Japanese dinner and then reveled in spaghetti ice and the wonderful culture of elaborate ice cream menus. 

I tagged along on J's lab retreat at a beautiful cloister, Heiligkreuztal, about an hour away. 

Beats my department's no-overnight retreats at the Hilton Garden Inn.

At the cloister we listened to fun talks on knitting and skydiving and Japan and played PowerPoint Karaoke (having to talk about random and previously unseen slides), at which I was embarrassingly bad. I need ten years to formulate ideas, not 1.2 seconds. And of course wir haben einen Grillparty gemacht.

Misha, with glowing elbow, takes his meat very seriously. On the left is HHB, our benefactor (J's Direktor).

That's a lot of bottles on the table, but they aren't even from the night's main event: this being a retreat of scientists, a few researchers arranged for a very thorough, 13-beer (100 ml cup per) blind beer tasting complete with detailed scoring sheets. The data is still un-crunched, but I did learn after the event that I correctly called the two pale ales, thereby preventing some major egg on the face with all my droning on about bland German beer. Martin and J felt less invested in the tasting. 

Our time grows short here, which is sad, as with just a few days remaining, I finally found a real burger in Tübingen, and for only 6 Euros. It didn't even bother me that, despite the menu's suggestion that the burger came only bacon and cheese and pear, and despite another one of my "Mein Gott, keine Soße" exhortations, it came to the table with Thousand Island Dressing. I can't make this stuff up. But try #2 was the best of the trip -- a real patty! sweet potatoes! -- and I encourage everyone in Tübingen to start the revolution by rewarding the Grüner Ritter. 

If you have made it this far, you've earned a reward. But unfortunately, Blogger still refuses to let me post video, so Ella's imitation of the '80s band Morris Day and the Time will have to wait. But here is a preview. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tracing the Orient Express

I've been slow to blog as of late, mostly because I stupidly put myself up against a deadline coming up right as our time in Germany ends. If anyone wants to hear more about Herbert Hoover's response to the Great Depression, shoot me a line. In fact, if anyone wants to be a co-author, shoot me a line.

The original Orient Express Train Line (of Agatha Christie fame) ran from Paris to Istanbul, with a stop in Munich -- where we went a couple of weekends ago. We stayed with our French friends Martin and Elodie and their adorable three-year-old, Alice. In the interest of brevity, and given all the wonderful art in Munich, I thought I would recount our time there using old artists, mostly Bruegel.

Alice doesn't speak much English, so it was hilarious trying to communicate with her, but her body language mostly did the trick. 

We also could understand her constant refrain of "la fête, la fête." She kept saying this because we went to their lovely suburb's Dorffest --

in this case, actually a French Festival (quite a coincidence). Alice was dressed to the nines for our evening out.

After a mix of French wine and German beer (ok, but not a bar fight)

I felt a bit like these guys the morning after.

As a result, we managed to go to Munich and not spend time in the iconic beerhalls.

Well, we did pop into Hofbräuhaus, just so J could see it, aber wir haben nicht ein Bier getrunken, in part because it was still too cold this weekend (the last in June!) to sit in their shaded garden. Surprisingly, the iconic Hofbräuhaus München is much smaller than their satellite location in Berlin we visited a few weeks ago, but as many Americans were there as in 1993. I've been joking here about how nationalists sit alone in beer halls in their Gamsbarts ... um, here's the evidence.

Even though it's impossible to put too much Bruegel into a blog entry, this is only a sampling.

Ok this one is Jan Bruegel not Peter the Elder, but who's counting.

The great masters in the Munich Kunsthalls aside, we highly recommend the new Lenbachhaus Museum. Its collection from the early-twentieth-century expressionists known as the Blue Rider Group (Wassily Kadinsky, Gabriele Münter, Paul Klee et al.) is tremendous. We saw August Macke's famous paintings from his trip with Klee to Tunisia in 1914 -- this one is a sentimental favorite of ours

-- and a bunch of paintings that members of the group (especially Münter) painted in Murnau, their southern Bavarian perch.

Plus, the Lenbachhaus has Hanuta Wafer art. 

Given that the Orient Express ceased service in 2009 (and also that we have jobs), we came back home and then flew to Istanbul the following weekend. We flew to the cheaper, secondary airport, and then it only took three hours -- a long bus ride, a commuter ferry from the Asian to the European side of the city, a tram, and a commuter train -- to get from the airport to our hotel. But the upside here is that we got on the train at Sirkeci Station, the terminus of the Orient Express.

Riding the last mile of the Orient Express in reverse direction put J in a pensive mood. 

As you know, I don't fear the long blog entry, but there's no way I'm even going to attempt to detail our five days in Istanbul. I'll just say this: go (and read Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City before you do). It's an amazing place. And once you're done with the Hagia Sophia, the Anthropological Museums (Holy sarcophagi, and the second Ishtar Gate stuff on our trip!), Topkapi Palace and the Harem, the underground Byzantium cisterns, the Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar, make sure to take a cab to the Chora Church and see the unbelievably well-preserved -- and unbelievable -- mosaics. 

Our nominal reason for coming to Istanbul (not that the cheap flights from Germany were not reason enough) was to go the wedding of a childhood friend of J's. The party was on the Asian side, which required a private water taxi, courtesy of our new CFO friend. 

The venue was was actually the ocean-side pool club of one of the leading Istanbul soccer teams (!).

Those who follow fashion should take note that we sat at a table with celebrity-gown designer Carmen Marc Valvo (we're talking Michelle Obama here, folks) and his Swedish partner, Christian. Sam, Christian said that Marcus Samuelsson is "the only Swede in New York I don't know, although we did dress his wife," the Ethiopian model Maya Haile. I think Jeanine really hit it off with them. 

As I wrote, Istanbul was too extensive to narrate properly, so I'll just leave you with some images. Let's just say (first image) that at one point we got a little lost, and so now I can say that I have my finger on the pulse of the youth on the Arab Street (ok, except for the fact that most Turkish people are not Arabs). I will say that tea was shockingly cheap away from the touristical areas ... about 25 cents as opposed to $1.50. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the streets that hereafter suddenly got decidedly seedy and prompted us to, um, skedaddle like tourists.

We're back on the Orient Express route soon. Stay tuned. Think I'll post now that Chris Davis has hit #37.