Archive for March, 2012

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction

that human beings are not born once and for all

on the day their mothers give birth to them,

but that life obliges them over and over again

to give birth to themselves.”

– Gabriel García Márquez


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I miss my favorite foods, my favorite restaurants. And my mom’s cooking. I’ve found it interesting that one of the things I miss most about home isn’t home itself, but the food! There are some things that Europe just can’t replace.

For example, Mexican food. Which has been a struggle, I love Mexican food…except for chorizo. I can live without that. If you don’t know what chorizo is, then you don’t want to know. Trust me.

The lack of authentic Mexican cuisine here in Germany has been wearing on my longing taste buds. And it’s not just Germany, it’s Europe in general. I kid you not, I have searched hi & lo for mexican restaurants in many of the countries I have visited, and there has [almost] always been one of two results: terrible food, or there isn’t even a single Mexican place to begin with. There’s only so much brezn and potato salad I can handle. So, when I discovered two burrito spots in Munich that actually had decent food, I jumped at the chance to try them out.

First up is Pure Burrito, which my friend Genevieve introduced to me. Located between U-bahn stops Sendlinger Tor and Goetheplatz, it offers a set up similar to Chipotle, a Mexican-American chain restaurant, as it is made directly in front of you, so you can choose exactly what you want. Most of the staff either speaks perfect English, or are actually from the States, and with the type of music they play – rock, oldies, and thankfully not techno – it almost feels like you’ve been transported back to a place in the States. Choose your protein (sorry veggies, no tofu for you), black or pinto beans, roasted peppers, rice, lettuce, guacamole (although their version is more of an avocado paste) and either mango, mild, medium, or spicy salsa. They even have cheddar cheese and sour cream, two of my favorite ingredients and probably two of the hardest to duplicate here in Germany. It lacks Mexican rice, but other than that, I can’t complain. It doesn’t quite make my spicy scale, although anything spicy is near impossible to find in Germany. But, it’s cheap enough, at €4 for a small burrito and €6 for a large, and they offer takeout or eat-in. This will definitely suffice until I get home.

Next is Condesa, a little hole-in-the-wall place right around the corner from the Münchner Freiheit bus station. Now this place feels authentic, right down to the Spanish speaking staff, music, and decorations. It’s tiny, but the walls are painted bright colors and the atmosphere is nice. And with real Mexican rice, refried beans, sour cream and guac – and even spicy salsa, this place lands at the top of my list. The ingredients taste extremely fresh, making me feel healthier than I probably actually am, but that’s okay. They offer tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and salads. Choose your protein – vegetarians just get extra veggies, and randomly, potatoes – and then they do they rest, with rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, salsa, and sour cream. This is also an eat-in or take-away spot. And lucky for me, this place is only a five minute bike ride from where I live. Let’s just say Condesa might have a new regular.

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“Do not be too moral.

You may cheat yourself out of much life so.

Aim above morality.

Be not simply good,

be good for something.”

-Henry David Thoreau

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In need of a girl’s weekend, my friend Genevieve and I ventured to Salzburg, Austria for a quick getaway. Surprisingly, neither of us had visited this neighboring city, which is only a two hour train ride away.

We purchased a Bayern train ticket, which costs €29 for up to five people traveling together. And no, that’s not €29 each, that’s €29 for everyone. And it gets better; this ticket is good for anywhere in Bayern and for round trip when used in the same day.

We opted to stay the night – it was St. Patty’s Day after all – which still only cost us roughly €30 round trip. And, we lucked out with our hostel, Jufa Salzburg; only five minutes walking distance from Altstadt (Old Town) at only €22/night with a free breakfast. Anywhere with free food, I’m there.

We arrived on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday morning, and from the second we stepped off the bus, I was overwhelmed with the city’s charm and beauty.

We weaved in and out of the small streets of Altstadt and stumbled upon an open air market selling traditional chocolates, pastries, meats, cheeses, flowers, and handmade goods [Tip: Be sure to try the Mozartkugel, a traditional Salzburg chocolate with pistachio marzipan and nougat. You’ll notice there are two types, one wrapped in gold and red foil, the other in silver and blue. Opt for the silver and blue, a bit more expensive but it is handmade from the original recipe, while the other is mass produced]. The public square we found ourselves in was busy with activity, much like Munich, but the atmosphere was on a whole other level. It was calm, despite the crowds of wandering tourists and shopping locals. And clean. The air, the streets, the buildings. This definitely wasn’t Berlin. Not a trace of graffiti.

Salzburg, literally meaning “Salt Castle” (Salzburg has a plethora of salt mines), is not only known for its beauty, but for also for being the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the setting of the film The Sound of Music.

The Palace of Leopoldskron

Since we only had 24 hours to spend in this little gem of a city, we just had time for the main sights, including Mirabell Palace Gardens, featuring the unicorn fountain used for the “Do-Re-Mi” song in The Sound of Music; Mozart’s birthplace and residence; the palace of Leopoldskron, also seen in The Sound of Music; the Salzburg Cathedral – Salzburger Dom; and the Hohensalzburg Castle, which rests on the top of a hill situated in Altstadt overlooking the rest of the city.

Hohensalzburg Castle

Although usually brimming with flowers and green trees, the Mirabell Palace Gardens illuminated a feeling of desolation and haunted beauty, with the naked tree limbs and wilted flowers quietly anticipating the sun and warmth of spring but being forced to remain hidden from view for a few weeks longer.

The Hohensalzburg Castle, which casts its gaze on the entire city below and offers a beautiful view, wins for most expensive (for what you’re getting), priced at €7,50 to enter through the front gates. Genevieve and I, determined to stick to our low budgets, opted to skip out on the optimal view and went for the free alternative, which was offered from the highest point before entering the front gates. We may not have gotten the full experience, but its hard to go wrong with this view, from any angle.

While we only managed to scratch the surface of the many delights of Salzburg, I have a feeling I’ll be back before the year is over. Salzburg may be small, but it has so much to offer. Whoever said size matters, was wrong.

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Spring is finally starting to come out of hiding here in beautiful Munich. Goodbye negative temperatures, snow, and frozen hair (deciding to head out into the cold with wet hair wasn’t one of my brightest moments).

As soon as the sun makes even the slightest appearance, the once desolate Munich comes to life. The Englischer Garten is always buzzing with activity with the slightest rise in temperature. Families are out having picnics at the Biergartens, friends are having BBQs, people are out walking their dogs, pushing strollers, jogging, biking, playing sports. My personal favorite pastime on a gorgeous day is to ride my bike to my favorite spot by the lake and read…and dog watch, naturally.

The public squares, especially the prized center of Munich, Marienplatz, are bustling with so much activity it’s often times almost impossible to get anywhere in the midst of the crowds. Especially if you’re caught in front of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel at 11 am or 12 o’clock noon (and 5 pm, except in winter). Good luck trying to get anywhere fast during those 15 minutes of music and little dancing figures.

When in Munich, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel must be experienced for stereotypical tourism’s sake, but trust me, one time is all you need. Remember that when you go to grab your video camera.

When the sun is out, the mood of the city changes, and I can’t help but to think that there couldn’t be a more beautiful city to live in. People walk and ride their bikes everywhere here. And when I say everywhere, I mean, everywhere. I’ve never seen a city’s bike paths structured so well.

And every restaurant, Biergarten or not, is packed with outdoor seating, where locals can soak up the sun and enjoy an afternoon beer. In fact, drinking a beer with lunch, or even breakfast, is very normal in Bavaria and not just saved for college football tailgates.

The Biergarten culture is not only a Bavarian tradition that one must experience, it is the perfect atmosphere in which to spend a sunny afternoon. While traditional Bavarian food is served, such as Brezn (large breaded pretzels), Obazda (cheese cream with onions and paprika powder), and Wurstsalat (thin, cold sausage slices served with onions) – many people bring their own picnic and just purchase beverages at the Garten, which of course is typically Bier.

Now, there are two main types of Bavarian beer: Helles and Weißbier. The first, which literally means “pale”, is the most popular and is brewed from only three ingredients, as controlled by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law): water, barley, and hop. Simple, delicious, and stronger than one would initially anticipate. As this is the only Bier served at Oktoberfest, that should be enough to attest to this beer’s effect on people after one too many Maß.

The second, Weißbier, which literally means “white beer”, is brewed from barley and wheat. To really blend in with the locals, be sure to only be caught drinking Weißbier out of a tall, slender glass. The reason for this is it accentuates the bouquet of the beer, but I just think it looks cooler.

The next step is to purchase a traditional Dirndl or Lederhosen. For the ladies, the Dirndl consists of three main parts: the blouse, the dress, and the apron. However, there is a plethora of different styles, colors, and lengths. If you wish to go for a more traditional route, pick a dirndl that hits at or below the knee. The next step is the apron, which often matches the color or design of the Dirdnl itself. Mine, for instance, is brown with green stitching and embellishments, so I chose a green apron. The last part is the blouse, which comes in an array of fits and styles, from displaying your entire chest for the world to see, to conservative, sleeved, and high cut. Some have collars, some cinch in the middle, and some can go off the shoulder as mine does. Traditionally these blouses are white, but there are now “fashion dirndls” which to me look a bit tacky and more like a halloween costume. They are often shorter, in brighter colors, with a shinier type of fabric, and worn with black blouses.

For the men, Lederhosen are more simple. With the literal translation being “leather pants”, that is exactly what these are. Leather pants, with suspenders. The Lederhosen can vary in length, from to the knee like David is wearing below, to more relaxed and looser fitting shorts. Typically, a checkered button up shirt is worn underneath; I’ve seen them in green, red, and blue. Plain white is also worn and is more traditional. To complete this ensemble, one needs tall, usually cream/white colored socks, and when it’s cold, one can wear a traditional wool embroidered jacket over top. To go all out, sport a traditional hat as well, and you’ll be ready to fit right in here in Munich, Bavaria.

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“Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations.

There is more logic in humor than in anything else.

Because, you see, humor is truth.”

– Victor Borge

Image courtesy of [Healblog]

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Last weekend, I went up to Berlin to visit my boyfriend, David. We’ve lived in Germany (he in Berlin, I in Munich) for over seven months now, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit Berlin frequently and have gotten to know the city well enough to feel at home whenever I’m there.

To clarify, Berlin and Munich lie on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Munich is lovely, pristine, and orderly. Berlin is grungy, dirty, and a little weird. David’s host dad described it perfectly: “Munich is beautiful, Berlin is sexy.”

It’s not uncommon to see an entire block of buildings covered from top to bottom in graffiti. Perhaps Münchners consider this to be vandalism, but to Berliners, this is art. And to me, it is beautiful. The art of tagging in Berlin is a culture all its own, consisting of many accomplished artists who display their work for the public to admire. Some have their own trademark, where they leave the same picture in various locations throughout the city. Others are completely random, a little graphic, and at times offensive, but so outrageously creative that I can’t help but to admire these anonymous artists anyway. To me, this “vandalism” is what gives Berlin its character, its personality, and this personality is why I love this place so much.

It is a massive city and is a melting pot of numerous cultures from around the world. This is another reason I adore this city: its diversity. Here, there is no normal. Everything and everyone is so different that being more abnormal is the norm, if that makes sense. Berlin makes weird cool (think Portland, OR, but with more graffiti, more grunge, and less hipster).

One of my favorite areas of Berlin is the Turkish district – it’s by far one of the most eclectic spots, full of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants, including Santa Maria, the best (and only) good Mexican place we’ve found (thanks to a rec from my Berlin-native host mom) in all of Europe. Berlin likes vegetarians, too, so in return I like Berlin even more. I’m surprised by how many vegetarian options are available in such a *stereotypically* meat-loving culture.

Berlin also offers a fantastic range of museums, from renaissance art to Check-Point Charlie. Near Berlin’s Museum Island (it’s exactly what it sounds like) is a flea market that mostly sells leftover junk from estate sales. However, if you’re lucky, you can make an awesome find, such as this vintage 1930s camera I picked up this past weekend. Of course it’s not in working condition anymore, but for 30 euro I couldn’t pass it up. Among these estate sale leftovers are local artists selling their handmade work, ranging from photography, to paintings, to jewelry, to pottery.

So what about the nightlife? Just to name a few, there’s the death metal bar, a place called Cake, or Havana, which is where David and I ended up last Friday night. The draw for us was the Salsa room.  Havana is made up of multiple dance floors – electro, top charts, hip-hop, salsa – so there’s something for everyone.

Berlin may not be the city I decided to call home when I moved to Germany, but over time it has given Munich a run for its money. Berlin has nothing on the Englischer Garten and Bavarian beer, though, and Oktoberfest wins Munich some major brownie points. And where else can you see a man walking down the street wearing Lederhosen in the middle of the day.

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