Vielen Dank Berlin / Happy Birthday Germany

We spent four days in Berlin over the most recent long weekend (don’t worry, there’s another one coming up in June and we’ll be spending it…traveling! To Budapest this time…) and had a great time celebrating Germany’s 60th birthday as a federal republic, despite somewhat iffy weather at first. Here’s how it broke down:

We woke up really early, caught a train to Nürnberg, caught a plane to Berlin, caught a bus to a platz near our hotel. Dropped off the non-essentials and reveled in Dunkin Donutty goodness with pals Snooker and TQE. Why aren’t there any DD shops in Regensburg? Or even Nürnberg? Oh well. After a while, Yelli showed up and the whole gang proceeded to enjoy the latest Star Trek movie. Especially the plot devices. Afterward, TQE led us to a really great Weinerei in Prenzlauerberg for dinner, laughs and geeky camera talk (I bow down to Snooker’s bokeh).

Yelli took us to the Reichstag and quite shamelessly exploited her own offspring in the process. We line-jumped due to their stroller, and settled our hungry bellies with world-famous currywurst from Curry 36. TQE and Sarah and I set out for a really nifty bohemian street after a stop at Einstein with Snooker for coffee. That evening Yelli & Family entertained the crew at their house for a great North African-influenced dinner. I am still fuming that they have access to merguez in bulk proportion and I wouldn’t even know where to look for it around here.

Most of the party made it to Winterfelder Markt for perusing and sampling. Highlights for me were the raclette stand and the freshly-squeezed OJ. After that, Snooker gave us an expert tour of the Gedächtniskirche — a fascinating war monument in that it, unlike just about everything else in Berlin (that I could see) was never restored or removed. It’s still there will all its fallingapartedness and big gaping holes. A trip to KaDeWe — Kaufhaus des Westens — secured me some long-sought-after aftershave and a chance glimpse at one of Germany’s Next Top Model contestants from this season. We didn’t see a name tag on her, but we’re pretty sure that was Dana Franke we saw there. Saturday evening Snooker took us to the Hackescher Markt area to seek out an Indian restaurant and were joined by the whole crew. After that, Nora showed up to the rescue with some tripods and Snooker and I geeked out with the night photography.

One final meal together at a restaurant for brunch, and then Sarah and I decided to go for a bus ride to the Siegesäule and walk from it to the Brandenburg Tor. It was a nice stroll through the park (partway) and a thoroughly fitting end to a great long weekend exploring a pretty-much new place.

It was great to experience Berlin outdoors; the last time we were there was Thanksgiving 2005 and it was freezing and we spent a lot of time trying to find ways to get warm. This time the weather was much more forgiving, but even better were all the suggestions from Yelli & Co., Snooker & Nora, and TQE as an experienced Berlin traveler and the great conversations. I loved bouncing from topic to topic across the table. Big, big thanks to everyone.

Here’s the slideshow:

Nokia E50 stuck in headset mode

Had a little heart attack this morning since I’m on a day trip to another location and suddenly my trusty phone — used for both work and personal communication (I think it’s called DuoBill and it’s pretty slick; no need for two phones that way) — appeared to think headphones were plugged in even when they weren’t. I couldn’t get the speaker or the microphone built into the handset to work at all. I could get a bluetooth headset connection established to the phone, but the phone wouldn’t send or receive audio to the bluetooth headset. I tried turning the phone on and off and even removing the battery for a few minutes. None of it worked.

Then I googled something the following terms

Nokia E50 headset stuck

and found a good tip: try drying out the phone guts with a hairdryer.* So I did. First with hot air, and then that made me nervous, so I switched to cool air. I aimed the hairdryer into the port where the headphones would plug in (the stupid Nokia-specific weirdo port for synchronizing and hands-free headsets and all that), and into the cavity where the battery resides.

That seemed to work, but I’m not confident that it’ll stay working, because since then periodically this morning, I’ve gotten a beep and a warning from my phone that says “Zubehör nicht unterstützt” (“Unsupported accessory” — my phone’s set up with German for the OS) even though I haven’t tried using any accessory with it since then.

Cross your fingers that it’ll stay functional over the weekend; I’m going to need this phone for our upcoming trip to Berlin.

*So when did my phone get wet? I got caught in a rainstorm Monday of last week, but I’m pretty sure my phone was in my backpack then and well-protected. And today was the first day I saw any strange behavior. I’m stymied. Maybe it’s just time for work to kick in for a new phone.

Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter

Late in the workday today, Herr B. stopped by my office (shared with 3 other colleagues) to inquire whether my desk neighbor R. had already left for the day or would be back. It was a little odd; pretty much everyone knows R. starts his workday early so he can leave early too.

“Ist R. noch da?” Herr B. asked me. I pantomimed looking at my watch and with an exaggerated expression, replied “Och nee, R. ist schon längst heimgangen.”

“Und Sie? Sie machen als Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter ruhig weiter, nicht wahr?”

I had to chuckle at that — I’d never heard the term Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter before, but I kinda liked it.

“Na, bin koa Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter. Ich haue jetzt auch gleich ab.”

“Einen schönen Abend und eine gute Besserung wünsche ich Ihnen dann.”

I haven’t had so much as the sniffles in quite a while, so the fact that I’ve caught whatever cold was going around here seems to have raised some eyebrows…once they’re sure it’s not swine flu.

But that started me thinking. What other inventive uses of English words have surprised you in your Daily German Life context?

Oh, and this next question is posed to the readers out there who, like me, came from a “salaried” job in the home country where overtime was like a bad joke and comp time was hard to justify to one where every minute on (and off) the job is counted, overtime carefully measured, and only rarely gets paid out (but more often results in big comp time blocks). Isn’t that weird? I was kind of offended at first (in 2004) when they explained to me how to fill out my monthly timesheet, since I’d not had to do that since leaving my food service and mall jobs, but dang…Considering what I stand to lose (at least in the short term), becoming a true Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter can wait, if you ask me.

Travel deals 16.05.2009

Sorry this feature has been AWOL for so long. I’m still getting the e-mails, they’ve just been full of uninteresting offers. I’m going to mix in some specific destinations and demographics with the general deals on which I normally focus. The big, systemwide offers are thinner on the ground these days.

Lufthansa’s Kids’ Summer Fares
Got kids between two and 11? Wanna travel this Summer? Lufthansa wants to help. Until May 26, you can purchase childrens’ tickets at reduced rates for selected destinations, European and worldwide. Travel dates mare May 8 to August 31 and one adult fare qualifies for up to 4 children. The reduced childrens’ fare can be used in combination with certain reduced adult fares, so yay that.

Etihad Online-Only Sale
Until Tuesday, May 19, Etihad Airways has sales on flights from Munich to 12 destinations in Asia, Africa, Australia and the Middle East. The fares are quite good, but they do get about a 100€ bump when taxes and fees get tacked on. Travel must begin by May 15 and end by December 5. The prices look pretty consistent throughout the entire travel period and they’ve started using a nice, easy to read matrix for the flight schedule.

Barge Right In
Ok, some (if not many) of you probably already know about this, but I was so tickled when I heard about it a few days ago, that I feel moved to share. Barging is a fun way to tour the canals of France (and other countries, but I’m concentrating on France here). It’s leisurely, you’re waited on hand and foot and it’s a good repurposing of old freight barges. I’d love to try it, but it’s pretty pricey.

But while listening to a travel podcast the other day, I found out you can rent your own boat and drive it yourself through the canals (cleverly enough, called self-drive). They compared it to bumper bowling – it’s nearly fool proof – and the price is a fraction of what you’d pay on a full service barge. Plus, you put as many as 8 people on one of these boats, thereby making it cost-effective and good time with friends. The sites I’ve found for boat rental so far are Le Boat, the Barge Connection and H2olidays (a centralized listing of boat rentals). If any of you have any experience with this mode of transportation, please let me know your thoughts!

Chicken Marsala For Reals

I made this a while back and just never got around to posting. Even bad chicken Marsala is still kind of good, but this stuff is on a whole ‘nother level. The sauce was deeply flavored and rich, the chicken tender and we had it over polenta, providing a wonderful texture contrast. Here’s the original recipe. Below is what I actually did when I made it.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c flour
1 tsp dried oregano
1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
4 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T dried sage
1 tsp tomato paste
1 c sweet Marsala wine
1 T unsalted butter
Juice of half a lemon

You’re supposed to pound the chicken, but I couldn’t be bothered. I just sliced it into large strips. Mix the salt, pepper, flour and oregano and dredge the chicken in the mixture, shaking off excess. Heat a deep skillet over medium-high and add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted and foamy, add the chicken to the skillet. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes each side. Remove chicken to a plate, cover to keep warm and set aside.

Add the chopped bacon to the pan and cook until just crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove the bacon to a plate with a paper towel to soak up the grease. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook until golden, making sure to scrape up any bits left in the pan from the chicken or bacon. Feel free to add a little more oil if the pan seems dry.

Add the shallots, garlic, sage and tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook until the shallots are tender – 2 to 3 minutes – then add the Marsala. Turn the heat up and bring the sauce to a hard simmer, cooking until the sauce is slightly thickened and reduced. Add the chicken (and any juices collected on the plate) and bacon to the sauce and heat thoroughly. Add last tablespoon of butter and lemon juice and stir until just combined. Serve with pasta or polenta.