What on earth is a pizza-burger?

While I was traveling the weekend before last, I saw a commercial for a food called a Dr. Oetker PizzaBurger. It was part pizza and part burger and it was entirely fascinating.

My friends, my happy friends, I have tried the PizzaBurger so you don’t have to.  I have thoughts.

Is it a pizza or is it a burger?  Which phylum of junk food does this fall into?   The box says “2 burgers,” but I think it has more pizza-like qualities than burger-like qualities.  Here, let me show you.  This is the box:

pizzaburger1

Inside the box, there are two sleeves, each containing one “burger.”  The burger is both the top and bottom half, which you put in the oven, like so.

pizzaburger2

After about twelve minutes at 220 Celcius, this is how it looked.  To me, this looks like two small pizzas.    There’s nothing burgerlike about them except the shape-  no meat patty, no wilted lettuce, no burgeriffic condiments.

pizzaburger3

However, the next step is to put the two parts together with their gooey cheese bits touching.  It was roughly burger-shaped, but it was pizza-flavored.  It turns out that the bun is the one thing that’s burgerlike-  even after being baked in the oven, it’s soft and fluffy like a good hamburger bun should be.  Alas, a burger is not made by fluffy buns alone.

My opinion:  I think it’s just an interesting new form factor for pizza, and not a burger at all!

Sure was tasty, though.

pizzaburger4

Have you ever tried a PizzaBurger?  What do you think- is it a pizza or is it a burger? 

American-Style, Part 2

I wrote before about the funny examples I’ve seen of  “American-Style” food here in Germany, but I keep finding amusing examples of other “American” food.  I once saw a bag of marshmallows labelled “American-style” that was both a color and a flavor that I have never before seen in marshmallows back in the states.

Here’s three more that make me giggle a little bit.

ameristyle1 ameristyle2 ameristyle3

Have you seen any funny “American-style” foods that caught your eye?

bamberg-14

Bamberg

It’s difficult to travel in January, unless you’re going to somewhere much warmer out of the country.  The days are short and grey and frequently a little bit on the chilled side, so sleeping in is usually much more desirable.

I’ve learned over the last two years that if I spend too long in Regensburg without taking any trips out of town, I start to get a little cranky.  To combat this, I’ve compiled a small list of day-trips-  places I can go in a single day on a Bayern Ticket (€23 for one person covers all RE,RB and local trains as well as bus rides, U-Bahn, and S-Bahn anywhere in Bavaria for the entire day.)  With that short list in mind, I just try to go on a Saturday morning.

For the first three Saturday mornings of January, I reached the all important moment of getting out of bed and going to the train station, and I chose to keep sleeping instead.  This weekend, however, I finally beat the evil snooze alarm, and I hopped the first train after 9am to scenic Bamberg!

bamberg-3

Bamberg is about sixty kilometers north of Nuremberg, and is easily reachable by trains.  Local trains (RE and S-Bahn) go between Nuremberg and Bamberg on an almost hourly basis.  I arrived in town about fifteen or twenty minutes before noon, and started to wander.  I had a list of about five things I wanted to see in the city, and I took the time honored tradition of “winging it” for the rest.

Item the first on my Bamberg list:  Altenburg Castle

Altenburg Castle sits on a hill overlooking the old city of Bamberg.  I wasn’t interested in going inside the castle, and I could see it clearly from where I was, so I didn’t bother going much closer than you can see from this picture.

bamberg-14

Item the second on my Bamberg list:  Bamberger Dom (the Bamberg Cathedral)

The main cathedral in Bamberg was built originally in 1012, but it was partially destroyed and rebuilt a few times.  Its present form is kind of like this:

bamberg-5

Inside the cathedral are a lot of interesting statues, including the famous Bamberg Horseman (Der Bamberger Reiter.)    Nobody knows who this statue represents, but it’s probably been there since about the year 1237.  The crown suggests royalty, but there’s no other items to suggest identity.  Saint Henry II is buried in this cathedral, and some believe that it represents him, but there’s no Imperial Regalia to confirm that.  Pope Clement II is also buried in this cathedral.

bamberg-10

There’s a lot of fascinating sculpture in the Bamberger Dom, so it’s worth having a look around.  I thought the headless clergyman here was interesting:

bamberg-7

Just three more pictures from the cathedral, and then we’ll move on.

bamberg-8

bamberg-6

bamberg-9

Item the third on my Bamberg list:  The Franconian Brewery Museum

Alas, the  Fränkisches Brauereimuseum is closed until April.  I do have some bad luck with things being closed when I visit.  I had the same problem with the film museum in Paris and the suspended trains in Wuppertal.

Item the fourth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Historical Museum

Right next to the Dom, this was also closed, for “Winter Pause.”  That’s ok, though.  In this case, I didn’t want to go inside so much as I wanted to see the building.

bamberg-11

bamberg-12

Item the fifth on my Bamberg list:  Try Rauchbier

Bamberg is famous for Rauchbier, or smoked beer.  The distinctive smokey smell and flavor is achieved by drying barley over an open flame.  Schlenkerla and Spezial have been brewing smoked beer in Bamberg for nearly two hundred years, and Schlenkerla is one of the best known brands of smoked beer in the world.  This is what I tried.

I thought it would be disgusting, but it wasn’t.  It’s difficult to describe the flavor- my friend Alice likens it to “drinking a campfire,” and that’s probably the most accurate description I’ve yet heard.   I didn’t really care for Rauchbier, but I can see the appeal.  Additionally, I only tried one variety from one brewer- there’s also a smoked Weizen (wheat beer) available, and I’d like to try that some time.

bamberg-17

Item the sixth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Altes Rathaus

This building was my favorite thing about Bamberg.  It’s situated on the Regnitz river.   More accurately, it’s perched somewhat precariously over the Regnitz river.  Reachable from either side only by a pedestrian bridge, this is a very impressive and fascinatingly beautiful structure.  It helps that this is the one point all day where the sun came out and pretended to not be part of January.

bamberg-13

This is one of the sides visible from the pedestrian bridge, a street fittingly named Obere Brücke, or Upper Bridge.

bamberg-2

There are bridges on either side of the Altes Rathaus.  The first photograph of the Rathaus in this post was taken from this bridge, a much more modern affair, but with a fantastic view of the building.

bamberg-4

Item the seventh on my Bamberg list:  Winging It

The rest of these are just things that I found wandering around the city that I thought were interesting.  For example, in the Grüner Markt, there’s a fountain containing a sculpture called “Gabelmann.”  Gabelmann translates to “Fork Man,” which is apropos since the statue represents Neptune, god of the seas, holding up his traditional trident.  In hind-sight, I wish I’d taken a better photograph than this one.

bamberg-19

Mohren Haus means Moor’s house.  Every time I encounter something named after the Moors in Germany, I’m utterly fascinated.  The tiny statue of little Moor dude on the building totally makes it, don’t you think?

bamberg-1

Interesting sculpture!

bamberg-15

More interesting scultpture!  This one represents Kaiserin Kunigund, but I don’t have any real idea who that is.

bamberg-16

Next up is a statue of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria.  Spend any amount of time in the south of Germany and you’ll encounter at least one Luitpoldstraße in every city.  There’s one in Regensburg, a block away from my apartment.

Luitpold became the Regent of Bavaria after the (frankly rather suspicious) death of his nephew, King Ludwig II.  He remained the Prince Regent until his death in 1912, at the age of 91.

bamberg-18

Last, but not least, I stopped in at the Stadtgalerie (City Gallery) Bamberg, because there was a poster for an ongoing exhibit (there until the first of June) called Jüdisches in Bamberg.  I wanted to see what Jewish stuff was in the exhibit, so I took a look.  For a €5 entry fee, this was well worth a stop.

judisches01

One of the displays had three or four of these rather amazing three dimensional images.  From above, it looks a little bit like a honey-comb.  It’s a cube rather than a rectangle, but when viewed from the front, the depth is rather ingenious. This picture doesn’t quite capture how amazing it is.

judisches02

Among the artifacts on display in the Jewish exhibit was a Torah scroll, along with the Mantel (the velvet cloak that goes over it), the Kesser (the two silver doo-dads that go atop the wooden shafts), and the Yad (the silver pointer used to read from the Torah.)

This particular one is apparently on loan from the Bamberg Historical Museum, and I was not able to find any details about its origin prior to that.  Every Torah is hand-written by a special scribe, though, so they’re not terribly easy to come by.

judisches03

Have you ever been to Bamberg?  Did you try the Rauchbier?  What did you think of it?

All Too Brief: Winter Kipferl

One of my favorite sweets is a candy that appears at the local Aldi stores in November or December, and it vanishes again by late February or early March-  the Winter Kipferl.  Kipferl is a type of cookie, so these are delicious chocolate wrapped cookies in bar form. Each box contains eleven individually wrapped sticks of delicious chocolate joy.

I stock up as much as I can, but I miss this like crazy during the summer.

winterkipferl

What’s your favorite seasonal-availability snack?

erdnusscreme

America vs. Deutschland: A partial list.

During my time here in Germany, I’ve been spending roughly two weeks in the United States out of each year.  Last year, it was the week immediately after Thanksgiving and the first week of December.  This year, it was the first two weeks of November.

Spending two weeks back in the States puts a strong focus on the differences between the two countries.  It reminds me of what I miss about living in the US, and it suggests the things that I might miss when I return home at the end of my contract here.

Whenever someone asks me what I miss most about being away from the US, I skip over the obvious- friends and family- and go right to food.  I miss tater tots.

There are dozens of potato preparations in Germany, but none of them are precisely the same as the tot, nature’s perfect fried potato cylinder.  I’ve tried to explain tater tots to native Germans, and there’s always a bit of a blank expression.  I’m digressing a bit, though.  Let’s start the comparison.

America wins: Tater tots.  And steak.  My German colleagues all go to steakhouses any time they have a trip to the United States, because the steaks here just aren’t quite as good.  I don’t know if it’s the meat preparation or if it’s just the different types of cows.  Steaks are just better in the United Steaks of America.  There’s a variety of other food areas where the US takes the lead.  It’s rare to find good Tex-Mex here, which is why every time I’m in the US I try to hit Tijuana Flats with my brother.

Germany wins:  Inexpensive beer.  I read somewhere that they actually had to pass legislation to ensure that there would always be at least one beverage on a bar menu less expensive than beer.  I don’t know if this is true, but it has the flavor of truth, because beer is dirt cheap here.  It’s also damn tasty.

America  wins: Shopping at 2am.  Or on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes I like to do my grocery shopping in the middle of the night, and nobody does 24 hour availability like the Americans.  In most places in Germany, the sidewalks roll up at around 8pm.  Everything for shopping is closed on Sundays, with certain exceptions.  Restaurants are usually open.  Movie theaters are usually open.  There are typically one or two pharmacies that are designated as 24 hour locations for emergency situations.  Shopping locations inside of Bahnhofs often have special Sunday hours as well.  If you want to do your clothing shopping or most grocery shopping, Sundays are right out.

Germany wins:  Relaxing Sunday afternoons.  Having one day that you can’t run errands outside of the house is actually kind of peaceful.  After living here for a while, I’ve found that it’s nice to just chill out on Sunday afternoons.

America wins:  Comfortable and large bedding.  The bedding sizes are smaller in Germany.  The largest size bed you can purchase in an Ikea is actually not much different than an American “Full” bed.  I moved here with my Queen-sized sheets, and they’re actually too large for my large Ikea bed.  I can still use them, but I have to tuck a tremendous amount of fabric under the mattress.    German beds don’t have box springs either, and the mattresses tend to be thinner.  Whenever I go to a hotel that has American-style bedding, I get a very, very good night’s sleep.

Germany wins: Smart and efficient bedding sizes.  I hated the German bedding sizes at first, but I’ve grown to appreciate the genius of it all.  Most German couples have two smaller comforters instead of one large one-  that way, each person gets their own and there’s nobody hogging the covers.  I’m still of mixed mind about the giant square pillows that are typical here, but they’re not all bad.

America wins:  Apartment shopping.  When you look for an apartment in the US, you go to an apartment complex, review floor plans, see a model, and pick one that’s becoming available in the near future.  Apartment complexes try to woo your business.  When you move in, they have closets, kitchen appliances, cabinets, and clothing washers.  These amenities are all selling points.  The refrigerators are all full sized, too.

In Germany, apartments are a real-estate transaction. You have to use a sort of real estate agent called an Immobilien, sometimes called a Makler.  They’ll show you apartments and you’ll pay an outrageous fee to the Immobilien for whichever one you select.  An apartment in Germany will not typically have any closets, so you have to buy something like an Ikea Pax wardrobe to store your clothing.  You have to specifically look for built-in kitchens because the normal German apartment does not come with any appliances.  If you are lucky to find built-in kitchen appliances, the waist-height refrigerator is far more common than a full sized fridge.  German kitchens don’t usually have in-sink disposal units either.   I still don’t know how to get rid of certain types of food items without just throwing them away.  One helpful colleague suggested using the toilet, but that won’t work for everything.

Germany wins:  Mayonnaise in a tube.  I cannot understate how amazing it is to not have to spend time trying to get the last of the mayo out of those small-necked jars they sell in the US.  I always wind up getting mayo on my knuckles and having to wash my hands immediately afterwards.  Mayo and mustard in toothpaste-styled tubes is brilliant because you can roll up the tube to get hte last bits.

tubes

America wins:  Cookies.  Germans don’t quite understand the art of the cookie.  It’s not a common item in German bakeries, and when you do find them, they don’t taste quite right.  The Ebner bakery near my office has a chocolate chip cookie which plainly shows a lack of understanding of the art.  The thing is three-fourths of an inch thick, with a larger diameter than any cookie has any right to have.  The best cookies I’ve had in Germany have been at the Subway restaurant chain, or at the San Francisco Coffee Company, another chain I was surprised to find here.    The cookies at Starbucks and McDonald’s don’t quite cut it here-  the American Starbucks cookies are better than those of the German Starbucks.

Clearly, I would write a great deal more about cookies.  I love cookies.  I’ll spare you the tedium, though, and move on.

Germany wins:  Everything else in the bakery.  The fresh breads, pretzels, pastries, and regular cakes are all amazing.    For a while, my breakfast every day was from the bakery.  I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been because I can’t stay away from the beer and pretzels.

There’s something here called a Butterbreze – a buttered pretzel.  Basically, they take a fresh baked pretzel, cut it in half, slather butter on the exposed breading, and slap it back together as a pretzel-and-butter sandwich.  They’re amazing and deadly and altogether addictive.

America wins:  The sheer volume of choice available in grocery stores.    This picture of the peanut butter and jelly aisle in an American  grocery store is my only defense for this point.  Yes, I said peanut butter and jelly aisle.

erdnusscreme

Germany wins:  The wide variety of non-dairy and meat-free options in the grocery store.  America is great for a wide variety of brands for most things, but the vegetarian and lactose-free set has more support in grocery stores here than I’ve ever seen in the US.  I do miss the Silk brand of soy milk, but there are plenty of options here that make up for its absence.

America wins:  Birthdays and Anniversaries.  In Germany, the custom is that on your birthday or anniversary, you bring the food to the office.  You pay for people you invite to your own birthday dinner.  The American custom is to make the person having the birthday the guest of honor.

Perhaps this custom arose from a desire to have people keep celebrations to themselves.  I don’t know, but I hate it.  I do not want to bring pizza to the office on my anniversary.  I do not want to bring cake to the office for my own birthday.  I would much rather just not tell anyone when my birthday is in the first place.

Germany wins:  Public transportation.  Unless you live in a major city in the United States, the public transportation pretty much sucks.  In South Florida, you need a car to get by- taking the bus takes five times as long, even for short distances.  In Germany, you can get anywhere in Germany using public transportation.  Inside most cities, you can get almost anywhere you need to go with the bus system.  In bigger cities, you have S-bahn (streetcars) and U-bahn (subway) systems as well.   I’ve been able to travel from my apartment to Amsterdam, to Prague, to Vienna, to Salzburg, to Berlin, and even just to my job without ever requiring a car.

That’s not to say that there aren’t down sides.  There are still some more remote or rural locations which have little bus coverage.  Bus lines tend to stop running around midnight in most places, so you have to plan ahead.  When waiting at bus stops, you’re at the mercy of nearby smokers (and there’s a lot more smokers in Europe then there are in the US).  In the summertime, you also have to contend with the reality that most bus lines don’t run air conditioners, and the guy next to you might not have showered since Christmas.

All in all though, it’s still better than driving in Miami.

poop-shelfAmerica wins:  Toilets.  I’m not even talking about the dreaded European washout toilet or shelf toilet- those things are disgusting and I don’t like the idea of seeing my business before I flush.  I’d rather it just disappear into the water, never to be seen again.  Luckily, I don’t have one of those poop catchers, so I’m spared that weirdness.

No, my issue with toilets is that it’s just really difficult to keep them clean here.  In the US, you can just pop a bleach tablet in the tank and that’ll keep things from growing inside your bowl.  They don’t sell the super strong chemicals here that they sell in the US, though, and so you have to brush your toilet at least twice a week, just to keep things from looking sketchy.  Additionally, the weaker strength of toilet cleaning products here means that I go through significantly more of those little things that dangle inside the bowl to treat the water than I would in the US.

stallGermany wins:  Fully enclosed bathroom stalls.  The majority of the toilet stalls in public restrooms here have fully enclosed floor-to-ceiling doors.  I was used to the American version where there are gaps from floor to shin and where the top is open.  I thought it was strange when I first arrived, but I totally get it now.  After two years with proper stalls, using the more open version that you find in the US left me feeling kind of exposed.

This is a good stopping point for this list.  I could probably keep listing like this for a good long while, but I need to save something for the mandatory comparison post that every ex-pat blogger writes when they have to go back home and repatriate.   As you can see, Germany and the US both have their strong points.  There are definitely things I’ll miss about Germany when I leave in a year, but the most important thing for me is that it’s never felt like home.

Fellow ex-pats: Do you find any of the differences between your homeland and your current home to be interesting or unsettling?