The warmth of the sun…sudden summer rainstorms…rainbows of flowers…laundry drying on clotheslines…puffy clouds…gathering in a biergarten…swimming at the lake…a season of fun.
Snow…bustling Christkindlmarkts…clouds of breath…a rainbow of scarves…Lebkuchen…piping hot Glühwein…star-filled night skies…frozen lakes…the BEST
Glowing golden days…blazing foliage…intoxicating “New Wine”…Oktoberfest…sexy Dirndls und Lederhosen…unpredictable weather…dazzling clouds…lively harvest festivals…beautiful
I’m no longer a car race virgin. And, I may be in trouble. I have a feeling that like so many other experiences in my life, no race will ever quite live up to my first at Munich’s Olympianstadion on July 14, 2012.
Germany’s DTM races (formerly “Deutsch Tourenwagon Meisterschaft”, now “German Touringwagon Masters”) were born in 1984, and thrived until 1996, when high costs brought the event to a screeching halt. Thankfully the event organizers didn’t give up. In the debate over new rules for the anticipated restart in 2000, The focus of former participants was all over the place; Opel fought to control costs, BMW sought to expand the race out of Germany, Audi pushed for their quattro four-wheel drive to competE, and Mercedes wanted to spare no expense in the competitive development phase. At the end of the testosterone-infused clash, it was decided that the race would stay primarily in Germany (with occasional rounds throughout Europe) and would allow only (relatively) affordable RWD concept cars with 4.0 L V8 engines and no more than 470 hp engines to compete on two 100-meter tracks. BMW and Audi chose not to re-enter. Audi returned in 2004. Cost-cutting forced Opel out in 2005. From 2008 to 2010, only Audi and Mercedes competed. This year was the first BMW raced again.
The DTM I was fortunate enough to attend (thanks to a special surprise from my now ex-boyfriend) was an extremely visible (and palpably fierce) competition between Audi, Mercedes, and BMW. A total of 24 drivers were competing including Ralf Schumacher (younger brother of world-champion Michael Schumacher), Joey Hand (USA), and last year’s winner Martin Tomczyk (German). To keep it extra stimulating, the crowd was treated to occasional bouts of stunt driving by Terry Grant, a mid-race teaser “concert” by Stereolove (who I learned is a descendant of one of my favorite German bands, Reamonn), trick motorbike riding by Red Bull’s X Fighters, and legitimately cool vendor booths to tempt even the most uninterested of car consumers (ummm, that would be me).
This year’s winners on Race Day #1 (Saturday, July 14, 2012) -
1st Place: Mercedes-Benz Team #1 (Schumacher/Green)
2nd Place: Audi Team #2 (Scheider/Tambay)
3rd Place: Mercedes-Benz Team #2 (Paffett/Vietoris)
Being a California girl with a second German life, I am learning not to take good weather for granted. Today I took several moments to thank the German weather Gods for just enough clouds to stave off the pounding sun and just enough sun to stave off the typical summer thunderstorm.
If you’re visiting Munich next summer, take it from a estrogen-laden former car race virgin…the DTM races shouldn’t be missed!
Smile. “Yeessss,” he whispered back as he nonchalantly spread his towel across the cedar bench.
The last time I voluntarily bared an intimate part of my body was 21 years ago on the French Polynesian island of Moorea. I was 24 years old…and, smart enough to know that I would get more stares if I was the only one with UN-bared breasts. I can still remember feeling quite proud that I was bucking the American system…and, how freeing it was to uncover something that used to cause me so much angst. Flash forward 21 years and here I was in a co-ed German sauna getting ready to bare it all in front of five strangers, only one of which was female.
I marveled at this major cultural difference. Maybe it’s all about those who came before us. After all, the descendants of present-day Germans wore animal skins and danced around blazing bonfires in heightened states of inebriation. Quite different from our American descendants who were buttoned to the Adam’s apple and too busy preaching hellfire and damnation to allow for any sensual pleasures. While Germany did eventually become steeped in Christianity, it tempered over time. Yes, our nation was founded on secular principles, however this was merely to ensure that the Puritans, Shakers, Quakers, and Amish could preach freely and not stemming from a true sense of liberalism. Whatever the reason, today’s Europeans are far less hung up on body image and sexuality…which explains the Speedo. Americans are doing all the same stuff…but, for the most part, behind tightly latched doors. Or, ironically, in colonies.
So here I was inside a co-ed sauna in the local fitness center inside the mall willing my fingers to un-clutch my towel while four men of various ages concentrated on wood. I just can’t believe that biology stops functioning in 110 F. We’re human. We’re sexual beings. And, we’re curious. Even though I, too, focused intently on wood, I can tell you that most German men are not circumcised. If I was a guy, I think the stress of worrying about a certain potential biological reflex would put a damper on my relaxation. But, while the women have a choice to stay with their own kind, the men are stuck with the occasional naked woman whether they like it or not.
Rinse off, read a book, and repeat. By the time I entered the second time, my fingers required no prying. Out of all my cultural experiences in Germany over the past 17 months, I do believe this is the one I’m going to miss the most. Truly. It’s seriously relaxing. It’s incredibly freeing. And, I’d have to think long and hard of a better winter-time activity to do with my guy…in public.
I got my first up close peek of Germany on U.S. soil. He looked German…there was something about his eyes, his mouth, and that hint of a mustache. He definitely sounded German…the V-W flip-flop was a dead giveaway. He clinched it with the shoes…European men get shoes. I fell hard and fast. (I have the scars to prove it.)
Sixteen months later – three of them spent on German soil – I am solidly in love. If anyone would have asked me if this were possible 16 months and 9 days ago, I would have scoffed and said something highly intellectual like “Are you kidding me?”. Why? Because I was so stuffed with the negative German stereotypes served (over and over and over) by the U.S. school system and Hollywood that I had little interest in the Germany of today. I’m not proud of this and it will never happen again. I’m seriously grateful that Germany and its people (including one particular German wearing incredibly sexy footwear) enlightened me.
It seems California schools have been using the same curriculum for at least three decades. When I “came out” and told my then 12-year-old daughter that I had lost my heart to a German man, her reaction was…
“Is he angry???” Me: Uh, no…why would you think that?
“Because that’s the way Germans sound when they talk…we see it in videos at school. Does he have a funny mustache?” Me: *Sigh* Okay, it’s time for a little re-education…
- STEREOTYPE #1 – Germans are angry. In the 12 weeks I have spent wandering throughout Germany, I have crossed paths (literally and figuratively) with hundreds of locals…many of them in the German military. I can count the happiness-challenged people I’ve met on a single hand…1) one grumpy bus driver (with little tolerance for my nervous attempt at German); 2) one disgruntled son of a deceased SS officer (adamantly defending his father to my Dachau tour guide); and, 3) one tightwad hot-shower-measuring fan-hating landlord (don’t get me started). I’ve had far more unpleasant encounters with Americans, Italians, French…and, one sober Rastafarian. A certain cliché about a few bad apples comes to mind.
- STEREOTYPE #2 – Germans are professional rule followers. If there is a sign, do as it says. If you have an appointment, show up early. Really? I would say an exaggeration…but, only a slight one. John Magee, owner of Culture Influences Business, says Germans tend to be more “rigidly structured” in their official interactions and “to the point” in their communication. Aforementioned Dachau tour guide touted the positives of these characteristics…mainly sanity. She left Italy shortly before losing her mind from one too many missed appointments and requests for an extra “donation”. Similar to the U.S., in Germany you can be pretty sure the cable guy will show up and he won’t be asking for lunch money.
- STEREOTYPE #3 – Germans have no sense of humor. I assure you I laugh often – and heartily – in Germany. According to Wikipedia, Germany is holding its own in the humor department. More more so than the Italians. According to Herr Kunz of German-Jokes.com, “…in Britain everybody jokes all the time, but that just means they are a nation of humour amateurs. In Germany, we understand that humour is about telling jokes properly and efficiently.” (I rest my case on Stereotype #2.) If you happen to meet a hyper-serious German, refer to Stereotype #4.
- STEREOTYPE #4 – Germans drink tons of beer. Okay, there might be some truth to this. Out of 48 countries, Germany ranks third in total beer consumption at 110 litres per year per head. But, you don’t hear anyone giving the Czechs or the Irish a hard time. Correction…the Czechs. One of the most earth shattering discoveries for me was how the Germans treat their beer…tossing in Sprite or several varieties of fruit juice (including grapefruit and BANANA) or happily drinking it sans alcohol. Of course, there is a rule about beer…The Purity Law. More on that later.
- STEREOTYPE #5 – Germans are fat. Four years ago, Germany had the dubious honor of being home to the heaviest people out of all the EU countries. Good news! Government efforts aimed at remedying this situation paid off. The latest statistics for 19 EU countries put Germany solidly in the middle with 28.8% of the population considered overweight proving this stereotype false…at least on a relative basis. You might be surprised it was the Brits who ate their way to first place. Even though the U.S. is no longer tops the international list, it’s not because we’re getting any skinnier…it’s simply because the rest of the world is gaining on us.
The Germans are a passionate and proud people and their passions are addicting. Each season brings a new delight…in Winter it’s the delightful Christmas traditions and the Christkindmarkts with glühwein and lebkuchen, in February it’s the Carnivale season, in summer it’s the good weather, and in fall it’s Oktoberfest and “New Wine”. All year long are mind blowing Bavarian pretzels and yogurts that put Yoplait to shame. And, the castles….sigh…the Germans just get castles.
As my quiet American Christmas winded down, I decided to give myself a precious gift…time. Time to do whatever I wanted at that particular moment…no thought to other people’s needs or to the perceived necessity of my choice. I decided I wanted to gain some knowledge about something that had been intriguing me the past few weeks…
I’ve spent the past two Christmas seasons in Germany. It’s magical, festive and…complex. Many of the beloved traditions and characters are unfamiliar to me…they are from another time and place. And, just to make it even more confusing, each region has it’s own set of traditions. So be warned…this blog contains only the most consistent and prevalent info I dug up and is just a taste of Christmas in Germany.
St. Nikolaus Klaus (St. Nicholas) ~ The benefactor of the little treats that fill children’s boots or shoes on Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day)…not Christmas Day. He resembles a bishop, wearing a red robe trimmed in white and carrying a staff. He does not own a sleigh…but rides a beautiful white horse.
Christkindl ~ A beautiful angel, believed to be the Christ Child’s messenger, dressed in white robes and a gold crown adorned with candles. She visits each home on Christmas Eve with a basket full of gifts. Children usually address their sparkly Christmas wish letters to her…not St. Nikolaus.
Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or Father Christmas) ~ A very generic character encompassing St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus…the secular counterpart to Christkindl and a “new” tradition dating only back to the 1800‘s.
Knecht Rupprecht, Krampus, or Ru Klaas ~ Even back in the 17th century, kids needed some motivation to behave and the Germans created a particularly effective motivator. One of these “Bad Santas” may accompany St. Nikolaus, Christkindl or Weihnachtsmann carrying a switch instead of gifts. The “naughty” kids didn’t used to get only coal…they got a whuppin’.
The fourth Sunday before Christmas…The First Advent. The Christmas season is launched on this day. Decorations are put up, the baking begins, and an advent wreath is made out of fir or pine and holds four colored candles and one white one. One of the colored candles is lit on each of the next four Sundays…preferably while eating a Christmas cookie…and the white one on Christmas Day.
December 6…Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day). This tradition dates back to the mid-1500‘s when it was the only day of the season involving gifts. On the night of December 5, children leave a shoe or boot (and sometimes their Christmas wish list for Weihnachtsmann or Christkindl) outside the door for St. Nikolaus who will leave little gifts if they were nice. If Knecht Rupprecht/Krampus/Ru Klaas has come along, the parents will be questioned about their childrens’ behavior and the naughty ones will get a switch instead of treats. This is often a day when families will bake cookies or do holiday crafts together.
December 24…Holy Eve. Considered the most special night of the season, this is when mass is often attended and Christkindl or Weihnachtsmann delivers presents to the children. And, they don’t have to spend a tortuous night waiting for the gift opening frenzy. Children are often sent to their room before they arrive and are only allowed to come out when a bell is rung. When they emerge, they find a tree adorned with decorations and filled with presents. Stores and offices are typically open only half the day.
December 25 and 26…First and Second Christmas Days. Germans don’t just get one Christmas day, but two. These days tend to be more quiet and focused on family, friends, and food. Lunch is the primary meal and usually includes goose, turkey or duck as a main dish. The white advent candle is lit on the first Christmas day. Both days are federal holidays.
January 6…Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night. A Catholic tradition where boys and girls dress up as kings and visit homes, singing carols and collecting donations for special projects. When they visit a home, they leave a souvenir…a chalk marking, usually above the door, with the first and last two numbers of the year separated by the first initials of the three kings C…aspar, M…elchior, and B…althasar.
Christmas Trees ~ The tradition of the Christmas tree, or tannenbaum, began in Germany back in the 16th century when small firs were cut and decorated with fruit, nuts and paper decorations. It is said that Martin Luther was the first one to adorn a tree with candles.
Christkindlmarkts ~ Dating back to the 14th century, there are very few German cities who don’t host a traditional Christmas market…usually in the old town square or a medieval castle. At these festive outdoor markets, which begin on the First Advent, vendors sell their wares from stalls…a combination of factory and handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations, toys, candles, kitchenware, winter fashions, or unique works of art. Hundreds of people gather to drink glühwein (hot spiced wine), eat stollen (fruit bread), lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits), roasted bratwurst, mendeln (warm candied almonds), and maroni (roasted chestnuts).
Gingerbread Houses and Cookies ~ Out of all European countries, Germany has the longest tradition of baking gingerbread cookies and houses.
Advent Wreaths & Candles ~ Advent calendars are also popular for kids. (We can thank the head of a Hamburg orphanage who came up with this brilliant idea to resolve the incessant “How many more days ‘til Christmas???”.)