Jewish Museum Munich

Jewish Museum Munich sign at entryA recent post on The Local.de about Stolpersteine in Munich explained why I saw lots of these brass plaque commemorating Holocaust victims in other German cities, but none in the capital of Bavaria. Munich has a lot of Jewish culture and history, which made me think it was odd that they didn’t have these cobblestone-sized memorials on the streets.

Before we left Munich, I visited the Jewish Museum and really enjoyed their collections. I probably have a greater interest in Jewish culture and history than the average person (my undergrad studies focused on Old Testament literature and its historical Judaic context), but I suspect travellers curious about Germany’s history would be able to spend an hour or two wandering this four-story institution.

The heart of the permanent collection (located in the basement) features artifacts from Jewish life – things like Torah scrolls, Seder plates, Tefilin (small wearable prayer boxes), and Shofars (horns) – along with replicas that visitors are welcome to touch. An interactive map of Munich shows important Jewish sites (many destroyed during WWII) and there’s a touching floor-to-ceiling graphic novella.

My favourite bits of the lower floor were the items selected from the vast Jewish Museum holdings by individuals; each piece gave its historical importance and provenance along with the reasons that person picked it. Stand outs were a gorgeous embellished Torah cover from Munich’s Nazi-destroyed synagogue and a section of a cupboard from a concentration camp survivor. It was very interesting to learn why the artifacts were selected and examine their respective intricacies.

The top two floors house temporary exhibits and a permanent library. The exhibit on Jews between the two world wars (entitled WAR! Jews between the fronts 1914-1918) spanned both floors and described how Jewish Germans fought for the German side in WWI, contributed to the war effort in general, and how Jewish veterans were treated in the lead up to WWII. It was eye-opening and moving and gave me insight into the anti-semitism that pre-dated Hitler’s rise to power.

A shelf of books at the Jewish Museum MunichGiven my love of the written word and my Masters in Library and Information Studies, it’s no surprise that the library captivated me most of all. Despite being a relatively small collection (likely under a thousand volumes), it was very diverse; novels, old encyclopedias, art books, graphic novels, pamphlets, poetry, magazines… in a range of languages – German, English, Hebrew, French, Czech, Russian – even Arabic!

Rather than following a standard classification system, the library was arranged by subject matter (noted on the spine label by a letter) and then accessioned. This system made for great thematic browsing as all the works on a particular subject matter were clumped together regardless of format or language.

Perhaps because it was so academically interesting and well-curated, my visit to the Jewish Museum Munich was rewarding and enriching – not depressing or anger-inducing as I’ve found at some Holocaust-centric exhibits. If you’re in Munich and want a break from Bavarian culture and beer, Jewish Museum Munich offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s Jewish-ness.

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Happy birthday, dad!

Happy birthday, dad! Thank you blood donors!Today is my dad’s birthday. A birthday he likely wouldn’t be celebrating without the generosity of blood donors.

Last spring, my dad had a health incident which required extraordinary life-saving measures, including multiple blood transfusions. He received exceptional medical care, but probably wouldn’t have survived without replacing at least some of the blood that he lost.

My dad was a blood (and platelet) donor for decades before health complications made him ineligible and there was something poetic about the system he’d supported for so many years paying him back in kind. Even more poetically, there’s the slight possibility that my husband’s blood made it to my dad. My father and husband share a blood type and we donated blood just a few days prior to my dad’s hospitalization.

Be nice to me - I gave blood today!

My sticker from donating blood last week

If you are eligible to donate blood (and not terrified of needles!), I urge you to do it. It takes about an hour, it’s relatively painless (although not entirely, I can’t lie about that), they give you cookies and lots of ‘thank yous’, and it’s the easiest way I know to directly help save a life.

The basic requirements to donate blood in Canada are being over 17 and in good health. (There are more eligibility restrictions on the Canadian Blood Services website, which don’t apply to most people, but sadly mean that gay men can’t donate.) It’s easy to find a nearby clinic through the Canadian Blood Services website and use their 1-800 number to book an appointment.

I am so appreciative of all the donors who gave of themselves (literally!) to help save my dad’s life. Several months after his health scare, my dad is doing really well, but I shudder to think of what would have happened if my dad had been unable to receive those transfusions.

If you can donate blood, please do! 

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The good ol’ hockey game

A grinning Laura in the stands at a Hitmen hockey gameJust a few weeks after landing in Calgary, I found myself at the Saddledome watching a Calgary Hitmen hockey game. How stereotypically Canadian!

I can’t say that I missed watching live hockey while in Europe (I’ve never been a huge sports fan), but it was nice to be doing something so typically Canadian with other Canadians. There were families with kids, groups of teenagers, a cluster or two of slightly rowdy young men, and couples on dates; the same demographic that show up at rinks all across the country, regardless of the league or the skill of the players.

While watching the game, I ate salty popcorn and nachos with plasticky cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers, washed down with overpriced beer; the same ‘cuisine’ available at minor league hockey games everywhere in Canada.

I cheered when the home team scored (which happened right in front of us once!) and booed when the visitors got a goal (although the visiting team was from nearby Red Deer and their fans came close to drowning out the local crowd). I applauded the little kids who took the ice between periods, bought a 50/50 ticket, and watched the zambonis resurface the ice during intermissions. Just like millions of Canadians do at hockey games in every province and territory.

Having attended many hockey games (even without really liking the sport!), I knew what to expect and how to behave. I didn’t worry about language barriers or not understanding the basics of the game or inadvertently offending those around me through my lack of cultural experience. For a few hours, I was just a typical Canadian engaged in a typically Canadian pastime. A nameless hockey fan.

There were a few things I knew missed while abroad (like natural peanut butter!), but I hadn’t realized how much I missed feeling like just another face in the crowd. I hadn’t realized how comforting it can be to be typical.

 

 

Thanks to Stompin’ Tom Connors for the post title 🙂 Another typically Canadian trait is knowing at least some of the words to his most popular work – The Hockey Song!

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Snow & settling in

Sofie the dog pausing from a deep sniff in the deep snowWe’ve been in Calgary for about a week and a half and are starting to adjust to the dry climate, cold temperatures, and bright sunshine. The windchill can be harsh, but actually seeing the sun in the winter (unlike the typically grey skies in Vancouver or Berlin) offsets at least some of the wintry pain. Sofie’s enjoyment of the deep snow also makes the winter weather more bearable!

Despite being shorter than the drifts, Sofie loves running through the snow – snuffling and sniffing as she goes. She usually winds up with a very icy beard and frequently needs some thawing time after we get back inside. At least she’s consented to wearing booties to ward off the worst of the cold, prevent ice balls forming on her feet, and protect her paw pads from the salt and other chemicals used to melt the ice on sidewalks and driveways.

She was baffled by the booties initially and it was hilarious watching her trying to lift up all four paws at once in protest, but after a few minutes Sofie figured them out and now lets us put them on without a fight.

Sofie’s proven herself to be pretty adaptable and has very much made herself comfortable… an inspiration to my and my husband!

Staying with my sister-in-law and her family has certainly helped with feeling like we belong. They’ve made us feel incredibly welcome and comfortable – even though we’re still half living out of duffle bags!

We’re both looking forward to really settling in – renting an apartment we’ll be in for longer than a few months, finding jobs, developing our hobbies (cycling, squash, and German lessons for him; yoga, volunteering, and a better command of French for me) and learning about our new city.

If you have any tips for Calgary, please let me know!

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A wish for bravery & joy

A wish for bravery and joyI’m stealing a New Year’s wish from Neil Gaiman to share this year. He posts these kind of wishes most years and they’re all really lovely!

This one rings particularly true as I step into a very unknown future! There’s a whole lot of newness to look forward to in Calgary (job, home, yoga studio, friends, climate), very little that’s nailed down, and infinite possibilities for happiness!

It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

Neil Gaiman, author
New Year’s wish from 31 December, 2011

 

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and an incredibly brave and joyful 2015!

Walk into the dark without fear

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New year, new snow

Laura Matheson and dog Sofie in the Mannheim snowWe’re kicking off the new year with big changes. On 1 January, we’re leaving Germany and returning to Canada. Our grown-up gap year adventure is wrapping up… and a new adventure is beginning.

Instead of returning to beautiful Vancouver or taking on Canada’s biggest metropolis (Toronto), we’re going to mix familiar and foreign (although far less foreign than Germany!) by settling in Calgary.

While neither of us have lived in Calgary before, my husband’s sister and her family live there and much of their extended family is in the province. We both lived in Edmonton (a 2 1/2 hour drive north) when we met and I’ve lived through four Albertan winters (my Northern-born husband has been through many more!), which is proof that I can survive -40º Celsius temperatures, deep snow drifts, and blinding mid-winter sun.

Dog Sofie in the Mannheim snowGulp. That’s much more winter than I’m used to!

Mannheim is trying to help us get ready for Calgary’s winters by sending us off with snow. We woke to a wonderland of the white stuff, which made Sofie super happy. She loves the snow… and I suspect there will be lots of it waiting for us in Calgary!

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Warm drinks & warmest wishes

Christmas market drinksMy favourite part of winter in Europe is the Christmas markets. And my favourite part of the Christmas markets is the food and drink. Okay – really, it’s the warm beverages!

From Eierpunsch (warm, alcoholic eggnog) and Glühwein (mulled wine) to Feuerzangenbowle (a rum-based punch with flaming sugar cubes) and Lumumba (hot chocolate with rum, cognac, brandy, or amaretto) at German markets to vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and bière de Noël (Christmas beer) at French and Belgian markets there’s a drink for every taste. Not only are the drinks delicious, the mugs make excellent hand warmers and they’re a toasty way to warm the spirit.

This is the last day of the Christmas markets around Mannheim and I’ll certainly be taking advantage of one last round of warm drinks. And likely posing with a funny face while holding the mug 😀

I hope your holidays are filled with hot beverages, fun with friends & family, excellent food, lots of time to relax, and warm hearts!

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Christmas Capital

Strasbourg street with buildings lit for Christmas

Lights along the Rue des Grandes Arcades

There’s good reason for Strasbourg to bill itself as the Christmas Capital (capital de Noël). Starting in late November every year, the city is taken over by holiday decorations, almost a dozen different markets, and millions of visitors.

We arrived in Strasbourg on the first weekend the markets were open and made the mistake of starting at the busiest and biggest market on our first night. It was overwhelming. People pressed shoulder to shoulder, jostling each others’ vin chaud (hot spiced wine), competing to purchase Alsatian snacks, and craning to peer at the variety of Christmas trinkets for sale.

Crowded with competing noises and lights and smells, there was definitely no sense of holiday ‘peace and goodwill’ at Place Broglie!

After a round of vin chaud and a quick bite, we retreated from the Christkindelsmärik and stumbled on the light show at Place Kléber, Strasbourg’s largest square. We struggled to follow the story behind the show, but the lights and sounds were sufficiently impressive for the plot to be entirely unnecessary. The press of the people continued, however, and we called it a night.

We returned to our accommodations somewhat disillusioned, slightly agoraphobic, and more than a little worried that the markets might overwhelm Strasbourg’s charm.

Why did it seem like a good idea to join the more than 2 million tourists who visit la Capitale de Noël over a five week span? What were we thinking becoming part of the holiday hordes? Could this be Christmas overdose?

Christmas market in Strasbourg

The Market Alsatian Christmas Delights

Thankfully, a late night dog walk that first night revealed a quieter, less frantic side to Strasbourg at Christmastime. The markets close relatively early (8pm on weekdays/9pm on weekends) and the city quickly emptied leaving only a few pedestrians and lots of glittering lights.

We found what may be the prettiest, glittery-est little street in the world between Temple Neuf and the Cathedral; strolled along the Ill River while watching the lights flicker on the water; enjoyed the unimpeded views of the half timbered houses of Petite France; and reveled in the peaceful quiet of the decorations.

This was the magic I had hoped for!

On subsequent days, we sought out a few of the quieter markets and Strasbourg’s charm returned. Without the overcrowding, we were able to linger over locally-produced goodies and intricate toys, chat with vendors, and enjoy our drinks without fearing that some stranger’s misplaced elbow would spill them.

Strasbourg proved itself worthy of its self-anointed ‘Christmas Capital’ title, but it was only by getting a little off the beaten path (or the worn cobblestones – ha!) that we were able to really enjoy what the city has to offer.

Ten Capitale de Noël Tips

  1. Get out of the main tourist areas
    Move beyond the Cathedral and Christkindelsmärik and explore the further flung, less crowded markets – which really aren’t that far! The official program has a map of all the markets.
  2. Sample a few beverages
    There are so many options! (Including many non-alcoholic possibilities.) Try vin chaud blanc, the local specialty, with its white wine-base and citrus/spice flavours. The hot beverages also have the added bonus of making everything seem a little warmer 😉

    Laura in Strasbourg with vin chaud and foie gras

    A mug of vin chaud and foie gras – happy eats!

  3. Likewise, explore the food options
    Strasbourg has a fabulous mix of French- and German-inspired chow and there are likely a few things you haven’t eaten before.
    Sauerkraut (choucroute in Alsace) with bacon (lardons) and pasta-like dumplings (schupfnudeln)? Yum!
    Chestnuts – roasted or candied (marron chaud or glacé)? Not my favourite, but I’m glad to have tried them!
    Fresh bread with a large smear of foie gras? Ohhh yes!
  4. Try out your language skills
    No matter how rusty you think your French is, give it a go! The vendors seemed to really happy to start a conversation in French, although almost all of them quickly switched to English.
    Many people in the region also speak German, so if Sie sprechen Deutsch, that also works.
  5. Order quickly and clearly when the markets are busy
    Know what you want beforehand (generally the offerings are well-posted), hold off on the small talk, and save your broken French for later. When the lines are 30 people deep, efficiency is key!
  6. Be prepared to walk a lot
    Strasbourg is flat and all the markets but one are within reasonable walking distance. The easiest, cheapest, and often quickest method of transportation is hoofing it. At least you can take a warm mug of wine for the journey!
  7. Dress warmly
    It’s winter. The markets are all outside. Hot wine can only keep you toasty for so long.
  8. Bring cash
    Many of the high-end stalls selling clothing, art, and decorations take international credit cards (and European bank cards), but food is pretty much a cash only exchange. The vendors really appreciate getting coins or exact change early in the day, but most are fine with breaking 50 € notes later in the day.
  9. Take breaks
    Strasbourg has lots to see beyond the markets: historical churches, chic department stores (Galeries Lafayette and Printemps), EU institutions, and a wine cellar at the City Hospital (link in French). In addition to escaping the crowds, these can be great places to warm up as well!

    Decorations were impressive in daylight - but magical at night!

    Decorations were impressive in daylight – but magical at night!

  10. Stay out late
    Strasbourg was at its most magical after the markets closed. Take an after dinner walk through Petite France to the picturesque Ponts Couverts; stroll under the huge chandeliers on Rue des Hallebardes; or enjoy the changing multicoloured lights that illuminate the buildings on Rue des Grandes Arcades.
    The holiday lights in Strasbourg are fantastic and some of my favourite moments in the Capital de Noël were after market hours.

And a bonus tip: You can return the reusable cups to any drink stall to get your 1 € deposit back; no need to seek out the stall you bought your beverage from. Feel free to stroll between markets with your beverage without worrying that you’ll need to backtrack to return your glass.

The Strasbourg Christmas Markets

Listed in my highly-subjective order of preference 🙂

  • Le village belge – Belgian Village
    Belgium is the featured region at this uncrowded market on place Gutenberg. The beer, chocolates, waffles, and fries are all as delicious as expected and the square lights up beautifully with changing colours at night.
  • Le marché des délices de Noël d’Alsace – Market of Alsatian Christmas Delights
    Located outside the dense historical centre of Strasbourg on the place d’Austerlitz, this market features regional meats (like foie gras and sausage), baked goods (so many cookies!), and wine – including fantastic vin chaud blanc.
  • Le marché des irréductibles petits producteurs d’Alsace – Market of the Invincible Small Producers of Alsace
    Tucked alongside the Petit France region of the city on place des meuniers, this rustic market has local producers promoting their own edible delicacies. The pride the sellers felt in their wares was evident and it was reflected in the quality of the food and beverages. And who doesn’t want to support ‘invincible’ artisans!?!
  • Le marché du Carré d’or
    A lovely smaller market at place du Temple neuf with the standard market fare (vin chaud, sausages, trinkets, toys) along with a large tea stall and the only marrons glacés (candied chestnuts) I saw in Strasbourg.
  • Le Village du partage – The Village of Sharing
    These few stalls next to the giant Christmas tree on the place Kléber are the feelgood section. Home-baked goods and charitable organizations make this a great do-gooder stop.
  • Le marché des Rois mages – Market of the Three Magi
    Perhaps the smallest market, these stalls in place Benjamin-Zix offer gifts, toys, and other mostly non-edible purchases. Great to tie together with a visit to the Market of Invincible Small Producers.
  • Le marché de Noël de la Cathédrale – The Cathedral Christmas Market
    Set up around Strasbourg’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame on the place de la Cathédrale is a fairly standard Christmas market with beautifully lit streets leading up to it and the towering Cathedral spires above.
  • Le marché du Corbeau
    A small market with at place du Corbeau with mostly ornament and decoration stalls. A nice stop on the walk between the Market of Alsatian Christmas delights at Austerlitz and the Belgian Village or Cathedral Market.
  • Le Village des enfants – The children’s village
    Just for kids, this market on place Saint Thomas seemed to really be a tent for holiday crafts. It was closed when we were there so it’s hard to tell what it was liked when filled with children. Cool wooden carvings around the tent, though.
  • Christkindelsmärik
    On the place Broglie, this is the largest (and most overwhelming) of Strasbourg’s markets. There’s the standard assortment of food and beverage sellers along with many stalls hawking souvenirs, art, housewares, and gifts.
  • Le marché de la Gare – Train station market
    We didn’t actually make it to place de la Gare for what is apparently the least-toursity market in Strasbourg.
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Christmas mail

Package of tea, tea pot, and addressed/stamped envelopesOne of my favourite things about this time of year is sending Christmas cards. I love picking them out, putting on stamps, listing out recipients, and writing messages of hope and happiness. I imagine that the cards I send add a little sparkle (sometimes literally… I choose a lot of glittery cards!) and hopefully bring some holiday cheer.

This year I sent a few cards to strangers and I’ll likely never know if the correspondence got to them. The Canadian Armed Forces allows people to send cards to random members and after reflecting on Remembrance Day a few weeks ago, it seemed appropriate to send my appreciation to Canadians currently serving around the world.

The cards I sent out this year likely won’t be received in time for Christmas (they go through a central mail station and are then sent overseas, so it’s an early deadline!), but hopefully they still bring some holiday happiness. The Instructions for Mailing Overseas on the Canadian Forces website make it easy to send mail to ‘Any Canadian Armed Forces Member’ and it was interesting to see the Canadian Forces operation names and locations (like OP HAMLET in Haiti and OP KOBOLD in Kosovo).

I was surprised to find that Canada is one of the only countries that enables this kind of contact with troops overseas. Australia has a Postcards to the Troops program that’s somewhat similar; the American Red Cross has a Holiday Mail for Heroes program that doesn’t have a central mailing address and seems pretty patchy; and the UK doesn’t allow any non-personally addressed mail to members of their armed forces. (There are, however, British charities like uk4u Thanks! that collect funds to send holiday parcels to troops.)

One more reason I feel lucky to be Canadian 🙂

Next year, I’ll break out the cards and seasonal tea at the beginning of November (and likely violate my husband’s ‘No Christmas songs before December!’ rule) and make sure the cards for ‘Any Canadian Armed Forces Member’ get to the central depot well in advance!

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Martinsmann pudding

Man-shaped pastry with red poppyWhile 11 November is Remembrance Day for Canadians (and Armistice or Veterans Day in other countries), it’s St. Martin’s Day in Germany. St Martin’s Day is the feast day for Martin of Tours and was one last great banquet before the start of Advent fasting in the middle ages.  In modern Germany, St Martin’s Day is known for roast goose (Martinsgans), lantern processions, and, in Mannheim, human-shaped pastries called Martinsmann.

We picked up a Martinsmann from our local bakery and were underwhelmed by its relative flavourlessness. Rather than waste the leftovers, I bumped them up with spices and apples in a bread pudding.

This recipe is modified from one I use for leftover hot cross buns at Easter. It works best with sweeter bread, but would be just fine with regular bread, too, although maybe with a little more sugar.

Partially eaten bread pudding

The bread pudding filled the kitchen with a lovely warm spicy smell, just like holiday baking – but it’s absolutely easier to make than gingerbread men or Christmas cookies 🙂 All the delicious smells with the ease of chopping up bread and stirring together milk, eggs, and spices!

The end result was so tempting that we devoured most of it before I snapped a photo 😉

We ate this bread pudding plain, but it would also be good with ice cream, whipped cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce. Adding chopped apple keeps everything moist and makes a sweet, buttery, boozy sauce unnecessary – although not any less welcome!

And if you’re interested in the traditional Martinsgans, check out this roast goose recipe from Ginger & Bread.

Bread pudding with apples

Ingredients
  • 450g (1 pound) day old hot cross buns or leftover Martinsmann
  • 700ml (3 cups) milk (or a combination of milk and cream for a richer pudding)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g (1/3 cups) sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 of a large apple, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and lightly grease an ovenproof casserole dish that will fit all the bread cubes
    • A 23cm (9″) square baking dish should do
  • Cut leftover bread into cubes (roughly 1cm square) and place in a large bowl
  • Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, spices and vanilla; pour mixture over bread and stir until coated
  • Let the milk mixture and bread rest for 15 minutes; the bread should absorb most of the liquid
  • Gently stir in chopped apple and pour into casserole dish, pressing down the bread a bit
  • Sprinkle coarse sugar over top and dust with additional nutmeg and cinnamon if desired
  • Bake until pudding sets and the top is golden brown – about 1 hour
  • Eat while warm and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce if you’d like
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