Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Erdnuss Flippies

One of the things that I really miss about the United States is the complete lack of good, all-natural, hydrogenated-oil-free peanut butter (among other food items like Roberto's Mexican food or really good Japanese food). Sure they have peanut butter in stores here but it's the kind that's like 20% hydrogenated vegetable oil, re-branded Jif for example, and not the mixing-required, peanuts-and-salt-only kind like Laura Scudders (sometimes labeled as Smuckers All Natural).

Each time I leave the U.S., I fill up every last ounce of check-in-bag weight that I've got with jars of the tan gold that is peanut butter. So, it's been almost eight months since I've been back in the U.S. and my PB stash is just about at its end. I think that there's maybe three or four tablespoons left in my last jar that's hidden in the back of the fridge. Oh no! What's a boy to do???

Well, just when I thought that the world might end, I was introduced to something by our Munich friends that just might hold me over. World, meet Erdnuss Flippies:

That's right! Erdnuss (peanut) flavored "cheese" curls! No, they're not particularly "natural" tasting but they are peanut-butter flavored and they are available in almost every store here in Germany.

What, you're asking, are Erdnuss Flippies? My guess is that cheese curls are, or maybe "should be", popular only in the U.S. and maybe Canada so for the non-U.S. folks, cheese curls are basically like those "peanuts" that they use to protect the contents of items during shipping except that they are slightly more edible and have flavored added. I've only known them to be cheese flavored but apparently some German engineer bent on world domination decided to make curls in peanut flavor, which is actually extra interesting since peanut butter isn't exactly the most popular food flavor sold on this side of the pond. Believe it or not, there are two entire racks at my local supermarket dedicated to this stuff!

Considering that I've never really gotten into cheese curls, I've managed to finish off at least three or four bags without even thinking since finding out about Flippies. I'm now promising myself to stop buying them but I'm not sure how I'll do...or even if I want to...

And, to make matters worse, just this past Friday when I was shopping, I came face-to-face with my latest nemesis, Mexican-style flippies! I'm not sure what peanut butter and Mexican "style" will be but maybe something along the lines of a spicy, Thai sauce. Hmm...maybe I'll try them next...hold me back, please...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Markgröningen Shepherd's Run

I was on my way home one day walking down the stairs in the metro station when I spotted this ad on the wall:

I had no idea what the ad was for but the girls in the traditional, southern-German clothing looking like they were running towards me got my attention. Since I'm always on the lookout for unusual stuff to take pictures of and learn about, I snapped a photo and went home to look at the website listed at the bottom of the ad. What I found got me a little too excited...if you know what I mean...

The ad was for the annual Markgröningen Schäferlauf, which is a Schäferlauf (shepherd's run) festival in a small town near Stuttgart named Markgröningen. I still had very little idea what would take place there but, once again, the pictures of chicks in old-fashioned clothes racing was just too much.

So the big day arrived and we headed out to scenic Markgröningen, and, yes, that's really the town's name, for the BIG event!

Some of the locals anticipating the big event of the day (the sheep too):

The Schäferlauf is the oldest Heimatfest (folk festival) in Baden-Würtemburg (the state where Stuttgart is located). The origins of the festival are unknown but it's believed to have originated with a local shepherd's guild in Markgröningen during the Middle Ages. The first mention of the festival was in the mid-1400s but it wasn't until almost 1600 when details as to the event's activities were recorded. Today's Schäferlauf is basically unchanged since 1651 -- 361 years!!!. While researching the event, I found these old photos from 1963 that could have been taken the day we were there.

The event takes place on the final weekend in August and lasts for four days. We went on Saturday and the day started with a parade from the center of town out to the arena where the races and other festivities take place. I had a hard time following all of the German but this photo, taken at the festival grounds, was towards the beginning while they were explaining and performing some of the history of the event:

There were several different races for different age groups. There was a sack race for kids where they were pursued by police officers (no, I don't know why):

The next event was a group dance where young couples danced a traditional dance in a circle. Each couple would stop under a cup of water that was placed on a small platform suspended from a large, decorated pole. They would boost their partner up to try to knock the cup over with their head. The whole group went through two times with the girls being lifted on the first pass and the guys on the second. I'm not 100% sure but I think that, overall, the girls did better than the guys in lifting their partners up. It's seeing scenes like this that causes me to "remember" that I'm living in southern Germany and, like David Byrne, ask myself "how did I get here?".

They had races for pretty much everyone except middle-aged guys from the United States (me) including one for sexy older women who had to carry buckets of water on their heads while they ran from one end of the field to the other. Ummm, it's impossible to tell from the photos but trust me when I say that these women were running very fast. I was blown away!

Finally, it was time for the highlight of the day...local chicks in old-fashioned clothes running barefooted across a field! Woohoo! Awesome!!!

The final two races (the teenage girls and the teenage boys) seemed like some kind of Middle-Ages fertility right of passage. The winners of each race were crowned as the king and queen of the event and got to be the honorees for the remainder of the event. Survival of the fittest anyone?

Right after the king and queen were crowned, they were positioned at one end of the arena and were honored by what I can only describe as a dance of extreme endurance. Sixteen young couples from the Schäfertanz dance group performed a 15-minute "running-style" dance. They were dressed in trad clothes and basically ran full speed in circles for the whole time. In no way am I saying that it was bad. No, actually it was very well done and I have a ton of respect for their ability to kick ass for the entire 15-minute-long pageant.

The event in the arena lasted a little less than two hours before everyone involved headed back into the center of town in one large parade. Markgröningen is a scenic little town about 30 minutes (via train) north of Stuttgart. It has a bunch of half-timber buildings and small, winding streets. During the Schäferlauf, booths and places to eat are setup all over the center of town. In the main plaza different groups performed on a stage.

A video showing Markgröningen's main plaza and one of the band's musical performance:

Living in Barcelona spoiled me. Pretty much every weekend there's a festival or three taking place somewhere in the city. I've really missed that while living here in Stuttgart. Well, the Markgröningen Schäferlauf was hands-down the best event that I've been to since moving to Germany six months ago. The town is lovely. The event was interesting, fun, and well organized. I can't say enough good things about it. I need to keep my eyes open for more posters in the metro I guess!

Oh, and thanks to Kijung for spending another fun-filled day with Diana and me. A photo of the three of us and Markgröningen's main plaza taken from the church-tower viewing platform:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Mercedes Museum

So, after coming back from Munich with John John, Stacey, and Diana, JJ, Stacey, and I hit up the Mercedes museum. I had already been to the outstanding Porsche Museum and the less outstanding but still good BMW Museum so I was really looking forward to the supposed king-of-all-car museums, THE Mercedes Museum.

The museum is not too far from the center of Stuttgart in an area called Unterturkheim. Mercedes has their headquarters there along with a factory or two and the museum. I enjoy this part of town because they have industry in bottom of the river valley and wine grows on the hillsides all around. It's a lovely juxtaposition.

A view of some of the many Mercedes, or "Daimler" as it's referred to locally here in Stuttgart, buildings taken from the inside of the museum:

The outside of the Mercedes Museum is a curvey, gray metal and glass office-looking building. It's good looking but not as futuristic as the Porsche museum (but better than BMW's). The outside, though, gives you no indication of what's inside. I was blown away by what I saw just inside the door. This is the atrium with modern style including the crazy, pod-like elevators:

Actually, the interior reminded me in some ways of Oakley's mega futuristic headquarters in California. Like Porsche and BMW, the museum is spread over multiple floors and shows the history of Mercedes from the first motors all the way up to modern, Formula1 cars. This shot shows some motors, an airplane, and, way off in the distance, some classic cars:

The tour works it's way from the top floor and ends back on the ground floor. It starts out with the Mercedes Patent Wagon like the one Diana got to ride on not too long ago and the Grandfather Clock motor that I first saw at the Gottlieb Daimler Memorial. This relatively small room shows the origins for many motorized vehicles that have been developed over the last 100 years or so. It was pretty impressive to see so much history in one small place.

One of the things that I've learned since moving to Germany was that some of the first non-car vehicles to be designed and built were trucks that were used to...guess...we are in Germany after all...yep, they were built to move BEER! Here's John John drinking a "light" beer celebrating one of the first beer trucks:

Mercedes has chosen to lay out the museum mostly by vehicle types with rooms dedicated, for example, to "classsic" cars from over the years (note the silver gull-wing off to the left side of the photo):

...and some heavy vehicles:

The museum is chock full of old cars, new cars, trucks, buses, motors, boats, airplanes, and, well, you get the idea. My favorites included this one-off car transporter that was apparently built to transport race cars to the races. Something like this would have been helpful to own back when I owned my MINI and needed to take it for repairs...

One of the rooms was a "Celebrity Car Room" where they had famous cars from famous people. The highlight, at least for me, was (a copy of?) the original Popemobile:

One of the final rooms that you go through in the museum has this display in it. At first, I didn't realize the scale of what I was seeing and this photo doesn't do it justice. Realize when you look at it that these cars and trucks are real, full-sized vehicles and you can appreciate just how damn big the room is.

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll probably know that I love Formula1. I got to go once a couple of years ago in Barcelona and I still watch it on TV regularly so I was stoked to see Lewis Hamilton's 2008 car. Oh how I'd love to take a spin in something like that...

I once half-jokingly asked my German teacher what Stuttgart's culture was. After all, Munich's got the Octoberfest thing, Barcelona's got Gaudi, Los Angeles has Hollywood. What's Stuttgart got? Surprisingly to me, and without even pausing, she responded Technik ("engineering" in German). If that's the case and technik's what Stuttgart's got, then Mercedes has done a great job showing off the local culture. In this case, without the leather pants.

Oh, and what's better than spending the day checking out a cool, car-related museum? Getting to go to happy hour out front afterwards and drinking locally-made wine with great friends! That's what!!! JJ and Stacey, thanks for the super fun, way-too-short weekend. Let's do it again soon.

A side note to John and Stacey's visit. After visiting with us, they went on to Austria to a friend's wedding. A couple of days later, John asked Stacey to marry him and she said yes. Stacey, having known John for almost 25 years, I know that I've never seen him happier than when he's with you. You guys make a great couple and I wish you the best of luck. Congratulations!!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Schloss Hohenschwangau

After spending a couple of days in Munich and meeting up with long-time friend John John from California, the four of us headed back towards Stuttgart. We stopped along the way because John's girlfriend wanted to check out a couple of castles that are right on the border of Germany and Austria.

The castles are about half-way between Munich and Konstanz and just north of the Alps. The combination of the castles, mountains, lakes, and other scenery is all wow-spectacular but, unfortunately, the more scenic of the two castles, Neuschwanstein is currently undergoing renovations so it's covered with scaffolding and cloth:

Neuschwanstein is rumored to be the inspiration for Disney's Cinderella Castle but who knows. Maybe there were a bunch of dwarfs (why isn't it dwarves?) up at the castle but there's no way that I was waiting the 1 1/2 hours JUST TO BUY tickets to a CONSTRUCTION SITE! OMG! What is this, the Liberty Tower? It seemed like the entire population of China was in that line! (As an aside, I still haven't figured out what the appeal of Stuttgart is for the Chinese. There are bus loads of them in the center of the city every day. Maybe it's the Porsche and Mercedes museums? Ich weiß es nicht!)

Anyway, no problem in regards to the long lines. We decided to go instead to the nearby Hohenschwangau castle. It's smaller and less Disneylandish but it's supposedly in a more "authentic" condition...and the wait was exactly zero minutes long.

Hohenschwangau was originally built in the 13th century and has changed hands and been renovated several times over the years. The setting is amazing with the Alps, a large lake, and a small, scenic village out the front windows of the castle (lake out to the right in the photo):

Waiting for our tour to start I saw a little girl filling up a water bottle in the fountain. She was filling it by dipping the bottle in the "used" water so I went over and refilled it with the fresh water from the faucet. Turns out that she was from Spain so I got to speak with her in Spanish a bit. This picking up girls thing is pretty easy! :-)

I don't have (many) photos from the inside of the castle as you're not allowed to take them. There was one thing that I couldn't resist though... In one of the rooms there's a small box displayed on a table. Inside the box is a loaf of bread that's (according to the guide) over 100 years old. I'm not sure why they've saved/preserved it but it must be pretty-damn important. So, here it is, 100+year-old bread. Please pass the Nutella!

The castle was in great shape and impressive but no dwarfs were found. I enjoyed the guided tour even though I felt a bit like a sheep getting led around. Let's just say that they're efficient moving the different tour groups through the building. On our way, Diana and I stopped to take one of our self-portraits where you could see both castles in the background...

...what we didn't know was that John was taking photos of us taking photos our ourselves. I love it!

After our guided tour, we took a walk through the woods that surround the castle. We stopped on this ridge and got this group photo:

From here, it was down to the lake for John, Stacey, and Diana to take a quick swim. Yeah, I didn't do the swim thing because, well, I hate going swimming. I just hung out, people watched, and took photos, which is fun enough for me! And guess what!?! I got to drive back on the autobahn in John's rental Mercedes! Wooooooosh!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The BMW Museum

When I think of Munich, I think mostly of Octoberfest, dudes cruising around in old-fashioned leather pants, and now, curiously enough, surfing. But something else also comes to mind: BMW. After all, they're based in Munich and, indirectly by owning a MINI at one point, I'm a fan. So, heading over to the headquarters and museum were a must do while we were in town.

A view of the headquarters tower, the BMW museum (small, round, space-ship-shaped building just in front of the tower), BMW Welt (the large building in the foreground covered with solar panels), and one of BMW's factories (off to the left of the tower) as seen from the Olympic Park Tower:

Up front, let's just say that, other than having a MINI, which is owned by BMW (along with Rolls Royce), I've never really wanted a BMW for some reason. Nothing bad, just not on the list. Saying that though, I do have respect for the brand and its heritage. I'm especially wowed by their history of motorcycles, which they had tons of on display:

Probably my most memorable impression of BMW motorcycles is the Long Way Around and Long Way Down series with Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman. If you've never seen them and you're at all into travel-adventure stories, you must check them out!

After going to the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart a few months ago and having a great time, I was looking forward to seeing another company's museum. BMW's version is definitely a striking building on the inside and beautifully done. Unfortunately, it isn't laid out as quite as well and seemed, well, somewhat random and confusing. One moment you're looking at some really cool old motorcycles and the next you're seeing super-modern Formula1 cars. It was a bit disorienting and hard to follow the history of the company and the brand evolution.

We did have some luck that we caught up with a guy giving a tour in English so we followed along for a few minutes to hear what he was saying. Our "tour" lasted for only about three or four minutes until he told us to stop following him and that the tour was private. Oops! Sorrrrrrrrrrrry!

Some parts of the museum, like I said, were visually striking, such as this ramp that went up towards the museum exit. From it, you could look at a bunch of photos and some cool race cars.

But some of the other areas were down-right WEAK!!! Most car manufacturers today have a "base" series of cars as well as a high-performance and/or upmarket series. Think Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infiniti, or even Mercedes/AMG. BMW's high-performance series is called "M" and they're basically near-race cars built for the street. In other words, they're fast. And cool. And pricey. And this is how they display them. Sort of like a used-car show room. How sad for the peeps that build them!

It wasn't all doom and gloom over at the Bavarian Motor Works Museum though. Around 60 years ago, BMW wasn't doing so well in the post-war German economy. To keep their workers employed and the lines running, they developed a small car, which was more motorcycle like, that they could sell inexpensively. This work of art, the BMW Isetta, just happens to be one of my all-time-favorites. I know, it's crazy small and funny looking, but it's a cute small and a cute funny looking!

John John and Diana checking out a classic:

Probably my favorite feature of the car is that the front of it opens rather than the side. Just like an old VW Bus, there's no crumple zone up front, which makes it kinda' scary in the case of an accident. It is awesome though. Something that I learned about Isettas that day were that they were known as pot-hole finders since all four wheels follow different tracks on the street. From what I understand, the design makes it almost impossible to dodge holes in the road. Ohhhhh...just something else to love about the car.

We wandered around the museum for about two hours before heading across the street to check out BMW Welt ("World" in English). I think that it's a more interactive-style of museum where you can get up and close with BMW stuff. We really didn't give it any time, though, other than just long enough to check out the building itself, which is very impressive. It's on my list for another visit to Munich.

On our way out of the complex, there were some motorcycles set up for taking photos. I believe that Diana is a closet Harley (Davidson) rider and, had she grown up in the United States, that she'd be sporting the orange and black and some eagle tattoo or something. Her face in this one is priceless:

So, overall, not as good as Porsche's museum but still worth a visit. There are lots of interesting motorcycles and cars to check out, especially the Isetta, which gets its own room! I have been thinking that it might be good to go to work for BMW so that I could get another MINI, but this time on the employee-pricing plan!