Friday, July 27, 2012

Markets Are Everywhere in Münster!

One of the best things about living in Germany are the open weekly markets in each town where you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, candy, flowers, spices, jams and much more.  One of the great aspects of these markets is that most of the goods come from local and nearby farms, so everything is super fresh and tasty, even though it's slightly more expensive than buying food in the store.  The difference of freshness and flavor is worth the premium.

It took us a while to figure out when Hiltrup's weekly markets were. In Borken, there were markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, but they were super small (in the winter, sometimes only 1 or 2 booths were open).  Hiltrup only has Friday markets, but they're packed with tons of vendors and you can easily get everything you need and much more in this one place. Last Friday I bought about 6 pounds (2.5 kilos) of fresh fruit - all of which was consumed by Tuesday.

Here's a photo of what I usually come home with:

Münster's main market is on Saturday's at the Dom Platz - a large open area in front of one the huge cathedrals in town.  This is really a "big event" compared to the smaller weekly markets and it seems like the entire city population makes it was to the market on Saturdays.  It stays open until around 3, but about an hour before closing the vendors start dropping their prices.  Last weekend we heard multiple vendors shouting things like "Peppers - 50 cents!" and "Two bundles of flowers - 5 Euros!" and really competing with each other for the lowest prices to get rid of their merchandise.

Münster's main Saturday market is also a great place to get lunch and hang out.  Bryan always goes for the fried fish since he knows I'll never make fish at home.

Bryan is about 4-5 people back in line waiting for his fish.  

This was taken as the market was closing down.  Earlier in the day, it was a sea of people shoulder to shoulder.

Nuts and spices

Homemade Jelly, Jam,  Honey and Mustard

Locally grown fruits and vegetables

Reasonably prices flowers, plants and herbs
We've also discovered that during the spring/summer months in Münster, they have several "Flohmarkts"which translates directly to "Flea Market" in English, and is excellent antique and bargain hunting.  Most towns have periodic Flohmarkts and Trödelmarkts (junk markets), but Münster's is particularly large and contains an impressive variety of goods.

Random chairs, windows and odd furniture pieces

Garden and patio furniture

Retro chairs, cool green trunk or gross ancient pram?

My favorite is the random box of creepy doll arms and legs

Buddhist / Hindu statues and goods

Huge collection of mini-antlers on the bench

The Flohmarkt is set up in front the Schloss (castle), so it's quite picturesque.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Busy Weekend on the Balcony

We never realized when we moved to this apartment in Münster how valuable our balcony would be.  We had a balcony in Borken, but it was off Dylan's room and we kept the door blocked most of the time to prohibit him from going out there alone.  But here, our balcony is off our dining room / kitchen so Bryan and I are finding ourselves out there quite a bit, especially after Dylan goes to bed.  We have a great view of Hiltrup's church and we get gorgeous sunsets, which this time of year is around 10:30 at night.

Because of our proximity on Hiltrup's main retail thoroughfare - Marktallee - we also find ourselves on the city's main parade route, so we see quite a bit of activity from the balcony.  On Friday night, Hiltrup had its annual Bike Race "Rund um die Marktallee" which consisted of smaller races for young kids (Yes, Dylan will be entering next year in the 3-5 year old age bracket - their race is only 100 meters long) and "seniors" (which insultingly is for people 35 years and older - since when is a 35 year old a senior?), and the main event for "elite cyclists" - 88 laps around our 1kilometer block.

Dylan will dominate this age bracket next year. (photo from Christiane Schräder,  Mü

The premise of the elite race - 88 laps around something roughly the same size as a gym track - seemed kind of odd to us, but they've been doing it now for 24 years so I guess it's a mainstay in town.  We had a blast cheering on the races from our 5th floor balcony, and of course, Bryan got to heckle the one or two racers who inevitably blew a huge lead in the seniors race and came in nearly dead last.  He reveled in his bellowing from our balcony in a southern accent, "You gonna get got."  It took every ounce of his self control to not say anything as this biker packed his car after the race right in front of us.  This is my husband.

The elite race unfortunately didn't make it through all 88 laps due to a huge thunder and lightning storm that came through right around lap #60.  We were pretty astonished at how quickly the entire town scrammed once the rain came, and we have no clue who won the race.

Elite racers at the starting line (photo from Christiane Schräder,  Mü
Elite Racers.

Also this weekend was Hiltrup's Schützenfest - an annual summer festival that pretty much every town in Germany celebrates with varying pomp and circumstance.  Hiltrup's Schützenfest seems like a hyper-local activity that doesn't have much social impact on us Auslanders (foreigners), BUT on Sunday afternoon their parade went right past our balcony, which was entertaining.

Horses are always exciting for a 3 year old to see.

After this weekend, Dylan is expecting bike races and parades to go by every day.

We've also discovered that we're on Hiltrup's Karenval Parade Route, which is super exciting because we really loooove Karenval season.  We'll see if anyone has a good enough throwing-arm to toss candy and beads all the way up to our balcony.

Monday, July 16, 2012

History is All Around (Including Under) Us

We are reminded each day living in Münster about the history of the city.   Whether we think of of Charlemagene’s missionary named Frisian Liudger, who founded the city in 793 while we wait for the bus at Ludgeriplatz or when we're reminded of the last  remaining Anabaptists in 1535 who were slaughtered with their corpses hanging in cages in the tower of St. Lamperti’s steeple, we see history all around us.  Last Saturday, as Dylan and I were trying to make our way to my office, we learned that history is also under us. 

Ludgeriplatz ring - scariest place to ride your bike through in the whole city.

 It started on Saturday morning, as Dylan and I headed for the train station to go to my office.  At our train station, there were hundreds of what seemed to be stranded travelers making their way in and out of our small train station.  To put things in perspective, we usually see 10-20 other people on the platform with us.  This particular morning, the trains headed to the main train station were cancelled for at least the next hour and this weird party train with nearly a thousand people dressed in 70’s clothes supposedly headed for Hamburg were stranded on our platform.  Dylan asked if we could go on the party train.  After a few long seconds of deliberation, I said, “No, son.  Not today at least.” 

Hiltrup-Münster Bahnhof - not suited for thousands of stranded passengers.

We waited an hour for the next trains to come, but once the time came, those too were cancelled.  At this point, we were approaching pandemonium on the Hiltrup train station platform.  I have never seen so much confusion in one place.  The buses were running, but they were packed with stranded travellers trying to get to downtown Münster.   We decided to head back home. 

I explained to Dana when we got home early what happened and she did the logical thing…she Googled what was going on.  Within seconds she said, “ There was a bomb earlier this morning and the whole main train station in Münster is closed.”  That explained it, but what kind of bomb scare was it?

Come to find out, a thousand pound bomb from World War II was discovered during construction under the platform that I arrive on every day.  They had to evacuate the entire train station and the nearby surrounding area.  Because it was a rare bomb with a highly sensitive detonator, it took the bomb squad nearly all day to diffuse it.  The Münster train station has been under construction for as long as we can remember (a much needed upgrade adding escalators and elevators to reach the platforms), it seems pretty miraculous that the whole place hadn't blown up with this massive bomb just sitting there for presumably 70 years.  

A photo of the bomb found under Münster's train platform (from

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Seminar Year #2

Last month marked my (Bryan’s) second Summer Seminar trip.  You may remember the post from last year when we went to Austria.  This year, we spent a week in Makkum, Netherlands in a bungalow on the North Sea.  There were about 15 of us (me, 9 students, 4 colleagues and Professor Langer) on the trip.  My colleagues and I shared one of the three bungalows, while the students shared the other two bungalows.  All of the other bungalows were occupied with other families and really old people.  This prompted two security guards to visit us before we even set up the grill to ‘make sure we weren’t going to make any problems this week.’   
Makkum, Netherlands

These Summer Seminar weeks are good German practice, as pretty much all of the conversations are German.  If I was speaking one on one with somebody, there was still a pretty good chance we were speaking German.  I was encouraged that I could actually understand a good portion of the presentations this time around.  The worst part about catching most, but not all of a conversation is that you can’t add any comments.  You basically sit there and try to focus on understanding.  By the time a thought comes and you formulate the thought in German, the topic has moved on and you start the process all over again.  I am typically not the ‘quiet guy’ in the group, but I usually don’t say much in a German conversation.

The North Sea in June was not exactly Siesta Key, Florida, but the weather ended up relatively nice.  Relatively means it was 60 degrees F (15 C) and sunny, which meant we were able to get a tan.  I had no idea 18 months ago, living in hot and sticky Florida, that I would be able to sit in the sun in 60 degree weather.  My blood has thickened.

Cold North Sea in June vs....

Siesta Key?

Speaking of German speaking, it is not as far along as I would like.  Somehow, Dana’s German has gotten much better and she is really good at understanding.  She has gotten a lot of telephone speaking practice from speaking with Dylan’s Kindergarten and making various Doctors appointments for her and Dylan.  Hopefully, we will have time this fall to get enrolled in a course that could take our German skills up a notch.   

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Settled In

As bleak as our recent blog posts have been, the last couple of weeks have been really nice.  We feel much more settled (hot water and a kitchen help) in our new place and have seen that the people here in Münster are actually really nice, if a little unapproachable.  Maybe it was because of our high stress level, but I actually thought that it was illegal to smile in Münster because I never saw anyone smile.  I imagined that if a police officer caught me giving a stranger a polite nod and smile, I would get a 20 euro ticket.  Maybe there is a ‘mind your own business’ law or something.  Anyway, over the last couple of weeks, it doesn’t appear that way. 

This past weekend, we went on Saturday to the community pool (freibad.)   Community pools here in Germany are much more than that.  This freibad has 5 different swimming pools including a kiddie pool where we hung out (it’s the only place where it is acceptable for a 7 month pregnant Dana to rock a bikini and not get strange looks, although she did get a few disapproving glances from older German women), a large water slide, and a playground.  There is a minimal entrance fee and it is only a 10 minute (15 with Dana) bike ride there. 
Having fun in the pool.

In the kiddie pool

Yup, he's wearing a speedo.  

If you look closely you can see a big smile on his face coming down the slide. 

Lots of laughs for the big splash at the bottom. 

Dylan was definitely the only 3 year old (or person with Swimmies on) to be brave enough to go down this massive water slide.

On Sunday, Dylan and I went to the local golf course to practice on the driving range.  We have been there pretty much even weekend since moving here and we haven’t been banned yet.  We normally hit a bucket of balls on the driving range and practice on the putting green.  Dylan loves to practice and is becoming better and better with his little clubs.  I somehow got my 8 iron, pitching wedge, and putter in my luggage when we came home from Christmas, so I get to work on my short game.  It takes us 10 minutes to get there by bike and it is usually the highlight of the weekend. 

In addition to playing golf, Dylan’s favorite thing to do with ‘Daddy’ is to go to my office on the weekend.  He loves taking the train into the city and taking the elevator to my office.  He is normally occupied for 2-3 hours watching videos, which is wonderful for me because I get to put in some extra work and nice for Dana because she gets some time alone.  Two weekends ago, I bought Dylan some ice cream on our way to my office.  Dylan insisted on getting the flavor that was called ‘Mozart’, which looked like chocolate.  I ordered the ice cream cone and the ice cream scooper (the person working there) said something about if this was for a child (kind).  He was holding a cone in his hand, so I thought he was asking me if it I wanted a kids cone.  I said no, a normal cone would be okay.  He shrugged his shoulders and gave me the cone.

Fast forward 10 minutes later and Dylan is really enjoying his ice cream cone.  This is usually the time he asks me help him clean up the drips.  He handed me the cone and I proceeded on cleaning up his mess.  After two licks, this ice cream tasted different than most.  In fact, this tasted like liquor!  I had bought my three year old ice cream that had alcohol in it.  Suddenly, I realized what the ice cream store worker was trying to tell me.  Oops.  Reason #792 I feel unfit to be a Dad.    

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Now We're Cookin'!

Our kitchen was finally delivered and installed last week, a full 6 weeks after buying the kitchen.  Over the last two months, we have a totally new Top 5 Worst Customer Service Experiences list, as our top 5 Worst Experiences have been completely replaced by new ones. 

The kitchen debacle was by far our worst customer service experience ever (even worse than trying to cancel our AT&T plans when we moved here), even though our service expectations were very low from the beginning.  The store that we bought our kitchen from, Poco, uses Daniela Katzenberger as their spokesperson.  This would be the American equivalent of Kendra Wilkinson from the Girls Next Door.  So ... not the highest end product.

On May 8, we bought one of the store's floor models in order to save some money and get our kitchen sooner than if we have purchased a non-floor model.  This way they assured us that by the end of the month at the latest our kitchen would be ready to be delivered, which was perfect since we were moving at the end of the month.  We needed to order a new countertop, however, because the sink was on the wrong side for where our water pipes were, but the salesperson told us it take "a week or two" to order and we could have our kitchen delivered soon afterward.  After two weeks, we followed up and learned that the "factory was busy" and it would take "a couple more weeks" before it arrived.  In America, we would have cancelled our order and found another kitchen somewhere else.  Unfortunately, we stayed with it. 

Trying to be proactive, we tried to get our delivery and installation appointment set before the countertop arrived.   But, for some reason, we could not set up a delivery appointment until the countertop arrived.  When the countertop arrived on June 6th, the soonest installation appointment was … June 19th!  Dana took that call and I promptly moved Dylan into the bedroom until that call was over. 

We proceeded with this horrendous service and our kitchen was installed on Tuesday, the 19th, 6 weeks and 1 day after buying our kitchen.  When the kitchen was delivered, we were really surprised that the countertop wasn’t even cut!  Our installer had to cut it on our balcony.   In hindsight, we should have cancelled the countertop order and had it purchased at a different store (same day service).  Nevertheless, we have our kitchen installed and vow to never shop again at Poco. 

Out of spite, we bought the rest of our furniture on  Because we don’t have a car here in Münster, we would need to have the furniture delivered.  Interestingly enough, we made a huge furniture order on Wednesday night and most of it arrived Friday morning.  There is hope for timely service in Germany.

When we tell this story, the response is totally different depending on whom we tell it to.  Germans don’t even blink and tell us that "this is completely normal here."  They are not surprised or compassionate to our predicament.  Our American friends and family, are totally appalled and can’t believe how someone could stay in business with this level of service.  (They still can’t believe that we would need to buy a new kitchen for a new apartment, but we have already blogged about how weird that is.  Speaking of which, can anyone tell me another country in the world where you have to buy your own kitchen for an apartment.  I would be interested to know where else not to move.)