Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Thanksgiving

Well another Brno Thanksgiving has come and gone. This is my favorite time of year. I really feel that, to most Americans, Thanksgiving is more important than Christmas. With Thanksgiving it is all about being with family and friends and enjoying each others' company without all of the crazy commercialism. And I really like sharing it will all of my friends over here in Euroland.

Rather than use the same turkey farm I've used the past two years, I special ordered the bird from a local halal shop. I planned on an 11 kg bird to easily feed 25 people. When we showed up to pick up the turkey we were told that all they had for us was a 14 kg (31 lb) turkey. I wasn't sure if this Frankenturkey would even fit in to my oven. Whew! Just barely.

Of course, Thanksgiving here would not have been possible without help from the US. Thanks again to my mom for sending over a few key supplies. And a big thanks to Steven and Michael!! They brought me aluminum turkey pans when we met up in Paris this year. These disposable pans just aren't available over here. The pans have a 9 kg (20 lb) capacity so I was pushing it with a 14 kg bird. Fortunately it worked out fine and after 8.5 hours in the oven we were ready to eat.

I also had help this year with some of the prep work. Kamila came over on Friday and made all of the pie crusts. She also baked her very first red velvet cake. Claudia brought over her delicious pumpkin soup and Miran helped with peeling potatoes, carrots and he made the deviled eggs. It's amazing how just a little bit of help can make such a difference. I was able to get to sleep on Friday before midnight which was nice since I had to prep the bird at 4:30 AM.

Anyway, we had all of the traditional fixings and then some; turkey, dressing, pumpkin soup, sweet potato casserole, mac 'n cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli and rice casserole, corn bread muffins with honey butter, spinach dip, deviled eggs, glazed carrots, pecan pie, Bundt cake, cherry cake, red velvet cake, and Prekmurska gibanica. Yum!! And definitely lots of leftovers for the office on Monday.

It's always fun introducing people to Thanksgiving because some of our dishes are just unheard of over here. People are always surprised by sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. But they are always one of the first things that we run out of and I always have requests for the recipe.

Afterwards we were so full we could barely move. After the "turkey coma" had worn off and the alcohol had kicked in we headed off to the Brno Christmas market.

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this such a great time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dr Pepper

One of the things that I miss about living over here in the ČR is Dr Pepper. I never drank it hardcore but I would enjoy the occasional soda. I think that I may miss it more simply because it's not available here.

I've had Dr Pepper in the UK but they don't sell it here. One of my colleagues found it at Kaufland and brought me a bottle to work. I went to Interspar and they actually have Dr Pepper in stock. I almost cried with happiness.

Too bad I can't buy it at Albert or Tesco. A few of my Czech friends have said that I need to remove it from my blog's list of things not available here in Czechland. Not so fast! I'm first going to wait and see if this is just a passing fad. I got all excited last year when I saw passion fruit juice at Tesco. I was so happy that I bought all 8 liters they had on the shelf. And I've never seen it since then. But here's hoping that I'll now be able to enjoy a cold Dr Pepper whenever I feel like it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Steluţa's Birthday

Yesterday was Steluţa's birthday so Katka arranged for a few of us to surprise her with a cooking class. So here's the catch...wait for it...the cooking class was entirely in Czech. Oh good grief.

The class was held at the Míele store here in Brno. At first it seemed like it would turn out to be a big sales pitch but fortunately it wasn't. It was actually a lot of fun and Steluta was totally surprised.

Steluţa, Katka, Sabine, Natalie and I joined in for an Italian cooking class, again, entirely in Czech. All of the participants were split in to two groups to prepare a four-course meal, complete with wine and coffee.

We started off with an eggplant, cheese, onion and peppers stack thing served with a parsley vinaigrette. We followed this up with a pesto pasta dish. Our entrée was fish served with risotto. It was all quite tasty! Dessert was tiramisu and it too was yummy!!

Pavel showed up at the end with a bottle of champagne for the birthday toast. A fun evening but now I have to get my head in the game and focus on Saturday's Thanksgiving fiesta.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Berlin Buddy Bears

The bear is Berlin's mascot and appears on the city flag.

Throughout Berlin you can find the Buddy Bears. The 2 meter (6 foot) fiberglass sculptures are individually painted. You can find the colorful bears scattered all over the German capital.

The Buddy Bears started with an artistic event in 2001. Many of the bears have even gone on tour to 15 different countries.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Berlin Airport Protest

Yesterday was my first German protest. After a little sightseeing we went by the Brandenburg Gate to see what was going on. About 10,000 people came to protest against the night time flight plans that will go in to effect once the new Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BER) starts operating in 2012.

The current international airport is Berlin Tegel (TXL), located about 8 km (5 miles) northwest of the central Berlin. Last year, Tegel served over 15 million passengers making it the 4th busiest airport in Germany (and Europe's 13th busiest).

Tegel is scheduled to close on June 3, 2012 which is when Brandenburg will open. Brandenburg is located in Schönfeld, about 18 km (11 miles) from central Berlin, and will incorporate some of the infrastructure at the existing Schönfeld airport. The new airport will be able to handle 27 million passengers per year and will become Germany's 3rd busiest airport. Construction costs for BER are €2.5 billion (+$3.2 billion).

Brandenburg International will receive the secondary name "Willy Brandt airport" named after the former West German chancellor, mayor of West Berlin and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The airport will be a hub for Airberlin, Germania, Easyjet, Germanwings and Lufthansa.

Due to noise abatement regulations, flights are banned between midnight and 5 AM. Everyone at the demonstration was protesting the increased noise and pollution. No one wants planes flying over their houses at night. The demonstrators want a complete ban on flights from 10 PM to 6 AM.

Update:  The BER opening is still delayed.  Current estimates are for 2020 - 2021.
Update:  BER finally opened in December 2020.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


In the Czech Republic, and in most of Europe, homes do not normally have built-in closets. People here have free standing wardrobes.

In the USA, you can't describe a room as a room if it does not have a closet. One of the main reasons I chose my flat in Brno is because it actually has a walk-in closet.

Claudia's sister, Connie, is moving in to a new flat in Berlin so we offered to help move some furniture from her parents' house. No problem since it helped her parents out.

But dang...that wardrobe was heavy as hell!

Jupiter Jones & My Glorious

Last night was my first German concert. I had never heard of either group before but it was a blast!! After dinner, we all went to Berlin's Astra Kulturhaus to see Jupiter Jones. Their opening act was My Glorious.

Jupiter Jones is a German punk rock band that came together in 2002. It's named after the young detective in the American adventure series The Three Investigators. The group has gone from being a small-town band to selling out major venues in Germany.

In August 2010, Jupiter Jones signed a record deal with Columbia Berlin (Sony).

In April 2011, their single Still was the most played German language song on German radio. Here's the video for Still that I found out on YouTube.

Here's last night's performance of Sonne? Scheint!

My Glorious is an Indie rock group out of Vienna. The trio consists of singer/guitarist Sami Goodenough from the UK and Austrian twins Gregor and Paul Sailer who play bass and drums respectively. They sing in both English and German.

Since coming together in 2008, they have played in Austria, Germany, the UK, Israel and the USA. Their debut album in 2008 did well on the US college radio charts. Here's their song Give Me Time. Enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp located, 35 km (22 miles) north of Berlin, in Oranienburg. It was not originally intended to be an extermination camp. It was at first a training camp for SS officers who later served at extermination camps in the east. In 1942, large numbers of Jewish prisoners were sent to Auschwitz. Gas chambers and ovens were installed here in March 1943.

Between 1936 and 1945 around 200,000 people passed through the gates. At first, most of the prisoners were political opponents of the Nazi regime. Over time, those the Nazis considered racially or biologically inferior were also sent here.

Prior to the Nazis, Berlin was very liberal and was a mecca for gays. So it's no surprise that Sachsenhausen had more homosexual prisoners than any other Nazi concentration camp.

Each prisoner had to wear a colored triangle for easy classification. Red triangles were for political prisoners and communists. Black triangles were for social misfits, brown triangles were for Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), green triangles were for repeat criminal offenders (murderers and rapists), white triangles were for the "work shy", purple triangles were for Jehovah's Witnesses, pink triangles were for homosexuals and Jews wore two yellow triangles to form a six point star.

Sachsenhausen was home to the largest counterfeiting operation in history. The Nazis forced inmate artisans to produce fake currency in order to undermine the economies of the UK and America. Over £1 billion in counterfeited banknotes were recovered.

In the spring of 1945 the Soviet Red Army was advancing on Berlin. On April 20-21, the camp prepared for evacuation and 33,000 inmates were marched northeast. Those prisoners that collapsed along the way were shot. On April 22, 1945, the Red Army and Polish troops liberated the remaining 3,000 inmates, including 1,400 women.

After the war, Sachsenhausen was used as an NKVD (pre-KGB) special camp until 1950. It was then used by the East German military until 1990. However, in 1961, 5% of the original camp became a memorial.

East Germany's communist government emphasized the suffering of political prisoners above all other groups. The memorial obelisk has 18 red triangles (for communists) but no others. I guess honoring the Jews, gays and others who perished here wasn't a priority for East German communists.

One thing that most people don't realize is that in Nazi Germany, being gay was a criminal offense. So, in both East and West Germany, gays who were freed from concentration camps were transferred to civilian prisons to complete their sentences. Gays were also denied the reparations given out by the West German government to other groups who spent time in concentration camps.

Probably the most famous Sachsenhausen prisoner was the Reverend Martin Niemöller. He is best remembered for this famous quote.

In Germany, the Nazis first came for the Communists, and I did not speak up because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up because I was Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak for me.

We all need to stand up to injustice.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dresden Frauenkirche

The Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) is a Lutheran, Baroque church that was originally completed in 1743. It dominated the Dresden skyline for 200 years.

Unlike the majority of the buildings in the city center, it survived the two days and nights of heavy Allied bombing in 1945.

The sandstone pillars which supported the church's dome finally collapsed at 10 AM on February 15, 1945. When the outer walls shattered, nearly 6,000 tons of stone came crashing down. Fortunately the 300 people who had sought refuge inside the church got out before it all came down.

East Germany's communist government let the blackened stones sit in a pile in the city center for 45 years. It had been declared a memorial against war and was a symbol of British and American aggression.

Due to the continuing decay of the ruins, the government decided in 1985 that it would rebuild the Frauenkirche.

It wasn't until after German reunification that rebuilding efforts actually began. It took 11 years and €180 million (+$234 million) but the Frauenkirche was re-consecrated on October 30, 2005. Just in time for Dresden's 800th anniversary.

Approximately 3,800 of the 8,500 salvaged stones from the original church were used in rebuilding efforts.

It is a very beautiful church! There's a lot to see in Dresden but it's worth the visit just to go see this church.

Dresden, Germany

Dresden is Germany's 14th largest city. It's the capital city of the Free State of Saxony. The city is on the Elbe River, near the Czech border. Dresden is 200 km (124 miles) south of Berlin and west of Wrocław, and 150 km (93 miles) north of Prague.

Dresden became a city in 1206 and in 2006 it celebrated its 800th anniversary. In the 18th century it was called the "Florence of the north" when it was an artistic center. During the 20th century it was a leading center for art, classical music, culture and science until it was destroyed in 1945.

Today Dresden is one of Europe's greenest cities. Over 60% of the city is filled with green zones and forests.

Over 90% of the city center was destroyed during WWII. On February 13 - 14, 1945, the city was bombed twice by the Royal Air Force and once by the U.S. Army Air Corps. To this day, it is still one of the most controversial Allied actions of the war. 1,300 bombers dropped over 3,900 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices causing a firestorm that destroyed 39 sq km (15 sq miles) of the city center. Dresden was bombed 12 weeks before the end of the war. The city had become a haven to over a half-million refugees and was not a high value military target. Some people think that the attacks were revenge on Germany for the Luftwaffe's bombing of London. Others think it was more of a warning to intimidate the Soviet Red Army that would arrive in Dresden within a few days.

There has been lots of restoration work and now the historic city center is quite impressive. There's a good deal to see here. Unfortunately, we only planned a couple of hours for Dresden but you can be sure that I'll be back once it warms up.

The Zwinger Palace is the town's most famous landmark. The Baroque complex of pavilions and galleries was built between 1710 - 1732.

The Semperoper is home to the Saxon State Opera. The original opera was completed in 1841. The opera wasn't rebuilt until February 1985.

The Katholische Hofkirche (Church of the Court) was built to counter the Protestant Frauenkirche. The Baroque church was built between 1738 - 1751. Reconstruction began in 1979 and in 1980 it became a cathedral.

The Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) was originally built in 1733. For almost 50 years, the church was nothing more than a pile of rubble. I know that resources were sometimes scares in the days of communism. But damn!! It seems like it took forever to rebuilt this town. The new church was finally consecrated in 2005.

The Dresden Elbe Valley was a UNESCO World Heritage Site for five years. In 2009, it was removed from the list due to construction of the Waldschlößchenbrücke highway bridge across the valley within 2 km (1.25 miles) of the historic city center. This was the first location in Europe ever to lose its status and only the second ever in the world to be de-listed.

In East Berlin they have Ampelmännchen, the little traffic light men. In January 2005, Dresden installed the first of ten Ampelfrauen traffic signals.