Thursday, September 30, 2021

Volkskammer and DDR Products

After visiting the German Spy Museum and a bit of shopping, Claudia and I had lunch at the Volkskammer restaurant.  This is the DDR (German Democratic Republic) themed restaurant that we didn't have the chance to visit last time.  The post about East Germany and the video about the restaurant is here

The restaurant is named after the Volkskammer, the People's Chamber, which was the country's single legislative body.  Think of it as both Parliament and Senate (or Congress and Senate) in one.  The restaurant is a kitschy place for Ostalgie, which is nostalgia for eastern times, and good, filling Eastern German dishes.

Würtzfleisch, "seasoned meat", is a fine ragout of meat, mushrooms, in a roux of butter and flour that is seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and lemon with cheese melted on top and served with toast.  Claudia remembered the aluminium cutlery from her youth and was surprised to see it still in use.

Jägerschnitzel, "hunter's schnitzel" in Western Germany is a veal or pork cutlet, coated in breadcrumbs, fried and served with a mushroom sauce and usually potatoes.  

The closest thing we have this in the USA would be "country fried steak", which is also called "chicken fried steak" which is pork (not chicken) coated in breadcrumbs and fried.  It is usually served with a white country gravy.  It is very popular in the south and it's believed to have been brought to America by German immigrants.

Due to the often limited availability of goods, people had to get creative in the east.  Instead of using pork or veal, Jagdwurst sausage (think of baloney or Mortadella) was used.  It's a cooked sausage made of pork that is seasoned with salt, green peppercorns, ginger and coriander.  It can be eaten cold or hot and is often used in soups.  Instead of the mushroom sauce and potatoes as in the west, Jägerschnitzel in the east was served with tomato sauce and spiral noodles.  Below is a recipe for Jägerschnitzel that I found online from the DDR Museum.

Dessert was a Schwedeneisbecher which is a cup of vanilla ice cream with apple mouse, Eierlikör (strong eggnog style liquor) with whipped cream.  Very tasty but afterwards I felt like I was going to explode from so much food.  When we left they gave us mini packs of Knusperflocken.  Yum!!

Ostalgie is a real thing.  When the Berlin Wall came down people wanted western products.  Also most of the eastern products were produced in outdated factories and the communist ideal that everyone had a job wasn't exactly compatible with capitalism so many factories in the east simply shut down especially as well-trained people quickly moved west in search of better opportunities and higher salaries.

There are a few Ossi brands that did survive the fall of communism including, thank goodness, my favourite Spreewäldergurken, the world's absolute best pickles. 

Knusperflocken, "crunchy flakes", used to be called "Schoko-Ossis" and they've been back on the market since 1995.  They are  ground crisp bread and milk chocolate.  They are highly addictive.  Give me a cold glass of milk and I can finish off a whole bag on my own.  I like the original milk chocolate kind, but now they also have dark chocolate and white chocolate versions too.

Bautz'ner Senf is made in Bautzen, Saxony, and it was the most popular mustard in East Germany.  It's still available and I often receive it my care packages from Claudia's mom.  I actually use it as the base, along with honey, brown sugar and a bit of orange juice as the marinade for the ham I make every year for Thanksgiving.

Rotkäppchen is probably the most well-known brand to survive East German communism.

In 1856 some friends set up a wine store and the following year it became a sparkling wine factory.  In 1894 they needed a new name so taking inspiration from the red crown cap, and from Little Red Riding Hood, Rotkäppchen sparkling wine came about.

In 1945, following the war, the company was nationalised and it was the market leader in the DDR days.  Following German reunification, sales collapsed and the brand almost disappeared.  In 1990 it became a limited liability company and the firm made the important decision to invest in new equipment.  The company was privatised in 1993 and by 1995 it was the best selling sparkling wine in eastern Germany.  By 2001 it was the best selling sparkling wine in all of Germany.  I can even buy it in my little local Brněnka.

Here's a short, interesting video I found out on YouTube.  I need to go check out this shop next time. 

©DW News

Here's the recipe for Hunter's Schnitzel with Tomato Sauce from the DDR Museum in Berlin.

Ingredients for the schnitzel:

  • 8 slices of Jagdwurst (about finger-thick)
  • 2 eggs
  • some four
  • some breadcrumbs
  • oil, margarine or clarified butter for frying
  1. Flour both sides of each slice of Jagdwurst.
  2. Mix the eggs with the breadcrumbs and coat the slices of Jagdwurst with the mixture.
  3. Fry the slices in a pan with either oil, margarine, or clarified butter until they are golden brown.
Ingredients for the tomato sauce

  • about 100g of tomato paste
  • 200g of ketchup
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • butter
  • water
  • salt and pepper
  • Optional - sugar or vinegar

  1. Cut the onion into cubes and sauté in a pot with butter.
  2. Add tomato paste and flour and sauté while stirring continuously.
  3. Add water until a creamy consistency is obtained.
  4. Add ketchup and bring to a boil while continuously stirring.
  5. Simmer for about 10 minutes and season with salt and pepper.
The preparation time is about 30 minutes.  Spirelli pasta is the recommended side dish.  For a slightly sweet and/or sour sauce, add a little and/or vinegar to taste.  Guten Appetit!

German Spy Museum, Berlin

Today Claudia surprised me with a visit to the German Spy Museum which is just a short walk from Potsdamer Platz where the Berlin Wall once divided the city between West Berlin and East Berlin.  The museum actually sits in what used to be the "death strip" between the inner and outer perimeter of the Berlin Wall.

It is a private museum that opened in September 2015 as the Spy Museum Berlin and it was relaunched in July 2016 as the German Spy Museum.

The Deutsches Spionage Museum is actually one of the most visited museums in Berlin.  There are more than a 1.000 exhibits focusing on the history of spies and espionage.  While there are exhibits about how intelligence has been gathered throughout history, infamous spies such as Mata Hari, and even exhibits about James Bond, the primary focus is on espionage in Berlin from WW2 and during the Cold War.  Berlin is often referred to as the Capital of Spies because this is where Capitalism and Communism faced off during the Cold War.  A standoff between Nato and the Warsaw Pact.  

Here's a video about the museum that I found on YouTube.

©Deutsches Spionage Museum

It's a pretty cool museum with lots of interactive exhibits where you can play with Morse code, look for hidden listening devices in a room, and try to navigate a laser maze.

This replica is of a small film-carrying statue once used by Alfred Frenzel, a West German member of Parliament, who was unmasked in 1960 as an undercover StB agent working for Czechoslovakia.  The statue's pedestal was hollow and used to smuggle film.  It was rigged with a mercury switch to explode, destroying the film, if it was improperly opened.  

East Germany's secret police, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or Stasi, was one of the world's most ruthless intelligence services.  There's lots of what used to be high-tech recording equipment.  

The Stasi and the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) established a state-of-the-art listening post on the highest mountain in East Germany.  

©Phil Jeren 1979In 1961, the Americans and British set up a listening post on Teufelsberg in West Berlin and eavesdropped on Eastern bloc radio traffic.  Here, military intelligence personal listened to all radio and telephone traffic within a 500 km (310 mile) radius while monitoring the Warsaw Pact command and control systems.  The NSA closed the listening post in the early 90s but you can still visit the abandoned site which we plan to do tomorrow.

The Glienicker Bridge between Potsdam and West Berlin was the spot for famous spy swaps between the west and the east.  In 1962, this is where the trade was made for American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and KGB spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel.  This was the plot of the 2015 movie Bridge of Spies.  Here's the movie trailer.

On display in the museum is one of the early models of the Enigma machine which was the most famous encryption machine of WW2.  It looks like a typewriter with rotors and wheels that can encode a message 150 different ways.  Germany used the machine to secure communications but the Allies had secretly cracked the code, in a huge part, thanks to Alan Turing.  He is regarded as the "father of modern computing" and is often credited by shortening the war in Europe by at least two years and saving more than 14 million lives.  In 1952, he was prosecuted for being gay and chemically castrated before he ultimately committed suicide.  In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II posthumously pardoned him.
This has nothing to do with the museum but the United Kingdom decriminalised same-sex relationships in 1967.  However, there was a ban on gay people serving in MI5, MI6 or GCHQ until 1991.  Just this February, the MI6 Chief publicly apologised for the "misguided, unjust and discriminatory" ban on gay spies.  The apology came 30 years after the ban was lifted.  A little late but at least it came.

In the USA, we had the "lavender scare" where Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist campaign targeted gays which painted homosexuals as subversives and Soviet sympathisers.  In 1953, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which ruled that gay people were security risks.  The logic being that if you were gay then you could be blackmailed into giving away state secrets.  I get that at the time people were more vulnerable because the law offered them no protection. 

I've never understood the logic that gay people were more of a threat to national security than straight people.  It's not like straight people have been immune to honeytraps and blackmail.  I had a security clearance when I was in the U.S. military and I would have lost it if I had come out while serving.  So I stayed in the closet until after my enlistment was over.  My argument was if everyone knows that someone is gay then how can they be blackmailed for being gay?  Anyways, back to the museum.

I had never heard of "Operation Infektion" before.  This was a disinformation campaign thought by the KGB and carried out by the Stasi.  In the 1980s, East German biologist and KGB agent, Dr. Jakob Segal, presented false "evidence" that the HIV virus was created at Fort Detrick, Maryland, as part of a biological weapons research project.  I'd heard the conspiracy story before but I never knew that the Stasi was behind it.  

Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the KGB to stop the disinformation campaign and the Stasi followed suit.  At the time the USA and the Soviet Union had a meeting on AIDS research collaboration and the U.S. Surgeon-General insisted on an end to all further disinformation as an absolute requirement for any further collaboration.

The museum is well worth the €17 price of admission and you'll need at least 3 hours to really check everything out.

Spaghetti Ice Cream

After surviving the movie about a horse and bad popcorn we ticked off another item on the list.  After dinner we went to the local ice cream shop in Friedrichshagen for spaghetti ice cream.

Spaghettieis is a thing in Germany.  It's vanilla ice cream pressed into the shape of noodles with strawberry sauce and grated white chocolate or nuts to mimic marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.

There's also a "carbonara" version for adults made with eierlikör (strong German eggnog type liqueur).

Overall pretty good.  I wonder why we don't have this in Czechland.

Here's a short video I found on YouTube that talks all about Spaghettieis.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A Film About a Horse

One of the things on Tünde's to-do list was to go to the local theatre and see Ostwind.  It's a movie about a girl and a horse.  It's actually the fifth and final film in a series but fortunately I didn't need to see the first four films to catch on to the story.  A film about a girl and a horse.  Oh the things I do for my goddaughter. 

While not really caring a whole lot about the film we would see I was more excited to get some popcorn.  I ordered popcorn with butter and salt and the woman at the concession stand looked at me like I had three eyeballs.  Apparently in Germany, you can't get popcorn with butter and salt.  Here popcorn is only sweet.  It's not like kettle corn.  It's just sweet.  Yuck! I was not a fan.  At least Claudia and Tünde didn't have to worry about me eating all of the popcorn.

I found the movie trailer on YouTube for those of you interested in what the film was like.

©Constantin Film

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Schöneberg, Berlin

Back in the 1920's Berlin was the Gay Capital of Europe.  The world's first gay magazine even began in Berlin back in 1896.  The Schöneberg district, near Nollendorfplatz, has long been the gay district of Berlin.  Long before the Castro in San Francisco or Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, Schöneberg was the first gay village.

Today it's mostly filled with bars, restaurants, cafe's, and shops but there are are few historical sights to be found.

The Eldorado was a popular drag bar back in the 1920s and Marlene Dietrich was a regular here.

The Mangus pharmacy is named after Magnus Hirschfeld, who's Institute for the Science of Sexuality, was the world's first gay-rights organisation that lobbied for legal representation. 

In 1982, a plaque was put up at the Nollendorfplatz underground station to commemorate the murder of gays and lesbians during the Third Reich.

In a nearby park I also came across an AIDS memorial.

There are also stolpersteine, stumbling stones, to remember people who were deported and murdered by the Nazis.

On the lighter side, at Nollendorfstaße 17, there's a memorial plaque on the house that Christopher Isherwood lived from 1929 to 1933.  His novel Goodbye to Berlin inspired the musical Cabaret. I  had to get a selfie of me in front of the building holding my copy of Christopher and His Kind.

In 2011, Christopher and His Kind was released as a film.  Great film and highly recommended.  You can actually find the entire film on YouTube but here's the movie trailer.

Nollendorfplatz is even home to Berlin's only gay Christmas market.

Here's a short video from DW's Meet the Germans series that talks about the status LGBT affairs in Germany.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

TV Tower Breakfast and the New Castle

One of Tünde's favourite things is the Berlin TV tower.  It's near Alexanderplatz, one of my favourite areas in Berlin, and it was built from 1965 to 1969 by the East German government.  You can't miss the tower.  It is 368 metres (1207 feet) tall making it the tallest structure in Germany and the third-tallest in the EU.

This morning we went for breakfast.  Reservations are required and it was a bit pricey but it's not something that you would do all of the time.  

We had a table at the window and as the restaurant revolved we got to enjoy breakfast as we looked out across the entire city.

It was pretty cool.  Though again, not something that I would do again soon.  The munchkin loved it and that was the point.

Later we visited the new Berlin Palace.  The Berliner Scholß, also called the Humboldt Forum, is the new, old palace.  Construction of the original palace began in 1443 and was completed in 1894.  It used to be one of the city's biggest buildings.  Allied bombings in 1945 damaged the palace.  In 1950, the East Germany government demolished what was left of the palace and in its place, in 1976, built the Palest der Republik, the Palace of the Republic, which was the DDR's central government building.

After German reunification, the Palace of the Republic was torn down in 2009.  Mostly due to the 5000 tonnes of asbestos within the building.  Germans were torn over what to do with the land.  Some wanted the original palace back while others wanted to see a rebuilt Palest der Republik, some wanted a park, etc.  Eventually it was decided that the original palace would make a return and reconstruction began in 2013.  The construction was completed in 2020 but with Covid I believe that the grand opening was delayed.  

Here's what the old Palest der Republik looked like.  I found a short video on YouTube that talked about its grand opening back in the 1970's.

©Footage Berlin - RBB Media

Here's a 43 minute documentary I found on YouTube that talks about the bringing the the new, old castle back.

©DW News

Saturday, September 25, 2021

It's Going to be a Busy Week

It's going to be a busy week.  I took an early train to Berlin this morning and got to Friedrichshagen this afternoon.

Tünde seems very excited that I'm here for a week.  She's already started the to-do list.  There's always a list.  So far, the preliminary list has 15 things on it but I'm sure that more items will get added to it.

 Some of the items on the list include taking her to school, eating spaghetti ice cream, visiting the new Berlin castle, having breakfast at the TV tower, going to the Volkskammer, visiting Teufelsberg, going to the theatre to see a movie about a horse, visiting her grandparents, postcards, eating döner kebab pizza and sushi.  

Not only am I already tired, I'm already stuffed because there's quite a bit of food related items on this list.  Let's see how the week goes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Expat or Immigrant?

So what's the difference between an expat and an immigrant?  Both terms apply to people who live outside of their native country.  An expatriate, or expat for short, is usually someone living and/or working in a foreign country, usually temporarily and for work reasons.  Most of the time, expats either return to their native country, or move on to another, but not always.  When I would hear "expat" I would immediately think of American authors James Baldwin or Ernest Hemingway living in France.  

This blog is "Christopher's Expat Adventure" because I came to Brno for a two to three year gig with the intention of going back to the USA.  Then after five years I got permanent residency which meant that I could stay in Czechland without having to continually apply for new visas every couple of years.  In my head I was still an expat.

An immigrant, just like an expat, is a person who lives and/or works in a foreign country.  Usually with the intent to remain for good and not return back to their home country.  Now that I'm going to apply for Czech citizenship I suppose that I'm officially an immigrant.  Or am I an expat until I get Czech citizenship?

Quite often it seems that the difference between an expat and immigrant comes down to race, social class, economic status and country of origin.  Expats tend to describe usually white, educated, financially well off professionals working abroad while people working in less prestigious positions are immigrants or even migrant workers.  A well educated person from North Africa working in Europe would more likely be considered an immigrant rather than an expat.

Someone from the Philippines working as a maid in Hong Kong would not be considered an expat.  She most likely wouldn't even be an immigrant but rather a migrant worker.

During the migrant crisis I remember talking to my friends and mentioning that I too was an economic migrant in Europe.  They simply told me that I was the good kind of migrant.  Hmmm...  Yet I still remember that anti-imigrant flyer I received by Zeman supporters.

There are an estimated 6,32 million Americans and 4,7 million British expats living overseas.  I don't know about the British but the majority of Americans living abroad are in Canada and Mexico.

Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Jordan, and Singapore are the top five countries with the highest percentage of foreign workers based on their total populations.

Back in 2018, foreigners in here in Czechland made up about 4,7% of the population.  The top three groups coming from Ukraine, Slovakia, and Vietnam.  Brno was home to more than 30.000 foreigners from 150 countries.

In Brno there are around 40.000 Slovaks but I don't think that Czechs really consider Slovaks as foreigners.  For one thing, Slovaks do not have to register for residence like other EU citizens here on work contracts.  So skipping the Slovaks, the biggest groups of foreigners in Brno come from Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam, Romania, India, and Turkey.  All of the American expats are in Prague.

According to the "Brno Expat Survey" that was conducted in 2019 here are some details about the typical Brno expat.

I came to Czechland as an expat and ended up an immigrant.  Hopefully I'll get Czech citizenship and become an American Czech in Brno.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

IGA BBQ Reunion

Today one of my old teams got together for a BBQ picnic at Lužánky Park.  It was a very close team and even though some people have moved on to other teams and even moved on to other companies we still manage to get together pretty regularly.  Although Covid put a halt to that for a while.

We had about 20 people show up, with Jūlija even coming in from Prague to join us.

I do miss this cast of characters.  By far the best team that I ever had the pleasure of working with.  Even if I had to deal with all of the pranks.

When the date was first proposed I immediately remembered that today was the twentieth anniversary of 9/11.  That's one of those events that happens and you will forever remember what you were doing when it happened.  I still can't believe that it was 20 years ago.  I remember it like it was just yesterday.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


In August, it was my 18th year with IBM and as of today I now work for Kyndryl.  IBM has spun off the infrastructure services business which included the division I worked for which was IBM Global Technology Services.

Kyndryl is an information technology services provider that designs, builds, manages and develops large-scale information systems worldwide.   

I never actually applied to work at IBM.  I worked for Equifax which is one of the three US credit bureaus and I was outsourced to IBM.  Basically I was told one day that I was moving to IBM and I got rebadged.  I have to say that overall it worked out all right and it eventually led me to my life here in Czechland.  So I'm excited to see what happens with Kyndryl.  We're pretty much the world's largest start-up.

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube.


One question that people keep asking is what does Kyndryl mean?  It's basically a mix of "kinship" and "tendril" which symbolises new growth and working together.

The only drawback to the name is that in Czech it sounds like Kinedryl which, in Czechland and Slovakia, is a popular medicine for motion sickness.