Monthly Archives: May 2009

Turnfest or Where to look for the Real Fun

 “Today, the Internationale Deutsches Turnfest starts” I said to Francesca. “Let´s write about Turnen (gymnastics)”. 

“Okay” Francesca said “I have done gymnastics in a Turnverein as a child. Where does the Turnfest take place?”

Sometimes it shows that Francesca´s children don´t attend a public school in Frankfurt. I first heard about the Turnfest six month ago when the headmistress of my son´s school informed the parents association that in June all schools in Frankfurt would be closed for a week because of the Turnfest.

Schools in Germany never close outside the holidays. In  school life, everything is regulated. I even know the exact date when summer break will start in 2017. School is sacred. Turnen is even more sacred.

Its importance for the German lifestyle goes way back into the 19th century. Then,  part of the identity of the developping  Bürgertum-middle class based on the leisure time they could afford  to enjoy. As dutiful Untertanen-subjects to the emperor, they combined pleasure with work: to keep fit became an act of patriotism.

As early as 1811 Turnvater Jahn, the founder of the movement. opened the first Turnplatz in Berlin. He gave the movement its rules, its slogan (Frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei) and its equipment (Reck, Pferd. Kasten, Barren).   The first Deutsches Turnfest took place nearly  nearly 200 years ago. Its aim: the battle against effeminacy of the German manhood. 

That is one of the reasons why schools in Frankfurt are closed for the Turnfest: The 100 000 participants will sleep on the floor in the classrooms and eat on wooden benches in the gymn halls. This is part of the spirit: no eiderdowns and  soft matresses, but hard floors and thin blankets. In a German sports club  hardship is part of the fun.

I learnt this – the hard way – when  I joined a rowing club. After a year of rather dull excercise I was allowed to take part in a Wanderfahrt, a rowing excursion down the river Mosel. ” That´s great” I rejoiced and started to dream of cosy Gasthäuser, little inns,  where I would snuggle under feathercuvets in a romantic attic room, drowsy from a sunny day, a glass of Mosel wine and a hot bath in the tub to relax my sports-strained muscles.

“Do you want me to organize the rooms in the Gasthäuser?” I offered, prepared to do my share of work.

“We sleep in the club houses.”

“Oh … Do other rowing clubs offer guestrooms?”

The old lady opposite me had been a member from this club for 50 years. She had carried heavy wooden rowing boats on her shoulders to the station 2 miles away for her first Wanderfahrt before World War II. She weighed a 100 pounds– a 100 pounds of steel.

“We sleep on the floor of the boat hangar. If you must, you can bring a camping mat. Though most of us do without.”

I will do without Wanderfahrten, I swore after the trip. My muscles where sore as a grapefruit, my back ached and I wasn´t able to bend my legs for a week. When the pain faded, I realised what hardships are good for: exciting stories. How boring would it be to read  about the trip in the Vereinsmagazin, the club magazine: “The weather was good, the food excellent and the beds warm and soft.” Oh no, we could write about boats hanging dangerously above our heads, of cold-water showers, of mysterious dark corners in rooms we couldn´t switch on lights in, of spiders running down the walls, and of the difficulty of getting some sleep in a room full of people groaning because of sore muscles.

I´m sure that the people camping in my son´s school  will report in the same way: “The water fountains at the opening ceremony were great. Do you know what happened afterwards? ” And they will tell the tale how they couldn´t find their room in the middle of the night because they didn´t realise that there were two staircases, how they had to get down again to find the toilets and it turned out that they were outside, on the other side of the school court, that  they had only two showers for two hundred people and no hot water after 6 a.m, that John und Jane were found sharing a sleeping bag …. 

Depending on the size of the sleeping bag, this shows remarkable  gymnastic talents. 

In Germany, most romances start either at the workplace or in the sportsclub. 

But this is another story.


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Mainz – Minipresse – Small Print?

One proud boy with his Grandpa´s book @Francesca

One proud boy with his Grandpa´s book @Francesca

This week-end the bloggers of this page attended the Mainzer Minipresse as exhibitors. Truegerman hand-made books and I was there to present my father´s first book. It was quite exciting and we met a number of interesting folks, with beautiful work on display. Here are some pictures:

Beautiful Riverside - Minipresse Tents Mainz @Francesca

Beautiful Riverside - Minipresse Tents Mainz @Francesca

Looking towards Mainz Kastell from the Rheingoldhalle @Francesca

Looking towards Mainz Kastell from the Rheingoldhalle @Francesca

My Dad´s book alongside handcrafted books from the Netherlands @Francesca

My Dad´s book alongside handcrafted books from the Netherlands @Francesca

The Vampire Cookbook on the News. Hurrah for Bluestove Editions our Co-Exhibitors @Francesca

The Vampire Cookbook on the News. Hurrah for Bluestove Editions our Co-Exhibitors @Francesca

Some of our favourites : Bluestove Editions – Cookbooks (Webpage will follow shortly), Nizza Verlag  – Books about Food in Frankfurt (, our neighbour from the Netherlands at the Minipresse  – Handmade books, Calendars, with his own compositions and poetry ( and sculptures of books with instruments from Hungary (


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Living in Nowhereland

“I was deeply touched when I read the story of your father, the American, who stayed in Europe for love”, I told Francesca. “For all my childhood, I wanted to be an expatriate”.

Though I wouldn´t call it this way, then. I even didn´t know the word. But I felt, deep inside, that the world should be my home, not this dark corner of the Black Forest, with its steep mountains, narrow gauges, long winters and rainy summers. I didn´t see my future amidst those five families, closely related since centuries, where an outsider is anybody coming from farther away than the  next village. And even those weren´t accepted easily. For me, nothing but the world should be my home.


During the long afternoons after school, homework done, without my friends from the far away college, I buried myself in books. English sience fiction, publications of German exilees during World War II, volumes on foreign countries nourished my mind.

Australia was my favorite land of escape. I remember the red coloured linen hardcover of the book I cherished most. Its  black-and-whites of the wide desert, the vast pastures, the exotic trees and wildlife inflammed my phantasy. That was where I want to live, I decided when I was eleven. Nothing else caught my imagination or distracted me. At twentyone my dream should come true.

I didn´t emigrate. Prudent adventurer that I´m, I decided to check my dreams before going to the extreme. Thus, I applied for a students grant for a six month stay in Australia, got it, took the  2000 Deutsche Mark I had inherited shortly before from my grandaunt, bought a ticket, said good bye to my friends and family, and flew away, hoping never to come back.

 The plane was filled with dreams like mine. My neighbour on the left side, a 60 year old women with blonde hair and the figure of a young girl, visited her daughter in Sydney and was sure to find there the handsome stranger she was looking for. To my right, there was Uwe, the farmers boy form a remote village in northern Germany, who ate bananas on the plane for the first time in his life. And me, an twentyone year old student of agriculture, with a small backpack, and endless naivté. Anything could happen to me, I was prepared to welcome it with an open heart.

What I wasn´t prepared for was the the feeling of not-being-at-home, the uneasiness, the insecurity that would never leave me as long as I stayed in Australia. Though, after my six month stay, travelling from the south to the north to the west to the east, after hitchhiking with lorry drivers, farmers, zoologists, evangelical preachers, golddiggers and even a piano tuner, after talking to cowboys, professors and politicians alike I probably knew Australia better than most of its inhabitants, I always and deeply felt in the wrong place. With shock I realized: I am a German, down to my bones, the typical german I never wanted to be.

For all these 180 days in Australia, I missed the earnestness of the endless political discussion I used to have every night with my friends at university; I missed the fear of a nuclear war so present in the 80s in Germany; I missed the sexual liberalness of Europe; I missed the frozen feet and cold hands I remembered from the dark long winters in the Black Forest and I missed the sourness  of the redcurrant in my mothers garden amidst all the plenty of sweet tropical fruits. I became a patriot while being an expatriate.

 On the flight home I met Uwe again. He went back because his parents needed him on their farm, though I doubted if they would live happily with him thereafter. The farmerboy  had become a new age adept with long blond curly hair and the body of a surfers god. On first sight I hadn´t changed that much. I was still the chubby girl with the short hair, only now with a more experienced naivté. Back home at university the real changes showed. At a time when every woman clothed in walking boots and lila dungarees, I wore the miniskirts I learnt to wear in Australia. I  enjoyed an easy smalltalk and thus annoyed the political leaders of my student group. I doubted commonly held beliefs and principles, because I knew now that different culture find different solutions. In short, I was slightly off the track in my behavior, didn´t belong any more. I had become an expatriate in my own country.

 For years, I couldn´t decide where I wanted to be a stranger most: in my fatherland or abroad. I kept changing places, gave abroad another chance when I worked as a trainee at the European Comission in Brussels and finally settled. Now I life in Frankfurt, the most cosmopolitan city in Germany, in a part of the City where my son with two german parents belongs to the smallest minority in school by far. I have found my natural environment: the Niemandsland, the Nowhereland.



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Father – Daddy – Dad

I met my Dad coming out of a lift. I didn´t give him a chance of nervously pacing around a waiting room, sitting down and jumping up again. I was there when he arrived at the hospital, being carried around on the arm of a nurse.  I don´t remember this momentous meeting, but my father does.

What I remember are the times he took me to the printshops. I felt privileged to sneak a look at the enormous machines, smell the ink and see the huge paper rolls that were used to create the newspaper, which my father worked on. It was also very noisy, but I didn´t mind because that was part of the magic.

My Dad the journalist

I took it for granted that we lived in Europe, my father came from the States and had married an italian lady. Until recently I did not appreciate where he came from. In the course of this year we have spent many hours chatting about his childhood in a cozy midwestern town called Oak Harbor. We talked about the accident, which nearly killed him when he was seven and left him with one eye. We talked about him leaving his town and beginning life on his own at the University of Notre Dame (while still sending home all his wash ) and how he tried to get a foothold as cartoonist and journalist in the States after graduation.

He went to Europe as a tourist and decided to look for a job while there. He got lucky in Rome, where the “Daily American” was being published. A paper where, while it still existed, I also was able to visit the printshop. This is where he met a girl called Maria. He went off to Paris to work for the Herald Tribune, but found that he really missed the lady that became my Mother – Mummy – Mum. She joined him, while mastering climbing mountains of bureaucracy that were not used to dealing with an American and an Italian that wanted to get married in Paris in the year of 1957.

I discovered in our chats that he had saved every letter my mother and he wrote in this time of their long distance courtship. He saved every letter his mother sent him. He saved his lists of wash sent home from University. He saved every cartoon and copies of many of the articles he wrote.  We decided to go through all his material to organize it. For me it was like walking through time, discovering what was on my father´s mind and happening in his life at the time and with him there to explain and elaborate on pictures, drawings, stories and letters it all became real.

Sometimes things happen for a reason. I had just finished compiling an anthology for an adult learning course. It was a lot of work and of course I was doing it for free (which is something I cannot really afford, but who can nowadays). While we sorted through my Dad´s work I came upon familiar drawings of a pirate. He was called Captain Bucky and the drawings showed him golfing or skiing, things we normally don´t associate with pirates. But to my great surprise there were a lot more drawings of Bucky, which I had never seen and a story my father had written about the pirate. That´s when the pieces of the puzzle fell in place.

I had drawings. I had a story. I had an author and I had just learned how to create books. The idea was born and my father liked it. What a way to celebrate being over 80.


Pirate Bucky know what to do with Cannon Balls @John C. Krueger

Pirate Bucky knows what to do with Cannon Balls @John C. Krueger









Soon the first print of “The Jolly Roger Twins – Pirates who fly Kites” will be produced. Little did I know there was a lot more learning to do, but throughout it all my Dad and I had a wonderful time creating his first book. And being 80 and suffering from makular degeneration, doesn´t stop him from making plans for the next one.

It will be called Roma Oma and Europa Opa.


Here is a sample of my Dad´s professional writing from the sixties:


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Break fast – That´s how it feels in the morning

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” I said to Francesca. ” Unfortunately, breakfast time in Germany is between 6 and 8 in the morning.”

At this time of the day, I can´t imagine to eat anything at all ever again for my whole lifetime. Even to look at anything edible makes me sick.

This has been a constant cause of battle between my mother and me. When I went to school, I had to leave the house at 6:30 to catch the bus. As a good German mother she insisted on me having a substantial breakfast. As a not-so-good German child I resisted. Who can eat Graubrot-grey bread, the staple diet for breakfast in the seventies, at 6:00 clock in the morning? It tasted the way it was called: grey and muddy. My mother tried Müsli-oat meal flakes. No fancy mixes then, but pure, wholemeal plated oat. Who can eat the staple diet for horses, at six a clock in the morning?

Finally, we found a compromise: two soft boiled eggs, and nothing else. This was victory. Soft-boild eggs traditionally are reserved for Sundays. On this day, Germans enjoyed the pleasures of eating: A big breakfast with Sonntagsei, homebaked Hefezopf and cooked ham started the day. Three hours later, the Sonntagsbraten followed: roasted pork with gravy. Another three hours later, the “Kaffee und Kuchen“. Another two hours, finally, the Abendbrot, a light meal with frankfurters or a Wurstsalat, a salad made of finely chopped sausages.

As on Sundays my parents allowed themselves to sleep in, I harbour sunny memories of these breakfasts after eight. The only other time my early morning rhythm and German work ethics came together nicely was when I worked on a farm. “Pigs and cows first” – this working order woke me up at 5 o´clock in the morning. I pulled on my dungarees and went out to feed the sows, piglets, cows, calves, bulls, hens, cats, kittens, dogs  and puppets that cried for forage. Three hours later,  I happily sat down to a voluptous feast of rolls and eggs and homemade jam.

“The French work to be able to eat. The Germans eat to be able to work”. I´m not sure which nations invented this saying. but both sides use it as a diffamation of the other.  So, to skip the early morning meal means not  to prepare yourself properly for a day of work.

Ironically, I breakfasted most when I worked least. At college, we established the nice custom to start each early morning study group at a kitchen table laid with everything our hungry stomachs wished for: fresh rolls, good cheese, the sausages sent by our mothers in weekly parcels full of food.  Unfortunately, politics soon spoilt this simple pleasure. Müsli-cereals-became the only accepted dish for the early hours. When I say Müsli, I don´t talk about those harmless varieties, sugarcoated, sweetened, processed.  I´m talking about the real thing: oat grain flaked by hand. Though even this could get worse. The ulitmate fad in eco-conscious nutrition was a dish made of handgrained wheat or oat, soaked in water the night before. In the morning, this slimey pulp was served with – nothing else. Only the most audacious dared to add a halfspoon of honey from freerange bees.

In the nineties, breakfast cafés became fashionable, though only in cities. In the countryside, nobody would dare to sit in a café at nine o´clock in the morning so everybody would see he/she wasn´t working. In the cities, this was the sole purpose: to be part of the in-crowd that were so smart they didn´t have to slave their hours away in a nine-to-five job.

After the seven years of  sumptuous two rolls-one croissant-ham-eggs-freshly-pressed-orange-juice luxury at eleven clock in the morning, the meagre years brought Latte Macchiato, the triumph of the dairy industry. Now, even women who are on a diet since the day they were born  drink half a pint of milk every morning.

My Latte is waiting for me. As it is after 8 o´clock in Germany, a Saturday morning and my spouse brought home a big bag from the bakery, I might dip in a croissant, the way the French do it.

Though they stick to Café au Lait, as Starbucks had to learn since it opened its first shop in Paris in 2004.

The French have very impressive ways to say Non, especially when somebody endangers their food traditions.

But this is another story.



Filed under Germany, World

Typical German Breakfast

I wish I had more time.


That is a must be. You know those lovely, fluffy, just right crunchy crust bread rolls that you used to be able to find everywhere; freshly baked by a Baker that got up at four in the morning to make sure that Germany had fresh bread when it was time to wake up? Unfortunately this might be six in the morning  during the week for most. So handymen insist on a second breakfast time around ten, when they can seriously indulge in the art of breakfast. During the week-end and thanks to late sleep-ins, having breakfast in bed, or with the whole family around the table, letting it last for an hour or even going to a café, which offers abundant breakfast, is a luxury treat which everybody can afford.

The problem is that the Brötchen usually is not so fresh anymore, because factories replace the Bakeries one by one. It is hard to find people who are willing to face the hours of this trade and when they do, they find themselves overwhelmed by the competition from the factories.

Despite these changes, you still acquire your bread in a Bakery. The choice is great and it used to be that anybody that knew the names of the Brötchen (signs are a later development) or bread they wished to buy, and did not have to point at it instead (like me) was treated with a lot of respect by salesperson and fellow-buyers alike. Know your bread.

You also will always find the non-queue at the Bakery. As soon as more than three people are waiting to buy, you can feel the tension growing. Who came after you, who was immediately before you? Will somebody, usually the frail elderly looking person, suddenly display signs of unexpected vigor and push you aside and ignore your disgusted looks as she buys her bread ahead of you and possibly some little kid that the salesperson cannot see behind the high counter? Why don´t they form a line, so it will be evident? Maybe it is part of some secret initiation to being German? I haven´t seen it on the questionnaire for new Germans yet, but I will suggest something.

Once you have found one of the rare remaining real bakeries or an acceptable replacement nothing should come between you and your german breakfast. It is not hot except for the tea, coffee or boiled egg. You get Wurst and Cheese and Marmalade. If you are at one of the many student cafés that offer breakfast until two o ´clock in the afternoon, they will add joghurts, muesli and fruit to the choice. I can see many a student living off breakfast alone.

Nowadays I have very little time for week-day breakfast and the kids get tired of anything “new” within two days, so it is back to cornflakes and toast. As a child I remember the breakfast on holidays. We would stop off in Austria, on a little farm, and there were the delicious Brötchen, with butter that was served in little curls, a glass of orange juice, home-made jams, meats and cheese and eggs fresh from the hens: It was a great way to start a holiday and a day.

Later I would indulge in the german style breakfast at my boyfriends house. When we split I lost 4 kg without trying.

I could go on and on about the breakfast I remember. When I am on holiday nowadays, one of my special treats is to try the local breakfast. In Italy that is not a lot of fun for me, because it is coffee and a croissant and you stand at a bar. No, I am more into the british, irish or german way. In Scotland this includes haddock, in britain hot tomatoes and in Germany the Brötchen and last but not least taking it easy.

I like that.



Filed under Germany