Bier anyone? A taste of German breweries

Everyone knows that beer is very much a cultural tradition in Germany.  So much that it has even become a way of life for some. However, what many do not think about is how German breweries played a large part in developing this beer phenomenon.

This intrigued me and I decided to dive into the world of German breweries to find out more.  I was not only interested in the breweries themselves, but also in finding culturally comparable American beers. Here, I will take you on a tour of a few of Germany’s finest breweries and their American counterparts.

1. Becks Brewery

If you’re a fan of German beer, then undoubtedly you have heard of Becks. Becks brewery started brewing their first beers in 1875.  It has certainly grown to be a widespread, well-established brand. Becks is the number one exported beer of Germany and is sold in more than 100 countries.

Their most popular product is their pale lager, which instantly made me think of Budweiser from Anheuser-Busch. Budweiser would be the culturally comparable beer in this case. Both Becks’ and Budweiser’s most popular beer are their versions of the pale lager. They are also very similar because of their widespread popularity domestically and internationally (Becks is Germany’s number one exported beer). This Australian ad for Becks below is just one of many examples of their success in foreign markets.

2. Monastery Brewery Andechs

Andechs is the pinnacle of German brewing history. Located on the Holy Mountain in Bavaria, this brewery has an interesting background. Andechs was originally a monastery  dating back to the early 12th century. However, it was not until 1730 that the monks drilled a vault into the mountainside to brew beer. The very same vault is still in use, slightly updated of course.  You can see some of the incredible art featured in Andechs in this video, only reaffirming the incredible sense of history that Andechs has.  I imagine one would only be able to smell two things on Bavaria’s Holy Mountain, beer and history. I would call Andechs the Sam Adams of America. Sam Adams has managed to attain the stigma of pure American patriotism and Andechs certainly has been soaking in the culture around it since the 12th century.

3. Weihenstephan

The Weihenstephan brewery is the oldest brewery in the world. This is indeed another large reason why Germany has the reputation that it has for its beer. Established no later than 1040, Weihenstephan has today managed to properly modernize while keeping age-old traditions. Today, this brewery produces quite the selection of beer, from dark wheat bear to non-alcoholic beer beverages. Yuengling is the oldest American brewery and the second largest American owned brewery. They started  in 1829 which hardly seems impressive after Weihenstephan. Both companies have managed to keep their traditions while still managing to adapt to the times.

No Free Refills

In the United States, we are accustomed to the consumer focused economy, a world of all-you-can-eat buffets and never going thirsty. Paramount to this is an unlimited beverage of sweet, cold soda pop to wash down our Big Macs.

American Soda © Flickr/poolie

American Soda © Flickr/poolie

I recall visiting Ireland when I was six years old and asking a waitress if there were free refills on my Coke. She replied in a thick Irish accent, “what’s a fre-rufflee?” Even by the age of six, the American in me had made me accustomed to such things as free drinks and bread at the table – not the case in Europe.

Yet, as the world has globalized, one would expect these little habits to spread across the Atlantic. However 15 years later, there are still not many Free Refills in Europe, even though McDonalds and Pepsi have not been in Russia that long.

Some attribute this unlimited beverage consumption as part of “Why America is Fat.” This makes sense considering  soda is packed with sugar and calories.

Ultimately, it seems that the availability of plentiful food and drink – even the basics like Coca-Cola and peanut butter for a typical college student – are not to be expected in Europe, as one Expat in Spain describes:

“A Coke costs about the same in the States as it does in Europe. The size is what counts. In the States, the smallest serving size for a beverage is a 12 ounce (oz) can. However, most Americans drink 20 oz. or larger bottles or they get free refills at a restaurant, which gives you the freedom to drink as much as you like.

In Europe, most places serve Coke in a bottle that (according to U.S. measurements) is a mere 6.7 oz. That’s roughly half as much Coke as the smallest serving size in the States. It’s infinitely less Coke than getting free refills.”

There you have it, spend some time in Europe and you’ll soon find yourself with a smaller wallet for those sweet drinks, but perhaps a smaller waistline as well.

Spanish Boars Want to be Tiger

Wild boars dig for food on a golf course in Mijas, Spain. From ABC de Sevilla

Tiger Woods that is.

Golf courses in the town of Mijas, Spain have been struggling with a full-on invasion of wild boar from the surrounding wilderness. The boars have been digging up parts of the course, presumably looking for mushrooms. The lack of food brought on by development of their habitat is cited as the cause for the boars’ increasing boldness and aggressiveness.

The boars’ destruction of the golf courses, which are an important part of the town’s tourism industry, has even resulted in political action. The Mayor of Mijas has written to a subdivision of the Spanish federal government asking for help dealing with the cantankerous cerdos (pigs).

Jabalies (boars) are prevalent in forests across much of southern Europe, and have become, over the centuries, a part of Spanish culture. Wild boar is the favorite dish of fictional Gaulish warriors Asterix and Obelix from the famous French comic The Adventures of Asterix and Obelix.

Obelix with his boars. From

There are folktales about them and a jabali even appears in Miguel de Cervantes’ famous novel Don Quixote.
Rampaging boars make for formidable foes and are often prized game for hunters in Spain and France. But they’re certainly not to be trifled with, as this video shows:

’90s sitcoms invade Russia

More than a decade after “Married… with Children,” left the airwaves, American audiences are still laughing at the situations Ed O’Neill gets into with his fictional wife and children.

Only we’re laughing at O’Neill’s portrayal of Jay Pritchett on “Modern Family,” not Al Bundy.

For three years, the American version of “Married… with Children,” aired on Russian television. Then in 2006, the show was entirely remade for Russian audiences.

In a September 2007 New York Times article, Dmitri Troitsky, a senior executive at the Russian channel TNT said, “‘Married With Children,’ with its satire on the American middle class, fits the style of our channel well. It seemed interesting and topical for us to do a parody on the Russian middle class.”

According to the article, Russian audiences flocked to American sitcoms, thanks in part to a recent economic upswing.

“Счастливы вместе,” or “Happy Together,” follows the life of the Bukin family, living in Ekaterinburg.

Major characters remain unchanged, though Dasha doesn’t have hair quite as big as Peggy had. And as it turns out, this isn’t the only dated American sitcom Russians have imported.

“My Fair Nanny,” (based on America’s, “The Nanny“) has been on the air since 2004. With more than 173 episodes, the Russian remake beat out the American version in terms of longevity.

Although TV remakes seem to last a while in Russia, the US just doesn’t seem to have the same luck.

Sure, there’s “The Office,” based off of the BBC show of the same name. Diehard Office fans still tune in every Thursday, but ratings have been falling due to tough competition with CBS’s lineup of juggernaut shows and talks of ending the show have increased after series star Steve Carrell announced he was leaving after the end of season seven. Additionally, “Ugly Betty,” based off a Colombian telenovela, was cancelled due to low ratings after 85 episodes.

And those U.S .remakes are the more successful ones. Anyone remember “Coupling,” (a UK based show) which was billed to be the next “Friends”? Or how about “The IT Crowd“?

Of course not. Coupling lasted four episodes before NBC pulled the plug, and “The IT Crowd” never even made it on the fall schedule.

Now, before we all start mocking Russians for their seemingly awful taste in TV, there’s hope for them yet.

Facebook: The Social Network or the Social Disease?

Austria creation of facebook. radiohead, social disease, social network. StudiVZ, the social network. ZuckerbergWith a name like Zuckerberg, you might think the creator of Facebook is German or Swiss or something like that. He actually is American and developed the social networking site at Harvard for Harvard students in 2004. So what does the American creator of Facebook have to do with European popular culture?

The Social Network” is a major motion picture about Mark Zuckerberg and the alleged process involved in creating Facebook. The movie will start playing in theaters Oct. 1 in the U.S., Oct. 7 in Germany and Oct 8 in Austria.

It is worthwhile to watch this overly dramatic trailer complete with an a capella version of, “Creep” by Radiohead.
Austria creation of facebook. radiohead, social disease, social network. StudiVZ, the social network. Zuckerberg
This trailer, is in German but you don’t need to know the language to see how exaggerated the movie is.

On the Austrian blog site there is a post about parody film trailers. These spoof trailers play off of the “Hollywood” portrayal of the creation of Facebook as seen in “The Social Network.” Based on reading the comments from the blog post “Verarsche für den Facebook-Film” (Parody of the Facebook movie), some Austrians think the parody is side-splitting funny. The post clarifies how the far-from-the-truth story about the creation of Facebook leaves the movie wide open to some mockery. The following spoof is about the creation of Youtube. It is obviously an entirely untrue story that makes fun of the much hyped “The Social Network.”

Austria creation of facebook. radiohead, social disease, social network. StudiVZ, the social network. Zuckerberg

This video is particularly funny after watching the original trailer. Please visit this post for the link to another spoof with strong language. The Kurier blog site also posted a second post about “The Social Network” with a link to free music downloads for several tracks from the movie.

Dustin Moskovit, the co-creator of Facebook and a character in the movie, writes on Q&A website Quora,

“Es ist interessant, meine Vergangenheit umgeschrieben zu sehen, in einer Art, die unwichtige Dinge hervorhebt und Dinge weglässt, die wirklich gezählt haben.”

My translation: it is interesting to see my past rewritten in a way that emphasizes the unimportant things and leaves out the things that really counted.

That must be strange to have a movie made about your life, which isn’t really your life. But we still want to see the movie. Don’t we? . What if StudiVZ had a dramatic trailer about its creation?

Mais putain…

Unlike the woman who called my good friend an “africana putain” on the streets of Paris, I am not calling anyone a prostitute, nor am I trying to insult anyone. That is not what this post is about. No, the once vulgar and incredibly insulting word has taken to the streets of France and has become a part of the everyday vernacular, especially among (but definitely not limited to) the younger generations.

The word putain, has become the go-to meaningless interjection in the French language, the French equivalent of the English “f-word”. Though unlike our “f-word” (or your swear word of choice), putain seems to be appropriate in all situations. In my experience, putain was heard at least 2-3 times during a five-minute conversation between two young French people, and, though it may be hyperbolic, this blog suggests that Parisians use the word in almost every sentence. The word has become a crutch for the French.

Putain can be used to express a multitude of emotions including anger, frustration, disbelief, impatience, annoyance, sympathy, admiration, or support. Examples follow.

  • Anger/frustration: “Putain, il n’ fait que de bêtises!” or just a long, drawn out “Putainnnnnnnn!” should suffice.
  • Disbelief: “Mais putain, c’est pas vrai!
  • Impatience: “On y va? Nous sommes déjà 15 minutes en retard, putain!
  • Annoyance: “Putain, arrête!
  • Sympathy/sadness: “Putain, c’est pas possible qu’elle n’est plus là!
  • Admiration (my favorite setting for this one is at the family dinner table): “Putain! Que c’est trop dingue, cette bouffe-là!” This is usually followed by the attempts of a flustered French mother to scold son enfant malpoli, and it is an amusing scene that I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion.
  • Support (of a sporting event, etc): “Putain, allez!

Check out the video below for a not-so-uncommon scene on the streets of Paris (only kidding).

Liquid Foreplay…?

You’re probably wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into by clicking on this post.  “Liquid Foreplay you may say?”  “I’m still working on regular foreplay!”  What am I talking about?  Coffee, of course!

Coffee, the wonderfully caffeinated beverage used around the world to stimulate both the minds and bodies of those who drink it.

Coffee has been used as the all-natural human battery charger since the 15th century, though some legends suggest that coffee was enjoyed as early as the 4th century.  Upon realizing the potential of coffee, nations and traders transported it across land and sea, and in the process, coffee underwent changes in both style and preparation.

Still wondering what coffee has to do with foreplay?  And more so, what does liquid??  I’ll leave the latte (ha!) for another day, but I can tell you all about the former.  While researching the coffee drinking habits of Europeans, I discovered that Italians apparently make the best espresso, and that 1 in 3 Romanians never leave home without a satchel carrying soluble coffee.  The commercial below is for Nescafé, the largest retailer of soluble coffee in Europe.  The language is Romanian.

Interesting enough, right?  Sure, but then I came across something that no barista could be prepared to serve to guests, something representing unbroken grounds (ha?) for the coffee market.  The sanctity of coffee has finally been fused with sex.  Introducing… Magic Power Coffee.

Next time you're in a coffeehouse, ask your barista for a shot of this in your coffee! Copyright:

Magic Power Coffee is a home-based business venture created on a multi-level network-business model.  You may need another shot of espresso to unpack all of that, but essentially it means that any average cup-of-Joe can order Magic Power Coffee and become rich by selling it to his sexually frustrated friends and family.  And if you haven’t figured it out by now, Magic Power Coffee will have you and your significant other French pressing all night, if you know what I mean.  If the fusing of coffee with sex hasn’t sold you, Magic Power Coffee also claims that it works on both men and women.

In March 2010, Magic Power Coffee opened its doors for the German and the Spanish market, even creating language specific websites.  So, no matter what language you speak, you’ll now be able to understand the meaning of scam.  (Note: The German website has apparently been shut-down and is awaiting review, i.e. the Germans figured it out.)  The Magic Power Coffee business really took off in North America, and now has its eyes on the European and South American markets.  The theory, at least what I take it to be, is that (a) many people worldwide are looking for a way to correct the (insert sexual issue here) they have, (b) Europeans already drink a great deal of coffee, and, (c) since soluble hand-held coffee packets are already very popular in Europe, particularly with Germans, Turks, and Romanians, it won’t be a great leap to introduce another packet sized product onto the market.

I haven’t tried Magic Power Coffee, but maybe I should before I start judging it?  Oh wait, this is one of those get-rich-quick schemes.  Yeah, the ones that were either a lie all along or that cause some kind of bodily harm or are a serious health risk.

Feeling unsatisfied?  Read up on coffee trivia here.

P.S.  Does anyone know where I can find information about a group called the Kaffee Schnufflers?  They are claimed to have been an organized outfit created by King Frederick in Germany to snuff out illegal coffee roasters and smugglers, but I couldn’t find any reliable information that wasn’t in trivia form.  -Eine Bekannte von mir hat diese Seite über eine Kaffeerösterei in Hamburg gefunden. (to translate, copy and paste here)

Versailles: The Manga Invasion

Photo by Jaclyn

The Château de Versailles, arguably the most beautiful castle in France, was and still remains a symbol of France at the height of its monarchical power and cultural splendor. Not only did Louis XIV move the political center of France from Paris to Versailles, but he brought some of the best architects and artists of the era (le Vaut, le Nôtre and le Brun, to name a few) to develop a palace fit for a god.

So, what would the Sun King say if he knew there were sculptures of gaudy mushrooms and dreamy blondes being displayed amongst all of his prized possessions?

Since the opening of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s exposition at Versailles on September 14, 2010, there has been a lot of outrage. Many art and high culture critics are upset about Murakami’s use of manga, a popular type of Japanese comics.

According to Le Figaro, the idea of putting contemporary art inspired by mangas alongside the historical and royal finery of Versailles is sacrilegious. Not only is it considered by many a disgrace to the historic and artistic value of its era, but also to France’s current culture and pride.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, museum director at Versailles, defends Murakami’s exposition on French 2 television show On s’est pas couché by explaining that contemporary art rarely ceases to have a controversial first reaction. The Louvre’s glass pyramids and the Centre Pompidou were originally critiqued with indignation – Now, they are structures with universal success; that have become symbols of French culture and art around the world.

Photos by Jaclyn (1&2) and Baptiste Lafontaine (3)

Aillagon also argues that exhibiting contemporary art along with historical and “high culture” art is stimulating. The art of the old complements the art of the new.

So, what would Louis XIV have to say about Murakami’s exposition at Versailles? Would he be offended by this intrusion of popular culture? Aillagon disagrees. Versailles was intended to be a place for happiness and good living, he says. At the end of his life, Louis XIV believed his palace to be too serious. He told his architects, “Mettez de l’enfance partout” (roughly meaning, put childhood throughout).

Photo by Charles Nouÿrit

NOTE: This isn’t the first time that Versailles has held a controversial exhibition. Be sure to check out contemporary art expositions by Jeff Koons (2008) and Xavier Veilhan (2009).

The Muslim Threat

Thilo Sarrazin presenting his controversial book

Presenting his controversial book: Thilo Sarrazin

Germany is becoming stupid and it’s the Muslims’ fault.

Germans should be able to live among Germans and should not live in a country where the main language is Turkish or Arabic, women wear head scarves, and daily life is organized by the call of the Muezzin.

Says Sarrazin. His rhetoric is certainly more than just questionable. It has made him the target of public criticism and has driven him into resignation from his job as a member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank and a member of social democrats.

It is obvious why he received so much criticism. What’s surprising is that hardly anyone who does so has not read his book. This does not by any means mean that I support his theses. However, Sarrazin’s direct and offensive language has almost averted objective discussions on a topic that is not only of national but international importance. (“Es geht mir vor allem um Klarheit und Genauigkeit, die Zeichnung ist daher kräftig, nicht unentschlossen oder krakelig. “)

Sarrazin based his argument on facts but his language stands in his own way. While it is true that, for example, the German elite and academic families have fewer children than Muslim families from predominately lower class backgrounds, it is very problematic to find cultural reasons for the  IQ of Muslims, which – on average – is lower than the IQ of Germans. If you take this whole argument one step further and claim that the above statement is also due to genetics, it becomes impossible to discuss it objectively.

In a very blatant way, Sarazzin mixes facts with myths or half-truths and claims that our society has turned Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest into a survival of the most fertile, i.e. the Muslims. The truth behind this argument is that lower class families in Germany have more kids than academics and many immigrants, unfortunately, still belong among the least educated part of society. This cannot, however, be blamed on genetic defects caused by intermarriages but is more likely to originate in the cultural value of education in general and the education of women in particular. Furthermore, Muslims usually learn differently than Europeans.

That's not funny, Ahmed!

In the Western world, logical thinking and independent thinking are valued much higher than in the East. (Another problem is that these arguments usually generalize and are thus, prone to stereotyping certain ethnic or cultural groups. This article is no exception.)

Research shows that the decisive factor in a child’s intellectual development is not their national or cultural background but the upbringing and education. During childhood and adolescence, the child’s IQ grows by about 5 points per year and about 80 % of this growth happens in school. While intelligence is hereditary, the genes only play a minor role in the development of cognitive ability.

I don’t want to defend Sarazzin’s theses in any way, but the public reaction to his book shows that he touched a very sensitive topic in Germany. Germany is divided into two sides either supporting Sarrazin or resolute opposition. Ist er ein Hetzer oder ein Held?

Kalashnikov Kids

Kaskad – The Children’s Bootcamp

Bootcamp for Kids - Photographer Dima Beliakov

Morning reveille sounds and the cadets come tumbling out of their tents for morning exercises. The drill instructor yells commands and the trainees drop to the ground for push ups. A scene typical of any normal military. Looking around however, one will see that some of these “cadets” are just 8 years old. And this isn’t the military, but a summer camp for Russian youth.

What started over twenty years ago as a way for Soviet Commanders in Afghanistan to replenish losses is still going on today. Although the Soviet experience in Afghanistan is long over, the training camp Kaskad is still preparing Russian youth for the dangers of the battlefield and a life in the service. The camp itself is a completely voluntary experience and kids usually jump at the chance to play soldier and learn military skills.

According to a story done by BBC the camp organizers stress that the summer camp provides a safe place for kids with poor backgrounds to socialize, but it is hard to ignore the fact that most of these cadets go on to serve in various special forces throughout the Russian military.

“There’s already a tradition that kids from our unit will go on to serve in various spetznaz units,” says Andrei Samotoin, a former Spetznaz operator turned Kaskad instructor. “Some of them go on to serve in Chechnya. They have a good reputation among officers and men.” BBC story

There’s a video on Youtube but embedding is disabled. Here’s the link Russian Children’s Military Summer Camp

The Army is happy to have them.  The cadets come well-prepared for the daily life in the Army with a high degree of motivation. The notoriously brutal tradition of the Russian army called Dedovschina, where the older conscripts haze the newer ones, makes military service something to be avoided for the average young Russian male. With the quality of Russia’s conscripts dropping and the stigma of military service turning away the higher end candidates, these kids stand out.

“We used to have the Komsomol and the pioneers. Now the kids do what they want. But we make patriots out of the kids who come here,” says Vadim Volkov, one of the instructors. BBC story

The Swamp March - Photographer Dima Beliakov

The training men receive as a typical conscript in the Russian army is lacking at best. One of the goals of the camp is to make sure that these cadets, should they choose to pursue a military career, don’t become casualties in their first fight.

Dima Beliakov, a Russian photo-journalist was kind enough to share his pictures with our blog. He has posted a web album on his site featuring the training endured by these boys. See his photos here. The intensity and the realism emphasized in the training is clearly evident in the various maneuvers the instructors have the boys navigate.

From 1982 to 2001, more than 8,000 cadets have gone through the camp and served in the various border conflicts that have flared up in Russia and its border regions. However, the camp instructors boast that not one of their cadets has been killed. With the high death toll in Chechnya and other wars, that is definitely something to be proud of.

Although many people might be horrified at the thought of young children and teenagers being taught military skills, including how to kill, the fact these summer camps are gaining popularity throughout Russia shows that children are always going to be willing to spend their summers playing soldier and crawling through the mud.  At least here, it’s done in a safe environment, administered by professional veterans and active duty Officers, with the end result being a higher quality citizen willing to preform his military obligation for the Motherland. Even though it sounds like something out of Orwellian literature, Russia could use a better image for their military, and these kids could be the answer.

European soccer fans riot in Paris

Soccer has never been considered a major sport in the United States.  The soccer scene in Europe, however, is a cultural phenomenon, one where people go out to bars and pubs and socialize with friends, family or coworkers, all while watching the game. European soccer fans sing, dance and stand for the entire match, expending energy at an incredible rate. Meanwhile, American soccer fans prefer to be spectators while relaxing in a “sedentary” state.

Portugal fans begin to riot before their match against Spain in the World Cup in the streets of Paris.

Portugal fans begin to riot before their match against Spain in the World Cup in the streets of Paris.

The joy experienced from being part of a heaving mass of humanity at a soccer match cannot compare with the peace gained sitting for hours on end. My friends and I visited Paris during the 2010 World Cup.  Little did we know that we would have a strong cultural experience by ending up in the middle of a soccer riot. After Portugal tied Brazil in the final round of the group play stage, it was determined that Portugal’s next match in the round of 16 would be against the eventual World Cup champion, Spain.

On our first night, my friends and I took a walk towards the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to Napoleon and his victories. We walked past the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and eventually found ourselves on Avenue des Champs-Élysées, walking towards the giant monument in front of us. After a few minutes of walking, some Portugal fans ran past us, carrying the Portuguese flag around their back. They were running towards a massive mob of other Portuguese fans, all celebrating that their team advanced out of group play.

The pictures that I took this night show how crazy these soccer fans can be when national pride is on the line.

Portugese and Spanish soccer fans rioting in Paris during the 2010 World Cup.

Portugal and Spain soccer fans rioting in Paris during the 2010 World Cup.

Next thing we knew, we were caught right in the middle of these crazy soccer fans dancing around, singing and yelling words that I had no clue what they were or what they meant. On the other side of the street, the Spain fans were doing the same thing: jumping, dancing and celebrating the fact that their team had advanced. After a few minutes, the celebration turned ugly. First, fans ran up to cars driving on the street and wave their respective flag in the cars window, until someone got offended when the other country’s fans went up to the same car as them. Meanwhile, some buses packed with tourists were driving by. At first, it started innocent, with the fans waving their flags at the buses and pounding on the sides. However, with traffic picking up, and the fans getting more rowdy, they attempted to tip over the buses onto the other side’s fans. Luckily, the buses were able to drive away in time to avoid being tipped over.

Portugal fans attempt to tip over a bus driving towards the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during the 2010 World Cup.

Portugal fans attempt to tip over a bus driving towards the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during the 2010 World Cup.

After getting in the way of cars, tipping buses, burning each others flags and a couple of brawls, the riot police came to keep the fans separated. My friends and I, since we’re all journalism majors, had been taking pictures this entire time, and continued to do so when the riot police came, so we could show proof to our friends and family back home that we really did get caught up in a soccer riot while in Europe. One of the police officers caught my friend taking a picture of him, and came over to make my friend delete the picture. After the police got there, the fans started to settle down, but it was an experience that truly showed how crazy some European soccer fans can be.

Riot police block Portugese fans from running in the street and tipping over cars and buses.

Riot police block Portugal fans from running in the street and tipping over cars and buses.

Just a side note: Spain defeated Portugal 1-0.

Riots from crazy sports fans have happened before, with fans lighting stuff on fire, destroying houses and cars, but experiencing a riot first hand is far more frightening than just watching videos.

Some Americans also enjoyed the game in Europe, but not as much as the Europeans. Fifa set up a Fan Fest, and aired the World Cup games in six cities in the world, including Paris and Rome. In the United States, fans took motivation from the fan fest and their peers across the Atlantic and followed the team as the tournament progressed, but still not to the same degree as in Europe.

Do You Know Where Your Wallet Is?

Are You an Easy Target?

Dont be an easy victim!

You might want to add that concern to your mental checklist while strolling down Nevsky Prospect.  The possibility that your wallet might not be there when you reach down to check is an unpleasant reality. Pickpockets can be found all over the world and in every city, preying on culture shocked tourists and street wise natives alike.

Pickpocketing has been around since there were pockets to pick. In Russia, the popular slang for a pickpocket is карманник (Kahr-mann-ik) and while gypsies might be popular scapegoats for petty theft, Russia has had a long standing tradition of criminal culture. Vori v zakone or thieves in law operate in their own culture called воровской мир or thieves world, rich in customs and traditions and even its own language. These traditions have been popularized throughout Russia in song and film with modern day bards like Aleksander Rozenbaum writing songs glorifying the honorable thieves and their codes. So while you might enjoy the music, keep your eyes on your wallet.

While this revelation could be very unsettling, there are several things you can do to make yourself not worth the trouble. The truth is that most people make themselves easy victims for pickpockets.

The blogging site posted some very interesting pictures of pickpockets in action on Nevsky Prospect. Here is what you can do to avoid becoming a victim when traveling abroad.

Tips to keep you and your wallet safe.

  1. Keep your head on a swivel. Vigilance is the number one deterrent in keeping potential pickpockets at bay. If you are aware of your surroundings, chances are you’re just not going to be worth the trouble.
  2. Carry only what you need for the day and leave everything else in the room or hotel  safe. It’s always better to lose a little bit then everything at once.
  3. Don’t broadcast to everyone where you keep your wallet. People subconsciously check the pockets where they keep their money. That also lets others know where the wallet is at.
  4. Keep your valuables on you as much as you can. Preferably towards the front of your person where you have a better chance of catching a wandering hand then if your purse is hanging off your shoulder.
  5. Store money, credit cards, passports in a money belt or around you’re neck. It might look tacky but it’s a surefire way to make sure those things stay with you. Carry a small decoy wallet with some spare change and expired cards to distract the thieves from where the real valuables are located.
  6. If you must keep your wallet in your pocket be sure that you can secure that pocket by buttoning it up or snapping it shut. An open pocket is as good as an invitation to whatever is inside.
  7. If you are carrying valuables in your backpack the same rule applies. Zip it shut! Better yet, place the valuables on the bottom so if someone does gain access to it, they at least have to rummage around to get to the goodies.
  8. When sitting down at a restaurant, place the strap of your bag/purse around the chair leg to prevent easy lift off. Never hang it on the back of the chair.
  9. In crowded places such as airports or markets, keep physical contact with your luggage. Having your hands on your stuff prevents others from putting their hands on it.
  10. Finally, don’t be an easy target. Try to fit in with the locals as much as you can to avoid standing out as an overflowing fountain of cash carrying tourist. Such people are marked as being easy targets because of their naivety and carelessness.

Pickpockets in Baia Mare, Romania – youtube link

With the rise in popularity in backpacking across foreign lands, the hustlers and pickpockets have no end of hapless travelers on which to prey. Remember, there are many wonderful things to see when traveling but don’t let the sights overwhelm your sense of safety. It’s always easier to take a few precautions than to deal with the loss of a passport or money when overseas.
That said, protect your treasures and happy trails!

Check out more pictures of pickpockets in Nevsky prospect here

Prost! A guide to German drinking games (for dummies!)

If the thought of German drinking games evokes images of beer steins and lederhosen, this blog’s for you.

Photo Credit: The Real Darren Stone

Photo Credit: The Real Darren Stone

No, seriously. You need it.

Welcome to the 21st century, where drinking games in Germany and all over the world have evolved, after generations of trial-and-error experimentation, into what now looks something like this:

According to Wikipedia, the origins of the drinking game date back to antiquity, with one of the earliest known drinking games described in Plato’s “Symposium”, where a bunch of semi-nude guys sat in a circle and drank from a jug, slapped it and passed it on.

Today, the typical Saufspiel (or Trinkspiel)– from the German saufen, to drink alcohol, (or trinken, to drink) and das Spiel, game—has a plethora of manifestations, and it’s time for us to rid ourselves of any archaic notions we cling to that involve pretzels, lederhosen and the German drinking game.

(Incidentally, if you don’t cling to these notions, good for you! Here’s to dispelling stereotypes. Imaginary clink)

To make it easy for us, this generous organization has already compiled a list of the top party games in Deutschland and descriptions of each.

This one got four stars! It’s called Arschgrabschen (Arsch-grabbing) and it goes like this:

There should be an equal number of male-female volunteers, they recommend 4-4, but really, it could be mehr oder weniger (more or fewer).

1. The women sit on chairs while the men pick out a woman.
2. Each man takes a good mental note of “his” woman’s posterior parts, as there will be a test later.
3. The men are then blindfolded and the women, of course, switch places.
4. The men are left to identify which woman he picked through a little bit of arsch-grabbing (hence the name). First one to guess correctly wins!

Hmm … I’m assuming the alcohol consumption took place before the game?

Na ja, this next one’s a winner though—it earned five whole stars (!), making it the overall favorite of the site’s nearly 1.7 million visitors. Plus you won’t have to worry about any sexual harassment suits …

It’s called, simply, “Circle”. Reminds me a little of Circle of Death  … no, wait … it is Circle of Death! And auf Deutsch, no less!

Here’s another site that’s serving up a large helping of German drinking games.

This site sorts games by game type (card, dice, skill) and difficulty level.
One game, called card sucking, (Karten saugen) is similar to a game I’ve heard of here in the States, though I didn’t play it the way they describe it here.

So the goal is to use your mouth to suck in the card and pass it to the next player in a circle (no hands!) and if the card falls, you take a drink. This version says if the card falls, you have to drink with that person to “Bruderschaft!” (brotherhood) and then kiss them on the mouth, regardless of sex.

I must have been playing the PG version.

Luckily for us, in order to see more demonstrations of modern German drinking games, we have only to go to Youtube and type in “trinkspiel” and we find that people are only too willing to publicize their cultural imbibing traditions (for our own scientific research purposes, naturally).

Like this one, for example:

That said, it doesn’t take a genius to figure these drinking games out.

Perhaps they will be of some use to someone in their next anthropological study of the German culture. After all, what could bring two cultures closer than a little Arschgrabschen and a kiss on the mouth?

To Bruderschaft!

Welcome to Wal-Mart

Another food shortage has hit Russia.

Recent droughts have caused a shortage in the availability of buckwheat. Citizens are growing restless, and the last thing the government needs is restless, hungry people on its hands.

Photo credit - Luigi Guarino

Photo credit - Luigi Guarino

This isn’t a scene out of imperial Russia in the early 1900s or the Soviet Union in the 1980s – this is The Great Buckwheat Shortage of 2010.

Young Russians are now seeing their parents act in ways they’ve never seen before. Older generations, fearing the shortage will only get worse, are reverting back to Soviet era tactics.

Irina Steshkina, a Moscow citizen, had this to say in a Bloomberg article,

“It’s in our blood from the Soviet era,” Steshkina said. “We stockpile for the future at the slightest provocation.”

It’s odd to think of an entire country running out of a staple. In this age of the global economy and planes, trains and automobiles – can’t they just stop by their local supermarket and pick some up?

Imagine Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee and Target all running out of corn. I just can’t.

Turns out while it’s a bad time to be a buckwheat eating Russian citizen, it’s an even worse time to be a supermarket chain in Russia.

According to this blog, French chain Carrefour pulled out of Russia last fall, and other chains are hesitant to take a gamble on Russia’s troubling economy. While a successful chain would see large gains in the otherwise untapped Russian culture, entering the market would require some big risks.

After some digging, I did find evidence of some supermarkets doing business in Russia – Kopeyka, Lenta and Spar to name a few.

Googling Lenta brings up a Reuters article regarding everyone’s favorite supermarket, Wal-Mart. Turns out they have their eye on Russia. But even giant corporations like Wal-Mart aren’t going guns blazing into the Russian economy.

“We’ll make a decision when it’s the right time and we have the right entry opportunity and not before then,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart International’s president and chief executive.

According to an earlier Reuters article on the topic, the chain isn’t just interested in buying a stake in Lenta. They want it all.

“If they (Wal-Mart) did a deal, they would buy the whole thing,” one financial source said.

Why can’t the chain just head into Russia and start from scratch?

Apparently that’s just not how the business works anymore. Chains would rather buy existing structures (which while readily available in countries like the US, are not in Russia), than build ones from scratch. It costs too much money to build a new brand and infrastructure.

For the Russians who have heard about Wal-Mart’s terrible practices, don’t worry.

If Wal-Mart decides to go full steam ahead in Russia, you’ll be sure to have other options. Because you can bet Hy-Vee will be there, setting up shop right next to every Wal-Mart that goes up.