Down Home Cooking From the DDR

As I’ve been preparing to graduate college and move out of Columbia, I’ve been going through the standard move-out checklist: return library books, pack up clothes, so on and so forth. When I got to the point of cleaning out my fridge, however, I realized that I could put all my leftovers into one pot and cook it up in the name of Eurokulture.

So, what I’m attempting here is Solyanka, sort of the one-pot meal of the former East Germany, made with leftovers and whatever you happen to have on hand. Blogger Karo over at Persephone Magazine claims that Solyanka originally came out of Russia and Ukraine, but became extremely common and popular in East Germany because of the large amount of cultural imitation of the USSR. I guess the Soviet Union was sort of the cool older kid to East Germany, being the biggest, most successful socialist nation, and imitating Soviet foods and culture was sort of like the little brother getting the same haircut in an attempt to show that he’s also cool.




Here are your Vegetables/Fruits- I used three white onions, a large can of crushed tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, a whole sliced lemon, and eight small sweet gherkin pickles. Don’t use dill pickles, they’re too salty!

Picture 3You’ll need meat, too. Or a meat substitute? All the recipes I found used several types of meat, and pretty much anything seems to be acceptable. I saw versions with beef, hotdogs, pork, smoked cutlets, bacon, and many other meats. I just used what I happened to have lying around: From left to right, a leftover pork chop, roast lamb, and some pork jowl, which is really just like bacon.

Picture 5Lastly, you’ll need to gather all of your spices and garnishes. From left to right here, I’ve got red chili pepper, salt, thyme, allspice, black pepper, bay leaf, paprika, parsley and sour cream. The sour cream and parsley are mostly for garnishing to serve, but I added some parsley to my soup as it was cooking to add some freshness.

So, bringing it all together, your first move should be preheating the oven. I set mine to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re using a dutch oven, like I did, you’ll want to let that get nice and hot before adding any of your ingredients.

Picture 7

While your oven is preheating, you’ll need to make your broth. Add your onions, gherkins, lemon, tomatoes and tomato paste to as much water as you wish to use. You could use a broth, but with all the meat, broth could make for a really heavy soup, and Solyanka isn’t supposed to be too thick.

Also, add all your herbs and spices, including some of the parsley, but save more parsley for serving later.

You also need to cook all your meat now, because it’s a bad idea to have raw meat swimming around with your vegetables. Just brown it.

Picture 9Next step is the last step, really. Put your browned meat in the pot with the broth, cover, and cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1.5 hours. If your kitchen is as small as mine, then it will be about at hot as your oven. Cooking is hard work, but we love it.

Picture 13After you’ve let your Solyanka finish cooking, serve it up immediately and enjoy! I added some sour cream and parsley, but if you’re making a more Russian-leaning version, you might want to use dill, as you would on any other Russian dish. I also had a bowl of Solyanka for breakfast the next morning, and I’m here to tell you that it’s really good as leftovers. You should probably take out the lemon slices before putting the soup in the fridge, because my batch got pretty sour overnight.

Solyanka, then, is basically a sweet and sour soup with meat and vegetables. Those are the only constant factors. I found so many variations on this basic recipe as I was preparing this meal that my own recipe basically ended up being a combination of all of them.

This site claims to present an East German recipe for Solyanka, but it uses dill and capers, which seems to be a more Russian version.

This one is also East German, but is almost completely different from the other East German recipe. This is getting confusing.

The Near Distant Ago, an English-language Cold War nostalgia blog, presents yet another very different recipe. Great.

Eventually I realized that if there are this many variations on the recipe, then the particulars must not be too important. So, I picked and chose my ingredients from the various recipes, ending up with my own recipe, which seems to be not only acceptable, but also the ideal way to make Solyanka.

Watching the Watchers: Germany’s Commitment to Privacy

The global furor surrounding Edward Snowden’s June 2013 revelation of U.S. Government data collecting and processing practices seems to have calmed as the initial outrage has become a more organized push for transparency and reform.

The European Union has made far greater strides toward transparency than the U.S. in recent years, insofar as each EU member country must have a comprehensive set of laws protecting its citizens against unauthorized data collection, whether by individuals or government agencies.

This European approach to careful protection of individual privacy has been made quite clear through such sweeping policies as ending information sharing with the U.S.– a decision which the German government made shortly after the Snowden leaks, and effective immediately.

Information gathering isn't always so tranparent... Credit: Tuzen at Flickr

Information gathering isn’t always so tranparent…
Credit: Tuzen at Flickr

For those of you who don’t read German, cloud security company Perspecsys lays out a pretty clear picture of the significant reforms set forth in Germany’s Bundesdatenschutzgesetz, also known as the BDSG, because the Germans love acronyms.

Germany's BDSG explicitly protects individual rights to privacy.

Germany’s BDSG explicitly protects individual rights to privacy.

The BDSG has existed in various forms since the 1960s, but the 2009 reforms to the law have put a more intense emphasis on personal privacy in an increasingly digitized world.

The 2009 reforms include:

  • Data collection requires express permission from the individual in question. This applies to any and all data, from name to IP address.
  • In granting permission to gather an individual’s data, the individual in question determines the exact conditions of use of said data, including purpose, location, and expiration of permission.
  • At any time, any individual who has made their data available for any purpose may revoke their permission without opposition.
  • All organizations which manage personal data must have comprehensive policies in place to protect said data in accordance with the BDSG.


The BDSG is a sort of legal solidification of what seems to be a growing sentiment amongst the German public, but in addition to civilian protests such as the “Blurmany” debacle, there is a devotion to the cause of privacy throughout the German government itself.


Okay, so this is exaggerated, but it's exaggerated for effect!

Okay, so this is exaggerated, but it’s exaggerated for effect!

UK-based blogger and eDisclosure activist Chris Dale helps to put this predilection for privacy in a personal context in his analysis of four articles concerning data privacy in Germany, writing:

“We consent to the erosion of our privacy continually, usually as a result of an unconscious trade-off between that erosion and some benefit – if we choose to carry a mobile phone, then our location is traceable, but the benefit outweighs the downside. The same is true of many other web or GPS-based functions. The difference between them and Street View is that the latter is disconnected from our own choice – we may choose not to use Street View but we have little control over its usefulness to those who want to eye up our houses for burglarious purposes, or over the risk that it happens to catch us coming out of a massage parlour, as happened to one man”

I feel that a point like this helps to distinguish the real rallying cry of those Germans who have a real desire for privacy. The issue isn’t that these people have anything to hide, but rather that without transparency and protective measures, there is no way of knowing who could be looking at your data for what reason.

The tradeoff that Dale mentions has been heavy on my mind lately: where does convenience require a sacrifice? Is it really worth your privacy to be able to find a gas station near you when you really need it? Feel free to comment below, and be sure to look both ways as you leave the massage parlor- you never know who’s watching.


Waffles, Windmills, and Wonderful Sights: Bruges’ Historic City Center

Despite nearly a thousand years of history, beautifully preserved Gothic architecture  and a reputation as one of the most important and fabulously wealthy medieval cities of Europe, Bruges, Belgium is all but absent from American travel itineraries. Colin Farrell film aside, most Americans know absolutely nothing of Bruges.

Old Bruges, as seen from one of many canals. Credit: M & G Therin-Weise

Old Bruges, as seen from one of many canals. Credit: M & G Therin-Weise

One of several cities competing for the title Venice of the North in recognition of its beautiful canals, Bruges’ city center offers a wonderfully comprehensive view into the opulent Northern jewel of medieval trade. Although the entire old city center is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are several specific sites and sights I would like to recommend.


Old Marketplace in Bruges City Center Credit: Wolfgang Staudt

Old Marketplace in Bruges City Center Credit: Wolfgang Staudt

First and most easily accessible is the Markt, Bruges’ medieval marketplace, located roughly in the center of the old city. Any visitor standing on the Markt would find it impossible to miss the towering Belfry, Bruges’ most iconic landmark. Those interested in the view from the upper windows are welcome to climb the Belfry, for a fee, but that’s a lot of steps. A LOT of steps. Also present on the Markt are restaurants, which ring the square and offer tons of outdoor seating to enjoy the late sunsets. In the center of the square, horse-drawn carriages wait to trot you around the city, but on my visit to Bruges, I enjoyed saving the money wandering around on foot.

Side Street in Bruges' old city Credit: Wolfgang Staudt

Side Street in Bruges’ old city Credit: Wolfgang Staudt

A word about wandering: while I highly recommend that any visitor to Bruges take out some time and stroll the side-streets and alleys spidering out from the Markt, I would like to point out that the fantastic degree of upkeep and cleanliness means that most of the side-streets look nearly identical, with only minor architectural details on the connected houses to use as waypoints. As can be assumed, I often found myself hopelessly lost amongst the canals and brick facades, though this is only a problem if you’re on a tight schedule. Otherwise, getting yourself lost is a fantastic way to experience Bruges’ old town.

Basilica of the Holy Blood Credit: Jim Linwood

A second destination near the Markt is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which contains a relic said to contain drops of the blood of Christ. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, the Basilica is architecturally beautiful, particularly the small chapel tucked up a dark set of stone stairs.

Canal Cruise through Bruges Credit: Linda Garrison

Canal Cruise through Bruges Credit: Linda Garrison

While much of Bruges can be seen on foot, one of the most highly recommended experiences to, um, experience while in town is a sightseeing cruise along the canals. Unlike the canals of Venice, which frankly smell pretty terrible, the canals of Bruges are clean and clear, with many lovingly cared-for gardens which can be seen only from the water. In most situations, I wouldn’t recommend paying for sightseeing, but Bruges is really a city best experienced at water level.

I'm telling you, try the waffles.

I’m telling you, try the waffles.

Try the waffles. Try some mussels, too- they’ll serve them in a big bucket. Try the beer, try another beer, and try as many more as you can, because delicious Belgian beer is obscenely expensive here in the States. Don’t try too many, though, because that just makes it easier to get lost. But that’s not always a bad thing.


“We Can’t Answer That”: Walther Charged for Illegal Exports of Firearms to Colombia

When I think of the phrase “black market”, I usually picture smoky rooms, secret sub-basements, trade-offs in the backs of unmarked vans- you know, the usual. To put it otherwise, I don’t picture a beautiful and historic Danube town such as Ulm.


Ulm, home of the world’s tallest steeple and illegal weapons exports

Regardless of what I think, however, Ulm is currently playing host to a black-market scandal on an international scale.

On March 3rd, Deutsche Welle  reported that international firearms giant Walther Arms was facing criminal charges for illegally exporting its weapons to Colombia, whose political, social, and criminal turmoil has rarely left the world’s attention.

Certainly, there is a lot of money to be made selling weapons to a war-torn nation, and that’s why Germany has a law against precisely that sort of business. German companies wishing to export firearms must secure an export permit from the government, and such permits are not issued if said country’s internal state is in conflict, say, like Colombia’s.

So, when a gun like this:

Note the prominent "Made in Germany"

Note the prominent “Made in Germany”

shows up in Colombia, there must be something fishy going on. Little information has arisen regarding these allegations, but in response to the question of just HOW these guns got to Colombia, Walther’s Managing Director had this much to say:”We Can’t Answer That”. Well, Herr Direktor, maybe you should try.

These allegations come hot on the heels of a raid by the German State Investigator’s office on SIG Sauer’s headquarters in the sleepy Baltic town of Eckernförde. According to The Firearm Blog, seventy of SIG Sauer’s pistols were sold to the Kazakhstan Republican Guard in 2010.

Peaceful Baltic town or haven for illegal arms merchants?

Peaceful Baltic town or haven for illegal arms merchants?

This was allegedly done using what is known as a bypass transaction. In this case, the official paperwork listed the pistols as being bound for the United States, where an unnamed compatriot obtained permission from the State Department to export the pistols to Kazakhstan.

Such transactions are understandably difficult to investigate, as the line which divides a bypass transaction from a standard resale is very thin and requires no paperwork to cross. The Eckernförder Zeitung reports that the German police seized documents, hard drives, and computers believed to contain evidence that may implicate SIG Sauer in a very illegal trade.

Information on both cases is still forthcoming, so be careful where you get your guns.


Against All Good Taste: New-age Music’s Global Reincarnation

To ensure the proper state of  mind for reading this post, find a comfortable chair, do some deep-breathing exercises, and let it all go. We’re about to get mellow.

At the end of last year, the fantastic reissue record label Light in the Attic put out the wonderfully blissed-out I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990, compiling twenty new-age composers, both well-known and obscure.

I should note that well-known is an extremely relative term when speaking of New-Age music, a genre generally cast aside as being boring, cheesy, and generally laughable. Auftouren argues that “Spätestens seit dem Italo-Revival ist „cheesy“ kein klares Schimpfwort mehr,” that is, “Since the Italo-revival, ‘cheesy’ is no longer an insult”. Take a look at Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco:

Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco

Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco

If Giorgio is no longer cheesy, then it follows that nothing else can ever be cheesy ever again.

Anyway, I feel like New-Age music as a whole is grossly misrepresented in the public imagination. Die Presse makes the argument that “New-Age” tends to be a pseudonym for poorly-produced soundtracks, used to dress up pseudo-spirituality, and I’m sort of required to agree. But you don’t have to buy into all of the metaphysics of it in order to appreciate it.  The point isn’t to be catchy, nor to be popular, but rather to be meditative and serene, and if you don’t like it, then get out. New-Age musicians wouldn’t put it that way, though. They’d be a lot more mellow about it.

Iasos would be especially mellow in telling you to chill out and enjoy the music

Iasos would be especially mellow in telling you to chill out and enjoy the music

So, if an American compilation of New-Age music is getting German-language press– favorable press at that, then what is the German connection? It’s a story that goes back to the heady days of 1960s West Germany, where people were taking loads of drugs and messing with huge synthesizers. German groups like Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel are the direct progenitors of New-Age music worldwide, and I dare you to listen to Ashra’s New Age of Earth  without being swept away on waves of synthetic bliss.

In response to the publication of I Am the Center, the New York Times ran an interesting post entitled “For New Age, the Next Generation“. It’s well worth a read, but I’ll summarize for you here: New-Age music and German progressive electronic music of the 1970s and 1980s has crossed the pale of “cheesiness” into the safe harbor of popular appeal.

The Times includes a quote from I Am the Center mastermind Douglas McGowan, and I’d like to use it to close out this post.

“Getting away from the noise of society is such a central idea in that space is silence and nothingness and emptiness…Once you wrap your head around nothingness as being a virtue, it becomes so much easier to appreciate the music on its own terms”- Douglas McGowan

Maybe we should all just get away from the noise of work, traffic, the kids, what have you, and slip on some headphones and embrace wonderful, peaceful, beautiful nothing.

Germany’s Elektronische Musik


The WDR Studio in Cologne

Long, long ago, long before the days of blaring techno and warehouse raves, electronic music got its start not in dance clubs, but in radio studios and laboratories near Cologne. As far back as 1950, there were Germans splicing tapes, turning dials and making loads of bizarre noises in the studios of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk and Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk radio networks.

Now, in the late 1940s, some Frenchmen, namely Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, began experimenting with musique concrète, making compositions with tape recordings as the principal instrument. In 1949, Werner Meyer-Eppler published Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache, a thesis encouraging the production of purely synthetic music. Meyer-Eppler’s text presented a new German form of music, consciously different from French musique concrète in that where the French worked with recordings of acoustic music, the Germans would use only purely synthesized electronic sounds.


Karlheinz Stockhausen himself

The WDR studio in Cologne became the nexus of this new so-called ‘elektronische musik’, with Karlheinz Stockhausen as its most charismatic representative. Stockhausen’s studio produced not only music, but also a following of students who would take their studies in electronic music, combine that knowledge with rock music a la The Velvet Underground and created the progressive rock music dubbed “Krautrock” by British press. Among Stockhausen’s students was Holger Czukay, who along with Irmin Shmidt, another of Stockhausen’s students, formed the musical group that would later become Can, probably the most well-recognized group of the Krautrock era.

Kontakte, 1960

Score for Stockhausen’s 1960 composition “Kontakte”

Stockhausen’s music is alienating at first- completely absent of melody and harmony and entirely unpredictable. Analog synthesizers, as well as various filters, potentiometers and shortwave radios were manipulated to produce entirely new sounds, in entirely new musical forms. Pieces could be brief or extraordinarily lengthy– the idea was that this would be entirely new music, so no traditional musical conventions can really be expected to apply.

This profound newness in art developed contemporaneously with the student movements of the 1960s which demanded newness in politics and education, and the German Krautrock bands such as Neu!, Can and Faust combined these two influences to create the first progressive rock music, eventually leading to the creation of ambient music years before Brian Eno ever touched a synthesizer. I’ll be tracing the further development of Germany’s electronic music history in following posts, so be sure to check back every week or so to catch up on the news.