Strange holiday traditions

 

Cultures are strange things, and they bring with them strange traditions. These may be some of the strangest of them all, however.

During Christmas in Japan, people line up outside of KFCs and reserve buckets of chicken for their family. This, according to GaijinPot, has been a tradition since the 1970s when an expat decided it would be a good replacement for turkey, which wasn’t available. Word quickly spread up the grapevine and corporate embraced their newfound role in the country’s christmas traditions.

Or, as GaijinPot says, “it might just be because Colonel Sanders looks like Santa Claus.”

KFC at Christmas

Another strange Christmas tradition, this time from the Catalan people in northern Spain, is known simply as the Caganer, or “the shitter.” The Caganer is a staple of nativity scenes in this region, and is depicted as a figure crouching and pooping.

Over the years the Caganer has expanded from a peasant wearing a red beret to nearly everything conceivable. You can find Santa Caganers, Yoda ones, politicians, Oscar award statue Caganers, superheroes and villains, or even the pope.

Caganers

Over in the UK, there’s the good ol’ Cheese Rolling Festival, during which contestants chase a wheel of cheese down a 1/2 gradient hill. That’s steep. And dangerous. People often dress up for the occasion, running, and quickly tumbling, down the slope in banana costume or dressed as Waldo from “Where’s Waldo.” Injuries seem to be a very common occurrence at this event. What’s the goal, you ask? Well, it’s to be the first one to grab the wheel of cheese, of course!

Cheese Rolling Festival

Back to Christmas, a strange tradition some European countries have is “Krampus,” which is essentially the antithesis of Santa. Depicted with horns and a mangy beard, this legend has its origins in the 1600s with Krampus joining St. Nicholas for his Christmas feast trek each December 5. Krampus would go around and punish bad children with not just coal, but by sometimes stuffing children into his sack to deliver them to hell. Today the legend lives on, with people dressing up as Krampus to chase children through the streets.

Krampus

Finally on our list of strange holiday traditions: Groundhog Day. In America, we have an annual celebration in which we allow a groundhog, most notably Punxsutawney Phil, predict whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter, or if we will be blessed with an early spring. This tradition began in the 1800s and it’s still well and alive today, even inspiring a Hollywood movie by the same name as the holiday.

Groundhog Day

Cultures develop some strange traditions, but it’s important to keep in mind that just because a celebration seems strange to you doesn’t mean it’s strange to those who celebrate it. Or heck, maybe it it also strange to those who celebrate it, but they enjoy the tradition anyway. I know Groundhog Day makes absolutely no sense to me, but I think it’s still sort of a neat holliday. We all have our quirks in this world, so we might as well enjoy them.

Medz Yeghern: The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

armenia logo

The official banner commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide in the UK.

 

 

armenia 2

A depiction of the Syrian desert death marches.

ottoman map

A map of the Ottoman empire of 1914.

 

April 24, 1915 marks the date that started the carnage sealing the fate of an estimated 800 thousand to 1.5 million Armenian people who were systematically murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in what has come to be known as the Armenian Genocide. Similar to the Jewish holocaust of World War II, the Armenian genocide was the governmental extermination of Armenians as a minority within the region that is now known as the Republic of Turkey. The first cycle of this bloodbath (that didn’t end until 7 years later in 1922), involved the mass murders and forced subjugation of physical labor of the young and robust male population. The second cycle of the Armenian genocide involved the Syrian death marches.

Women, children, and elderly in large numbers were marched southward to the Syrian deserts where they were then subject to frequent incidents of rape, robbery, and physical abuse. Many died on these marches from starvation, and lack of water. Those who tried to stop and take a break were shot on site.

The ancient Armenians had inhabited what was known as their homeland for many years prior to the Turk invasion in the eleventh century. With this invasion came significant problems for the Armenian population. For one, the Turks were mostly followers of the Muslim religion and began to rule while labeling Armenian Christians as second class citizens denying them their right to vote and going so far as to tax them for identifying as Christian.

young turks

A painted depiction of a meeting of the Young Turks political group.

 

With the growing trend of Turkish nationalism came the creation of a political group known as the Young Turks who were an ultra nationalist organization whose political ideologies included the end goal of a wholly Muslim and Turkish state. Behind the smoke of World War I, the Ottoman Turks began their attack on the Armenians starting by targeting the thousands of Armenian soldiers enlisted in the Turkish army. This event is known to the Armenian people as “Medz Yeghern” meaning Great Crime. On the 24th of this month, the Armenian community, along with its sympathizers remembered this time of sadness in fellowship with marches, rallies and speeches centered around this harrowing topic. However, Armenians today face another hurdle concerning this 20th century genocide—recognition that it was a genocide in the first place.

 

100 years later, the modern Turkish government does not recognize the massacre at Anatolia to be deemed a genocide. Perhaps even more surprising (to me anyway) is the fact that the United States and Israel are also among the ranks of the few nations who also refuse to use the language specific to genocide when talking about the event. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide comes from claims within the Turkish and Azerbaijan governments that there was no plot to exterminate the Armenian race, but that there was a more complicated inter-ethnic war taking place, that Muslim Turks were also killed during that time, and that the numbers produced by scholars concerning the number of Armenian dead are inflated.

Speculation has been made that President Obama’s refusal to use the term genocide is largely because of the United State’s alliance with Turkey— despite that a majority of 43 states have declared their agreement that the massacre of 1915 was indeed a genocide. This year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event, a recorded 130 thousand people marched in Los Angeles from Little Armenia to the Turkish Consulate in solidarity. On the eastern side of the United States, there was also a gathering of thousands of Armenian-American youth in Times Square where they marched waving the Armenian flag,  wearing Red carnations and chanting, “Turkey is responsible for genocide”.

It would seem that 100 years later, Armenia still has something to fight for—even if it’s just the recognition their bloodied history deserves.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Armenian-American rally in New York for the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Up Helly Aa: A Scottish Tradition and a town on fire

 

first pic

Photo cred: uphellyaa.org

 Picture this: It’s late January in Scotland and from your hotel window you see what appears to be thousands of men march past in varying degrees of viking garb carrying weapons and chanting in unison. The sleepy town of Lerwick once darkened by the night sky, now lit orange and yellow with the glow of fire. A large wooden galley in the shape of a dragon sits on a lake, built solely for the purpose of the evening’s festivities. Eventually, the marching stops and all of the heavily costumed men or guizers led by a man in an ornate raven-feathered helmet, chants above them all in a rousing call and response as voices rise higher and higher.

 All at once, the town is flooded with silence. The Jarl, the leader of the group elected by fellow guizers (donning the raven-feathered helmet) makes a signal and a bugle horn is sounded- thousands of torches are thrown onto the dragon boat. This is Up Helly Aa.

smuha-2015-galley-on-the-waves-by-david-gifford-thumb

Lerwick,Scotland-The burning of the boat. Photo cred: David Gifford photography

 Up Helly Aa, despite being a fairly modern holiday, has a rich history. Celebrated in the Shetland region of Scotland with its origins dating back to the early 1800’s, it is celebrated in a total of nine Shetland towns, the largest celebration being held in Lerwick. Up helly aa was at first a week long event with very little organization and plenty of drinking, chanting, dancing and merriment. In older times, non-participating villagers would open up their homes for the drunken men to sleep or eat food and recharge for another round of revelry. The holiday is celebrated on the last Tuesday of January in order to commemorate the end of the yule season.

 Up Helly Aa consists of 3 main events; The burning of the boat, the procession, and the grand feasts and performances in town halls. For four months, thousands of townspeople combine resources, time and skill to build the ornate dragon galley that gets burned down by torch fire at the beginning of the festivities.

2nd pic

 Photo cred: uphellyaa.org

 The procession begins thereafter where all men sporting the custom uniform of the year carry lighted torches around the town parading to the song of Up Helly Aa whose chorus goes:

“Grand old Vikings ruled upon the ocean vast,

Their brave battle-songs still thunder on the blast;

Their wild war-cry comes a-ringing from the past;

We answer it “A-oi”!

Roll their glory down the ages,

Sons of warriors and sages,

When the fight for Freedom rages,

Be bold and strong as they!”

 3rd pic

Lerwick town hall where the Jarl Guizer is granted “freedom of the town for 24 hours. Photo cred: David Gifford Photography

 Town halls open up for themed parties in which members of different guizers (cleverly named for their viking disguises) perform their skits for rowdy crowds. Most of these hall parties are pretty exclusive with a few exceptions. Some halls are open to the public for those who purchase a ticket to participate in the festivities. Here, eating, drinking and dancing takes place-and it is the goal of each guizer to dance with at least one lady in the hall.

 The next morning, those in a state of hangover and exhaustion from the night prior get an entire day to recover-the Wednesday after is the actual Up Helly Aa day where school, work and most shops are closed for the holiday. On Thursday, everything returns to normal; the ferocious viking men of Up Helly Aa go back to their day jobs, the pungent odor of soot eventually wafts from the air, and preparation for the next year’s Up Helly Aa begin in Autumn.

lerwick
(The Town of Lerwick) Photo cred: Redbubble.com

France’s climate change commitments

I sat numbingly and mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, my eyes unenthused crescent moons, my fingers robotic, my body a stone. After irrelevant minutes, I came across a picture that turned my waning crescents into full moons. I immediately perked up as I came across something that was actually worth my time. It was a picture my friend had posted while abroad in France. The picture was this:

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

My friend Julie captioned the photo, “Paris – Gare du Nord. You can sit at one of these tables with bike pedals and physically charge your phone by pedaling! So eco-friendly…epoustouflant!”

Now, you may be thinking this is fairly uninteresting like most things online. What’s the big deal? Why this picture? Well, as an environmentalist, I was very excited. I shared it on Facebook with my environmentalist friends and they all liked it. Any new sustainable invention or article sucks me in and sometimes makes my heart flutters from joy because of it. And, to be honest, I don’t understand why every single human doesn’t feel the way I do about sustainability advancements.

Luckily for Earth (and for my mental health and stability), there are fellow activists out there working, and environment issues are becoming a greater part of human lives. At the 2014 Climate Summit, more than 100 global leaders gathered in New York to discuss their plan to reduce their respective country’s carbon footprint. There were 44 countries that made commitments to carry out feasible solutions to the increasing environmental issues.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014. Photo from Google.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014, photo from google.com

Because the picture my friend posted was from France, I took interest in sustainability advancements in France. France’s leaders pledged that France “will commit $1 billion to Green Climate Fund over the ‘coming years.’”

“Coming years”? What does that even mean? But, to be fair, France’s pledge almost sounds better than the United States’, which states, “President Obama signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments. The U.S. is also deploying experts and technology to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters and plan for long-term threats.” None of that sounds clear cut with a plan for a specific quantifiable result.

I wondered if other francophone countries were that vague with their commitments, but not all were. Belgium, for example, pledged to “reduce emissions by 85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” Luxembourg, another francophone country, committed “$6.8 million to the Green Climate Fund — %1 of the country’s entire GDP.

Examples of renewable energy, photo from google.com

Examples of renewable energy, photo from google.com

After hearing about France’s somewhat imprecise commitment at the Climate Summit, I was frustrated. So, naturally, I did more research to see what were some actual attainable, concrete goals that France has set for itself (and for the world, for that matter) before and since the Climate Summit.

Since 2013, France has focused a large part of its country’s efforts on renewable energy. As of 2013, France has “committed 2 billion euros to renewable energy and energy efficiency” over a three-year period. France has also concentrated a large part of its efforts on sustainable energy in Africa to both rural and urban areas. France has invested millions in programs and resources towards many types of energy in France and countries in Africa. “By funding more than 230 million euros, France has developed the geothermal potential of the Olkaria site in Kenya, which is among the most important sites in Africa.”

In December, France will be hosting the Climate Conference Paris 2015. At this conference, 196 countries will commit to a solution to combat climate change. This climate conference will alter and update countries’ commitments to create a more sustainable Earth, as well as set new goals. The previous climate conferences and summits, while successful, have been criticized by using a ‘top-down’ approach, whereas for the Climate Conference Paris 2015, the goal is to shift the conversations towards hearing from each country what they would like to do and what is best for their infrastructure.

Photo from Google

Photo from google.com

Researching  about France’s (and other countries’) sustainability advancements and goals gives me hope and satisfaction. Because for me, the picture my friend posted on her Facebook was so much more than a cool post from a good friend in a different country. It sparked in me a hope for humanity. I saw this invention of a bicycle charger and I felt a sense of content for the world. Maybe we’re not all dooming Earth for the rest of our lives.

Oftentimes I get very overwhelmed by the weight of the world. I spend hours upon hours each week learning about the ways in which we harm the environment. I’m taught and teach others ways in which humans can change the path we’re headed towards and actually make a difference. I get very preoccupied on worrying about how we’re all going to clean up the giant dump we’ve taken on Earth, and I forget to look up and notice the positive, innovative, incredible things that thousands of people are doing right now through policy and service.

So thank you to Julie Rozanski for her picture. I doubt she ever thought it would make another human so content.

Waltzing through the Night at a Viennese Ball

 

Hofburg Palace, Photo: viennaconcerts.com

ONE, two three, ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three is repeated over and over in my mind as I twirled around the ballroom. The orchestra played waltz after waltz at the Ball of the Vienna University of Technology (TU Ball). Even though I have never taken ballroom dance in all my years of dance training, learning to waltz really was not hard at all… I was more worried about getting my feet stepped on and twirling into another pair on a dance floor with hundreds of people crammed onto it. The most exciting part about that night was just experiencing first hand the traditions of the Viennese ball culture.

Viennese balls date back to the 18th century where they were reserved for the elite and nobility. Emperor Joseph II opened up rooms in the beautiful Hofburg palace to enable everyone to participate in the pomp and circumstance of the extravagant balls. Today, the balls still include features like very strict dress codes, a grand opening with debutants, a midnight quadrille and the Damenspende (gifts for the women). Another tradition is if a lady is asked to dance, it is considered very rude to decline… but don’t worry ladies, if there’s someone you want to dance with, there is an hour in the night that is considered “ladies choice.”

19th Century Damenspende, Photo: Andreas Praefcke

My Damenspende

My Damenspende

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the title of my post, it says through the Night. I quite literally mean through the night. The Viennese Balls don’t start (opening fanfare, entrance of debutants, and open dance floor) until about 20/20:30 and they last until 5am. The quadrille is an exciting feature that takes place at midnight; The ball that I attended also had one at 3am. The quadrilles are just as much fun to watch as they are to participate in. It’s a bit easier to watch a quadrille, than try to explain what it is. Enjoy!

 

Midnight Quadrille at the 2014 Vienna Opera Ball

As you can see, everyone crowds into the main ballroom with a partner (yes, there is more than one room open for dancing and each room features a different style of music) and joins the “organized” chaos of the dance. There’s a caller on stage with the orchestra giving out commands to very fast paced gallop and everyone is frantically trying to keep up as the line eventually snakes its way around the room. It is a nice jolt of energy at different intervals in the night to keep the celebration going and to keep everyone awake.

The other ballrooms at the ball I attended featured a band playing jazz music, and a band/DJ that played more Latin music and some popular music in which we called “the disko.” Now, if you thought the quadrille was a sight to see, imagine these bewildering (from the perspective of an American) images: 1. Couples trying to ballroom dance to Gangnam Style and 2. An elderly Austrian gentleman actually trying to do the dance to Gangnam Style. My first though watching this was “How???” I mean, you could clearly tell who the Americans were because they were the ones doing the actual party dance. Looking back, it is interesting to see how generations and styles mix, and how the old traditions of Viennese balls have evolved over time to include some modern day flair.

Winters in Vienna are host to around 400 balls and are organized around just about every professional group there is. There is the Zuckerbäckerball for confectioners, the Kaffeesiedler Ball for coffee brewers, the Juristenball for lawyers and the Jägerball where instead of wearing the formal long gowns and tuxedoes, the mandatory dress is traditional dirndl and lederhosen. The most well known and highest in placement on the social calendar of Vienna are the Philharmoniker Ball, hosted by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein, and the Wiener Opernball, at the Staatsoper (State Opera House).

Debutants waltzing at the 2015 Vienna Opera Ball, Photo: EPA

There is an array of balls to choose from to celebrate and join in with the locals and international guests. Sadly, this year’s ball season has come to an end with Fasching (Carnival) and the beginning of the Lenten season. Find your dancing shoes and start practicing your waltzing in preparation for next year’s ball season.

Vaginas connect cultures, end violence

Vagina.

I know, it’s a scary word, right? But why? Why are we all scared of a body part? Think of how bizarre it would be if people reacted the same way to the word “elbow” as they do to the word “vagina.” The funniest part to me is that even women are afraid of the word. It seems as though every time I say the word “vagina,” I’m given a startled look/blush followed by a “shh!” and by biological WOMEN: humans who have and see and touch and are connected to their own vagina every day. It’s sad that some women have this sort of “vagina-shame”, but it’s not their fault, really. It is the society we were all born into.

There are strong social constructs that cause words like “vagina” to be taboo. Luckily, there are people worldwide deconstructing these constructs and dismantling the oppressive systems that control our daily lives and dialogues. One such woman is Eve Ensler.

Eve Ensler, photo from vday.org

Eve Ensler is a feminist, activist, and playwright queen. Her best known play is “The Vagina Monologues,” written in 1996. The play is a collection of monologues that tell stories or experiences of a woman or multiple women. These monologues range from funny and uplifting stories about body positivity, women loving or discovering their own vaginas, love, menstruation, and, in contrast, incredibly heavy and raw stories of sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and abuse.

The first time I saw “The Vagina Monologues” was almost exactly a year ago today. The production was hyped all over campus, especially in the social justice organizations I was in. I was a freshman in college (at the University of Missouri) and I had no idea what “The Vagina Monologues” was, but I went because what’s more intriguing than a play all about vaginas???

Photo courtesy of MU Vagina Monologues

 

It was incredible. I laughed and cried and I was shaken by how important stories can be. In the two hour span of the show I learned more about women’s bodies, cultural customs of women, intimate partner violence, and feminine experience than I ever could have imagined. My sentiment after watching the production was something along the lines of “Wow. I have a vagina. And I rock!”

Now, one year later, I am preparing to perform in “The Vagina Monologues.” I knew before joining the cast that “The Vagina Monologues” was a production to raise money for local organizations to help end violence against women and girls, BUT I didn’t know that it was an actual international movement.

V-Day movement logo, photo from vday.org

 “The Vagina Monologues” is only a part in the V-Day movement, a movement that creates events and performances to raise money and awareness for violence against women and girls including rape, sex slavery, incest, and genital mutilation. The V-Day movement and “The Vagina Monologues” are an international movement that is increasingly spreading across the world. The production of “The Vagina Monologues” has been translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. In Brussels in 2012, nine members of the European Parliament even  performed “The Vagina Monologues” as well as danced on February 14th to help raise awareness of the V-Day movement.

A crucial role in being a part of “The Vagina Monologues” cast is education and awareness of women’s issues and body positivity (loving your body as it is). Being a part of the production and getting to hear various monologues really reinforces the importance of storytelling and human experience. Women are treated differently and oppressed differently in each culture. The monologues give a heart-wrenching sneak-peak into the lives and truth of women’s experiences. Not only that, but the monologues provide a unique perspective of women’s lives in various cultures and parts of the world.

Throughout the process of being a performer of “The Vagina Monologues,” I have become one with my monologue.  I will be reading from the monologue called “The Vagina Workshop,” which is about a woman who discovers and falls in love with her vagina in a workshop. It’s truly inspiring to me how one woman’s story could hold so much weight and meaning into my life. What’s more, I think of how many women have also been affected by the same monologue throughout the years of thousands and performances, and it’s astonishing.

These monologues don’t just hold value for those watching and/or listening, they hold the same, if not more, for those performing. I am forever changed because of my experience of seeing and being in the production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

And that is something to blog about.

What It’s Like To Graduate Abroad

In just a few short days, I will walk across the stage, shake hands with the dean, be handed a blank diploma holder, and put my tassel on the other side. Yes, I am talking about graduation.

Here in America we have certain traditions where we wear special gowns and move are tassels to the other side to signify a step forward. These milestones might also include a large celebration and even some alcohol. As I gear up to enter the real world, I thought it might be interesting to find out how other countries celebrate graduation. Take a look:

the-venue

Via City University London

UK: According to a commenter on Toytown Germany, graduates also have to wear gowns and they have a ceremony. The parent explains that his/her daughter had a “leaving ceremony where a band played, top pupils received prizes then each school-leaver was handed their certificate.” I would say that sounds very similar to how we celebrate graduation in America.

Norway: There appears to be some interesting traditions at graduations in Norway. In a forum on UniLang, a commenter explained that students take part in a celebration called “russ” that lasts from May 1 to May 17. The interesting thing is that each student wears a different outfit depending on what they have studied. So for instance if you studied only general subjects, you would wear red. However, if you also studied economy your outfit would be blue. This is kind of similar to how we each will have different color tassels depending on what school you’re graduating from here at Mizzou.

Germany: I find it interesting that in Germany, they do not seem to make a big deal out of graduation. In the forum Toytown Germany, another commenter said, “there’s no interest from the Germans to be so grandiose in their educational degreement.” According to this commenter, her husband who graduated from a school in Germany just received his degree, no real fan fare. From what I understand though, Germany takes great pride in its educational system. One would think graduation might be a bigger deal there.

Via Russian World Forums

Via Russian World Forums

Russia: According to blogger for Sparklife, Russian students wear very different attire from what we wear here in America for graduation. Sara Jonsson said girls tend to wear black dresses with aprons. It’s supposed to be “in homage to their Tsarist-era” school uniforms. I honestly might opt for these outfits than the ugly, non-form fitting gown I have to wear on Friday, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. Russian students also line up in front of the whole school, and then leave to party on

Graduation traditions are obviously not just an American way of life. It’s clear many other countries have their own way of celebrating the big day. I am curious what your favorite graduation tradition is?

 

Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest!

Mayor of Stuttgart Fritz Kuhn opens Frühlingsfest by tapping the keg!

Mayor of Stuttgart Fritz Kuhn opens Frühlingsfest by tapping the keg! Flickr/Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart

When I traveled to Germany last year, I was a bit disappointed that my semester was in the Spring and not the Fall. How could I ever become an extreme tourist in Germany without going to Oktoberfest? Well if any of you plan to do a semester in Germany during the Spring there is yet hope. The Stuttgarter Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) is Europe’s largest spring festival, and lasts 23 days long. This year it began on April 19th and went through May 11th. It is located at the fairgrounds in the Bad Cannstatt district of Stuttgart. It is not quite Oktoberfest, but that is alright because it still offers the same attractions. Also, since it is not as big as Oktoberfest, instead of waiting in 8 hour long lines for the beer gardens, you might only have to wait 4 hours. If you go early enough in the day though you might not have to wait in line at all. I went to the festival twice last year, but unfortunately since I was more focused on the cultural experiences in the beer garden, I didn’t take many pictures. The internet has me covered on this one though.

One might think that beer fests are all about the beer, but it is actually a fair on steroids with beer gardens.

One might think that beer fests are all about the beer, but it is actually a fair on steroids with beer gardens. Flickr/Orkomedix

It is custom to wear traditional clothing like Dirndls and Lederhosen even on the roller-coasters.

It is custom to wear traditional clothing like Dirndls and Lederhosen even on the roller-coasters. Flickr/Rob124

Also, what would a beerfest be without other gut wrenching fair rides? I would suggest that if you want to enjoy the rides, you should do it before the beer garden.

Also, what would a beerfest be without other gut wrenching fair rides? I would suggest that if you want to enjoy the rides, you should do it before the beer garden. Flickr/baba_1967

 

If you get a bit peckish while going from ride to ride, there are many vendors that offer beer and food from around the world!

If you get a bit peckish while going from ride to ride, there are many vendors that offer beer and food from around the world! Flickr/Ken Hawkins

Ok! Now you have rode every ride that you could possibly stomach, so where better to go than the Biergarten! The wonderful place bursting with food, polka, more expensive beer than you could ever consume, and of course other drinkers!

A view from inside one of the many beer gardens. Stuttgarter Hofbrau Biergarten is the largest one at the festival.

A view from inside one of the many beer gardens. Stuttgarter Hofbrau Biergarten is the largest one at the festival. Flickr/Ken Hawkins

What should you order you ask? Well a liter beer is the most popular request, also known as a Maß.

What should you order you ask? Well a liter beer is the most popular request, also known as a Maß.  Flickr/ Giesbert Damaschke

If you get hungry again, then order a whole half of a chicken (complete with Brot and hand wipes) or a Tellerschnitzel. You don't even have to leave your table.

If you get hungry again, then order a whole half of a chicken (complete with Brot and hand wipes) or a Tellerschnitzel. You don’t even have to leave your table. Flickr/Ken Hawkins

When you are done drinking (your body will tell you) find a safe way to stumble home!

When you are done drinking (your body will tell you) find a safe way to stumble home! Flickr/Ken Hawkins

If you do find yourself in Germany, but are not near Stuttgart, then life is still good. Frühlingsfest  happens across Germany, but Stuttgart offers the best experience in my opinion.

If you do find yourself in Germany, but are not near Stuttgart, then life is still good. Frühlingsfest happens across Germany, but Stuttgart offers the best experience in my opinion. Flickr/Karsten Hoffmann

Unfortunately Frühlingsfest has ended this year, but there is always next year. For those of you who would wish to experience Oktoberfest but can’t due to the season, then Frühlingsfest will save you. If you are there for a year even better! You can go to both, and continue your good choices of gluttony and over drinking. If you are an alcoholic you should probably fight the urge and not go. Also, be prepared to have your body hate you the following day. You have been warned. Viel Spaß!

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Where to Watch the World Cup

If you couldn’t already tell, Jeremy Hart and I are just a tad excited about our upcoming trip to Leipzig. It’s unreal to think we’ll already be in Germany this time next month – our flight is actually in less than a month!

We’ve been preparing for the trip, specifically researching the sights and sounds of the city of music. While there are endless places to explore, I’m honestly still wondering where to watch the World Cup. Yes, I will be studying abroad during the World Cup. What else could a tourist ask for?! I hear the bar scene is out of control… so I had to investigate the hot spots.

Lost In Leipzig says Gottschedstrasse, named after Johann Christoph Gottsched, was the area to be when the city hosted the World Cup at Red Bull Arena in 2006. Gottschedstrasse, located in Zentrum-West, contains countless bars and restaurants. And, since Lost In Leipzig’s full post was written less than a year ago, I would assume it’s still worth hitting up. Check out a few places on the street:

Luise Cafe am Gottschedstrasse courtesty of Lost In Leipzig

An Nam Restaurant am Gottschedstrasse courtesy Lost In Leipzig

More outside seating in the “theatre district” around Gottschedstrasse courtesy of Lost In Leipzig

ESPN and Spiegel offered additional suggestions for game-watching – and other fun places to see while in Leipzig. Apparently I’ll have to look into Auerbach’s Keller in Madlerpassage off Grimmaische Strasse for traditional, historical restaurant experience, while still find time to adventure through Augustusplatz.

Oh, you want to  find out actual information about the World Cup? Here, BBC Sport‘s got you covered. Viel Glück und viel Spass!

New Year’s in Budapest

This year, I spent New Year’s on a study abroad trip to Budapest, Hungary, through the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. I was with a group of about 50 students and we visited a few local businesses and checked out the local museums before celebrating the New Year with Budapest’s locals.

One of Budapest's City Plazas set up for New Year's Celebrations!

One of Budapest’s City Plazas set up for New Year’s Celebrations!

New Year’s is the perfect time to visit Budapest. This is because the city mostly shuts down for Christmas, but as a huge driver of the economy is tourism, it opens back up right after Christmas, with loads of shopping, food, and festivities, not to mention the fact that their famous “Christmas Markets” are open through the first day or two of the new year.

A Christmas Market in front of St.Stephen's Basilica

A Christmas Market in front of St.Stephen’s Basilica

Budapest Christmas Markets consist of small log cabin-looking booths where people sell yummy chocolates, mulled wine (red wine that’s served hot, it’s a bit like hot cider, but better!), and amazingly delicious baked goods. There is also a skating rink and some more booths selling Christmas ornaments and knick knacks.

Hungary is famous for some of it’s New Year’s traditions and superstitions. Most cultures have a superstition about money and the New Year. For Hungary, that superstition is that if you eat lentils on the New Year, then you will have lots of money. Gabriela Manuli explains this on her blog as being because lentils are shaped similarly to coins.

In a travel blog post, Roberta Gyori outlines the bulk of the Budapest traditions. For example:

On New Year’s Eve it’s customary to make a lot of noise to scare off the demons and the evil spirits. Traditionally a bullwhip with a cracker was used to make a loud noise, but these days horns and other noisemakers are just as effective.

Fireworks shot from the massive Marriot Hotel in Budapest

Fireworks shot from the massive Marriot Hotel in Budapest

One thing I found interesting was that unlike some capitals and larger cities such as Paris, Washington D.C., New york, or Tokyo; Budapest does not appear to have a coordinated primary fireworks display. You can literally walk around the city between midnight and sunrise and there are fireworks ALL over the place. The important thing to note about this is that you have to pay attention as locals enjoy shooting off smaller fireworks, and they don’t really care if you’re caught in the cross fire.

On New Year’s Eve there are also many concerts across the the city that you can attend. Some feature DJs, some feature local bands, or pop artists, some are operas, but I chose a classical music concert. A friend and I scored tickets to see a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at Saint Michael’s Cathedral.

While you’ve traveled half way around the world to  Budapest, you should spend a couple extra days there and enjoy the rest of what the city has to offer, regardless of the New Year. I found TripAdvisor to be the best way to find great activities with tons of user reviews. I will tell you about a couple of the things I enjoyed most.

The first, and this sounds sketchy but bare with me, is to wander around and sight see not just during the day, but at night. But please make sure that you do this while sober and with a group of friends, preferably with more than one of you being good with maps and the language. I say this because Budapest is an insanely picturesque city and everything worth seeing is beautifully lit at night.

One of Budapest's 7 Bridges with St. Stephen's Basilica behind

One of Budapest’s 7 Bridges with St. Stephen’s Basilica behind

The Buda Castle

The Buda Castle

The second big item that I recommend checking out is the Buda Castle, which houses the Hungarian National Gallery. Not only is the castle a world class museum, but the building itself is a true work of art and features some spectacular sculptures. When I was there, they happened to have assembled the most comprehensive exhibit of Marc Chagall’s work that will probably ever be put together, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Overall, the castle is quite large and houses so much art that seeing all of it could take up two or three days, depending on how long you wanted to ponder each piece of art.

Overall, Budapest is a great place to be on New Year’s. If you’re looking for someplace fun with a strong local vibe and a less commercial feeling than the likes of Paris or New York, Budapest is a great place to celebrate!

All of the photos in the post were taken by me. Feel free to share or use them, but please link back to this post!

 

Russia’s Library Night Appears to be a Success

Amid the negative news which has surrounded Russia for the past few months, the people of Russia recently organized a notable event.

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Library Night’s bright logo attracts attention to the event. Photo credit to Библионочь 2014.

From April 25-26, more than 80 Russian regions held their third national annual event called Library Night or Библионочь. During these two days, libraries, museums, galleries, and book stores remained opened throughout the entire night, well after regular closing hours. This event was sponsored by many different organizations and partners such as the coffee shop chain Coffee Bean and book store chain Moscow Book House, to name a couple.

Anybody interested in reading and the arts in general had a chance to meet famous writers, poets, and critics.

Watch this video recap of Library Night from a town called Mikhailovka. In this video, local libraries held events for both adults and children (the best part is when the little kids dance).

The event is held in hopes of educating people of all ages about local libraries, reading, and fine arts in general. This is a great way to help preserve Russian culture and foster discussions.

Not surprisingly, Crimea managed to steal the spotlight in library numbered 172. Visitors of 172 were able to experience a beautiful event. One of the makers of this project claimed:

“This evening, halls of this library will turn into little streets and beach fronts of one of the coziest Black Sea towns, so passionately described by the great Russian writers and poets. Visitors of the summer café under the Bakhchisarskiy fountain will be treated to a reading of classic writers such as Anna Akhmatova.”

Young children who participated in the events of the night were able to play many trivia games regarding literature. A little girl named Liza won a book by correctly answering questions. She said that she really liked this event, and that she will share this book with her classmates, so they can read it too.

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Children participate in literature trivia in hopes of getting a prize.

Library Night shows that Russia continues to instill educational values in its people. Perhaps this is one aspect of Russia’s culture which the U.S. should actually try to imitate. I have never heard of such an event happening in the U.S., at least not nation-wide. It would be great to see American people, especially American youth, showing more interest in their own rich literary culture.

Paczkis: Food For The Soul

Paczkis: Food For The Soul

I realize Paczki Day 2014 has passed, but who can completely block the sweet, sugary treat from their mind? I know I can’t, and I won’t try to either.

Paczki Day 2014 in Chicago, courtesy of Chicago Now

Paczki Day 2014 in Chicago, courtesy of Chicago Now – Show Me Chicago

I’m a Chicago-born girl who grew up in a very Polish family – I’m sure you can already tell where this is going. We celebrate Fat Tuesday like the Fourth of July or Christmas, and when it comes to my family, those events can get rowdy. If you don’t go to your local bakery or grocery store to buy paczkis, I would advise you to stay as far away from my family as you can that holiday.

Now, I assume not all of you are familiar with paczkis. What are they? How is that word even pronounced? Paczki is pronounced like “poonch-kee,” and they are essentially made up entirely of dough, sugar and fat. In fact, the word literally translates to “little doughnut” or “little package.” Great, right? Almost every news outlet puts out a story like this whenever Paczki Day rolls around, talking about recipes, how many calories are in the sweet treats and, of course, where to buy them.

Paczki Day 2013 in Chicago, courtesy of Huff Post and the AP

All for one and one for all on Paczki Day 2013 in Chicago, courtesy of Huff Post and the AP.

The article I linked to above is from International Business Times, and the author provides some history and recipes if you’re interested. Like this news article and others, blogs are posting similar stories. For example, a Chicago Now blogger shared where to find the perfect paczkis in Chicago during this year’s event. Even Polish bloggers flourish in sharing recipes. I don’t speak or read Polish – except “zimne piwo,” of course – but please, go for it if you can!

Although both writers’ information is relevant and will make you drool by the time you get through their articles, much of the history is missing.

Karnawal in Poland, courtesty of polandsite.proboards.com

Karnawal in Poland, courtesty of polandsite.proboards.com

Fat Tuesday fell on March 4, 2014, and as usual, Ash Wednesday followed the event. Paczki Day goes hand-in-hand with Lenten tradition, which I believe many people fail to realize. Fat Tuesday, Paczki Day or Mardi Gras all serve as the last day to indulge before Lent officially begins.

All the way back to the 16th century, people were forbidden to eat foods like fruit preserves, butter and eggs during this religious season, so cooks used the last week of Karnawal as a last gluttonous hurrah to get rid of all of these ingredients. Genius!

Karnawal begins on Fat Thursday, or Tłusty Czwartek, and then ends on Fat Tuesday, Sledziówka or Ostatki. And honestly, by the time this week of partying and eating is over, you will want to start fasting for Lent. Then, as mentioned, Roman-Catholics roll into church with jelly-filled bellies, receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads, and make a promise to God and themselves to better themselves during this time of Lent.

I really do love these traditions and how they’re all grouped within a week of each other. These beliefs and traditions bring cultures and people of faith together across the world, and that’s something quite special. It teaches through faith that you are allowed to have a little fun, but then still have to pay your dues to yourself, God and the church.

Top 5 Russian stereotypes debunked and affirmed

With recent posts like Buzzfeed’s “16 Things Russians Do That Americans Might Find Weird” and YouTube videos featuring Russian stereotypes like this one, about the “true” nature of Russia, I was urged to create my own list of Russian stereotypes. Let’s dive in, shall we?

1. Vodka

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Beautiful women, fur hats, and a giant bottle of Russian Standard vodka–3 Russian stereotypes in one convenient photo!

This is without a doubt one of the most well-known stereotypes of Russian culture–the excessive consumption of vodka. I’d be lying if I said that vodka doesn’t take center stage at some Russian parties, celebrations, etc. Often, this occurs because of the constant need to toast to/about everything every 5 minutes or so. At Russian tables, everybody is expected to contribute at least one toast, and every toast must be followed by the typical clinking of the glasses and a gulp of some type of liquor (since toasting with anything but alcohol is often seen as bad luck, but we will get to the superstitions later). Of course vodka (and other liquor), isn’t only consumed during celebrations and parties, but also as a part of life.

Obviously, overly excessive consumption of vodka can lead to issues like alcoholism and the world has definitely noticed this problem. According to reuters.com, a new study has shown that a quarter of all Russian men die before they reach their mid-fifties, with alcohol (mainly vodka) being largely to blame for this.

Some cultural changes are on their way, however, mainly with the help of recent laws prohibiting consumption of alcohol in public places and a small (but notable) shift in the cultural mindset where young Russians are deciding against drinking, smoking, and doing drugs.

 

2. Beets, dill, and herring

Recently, I received a phone call from my mother asking me to buy her something rather strange (for the American mindset) from one of the organic markets in town. What was it? 10 lbs. of beets to be used to create some sort of magical elixir that is (supposedly) helpful if you have a cold. I wish I could have gotten the cashier’s reaction on video when she asked me why in the world would I need 10 lbs. of beets.

I wasn't kidding when I said Russians put dill on everything. Here's a prime example--Greek salad...topped with dill.

I wasn’t kidding when I said Russians put dill on everything. Here’s a prime example–Greek salad…topped with dill.

I would consider beets a staple in the Russian diet. They are used in a multitude of dishes ranging from borsch (beet soup with vegetables), the above “magical” elixir (and others alike), and a traditional New Year’s dinner salad named “seledka pod shuboy”, which is translated to “herring under a fur coat” and includes a base of pickled herring with a top layer of sour cream and beets. (Just to clarify, although it’s on the table doesn’t mean everyone eats it. This dish is often left fairly untouched, even at a table of 20 people).

This brings us to the next foods–dill and herring. It just so happens that the two go perfectly together, at least in my mind. Yes, the consumption of these two is significantly higher than that of beets. Dill is put on almost EVERYTHING in Russia. It’s used to pickle vegetables, used as a spice in countless soups and potato dishes, and even used as a garnish for something you wouldn’t normally think dill should  go on. Herring, however, is not an everyday food like dill is (mainly because it is sometimes too expensive for everyday meals). When it is consumed, it’s best paired with boiled potatoes mixed with lots and lots of, you guessed it, dill!

 

3. Babushkas

babushka-apples

When a sweet babushka offers you apples, you take them, no questions asked.

Babushkas, literally translated to “grandmas,” are, in my mind, a vastly misunderstood part of the population in Russia. Babushkas are often seen as bitter, mean, old women (stereotypically adorning scarves over their heads) who spend their time yelling at youngsters and complaining about the aspects of everyday life. Through my time in Russia, I’ve decided that this stereotype is definitely false.

The babushkas I’ve met and had encounters with have all been extremely sweet and caring women who still try to find joy in their everyday lives. The harsh truth, however, is that all too often, babushkas are a lonely folk left alone by their fellow family members. Many of them are poor (and sometimes even impoverished) and are forced to sell goods like produce, homemade woolen socks, clothes, etc. in outdoor markets.

So the next time you see a babushka, shoot a smile her way and ALWAYS give up your bus or train seat for her.

 

4. Russian superstitions

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Translation: Salt spilled, tears shed.

Throw a bit of salt over your left shoulder if you ever spill some, sit quietly for a minute before heading out for a trip, never give someone an even amount of flowers unless you’re going to a funeral, look in the mirror if you ever have to go back into your house after you’ve already left and forgot something.

These are all examples of common Russian superstitions. The best part is that they are still widely practiced and believed. These are passed down from generation to generation and I can honestly say that I do every single one of the ones listed above. There are some, however, that are a bit far-fetched, even for the most superstitious of Russians.

For example, if a woman ever sits on a table or counter, it means that she will get pregnant soon. Also, Russian girls and women are expected to never sit on a floor or any cold surface because it is believed that it will make them infertile.

 

 

5. Russian hospitality

This is one stereotype I am proud (as a fellow Russian) to say is true–the stereotype that Russians are extremely hospitable.

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Circa 1997(ish): my family gathers for a celebratory dinner full of love, laughter, and booze.

When going to a dinner or celebration at a Russian person’s home, expect to be bombarded with an array of food, drinks, and the constant question of whether there’s anything else that you want them to bring you. Hostesses are expected to tend to every need of their guests and, during large celebrations like Russian New Year, a man is always designated to make sure that no one’s cup is ever empty.

If a guest gets a bit too buzzed and can’t go home quite yet, no problem! They are always welcome to sleep it off in the spare bedroom, couch, floor, whatever. The next morning, they can expect a hefty breakfast to soak up the booze from the night before and a stiff cup of coffee or tea.

 

 Bonus: a tip for the American with a new Russian friend

If I had to give you one piece of advice about how to impress your new Russian friend, it would be to never show up to their home without some sort of gift in hand. Russians tend to be gift-givers and you are expected to bring a gift to their home whenever you’re going there for a party or celebration. Whether it’s flowers, chocolates, booze, food, or any other small gift, it’s a great way to show them that you’re attentive and eager to learn more about their culture.

‘Lese’ Fair in Leipzig

In grade school everyone loved going to the Book Fair. I’d beg mother for $12 to get the latest version of ‘The World Almanac for Kids’ and try to impress everyone by reciting all the new factoids. By now I should hope we know how important it is to get people to read and to keep them reading. The annual Leipzig book fair, known as Leipzig Reads or Leipzig Liest, will be held this year from March 13-16 with the express mission of any book fair, to bring modern literature to the forefront of discussion, to raise it above local recognition where it may otherwise go unappreciated. The Leipziger Buchmesse‘s mission statement:

The Leipzig Book Fair is the most important spring meeting place for the publishing and media sector and has evolved into an attractive hallmark both in Germany and across Europe. In a nutshell, the aim of the Leipzig Book Fair is to drum up more publicity for books. Held every March, it’s a massive draw for publishers, writers, readers and journalists. An ideal communication platform, the Leipzig Book Fair provides extensive information about new publications as well as current and future trends in the German-speaking and European markets.

Painted stairway at Leipzig book fair

Stairway bearing Leipzig Liest logo 2011

This year is the 23rd modern installation of the fair, featuring two major themes. The first is the “Auftritt Schweiz” (Appearance Swiss, or ‘the Swiss image’) sponsored by the Schweizer Buchhändler- und Verleger Verband (Swiss Booksellers and Publishers Association) and will showcase numerous Swiss musicians, authors, poets, and more at dozens of places around the city. You can see and hear a Visual Reading at the Leipzig Zoo or even see an outdoor Exhibition of Comic Art at the Moritzbastei. All of these events are aimed at promoting Swiss literature in Leipzig and the surrounding regions, and fostering friendship between die Schweizer and die Sachsen.

The second part of this year’s fair is a program known as ‘Tranzyt. Miles 2014: Literatur aus Polen, der Ukraine, und Belarus.’ The goal of this program is to introduce “new, interesting authors from the region of Central and Eastern Europe to a wider public and to promote their publications with German language publishers.” In this article by the Leipziger Volkszeitung, program curator Martin Pollack explains the purpose of Tranzyt is to focus compassionately on literature amidst the recent political events in Eastern Europe, even now with Ukrainian affairs having taken the world stage.

In this interview with Oliver Zille by Helga King, he relates the history of Leipzig as a literary hub past and present, explains the goals of this year’s fair, and tells us the fair has 3,000 authors, 3,200 events, and 410 reading places scheduled throughout the city.

This year features more Cosplay and Comic Art events than ever before

This year features more Cosplay and Comic Art events than ever before

It’s easy to disregard something that seems as innocuous as a book fair, but on the same token it’s just easy to make real-life connections to people, places, and events through literature; and there’s no better way to understand both your neighbors and those foreign to you than by delving into their language and culture. At Leipzig Liest, the city and the participants make a conscious effort to explore, promote, and learn about different cultures; three tactics that define the well-educated and well-traveled person of the modern world.

 

more on ‘Auftritt Schweiz’