Well, it’s about time to write about my trip to Paris!  🙂  After 8 hours on the train, I arrived in Switzerland on October 5.  A friend (Ursina – her father was one of my mom’s host brothers in 1979) met me at the train station in Basel, and we took a few more trains to her town, near Biel.  We were supposed to have a direct train to Biel, but since my train was about 15 minutes late, we just missed it.  That’s something that was really great about the Eurail pass – I could take almost whichever trains I wanted in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France, so I didn’t have to worry about getting my ticket changed!

Before leaving for Paris, Ursina and I spent a day at her parents’ house.  I helped pick apples in her aunt and uncle’s orchard for the day, which was a neat experience.  There’s a very specific way of sorting and handling the apples – while it wasn’t complicated, there was much more to learn about it than I expected!  In the evening, we had cheese fondue….one of my favorite Swiss meals!

Ursina and I caught a 6am train to Paris the next morning, and arrived around noon.  Since my Eurail pass was good for the rest of the day, we decided to take the train out to Versailles.  It was a beautiful day, and Versailles was really pretty.  We spent a good amount of time there, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have a couple more hours to walk around the gardens!  At one point we asked some other tourists to take a picture of us.  They asked where we were from, and it turned out that they live about 20 minutes from where I live – it’s a small world!  A perk of having a residence permit for the EU was that EU residents under 26 get into Versailles for free.  I had my passport with me, so I decided to see if a residence permit considered me a ‘long term resident’….and it did!  It was rather ironic that I was able to get in for free, but Ursina had to pay since Switzerland isn’t in the EU.  After Versailles closed, we walked around the city a bit.  We stopped at a bakery and bought some pizza, torte slices, and a loaf of French bread, and sat on a step of a church.  That’s part of what I love of traveling cheaply – it is so nice to just buy some simple food at a local bakery, and enjoy it while sitting on church steps!  We took a train back to Paris and got off at a stop near the Eiffel Tower, then enjoyed the view before walking to our hostel.

We got to the Eiffel Tower pretty early the next morning so we could hopefully skip the lines.  It worked, and we got to the top on the second car.  After the Eiffel Tower, we took the metro to a station near Palais Garnier, which is the “Phantom of the Opera” opera house.  We had a traditional Parisian lunch (with the first free water I’ve received at a restaurant in Europe!!), then went to the opera house.  It was really beautiful, and having seen the movie, I was of course even more impressed.  🙂  Ursina (who, fortunately for me, is fluent in French) asked if there were any tickets still available for a show that evening.  We got seats for 10 Euros each.  The visibility of the stage was not very good, but I certainly didn’t complain after paying 10 Euros to see an opera in the Phantom opera house!  The other main sight we went to in the afternoon was the Sacre Cour church.

The Louvre museum was the first thing on our list the following morning.  While it is an amazing museum, neither Ursina or I are extremely knowledgeable in paintings, etc., so spending an entire day there wasn’t for us.  We spent the morning there, and were satisfied after seeing the Mona Lisa.  (Oh, and I got into the Louvre for free too!)  Lunch was at a café, after searching around and looking at different options for around an hour.  Next we visited the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées, then walked around for about two hours looking for a café that 1) served crème brulée, and 2) had it at a price less than 8 Euros.  We definitely failed in that search!  There was a café that had it listed for a relatively cheap price, but when the waiter came to take our order, he said they were out.  For supper we bought some more French bread, yogurt, and fruit from a little shop, and sat in a nice park.

Our last full day in Paris was mostly spent at Notre Dame.  We toured the crypt, attended an international mass, waited in line for an hour and a half to climb to the top, and then went to an organ concert.  We also finally had some crème brulée, although it ended up costing about 8 Euros for one anyway.  But hey, it was good, and you have to eat crème brulée when in Paris!  🙂  Before I left for Europe, I looked through a Paris guide book, and wrote down some random places to go.  Place des  Vosges was one of the places I found, and is known as the most beautiful square in Paris, so we spent most of the evening there.

We took a train back to Switzerland the next morning, and it turns out that we were very lucky in our timing.  The next day, the metro and train workers went on strike…..and continued to strike for at least 3 weeks!

Well, that is my trip to Paris in detail.  🙂  We were really lucky with the weather – it was beautiful and quite warm all four days.  Salzburg is still my favorite European city, but Paris was really nice too!

Merry Christmas!


Weihnachten in Deutschland (Christmas in Germany)

Winter Weather in Niedersachsen

Sankt Nikolaus or Santa Claus?  Boots or stockings?  The Christmas season in Germany is full of cheer and few traditions that vary from that of the United States.

Weihnachten in Deutschland

In Germany the  Christmas season opens the weekend of the first Sunday in Advent with Christmas Markets in every reasonably large city.  In the biting cold, people fill the marketplace for this fair like event, sharing Christmas cheer with hot Glüwein, hot spiced wine while they browse the many items for sale.  While the thermometer here has been between 5°C and -6°C (40°F to 21°F) which doesn’t sound too cold, is a wet, biting cold.

Starting December 1, Advent calendars are given to loved ones.  They are a way of giving a small gift for each day until

The Advent wreath to the right of the Navity Scene. Mary and Joseph move one leaf closer to the stable for each day in December.

December  such as a piece of chocolate, an orange or an ink pen.  Unlike American Christmas wreaths that hang on a door, most German families have an Advent wreath that hangs horizontally (see photo).  Traditional wooden Christmas decorations can be found among the many candles lit in the season.  Plätzchen, or Christmas cookies are baked by the dozens.

December 6th is Nikolaustag or St. Nicholas Day in Germany.  The night of December 5th, children put their boots outside the door for Nikolaus to fill.  After checking the children’s behavior, he fills the boots with sweets if the children are good and a switch if they are bad.   ‘Saint Nicholas is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaus of Myra, a saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting

Bremen Weihnachtsmarkt

coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas’ (Wikipedia).  See more history about St. Nicholas and the traditions in various regions at

The afternoon or evening of December 24th, a German family has a meal together and often attends a church service.  In this time the parents decorate the Christmas tree so it is a surprise.  For children in northern Germany, usually Protestant, the Weihnachtsmann, or Christmas Man comes bearing gifts for children, usually while the family is at church.  The

Enjoying Glüwein at the Bremen Weinnachtsmarkt. Glüwein is a hot wine sweetened and spiced with cloves, cinnamon, etc. A necessity with the chilly temperature!

Weihnachtsmann in Germany resembles the American Santa Claus, thanks to Coca-Cola marketing.  In southern Germany  where Catholicism is prevalent,  the Christkind, or Christ Child comes instead of the Weihnachtsmann.  The immediate family gathers around the Christmas tree as gifts are discovered and exchanged.  December 25, Christmas Day, is usually spent with the extended family over a large meal.

Christmas in Colorado

At home, the first snow usually comes in October.  To give you an idea of temperature , on Friday, November 26, the temperature was -22°C (-7°F). While this sounds harsh, in Colorado we have an average of 300 days in the year with sunshine so it really is a ‘Winter Wonderland.’

Thanksgiving in Germany! I cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for my host family to celebrate all we are thankful for. For the five of us, it was more practical to stuff a chicken instead of a turkey. They loved the stuffing, but the pumpkin pie did not appeal to their taste.

In my family, after Thanksgiving which is the last Thursday in November, we normally go into the national forest near our home and cut a Christmas tree.  Around the first week of December we bring the tree into the house and decorate it.  We ‘deck the halls’, put colored lights on the outside of our house, make candies and bake cookies during this time, all the while listening to and singing Christmas Carols.  Children write a letter to Santa Claus explaining what they would like for Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, December 24 we go to church, eat a nice dinner then drive around town looking at the Christmas lights on the houses.   One gift may be opened Christmas Eve.  Then our ‘stockings are hung by the chimney with care, with hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there.’  A plate of the best Christmas cookies and a glass of milk are placed by the fireplace for Santa (also known as St. Nicholas) and often a carrot or two for his reindeer.

While the children are fast asleep, Santa parks his sleigh on the roof and comes magically down the chimney with his big red sack full of toys.  After eating the cookies, he checks his list of children to see who has been naughty or nice – the nice receive a gift, the naughty a lump of coal or a switch.   Gifts are left under the tree and the stockings are filled with peanuts, candies and other small gifts.  My sisters and I were not allowed to come downstairs to see what was under the tree until 6:00am Christmas day.  After the gifts under the tree are opened, we gather with our extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.  Each brings a dish so the host does not have to cook the whole feast.  We eat around 1:00 then open presents.  Gifts are purchased for all in the immediate family.  However, for the extended family, each person draws the name of another family member from a hat after Thanksgiving dinner and then must buy a gift for that person.  Often card games are played and football is watched until evening when those with hunger can take more food before it is split up for each family to take some of the leftovers home to enjoy.   

Trimming the Heidschnucken hooves before moving them with a trailer closer to the house for winter.

I’ll be Home for Christmas!

After six months in Germany, living with six different families in six different states, I’ll be flying back to the States next week.  I am very excited to be going home.  Not only do I look forward to seeing my family and friends again, but sharing some of the wonderful experiences I have had in Germany with the people at home.  From January to April, I will travel around the state of Colorado presenting what I have learned about German culture with schools, 4-H clubs and other community organizations for the IFYE program.  For me, being able to share with others what I have learned is just as exciting as being able to come to Germany in the first place.  The IFYE program allowed me to learn and experience life as a true German –  something I will always be thankful for.
Link to an article in the regional newspaper about our Thanksgiving celebration here in Ollenermoor.

IFYE – National 4-H Congress Speech

Here is a rough copy of the speech promoting IFYE that I gave at National 4-H Congress this past weekend.  It varied as I talked, but was very much along the lines of this.  🙂  -Carolyn

[An introduction was here].  After growing up listening to my mom’s stories of her IFYE exchange in 1979, I decided to have my own IFYE experience, and just returned from my exchange 13 days ago.  My parents raised both my brother and me to believe that learning about other cultures is important, and that accepting that perhaps your country’s way is not necessarily the best way, can lead to better global understanding.  But before I tell you more about my own experiences with the program and its effects on my life, I’d like to share with you specifics about the program and how you can get involved.

IFYE was founded in 1948 after World War II by U.S. servicemen who wanted to find a more humane way to solve global problems.  It was originally called International Farm Youth Exchange, and the first IFYEs traveled to their host countries by boat for year exchanges.  Today, there are several different options for an exchange.  The States 4-H Exchange is for 4-H youth in their teenage years, and is 4 to 8 weeks long.  Participants can travel to a variety of countries, including Japan, Finland, Costa Rica, Australia, and Norway.  The IFYE Representative Exchange is for past 4-H members ages 19 to 30, and has programs of 6 weeks, 3 months, or 6 months in length.  There is a very large selection of host countries for IFYE Representatives, including: Australia, Austria, Botswana, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Norway, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Taiwan.  While on the exchange, participants move around their host country from family to family.  How many host families an IFYE has is dependent on the length of their program and on their host country.  Unfortunately, not every state has a fully functioning IFYE program.  The program in my state, Illinois, was cut recently as part of extension budget cuts.  If your state does not have a program, or even if it has one of the exchange options but not the other, I encourage you to ask other states if you can participate in their program.  I went through Kansas’s exchange, and they were wonderful with letting me participate.

It is almost difficult to begin to list the benefits of IFYE, since there are so many!  The goals of IFYE are to increase global awareness, develop independent study interests, and improve language skills.  Global awareness is increased by living and working with different families and observing and living in a different culture.  Language skills can be greatly improved if you make an effort to learn the other language, and believe me, it can be hard to switch completely back to English when you come home!  Personal independence also greatly grows by jumping into a completely different culture, living as a family with people you just met, and traveling alone.  IFYE also gives the opportunity to become involved in a huge network across the world.  It is very typical for past IFYE’s to visit each other, and it is pretty safe to say that as long as you are also willing to open your house to them, they will be willing to open their house to you.  There are multiple conferences that are available:  The US has a national conference every year, Europe has a European conference every year, and there is a world conference every 5 years.  I attended the European conference this summer in Salzburg, Austria during my exchange, and it was easily one of the best weeks of my life.  IFYE gives you such a personal connection to a country, and this quote from IFYE’s website really states it perfectly:  “Travelers see mountains, museums and human masses, and mimic a country’s culture. IFYEs pass through front doors of homes to live as sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. Thus the culture engulfs them.”  IFYE gives you the opportunity to get beyond the tourist areas, to live deep in the culture and with locals, and to learn the idiosyncrasies of a country.

My mother often describes choices in life as throwing a pebble into a pond.  Just as results will surely come from your choice, ripples will surely come from your pebble.  The ripples that resulted from my mother’s exchange are quite profound.  She was an IFYE to Switzerland in 1979, and has been back 8 times.  I have grown up with over 80 different Swiss friends visiting us, and have been there 5 times to visit.  One of these friends is like a brother to me, having come for the first time when I was 4 years old and returning 15 times.  One of the neatest stories that resulted from my mom’s exchange is that of two Swiss friends who met at our house in 1999.  Ten years later, we attended their wedding.  I cannot begin to describe the joy that comes from having international friends, and the bittersweet feeling of having people you care about so much live an ocean away.  I was an IFYE for 3 months this year to Germany, and then traveled for 2 months visiting friends from my mom’s exchange.  Now I am excited to see what ripples will come from my trip!

I really, really encourage you all to consider taking part in this incredible opportunity.  You are all welcome to talk to me if you have any questions.  When I considered taking part in the exchange, some people told me that it was a really bad idea to take a semester off from college to do so, and that I would never return to college if I left.   Well, I am returning to college next semester, so I encourage you to participate anyway, even if it means taking time off from something.  It is really the only time in your life when you can just drop everything and leave for 6 months!  Right after I left for my exchange, I heard a quote by St. Augustine that I believe to be true:  “The world is a book, but those who do not travel read only a page.”  There is so much to be gained from international travel, and the love of traveling will probably stay in your blood for the rest of your life.


I’m Back….

Hey everyone!

Traveling around and visiting friends in Switzerland for the past month and a half was incredible, a lot of fun, and really busy….hence no blog posts!  So now I have to catch up….  I think I’ll make several blog posts to categorize the topics, and I’ll start back a few months ago with my fourth host family.  Let’s see how I do writing about events two months ago!

I enjoyed living 200 meters from the North Sea, and went there quite often.  We went Wattwandern once, which is walking around in the “watt” (the soupy mud and sand that remains when the tide goes out), and the guide taught us about some of the creatures who live there, and dug some of them up for us to see.  I was by the dike around every other day, and went for walks, biked, went roller blading, picked up shells, and looked at the different types of seaweed and flowers.  I also biked to a lighthouse a few kilometers away, and the view of the sea from the top was pretty amazing.  🙂  I took my camera with me almost every time, and so I have many pictures of the same thing….but I just couldn’t resist taking more!

Living on pig farms was interesting for me, especially since I am not around many pigs in the US.  I’ve never had problems with the smell of cows since my family had dairy for the first 8 years of my life, but it took me a little while to get used to the smell of pigs since they smell completely different!  Most of the animals I’ve worked with previously have been smaller kinds, like chickens and rabbits, and I’ve certainly never had over a thousand of them.  Most of my agricultural knowledge and experience has to do with crops, and I was happy to learn more about large scale animal production.  Regulations are pretty strict in Germany, and include topics such as castration, how much space each pig is supposed to have, and tail docking.  It is even required that each pen of pigs have at least one toy – a chain to chew on or a ball to push around!  It is extremely important to prevent bacterias or diseases from spreading farm to farm, so many farmers have specific clothes and shoes that they always wear when they are in their pig barns.  Being a member of the European Union makes regulations even more numerous for Germany.

Something I will miss about Germany are the constant coffee and tea breaks.  This host family always had coffee at around 10, and then tea around 4, with cake or muffins, etc.  I enjoyed that the whole family would come in, take a break, and talk to each other about the day.  It’s a good thing my mom has an automatic coffee machine….:)

Some of the places I toured with this family were Norderney (an island not far from Krummhoern), Emden, Aurich, Leer, Greetsiel, and Vesting Bourtange (a fortress just inside the Netherlands).

  • Norderney:  My host sister, Deike, and I took a ferry to Norderney for a day.  We had considered walking to an island, which is possible when the tide is out, but the weather was never good enough to do so.  Norderney is 14 kilometers long, and about 2.5 wide, with one city.  We rented bicycles and biked along a beach and through sand dunes to a lighthouse in the middle of the island, then biked back along the other side.  It was a pretty island with a nice city, and I could see that it would be a fun place for a vacation, but I would never want to live somewhere so small permanently!
  • Emden, Aurich, Leer:  Anne (Deike’s sister.  I was Anne’s IFYE, but I don’t know what to call her since she was 27….she wasn’t my host sister or my host mom!) took me to these cities to look around and go shopping, and sometimes dropped me off to explore while she had appointments nearby.
  • Greetsiel:  Greetsiel is a really cute town not that far away from my host family’s farm, so we went there several times.  It is a picture perfect tourist fishing town, with shops, windmills, and fishing boats.  We went there with my parents while they were in Krummhoern, and again to eat fantastic Danish ice cream and look around some more.  Once we went to a nearby museum where young sea dogs who had been separated from their parents are raised until they are old enough to be released back into the sea.
  • Vesting Bourtange:  We were only there for a few hours, but I was excited to go to the Netherlands!  Bourtange is a fortress that is built in the shape of a star with a village in the middle.  The village had a market with a wide variety of products: breads, fall vegetables, woodworking crafts, candies, clothes, porcelain, etc.  It was an adorable town, but just like I said about Norderney, I couldn’t imagine living there with all the tourists coming to visit!

I did a lot of baking during my three weeks in Krummhoern, especially with pumpkin.  A lot of my Swiss friends don’t particularly care for pumpkin, so I was excited that most of the Germans for whom I cooked pumpkin liked it!  Occasionally I was taught German recipes, and I definitely plan on making them here at home sometime.  The main dish I cooked a lot in the past few months was fajitas.  Mexican food is typical in my area, but not in Germany, so it was usually very new for my host families.

Like normal, the time in Krummhoern flew by….I really enjoyed the time with my host family there, and hope to go back again sometime!

After the time with all four host families was finished, Bettina (a German IFYE member) had a debriefing of a few days for me at her home.  Usually debriefing includes a lot of time for talking about the exchange and the host families, but since we had seen each other both in Austria and at the German IFYE meeting, we didn’t spend a lot of time on that during debriefing.  Bettina’s sister, Neele (she’ll be an IFYE to the US next year!) took me to a carnival the first evening, which was a great time.  On the second evening (my last in Germany), I cooked fajitas and a torte (that I learned how to make by my second host family) for dinner, and several IFYE’s who lived in the area came over.  It was a wonderful evening for my last in Germany – food, fellowship, stories, pictures, and a favorite IFYE game – spoons.  🙂  Bettina and Neele took me to meet my train to Switzerland bright and early the next morning.

Well, I will blog another time about Paris, Switzerland, and Sweden, and hopefully also a concluding post of my IFYE trip.  I will be speaking about IFYE at National 4-H Congress this weekend, so it probably won’t be before then, but hopefully it will be sooner than the last time I promised I would write!!!  😉

Bis spaeter,



The North Sea: Gateway to the World

Sunset on the North Sea

Ships sailing across the North Sea provided an important mode of transportation for goods, people and ideas when the people of Germany began trading with and venturing to foreign lands.

I had the opportunity to travel to Norderney, one of the seven East Frisian Islands in the North Sea.  One hour by ship from the mainland, this island is only 14 kilometers long and 2.5 kilometers wide with a population of 6200.  Founded in 1797 by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, this island was Germany’s first North Sea resort.  Walking for hours on the beach, it was easy for me to see why – even with the cold November wind blowing. My host-mother, Hella, was born and raised on the island.  For two days we went to visit her family and celebrate her father’s 85th birthday. It was on this island that the differences in the various dialects of the German language became crystal clear.

On the ship to Norderney

Unlike in the United States where all people can understand each other’s English, the dialects in Germany are more extreme.  High German or Hochdeutsch and Low German or Plattdeutsch are the main dialects spoken, although certainly not the only ones.  High German is the official language of Germany taught in the schools now. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into High German increased its standardization.  However, Low German still exists, especially among older generations in certain regions – as I clearly discovered on the East Frisian Island of Norderney.  Visiting with people on the island, I often felt like I did when first arriving in Germany – at a complete loss for understanding.

Windmill on the island of Norderney

Low German is as much another language as Swiss German and Austrian German is.  Prevelant on islands and harbors around the North Sea, Low German is a mix of languages – German, English and Dutch.  With the Netherlands bordering East Friesland in north Germany this language naturally was integrated.  The English ship that brought the tea drinking tradition to Norderney also brought a bit of the English language.  A few Low German courses exist in some universities, but it appears to me the language is being lost.  While all German children must learn another language in the school (usually English), they cannot understand or speak Low German.  It seems sad to lose a language, but then do we really know what the Germans were speaking 200 years ago?

People also emigrated from Germany via the North Sea.  Over 7 million people emigrated from Germany in the 18th,

International Student Organization from the University of Oldenburg in front of the German Emigration Center, or Deutsches Auswanderer Haus in Bremerhaven.

19th and 20th centuries from the port of Bremerhaven, across the North Sea to new lands.  My mother’s ancestors set sail from Bremerhaven in the middle of the 19th century for America.  With my host sister Lisa and the International Student Organization from the University of Oldenburg, Ivisited the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven.  This provided fascinating simulation of the voyage experienced by so many emigrants.

Living off the Land in Deutschland

Schafhof Ollenermoor

Germany has an average of 230 people per square kilometer – Colorado has 8, and Rio Blanco county has even fewer.  Before travelling here I was worried, the entire nation would be one big city with suburbs.  I am happy to report that it is not so.  There are many small towns, often smaller than at home.  But for me the largest difference between Colorado and Germany is the distances between towns, often only three kilometers when it is 75 at home.  You can always walk or bike to a town center where you will find all you need – a grocery store, bakery, butcher shop, coffee shop and ice cream cafe.  When I explain to people that at home we drive 1.5 hours to go clothes shopping, had to drive five hours to university and are driving to Michigan for Christmas to visit family many Germans respond, ‘Ei yi yi!’

Hella, Kelly, Lisa, Hannes at a theatre Lisa's Waldorfschule (school) put on. Hella and Hannes' daughter, Lisa (18) is finishing up Gymnasium and studying mathmatics at a university in Oldenburg.

But agriculture is alive and well with large barns and small tractors.  However, good farm land rarely changes hands because many Germans do not borrow money to purchase a house or land as it often stays in the family (due to an extremely low estate tax).  Now I am in Niedersachsen, a state in northwest Germany, with Familie Rossbach & Onkes on Schafhof (Sheep Farm) Ollenermoor.  The moor land is a bog or swamp, where once the river flowed over the land, but a drainage system has been in place for about 100 years.  At sea level, this three meter deep bog is not firm as it is so wet  and is over a sand base.  In Deutschland, the government has a point system for the quality of the land, with the best being by Magdeburg in the central east.  Too wet for many crops, it is good grassland with 800 liters of rain per square kilometer.  However, with high corn prices due to the biogas industry,corn is also prevelant in this area.   While we have irrigation ditches in western Colorado, a canal system has been developed in the Ollenermoor for the excess water to drain from the fields.

Schafhof Ollenermoor is 6.5 hectares, or just over 16 acres. A free organic farm, Hella and Hannes, my host parents

Hella in the kitchen baking Pläzchen, or cookies for the Advent season beginning Dec. 1, but of course we've had to test a few. Meat hangs from the ceiling to dry when a sheep is slaughtered.

prepare food in a French style includes delicious vegetable salads.  All fruits and vegetables we eat are produced in their garden and all meat is produced from their own sheep – almost completely self sufficient, except no milk cow, so dairy products, flour, sugar and yeast are purchased from an organic store.  For Hannes, ‘A good day’s hard work outside and a delicious plate of food on my table – what more does one need in life?!  Our farm is not a money making enterprise, but a way of life.’

Hella and Hannes purchased this farm in 1981 and made vast renovations.  Hella also sells and ships French lamps that attach to outside a house over the internet and by phone.  Years before, Hella and Hannes had an antique store so looking around the house is never boring – my napkin holder once belonged to a French nobelman!

Schafhof Ollenermoor:

45 Heidschnucken (Heather Sheep) 



  • A traditionally wild sheep raised for meat and wool that is used to make rugs or carpets.
  • Graze openly and in winter fed with hay and oats.
  • Lambs are fed over the winter, and as a result of this slower growth the quality of the meat is better and does not have so strong of a sheep flavor.
  • Salami, jerky, and other fresh meats sold on demand.  This year 25 sheep were slaughtered.
9 Ostfriesische Milchschafe X Texel-Schaf
(East Friesian Milk Sheep crossed with Texel Sheep, a meat breed from the Netherlands)
  • Graze openly, but winter in the barn.
  • 9 lambs were sold for meat this year.
11 Huhner (Chickens) for eggs and later meat

Hen House


Heinrich Heinemann – resident goat, perhaps a relative of Bettina? 🙂 

Hannes und Heinrich Heinemann


Extensive Garden
  • Planted in March and throughout the summer; we are still harveting in the middle of November, as only one hard frost.
  • A 23 square meter glass house for vegetables.
Apple, Plum, Cherry, Pear, Walnut, Hazelnut Trees

You can see more at and

Cooking in Deutschland – Not Exactly a Piece of Cake

Kaffee, Kuchen und Quatschen or coffee, cake and chatting in the late afternoon is a German tradition.  Germans value good food and see it as an opportunity to bring people together.

Making my Grandma's Apple Dumplings with my host sister, Madlen.

While in Germany I’ve cooked and baked American dishes for my host families as a way to share my culture.  It is difficult to find something different from the food they eat here, but I’ve discovered chili and tacos are not common here and my Grandma’s Apple Dumplings are a hit. 

But not everything is so successful.  American cakes and cookies with frosting on them are “zu süβ” or too sweet for people and meatloaf made with dark bread instead of white just isn’t the same.  Twice baked potatoes with another variety of potato had the consistency of a bread dough. 

With smaller refrigerators and a grocery store always within biking distance, many German’s don’t store as much food as my family does – I have yet to see a pantry full of canned goods.  Hamburger, or Hachfleisch is cooked the day it is purchased from the butcher and flour comes in 1 kilogram bags, so a shopping trip is always needed if I’m going to cook up something.  Baking soda is not something found in every kitchen as they use packets of baking powder in proportion to how much flour is used.  Vanilla extract is replaced by vanilla sugar or ground vanilla.  German.  The convection oven is typical here and bakes faster.

Rinderrouladen - Mustard, salt, pepper, chopped onion, sliced pickles, and bacon rolled together on thin slices of beef cooked in a pan with tomato red wine sauce then baked.

Baking and cooking in Deutschland requires a metric scale because all ingredients are measured in grams, although fluids are in liters.  I had converted a few recipes from home to metric, but when an American recipe calls for six tablespoons butter and butter is measured here by weight, an exact recipes become my best guess.  Regardless, I’ve been able to successfully cook a number of things here, but I’ll admit I finally gave in and checked out an American Cookies book from the library that had brownies and chocolate chip cookies translated into German cooking language. 

My Cooking Course with Dagmar

With every host family I learn new recipes, but with the Schmidt family, my cooking education has moved to a whole new level.  From making marmalade for selling at a Christmas market to an Apple Wine Torte, I have learned to make several tasty German dishes with my host mother, Dagmar and thought I would share a couple simple recipes with you.  While I haven’t tested them in America, based on my experience I think they will work fine, and as Dagmar says, cooking can’t always be perfect, but you have to try it.


Amerikaner Machen


From a children’s cookbook, Zwergenstuebchen Backbuch, (roughly translated the small dwarf”s baking book), with illustrations of a cowboy with horse shaking the hand of an Indian with white hair and a beard.  The German fascination with Native American culture never ceases to amaze me. This is a well known biscuit like cookie that can be found in every bakery.  When I told them I’ve never heard of it or tasted it, we laugh at the irony.  We doubled this recipe to make 36. 

Zutaten fur den Teig:                                                          Ingredients for the dough:  

100 g Butter                                                                          ½ c. butter
 200 g Zucker                                                                        ½ c. sugar
1 Prise Salz                                                                            1 pinch salt
2 Eier                                                                                      2 eggs
350 g Mehl                                                                            3 c. flour
1 Packchen Backpulver                                                     4 tsp. baking powder
4 EL Milch                                                                            4 Tbsp. Milk

Zutaten fur die Dekoration:                                              Ingredients for the Decoration:

150 g Puderzucker                                                               1 ¼ c. powdered sugar2 EL Zitronensaft                                                                                2 Tbsp. lemon juice Schokoladenglasur                                                              chocolate glaze
 Gummibarchen                                                                    gummy bears
We decorated with chocolate glaze (melted chocolate might work), sprinkles, chopped nuts and flaked coconut. 

Amerikaner with chocolate.

Cream butter.  Mix in sugar, vanillezucker (1/2 tsp vanilla extract should do the trick).  Add in eggs, mixing after each.  Add in the flour, baking powder and milk.  The dough must be too wet to roll out, but thick.  Spoon the dough into a cake decorating frosting tube without any metal tip.  On a cookie sheet (maybe greased) squeeze the dough out for each cookie – see the photo.  Leave a couple inches space between each cookie.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until light brown at 180°C (360°F).   When cool dip the bottom of the Amerikaner into the chocolate or the lemon glaze and decorate. 

Fruit Streusel Cake                                                                             Dagmar Schmidt

We made the traditional plum streusel.  Apple is also common here, but you can make this cake with other fruits. 
1.5 kg Plaumen oder andere Obst                   3.3 lbs. plums or other fruit
Fur den Teig:                                                   For the dough:
300 g Butter                                                    1-1/3 c. butter
150 g Zucker                                                   1 1/8 c. sugar
100 g Puder Zucker                                      1 c. powdered sugar
1 Prise Salz                                                        1 pinch salt
4 Eier                                                                  4 eggs
300 g Mehl                                                      2 ½ c. flour
50 g Speissestarke (potato starch)       1/3 – 1/2 c. corn starch                           
2 Tl Backpulver                                              2 tsp. baking powder
Fur die Streusel:                                              For the streusel:
300 g Mehl                                                      2 ½ c. flour
180 g Zucker                                                   ¾ c. sugar
100 g gemahlene Haselnusse                  ½ c. chopped hazelnuts (other nuts ok)
200 g Butter                                                    1 c. butter

Madlen sprinkling the Streusel over the plums.

Wash, slice, peel, defrost the fruit as necessary.  Combine the dough ingredients with an electric mixer.  Spread dough evenly onto baking paper or greased and floured rectangle cookie sheet with a spatula.  Cover the dough with the fruit.  Combine the streusel ingredients in a bowl, mixing with your hands, or maybe a pastry blender (one tool I can’t seem to find here) – it should form small clumps.  Sprinkle the streusel over the fruit and bake at 180°C or just over 350°F for about 30 minutes until tests done with toothpick. 

The State, The School, The Church…And More than a Little Fun

Wallernhausen, Hessen

An organized society, the German school system exemplifies this and if very different from that of the US.

The German government pays a wage for one parent for one year to stay home with the baby for one year.  The government also pays a monthly stipend or Kindergeld to the family for each child they have.

In Germany the church and state are not separate as they are in the US.  Religion is taught just as reading or mathematics is.  In Sachsen, the Kindergarten was run by the Evangelishe Church.  Which brings up a few interesting facts about religion in Germany:

  • If you are a member of the church, the state automatically takes 9% of your income for the church.
  • To work for any part of the church, from an Evangelish Kindergarten to cooking for a monastery, you must be a member of the church. 
  • Religion varies by town and region, what the local ruler’s choice was in the past, but today this continues in many communities.


Public education is mandatory for children ages six and fifteen.  Home-schooling is forbidden.  You can see by the overview of the timeline of German schooling in the diagram below with the ages under the names of the schools.  While the system is organized, that sure doesn’t make it easy to understand.  After the Grundschule, or Elementary School, is completed, the teacher with the input of the parents decides which school is the best fit for the child.  This concept is a bit difficult for me to understand coming from the land where we are constantly reassured, “You can be whatever you want to be if you work hard.”  However, I have seen how effective the German system is has played a large part in creating such a productive and prosperous society.

 After the mandatory schooling is completed Germans can go to work, begin an ausbildung or go to university.  An ausbildung is a three year training program that involves both schooling and working at the chosen profession.  The typical age to start this is 15 – 19.  Companies advertise that they are looking for a trainee and after an applicant is selected the state schooling is set up for the student by the company My host-sister, Katja is training to work in the office of a large company and my host-brother Lukas is training to be an electrician. 

Katja and I overlooking Frankfurt at the top of the Main Tower, over 190 meters high.

I rode the train to Frankfurt with Katja to the school she attends every Monday and Tuesday as part of her training.  She has a 40 hour week, 11 of which are schooling.  Every half year she must take an exam and her exam scores combined with input from her employer determines whether she will earn the certificate.  The logistics of the schooling varies, as I saw when I visited a agriculture school in Sachsen where the students go to school full time for one week every two months and work the remaining weeks.  This organized system allows young people to gain extensive practical experience making them fully qualified to enter their chosen profession.

Jobs can be obtained without the ausbildung certificate, but they are increasingly hard to come by.  Further training and schooling allow one to become a Meister in the profession, allowing one to earn more money and open their own business if they wish.  There is no uniform minimum wage, as it varies by profession although some have no minimum.  

Crossing the Drawbridge! I accompanied Madlen's 7th Grade Field Trip to the Wartburg, a castle built in 1067, where Saint Elizabeth lived, and later in 1521 Martin Luther went into hiding here and translated the New Testament from Greek into German.

Higher education is subsidized; estimated costs are between 560-1044 Euros per month for all cost associated with University (tuition, housing, food, etc).  Admission is very competitive.  Grade point average, score on the Abitur exam and time since graduation are determining factors in admission into university.


Unlike in the US, where every child goes to school from about 8:00am to 3:00pm, in Germany each day is different for each class.  See my 12 year old host sister Madlen’s school plan below.  I’m 22 and don’t think I could remember which class to go to, let alone a six year old.  But after surviving a five hour field trip bus ride with 50 fast German speaking, twelve year olds, maybe I could manage after all!  Talk about a barrel of fun!

    Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
8:00 – 8:45 1 Math Music Math English English
8:45-9:30 2 English Sport German Earth Science Earth Science
9:45-10:30 3 History Religion English German Math
10:35-11:20 4 German Religion English Math History
11:35-12:20 5 Biology German Sport Home Economics German
12:25-1:05 6   Biology Sport Home Economics Music
1:20-2:05 7          

An Apple a Day in Hessen

Picking apples in Hessen.

The people of Hessen get their apple a day one way or another – fresh from the tree, apple sauce, apple cake, apple juice or apple wine.  Apple wine is the national drink of the German state of Hessen where I now live with the Schmidt family.  Axel, Dagmar, Katja (age 19), Lukas (age 18) and Madlen (age 12) live in Wallernhausen (pop. 1,127), part of the city of Nidda (pop. 5,348), in the county of Wetterau, in the state of Hessen.  About an hour north of Frankfurt, the tree leaves are changing colors now in this hilly region. 

The first thing I tasted here was the renowned apple wine.  In summer the apple wine is drank sour, with carbonated water, or sweet with 7up.  However, in the winter the apple wine can be drunk warm with spices.  Little did I know that I would get first hand experience in apple wine making. 

Apples to be made into wine.

A group of about 8 young people in town pay to pick the apples on the local government’s 10 or so trees scattered throughout the community each year.  Picking apples in the day, in evening the apples are pressed to make juice.  The juice is brought to barrels in a cellar in the earth that they have rented from the town. 

In the cellar where the 1800+ liters of apple wine are fermented and stored.

Korn, a cheap local liquor made from grains, is place in a special plastic tube on the opening of the barrel to allow the gas produced by the fermenting juice to escape but no insects to enter, acting as a disinfectant. 

Grinding up the apples to be put in the press on the left.

In 6-8 weeks, the apple juice has turned to wine and can be consumed throughout the year.  1870 liters of apple wine were produced in this one weekend and are drank each year.  While this is a tradition and lots of fun, apple juice and wine are also produced commercially by a local business, Kelterei Walther. The apples come from the Vogelsberges region where the highest mountain is 783 meters high, less than 50 kilometers away.  The juice and wine is sold direct to consumers or to guest houses or restaurants. 

Apple press at Kelterei Walther.


In short, I’m getting my apple a day to keep the doctor away.

Enjoying a bit of last year's wine to make room for this years.

Die Deutschen Jäger & Fleischer

Hochsitz, a German hunting stand.

Hunting is an intensive hobby in Germany.  Three of my four host-fathers have been avid hunters so I have learned there are basic similarities with hunting in the US, but there are also major differences.

Hunters must be at least 18 years old and have completed an intensive hunters education course.  But this isn’t it –they must pay around 2000 Euros to obtain a hunting license.  Following this, every three years they pay a fee to the state to hunt, 120 Euros or so.  In the US, I took a free class in the school to earn my hunter’s safety card at age 12.

A Deutsches Jäger is often on the hunt for Red Deer, Reh (a small deer), Wild Hogs (Wildschweine) or Foxes.  The Wildschweine are a particular problem for farmers as they eat corn, destroying small sections of the field.

Stefan with the Wildschweine, or Wild Pig he shot as it ran out of the corn being chopped for silage.

Rather than applying for a single permit, German hunters can pay the landowners to hunt on an area of private land.  The size of the area varies.  If a hunter owns 80 hectares adjacent to each other he can hunt on his own land, but most don’t own this much land, so they purchase the hunting right from other landowners.  The hunting area purchase is 12 years for deer and all other animals and 9 years for everything except deer.  There are also some national forests, but not so many as in western Colorado.  My host father, Stefan, has the permit to hunt in one of these forests.  He is the only hunter with the permit, but he is free to bring guests in to hunt.  The hunter can hunt during any time of the year, and even Wildschweine at night. Wild game is often legally baited with corn or other grains.

Making German sausage, or "Wurst."

The delicious flavor and high quality of German sausage, or wurst can be attributed to the fact that almost every town in Germany has at least one Fleischer, or butcher.  But this is more than just work, this is part of carrying on a tradition.

With the Wildschweine Stefan shot, I had the opportunity to help make sausage with Fleischer Jörg, a friend.  First we cut the meat of the shoulders and bacon sections of the Wildschweine into small pieces.  Next we seasoned the meat – don’t worry I have the secret recipe!  After it is ground, all must taste the raw meat to ensure the flavor is good.  In the US eating raw pork is not a good idea, but in Deutschland a meat sample is brought to a vet and tested before eaten.  The ground meat is kneaded like bread dough before it is forcefully thrown (to avoid air bubbles) into the metal canister that we pushed the sausage out of into the pig intestine casing. 

Jorg making knackers.

First we made 14 salamis.  Next Jörg twisted the casing to make 80 Knackers in less than one minute.  Knackers are a sausage somewhat like a beef teriyaki stick, only better.  They get their name from the “knack” sound when you bite into it.  At this time the meat was brown but after we hung it to dry on hazelnut sticks for three days the salts turn the meat red.  The final step is smoking the sausage for one night and then enjoying them.

The finished product ready to go into the smoking room.