Germany: Sudden thoughts and second thoughts

(Title and style in honor of Bill Lyons, venerable Philly sportswriter.)

I’ve been to Germany with SAP about five or six times now, and I expect to make a few more trips over the next several months. I’ve got some photos from the trip I took this past week, and I’ll get those posted up in the next several days. For now, a couple of reflections on travel to the land of 75% of my ancestry.

Language: Sprechen sie Englisch? If there’s one go-to phrase in Germany, this is the one, and 99% of the time it works. German kids are learning English starting roughly in first grade. If I’m required to keep going in German, I can say hello, good morning, thank you, and ‘still water, please’, because I learned on my first couple trips that if you just ask for water to drink, you’re going to get the fizzy stuff. I can count and tell time, and I know left and right. Traveling in a language you’ve never formally studied really puts you back to your five-year-old days.

Driving: People eiher dream of the autobahn or they fear it. The dreamers will find less wide-open driving than they hoped, and the fearful will see a lot of similarities to American interstate highways. Most of the time, your speed on the autobahn is either limited by posted signs, or effectively limited by traffic. It’s true that there are people driving 200+ km/h (120+ mph) on the autobahn in the unrestricted sections, but if you stay in the right lane, you can poke along at whatever speed you like. Besides, cars are really expensive in Germany, and people aren’t keen to crash. The average car on a German highway is much more likely to be a lovingly maintained 1982 VW Rabbit than a sleek brand-new Mercedes land cruiser.

Music: I often end up associating songs with trips… something we always referred to as “trip music” when I was growing up. Because I end up listening to pop music stations in the car in Germany, my trip music from business trips to Germany runs toward the kind of music you hear on Q-102 here in Philly, a station I almost never tune in at home. Case in point: Trip songs from this year include “Rude Boy” by Rihanna, and this time, “We R Who We R” by Ke$ha.

Office culture: German colleagues are always referred to as ‘colleagues’ in English, as opposed to co-workers or some other term, because ‘colleagues’ is a good cognate with the German kollegen und kolleginnen. The colleagues have an attitude about alcohol at work that might seem a little unusual coming from the US. You might have wine with lunch, a beer at the end of the day out of the office fridge, or champagne (in the morning!) for a colleague’s birthday. It feels a bit like an episode of Mad Men – the so-called good old days when you could drink at work.

The concept of the team at work is pervasive in Germany, from the airport cleaning staff to the management of professional businesses. My German friends at work like to make fun of how American waiters and waitresses always introduce themselves by name, but in Germany you always know that you’re receiving service from such-and-such team. That team is also likely to have ISO 9001 quality certification, even if it’s the staff in the hotel. Certifications and credentials are more formal and more popular than in US business culture.

General culture: The modern state of Germany has an abiding faith in automation. Speeding tickets, boarding passes, recycling deposit returns on bottles – if you can conceivably do it with a machine or a computer, preferably both, that’s how it will be done in Germany. Curiously, though, I haven’t seen much in the way of self-checkout at retail stores, the way we’ve been seeing in recent years in the US.

Enough cultural observations for now. Pictures return tomorrow. Tchuss!

Goin’ back to Deutschland


Liebe kollegen und kolleginnen, I have a business trip coming up next week to Germany, and I’m running around like a nut right now getting ready for it. Blog posts will resume the first week of November, with some spooky Halloween pictures and maybe a shot or two of the Fatherland in autumn.

Philly friends, you’ll be getting the better end of the bargain weather-wise. Temps in Philly are supposed to be in the low 70s F (low 20s C) at least in the first half of next week, while the weather in Heidelberg is going to be… 45F (7C) and cloudy. I long for the days of getting sent to warm and sunny Bangalore.

Wayback Machine: November 2009

Here’s another look at Anna in action last season:


This is my blogified way of letting the locals know that Anna is playing tournament team soccer again. If you’d like to come out and see her play in her tournaments, just send me an e-mail and I’ll get you the details.

Days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and we have just about five weeks left in the fall soccer season. I’ve just posted a mid-season review and a recap of the big tournament win over at ACU Maroon. Take a look!

Wicked great fun

This past Saturday, Maria and I got to enjoy a rare treat – a day trip to NYC with my mom. In fact, I realized during the day that I had never actually been in New York with my mom. I’ve been up there a hundred times, but usually by myself for work.

The purpose of our adventure was to celebrate Maria’s birthday and mine. Mom took us to see the Broadway show Wicked, which Mom has seen a couple of times before and really enjoyed. Maria the Performer is always up for a show, and so am I.

We drove up into Jersey and took a train into Penn Station. First order of business was brunch, which we enjoyed at a great restaurant called VYNL which is on 9th Avenue near 51st, a stone’s throw away from the theater district. After brunch, we had some time before the show, so we took a wander around Times Square:



It was pretty windy… I’m not wearing my hair that way on purpose.

No trip to Times Square is complete without some giant creatures. There were knockoff Sesame Street characters on every corner soliciting donations for the homeless, so we gladly traded a buck for a picture with Fake Cookie Monster:


We also found a giant M&M in, shock and surprise, the M&M Store:


At last it was time for the show. We couldn’t take pictures of the action, of course, but the stage looked like this:


And my theater companions looked like this:


After the show, we wandered outside and found the stage door, to see if we could get some autographs. Maria collected a few, and we also chatted for a minute with actor Alex Brightman, who plays the character Boq:


We wrapped up our visit to the big city with dinner at Blue Smoke, a barbeque restaurant on 27th near Park Avenue. (If you know the city, you know this meant a cab ride around Grand Central. Whee!) Hopped on a train back to Jersey, then made the drive home, with the birthday girl conked out in the back seat:


Good times. Thanks again, Mom! That was a great idea.

Criss cross applesauce

With 25 pounds (12 kg) of apples sitting around the house, we’ve got to start making pies, cobblers, and applesauce. Friday evening, Anna and I had a go at making our first-ever batch of homemade applesauce. Turns out it’s pretty easy.

First, of course, you need some apples:


The apples get cored, quartered, and tossed into a stock pot along with some water, some sugar, a stick of cinnamon, and – strangely – some lemon juice and lemon peel:


The lemon has the effect of making the apples taste more like apples, not unlike the effect that salt has on food when used during cooking.

Bring the pot to a boil, and then simmer for about 20 minutes. Use a mixer or food mill to blend the results, and voila:


Here’s a satisfied customer:


We still have some apples kicking around… time to make pie!

Growing by leaps and bounds

I had an old friend ask the other day whether my kids were old enough to hold a paintbrush. And I thought, boy, people don’t know how far along we are in this kid-raising thing. I just want to take a moment and show you how tall these guys are getting:


First thing: Notice that Nick is past my shoulders. He’s more than five feet tall at this point.

Second: Maria is not that far behind him. Not only that, her legs are so long that my legs are only 1 inch (2.5 cm) longer than hers at this point.

Third: Anna, though she is objectively the shortest one in the house because of her tender age, may yet be the tallest one of all. She’s much taller than the other two were at the same ages.

My house is becoming a land of giants.

Pippi Longanna

While Chels was away last week, Maria and her friend Mia did up Anna’s hair… hopefully you can see in this picture that her pigtails are sticking straight out from her head:


I really thought when Anna first showed this to me that they had put a bent coathanger or something inside her hair. The effect was amazing. In reality, though, it was just a lot of hairspray and some clever use of the rubber bands.

Happy weekend!

Field Day

When I was a kid, our school had Field Day at the very end of the year. At my kids’ school, they do it this time of year. The school splits into two teams, Blue and White, and they face off in a bunch of very silly competitions. See if you can guess which team the Sperger kids are on:




They say they had a pretty good time, and that Blue won this year, which is apparently the first time it’s happened in, well, a blue moon.

Extreme Makeover, Doorway Edition

While Chels and her mom were away last week, I decided that I wasn’t busy enough running the kids all over town, and so I took up a minor home improvement project. This was the scene on the front doorstep of our house as I was getting started:


I wanted to update that tired old screen door, and generally spruce up the whole thing. I could have simply bought a new door, but I decided to see if I could fix up the old one.

The first order of business was to take the door off its hinges so I could monkey around with it:


I got a new tool for this project, called an angle grinder, which can be used to cut metal or tile. Using my fancy new angle grinder, I cut the scallop trim off the window frame of the door:


Next, I gave the door a fresh coat of paint (using spray paint, after scuffing the surface of the door with a hand sander) and installed a shiny new brass door handle:


I also took the opportunity to re-paint the door frame, including the threshold. Maria was kind enough to make a “wet paint” sign for me to hang on the door:


The kids were fascinated with the idea that the doorbell could be pulled away from the frame, still functioning and still wired:


Low-voltage wiring: A homeowner’s best friend.

The day Chelsea got back, I put everything in place – re-installed the door, cleaned up the paint, and installed new house numbers and a new doormat. The total effect is pretty dramatic:


I have two friends in the neighborhood who stopped by to admire my work. One of them said, “Now you need to do the other screen doors.” The other one said, “Now you need to paint all of the other trim.” Sheesh, people… let me enjoy my moment!

Apples and pumpkins

We got a chance the other day to go out after work and school to pick apples and pumpkins at a farm about 15 miles (22 km) away from our house. We brought back 25 pounds (11 kg) of apples… the kids don’t realize they will now be eating applesauce three meals a day for the next month.







You can see that we had our extra kid along with us:


I don’t remember apples being so closely bunched on the tree, but then again, it’s been a pretty long time since I went apple picking:


Here we are all together, sorted by height… come back in five years and Chelsea and I will be the ones in the front of the picture:


Because we went so late in the day, we pretty much had both the orchard and the pumpkin field all to ourselves:




Now we’re really ready for fall!