Festive season in January?

Celebrating orthodox Christmas in Germany

“Merry Christmas” is a phrase I would typically say in December as me and my family celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, just like every other Christian families does, right? Well, at least I thought so until I got to know my best friend. She and her Macedonian orthodox Christian family celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January. With the help of her real life experiences, I want to illustrate some background information and traditions of a Macedonian orthodox Christmas celebration in Germany.

What is the orthodox church?

The orthodox church alongside roman catholic and protestant church form the three main Christian groups. Orthodox beliefs don’t differ in many ways from the other two, but it is divided geographically e.g. to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Church. Those do have theological differences within because this belief forms partly from traditions which differ around the world, even though the main beliefs in Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God and his reincarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, stay the same. The Eastern Orthodox church is again subdivided geographically, rather than divided by nations and all churches are either autocephalous (have their own head) or autonomous (self-governing). They still go by the Julian calendar which explains the time differences to our Gregorian calendar.

The relatively small Republic of North Macedonia shares borders with Serbia in the north, Bulgaria in the east, Greece in the south and Albania in the west and is therefore landlocked in the eastern part of Europe. The Macedonian orthodox church is a belief which about two-thirds of the North Macedonian population professes, but it isn’t recognized autonomously by all of the other churches.

What does a typical Christmas look like?

The orthodox church puts a lot more emphasis on family and Jesus than the typical German Christian family. When I was a kid, Christmas was mainly about the presents and good food, but as my friend told me, her family doesn’t exchange gifts at all on Christmas. However, food is an important part in their traditions as well. In the time before Christmas, they fast, which means in this case following a vegan diet. Fish, however, is still allowed in this diet and the fasting lasts up until and including the 6th of January, so effectively their Christmas Eve.

Another important tradition is the coin in the bread. They put a coin in the bread dough and when it’s time for dinner the bread gets separated between the family members, including a piece for Jesus and Maria and other people or things that are important and loved by the family. All the bread must be eaten or else it allegedly means bad luck and whoever finds the coin in their piece is to have good luck during the next year. If, for example, the kid gets the coin, he or she also gets a little money from the parents and if the coin is for example in the piece for their house, the family is supposed to buy or do something for the house, like giving it a fresh paint or buy some sort of accessory for the house.

A very interesting aspect of their dinner is that once a person sat down at the table, they are not allowed to stand back up or if they do and then sit back down, they are not allowed to eat anymore. Because of that, the family gathers everything they might need during dinner on the table before sitting down, which always ends in an awfully full table, as my friend states.

What does it feel like to celebrate Christmas later than all of your friends?

In this section I can only speak for my friend who told me all of this and I know that it is probably different for everyone experiencing it. First of all, she states that celebrating later has pros and cons. She never has to argue about which family dinner to attend with her roman catholic boyfriend, as they have separate dates for celebrating Christmas and can subsequently simply do it twice. Generally, she says that when it comes to the 6th of January, she is usually not in a festive mood anymore because all of the people around her already throw out their Christmas trees and are done with the festive season. It sometimes feels weird to still celebrate Christmas. Also, because it is usually the last day of the holidays, her parents have to work the next day and she has to attend to university the next day, they only have one day to celebrate and almost no opportunity to visit relatives the following day like I have when I celebrate on the 24th.

After all, please don’t forget to wish your orthodox friends a Merry Christmas on the 6th of January, I know that they will appreciate your consciousness about their culture very much!

Author: Sandra Rieger

One breath away

Endorphin-rush is guaranteed

Spit in your goggles, one last check if the air is flowing, confirm with your buddy and jump right in. Let the cold water enter your soul, taste the salty water on your lips, feel the pressure surrounding your body. If your buddy and you are ready – the adventure may begin.

You start to go down and the deep blue finally surrounds you, feeling weightless. It’s a completely different world you need to get used to. Weird noises – where do they come from? You try to touch the rock in front of you but completely miss him. Is the fish red, orange or yellow, or might it even be just brown? Humans are used to be surrounded by air. The behavior of light, sounds and movements is normal. But being surrounded by water: it is like being a child again, that needs to learn everything from scratch.

The new and unknown world

Breathtaking views, unique encounters with unfamiliar animals, a rush of adrenalin, getting in touch with nature on a new level, exploring sunken secrets, finding hidden treasures – who knows what’s behind the next rock or after the next wave. The sea is a place of innumerable astonishing, wild, raw and of inestimable value moments, which actually can’t be described in a few words. It simply has to be experienced. Where to go? The lake around the corner? Or how about a freezing cold lake in the alps? Or maybe the Mediterranean Sea where you surely won’t meet any sharks? The cyan, aquatic, turquoise blue sea is filled with exotic fishes and beautiful coral reefs. Another option is to drive with a boat away from the shore, out to the big wide ocean, not being able to see the beach or any houses – out there awaits the most precious, awe-inspiring, unbelievably, once-in-a-lifetime moment: a rendezvous with whales.

DON’T EVER STOP BREATHING!

That is the most important rule for diving. Without having internalized that specific rule, diving won’t be possible. But there are also other things that need to be taken into account. Diving is not a sport or hobby that can simply be started out of a feeling or a mood. Certain things need be considered.

Respect, appreciation, decency and concinnity are mandatory and unavoidable traits of a diver. The new world needs to be valued and secured not polluted, destroyed or treated without careful consideration. Just as important and fundamental is the proper education and qualification. A diving partner, so called buddy,is a crucial factor. Also, you may never go diving without the correct equipment, it is indispensable. (So, find a trustworthy, authentic and dependable diving-school or -club!) A sadly bitter aftertaste: none of it is super cheap.

But be sure of one fact: it is absolutely worth it, as it is an outrageous, unprecedented and pure happiness bringing experience, which will never be forgotten!

Author: Manja Klauschenz

KARA-UKE IS BACK!!!

Yes, you have read the headline correctly: The following isn´t about the classic karaoke, which in particular takes place in Irish Pubs after everyone had already had two Guinness. This event takes your bog-standard karaoke to the next level by adding Ukuleles into the mix and has already become the new secret tip in Augsburg: Kara-Uke.

What is Kara-Uke?

Replace the karaoke machine by motivated guests with their ukuleles, and you basically have the perfect setup for a fantastic Kara-Uke night. Join this with readable chords and lyrics projected to the wall with a projector as well as the the motivated and guitar-loving Benni, inventor and moderator of the whole, and I can promise you that you will have the perfect Kara-Uke night.

No ukulele? No problem! The more voices, the better.

The great Kara-Uke restart

At the beginning of this year, the crowd favorite Kara-Uke suffered from the Corona-lockdown just like all the other activities requiring the encounter of a group of people and had to take a compulsory break. But now that more people are finally allowed to meet again, it´s back – and it seems to not have lost its popularity at all. July is the month of the great Kara-Uke restart!

And let’s face it:  Now that you were sitting around all day, I´m sure that at least some of you have used their free time  to practice some of those instruments that have been long forgotten in the corners of your room. Put those skills to use in this event!

The number of people has to be kept limited, which is why the normally free-entry event had to “sell” tickets – and sold them out in less than 2 days. Fascinated by the success of this creative event, I got intrigued to know more about it and had to ask Benni about a few things that I was desperate to find out.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR KARAUKE?

Benni: Actually, KaraUke wasn’t my idea. It’s an event that takes place all over the world in different countries and cities. Michael Dannhauer, Jakob Mader and I are just the guys that brought KaraUke to Augsburg.

When Michael was in Australia 6 months ago, he took part in a similar event in Brisbane, where people met in a cafe with their ukuleles. The organizers had a projector and a linen cloth set up, so people could see the songs with all the lyrics and the chords. Then everybody started to play along and sing together. It sounded so easy to me that I thought: Okay, let’s try this in Augsburg. Maybe the people here will like it as well. And they did.

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT KARAUKE IS SO SUCCESSFUL AND WHAT DO THE PEOPLE VALUE ABOUT IT?

Benni: Everything about KaraUke is simple. The instrument – the ukulele – is tiny and cute, and everybody can learn it really fast. You don’t have to practice it as much as other instruments and very quickly you get a feeling of success. With 3 or 4 chords you can play almost any song throughout pop history. When people visit a KaraUke event for the first time and can’t hold up with the chord changes for example, they can also just sing along. They are happy when the C-Chord is coming over and over again and in between they pause, and have a good time singing with all the others.

It’s really exciting to see, that this little instruments brings so many different people together. No matter where you come from, how old you are, or if you have ever played music before, it doesn’t matter. KaraUke is an event for literally EVERYONE. And because it is for everyone it’s always for free. We collect donations where everybody can give as much as they want, but don’t have to.

WHAT IS PLANNED FOR THE 25.07. AND WHY SHOULD WE ALL TRY TO GET A TICKET? Benni: The next KaraUke on July 25th is the first KaraUke after the Corona-Lockdown. And it’s our first Open Air Event ever, so we are really excited about that. It takes place at the 11er Rosenau Biergarten which has a capacity of 100 people. Everybody had to get a (free) ticket because of the capacity limit. After two days we were sold out. But we are planning a few more Open Air KaraUke events this summer and even in autumn. Nobody knows how indoor events in the colder time of the year will work out, so we’re trying to get outside as much as we can. So follow us on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/KaraUkeAugsburg) , Instagram (@karauke_augsburg) or meetup and you will be updated about our upcoming events.

author: Una Kiesel

The sound of bees buzzing – Keeping memories alive

It happens in less than a second… a bee flies close to my ear making its typical buzzing sound and (swoosh) I´m back to a past situation in my head. It´s a hot day in late summer, I´m in my grandparents’ garden in the east of Germany for the holidays, my granny has just made her delicious plum pie and maybe in the afternoon we will ride our bikes to the beautiful lake in the forest around the corner.

Wonderful trick of the brain

It happens just like a reflex: you smell, hear or taste something and it reminds you of a situation in the past. It´s like a moment you caught and put into an empty marmalade jar, only to open it up again and get a whiff of the feeling you had at this time. Just to name another few examples: I love the smell of gasoline. Not because it´s a fancy perfume, but because it reminds me of my childhood vacations. Going on a camping trip in Italy by car, being stuck in a traffic jam, excited for the next two weeks just enjoying life. Same goes for the sound of pigeons, which I always heard when I woke up in the tent.

The taste of milk chocolate – for me also an association with being a child. My first advent calendar, a Milka chocolate bar as a present from relatives or a piece of the typical Easter chocolate bunny. I take a bite and I feel like a little girl again. Another amazing thing: the smell of old books… or new books, as well! As for the old ones, their smell takes me back to rummaging in a library or my parents´ bookshelves. The smell of new books always brings excitement to me: like when you got a new book for your birthday and could not wait to start reading, or when the new year of school started and you were still excited about what would happen during the year (motivation was still existent back then).

Bringing childhood back to the present

I could probably go on telling you other examples for eternity… The smoke after you blew out a candle (on your birthday cake), the sound of a cow´s bell, the smell of French fries, the feeling you get when you coincidentally smell the soap your grandma uses as well, the scent of sunscreen or the taste of cotton candy…

All of these things bring some kind of joy to our minds because they remind us of happy moments that are already gone. Maybe in hard times we should remind ourselves of those smells, sounds or tastes and try to get a glimpse of them. Just to get the feeling of being a child again, when the worst thing that could happen was having to take a nap (now the most amazing thing ever!) and the best thing was eating French fries next to the pool.

author: Carolin Joos

Moving away as far as possible – My Exchange term in New Zealand

If I told you that, in 2015, I got on a plane to New Zealand, you might think that maybe I was trying to escape a bad situation, flee from my parents or get as many kilometres in between me and my old life as possible. But you’d be mistaken: What I did was start the biggest adventure of my life so far.

German schools? – 18,000km away!

In July 2015, I flew to Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand. I was in year 10 at school at that time, which means I was used to our German school system with a monotonous timetable every single week. My first impression of Thames High, the school I attended in New Zealand, was that everything was less organized and school is going to be way different from what it had been like at home – well guessed, Michael!

Outdoor Education

When thinking about your average school day, would you expect to learn the theory of canoeing, repairing bike shifters or diving at school? I didn’t and I think most of you wouldn’t, either! All these things are fundamental in “Outdoor Education (OEC)”, a subject offered at high school in New Zealand.

German schools offer a broad range of knowledge to their students, but a lot of the content is not important for your future life. The opposite is set as a standard in New Zealand. The country tries to offer its students a practical education as well, which I think is great!

OEC 301          

OEC 301 was my course during my term there. At the end of each term, an Outdoor Education class goes on a trip. For my course, that trip included canoeing, caving and mountain biking.

Now imagine a lake with an average water temperature of 16°C, bloody cold wind and canoes. Our group paddled around Lake Tarawera to Hot Water Beach, a natural hot spring heated up by volcanic activity. We set up our tents and went for a swim in the lake… The water temperature was like 38 degrees in the area of volcanic activity while the rest of the lake was bloody cold. 

Day 2 and 3 lead us to a cave, but sadly, I can’t remember the name… and a mountain bike park called Red Woods. While my German friends learned about the French Subjonctif, I was able to gain lots of experience in wildlife camping and outdoor sports that I will remember my entire life!

It was great to make new friends and to get to know another school system. Absolutely recommendable!

author: Michael Kurz

“Thank you for your service, Sir!” – Living with an US-Army family for a year.

“Thank you for your service, Sir!” – That’s a sentence I’ve heard probably about almost 100 times, when I was out with my host dad and him wearing his US Army uniform. What seemed incredibly weird for me at first, was very normal for people living in the Unites States of America. Being in the Army or any other military unit in the USA is something highly respected among its citizens, which I started to realize quickly after moving in as the au pair of an Army family.

Advantages

Before I started my year as an au pair in 2016, I of course knew that most of US citizens are pretty patriotic and that they love their country and everything what it stands for. But when I actually started living there, I realized that there is much more to it than loving your country. It’s a way of living, which especially shows in how they treat people working in the military.

So, my host dad who has been working in the Army for about 30 years, brings my host family a lot of advantages. Especially when we were going out together for dinner or visiting an amusement park, they always got a huge military discount. When we did go on a trip, we always were able to board the plane priority, because of my host dad being in the military. I also found out that there actually are certain camping grounds and hotels, that you can only go to if you are in the Army. Besides all this, I also noticed the second they realized my host dad is part of the US military, we always got special treatment and regardless their age people showed so much respect towards him. That’s something that I got fascinated about, since I’ve never experienced such behavior towards people in the German Bundeswehr.

Disadvantages

Of course, besides the discounts and all the respect, there are some things that are far away from being perfect, when you are a military family. The hardest thing my host family probably has to face are the ongoing goodbyes.  I don’t even know how many times my host dad had to say goodbye to his loved ones to go on another military mission. He was not able to be there when my host mum gave birth to their first child and he missed a lot of special occasions. And I guess it’s even harder, when you don’t know if you’re going to see each other again or not. When I first got there my host dad was only able to stay for two weeks until he had to go back to the Middle East.

Respect for the military

Regardless of all the advantages and disadvantages working in the US military, I found the lifestyle and how much respect the US military gets fascinating. It’s part of the country and history and people realize how hard it must be to have a job like that. Of course, you can discuss whether the military is really needed, but at the moment it exists, so why not treat the people working for it with the right amount of respect. Something we in Germany probably could learn from.

author: Janina Trinkl

Popcorn flavors around the world – Thoughts of a popcorn addict who only goes to the movies to get fresh popcorn.

Who doesn´t love popcorn? It´s crunchy, chewy and puffy, it can be salty or sweet all in all, it´s just incredibly tasty. Popcorn is one of the most popular snacks and has been enjoyed across the globe for centuries. But have you ever wondered how popcorn became such a popular snack?

A historical recap

Popcorn actually is a truly ancient dish! The oldest popcorn known to date was found in South America approximately 5,000 years ago. Native Americans not only ate it but also used it do decorate ceremonial embellishments, clothes and necklaces. As colonists arrived in the New World, they became fond of Native American food. Not only was popcorn enjoyed as a snack, but it was also eaten with milk and sugar like a breakfast cereal. The story of popcorn´s rise to prominence continued with vendors selling the snack near crowds, especially outside theaters, circuses and fairs in the 18th century. This gave birth to popcorn being sold as a classic movie snack later. During the Great Depression, the corn kernels gained even more popularity since it was the only snack many people were still able to afford.

Salty or sweet? – it is not that easy

Enjoying a bag of popcorn isn´t limited to just a few countries anymore. I´m a popcorn addict who got the chance to travel the world during the past few years. On my journey I experienced that each country enjoys its popcorn in very different ways, which honestly surprised me.

Let´s have a look at three places that stand out when it comes to the enjoyment of my beloved snack.

USA

Apparently, the Americans have really weird popcorn-eating habits. They mainly like to eat it salty, which is fine by me. But why do they drizzle butter on top making it all soggy? It is also very common to add cheddar cheese which makes them even more greasy. Mostly Americans either enjoy their popcorn at the movies or as a late-night snack at home cooked in the microwave. However, popcorn has been reinvented over the past few years in the US. If it´s dry popped in hot air without oils, fats, salt or sugar it´s actually low in calories, high in fiber and contains many nutritious antioxidants.

Singapore

This country´s love for the fluffy snack is exceptional – you can get any type anywhere at any time. Popcorn usually is part of the standard Singaporean diet and a common snack at work or served before dinner. The Malaysian brand Eureka is the most popular popcorn brand in South East Asia and sells common flavors like sea salt and caramel as well as fancy flavors like seaweed, curry or white coffee.

Australia

Unlike in Germany where flavor options are usually limited to sweet or salty, Australia has a huge selection of popcorn in movie theatres. The abundant flavor choices include French Vanilla, salty caramel or white raspberry. I found my first and foremost, all-time favorite flavor called Rocky Road Popcorn in Melbourne. The Popped kernels were mixed with salted cashews and melted Hershey´s chocolate. In the end they put mini marshmallows on top, which made them the unhealthiest but best popcorn I have ever had in my life.

To all the popcorn addicts: Popcorn is a delicious snack that came from America but is enjoyed all over the world in different ways. Whichever way you like it most, if you´re a real popcorn lover, you should open your heart to new adventures and tastes and just keep popping along.

author: Hannah Reichle