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Christmas in Weird Germany 2: Pyramids

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These clever little devices are called pyramids in German, but are probably better described as carousels. They operate on a very simple premise. The heat generated from the candles moves the wooden fan blades above, causing everything to spin. Usually there are little figures in the pyramids center that enjoy going for a ride. As you can see from the video below, pyramids can range from table top size up to mammoth heights taller than a building.

Er, it seems I failed to video tape one that actually is spinning from the heat of candles. Ah well, maybe next year. Believe me when I say they can really book! I’m honestly not sure what connection they have to Christmas, but “Weihnachtspyramide” make fantastic decorations.

 
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Christmas in Weird Germany 1: Advent Calendars

If there’s one holiday that’s big in Germany, one big festive money shot that the entire country revels in, then without a doubt it is Weihnachten. That’s Christmas to you and I. Over here the celebrations span multiple days, including four advents, a day dedicated solely to Santa Claus, and a trinity of days as a grand finale. I plan on covering many of Germany’s colorful Christmas traditions this month. First and foremost, I want to talk about advent calendars.

In the US, an advent calendar is usually a thin, cardboard affair with molded wafers of chocolate behind each door. Here it could be anything. Usually it’s candy of all varieties, but toys, liquor, even music boxes can be included. One of my favorite advent calendars is by Kinder and includes a surprise egg for every day.

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Surprise eggs, for those that don’t know, are chocolate eggs that contain a toy inside. They are sold everywhere in the world except the US, due to the tricky food laws there. The two-toned chocolate doesn’t suit everyone’s taste, but the toys inside are universally popular. The Surprise Egg calendar offers 24 of these eggs, including Christmas exclusive toys mixed in with the usual random assortment. These holiday toys often double as ornaments, and after living here for the last six years, my tree is absolutely covered in them.

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Lego calendars are another personal favorite of mine. These can be found outside of Germany, but Europe has been spoiled the last two years with exclusive themes. Last year’s was Medieval, and the order of the toys received was wonderfully thought out. One day you might get a witch figurine, bricks to build the cauldron and fire the next, and a shelf full of potions on the third day. This year the theme is Pirates. Admittedly it’s even less Christmassy than witches and wizards, but the upside is that the figures have year round appeal.

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In the end, Advent Calendars are nothing more than foreplay before the real event, but the wait is so much easier with a daily dose of gratification. At the end of the month, I’ll post photos of all the contents that came in these calendars. I think you’ll be surprised by just how much there is! Speaking of which, it’s time for me to open another door…

 
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Coming Out Day

Published on October 11, 2009 by in Gay, Holiday, Random

Coming Out of the Closet Day October 11thToday is International Coming Out Day, the perfect opportunity to come out to friends, family, or coworkers if you haven’t already. Much of the fight for equal rights comes from gay people being visible, showing the world that we are familiar faces and not distant statistics. Please consider doing your part and speaking up for yourself or supporting gay friends and family that you might have. Below are two videos I made about my own coming out story. Two talking heads for the price of one!

 
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Why not a soul food train?

Published on September 28, 2009 by in Gay, Random

To celebrate our anniversary, Andreas and I headed down south to visit the Bärenhöhle cave. This might not be a common activity that couples do to celebrate their steamy man love, but it sounded like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the cave itself was a bit boring. I was expecting trippy colored lights and innumerable mysterious passageways, but instead it was a very straight forward affair. There weren’t even any rock formations that resembled other things. Sure the tour guide would point at something and say it looked like a ship, horse, pencil, or fried egg, but it was obvious she was grasping at straws. They could have at least piped in some “Hall of the Mountain King” to add atmosphere. Luckily the nearby town of Reutlingen was cool. There was plenty of shopping and Andreas scored a new bus for his collection.

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We searched high and low for a place to eat that night, finally settling on a sushi joint since I was hoping to score some sake. We don’t eat sushi often, and the places we have eaten at were pretty classy. This was the first restaurant we had even been to with a sushi train. That’s what I call it anyway. One of those conveyor belt things that your food rides along. It was really a really fun experience and they often switched up the offerings, so there were always new surprised. For only the second time in my life, I ate so much that I almost tossed. Charming story, no? Despite my description, it was a very romantic day for us.

 
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Fantasy’s Finest: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

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The inclusion of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” as being among fantasy’s finest might raise some eyebrows, but behind the cheesy 80’s cartoon lies a truly inspired concept. When first considering the world of He-Man, we immediately think of a standard fantasy world involving sword and sorcery, forgetting sometimes that MOTU was just as much sci-fi as it was fantasy. Vehicles flew alongside dragons, blasts from laser pistols were deflected by magic swords, and the evil wizard Skeletor used often employed hovering robots as his muscle. Surprisingly this mishmash of magic and science worked very well. The series always weighed heavily in favor of fantasy, but embracing technology into the mythos made room any story the writers could dream up.

Central to the story is lazy Prince Adam who, with the aid of his magic sword, can become the heroic He-Man. It’s Clark Kent/Superman meets Conan really, although the idea is improved upon by Adam bring vulnerable when not powered up as his alter ego. This much needed weakness adds tension and allows for a sense of danger. He-Man’s closest friend and sidekick is Cringer, a giant talking cat. This is a concept very close to my heart. The two main characters of my book, The Cat in the Cradle, just happen to be a boy and his talking cat. The similarities end there, but I’ve always been aware that I was drawing inspiration from my favorite childhood show.

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Masters of the Universe was fairly progressive with its portrayal of strong, female characters. Teela was captain of the royal guard and could hold her own in battle. On the villain’s side, second in command went to witchy Evil-Lyn, one of the only competent members. Likewise, the Sorceress was used in place of the wise old wizard archetype, and was keeper of the most powerful magical secrets. Minorities weren’t as well represented in the cartoon, probably because not many characters were actually human. A scaly merman, a flying bird guy, a humanoid skunk, a robot with a heart, a blue guy with mechanical arms, even a man made of moss. Almost every character was a different type of species or creature, mostly due to the toy line that powered the cartoon. Commercialism aside, the variety of action figures made for a diverse and interesting cast.

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The 80s version of the cartoon leaves a lot to be desired. Its frequent reuse of stock animation, public service announcements, and plots aimed low at child audiences of days gone by makes it hard to digest today. Luckily there was a new version of the show in 2004 that fully realized the story’s potential. The somewhat jumbled nature of the 80s concept was reined in and given order, the plots were intelligent with long reaching story arcs, and the action sequences had you on the edge of your seat. Sadly the toy line, the lifeblood of any cartoon, was mismanaged and ended the show prematurely. The two seasons that did air stand as a proud testament to just how excellent and exciting the world of Masters of the Universe can be.

 
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Ice cream. It’s what’s for dinner.

Ice cream is the hottest cold commodity in Germany. Every summer I’m astounded at the amount of ice cream that is sold, doing mental calculations of how much cafes earn while tonguing the hell out of a cone myself. It’s not terribly expensive. A waffle cone with a generous scoop of ice cream only costs 1 Euro, little more than a dollar, which feels even cheaper here since you can pay with a single coin. I’ve estimated that the most popular place in town earns about 2 Euro per minute, easily pulling in a €1,000 a day, but then they have an amazingly ideal location and really know how to dish it out cheap and fast.

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For the more discerning customer, there are finer ice cream treats available than the humble cone, my favorite of which is picture above. Ice cream spaghett!. The noodles are made of vanilla ice cream and the tomato sauce from strawberry topping. Even grated parmesan is included, represented by coconut shreds. Honestly, I prefer the traditional cone, but I love the idea of faux entrees made of sweets.

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Equally creative is the fried egg, which is really a halved peach surrounded by ice cream. If only the waffle included was made to look like toast! I asked the waiter why a straw was sticking out of my spaghetti ice cream, and he answered in English “STRAWberry!” That made a strange sort of sense, but I suspect he was just messing with me because Andreas’s fried egg included a straw too. I was grateful for them in the end, since Andreas used his to suck up the melted ice cream instead of licking his plate as he normally does at home. There are other faux foods like this available at ice cream cafes. My need to document such things combined with my appetite means they’ll probably show up on this blog sooner rather than later.

 
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