For many moons now (6 or 7) I've been wondering how to go about tackling posts about Rostock, Hannes' hometown, where we spent a lavish, glorious, and obscenely lazy two months before moving to Tokyo.
And that's why: we didn't really do anything for most of the time we were there.
I mean, that's not true, we did do things: his parents took us to the resort town at the coast, we walked around the traditional German Christmas market, drove out to a strawberry farm-turned-franchise with all kinds of delicious and rustic things for sale, made lovely death metal candles at a "candle barn" in that same area, spent a weekend in Hamburg, went up to another small town with an impressive church and took an antique train to another part of the coast from there, took a tour of the power plant Hannes' dad works at, Nico and Andrea took us to a castle, we went to Germany's largest island to see its white chalk cliffs, and then, well, then there was the eating, drinking, and being cozy.
So even after all those posts (man, that was a link fest and a half), I still have all these pictures of buildings, gatherings, drunkenings, foodenings, and all kinds of other -ings that weren't special events, but were super great.
The only thing I really wanted to do that we didn't end up doing was taking the ferry to Denmark, then going up to Copenhagen and Malmö. Hannes pooh-poohed that idea almost immediately because of how expensive it would've been. Considering the fact that we would've spent almost the entire time in transit and that we would've only been seeing and enjoying sights and other stuff for less than three days before catapulting ourselves into a completely uncertain employment situation in one of the world's most expensive cities, I knew he was right to veto the plan, but was still mad about it at the time because I've wanted to go to Scandinavia for most of my life.
But, a person couldn't reasonably ask for more. I mean, just try to understand the level of comfy happening in this glorious studio apartment here:
Not eating cheese, sophisticated creamy spreads in little glass jars, pumpernickel, etc. anymore is actually killing me. No, the allergies I (re)developed by overindulging on them isn't what's killing me, it's not having them anymore that's doing it!
That's a Finnair napkin, by the way. I'm utilitarian as fuck. I'm literally still using the free lip balm from that flight right now.
His parents stocked the place with necessities for us.
They are stupidly nice.
UGH STOP IT reading chair, I miss you! Right next to the radiator and window, uuugghhh!
This great little place is also right in the center of town. This was the view out that window.
Well anyway, we arrived in Berlin just before New Year's, and went to Nico and Andrea's house for that:
Hannes opened strong: as soon as we stepped out of the cab he literally dropped the bottle of champagne (sparkling wine) we brought, and it shattered. I was like, "But why is the rum gone?!" and he was like "No, that one was the champagne", so I said, "Oh, well that's okay then, it's only New Years!"
We decided it was for the best, though, because the rum was not only the more expensive, but also the more effective of the two.
They not only had a regular garden salad, but also made gluten-free pasta salad for me!
Andrea is the German Angelique.
If you're reading this then you probably know what I'm talking about.
This stew that cooked for a good long time in this cauldron over the fire smelled amazing.
I was told it's a tradition to have Berliners (jelly doughnuts to everyone else) on New Year's, and I think these ones were cut in half not just because they were quite large, but so that no one could see there weren't any secret mustard-filled ones hiding in these otherwise glorious piles as a practical joke.
At midnight, a whole bunch of us went out Nico and Andrea's back gate to the dirt road that cuts through a large, mostly-empty area of fields and trees behind their neighbourhood to set off fireworks.
Earlier that night I was told in very broken, drunk English that it's also a tradition to write your wish on a piece of paper and attach it to your Roman candle. I think it's been long enough now that it's safe to tell what I wrote:
"For mom to get better
But wait, I'm not done being mushy yet. This night was so picturesque and emotional; while everyone was setting off fireworks was also the moment Hannes chose to say "I love you" for the first time, even though we'd been living together for a little over 3 months at that point.
I think we both knew pretty quickly that we were going to be together for a long time, and we were both holding off on saying it until a really perfect moment, and he nailed it.
I'll never forget that New Years, ever, and I still haven't even washed the mud from the soggy dirt road off my wedge booties yet.
Nico and Andrea's adorable little girl
At first most everyone was too shy to talk to me and when they did the looking up of words on phones was involved. There was this one episode right after we got there where a few people were explaining what this amazing creamy peach vodka drink they'd made a huge quantity of was, and this guy Christian was like, "...in a... Wait a second", and started searching on his phone. Everyone was silent for like 25 seconds and then he was like, "Bucket!" and the women also standing there echoed, "Bucket!", and he was like, "Ja, in a bucket!"
I was like, "Dude, just point at the thing, I'll know what you mean. It's fine."
He had just finished a special English-language training program for the navy (he's a career military man), so I think he talked to me most because he wanted to practice, but also felt more pressure than anyone else to be correct as the de facto local expert.
She does the best drunk faces that are even funnier because you don't spot them immediately
Christian and I also had a long talk about the American tradition of roasting marshmallows, and taught the other kid who was there how to do it. He wasn't patient enough and made a mess with half-melted goo. It was good times.
After 2 Korean New Years and 3 Korean Christmasses, I've got to say, this house party was even more fantastic than it would've been on a normal day.
I made a brief and half-hearted attempt to learn some German from a little book of fairytales..
.. that I got from this awesome second hand bookstore.
We had drinks at a dim, cave-like bar with a distinctly mid-20th century feel called Crocodil, in the university area.
And we FEASTED LIKE LORDS.
Hannes had told me about those oven camembert things, and man, did we both get terrible acid reflux from them. But look at how healthy everything else was! That balances it out, right?
I can't have these itty bitty alphabet pastas, but look how cute they are!
German supermarkets are glorious, guys.
You don't even. I couldn't even have. I can't even right now.
Here are some more of my favourites: 3.8% fat chocolate milk, elderflower cider, local plum jam from that aforementioned strawberry farm place, and apricot yogurt. The poppyseed yogurt was even better. Why am I doing this while hungry?
Here's another feast of lords. We did a creamy broccoli gratin, some kind of vegetable soup (sweet potato?), and had creamy olive spread, herbed Swiss cheese, and marinated olives and sundried tomatoes to go with our pumpernickel.
Oh, and Hannes' parents grate fresh nutmeg onto things like cheesy oniony broccoli, so we did that, too.
At another gathering and drunkening at Nico and Andreas' place, Hannes' mom asked for a cute picture of me and him, so this is what he sent:
Aren't they adorable?! Isn't it so funny and perfect how they're the same size and build?!
But then we got serious about sending her a nice picture
Okay, Andrea finally took this one and put the text over it.
Holy cheese and veggies Batman, another gratin!
A colourful stir fry, off the port bow!
Avast! Lentil and chickpea soup I made from scratch, with quark on top!
Aye, the quark be an unneccessary addition to the baked camembert.
The digestive tract, she be a cruel mistress.
Oh but wait: I made a cute dessert that consisted of even more dairy!
It's white chocolate and key lime (I think?) Dr. Oetker mousse mixes with meringues on top.
Hearty potato, broccoli, and cheese cakes
With lettuce, tomatoes...
And three kinds of cheese. And more marinated olives. And these amazing vegetarian patty things you bake. And a mustardy spread. And an amazing, fruitier spread. And wine.
Aww, the company was better than all of that stuff, though.
One afternoon, we took a short walk down the the waterfront (as in, the part that cuts through the center of the city, not the actual sea coast).
The Charlie Hebdo massacre happened while we were there, but we couldn't for the life of us figure out why the hell this big weird Christian propaganda ark that makes its rounds of the ports in Germany decided to make a statement about it.
General anti-Muslim sentiments, I guess.
Interestingly, even though he grew up in this place, Hannes knows absolutely nothing about fishing or sailing.
We stopped at "The Old Fritz", a famous brewery restaurant at the docks adjacent to the centre of town, and I tried some of their amazing brown bread and herbed butter even though I really shouldn't have. As usual, it was worth it.
There was also a popular chocolatier right there with really weird truffle flavours; this one in the foreground is garlic something.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a real salad in Seoul?
I was all over these luxury items.
Oh, and we had that amazing salad with creamy potato soup, of course.
Homemade green curry with jasmine rice!
On our way to visit Hannes' parents on the outskirts of town
These spiky star decorations were everywhere
The view from their balcony
Look how nice their place is!
This was from the first time we met.
They plied me with drink and busted out the photo albums.
It's so weird and interesting to hear about what life was like in the GDR.
It's hard to reconcile with the image I have of the present, where middle-class Germans are for the most part financially stable enough to have no debt and to be able to travel abroad regularly.
Hannes' dad has issues with smiling for photos, but he's such a nice guy.
Amazing Indian-Middle Eastern fusion restaurant, also in the über-hipster university area.
The waiter had a big pile of dreds on his head and a bunch of tattoos and piercings (all of those seem quite common in Germany), so he was a fairly imposing figure with a serious expression, but as he set our food down, he went, "Om nom nom nom nom!"
The first Kinder Surprise of my life!
I brought up the somewhat played-out but obligatory topic of how chocolate eggs with toys inside were deemed unsafe in America, while surrounding children with guns has been deemed
more lucrative safer, more than once.
Hannes' mom did this crazy thing where she rented out an event hall and planned a gigantic freaking party to welcome him home.
The thing about Hannes' people is that a large core group of them have been friends since childhood, which they all readily acknowledge is very unusual and rare. So there are all these crazy stories about who's been in a relationship with who and how everyone's totally cool about it for some reason, and all the parents hang out and know each other as well.
I was already very overwhelmed by these unrealistically nice people welcoming me into the warm, lovely, delicious fold of their extended family, so this event was a bit too much for me. For most of the night I talked to Hannes' friend Lars and this poor sad girl who was super devastated about messing up her long-term relationship.
This is the view from the front of the building; it's on the same side of the river as Nico and Andrea's house, while the center of the city is on the other.
We stayed until, I don't know, like 5 in the morning? I felt super guilty knowing that a bunch of people who weren't us were going to be waking up again in a few hours to clean up the building. Like I said, this whole thing was nice but just way too much.
At the end of the night Hannes' dad, Nico and I were sitting together and attempting to talk. When Hannes' dad insisted on getting me another drink I was like, "Ahh, okay, fine, another gin tonic please", and he came back with literally just a glass of gin. When I was like "Ohh, yep, that's just gin" he got the most serious, scary look on his face, like "Wtf did you just say about the drink I made?" and it was hilarious. I made Nico have some and he was like "Mm, yep, that's just gin".
We're both clearly quite drunk here, but only one of us is clearly quite done lol
This brunch. This. Brunch.
It's more of those amazing baked vegetable patties that are so hearty, leftover potatoes stuck in the oven with some cheese, smoked tofu pan-grilled with soy sauce, scrambled eggs, and this amazing slightly spicy creamy spread on pumpernickel.
100% vegetarisch und glutenfrei.
I know right? Shut the front door!
If you don't dig my dietary restrictions, just check out this beautiful manly breakfast Hannes whipped up for himself late one morning!
Back at mom and dad's place getting #rekt
The extremely late Christmas gift I sent my mom, consisting of a photo album of 2014 that I'd valiantly rushed to finish during my last two weeks in Korea but then given up on for over a month when I failed, plus strawberry vanilla jam and strawberry cream liqueur from you-know-where, the candles I made you-also-know-where, and these effing glorious butter waffle cookies with caramel in the middle that the whole world needs to know about: you put them on top of your piping hot coffee like a hat, then eat them after a minute, when the caramel is melty. I only had a couple of bites all said and done, but oh. Man.
"Am I doing it right?"
These little shots of cherry stuff are tasty. We did so much drinking standing around in Andrea's kitchen with their big black dog at our feet.
Kartoffeln mit quark, a German standby. You just boil the potatoes whole and peel them at the table, then eat them with this quark (German sour cream stuff), which has onions and herbs mixed in. Oh, and then you put over-9000-calorie linseed oil on top.
I was totally dying without my camera when we went over to Hannes' grandma's apartment, which is the same one his dad grew up in. Well, I mean, kind of. For some reason they decided to switch apartments with someone just down the very small hall when the wall came down, but it was basically exactly the same.
She has all kinds of wonderful, vintage things, as grandmas do, and I wanted to take pictures of everything from the very detailed cookies to the label on the sweet berry liquor she'd put out and the tiny glasses she served it in. We had just a little trouble communicating because Hannes isn't the chatty type (I fired him as my interpreter on, like, day one) and doesn't translate everything being said, but we had a lovely time.
A little tea party at Hannes' parents' place, with grandma, her boyfriend, and an elderly friend who's way too adorable named Irmela. I had to get a picture of these decadent cakes.
Like I said, these faces, when you see them later..
But really, look at this, it's uncanny:
I also want to believe that these are the only drunken duck faces I've done since college, but.. I may be wrong.
This was the last party we went to at Nico and Andrea's before leaving for Berlin; it was themed, and was supposed to be a (heavily 80's-inspired) "terrible taste party". I got the brilliant idea to get T-shirts and fabric paint for Hannes and myself so I could make white and gold vs. blue and black "dresses" (do you remember that stupid photo?!) for us, but we totally didn't have time. Damn!
I spent long enough working on this little project that people started coming up to check on me. It was a wedding gift Nico and Andrea were planning for another couple of friends, Mandy and Stephan.
Each person made their own personalised piece, and then Nico cut the whole thing out like a puzzle, replacing the pieces close to each other but not touching on a separate piece as a wall hanging. It's like the kind of thing you see on Pinterest but that no one ever actually does. That's how thoughtful these people are!
Anyway, I started strong with some high-quality clouds, but then just felt like of lost and happy and sad all at once about leaving for Japan, and that's why I spent so long on this and ended up biffing some orange flowers pretty hard before turning them into a heavily stylised message. Why didn't I just put the silhouette of a couple holding hands on the horizon?! Ugh. Maybe they'll let me repaint it one day lol.
This selfie came out so nice.
This was one of the last times Hannes' parents came over before we left, and whenever they did, they spoiled us with wine, cheeses, and pastries. If you've never tried a Dutch cheese called Beemster, you need to get on that shit right now.
And because I'd refused to let her take me shopping for two months, Hannes' mom gave me a book about their city in English that I put a bunch of notes in and sent to my mom with her other gifts, and a pencil pouch with hair accessories, lip balms, a "Good Luck" charm and seashells from Warnemunde (I can't figure out Alt key codes on my new Japanese laptop) in it.
All I can say is thank you, and we'll be back.