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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Annual Trip to the German Bakery

As much as I have integrated into German culture, there is one custom I do not regularly taken part in: buying bread from the bakery.

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

Bakeries are a big part of traditional German culture, and I remember being shocked with how many bakeries there are (and how popular they are) when I first came to Germany in 2011. Unfortunately, I am not a big bread-eater, and heaven knows that I do not need more sweets and pastries in my life. So, I avoid bakeries. In fact, I have probably only bought something from a bakery about 10 times during my 3 years in Germany. That's nothing considering most Germans seem to go at least once per week.

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

However, there is one specific item that draws me to the bakery each November: Kürbisstuten.

For my American palate, pumpkin-flavored food items are seriously lacking in Germany. So, I was seriously excited when I found this delicious pumpkin bread 2 years ago, which I bought for Thanksgiving dinner. Just to clarify, this bread is not sweet like most American pumpkin breads probably would be. However, it does still have a slight sweetness, somewhat like cornbread. It is simply a delicious, moist bread with small pieces of pureed pumpkin throughout.

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

Quick side story: Marco never heard of Kürbisstuten before I randomly bought it from the bakery 2 years ago. So, when picking one up the other day, he asked the baker for a "Kürbisstute," assuming that Kürbisstuten was the plural form. It isn't. Turns out, a Stuten is a type of sweet yeast bread (Kürbis means pumpkin). A Stute, on the other hand, is a mare (female horse).

Kürbisstuten: German pumpkin bread

To eat it, I like to cut off thick slices, toast it until lightly browned in the toaster, and spread on lots of butter. The bread goes especially well with chili, in my opinion, which is also one of my favorite meals during Autumn. Mmmm...

What is your favorite German bakery item?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

German Apprenticeships (and why the USA needs them too)

Did you know that student loan debt is the second largest source of debt for Americans (mortgages are the #1)? Excuse my German, aber das ist für'n Arsch.

Apprenticeships in Germany

I have student loans. In fact, I graduated with the average amount of student loan debt for someone with a Bachelor's degree: $30,000. Luckily, this number is not increasing since college education is free in Germany. However, it is still waiting for me when I graduate and cannot keep it under deferral any longer.

But what choice do Americans have? Due to the recent trend of "up-credentialing," jobs that traditionally required only a high school education (e.g. secretary/administrative assistant) are now only accepting college graduates. But hell, who blames them? You may as well take advantage of all the unemployed graduates willing to work $12/hour in order to keep up with the minimum payments on their student loan.

Upcredentialing jobs 2

But why hasn't this problem manifested itself in German culture?

Public universities in Germany are free, yes. However, only about 25% of Germans in the same age group go to university. Compare this with 66% in the U.S. The American job market may be over-saturated with college graduates, but what other choice did those graduates have? Of those that don't go to college, only 50% are able to find a job within a year.

In Germany, there are 342 trades that offer an apprenticeship, and about two-thirds of young people choose to enter into an apprenticeship after high school (i.e. Hauptschule/Realschule/Gymnasium). 

This means that if you want to be a banker, you do an apprenticeship in a bank. You do not waste tens of thousands of dollars to get a Bachelor's degree in finance. If you want to work in radio, you do an apprenticeship with a radio station. You don't waste your time and money on a Bachelor's in communication.

Nevertheless, apprenticeships do consist of both practical and theoretical training. This usually means that apprentices spend 50% of their time training for their desired job at a specific business and 50% of their time taking relevant classes at a vocational school. 

Of course, it is an investment for a company to offer an apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive a small wage as they train for the job and take classes. These wages are paid by the business where the apprentice is working, making many apprenticeships very competitive. 

Unfortunately, U.S. companies are not in the business of trickling down profits to employees. Even the most profitable companies often have interns working for free. So, I think it is pretty unlikely that American companies will be willing to invest in young people by offering paid apprenticeships.

Currently, apprenticeships in the U.S. only really exist for a small number of trades such as construction, plumbing, and electric - just check out the U.S. Department of Labor's website, where you can also find this great quote:

American apprenticeships

Sometimes I wonder if I would still go to college if I could do it all over again. Although I am almost done with my Master's degree, I am not exactly a passionate academic. During my Bachelor's (which I was not always pleased with), I often thought that if I were a man, I would have just done an apprenticeship in construction. So, maybe if I had grown up in Germany, I would have done an apprenticeship at a bank, doctor's office, media company, anything.  Then again, maybe not, but I would have at least liked to have the option.

Until something changes in the U.S., I guess we will just have to wait for the day when the Baby Boomer generation dies out, my generation (i.e. the new "middle class") cannot afford homes, and student loan debt overtakes mortgages for the #1 spot.

Do you think an apprenticeship system is lacking in the U.S.? Am I being too pessimistic?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Oh, the Difference One Letter Makes

I dressed up for Halloween this past weekend for the first time in at least 4 years. I was Little Red Riding Hood, and Marco was my wolf. Since Germans stick to scary costumes (luckily the "sexy" costume trend has not made it over here yet), I used liquid latex and fake blood to make scratches along the side of my face.

We had to travel by train and subway to get to the Halloween party, and Marco had not yet put in his fangs and contacts. So, our friends kept commenting on how "cute" he looked, which is not what he was going for.

"Watch out," he said, "I'm a wolf with rapies!"

Yikes. Not sure what rapies are, but let's hope you don't have that! (Obviously he meant rabies.)

Oh, the difference one letter makes...

Since the party started early, we brought some Halloween snacks along too. I made spider cupcakes and jello [vodka] worms (complete with Oreo dirt and served in a flower pot). I was pretty proud of them (even though my spiders were missing 2 legs each).

Spider Cupcakes

Jello shot worms

The next language mistake of the night came a few hours into the party, when I was striking up a conversation with a guy that I had never met before, but who also goes to my university.

The details are fuzzy, but I wanted to ask him if he "had friends [somewhere or something]."

Unfortunately, my question started with the words, "Hast du Freunden..."

Before I could finish me was giving me a weird look and telling me, "Ja... ich habe eine Freundin."

Oh no. Oh no no no. I made the word friend (Freund) plural by adding an "en" instead of just an "e." So when I meant to say "friends," he heard "girlfriend." He thinks I asked him if he has a girlfriend, and now he is trying to end this conversation as quickly as possible.

Oh the difference one letter makes...

How was your Halloween this year?
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