A Travellerspoint blog

French Down, German to Go!

I may be getting the hang of the French thing, but there is no denying the fact that I would not fare well on my own in Germany...

rain 10 °C

Ooof ! Brace yourselves – this is gonna be a long one! I apologize that it has been so long since my last post, but I’ve been really busy over the past two weeks searching desperately for something exciting enough to write about…

Starting back where my last post left off – the week after Fall Break, we had our first serious presentations in my oral expression class. I worked in a group with Nicolle (my American friend) and Jie, a friend from China who is in a few of my classes, and, as per the assignment, we researched the developing issue of environmental refugees and the problems that this poses for urban housing in the future. It was a fairly long presentation – about ten minutes – and it went really well. We had minimal critiques on vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, and the Q & A section was a really good exchange! So of course this merited a celebration – we decided to go out for dinner together the next night.

After checking out some online sources, we decided on a place called “La Petite Adresse”, which was reported to be a charming little place specializing in Franc-Comtois cuisine. Multiple reviews made it clear that reservations are crucial, so Nicolle and I figured we’d drop by earlier in the day to see if we could still get a table for that night. We walked in to find a TINY little place with six tables, the largest of which sat four. It was super charming (and smelled absolutely incredible). Nicolle asked the man behind the teeny bar (I think he was the maître d’, owner, and chef) if we could make a reservation, and he said (we remain relatively certain that this is a faithful translation) : “No reservations, I only do ‘première-deuxième service’.” We were a little surprised, but we thanked him and left. In the street, we turned to each other and asked at the same time, “What’s ‘première-deuxième service’?!” We tried to look it up, but couldn’t find anything. So that afternoon I asked a French friend if he could shed some light. He explained to me that, in tiny restaurants like this, it is not uncommon for the meals to be scheduled into time slots (“services”) that allow for the entire clientele to turn over at the same time once or twice in a night.

Having seen (and smelled) this place, we wanted to eat there more than ever, so we decided to show up right when the doors opened in the chance that perhaps there would be an opening or cancellation or something. We got to the door and the same man was standing just inside. He looked at us and said, “Do you have a reservation? If you don’t have a reservation, you can’t eat here.” When he saw how completely confused we were at this point, he became a little friendlier and recommended another restaurant nearby. In the days following, we spent a good deal of time revisiting these two exchanges and trying to figure out what might have happened, and all that we can figure is that, on our first trip, he thought that we wanted a table right then, for lunch. (We were there at the end of the lunch hour…) But all of this has only increased our resolve to one day eat at “La Petite Adresse”!

So we went off in search of another restaurant (the one that the man had recommended didn’t sound quite like what we were looking for). We settled on another larger café in the centre-ville. My heart having been set on some Franc-Comtoisienne (that’s probably not a real word…) cuisine, I ordered the creatively named “Assiette Franc-Comtoise” (Franc-Comtois Plate), which consisted of a really good sausage made exclusively in a town near Besançon, cancoillote (one of the region’s cheeses), some yummy roasted potatoes, and a salad. For dessert, I ordered a baked apple with ice cream (it was an incredibly difficult decision!), which was melt-in-your-mouth perfectly fruity and cinnamony. And we had a lovely evening – it was a 3+ hour dinner. We laughed incredibly hard and exchanged some interesting cultural differences – mostly pop culture. The best exchange was Nicolle’s noble attempt to recount the story of The Wizard of Oz to Jie. Of course, I always knew how ridiculously bizarre the story is, but listening to it be told to someone who didn’t already know the story, it took on an all new trippiness!

Last week, I also attended my first karaoke party; it was organized by the international group and held downtown at the University bar. It was really fun, because after a few songs, it degenerated to the whole room standing in front of the screen projecting the lyrics and singing along as a group. There were French songs (some of which I knew, most of which I didn’t), but also Romanian, Spanish, Italian, and, of course, lots of English. In addition to multiple ABBA songs, our ears were also graced by “Candy Shop” and “…Baby One More Time”…

Over the weekend, a classmate invited everybody to his house for a French movie night and dinner. Nicolle and I decided to experiment with a German half-prepared cake thing that is available at our neighborhood supermarket. It’s basically a store-bought spongecake shell that you fill with a homemade cream and top with fruit. It is not really a good time of year for cakeworthy fruit here, so Nicolle found some canned cherries, and we figured we’d just make an American cherry pie filling and dump that on top. We decided to taste the berries first, in order to gauge how much sugar would be needed, and we discovered that the pits were still in… So we spent the next (at least) half an hour standing in her room cutting out cherry pits. And the cream recipe was really interesting – boil some milk and a split vanilla pod, then add in two egg yolks and a bit of sugar and cornstarch (and take out the pod) and whisk for ever and ever, then you end up with a not too sweet, not too rich, but still substantial vanilla cream spread!

At our classmate’s house, we deepened our French cinema culture by watching an old classic comedy starring one of France’s most iconic film comedians, Louis de Funès. The film, Le Grand Vadrouille (The Big Runaround), was hilarious. If you enjoy ridiculous situational and political humor, I highly recommend it! There is also a fair amount of English, as well as made up German (it is the story of a group of British paratroopers who land in Nazi-occupied Paris, and their attempts to regroup and escape).

Recently, I (sort of) hit a language milestone that a lot of bilingual people I know reference as the first sign of their success in their second language – the foreign-language dream. I say “sort of” because it went down like this: in the dream, I was hanging out with some actual friends of mine (not all of them are French, but I always speak to them in French, because it is our common language). I was telling them a story, and in the middle, I realized that I was speaking English. So then I switched to French and then the rest of the dream – as far as I can remember – was in French. I don’t count this as a “French dream” because it was pretty much just me speaking, and I have no idea if it was correct! I didn’t actively comprehend events that were happening in French – but I feel like it is definitely a step in the right direction!

Yesterday was Armistice Day here in France, so we didn’t have class. The CLA organized a day-trip to Freiburg, Germany, one of the closest German cities to Besançon. It was about a two and a half hour bus ride, and we were able to spend most of the day there. The first thing that we did was take a guided tour of the city, which is absolutely charming. We spent the whole time in the city center, which is almost entirely closed off from car traffic. The sidewalks are paved with little dark gray stones from the Rhine and each of the stores has a little mosaic of white stones of a symbol that represents the business. All of the streets have little canals that run along the sidewalks, bringing fresh water down from the mountains. Because yeah – we were RIGHT on the edge of the Black Forest – when we got there in the morning, there was a heavy mist over the mountains right next to us. I figured it would dissipate over the course of the day, but it was still there when we left in the late afternoon.


During the tour, we learned a bit about the town’s history (established in the 12th century, it is one of the oldest “university towns” in Germany, and has a more recent reputation as the first “green city” – the city center has been car-free since the sixties). We also got a cursory look at most of the downtown area.


One of the most notable sites in Freiburg is the Cathedral, which, unlike most churches, remained virtually unscathed through WWII. According to our tour guide, as the conflict approached the town, the citizens removed the stained glass windows and some of the sculptures, and hid them in a safe place for the remainder of the war. So it is one of the few major churches in Germany to have all of its original stained glass. Also, the main entrance has a really incredible wooden sculptural program that is remains in great condition because it is set inside the steeple under a porch. There was also a little market in the church square while we were there.


After the tour, we were turned loose to explore for about four hours. Nicolle and I wandered around the streets we saw on the tour, and also found a few new ones. One thing that I am finding really strange right now is the fact that Christmas is already everywhere. For me, November is pretty much just an anticipation of Thanksgiving and a boycott of the stores that jump into Christmas too early. I’m one of those people who won’t listen to Christmas music voluntarily until December 1st. I adore the Christmas season; I just don’t like how it seems to start earlier and earlier every year. But here, there is no Thanksgiving to stave off Christmas! So most stores already have their holiday windows up. Nicolle and I found a few cool little shops – a papercrafts store, a super designery wood shop, and a tea store, where I bought some looseleaf “Winterpunsch” – I haven’t gotten to try it yet, but it smells great in a cinnamony gingery apply wintery way. I don’t know how German people buy their tea, but I got the feeling that I weirded some people out by my habit of smelling a bunch of different pouches… But I was pretty happy with the fact that I managed a business transaction in a language of which I know less than twenty words!


That was one thing that was pretty surreal – it was a bit of a culture shock to be in France for the first few days, even though I spoke enough of the language to get by. But it was really bizarre to walk down the street and not understand a single overheard word or even remember how to say “excuse me” when I got in someone’s way. Fortunately, because France is so close, there were a lot of French tourists and I think that a lot of the citizens have a pretty decent knowledge of French.

Finally, because 1) it was pretty cold, 2) we are hardcore foodlovers, and 3) we were in Germany, we decided that it was necessary to go to a restaurant and eat some soup. The first café we found was serving Kartuffel-suppe (potato soup) for the day, so we headed inside. Luckily, Nicolle has a pretty decent basic understanding of German (her grandparents immigrated to the US from Germany and she had already been to Germany to visit family) so she got to order for both of us. And I very awkwardly contributed a bit of French with the occasional instinctual “oui” and “merci”. After our wonderful soups, we really wanted some dessert, so Nicolle called her dad to have him translate the dessert menu of the day. But the waiter had already delivered the check along with the soup. So we spent a few minutes brainstorming how to convey, “We’re sorry, Sir, but we would like to order dessert in addition to our meals!” I think what ended up being said was something like, “Pardon, first two cake…” Because we were literally at the foot of the Black Forest, and because I am a devoted fan of the movie Young Frankenstein, I had to go for the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte… (and for those of you who are wondering, yes, I made a “yummy sound”…)


It was a great adventure, and I look forward to more interesting times in places where I don’t speak the language (Italy, the Czech Republic, and Greece are all really high up on my list of places I need to see this year…).

Thanks for continuing to read, and I promise that the next post won’t be two weeks in the making!


Posted by NKammerer 13:54 Archived in France Tagged food restaurant church germany cake soup film freiburg black_forest baking schwarzwälder_kirschtorte

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While you were exploring a gorgeous German city, I discovered there is a third floor to the Durham science building. Not nearly as fascinating, or a feat I will remember for years to come, but still something I have added to my bucket list in order to cross it off. :D

by Eva

I hope that it's as painful for you to say "Schwartzwälder Kirschtorte" as it is for us to try pronouncing all of the cheeses that you're eating.

by Ben

Wow, Eva, that's super cool - but I can't help but wonder how this was a surprise, as there are three clearly visible levels on the exterior...
And Ben, yes, it was a bit of a challenge. I know that you find the French language ridiculous, but I find it way easier to only pronounce half of the letters in a word than to be obliged to pronounce every single one of it's 14 letters, less than 25 percent of which are vowels.

by NKammerer

Hey Eva and Nat,
My weekly adventure is that I maybe found the leak in our roof and Uncle Gary came over and maybe fixed it. And maybe it will be dryer in our house when it rains.

I am living the dream.


by Opa

As usual, your writing has transported me to another place. The pictures of the church are so beautiful, and I love the cobblestone streets. Deanne, Aunt Mandy's friend, loves Black Forest cake - she is going to be so jealous when I tell her you ate it while being able to look at the actual Black Forest!

It sounds like you've made a great group of friends to hang out with and share your adventures.

Sounds like your first presentation went well. I would be so intimidated to speak in front of a group I don't know well and to do it speaking a foreign language is way beyond anything I would attempt! You're awesome!


by Judy Trout

What exciting lives we lead here in Omaha! Yes Natalie, logically a building that is three stories on the outside would also be three stories on the inside (as it appears to be in this case also). However, since the main staircase does not go all the way up, I assumed that was it. Now that I'm aware of this extra floor, I have also noticed three obviously labeled staircases...

by Eva

I hope you know how much fun I have reading of all your adventures!! Love the pictures they are beautiful!! You do need to send more of yourself though! You look so happy! I have finally figured out the best time to read your blog was after lunch - I'm a goner if I visit before because you never fail to make me ravenous with your food experiences and descriptions!
Love you honey and thanks for the update!!

by Chris Wulff

Ben and I would rather pronounce the letters as written than to skip over half of them and utter a grunt or nasal snort instead. I sent you a little Sioux City treat for your enjoyment.
Love, Pa

by Pa

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