Living with Huns

Roughly two months ago I returned to Trier. Or rather, an underwhelming suburb of Trier 10-15 minutes by train away from the city centre. Originally it was my plan to stay for two weeks before going to Karlsruhe to seek my fortune. Or at least gainful employment which would be a fortune for tax collectors. Trier, despite its aesthetic virtues is economically stagnant. It is possible, of course, to get by without too much difficulty here but it can hardly compete with Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt-am-Main or even the neighbouring mini-powerhouse, Luxembourg much less London or Hong Kong for economic vibrancy and potential for advancement.

One of the first things I learnt after returning to Germany was that my university education would not be accepted without the proper bureau accrediting all transcripts. Furry ‘nuff, a bloody nuisance but I could manage and proceeded to order all relevant transcripts from the US. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned into over a month and yet no transcripts arrived. Bugger. Being largely blocked from taking any sort of position, much less seek gainful employment, my despondence grew and my mood became somewhat less warm and jovial than Gordon Brown at an Austrian Economics Convention. In a desperate attempt to at least keep some semblance of momentum I paid an additional US$26.00 to have all three transcripts printed and posted again. This time, they all came. On Wednesday I brought them to what I thought was the correct bureau, the Aufsichts- und Dienstleistungsdirektion Rheinland-Pfalz. The official assigned to accrediting US transcripts was fortunately free and even more fortunately a pleasant, affable lady who was more than willing to explain all technical details.

As it turns out, that was not the correct bureau. I had to go there first, of course, but it was still not the correct bureau. The correct bureau is in Bonn. A legacy of being the capital of the former West Germany, Bonn maintains many government offices and is the home of many federal bureaux. She could, however, provide me with the necessary accreditation to allow me to seek employment. She deemed my transcripts to be sufficient to at least have the equivalent of an Abitur, A Levels for those of a more Britannic persuasion. Naturally this came with a fee of €60 payable in the blood of my first born.

To be fair, at this point I had already largely given up living with the Huns. It is of course pretty enough here and Germany is far more civilised in most respects than the USA. In most respects because there are certain things that Germans have not yet fully grasped. Among them is the concept of having measuring cups and measuring spoons. Last weekend I wanted to bake a spiced date, fig and nut cake. After gathering all the ingredients I needed I proceeded to search for the last implements required to ensure that all ingredients would be correctly measured. I went to my favourite market, Rewe. A nice young man who just started working there tried to help but could not find anything. Again, fair enough. Rewe is a market, not a store specialising in cooking implements even if they have an otherwise adequate selection of kitchen implements.

The following day I took the train to Trier to try my luck at various stores there. My first stop was Galleria Kaufhof, a middle-class department store specialising in higher-end goods. They also have a wide selection of kitchen goods. Although somewhat dear, they’re all very high quality. After spending half an hour searching one of their employees asked if I needed assistance. “Yes, I am searching for measuring spoons”. “Measuring spoons? What is that”? “Oh, spoons one uses to measure small levels of herbs, spices and other related things for cooking”. “Oh, we don’t have that. But we do have measuring spoons for tea and coffee. Would that be adequate? We also have a wide-selection of ice cream spoons”. “Oh, no thank you. That wouldn’t do. But thank you for your assistance”. I continued through Trier and went to Müller. While not Harrods, Müller specialises in selling products of tolerable quality for marginally lower prices. They had at least 20 varieties of measuring spoons for coffee and an additional 40 varieties of ice cream spoons, but nothing relevant.

Growing somewhat desperate, I went to a nameless discount shop likely run by members of the friendly local Turkish and Bulgarian Mafias. After finding an addition 50 varieties of ice cream spoons and 15 more options in measuring spoons for coffee, I gave up and accepted the necessity of visiting Woolworth. At least, as a nominally Septic company, it might have something resembling what I needed. Alas, that also ended in failure. Despite having an additional 75 types of ice cream spoons and another 12 or 13 options for spoons to measure coffee, they did not have any measuring spoons.

At this point I was desperate. Truly, truly desperate. I trudged across Trier again and went to Kaufland. Kaufland is in many respects Germany’s answer to the bastard love child of Asda and Tesco. Still, the Trier store is large and might, just, have what I needed. Surreptitiously, I snuck in through a side door hoping that no one would see me. Just in case the oiks oozing through the store caught sight of me I was well-prepared with a small bar of soap and was quietly singing ABBA classics underneath my breath in preparation for destroying my enemies should they attack. Despite my best efforts, this visit to the dark underbelly of German society was again fruitless – although they had over a hundred varieties of ice cream spoons and even more measuring spoons for coffee.

I despondence, I walked further north and visited the Thai grocer’s. Still nothing. Not a thing. Although I did break down and buy shrimp dumplings and a Vietnamese coffee maker with a tin of Longevity brand condensed milk.   Frustrated, although less despondent, I returned to my underwhelming suburb and proceeded to bake the bloody cake without the benefit of accurate measurements. No one died as a result and the cake barely lasted 12 hours, so one could argue that it wasn’t an utter failure. That evening I searched on and found a set of stainless steel measuring spoons with a 90pc rating for under €4 including postage and packing.

Since then, my life has grown less frustrating. My contract as a reader for a linguistics and German-language professor in California was renewed and I have been plugging away marking papers online. Because of the workload, she chose to only hire me to ensure that I would not have to call in favours from relatives tied to the criminal underworld to make certain that my malicious slanderers, um, I mean, vicious rivals, um, I mean, fellow assistants wouldn’t compete too much for the limited funds available. Underemployed, to be sure, but at least I have a job. After some discussion, I’ve decided to study for certification as an English as a Second Language instructor and bugger off to Taiwan next year to work and take intensive Mandarin lessons to allow me to more effectively abuse my Chinese-type mates.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

20 thoughts on “Living with Huns”

  1. I’m not sure congratulations are in order, Christopher, but I will offer them anyway. Now, somewhat downhearted, for your sake, I really want to eat lots of comforting ice-cream without measuring it.

    Good blog though. 🙂

  2. Janus: I’m fairly sure there are more than enough videos of train wrecks on the internet…

    Minty: Te he he. I will take the compliment and run with it shamelessly — like a starved mutt with a lamb roast.

  3. Not really surprised that Germany has not worked out. I always got the impression from your travelogues that you were happiest in the Far East. But the silver lining to Trier is that at least you went there and found out for yourself! Much better to move on before too many roots are planted so to speak!
    Maybe you are like the boy, happiest moving from place to place, wherever you hang your hat currently being home! If so take a job with one of these world organisations and you can hither and thither to your hearts content. My personal idea of hell, but each to his own eh? (Think of the thought of leaving all those damned gardens!)
    Super interesting as usual, thanks.

  4. CO: my intention was to work in Germany for a few years for career building before heading off to Australia or New Zealand if possible. I have the fortune of being able to do this without too great an investment — my grandparents allow me to stay in one of their many spare bedrooms and I have my own kitchen. The only real expenses I have are my internet connexion, a disposable mobile phone and my monthly train pass.

    I will stay here for about a year — best to make it with the expense, see a few things in Europe and wait for better positions to open up again in Taiwan.

  5. There was a UK TV consumer programme called That’s Life! Your entertaining story reminded me of it. I can imagine the various presenters using different voices saying “we’ve got no measuring spoons!” I am glad you went ahead and used your own judgement when doing the measures. Experiments like this sometimes can be for the good of mankind. You may have pioneered a trier cake. (No pun intended).

    Great read, as ever.

  6. Christopher, I don’t know your history, but found your blog interesting and humorous.
    I lived ten years in Germany (Berlin and Munich) soon after the wall came down. The German ‘Ämter’ can be very hard work.
    Good luck in whatever direction you take.

  7. There is a set of measuring spoons in the first drawer under the hob in the upstairs kitchen which I never use. You should have asked. 😀

    And I thought Portuguese bureaucracy was sufficiently impenetrable and expensive.

    Boa sorte!


  8. Backside is more of a ‘flair’ chef. Bit of this, that and the other and hey presto! On average as successful as the tech chefs! 🙂

  9. It was the same with my dear old Gran who cooked everything from experience – a cup of this, a pinch of that and, most scarily, “some egg”. It took me years to replicate her most excellent recipe for potato cakes and I still haven’t got it quite right. 😦


  10. Ozinho: my sojourn came after my return from Portugal.
    Much to the chagrin of all who hear me say it, Germany is only surviving as well as it is because
    much of Europe is caught in perpetual chaos.l If Germany had to compete with the likes of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the USA with a normal currency it would be an economic basket case. Germany’s labour regulations make France look like Texas.

    Janus: te he he.

    Gazoopi: German bureaucracy is marvel to behold. It combines all the worst elements of Byzantine complexity with an almost Heathrowesque disregard for reality and humanity. In the past few years the old officials, many with years of experience, have gone into retirement and have been replaced with contract workers without a university education or even much life experience. Mostly in their late teens and early twenties, they have all the ego of the old career bureaucrats without any sense of responsibility or ability.

    Bilby: if you want a spoon, please let me know! I can get you glass, plastic, metal, wood or silicone! I can even get you enamelled spoons or spoons made of silver with rare wood handles!

  11. Christopher, rule of thumb for equivalency in cooking by volume.

    ! US cup = 8 fl oz.= 250 ml

    Just acquire a small jug from your grandmother marked with a 250 ml line!

    I have to admit I rarely bother with recipes. I am a great strewer of herbs and lobber of extra eggs in the medieval manner.

  12. PS By the way, there is no need to measure to that exactitude mainly because there is such a difference in flour between Europe and the US. The difference is the gluten content of the wheat, this obviously affects pliability fro bread making which is well known but also how much liquid can be absorbed. Making cake batters etc need watching, you will need less or more liquid accordingly, never lob in the whole requirement at once, add incrementally to the correct texture. Find a good quality flour you like and stick with it, big mistake to keep changing brands because its a few pennies cheaper.

  13. Tina: for larger measures that is fine, but not for very small measures.
    For example, when making spiced tea I want to be as precise as possible with
    the amount of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.

  14. Well I guess you have ordered the spoons? If not a pharmacy will have 5ml plastic spoons for medicine which is the standard size of all teaspoons everywhere. As long as you use the same spoon all the time one soon becomes adept at judging 1/2 or a 1/3 etc.

  15. CO: I ordered the spoons the day after my fruitless search through Konz and Trier. I mentioned this to my grandmother. She said that measuring spoons and measuring cups are just not used in Germany.

    I am planning my next instalment of Living With Huns: “Trains and Buttered Brötchen”。

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