Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mariya's Going Away Party

I don't know what the heck is going on but it seems like everyone is leaving Brno this year.  First Sabine, then Steluţa, and now Mariya.  Not to mention that John & Katie leave in a few days too.  I guess this is just par for the course when you hang out with a bunch of expats.  Sooner or later people either go home or move on to the next adventure.  I get it but I don't have to like it.  At this rate, pretty soon it will just be me and a bunch of Czechs.

Well tonight was Mariya's going way party.  She has decided that the time is right to move back to Ukraine.  With everything going on there she feels that she should be back home working to improve things there.  Very commendable but we will all still miss her a lot.  Of course, now we all have an excuse to go visit Ukraine.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Becherovka

Beckerovka is a Czech liquor that is produced in Karlovy Vary, in western Bohemia.  It is often used as a digestive aid so some people consider it more medicine than spirit.

It is made with anise seed, cinnamon and 32 other herbs.  There are only two people in the world who know the correct ingredients.

Becherovka does make for a nice apéritif or digestif.  It is 76% alcohol and it is normally served neat or on the rocks.  It's better cold and I know a few people who prefer to keep a bottle in the freezer.  A common cocktail is a beton (BEcherovka + TONic water).  Beton is also the Czech word for "concrete" which is what your head may feel like the morning after having one too many.

Claudia's mom likes the lemon-flavored Becherovka so I normally take her a bottle when I visit them in Berlin.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

First Euroland Wedding

Yesterday was my first wedding here in Euroland.  Not mine, but rather the first wedding I've been invited to.  Actually the first of three weddings I'm going to this summer.  I guess after three years, I'm starting to fit in over here or something.  The wedding was beautiful and it was interesting to see all of the little cultural differences between a European wedding and an American wedding.

Alexandra is from Romania and Ondřej is Moravian (Czech) so things were somewhat blended.  But from what I gather many of the wedding traditions are pretty similar.  The ceremony was at a hillside chapel in Rudice, about an hour from Brno and since the ceremony was at noon, I had to be ready for my ride around 10:30 AM.

The ceremony was in Czech.  I didn't understand everything but I was more or less able to follow along.  There weren't any bridesmaids and groomsmen.  Just two witnesses which stood by the couple as they made their vows.  As part of the ceremony, the bride, groom and witnesses all had to sign the registry to make everything legal.

After the ceremony was finished, we all exited the chapel and congratulated the newlyweds.  While they took pictures for about an hour the two moms went around giving everyone sweets.  The fathers went around giving everyone shots of slivovice and pálinka (Romanian slivovice).

The wedding lunch took place at a Golf course in Kuřim.  All of the wedding speeches were in Czech, Romanian and English.  The couple were presented with two glasses.  One was water and one was slivovice.  Alexandra seemed quite relived to have chosen the water.  A plate was then broken on the ground and the two of them had to work together to sweep up the pieces with a brush and dustpan.  I think that they are supposed to have as many happy years as there were pieces of broken plate.  Or something to that effect.

During the first course, the newlyweds were wrapped in a sheet, like a giant bib and had to feed each other soup.  The object is that the couple will have to communicate and work together.  Of course the kicker here was that the soup spoon had a big hole in it so this took a while.

The party lasted well in to the evening and there was lots of dancing.  There was also lots of drinking.  And the ongoing debate about which is better slivovice or pálinka.  Not to mention the differences between Moravian wine and Romanian wine.  My diplomatic answer was that I preferred pálinka with Moravian wine but slivovice with Romanian wine.  Pretty noncommittal but it seemed to appease people. 

Everything was great!  It was an awesome day and I was so honored to have been invited.  I think that these two have a lot of good times ahead of them.

Here's one thing that was odd for me.  In Europe, people don't register for gifts like we do in the USA.  It would have been so easy to just go to a store, find out what they registered for, make my selection and the item would have been removed from the list.  Yeah, they don't do that over here.  Not for weddings or baby showers.  Instead, here someone is in charge of a gift list.  This time there were two lists, one for the Czech speakers and one for the Romanian or English speakers.  You call the person who is in charge of the list and he or she tells you want the couple wants.  Maybe it is a bit less personal in the USA but our registries are way more efficient.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wetting Another Baby's Head


Another of my colleagues, Maxim, and his wife recently had their first child.  So again as tradition dictates, daddy had to take people out drinking to "wet the baby's head".


So last night we was quite a bit of drinking in honor of his new daughter, Eva.  Just like last time, there was lots of beer and vodka.  Lucky for me I new that I had an early morning today so I made sure not to celebrate too much. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Vienna Zoo

The Vienna Zoo is located at the Schönbrunn Palace.  It was founded in 1752 and it is the oldest zoo in the world.  Since it is at Schönbrunn, I think that it is also the only zoo that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I do know for sure that Vienna is one of the few zoos in the world to have Giant Pandas.  In Europe, the only zoos which have them are in Vienna, Berlin and Madrid.  Recently, an agreement was reached between Scotland and China so the United Kingdom will be the fourth place in Europe with the prized animals.

When a new panda is born in captivity it has two years to be weaned off of its mother before it must be sent to China's research and breeding center.  In 2010, the male panda, Fu Hu was born in Vienna.  He was conceived through natural mating.  Yesterday was a quick trip to Vienna to see Fu Hu before he leaves for China this year.



Besides, the Giant Pandas, the Vienna Zoo has all of the usual suspects.






You can see monkeys, elephants, penguins, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, plus lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).





But the panda exhibit was the best part of the zoo.




Atlanta also has pandas but in 13 years I never made it once to the Atlanta Zoo.  Maybe I'll check it out in September when I'm back home for a week.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Back to Dresden, Germany


Back in November I went to Dresden, Germany, with Claudia and Norbert.  I said that I wanted to visit it again but when it was warmer.  Well, yesterday was my second visit.

Miran's cousin is visiting from Canada for three months so they came up from Murska Sobota on Friday night.  To tell the truth, I wasn't really that jazzed about this day trip.  The early morning train from Brno to Dresden takes just over five hours to get there.  Plus another five hours home.  That's ten hours on a train, to walk around the city for five or six hours.  That's just a long day.  Fortunately, the weather was good so it made the trip, more or less, worth it.

I saw pretty much everything that I saw the last time I was here.  But again, the weather was better this time so it was easier to just walk around.  Of course no visit to Dresden is complete without seeing the Frauenkirche.

On the outer wall of the castle's stables courtyard is the Fürstenzug - the Procession of Princes.  Originally it was painted from 1871 to 1876, it celebrated the 800th anniversary of Saxony's ruling family.  However, from 1904 to 1907 it was replaced with ~23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles so that it would be weather proof.  It has a length of 102 meters (335 feet) which makes it the world's largest porcelain artwork.

Zwinger is a Baroque complex of gardens and galleries which were built between 1710 - 1732.  Originally, it was built to be the forecourt of a castle.  Today, it is a great place to wander around.  It is also home to several museums.

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Federal Republic of Germany

I've been to Germany many times.  Some of the places I've been to include Karlsruhe, Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Berlin, Stuttgart, Herrenberg, Dresden and Munich.  I'm not worried about running out of destinations because there are lots of other places which are still on my list such as Hamburg, Cologne, Hannover, Dusseldorf, Bonn, Rostock, and Leipzig.  So I might as well give a little information about the Federal Republic of Germany.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII, the country was split in to four zones.  The eastern part of the country was occupied by the Soviets and the western section was occupied by the American, British and French armies.  Berlin, deep inside of East Germany, was also split in to four zones.  The Berlin Wall eventually divided the city in half.  It was a symbol of the Cold War between West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany) and communist East Germany (the German Democratic Republic).

West Germany was about the size of Oregon and developed quickly after the war thanks to American aid.  The country industrialized rapidly, developed a market economy and became a member of the EU and NATO.  East Germany became a staunch ally of the Soviet Union.  East Germans lived under the watchful eye of the Stasi – the secret police.

With the fall of communism in Europe in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and everything opened up.  There was a fast move towards German reunification.  However, countries like France and Poland were nervous about a unified Germany.  You can't really blame them given WWI and WWII.

In 1990, East Germans voted to dissolve their country and join West Germany.  Reunification Day was October 3, 1990.  In 1994, the capital was moved from Bonn back to Berlin.  Today, Germany is a bit smaller than Montana and with 81.8 million people, it has the second-largest population in Europe after Russia.  German is the official language.  Economically, Germany is a rock star.  It is the second-largest exporter and third-largest importer of goods in the world.  With the strongest economy in Europe, it is doing everything it can to help keep the Euro afloat. 

There are still economic differences between the western and eastern parts of the country.  The east tends to be poorer and unemployment is much higher.  The west had to pour a lot of money in to the east in order to revitalize the area after 40 years of socialist central planning.  The east still gets quite a bit of subsidies from the government which does generate some resentment between the Westies and the Osties.


Here's a video I found out on YouTube which talks about how Germany became the strongest economy in Europe.  I'll be honest, the USA could take a few economic lessons from Germany.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rapeseed

With the way that Czech holidays work over here, if a holiday falls on a weekend then you lose it.  So even though I almost at three years here in CZ, yesterday was my first day off for Liberation DayIt's a shame that I seemed to know more about it than some of my Czech friends did.

So with a day off yesterday I took the opportunity to go buy a new suit.  I must be starting to fit in now because I've been invited to three weddings over the next couple of months.  It's still a hassle trying to shop in Euro-sizes but I was overdue for a new suit.

After that I went on a short 8 km (5 miles) hike in Medlánky, which is the district north of Brno.  You can definitely tell that Spring is finally here due to all of the rapeseed around.   

 
The Czech Republic is among the top 10 producers of rapeseed.  It is used to make vegetable oil and diesel fuel.  When taking a train though the country right now you can see field upon field of this bright yellow flower.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Liberation Day

Today is Liberation Day in the Czech Republic which marks the end of WWII in Europe.  The first country that the Nazis took over was their own – Germany.  In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria which became part of the Third Reich.  His next target was Czechoslovakia.  Hitler wanted the ethnic-German border regions of Bohemia and Moravia – the Sudetenland.  This part of the country was responsible for the major portion of Czechoslovakia's coal, energy, power and mountain fortifications.

The UK and France thought that by appeasing Hitler with a few concessions that the bloodshed of WWI would not be repeated.  They were very wrong.  In September 1938, there was a four-power conference in Munich between Germany, Italy, France and the UK.  Czechoslovakia was not invited.  The Munich Agreement is where the West sold out Czechoslovakia.  The result was that Nazi Germany took over the Sudetenland.  Other parts of the country were taken over by Poland and Hungary.

On March 15, 1939, Hitler invaded what was left of Czechoslovakia.  This marked the end of the country and it did not exist again until after the war was over.  What were left of the Czech lands became the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  For the first time in history, Slovakia became its own country, although it was just a Nazi puppet state.

The Czechs were among the first victims of Nazi oppression.  They were also the last people to be liberated.  General Patton's army liberated most of western Bohemia on May 5, 1945.  On May 8, the Germans on the western front surrendered.  Due to the Moscow time difference the German surrender took effect on May 9.  This is why Liberation Day in Western Europe is on May 8th but in Russia and the former east European countries it was celebrated on May 9th.  After the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic moved Liberation Day to May 8th.


Here is part of an old USA documentary, which I found on YouTube, that gives more background.
video

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spalovač mrtvol

A couple of weeks ago, a few of us went to a coffee house to see Spalovač mrtvol.  This has got to be one of the creepiest movies that I've ever seen.  Don't get me wrong...the movie was good.  But creepy.

The English language title is The Cremator.  The movie was released in 1969 and is considered one of the best movies made in Czechoslovakia.  The film has a strong Hitchcock feel to it.

The film takes place in Prague during the 1930s.  Right before the Germans carve up Czechoslovakia and create the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

The lead character is Karl Kopfrkingl and he works at a Prague crematorium.  The man is a freaking whack-a-doo!!  He winds up killing people including his family because his part Jewish wife and their kids will make it difficult for him to advance his career under the Nazis.  

The movie is in black and white.  It was also in Czech with English subtitles.  It was not accepted by the 42nd Academy Awards as an entry for Best Foreign language movie.  I'm told that the movie was banned under the communists and was released again until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Here's a clip from the end of the movie that I found out on YouTube.  Unfortunately, there are no subtitles but you can at least hear what Czech sounds like.
video

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Back at the Gun Range

I've been on this team building kick at work lately.  Well some of us managers decided that we too needed our own team building event.  So on Thursday, a few of us decided to blow off a little steam at the gun range. 

A couple of hours of shooting and I was totally able to put a hectic week behind me.

Me and my 9mm Glock at 30 meters
  


Friday, May 4, 2012

Bratislava Day Trip

With an early morning flight from Edinburgh, Miran and I met up with Eiko in Bratislava.  I haven't seen her since Thanksgiving so it was good to catch up.  But the bad news is that she is moving to Stockholm in a few months.

I've been to "Bratsville" more times than I can count but I never seem to have time for any of the touristy stuff.

On top of the New Bridge is the UFO restaurant.  For €6 you can go to the observation platform.  It's a great view of the city and the Danube

I finally made it up to the Bratislava castle.  It was going through renovation when I first starting going to Bratislava.  From what I understand the renovation project went over budget for the exterior and now there is no money left to redo the interior.  But at least it looks good from outside.

The last time I went to the Blue Church the doors were closed.  Well this time I finally got to see the inside.

Slavín is a Soviet Army memorial.  It was built from 1957 to 1960 and honors the thousands of Soviet Army soldiers who died liberating the city in April 1945.  It opened on the 15th anniversary of the city's liberation.  But to me the interesting thing is that while the Germans were fighting here, the city had not actually been occupied.  Slovakia was an ally of Nazi Germany and Slovak troops helped Germany invade the Soviet Union.  There are 6,845 soldiers buried here.