Tag Archives: Year abroad

“Waiter waiter, are there snails on the menu…?

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Yes Sir, they must have escaped from the kitchen!”

“Have you ever heard the expression: Walk a mile in my shoes, and then judge me? And then write your own books.” – Ann Rule.

One thing is certain about my last pair of work shoes: You wouldn’t have wanted to have worn them yourselves! Sadly, a bit like an elderly lady who reaches 99 but passes away shortly before her 100th birthday, my last pair of work shoes finally pegged out in the 8th  and final month of my year abroad. I really did believe that they would see me through the last 4 weeks here in Germany, but alas. They served me well, they fought the good fight. By the end they were well and truly in tatters. Once you’ve finished reading this latest blog instalment you can then judge accordingly: Was this simply an infamous matter of student laziness, poorness and stinginess, all poured into one, or more nobly, one young man’s valiant attempt at environmental consciousness?

Here are the three main reasons which finally convinced me that I should finally hang up these pair of boots.

1) My shoes were a colour which they originally were not.

Poor, pale shoes.

My shoes were made for walking, and that’s what they have done. Through sunshine and rain, inside and outside of the hotel, up and down stairs, for walking, dancing and running, these shoes have been with me the whole way. Strand by strand, after a couple of months the exterior material of my shoes began to wear / rub off. At first it didn’t look so bad, because I could cover up the bare bits with dark coloured mud, which convinced older people that my shoes were still black. Nowadays however, the shoes resemble two black and white cats (cats that you wear on your feet).

2) On a rainy day there was only a 10% chance that my feet would stay dry throughout.

Thin-looking, tired shoe. Poor shoe.

Of late I’d been feeling shorter than ever (is 5 foot 7 that bad?!). I’d come to the conclusion, that the reason behind this was that the soles of my shoes were wearing a bit thin. In fact, there weren’t any soles at all. The penny dropped, however, when I walked through the shallowest puddle ever for approximately 0.5 seconds. My feet were absolutely DRENCHED! If I’d have walked through that puddle bare foot, then I reckon they’d have come out less wet. I looked down to the soles of my shoes, and all I could see were my socks. My shoe soles were gone. Grounded into the earth below my feet over the last 7 months.


3) My boss ordered me to buy new shoes.

I think that I’d been living in denial for quite some time. I knew that the shoes were gone, I’d just failed to accept it. My new boss Lisa brought it up yesterday as a half joke / indirect order. She said, “Kit, you know that there’s a shoe shop across the road that does discounts for everybody that works at Gasthof Stern?”

Judge me as you will, the shoes served me well and I gave them every chance that I could!

“Waiter waiter, there’s a fly drowning in my soup…

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It hardly looks deep enough to drown in, Sir!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter is a particularly special period in Franconian Switzerland. Not least, because of the wonderfully colourful tradition that is Osterbrunnen. This tradition, which originated in early 20th century Franconian Switzerland, involves decorating public wells or fountains with Easter Eggs for Easter. For two weeks, hundreds of buses with visitors from all over Germany drive through the small villages scattered around this area, stopping off and taking pictures and videos of the masterly crafted Osterbrunnen. I was lucky enough myself to get some time off the other day (it’s very busy in the hotel around this period), to take a look at an Osterbrunnen in a delightfully picturesque village called Bieberbach. Feast your eyes on these photos; each egg is painted individually!

 

“Waiter waiter, do you serve crabs…?

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“Sit down, Sir, sit down, we serve everybody in here.”

Two blog posts in the space of five days (I hear you all think to yourselves), yes, I have finally rediscovered my blog writing consistency! Thank you all for tuning in once again, especially to those from the Middle East (according to wordpress.com I have a few Saudi Arabian fans), it’s great knowing that there are so many people interested in the economic powerhouse that is Göβweinstein. In keeping with the transition to Spring, we have prepared ourselves here at Gasthof Stern, armed and primed for the summer already. As of 3 o’clock this afternoon, the outdoor seating / table arrangements (not just some, but all), have been set up. Christian and I might have been cursing the awkwardness and heaviness of the tables and chairs whilst we were removing them from the barn this morning, but now it’s done, it won’t have to be done again for a while. It’s March 12th but we’re all set for summer here at the hotel, so if you’re brave enough or mad enough (whichever way you want to interpret it), come and take a seat outside!

Recently I’ve been thinking, considering I’ve been here for 6 months now, that it would probably be quite entertaining (and maybe even helpful!) if I were to impart a few words of advice to you guys about following a potential career in gastronomy. Being 3/4’s of the way through my year abroad, I think I can justify my claim to use the invaluable tool that is ‘hindsight.’ So, for those who were considering working in the restaurant / hotel business (and those that are here for the ride), here are a few “heads up…”

Nightmares about dirty dishes is perfectly normal.

1 – WASHING UP IS SIMILAR TO THE CONCEPT OF TIME; IT DOESN’T STOP.

The evening before I left for Germany, way back in September, my sister gave me a home-made good luck card. It was a very artistic card that suggested that I’d be doing a lot of washing up at the hotel, which, of course, I laughed off. Naively. At home, unashamedly, I’d always tried getting away with washing up, letting mum get on with it 99% of the time (which now I am ashamed of). Of course, it doesn’t help that I am, as you would say, bottom of the food chain at Gasthof Stern (being the newest employee). Furthermore, matters are intensified because the hotel is very, very popular from April – December. I tell you now, that image that you can see above ISN’T EVEN THE BEGINNING. It doesn’t matter whether you turn up at 9am to work, 3pm, or 11 in the evening, you will INVARIABLY be greeted by the sight of dirty dishes, cutlery, pots and pans, etc, etc. There are three periods of the day when there is a high volume of washing up (mainly due to the number of customers): breakfast, lunch, and dinner (pretty self-explanatory). In between these, you have to eat yourself. But you can’t leave your dirty dishes around, oh no, this is a hotel, it needs to be kept clean! I can tell you now that there is no better feeling in the world, than the feeling when the washing up is finished. You’ve just spent 2 hours, as a team, mucking in on the washing up, drying, clearing away. At first the place looked like it had been hit by a bomb (I mean an atomic bomb), then you work your hardest to get the place clean again. Then slowly, like cramp kicking in, comes the feeling, I BEAT THE WASHING UP, I BEAT EVERY DIRTY DISH, LOOK AT THIS SPARKLING CLEAN KITCHEN. To me, that feeling encapsulates euphoria. The problem is, this euphoria is very, very short lived. Before you know it (approximately 12 minutes later), there’s another pile of dirty saucepans. All of that hard work, gone. And so the cycle goes…

CONCLUSION: If you like wearing marigolds, splashing around with washing up liquid, or having wrinkly hands for a few hours after work, then go get a job at a restaurant! If you have even the slightest prejudice against anything that I’ve just mentioned, I’d stop reading now.

Dissatisfied customer situations are, well, awkward.

2 – WORKING IN GASTRONOMY CAN BE COMPARED TO BEING A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER.

The problem with working in hospitality, is that not everybody has their breakfast at 10am, lunches between 12 and 1pm, dinner at half-six, and goes to bed around midnight, just like me (if only people were all the same!). No, it differs from person to person, family to family. What makes things even harder, is that there are 7 billion people inhabiting this planet. For this reason alone, it is extremely demanding to work in the line of gastronomy (and that’s coming from a waiter’s point of view), to run a hotel like Bernd and Heike, is even more pressure. Especially during the Spring and Summer months, people are simply coming into Gasthof Stern, all, the, time…

This is why I’m using the comparison to a professional footballer; it goes as follows: A bit like a footballer, the main part of a hotel owner’s career like Bernd’s takes place between the ages of 20 – 50 (ok, footballers generally retire a little bit earlier than 50). Youth, vitality, and maturity, are key to prolonging a footballer’s career, as the level of physical exertion is very high. This is the same for running a hotel, but remember to add the mental and spiritual exertion on top! You reach your peak during your later twenties and early thirties, and as you move to your early – mid thirties, you develop into one of the ‘older heads’ of the team, somebody there with experience to keep the ship steady. Think of Paul Scholes of Manchester United, he’s not the youngest that’s for sure, and hence he’s not the quickest, but he’s an experienced old head, whose wisdom and know-how is key to the team’s midfield. This is a bit like Bernd I guess (and most hotel owners for that matter), he may not be as quick as me at washing up nowadays, or be able to pour as many beers simultaneously as Christian, but his knowledge and know how is much higher than ours. That’s why he’s the boss! In their later thirties, a footballer normally retires, and sometimes goes onto coaching or management. Again, this is a bit like gastronomy. Bernd’s dad, the famous Lutz Vogl, hung up his boots when he was in his forties, passing on the day to day running of the hotel to a then very young (early 20’s) Bernd and Heike. Lutz however, is now the “Senior Chef” (Senior Boss), which automatically makes him superior to everybody else because he’s the OLDEST! He does though, play a much smaller role in running the hotel nowadays (why wouldn’t you when you’re retired!), but is more like an overseer. Just like Bobby Charlton of Manchester United, despite his more limited role, he is ever-present ;).

The stress and demand of running a hotel means that the main chunk of your career, just like a footballer, takes place in your younger years. It simply isn’t your normal 9-5 job! I guess the exception to the rule may be however, in the Middle East. This is where I can start to see the real benefits of Ramadan in the Islamic faith (I personally do not enjoy going hungry). How fortunate for all the restaurant owners in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. You can pretty much guarantee that nobody is going to be dining at the restaurant during the day because all the Muslims are fasting (that’s of course if nobody is breaking the rules!), and you’re hardly going to keep the restaurant open between 11pm and 6am, hence you might as well close for the month altogether! One whole month of rest bite, absolutely glorious!

CONCLUSION: If you expect to be coming home every day at 5pm, just in time for the 6 o’clock news, with weekends off to go to Lakeside Shopping Centre and Bas Vegas, I wouldn’t read any further.

Everybody gets treated really well at Stern, I'm just trying to illustrate a point!

3 – EVERYBODY HAS GOT TO START AT THE BOTTOM

Bernd told me a story once. When he was just starting out in the hotel / restaurant business, probably around the same age as me, he spent one whole year just washing up. He’s not even exaggerating! The restaurant that he worked for was so big, that all he did for 365 days was wash up. The most heartbreaking thing though, was that at the end of every day, despite having the wrinkliest hands ever from spending half of his time under water, was that when he went home, there was still washing up to do!

It’s only natural in this line of business :). I am the newest employee, hence I am at the bottom of the food chain. I’m not complaining because we all get treated really well, so don’t take it the wrong way! But yes, I must confess, I have done a lot more of the, shall we say, “hands on” work of late, than the likes of Christian and Stefan ;). Yes, I admit, I’ve done my fair share of washing up! And oh, before I forget, it was “officially” my job to be snow-clearer this year during the colder months (I’m sure you can remember all of my photos of the snow!). Christian claims that snow-clearing was his job last year, but what made his year worse than mine, was that the level of snow was much higher, hence more work. I can empathise with him to be honest, because I can distinctly remember how quickly the novelty of snow fall vanished once I’d cleared the street of snow a couple of times. Once I’d lost my English innocence, “oh it’s snowing, how wonderful, we never get any snow!,” I started to learn a lot more about the world ;). And before I forget, I definitely carried out 75% of the outdoor seating / table arrangements, whilst Christian arguably took out a measly 25%!

CONCLUSION:If you’re not willing to work from the bottom up, or don’t have any thick skin at all, then don’t bother reading any further.

Only for the guests we don't like.

4 – NEVER MAKE THE CHEF / COOK YOUR ENEMY.

I have learnt that it is always a big advantage to be good friends with the cooks. Me personally, I LOVE food. Football, my girlfriend, and food, they’re my top three passions (not necessarily in the correct order!). Anyway, the cooks really have kept my stomach very content during these 6 months, and on a full stomach, Kit is always very happy. There’s no better sight here in the hotel, when you can see either Ingo, Heike or Wolfgang preparing your dinner, and during a hard day’s work, there’s no better feeling than devouring a nice hot meal. For that reason, I advice you all to stay cosy with the people in the kitchen!

The more they like you, generally the bigger portion of food you’re going to get, the more often they will sneakily pass you a desert, or serve you before everybody else ;). It’s quite simple really, it’s a bit like the old concept of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” I haven’t yet scratched Ingo’s back in the literal sense of the meaning, but it doesn’t do any harm to laugh extra hard at the jokes that the cooks make, tell them every now and then how pretty they are, pour them beer on regular occasions. It works in both directions, it really does! Apart from that, the cooks here at the hotel are generally really, really cool. I’ve mentioned before how I’ve never seen Wolfgang or Ingo stressed at work, which is quite amazing considering the amount of work that goes on in the kitchen. I would bet, that if I gave Wolf and Ingo 100 orders all at once, told them they had twenty minutes to serve every the dish, whilst pointing a gun at them, shouting “YOU SLOW AND INEFFICIENT GERMANS,” that the worse they would do would be to let out a sigh. Not that I’d ever do that of course, because I love Ingo and Wolfgang :).

CONCLUSION: If you don’t like men in white suits and white hats, don’t bother reading any further.

I wish I lived in a world with no telephones.

5 – THE MOST ANNOYING PERSON AT WORK IS THE TELEPHONE. 

If I ever needed to go to a psychiatrist, it would probably be to explain to him that I can’t get the sound of ringing telephones out of my head. He would then likely say to me, that in fact it wasn’t a problem with me, simply, there were lots of phones genuinely ringing. It really does drive you insane how often the phone rings at work, mostly with people inquiring about things that they could just as easily find out about on the internet or by other means. The last thing you want to hear after just dealing with an unhappy customer, 30 food orders, and a million other tasks, is a ringing phone. It has now got to the point, that I wouldn’t blame a blind man for thinking that he was in a call centre.

I tell you now, during my last week at Gasthof Stern, if the phone keeps on ringing, then at some point I’m just going to pick it up and shout “FUCK OFF!”

CONCLUSION: If you have a lack of patience, don’t bother reading any further.

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Working at Gasthof Stern has been one of the best experiences of my life, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change any of it. There are so many perks to working in a job like this, the family, the friendship, the free food and drink, the security. It really is like a big family here, and we can always rely on each other when the going gets tough. For all of my ranting, I really do advise it to anybody who is thinking of doing anything like this, because it’s an experience not to be missed!

“Waiter waiter, this plate is wet…!”

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That’s not wet Sir – that’s the soup.”

Greetings to everybody all over the World, not just friends and family in England and Germany. I say this because, according to wordpress.com stats at least, there have been people reading my blog from as far as Costa Rica. I can’t say for sure that I currently have, ever have had, or ever will have, acquaintances in Costa Rica, but thank you for reading nonetheless. Whether it’s now officially Spring-time here in Göβweinstein or not, I really don’t know. One day the weather tells me one thing, the next day, it goes back on its word! Either way, it’s definitely been a lot milder, reasonably sunny, and the days are slowly getting longer. Bernd made a big call two days ago (the sun was beating down), when he asked us to set up a small percentage of the outdoor seating / table arrangements for the restaurant, despite the weather forecast for the next day being rather bleak. Well, as the saying goes, “he who dares wins.” The weather, it transpired, wasn’t bad after all…The only down side was however, that nobody sat outside.

The last month has definitely been the quietest since I’ve been here, work-wise that is. Shortly after the last post that I published (in February), I had enough time to head back to England for a week to see Grace and the family, which, in my opinion, could use up a whole blog in itself! Anyway, I’ll skim over that a bit later on. The week preceding that was a really entertaining one, in which I had hardly any opportunity at all to speak German, despite it being a normal working week. I call it normal, well, in terms of the work, it was relatively normal. In terms of the guests who were stopping with us, it was more unusual than normal. The reason behind this, was that during those seven days, the World’s biggest toy fair “Spielwarenmesse” was taking place in Nuremburg. Being an international event, room prices and availability in and around Nuremburg rocketed and decreased respectively. That meant that lots of businessmen and toy enthusiasts alike decided to go for the more commuter approach, e.g., book a room at Gasthof Stern and drive for 45 minutes every morning into Nuremburg…

Poor image effort, I know.

What made that week remarkably funny and stressful simultaneously, was that every guest (and each room was booked) was foreign. I would estimate that approximately 10% of the guests could speak English (limited English if I’m being generous), and around 0% knew German. Now I can’t say that my colleague Christian’s English is particularly good (sorry Christian), and Stefan isn’t bad (that’s if he’s not running about like a headless chicken), so that left just one person, me, who had half a chance of communicating with the guests. I would say that the Russian guests were the worst, not a word of either English or German. Subsequently going through the menu with them took an hour in itself, and likely they (and I) were more confused than before. For example, one of the guests just kept saying to me, “Cheese Beer.” I racked my brains for minutes, but simply couldn’t work out what he wanted. A beer and a slice of cheese? Eventually I just gave up. So at all costs I tried avoiding the Russians, although Christian and Stefan kept trying to usher me over to translate. Ironically it was the only French guests who held a decent grasp of English (unfortunately no German). And all of this time I thought that it was the French who had the reputation for being USELESS at foreign languages. Unsurprisingly they had that stereotypically thick French accent (they must put it on), but at least we could work out what they wanted. We also had two Pakistani guests who were absolute jokers. For starters they got lost on the way to the hotel, then when they finally arrived they kept asking whether Fish and Chips was on the menu (which made me laugh), and when I asked Ingo the cook whether we could serve that, he simply felt insulted and ignored me for the rest of the evening. To wrap things up, they asked Bernd whether the hotel offered an Islamic breakfast, to which Bernd replied; “What does an Islamic breakfast consist of?” Fortunately there was one group of English guests (from East Anglia), with whom, ironically, were few communication problems. They were my only bit of rest bite! So for 6 long nights, there were plenty of examples of wrong orders, sounds of “sorry I didn’t quite catch that,” and times when it felt like the headquarters of the United Nations.

So whilst we wait for Easter, when all the pilgrims come to Göβweinstein and business really gets going again, work has been reasonably quiet. There have been a lot of repairs going on, Germany’s annual Fasching (Carnival) took place, Heike and Bernd went to Cuba, I’ve been on breakfast duty (my body clock definitely isn’t set to “Student” mode anymore), and finally I’ve been regularly taking Charlie for walks through the woods. Now just for the record, Charlie the dog is a legend. You can see from all the photos of him that I’ve posted, that he can be incredibly cute (which is 90% of the time), he’s a real “man’s best friend” kind of dog. But there’s another side to Charlie (it’s not all that bad so don’t get worried). This stems from his protective nature, whereby he always keeps firm watch over the house, and the only people he doesn’t bark at when entering the house is family Vogl and me. In fact, sometimes there’s no point in even locking the door, because if Charlie’s there, your safety is pretty much guaranteed. For some reason, Charlie hates ALL other animals. He just can’t stand them, in particular, little ratty-like dogs. When I’m walking him and we come across a small nipper-kind of dog, I’ve got to hold Charlie close. It doesn’t matter how many times we tell him off, he just doesn’t learn! He thinks he’s really clever sometimes, by pretending to be friendly to other dogs, e.g. sniffing their arse and wagging his tail, but the minute we look away he attacks. The phrase “pick on somebody your own size” just doesn’t sink in with Charlie. Charlie was with me and Christian in the hotel the other day, he got up, on his back legs, opened the door all by himself and left the building. Christian said, he’s probably just going to the toilet, he’ll be ok. MISTAKE. 30 seconds later, all hell breaks loose. Me and Christian run outside, what kind of scene awaits us? A young woman with her tiny rat dog, cowering behind a car crying, holding it to her breast, as Charlie lords it over them, barking, growling and warning them, that if they ever come round here again, that he will eat them for breakfast. He is undoubtedly one of the best dogs ever, but man can he be misbehaved sometimes.

Fasching (Carnival), in the village.

The week I spent back in England was top notch, catching up with Grace, the family, and friends. I also received quite a few belated birthday presents whilst I was there, including series 4 and 5 of The Sopranos, a couple of Coldplay CD’s, and a nice new watch! There was a celebratory meal for my 21st at the local Indian, which was lovely, and one of mine and Grace’s other friends was celebrating his 21st too, so on the Saturday night we all went out in Canterbury. Not that I’ll be away from England for too much longer, seeing as I’ve already (time has flown) spent just under 6 months here in Germany. That means that I’ve only got another 2 months here in Göβweinstein! Which reminds me, it’s probably about time that I book my train ticket home (not flying this time), as train prices over here are amazingly even more expensive than back in England…Well, I guess they do run on time. So yes, all of us workers here at Gasthof Stern are making the most of the last couple of weeks of relative freedom before the real work kicks in again. To pass the time recently I’ve started buying Süddeutsche Zeitung, although it takes me approximately a week to read one edition of the newspaper, which funnily enough is a bit like my nan! I went to a sushi bar in Erlangen last weekend, have watched lots of football (mainly on illegal stream websites), and have been bumming around on Facebook.

I promise you all that I’ll publish another post very soon! But until the next time, farewell.

“Waiter waiter, this egg tastes rather strong…

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Never mind, Sir, the tea is nice and weak.”

Now it wouldn’t be very English of me if I didn’t dedicate at least one blog to discussing the weather, would it?! Well, I’ll keep it rather brief in order not to overdo it, but I must say that if the wintry chill across Europe can hit BBC News headlines then it is most certainly worthy of a mention in my blog! To be honest with you all, when I arrived here in Germany, I thought that I was already partially hardened to less-than-comfortable temperatures, what with having resided in an under-heated student house for a year last term in Exeter (financially it was always better to just turn the heating off!). I freely hold my hands up and confess that I certainly over-estimated myself! Temperatures here in Göβweinstein have recently taken on a new meaning of the word “fresh,” and although not a patch on the cold lows that Jack Levent has been experiencing in Siberia, it’s definitely not been shorts weather.

Safe to say the snow reaches above my ankles!

Yesterday during the afternoon, although beautifully sunny and blue, the temperature was lurking around -10 (something that I’m really not accustomed to). In the night it was obviously nearer -15, whilst today at 12 o’clock, sunny again, but around -12. The air is so FRESH! The scenery has been absolutely picturesque because of the sun, what with the Basilika and the Burg standing out beyond everything else. The snow has remained, and well, has been quite deep compared to the thin layers (at best) that we experience in England! As the student, and unsurprisingly bottom of the food chain, I get the honour of clearing up the snow when needed :).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Every household in the village has one of these specially snow-tailored shovels which are quite light, which makes the job of clearing the street a little bit easier (unfortunately not any less cold). I’ve used this shovel so often of late that I’ve started sleeping with it under my bed as if it were a gun.

"Officially" my job this year.

It's harder than it looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little device that you can see is an old machine that Bernd found at the back of the shed, which had been out of action for a good few years! It functions a bit like a lawn mower, except that there’s a big spinning brush on the front which is intended to clear away the last bits of snow and ice from the street. It makes lots of noise, hitting top speeds of 2mph, and doesn’t fail to get the user covered in snow. Bernd and Christian took great pleasure in filming me struggling with this device whilst tractors were driving past doing a much better job than I was.

I've definitely earned German citizenship.

How efficient can one be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So yes, it’s been blue, sunny, cold, and snowy, all at the same time. A proper winter if you ask me! My advice is to avoid going outside and keep your fireplace burning at full throttle, at all times. If all else fails, make sure you’ve got a decent coat! Finally just to say thank you to everybody for birthday wishes, they were all really lovely and much appreciated. I had a great birthday considering I was away from home, and was in for a nice few treats from work colleagues, so all in all, couldn’t have asked for any more. It’s just 4 days now until I’m visiting Grace and the family for a week, and, well, I am even more excited than in my last post :).