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Oktoberfest in Phnom Penh – it’s Munich on the Mekong

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Oktoberfest in Phnom PenhI’ve never been to Munich’s Oktoberfest.

Somehow the combination of binge drinking, oom-pah music and big-busted waitresses in dirndl-dresses always failed to intrigue me.

So I was unprepared for what I experienced last night, when I attended the Oktoberfest in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh – of all places.

Oom-pah music in Phnom PenhImagine an authentic Bavarian band playing German beer-drinking music and Alpine yodelling songs to a crowd largely made up of Asians.

The locals seemed to enjoy it, but most of them didn’t have a clue what the singer was trying to tell them when he repeatedly shouted “oans, zwoa, gsuffa!” (rough translation: drink, drink, drink!).

dirndl and fish-net stockingsOne thing I loved was how Asia’s Tiger brewery decked local waitresses out in very loose interpretations of Bavarian dirndl dresses.

waitress posingI don’t know if the fish-net stockings are what a Bavarian matron would wear to church on Sundays…

The food was surprisingly authentic, though. The organisers must have had a tough time trying to find Sauerkraut, Weisswurst (a special kind of Bavarian sausage that is boiled, not grilled) and Apfelstrudel (an Alpine interpretation of apple pie) in Cambodia.

Overall, Phnom Penh’s Oktoberfest was bizarre, but fun. Munich on the Mekong.

And for those in Phnom Penh who can’t get enough of German Gemütlichkeit, there’s good news: the Cambodian capital is home to not one, but two Oktoberfests. One’s at the Cambodiana Hotel, the other at the Sunway.

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Written by Thorsten

October 10, 2009 at 4:42 am

German is good in Ulan Bator

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Believe it or not, but you can see a lot of German influence in Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator.

Everywhere you go, you’ll come across advertisements for Khan Bräu, for instance. The Khan Bräu brewery has been around since 1996. It’s run jointly by a German and a Mongolian.

Khan Bräu makes its beers in Mongolia, but they’re brewed in strict compliance with the German beer purity law. This law dates back to the year 1516 and dictates that beer should only be made from water, hops and malt.

Consequently, Khan Bräu imports its hops from Bavaria to give its beers that special German flavour.

Brauhaus and Biergarten

But Khan Bräu doesn’t only make beers. It’s taken the German idea of Gemütlichkeit even further: Khan Bräu also runs a “Biergarten” restaurant in Ulan Bator. Here, they serve their Pilsener and dark beers and also classic German food specialties like Leberkäse and Bratwurst.

If you don’t have the time to sit down in the Khan Bräu beer garden for a hearty German meal, how about some fast food? You can stay with the German theme even if you just want some junk food: there are at least three fast food joints called Berlin Burger in Ulan Bator.

German meat products seem to have a pretty good reputation in Mongolia. In downtown Ulan Bator, you’ll see German-language billboards for the Makhimpex meat processing factory.

The text on these billboards reads: “Europäische Qualität, Geschmack und Verpackung in der Mongolei”.

The German may be a little rough, but what this friendly butcher is trying to tell his Mongolian clientel is that he’s providing European quality and taste, but that his products are made in Mongolia.

They need a little help with their advertising

According to the Makhimpex website, the company slaughters and processes sheep, cows and horses. It also tells us that its daily production includes:

  • 4 tonnes of blood
  • 1 tonne of meat and bone meal
  • 8 tonnes of blood meal
  • 10 tonnes of food oil

Reading this, I’m glad once again that I’m a vegetarian.

Tune in to German radio

Maybe the Makhimpex meat processing company should try advertising on Ulan Bator’s German radio station? Yes, German radio also exists in the Mongolian capital.

Deutsches Radio Ulan Bator (DRUB) broadcasts three hours a week to the capital area in German. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from five to six p.m. it’s the German hour on FM 98.9 in Ulan Bator.

Three Mongolian journalists put the programs together – with a little help from Germany’s foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The three have been on the air since March, 2008, and hope to reach a sizeable amount of the German-speaking crowd in Ulan Bator.

So far, they haven’t gotten much feedback from listeners, though. They want to improve their programs, however, and are willing to learn.

The Leipzig connection

One reason why German products and the German language play a role in Mongolia is that many Mongolians have personal ties to Germany.

Before the 1990’s, Mongolia was a staunch ally of the Soviet Union and had excellent connections to the other Eastern Block countries. One of these countries was communist East Germany.

Consequently, many Mongolians who wanted to study abroad went to the German Democratic Republic.

And while they were studying in Leipzig, Dresden or East Berlin, they also developed a taste for German beer, German food and German Gemütlichkeit.

It’s estimated that some 30 000 Mongolians have been educated in Germany over the last half century. 30 000 may not sound like a lot – but if you keep in mind that Mongolia only has a population of less than three million, you realize that this “Leipzig connection” must be a pretty strong force in Mongolian society.

Most of the 30 000 Mongolians who studied at German universities now hold important positions in this country. They’re a powerful group in Mongolian society and most of them are pretty wealthy for Mongolian standards.

At least they make enough money to be able to afford German beer, Bratwurst and all the other things they grew to love while they were in Germany.

Fly your flag

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It\'ll sell if it\'s black, red and yellow Germans really went wild during the past weeks of the European Soccer Championship. They’re a soccer-crazy nation. And they showed it by proudly displaying the colors of the German flag: black, red, gold.

It was their way to show their support for the German team at the championship.

Everywhere you looked, you saw black, red and yellow during the tournament that ended last weekend.

the colors of the flag on a little fanthe national colors on a little soccer fanPeople painted their faces black-red and yellow during the games, they wore black-red and yellow Hawaiian-style necklaces, they hung German flags out their apartments and flew the flags from their cars.

Anyone selling these patriotic paraphernalia must have made a fortune.

Guilt-free flag-waving during the 2006 World Cup

Proudly waving the German colors is still pretty unusual in this country. Patriotism doesn’t come natural here on account of how the Nazis abused patriotism and national feelings to reach their goals between 1933 and 1945.

black red and gold on a german carThe soccer world-cup in 2006 was probably the first occasion since the war, when Germans happily waved the national flag. And the European Championship this year saw a repeat of that phenomenon.

I’d only like to add two little observations. black-red-gold soccer wallets from 2006

One is how this year, a clever vendor of all things black-red-gold unashamedly tried to sell some leftovers from 2006 .

I saw these wallets with an embroidered 2006 at a shop in Bonn earlier this month. Maybe soccer fans were so enthusiastic about the little soccer balls and the national colors and that they didn’t even realize the wallets were commemorating the World Cup two years ago (where the German team came in third).

Cars and airplanes

German airplane proudly displaying the flag The other unusual thing I saw was how a flight captain hoisted the German flag on his plane at Mallorca airport in Spain Sunday afternoon. This was shortly before the final between Spain and Germany was due to begin (The German team later lost the final 0:1).

The flag is a little hard to see in this picture, so I’ve made a close-upThe pilot hung the German flag out the cockpit window of the same shot.

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering: yes, the flag was pulled back into the cockpit before the plane took off from that Spanish airport.

Written by Thorsten

June 30, 2008 at 7:14 pm

A Different Germany

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Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei

I was in Leipzig over the weekend, which used to be part of communist East Germany. We were sitting in a cafe on Saturday and a young black man walked in. It suddenly occurred to me that he was the first colored person I’d seen all day.

From that moment on, I kept my eyes open, actively looking for ethnical diversity in Leipzig. But throughout the rest of the weekend, I hardly saw any black, Asian or Turkish people. And I didn’t see any ethnic shops either – no Turkish fruit sellers, no Indian stores with colorful saris and Bollywood movies, no Vietnamese specialty shops, or Asian supermarkets.

I’m sure these people and these shops exists in East German towns like Leipzig – they just aren’t as visible as in West Germany, where large parts of the population are now of Turkish, African or Asian origin.

And it’s bizzarre that Neo-Nazism, xenophobia and racism are much stronger in the East than in the West – even though the population there is much more “GERMAN” than in the multi-ethnic cities of western Germany.

Written by Thorsten

March 31, 2008 at 12:49 pm

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