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Breakfast in the hall of mirrors

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Two walls in the breakfast room in our hotel in Ulan Bator are completely covered with mirrors.

The effect is that these walls of mirrors multiply the meagre offerings on the breakfast buffet to something that actually looks pretty impressive.

In addition, the mirrors also reflect your sleepy and crumpled early morning face back at you a thousand times.

Great idea. Just what I wanted to see before my first cup of coffee.

Breakfast in the hall of mirrors – yet another example of the refined Mongolian sense of interior design and savoir vivre.

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Written by Thorsten

July 17, 2008 at 1:08 pm

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.

Anywhere but Ulan Bator

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Ulan Bator is a city that’s hard to love. The Mongolian capital has no charm, no elegance, no refined cuisine and hardly any sights that are worth visiting.

Most tourists just use Ulan Bator as a point of departure to see the magnificent Mongolian countryside: untouched steppe, beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes.

But how do the Ulan Bator locals deal with the ugliness of their city?

They go on little escapes.

On Ulan Bator’s vast main square, you’ll see dozens of billboards of exotic places.

These billboards are actually backdrops for children’s photographs.

Local photographers will take pictures of kids in front of a Thai temple backdrop, a fairy tale castle or a colonial American house.

If you can’t afford an exotic holiday as a Mongolian, at least this is one way to dream yourself and your kids away from this drab place.

Written by Thorsten

July 15, 2008 at 7:41 am

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