Redeeming the NYC ID Memberships: The Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Chile Pepper Festival

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Remember back in May when I was talking about the free NYC ID and all the cultural perks that come with it? Well, starting September I actually realized that I only have a couple of months left to redeem all of my free memberships until the end of the year so I made sure to get on it. The first stop my friend (a fellow NYC ID carrier) and I made, was the wonderful Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The BK Botanical has always been of my favorite weekend hangout spot. Read More »

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9/11/2013: Remembering…

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Remembering the day 12 years ago when the world was forced to change its outlook and nations were affected (by shock, by loss, by war yet to come).

Once again, for the second year in row, New York is remembering by shining its bright lights through the sky. The two Freedom Towers, one still in construction, but nevertheless proudly standing on the spot where the World Trade Center used to be.

As I quote from my last year’s post:

I couldn’t help but think that this is New York’s way of remembering 9/11: Through the dark there shines a light and touches everything and everyone around it. While this city has been touched and will be touched in further decades to come, it will never forget that one day in September when its two twins were crushed eternally.

And I can’t put it in better words than I did last year, so please read the full post here.

Today we had our 93 degree (34 Celsius) weather. Hot, sweltering, almost like it was during the summer. One last day of heat, oddly on that one meaningful day. I took these two pictures at the Pulaski Bridge two nights ago. I guess the lights will shine this entire week. 9/11/2001 – you will never leave our heads, hearts, and souls.

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The Feast of San Gennaro: Overcoming the Masses in Little Italy

Smoke rising in the air, pizza scents drafting through the streets, masses and masses of people trying to claw their way throw the crowds. There is possibly only one time of year during which Little Italy is about as crowded as can get: during the Feast of San Gennaro. If you are in New York during the fall season, you should possibly swing by and see what this part of Lower Manhattan has to offer in any culinary means.

As the story goes, the San Gennaro Fest was dedicated to only one saint and only one day – as is usual. Over the years from 1926 to now it has turned into a 10-day-mass-worship and extended onto several streets along Mulberry Street. And voila, here you find approximately a million people squeezed into the smallest space possible over the duration of less than two weeks, trying to digest every Italian sausage out there and stuffing themselves with about every cannelloni they can find.

This overcrowded street festival has to date remained a mystery to me. For some reason I had strictly avoided the parts of Little Italy during this crucial time period. However, after spending two falls here already and looking forward to exploring something new every year, I followed my friend’s advice and jumped into action or rather into a suicide attempt by walking Mulberry Street on a sunshiny Saturday. I should have known better, I suppose!

“Of course every tourist in this city will be out and about in this part of town”, is all I thought when I hopped off the R-Train and stood in front the Spring Street section of the festival. Around me cops, kids, strollers, overweight Brooklyners and camera-carrying tourists. I felt like turning around and forgetting about my very best intentions. Luckily I decided against my initial impulse and threw myself into the masses. Eventually you learn how to be carried away by the persons in front and behind you…

This woman’s expression expresses exactly how I felt … nauseous!
Free Refills everywhere

Not without eyeing almost every single stand in the first half hour or so I was there. It started off with the vendor offering “free refills” on cocktail mixes coming in huge glass tubes. “Neat! This reminds me of Coney Island and some awesome summer nights I spent here”, were the thoughts racing through my mind before I went on to the next vendor. Spanish food served with rice and beans. “Looks like every other street festival I’ve been to” was my next train of thoughts. Finally, a T-shirt seller offering some fine collections of shirts with the imprint “San Gennaro – Festival New York 2012.” How original, how mind-blowing, how very much… touristy. And indeed, it seemed to work. A swarm of people was standing around him and practically fighting for a plain black T-shirt with a cheap imprint.

Happy T-Shirt Vendor

As the path lead on I discovered my first cannelloni stand. Yay too stuffed dough in small and big variations. Nay to the price tags on them: 5 bucks for a medium sized piece and 2 Dollars for a tiny sample. I went on to the sausage stand. Spanish speaking servers selling “original sausage” in curled up format. I was fascinated! And of course the pizza could not be amiss right next door. While I had lost my appetite when looking at the grease swimming in pots and pans, the food was still nice to look at and it started to feel more original.

Canneloni everywhere

When I passed the candy apple and caramelized fruits, I was mesmerized. Determined to get a least a little piece I turned to wait in line – and lost my determination to frustration over the long waiting time. It seemed to be one of the only ones around and I wasn’t going to turn around and walk past in the other directions. The way towards Canal Street led past many typical Little Italy restaurants. Albeit already filled to the rim with hungry festival attenders and tourists about to be fed, the host waved a menu into my face and asked me if I wanted a table by myself. I even overheard him say “Free Sangria all night long” to the group behind me, which made them burst out in laughter, demanding the food to be less than 50 Dollars per head.

One highlight I found, also completely unrelated to San Gennaro but nonetheless pretty to look at, was a Cuban cigar roller sitting on a lone chair in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. After watching him wrap his hands around the leaves and rolling them into a tight mass, I felt much calmer.

And at the very end, or the very beginning, depending on which way you go, I saw a little festive character mounted inside a niche, open for viewing and familiar-looking. Indeed, it was a small San Gennaro figure, just like in the pictures of the saint, surrounded by an array of candles and single dollar bills flying ahead of it.

Fortunately for me, I did not get discouraged by only one visit. After all, I wanted my candy apple! So I made my way back on a random Thursday weekday and indeed, the streets were less crowded, the people less aggressive, the mass less touristy. I got my tasty piece of fake red apple after all.

The Feast of San Gennaro took place from September 13 to 23 this year. It shall return next year. highlight of the fest were fried oreos sold in half a dozen and a garlic press that left you with “a lot more garlic” than if you had cut it with a simple knife.

For more pictures go to The San Gennaro Street Festival in Little Italy (1) and The San Gennaro Street Festival in Little Italy (2)

Celebrating a Little Piece of Deutschland in New York: Oktoberfest Season!

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Germany, specifically during this time of year? Dirndl, Lederhosen and beer? That’s exactly it! It’s Oktoberfest season worldwide – not only in the Bavarian metropolis! Even in New York people have come to like this time. Mostly because of the abundance of beer distributed during these days, needless to say, but it also seems that certain German traditions are never forgotten when being abroad.

Pennsylvania, for example, celebrates one of the biggest German festivals during this time of year. With parties throughout September and October, it is prone to have a high volume of happenings but these are geared towards smaller groups of people. Many German immigrants were on the East Coast so not surprisingly New York is a city that also has its festivities going on. After a steamship accident most of the German population drowned in the East River but parts of it survived.

The annual German-American Steubenparade in September is one of those crucial elements that cannot be amiss when celebrating one’s Middle-European heritage. After seeing it two years ago, I had missed out on it last year due to my traveling abroad. But this time I wanted to play an active part in the audience once again. My American friend was punctual as always, she was standing on 5th Avenue just when the clock stroke 12 o’clock noon. I arrived some tedious 40 minutes later – so much for Germans being on time. I wasn’t as unreliable as our other friend, though: He was 2 hours too late and only got to see the street sweepers clean the streets AFTER the parade was long gone.

He was clearly too late…

The New Yorker Steubenparade is one of those bizarre occurrences that don’t make sense to me as a German. It hosts floats and groups from different parts in Germany but then also Americans who just throw over a costume to look German. I am assuming these are the people living out their German-American heritage, for this can mean living in the US for a century without having been to Germany even once…

Either way, I was utterly confused when I saw the first group march past us, dressed in the typical Faschingsoutfit and throwing candy bars towards the waiting mass. Fasching happens from November to February but it is nowhere close to this time of year. “How good that Americans are gullible and don’t know that this has nothing to do with farmers and hunting, the actual reason Oktoberfest is celebrated” is what I thought when the next Funkemariechen group danced passed us. Many people seemed to have fun watching the comical but ill-timed costumes, so I guess the purpose of the parade was met. I even saw a “Bitburger-Beer”-float, which made me dwell in memories of the annual Bitburger Bierfest held in March. Bitburg is close to the town I grew up in, and it’s always good to see a little bit of Heimat when so far away.

Fasching outfits during the parade
The Bitburger Float

The parade itself lasted a good one and a half hours. After the last group of musicians marched by, most people broke away and walked towards the entrance of Central Park. Here is where the real party starts: The annual Oktoberfest and most likely biggest German celebration in the City, resembling its German counterpart but then not really, thanks to German Faschingoutfits. Usually it is even held on the same weekend the Munich fest is: 3 weeks before the first weekend in October. However, the Bavarian version starts this coming Saturday, so I don’t know the exact reason as to why the American Oktoberfest was pre-scheduled for September 15 of this year. Either way, a ton of people still showed up and it turned out to be a blast!

If you are familiar with Central Park, you might know the area around 70th Street, where Summer Stage is usually held during the hot season. On the exact same spot, numerous tents, food stands, a stage, beer sellers and other promoters positioned themselves to make out the biggest Oktoberfest in North America. This year we had bought our tickets in advance so we didn’t have to bribe security guards to let us through the gaps in the fence like we did in 2010. We started off with two different pitchers of beer: One was a typical wheat ale and another one was Warsteiner, one of the many sponsors of the fest. We walked past huge lines of people waiting for food, and an overcrowded tent reserved for the VIPs and parade participators. Everyone was exchanging different pitchers of beer and was in a jolly good mood. In all of the chaos, you saw little bands performing, such as the trumpet players who never failed to amuse the audience. I also remember two children handing out business cards for a German restaurant in Staten Island and then demanding one dollar for those…. Capitalism starts early!

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… and the public version of it!
Us with cake and beer
The greedy kids who wanted a dollar per business card… tsss!

Watching the parade, walking around and drinking beer can be quite daunting, so I tried out a few of the food options: Mushy French fries and a plum cake with an awkward dough inside – I was not very thrilled. Then I came around to the fried dough stand. One thing I recommend you trying is their potato pancakes: Delicious creations dipped in apple sauce and seasoned so well, I was transformed back to a German street fest. Very authentic pieces of German cuisine, I must say!

The stage hosted an American band for a while, and then a female German singer ended up performing her by now very popular song of “I love German Boys.” I have never heard this song in Germany before so it must be something she only sings during Oktoberfest in New York. I have seen her perform it two years ago, I wonder how her record is picking up so far…

After about four hours of talking to people, taking in the atmosphere and drinking beer, we decided it was time for an after-party. It couldn’t be anywhere else than in the one and only “Zum Schneider:”
One of the most authentic German restaurants in the East Village and most likely the best German restaurant in the entire City. Here we ran into another group of friends and decided to settle for some dinner entrees consisting of a Bavarian cheese plate, a Wiener Schnitzel, and German sausage. The price-product ratio is very good here and you don’t feel you are being ripped off just because the restaurant has to import some food items from overseas. The servers are usually from Germany, so they speak the same language and understand what kind of beer you want when you happen to pronounce it the right way.

Oktoberfest people
At Zum Schneider in 2010

And that was it! An eventful day of fighting Heimweh and meeting friends who are interested in your foreign culture. Oktoberfest in New York equals Germans in New York – you’ll always run into a few of those.

If you are interested in taking part one of these years, make sure to get your tickets in advance, as they sell out as soon as in mid-July already. I paid 15 Dollars for mine this year, but I would assume prices fluctuate in the coming years.

Und weil es so schön war, gerne auf deutsch nochmal:

Woran muss man zuallererst denken wenn das Gespräch auf Deutschland schweift, besonders zu dieser Jahreszeit? Dirndl, Lederhosen und ein Bier? Ganz genau! Die Oktoberfestsaison hat begonnen – nicht nur in der bayrischen Metropole sondern auf der ganzen Welt! Sogar in New York kommt sie gut an. Natürlich kann es daran liegen, dass Bier wie am laufenden Bande ausgeschenkt wird in diesen Tagen, das ist doch klar. Dennoch scheint es, dass einige deutsche Traditionen im Ausland alle Jahre wieder gut ankommen und hoffentlich ankommen werden.

Wie zum Beispiel im Staate Pennsylvania, wo eines der bedeutendsten deutschen Feste im Ausland zu dieser Jahreszeit gefeiert wird. Mit Feten vom September bis Oktober passiert eine ganze Menge, aber diese Festchen sprechen mehr kleinere Gruppen an als die große Menge. Ursprünglich siedelten sich viele deutschen Immigranten an der Ostküste der USA an, deshalb ist es auch kein großer Zufall, dass die Stadt New York viel anzubieten weiß. Bei einem Schiffunglück auf dem East River ist zwar ein großer Prozentsatz der deutschstämmigen Bevölkerung umgekommen, aber ein Teil hat dennoch überlebt.

Die alljährliche deutsch-amerikanische Steubenparade im September gehört zu den bedeutenden Ereignissen, die einfach nicht fehlen dürfen wenn es darum geht, seinem Ursprungsland treu zu bleiben. Vor zwei Jahren noch fieberhaft mitverfolgt, musste ich letztes Jahr leider aussetzen – das Heimweh hatte mich gepackt und in ein Flugzeug nach Hause verfrachtet. Dieses Jahr wollte ich wieder als aktiver Zuschauer mitwirken. Meine amerikanische Freundin war natürlich wie gewohnt pünktlich um 12 Uhr auf der 5th Avenue. Ich ließ mir gute 40 Minuten Zeit um von Brooklyn hoch zur Upper East Side zu gondeln. Noch ein anderer Kumpel gab uns erst gar nicht Bescheid sondern tanzte gute 2 Stunden später an: Als die Barrikaden sorgfältig zusammengeklappt waren und die ersten Straßenfeger zum Einsatz kamen.

Die New Yorker Steubenparade ist eines dieser merkwürdigen Geschehnisse, die nicht allzuviel Sinn für einen deutschen Eingeborenen wie mich machen. Verschiedene Wagen und Fußgruppen kommen hier aus allen Teilen Deutschlands zusammen und treffen auf Amerikaner, die sich mal grade ein Kostümchen überwerfen um krampfhaft deutsch zu wirken. Ich nehme an, dass diese Teilnehmer ihre deutsch-amerikanischen Wurzeln ausleben, die seit Jahrzenten in Amerika verankert sind, aber selber noch nie in ihrem Leben im tatsächlichen Deutschland gewesen sind…

Jedenfalls war ich ganz schön verdutzt als ich die erste Fußgruppe an uns vorbeimarschieren sah. Anstatt der normalen Oktoberfest-Tracht hatte sie ein typisches Faschingskostüm an und warf Kamellen in die wartende Menge. Fasching findet eigentlich zwischen dem 11. November und Februar statt und ist damit noch weit weg vom September. „Wie gut dass die Amerikaner so naiv sind und nicht wissen, dass diese Kostüme nichts mit der Bauern – und Jägertradition zu tun haben, wofür das Oktoberfest ursprünglich steht“, dachte ich mir nur als schon das nächste Funkemariechen an mir vorbeitanzte. Dennoch, viele Menschen fanden Gefallen an diesen witzigen aber komplett sinnlosen Kostümen, und damit war die Parade ein totaler Hit. Ich stieß sogar auf einen „Bitburger-Wagen“, der mich weit in die Vergangenheit schweifen liess. Erinnerungen an das alljährliche Bitburger Bierfest kamen auf, das jedes Mal im März stattfindet. Bitburg befindet sich nah an dem Dorf, in dem ich aufgewachsen bin, und es ist immer gut ein kleines Stückchen Heimat im fremden Lande wiederzuerkennen.

Die Parade selbst dauerte gute anderthalb Stunden. Nachdem die letzte Gruppe von Musikanten ans uns vorbeilief, brach die Menge auf einmal los: Es ging auf in Richtung Central Park. Hier ging erst richtig die Post ab: Das alljährliche Oktoberfest tobte und damit das größte deutsch-angehauchte Fest in New York, das seinem deutschen Gegenstück ähnelte, abgesehen von den Faschingskostümen und anderen Jecken. Typischerweise wird es sogar an demselben Wochenenende abgehalten an dem die bayrische Version anfängt aber aus irgendeinem Grunde hatte man es dieses Jahr vorgezogen schon am 15. September aufs Allgemeinwohl anzustoßen. So oder so, eine große Menge schaute vorbei und es war eine wahre Freude teilnehmen zu können!

Wenn man sich im Central Park etwas auskennt ist man sicherlich schonmal über die Summer Stage gestolpert, die es normalerweise, wie der Name schon verrät, nur im Sommer gibt und sich um die 70. Strasse herum befindet. Genau auf diesem Fleck standen nun anstatt bekiffter Rastas eine endlose Reihe von Zelten, Essenständen, Biertränken, Bühnen, und andere interessante Dinge, alle mit dem Ziel vor Augen mal wieder das größte Oktoberfest in Nordamerika auszumachen. Weil wir dieses Jahr unsere Karten im Vorverkauf reserviert hatten, mussten wir nicht, wie vor zwei Jahren schon, die Türsteher bestechen, die uns dann für ein komplett überteuertes Bestechungsgeld durch eine Lücke im Zaun durchließen. Nein, dieses Mal waren wir um einiges schlauer. So wussten wir auch direkt, dass wir uns einen großen Bierkrug zu bestellen hatten anstatt uns mit 3 kleinen Bechern abzumühen nur ums uns letzten Endes wieder durch die endlos scheinende Schlange zu kämpfen. Selbst fürs Essen stand man locker einen halbe Stunde an. Irgendwann schafften wir es uns mit Bockwurst, Pommes und Pflaumenkuchen bewaffnet durch die Menge zu boxen und das Spektakel zu verfolgen. An den angeheiterten Jecken vorbei, die sich den Warsteiner aus dem Krug schütteten. Irgenwann wurden wir in dem Chaos auf zwei kleine Kinder aufmerksam, die fleißig Visitenkarten ausgaben. Für die Reklame eines deutschen Restaurants in Staten Island verlangten sie eifrig einen Dollar von den verdutzten Passanten… Kapitalismus fängt früh an!

Weil die Fritten eher matschig schmeckten und der Pflaumenkuchen auch zu wünschen übrig ließ (an das gute deutsche Standard kommt so schnell nichts), traute ich mich vorsichtig an den Stand heran, der frittierten Teig und andere Spezialiäten anzubieten hatte. So wie zum Beispiel erstklassigen Reibekuchen! Die Kartoffelpfannekuchen schmeckten sogar besser als bei Muttern, was echt was zu heißen hat, und wurden zusammen mit authentischem Apfelmus angeboten. Mhmmm, lecker und echt zu empfehlen, falls es sowas nächstes Jahr wieder gibt!

Auf der Bühne wärmte sich eine amerikanische Volksmusikband auf, bevor einer deutschen Sängerin Aufmerksamkeit geschenkt wurde. Wie schon zwei Jahre zuvor führte diese ihren Feiertagshit „ I love German Boys“ auf und begeisterte damit mal wiede das ganze Publikum, dass den Ohrwurm bereitwillig aufnahm und sogar vereinzelte Zuschauer veranlasste mitzuschunkeln.

Nach vier langen Stunden herumgehen, Leute kennenlernen, feiern und trinken wurde uns so langsam alles über. Wir wollten After-Party, und wo anders könnte man sie besser halten als im „Zum Schneider“: Eines der originellsten deutschen Restaurants im East Village und wahrscheinlich die beste deutsche Bar in ganz Manhattan. Hier trafen wir spontan auf eine weitere Gruppe von Freunden und entschieden uns für ein Abendbrot der Extraklasse, zusammengesetzt aus einer bayrischen Käseplatte, einem Wiener Schnitzel und Wurst. Im Vergleich zu anderen deutsch-imitierenden Restaurants liegt es preislich im Mittelbereich, vor allen Dingen weil die Portionen großzügig sind, obwohl die Ware importiert ist. Die Kellner und Kellnerinnen kommen fast alle aus Deutschland, sprechen damit ein und dieselbe Sprache und verstehen ausnahmsweise welches Bier genau man haben möchte wenn man auf deutsch bestellt.

Somit ging ein weiterer erfolgreicher Tag des Heimwehbekämpfens und Freunde in die fremde Kultur einweisen zu Ende. Denn Oktoberfest in New York garantiert eines ganz sicher: Ob man möchte oder nicht, man lernt hier gewiss Deutsche kennen– sie sind oftmals im Rudel unterwegs.

Falls ihr daran interessiert seit nächstes Jahr teilzunehmen, bedenkt bitte die Eintrittskarten im Vorverkauf zu bestellen. Dieser fängt schon Mitte Juli an und kann 2 Wochen später ausverkauft sein. Für meine Karte habe ich dieses Jahr 15 Dollar bezahlt, aber natürlich kann der Preis in der Zukunft dank Inflation und Nachfrage nur noch ansteigen… Prost!