Saturday, 11 May 2013

Our trip to Berlin and its technical musuem

It has become a bit of an Easter tradition for our family. It started during our first Easter in Germany at 2010 when we visited the Schwarzwald in the south. This year, we visited Berlin. 

As usual, we have left the hotel booking rather late, we booked it about 4 days in advance. (A mental note to myself, book it further in advance!) At one point, it was not looking very good that we may not be able get some hotel room. As mentioned during the "hop-on, hop off" bus tour, some 1 million tourist visits Berlin the Easter period. If that is to be believe, then I had some competition for those last remaining beds.

My family and I had an amazing time in Berlin. The late wintery conditions also provide some chilly mornings. It snowed quite heavily on the second day we arrived. 

While in Berlin, we visited a number of the attractions. For the children, we visited the German Technical Museum and the Natural Museum. The German Technical Museum is is a hit for the children. It had a big selection of trains engines and carriages on show. 

We took the train to the Technical Museum. Upon approaching the museum, we saw an amazing site of a plane on top of it.

This is a little bit like the Speyer Technical museum. However, this technical museum is full of everything technical. 

There were several items in the technical museum that was directly related to the world wars. The first one was an enigma machine, and the other was a carriage used in the holocaust.

The enigma machine is the real deal. The holocaust carriage, I am not so sure about. Let me know if you know one otherwise. As  step into the carriage and looked around, I can sense the sadness and futility of it all during the war years.  The holocaust carriage gave me plenty of things in life to appreciate. 

There were many trains in the museum. The children were able to climb into most of the cabin. They were having a really excited time.

It took us about 2 hours to go through the whole museum, however most of that 2 hours were visiting the train section.

One of the best part of the visiting Berlin was a chance to soak into its dramatic history in the last 20 years. I shall do a post about this.

All in all, it was a great trip, and we want to visit it again in the next few years.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Another observation about my lack of German language

When I shifted to Germany in the middle of 2009, one of the fears was how my lack of German was going to shape my life. During my research of the German cultural, the lack of folks speaking English was a surprise as I understood that English was taught to the majority of students, and that was from the start of their schooling.

As I approach my fourth anniversary of shifting to Germany, I have just one of the most disappointing experience that is a result of my lack of German. My son's started his primary schooling this year. Every four to five months, the parents of students of the class and the teachers have a get-together to discuss the situation class in the class, major activities coming up and discussion of other potential activities.

Firstly, I was really surprise that this meeting was mostly attended by mums. My son's class has 26 students in it, and only two dads attended the meeting. There was me and another dad. The rest were mums.

Secondly, I was also amazed on the topics being discussed. It ranged from the classroom events, topics being taught, new topics being introduced, sports etc. It was almost setting the curriculum via the parenting community.

Back to my lack of German. The moment that really emphasis that I am lacking is when the group of parents and the teachers laugh together about some discussion point, whereas we just sat there without any laughing expression on our faces. I guess that the only expression was bewilderment and, perhaps, a little bit of confusion.

The other moment was I had difficulty is articulating any questions that I had in such a way that would make sense in German, and also to understand the answer. I just was not able to do it.

I starting to get an insight to how my parents (especially my mum) felt when my family moved to Australia with little command of the English language.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Hacking the Tchibo coffee capsule

Many months ago, we bought a Tchibo coffee machine. It uses a similar exactly the same concept as the Nespresso coffee machine. You pop a capsule that contains the grounded coffee into the machine, put a cup under the nozzle, press the button and voila, a steaming cup of coffee is there for you in about 1-2 minutes.

We have been using ours for about 12 months, trying out the various coffee that Tchibo sells. Occasionally, Tchibo would sell a new selection of coffees for a limited period of time. These new selection of coffee is also sold a slightly more price. Regular coffee capsule cost 2.99EUR, but a new selection is priced around 3.50EUR.

One of the catch is that the capsule is not interchangable with capsules from other coffee machines, such as Delonghi or Nestles.

The hacker sense kicked in and had to try to get something going. After a couple of false starts, I got something that is workable and produce reasonable coffee.

The following some simple steps that I have used to reused the capsules again.

The first thing you need to do is to get a capsule that you already have used and open it up with a sharp knife. I used a pairing knife with a sharp point. Carefully, I pierced at an area just inside the lips of the capsule and work the knife around the edge. I used a gentle sawing motion as I move around. The plastic top came away quite easily.

Once the top is removed, the capsule needs to be dissembled and cleaned. Be careful to do the dissembling over a sink as the used coffee could spilled out. It could get quite messy. With in the capsule, there are two plastic filters. The top plastic filter can be lifted out to exposed the used coffee grounds. The used coffee grounds need to be removed. At the bottom of the capsule, there is a filter there. This also needs to be taken out for cleaning.

When the two filters and the capsule itself is cleaned, it can be assembled. Began by inserting the bottom filter back into the capsule. Now the usage of the coffee is next. Besure to fill as much coffee as you can fit in. I have used a small tool to jam the coffee grounds into the capsule. I have found that the flavour and the aroma is better as well when grounds is tightly packed. The top filter can also be placed on top.

Prepare a piece of aluminium foil that is big enough to cover the top of the capsule. The piece of foil need to be folded over the edge of the capsule to form a tight seal. Depending upon the strength of your foil, care need to be taken not to tear any part of the foil. Doing so may caused some of the coffee grounds to escape from the capsule and it end up in your drink.

Placed the completed capsule that has covered by the aluminium foil into your Tchibo and press the button. It will take some effort to get the combination right, but the flexibility it gives you will be fantastic.