36

Das ist So Jacob ist ein Deutsch-Burger

I’ve been keeping this to myself for awhile now – close to a year – but now, I can officially say that as of yesterday…

I AM A DUAL AMERICAN/GERMAN CITIZEN.

It all started last summer.

My grandparents had their German citizenship revoked when they left the country during World War II. Under the current citizenship and naturalization laws of the country, if your grandparents were born in Germany and had their citizenship taken away by the Nazis, you can qualify for German citizenship. So, after much inquiry, while visiting home last summer, my dad, sister and I paid a visit to the German Embassy in Washington to submit our credentials. We had our driver’s licenses, our American passports, our birth certificates, and my grandmother’s kennkarte with the big ANNULLED stamp on it. All we needed was my parents’ marriage certificate (easy enough to get) and my grandparents’ marriage certificate (easier than we thought; it was a matter of the embassy calling Berlin to check the national or regional archives, and sure enough it was there) so the ball got to rolling sometime in October, when that document showed up.

Fast forward to yesterday, when we all got emails from the German Embassy, saying that our naturalization certificates were available for pickup, and that when we get them, we can put in applications for passports. They are going to be holding some sort of ceremony on June 2, but since I won’t be able to be there and they must be handed over in person, I’m going to see if they can send it to the German Consulate in Chicago or the Honorary Consul in Minneapolis so I can get it without having to trek out to DC.

And that’s how I became a naturalized German citizen.

So, a la David Letterman, here is a list of 10 Things That I Can Do Now Because I’m German:

10. I have someone to root for in Eurovision and FIFA.

9. I can have beer whenever I want.

8. I actually have a reason to celebrate Oktoberfest now.

7. I am allowed to laugh at Kate McKinnon’s Angela Merkel impressions on SNL and feel no remorse.

6. I can roll my eyes at Americans.

5. If I get pulled over for speeding, I can say…”Sorry, officer, I’m used to the Autobahn.”

4. I can make up long and funny words.

3. German food.

2. I have expanded my job options, infinitely. Being a German citizen also makes be a citizen of the European Union, which means I can live and work almost anywhere in Europe without a hassle, and travel visa-free.

1. “Don’t shoot, I’m German!”

I guess the next step is to go back and visit again. Well, after I get my certificate and passport. We’ll see. But I guess until then, I’m still the same old That’s So Jacob.

Deutsch-Burger. Tee hee.

13

The One Hundred Percent Rule

I mentioned this earlier, and filed it in the back of my mind to write about sometime, and since I’ve been feeling stressed and down lately (four shows in a row, and one more tomorrow, and a morning one at that) I figured now would be a good a time as any.

Ever wondered if you should or shouldn’t do something in public that could potentially be grounds for embarrassment or humiliation? Well, now you don’t have to anymore, thanks to The One Hundred Percent Rule, coined by my cousin, as far as I know. The tenets of the rule:

If you need to do something in public, and there is a one hundred percent chance that you will never see one hundred percent of the people in the vicinity for the rest of your life, then go for it.

I first heard it from my cousin on our family trip to Germany. I can’t exactly remember the context, but I think it had something to do with someone in the group (my sister, maybe?) changing clothes or something in the middle of the airport because we only had a few minutes in between our connecting flights. The rule is pretty straightforward, and it solves a lot of issues. Changing your baby’s diaper in a park? Go for it. Picking at your wedgie or your nose in a crowded New York subway station? By all means. Adjusting your bra in a food court at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike? I’m right there with you. Well, maybe not that last one.

There are some drawbacks to the rule. For example, there is always the chance that someone will secretly take a video of you and post it YouTube, but the chances of it going viral are slim, and you could probably sue them if you really wanted to.

Not the most thrilling information in the world, but I thought it needed to be put out in the world.

Stay tuned for an update on the last post as well as a few others

16

That’s SoMG: The New Jersey Horse Meat Mafia

It all started with a pot of coffee.

Last week, on my way back to Madison, my dad and I were sitting at the rest stop on I-90 northbound in Belvidere, Illinois, having some Starbucks and gearing up for the final leg of the trip. My dad does not drink coffee anymore, but he did in high school. So, I asked him if Grandma drank coffee. He said that she always had a pot of coffee ready, and usually she and her step-niece Ida from down the street (all names hereinafter have been changed due to protect the privacy of the individuals, and also because it’s fun to make up names) would spend the afternoon in one of their kitchens, drinking coffee and talking for hours. I had never heard of Ida, so I asked the question that launched the story of the century.

“Ida who?”

“Your grandmother’s step-niece.”

“Yeah, Grandma had a step-niece, Aunt Susanne’s stepdaughter from her first marriage.”

“Aunt Susanne had a stepdaughter?”

“Yeah, from her first husband, Alfred, you know, the one who committed suicide.”

“…”

“You don’t know that story?”

“Well, obviously, no, I don’t.”

“Oh, goodness, it’s a long one. Once we’re back in the car, you drive, and I’ll tell you the story.”

<pause button>

That was the beginning of what turned out to be an interesting and very juicy family scandal that was too good to keep to myself. So now, I share it with you all in the first ever episode of…

That’s So Jacob presents:

That’s SoMG: Scandals, Secrets, and Shockers That Will Make You Slap Your Hand Over Your Mouth

Imagine, if you will, Are You Afraid Of the Dark? meets E! True Hollywood Story.

Now, onto the show.

<play button>

Episode 1: The New Jersey Horse Meat Mafia

Bavaria, Germany, 1898.

It all started in a tiny farm town where a young Jewish woman named Huldah was spending another summer helping out some local families. Huldah was from a farm town of about 1,000 people, but this town’s population was even smaller, barely in the triple-digits. Every summer since she was old enough, Huldah would go to the smaller town, stay with a family, and do various chores around the house and farm. Over the years, she came to know most of the people in the town, to the point where she felt comfortable just walking into someone’s house to say hello and ask if they needed some chores done. There were only a few girls her own age in the town, and one of them was unusually fat. This girl’s name has been lost to history, so we’ll just call her Fat Girl.

One day, Huldah was just walking around town, and she decided to call on Fat Girl. She goes to Fat Girl’s house, opens the door, and hears a bloodcurdling scream coming from the kitchen. She runs into the kitchen to find her friend giving birth on the kitchen floor. Apparently, Fat Girl’s weight had been sort of an advantage in the predicament she’d found herself in; she had slept with one of the non-Jewish farmhands, and was able to hide from everyone the fact that she was not just fat, but also pregnant. That afternoon, she gave birth to a fair-skinned little boy.

Well, once the baby came, she couldn’t keep the secret for much longer. As was the custom in those days, she and the baby disappeared for a little while, “to an aunt’s house,” until the storm blew over. By the time she returned home, a young Jewish bachelor had moved into town, and with much prodding from Fat Girl’s family and friends, the two were married, and soon had children of their own. After awhile, another child showed up at the house one day: a little blonde boy whom they called Ernest.

Now, back to Huldah. She got married and had a family of her own, giving birth to three children. The oldest was a girl called Susanne, then a boy, and the youngest was my grandmother.

In the early 1930s, Susanne came of marriageable age. Through the grapevine, Huldah found a young man called Alfred, and the two were married, and not long after, they welcomed a child of their own, a little girl they named Penny. Soon after Penny’s birth, Alfred went to visit an uncle he was quite close with who ran a furniture store in America, in Baltimore, Maryland. He stayed for a short while with him before returning home to Susanne and Oenny in Germany. Alfred and his uncle corresponded frequently via mail, and one day in 1933, Alfred gets a very short letter from his American uncle, saying:

“Alfred: Come back to America. Take your wife and your daughter and leave Germany at once.”

The family had been aware of the rise of the Nazi Party in their country, because, well, how could you not. Their lives were not as affected as others, and until this letter came, they had no idea of how dangerous the Nazis actually were. So, the whole extended family made plans to immigrate to Baltimore, leaving Europe for good. Through good planning, the first to make it out of Germany were Alfred, Susanne, and baby Penny, setting sail for Baltimore in 1934. Penny celebrated her first birthday at sea, becoming a minor news story once the family landed in Baltimore.

The whole family, being farmers, was familiar with the cattle business, so as the rest of them trickled over – my grandmother, her mother Huldah, and all the rest – Alfred decided to set up a meat processing center in Baltimore. Through friends and acquaintances, he found a business partner who had come from a nearby part of Germany and also knew the meat industry. His name?

Ernest.

By the time Huldah finally made it over in 1938 – the last one – Alfred and Ernest’s meat business was hugely successful, churning out sausages and bratwursts for the people of Baltimore every day. When her son mentioned his business partner’s name to his mother, her eyes lit up.

“Ernest, from the next town? The blonde one? His mother was my friend!”

Yes, after close to fifty years, the boy born on the kitchen floor, and the boy of the woman who helped bring him into the world, became business partners.

As stated before, the business was hugely successful. Ernest kept a relatively modest lifestyle, but Alfred showered his family with money and expensive things: a house, cars, clothing. Susanne didn’t have to work, but she owned and ran a small grocery store while she raised Penny.

The reason Alfred and Ernest’s business was so successful was because of the source of their meat. Unlike other local meat markets, they cast their net somewhat wider, finding a supplier in New Jersey who offered them meat for extremely low prices. Once in Baltimore, Alfred, who was more of the businessman of the two, marked up the price of the meat to align with the higher prices in Baltimore and earn them an incredibly large profit.

Meanwhile, a journalist sniffs out a news assignment based on whispers and rumors; that A & E weren’t getting their beef from local farmers, but from some place in New Jersey. Undercover, the journalist acquires the name and address of the New Jersey meat suppliers, and goes there to find two incredible, game-changing secrets.

One: the meat they are selling was not beef – rather, illegal horse meat.

Two: the whole operation was run by a New Jersey mafia family.

Needless to say, the news breaks in a grand fashion back in Baltimore. People, some of whom have become ill from the company’s meat, are outraged at this deception and demanded answers. The newspaper prints the offending meat packers’ names, and Alfred and Ernest were now on the front page. Of course, Alfred and Ernest hired a lawyer to handle their case, one of the best lawyers in the state of Maryland. He agreed to defend them in court, telling them the best possible result (a minor fine) and the worst (three to five years in prison). But the damage to their business and social reputations would be irreplaceable. Confident as ever, Alfred invested in the lawyer, and everything was going to turn out most likely in their favor, due to lack of concrete evidence other than newspaper reports.

The trial came closer, but it became too much for Alfred. As much as he maintained that he was going to win the case, he was growing increasingly paranoid and upset, and Susanne was starting to worry. However, as comforted as she was in her lifestyle, worrying was not something she did often. Alfred began staying home for longer and longer periods of time. On one of the days leading up to the trial, Alfred went to work. That afternoon, he was found dead, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a gun he’d purchased without Susanne’s knowledge and kept in his office.

Susanne and Penny were in shock.

The trial, however, went on without Alfred. As it turned out, Alfred was the one who communicated with the New Jersey supplier, and the details of that arrangement went with him to his grave. Ernest testified that he knew nothing about Alfred’s dealings, and got off with a minor fine, no jail time. His reputation and business suffered a bit, but ultimately, Ernest lived to see the daylight, daylight that Alfred would have most likely seen had he managed to stay alive for the trial.

By this point in time, Penny had grown up and moved out of the house, and down to northern Virginia. She blamed her mother Susanne for her father’s death and all that went along with it, and they maintained very little contact over the years. Though Penny retained friends from childhood through high school and frequently came to visit them in Baltimore, she rarely visited my grandmother, who helped raise her, nor her own widowed mother, who married Irving, a neighbor and widower himself (his wife, whom Susanne had known, had died of cancer at a relatively young age) living with three children of his own. Penny never accepted her stepfather and step-siblings, who came to appreciate Susanne and eventually, regard her as their own mother. Though Irving was a decent husband and father, he also led a flashy lifestyle, financing it through his new wife’s money; money that was not going towards Penny herself.

Through the years, my father and his sister kept in touch with their first cousin Penny, but from a distance. She married a man called Woody, who was not particularly religious and also not a particularly…well, let me put it this way. Ernest, her late father’s business partner, remained in business but never offered Woody a job, as he had to other family members. Eventually, upon Ernest’s death, the business and the money stayed in his family. Her father’s uncle, the man with the furniture store, hired Woody as a salesman, but Woody did so poorly that he had to fire him. So, they kind of did their own thing, now living in the Washington DC area. My father and the others in the family remained in contact with Cousin Penny and her husband Woody, but they never quite found out how they got their money; Penny didn’t work, and Woody only gave vague answers about “business,” saying “it was fine.”

The final chapter of the story commences one hundred and one years after it began, in 1999. My aunt, now a mother herself, became a grandmother for the fifth time, to my little cousin Emily, that January. By this time, communication with Cousin Penny had slowed to a trickle; interaction happened only at a select few “state occasions,” weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. No letters, phone calls, or emails, otherwise. The new baby’s parents – my cousin Hillary and her husband – live in Washington, DC, not too far from the suburb where Cousin Penny resided. As a gesture of good faith, Hillary picked up the phone and invited Penny to a baby naming party they were holding for Emily, in May of that same year. Penny said she couldn’t come, her husband was sick.

Well, sometime later that year or in early 2000, Woody died. My aunt, father, and grandmother did not hear about this until many months later, around the time my father was preparing the family invite list for the Event of the Century – okay, it was for my bar mitzvah, that November. The three of them sent Penny a sympathy card, and received not a thank-you note, but a very long and nasty letter, accusing my grandmother and aunt of abandoning her in her time of need (this is the woman who abandoned her own mother), not visiting Woody when he was sick, not bothering to attend his funeral (which no one on our side of the family knew about, since no one had even told us how sick he was, or when he died), and other things that were apparently so rude that the three of them came to a decision to unceremoniously declare Cousin Penny and her children persona non grata.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my father quietly deleted Penny from the invite list, and my bar mitzvah was the first major family event that Penny was not formally invited to.

They have not attempted to contact her again.

Growing up, I knew of Penny’s existence and the fact that she was Aunt Susanne’s daughter, but nothing else. After Aunt Susanne died in the 1980s, we gradually lost contact with anyone associated with her, including my grandmother’s close friend and step-niece Ida, who was somewhat younger than her. My grandmother would have been 103 last year, so it is quite possible that Ida is still alive somewhere, in her nineties. Over the years, some of my father’s cousins have had brief contact with Ida’s children, but not for many years now. Their many afternoons of coffee and conversation are now lost to memory.

By the time Dad finished telling the story, we had driven over an hour from Belvidere to Madison, and were only a few blocks away from my apartment.

So there’s that.


Now that it’s inordinately late, off to bed for me. Once again, only a five continent day for me (no South America) but let me acknowledge those that did check in today from North America (Canada, USA, Mexico, Guadeloupe [first time, welcome!], and Puerto Rico); Europe (France, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein [first time, welcome!], Italy, Norway, Sweden and Spain); Africa (Mayotte); Asia (India, Vietnam, and the Philippines) and Oceania (Australia).

4

Groove Is in the Car

So, two summers ago, I went on a family trip to Germany. By family, I mean myself, my sister, my dad, and two cousins, because my mom’s ideal vacation is preferably within walking distance of our house (okay, my dad came up with that one), but you get the picture. The first part of the trip involved flying into Frankfurt, spending a day there, then renting a car and driving around Bayern (Bavaria) to see the house where my grandmother was born and the town she and my grandfather lived in as a married couple (which was also his hometown; people didn’t go too far to meet their spouses, kind of like Tinder, only with more actual tinder since they lived in the countryside). Also, to visit the gravestones of our great, great-great, and great-great-great-grandparents, which involved some breaking and entering (but that’s another entry). So it was basically our death tour of southern Germany. We joked that Christians go to Europe on church tours, and we Jews go to Europe on the death tours. We would then get rid of the car in Fuerth, which was incidentally where my aunt was born, and take the train across the border to Prague, Czech Republic for Phase II of the trip, which still managed to venture into death tourism. But more about that in another entry.

We arrived in Frankfurt sometime in the afternoon and checked into our hotel to catch up on sleep, so we could check out and get the rental car first thing in the morning. I’ll point out that I was not as tired as the others, since I decided to pack everything in one large backpack as opposed to a rolling suitcase. A rolling suitcase is better for the back, but – shocker! – Europe is the land of stairs and cobblestone streets, especially in Germany, and I’ll never forget bounding up the stairs out of the metro station in downtown Frankfurt with two weeks’ worth of belongings strapped to my back like nobody’s business, only to realize that I was standing alone on the street level, looking down at everyone else who were trying to lug their suitcases up, step by step; unfortunately, a recurring theme throughout the trip of me waiting at the tops of staircases. But I was probably tired anyway, so I slept.

The next morning, we eat breakfast, during which time my dad and one of my cousins goes to get the rental car. I’m kind of excited; this might be my first chance to drive in a foreign country, as all of us on the trip except one cousin had licenses. After a long, long, long time, they come back with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: the car is a stick shift, and my dad is the only one of us who knows how to do that.

Then, the good news: since my dad hasn’t driven stick in a long time, my cousin got to laugh at him attempt to figure out how to do it.

This was clearly going to end well.

So, we grab our stuff and troop around the corner to the rental car lot, and load in. That was the easy part. Then came the task of turning the car on and driving it out of the parking lot. We had a couple of backfires and rocky starts, but before any nausea could set in we were off on the road.

And that’s when it got worse.

I don’t know much about driving stick, but apparently there is gear switching involved, and other things, so my cousin told my dad when to shift gears from the passenger seat, while my dad was driving down the open road and attempting to navigate us toward Wurzburg. If you’ve ever driven in Germany, constantly stopping and starting the car on the road is never a good thing. One minute we’d be sailing along, then it would get clunky for the gear shift, then it would settle out again. All the while, my dad is not watching the road as closely as he should, so we have a few close calls and swerves into wrong lanes, and plenty of honking German drivers. Plus, there’s the fact that we’re in a foreign country and we don’t know where we’re going.

Eventually, my dad gets accustomed to the car, but by this time we’re a little off course. We have the voice GPS on, but she’s speaking in German and we can’t figure out how to switch her over to English. Also, it’s getting stuffy in the back, and we need some A/C, so my cousin hits the button, and what comes out isn’t air, but…

“I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/I couldn’t ask for another/I-I-I-I-I/Groove is in the heart…”

And I broke out laughing.

Because when you’re driving down the roads of rural Bavaria at 9:00 in the morning while trying to figure out how to work a stick-shift, the perfect soundtrack is 1990s one-hit wonder “Groove Is In the Heart” by Deee-Lite. It was just such an irreverent moment, and the spontaneous remergence one of the most awkward songs ever really captured the zeitgeist (German word, yes!) of the moment. Not to mention that the song is probably still on the German pop charts.

Sometimes things are upsetting and funny all at the same time; and then that moment hits where the right song comes on.

And of course, I had to awkwardly do hip hop while belted in the middle seat, between my cousin (who was not born when this song was a hit) and my sister (who does not approve of dancing in the car).

Nice to see that song still has relevance.

2

Just Plane Silly

Today, I went to a play. No, really, this theater major for the past eight years actually went to a play today. So I rounded up four friends to go to Fells Point Corner Theatre to see Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti, trans. Beverly Cross & Francis Evans. It was directed by Josh Shoemaker and featured Adam Bloedorn, Cassandra Dutt, Wesley Niemann, Rachel Roth, David Shoemaker, and Kate Shoemaker in the cast.

The play takes place in a Paris apartment in the swinging 1960s. The plot centers around Bernard, an American expat who juggles three fiances – all of them air hostesses. Using the timetables of their respective flight schedules and airline routes, he makes sure that no fiance is in Paris at the same time. His copilot, for lack of a better term, is his maid Berthe, who alters everything from the layout of the furniture to the dinner menu according to which countrywoman is dining with Bernard. When Bernard’s friend Robert comes to town from Wisconsin, Bernard insists he stay. Also staying the night are Gabriela (Bernard’s Italian fiance, whose Alitalia flight schedule causes her to spend the night); Gretchen (Bernard’s German fiance who works for Lufthansa, who ends up with three nights in Paris); and Gloria (Bernard’s American fiance, a TWA air hostess whose trans-Atlantic flight turns back to Paris due to bad weather). General havoc ensues, but it all ends neatly with two engagements and one girl taking flight to make her own destiny.

A zany show like this spawns over-the-top characters; some of the actors met the challenge, some didn’t, and some went a little overboard. Though balding and not conventionally attractive, Adam Bloedorn held his own as Bernard. This was my second time seeing him onstage after last year’s The Mousetrap at Vagabonds. Similarly, Kate Shoemaker (Berthe) was spot on with the one-liners and brought a lot of laughs. As Robert, David Shoemaker impressed everyone in my group, but I thought that he could’ve been funnier and for a guy from Wisconsin, he sure talked like a Marylander. Of the three air hostesses (who we all agreed were gorgeous), my friends preferred Italian Gabriela (Rachel Roth) and Gloria, the American (Wesley Niemann) over the German stewardess Gretchen (Cassandra Dutt). For me, Rachel Roth captured the essence of the role the best, with remarkable control over her face, body, and voice to keep it all together. As Gloria, Wesley Niemann was cute as a button but didn’t carry as much attitude to match the other two. Granted, her character was a bit more easy-going, but she was a bit too nonchalant at times. Despite the character professing to being from New York, Niemann’s voice was, again, undeniably Baltimore. Cassandra Dutt as Gretchen impressed me (and my friends) the least. Someone in the group said that she was trying too hard to be funny, and I agreed. She was also incredibly loud, but maybe sitting in the second row lent itself to that; we were aware of the fact that Gretchen is way more intense, domineering, and passionate than the other two, but loud does not always equal funny. I also noticed Gretchen slipping out of her accent at times; she should’ve taken lessons from Berthe. One of the girls said that the fact that she was the tallest girl with the shortest skirt made her stand out, and that she was funnier when she wasn’t talking; again, cementing further the fact that “loud” and “funny” are two totally differing concepts. The other girl had a strong opinion about the ending; she thought that it was “too perfect,” but it’s a pretty classic well-made structure, so it’s inevitably going to end well.

My favorite technical aspect of the show were the costumes. We all loved the classic airline stewardess uniforms. Costumer Helenmary Ball is a regular in the Baltimore theater scene and she always does a good job. My two female friends pointed out how psychedelic and 60s everything was, and compared it to Catch Me if You Can. The set, on the other hand, for me, was a major fail. The walls of the apartment were painted a la Piet Mondrian with the color palette of an Austin Powers movie. One of the girls pointed out how the couch and chairs matched the walls and that she really felt like she was in a “groovy bachelor pad” from the 60s. It was cute, but it lost points with me for using shiny duct tape on the walls rather than just plain black lines separating the squares; when the lights hit the tape, it was really distracting and looked shoddy.

Overall, it was a sexy, light, and fun comedy with something for each one of us to enjoy. I give it 7 out of 10 airplane tickets.