Day 9, 07.02.2009: A tour of Staedtler
Remember how we all used wooden pencils and big, pink rubber erasers in school? The nicest ones I’ve used always had “Staedtler” stamped on them. Everyone in art class used to be ecstatic when we got Staedtler stationery because they were the ~fancy~ stuff that only serious middle school art students would use, along with Prismacolor color pencils.
German efficiency is how I’d describe the Staedtler Fabrik (factory). The warehouse had 20-foot tall machines zipping up and down the aisles, retrieving the exact box needed by scanning the bar code, and setting it down on the conveyor belt. No humans required in this assembly. This is probably commonplace now, but 6 years ago, that degree of automation was so extraordinary to me. When a box reached a cross section and the conveyor belt senses another box coming from a different direction, the second box stops and the first box is able to cross or turn first. Like two cars at an intersection with stop signs.
Also, when writing utensils move down their respective conveyor belts, there’s an arm that flips them around when it senses that they’re facing the wrong way. Because one half of the marker is higher than the rest of it, it pushes this stick upwards, so that the machine knows it’s not facing the way it’s supposed to. When all this is done, ink is added to the cartridge, the casing is put on, and caps are added.
There were also hyper-sensitive sensors: if so much as a few cells of your finger touches the light sensor, all the machines running in the area stop. In a nano-second. Technology is amazing. As structured as this all was, the factory still had a rather unpleasant smell: a concoction of wood shavings, graphite, rubber, and chemicals. We spent about 3 hours there and all of us got free markers and pens at the end of it. I still haven’t, in 2015, had the heart to use them. They’re so nice.
After returning to Melanchthon Gymnasium, my Gastmutter (host mother) took me into the city to wait for Clara, who had a dentist’s appointment. I bought some hazelnut and fresh apple ice cream while waiting. My host mother thought it was a strange combination, but it was so damn delicious. Nutty sweetness of the hazelnuts complimented the tangy crispness of the green apple really well. There were also real hazelnuts in my ice cream! Because my host mother is a bookseller, she took me to Thalia, the biggest bookstore in Nürnberg. Four stories of reading material, with a cafe and restaurant to boot.
Once we returned home, I was delighted to find out that we were going to have a picnic in the garden! One of my most memorable meals in Germany. Homemade couscous, freshly-baked baguette, crunchy romaine salad sprinkled with tiny lavender flowers, tomato and cilantro salad, and freshly-pressed OJ and lemonade.
There was also a small charcuterie board with local cheese, and thinly-sliced sausage and meats. I’ve tried recreating my host mum’s couscous recipe so many times, to no avail. A shot of acid and tang from lemon juice and tomatoes, chewy grains, some sharpness from the onions and scallions, and mellowed out by a secret mixture of herbs and juicy cucumber. Anyone have good couscous salad recipes to share?
The bread crust crackled like fireworks on Chinese New Year’s, and the insides were warm, pillows of dough. A slice of heaven. The only disadvantage of eating outside on an otherwise sunny, cool and beautiful day was the bugs. I may as well have been a walking honeycomb, judging from the swarm that would not allow me to eat my meal in peace.
Later that night I discovered a most practical and wonderful device: the “Snappy”. Looks like an ice cream scoop, but with a cap that slides out as you push a button. It’s used specifically for catching insects. I used it to catch a Daddy Long Legs the size of my hand. Where can I find these in America?