Santa or Christkind?

Germany is a haven for exciting and interesting traditions, especially during Christmas. There is Saint Nikolaus and his various sidekicks including the terrifying Krampus, decorating village Christmas trees, keeping a flame from the Bethlehem candle lit, visiting Christmas markets, and lighting the beautiful advent wreaths and more. One tradition that you may not be aware of is “Christkind” and the wonderful role this character plays on December 24th.

What is Christkind?

During the late 16th and early 17th century, Martin Luther declared it blasphemous to idolize saints other than Jesus himself. He insisted the Christ Child brought the gifts to children, instead of a Saint Nikolaus. Hence, the Christkind was born – and brought gifts on December 24th, the last day of Advent. Christkind, which means Christ child, is a representation of Jesus as a child, not an infant. Traditionally, the child was male with blond hair and wings. Over time the image has evolved and is mostly represented by a teenage girl wearing a long curly blond wig with a crown and a dress of white and gold with angelic wings. You can meet this beautiful figure at the Nuremberg Christmas market. She has been elected every two years since 1969. She is an important figure for the village and has many duties during her reign.

 @stadtnuremberg

@stadtnuremberg

How it works

My neighbors gave me a rundown of how Christkind works in their family. On Christmas eve, the family closes the doors leading into the living area, where the Christmas tree also resides. The children will write a note to Christkind and slide it under the door. After some time, the parents will tell the children they hear a bell ringing, or will have someone ring a bell to signal that Christkind has come and gone. The children enter the living area and find the presents left by Christkind. Children never see the Christkind in person, and parents tell them that Christkind will not come and bring presents if they are curious and try to spot it.

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Santa or Christkind?

I was a little nervous what the conversations would look like after Christmas in our village. My kids had a visit from Santa, but every other child had a visit from Christkind. When I asked my kids why they thought that was, my daughter explained, “Mom, they wrote their letters to Christkind and we wrote ours to Santa!”. There wasn’t any further conversation needed and that continue to be die hard Santa fans. We continue to believe in the magic of Santa, but appreciate the angel Christkind and the traditions it stands for.

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Black Pete, Krampus, and other Strange Companions

St. Nikolaus is coming to town to bring treats and favor to the good boys and girls. This figure stays pretty much constant, but has a different sidekick depending where you live. Most companions are a little bit scary, sorta threatening, and generally displeasing to kids. There is also the very controversial sidekick in the Netherlands, Zwart Piet.

In the Netherlands, Sint Nicolaas or Sinterklaas is said to be a saint from Spain. Each year he comes to the Netherlands by boat to celebrate his birthday on December 5th. He celebrates by giving away presents to obedient children, and possibly punishing the bad ones, some of which, are taken to Spain to never return to their families. Sinterklaas has many helpers, which are known as Zwarte Pieten.

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Zwarte Piet translates to Black Pete or Black Peter and is a companion to Sinterklas, or Saint Nikolaus. The character first appeared in an 1845 story, "Saint Nicholas and his Servant" by Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman. In this story, Sinterklaas arrives by steamship, bringing with him a black helper. This story was so popular that the helper was included into the Dutch Christmas festivities.

 Zwarte Piet in an illustration from Schenkman’s book

Zwarte Piet in an illustration from Schenkman’s book

Zwarte Piet was an unintelligent black man whose job it was to scare children into obedience. The good children were given sweets and presents, while the naughty kids would be given salt if they were lucky. Zwarte Piet was also known to give children spankings who were naughty or hit them with sticks, which he carried in a bag. That bag could also be used to stuff children into and bring them to Spain. Those children were then trained to be Zwarte Pieten. This tradition has changed quite a bit. Traditionally, Zwarte Piet is black because he is a Moor from Spain. Others insist that he is black from the soot after coming down the chimney. Either way, those portraying the character paint their faces black, wear colorful Renaissance attire, curly wigs, large earrings and bright red lipstick. Today, Sinterklaas has a lot more helpers now. Black Pete has lost his speech impediment, and is a lot more friendly towards children. He now entertains them and charms them with cookies and sweets. Despite being a very controversial character among other nations, the tradition of Black Peter is very much still alive in the Netherlands.

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Here are some additional sidekicks of St. Nick that you may run across depending on where you live.


 Knecht Ruprecht

Knecht Ruprecht

 Krampus in Vienna

Krampus in Vienna

 Krampus in Bavaria

Krampus in Bavaria

 Hans Trapp in Alsace

Hans Trapp in Alsace

 Belsnickel in the Pfalz

Belsnickel in the Pfalz

Clean your Boots! Nikolaustag is coming!

There are many important celebrations in Germany, and to children, Nikolaustag on December 6th is one of the most significant!  Nikolaustag is based upon the Saint Nicholas of Myra, who died on December 6, 346.  This 4th century bishop was fond of giving gifts to people in need, and did so in secret.  He was known to slip some coins, fruit and nuts to the less fortunate.

On the evening of December 5th, have your children place a boot, shoe, or stocking on the doorstep.  A dirty shoe or stocking will not do.  The boot needs to be cleaned, which will indicate the good behavior of the child during the year.  If a child puts out two boots, they may appear greedy, so only one boot is typically placed outside.  During the night, St. Nikolaus will visit all of the villages of Germany, riding atop his donkey, traditionally leaving gifts in their boots.  Children can leave a nice carrot for the donkey if they choose.  Today, St Nickolaus typically leaves delicious chocolates, sweets and toys.      But beware, for those children who have been naughty, a “Rute” or twig may be left for parents to threaten or beat them with. 

 The children may cover an old rubber boot in their Kindergartens to use for all St Nikolaus days to come. 

The children may cover an old rubber boot in their Kindergartens to use for all St Nikolaus days to come. 

On December 6th, the children may have a personal visit from the bishop himself. In our village, St. Nikolaus shows up with a wagon full of bread and chocolates for the children. We meet in the village center until St. Nikolaus shows up, carrying his golden book. In this golden book are the deeds, good and bad, of all the children. We sing songs and he reads from his book, then hands out treats. It’s a lovely tradition that all the children get very excited about.

 Gifts of bread and chocolate in our village from St Nikolaus

Gifts of bread and chocolate in our village from St Nikolaus

There is another character with some importance on this day. He goes by a few names, depending on the region you are living in. It could be, “Belsnickle”, “Pelznickel”, “Knecht Ruprecht”, “Krampus”, and more. He is the companion of Saint Nikolaus and he is there to both frighten and threaten children with his monstrous appearance and threatening behavior. In many cases, Krampus has devilish qualities such as sharp horns upon his head, a pointy nose, sharp teeth and carries a stick to beat children with and bag to stuff the especially naughty children in. Not to worry, Krampus doesn’t actually beat the children with sticks anymore, but his presence can absolutely still ward off naughty behavior.

 The Krampus reminding a naughty child to behave himself. 

The Krampus reminding a naughty child to behave himself. 

 Krampus parades can be found in areas!  May be a bit scary for the little ones. 

Krampus parades can be found in areas!  May be a bit scary for the little ones. 

Buß- und Bettag Explained!

This week we have a holiday that you may not have heard about. Wednesday, November 21st is Buß- und Bettag. This Day of Atonement and Reconciliation is a day to reconsider your direction in life and reorientation. It is a day to turn to God as the church year comes to an end and we move towards Advent.

The origin of this day is rooted in the Book of Jonah in the Bible. God sends the prophet Jonah in order to announce to the inhabitants of Nineveh that God is to overthrow the city. The people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. The people were told to turn from their evil ways and violence and repent. God saw this and spared them.

Up until 1995, it was a national holiday. In 1995, the holiday was almost completely abolished in favor of financing nursing care insurance in Germany. All states agreed to abolish the public holiday, except Saxony. As of today, only Saxony recognizes November 22 as a public holiday.

While shops and schools are closed in Saxony, what does this day mean for the rest of Germany? Most people, Saxony residents included, will quietly reflect and repent. It’s important to look forward with positivity for the times to come. Many families will also start their Christmas preparations on this day. It’s a nice day to start the first batches of Christmas cookies and biscuits.

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Martinstag - Tradition and Legends

Saint Martin's Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Martin or Martinstag, is celebrated on November 11th each year. Saint Martin was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and became a bishop. The day is not a public holiday, but is very popular and celebrated by children with reenactments, bonfires, and lantern processions. The day is all about modesty and altruism.

The Legend

Saint Martin was baptized into the church at age 18. Once, while on horseback in Amiens in Gaul (modern France), he encountered a beggar. The beggar was outside the village gates, on the ground, freezing from a snow storm. Saint Martin, having nothing to give but the clothes on his back, cut his heavy cloak in half, and gave it to the beggar. That night, Saint Martin dreamed of Jesus, wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised; he has clothed me."

Traditions

During the time leading up to November 11th, many children will build their own lanterns either on their own or through their Kindergarten. The lantern processions, Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge, take place in towns and cities all over Germany. They are often led by a man dressed as Saint Martin, including a sword and cloak upon a horse. The children walk behind with their lanterns while singing traditional songs. In our village, we typically also have the fire department walk along with torches and the village decorates their yards with candles and lights. At the end of the procession people gather around a large bonfire to sing songs dedicated to St. Martin, eat sweet pastries and drink Glühwein. Many Germans celebrate St. Martin's Day with a festive meal where roasted goose is traditionally served as the main course. In our villages the children recieve a bag of goodies from Saint Martin after the parade, which is full of chocolates, sweet fruit and bread. The children are instructed to choose two pieces from their bags and bring them to their Kindergarten the following Monday. The school then takes the sweets and donates them.

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Let's Party in Mallorca!!!

Every year my German neighbors pack up their kids for their annual trip to Mallorca, or what some may refer to as "Germany's 17th state".   As an American living in Germany, I wondered why out of all the places in Europe, do they continue to visit the same place, year after year, when Europe has SO much to offer.  

First, Mallorca is beautiful.  It has wonderful weather, delicious food, fun attractions and beautiful beaches.  If you are German, you will especially love it because you can find all the comforts of home and it's easily accessible by plane.  There is also the essential bratwurst and beer on every corner and everyone speaks Deutsch!  

In Germany, Mallorca has the nickname "Putzfraueninsel", or "Cleaning Lady Island".  The reason it is so affectionately called this is because Mallorca began as an affordable destination for the more common German.  You didn't need to be rich to visit this paradise, and you could, in fact, be a cleaning lady and still fly there for vacation.  This accessibility created loyalty, and many return year after year for their annual vacations to the island.

Many of us military families seek new things during our vacations in Europe.  We want to experience something unique and new to us, that maybe we wouldn't necessarily be exposed to at home.  We visit windmills in the Netherlands, the Alps in Switzerland, or take a gondola ride in Venice.  Germans who go to Mallorca are not looking for that experience.  They are looking to relax, get drunk, and hang out in the sun.  As many of us know, sunny beach weather isn't that common in Germany.  Germans are able to be in paradise but also enjoy the comfort of German restaurants, TV channels, and services in Deutsch.  They can leave their country, while still not experiencing the inconvenience of another culture and language.

Mallorca is a definite German obsession. If you haven't checked out one of the more popular songs about Mallorca, I've attached the link.  My 5 and 6 year old came home singing it one day, so I looked it up and the chorus has some bad language and it's really overall innappropriate for elementary kids.  When I asked my neighbor about it, she said, "It just means f*ck your job, F*ck your life and go to Mallorca".  You can also get a nice idea of what Mallorca is all about from the music video.  Enjoy!  Book early before the Germans take all the accommodations!

 

True, North, Saint, and Chicago - VERBOTEN!

In America we love to be creative, whimsical, and unique when bestowing our little angels with names.  In the USA, there really aren't any rules to be followed and pretty much anything goes.  We see all the time in celebrity news babies with names such as, "Apple" and "Zuma" or "Pilot Inspektor" and "Moxie Crimefighter".  You want to name your baby "Jermajesty" or maybe "Audio Science"?  Go ahead, but your child won't be the first to carry such a unique name.  Maybe you want to choose a more mainstream, common name and completely go nuts with the spelling..."Caytie", "Naphthyn", "Elyvivia" or "Genknee"?  Go at it, because it America, there are very few rules in naming your child.  In Germany, however, it's a different situation.

 Not only is this a delicious fruit...it's also an acceptable baby name in America!  Naming a child "Apple" fails for multiple reasons in Germany!

Not only is this a delicious fruit...it's also an acceptable baby name in America!  Naming a child "Apple" fails for multiple reasons in Germany!

In Germany, the rules are in place to protect the child.  When a name is bestowed, it must not be absurd or degrading in any sort of way.   

 Degrading name = Sad face

Degrading name = Sad face

Germany has one of the strictest set of laws in the world. You just can’t choose any name for your kids; they have to be approved by the local registration office, which is known as the Standesamt.  No surname names are allowed in Germany, nor are names of objects or products. And also forget little German TaylorsTobysRileys or Quinns, as all names must be gender specific.  If you want to name your kid something unusual, you better consult the local registry office prior to the birth in order to find out if your name will be accepted.  There are some more lax rules if the parents are foreigners, but generally speaking, you still won't be able to name your child "Blue"....unless you have your baby at Landstuhl, which allows you nearly total freedom in this area!

 Baby naming freedom staring you in the face!

Baby naming freedom staring you in the face!

Many have challenged this law, and most have failed.  A couple from central Germany wanted to register their newborn son as "Lucifer", a.k.a. "King of Darkness".  Registry said "no".  Parents didn't want to budge and refused to pick another name.  The case ended up in court and the parents were persuaded to change the name to "Lucian" instead.  It was found that although there are other meanings for the name "Lucifer", there is a general association with evil, and the court made the decision based upon the well-being of the child.

 Don't even try naming your kid Lucifer or Krampus...Verboten!

Don't even try naming your kid Lucifer or Krampus...Verboten!

The majority of Germans play by the rules and some of the most popular names are Marie, Sophie, Sophia, Elias, Alexander and Maximilian.  Some recent additions to the Germany approved name database are Twain and Fips.  Some recent rejections are Godsgift, Kastanie (chestnut in English), Gandalf, and Vespa.  Of course, there are always those crazy people who attempt to name their kid, "Adolf Hitler" and are always swiftly rejected.  In 2015, a refugee mother was so grateful for her new life in Germany that she named her daughter Angela Merkel, after the German chancellor.  That was approved.

 

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Why, Why, Why?! Tradition, That's Why!

The other week I was driving to pick up my kids from Grundschule and I spied not one but TWO offenders of this outdated practice.  My first experience with the tradition of hanging your comforter out the window was when I landed in Germany, about 8 years ago, and was staying at the Hotel Garni in Rodenbach.  When the housekeepers cleaned our room, they stuck our comforters out the window.  Due to my ignorance on German culture, I thought that these comforters were special somehow and required to be flung out our dirty window.  Of course I didn't want to look foolish, so I never asked why they were doing it, just followed suit when we moved into our own house. I felt so "German".

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Initially I assumed it was probably just a practical place to put the comforter while the room was being cleaned, as Germans tend to be very practical.  As many things are in Germany, this act is actually rooted in tradition with a base of practicality.  It has been traditionally accepted that the comforter, or decke, must be aired out.  When the most popular sort of decke was the daunendecken (made of down), there was a need to regularly air them in order to prevent mold.  This housekeeping necessity of yesteryear is now unnecessary, as the materials in the decke are more than just down.  This knowledge doesn't stop tradition.  So, you can air out your comforter if you'd like, but its simply not necessary.  In reality, your bedding is probably just getting gross stuff on it from the side of the house.  However, if you have a comforter made of pure down, carry on!

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Movers are Here!

We have moved several times, and three times within Germany.  Every single time we move my husband and I get into a discussion about the movers and tipping.  What's appropriate, what's expected, and what can we do/are we willing to do?  Also, what exactly are you doing while they are packing and moving your things?  You can't help, because you really aren't supposed to, so do you randomly clean, stare at your phone, drink coffee with your spouse, watch and direct, or what?  It kinda feels like when the cleaning lady comes and she's working super hard and you are just hangin out??

In the United States, movers are part of the service industry, thus, most are tipped.  Typically movers are doing an extremely important job, handling your possessions which may be valuable, irreplaceable, or just simply super important to you.  They are also doing an incredible physically taxing job, and can do a lot of damage to floors, walls or other elements of your home if they are not being careful.  Thus, we want to treat them well and pray they do an amazing job, caring for our things as we would.  The amount of the tip should not be based upon a percentage, like a restaurant bill would be.  If it's a full 8 hour day, then $20 per person is appropriate and $10 per person for a half day.  If you have a crazy staircase, workers are in high temps, or you have a load of heavy furniture, you might want to figure $40 per person fair.  Always give the tips to the individual workers, as a lump sum can sometimes not reach all members of the team.  

In Germany, the service industry works a bit differently.  Typically, workers are paid a higher wage and don't expect tips such as the 15-20 percent U.S. standard on services.  It's tricky though because movers in the Ktown area are used to dealing with Americans, and sometimes we are set in our tipping ways.  You are NOT obligated to pay or provide anything.  It's just like eating in a restaurant and getting crappy service - you may choose to leave nothing.  If you like the service, leave a bit extra.  It seems at a minimum, it's a good idea to provide drinks for the movers: coffee, Gatorade, or simply water.  If you want to step it up, head to the bakery early and get some brotchens and pastries.  Taking it to the next level, which can be expensive, is providing lunch.  Ask the movers what they might like for lunch.  Doners, Burger King, Pizza, sandwiches, etc.  Providing lunch shouldn't ensure the safety of your possessions, but it doesn't hurt to take that extra step for a crew that is working hard.  As far as cash tips, this is not common.  Most Americans, and Germans, don't give a cash tip.  If you feel like you want to do something, provide drinks and lunch and call it good.

Happy PCS'ing!

 

 

Autobahn Shenanigans - Construction, Big Rigs, and Zippering

Sunday Driving!

This past weekend my family made a trip to take care of business at another military base.   It was about a 3 hour drive and it began on a Sunday.  I LOVE driving in Germany on Sundays.  First, the roads for the most part are clear!  Most people don't work on Sundays, so the roads have significantly less traffic than a regular weekday.  Second, which is my favorite part, is the lack of huge trucks.   If you haven't noticed before, take a look at rest stops and parking areas on a Sunday or Holiday and you will find them packed with big rigs.  It's because there is a law in Germany forbidding them to drive on Sunday.  They are banned from being on the roads from 00:00 until 22:00 on all Sundays and Holidays.  There have been efforts to lift this ban, but all have failed.  The German people are happy to keep a massive influx of traffic at bay and enjoy the lack of heavy trucks crisscrossing the country on these days.  There are exceptions to this rule, such as refrigerated trucks carrying perishable goods.  You will see them on occasion, but they rarely cause congestion.

Left Lane, Constantly Switching Lanes, or Right Lane?

I really enjoyed my Sunday drive but when we started our journey back home, on a Monday evening, we were greeted by a jam packed autobahn, tons of construction nonsense, and huge rigs mucking up the roads.  Thankfully, the huge trucks stay in the right lane, but on occasion, will attempt to pass another huge truck, which will take FOREVER, resulting in slowed traffic and congestion.  My problem is that I'm a medium speed driver, which puts me too fast to stay behind the trucks, but too slow to be in the left lane, resulting in major freak outs and thinking someone is about to nail into the back of as I attempt to pass in the left lane.  It's just not very relaxing.  I really do enjoy the driving in Germany though, because it seems like most folks are following the pass on the left rule, which I really love.

Never Ending Construction

What about construction zones?  Do you ever find yourself in the left lane suddenly squeezed between a teeny barrier with oncoming traffic right next to you, and a HUGE truck on the right?!  When you get to the signs with the curvy lines, it will indicate the width of the lane on the left.  If it is smaller than your car, it's probably a good idea to switch lanes.  One of the problems these constructions zones have is that many cars are too wide for the left lane.  The item that makes the difference is the mirror.  Most cars are about 2 meters wide, but the width is typically calculated without the length of the mirror.  With extended mirrors, now seven out of ten newly registered cars are now wider than 2 meters, according to ADAC.  So, in order to prevent colliding with another driver, know the actual width of your car, or just play it safe and stay in the right lane in these zones.

 Photo: Daniel Bockwoldt RP.de

Photo: Daniel Bockwoldt RP.de

Zipper-ing

I learned to drive in the states, which means, there are quite a few people who can't merge, hate to merge, or simply just don't want to let you in while you NEED to merge.  Here, it should go a bit differently.  Zipper-ing is the method of taking turns when going from a two lanes down to one.  Performing this technique is critical when there is a jam in front of a construction site.  You are to move into the right lane just before the obstacle. You should not need to get over WAY before the obstacle, as other drivers should allow you to zipper in.  If another motorist disregards the zipper process, they can be fined immediately 20 Euros.  

 

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German Kühlschrank vs. American Refrigerator

Renting your first home in Germany can be so exciting!  The houses are unique to many Americans who grew up in wood houses with air conditioning, garbage disposals, carpeting, and entire rooms for their massive laundry machines.  There was one thing that was particularly shocking to this American....my TINY little fridge!  It's as big as a dishwasher and smaller than many dorm room fridges.  How the heck am I supposed to meal plan and keep all my condiments and drinks cold???  Also, where the world is the freezer???  Here is the fridge in my new home...can you see it?  Behold the German fridge, or "Kühlschrank".  

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Living with a Mini Fridge

One of the things that had to change for my family of 4 was an end to the weekly grocery shopping in exchange for a trip 3 times per week.  I could only fit enough for a few dinners and the endless amounts of condiments had to slim down to a few of our favorites.  We purchased a Culligan water cooler because our Brita container wouldn't fit and moved the beer to the basement to stay semi cool.  Leftovers needed to be minimized as they quickly took over the entire fridge and I began buying smaller containers of items such as milk and juice.  We also had to consume the entire box of Popsicles by the time we got home due to a lack of freezer....which we all really enjoyed and the only plus to this fridge situation.  I wondered how the people of Germany, and other European countries, dealt with this issue.  This is what I learned.

The German Way

First, many Germans have a freezer in their garage.  When we rented our house, it didn't come with a freezer, as they are not a standard home appliance and often not combined with the fridge.  Second, most Germans shop frequently and don't require a lot of fridge space.  A daily trip to the grocery store is not out of the question.  My friend also advised me that beer isn't to be consumed ice cold, and any drinks you want cool should simply have ice added.  Also, the food generally has fewer preservatives, so it will go bad quickly, which means you don't want to acquire more than you can consume in a short period of time.  

Why do Americans LOVE big fridges?!

Let's be honest...Americans are know for their "bigger is better" attitude!  Bigger cars, food portions, grocery stores, houses, and kitchen appliances!  In fact, we have the biggest refrigerators in the world!  Following closely is Canada, but the rest of the world, not just Germany, prefers to keep it smaller.  In the U.S.A. we like to shop less but buy more and keep perishable food cold so it lasts longer!  We like pushing a button to dispense cold water and never ending ice the we can choose to be crushed or cubed!  We also tend to put items in the fridge that don't belong there...such as peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, hot sauces and butter (all currently in my fridge).  Check out this Samsung model that comes complete with ice maker and dispenser, huge storage space and other totally unneccassary, but super cool features.

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Here is my Kühlschrank, which my husband is always referring to as being "booby trapped"...cause stuff is just shoved in there (by all, not just me) and usually something will fall out when opened.

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Eventually I gave in and requested a big fat fridge and freezer from the military.  Thankfully, they came to my rescue and delivered a nice American style fridge freezer combo, complete with a bunch of dents from the past users, plus a huge freezer for my garage.  I put that fridge in my kitchen, directly across from the mini one and felt...Relief.  We can now enjoy our Popsicles at leisure and not feel badly about our 10 varieties of salad dressings, bottled and canned beverages, pickle and olive jars, several packages of frozen otter pops, and huge containers of milk.  

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