Friday, June 29, 2012

You know its summer in Berlin when…

-groups of school age kids are corralled on the trains with teachers screaming “WIR STEIGEN HIER AUS” between the cars at the whole group.  (We’re getting out here!)

-groups of Kita age kids are shuttled around on the public transportation system in matching somethings—hats, reflective fluorescent vests, t-shirts, etc, by very stressed out looking teachers.    

-at 8am on the U-Bahn, the 20-somethings drinking beer next to you are showered and speaking English.   

-the groups of tourists are exponentially larger than before. 

-you don’t hear from your American friends in town because they are all busy entertaining guests. 

The city is full of tourists right now, and so is our apartment.  My Mom and her best friend are here visiting us.  The Midwestern Berliners might be making some excursions while they are here too.  We must take advantage of free babysitting and relative cheapness and speed of travel to foreign countries while we can.    Stay tuned.

P.S. I hear we’re missing a horribly dry hot summer at home so far; this is helping me be much less homesick right now.    

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Christopher Street Day Parade

I forced my reluctant husband to go to his first gay pride parade this past weekend.  To be fair, he says that he thinks we saw the CSD parade in Cologne when we were there several years ago, but I think we showed up afterwards for the party.  Potato-Tomato-Whatever! 

The CSD parade is AMAZINGLY fun, and the first time I went, I felt like a prude.  I used to be a sex educator people, and I am not by most measures a prude.  I think it was the public nudity that made me blush, and I have a well-documented issue with public nudity.  I digress.

The slogan of the festival this year was: Wissen Schafft Akzeptanz!  (Knowledge Creates Acceptance)

What I particularly love about the CSD parade is the combination of party atmosphere and political pandering.  All of the political parties have their own trucks in the parade and hand out various pamphlets and swag for attendees.  BTW: German parades have trucks and not floats.  These trucks always have people on the back on 1 or 2 levels, and are decorated but not hidden like American floats.  I think the pictures make more sense…soo here are some pictures from the parade: 

This was one of my favorite trucks. It says: Normalsein ist Heilbar. (Being normal is curable.)

 The trucks are pulled by Euro-semis, and then look like this on the back.

Behind all of the trucks are supporters and then between the trucks are more people looking fabulous.
Cruella DeVille showed up with an entourage of Butch-buschkas like the Russian grandmas from the Eurovision Song Contest.

"Cool, my teacher is gay."  Hanging off the side of the German teacher's union truck.

Several Embassies had trucks in the parade, including our own:

 And of course the Dutch, who are the most tolerant of all countries...especially if you ask them.

Guy Fawkes was there, which kinda creeped Annika out.  I was just confused as to why he wasn't with the Pirate Party truck.  

Naturally, Annika made friends with Tante Luisa from Brazil!
 We decided that the CSD parade was probably one of the only places on Earth where Annika could wear a pink sequined hat and people would still ask if she was a boy or a girl.

Here is some of the swag we got for attending the parade.
 Above swag from: Football fans against homophobia, the Embassy of the Netherlands, a Disko in Dresden, Dildo King, and a couple other places.
 Above tiny swag bag from: Berlin AIDS Help--the picture book is really great and Andy had a GREAT time coming up with alternative explanations for some of the pictures to Annika.
Above swag from: the Green Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Christian Democratic Union--3 of the major parties in the German political system.  We missed the swag from the Pirate Party and the Free Democratic Party (the Lefts).  

Almost all of the swag was handed to Andy, probably because he was standing closer to the trucks, but maybe because...well...he's cute.  We had a great time and even got to stay almost to the very end of the parade before anyone had a breakdown.  Annika did have to leave twice to go pee, but we're profis at finding trees to water by now.  

My BIGGEST question at the very end of the parade: How in the world did those queens walk the whole parade route in THOSE shoes?      

Impressive Ladies!  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Poop for Dinner & Other Indignities of Parenthood

Parenthood is gross.  There are soo many things about it that I wish I never had to endure and there have been soo many times that I’m thankful I don’t have a weak stomach. 

When I was pregnant with Annika, we took a not so helpful hospital childbirth class, where I mostly critiqued what the lady was telling us and enjoyed watching the other couples who were there actually paying attention.  I will never in my life forget this one lady who always had ridiculous questions.  Two of my favorites that she asked during the course:
1.      Can they give me the old school 50s version twilight anesthesia so I don’t remember any of the birth and just wake up with a baby? 
2.      Can I ask them to wash off the baby before they give it to me, because I don’t want to touch all that cheesy goo? 
I’ve often wondered what happened to that lady and how much she hates the grossness of motherhood, alas I think the teacher sensed my critical gaze and never contacted us for any of the “reunions” for the class.  I digress…

I know there are other parents that can’t do the gross.  One of my brother-in-laws can’t change a dirty diaper without gagging, though I’m still not sure I believe him or if it is all a convenient ploy to get out of doing it ever.  There is not a parent out there that hasn’t had to endure things that they never could have imagined before on a scale of grossness that I did not even know existed before I had children.  Poopy diapers are low on the scale in my opinion.  I would rank them something like this:
  1. Wet Diaper on a girl
  2. Wet Diaper on a boy—much more potential for gross!
  3. Snot covered face in need of wiping. 
  4.  Baby spit up, anywhere. 
  5. A typical poopy diaper
  6. Booger licking toddler who won’t let you wipe their face and insists on shaking their head as the snot starts to fly off their face all over you and the room.  
  7. Vomit catching with bare hands 
  8. Poopy diaper that exploded up the back requiring at least 10 wet wipes and change of clothing for both baby and maybe you. 
  9. A poopy swim diaper!
  10. The Double Yuck: Both Ends at the same time and you have no way to avoid everyone being covered in one or the other (maybe both)---If I need to explain this more, then you are a lucky lucky human being who has never had to deal with disgustingness of this magnitude.
As a parent I am no longer surprised by this stuff, though it does still make me want to upchuck sometimes.  I do not enjoy sitting at the dinner table as a family and looking over to notice the “poop face” my kid is making, but my tolerance is getting pretty high for this kind of thing.  I can change a 2 year old’s dirty diaper without flinching.  I’m still getting excited for Mayzie to start using the potty, despite the long learning process I know goes along with that.  Our goal, fly home with 2 girls in underpants.  We’ll see how it goes. 

Other fun parenting indignities we have to suffer in Berlin:
-Annika’s constant chatter outing us as foreigners all the time and making us a target for staring at all times.
-Annika’s need to pee every ½ an hour or so forcing us to engage in much public urination as we sling her knees over our forearms and “water” another tree.  A German friend told us that there is no public urination law, so we worry less about getting a ticket now.  

I heard a rumor that at some point we may actually not have to deal with this stuff anymore at all, though I’m not sure I believe them.  The light at the end of the diaper tunnel is most assuredly keeping us going and an excellent deterrent for wanting any more babies.   

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Paying for the Toilet

This week, my fun train/bus reading is the infamous Bloggess’ book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  I’m not at all surprised by how hilarious it is, but it is a little embarrassing when I blurt out giggles on the stoic S-Bahn into the city.  It is soo good that I’m having trouble putting it down and there may or may not have been an incident of me missing my stop because I was too into the book to be bothered to pay attention to where I was.  In the book, Ms. Jenny Lawson bemoans the fact that she heard you have to pay for the toilet in Russia, noting that if she is ever in Russia she will indeed pee on the floor.  Oh Jenny, if you only knew…and now you will...if you actually read this, which you probably won’t, but I’m writing it anyway. 

Please do not let the fact that you have to pay for toilets in Berlin deter you from visiting this fabulous city.  I’ve sampled the free toilets elsewhere in Germany, and I’m telling you that I am happy to pay the 30-50 cents for a clean toilet.  If you have to pay, it is because an old woman is sitting outside and going in to wipe down the seat and/or clean the whole stall after each and every person uses it.  These attendants are 90% women in my experience too, not in a gender identified way that they told me they feel 10% man, but in that 90% of the attendants appear to be women.  Andy says they even walk around the men's room while the guys are at the urinal and it always creeps him out a bit.  I digress. 

I am so used to paying for using the toilet here now, that I almost never forget to take my change with me.  We regularly empty our pockets and wallets of change for the toilet, especially when we go to a beer garden.  There ARE 3 of us who use the toilet right now, and one of us has to pee all the fricking time too.  I will not lie, I most assuredly force my 4 year old to share a stall with me and only pay for one use of the toilet sometimes.  Does that make me a bad person?  Maybe, but I figure they only have to clean one toilet, and seriously, sometimes Ani pees every 10 minutes. 

Sometimes we even use the “City Toilettes” that are around town.  They are super space-age capsules that self-clean after every use.  They are pretty big, and we can even pull our double stroller comfortably inside with all 4 of us to take turns peeing for one low price.  Does this make us a little too thrifty?  Yeah, maybe I’ve said too much.   I'm sure this signals some sort of demise of our relationship or family, as I distinctly remember Lily & Marshall having a breakdown about peeing in front of one another on a HIMYM episode. I'm not saying it's a bonding experience, but I don't honestly think it is such a big deal.  SEE: 

Interesting thing I’ve noticed: the City Toilettes are not priced the same in all parts of the city.  In Prenzlauerberg, the trendy hipster parent spot of the moment filled with super crunchy organic-only cloth-diaper types that only wear their babies (read: ultra-gentrified!), the City Toilette costs 50 cents.  In Wedding, aka the scariest of all German ghettos (read: tree lined and beautiful and looking NOTHING like an American ghetto at all!)  the City Toilette only costs 20 cents.  I find this extremely interesting, and I wonder how the decisions were made for the pricing.  But I digress again... 

So the moral of the story is, sometimes paying to pee is worth it, but there are ways to work the system if you have small children. 

I leave you with a fun story from my honeymoon in Brazil, where we also often paid for the toilet.    While we were in Rio de Janeiro, we went to a professional soccer game to see how the Brazilians do it.  It was an AMAZING experience that I’m soo glad we had, despite the extreme chaos and insanity that it was.  (Seriously, they were setting off fireworks in the stadium stands!)  Naturally, we got into the spirit of things and had a few beers at the game.  As the game was winding down near the 75 minute mark, Andy made his way to the bathroom to empty his bladder before a traffic filled van ride back to our hotel on Copacabana beach.  Much to his chagrin, he found out the hard way that the stadium officials actually throw a gate in front of the bathroom door to prevent people from using it for the last 20 minutes of the game and on their way out.  It made no sense to him or to the 3 other drunk dudes who really had to go and were expressing their displeasure with this policy by pissing through the gate onto the bathroom floor.  When in Rio... 

Seriously, buy Jenny Lawson’s (theBloggess) book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  You’ll laugh your ass off!  Bonus points if you read it on the treadmill! 

P.S. Jenny, I’m totally knitting you some leg-warmers with Turkeys on them when I get back to the United States.  Or would you prefer oversized Quail?  

P.P.S. I am in no way being compensated by Jenny Lawson for promoting her book!  I just think she is a seriously hilarious amazing human being who makes me laugh sooo much and deserves any success the world can throw at her.  She's also an outspoken advocate for truthiness surrounding mental health issues, and that makes me love her even more!  Laws(b)ians RULE! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lübeck Part 2

The hotel we stayed at had a divinely German breakfast that was part of our package, and I was soo overwhelmingly excited to eat it.  There were soo many different kinds of breads, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, vegetables, omelets, etc etc that it is actually making my mouth water just to think about it.  Of course, anyone who has ever tried to eat a meal with 2 squirmy kids knows that you must fight for every bite that you get to actually take.  Thankfully, they kept the coffee coming and Andy and I are getting to be professionals at trading who has to say, “Please get back in your chair again” and “No, you may not have another donut until you eat some fruit.” 

By the time Sunday morning’s breakfast came around, we were pretty well exhausted from the weekend, and were happy that the girls chose to play under the table together instead of scurrying under all of the server’s feet in the restaurant while we chased them and artfully dodged the scowls of other non-parent hotel guests. 

Then, I made the mistake of looking under the table and having this exchange with Annika:

Me: Hey Ani, whacha doing? 

Annika:  Playing.

Me: (notices something in her mouth) What are you eating? (Thinking: fruit of some kind).

Annika: Gum

Me: Oh, where did you get gum? (Thinking: Maybe from dad?)

Annika: (points her finger directly up) from the table mama.

Me: Oh…ewwwww. 

I proceeded to laugh uncontrollably into my napkin for several minutes—I blame the combination of exhaustion and disgust. 

After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and let the girls play on the playground next to the hotel.  Naturally, Mayzie managed to escape from me and get down the slide which had a 1” deep puddle of nasty rain water at the bottom of it.  Par for the morning of course! 

We took the collective buses back to Berlin, and even got both girls to pass out at some point in the back row of the bus.  

We arrived back to our apartment just in time to fix dinner and remember that it was Father’s Day.  Oops…total wife and daughter fail!!  Do I at least get some wife points for sending my husband out after a long weekend to watch the Germany-Denmark Eurocup game at a beer garden with our friends while I stayed home to put the kids to bed and hang out with my own dad?  I hope so. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lübeck Part 1

This weekend we traveled to Lübeck, a very beautiful old city on the Baltic Sea (Ostsee in German) for a conference.  The weekend was insanely awkward and chaotic interesting to say the least, but I’m choosing to only remember the awesome parts.  The weekend might have been free, had we been able to stick to the schedule as outlined by people without small children to think about.  As our friend over at Baby Takes Berlin points out, sometimes you get what you pay for.  We spent much of Friday on a bus filled with friends here in Berlin on the same scholarship program, so that part was pretty great—except for the last 45 minutes when Mayzie screamed at the top of her lungs because she hadn’t taken a nap yet. 

Lübeck is a really beautiful coastal town, the history of which I did not get a chance to learn about because…oh wait…I’m not writing about the crappy parts…hmmmm…

So our girls had a great time swimming in the very nice hotel’s swimming pool.  We only stayed 2 nights and we managed to throw them in the pool 3 different times.   Don’t worry, they were wearing water wings and we got in too. 

Saturday we completely ditched the conference and wandered around the city for most of the day.  We peeked around a corner and found a playground hidden down this adorable tiny corridor lined with houses all close together, and our girls made friends with a Schnecki (Snail—though I think Annika only knows the German word). 

We found out Mayzie is actually getting very good at writing!  ;-)

My Dad was along for the ride, as he was in Germany visiting us, and I think he actually got to go in this awesome historic tower thing that used to be the main entrance to the city.  He told us that the top of this is filled with medieval torture devices that used to be employed there to deter would be criminals from entering the Hanseatic city. 

Our girls made friends with a giant gummi bear.

We ate some marzipan, for which the city is famous, though somehow forgot to purchase any to take home with us. Oops. 

Overall, I would say this family photo sums up our entire experience.

Andy is feigning relaxation.  I’m obviously trying too hard to look happy.  Annika is just waking up from an ill-timed nap, and Mayzie is just about to lose it again.   All of us are not quite centered, almost cut-off, and/or completely awkward.  Yeah...that's a pretty good description of our whole weekend.  

Saturday night, we somehow persuaded my dad to stay with the girls in the hotel room (read: room service!) and we went to dinner with the big group.  Our small group of friends rebelliously snuck out and scampered about town looking for a place to watch the Eurocup Games.  We ended the night watching soccer and drinking beers in one of the hotel rooms. 

To be continued…

Friday, June 15, 2012

As Seen in Berlin

As an American girl living in Berlin, some things just strike me as odd.  I've been taking pictures of these things as I encounter them, and I submit here several for your entertainment.

1. While shopping one day at a large mall with my good friend the Imitation European, we wandered into an Espirit store.  On the women's side we were especially struck by the decidedly nautical northern California theme they had going with the shirts that sported names of west coastal cities and such.  Nothing could have prepared us for what we found on the men's side of the store.
Espirit was selling the Stars and Bars as trendy T-shirts!!
 In white or gray.
These were certainly not the only incidences of the Stars and Bars around town, as I am sadly accustomed to seeing inappropriately adopted cultural symbols all over this city.  I think it really just struck me this time because Espirit tends to sell more classic preppy wear and not the overly trendy stuff.  Either way, we both found it ridiculous and made sure to take a picture.  Would they sell these in the USA?  At Espirit?  They certainly don't sell swastika t-shirts anywhere that I've found, and to me, the symbols hold similarly disgusting  ideals for their supporters.  You won't catch me ever wearing or buying either.

2. This next one I have seen several places around Berlin, typically at public transportation stops or hallways in the underground.
 The best part of this is that all of the little bits you can tear off at the bottom are actually just the lyrics of the song.  "Cause I wonder where you are, and I wonder what you do.  Are you somewhere feeling lonely, or is someone loving you?" etc.  This makes me smile every time I see it, and I LOVE that the people that put these up are completely anonymously making me giggle all over town.  Thanx!

3. Recently while in route somewhere, we stumbled upon this gem:
For you non-German speakers, this is a poster for the International Anarchist Meeting August 8-12, 2012 in Switzerland.  I'm mostly impressed by the organization of anarchists AND the fact that they're having their meeting in an extremely wealthy and expensive country.  Well played anarchists, well played.  I really wish I could go, not because I'm an anarchist, but because that would be some awesome people watching.  Alas, my research schedule will not allow it.

4. Last but not least, this is this newest Vita Cola advertisement plastered at several S-Bahn stops in route from one of my field sites to our house.

Roughly translated: "We're not everywhere, only where it's the most beautiful.  Your own style, your own cola."  If you look closely on the at little yellow sign, the bottom has "Amerika" crossed out and the top says "Schmalkalden." Schmalkalden is a tiny town smack in the center of Germany.  Apparently it's much more beautiful than America, though I'm not sure I'd agree it is a fair comparison.   

I'll keep my eyes peeled for further silliness around town, as always.  :-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mayzie's Haircut

23 months into the world, Mayzie went to get her first haircut.  I had to work, so Andy got to try his hand at haircut vocabulary in German again.  Yes I was a very trusting wife to send my husband out into the land where he barely speaks the language to get our 2nd born her first haircut <pats self on back>.  I'm not sure the results were great, but given the circumstances, it does look cute.

Here she is with the ever infamous stinky monkey! (He still has a cancerous lump in his butt from the hairdryer incident btw.)

This is how the haircut went down according to Andy: The lady put Mayzie in the chair and asked how he wanted it to be cut.  He put the side of his hand up to his chin and she lopped off the mullet-y back section of Mayzie's hair.  He then told the lady "hair always eyes" while pointing to her forehead, and she snipped some bangs in the front.  Hooray for brave Andy getting her mullet gone and for even remembering to get a small clipping of her hair for her non-existent baby book.  (P.S. I refuse to feel bad about the fact that she doesn't have a baby book.  I started one for Annika and got a little too distracted with my PhD to keep it up properly.  I hope they both understand someday.)

Let's be honest, for a moment, if this little piece of paper with her tiny hair clipping somehow doesn't get lost in the move back to the US and then to wherever we end up there, it will be a serious miracle.

The one thing funny thing we found out when we chopped her hair off: her hair isn't as straight as we thought it was.  She actually has a funny curl just behind one ear.  Who knew?  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bremen Escape Part 2

When we awoke the second morning in Bremen, our hosts laid out a large German breakfast again, complete with fresh brötchen, an assortment of cheeses and meats, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, etc.  Our girls were the most excited about the wurst slices shaped like bears.  We devoured our favorite meal of the day, slathered on the sunscreen, packed up the kids and gear, and drove an hour north to Cuxhaven for our extra special super dirty day at the mudflats. 

Low-tide is especially low in this portion of the North Sea.  If you are standing on the beach you can’t even see the water and you can walk out to some of the barrier islands.  This wide expanse of muddiness is called the mudflats, and I only knew the German word for it (Watt) until we looked up the translation of the word on the internet recently.  I am a Midwesterner after all, and I spent a whole summer waiting tables on one of these barrier islands (Norderney) where I was introduced to the concepts and vocabulary of coastal living auf Deutsch.  I hold a very special place in my heart for northern Germany, and not just because of their easy to understand hoch Deutsch, and this day spent at the beach and mudflats really only served to cement this LOVE. 

Anyone who has small children will know that I am glossing over the nitty gritty ugly details of how fun it ISN’T to schlepp 4 children ages 1-4, 4 adults, and all the accompanying gear, snacks, drinks etc required for a day out onto a sandy beach.  The husbands dropped the moms, 90% of the gear, and the 4 kids off near the entrance and then searched for a place to park the cars.  We ladies found a spot to camp and got everything set up only to have the men arrive 20 minutes later to tell us they had rented a Strandkorb 100 meters away.  We were thankful for the Strandkorb, but not so thankful that we had to pick up and move again with the 4 kids, a beach ½ tent, a stroller, 4 kids, etc etc etc.  At least the men were there to help.

Here we are sitting in the Strandkorb.  I've decided that we MUST have one in our garden when we finally own a house!  

This was the view from our Strandkorb.

Once we got re-set-up with our gear, the Wattwandern began.  (Literally: Mudflat hiking.) Annika was acting adorably cautious, which is completely against her nature.  When I asked her why, she told me, “I don’t want to get too dirty Mama.”  Seriously kid?  I gently reminded her that it was our extra special super dirty day and that she is certainly washable, and she promptly plopped down on her belly and started doing a crawl through the mud. 

The kids passed the day searching for crabs and sea worms and constructing sand castles, while we adults took turns sitting on the beach and wandering with the kids.  It was marvelously relaxing, especially as the tide stays out until almost 3:45pm so I wasn’t constantly fretting about anyone drowning. 

This was the biggest crab they found.  

Squelch Squirch Squelch Squirch Squelch Squirch!

The mud makes this amazing crackling popping sound as you are walking along and the air is escaping.  This picture hardly does justice to the way it is covered in tiny holes and foot prints.  It was a great work out for my legs trying not to slip while at the same time pulling my feet up from the muck.

Here are the men with the 3 bigger kids wandering out, and we still couldn't see the water.

Mayzie doing some serious sand play.

When the tide was about 150 meters from the shore, I walked out to the edge of the water with our girls.  We walked the water in toward the shore and rinsed off some of the mud from the day.    

We arrived back at the W house, bathed and fed the kids, and bedtime was MUCH easier than the previous night.  We ordered pizzas for the grown-ups and sat on the porch chatting.  LW came over again with another friend of ours and we all had great laughs telling BK (before kids) stories and reminiscing about our shared pasts.  Isn’t that the best thing about old friends?  I love that my husband gets to hear stories about me from before he knew me from men who have known me for most of my life.  I feel incredibly lucky to have these amazing friends in my life still and even luckier that even as we have grown up and changed, we still have so many things to talk about and relate.  (Sorry, getting a little mushy!)

As the light finally faded in Northern Germany that night (at 10:30pm), I knew that day was something special.  It was one of those days that you wish would never end, when the hours never seem long enough and the clock mocks you with its quick pace.  The day was not without hiccups: I carried a kicking and screaming Mayzie the entire 1km back to the car from the beach while horrified Oma onlookers mocked with the faces of scorn for example.  But this day was amazing for the simplicity and slow paced joy and even some moments of relaxation that it brought.  I will never forget this day or the lovely people that made it so special!  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bremen Escape Part 1

We had been looking forward to going to Bremen to see old friends since we arrived in Germany.  LW, CW, and I have been friends since we were all 16 years old.  LW was an exchange student in my high school and CW came to visit him during that year.  Umpteen years and several transatlantic visits later, we all still like each other and remain in contact despite the multitude of factors against us.  CW, his lovely wife IW invited us to stay with them for the long holiday weekend and play with their lovely boys HW & LW (1 & almost 4 respectively).  Despite working all the way in Stuttgart and having to cancel a meeting to be there, LW made the trip up and we got to catch up with him too. 

After our first adventure on the Autobahn from Berlin to Bremen, we arrived at CW’s house in time for dinner on Friday.  This was just early enough that we had the possibility of settling our 4 kids down in time for bed after a warming up period and just late enough to ward off too much adult hair-pulling-out from all the tots buzzing around.  Bedtime wasn’t as horrible as we expected, but the munchkins DID eventually settle down to give us some adult time.  We had a relaxing evening catching up on their newly finished porch recounting tales of parenthood, cultural misunderstandings, and plans for the weekend ahead. 

Saturday morning we took the kids to Magic Park.  (WARNING: That link plays music!)  This was a really perfect place to take our quite young kids, and the weather really cooperated by hanging out in the upper sixties and keeping the sun out all day.  We all had a great time flitting around the park, pushing the buttons to make some of the rides go and laughing when all of us grown-ups had trouble pedaling the human powered things.  In the end, the kids really spent much more time playing on the trampolines, carpet slide, and jungle gyms than they did on the fancy schmancy rides.  A note about difference: If this place had been in the USA, it would have been more expensive, there would have been an attendant at every ride, and the self-propelled vs. automated ride would have been much different.  Frankly, I think I preferred this version of a theme park.    

Annika driving an old time-y car where we just got in and pulled a rope to get it started.  

Mayzie just wanted to keep going down the carpet slide.  I LOVE the look on her face in this picture.

The trampoline dancing sisters.

The kids slumbered in the car on the way back to the W house.  We dropped off I and the boys, and C headed with us into the city of Bremen to meet up with LW.  We parked at his work and walked around the city center.  We got to see the famous Bremen Stadtmusikanten (City Musicians), the town hall, and Roland.  

Annika and I with the Stadtmusikanten.  You are supposed to grab both of the donkey's legs for luck, but I was too concerned about Annika falling to do it this time.  

The lesser known statue of the city musicians reading was more Mayzie's style.

Here we are at City Hall & Roland, UNESCO world heritage site and excellent place for people watching.

While we sat at the Beck’s brewery garden in the town center there was even a gigantic demonstration filled with techno music and artists painting a gigantic cloth that was stretched into a circle by 5 people standing in the center and intermittently dancing to the music streaming from the decorated trucks.  They were protesting a building being put up in what is now a public gathering place for listening to music.  We all agreed that it had a very Love Parade Berlin kind of anti-capitalist artistic feel to it.  

We headed back the house for dinner and then bedtime madness ensued promptly thereafter.  I will skip the details, but let me just say that I am supremely impressed by Miss Mayzie who was able to completely sleep through her sister kicking and screaming only 4 feet away in the same room.  Annika managed to scare the crap out of LW with her antics, mostly because he was worried we were beating her.  I assure you, we do not beat our children.  It’s just not our style. 

After the insanity that was putting Annika to bed that night, IW & CW knew we needed to have a drink and a laugh.  Lucky for us they had already been chilling some prosecco AND the Eurovision Song Contest was on that night.  I have not laughed at ridiculousness like that in so long, and my stomach was hurting afterwards.  Bonus: Andy got a great geography lesson while watching the results come in live.  

Sunday was one of my most favorite days ever in the entire the next installment. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Autobahn Driving: Andy’s New Favorite Way to Travel

Over the long Pfingsten (Pentacost) holiday weekend, we rented a car to drive over to see our friends in Bremen.  I’m working on two posts about our amazing weekend right now, but first I HAVE to write about the experience of getting there.  It’s really all about the journey anyway right?  We have some friends who drive here very regularly, despite the exorbitant gas prices and scary scariness that is driving in Germany. 

Small Disclaimer about this post before I continue: I don’t even miss driving a car at home where I know all the rules, all the signs are in English, and the speed limits are more stringent.  I do miss the convenience of having a car sometimes, but honestly, I would be perfectly happy without one as long as I have satisfactory public transportation options.  It IS pretty awesome to go out to dinner with my husband and not have to decide who is going to get to have a second drink!  I was very very content to let Andy do the driving during our car driving adventure here in Germany. 

Since Andy was doing the driving, I was able to sit in the passenger seat and alternate between typing out observations on my notes app on my Handy (cell phone) and entertaining the children as best I could.  Amazingly, just like at home, the girls were still best entertained by handing them an assortment of snacks and turning on a movie on my tablet. 

Mayzie still does not appreciate the Mommarazzi,  

and Annika is still good at sleeping in the car! 

A few shorts from the journey:
  • There were NO BILLBOARDS!!  Seriously, NONE.  There were signs for the shops and fast food and all that, but mainly just the ones that are on gigantic 100m high sticks on top of the building.  It was amazing! 

  • There are a whole lot of windmill turbines visible from the highways in Northern Germany.  I probably could not have counted them all, and I can count pretty high. 

  • There IS a speed limit, but it is variable, usually 120, and in sections there is only a “recommended” limit.  The recommended one is 130, but in these sections you can drive as fast as you think is safe.  For the record: Andy got up to 201 km/hour (125 mph) before we quickly hit a traffic jam because of an accident.  It scared the crap out of me, but I never felt unsafe, if that makes any sense.  This is what the speed limit & restriction signs look like when they are blank: 

  • Andy flew past a Polizei car and instinctually hit the brake before remembering that he wasn’t breaking any laws by driving 115 km/hour.  We laughed.
  • There are awesome public health-y signs for the drivers:

            -Lass dir Zeit. (Give yourself time.)
            -Finger vom Handy. (Finger off your cell phone.)
            -Fahr nicht so schnell. (Don't drive so fast.)

  • German rest stops are disgusting!  There were exactly 2 toilets in the women’s public restrooms without seats, and they were those industrial stainless steel toilets that whoosh like a water slide.  Annika set one off while sitting on it and we had to dry her from bum to knees.  We laughed because otherwise I was going to cry while thinking about the nastiness. 
  • Construction Signs had a great way to keep you calm and let you know how much further you had to put up with delays.  It went like this:

            -8,5 km more—red mad face
            -6km more—yellow so so face
            -4km more—green ok face
            -2km more—green almost happy face
            -Geschafft (literally “managed”)—green very happy face
We need to implement something like this at home.  It would certainly cut back on my road rage in             those situations.
  • It cost us 85€ to fill up our rented wagon’s empty gas tank.  That’s $106.22 @ todays exchange rate.  OUCH! 

  • German gas stations make you pay to use the toilet, and you have to have the right change!  Thankfully they had a kiddy door that let the little ones go for free, but I most definitely did the pee-pee dance waiting for Annika to finish so I could go back to the car to get my wallet. 

Overall, I would say that the experience was not so different from home, despite the minor differences.  We managed not to break too many laws unknowingly, and the signs we didn’t understand were very patiently explained by our German friends in Bremen.  I would definitely say it was a Fahrvergnügen situation, despite the fact that we rented an Opel Kombi and not a Volkswagen.  Just so you know John Wilson, it DID have GM printed on the gas cap.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ask Annika: Part 2

Our dear friend Emily is second in line for our Ask Annika game.  She is also from the states and is here in Berlin doing doctoral research on the same fellowship as I am.  She is incredibly beautiful and funny and intelligent AND loves our kids, so we keep her around so that the girls can have a great role model for a babysitter.  (Side note: We try to only hire babysitters who are awesome role models, so any other babysitters reading this should not be offended and think that we like Emily the best!)  Emily also has an awesome 6 degrees of separation from us as she went to high school with a former roommate of ours who is also in my PhD program.  Not all Midwesterners know each other, but this Berlin-Midwest connection certainly made us feel like the world is a very small place. 

Emily asks:   

1. What do you like to do at the Spielplatz?

Annika: Play

Me: Yes, but what do you like to play on at the Spielplatz?

Annika: On the playground.

Me: Ok, so what kind of playing do you do?

Annika: Oh, I like to climb. 

Me: Yes you do you little monkey!

2. What's your favorite way to travel around town (space age stroller, bike trailer, bus, UBahn/SBahn, walking...)?

Annika: I like to take a bus. 

Me: Really?  A bus is your favorite?

Annika: Yep.

3. How is your balcony garden doing?

Annika: play

She was getting a little distracted by the sticky notes, pens and stapler on my desk at this point, but we persevered.

Andy: What’s your favorite thing on the balcony garden to eat?

Annika: Ahh, playing.

Andy: No, to eat.  You know how you eat some of the leaves off the stuff in the garden.  Which one’s your favorite?

Annika: Umm, the long skinny ones that I always be grabbing to eat. 

Me: You mean the chives? 

Annika: Yeah, those are my favorite.

This may be our new favorite game!  You can read the first post here. If you’d like to Ask Annika our precocious 4 year-old anything about Berlin or her life here, please feel free to leave a comment or send an email with your questions.  We always enjoy deciphering the answers.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Welcome Visitors

We just started an almost 6 week straight stint of having visitors in our house.  I have to say that I now have a great appreciation for our family and friends who live in Florida and typically have a long line of people coming to visit them and their beautifully visit-able state. (Y’all know I love you and love visiting your state, but I could NEVER live there.  It’s not for me.)  Living abroad and only seeing family via Skype for a while now, we have a whole new appreciation when people take the time and pay exorbitant airline ticket prices to come and see us.  It’s also GREAT to get some hugs from our favorite people in the world again!

Perhaps the best part of people coming all the way here is finally getting to show off this amazing city where we’re living.  Sitting at the crossroads of history has its advantages, and Berlin is so fascinatingly historical and modern at the same time.  This city is simultaneously vibrant and fast paced and peaceful and relaxed.  While riding the subway you can sit between an ultra-fashion conscious perfectly made up and designer name brand decked out Oma and a barefoot dread-locked hippy wearing harem pants, patchouli oil, and a hemp tank top while carrying a laptop.  The contradictions are so much more interesting than the consistencies and Berlin is as full of them as any other large city in the world.  There are a million little niches to explore in this city, and deciding which place to focus on is challenging as well as intriguing. 

When dropping off my amazing Aunt and Uncle at the English walking tour, I noticed a few things about myself:

1. I am not a tourist anymore and actually feel a bit odd going to the touristy areas now because I don’t go there…EVER. 

2. I probably could GIVE the tour that they are taking if I had the time and less work to get done.

3. My default language is changing when I’m out on the town.  I now get surprised when people speak English to me and usually make them repeat whatever they’ve said because I was listening with my German ears.    

My postings will probably be quite reduced during these next weeks as we spend more time in the evening chatting over bottles of prosecco and beer than in front of my laptop.  We’re also getting ready to pass the ¾ mark of our stay here, so are beginning the loooong mental, physical, and financial planning process for what is to come in October.  We honestly have NO idea right now, which is both scary and fun at the same time.  


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