Thursday, August 30, 2012

8/29 Berlin Bingo

On the S-Bahn yesterday, I saw 2 different ladies dressed in office attire complete with high heels, carrying scooters that were very obviously theirs.  How does one scoot in heels?

On the street, I saw a man passing out flyers wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with black letters that said "No Massages. No Sunglasses. No Viagra."  I WISH I would have gotten a flyer that he was passing out, so that I could try to figure out what in the world that T-shirt was supposed to mean.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Berliner Bunnies

A couple of months ago, we noticed that our neighbors suddenly had a bunny cage in their back yard.  We live on the 4th floor of our building, and these are our 1st floor neighbors directly underneath us.  They are always nice to us as our children fawn all over their cats and yard while we schlep the bikes and stroller into the basement through the backdoor.

Today, as Annika and I returned from a bike ride, she rode ahead and went to play in their yard while I locked up my bike and walked around to the back of the building where she was.  She was asking them about the bunnies, and they were attempting to explain why they were gone now.  They looked noticeably happy to see me so that I would translate for them.

The conversation went like this (but in German):

Me: What happened to the bunnies?

Matthias: They had to go to a new home.

Me:  Did the cats really eat them?

Matthias: No no, they just kept digging in the yard.

<I explained this to Annika in English briefly, while Matthias listened nodding his head and noting which words I used for future reference.>

back in German...
Matthias: They dug a hole this deep. <gestures his hands about 2 feet apart.>

Me: Really.  Wow.  No wonder you had to get rid of them.

Matthias: Yes, they actually dug under the fence into the neighbors yard.

Me: Oh no.

Matthias: Yes, they are real Berliners, digging tunnels to the better side.

Much laughing ensued.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Beauty of Liminality


There is beauty in the unknowing, a marvelous calm in knowing only that the push in one direction or another is completely out of your hands.  We’re standing at the crossroads of what is to come next, and I finally don’t feel anxious.  Struggling and squirming won’t change anything and all of the decisions are not mine to be made.  The only option now is to be present and enjoy the waiting, knowing that no matter which direction we are nudged in, all will be well. 

I thought by now I would be better at lingering in this this liminal space between gigantic momentous occasions, given that our life has been seemingly peppered with them in the last 7 years.  I wear the yoke of responsibility with unease however, and hold my shoulders up tentatively counting the seconds until I can put it down and stop pretending to be so strong.  But I am resilient and thankfully I don’t have to carry these burdens on my own. 

In the quiet seconds between the racing thoughts of wondering what will be, I breathe deeply and remember just how lucky I am.  I never want to forget the luxury of change and the things that stay the same no matter what happens…my family, my friends, my tenacity, my passion, my partner.  So we wait, turning our minds over and over the different possibilities that might lie waiting for us down whichever path we go, and trying to be patient.   That’s the real beauty of the betwixt and between space of liminality: the dreaming of what cannot be known and all the endless possibilities that are waiting beyond this space where we are right now.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sunshine Sausages


Germans love their sunshine.  You can see it as they turn their faces to the sky and grin while attempting to absorb as much vitamin-D as they can.  I saw it on Norderney while everyone was on vacation, and I see it now in Berlin every day the sun shows its face. 

A few months back, when everyone was working on their pre-vacation tans, I saw a great advertisement all over the city about turning brown.  It was a very white sausage on a white background with plain letters that said, “Nur Gebraunt ist Besser!”  (English translation: Only browned is better!) 

As I have become all too aware of in the past few years, the sun is not always so kind.  No, I’m not even going to talk about the New Jersey tanning mom that I read about in the news (so sad that I missed that phenomenon), rather these horrific seemingly off-handed by-the-way phone calls I’ve received from my father who sounds like he’s shrugging his shoulders as he says, “So I had a little bit of cancer removed.”  Yeah, he’s not the smoothest at delivering news. 

I recently took my first trip to the dermatologist to get a suspicious something on my skin checked out.  I really loved the sign in the waiting room that told me that “the sun has its dark sides too.”  This did not at all compare to the awesome sign that was in the room where I got checked out at the follow-up appointment:


Translation: Long Grilling Makes for Sick Skin. 
LOVED it!

4 Things I learned at this appointment:
-Doctors’ visits don’t always have to take hours.  As a new patient, I was in and out of that office, including a non-scheduled procedure, in less than an hour.

-Not all laser eye surgeries are equal.  I got a wart removed from my lower eyelid with a laser, which was totally NOT the laser eye surgery I had envisioned for my future.

-In Germany, you are supposed to sign an informed consent form 24 hours before having a medical procedure.  I don’t know if that is only for elective procedures, but I do know that the doctor wrote an exception clause at the bottom of the form and made me sign it to say that I understood that I was waving this 24 hour waiting period. 

-Germans don’t know what guns really sound like, at least my dermatologist doesn’t.  Before doing the surgery, the doctor warned me that the laser was going to sound like a gun.  It didn’t sound ANYTHING like a gun.  It made a small popping noise, quieter than shooting a BB gun.  I tried not to laugh. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Berlin Bingo

While waiting at my bus stop, an old bald profusely sweating man rode his bicycle past me wearing only shorts, socks with sandals, & a scarf around his neck. Oh Berlin!

Title & game stolen from my awesome friend the Imitation European. She returned to the USA already, so I'm picking up where she left off.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Day in the Life...

I did this little project a few months back with some friends on Facebook, and it was so amazingly fun.  We all took pictures of what we were doing every hour of the day.  The pictures were taken as near to the top of the hour as we could make them and were to be representative of what we were actually doing.  We all uploaded them to the Facebook group we created and then had great fun comparing each other's days.  It was a really amazing project, and we had participants from almost every continent and from so many different perspectives.  This was my day. 


7am: Time to wake up and play with the girls

8am: Drop off Annika at Kita

9am: Finishing breakfast and planning the day with our guests my awesome Aunt & Uncle who came all the way from Florida to Berlin to visit us. 


 10am: Riding the train into the neighborhood where I do my research

 11am: Working at a cafe

Noon: hanging out with some of my research participants

1pm: Walk through a market (That's white German asparagus btw.)

2pm walking walking walking--trying to stay out of the red bricked bike lane


 3pm: Home & working again. 

4pm: Hanging with my girls 

5pm: Waiting for the bus and enjoying legal beer drinking in public

6pm: Almost to our destination

7pm is missing because I completely forgot to take a picture inside...


8pm: Leaving the restaurant with my aunt & uncle

9pm: The couple that pees together...had too much beer at the restaurant & can't make it all the way back to the apartment without a pit stop. 

10pm: Nightcaps with our babysitters

I loved this project and I really hope we make it a tradition.  It was amazing to see all the pictures of daily life from around the world.  I can't say that this particular day was necessarily representative of my usual day, even for this year of being abroad in a very unusual situation.  I am however, very happy to have been able to document a special fun day.  

What you don't see in the pictures is also funny too, such as: 
-the extreme nervousness I felt when I was planning out the day for my aunt & uncle to make sure they didn't get lost.
-when I got "hopping mad" at Andy for suggesting we could ever possibly leave the kids at home with very capable babysitters who might actually not have a way to contact us should they need to. 
-the great conversations we had with my aunt & uncle about life plans. 

A picture might say a thousand words, but it certainly can conceal millions too.  




Wednesday, August 15, 2012

R.P. Event of the Year


As we approached the parking lot outside the venue, we knew that we were out of our element.  We walked between the Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and numerous other cars we’d never actually dreamed of seeing in person, through the entrance gate at the back, and out onto a field that might as well have been a different planet.  I might be exaggerating a little bit, but it was assuredly a new experience for our whole family to attend an honest to goodness Polo Tournament!  I instantly felt underdressed and wished I was wearing a polka-dot dress while cheering inappropriately for a team and sport that I knew nothing about. 

The tournament was free and open to any and all, though you could pay 190€ per person for the chance to sit in the VIP area.  (Don’t you know that only rich people are important?)  We slummed it in the free area, since we didn’t have enough cash on us, and had a great time trying to figure out the rules and watch the matches all while attempting to also wrangle very wriggly 2 & 4 year old girls.  Eventually we gave up and took the girls over to the giant bouncy giraffe for jumping and a spot where they could ride a pretend horse and attempt to jump over actual gates. 

Annika was not happy about this picture, and/or was attempting to perfect her McKayla Maroney pout.

 Mayzie wasn't so happy about this one. 

 The rich people were waaaay over under the tents. 

 We preferred to slum it with the blanket crowd.  

Annika was teaching Mayzie how to ride the pretend horse. 

All in all it was a very lovely afternoon seeing how the other 1% likes to entertain themselves.  I think I could actually get into Polo, should I ever be so lucky to be able to both learn the rules and actually watch a game.  In the end, we decided that a Polo Tournament ranked way up the list of really rich (mostly white) people activities. 

Other Rich People Activities:
-Yachting
-Sailing
---yeah…that’s as far as we got actually.  Isn’t it funny how the fact that we aren’t rich hinders our ability to even imagine what activities really rich people enjoy?  What would you put on that list?  

Annika already wants to learn how to play polo though.  FYI: I was so ignorant about this game that I didn't even know that there is an International Women's Polo Association.  Hopefully we strike it rich so we can dream of new and exciting rich people activities to show our children.      

Monday, August 13, 2012

As seen in Berlin...

This afternoon on the S-Bahn, I looked out the window at the passing apartment buildings and spotted a man sitting on his balcony that faces the tracks drinking something from a mug and enjoying the sunshine...naked. Oh Berlin!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

LEAVE ME ALONE!!!


Earlier this week I went to the gym to get my sweat on and a little stress out.  I did a circuit of weights, and then headed straight to the Erg (rowing) machine for some long slow distance.  I was planning to do 10,000 meters in 50 minutes, not a strenuous pace by any means, but a good one for me.  Let me spoil the ending my telling you that my goal was not reached and that I left the gym in an expletive filled huff. 

My friends here and I like to trade stories of cultural misunderstandings and basic whuck-ness that happens to us as foreigners living in Berlin.  These are usually punctuated by exasperated sighs, hands thrown in the air, shoulder shrugging, head shaking, and one of us saying, “Das ist Deutschland!”  When we first arrived, the frustration level was ridiculously high and this was honestly the best way that we had for relieving the pressure of trying to navigate this place individually together.  This is one of those stories that I will be telling again and again to illustrate the nosy critical German-ness that I experience here on a very regular basis.  I am not trying to herein suggest that ALL Germans are like this, rather that nosiness is a more common trait here than I ever expected.   

Back to the story: So I get going on the Erg.  I am about 4500 meters into the workout and I feel like I’m starting to hit a good pace that I can keep going for the duration of what I have left.  All of a sudden, I feel a tap on my shoulder.  I look up to see an elderly German woman standing less than a foot away from my sweat soaked body.  The exchange went something like this, only in German:

Nosy Lady:  Has anyone ever shown you how to do this before? 

Me: Yes, a friend of mine at home is a rower and she showed me how. 

Nosy Lady:  Well you are doing it all wrong and it just isn’t effective the way you are doing it.  Can I show you how?  (sits down on Erg next to mine) You see you need to…

Let me just stop here and move to my inner dialogue at this point.

In my head: Why is this woman showing me how to do this when I already know how?  Does she work here?  No.  Hmm…ok, so she’s just trying to be nice and show me the proper technique so that I don’t hurt myself.  I guess my posture was really bad.  OK, so I’ll work on it, but seriously, why is she showing me this.  Has she been behind me on the treadmill this whole 20 minutes worried about my posture and rowing technique?  Blah blah blah lady, I get it.  Yes yes, I’ll try to do better, now go back to your treadmill and leave me alone. 

I smiled.  She went back to her treadmill next to her friend directly behind me, and I started rowing again.  Then I hear this:

Nosy Lady:  Oh, you see she’s doing it all wrong again.  She’s leaning back too far and she’s going to hurt herself. 

Similarly Nosy Friend: Oh yes, that’s not good.

Nosy Lady: Oh no, that was better…no, not like that, that was too high on her chest again.

Similarly Nosy Friend: She’s really not doing it the correct way.  You know it really just doesn’t go that way.

Nosy Lady: She really has to learn how to do it more precisely.

Aaaand this is when I completely lost my Schmidt.  I could not listen to one more word of these two ridiculous ladies any more.  What may have started out as well-intentioned advice had turned into a full-on running commentary and critique.  My adrenaline had been pumping from the workout before, but now it was in overdrive.  I felt my blood pressure going up and my face contorted into absolute RAGE as I threw down the Erg pull.  I whipped my head around, gave them the meanest possible glare that I could muster without a growl, and muttered through my teeth, “Lass mich doch allein!”  (Leave me alone!)

I stormed out of the gym while continuously telling the ground to, “Leave me the F*** alone.”  I didn’t finish my workout.  I rode my bike home and was still angry. 

This is the deal: The gym is the one place where I can go work out some of my frustrations and stress.  I go there to sweat out the bad stuff and try to regroup my mind a little as well.  Going to the gym is as good for my mental health as it has for my physical health.  I didn’t get to get that frustration out.  I couldn’t escape the critical nosiness for a whole hour, and that does not make me a very happy girl. 

I wish I had the guts enough to ream that lady out.  I wish I had said a great many things to her, and if I was in the US, I probably would have.  What really gets me in the end was her absolute audacity to come up to me in the middle of a workout to stop me and tell me what to do. 

I think next time I use the Erg, I’m going to pin a sign on my back that says LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

On a much related note: I have since told this story to several friends (German and American), and they have all laughed and thought it was ridiculous.  Apparently this lady is just the bully of the gym though, as she has also yelled at two of my American friends for chatting too much while on the treadmill and for not being properly polite in the locker room by greeting everyone in it upon arrival.  She has a severe distaste for "foreigners" too, and today I was outed as one to her when she glared at the 3 of us while we were chatting on the elliptical machines.  The empathy of friends is an amazing thing, and we all had fun giving her simultaneous nasty looks.    

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mauerweg


The Berlin Wall used to divide this city.  Knowing this historical fact and actually seeing the places where it was, are completely separate things.  I knew we might be turning a little bit Berliner when one day my friend and I were walking near Potsdamer Platz and just walked over the line of bricks in the ground where the wall used to be and both barely even glanced down at it. 

Our apartment is near the furthest southwest part of where the wall used to be, and they have turned this section into a very nice path that is excellent for bike riding, jogging, etc.

Here is one of the maps of the trail now:

  
When the weather is nice, I love to go for a ride along the edge of the city where it is trimmed with cornfields and the pathway is covered with tall trees. 
If you know anything about the wall, you know that it wasn’t just one single wall, rather a 10-30 foot dead zone between two different lines of fences/cement wall/barricades that were very heavily guarded and really just surrounded West Berlin to keep them away from all the good East German communists.  From the paved path you can barely make out a dirt path where the other side of the dead zone used to be, but you can find it still. 


All along the pathway you come across these 15-20 foot tall and 6 inch wide L-shaped orange painted steel rods in the ground.  They have pictures and stories attached to them, and were erected to commemorate people who died trying to cross the wall at that exact point.  I need to take a picture of these, but somehow it feels odd and disrespectful to do it.   

The part of the Mauerweg near my house leads near one of the most peculiar looking places where these 70s communist style high rise apartment buildings look like they are growing up out of the cornfields.  Trust me when I tell you that these buildings are better seen from afar. 


This is the thing about Berlin for me: I am riding my bike through all this amazingly beautiful countryside and casually passing by other people doing the same and just enjoying being outside, and all of the sudden the historical significance of this amazing city and the lengths they have gone to in order to preserve that history, to remember their crappy past, and to move on and change just hit me.  This is one of the reasons that I LOVE this city. 

This sign is along a highway and reads: 
"Hier waren Deutschland und Europa bis zum 30 June 1990 um 10 Uhr geteilt." 
(This is where Germany and Europe was divided until June 30th 1990 around 10am.)


I for one, especially appreciate the precision knowing what TIME this happened that day.  

I will certainly miss this bike path when we go home, as well as living in the middle of such a historically significant place.  


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ewwww


There is a slug convention going on in Berlin right now.  They are everywhere and it is all I can do to keep from stepping on them or running them over with my bike tires.  Annika told me she was collecting them in her bike basket the other day, I laughed.  When we got to the park, I had her lay her bike on the side so that they could slither out while we played.  Well, a couple made it out, a couple more hardly moved at all, and one did THIS:



I had no idea what to do.  Annika said, “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll get it out.” 

As she grabbed it with her fingers and began to squeeze tightly while pulling the slug, I had to turn away.  It was one of those gut-curdling moments when your kid is going to do something that probably won’t bother them at all but is totally going to make you want to vomit.  Sadly, the slug did not budge from this position.  You would think with all that slime that it would just glide right out.  No such luck.  

We rode back to our apartment building. 

The slug was still in the same spot. 

I thought: I can’t take this into the basement!  I guess I’ll have to get it out. 

Annika said with an air of complete nonchalance, “It’s ok Mama.  I’ll just cut it open.  I wanna see what’s inside.” 

I thought: Is this the first sign that she’s a serial killer…ok, probably not, just curious, but still ewwwwww. 

I said, “No Ani.  Let’s see if we can just get it out.” 

I took one look and even made one attempt to actually reach for it before I did my heeby-jeeby dance.  I called Andy.  He is the kind of man who knows how to fix things.  (Un)Fortunately, he was in the middle of fixing dinner and unable to come down. 

I locked Annika’s bike up outside next to Andy’s and asked him to please remove the slug on his way out that evening.  He forgot…probably because he was on his way to the biggest beer festival in the world.   

The next day, we were packing up the gear to head out on a bike ride.  The slug was STILL THERE in the EXACT SAME SPOT, a little dry but definitely alive. 

Naturally, Andy barely even flinched as he pushed the slug through the basket with a stick and gave it to Annika to put in the grass.  She promptly flung it on the ground and we had a little chat about treating living things with kindness (which shall from now on be referred to as the “Please-don’t-become-a-serial-killer chat).  

I then asked Andy, “What does it say about me that I couldn’t do that?” 

Andy said, “Nothing honey.  That was disgusting.”   



Sunday, August 5, 2012

Destination Unknown!


We move home in 60 days, and have absolutely NO IDEA where we are going to be. 

Yes, we have a place to stay when we arrive.   
Yes, we even have our meager belongings stored in the same place where we’ll initially be landing. 

Do we have jobs lined up?  No.

Do we have housing other than my oh-so-nice in-laws’ lined up? No. 

Do we even know what city we are going to end up in? NO! 

Do we know where we’re going to look?  YES. 

We are Midwesterners at heart, and we’ll be staying in the Midwest for sure.  Sorry to break your hearts friends elsewhere. 

Is this completely freaking scary?  Yes.

But it’s a little exciting too isn’t it? 

FYI: I’ll still probably have at least another year to write up my dissertation before I become Dr. Melch. 

So this is us, embracing the chaos and whatever the universe feels like our next place should be.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Starren und Lauschen


My friend Stacey told me that her partner’s mother always likes to say that she left Germany because everyone was too interested in what everyone else was doing.  This lady is soo RIGHT!  Holy crap ze Germans like to stare and listen in on your conversation and it is getting on my last nerve here.  Ok, let’s be fair, this might only be a Berlin thing, because I really don’t remember EVER having this issue anywhere else in the country that I have visited.  BUT, I’ve also never been in another part of the country for this amount of time and with this amount of language skill.  Take that for whatever it is worth. 

I recently wrote about several of the things I miss about home, and specifically how the staring and the eavesdropping makes me break my “no-American-Bitch” rule too often.  I will now provide some recent examples of my last nerve going on vacation, with one caveat about my husband.  Andy is not at all bothered by the staring and eavesdropping.  I can’t figure out if it is because he’s so laid back, is unaware, or simply doesn’t have the German skills to know when someone is talking about him.  This is absolutely 100% my issue!

1. While riding the bus with Annika and chatting, a lady would not stop staring at us.  After multiple times of staring back at her to attempt to aver her, I finally just said to her, “Ja, wir reden Englisch!”  (Yes, we’re speaking English!)  She simply turned her head away and didn’t reply. 

2. This past weekend, while eating breakfast with friends at a shared table with 2 German couples and our two English speaking families, the two German middle aged couples actually started talking amongst themselves in German about us and making fun of what we were talking about.  We were having a very normal conversation, for 4 parents with 4 kids ages 4 & under.  I was less annoyed at the eavesdropping than at the complete and utter disregard to the fact that we might actually speak German.  Being the best German speaker in our group, I turned to my fellow English speaking friends and said, “Hey guys, I have a German word of the day for us.  You guys should know the word LAUSCHEN.  It means to eavesdrop.”  Naturally I turned toward the eavesdroppers as I finished that sentence and then promptly walked away to chase one of our kids.    

3. I took Annika to the gym with me today so she could play in their kids’ room with other kids and not get shushed every 2 minutes while her sister was napping.  We took the bus to the closest stop and then walked the one block to my gym.  As she normally does, she kept running out ahead of me, turning around, and running back into my open arms for a giant pick-up hug.  The 3rd time she did this, she passed some old dude about 10 meters in front of me, who promptly turned around to find her parent and proceeded to give me the stink eye from hell.  I stared back, shrugged, turned up my palms, and said, “JA?” wearing a look that I hope conveyed the desire to punch him in the face.  He looked even angrier as he turned and shook his head in scorn, but I think he got my point and I just wanted to not have to look at his face anymore. 

4. Today at the gym, some old dude was staring at me so hard while I was lifting weights that I stopped what I was doing and stared at him until he looked away a full minute later. 

Andy is concerned that I’m getting angry at Germany about this stuff.  I contend that I’m not angry, just annoyed! 

At least in America, when people stare and/or eavesdrop, they pretend that they aren’t doing it.  Does it happen there?  ABSOLUTELY!  But at least most Americans have enough courtesy to at least TRY to hide their rudeness.  Maybe that’s just a Midwestern thing though.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You’re So Funny


Tonight the adults finished eating our dinner and looked over to see that the munchkins had hardly touched theirs at all.  This is a very common occurrence at our house, so much so that sometimes I wonder how my children are even growing at all when I never actually see them eat anything.  Ok, that’s a total exaggeration.  Our girls are happy to eat when bribery in the form of promised sugary treats is involved.  

Tonight instead of screaming at them to just flipping eat already so they could take a bath and go to bed and give mommy time to catch up on some work, I started to sing to the tune of the Halleluiah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah:

“Eat your dinner.  Eat your dinner.  Eat your dinner.  Eat your dinner.  Eat yo-ur din-ner.”

I’ve been known to break into song on occasion, so that wasn’t the surprising thing about this at all.  What surprised me was the exchange that came next.

Annika: Mama, that’s the song from Francis.  (This is a show that she saw on Netflix about 3 months ago about an adorable animated badger.) 

Me: That’s right.  Wow.  How did you remember that?  Andy, were you watching Francis recently? 

Andy: Francis?  You mean that weird show with the nice badgers?  No.

Me: Annika, you are so smart.  You must get it from your Daddy.

Andy: No, you must get it from your Mommy. 

Annika: No guys, I got it from Netflix. 

Much laughing commenced, including from Annika who really had no idea why she was laughing other than the fact that we thought it was funny.  Ahhh yes Annika, I’m sure your Netflix viewing is what is making you smarter.

You should hear that girl tell a knock-knock joke though.  She’s getting the timing down better now, and can do an interrupting cow like nobody’s business.  Yes, I think 4 is going to be a good age for our funny girl.  

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