Saturday, 18 June 2011

Sommerfest in the Kita

I am feeling monumentally tired today. I know in about half an hour I am going to have to drag myself round the supermarket with the kids in tow which is never a pleasant experience, and I think that might be making me feel all the tireder. Dread.

Yesterday, was also a big day. I cycled all morning looking for a Brio Wooden Thomas the Tank Engine for Hamish's birthday (no luck) and then we spent the afternoon at the park and then went to Kita for their annual Sommerfest. I haven't been to one of these before, but they seem to be very important in the young children's calendar. I am starting to see the phrase 'Sommerfest' appearing everywhere, and indeed we're going to another one next weekend at Orla's new school.

I'll be honest though: I wasn't really looking forward to going to it. In fact, I'd already lied when they put me on the spot and asked if I was coming. I couldn't find it in me to commit to an afternoon of tangled German conversations and politeness. I have my moments of being totally anti-social, but then I found out that Stevie would be home from work early and having someone else with me to help me through the boring awkward moments makes it manageable.

So I lied again and said the fictitious birthday party we were attending finished early and thus, hallelujah! here we were! And actually we had a good time. There were games for the kids: welly throwing, egg & spoon race, some other games that took place in locked rooms that neither me or the kids could work out what was really going on, and there were even some things for us adults too. My particular favourite was the Race with your child in a wheelbarrow. It seemed to bring out my competitive streak to the point where I even employed dirty tactics in order to secure a win - such as blocking my opponents path in order to gain a lead. I may not be proud of that but hey, I won some coloured pencils!

The kids mostly enjoyed being in the pen that was filled with hay and flinging it around. The theme incidentally was 'the farm' or 'farmyard'. Stevie didn't manage to work this out and wondered why they had washing lines (obviously belonging to the farmer's wife') with knickers hanging. He assumed it was just the teachers washing that they'd hung earlier in the day. (And after that housewarming party we went to, well, who can blame him for wondering about German knicker habits).

Stevie's favourite bit was checking out the staff photos. As you can see from the photo above he was particularly taken by Steffi who he said seemed to have "had her work Kita photo taken while out on the piss". "Still", he said, "at least she's bringing a little glamour to the place". So there was something(/one) for everyone to enjoy, and today we are all still enjoying the 6cm diameter green stamps of goats that we all have on our arms to prove we paid to get in. Oh I do hope mine stays on for a week! Its very sophisticated!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Blogger goes all fancy-nancy!

There are a million and one things I *should* be doing right now (including collecting the kids), but I just found out about this: After all that hoo-ha with Blogger not working, and not letting us sign in and comment even on our own blogs, they've decided to make it up to all of us by letting us do some fancy things with our blogs. I for one forgive them. Because I do love a bit of almost pointless gimmickry. Especially if it makes me go "Ooh! That's cool!"

Did you know that there are new ways that you can view a Blogger blog? I bet you didn't. Neither did I until a couple of minutes ago. Up above you can see new ways to navigate my blog. It makes me want to go back and add more photos to the posts that don't have them. If you want to see what it looks like (for real) and fritter away some more of your precious time on the internet (just like me), then click this link right here to see somewhere between facebook and flickr in all manner of fancy ways.

You can also use the drop down menu on the top right to try other options, like 'snapshot' which I am quite taken with, though it took me a minute to work out what the numbers were all about. So now you'll never be bored again reading my blog...hmm....I'm not sure that came out right.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

You say "turbine", I say "turban".

After work, Stevie was telling me a little story about what they had been talking about in his German class last night.

"You know... that pain in the ass woman I was talking about, the one who has already completed A2 level but is re-doing it because she thinks she missed the grammar, but really all she's doing is taking up the teacher's time speaking German that we can't understand? Well, she was talking about the high school system and the teacher said that her mother says that it's crazy that UK kids go to high school at age 12. She says it's too late."

"Uh-huh...." (I am busy trying not to chop my fingers off while attempting to finely slice onions, so please excuse my lack of intellectual contribution)

"But surely to have your school path mapped out at 10 years old is far too soon?"

(In Germany, you are put into one of three 'streams' - based on your academic ability and I think your parents get a bit of say-so too. Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium. The Hauptschule follow the same subjects as the other 2 types of school but at a slower pace and they also teach some vocational courses too. Realschule strikes me as the middle ground, where some people go on towards vocational training afterwards and some people go on to further academic study. If you want to go to University after attending Realschule, I think you have to go to Gymnasium and study for the Abitur which is a diploma which can allow you to follow a path into university. Don't quote me though, this is just my very basic understanding that I picked up in German class.) Anyway, where was he...?

"I mean, what would have been the outcome for me in a system like that?"

"Well, I reckon they can probably tell how brainy you are by 10 years old. You'd probably have been fine."

"But when I was young I had a really crap English teacher. I was stuck with her, and maybe she would have held me back and that would determine what school I went to and my whole future at age 10!"

"Well, you went to a crap school anyway, and did really well, so...."

"Yes, but the people in the 'credit' stream got the best English teachers, and the people like me in 'foundation/general' level got the crap teachers...." (lost in thought)

"Yes, maybe, but that's not universal. In my school I know that there were equally good teachers teaching foundation level English as were teaching credit level English."

".... I'm sure I should have been in a higher English class. Man, she really was just crap. She was this old Indian woman and she wore a wig and stuff, and it kept falling off her head, and she never noticed..."

"What? The wig?"

"No! Her turbine!!"

"Case closed. I think you can stop worrying about being put in the wrong stream."


[Incidentally, Google searchers, turbine is pronounced with the same 'i' sound as in 'twine' or 'lime' or 'time'. You're welcome!]

Monday, 13 June 2011

Love me, love my dog

I went to my first Berlin flea market on Sunday. My friend had wanted to go, and it's been on my list of things to do, but Stevie has never been keen on going, and if I went on my own Im sure he wouldn't be that keen on having to be the one getting up early with the kids on a Sunday morning while I am out buying up presumably things with fleas. I really enjoyed it. It had a different feel from the car boot sales I've been to in England. We took the car (in case of any large purchases) and I felt terribly chuffed with myself at finding a parking space right at the side of the flea market.

It was when I returned to the car to drop off Hamish's new (old) balance bike (for only 10 euros!) that I realised just how I'd managed to get such a great spot. I had parked in the turning lane, just before the traffic lights. I ran into the policeman writing tickets and tried to explain that I hadn't realised and was awfully sorry and maybe he could drop by later when my boyfriend throttled me. He had no sympathy. He tried to frighten me with his gruff German and to be honest he succeeded. The chapter in my German book all about 'darf man' this, and 'darf man nicht' that seemed to be getting read out to me. He told me that I had to show him my drivers license (which of course I didn't have on me) and then he told me I wasn't allowed (that's the darf man nicht bit) to drive the car until I showed him my driving licence. I had to phone the angry boyfriend and get him to cycle down with it.

But strangely enough he was less angry about my poor parking & brand new fine, than he was about my brand new dog. That's horrible. That's so horrible I am not letting you bring that in to the house. It cost 3 euros? Well I guess that's 3 euros we just have to write off. I am never letting you go to one of these things on your own again. I knew you'd come back with a bunch of crap. But that? That's one of the most horrible things I have ever seen.

And so on. But I like it. In fact, I rather love it. I love its face, it's size, its character, its scruffiness, I just like it. I can see him in my living room peeking round from behind a corner of a sofa, just adding a bit of interest to a dark, dull corner near the fireplace. Stevie sees it adding character to the inside of the wheelie bin. Orla loves it. He is as she says her dog. I tried hiding him in her wardrobe to save him from a wheelie bin death...

But Orla asked if he could sit on top of the bookcase and watch over her while she slept in her bed. Of course I obliged. Then the evil daddy went in and took him away and stuck him in a corner. He couldn't understand why Orla was crying hysterically and asked me to go in and see to her. I managed to decipher that Daddy had moved her dog and so I moved it back and told her to keep quiet or daddy would be back in. My plan worked except Stevie wanted to know how I managed to get her settled so quickly. So I told him and now my dog has found his home.

The Hippie Carnival of Cultures & the Jewish Museum.

The Carnival of Cultures - Cocktail, sausage, earrings, baggy trousers, vile eco baby clothes, I'm starting to need a cocktail... Oh, that's handy! Cocktail stand!!

The Carnival of Cultures - Some non-hippie culture

The Carnival of Cultures - Would you buy one of these pretzels off that bench, even if they're sitting on a sanitized newspaper?

The Jewish Museum - A bit more culture. Designed by Daniel Libeskind.

The Jewish Museum - The Garden of Exile.

We've had friends staying for the past 5 days. We dazzled them with my mediocre cooking skills, and showed them the innumerable play parks of Berlin. They'd intended going on the hop on, hop off bus tour but my friend felt a bit sick - too sick to get on a bus, so some of the sights were never seen. I think seeing your child fly off a zip wire at great velocity is more exciting than the Victory Column and Gendarmenmarkt put together anyway.

We decided to take them to the Carnival of Cultures (Karneval der Kulturen) in Kreuzberg, except we went at different times. We'd planned on going together but as my friend was feeling a little sick the men went off and enjoyed an evening there drinking effeminate-sounding cocktails, and came home with tales of how amazing it was. When asked for specifics, they were a bit hazy, and we suspect that they may not have gone much further than the first cocktail stand they hit coming out of the U-Bahn.

We went the following day for a look around. Maybe the lack of cocktails in our system was to our detriment, because we weren't that impressed. Who knew there were so many hippies in Kreuzberg? It was busy enough, but it seemed a little short on the culture front. I have the feeling we might have seen a bit more culture if we'd made it to the parade the day before, but by the time we got there there was just an awful lot of hippie culture to see. The streets were lined with lots of stalls, but it seemed as though every sixth stall was the same. Cocktail stand, food stand, hippie earrings stand, MC Hammer trouser stand, oddly stitched leather bag stand, and oh, cocktail stand, food stand, hippie jewelry stand... and so on.

Once the rain started we decided to give it a miss and followed the signs for the Jewish Museum, which I've been wanting to visit for more than a year now. I love the building. It's in every Berlin guide book. It was designed by Daniel Libeskind and is quite an odd building to be in. The angles are all over the place, at times you are walking at such an odd angle your feet don't feel quite right. This is especially so in The Garden of Exile, which is meant to represent the feelings of disorientation that exiled Jews felt as newcomers in other countries. It certainly is disorientating. The ground is angled and there are large stone blocks rising up fro the ground at an odd angle and you feel walking through it that your feet are at odds with where your brain is. The whole place both building and exhibits are very thought-provoking. My favourite bits were definetly the void areas - the one with the art installation by Menashe Kadishman with the 10,000 metal faces lying on the floor; the one where you go into a dark room where there is just one slice of daylight coming in at the corner in the roof and you can hear the sounds of outside coming in while you stand quietly in the dark; and the Garden of Exile.

I'd heard mixed reviews of the Jewish Museum from various people I've met in Berlin, but I would highly recommend it. All exhibits are in both German and English and you can also hire an audio guide. Even if you weren't interested in Jewish history it is worth visiting for a look at the architecture alone.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Part 2- Paradise: not to be confused with utopia or Tropical Islands

Tropical Islands: well one thing you can't complain about is lack of parking.

The Truman Show' style backdrop for one of the pools. Great, isn't it?

Inside the dome (or giant caterpillar, as Orla thought) with all the rainforest-y goodness, and tents which may or may not be crawling with cockroaches and quail.

Tent city

Gorgeous white sand, fabulous blue sky, water a sultry 28 - 31 degrees... I have managed to avoid going to Tropical Islands for the best part of a year. On paper it's everything I hate. Swimming, sand, camping with sand, and then a bit more swimming thrown in just to make sure I have a crap time.

I really utterly dislike swimming. It's the pools, the plasters, the dirt, the wet dirt, and bathing in countless peoples' urine. Stevie on the other hand loves it. Revels I think in my discomfort. Has craved this summer and the endless weekends of swimming opportunities in the outdoor pools. I don't mind the outdoor pools anywhere near as much as indoor pools. Less mould I suppose, fresher air (if you don't count the Berliners all around you that by god, really do like to smoke), and even the possibility of "going a little wander round the nudist section with the kids for a look" (honest to God, he was serious).

Tropical Islands though has been high on Stevie's agenda since we've been here. Especially over the winter. But luckily I managed to avoid it's 66, 000 square metres of tropical delights up until now because the kids thankfully managed to be ill every time it re-surfaced in his mind. But I messed up last week. I took my eye off the ball and left it too late to book us into a cottage in Ruegen (sorry, I don't have an umlaut). Ruegen is an island off the Baltic coast. Meant to be lovely, great for the kids, lots of interesting things to see, but I was too busy frittering time away on Facebook and the like to get it sorted out. And of course it was the German bank holiday, so by the time I did get on to it, what was available was rather expensive.

"Not to worry." says Stevie, "We'll just have to go to Tropical Islands". And I felt kind of trapped. I was left to do the booking. I assumed that he'd want us to stay for a couple of days, and more than likely he'd wanted us to stay over as cheaply as possible. Stevie strongly believes that when you go on holiday there is no point in spending much on your accommodation as you are only going to be there to sleep, and if you're not conscious then what's the point in having a fancy room. Stevie and I, in case you haven't realised this before now, are polar opposites. But seeing as he's the one earning the money now, well, I try to humour him a little.

Thus, sleeping on the beach for 15 Euros each was swiftly ruled out. In fact, I'd ruled that one out before I'd even looked at the website as a friend who'd been who decided they'd had enough at 5am walked to the exit via the beach and described it as looking like everyone had been washed up, and you had to pick your way gingerly through sleeping families crammed into every available space. Option two is to stay in a tent. Fine. (Though I don't much care for camping if the truth be known, but fine). The tents even come with mattresses, pillows, blankets. Great!

It was when I scrolled down and read the notes that I kind of went off the idea. For starters there's the possibility that you'll have to share your tent with other people, unless you are willing to pay for all the beds. But more off-putting than that is the second note which tells you that given the campsites close proximity to the worlds largest indoor rain forest, and the fact that they like to keep things natural, you may also be sharing your tent with cockroaches amongst other things. No thanks. I like to sleep.

There are other much more lovely options when it comes to places to stay but I knew Stevie wouldn't be interested beyond the tent option. So you can imagine I was dreading it. But as luck would have it, he decided that seeing as it was handy enough (it's on the road between Berlin & Dresden) we would just come home.

So we went. And can I just say, really, I had a great time. I may have done a bit of moaning about having to go to the children's play area wearing only a bathing costume but really it was fine. The place was massive, I think it was used to build airships or something in the past, and really it is great inside. The air was warm, the water was as warm as the pee I thought I was swimming in, the kids were happy, and we all had good fun. We spent a good long day there, and all my usual thoughts of germs, fungus, plasters, filth and what have you, disappeared (for the most part) from my mind.

Well, at least until the next day when Hamish threw up on the sofa and wouldn't eat all day, and I lay gr(m)oaning and feeling ghastly & nauseous in bed from all the pee-pee water we had drunk. But would I go back? Actually, I think I might. Though I might have a good moan about it first.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Kanninchen paella won't make me a better person (pt1)

I was reading Mwa's post earlier about her buying Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Committed' - the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love'. It's about a couple who decide to list their respective flaws to each other prior to their wedding. Is this ever a good idea? There's always the risk that while you list 6 A4 sides of terrible flaws, your boyfriend can only think of maybe 1 or 2 things about himself that he considers negatives. Depending on how long you'd been 'dating', and for me & Stevie that's 10 whole, long, flawless years, I reckon I know most of his flaws and would find it hard not to help him out with a few suggestions. Still, I reckon I'd still have a longer list than him, and that would be enough to make me hate him.

Over the years vague, fuzzy notions I've had about myself have begun to cement themselves in my head as flaws. Maybe it's just as you get older you become more self-aware, and start to realise there are things that you wish were different, but either can't, or can't be bothered to. And then there are the things that you don't consider flaws, but other people do. I'd count my refusal to eat kanninchen paella as one of those. When we were out for our 'one year in Berlin' anniversary, we stopped to get something to eat and Stevie bemoaned my lack-of-adventure-in-food flaw. Stupid paella. Why do they have to be for a minimum of two people anyway? Find me two people who want to eat rabbit paella, and I'll... well, I don't know, probably have a much lower opinion of them. That's bunnies! You can't go eating bunnies! It's just not right. I would have been far more comfortable eating pigs eyelids and god knows what all ground down lovingly into a nice big sausage. And anyway, cast your mind back to Fatal Attraction. Exactly! Bunnies in a pot - never a good thing.

In actual fact the kanninchen paella was just a little follow up to the main event of our anniversary weekend. I'll write about that in part 2. My trip to paradise. Or where more of my flaws (moaning, and my utter hatred of swimming and it's related activities - which absolutely is a flaw (according to Stevie)) are explored.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing here?

We went right up there! A whole year to the day that we arrived here in Berlin.

The Fernsehturm casting a shadow onto the clock in Alexanderplatz

Heading out to the east. Looking up Karl Marx Allee. A bit of Russian architecture for you right there.

Berlin, Berlin, as far as the eye can see. Tally-ho, year two!!

Today is the day! A year to the day that we moved to Berlin. Twelve whole months of me butchering the language, honing my mime skills to a fine art (hell, I even have hand actions to depict feelings), 365 days of saying "Good Lord, its a bit hot!", then "'s ok now I guess", then "Good Lord, its a bit parky!", then "Hmm...ok, I suppose, could be a bit warmer" and now we're right back into "Pff...its all a bit hot again, isn't it?". But what a year!

We've had a great time. Taking out the crappy bits with the bullying and settling in the kids, and all that sort of stuff, we've had a smashing time. It feels like we've done loads, seen loads, and eaten a lot of Bratwurst. My favourite bits have been taking visitors round the sights, and just the fact that there is so much for the kids to do here. It has felt that there is something to go and see each weekend, and its just never got boring.

Today we celebrated by going up the Fernsehturm, Berlins tv tower in Alexanderplatz. We've only been talking about doing this for a year. We moved into the temporary apartment on Heinrich Heine Strasse and we could see it from the bedroom window and Orla asked if we could go up it. And I said yes, but it's been on the back burner because theres been so much else to do. But it was worth the wait.

It was even better I think because we're so much more familiar with the city so we knew what we were looking at. Afterwards we went to Hackescher Markt and bought the kids currywurst and chips while we enjoyed quite a horrid vegetarian paella. The waitress left it on the next table so the little sparrows could help themselves. I let Stevie have the rest. I kind of lost my appetite.

So what's next? What do we do with our last year? Is it just more of the same? I don't think so. There are still areas we've not visited in Berlin, and now we have a good babysitter the opportunities open to us for going to things in the evening are boundless - well as long as it fits in with the babysitters schedule.

I do wonder if this year here has changed us. I worry that Orla has had the hardest experience of all of us. Its been more difficult than we could have imagined settling her in here and for her learning the language. If I could have seen into the future before we came, that is probably the one thing that would have changed my mind about coming. Hamish really doesn't seem affected by the change. As long as he has a good park to hand he's happy. Stevie, of course, loves it. All he needs is good weather, football, and beer. He's a simple creature. But me, I constantly seem to swither between the STRUGGLE of it all and the ENJOYMENT of it all. But has it changed me? I don't know how to tell. I have the feeling I'll find out on my return to Derby.

I am looking forward to our next year here. I know we'll all be more comfortable with the language, which will make things easier, and more enjoyable. And of course, I've got another year of taking endless photos and blogging. Bring it on! We're ready!
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