Friday, 22 July 2011

The very last day of Kita... here at last.

Orla was over the moon. She's been waiting for this day to come for so long and now she's ready to start school. I SO hope 'big girl's school' is not a massive disappointment. But before she starts we've got our holiday to get through - it's looking a bit rainy down at the Bodensee; I've got to try my hardest not to get murdered by someone I've met on the internet (should you not hear from me for months, please send the police here and tell my mum she was right about the sorts of folk you meet on the internet).

We're taking the laptop with us, but I am going to try and not use the internet (oh, who am I kidding? Rainy evenings?).

In other news, I joined Google+ today. But so far I only have 1 friend. I like the idea of being able to divide people up into groups and only show certain groups certain things. I know you technically can do things like that on FB, but it's a bit of a faff. That's one reason why I don't post my blog through FB. Mostly I find strangers less critical about all the things I say about Stevie compared to his family :)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thou shalt not hack into the Pentagon

You know how I thought the whole thing with the German school bags was a little weird? Well, I spoke to the school administrator who told me that I didn't have to worry about having to find a list of 33 items for Orla starting school. - This only really became a concern after I found out that I can only buy her uniform about 2 days before she starts. The thought of frantically searching Berlin for specific brands of stationary the day before fills me with the same sort of joy as shopping for all my Christmas presents on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, she said that I'd start getting more info through by post with details of what I needed to get, and other vital bits of info. Today I got the first. It's a form. With a link to the school's IT policy. Which I should read and understand. Both of these things not a problem to me. I used to work in IT after all so I've read more than a few IT policies in my time.

But I've also to read the IT policy to Orla and get her to sign the form stating that she has read it and understood it's terms of use. I think that might have been the best laugh I had all day. I hope they are ok with her only signing
OrLa - as they haven't left enough room for her to sign the surname which she hasn't yet mastered.

I understand the need to have 4 year olds signing an IT policy and observing guidelines of use. I really do. We have one at home. It's quite simple: "Don't touch any of the buttons while mummy is doing online shopping".

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sunday Karaoke in Mauerpark

The view of the Fernsehturm from Mauerpark.

Part of the Berlin Wall. And hipsters casually lazing around on the former deathstrip.

Karaoke in Mauerpark.

I'm starting to realise that there's still so much that we haven't seen or done in Berlin, and it's almost sending me into panic mode. This morning we mulled over whether to go to Leipzig, Lübbenau, or stay closer to home. In the end we decided to take a little trip just across the city to Prenzlauerberg to Mauerpark. We'd heard good things about it, but just had never gotten round to going. Mauerpark takes up an area of land that was once part of the death strip between the two walls. One part of the wall still remains separating the park from the Max Schmeling Halle (where previously we went to see the Harlem Globetrotters). There's a large market there with people selling food and jewelry and lots of lovely crafted goods.

But the thing I enjoyed most of all was the karaoke. It was very popular as you can see. Most of the singers were terrific and you could easily spend a nice afternoon sitting back and enjoying it with the kids and a few beers... and maybe a barbeque.

I am so glad we went. We'll definitely go back again. It was like open air Britain's Got Talent (or rather 'Das Supertalent' as we have here). Anyway, if you want to see more you can look at the 'Friends of Mauerpark' website, and the Facebook page. And now I am off to write a list of other places in Berlin I need to go to, starting with Schloss Charlottenburg, and possibly ending with that climbing centre I saw on the way back (seriously, check out those photos - does that not look amazing? There are cars hanging 40 ft up!)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Potsdam & the Sansoucci Palace (fleetingly)

Orla is laughing because Hamish has a little ice cream on his face. He's so daft!

We went a little trip to Potsdam today. The last time we went it was minus something degrees and our visit to the Sansoucci Palace was fleeting to say the least. Today though was as hot as a little pancake. Hot enough to burn your bum on the saddle of your bike, if you were as unfortunate as me to be on your bike with a persistent moaning child on the back.

Still it was lovely, all green and floral and colourful and tomato-ey. They appear to be growing tomatoes in the borders along with all the flowers. That was a nice touch, and it kept the kids amused for minutes. There were lovely large fountains, one with a kazillion coy carp (really!) swimming in it. And there were some of the rudest statues you have ever seen. Let's put it this way, never before could I have imagined seeing Stevie standing gazing at a marble statue for anything longer than a millisecond.

Nothing at all like the last time we went. It was minus 5 I think. The trees were bare, the statues had all been encased in protective wooden boxes to save them from the bum-clenching cold, and the fountains, turned off, were frozen over, with only a couple of forlorn swans kicking about on the ice. The buildings of course were still lovely. The only other thing that remained constant from that visit to this was the quiet whinging that seems to appear every time we are in the vicinity of something cultural.

So, while not quite as brief a visit as last time, it was still quite brief. If only they had taken the trouble to preserve a historic spielplatz within the manicured grounds. The only thing that kept Hamish going was that I told him that the main walkway did indeed lead directly to an ice cream shop. And with all fingers crossed, thankfully it led at least to a gift shop selling Cornettos and Magnums in amongst the 'I should have been King' bibs and tea towels.

I would love to actually go inside one of the buildings and have a look round and a little ooh and ah over things, but I doubt that that is going to happen while the kids are still young. Especially while Hamish is still getting to grips with the whole potty training thing. I wonder how many people can lay claim to having a sneaky pee against a palace? It's worth going just for that alone I'd say.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Of flowers & fireworks...

10 whole years together. I didn't even know. That's how good I am. But Stevie remembered. I know I give him a hard time on this blog, especially for his funny little Stevie-isms, but he intersperses them with moments of great romance which take me all the more by surprise. He bought me a huge bouquet of roses, which I loved all the more because I could see that they hadn't come from a petrol station or a supermarket. He bought a card and wrote me a lovely letter in it. Admittedly, it was a birthday card, but it had a number 10 on it, so I get where he was coming from. He says he didn't know what he should be looking for in German.

We had a lovely romantic evening. I provided a lovely dinner that no one would eat (let's pretend that that's because it was so beautiful it would have been a shame to eat a work of art), and then we strolled down memory lane to the swing park, and swung by the video shop for a movie, 2 Chupa Chups and a bottle of Prosecco. It was like a scene out of a Barbara Cartland novel. I've never read any Barbara Cartland, but I'll bet there are plenty of beautiful romantic scenes where the female protagonist ends up with a cherry Chuppa Chup stuck to her best trousers cause it's "diz-guss-TING!"

But as Stevie said "You can't expect it to be all fireworks after 10 years together". As if to illustrate this point our evening was rounded off in the most wonderful, heart-stopping manner, as two of the neighbour's cars went up in flames right outside our building.

Nothing says "I love you" like 8 exploding tyres at 2am. I thought Orla's balcony had fallen off.

What you can't see in this photo is all our neighbours in various states of undress huddled round watching the smouldering cars and merrily toasting our momentous anniversary with champagne* while we all choked on the noxious fumes.

Was ist das? "". Ein Hinweis vielleicht!

It was a wonderful night. Here's to the next 10 years!

*This is possibly not true.

According to one of our neighbours this was another incident of luxury car arson, which has happened quite a lot in Berlin. It seems that people set fire to cars such as Mercedes and Porsches in "concerted attacks on conspicuous wealth" (The Local). Police found another car in flames a couple of streets away from our street. The arsonists choose slow-burning substances such as barbeque lighters to start the fires under the cars allowing them to be some distance away when the fire takes hold. Here's a link to the car arson map of Berlin.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Rügen is lovely!

All the buildings were this pretty. It was lovely seeing a whole town like this. All white with lovely carved wooden fretwork. Very sea-sidey!

I loved this. It's like little beetroot, isn't it? After having to wait while I photographed every house, shop, casino, I think Stevie had had his fill of the fretwork.

But there was plenty more to see. Here's the Berlin Junior Ornathology Club checking out the sea birds and seeing what's what around the beach...

Ah....that's enough of the binoculars now. Take them off kids.NOW!

Hello, hello!

We went to Rügen at the weekend. We've been waiting to visit it after a few of our neighbours and Stevie's work colleagues recommended it. But we've either been too busy or the weather hasn't been great. Mostly too busy. Rügen is Germany's largest island. It's way up there on the top right hand side, near the Czech Republic and on the Baltic coast. It's a popular German tourist resort,and everyone from Einstein to Hitler has holidayed there. So you know, if it's good enough for Hitler Einstein, then it's good enough for us. You can reach it by road by going over the mile long (I think) bridge from Stralsund (which sticks in my mind, because I can't help thinking I might have bought it in IKEA).

Anyway, it's lovely. We only went for the day, which given the quite long drive, wasn't nearly long enough. We decided to go to Binz, which is probably the main tourist destination. I loved the architecture. I swear, you just can't sicken me with too much wooden fretwork. I came back wanting to paint our house in Derby white.

We had a lovely afternoon on the beach, and then a lovely little wander round the streets, then a beautiful little meltdown over ice-cream. It never feels like a proper family holiday unless at least one person is standing on their own in a mighty huff in a corner. Ah...bliss. And really, it was.

So lovely in fact that we plan on going back for a long weekend towards the end of August. I really want to see Prora, Hitler's holiday camp - built to house 20,000 holiday makers at a time, under the premise that every worker deserved a seaside holiday; and a few of the smaller places like Putbus and Kap Arkona. Next time I am going to try and fit one of those little beach cabins into the boot of the car.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The unresolved mystery of the German school bag

(images from

These are German school bags. I think on the whole they are pretty ugly. In fact I've not seen one that I would have wanted if I was of school age. I don't think I was that fussy, but honestly, no amount of peer pressure would have made me carry one of these boulders on my back.

But everyone has them here. As in, EVERYONE. They are an absolute must-have for school children here. I've half-convinced myself that there is a law that states no child will be allowed into the German school system unless they can carry their own body weight on their back for at least a few blocks.

These bags are huge and you quite often see German children walking bent over as though they are walking into the wind in Stornoway. But, that must be the look. Apparently there are brands that are more desirable than others. I was trying to unfurl the mystery as to why these bags are so popular when I came across a topic in Toytown (an expat message board) that says that in 2008 you can't go wrong with McNeill, Scout or 4YOU. I don't know whether in the ever-changing world of rucksack fashion these brands are still the ones to go for, because I just can't draw out anything cool from such a broad range of ugliness.

On this message board someone has asked whether there are special criteria for buying the 'right' bag, whether there are 'class distinctions' but the only thing they offer apart from choosing the 'right' brand, is that you get a big one. Size apparently does matter. With these rucksacks you usually get a pencil case, a P.E. bag, sometimes a little purse, or a water bottle. All well and good, but I'm still not convinced that these extras justify the price. Yes, yes, you could have a point that they have reflective parts, and plastic bottoms, and are ergonomically designed for your child, and have oodles of compartments. But honestly, how much would you pay for an ugly bag?

Because all of the bags I have shown you above cost over 150.00 Euros! At least one of these costs over 200.00 Euros! And I just don't get it?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Oh Fiona, is there nothing you can't do?

I blame Germany. Or Stevie. Or them both really. See normally I could do this. I am sure I could. But the evidence just isn't there, is it? You're not going to be putting in any orders for birthday cakes from me anytime soon. Frau Dietz sent me that link after my rainbow post which included the rather fabulous rainbow jelly on my other blog. But at least you can compare the two and have a good laugh. I certainly did. But it may have been slightly hysterical seeing as it was nearing midnight and I could see no end in sight that didn't include us all getting poisoned somehow by the amount of food colouring I was going to force us all to eat.

It was Hamish's birthday on Saturday and I really, really, wanted to make him that rainbow cake. Even though he wanted me to make him a Bob the Builder cake. I thought I knew better and he would be wowed by it's sheer utter amazing-ness. I also couldn't be bothered ordering coloured icing off the internet.I was just being lazy. So lazy in fact that I didn't actually read the recipe until the day I planned on making it, and then realised I needed gel food dyes. It's hard enough to get the ones I got, so I knew I had no chance of finding gel ones at my local supermarket. And that is why I blame Germany. I just can't get the things I need at short notice. (Ok, so I am also aware that my local Tesco doesn't carry gel food dyes, but they would at least get me out of this mess by selling me a Bob the Builder cake at 1am).

I had been so tired. Hamish was ill and just wanted to cling to me all the time, and Stevie wasn't being much help by being typically Stevie-ish and leaving everything to me, while he sauntered out to watch the tennis. And that is why I blame him. And Andy Murray. Because at least if all I had was a really dire looking blue shaded sponge that looked like the mildew had got to it, then I do know I wouldn't have made icing that sloppy, had it not been nearing 1am. God, I miss Tesco at 1am. It looks like I've thrown a bucket of chip fat at it. And seriously, I think I used about 4 blocks of butter and half a bag of sugar along with the 9 egg whites it required. (Though I used 10 because I reckoned I wasn't being very careful with them and had probably thrown at least one away when I was scooping out the stray yolks that escaped).

I could tell you that in the end it tasted delicious. That the appearance made no difference to my lovely big 3 year old boy (who says that he's actually just turned 7 if you care to ask). But by god. One bite could kill a diabetic it's so sweet and if it wasn't so funny, I could have been terribly hurt by the chanting of "But I don't want that cake! I want a Bob cake!!. That looks yucky!". So, while our insides rot from all the E numbers, and our tongues remain blue for at least another month, I will not be beaten! Just wait! One day I will master this. Or maybe I'll just move back to the UK and get him a Bob cake and enjoy my sleep.

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