Tuesday, 22 November 2011

1000 steps... round the KaDeWe!

Main: The Princess & the Pea window display. Inserts: Outside the KaDeWe.  No matter the day there will always  be a crowd outside waiting to get in at 10am. 

It's Christmas time in the KaDeWe. Last week the windows were shrouded while the displays were perfected, but it didn't stop people trying to peek. The theme this year is 'fairytales', and it's been done beautifully. I couldn't wait to see the main foyer display. So I waited with the daily crowds (instead of going to the supermarket) and decided it would be the perfect time for another 1000 steps!

 30 steps... 

If you don't have a silver hand-held mirror that rests on a silver platter, then don't worry: they've got it! Christmas comes in all shades. These pale lilac baubles were rather lovely, though my camera hasn't quite captured their true colour.

Oh, and inside it's just lovely. The foyer is packed full of beautiful things. A zillion things that I wouldn't say no to. Admittedly, that would mean that my house would be chock-full of Christmas tree decorations and scented tealights, but I could be happy living like that. Especially those little tealights that smell like the essence of Christmas and come in the teensiest little ceramic casserole dish complete with lid. Oh, and they have a fine selection of festive fascinators - my favourite was a jaunty cup of tea with lovely ribbons, but I'm not sure if it would coordinate with my snowboots, so I've left it for now...

 50 steps... 

Main: birdcage and birdies, the tree of many baubles and Christmas products piled high. Inserts: Louis Vuitton boots, and the most gorgeously illustrated book of fairy tales. I esp. like the purple cover.

Enter into the world of eclectic prettiness. I have fallen for their gilt birdcages which are dotted around the outskirts of the foyer. They sit atop golden pillars, displaying little feathered or glass birds to clip on to the branches of your tree. Want, want, want...the whole lot. But the foyer complete with all it's overflowing displays is dominated by the KaDeWe's very own ginormous Christmas tree. It's the place to stop with your baby or your boyfriend and have your photo taken for your Christmas card, or more likely your FB profile pic.

 300 steps... 

For the girl who has nothing and wants everything: a crystal studded DeLonghi coffee machine; Red Westco scales: totally worth the money as turn them around and they're a CLOCK!; I do need a hole punch for Orla's school newsletters...

So I skipped the rest of the ground floor which is mainly populated with the cosmetics department and handbags. Which is nice and everything and there are probably more exclusive brands than you'd get in other department stores but really, most cosmetics departments have the same 'look' so I just bypassed it on my tour. The ground floor is also home to an outer perimeter walkway where there are lots of little individual stores. It's here that you can find Prada, Gucci, Tiffany & Co, Chanel, etc, and the lifts without a view. If you are in a rush, avoid the glass lifts in the central atrium, you'll be waiting forever.

I also skipped the 1st and 2nd floors. Menswear & Ladieswear. I couldn't be bothered and I thought I might run out of 'steps', so I went to the 3rd - home of bed & bath, childrenswear, hairdressing, and the creche of joy. But I haven't sorted my photos of it. I love the 3rd floor. I can never get tired of gasping at 50 euro Armani baby bottles, or choking over a completely plain tiny baby t-shirt that costs the same as a return flight to Scotland. And the creche, well I adore the creche and the 3 hours of FREE fun they allow me.

So onwards and upwards to the 4th floor - homewares. When I first arrived in Berlin my neighbour's famous words to me were "Buy your fruit, veg, fish, and meat from the market. For everything else there's the KaDeWe". As I couldn't find a single shop selling mops, I did what my neighbour said and went to the KaDeWe. Alas, while the KaDeWe have most things, they do not stock mops. Unless they are studded with diamonds...

 500 steps... 

They do have a 'My First Barbie' but I'd rather have one of these. Left to right: Van Gogh Barbie, Gustav Klimt Barbie, Sinatra Barbie, Elvis Barbie, Grace Kelly Barbie, and Farah Fawcett Barbie - all 50 Euros each - uh-huh-huh, ooohhh, yeah!

Next floor up and it's toys, stationary, books, and technology on the 5th. I love the toy department. It's not the best one I've ever been in, but it's nice. They have a great selection of Playmobil & Lego, and a lot of Steiff, and Haba, and their play food selection is to die for. Admittedly the play food is far more expensive than the real thing, but you are paying for cuteness, and eh..the creche staff wages.

Lego Santa is back in town; the glorious English-language section of Hugendubel in the KaDeWe; the big Steiff bear who costs more than your house is worth.
  600 steps...  

We're still on the 5th but we're round at the Hugendubel franchise. This is my usual first stop hangout when I drop the kids off at the creche. There is an English-language section - look that's it you can see right there! This is the place that is responsible for some of my stranger forays into literature. I just buy what they have that I haven't read. Especially as I haven't really been in the mood for crime since I got here, so I limit myself to 1 bookcase. But it's made me more experimental, and on top of that, there are seats where you can just sit and read as much of a book as you can in 3 hours and then put it back! Yay!

 800 steps... 

Hello! It's lucky you are protected by glass or I would throw myself at you.
 Just one floor up on the 6th is the KaDeWe food hall. It's great. You'd like it. I promise. It's everything you could ever want at a price you can barely afford! There are unusual, hard-to-get-hold-of things and there are everyday things. I like the bread counter and the cake counter with the lovely little petit fours - they do the tiniest little chocolate eclairs that are only about 3 cm long and a cm wide, they have the broadest range of loaves I have seen this side of the city all displayed beautifully. There are little restaurant stands dotted throughout the food department which are on the ok-side of a-bit-dear. Stevie and I have frequented the Chinese restaurant a couple of times where you can watch your food being prepared as well as watching the world go by and it seems pretty reasonably priced. Really I want to be one of the people hanging out in the Moet bar at 10:30am, having a little glass of champagne while I meet a client. Those are my kind of meetings! Behind the Moet bar you can find the fresh fish; fresh to the point that some of them are in tanks so you can point to the one you want. Around this part of the food hall there are oyster bars which are always busy. Ah, oysters and champagne, or even oysters and beer...if only I liked oysters!

You can buy tea from giant ceramic urns, and choose wurst and cold meats from a massive selection. There are walls of sauces and condiments, a whole section dedicated to different chocolate companies including Godiva. And of course there's the 'American section' which I adore. But you could do all your regular grocery shopping here too. There are fruit and veg sections (see below) which stock everything that you could hope for. I read on someone else's blog that they didn't think people actually shopped there, but that in order to be a proper food hall it was a requirement. I can confirm that I have seen on quite a few occasions people buying potatoes or apples or in fact a whole shopping list of perfect quality produce.

The KaDeWe food hall. This bit has the more exotic things like baby pineapples and plantains, but you could also buy just a regular apple, onion, or orange round the corner. 
 1000 steps... 

Part of the glass roof on a sunny, blue sky, November morning. The seasoning station where you can add herbs, oils, dressings, and spices to your lunch. Nice. Bottom: Dessert. Kids in the creche? Why, yes, I think I will have the strawberries!

From the 6th floor there is an escalator (or lift) which takes you up to the restaurant and bar on the 7th floor. (Just before you get on the escalator you should take a moment to admire the huge Brandenburg Gate which sits in a glass display cabinet. I never gave it too much examination before, but it turns out it's made of 50 kilos of marzipan and took 150 hours to make by hand)  In the restaurant the food is displayed no-less beautifully than you would expect. Everything looks totally delicious. You can buy salads and so on by weight, there is a lovely selection of cakes, always at least two soups, and a wide range of hot meals all freshly prepared. But it is quite dear. You can however get perfect strawberries and cream all year round - but let's just say, you'll pay for that pleasure.

The restaurant itself is set in the roof of the KaDeWe and has great views from the giant arched window which faces out on to Tauentzienstrasse and Wittenbergplatz. You can also see the Fernsehturm from here which is the only place round this end of town that I have actually seen it from. But mostly it's nice just sitting under the glass roof, with a beer, and a new book, and two kids having a great time in the creche 4 floors below. Aaahhh.....

More photos on my Flickr

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Advent calendars galore!!!

Have you noticed the sudden glut of advent calendars on the market? When I was a kid you just got one where you opened the little doors each day and there was a different picture behind. That was pretty exciting. It was especially exciting if the door for the 24th was extra big. I could barely contain myself. As I was growing up I remember the introduction of advent calendars with chocolate in them. In fact I can still taste the horrid cardboardy taste of that awful brand Kinnerton. To give them their due, it says on their website that they offer a 'dairy-free' chocolate filled advent calendar (you can find a downloadable order form on their site). As I recall even way back in the 80's you'd be hard pressed to taste any dairy in that chocolate. Now maybe their recipe has changed since then and it takes much better, but I am in no rush to try. Especially when there are Milka advent calendars on the market. (Kids ones too - here)
Hello, I am made for mummies. Oh yes I am! That's why I am priced at Euro 13.99 - no way you're spending that on a kid. Plus I have more child-friendly versions for them. Cheaper too. Look you could hang me right beside your side of the bed. I have a lovely satin ribbon. Why not buy one for both sides of the bed to balance the room? He doesn't like chocolate anyway....
See? This is the one to get the kids (or maybe store under your pillow). It's only  Euro 5.49. Not as pretty as the mummy one, but not as much chocolate either. 200g versus 329g...

Of course nowadays it is possible to even order your own branded advent calendars with chocolate in. And when I say 'branded' I mean YOUR OWN brand. You might need to order 1000 of them to get a good price £1.76 each per 1000 I saw somewhere, but you could sell them on to your friends, hand them out to promote ..eh...diabetes.... or just eat them all yourself. That would be 24,000 chocolates. You could build a little cairn around yourself and eat your way out.

Anyway, prepare yourself for some pretty awful photographs. I was in the toyshop and I wanted to sneakily take some photos of the new breed of advent calendar - those with gifts! Last year, we had 2 Playmobil advent calendars but I saw the range of alternate advent calendars on sale this year and I was very tempted.

Here we have a car construction one, followed by  two Star Wars ones. 
 I have also saw a Hot Wheels one (ah, it's in the photo below) which I thought gave you a car behind each door but it's one car with lots of bits you can interchange. Not that great for the overall cost in my opinion, and no use really for anyone under 5 really.
Here we have some of the Lego advent calendars on the top (Hamish rather fancies the Lego Police one) and then the Hot Wheels one. On the second row you can see a couple of the Playmobil ones, followed by something to do with volcanoes and jungles and then the girl version with a unicorn. I have no idea what's in these. Bottom row: more Playmobil and the My Little Pony & Filly ones you can see better below...
 I like the Lego ones, but what puts me off is the fact that they say "Other sets will be required to create this scene" or very similar wording to that effect. Really? Well, that seems like a bit of a swizz. Cause I would like to think that what you see on the box is what you get in the box. So what are you getting? A brick behind each door? Probably not much more than that. If it takes you longer than one day to create say the Christmas tree then that's just too much waiting for a child I'd say.

I am a big fan of the Playmobil ones, though I have noticed that they are a fair bit more expensive in the UK. At the moment you can get these for around Euro 12.99 in places like Kaufland. The toy shops are a bit more expensive at around Euro 14.99. This years' Playmobil themes are: Princess Wedding; Santa & Woodland Animals; Pirates; Dinosaur Expedition; Santa's Post Office; and the Knights one. In fact, I've just seen that most of these are reduced on the Playmobil.de website to Euro 11.99. Which is good, but if you add on the delivery charge you are back to the original price...might as well wait until after Christmas then buy one for next year in the Karstadt sale.

Finally here we have the My Little Pony and the Filly advent calendars.
Orla would love both of these. I did think about getting her the Filly one but it was Euro 19.99 (which seems to be the more or less standard price for these gift filled advent calendars) and it was just too expensive. Especially if I think about the fact that I would need to buy one for Hamish too. Euro 40 makes me kind of choke. Orla would probably also really like the Barbie one or the Littlest Pet Shop one (Both not pictured), but I thought they were kind of dear too.

So there's a lot of choice out there. Of course looking at these I can't help but think I should buy a nice wooden one with little drawers and fill it myself and use it year after year. There are loads of them here and they're all very pretty. So what would you choose?

Guardian article on advent calendars v selection boxes

Advent calendars for cats (I know, this is truly mental, isn't it?):

Gawd-awful Kinnerton advent chocolate:

Monday, 14 November 2011

1000 steps from.... kita

I undertook a little project this morning. The other day Morganmuffel  of Anglo-Deutsch was set a little project by Linda of Dummy Text to walk one thousand steps from her front door and take photos every so often. Sounded like a fun idea to me. But seeing as everyone knows what me and the kids look like, our real names, etc, etc, I decided to preserve our last shred of privacy and not start at our front door. Instead I started at kita. So this is not far from where I live. Unlike Morganmuffel's and Linda's, mine is more like an architectural tour. However, it's a nice way to see parts of the city so I may do more of these setting off on different directions or from different locations in the future.

150 steps...

This is the Ellington Hotel. It's a vision of 1920's streamlined architecture. It's a lovely hotel, with what looks like lovely restaurants and very lovely modern rooms. At one point around this time last year they had a Veuve Cliquot bar which I could happily have whiled away the hours in. Alas, I didn't have the funds or the babysitter to be able to partake of this particular service. Along the side of the Ellington there are a few shops. My favourite is Florale Welten, a supremely stylish flower and 'lifestyle' shop which always has stunning displays.

200 steps...

Just a further 50 steps along from the Ellington Hotel is Peek & Cloppenburg's flagship Berlin store, a modern glass 'skirted' building. You'll see this in all the modern architecture books about Berlin. It is rather pretty. It was designed by Professor Gottfried Böhm, the only German to win the Pritzker award seen as the 'Nobel Prize' for architecture. Another building you'll see in the srchitecture books is Nike Town which sits diagonally across Tauentzienstrasse from Peek & Cloppenburg. Quite why it merits even a mention is beyond me, but then I'm no architecture expert. (You'll see it in a minute.)

220 steps...

Across the road from Peek & Cloppenburg (or rather in the bit in the middle of the two lanes of traffic on Tauenzienstrasse) you have a good view of the 'Berlin' sculpture, or the 'knot/spaghetti thing' as I call it. It was designed by Brigitte Matschinsky-Denninghoff and Martin Matschinsky in 1987, and is actually meant to represent a broken chain, showing the broken link between East and West Berlin. Today is the first time I have seen it in about 10 months or so. They removed it while they dug the living daylights out of the portion of land it sits on. But obviously they want to have it back in place in time for all the Christmas market tourists.

As you may be able to see from my ropey panorama above there's quite a lot going on in this part of town. From left to right: All the Christmas decorations are going up for the festive season. There are a couple of giant trees usually dotted along Tauentzienstrasse and Kurfurstendamm (which extends from Tauentzienstrasse). The KaDeWe (known as the Harrods of Germany) sits behind those trees, then we have Peek & Cloppenburg at the junction. Crossing over you can see the Berlin sculpture, and through that you can see (kind of) the Gedachniskirche, the famous bombed church which was left standing in ruins after the second world war. It is undergoing restoration work so it's under a lot of white panels (Follow the link if you want to see how it normally looks). If you head in this direction you end up on Kurfurstendamm, known to all as 'the Ku'damm', Berlin's famous boulevard in the West, where you can find all the designer shops. Moving further to the right you can see Nike Town, as I mentioned earlier. Is it just me, or is it nothing special? Anyway, most men like to drop by there when they visit. And then we finish up with a continuation of the street which leads you to the Berlin Zoo. Wikipedia says it is the oldest and best known zoo in Germany, and the most visited zoo in Europe. I imagine me and the kids have contributed quite substantially to that last stat.

350 steps...

Instead I wandered along Tauentzienstrasse towards the Ku'damm. Christmas is now officially on it's way! This morning along with all the street decorations being set up, all the Christmas market stands are being put in position and stocked up. The Christmas market around Breitshiedplatz and along Tauentzienstrasse and the Ku'damm is, I think, the biggest one in Berlin. This morning I saw the catering equipment going into the food stalls and the shelves being stocked already with those wooden nutcracker soldiers. From what I can tell the markets don't start until the 21st November, by which point we should have lots of pretty snow adding to the atmosphere. Yay!

450 steps...

I had intended walking towards Zoo station, famed for it's U2 connections, and it's seedy past. But my path was blocked by the barriers surrounding the Christmas market at Breitshiedplatz. So I headed a little further along the street. My 'neighbourhood' is chock to the brim full of souvenir shops. I thought I'd share with you some of the highlights. I am always surprised by the number of people who buy these bags. More than that though, I wonder where they keep getting this endless supply of 'wall' that they've been happily selling to millions of tourists since the Wall came down.

1000 steps...

We're at the last stop on my mini-tour. We're at the corner where the Ku'damm meets Bundesallee. I thought I'd finish up with another very modern glass building (of which I know zero), the rotunda of the Cafe Kranzler, and some signs telling us what else is around.

And that was the end of my 1000 steps. I should get one of those widgety things so we can group all these 1000 steps together. Let me know if you plan on doing one too. I hope you enjoyed mine.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Laterne, laterne, or the one where Stevie buys us a house-pony

Like he cares how many trees I cut out...

It's Laterne Fest time again. Seems like hardly any time at all since I was last coated with a fine layer of PVA and glitter, but here we are again. Last year it was all a bit of a mystery to me. I had no idea who St. Martin was or what exactly the celebration was meant to entail. All I knew was that I was told to make two lanterns out of cardboard and tissue paper and anything else that I could find that was highly flammable, insert two burning tealights, and set my children loose, swinging them and whacking each other until every last hair on their heads and eyebrow was burnt off. Fortunately, I had just misunderstood, and what I was actually being asked to buy was a 'Leuchtstaebchen' - which is a tiny light bulb on a stick powered by batteries and often with some kind of flashing mechanism. (Also doubles as a weapon/switch in the hands of a toddler, so you'll be able to coordinate your body glitter with the bruises across your knees and thighs).

Of course if you are embracing integration into German life with gusto, you can buy a 'traditional' kit and with a "Viel Spass!" to your toddling 2 year old flame-swinger, cast aside all your UK/USA Health & Safety ingrained paranoia. The irony of course is that your decidedly-non-German child will expose you as the hapless foreigner as they wander around setting light to all the other kids lanterns as they bash them together. So I would probably recommend spending an extra Euro or two and getting one with a bulb.

As regard the lantern itself, well you have 3 choices. You can buy one ready-made (most tend to look like paper ball-type lightshades with pictures printed on them); you can join all the mummies at Kita and make on on the day of your Kita's Laternefest (I have heard that it is normally a far more civilised affair at other Kita's, but it's a real 'elbow-sharpening' event at ours where there can be nearly 100 parents squeezed into a small room at a time all desperately snatching the nicest bits of paper); or you can make one in the relative peace and calm with or without child input.

In actual fact my greatest concern last year was not that there was a possibility of my children inadvertently setting the Kita alight, but that I didn't know what the 'theme' was meant to be. I assumed that all the lanterns should be decorated with let's say pumpkins or something representing the occasion, but it's a freestyle decorating event. Last year I made both Orla & Hamish's lanterns though they chose the materials. Hamish went for some lovely translucent flame printed paper that I thought would be hideous, but actually worked quite well. They also chose sparkly coloured card which I used to cut out the letters of their names - as I was clueless on the theme thing I decided to go 'neutral' in case ballerinas and tigers were a real no-no.

This year my work is greatly reduced as Orla is making her lantern at school. Hamish is interested in making a lantern as far as choosing the materials and giving the odd bit of art direction goes. He chose a black lantern frame with blue translucent paper, and green holographic sticky-backed paper. I was worried by my eh... creative limitations with the black on blue thing (I considered 'bruises' as a theme), but I decided on making it a dark sky with a green holographic forest and I am adding some foxes and a moon. Hamish heartily approves. Phew. I've started on it, but I have until next week to get it finished and I am bored of cutting out trees already.

Orla's Laternefest is this evening. Sadly, I don't think I can go as I already had plans for tonight. So Stevie will get to do his first Laternefest with Orla & Hamish. I was looking forward to it as well, especially after I did a double-take on the school newsletter which says "If the weather is kind the event will be held outside. There will be sausages and hot chocolate available after our lantern-lit walk through the woods. In order to cover the cost of the ponies we will have to ask for donations on the night.". Do you think we get one to keep? Or will we be eating horsey-sausages???

Info on St Martin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Martin%27s_Day)
Idee Laterne supplies (http://www.idee-shop.de/shop/index.php?page=vt_findologic&keywords=Laterne)
Songwords to 'Laterne, Laterne' - lower down they have the full song in both German & English (http://www.mamalisa.com/?p=444&t=es)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

urban eyesores and satellite dish art

This is one of my favourite buildings in Berlin. From the first moment I saw it I was hooked. I don't blame you if you're not quite as struck by it as I am. But if there's one thing that the Pallasseum is, it's striking. It can't help it. I think when I first saw it I may have said "Wow! That's ugly!". But over the time that I've lived in Berlin, the more I have driven past it, or more accurately, under it, the more it has grown on me.

It's not just it's giant scale that I like, it's the pattern of it. Driving towards it, you are struck by it's repeats towering over you, but within those repeats there are some little gems of detail. Portions of family life and individuality. One of those things are the satellite dishes. My love for them is limitless. I just think they're great.

Have you seen the pictures on them? They're kinda cool, huh? Not just that, but they are art. The Pallasseum has gone from being a social problem to a bit of a success. With the help of the people who live within it's 514 apartments the building was revitalised both structurally and socially. In 2008, artist Daniel Knipping was visiting a friend in Berlin when he came across the Pallasseum with it's hundreds of satellite dishes. He came up with a project to display images personal to the inhabitants on the dishes thus inverting the idea of the dishes bringing images into the home. The images are printed onto canvas which is stretched across the dishes and doesn't affect the picture quality received by the dish.

Aside from the "robust" design of the Pallaseum built in 1977, this wonder of architecture hides a little secret. Well, not exactly hides and I suppose less of a secret and more of an urban eyesore were it not for the monstrous scale of this housing block distracting from it. For not only does the Pallaseum span the road allowing the traffic to flow through it, it also is built over a huge World War 2 concrete bunker. Almost impossible to remove the building was built 'around' the bunker, one of many situated above ground around Berlin.

P.S. This post is a little bit of a cheat. I wrote it for my fionagray.paints blog, but I just love this building so I thought I'd just post this over here too. Feel free to come on over to fionagray.paints and have a browse. Aside from urban eyesores I also like lovely rainbows and pretty things and patting kittens.

Pallas Strasse & the Pallaseum links:
http://www.architectureinberlin.com/ information regarding the bunker and some better photos of it.
http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/archiv/ein-kuenstler-hat-die-satellitenanlagen-am-pallasseum-verschoenert-schuessel-mit-motiv,10810590,10721592.html - article on the art project by Daniel Knipping.
http://www.daniel-knipping.de/de_projekte_innennachaussen.html - Inside Out - The website of the satellite dish project by Daniel Knipping
http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/das-wunder-vom-sozialpalast/1439746.html Pallasseum - history, context

Friday, 4 November 2011

"We're not in Karlsruhe anymore, Toto". - or repatriation shock pt. 2

Part two my repatriation story. So what did I find out (/Google)?

"Repatriation shock lasts three times as long as the culture shock endured by new expatriates."
-eek! That's a bit of a shock in itself. Why is that the case? Surely it should be just as long as the initial culture shock if not shorter because you know what you are going back to?

"For many expatriates repatriation back home often becomes the most challenging relocation experience. They arrive back to discover that not only things have changed in their home country – but also that they have changed and they no longer feel like they belong at home. They feel disconnected both from the country and from the people that used to be their friends and acquaintances; they miss the status of being a foreigner and being special; they struggle to fit in; and they often feel as if they’ve lost some degree of freedom." - Global Coach Center.

That's a worry for me. I haven't kept up with what is going on at 'home'. Not only do I know very little about current affairs in the UK: if I am honest I have thoroughly enjoyed living in my 'bubble' where I don't watch the UK news (beyond occasional glimpses of BBC World News, which is a bit more global than British) or read newspapers, or even for that matter watch the German news, so what news I do get is gleaned mostly from the internet and what I hear on the radio in the car. Not only that, but I haven't got a clue about what has been happening in a social or cultural sense. I haven't seen a 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', can't talk about the people on Big Brother (though I stopped watching that years before I even left the UK, so that's not really an excuse), and haven't been much to the cinema, and I don't know whether all my children's friends are busy having sleepovers and talking make-up and Nintendo DS games or ....well, doing something else.

Some common symptoms or situations that repatriating families encounter*:
  • irritability/ resentment
  • sense of difference and disconnect
  • disappointment
  • inability to concentrate
  • low morale
  • change in values/attitudes
  • marital conflict
  • fatigue
  • parent/child conflict
  • educational/adjustment problems for children
  • depression
  • feeling unappreciated personally/professionally
  • decreased productivity
  • loneliness
*Source: 'Reverse Culture Shock (or Why Do I Hate Being Back Home?)' by International HR Forum

The reasons given for 'reverse culture shock', as it is known include the fact that most people plan pretty thoroughly for their move abroad. You are in the mindset for moving abroad, and if, like my family you are moving abroad because your company wants you abroad then you may get some assistance with the move and settling in. Often when you move back home there isn't the same kind of support for settling back in - it's just something you are expected to get on with. More and more companies are starting to recognise that they need to support their employees more with their return, as the statistics for employees who end up changing their career or returning to a life abroad are higher than you might imagine. From personal experience, we know three couples who have worked in other countries and have returned back to the UK in the past year. All of them have said that they would either like to move back to the country they had lived in or were hoping that they would be able to get another foreign assignment in a different country. 

From the various articles I read I've read that around 25% of people who have moved abroad because of their employer resign within 2 years of repatriation. And I am pretty sure that I read that this percentage increase to 33% within 4 years. 

The big factor seems to be the unexpected changes that you notice on your return. Whether it's a change in politics, or the dynamics or structure within your previous group of friends, or work and school, these things all seem to make a difference. And of course, it can be the feeling that you've changed while those around you haven't. 

"I noticed my frustration levels rising with people who have never worked or lived abroad, or worse, with people who travel regularly but have never lived abroad." - Trevor Hall comment on the Repatriation article by Global Coach Center

Making friends with other expats, even when you return to the UK because they are the people who 'understand' "people who hold a similar world view"

"When we return to our ‘home’ culture we will more often than not connect most easily with people like ourselves who have lived overseas as that is what sets us apart from others." Ruth Forsythe - Global Coach Center

Yikes! It makes me come over all uneasy... enjoy the links below and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too.

Repatriation shock by Shelter Offshore
One woman's experience of repatriation in the UK by Shelter Offshore
Repatriation & belonging by Global Coach Center
Paper on problems with repatriation for employees and their families by by Andreason, Aaron W, Kinneer, Kevin D

Thursday, 3 November 2011

"There's no place like home" - or 'the worry of repatriation' (pt 1)

And why would you look at the Brandenburg Gate when there are giant bubbles to marvel at?

I can honestly say that I hadn't really thought much about repatriation. Of course it's always been on the cards, we are due (at this current time) to return to our Derby home in June 2012. Occasionally we have had chats about whether we want to stay on here; for an extra year, for a few extra years, for....ever....and while I practically get a funny shiver at the thought of staying anywhere forever, the prospect of another year seems nice, and another couple of years? Well, maybe, that would be ok too. But equally, I feel, or thought I felt, fine about going 'home' in June.

After all, what's to worry about? We still have our house, I have primed myself for the worst case scenario in terms of it's condition after renting it out for two years and am hoping that I can only be pleasantly surprised that it'll be better than my imaginings. Stevie would go back to work in the same job or better probably. The kids would go back to speaking English and still have their friends in the UK. Both of them would start at school where everybody would speak English as a first language and life would be nice and easy for them. I would have all my UK friends to go back to and all the wonders of UK shopping, and magazines and books!!! (Oh how I miss going into a bookshop and having more than a couple of shelves to choose from!). It sounds easy enough, a breeze even.

But October brought with it a couple of things that really got us thinking. Thinking specifically that going back might not be as easy as it appears on the surface. The first thing was a visit. Our visitors came to see us, not Berlin. Which is fair enough. I think we can be very enthusiastic about the city and we really like taking people round all the sites and showing them just how much this place has to offer. I'm pretty much convinced that no matter your hobby or interest, Berlin will be able to show you something on that topic that will rock your world. These visitors though weren't interested in the sites, the Brandenburg Gate, the emblem of the end of the Cold War garnered barely even a first glance never mind a second. We asked them (an adult and a child of under 10) what they were interested in, what they liked to do, and they said "nothing much". The adult liked going to the pub (tick) and playing on his iPhone (....we don't have one), and the child likes her/his Nintendo DS, watching DVD's and not an awful lot else. So we took them to the Zoo. What kid doesn't like animals, right? Well, um, this kid. It took a bit of persuasion, and when we got there he/she lacked any enthusiasm and wanted to leave because it was smelly and dirty.

Nothing to see here: even during the Festival of Lights.

The rest of their trip followed a similar vein, it was pretty much 5 days of iPhone apps and disinterest. The only thing they seemed to enjoy was Legoland, so that was good, but by the end we all felt a bit down. It made me think that life in Britain leans far too much towards an indoor life, where playing is becoming more and more often an activity done on a computer, and less inclined to getting out and about and discovering new interests. Of course even I knew that that was a sweeping statement, and not at all the way that everyone behaves in the UK. What we were looking at was (hopefully) a very small segment of society, but it still made us think. The weather for example is much better here for getting out and doing things. There are far more sunny, summer days, spring and autumn can be rainy, but mostly it is dry and unlike in Scotland where we were during the half term break, even if it has not been raining the ground is still wet! Winters here of course can be hard. We can have snow from November through to March, but it is manageable. The weather is a big issue for Stevie. He far prefers it here because he can get out and do things with the kids and enjoy it rather than look out the window and think it might be better to stay in. We led a far more indoors life in the UK even though we did still go to lots of places and take the kids to zoos and aquariums and see steam trains and all those sorts of things.

The other thing that happened was that I saw someone's Facebook status and it made me sad. It said:

"Anyone clued up on these Android tablets. Looking to buy one for a 4 year old for Christmas and no idea where to start?! HELP!!"

I hope I don't need to explain why that makes me feel sad. I realise that not all parents of 4 year olds will be buying their children iPads, but by the same token it's not uncommon for me to read on FB about friends whose 4 year olds will "do anything to get to play on the iPad!" or "really needs their own iPhone just for the apps". The more of these things I read the more I feel like things are changing if not beyond our recognition, but beyond our comfort zone. I can't think how to really describe it. I just have this weird feeling of losing that feeling of belonging  to the 'group' and it's wrapped up with kids having iPads, packs of pre-peeled boiled eggs (admittedly I was looking for a link to the pack of 3 you can buy in Morrisons at the sandwich/newspaper bit), and big plastic tubs of fridge pack Heinz baked beans (to see it in real life is to make a sound like 'uuuggghhhhh....'.

And with all these things in mind I started to Google that frightening word 'repatriation', and oh...that leads me on to part two ...tomorrow when I'll tell you what I found out.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

We don't need no education...yet

Warning: This post is quite long and honestly, is possibly only of interest to ex-pats in Berlin who have children below school age.

This week is Berlin's school application week for all the little children due to start school in September 2012. And to be honest I never thought that I would need to be bothering with school options in Berlin - given that I was gently told which school Orla would go to, but in the past few weeks a number of things have happened that suddenly jolted me out of my blissful ignorance, and set me on a trail of investigation on this very subject.

First off, we have been talking about whether on not we will be in Berlin next September. Stevie has floated the idea of having his contract extended to his boss given that budgets will be decided in the near future, but we have heard that you don't tend to hear if you have had your contract extended until very nearly the last minute. As in, a months notice or less. The hope is that you'll crumble early and take a local contract. But we are very much still undecided about our future here. And school is becoming the number one deciding factor in that decision.

If we don't get an extension, and decide to stay then Orla needs a new school. I had thought of that and casually thought 'oh well, I guess I will just take her along to the Nelson Mandela school and get her in there'. Patently, I am very naiive. I haven't been through the school application process in the UK before but I had heard it can be pretty nerve-wracking, but somehow I just thought it would be less problematic here in Germany. Especially as the school of my choosing is a bilingual school - how many people would honestly be needing that? I think the current figure is kazillions.

I met up with a friend for an early morning beer in the top floor bar or the KaDeWe. The beer it became apparent was essential as she told me of her sleepless nights worrying about whether or not she'd be able to get her child into a school in Berlin. By the end of our conversation I was a bundle of nerves (especially as the application window was to start before we got back from our October break) and all of a sudden the poster in the lift at Kita heralded information I knew I just had to be able to read and understand before it got me to the 4th floor. In fact, I considered stealing it to translate at my leisure, but it would have poked out of my bag, so they would have had me pegged as the Schulanfanger Poster Dieb before the half term holiday even started.

Luckily for me I found it on the internet as I was Googling like mad to find out what I needed to do. It's a good place to start if you need information on what you need to do. But here's my guide to applying for bilingual schools in Berlin.

  1. School Open Days start in October and these are useful to get a feel for the school and it's culture if nothing else. You can also learn more about the application process from the staff. Most of the Open Days are scheduled before the registration process starts, but funnily enough, occasionally they are slap bang in the middle of the registration period. Why? Nobody knows.There are theories but who can say...
  2. You should (not) expect a registration  form through your door about now. I say 'not', as quite a few people have told me that their registration forms arrived too late and they just went to the school regardless during the registration week to register their child.  
  3. You need to find out what your catchment school is. I hadn't a clue. And after a long search I eventually found a page where I could enter my street and postcode and it told me. And now I can't find that page again...but I will if it kills me!
  4. If, like me, you failed to go to any Open Days, you could in theory have a look to see what people on ToyTown Berlin are saying. But, it's a bit frightening. Honestly, I probably wouldn't look if I were you. I looked and then I didn't sleep very well. Admittedly, you probably wouldn't sleep very well after reading the thread on where you could find American beer in this city, but that's Toytown for you. There's a market right there for a Toytown Berlin Anger Management course.
  5. The best thing I have found is to speak to people: kids in the park, parents at parties, friends of friends - it's actually quite a small expat world out there, and there's bound to be someone who has kids at the school you want your kid to go to. You hear good stuff and bad stuff of course: someone stopped us outside a cafe in the summer and warned us that we should never send our kids to JFK as unless we were with the US Embassy our kids would be treated as second class citizens. On the other hand there's a German woman I know whose son has started there and he loves it. Can't say anything against the place. Everything about it is fantastic. And the same goes for all the schools. You have to just make a decision and go with it.
  6. Registration: So then what you need to do is go to your local Grundschule where you would register your child if you wanted them to just go to the local school. But, if like us, you feel that your child needs to be in a bilingual school then you need to ask for  the following: "Antrag zur Aufnahme eines Kindes in eine andere Grundschule" which is a form you need to fill out giving your reasons why you want your child to go to another school. You will still retain a place at your local school until you tell them in writing that you are not taking it up. (Though someone has told me that some of the local schools are also over-subscribed - it's a joy, isn't it?). Oh and you need to take your passport and the child's passport and your registration document (the one where you had to register into your local area) and any other relevant papers.
  7. Then once you have your 'release' form completed, you then need to go to the school of you choice and register your child there. If it's a bilingual school then you need to register them (and possibly have the child tested) as either a native English speaker or as a native German speaker. And here's the rub. These schools are very popular. Hideously popular. There's no point putting more than one school in the boxes where you can list 3 options. The bi-lingual schools won't even consider your application if they are in 2nd or 3rd place. It's first choice or no choice.
  8. Most of the schools have an equal split between places that are given to Germans and places that are given to native English speakers. With a maximum of 28 in a class that means there are 14 places up for grabs. And with an awful lot of Germans competing for those 14 German places and far fewer English speaking expats competing for the other places what's happening now is that German parents are training their kids up to pass the test to be classed as a native English speaker, and thus increasing their chances of a place. So, it's not just a case of turning up and thinking you'll get a place automatically. 
  9. And then you wait to find out if you have been granted a place. Presumably if you don't get a place you can go on a waiting list and in the mean time your child would go to the local German Grundschule and receive 'language support'. Home-schooling is not an option even if you fancied it as it's illegal here.
Admission by birthdate: In my haste to find out all about the process I didn't read the poster correctly. Here's one thing to note. The admission criteria based on the child's birthday is different in Berlin to England. I simply assumed Orla would be going to German school next year but it runs from 1st January 2006  to 31st December 2006 births and not end of August 2006 to beginning of September 2007 as we would have in the UK. On the poster it does say that children can be enrolled with birthdays up until 31st March 2007 (which is the bit I read and the bit that would seemingly say that Orla should start school) but this is only if "your child has no need for language support.". 

And because of that, yesterday instead of running around with my German-English Dictionary and all our passports in hand, I managed to relax and was able to let out a sigh of relief that I don't have to go through this... just yet. 

We still have an issue with what we do if we want to stay and a local contract for Stevie is the only way to do that. It would mean that Orla would drop out of school and have to return to kita (nursery) for another year. And that doesn't really sit well with me given that she had a bad experience getting bullied in her German kita, so I wouldn't be happy sending her back to one to struggle with her German again which puts her in a difficult position of not being able to defend herself, and so if I then have to go into battle for a bilingual kita place and don't succeed in getting one then what do I do? Go home? Maybe. It seems odd too to take her from school where she has been learning to read and write and do maths to then put her back in a 100% play environment. I don't know that that's a bad thing, but it just seems odd to stop their learning once they've started.

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