Tuesday, 19 June 2012

9 things I learned yesterday.

Yesterday I was back at the Burgeramt. (You can read the first part here) It was a 'valuable learning experience' for me. That's the nicest way I can put it. This is what I learned:

1. You can arrive as early as you like, but there will always be 80 people to be seen before you. 

2. You are there to undertake a task. Do not try and be *nice*.

I made the mistake of when someone on their way out passed the handle of the glass door to me of asking the woman behind the counter if she would like the door closed. She replied with a sentence I didn't understand. I said 'Sorry, would you like the door closed?'  again, and she said very sternly "WHAT DO YOU WANT??"

3. You will be punished for your bad German. 

I asked for the form for the parking permit and answered all the questions which she fired at me in what was obviously much more *fancy* German that she was patently getting a kick out of watching me not entirely understand. Except having been through this before I knew what the questions were and managed to get the answers right*.

4. Do not proceed to the waiting room with your numbered ticket. Stay. Move to the side a little, but stay. Ask the next person served what number their ticket is. 

Not doing this may result in the following. I was given a ticket which at the time would have sworn did not come directly from the machine. But, I didn't query it, because why wouldn't they give me the next number? Anyway, I went into the room and the number on the board was at 5 or something. I counted the number of people in the room and there were 43. I couldn't quite work out how I could be number 80, but it was a nice day and I thought that perhaps some people were waiting outside on the grass. So I waited 4 and a half hours. I waited until everyone who had arrived before me had been seen, and nearly everyone who had arrived after me had been seen. I waited until people who arrived 2 hours after me were complaining to other people in the room how long they had been waiting and how awful it was to have to wait longer because it was taking so long to get to 64. 64? 64?

5. It will do you no good to complain. You cannot win. They know you can't prove a thing. So go back to number 4 and check the next person's ticket. You probably will be told that they have some kind of special circumstance or something, who knows, but you will NEVER win. 

6. I will not be staying in Germany beyond June 2014 unless I have underground parking.

7. When you think things can't get worse: they can. Finding out you have booked the return flight from your holiday for the DAY AFTER you leave the hotel while waiting in the Burgeramt will see to that.

8. Drinking a whole bottle of cava while making dinner does actually cheer you up.

9. As does going to bed at 8pm.

*The questions never vary. It's like the questions you get at the airport.

1 thing I learned 8 minutes ago

1. You can renew your parking permit on the internet.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

I'll never get those 4 hours back.

I had a little cry outside the Burgeramt today. Yes, I know there should be an umlaut above that 'u' but they don't deserve one. I had to go to renew our parking permit and I was pretty sure that I had all the documentation I would need, and I was prepared for a 2 hour wait to be seen, but they broke me today, because after over an hours wait standing in a huge queue to be let through to the desk where you get a number, I the had a further 2.5 hours to wait in what is arguably the world's dreariest beige waiting room after which I found out that I need one more document that says that I have permission *still* to drive the car. So I get to do this all again tomorrow or maybe Monday, I haven't got the strength to go back tomorrow. I was there so long that the motto of the day even changed on their dreary infommercial tv. So I left and had a little sob and realised that I hate Germany. Not that the UK would be much better, God knows I've waited in hospitals for nearly as long, but I'm here, and here is where I'm hating. So there. I had to phone the Kita to say I would be late and they at least were very understanding when I said I was at the Burgeramt. Cause everyone knows what a pain it is to get things done there.

But once I picked him up over an hour late, we then had to go and sort out a problem with our electricity provider. We got a letter saying "We hear you've moved out! How about you send us your new address so we can send your final bill?" and I thought it was a bit odd but just put it down to the fact that we were due to leave at the end of May. Alas, no. Turns out we haven't been paying the electricity for our apartment, but for another one. I need to sort it out and work out which meter belongs to us - not apparently the responsibility of the electricity company. I just bet we have been paying for a much smaller apartment where a lone person who works all day, is out all night, and winters elsewhere, and we're going to get landed with a HUGE bill. Did I tell you I hated Germany? I hate their stupid apartments too.

Roll on tomorrow. When I shall love Germany again. (As long as I am not back at the Burgeramt)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Further adventures in Groupon: the hot air balloon.

As you might have gathered, I got a bit carried away with Groupon a while ago with meals, haircuts, miniature trains, and more meals. Today, one of my regular Groupon partners in crime and I redeemed our vouchers for a ride in the 'Die Welt' hot air balloon. That's if ride is the right word. As it's tethered to the ground, we went up 150m and stayed there at a slightly unnerving angle for 15 minutes and then came back down. You can find it round the corner from Potsdamer Platz situated near both the Topography of Terror and Checkpoint Charlie.

It was great. We had to cling on to the railing for a very wobbly, swaying take off which tempered the persistent camera clicking noise that usually accompanies Sarah and I whenever we meet up. Sadly, it wasn't the clearest, sunniest of days, but I would highly recommend it, and as I am about to overload the page with photos I'll leave it at that. Should you fancy going you'll find details on their webpage but you might want to hold out for a Groupon deal to save on the 19 euro ticket price.

The Die Welt hot air balloon. 

The Fernsehturm

Some (heavily Photoshopped) Trabi's

The Trabi Safari

Pretty coloured buildings

The Jewish Memorial

Leipziger Strasse (I have a bit of a thing for ugly high rises)

Gendarmenmarkt with the Berliner Dom behind.

The Jewish Memorial, Frank Gehry's DZ Bank with the Brandenburg Gate peeking out behind, the beginning  of the Tiergarten, and the Reichstag. 

Leipziger Platz (foreground where the death strip was) and the modern architecture of Potsdamer Platz & the Sony Center, with Tiergarten behind.

Looking to the west - the tallest building on the right is the new Waldorf Astoria and faintly you can see the Funkturm further right, and in the background, Teufelsberg. 

My other Groupon adventures:
Unsicht-bar - eating in the dark restaurant
Panoramapunkt - sightseeing from the top of Kollhof Tower.
Loxx Miniatur Welten - Mini Berlin with trains in the Alex shopping centre
Like I just stepped out of a salon - getting a Groupon haircut - eek

Monday, 11 June 2012

Schultüte: a very rough guide

Prepare for an assault on your eyes. For it's Schultüte time. These mystified me when we first arrived in Germany, I couldn't work out what they might be for, and didn't know then even what they were called. I assumed they were for putting children's presents in, but they seemed such an awkward unusable shape for most things that I couldn't see how that concept would have taken off. The last year with Orla starting school I was told that she should have one to bring with her on her first day, though it turned out that in actual fact she doesn't need one until this year. So, while I blind you with garish colour, here's the low-down on them.

Make your own with supplies from Idee (though you can end up spending more doing it this way)

So reliable old Wikipedia says "When children in Germany and Austria set off for their first day in school upon entering first grade, their parents and/or grandparents present them with a big cardboard cone, prettily decorated and filled with toyschocolatecandies, school supplies, and various other goodies. It is given to children to make this anxiously awaited first day of school a little bit sweeter."

And there you have it. If you are a novice at Schultüte-filling, then you might be wary of buying school supplies to go in it, as most German school have regulations regarding the equipment your child should have for school, and will supply you with a list of items plus the brands that they should be. However, you'll also find that most places that sell Schultüten rather handily have lots of the regulation school supplies right next to them. Bonus! It's quite good fun putting together a Schultüte, and I think it's a lovely tradition that I would love to take back to the UK. I thoroughly enjoyed buying little toys, and paint brushes, and novelty erasers, and coloured pencils when I did it last year. It's like a mid-year Christmas stocking. Though you may want to take some medicinal salts with you on this shopping trip when you clock the price of coloured pencils and those kids paint sets, and realise you're going to have to deny yourself that nice top from Esprit you saw from the escalator on the way up.

The selection at Karstadt, from tiny to huge, mostly all with recognisable characters and brands on them.
 Size: Does it matter? Who knows. I think it probably does. Last year the school's instruction was not to buy the utterly massive ones. So I didn't. And when we turned up on day one and saw the kids going in with their Schultüten, we could see that that advice was 99% ignored. A Swiss friend of ours here says that it should be the "size of the child". Hmmm... if you know more about this please advise in the comments below, but I can't help but think that given the range of sizes available, it's probably not so much of a big deal.

Stuck for ideas? You can even buy books of ideas for girls ones and boys ones, and you can't go wrong with a mountain of crepe paper. Well, no, you probably can. Especially where glitter glue is concerned.

 Cost: I've seen some big ones in Kaufland (the supermarket) for Euros 3.99, and they look ok. I also thought Karstadt were pretty reasonable. The medium sized Spiderman one that Hamish wants (in the second photo from top) was Euros 3.99. The large ones with generic unicorns and pirates and things on are as you'd expect cheaper than the Hot Wheels, or Barbie, or Disney Princess ones which cost around 10 Euros. You'll find the Princess Lillifee & Cap'n Sharkey ones are priced just a little bit higher just to piss you off.

Of course, given that we've learned over the course of the year that what school is really all about is testing your ability as a mother to undertake endless creative projects against the clock, you might as well get some practise in and make your own. No, it won't save you any money, but it will teach your child the lesson 'If you want something doing well, you might as well do it yourself'. If they don't like your ideas they can do it themselves. It'll be hours of creative fun, and you'll finally be able to get rid of that rug you hate, because it's going to get ruined with glitter glue.

Anyway, I'm off-topic. The big basic cardboard cones in Idee cost around 4 Euros. But unless you have a stack of other materials at home, or are planning just to close your eyes and take a Sharpie to it, you'll find all that highly tempting glittery paper and the nicely packaged bits and bobs they have are going to take your spend to  way over the 10 Euro mark. Though one friend is printing Spiderman images off the internet and sticking these on which I think is a great idea. Desperate mums laugh in the face of copyright law.

Why not just go to the KaDeWe, where you'll find all the big names in Schulranzen (those awful-looking German school bags) are ready to sell you something equally ugly. (Though I thought the pink deer one by Samsonite's Sammies range was ok. 20 Euros though - is it worth it?). When you could buy a kit with all the bits to make you stay up cursing late into the night, for exactly the same price? Hmm... I think you know what I'd choose :)
If you look at the sea of DIY Schultüte supplies in Idee and feel lost with so much choice, they have kits that you can buy which contain everything you need to make a certain design. Handy, but they are super-expensive. For the same price you could take yourself (well excluding travel costs) to the KaDeWe and buy one of the branded ones that match the Schulranzen. They have ones by Samsonite, Scout, and I can't remember the other makes. These ones come in at 20 Euros. I was expecting to find some super expensive ones for sale here, but the KaDeWe has sadly let me down on this score. If you want to spend big bucks on an item which will be used for one day and then become a princess hat, then you need to take yourself to one of the little individual kids boutique shops.

Last week I was having a browse when I saw a quite lovely looking fabric-wrapped 
Schultüte on a shelf. It had that kind of 'Bavarian-style' thing going on with a combination of felt, gingham, and reindeer, and it was embroidered with the child's name. It was 40 Euros, which seemed a bit much even if you were going to pack it away in the loft as a childhood heirloom, given that under the fabric it's still just a cardboard cone. BUT, you're forgetting one thing: You could get ahead of the fancy dress costume making game and stay up all night replicating it with your sewing machine. It would probably only cost you about 3 euros for the fabric, and what price do you put on sleep anyway?

I mean think of how great you'll feel having stayed up half the night, on that first day of school when their little eyes alight on it, and they look into your half-shut ones and say, "But I wanted Fireman Sam...". Try and save your tears for when you see them off at the school gate.

You should never meet your heroes

But it's great to meet people who you kind of think are great.

Last night we went to see Fran Healy of the Scottish band, Travis play a benefit concert for the Berlin Kids International School. A few of my friends came along and a friend of Stevie's from work came with his brother and their girlfriends. It was a great night. We all felt desperately old as we walked in and were all muttering "it's a bit dark, isn't it? We'll need a torch to find the toilets", though in fact we did adjust to the light, or lack thereof, in time to find the toilets. On my way back who should I meet on the stairs but Fran Healy himself who said "Hey!" to me. If I was a little more star-struck, I'd say WOW! and say it made my night, but you know, I didn't even realise it was him until a split-second afterwards. So at least I didn't say anything moronic back.

Someone who also wasn't star-struck, but quite tickled was Stevie, who on meeting his friend from work's brother couldn't help but think he recognised his voice. And it turns out, that it's a voice he is very familiar with and hears every day of the week on his way to and from work, because he's the Asia correspondent on BBC World News. Anyway, keep your ears open as I asked him to give Stevie a mention "... and coming up next it's the latest Asia Business Report going out especially to Stevie in Berlin".... or maybe not.

Hamish meanwhile was back at the house honing in his womanising skills with our new babysitter who's a rather stunning 18 year old. I knew he was keen on her after 2 minutes as the giveaway symptom was him rolling around on the floor making kind of crazy noises and rolling his eyes. It's what he does when he feels there's a bit too much emotion in the room, except the direction of the emotion in this instance was coming from him. He went from that to full scale showing off, and was busy showing her all his best body parts when I went through to get him to brush his teeth. When I was done he asked me whether I thought she liked kisses. I said she probably did, as most girls usually do, though perhaps he should ask her. So this morning he told me that he had asked her and then kissed her, and then told her he couldn't sleep on his own and managed to talk her into lying beside him in bed. I'm not sure if all his lines will work as well when he's 18 (Though I'm pretty sure "I'm a little bit Spiderman" will win most women over) but he's got enough time to practise.

So everybody had a lovely night :-)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Strike a pose. Vogue-ing in Erfurt & Leipzig

Since we've been struck down by some kind of family viral lurgy, it's been difficult to blog. Not so much because I have lacked the energy or the mood (though I have in a way), but because with Stevie off work, he's been rather annoying every time I even look at the laptop, in a "Is that you on the internet again?", and I swear, I have barely even logged on. A glance is all it takes to set him off.

The issue has been sparked by Hamish who in earshot of his father clocked me huddled furtively in the corner, and asked innocently enough what I was buying off the internet, and could I get him something. This is the kind of thing that Stevie hates. His feeling is that if a 3 year old (nearly 4 year old actually) knows what you are doing on the internet then it's indicative of oft-seen behaviour by dear old me.

Curse those pesky kids! I'm having to become increasingly careful about all my regular little habits. The ones which seem to drive Stevie nuts in particular relate to (a) the internet CRIME: using from dawn till dusk (supposedly) and (b) photography CRIME: documenting every second of every day. One thing he can't complain about is that he buys me new lenses and then I don't use them; I'm pretty sure that would annoy him too. But while we were away on out regular little Legoland/Playmobil Funpark jaunt he became utterly riled by things like this:

I hear you. "What?" you're saying. The thing that he finds so awful is that the kids when they see things like Der Maus and Bernd Brot in the street they automatically run up and start posing in front of them, which in my mind only looks really embarrassing (for me) when I don't have my camera with me, and they still do it. It happens whenever they see anything which they consider a 'photo opportunity'. Giant strawberries, 4 foot high polar bears holding ice creams, bronze hippos, Berlin Buddy Bears, barely known German tv characters...they spot them, run forward and start blathering on about cheese.

This crime is compounded by things like Stevie saying "Come on Hamish, what's taking you so long?", and him responding "Oh well, you know, Mummy likes to take a few photos". It's like a red rag to a bull. In my defence I have also trained the two of them to stay absolutely stock still by my side when I am taking photos of buildings and things. That way I don't lose them and they don't risk getting run over, so that's something, right?

Anyway, I won't bore you to death with yet another bunch of Legoland/Playmobil photos, we had a great time at both places though I was coming down with the lurgy at the Playmobil Funpark, and felt like I was getting the flu because everything ached. Apart from the obvious highlights (no wasps, no queues, kids having a fabulous time) we also visited a couple of places we hadn't previously been to. Leipzig was the first. I don't know why, but we both had had a much different picture in our minds of Leipzig. Stevie was somewhat disappointed that it wasn't desperately communist and eastern looking (I know, prettiness is so old hat), and I'm not sure what I thought. I knew about it's role in the fall of the GDR, where the first important demonstrations took place, but not much else.


What I didn't know was that it was the hometown of Bach, or that it would be so pretty, with a different style of architecture to other German cities we've visited. It has previously been on the New York Times list of top ten cities to visit.


The other place we stopped off for a break was Erfurt, which had been recommended to Stevie by his work colleagues, and it was lovely. I would highly recommend a visit to Erfurt. Our prior knowledge of Erfurt was phenomenal: basically we both know it as the place in our very first German book where people like to hitchhike and strangers chat about getting a light for their cigarettes. And certainly there were a lot of people there, and quite a lot of them were smoking. But what we liked about it best were the little narrow streets with utterly gorgeous fachwerk buildings. Not that I got to take photos of them all, because what I realised on this trip was that it's not the kids who inhibit my enjoyment of visiting new places, but my beloved Stevie, who practically races through them, no lingering and lazy wandering allowed. Now what he really needs is a camera in order to slow down and really enjoy the sights...

Monday, 4 June 2012


Funnily enough, I haven't heard of there being that many Jubilee parties at home in Scotland. In fact, of my friends in England that I have spoken to recently, I'm not sure that even one of them was doing *something* for the Jubilee beyond trying to avoid all the news coverage on tv.

And yet, here in Berlin, there has been quite a lot of Jubilee action. Patently abroad is where you need to be in order to muster up the enthusiasm for a party. We were invited to 4 Jubilee parties yesterday. Since we were invited to a staunch republican's party yonks ago, that was the one we went to.

Essentially, I think it was just a good excuse for a lot of us to get together, the kind of get-together that always seems too much of a faff to be bothered with at home. So it was good fun, and the kids (for it was all people from Orla's school) had a great time. We even had imported British weather just for the occasion, which was, um... lovely.

Stevie was feeling a bit tired though, and he's got a sore back, which might have something to do with us just having driven back from Bavaria. For oh yes, we spent the past few days down south visiting Legoland Deutschland & the Playmobil Funpark again. We got back on Saturday evening, and as I was baking for the party, that meant I got to spend last night getting Orla ready to go back to school today. Because of course you can guarantee that if you've been away for the best part of a week, come back and partied then of course it goes without saying that a fancy dress outfit will be required for the following day. Meet my vision of modern monarchy, Princess Orla:

Today they're having a Jubilee party at school and the kids were to come dressed up, ideally incorporating the theme of red, white, and blue. Because they love to make things easy o us parents. I struggled a bit with the royal theme. I would have loved to have dressed her as a corgi (too hard, & I thought (wrongly) too warm for this time of year), or as the Queen (as she is today, but where would I get one of those dress coats and matching hats and handbags in an age 5, and I'd still like to coordinate the look with a couple of corgi puppies on a lead - too hard and beyond my sewing abilities), and then I thought of dressing her up as the Queen as she looked when she was 5 years old, but when I Googled photos of her, she just looked like any other 5 year old in a fancy dress. So I just went for a nice easy solution: Princess Orla, a crown, a sash, and a robe.

I am never sewing with crushed velveteen again. It was quite hard. I could have done with an overlocker to edge it, and I gave up completely on adding an ermine (white fake fur with black marker pen) edge to it. The sash doesn't sit right because by the time I got on to it Orla had been asleep for early 4 hours, so I couldn't fit it on her properly. I also had to sew three ribbons together for that as I couldn't get anything Jubilee themed here. I do wonder whether when we go back to the UK I will continue to make outfits for the kids or whether I shall just go back to using good old Tesco.

Anyway, in other Jubilation news: today we have been in Berlin for exactly 2 years! 

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