Thursday, 30 August 2012

I could be wrong, but this is what I think I saw.

And so we're back! I have to say that was one of the best trips back to Scotland that we've had. The flight was great and I was able to take a lot less stuff in my bag for the kids now I have an iPad. Much as I don't want the kids to get too into playing games on computers and so on, it made a two hour flight much easier and pass quicker for them. I had downloaded books and activities for them, such as colouring book apps, drawing apps, Lego apps, and a bunch of phonics and maths apps that Orla really enjoys.

Once in Scotland we had 6 days of shopping to do, which had I been child-free I could probably have done in a day! It was great fun though, and this time back felt different again to the other times. I had forgotten a little how different the weather is. I expected it to be a bit colder, even with my mum saying things like "oh no, it's roasting here!" when it was just over 20 degrees C in Scotland, but over 30 in Berlin. So, I did pack a couple of jumpers, and rain jackets, but I forgot the whole four seasons in one day thing. Even though you might set out on a walk with bright blue skies, it can be pouring with rain ten minutes later. I must have been caught out ooh, maybe 6 days in a row.

But the other things I noticed were the people. Wow! This time round the obesity crisis was really clear to me. Perhaps because of the stark contrast with Berliners, who are generally very slim and tall, but I was taken aback by the percentage of people of nearly all age groups who were seriously overweight. And it's not that hard to see why. Aside from the junkies (of which there seems to be a lot in Ayr), you can see alcoholism and poverty on the faces of a lot of people. It's not a pretty sight.

Talking to my sister-in-law, she told me how with a lot of product deals on at the supermarkets, these are the options that people are going for. Why would you buy a pack of chicken breasts when there are ready meals on offer that are far cheaper to feed your family. And the supermarkets do seem so full of ready made products. Admittedly when I was in, it was quite briefly, but my eye was caught by the increased number of products for kids. Things like packs of Tilda rice for kids - the kind that you can just bung in the microwave for a couple of minutes. But why is it for kids? What has it got in it that makes it more appealing for kids than normal rice?

Outside one supermarket I saw a billboard advert for Weetabix baked with Golden Syrup. I couldn't believe it. Why does anyone need that product? And how is this helping the obesity crisis? Of course it's all about money. I know that. And I know that while the government (presumably) is still harping on about the weight of the nation, and the growing pressure this puts on the health and thus the NHS, they don't seem to be doing very much to stop it from getting worse. Because the government could clamp down on all of this, but there must be too much money at stake.

Is this UK industry now?: the diet industry; the food industry; dealing with the effects of poor diet industry? Not to mention the advertising industry. And I guess there's a lot of tax in amongst all that lot. I'm starting to wonder if Ryanair were just saying out loud with their "fat tax" what the government is thinking. (or doing). The stark contrast to Germany even hit me when I was clothes shopping in Debenhams. Standing at the till, I had Orla pestering me with "Can you get me that? Can I try those?" and right beside me was a big stand with these 'grab bags' of chocolate! Why do you need to have food on sale literally everywhere you go? Putting all this temptation in people's paths is not helping anyone.

The 'High Street' itself is not in much better shape. Presumably Ayr High Street is not much different from most around the country. There have been a lot of closures due to the recession, and beyond the mainstays of M&S, Debenhams, and so on, the majority of shops seem to be really cheap clothing shops, and £1 shops. And everyone loves the £1 shops. As my sister-in-law said, "Why would you pay 60p for 1 bar of chocolate when you can get a pack of 3 for £1 in the £1 shops?". And she's right. Because it doesn't make sense. And people have got used to this sense of things being a £ being good value, and according to her the supermarkets have used this to their advantage too, and there are a lot of deals where things are now priced at the £1 price point. After all, "It's only £1!"

But oh! Forgive me! I'm not my usual self. I'm not that into politics and to be honest I don't know all the in's and out's of the situation nor can I even claim to have the smallest clue as to what the current government is actually doing to tackle Britain's problems, all you're getting here are my impressions from what I've seen. And, of course I am not immune to the whole thing too. I shopped like a mad woman when I was there. I couldn't believe the amazing prices I saw everywhere, and even things that my mum thought were expensive, I thought were brilliant value compared to here in Germany.

So it'll be no surprise if my next post is all about the contents of the big box we're expecting to turn up later today. I know, I'm weak. There are even some of those grab bags of chocolate in there....

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sometimes €10 for a bit of decorated cardboard is a bargain

Life teaches you many things along the way, and the lesson I have learned over the past couple of weeks is:

No child should be allowed to know of the existence of sequins until they are at least 8 years old.

And in case that's not enough:

Gold lame fabric will suffice in an emergency for wiping a child's bum, but it will look so odd you'll laugh.

So, sequins.

I am so over them. Admittedly, it's my own fault. When Orla chose a plain pink Schultute I rejoiced at the money I was saving. And I also figured it would keep her busy on a little craft project for a few hours. *sigh* how wrong can I be?

I asked her how she'd like to decorate it and she said she wanted love hearts and sequins. I let her choose some fabric to cut hearts from (gold lame- I'd been thinking of a pretty pink gingham, but she looked at me in disgust, and well, turns out bling is cheaper) and of course, guess who ended up cutting out the hearts. Then she wanted sequins glued round the edges of the hearts. I poured them out, gave her the glue, showed her how to apply it, and set her off. 5 sequins in and she was fed up. "Can you just help me a bit?"

Well, sure I can! To give her her due, she stuck around for a minute watching me do it, and then went off to do something less mind-numbing. And so I sat for hours, glueing individual sequins on, all the while thinking it was utterly ridiculous and I should just leave her to decorate the damn schultute herself, and how I was a total mug and should have realised that sequins were a bad idea, and that there were probably children her age sewing blooming sequins on t-shirts in India in intricate designs.

Once completed, my lone typing finger ached with a fresh rawness from applying a few thousand sequins. Orla gave her nod of approval but declared that it needed something 'more'. Wracking my brain, I suggested that perhaps a bit of potato printing might be just the ticket. And so I carved a nice heart shape, let her loose with my acrylics, and bam! She just splodged it on so carelessly it actually looked like a potato, and not a pretty heart.

Well, hey, I'm not spending hours sequinning just for someone to come along and ruin all my good efforts! So guess who ended up doing the potato printing?

But you know, it just still wasn't right. Or so I was told. Couldn't I just add some more sequins to it all over? Well, sure I could! I don't need lunch like the rest of you! And couldn't we do something with the extra gold fabric? Absolutely! Let me just lose a couple of hours of my sleep staying up hand sewing it to the top edge!

You think we're done? Oh no. We're heading back to Scotland tomorrow and plan on buying some large fake colored jewels to stick on it... All this effort for 10 minutes of ceremony.... *sigh*

If you fancy reading some more about Schultuten, try this: Schultute: a very rough guide

Monday, 20 August 2012

This is not Amsterdam.

I'm not sure where we've been over the past week or so, but it's not been Amsterdam. Or Copenhagen. Or Vienna.

We've been talking about taking a weekend trip for a few weekends now. I really, really want to go to Copenhagen. On Google maps it looks so close, and yet it's still so far. If we were child-free it wouldn't be an issue: a 6 hour drive wouldn't be a problem, heck, if we didn't have kids we'd probably fly. But with kids, we always have to weigh up is it worth it for all that moaning and having to listen to "Are we nearly there now?" 400,000 times.

So Copenhagen is out for the moment. Vienna is much the same distance. Then the past couple of weekends we thought "Yeah, let's go to Amsterdam!", it's closer. Except, Stevie's been before and doesn't really feel *fussed* about going again, but as I wanted to go, then fine, we'd go.

Except we didn't. This happened the weekend before last, though admittedly he was shattered after a week working away, and then this weekend we were absolutely, totally going to go but at the last minute Stevie decided it wasn't really a great place to take the kids.

So we went north. To Warnemünde, on the coast. We've been there before, two years ago, and this time the weather was perfect. We  spent the day on the beach, had some lovely fish for dinner in one of the restaurants looking over the harbour, and planned on staying over and booking into a hotel, until Hamish got diarrhoea, and said he just wanted to go home. Thank god it wasn't a 6 hour drive.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Wherever we go... Hugo!

Do you remember we had a date with Hugo?

Hugo in Tiergarten

Well, much to our own surprise, we had him to stay for a sleepover. I'd mentioned that we would be happy to have him should his owners ever fancy a weekend away, and it just so happened they did. It was brilliant fun. And it was a really great experience for the kids. I think they learned a lot from having him here.

Hugo and his pack.

He came on Sunday morning and we let him settle in and have a good sniff around the place. I made best use of Hugo's visit by getting the kids to tidy up all their toys in case Hugo swallowed small bits and choked on them. Hugo had no intention of eating any of their toys, but still it kept them nice and tidy for a couple of days. So it was worth it for that alone.

We took him on a good long walk around Tiergarten. His 'mum' had said that he enjoyed long walks, so that's what we gave him walking via Hansaplatz to the English Tea Garden then on through Tiergarten to the playground and a little picnic and a rest, then straight through the middle of the nude sunbathing area (can I just say Stevie chose the route: Hugo hardly knew where to look for all the sausages on display) and then back home via the boating lake, the Zoo, and then I 'think' we might have stopped off at the American Festival of the People in Breitscheidplatz on the way back.

He's the perfect size for little girls.

Not knowing Hugo's routine very well I tried taking him out again after dinner, and again at bedtime. He wasn't very keen on going out after dinner, and when it came to the bedtime walk he just looked at me as if to say "Seriously, you want to go out again?" and then refused to leave the apartment.

The kids were thrilled to have Hugo to stay. Stevie less so. Mostly because he was being selected as a test subject to see if he *really* was allergic or just pretending as I suspected. "What a hassle" he kept muttering, until after a couple of hours he realised that Hugo was in fact a miniature fraction of the hassle of our two kids. I think he particularly appreciated the fact that you can walk with Hugo attached to you and he's not trying to pull your arm from it's socket by spontaneously swinging off it, and he doesn't whine and moan every few steps about 'how much further' it might be. He was a joy that way.

It was such a big learning experience for us all. The kids learned so much over the course of a couple of days about how Hugo is different to a person ("Are you sure he won't talk AT ALL???", "Why is he not having lunch???" "Couldn't we help him use our toilet?"), we learned that Stevie is allergic, in the sense that it was as if he suddenly developed a really bad cold and was sniffing away all the day, but not so allergic (eyes puffy and red and streaming) that it would completely put me off. But we also learned, or rather I did, that now is not a good time for us to have a dog. Man, being a grown-up actually sucks.

If we got a dog, then it would be *my* dog and I would be the one to look after it and take it out, and the trouble would be that it just wouldn't always be practical to take the dog out given we have the two kids. Hamish was getting a bit bored of going out walks all the time (though admittedly Hugo could have been walked a lot less, but my only dog walking experience was my springer spaniel when I was a teenager, and she enjoyed a lot of walking) so I am sure there would be a lot of arguments about having to accompany me on walks with the dog on rainy, cold, or snowy days. On top of this, with Stevie often away with work, I just couldn't take the dog out at night if the kids are in bed. We can't just stick the dog out the back door when we live in an apartment, and even though it is likely we will move back to our house with a garden at some point, it made me think about how the kids get narky at even 7 o'clock when I'd need to walk it at it's early evening walk.

So much as we loved having him, we had to hand him back, and we all miss him quite a lot because he added to our family. And I still think it's crap that I have to be a grown up and can't just follow Hamish's instruction of "just tell his Mummy that he's ours now".

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The American School Bus

Everything I love about Berlin can be summed up with a place like this.

We walked past here at the weekend on our way to the Natural History Museum. It's just on the corner of Torstrasse & Friedrichstrasse. Right in the middle of the city on a busy corner, an empty lot fenced off from the busy Thursday afternoon traffic. To me this typifies Berlin. They've filled it with sand, planted some sunflowers, put in some some nice garden furniture, and finished it off with an American school bus selling hotdogs and frozen yoghurt with a million toppings. Add in some good friends, and you have another great Berlin afternoon.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips!

Afterwards we made pink fairy cakes which are proven to improve your speech.

Let me tell you a story. About a year and a few months ago Orla went for her U8 test, which is a development check for 4 year olds. I wrote about it here, and mentioned that the one issue that they seemed to find with her was her speech. The doctor said that I needed to take her to speech therapy and gave me a referral for a woman who would carry this out in English. Given that Orla was starting school in September I planned on making the appointment pretty soon afterwards, so that it didn't interfere with her education. But strike me down, for I am an unbelievably lazy bisem, and I didn't make the appointment. As I said in my post at the time, I wasn't overly concerned, I just felt that she spoke 'young' and given that she did her speech test in German, I didn't think she could be expected to pronounce words correctly in her second language. 

One of the things I find funny here is that almost all of the English-speaking expats I know here in Berlin have their kids in speech therapy. In fact I have friends who have met some of my other friends through their speech therapist. And I can honestly say that I would have said that those kids spoke clearer than Orla and had very little need of a speech therapist.  

Anyway, today Orla had her U9 check. And once again she had her speech tested. He was over the moon at her progress, and asked which speech therapist she had seen. I lied because I thought he would give me into trouble and said she'd seen one at school. Actually that's not even a lie. She has *seen* one, but she hasn't done anything with her. Anyway, he was so pleased he says she can stop now. Well, what do you make of that?

I have to say that I was quite amused with the questions Orla was asked as part of her test today. They struck me as *very* German. After being asked where she lived - Berlin, we moved on to two of the most important topics for a German child.

Question number 2: Do you know how to correctly use a pair of scissors? (Well, it is important if they can hold you back a year at school in Germany if you can't!)

Question number 3: How do you know when you can cross the road? (Ha, ha, ha! This was followed by further questions about when you know it's not safe to cross, etc. Orla even got a bonus point I think for also mentioning you should never step into the bike path!)

On the subject of U8 tests & speech therapy...
The rain in Berlin falls mainly on the graffiti-covered buildings

Friday, 3 August 2012

The German Schoolbags

Never before have I seen such beautiful school bags...ahem.
Now if you remember, once apon a time I had a little ponder over German school bags & their general lack of appeal, weight, size, blah, blah. I couldn't understand why something so ugly could cost so much. Then you helpful readers enlightened me to the world of the Schulranzen and of lists that German schools supply with regulation stationary that *must* be bought and used. Turns out that for quite a lot of money, many people are happy not to have to shop around for coloured pencils and pass holders if they come included in the ugly schoolbag.

Well, guess what? I've very nearly gone and bought the darn things. Nearly, but not quite. It all came about as a result of both kids feet getting bigger. Seriously. Last year I bought Orla a cute little backpack from M&S that basically covered her needs (P.E. kit, packed lunch, occasional additional items) and she took her swimming kit in a different swim bag. It was pretty perfect. And then her feet kept growing, and growing. And all of a sudden towards the end of last term the girl with the biggest feet in the class (of which she is very proud) can barely fit her trainers in her bag along with her packed lunch. Hamish needless to say is only a size or two behind her.

My plan was to wait until we went to the UK before doing a giant school shopping trip which would include school bags for both Orla & Hamish (who will be starting Reception in September), but when looking online most of the kids rucksacks I've seen have been the same size as the one Orla had last year. And then, one day, I was walking through Karstadt and saw the perfect sized rucksack.

Today, I bit the bullet and bought two Scout VI rucksacks. Scout is one of the main players in the whole Schulranzen game. These though are perfect for smaller children who don't have to carry a million thigs with them everyday. Hamish chose a dinosaur design, and is thoroughly pleased with the mesh pockets at the side where he can keep a juice cup, and Orla eventually settled on a butterfly design (it was between that and a unicorn design). So there you go, give me a couple of years, and I'll be transferring them into a German school and walloping great big ugly Schulranzen on their backs, saying, "Aren't they lovely?" as my inner German finally emerges.

The going rate for these smaller rucksacks is 33 Euros each, but you can find them online from prices as low as 19 Euros. I found an online retailer with good prices called Ranzen-Berlin which just so happens to be nearish us, as in we walked for what felt like ages from Rathaus Steglitz U-Bahn station in a thunderstorm to get there but they had absolutely loads of choice and tons of regulation stationary (evident by the people wandering round with lists) and had a massive selection of Schultuten too including ones which matched the school bags!

Scout website
Scout VI rucksack patterns
Ranzen-Berlin (a really good shop if you're in Berlin, but also good online prices)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

..a tissue, a tissue, we all fall out.

It is a beautiful day today. Blue skies all around, and yet we are going nowhere.

The reason is that I walked through to be shown (in their eyes) their holiday packing, which looked an awful lot to me like everything in Orla's room turfed around all over the floor. That was this morning. We had a chat about how they both needed to tidy it up before we would go out and have some fun or go somewhere nice, and the response was that they are not going to tidy it up. Can you believe it? They actually said they just weren't going to do it.

So, that's that. We're stuck in the house today for the most part. I need to do a little food shopping but aside from that, I am taking them nowhere fun.

It's now lunch time and things haven't improved. If anything, they took another dip just before lunch when I reminded them that we could be out at a park if they just tidied up the toys, and Hamish decided to try and be amusingly cheeky by saying that he would just smack my bum, which he then did. So now after much crying, we are all mulling about in silence, as there's also a tv ban in operation.

I don't think I am being unreasonable in asking them to tidy up after themselves. In fact I think I have been pretty lax in the past. According to the 'Parenting Squad' in their '43 Chores Young Children Can Do' my two should have been putting their toys away between the ages of 18 months and 2 years! Oh God, so it's my fault.

I have tried a few techniques for getting them involved in chores. I have no problem getting them to help empty or fill the dishwasher, or set the table, or help out with other chores, such as sorting washing, hoovering, or even sweeping the floors, but this room tidying/toy putting away thing is driving me nuts. The other thing is that they play a lot of games where they pretend they are going on holiday, or going on a picnic, which involves packing lots of bags with toys and books and play food and bits and pieces from all sorts of different toys and games. For example, they'll pack play food, toys for the plane, books, colouring pencils, 'presents' & clothes, when playing 'holidays' which results in nearly everything being dragged out and discarded. And these games never seem to end! They just blend into one! Anyway, in the quest to get somewhere with this...

I have:
1. tried rewards, with varying success. Hamish can be motivated by chocolate or sweeties, or other non-edible rewards such as promises to go to the park or swimming or out on the bikes. Orla cannot. She just whines and moans and does nothing.

2. tried punishments, with zero success. I figured that if they care so little about their toys, and cannot bring themselves to tidy them up then I would start taking the toys away. Neither of them cared one little bit. Even with supposedly favourite toys.

3. tried doing it with them, yeah, brilliant. I end up nearly everything, Hamish does as little as possible, and Orla does nothing but stands and moans and whines about how unfair it is that she's being asked to do anything until I'm done.

4. oh, and I've screamed, and shouted, and threatened. Again it's got me nowhere, but at least I have felt a little better afterwards. (as I tidy up).

Any ideas? Any suggestions? I am bored being stuck in the house, but I don't want to just give in and tidy up for them any more.

A tail of two cities

O & H in front of Friedrichsfelde Palace with the very docile pelicans(?)  

 Berlin, having at one time been split in two by a great big wall, had a great number of duplicates once the wall came down. A lot of systems and services were combined into one, but many other things well, just remained as they were. And as such Berlin must be one of the only places to have two zoos. Actually, I can't find any others through Google. Given the proximity of Zoo Berlin at Zoologischer Garten to where we live, that's the one we tend to visit. We have heard lots of good things about the other zoo, the zoo in the east at Friedrichsfelde, but have just never bothered to go there. Until yesterday, that is. It is known as Tierpark Berlin, not to be confused with Tiergarten which is the big park near us which contains no animals at all, apart from little wild ones.


So what's the Tierpark got that *our* Zoo doesn't? Well, for starters it's got a lot of land. Most people who I've met who've mentioned it have said that they like the fact that there's more room for the animals to roam. And it's true. In a lot of cases the enclosures are big; the rhinos for example have probably about 8 times the amount of space than their friends in the west. But I also thought that a lot of the enclosures were incredibly small, far smaller than what I was used to seeing. The porcupines (below) seemed to have a very small enclosure though they had an entrance to a little cave and I have no idea how big that might have been inside. The inside area of the big cats enclosure also had some really small post-war tiled enclosures - ones that I think I would have been unhappy seeing animals being kept in. On the upside, the place was swarming with builders so maybe they're going to do something about that. 


They also seem to have a LOT of animals. Far more giraffes, rhinos, tigers, and elephants than Berlin Zoo. In fact, the Tierpark is quite well known for it's elephant breeding program, and they have both African and Indian elephants. They also have a lot of different animals to the other zoo. I read before we went that they have red pandas, which I really wanted to see, but which we missed. Another thing they do have is a train. Well one of those ones on wheels that is driven around the park by a slightly sullen driver/narrator. We were *lucky* enough to walk through the front gate and meet it just before it was due to set off. It was actually a very good way to get a quick tour of the place, get your bearings, and work out what you wanted to go back and see in more detail. Unfortunately, what the kids wanted to see was the Spielplatz (below), and as a result wanted off the train after 5 minutes, which I point-blank refused to do, making them stay on it for the entire round trip as punishment for making me fork out for it in the first place. 


The Spielplatz is very good, but not a patch on the one in Berlin Zoo (I feel awkward calling it Zoo Berlin). It has the added bonus of a water-play area, which in most instances is great, but I didn't have a change of clothes with me for the kids and it wasn't warm enough for their clothes to dry off on their own.

Tigers with east German accents

What the Tiergarten lacks is some pretty architecture. I love the architecture in Berlin Zoo, especially the amazing enclosures for the giraffes and the zebras. The architecture in the Tierpark is just a little bit too 'concrete block' for my liking, well, that is apart from the rather beautiful pink Friedrichsfelde Palace which sits in the grounds of the zoo in amongst some lovely gardens and ponds and a little canal with pretty locks. In fact they have made a lot of the walkways between enclosures with pretty planting and big patches of lilies and so on, but another thing I wasn't too keen on was the huge amount of stinging nettles there were everywhere. A bit odd considering the number of kids rocketing around.

East German zebras are slightly browner than West German ones. They also go to school in portacabins.
Sadly, we never made it round all the animals as Hamish started getting too tired to walk everywhere, but it does seem like a great zoo. At least if we go back we know we still have a lot to see on a second visit. But I have to admit, my heart still belongs to our own zoo, Berlin Zoo, or 'Zoo Berlin' as it likes to be known.

The monochrome delights of Plattenbau architecture, rocks, and elephants. Where's Elmer when you need him?
P.S. If you have a Jahreskarte (Annual Pass) for either zoo or the aquarium you get a 50% discount on entry to any of the other two. Just remember to take it with you!


1000 steps round... Berlin Zoo - lots of photos of the lovely architecture.
Zoo Berlin - official site of Zoo Berlin/Berlin Zoo
Tierpark Berlin - official site of Tierpark Berlin
Friedrichsfelde Palace - Visit Berlin gives the low-down on what's inside.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...