Wednesday, 21 November 2012

I love the KaDeWe at Christmas

I love Berlin. I am going to miss it so very much when we leave. I also love the KaDeWe, Berlin's version of Harrods.

Christmas is something special at the KaDeWe. It's shiny, it's excessive, it's less 'less is more' and more 'more is more' with a whole bag of more thrown in on top.

Who doesn't need a mouse in a crown? Who doesn't want to be transported into another world? The KaDeWe can give you it all.

This year's theme is 'Alice in Wonderland'. Giant chairs, a giant teddy, a giant fireplace with giant Christmas stockings hanging from it.

You walk into a huge room lined with giant bookshelves which on it's own would be pretty outstanding. But with all it's beautiful things piled up and sparkling and shining and tempting, it's just gorgeous.

There aren't many things I wouldn't happily take home with me. I want bowls full of baubles decorated with fine glittery scrolls.

I want tables stacked high with golden cake stands and silver candelabras and one hundred snowglobes each one with Santa.

I'm pretty sure my new house would feel more homely were it filled with stars and flowers and golden dishes and incense.

I love this place. This is how Christmas should look. Marvellous.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Playing for time

What started out as a simple need to gather all the Playmobil bits from the four corners of the apartment has turned into the task of the century. Trying to sort them all into their correct groups and find all their accessories might actually break me. Especially when 'people' come home from school and I find myself growling "Don't you TOUCH a thing!!! I have spent 4 solid hours on this so far and I'm not even half way done!". There will be no "We just want to play with you", nor "Can I help?" allowed to turn my head and let them mess up my cowboys with my air hostesses. "It's MINE!" I yell. "I AM PLAYING NOW!"

Kids: Why can't they just go and clean the windows or scrub the balcony or something and leave me to the important stuff?

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Pergamon Museum

It's me, listening away to my audio guide and taking precisely nothing in.

This moving lark isn't as much fun as I thought it might be, or indeed as I remember from the last time. I'm worried that I'm getting old and this is why I am changing into this person who is struggling to sleep and feels a constant anxiety that's stopping me from being able to just relax and I'm hoping it's more to do with my current anxieties about my driving license renewal, which I can't seem to get out of my head. Either way, sometime soon this will all be over. The move is only 2 weeks away, and when it's done, it's done, and same goes for the driving license: it doesn't matter what I do now: it WILL be sorted out. I'm just not very good at waiting to hear, and am really extraordinarily pessimistic, when maybe I don't need to be.

We took a break from the horrors of last week's trip by visiting the Pergamon Museum on Friday. It's one of the places I've been meaning to visit the whole time I've lived in Berlin, and never have. In fact, when it comes to Museum Insel, in actual fact I haven't been anywhere. Museums with the kids never appealed when they were super young, and Stevie and I always thought we would have loads of opportunity to visit the many museums in Berlin during the winter months while the kids were either at Kita or school. But actually sitting down and going "Right! Let's do this!" is something that we just don't remember to do. 

But we did it. And I'm glad that we did, and now sad that I don't have enough time to go to the other major museums in Berlin. The Pergamon holds collections of artefacts from ancient Turkey and is perhaps best known for it's huge reconstructions of buildings and monuments from this area. Some are so big that the museum has only been able to rebuild them in part. Anyway, they are amazing. Utterly impressive.

I have to say though, I didn't take that much in from the (free) audio guide. I tried, but my mind wasn't on it. I was distracted by pattern and colour. So I can't really tell you much about the background of what I saw, but what I can say is that it was very inspiring and I particularly loved the Islamic art section of the museum. I can't say that I've seen much Islamic art before, but the richness of the detail and the colour combinations were beautiful. Rich reds, stark blacks, deep teals in the most intricate patterns imaginable left me wanting to get my paints out and use some of the shapes and colours in my own work.

No time for that though at the moment, but maybe sometime in the new year once I feel a little more settled. But should you find yourself in Berlin then I would highly recommend it if you fancy seeing something a little bit different. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

3 days of hellish relaxation

We're back! And we are glad of it. Talk about an awful trip! Let's see...

1. There wasn't a hire car waiting on us when we arrived, so we walked with all our bags for quite a bit to get to the Avis office, where we...
2. Discovered the Avis office was closed until the afternoon, so walked back to the airport.
3. Stevie realised bringing his laptop would have been a good idea, as he had no contact numbers for anyone who could sort out the hire car.
4. The next morning we manage to get the hire car booked to be delivered to the hotel while we are racing about getting eye contact lens checks and I have to go to the doctor to try and sort out my soon to expire driving license.
5. We return to the hotel and pick up the keys for the car in order to race to our first viewing. We discover they haven't put any child seats in the car. Argh!
6. Race round to a friends to borrow a too small car seat for Hamish so we can race round to Halfords to buy two booster seats.
7. First two viewings go well, except both kids are tired and decide they have seen enough houses. I am so tired that for some reason (presumably because the houses are unfurnished) think the electricity won't be on and view the rooms in the dark... Until the agent questions my odd behaviour.
8. Day 2 of house viewings. At least half of the viewings are cancelled either because they have already been snapped up or the owner has changed his mind about renting. We turn up anyway because having lost my phone on the u-bahn a week previously, all the cancellation messages are left on our answering machine... in Berlin.
9. We give up looking at houses and decide just to take house number 2. Then we find out that we don't have the right paperwork to enable us to rent a house in the UK. RR have taken care of the utility bills so our names aren't on them; we get our bank statements from a machine in the bank, so our address isn't on them. It looks very much like we can't get past the money laundering checks and might have to just go back to Berlin.
10. Until we remember that both our names are on our mortgage statement and so we race to Santander where you can't get in-branch help and must use a special phone to speak to someone in a call centre, who says they will fax what we need immediately to the branch. 2 hours later... eventually the fax arrives. We race back to the agents to try and secure the house.
11. The agent is pleased but says that they might have a problem getting references for us as our landlord is a German speaker living in Asia. Email! Google Translate! How hard does this have to be?
12. Day 3. S has to go to a meeting at work first thing in the morning. I make him late as I (because of the driving license thing) have to go and get blood taken at the hospital. We then have to race back to the hotel for breakfast and to pack up and check out before S gets back. S says "at least we can relax today". None of us are at all relaxed. We visit the kids new school which is in the middle of nowhere and not accessible by public transport which makes me very nervous about the possibility of my driving license renewal being rejected. Confirmation of the school hours 8:45 to 3:15 make the idea of S dropping and picking up the kids and holding down a full time job seem like a total nightmare and my stress levels about my driving license ramp up to such a level my head aches. S loves the school and feels more relaxed. I am quietly very not relaxed to the point of feeling sick.
13. We stop in a different town to buy stuff to make sandwiches in the car. S moans that what I have chosen will be very dry, so we also select an Italian dressing. S says maybe we should wait until we stop the car. We stop the car and the dressing has emulsified. S gets a little out for my lunch using his finger, but gives the bottle a good slap on the end for his. S unblocks the bottle.... All over the drivers seat of the hire car... Less than 1 hour before we have to hand it back for inspection.
14. The car stinks of vinegar and mustard and S decides to stop at a petrol station on the way to the airport to buy a Magic Tree to mask the smell with something more disgustingly strong. He emerges empty handed as he thinks £2.20 is not worth it! I ask him to weigh up £2.20 against the potential fine from Avis. He seems unable to decide which will be more, so I suggest I try spraying the seat with my deodorant. I spray and spray until I think I have achieved success. As I walk round to the boot of the car I notice it appears there is a cloud in the car. A very smelly cloud. We drive to the airport with the windows down, not feeling very relaxed at all.

We are glad to be back in Berlin.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

One flew over the cooker hood.

I was starting to feel like I was going a bit mental this morning. Overwhelmed, is probably a more accurate description, but at the time, looking around at all the mess, all the jobs needing doing, I felt like I was losing the plot. A kind of paralysis swept over me, and I just felt like there was no way I could do anything, so I asked Hamish if he fancied having a quick snooze with Mummy, and off we went. Some people say when confronted by a list of unpleasant activities you should start with the worst one and get it over with, but sometimes, when the list seems so horrendously long, you might be as well just having a wee nap.

Now, refreshed, I have phoned round all our doctors and dentists to ask if any of them would like any more money off us. I've made an appointment with my doctor to get full bloods done inthe hope that I can speed up my driving license renewal after we return to England. Then I decided that if I did some of the jobs needing doing in the kitchen that I'd feel a bit better. So I've cleared out a cupboard, binned some stuff, and after realising I'm out of bin bags, got stuck into cleaning the glass wall and the cooker hood.

I'm a terrible one for thinking the whole time "this'll be the last time I...". It's never anything poetic, just practical nonsense like "this will be the last time I buy kitchen roll in this country".  Ridiculous, but it makes me feel a bit sad. Anyway, I am vowing that this will be the last time I clean that cooker hood. It is the wobbliest thing, and I couldn't help but worry that knowing my luck, this would be the time that it would decide to crash down and smash the hob. I was tempted to leave the darn thing filthy as it was, but I suspect the evil letting agent will be going over the place looking for issues, and that would include getting on her broomstick to check the top of the cooker hood.

This afternoon Hamish and I will be going out to buy bin bags for the very last time in this country.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bedless in Berlin.

The impending move is starting to feel very real now. Orla has now lost all her beds: the cot bed has gone to a friend (as she was no longer sleeping in it anyway), and the single bed which was on it's last legs has been taken apart by Stevie and secretly deposited in the big bin downstairs. Orla went into brief mourning for the bed until I showed her her next potential bed in the Ikea catalogue. In the meantime, until the move she'll be sleeping on the cot bed mattress on the floor. She likes this idea a lot, luckily for us, and thinks it sounds almost like camping. Patently, she never went camping like I did with my parents as a child, where the only mattress was a rubber ground sheet below your sleeping bag.

Hopefully though, by getting rid of a least one more bed we will be closer to the target of fitting everything back into the container we arrived with. Also this weekend I have sifted through all our dvd's, and thrown away precisely none, and gone back through all the books and toys, and found nothing else there I want to say bye to.

At the end of this week I have my leaving do, which I have to say I am really looking forward to. I imagine it might still be quite a sad occasion for me, but still, I am looking forward to catching up with so many of my friends in the one place.

The perfect time to shoot one's troublesome neighbours.

Man that car looks like it could do with a good going over with Cif and some baby wipes. While we continue our gargantuan task of clearing the inside of this house in time for the move, outside we have gun-toting criminals threatening baldy men for their briefcases.

They are filming an episode of 'Ein Starkes Team', a ZDF programme that nobody I know watches. My neighbours think it's Tatort, which would be a much more exciting event, but it's not. They just haven't bothered reading the notice posted downstairs in our lobby too carefully. The letter has had us warned for over a week to prepare our nerves for a morning of police action and not to worry too much if when leaving the building we are confronted by flashing police lights and there are guns going off left right and centre. My neighbours would probably be more alarmed by the sight of such an old Saab...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Diary of a move: I Cif'ed a girl and I liked it.

November already? "Brr... fizzle......pop!" That'll be the sound of me suddenly bursting into a frenzy of activity then. The move is now just 4 weeks away, and while I had thought that I might get away with swanning around in the last few weeks sight-seeing, cake-eating, photo-graphing, blah-de-blahing, and generally having a jolly good time, well, it seems I am deluded.

Did I forget everything that needed to be done before we moved here? Um, no. I think the last time I didn't really need to do very much. And this time round I was thinking it would be the same. Sell stuff, book flights, wait on removal men turning up. But I was forgetting that things are quite different when you don't own the house you are leaving. I was lucky in our old house because the house had been completely revamped just as we moved in, and condition-wise it was pretty excellent. And although I had to clean the place from top to bottom after the furniture left revealing my secret dusty-fluff shame, the kids were still at 'Practitioner' level in filth-making, and not at 'Expert'. 'Expert' level has only been achieved here.

So where to start?

Well, I am not sure whether there is such a thing as 'normal wear and tear' here. The rule seems to be in Germany that you should return the apartment to pristine perfection when you leave. After 2.5 years, well, let's say that it looks 'lived in'. Those of you who have been with me for the long haul may recall that the plane had barely landed on the runway before the kids embarked on a spate of destruction mostly aimed at walls and doorstops. As memory serves we had been in the temporary accommodation a day before I discovered that they had coloured in most of the walls in one of the rooms with all their Crayola crayons.

Orla has revived this particular pet hate of mine from time to time; once when she learned how to write her name (yet couldn't work out how I knew it was her!), and during particularly 'creative' phases when she's been unable to stop her little crayon holding hands from reaching toward the great white canvas of our walls. Most of these marks have remained on the walls because the memory of the hours of scrubbing I had to put in at the temporary accommodation was still too raw. (Or, I'm lazy). Other areas have chocolatey finger prints and so on.

Anyway, yesterday evening we had a visit from my most favourite relocation agent, Heidi. And given that it was Halloween she came with a message that chilled me to my very core. "You're going to have to paint the walls."

Even clipart me would have to stand on top of the wardrobe to paint over the hard-to-reach crayon marks near the ceiling.

Can you see the problem? I have never known walls like these. I love the height, the feeling of space, but my god, the prospect of either having to paint this whole apartment, or pay someone else to, is a frightening thought. So last night we cracked open the Cif and the baby wipes, which as you may also recall was the technique I used to amazing effect in the temporary accommodation. It works brilliantly, but it can take a long time. We worked on some of the worst bits last night and I think managed to achieve an excellent job, but it may take a good week or two to just work our way round the whole place cleaning from floor to child level.

In other exciting cleaning news, I purchased a new grout pen and silicon sealant yesterday. I managed to re-do the sealant around the shower and bath while the dinner cooked, and I simply cannot wait to get stuck in with my grout pen later today. Kill. Me. Now.

I'm delaying taking down all the pictures until next week when I have to skillfully fill the holes and make it look like they've never been there because otherwise I think I might burst from excitement.
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