Friday, April 29, 2011

Friendly Friday: A Right Royal Distraction

I'm just going to put it right out there and admit that the reason that this week's Friendly Friday hasn't yet appeared is because I was watching The Wedding (albeit not swathed in bunting with a Union Jack painted on my face). This week's expat interview with Papa Scott will be posted tomorrow in a highly exclusive Friendly Saturday.

In the meantime, here is a picture of why I think I have been doing a lot of sneezing this week. Anyone else starting to think the end of the world is nigh?



Monday, April 25, 2011

Montag Morgen Ablenkung

Well, I can't believe anybody would really be in need of a distraction this morning what with it being (a) a Bank Holiday and (b) absolutely BEAUTIFUL outside, but on the off chance you're not skipping about in the sunshine but sitting bleary-eyed before your computer with a large pot of tea following a weekend of epically-proportioned feasting and drinking (*puts hand up*) then this Montag Morgen Ablenkung is for you...

* For the last ten days, pretty much all my non-British, Germany-based friends and relatives have wanted to know is whether I'm excited about the upcoming Royal Wedding this Friday. I'm not. In fact, I don't actually know anyone from the UK (or Canada, or Australia, or the Grenadines, or Papua New Guinea, or... etc etc) who is. I am, however, very much excited about the plethora of highly creative, alternative Royal souvenirs that are popping up all over the place (see last week's Dienstag Morgen Ablenkung for my absolute favourite). There are some very novel plates available - "It Should Have Been Me", "Kate's Wedding List" and "Thanks for the free day off" - and apparently Lydia Leith's Royal Wedding Sick Bags have been selling like hotcakes. There is also, in addition, the fabulous Knit Your Own Royal Family kit...



* In other Royal news, I last week came across the results of a UK-based kid's art competition in which children were invited to draw pictures of Queen Elizabeth II. They produced some truly brilliant work

* Finding the housework boring? How about livening it up with a spot of extreme ironing? (I'm afraid I can't remember who I got this from, but have a feeling I should be crediting Grounded Traveler)

* And just to lower the tone slightly, Riayn tweeted me in the direction of my German News Story Of The Week: Police called to investigate noise find lone jiggling vibrator

* And finally, the utterly brilliant comedy writer John Sullivan very sadly passed away this weekend. He was the creator of the British institution that is Only Fools And Horses, which at least gives me the excuse to link to (because for some reason YouTube won't let me embed it) one of my all-time favourite gags.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friendly Friday: Somewhere Between Facebook and Flickr Sits Fiona

97/365
Fiona both in front of and behind the camera.  If you see what I mean.
Well, what an extra-Good Friendly Friday we have here.  Introducing the eponymous writer of Somewhere Between Facebook and Flickr Sits Fiona, home to the some of the most consistently entertaining tales of life as an expatriate, mum and artist that you are likely to find (no pressure to keep that up then).  Fiona recounts her stories of expat life and parenting adventures in Berlin with great insight and self-awareness and the most fabulously wry sense of humour.  It's brilliant, and I urge you all to go and follow it immediately and also leave her lots of comments all of the time.  But before you do that, let's get to know her a little better...

Who: Fiona Grey
From: Ayr, on the west coast of Scotland, though I lived in England for quite a long time: I met the much-written about Stevie when I lived in Staines, and then moved to Derby to live with him and have two quite delightful* children, Orla and Hamish.  (*If they’re sleeping.)
Now living in: Berlin.
Since: June 2010.
Why: We came here on secondment with Stevie’s job at Rolls-Royce.  Stevie had always wanted to work abroad and Rolls-Royce provided us with an excellent opportunity.  We’re here for two years, possibly three if we’re lucky.

So, Berlin, eh?  What were your initial impressions of Germany's capital, and how do you find it now?

I love it.  We were lucky enough to get a trip over in January 2010 to check Berlin out and see if it was really somewhere I would like to live.  On that visit I found it really ugly, covered in graffiti, littered with dog poo, but a thrilling, exciting, artistic, and creative city.  And I liked the shops.

Berlin's TV tower
We live in the west of the city, which is quite quiet compared to other parts of the city and certainly not as ‘hip’ or full of yummy mummies as other areas in the east, but our decision to live where we do was based on Stevie’s commute to work, and the location of Orla’s school, which she’ll start in September.

Here in Berlin we have so much more on offer to us than we did in Derby.  I would never have imagined that I would be living a 10 minute walk away from an amazing zoo, be able to cycle through a city quite safely with a complaining child on the back, not feel that I needed to have a car, and on top of that have all the sights, museums, galleries, festivals, restaurants, and everything else practically on my doorstep.  We feel really lucky to have this opportunity.

Having visited the city on several occasions, I'm really quite envious that you get to actually live there.  But nowhere in Germany do you see so much evidence of history - from the Weimar Republic and the rise of national socialism to the Second World War, the Holocaust and then the division of not just Berlin, not just Germany but really the world, as symbolised by the wall.  The signs of its history are everywhere, from the bullet holes in the buildings to the remains of the wall and memorials such as the Holocaust memorial, which opened in 2005.  As an expat and as a Brit, how does this affect your experience of Berlin?

Well, to be honest my knowledge of the war and the experience of the Berliners and Germans was pretty minimal before I came here.  But as I have evidence of it all around me, it’s something that I can’t help but be interested in.  I’m kind of working backwards though: at the moment, I’m really interested in the lives of East Berliners post- and pre-Wende (Die Wende is "The Change", referring to the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany) and the things the Stasi did to keep the population under surveillance.

But living in Berlin doesn’t feel oppressive.  It’s more than possible to live here and get on with living your life without feeling you are constantly being reminded of the history here.  Stevie, for example, knows what happened here, but he doesn’t want to visit concentration camps, or nuclear bunkers or visit exhibitions on why the Germans supported Hitler.  Indeed I’d bet there are a lot of Berliners who have no interest in visiting these places either.  I think it’s possible to see as much as you want to see without feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Berlin has a lot of other stuff going on after all. It’s a truly multi-faceted city.

I've learned a huge amount about Germany's history whilst I've been living here but I really had no idea how much even young Germans today continue to be shaped by their history: generally speaking and certainly in the public sphere, Germany's history is omnipresent.  This was just one of a number of cultural "surprises" that I had after I moved here: what other surprises have you had, and what have been the hardest things for you to get used to?

I think the biggest culture shock for me was the differences in shopping.  Primarily food shopping. I’d been on holidays to Bavaria as a child of 6 and 7 years old, and I remembered that all they had back then were paprika crisps.  I expected the German supermarket experience to be pretty much aligned with the UK one, and it’s just not. To me, it seems as though very little has changed in the past 30 years; it’s still all paprika crisps (more or less). How can they not be sick of that flavour after 30 years?

They don’t rely on ready-made meals to the same extent as the UK market, and I’ve really had to get my act together and start making things from scratch. Of course everyone I know says ‘But, oh, that’s so much better!’, but when I have been chasing the kids around all day and am being constantly interrupted as I try and cook, I do have wistful thoughts about those Marks & Spencer's "Dine in for £10" deals.

Most of the Germans I know are either my neighbours or from my book group. The main difference I’ve found is that they are quite direct and honest with you.  I met one of my neighbours as we were heading out to Kita (nursery) in the morning and she asked how the kids were settling into it.  I laughed and said, “Ha, ha! You’ve probably heard the screaming starting as we go down the stairs!”, and with a deadpan face she said, “Yes. I have”.  In the UK, I think we have a tendency to laugh and go “Oh, no! We haven’t heard a thing!” and then secretly bitch about the noisy neighbours with our partner later.

Too true, and I've really learned to appreciate a direct approach, makes things so much more straightforward.  I have to say on my London trip last week I did wonder whether this frankness hadn't rubbed off on me a bit - I hope I didn't deeply offend any of my friends whilst I was there.  Foodwise, I have to say that although it took some getting used to I now embrace the more limited choices because I know it's directly related to how preference is given to German produce.  And I never thought I would miss a packet of crisps so dreadfully, but according to a very interesting article I read last year, in the UK we eat more crisps, nuts and general snack-y things in than the rest of Europe put together, so it’s hardly surprising.  Anything else you’ve struggled with?

When I first arrived my German was really dreadful, but since we needed to see doctors, order furniture, and, well… eat, I just used all the words I had and occasionally some animal sounds and mime, and got on with it.  I think the Germans must really love a trier, because the people whose language I butchered in the early days seem to have warmed to me.  In fact, one of the people I made friends with is the lady behind the fish counter in (the supermarket) Edeka.  It’s been lovely.  It started off with me asking for salmon and miming cutting my own skin off, and from then on she has had the pleasure of being bombarded with all my new German as I learn it.  It’s a no-holds barred relationship: I’ve asked her what she does, if she’s married, and even if she’s constipated.  In my opinion, you know you’ve made a friend if they answer that one.

I'm really disappointed: my deli counter woman isn’t in the least bit interested in me, although I do now have lengthy conversations with the lady at the Asian supermarket.  They are probably unintelligible to anyone eavesdropping, and actually I’m not even sure how much we understand of it ourselves, but it's lovely to have a chat with her and on the plus side, the price of coriander appears to have dropped dramatically since we got to know each other.  Anyway, I love all these sorts of anecdotes that you share on your blog.  For those who don't know you, what else do you blog about?

I blog about being a parent and about being an expat and quite a lot about poor Stevie (and his Funny Little Ways™). I have occasionally blogged about my attempts to get back into the swing of illustration and painting.  But I have wondered if that’s just too much of a mix so I am shifting my drawing and painting over to a new blog ‘fiona gray . paints' which will tie in with an Etsy shop and my Flickr account and who knows, maybe even Facebook.

Oh that's brilliant news, I didn’t know you’d started a separate blog for your art, I will check that out pronto.  On being a parent though, how has it been settling your kids in to a new, foreign life?  And how does the education system differ here?

Settling the kids seems to be an on-going project.  Orla and Hamish started at Kita (nursery) so that they could make friends, learn German, and I could go to German classes.  They go to an international Kita, which in most cases means that they have one German parent, and one foreign one, so pretty much all the kids speak German as a first language.

The system here is very different to the UK and America.  They have to have a 4-week settling in period, whereas in the UK we normally would have something more akin to a 2 hour one!  The children here go to school much later than in the UK: in Germany they go at 6 years old, in Scotland they go at 5 years old, and in England they go at 4 years old. Kita groups range from 2 years old to 6 years old.  I was told that these mixed groups are advantageous to the younger ones who learn from the older ones, and the older ones learn to behave like older brothers and sisters and nurture the younger ones.  On my first visit I saw a 6 year old nurturing a spade off a 3 year old, so they’re yet to sell me on that particular theory.  The staff to children ratio is also different: from my experience in the UK there was always 1 staff member to I think 3 children; at the Kita they go to now, my guess is that it’s more like 1 staff member to 11 kids.

Orla (who just turned 4) goes to school this summer.  All the Americans I meet tell me that I am wrong and Orla is not going to school this year because she’s too young, and all the Germans I meet tell me I am wrong, because not only is Orla too young, but it’s illegal.  I now just agree with them, but the truth is, because we’re here on secondment, Rolls-Royce believe they have a responsibility to ensure that the children of the secondee can fit back into the British school system.
Fiona, Hamish and Orla at the Brandenburg Gate on the anniversary of reunification day
I have to say I find it very peculiar that kids here don’t go to school until they're 6 but I do recognise that’s simply because I grew up in a different system where I started school at 4.  I am in no position to say either is better but because of my own experience, when I compare the two six year old girls that I know here, one who has grown up in Germany and the other in the UK, I am really quite shocked (taking into account individual differences) at how well one can read and write and the other just, well, can’t.  It all seems to even out in the end though, and I can't say I'm any better off academically than any of the Germans I know - in fact I'd say quite the opposite!  What do you really admire about the Germans?

They seem to just have a nice healthy attitude to things. They are not as obsessed by Health and Safety as we are in the UK.  At first I was shocked by the way 9th floor windows just open inwards, and how you can just go right ahead and touch the penguins in the zoo with not a hand-sanitizing station in sight, but really it’s great.  The attitude seems to be ‘well if you go and lick your dirty penguin hand after having it in the filthy green water and end up sick as a dog, then “hell scud it intae yae!”’ (That’s one of my favourite Scottish phrases: ‘you deserve what you get’).  It’s more about taking responsibility for yourself and not doing silly things and then trying to find someone else to blame.

Plus they have a healthy no-nonsense attitude to nudity. Here in Berlin we have lots of outdoor swimming pools.  Occasionally, these also have a nude sunbathing section for adults, but the standard practice here is that children don’t need to wear bathing costumes until they are about 7 or 8 years old.  As a result I think they grow up less concerned about their bodies and a lot less paranoid than us about getting changed on the beach.

I am in absolute agreement: everyone seems to be perfectly happy wandering about starkers at the spa and in the swimming pool changing rooms no matter what shape or size they are, and I think that's fabulous.  If we didn't all pretend we were born with our clothes on in the UK I'm sure we'd all be far less preoccupied with body image and much happier and accepting of how we are as individuals.  Having got used to a more straightforward, sensible way of life, does UK culture feel a bit alien now when you go back there?  How has living in Germany changed you?

I don’t think I’ve changed, but when I go back I see how everyone else’s lives have changed even less.  From what we’ve heard from other secondees, it can be really difficult going back to your old life - it can just feel a little boring after the adventure you’ve been on.  A lot of people who go back tend to try and do something different, such as living in the country or trying to achieve something more akin to the style of ‘city-living’ that they’ve left behind, and some decide to work abroad permanently.

And on the other side of the coin, has your view of your own country changed now you are viewing it from the other side of the Channel?

One of the main things I notice is how keen people in the UK seem to be to have their children grow up.  In the UK it seems as though everyone is worried their kids will be left behind technology-wise unless they get them started as quickly as possible.  Why do we feel that our 2 year olds need digital cameras, or why all 5 year olds must have a Nintendo DS in their hands?  And isn’t it just more than a little odd that I know toddlers who can neither read nor type who have their own Facebook accounts?  In Berlin, it appears to me that children have a much more traditional childhood. There are more wooden toys, and far less toys that are tied in with TV programmes.

I like the sound of that.  Actually I rather like the sound of your whole life in Berlin.  Hm.  So finally, now you’ve been here for getting on a year, what one piece of advice would you give to someone moving to Germany?

Well everyone says ‘learn German before you go’, so instead I’ll say gorge yourself on lamb, stock up on chicken stock cubes and Calpol, eat your own bodyweight in your favourite non-paprika flavoured crisps, have a decent bacon sandwich and then get ready for the adventure, Fatty!

Hahaha... that's pretty much exactly what I did last week in London (bar the Calpol).  Well, thank you Fiona for agreeing to take part in Friendly Friday and for a thoroughly entertaining interview.  If you have any questions for Fiona you can fire away in the comments section below (although you'll find she's already answered any queries you might have had about going to a Germany gynaecologist on her blog), otherwise please head over to follow her adventures on Somewhere Between Facebook and Flickr Sits Fiona and be sure to check out her truly fantastic paintings and illustrations at Fiona Gray . Paints.  Next under the Friendly Friday microscope will be Papa Scott, who moved to Germany from American in 1990 and currently resides in the small town of Jesteburg, in the north of Germany.  Any advance queries for him down the comments too, please!


I'm now off to enjoy a sunny weekend filled with Dietz family activities.  Happy Easter all!


Photo credit: all images curtesy of Fiona Grey.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Things I love about Germany: the newspaper holder

There are all sorts of things here in Germany that to me appear so blindingly obviously useful that one wonders why they're not issued universally as standard.

In the UK, to encourage the successful delivery of birthday cards, bills and newspapers, front doors generally feature a letterbox - not an actual box, mind, but a tiny little slot in the centre of the door to poke things through. If you are lucky, these things will fall onto the floor on the other side, get stuck under the door when you try to open it and prevent you from entering your home. Newspapers do not tend to fit through these letterboxes at all, and either end up ripped to shreds by an enthusiastic newspaperboy or are left on the doorstep where they are so heavily rained upon that you have to dry them out on the radiator, where they evolve from a soggy, unreadable mess to a wrinkly crisp.

But not in Germany. Either the slot in the front door is broad and deep enough to allow the easy delivery of the papers, or this cunning contraption comes into play. Simple but effective, no? B and his family find it hilarious that I am so taken by a thing to put a newspaper in but there we are, simple pleasures...
(Zeitungen = newspapers)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gut Food? Flammkuchen with white asparagus and Black Forest ham

My mouth waters just looking at this photo. Must get more Flammkuchen dough. Stat.
I’ve not been terribly efficient at writing up my German culinary explorations, which have continued with varying levels of success (high point: eggs in mustard sauce; low point: spinach Spätzle; point of Benny Hill-style hilarity: Frankfurter Green Sauce) since my semi-triumphant Lentils with Spätzle and Sausage.  If I'm honest, part of the reason that I've not blogged my adventures is that I can no longer stand writing 'Gut Food': what started out as a "hilarious" play on words now just makes me cringe so badly I just can't bear to even think about it.  Last weekend, however, I produced such a simple little dazzler of a Sunday evening hangover snack – and a cheat’s version at that - that I can't help but post it regardless.  In the meantime, I've had a couple of brilliant ideas for a new name for my recipe series on Twitter, and would love to hear any further suggestions here!

But on with the food.  Introducing Germany’s answer to a very thin-crust pizza: Flammkuchen - or Tarte Flambée, as it’s known in Alsace.  Actually, Flammkuchen is really only really like a pizza in the sense that it’s a flat bread that goes in the oven topped with whatever you fancy: that's where the similarity ends.  Instead of cheese, the dough is smeared with crème fraîche or its German sort-of-equivalent, Schmand, and the whole effect is of something a little more elegant than our everyday equivalent of its Italian relative, though I’m sure you could bring it down a peg or two by covering it in pre-grated cheddar and some chunks of ham and pineapple.  The most popular version of Flammkuchen in this region is the Badischer Flammkuchen, which is sprinkled with finely-cubed bacon and slices of white onion and good grief, it's heaven.

I mention this recipe is the cheat's version: I had cunningly planned ahead to take into account that I might potentially have a small headache following my birthday party last Saturday night and had nipped out and bought a roll of readymade Flammkuchen dough in preparation. Topping-wise, I went ultra seasonal with a bunch of locally-grown, fresh-out-of-the-ground, very fine-looking white asparagus; as ever, I couldn’t resist a bit of Black Forest ham; and decided to mix the crème fraîche with a little cream and an egg yolk, as recommended by Essen und Trinken magazine (link in German).  The whole thing was extremely straightforward to put together and it took just about half an hour to chop things, assemble things, and get things hot and crispy in the oven.  I’d like to try making my own dough from scratch at some point, but in the meantime I'd recommend this quick and easy version very highly indeed.
Extreme close-up: look at all that creamy, eggy goodness.
Ingredients (serves 2)

1 roll of Flammkuchen dough (found in the cold bit of the supermarket)
1 egg yolk
50g Crème fraîche
1 tablespoon double cream (Schlagsahne)
Salt and pepper
2 spring onions, white and pale green part finely sliced
A bunch of white asparagus - I suppose I used 5-6 stalks
Black Forest Ham (Schwarzwälder Schinken) - or some other cured meat such as Parma ham or Prosciutto

Method and serving suggestion

1. Roll out the dough out flat on a baking tray lined with baking paper – mine came wrapped in baking parchment that it told me to keep it on, which was useful
2. Mix together the whisked egg yolk, crème fraîche, cream and pepper and spread two thirds of it evenly across the base
3. Split the asparagus lengthwise down the middle and chop into pieces 4-5cm long, placing them all over the dough cut side down
4. Sprinkle the spring onion on top, drizzle over the remaining cream mix, season with salt and pepper and put your Flammkuchen in the oven for 15 minutes at 220˚ (or as per the packet instructions).  Your kitchen will smell INCREDIBLE
5. Cut the ham into strips and, once the Flammkuchen is out of the oven, drape it artistically all over the top.

Enjoy with a green salad and, in an ideal world, a large glass of white wine.

Dienstag Morgen Ablenkung

I wouldn't have minded a few Coco Pops in there, actually.
I had the most fabulous time in London last week seeing family and friends; I was treated to some truly exceptional food, and had a very productive time at my psychology course day school. I must admit though, I couldn't wait to get back to Germany (and now I'm here, am very pleased to have had the foresight to smuggle some hot cross buns back). I have a rather random collection of links to share, having not spent much time online (which was brilliant), however I didn't have the chance to post them yesterday due to spending the morning sitting in the sunshine at a lovely North London café garden with a friend, surrounded by flowers and bunting and drinking hot chocolate (from a bowl. North London, eh?) before my journey home.

* My favourite Royal Wedding memorabilia (thus far): a lovely mug with the faces of Kate and her Prince on it. Just not the right prince.

* This weekend saw the third annual Office Chair Racing Championships in Bad König-Zell, Hessen. The BBC has provided a little video clip, and there are some brilliant photographs about too. Germans, eh?

* Berlin has finally agreed upon a monument to celebrate the reunification of Germany. It looks, um, interesting.

* The weekend also brought the opening of Professor Gunther von Hagens new exhibition - Körperwelten der Tiere (Bodyworlds of Animals) - at Cologne Zoo (better photos here). I met the man in 2001 when I booked his show at the university I was working at. I think von Hagens work is brilliant, but he is one very, very strange man.

* And finally, who could start their week without a video of a penguin being tickled?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friendly Friday: Counting Time

Hamburg Oldtown in the snow

Well, this week has flown by so fast I can barely see straight: I arrived in London on Monday, blinked, and suddenly here I am posting this week's Friendly Friday rather later than usual.  An improvement on last week's non-posting, I suppose, but apologies: normal Friendly Friday service will resume next week.  And without further delay let me introduce...

Who:  Meg of Counting Time
From:  Sydney, Australia
Now residing in:  Hamburg
SinceSeptember 2010 (6 months ago)
Why the big move?  Work.  The company I work for transferred me from their Australian office
How would you describe yourself? I’m a geek girl.  If it’s geeky there’s a good chance that I love it – sci-fi (Dr Who, Firefly, Star Wars), roleplaying (Dungeons & Dragons), gaming, science (forensic/medical science) and skepticism.

Meg - finally - hello!  Welcome to Friendly Friday   So, you're living in Hamburg, which I visited once, however it was on a day trip when I was 16 and I must admit that I remember nothing about it bar the shame of my first ever hangover, obtained on the bumpy overnight ferry crossing from England.  I know that Hamburg has an enormous port - the second busiest in Europe - and I understand that Hamburg's known in Germany as "The English City", thanks to the Hanseatic League’s trading connections with London that go back to the Thirteenth Century.  What can you tell us about Hamburg from a resident expat's perspective?
 
Hamburg is probably one of the greenest cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of living in.  There are trees and parks everywhere.  It also has a fantastic public transport system so it isn’t hard to get to wherever you need to go.  I live in the suburb of Eimsbüttel, which is home to a plethora of cafes, restaurants and shops yet still retains a neighbourhood feel.

Well that doesn't sound too bad at all.  You’ve moved there, to Germany's second largest city (and the eighth largest city in Europe), from the largest city in Australia.  Both cities are well known for their sport, culture and tourism: as I say, I don't know Hamburg and I’ve never been to Sydney but I imagine that despite all the things they have in common, they are very, very different - ?

Sydney and Hamburg have a much different vibe to each other.  Sydney is more laid back and spontaneous whereas Hamburg is much more organized and regulated, which I guess is really the difference between Australia and Germany.  Also because Hamburg is a much older city than Sydney there is so much more history here which I am enjoying exploring.

I was quite struck to see how Germany's recent history is so ever-present and all-consuming in everyday life - not just in buildings and memorials but also in people's ways of thinking about themselves and the world.  Towards the end of the Second World War, the Brits absolutely devastated Hamburg in bombing raids, and though much of the city was rebuilt, I understand much physical evidence remains.  What is there of ruins in Hamburg, and what memorials have been built?  Are there signs to show that Germany is coming to terms with its past?

We have Stolpersteine here as does every German city (Stolpersteine are small golden bricks built into the pavement to commemorate those who were deported and killed by the Nazis during World War II: we have plenty around where I live, I’ll share a photo when I’m back there next week).  We have the church of St Nikolai, which was destroyed in the World War 2 and never rebuilt and remains a monument against war.  We also have the building of the company that manufactured the gas (Zyklon B) that killed millions of Jews in the Holocaust that has a simple blue sign with white writing, like so many other historical sites in Hamburg.

Hamburg is also a veritable city of culture, home to 40 theatres, 60 museums and 100 music venues and clubs, from the expensive and fancy to the underground scene at the Gängeviertel.  What cultural explorations have you made? 

I have been really remiss in experiencing the cultural side of Hamburg.  I have visited barely any of the tourist attractions here and I’m really not into clubbing.  I will get around to visiting the tourist attractions when my parents come to visit in May, I figured I would visit them with my parents rather than do everything twice   Here in Hamburg, we have a huge musical theatre scene and whilst I am a huge musical theatre fan, I’ve yet to see any productions.  One of the main reasons is that all musicals playing here – The Lion King, Cats, Sister Act, Tarzan etc have all been translated into German and are not performed in the original English.  As my German is currently so poor, I really want to improve it before I go see them.

The port of Hamburg - looking a bit nippy
I recently read that the port of Hamburg is due to shortly be taking shipments from Fukushima.  Is this – and if so, how is this – publicised and discussed in Hamburg?  Are there protests?  Is there fear?

The only thing I’ve heard about this was one article in The Local (The English language German news site).  There may be more discussions in the local media here, but because I can’t read it, I am oblivious to it, unfortunately.

I am very lucky to have a very patient husband who explains to me what is happening in the German-speaking world when I can't make head or tail of the newspapers!  The German language (as I think we have well and truly established in these interviews) is very tricky to get the hang of.  What else have you found difficult to get used to?  Has it been easy to keep up with your hobbies?

It has been hit and miss.  I used to do martial arts in Australia, but because I don’t speak German I’m having trouble finding a club to train with.  What has been easy is getting back into theatre, which I did growing up. Here in Hamburg, there’s an English-speaking theatre company, The Hamburg Players, with whom I now do Improv (improvisational theatre).

And your other interests: you’re a skeptic who loves medical science and you're now living in a land obsessed by homeopathy.  I’ve always imagined the Germans to be a no-nonsense people who operate on science-based rationale, associated as they are with great technological, scientific and industrial advances… so this obsession just doesn't fit for me.  Where do you think the Germans’ fascination with homeopathy came from?

Homeopathy was ‘discovered’ in Germany 200 years ago, so for Germans it is their traditional alternative medicine just like Chinese Traditional Medicine is the traditional alternative medicine for the Chinese. Therefore, people believe it works simply because their ancestors used it, not because there is any proof that it actually does work.  In fact, all homeopathy is sugar and water, which doesn’t cure anything except dehydration. I could go on for ages about homeopathy, but I don’t want to bore everyone.  But it’s safe to say I oppose its use by general practitioners here in Germany.

And your other hobbies: my father-in-law LOVES his science fiction (or at least is impossible to disturb during his weekly Babylon 5 session).  Is sci-fi popular here?  Also, Germany apparently has the biggest video game market in Europe: why do you think this is?  Do the Germans embrace different sorts of games to the rest of the world, for example logical puzzles as opposed to shoot-em-ups?

Unfortunately, because of the language barrier, I haven’t had the chance to explore German science fiction and its popularity here.  Whilst I love gaming, I am a lapsed gamer here in Germany as for my first 4 months here I didn’t have a stable internet connection nor have I brought my old gaming consoles with me.  I would love to start playing World of Warcraft, but I know if I started, I would never leave the apartment and there is so much here in Germany I want to do.  However, I may succumb to the desire to game next winter when the weather is against you leaving the house even if you wanted to.

The River Elbe, Hamburg
Has your view of your own country changed now there's such a great distance between you and you see it portrayed through European eyes?  And as a "laid back Aussie" how do you find the "rules and regulations" of German life?

I read a lot of overseas news even when I lived in Australia because I never wanted to become one of those people who had no idea about views outside of their own country’s opinion of itself.  Therefore my own view of my country has not changed by moving to Germany.  The rules and regulations of German life I have found interesting.  Some of them annoy me but part of being a laid back Aussie is being able to ‘go with the flow’ which sometimes I’m better at doing than others.  I love the work/life balance here.  When I first arrived, the shops all being shut on Sundays and the fact I couldn’t run my washing machine really annoyed me.  Now I love that there is a day that is free of chores and responsibilities and that going out and enjoying the city is almost mandatory.

It's a wonderful thing, being forced to enjoy a wonderful, relaxing Sunday.  It sounds like you have settled in ver easily - particularly since you didn't know a single person when you arrived last September!  So, what advice would you give to someone moving to Germany?

Research as much about the city you are moving to first.  Also, join the English-language expat forum Toytown as there is a wealth of information about moving to Germany and adapting to German life.  Also, if possible, learn some German before you come over as it will make life so much easier if you can speak some German especially in the early days when you are trying to find out how things work.  Surprisingly, for me, I haven’t really embarrassed myself.  I have slipped up and said to "du" people I should say "Sie" to (the informal and formal versions of saying "you" in German - very strictly adhered to!) and forgotten which language I was speaking.  Also, there are cultural differences like greeting people when entering a doctor’s surgery waiting room and the lift that I didn’t know about but fortunately, no one’s gotten upset at me.

It's funny, a lot of people have said that to me (about greeting people in lifts) but I've absolutely never noticed this.  Which I suppose just means everyone must think I'm horrifically rude.  I also frequently forget which language I'm talking in: it doesn't help that B and I are constantly mixing English and German between us (these days we often end up in confusion) so sometimes I end up talking complete rubbish to strangers.  Much the same as in England, actually...

Thank you, Meg, for such an interesting interview - I could definitely visit Hamburg again! - and for being so patient with me the last couple of weeks, very much appreciated.  You can follow Meg's updates online both on her blog, Counting Time, and on Twitter, and I very much recommend you do, her musings make for a really fascinating read.  

I am, as ever, hopping about like mad with excitement about next week's interview, in which Fiona Gray will be grilled about her expat life in Berlin.  Any questions for Meg and Fiona?  Please post them below. Until then, have a very happy weekend and apologies  again for being a bit scatty the last two weeks with my assignment nightmare and disorganised travels...

All photos curtesy of Meg @ Counting Time.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Montag Morgen Ablenkung

A rather bleary-eyed Frau Dietz this morning, following a celebratory weekend of the birthday kind. And thus a particularly welcome Monday morning distraction. Not too much dithering about for me this morning, mind: I'm off to London for the week for a psychology seminar and a couple of hot cross buns. Now then, where's my passport?

* My favourite German news story of the week (in English, from the excellent Spiegel International): girl's parents can't afford to buy her a horse so she saddles up a cow.

* During last year's World Cup I fell completely in love with Germany's Mesut Özil (for his
football) and it appears, unsurprisingly, that things have been going very well for him at Real Madrid. (I would include a YouTube goal compilation link but they all feature distressing footage from last Summer's Germany-England game.)

* A couple of months ago B and I watched the beautifully made and incredibly moving German film Aimee & Jaguar, the story of a love affair between a Jewish woman and a married mother of four during the second world war. It has the most terrific soundtrack which features the 1930s Cuban dancing orchestra, the Lecuona Cuban Boys. Their music turned out to be a bit tricky to get hold of but our cd arrived last week and we've been dancing around the flat ever since. If you're in the mood for a quick congo (and not at work) then have a quick listen to Panama.

* A friend sent me a link this week to the Wikipedia page on 'German Humour'. It turned out to be quite informative and also have a couple of very good jokes on it. Although my sense of humour is a little, well, individual.

* And finally, one of my brilliantly-talented university friends has a little online scrapbook which is a great source of visually pleasing things to look at: last week brought me this incredibly soothing and simultaneously mindblowing piece of video. May it set you up for a lovely relaxed Monday.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friendly Friday fail... but a definite win for the balcony

Due to a rather traumatic psychology assignment crisis this week I'm sorry to announce that today brings forth no Friendly Friday.  I'd like to apologise to Meg of Counting Time, whose interview was due to appear today, and thank her for being so patient with me as my week turned into a nightmare.  Despite the fact that I am finding this course module fascinating, I can tell you I'd have much rather been working on Meg's interview than writing about the social psychoanalytical and phenomenological approaches to the concept of 'self'.  But such is life.  Meg's interview will now be coming up next Friday, and in the meantime, full of the joys of a beautiful spring Friday after such a challenging week, I'd like to share how the dramatically the view from our balcony has altered over the last three weeks.


March 18: This picture was filed in an album somewhat optimistically entitled "Spring".
March 27: this is a bit more like it.
April 3: Yes, we went to the garden centre.  Yes, twice.
Today, April 8, 7am.  Not bad, huh?
Our balcony is all the prettier for the array of exquisitely colourful flowers that now adorn it; it smells lovely too, thanks to a terribly enthusiastic pot of jasmine.  I've never had a balcony before (or spent much time in garden centres) so have no idea if the incredible selection of pots, plants and all manner of decorations on offer to satisfy this obsession for doing up your outside space is exclusively German or the worldwide norm.  I've seen all manner of useful bits and pieces for clipping onto railings in order to equip yourself for a summer on the deck: flip-up tables, ashtrays, birdbaths and even teeny tiny barbecues just big enough for a couple of steaks and a spare rib or two.  Our little outside space is lovely and shady till the sun comes around to it late afternoon, which I was especially thankful for in the frequently unbearable heat of last summer.  It also means that at present, it's perfect out there for a pre-dinner drink - particularly welcome after a week like the one I've just had.  Happy weekend, folks!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

(Impromptu) Dietz Family Outing: Schloss Biebrich

Louvre fail?
I only heard of Schloss Biebrich - a Baroque palace built on the Rhine in 1702 - whilst perusing Otomcio's lovely photos last week, but by chance I ended up being carted there on Saturday afternoon on the way back from a short trip to the garden centre (I realise that makes me sound twice my age but honestly, our balcony looks all the better for it, plus I got a wonderful lecture on cactii from my father-in-law, who once killed 200 of them). It appears that Shoegirl spent some time there too this weekend (at the palace; not the garden centre): now that Spring's here, it's obviously the place to be. So apparently also say the rogue party of bright green parakeets who have made the trees in the gardens their home. Anyhow, I'd like to take the opportunity to blame the quality of my photographs on the blazing sunshine, which rendered me unable to see anything on the cracked screen of my ageing camera phone (bad workman/tools), but you get the idea: Saturday was beautiful, and the Schloss is very lovely indeed.
I ♥ this tree
The back of Schloss Biebrich - visit Otomcio for the front!
The view of the Palace gardens... not terribly exciting but LOOK! LOOK! IT'S SPRING!
Could almost be Venice Beach boardwalk, no? Ok, no.
A veritable German beach. Sort of.