Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kiss me Kate a panto?

Last night we were invited to the premiere of Kiss Me Kate in Köln by Simon's boss, I'd been advised by an opera singing friend to try and watch the film version first so I did, fortunately it was actually on BBC2 on Christmas Day and I finally got round to watching it on Tuesday night.
It's not a film I would normally choose to sit through, but needs must, and I'm soooo glad I did and so thankful to Chris for his advice, otherwise I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on!

Kiss Me Kate is a play within a play, or I guess, in this case a musical within a musical...,_Kate originally written by Cole Porter in 1948, I wont bore you with the story here (if you want to know more I've made it easy) but the film version I saw was...entertaining, lots of dancing and singing, just as you expect from a musical.
And the German version didn't disappoint - lots of singing and dancing, an interestingly minimal stage set with the orchestra taking up the right hand side on a tiered white stage which allowed interaction between the actors and the musicians (who were all dressed as Tommy Cooper as far as I could tell with shiny purple fezz's on...)

After the show there was a meet 'n greet with the actors because it was the premiere - it's amazing how tiny they all look when they're 'in the flesh' not covered in 3 inches of stage makeup and prancing about on stage, this allowed us to settle the debate about the leading lady, Dagmar Manzel, and her age, and also to admire the male dancers' lithe bodies when clothed...sigh.

Back to the performance...the singing and dancing and general staging were excellent but it was the costume department that stole the show, I don't think there can be a single sequin left in NRW, every single costume was sequined, from the 2 fat naked ladies (sequined fat suits complete with pubic hair) to the classic pierot characters, to the chorus line dressed in cowboy get ups - which for the guys included blue glittery beards (the ones in black reminded me of Russell Brand - not a good thing) and for the girls involved red chaps - without the trousers that are normally worn underneath...there was a lot of buttock on show.

It was like Shakespeare does panto or maybe panto on speed or maybe going along with the Carlsberg adverts, Carlsberg don't do musicals but if they did - what we saw last night could have been it.

It was a great, technicolour show and will certainly have given all the diehard Karnival go-ers food for thought re their costumes for February...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A rose by any other name

...would smell as sweet.

Well I think that's the gist of the quote from Romeo & Juliet anyway (who'd have thought I'd still remember my O Level Eng Lit texts so many years after the event - my teachers would be proud)

The Germans are a formal lot when it comes to names, they're big into the Herr this and Frau that - that's Mr and Mrs to you non linguists (which is fine when you're at the doctors/dentists/garage etc but neighbours or parents of your children's friends?) I'd only just got used to being addressed as Mrs Evans in the UK (and that was after almost 20 years of marriage) without looking around to see why the real Mrs E (ie the mother in law) was following me about!

I guess the Herr and Frau thing is exacerbated (in my mind at least) by the fact that in the German language there is also a formal 'you' = Sie, for use with people you don't know or with people who are more senior than you (in the work place senario)
I have a real mental block with this, I think it's because I was told that Germans use the formal 'Sie' until they invite the other to use the informal 'du', consequently I'm almost scared to use 'du' with people (it's also easier, conjugation-wise, using Sie instead of du...) I don't want to seem like an impertinent foreigner.

Simon works for a German company here (which is why we moved to Germany) He's worked for them ever since leaving Uni and has worked his way up through the company, he got to know most of his contacts in Germany whilst working for the UK daughter company with the UK 'rules' for addressing people (first name terms with everyone) but now he works in the German parent and is somehow managing to twist the Sie/du rules to fit him...
  • he calls everyone by their first names & gets the same in return
  • his secretary calls him Herr Evans when there's other people present, but Simon when there's no-one else there
  • in a meeting recently he was addressed as Simon face to face but then referred back to as 'Herr Evans'
Even when Germans have known and worked with each other for years they still sometimes address each other formally, maybe it's a hierarchical thing?

A friend who works for the same company as Simon is recently back in Germany after working for 5 years in Canada, he must be in a worse position than Simon, having been used to the formality of Germany then to go to the relaxed environment in Canada and then to return to formality...

A couple of odd things I want to mention, because they amuse me..
  • telephone etiquette here is when answering your ringing phone you bellow (that's how it appears anyway) you surname at the caller, and likewise when you ring someone and they answer you should bellow your name - I refuse, so instead of shouting 'Evans' into the phone, I say 'hello?' in a very English manner
  • Si got a call from our dentist on his mobile wanting to speak to me, she asked in English (didn't even know she could speak English...) 'can I speak to your woman?' (the word 'frau' translates as 'mrs' and 'lady/woman/wife' - I found this very funny, I love it when Germans cockup their English!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

eat your heart out Guy Fawkes*

Today the shops started selling fireworks here in Germany, they're on sale from December 29th until New Year's Eve. The only time you can let off fireworks without a licence in Germany is on New Year's Eve and boy do the Germans make the most of it!

We bought our fireworks earlier today from a DIY shop, and the way people were grabbing armfuls I don't think their stock was going to last long - a good job then that ALL the supermarkets are advertising their fireworks, as are the few department stores that exist here in Germany and probably the chemists and any other shop too...

You almost don't need to buy any fireworks (except that our children wouldn't let us get away with such miserly behaviour and I don't think Simon would pass on the opportunity to play with rockets either) our house is pretty much at the top of a hill, looking down over Kettwig, consequently we get a great, almost 360 degree view of all fireworks being let off in our vicinity on New Year's Eve. Last year the corner house nearby had only been recently refurbished and re-occupied so the owners seemed to celebrate with a firework display that went on and on and on - maybe 20 minutes of whizzing, banging and flashing, it was very generous of them, and I'm kind of hoping for the same again this year!

The first year we were here we had no idea of the extent of the displays (and I hasten to add, these aren't formal, buy a ticket displays, these are neighbours and relatives getting together to let off their fireworks after an evening spent drinking beer and eating pretzels - A&E must be very busy) and even after watching the midnight displays we still had no real idea. It was only when I went for a run first thing the following morning (9am still counts as first thing on New Year's day doesn't it?) with my brother and his wife and we saw the firework debris on the roads throughout Kettwig that we realized just how many fireworks had been set off. Some of the roads were an inch deep in firework detritus and along the river there were distcarded rocket packagings and bottles, it was all pretty unsightly, BUT, the Germans know that this happens every year and so are geared up to deal with it and by the end of New Year's Day normality was resumed, clean streets.

* Guy Fawkes

Monday, December 28, 2009

circle the wagons - the outlaws are coming

Today my parents go home after spending 1 week with us.

We have a quick change about as tomorrow we have a new set of visitors, Si's parents (otherwise known as 'the outlaws' - a silly little pun (for those of you to whom English isn't your 1st language) on the fact that they're my 'inlaws' - related to me by law and not blood)

It's one of the good and bad things about living such a distance away from family and old friends (although I think myself lucky that my loved ones are only an hour and a cheap flight away, whereas for my Aussie and American friends here, their nearest and dearest are furthest and certainly dearest) when we have visitors they tend to come for a week or at the very least a long weekend, which makes the visits more relaxing as there is more time to do nothing in...more time to sit about and drink wine, chew the fat, watch crappy tv (especially at Christmas) eat cake - you get the picture.
When we still lived in England, visits to and from family usually consisted of a half day trip, maybe once a month for dinner or something similar, now the visits are longer and more valuable for their scarcity.

So, my parents arrived to snow and will get back to England expecting more snow there, but in the meantime they've walked Logan most days, been to the Christmas market, had waffles and coffee at Lulu's, watched Jasmine being 3rd shepherd in the church nativity and been woken at 7am on Christmas day but other than that I hope they've had a relaxing and enjoyable time. They're back here in July when my crazy (as a fruit loop) brother is over from Libya to take part in a triathlon in Roth (it's somewhere in Germany) so for 1 weekend and 1 weekend only (much to Simon's relief) the original (often copied, never bettered) Walford clan will be reunited, I better start stockpiling the wine and the beer...

And in the meantime I have the bittersweet sadness of goodbye and a day's respite before the Evans' invasion!

need for careful editing due to people reading about themselves

Sunday, December 27, 2009

wir haben geschafft!

Or to put in into English - we did it!

Survived Christmas for another year that is!

It's the 27th December, and we have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing day well and truly behind us! Just New Year's Eve left then we can close the door on 2009 and the 'noughties'.

And what have I/we achieved while I've been a blog free zone...let me think (see if my brain still functions after all that fizz, my fingers have certainly forgotten where all the keys are)

Christmas Eve;
waffles and hot chocolate in Lulu's, collected my tombola prizes (a crown T-light, a mini sewing machine (!) and a voucher for a meal and a drink - not a bad haul) then we collected the turkey and the last few things from the supermarket, I always forget something & it was surprising how calm it was in Rewe at 12:00, bearing in mind the Germans like to food shop daily (or so it seems) and the shops were about to be closed for 3.5 days (that's half a week, how would they cope? Discovered how yesterday, they were all in the many eiscafes & cafes eating cake and waffles)
Iced the Christmas cake - looking awesome I think you'll agree, tastes pretty damn fine too, especially when eaten with a slice of Wensleydale cheese (thanks to Ian and Rebecca's mom for smuggling the Wensleydale into the country - you can buy Wensleydale here, but not the pure, unadulterated variety, it has to have mango & ginger or cranberries in it before the Germans will eat it, which is fine, but not with cake!)
Then we had Jasmine's Krippenschpiel. We bunch of atheists have never done church on a Christmas Eve here - it was heaving, standing room only (and some people couldn't seem to get into the church to stand (or maybe they just wanted the excuse to stand outside and have a sneaky fag?) The Krippenschpiel went well, 3 microphones being passed around between 8 year olds, like some bizarre Xmas relay race, I felt that the angels looked like ABBA wannabes and Jas remembered her lines, despite looking severely bored...

Christmas Day:
Children were very civilized and woke us at 7am (having probably spent the previous hour downstairs scoping out the present situation) and by 8 it was all over bar the shouting leaving me to get on with the turkey and drinking Bucks Fizz. Jas loved the iPod (now seems to have earphones permanently attached to her head) but hasn't stopped being upset about not getting 'Biscuit' a remote control dog - there are several reasons she didn't get said toy
1. we have a real live dog
2. she didn't write a letter to Santa ('because he'll know what I want')
3. he (Biscuit) is horribly expensive
Ben seems to be pleased with the battle tanks and the remote control helicopter that Si had a go with when Ben wasn't looking and crash landed it breaking a leg off it...

Boxing Day:
I woke up and went for a run, hadn't been for a week due to the snow and ice, it felt good to be out there, it was very quiet too apart from a group of crazy Germans shooting ducks along the river and trying to get their retriever style dogs to 'go fetch' the ducks floating on their backs with their feet in the air (I say retriever style because the dogs were black and so clearly not the classic retriever, but they were retriever shape & were retrieving - which is more than our Golden Retriever does)
After lunch I dragged the children and Simon out for a walk (I thought they should maybe get some fresh air) and we seemed to meet the rest of Kettwig promenading along the river, and those that weren't walking were stopped in the 2 cafes at the bottom of the hill, refueling.

And that was Christmas 2009. There's still plenty of turkey to be eaten and lots of Christmas cake too, but if we're bored with those 2 options the shops are all open again tomorrow!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

T minus 24 hours (I should be so lucky)

Today is Christmas Eve and that means that tomorrow is Christmas Day and I will probably be woken at some ungodly hour by over excited children - I'm praying they sleep longer than the 6.45 that I'm currently awake at (don't know why I'm awake so early, it is so frustrating don't you think, to go to bed looking forward to not having to get up early only to wake earlier than you normally need to? I think my subconscious was fully aware of all the things I need to do today before going to bed and so got me up extra early - thanks!)

German children get their presents on Christmas Eve, sometime between 5/6pm church and going to bed, and ours will get theirs, like all British children on Christmas day - I really need to find out the Santa angle on Britain he doesn't come to your house until the children are asleep and using the Norad tracker you can see where he how do German parents explain this? Jasmine (aged 8 - a believer) tried to explain the Christkind to me - a baby brings presents? Surely not? I clearly need to interrogate a grown up - preferably one with children.

Anyway, the Germans find it equally confusing that our children have to wait till Christmas day for their presents (but it's what they're used to, and anyway, what else is there to do on Christmas day?) Jasmine's teacher even said to me 'but don't they wake up really early?'...hmmm, he has a point!

When we moved to Germany we didn't make any obvious decisions about keeping or not keeping traditions, but having spent 40 odd years in one country it kind of goes against the grain to change things, so what we do is adopt and merge, so our Christmas looks like this:
- Christmas Eve after our main evening meal the children both get one present
- Christmas day they get the rest
- we no longer send Christmas cards, apart from to our nearest and dearest (Germans don't do cards, at least not in the way that the Brits and the Yanks do - too commercial maybe)
- wont watch the Queen's speech - but then we never have (will probably get British citizenship revoked now)
- will have Christmas crackers -had to smuggle them in, you don't get them here
- will have Christmas cake (have to ice it today, would have done it yesterday but was 1 packet of icing sugar short) but will also have Stollen and Baumkuchen (literally 'treecake'...)
- have had the tree up and decorated for almost 2 weeks, whereas most Germans will be decorating theirs just before the present giving (they must have a very busy evening)
- will have Christmas/figgy pudding after the turkey (another smuggled item - thanks mom) I'm not sure what the natives have for pud...

And on that note I guess I should crack on with today's list of 'things to do' (ice cake, make stuffing, prep veggies, go to Lulu's to collect tombola prizes (all 3 of them!!) and eat waffles, make gulasch - tonight's tea which needs to be ready and waiting for when we get back from church after watching Jas being 1st shepherd...we might go up in flames, a bunch of atheists in church on Christmas Eve!

A busy day ahead, but all good fun.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Calm down, drama averted

Almost a major drama today.

Averted only by my dear darling Simon, a true knight in shining armour - although he did have an ulterior motive!

But I digress, first the back story...

Today is the last at school (finally) before 2 weeks of lie-ins for Christmas.
Jas went off at 7.35 and then we had to be at school for 'adventsingen' (school singing of Christmas songs, I don't think they were carols per se - not as we know them anyway) this was lovely, Jas has the music teacher for her class teacher this year and next and so is becoming more involved in all things musical, which is a good thing (as long as she doesn't decide she wants to take up the violin, the drums or the harp - nice sound, huge instrument to lug about) as Jas seems to have inherited the Evans' musical gene (Si's parents are VERY musical) I wouldn't describe my side of the family as 'musical' as such, although my dad has a very good ear (I think that's the phrase - I'm sure to be corrected if it isn't!)

So, adventsingen, very pleasant, and then up to the music room (which Herr Bartnizky (music teacher) clearly treats as his 2nd classroom) for the full performance of the Emperor's New Clothes, we saw the 1st half at the Laternefest (see December 2) but today was the full thing.
And very entertaining it was too, complete this time with Jas as the child who points out that the Emperor (or rather the Kaiser in this particular version) is actually not wearing any clothes, she made us proud!

Anyway, the drama...we'd just taken our seats for the performance, I took my gloves off and noticed my engagement ring catch on the lining of the glove, I turned the ring round and noticed that emerald from the centre was missing.....aaaarghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Simon and I have been married 20 years this year, and I've been wearing that ring ever since the it means a lot, to say the least.

I kept my calm and felt in the glove, no, no emerald there.
Pocket? No, no emerald there.
Floor at my feet? Still no missing emerald.
When the performance was over I took the opportunity to look further in the room (although it was unlikely as I'd had my gloves on when we entered the room) still no emerald.

I waited until we got home to tell Simon the bad news, he took it well surprisingly and then asked when I'd noticed it missing. So I said in the school, but added that I'd felt my ring snag on my clothing earlier, while I was still in the house, so we started searching...I went straight upstairs where I thought I remembered it catching, no emerald, but then I heard a shout from downstairs - Si had found it!

It's here now, staring at me from the piece of card I've sellotaped it to for safe keeping, until after the holidays and I can get it into a jewelers and get it fixed.

Phew, am calm again now! Can relax and enjoy Christmas - when I've iced the cake and made the stuffing and collected the turkey and prepped the veggies and and and....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Non slip Germans

The snow from Sunday's blizzard is gradually going, helped by no snow yesterday and rain early this morning, so now instead of lovely white crunchy snow we have nasty slippery grey slush. It's been lethal out there today.

But I think the Germans have another weapon against bad weather, or maybe it's just part of their well organised nature, I'm convinced that they all wear invisible crampons on their shoes that I can't see (because they're invisible) or perhaps they just have non slip feet? Or another idea, maybe they all have an amazing sense of balance (an inner gyroscope maybe? or maybe they're related to Weebles)...I just don't understand why, when it's as slippery as a really slippery thing out there on the roads and pavements, I fall over and they're all upright.

Why is this? It's not like I had silly shoes on - I had my grippiest walking shoes on and was on the flat as well and still I ended up flat on my arse in the middle of the nasty slushy road, I shall have a big black bum in a day or so...

In town itself, which is where we were heading when I fell on my arse, there seemed to be no-one slipping and sliding around (apart from me that is). We'd planned to walk down the hill for coffee and a spot of last minute Xmas present shopping, but decided it was too dangerous & took the car instead, a good job, I think I'd have ended up in hospital!

I started looking at people's footwear to check, but there was no visible sign of crampons (so if they're there, they must be invisible) and lots of them, if not most of them had normal shoes on. I even saw an old guy coming down our hill (1 in 7 gradient according to my dad, and it's an excellent sledging hill according to my son) with normal shoes on. There must be a trick to it that I, as a non native, do not possess.

Germans seem to me to be non slip, while little old British me is as slippery as an eel!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oops, I spoke too soon!

OK. Hands up. I confess. I was wrong. Satisfied?

Yesterday it snowed, snow on snow, as that line from 'in the bleak mid winter' goes - all day.

I kept waiting for it to stop, or at the very least to get a little less, but no. It snowed and then it snowed some more and to make matters worse it was windy, so the damn snow drifted against the doors.

I got Si to do the breakfast run to the bakery for croissants (he has the Audi quattro, I don't & there's no way I'm going to start driving that huge tank either) and then I persuaded him to take Jenny & co to the station for their train (after we'd managed to get her children thoroughly soaked through by sledging - not a sport Aussies are used to).
You're probably reading this thinking to yourself that I'm a right lazy cow - but there is a good reason - we live at the top of a hill and the roads on a snowy Sunday are...interesting. I can drive in snow, but Simon enjoys the challenge of driving in snow (he slides the car into and around corners - under control of course, but passing pedestrians don't realise that!) so if I can get him to do the running about then why not?

With it being Sunday there was much less traffic than usual and as it was almost a blizzard as well people had even less desire to go out, consequently the roads were all deep with snow. Si and Ben wanted to go to the cinema in Düsseldorf, got to the motorway, saw it was very slow moving traffic and came home.

Jas and I were supposed to go to the theatre in Essen with her class, I decided not to (we stayed in and watched a Zac Efron movie and ate lots of chocolate - way better IMHO than risking life and limb in the snow to see 'die kleine Hexe')

Düsseldorf airport was shut - ALL DAY.

So I may have been smug about how well Germany copes in the snow when compared to the UK, but yesterday the world here ground to a halt and I'm so glad that the snow eventually stopped and life could start again today!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Yesterday was Rebecca's 40th birthday party, and boy did we have fun, despite the snow and frigid conditions outside, inside Lulu's it was warm and cosy, great food, great company, great music and lots of alcohol.

We'd gone down to Lulu's earlier with a canister of helium and lots of deep purple and silver balloons to decorate the bar. Lulu's decor is dark pink and purple and gold (what do you expect from a bar run by 2 women (a Texan and a Mancunian) - it was never going to be a dark and dingy dive was it?) with chandeliers, with the addition of floating balloons the bar became party central.
Now I'm not saying that Germans don't know how to throw a party but getting hold of helium filled balloons here is like trying to score coke (not that I've tried...honest dad, I haven't) I resorted to my usual backstop - Muna, my amazing German teacher, she can source anything I'm convinced! Helium - check, Turkish delight (that's for you dad) - check, lamb for roasting - check, a company to service my boiler just before Christmas - check, Pimms - check, she truly is my knight in shining armour.

So the helium balloons were a huge success - the bar want to know where we got them from as they love the effect and want to recreate it for Silvester (New Year's Eve, not a cat - don't think a cat would appreciate the balloons, Logan certainly didn't) and a German lady asked me where we'd got the helium from - good business opportunity maybe - party's a huge business in the UK, but

Of course at the end of the night the balloons had another use...grown adults, fuelled by several hours drinking inhaling helium to sing happy birthday (again) to Rebecca in the style of Minnie Mouse...we're all just kids at heart.

Happy birthday Rebecca.

Friday, December 18, 2009

snow problem

A little pun in case you missed it, or in case you thought I meant that snow was a problem.

No, quite the contrary, here in Germany, snow, is no problem.

So we Brits here are feeling quite smug at the moment. Britain has snow, and doesn't the world know about it? The transport system grinds (or maybe that should be slides) to a halt, people can't get where they need to be and have to sleep in their cars and it makes headlines.

The problem for Britain is that it doesn't get enough snow to remember how to deal with it, there aren't enough snowploughs and gritters let alone salt to spread, and people don't know how to drive in it and so on.

We have snow here, just enough to excite the children (and the dog, to whom snow is another foodgroup) and enough to ice up the roads. But do we worry? No. There's no need, we have winter tyres for one thing (extra deep tread or something, so extra grippy - I'm sure there's some science behind it) and the other thing is experience - last January we awoke to snow, deep, deep snow and then the temperature dropped WAY below zero for a week, so the snow stayed, for a week, the kids went sledging every afternoon after school (which wasn't cancelled - not even one single day) for a week - even the adults went sledging. The part of the river near us where it's dammed, froze enough for people to ice skate on.
You get the picture? Serious snow. But all the main roads were ploughed - immediately, so as long as you could navigate the hills between our house and these roads you were fine.
Germans are well organised, can't have a bit of weather coming between them and their fresh daily bread now can you?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

G is for google

I spent yesterday and the day before that helping no. 1 son with maths...(please stop the laughing)

In high school here the kids are tested regularly on what they've supposedly learnt - 3 times a term on their main subjects (which include maths, english & german) and Ben's final maths test of the term is today and could include anything that they've done this term.

I did maths at school, a long long time ago, both GCSE and A level, so in theory I used to be OK with numbers, I say in theory...

I also used to have a proper job (other mothers will understand the distinction) one where I worked for just 7.4 hours a day, only 5 days a week and got paid for it. Anyway, the last proper job I had was in the treasury department of a FTSE 100 company, responsible for the day to day flow of millions of pounds - so I was clearly still OK with numbers then...

The problems started after having children, or more specifically after being pregnant. They say that pregancy shrinks the brain (they probably only meant it as a joke) and I'm sure this is true, ever having children my brain struggles to retain numbers...

I can still remember the phone number for my parents (but that'd be because I learnt it at the age of 10/11 so it's as ingrained in my genetic makeup as my eye colour - brown)

The phone number here I struggle with, and find it easier to remember if I have to say it in German and if I have to give the full number including the code (without the code I kind of flounder and am probably giving out false info - probably illegal here).

But PIN numbers? Nightmare! Absolute nightmare. We still have UK bank accounts that we use when visiting the UK...well, try to use, if I can remember the PIN and more specifically which PIN goes with which card - there are 4, or is it 5?
And then there are the German cards...2 bank cards (or is it 3?) and 1 credit card (which fortunately is PINless at the moment - in some things Germany is still 20 years behind)
Only 2 cards therefore 2 PINs to remember yes? No. One of my cards has issues...its magnetic strip has an allergy to my bag or something - maybe I generate a magnetic field...anyway, I'm onto my fourth (I think) issue of this particular card (I think they all run and hide when I walk into the branch now) and they've changed the number again. But this cloud has a silver lining - they changed it to a really easily remembered number - my birthday (kidding! do you honestly think I'd write my PIN here - no, I've got it written down somewhere else instead, if only I could remember where...)

So, back to Ben and the maths test. We've spent the last 2 days concentrating on fractions (adding, multiplying, dividing) and percentages...

Thank the lord for google, I type in 'fractions multiply' and instantly I have simple instructions on how to do it! Same for percentages, which I always struggled with (did statistics as part of maths A level so you'd think I would understand it...but no) but google comes to the rescue time and time again.

All praise the great god google.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Left right left right

Wednesday is my day for step class.

9am sharp, 1 hour of torture at the Altebahnhof (old station - which is a bit of a misnomer really as the trains still go past the station and indeed stop, so we constantly have commuters staring at us through the windows, it's just that now the poor passnegers have to wait outside in the cold and the rain for their trains rather than inside)

I used to do step on a regular basis back in the UK, until I wrecked my knee by twizzling (I think that was the technical term) too much as I went 'over the top' (another technical term) I was re-introduced to step by my French friend Valerie, who clearly wanted the moral support of another foreigner (in other words, another idiot who wouldn't be able to understand all the verbal instructions and who was therefore having to copy everyone else and consequently was 5 seconds behind the rest of the class)

I've been going for 2 years now to Petra's step class/torture session and this term I took great pleasure in introducing another foreigner (step forward Rebecca, whose youngest child started kindergarten and who therefore had time available to do things she wanted) so now there are three non natives in the class - I'm sure there must be an almost Mexican wave effect when the class is viewed from the front because although we're getting better at understanding what Petra wants us to do she will insist on changing the damn routine every single week! Matters are not helped by the fact that she has had dance training and so we have to cha cha and mambo as well as stepping up and down and trying keep in time.

As well as stepping, Petra usually makes us do some hand weights or if we're really unlucky and she's feeling really sadistic, the 'flexibar'. Words cannot express my feelings towards the flexibar or 'stick' as I lovingly call it, it is supposed to flex (the clue would be in the name) but I swear that every time we use it she gives me one made of steel rather than a nice flexible one that the others get!

Today's torture was less physical and more mental (in more ways than one), there was a photographer there. I pointedly asked Petra why and she said for 'advertising' and then proceded to smile nicely for the camera while we all stood about like lemons. Fine.
But no. The photographer clearly had other ideas, and started arranging the steps behind Petra and then made us all pose for him...I should have stayed in bed...or at the very least have been given sufficient warning so that I looked halfway presentable, ho hum.

The cloud does have a silver lining though - we didn't have time for a full hour's torture today because the photographer phaffed about for so long!

Monday, December 14, 2009


The house is ready for Santa (...except I've just realised that the children need to put the sign up to say 'Santa please stop here')

The tree is up and decorated, there is tinsel wherever I can stick it, poinsettia ditto, Adventskranz has been in situ since the 1st of advent (well duh!), pretty lights in windows...have I missed anything? I don't bother with a wreath on the front door as no-one really uses our front door, because it's at the back...and as I'm usually in the kitchen (big, un-german kitchen, with comfy chair and laptop and easy access to coffee and snacks) I usually see anyone coming to the house as they come through the gate (a necessity with a large and stupid dog - the gate that is, not the seeing of people)

We got the tree on Saturday, went to the local place where you can cut your own if you really want to (they give you a saw...) The place was rammed, it seems like every weekend in December some local company has a 'do' on there, so there were cars parked all the way up and down the hill, but once there I guess the place is big enough so that it wasn't too crowded, spotted the perfect tree straight away and refused to look further - after 20 years of marriage and so 20 years of choosing trees I think we've learnt from our mistakes, if you see one that looks right take it - I remember the years of walking around the Chase Xmas tree sale and Si hankering after the tree someone else was holding tree sorted then lunch in the barn attached, hot chocolate and bockwurst for me, coke and what I think looked like hot snot for Si...

We got the tree home to find our neighbours returning from a similar expedition, except they were empty handed...she said they couldn't find one they agreed is that possible? I just don't understand...unless they wanted one that wasn't green maybe?

Well they've got 13 days before they need it as they wont be putting their tree up until Christmas Eve, in true German style.

Am planning to tackle the wrapping of presents tonight once the children are asleep, only then will I know for sure that I have everything...wish me luck!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Now bring us some figgy pudding

Last night was a really festive affair.

Friends of ours, Jenny & Chris, are VERY musical, she teaches and he's an opera singer by profession in Nurnberg - anyway they try every year to organise a carol singing evening. This involves food and wine and lots of carol singing, the proper English carols - everything from Silent Night (we did 1 verse in German) to We Three Kings, in fact if you can think of a carol we probably sang it last night!

It was so much fun, there's something about singing carols that just makes you smile, although I did feel that I should be standing up in a red choir robe (mispent youth as a choirister, you see, we used to love going from the pub to Midnight Mass, and sitting innocently in the front choir pews, breathing cinzano fumes over the front row, singing the soaring descants - just wish I could still reach those notes!)

We were a mixed group last night - 2 Aussies (the hosts), 1 Indian, 1 Yank, 1 Canadian, 1 Argentinian/German, 2 Mexican/Indian, 2 German & 5 Brits + assorted children. So there was some debate over the wording of some carols and 'figgy' pudding certainly needed explaining!

The highlight was possibly 'the 12 days of Christmas', with each of us being given the responsibility for a specific line, I got 2 turtle doves & poor Simon got 5 gold rings & had to big it up...I wish I'd video'd it, his parents would have been proud!!

So thanks to Jenny and Chris, they had us all rocking around the Christmas tree last night!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Adventskaffee Ordeal

In the UK schooling system Christmas is a time for the whole school to get together and show the parents what they can do, in the lower schools there are nativity shows, with older children there tend to be carol services and concerts.

In Germany of course it's different, the classes tend not to co-ordinate together as a school and so there no nativity and no huge concert, instead we get lots of little individual class 'fests' such as the one we had to attend yesterday...

Last year we escaped the ordeal because Simon was in hospital and needed visiting...this year I'd planned not to go - Ben has a golf lesson at that time, perfect excuse I thought, but no, Ben was told in no uncertain terms by his teacher that he had to be there as he had one of the larger parts in the class recitation of the Grinch (which, as the only native English speaker in the class was logical) so we had to go...Ben wasn't amused, he didn't want me to go either and then he found out that Si could also come - his world was complete! (Ben's wearing the seasonal yellow t-shirt)

We all had to take either something to eat or drink (of the coffee/juice/water variety - I'd have shown more interest if Glühwein had been mentioned as at Jasmine's laternefest) I took the time to make mince pies, the Germans have many different cake/biscuit varieties that are specific to Christmas, so I thought they should get something English, I was quite pleased with them - the German parents weren't sure what to make of them, especially when told that they contain 'mince meat'...

The actual event took place in 6b's classroom, all the tables reorganised and decorated and covered in food for the parents to sit and chat at while the show got underway (some of the parents don't even stop exchanging gossip when the children are performing) and then it started, we were treated to a small choir of female students (boys at that age don't want to sing) who sang a couple of German Christmas songs, then there was chaos as a couple of girls argued amongst themselves as to who as performing the next piece, the eventual girl with the flute threw a strop when she couldn't play it to her satisfaction, then another piece with two girls and two guitars and another strop, a boy and a piano gave us the highlight - he was amazing (and according to Ben that's not even the best that he can play) and then the Grinch.
The whole class stood in a row, each stepping forward to recite from memory their sentence, some spoken so quickly I couldn't understand what they were saying and nearly all with an American accent - apart from my dear Ben of course - I'd made him practice saying it slowly and clearly, if he can't shine during an English recitation when can he? And then it was over...

I had a little chat with Ben's teacher before we escaped, she thinks the children pick up the American accent from movies (which is odd as ALL movies are dubbed here) so I offered her our extensive collection of British DVD's - Blackadder, Monty Python, Outnumbered, Fawlty Towers, Little Britain... We also hatched a plan that if she wants me to go into the class during an English lesson I'd be happy to oblige - but sssshhhhh, OK? Ben mustn't find out, he'll be mortified!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When will I be grown up?

At what age are you considered an adult?

The actual chronological age for this maturity seems to vary from country to country and even within a country there are many different age levels that have to be reached in order to do something legally...

Smoking, voting, babysitting, leaving home, driving a motorbike, a moped, a car, an HGV, having sex, buying a lottery ticket, working - all have different ages at which they become legally available to you, but when do you actually feel like a fully paid up member of the grownups?

Legally in Britain you can smoke at 18, in fact after the age of 18 there's nothing you can't do, so you must be an adult then...but from the age of 13 you're allowed to work a certain number of hours per week and after 16 you can buy a lottery ticket, work full-time and even get married.

The legal age of consent is an interesting one as it varies drastically throughout the world, with some countries having different ages for male and female and some saying they have to be married...the lowest age I found was 12 (gulp) in the Philipines and Mexico, most were 16, while dependant on which US state you're in you might be legal or not...and worryingly I've just discovered that the legal age in Germany is 14...

The next tricky one for me personally is driving, in Germany kids can legally ride scooters - a Mofa, with a max. speed of 25 km/h (16 mph) & only the driver is allowed on the bike, from the age of 15, no license is required, but a written test has to be completed (gulp) Loads of the kids at Ben's gymnasium have mofa's and mopeds...I can hear the arguments already and he's only 12!
Whilst the legal age for driving a car in Germany is 18, the same as for most countries (apart from the UK which is 17, and Australia where it varies from state to state - how mad is that?)

And so to drinking, again this varies hugely, from 15 in Tunisia to 21 in North America and 25 in Delhi and in Germany they can drink beer at 16 and distilled alcohol at 18 while in Britain it's 18 across the board.

But at what age are you a grown up?

I had this conversation with a friend recently (it was probably late at night following too many you will realise by the profound reasoning that followed)
Both of us are a long way away from any of the above mentioned age restrictions, married and with children (which should make us feel our age) but neither of us feel like grown ups, not proper grown ups - we are both aware that come the Xmas hols and we find ourselves watching a film with our parents, we know we will cringe when there's a sex scene.
So my startling discovery was that I don't think I will ever feel like a fully paid up member of the grown ups club while I have someone I can ring and start the call with 'Mommm' or 'Dadddd' in that childlike whine.

I just found a great quote:
You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.

I better go buy M&D the full set of Blackadder and Monty Python on DVD!!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Ha! Take that Santa!

I think, I'm fairly certain that I've done the Christmas present shopping...

Maybe just a few deliveries from Amazon and the like to arrive, but I don't think I need to join the mad throngs in the centre of Essen again before Christmas.

I think I might be done.

I think I've even got a present for the 'hardest man on earth to buy for', - but I can't possibly disclose here what I may or may not have purchased as I can't be sure that he wont read this, seeing as I've given him the link and all, I have to admit that it is unlikely though, as Simon is not a man who reads, well, ok, yes, he reads, but not by choice, not books (although that doesn't stop me buying them for him!) his literary matter of choice is the (whisper it) things like that, a complete philistine.

I guess I won't know for sure (whether I have a gift for everyone) until I've wrapped everything and labelled everything - that's when it sometimes becomes frighteningly clear that someone has been forgotten - moral of that story; don't leave the wrapping until Christmas Eve, because then it's far too late to do anything about it!!

As I was doing the last of my shopping today I was struck by the number of shops where the assistant offers to gift wrap it for you, although whether this is einpacken or verpacken I can't remember, one means to wrap something up and one means to wrap something up as a present (don't be surprised that there's a special word for wrapping a present, this is the language that has a word for the giving of a present - geschenken, in case you're interested) Anyway, I took one shop up on their offer of wrapping, as the thing I was buying was big and would use up way too much of my wrapping paper, so why not use theirs (I did have to almost shove my hands in my pockets though as the guy was wrapping the gift, I would have been so much quicker...)
In a bookshop the assistant asked me if I wanted my purchases (books, surprisingly & not a single one for Simon) wrapped, I turned and stared at the long queue, all waiting patiently for the wrapping service and declined...I don't need to save my wrapping paper that badly!

Simon gets off lightly on Christmas present duty, all he is tasked with doing is buying for me (& I give him a pretty comprehensive list) and for his father - twice (he has the misfortune to have been a December baby) and then of course he gets to wrap them - which is...amusing, he got out of it last year, by being in hospital, sick, so my mother took pity on him and offered to wrap the presents for him (he'd managed to do the actual shopping via the internet from his hospital bed, you didn't think he'd been organised and done it early did you?)
I get to buy presents for everyone else, my parents, his sister, his mother, all godchildren and friends as well, my family, our children, him...the list goes on...

But it's done now.



ps: happy birthday Dad!!

rain rain go away

and I shan't add the next line of 'and come again another day', 'cos I don't want it now and I really don't want it another day.

Enough already!!

It seemed to me that it rained all of November and now December looks set to carry on the trend.
Germans like to remark to us Brits that we should be used to this 'English weather' - a comment that doesn't go down well.
And then we have to put up with Aussie friends whining about the grey sky, but that we (Brits) should be used to it...
That's as maybe, but it doesn't mean we have to like it or even that we're used to it.
We're all just sick of it. Where are the crisp frosts and blue skies of winter? Why do we have to have this godawful wet all the time?

There are only a few good things about the rainy weather (that I can think of anyway)
  • my car looks clean (ish)
  • the reservoirs are full to overflowing
  • umbrella sales are up (I would imagine)

Let's compare that list with the bad things (imho) about this crappy crappy wetness
  • my house smells permanently of wet dog
  • I get pleading phone calls from 12 year old asking to be collected from school
  • the pond under the trampoline is in danger of becoming a permanent fixture, maybe we should get fish?
  • plans to go out have to be subject to change, you can't rely on the weather forecast
  • the river is soon to burst its banks - will confuse the dog (not that that's hard)
  • there are always wet coats and umbrellas drying somewhere in the house
  • the Christmas markets don't have quite the same charm in the pouring rain as they do on a cold frosty day
  • it's depressing
I've been given a 'recipe' for an anti-rain dance...I might have to use it!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nikolaus December 6

Every year on the night of December 5th German children polish their shoes/boots and leave them outside (to get rained on) and in the morning they find their shoes/boots filled with little gifts - often chocolate, after all with Christmas in 18/9 days (dependant on whether you're German and so opening presents on 24th or British and opening them on actual Christmas day) do children really need more gifts?

But why?

It's actually to remember the death of Nicholas of Myra (now the Anatolia region of modern Turkey), who died on that day in 346. He was a Greek Christian bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly, and is now the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students.

In theory only good children are rewarded with gifts and those who've been naughty aren't or are threatened with a spanking (we're so not pc here).

My friend Rebecca went to a Nikolaus 'party' this year and had to provide details of both good and naughty deeds by her children for Nikolaus to then read out to the assembled children (our bookgroup on Friday night had fun thinking up what she could put forward), apparently the children were rendered speechless as Nikolaus told them what he knew of their misdemeanours...although the jury's still out on whether the behaviour patterns change!

The very first year we lived in Germany my then 10 year old son (who clearly thought himself very wise) told me that Nikolaus Tag was Friday when in fact it was the Thursday...his plan to prove that Nikolaus didn't exist. Imagine his surprise when we left the house to go to school (foreigners - walking their children to school) and found a small bag of goodies for each child outside the front door (my clever German neighbour, who has two smaller children herself had played at being Nikolaus for us) boy did I laugh!

This year he's 12 and believes in nothing, tooth fairy - no, santa - no, nikolaus - no, easter bunny - no (but only after I had a long discussion with him about the improbability of any rabbit being able to purchase and then deliver chocolate eggs) and he abandoned god a long time ago - possibly before santa and the tooth fairy, after all, as he told me, there was physical evidence of both santa and the tooth fairy, in that they left things behind...

Meanwhile the 8 year old is still a believer (bless her) although I do think her teacher was pushing it a little as he requested that all the year 3's (mixed year group class of 3 & 4) receive a fountain pen from Nikolaus and then he could start them writing with their new pens this she came home from school telling me how all the year 3's (but not the 4's) in her class had fountain pens from Nikolaus...what a coincidence!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

As I type my Chirstmas cake is baking in the oven and so the house is filled with the heavenly scent of mixed spice, cinnamon and brandy. The cake has almost another 2 hours to go before I have to take it out, feed it some more brandy and then wrap it snugly till it's cooled down.

Before coming to Germany I'd never made a Christmas cake and only rarely made mince pies - not because I can't cook but because the shops in the UK are always full of such delights at this time of year & I'm a bit lazy...
However, living here means that while we can enjoy the many German culinary offerings that are around for this season (and trust me there are far more delights here than in the UK) if we also want our traditional English food then we either have to make it ourselves or beg people to bring it over with them when they come (remember my Wensleydale cheese someone please!!)

This is the 3rd year I've made this cake, following Nigella's recipe carefully...the mixture of fruit was soaked in brandy for a week and then this morning I prepared the cake tin - brown paper around the outside (of course I didn't have any brown paper (having been an efficient little elf yesterday and posted off the presents to the UK & Ireland) or anything that could be a useful substitute so a trip to the post office was required first) & baking paper on the inside. Weighed out all the other ingredients, grated a lemon and an orange (and my thumb) then mixed and mixed and voila - instant Christmas cake.
I shall leave icing it until maybe Christmas Eve...and then we can start eating it!! So I shall need the Wensleydale cheese then - you just can't beat the taste and texture combination of rich, moist Christmas cake with a piece of dry and crumbly Wensleydale - heaven!

Jas has also been busy, putting together a gingerbread house, it's
from a kit so all that was involved was making the icing and then trying to stick the pieces together...I had a minor hissy fit when I couldn't get the walls to stay up but Simon manfully stepped into the breach - his cement laying skills are better than mine! And then Jas took over the decoration - a work of art I think you'll agree, although whether there will be any of it left when the grandparents get here for Christmas and New Years is open to debate!

Friday, December 4, 2009


Are you a glass half full person or a half empty person?

Personally I believe myself to be a person with PMA - positive mental attitude, a pint glass containing only half a pint is a sad situation it's true, but to me it's half full and not half empty (unless I'm deperate for someone to top it up I guess...

The world has, however, far too many people who suck the joy out of life and bring the shadow of their gloom with them wherever they go.

One such person is someone I know here in Germany (I hesitate to use the word friend, for fear that her negativity infect me), at the moment on her facebook page her status is a rant about how miserable the people of Essen are and why don't they smile at her? Various people have since commented to her that maybe if she lightened up so would the other people.

However she's not the first to make such a comment.
My parents have been coming to Germany twice a year since we moved here and every time they're here they spend most of their time walking my dog (they love it, not sure about Logan, he's one lazy hound) consequently they meet lots of other people out walking.
My parents are not known for their loquaciousness (don't you just love a computer that helps you with definitions and spelling?) but they are unfailingly polite (terribly British) and will always say 'hello' when out walking in England, so we've retrained them to say 'Morgan' or 'guten Tag' when they're here but they have commented that people here don't always respond - whereas in the UK everyone will respond (the British kneejerk reaction is to be polite at all costs).

This morning I walked Logan along the river, well I walked along it and he paddled in it (stupid dog - I think he's part hippo) and despite the fact that I was listening to music as I walked, I made a point of greeting everyone who dared to walk towards me with a happy smile and a chirpy 'morgan' - and they all responded (maybe they thought I'd set the mad dog on them if they didn't).
I often run with Logan and again, whenever I pass someone I will always say (ok, gasp) 'morgan' and they will mostly respond likewise.

For me it's not about being polite - although it was in the beginning, now it's a challenge. Having had people 'complaining' that the Germans don't always offer greetings, I'm determined to get in there first and almost dare them not to respond to me.

As I put on Facebook today 'Verena has been out 'morgan'-ing the Germans', I'm just thankful we don't live in an area like Nürnberg where they say 'Gruss Gott', that I would struggle with!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Every year around the end of November kindergarten aged children make paper lanterns, these are then paraded through the streets hung off the end of a specially purchased plastic stick which has a tiny light bulb on the end of it to illuminate the lantern.
Not having been in Germany with kindergarten aged children I've missed out on the significance of why they do this, could be to do with oncoming winter or Christmas...who knows.

Anyway, at Jasmine's grundschule they make lanterns and we have a whole evening event devoted to a laternefest. This was last night.

5pm kickoff around a fire (carefully roped off to keep curious smaller siblings away) all the classes gather with their different lanterns (I think there is almost an unspoken competition between the teachers of the different classes - the class of the head teacher yesterday had lanterns that were green frogs with boing-y legs, definitely the winners) they sing a couple of songs and then parade off through the woods class by class until only the parents are left in the playground chatting and drinking glühwein until the children make it back to school again - good job the 2nd of the escaped prisoners from last week was caught yesterday, especially as we've since learnt that they were very close on Friday night (like near the bakers that we use, kind of close - should clearly have taken the whole thing with a bit more ernst rather than laughing at it all in our we're so funny British manner!)
Anyway, the children safely paraded through the woods, we drank glühwein and then there's more singing around the fire - well the children sing, the parents stand and chat, loudly so that we can hear what we're saying over the noise of the pesky kids singing and then each class retires to its classroom for a little show...

Jasmine's class were doing the German version (obviously) of a Hans Christian Andersen story that I know as the Emporer's New Clothes, except this time it's the Kaiser. They performed the first half and we were then told that on the last day of term after the Christmas singing we're all invited to, the class will perform the whole of this 'theaterstück' (advance warning to grandparents!!). Herr Bartnizky (Jasmine's teacher) made the mistake then of coming and sitting with me and Valerie (us foreign mom's stick together - Valerie is French and has been here as long as we have) so I asked him whether the Kaisers neue kleidung was what I know of as the emporer's new clothes...I thought it was but I hate to make assumptions. He confirmed that it was and of course my English humour couldn't resist but then comment about the nakedness of the kaiser/emporer (what can I say...I blame the glühwein - it's lethal).

I learnt later from Jasmine that she has the role of the child at the end of the piece who points out the lack of clothing to everyone...well cast I think! Herr B must be thinking 'like mother like daughter'...I wonder if there is a German equivalent for that?

Monday, November 30, 2009

the knights who say Ni

In German the easiest way to ask a question is to make a statement and then say 'oder?' with a rising inflection at the end of your sentence, so you effectively say 'you like meat, or?' It's kind of the equivalent of the 'don't you'/'weren't you' negation that is commonly used in English.
I can cope with this 'oder' malarkey, it's simple, easy and inoffensive.

What I absolutely hate is the use of the 'ne?' at the end of a sentence, meant as a kind of querying grunt.

Oder is at least a proper word, ne is merely a couple of letters strung together, I'm not even sure what the second letter should be, if there was a vowel that was a mix of a 'u' and an 'e' then it would be that, but even in German where they've managed to extend the alphabet by 4 letters with sneaky use of the umlaut and a squiggle (ä, ü, ö, ß) there is no letter I can think of that is the written equivalent of the sound.

What's more I can't hear the 'ne' anymore without being reminded of the Monty Python sketch 'the knights who say Ni' (that's Simon's fault entirely!)

I had initially thought it was sloppy language use - kind of like hearing people in England say 'uh?' in that dimwitted way but it's not. It's in common use throughout the age groups and educational levels, I still hate it and refuse to succumb.

I shall not say ne.

Never, never, never!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Are the British too funny?

Do the Germans take life too seriously or are we, the Brits in the wrong for making a joke of everything?

Personally I think that life's too short to make a drama out of it, if there's humour to be had or irony then I'm there (I don't do the laughing at other's misfortunes and I loathe and detest slapstick - Mr Bean and Laurel&Hardy leave me cold).

I think it's a very British thing or maybe it's part and parcel of the English language (I'll have to check with the Aussies, Yanks & Canadians in my English Bookgroup) to see the funny side of something, to twist words around and just generally not to take life seriously.

A while ago now I fell out with a German friend (well, actually, she fell out with me...but she's like that - read 'with friends like these' - same friend...) We were happily walking with Logan along the river, chatting away (she speaks very good English, although clearly some things get lost in translation - as happened here) when she said she'd been at college that week, learning some new skills, including 'blind typing'. Quick as a flash I responded 'why? when are you planning to go blind?'


I was supposed to know that her Gandmother had gone blind.

I tried to explain that the English term would be 'touch typing' anyway and not 'blind typing' but she wasn't happy. Really, really, not happy. Barely spoke for the rest of the walk and then there was no contact for several weeks - I can't remember now who made the first move...I don't think it was me as I was determined that I hadn't been in the wrong...

See, we love to make a little joke, twist a meaning, to laugh - more often than not at ourselves!

Even cards here are humourless, 10 out of 10 to the Germans for not jumping on the Hallmark bandwagon and producing cards for every occasion possible, but the cards that one can buy here are DULL, DULL, DULL - I have resorted to bulk buying in advance on odd trips to the UK and even (for a couple of special birthdays coming up) asking friends in England to buy something appropriate and post it over - desperate measures eh?!!
Anyway, last year Simon got to spend almost 2 weeks before Christmas in hospital and received lots of 'get well soon' cards from UK friends and rellies - they were almost all, when not rude certainly on the blacker side of humour, the staff in the hospital who paused to read and translate these cards were quite shocked by the (as they saw it) unfeeling sentiment of the cards although they were impressed by the number of cards - as I said, Germans don't do cards...

This Thursday there was a break out at the local high security prison 2 dangerous guys are now on the loose in the area. The first we were aware of it was helicopters flying repeatedly overhead Friday night and Saturday morning.
My friend Rebecca and her husband Sam were at (German) friends nearby on Friday evening for dinner, the helicopters were overhead and Sam and his eldest child thought it was a great hoot to stand out in the garden, waving up at the helicopters, while the friend was inside begging them to come in.
Meanwhile last night (the baddies are still 'at large') Jasmine had a friend to dinner (& to sleep over), Luisa told us how the police had been in their road earlier, to which Simon jokingly told her that it wouldn't matter if the baddies were in her garden that night as she was sleeping at our house...and then to emphasize the point asked where her mother was sleeping
- I kicked him hard under the table.
English humour is often not grasped by Germans, let alone 8 year old Germans...

See, we can't even take the escape of murderous criminals seriously!

Friday, November 27, 2009

oops I did it again

showed up my foreigner-ness that is...

Germans are creatures of habit like old people tend to be (apologies to the grandparents reading this) they like their tea at a certain time, coffee made a particular way, watch a specific channel at a regular time and heaven forbid anything should come between them and their regular patterns.

I'd had this topic on my list of possible blog topics and had ignored it because I thought it too tenuous, then today...

Jasmine is 8 and has a group of friends she plays with after school and sometimes they sleep over at each other houses - you get the picture, they all know each other, the mothers all know of each other even if they're not friends.
Today I picked Jas up from school (which labels me a foreigner straight away because ALL German kids walk themselves to and from school alone (although usually with a friend, but certainly no adult is involved) from the age of 6 (scarey prospect eh?)) as I was fetching Jas I told her she had time this afternoon if she wanted to have a friend to play, she turned to Luisa (bf) and asked her if she 'had time' (a quaint German expression) Luisa thought about it and said yes, so I asked if her mom would be at home then because then we could ring her (mobiles are so useful) and then Luisa could come straight back with us rather than walking home and having to get her mom to then drive her round to ours (we live in the opposite direction from school to Luisa)
So Luisa rang her mom, and yes, it was ok for Luisa to come back with us. I thought it was all fine and then later Frau Flohe collected Luisa ...
From the tone of her voice at expressing her surprise of Luisa's phone call and the going straight to a friend's house from school, bypassing the seeing mom first step. Honestly, you'd have thought I'd kidnapped her darling daughter and held her ransom! Break in the pattern you see, they don't like it, it does not compute...

What had originally made me think that Germans were creatures of habit (gewohnheitsmensch) was the fact that friends would want to do a particular thing at a particular time on a particular day, every week. For example the arrangement to walk my dog with a friend had to be on a specific morning, I don't have a problem with people having routines especially when they work, but if they don't, and so have time to do what they want when they want why do they feel the need to be so damn regular about it?

I was walking Logan (the dog) in the woods once and met another dog walker who clearly liked everything English (the Barbour jacket and head to toe Burberry (they have no idea how chavvy it is!) a bit of a give away) anyway the dogs got on well together and she was keen to know whether I always walked Logan at that particular time, I had to confess that no, I didn't, I walk him whenever I want, sometimes it's first thing, sometimes its not, it depends on the rest of my day (and the weather - we're not keen on rain) whereas the German dog walkers all have their specific time slots - if you pick the wrong time of day you'll be surrounded by a pack of dogs when you go out, at other times (mid morning for example) the woods are deserted and you'd think Germany was a dog free zone! Unfortunately it will never be a dog poo free zone, but that's another blog entirely!

I have to go now, it's time for my, regular as clockwork, Friday night glass of wine, it's not a habit you understand, just something I do regularly, every Friday! Bottoms up.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Christmas is nearly here. It is honest! Now I know there are 4 weeks until the big day itself (24 shopping days for me) and it's not even December yet and the 1st of Advent isn't until this Sunday but everywhere around me, here in Germany the decorations are going up and Christmas trees are being bought...mad eh? And I'm not talking about just the retail outlets either - they've had their Christmas stock on the shelves since September and have been playing festive music for almost as long, but normal people, like you and I, are buying trees and stringing lights and hanging wreaths on front doors...quite, quite bonkers if you ask me!

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no bah humbug Scrooge, I love Christmas, I love everything about it (although I'm quite happy to skip the whole religious side of it - just call me an atheist ok?) I like the buying of presents, the wrapping of presents, the making the cake (that's on my list of stuff to do this weekend - got to buy the fruit first (tomorrow's job) and then set it all to soak in vast quantities of brandy for at least a is, by no stretch of the imagination suitable for children, alcoholics or those about to operate heavy machinery) I also enjoy the buying of the tree, decorating the tree and hanging lights in every window (don't find the writing and sending of Christmas cards too inspiring but here in Germany they don't do cards, so now the only ones I have to do are those for people outside of Germany & I better go a move on with those I guess or they won't get there in time)

BUT surely putting up your Christmas decks in November is just a bit premature? I've had it explained to me in previous years that the lights are put up as 'winter' decorations, in the same way that the Germans like to put pumpkins around the front door for an autumnal display or spring flowers in February, so I can kind of forgive that.

However, yesterday I witnessed several elderly women buying Christmas trees and karting them off home. That I do not understand. Why on earth buy a fresh Christmas tree 4 weeks before Christmas? Because in Germany the tradition is to decorate the tree on Christmas eve and not before, so these trees have been bought 4 weeks early to lie around in the garden or on the balcony gradually getting drier and drier...crazy, the only possible reason is that the earlier you buy the more choice you get and so the more symmetrical and perfect your tree...and the more dessicated and needle-less it will be come December 24th!!

We'll get our tree maybe 2 weeks before Christmas and decorate it IMMEDIATELY and then I will make a point of standing it in the front window without the shutters down or any curtains drawn for any nosey person walking past to see, just to give them the pleasure of tutting to themselves about the crazy Ausländers traditions!!

dedicated to Muna!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A fairly hot topic at the moment what with the US administration trying to sort out their healthcare system and bitching about the one that has worked 'successfully' in the UK since WW II.

In the UK there is the National Health System which is paid for by the state (so everyone who pays taxes is paying for its provision) the system has a base tier of GP's (general practitioner doctors) and above that hospitals where there are A&E departments (accident and emergency) for those moments when calling into the GP first would seem silly (oops I've cut my hand with the carving knife and I think my thumb's going to fall off - needs A&E, the local doc ain't gonna fix that) and all the other medical departments (urology, oncology etc etc)
Germany has the same kind of division of labour - roughly.
However in the UK when the GP thinks there's something wrong with you that he can't fix he'll write to the local hospital and you go on a list to see a specialist and you wait and you wait, could be months - unless it's something life threatening - a suspected lump in the breast gets seen very quickly. The waiting lists also vary considerably depending upon whereabouts in the UK you live (they call it jokingly the 'postcode lottery, except it's often not a joke, it can be a matter of life or death) BUT, you will be seen and treated and you wont have to pay for it - unlike the system in the US which they're trying to change.

There is also the option of private healthcare in the UK, you pay every month and then when you need treatment you often go to the top of the queue and often get treated in a nice sparkly new hospital.

In Germany there are three options (although only two official ones)
1. you can pay a top up (choosing your level - when I end up in hospital 'I want a room to myself' will cost more than the 'share with 3 others' option)
2. you go completely private
3. you pay nothing and pray you're never ill.

We have here what they call 'hausdoktors' and 'kinderarzt' so the adults get the GP style of doc and the kids get their own child friendly doc. When ill your first stop is of course this level of doc (unless you know it's SERIOUS - broken bones for example, been there, done that - twice) you make your appointment and are usually seen that day (in the UK you're lucky if you're still ill by the time you get your appointment through to see your GP) you pay 10 euros to the receptionist (this seems to be a 6 monthly cover charge that allows you repeat visits for the next 6 months, I don't get it either) then you see the doc, if he can't fix you, you can guarantee he knows a man (or woman) who can and he'll make the call and get you an appointment right away.

My husband Simon has suffered with kidney stones in the long distant past so when he woke today with back pain he recognised it for what it was, and took himself off to the hausdok, the hausdok agreed with Si's diagnosis and referred him to a colleague along the road who specialises in the area. The 2nd doc had the equipment for the necessary scans and blood tests - which they did there and then and spotted the offending kidney stones. One prescription for pain relief and a check up appointment booked for 2 days time and Si was done.

The German health system works like clockwork, yes we have to contribute towards it but when you see it in action - wow!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


With Christmas fast approaching (5 weeks and it'll all be over for another year) and a conversation from this evening ringing in my ears I thought I'd address the thorny subject of presents.

The giving of presents at Christmas is related of course to the fact that the three wise men took gifts when they went to see Jesus, and they took things that were of value.

My present giving can be erratic I think, but I do always try to err on the side of over generosity - you know how it is, you buy something that you think is an OK gift and then a week later you see something else that is just perfect, so in that case the lucky recipient will get 2 for the price of one.

In Germany they are very traditional when it comes to the giving of presents and of celebrating birthdays - has to be done on the day or after. Cannot be done before, don't know why, bound to be some superstitious reason I guess...anyway I don't hold with that, I'd rather give a person their present as near to the day as possible and if that happens to be before then fine, they can have it early and open it early too - at least that way I get to make sure they like it (unless of course I'm concerned that they won't like which case they can open it at home alone!!)

So back to the giving of presents. I like to give presents that I know (or at least think) a person will like, maybe this goes back to the writing of Christmas lists for Santa as a kid. You think long and hard about what you'd like, write it all down and then keep your fingers crossed. As a parent I've now found that Christmas lists are very helpful, it takes the guesswork out of shopping for gifts, you get a head start. And I do find it annoying when someone asks for some ideas and then, after getting your hopes up, ignores the list and gets you something they want to give. Where's the logic in that? Surely it's better for both parties to give and receive something that is known to be wanted rather than something that will just be cast aside to live at the bottom of the wardrobe for a year?

Isn't it a waste of money?

Although I guess it is the right of the giver to choose the present they deem appropriate and we should be grateful for whatever we get, whether we wanted a stone frog for the garden or another set of handkerchiefs or not!

Meanwhile I shall go back to pondering what I can get Simon, who claims he would be happy if I didn't get him anything - but that surely gives him the opportunity of not getting me not happening, I want presents! So I also need to continue constructing my Christmas present list - I try to make sure everything is available online and include websites and article numbers just to make life really easy - I haven't yet stooped so low as to buy the gifts and wrap them myself, he ought to at least choose from a short (ok, it can be quite long some years) list!!

28 shopping days left...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I thought it was time to introduce you to a new language, or rather to a variant on 2 languages.
Denglish is the mix of Deutsch and English that occurs in every day life here and especially in the work place and in advertising slogans, because English and the use of it is seen as 'cool'. I blame this blog subject entirely on Simon who told me about the word 'gesmuggelt' yesterday - apparently someone had 'gesmuggelt' some heroine, but I guess we should also blame the Germans themselves who insert English words willynilly into their sentences, us Brits wouldn't dream of doing that of course!!

A few grammar pointers to start with:
- if a lot of the words seem to begin with a 'ge' it's because that's the most frequent way of forming the past participle of the verb (sorry, Grammar speak)
- most verbs in their infinitive form (sorry) end in 'en'
- der/die/das = the (but one is masculine, one feminine and one neuter & there is NO logic to it)
- in the past tense as well as starting with a 'ge' a lot of verbs end in 't' or 'et'

trendig - trendy
wellness - wellness breaks are offered everywhere here, bit like a spa break but of course more serious with the emphasis being on recuperation rather than relaxation
upgeloaded - computer-ese
downloaden - more computer-ese (thanks Ian)
shoppen - there is a good German word 'einkaufen' which means to go shopping, but shoppen is used a lot, sounds cool I guess
geschockt - as in 'I was shocked'
chillen - what the cool kids do
das Balance Sheet - obvious
sorry - sorry, there is a proper German word for it (entschuldigung) but everyone seems to say sorry!
gecancellt - past participle of to cancel
gedealt - p.p of to deal
gegooglet - !!
meeten - to have a meeting
billen - to send a bill (to a customer)
aufgepimped - the English & the Yanks use the verb 'pimp' to describe something as being overhauled in an extreme manner, it's been pimped up - here the Germans make it a separable verb (shudder) the 'auf' prefix being the up and the 'ge' making it the past participle...
der Smoking - a tuxedo/dinner jacket
das Handy - mobile phone
ausgeflipped - flipped out (see how the 'ge' is slipped between the 2 parts of the separable verb - makes it look more German huh?
das Casting - casting
gekillt - as in 'he was killed'
eingescannt - to have scanned something
outgesourct - outsourced
joggen - to jog
gejoggt - to have jogged
brunchen - to have brunch
gebruncht - to have brunched
accessen - to get access
fighten - to fight
lunchen - to lunch
gestresst - stressed (thanks Rebecca)
wir haben gejammt -we jammed (thanks Noosh)
finegetuned - fine tuned (thanks RWE)
gekidnapped - kidnapped (thanks to Stefanie - German Teacher)

Then there are the English slogans used by German advertisers, no mixing of the 2 languages just pure insertion of an English phrase into a German sentence:

Come In and Find Out -- Douglas, a parfumerie
Powered by Emotion -- SAT.1 TV channel, although it's been changed to something more German now
We Love To Entertain You -- ProSieben TV channel

And on that note I'll say ciao (which the Germans love to use instead of their own 'tchuss' for goodbye - that's when they're not saying 'byeee') - as I've said before, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kettwig - home

Where I live and have lived for the last two + years.

Kettwig is a suburb of Essen (a big city) which is either the 7th or 8th largest in Germany.
To describe Kettwig as a suburb of Essen is politically and factually correct but most of the locals think of Kettwig as an entity in its own right and while the correct address for anyone here is Essen-Kettwig most people will just say Kettwig.

Essen is a big industrial city in an area called Nord Rhine Westphalia (NRW) which itself is renowned for its industrial nature. So much so that any Germans we met prior to moving here to whom we told we were moving to NRW reacted as though we'd said we were moving to a war zone (ok, I exaggerate, but the reactions were never positive along the lines of 'how lovely, what a beautiful area', it was always 'why on earth are you going there?')

It's true that previously NRW was a seriously industrial region I guess before people wised up to pollution and governments started having to behave in a more responsible manner, perhaps then the area wasn't so pleasant to live in - I can relate to this, having grown up in an area of Britain known as 'the Black Country' due to the high levels of pollution from all the industry that turned both the air and the buildings black. This would have been before my time and so my memories of the Black Country have nothing to do with grimy cities and a shortage of countryside. Consequently when people sucked their teeth in shock and horror at the thought of us moving to an 'industrial' area like NRW I couldn't take them seriously, having spent most of my life in Britain's equivalent region.

Kettwig is more of a town than a village and straddles the Ruhr which flows down through Essen and into the Rhein. It feels like a village because there is so much countryside all the way around it, and also I guess because the actual centre of it is the Altstadt which has cobbled streets and black and white timbered buildings, yes there are four supermarkets in the centre (but remember, this is Germany and the word 'super' can rarely be legitimately applied to the supermarkets here) but there are also at least 9 eiscafes/cafes, 4 bakeries, several little pubs a handful of jewelers, 2 chemists, 1 butchers and so on - just enough, especially when you take into account the twice weekly market with meat, cheese, fruit and veg and flowers...

Before we moved to Germany we aked no. 1 son if he had a choice would he choose to live in a village (as we did in England at the time of asking - little village, 5 pubs, 1 post office, 1 butchers, a first school, a corner shop and a bus service that ran once a day if you were lucky...) or a town/city - he liked the idea of living somewhere with a bit more to it than another little village, and I have to say that I think with Kettwig we have it all.

It's small and quaint enough to have a village-y feel yet has a train station with a service that runs every 20 minutes into both Essen and Düsseldorf (not that I do public transport (as my friend Alison will testify) - but more of that in another blog) and 2 or 3 high schools.
And best of all in the summer there are pedaloes on the river - how good is that?!

thanks to my dad for the photos....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

breakfast, but not as you know it

Surprise surprise, the Germans take their first meal of the day seriously (as they do everything else) so seriously in fact that the first long piece of writing I had to do for my current Goethe language course was 200 words on my typical breakfast...that was a struggle!

To the English breakfast is only ever (apart from high days and holidays) toast or cereal, it's a quick meal that is somehow meant to sustain after the night's fast until lunch time (no wonder the English invented 'elevenses').

For the Germans breakfast is a complete meal, involving salami, ham, cheese (of many varieties) bread (of many varieties) jam, yoghurt, musli, eggs (poached, boiled or scrambled) croissant and so on.

Of course on a normal work/school day a lavish breakfast is just not possible timewise, but they've developed a canny system to get around this minor problem - they have 2 breakfasts.

Seriously, I'm not joking.
School kids will have a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast before leaving home (a normal English breakfast) and then take food for eating during 'Frühstück Pause' - this could be a ham brötchen (bread roll) chocolate croissant, sandwich made with spreadable sausage - whatever the child wants really. Many offices with their own canteens will lay on Frühstück for staff and work stops as the collegues take their time to have their second breakfast.

Cafes and restaurants around here all offer Frühstück during the morning, in fact when I would expect to call in to a cafe for coffee and cake they actually haven't got any cake (shock, horror, gasp) because I guess they know that their morning business is all Frühstück, so I have to make do with just coffee - I don't want a second breakfast.
Note to self; go to a different cafe next time, one that can be relied on for a decent cake selection!!

Today is Sunday and we would usually, as a family, have a relaxing breakfast of either fresh croissants (the bakeries here are open EVERY day) or occasionally English bacon (smuggled in and frozen during the summer - German bacon is pants) today however we're doing brunch with friends at a little bar here in Kettwig which is what really inspired me to today's subject matter - so I'm looking forward to lots of bread, ham, cheese, eggs etc etc.

Motto of the day - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I think I hate homework even more now as an adult with two children than I did as a student with my own work to do - at least then it was my work and just my work...things seem to have changed (and not in my opinion for the better) since I was at school (ok, it's a long time ago - I'm sure I mention my age somewhere on this blog, so you do the maths).

My memories of doing my homework involve me sitting either at the dining table or in my bedroom on my own, doing my work. No parental involvement, ok, I confess I was a girly swot and didn't need a kick up the arse to get it done and to get it done well but even if I hadn't been so inclined I don't think either of my parents would have stood over me to make me do it, not because they weren't (& aren't) good parents who love/d me but that's just not how it worked back then in the good old days.
You were supposed to do the work for yourself, because you wanted to and if you didn't want to then you got a bollocking after parents evening when the teachers told your parents how awful you were.

These days in Germany and possibly back in England too (can't really comment on homework policy there as we've been out of that system for over two years - so feel free to let me know) the parent is expected by the school to supervise the homework and to check it over afterwards to make sure it's all been done, we're also expected to help with the learning of vocab for however many foreign languages the child is learning and if said child is maybe not keeping up with the class work you need to organise extra lessons 'nachhilfe' as they call it here (15 euro per hour) from either a teacher or more often than not an older student.

Consequently I'm spending a truly miserable afternoon with a recalcitrant 8 year old who is convinced she 'can't do maths' trying to help her understand her (actually really not too hard) homework. We've been at it for an hour so far and not half way through...then I probably have to 'help' with her Deutsch homework (had that one yesterday too - what a laugh, it's like the blind leading the blind) Joy!

I don't get it, my 12 year old at gymnasium gets less homework (but has greater enthusiasm) than my 8 year is that fair?
Something is going to snap and it will probably be me...oh no, that's already happened!

Where's the wine?