a trip of contrasts

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it was really difficult to gather thoughts on this trip when we arrived home to tell people something.. it went by so quickly –  a week ago seemed like months ago. two weeks ago seemed like last year.

I think that was partly due to the travelling days. all told this trip comprised seven flights and two train trips plus a number of car trips as well. Then add to that a baby that wakes you up half a dozen times a night loudly crying and the whole trip kind of takes a cloudy surrealistic haze.

one thing that stood out was the weather – several days of double digit temperatures made traveling and exploring much easier, especially when things like the christmas markets and zoo are  entirely outdoors.  Barely above freezing temperatures and rain is understandably annoying for a country that gets it nearly every year, but for me, at least, I didn’t miss the snow and cold of home. Checking the weather forecast back home was good for at least a daily grin.

like every previous trip to Germany I endeavored to speak German often. and very happily the trend of improving every trip has continued. I have put a lot of time into the effort and it would be very discouraging if I wasn’t getting better.

one of the ways I notice improvement is the length of time the conversation lasts in german before somebody switches to English. I have no illusions of fluency so if there’s something important that needs to be communicated and there is a chance I will be misunderstood I will use English – in most of those cases it is with someone in the service industry and their English will without doubt be better than my German.

there were moments of personal wins – when I noticed I wasn’t having to translate word for word but instead simply understanding the sentence as a whole. Or when asking for directions, understanding movies and media, a church service, translating signs and other written material, and ordering meals happened without having to resort to English as often or at all. I had conversations without being immediately marked as a foreigner – which tells me pronunciation, grammar, and word choice has improved. I was also very proud to have shared some conversations with C&E at their home in Mainz largely in German.

There were occurrences to the contrary – when C&E’s parents came to visit on Christmas day, for example. It could have been any number of things – the speed, the dialect, number of conversations taking place at once, or different vocabulary used – but that was definitely a moment when I realized I have a long way to go yet. Words I could pick out and understand were far and few between with 6 native speakers talking. And then there was a coffee break at Berlin where the food and drink ordering went smoothly, but when the waitress came back to explain why our food was slow to arrive, I was completely lost. The explanation in German about why the food was late was long, but when she had to switch to English she simply said ‘Your food will be coming soon’.  No doubt I missed out on something there, even if it was trivial. Maybe a trained schnitzel thief took my meal, or the cook had to leave to save a neighbor from a burning building. Now I will never know.

On the whole though, it is improving, and I know what I need to focus on to continue improving.

Having a baby along made a difference on this trip, not only in the speed of travelling and amount of planning required, but in how people approached you. Our son made us a magnet for kid friendly strangers or a target for eye rolls or grimaces from those not so keen on babies. Discussions definitely trended towards topics around children. It was simultaneously hilarious and embarrassing to have him in church on Christmas day constantly blowing raspberries, staring at people, sticking out and flicking his tongue at people, or yammering at the top of his lungs.  I still hope we have the opportunity to do more travelling together as a family or as father and son. It strikes me as important to expose him to other perspectives and cultures and ways of life.

families that fly together

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this year’s christmas festivities were a little different. we left canada for germany december 17th. we were a little worried how our 7 month old would take to travelling..everyone always seems to ask first about how he travelled, so..

ok, he got bored during the longer flights and there was a bit of pacing up and down the plane with him, there were some problems sleeping, and our agenda obviously had to be modified to suit our new family status. but for the most part he was a delight.

the first few days we stayed with our friends in Mainz, and they were super accommodating and hospitable, cooking us all sorts of tasty foods including chicken tikka massala with hand made naan bread, beef rouladen, pork with sauerkraut…

they also introduced us to Raclette, a Swiss treat.

Everyone at the table shares a large cooking element (pictured above) that cooks from top and bottom, and each person has their own small square cast iron cooking pan. Then like fondue you simply lay out a bunch of fresh ingredients like veggies, potatoes, and meats and everyone is free to combine any bizarre combination of ingredients in their personal cooking pan to create what they want. The only rule is cheese must cover the top, or so we were told 🙂

We also visited both the Mainz and Wiesbaden Christmas Markets during the first few days. The Christmas markets were something I was really looking forward to. Usually, but not always, the market takes over the pedestrian only square in the center of the old part of the city. They are always outdoors and consist of several stalls selling food, drink, and christmas related knickknacks.

The feel is delightfully more of tradition than mass consumerism. The smell as you enter is enticing – you have your staple foods like gingerbread and sausage (‘christmas’ sausage was available at Cologne’s main market – had bits of green apple and red onion in it).

Hot Chocolate

Then there’s your drinks – hot chocolate (pictured above, chocolate is on a stick and melted into steamed milk), punch, and glühwein. Glühwein is basically hot wine with spices added into it. I am not a wine drinker by any means, so my first mug was my last. I also tried Glühbier at Cologne’s harbour market. I’ll just say hot beer with spices in it must be an especially acquired taste…

koelsch

After a few days in Mainz we took a train to Cologne. Cologne is a favorite city of ours partly due to the local beer, Kölsch.(pictured above) From our previous trip we have a some great memories of pub hopping. Of course this trip was a little different with our little one along but I did get an evening to myself to go visit a few pubs and imbibe.

During the time in Cologne we noticed one day our son’s lips were red, and a quick look into his mouth, yes, two bottom teeth were breaking through! So maybe that explains the waking up several times a night – in addition to constantly being moved around and being in new surroundings with new people..

While there we also took the opportunity to visit several of Cologne’s Christmas markets. While the markets have a lot in common, regional differences allowed for different tasty snacking options when comparing Mainz vs Cologne vs Berlin.

Our last night in Cologne we tried to make it to the Haxehaus (pork knuckle is a favorite of ours) but alas, it was full. Luckily enough we got persuaded to come into a Argentinian steak house nearby and enjoyed a good meal, which our son slept through. Adult time at a nice restaurant was well appreciated!

dom

One of the last things we did was to visit the inside of the Cologne cathedral – or Dom. One of my favorite things about walking around Cologne is that feeling of being awestruck when you first see the Dom jutting into the skyline. Built over a period of several hundred years, it is a totally imposing structure that succeeds at making you feel small. It houses (supposedly) the bones of the three magi as well as other Catholic relics and is a worthwhile visit.

With our short trip to Cologne finished, we headed back on the train to Mainz to spend Christmas with our friends..

To be continued…

deep thoughts

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I think we’ve all heard Elmer Fudd reads Porno. It got me to thinking : What would Yosemite Sam sound like during an orgasm?

Just thinking out loud.

I’m still working on Germany stuff. My initial lead was to work for a friend’s company..but he may not be working for them much longer. So I have to attack this from another angle. I suppose I have the option to look at other locales in Germany in which to work..

Thinking about the options, we absolutely loved Cologne, so that option may stay open. Berlin seemed hyper interesting and is cheaper to live in, but doesn’t somehow appeal to me to work in. Munich and Frankfurt are quite expensive and likewise don’t appeal much to me from a working and living perspective.

Hamburg is somewhere I’ve never been but heard a lot of good feedback about. Bonn, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Dresden, Hannover, and Essen are other places that I haven’t been yet that interest me..but know very little about. Basically I’m looking to earn well, have a decent standard of living, have lots of options for sightseeing and things to do, a bit of local culture, good “IT” prospects..

In the process I have dusted off my 6 year old resume.. and after looking over the projects I’ve been involved with and the work I’ve done I feel more confident in getting a position somewhere.  The only issues are that Europe prefers to use the Curriculum Vitae format over the North American resume format, so I had to adapt to that.

The other issue is translating to German. Let me tell you, the job search field is ample opportunity to learn crazy new vocabulary! (gems like Lebenslauf,  Einstellungstest, Vorstellungsgespräch, Gehaltsvorstellungen). I think I will drop my CV first in English on German job search sites, and see what response I get..thankfully I have some super-smart and generous German Kontakte with whom to help me with the translation.

I also confirmed my mortgage DOES NOT have an option to delay payments a year, which is a setback, but I can work around that. I also need to see if there is an option to do a ‘trading places’ situation with another Hamburg resident.

My german class is likewise going well. At first I was worried going into a intermediate class that I would be in over my head.. but now I wish I had some more advanced classmates participating. There is some absolutely atrocious pronunciation going on, and the general level of confidence and vocabulary of my classmates to speak in German is lacking a lot. I will readily admit I’m far from ready to be dropped into German life at my current level, but mein Gott! A little competition between my classmates and I would motivate me a little more.

Wrote too much already! Will be back soon to write more!

Also, tschüß! (byebye!)

Möglichkeit/Gelegenheit (Possibility/Opportunity)

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When I stayed in Germany for two weeks in 2004, I was unemployed, had cash in the bank, and had no attachments that required my immediate return to Canada.

Also at that time, I was also going through a long, drawn out, dramatic end to a relationship, which acutely brought my homesickness and need for a little familiarity and comfort to bear.

So I went home.

When I went to Sweden this summer, my host in 2004 (Mats) asked me if I ever thought about staying longer, finding a job, living in Germany. At the time I didn’t have those things in mind.. but since then, I have definitely looked back and wondered, had things been different, what would have been?

Fast forward to the wedding two weeks ago, we discussed the subject again. Mats is now in a position where he could possibly offer me a position in Germany – his company has a branch office in Hamburg. I want to investigate this further, however my situation is quite different than before. I have a job, house, and wife that need to be factored into the investigation.

There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed before I go:

  • Can this job offer really happen?
  • Who takes care of my house while I’m gone?
  • How do I ensure I can return to my job in Canada?
  • Can my dog come to Germany? Should he come along?
  • How can I pay for both a mortgage in Canada and rent in Hamburg?
  • Will we be comfortable returning to living in shared accommodations?
  • What is the working visa process? How long can I stay? Can I leverage the fact I have relatives who immigrated from Germany?
  • What sort of visa or passport extension will Joanne need to stay the duration with me?
  • What will Joanne do in Germany? How will she adjust?
  • What in our plans will we have to put off to accommodate this change in our lives?
  • When would be a good time to move?
  • What will the required language skill level be? What will we need to do to bring our skills up and prove our proficiency?
  • Who will be able to come and visit? (thereby staving off that inevitable home sickness)

Thankfully I have time and good contacts to discuss these things with. Not to mention this is just a possibility, not a certainty.

Joanne’s friend recently said that we’ll never regret the decision to go, but we would probably always be left wondering about what could have been, in the event we don’t go. My boss added how I view the trip will most likely flavor the experience. I can tell you, I find it exciting.

Wenn es draußen ungemütlich wird..

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home ownership can bring a new shine to familiar activities. yard maintenance, installing general stuff, keeping everything clean and in it’s place, hosting events – they all seem to have become more enjoyable now that we have a place of our own to do them in or to.

one turd that can’t be polished, however, is shoveling snow.  the familiar backache and chill in my snow filled boots just didn’t get any more pleasurable. I am glad looking forward that the temperatures will be back above zero so I won’t have to experience it again for some time. on the other hand, the current weather does seem to build a certain amount of anticipation for hot sun and beach in january.

with the weather this cold and blustery, I don’t think I will be walking to german class tonight. In a previous blog I alluded to the fact I didn’t enjoy giving oral presentations in front of the class. Our previous assignment was to present a mock weather report for any german city of our choosing. I naively thought that was the last speaking assignment I would have up in front of the class. wrong.

this week our homework was to review corrections to our report by the teacher, and tonight, to present the corrected weather report from memory. not only that, but we’re supposed to get up and talk about the geography in a german region of our choosing this time as well. ugh. Being as I had by far the longest weather report you can be damn sure my report text will be ganz kurzer this time!

“In Nordrhein-Westfalen gibt es Flüsse, Wälde, und Hügel.  Ende. Danke.”

Wonder if that will get a passing mark.

it’s lonely in the saddle since the horse died?

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I find public speaking really difficult, and last night I had to do just that..but in German. And then we had to watch video of ourselves speaking after the fact. (!) Ok, only in front of a small class, but my god, it really made the case for being properly prepared.

I understand the point of the exercise –  to develop proficiency in a language you have to build the confidence to try, after which you make mistakes, learn, and adjust. No amount of book nosing will gain you the ability to properly speak a language, it takes SPEAKING to do that. Still, throughout the class I had that feeling I was the unprotected baby bird being pushed out of the nest way up high.  <Fly, fucker!>

Our teacher told us she found learning English really difficult and frustrating, and pow, just like that,  one day she found she could understand people. She had the feeling it is like that for most people learning a foreign language. I wish I had a larger readership to find out how much the case that is.

I had the impression it comes on painfully slowly. I can get farther into a conversation now before either party exhibits that telltale blank look and it becomes too painful to continue. I can understand chunks of weather reports, kids shows, and restaurant menus.  However, to watch a regular television show in German or try to fathom the content of a chat between two native speakers is still so far over my head, it makes we wonder if I’ve learned _anything_ so far.

“They” also say to be able to converse in a language you only need about 1000-1500 words. I think it’s the grammar part that messes with that (tenses, plurals, technical terms and slang anyone?). I can spout random words, but until I can put them together in the right spots, and use them properly – I can’t be understood.

I’m just saying it’s hard but I’m not about to give up.