tally-ho

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so we arrived back in Mainz. after the bit of travelling in Cologne we took the Christmas time easy and lazy, visited, exchanged gifts, had some delicious meals, went to church as I mentioned, and watched the movie Die Feuerzangenbowle.

Feuerzangenbowle itself is actually a holiday tradition where a bowl of punch or spiced wine is set out, and a lump of sugar over top the bowl is soaked with high proof rum. The sugar is lit on fire and thus melts into the punchbowl. The movie is quite cute, shot during WWII in Europe. It’s kind of a Billy Madison story, where a doctor goes back in time to experience school day pranks he missed out on because he was home schooled. Filming of the movie was drawn out in order to save the actors from going to the front lines to aid the German war effort.

On boxing day we got on a plane for Berlin. when we arrived I had a bit of trouble getting a cab with a baby seat, but with luck there were a couple other parents in the same situation who were from Berlin, so they called us a cab and we were on our way! as we drove to our hotel it started to sink in where we were, just how much history and change the city has gone through over it’s 775 years. our hotel was terrific, centrally located, very reasonable rates, and had everything we needed – dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, fridge, stove, oven. absolutely perfect for our small family.

over the next few days we tackled the subway system and started to figure our way around. at some point both zippers on my jacket broke and I bought a cheap replacement at H&M for 25 Euro. My wife became a fan of the Ampelmännchen – a traffic light figure only found in East Berlin. She even made up an Ampelmann song at one point.

this trip we didn’t lug a big camera and gear along, we just brought our iPhones. in addition to always having a camera on-hand, we were able to very quickly share photos from our trip with people back home, which was pretty cool.

Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market Berlin

Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market Berlin

We also got out to enjoy the berlin sea life center and aquadome (world’s largest cylindrical aquarium), the berlin zoo, yet another christmas market, checkpoint charlie, and madam tussaud’s wax museum. I have always had reservations about going to tussaud’s (find it a little creepy) but we had a blast there! it is so touristy to take goofy posed pictures with wax celebrities but fun nonetheless.

At Madam Tussauds in Berlin

At Madam Tussauds in Berlin

throughout our excursions our son was strapped to me (as pictured above) or my wife with a ergobaby baby carrier. though we might end the days a little sore, having him travel in such a way that we could have our hands free, where he was warm and cozy and often lulled to sleep by the movement, and not needing to lug a stroller with us was amazing. we did bring an umbrella stroller along but  honestly it could have stayed at home.

at the end of our three days in berlin we both were in agreement we could have stayed longer. as the taxi driver taking us back to the airport confirmed – “I have lived in Berlin 15 years and don’t imagine I have begun to see and know of all the things to do here”. Berlin is a city that will draw us back without a doubt.

As we reached security at the airport for our flight to Stockholm, Sweden, the security agent asked if we were all set to enjoy our new year’s eve in Paris. I answered that we were headed to Stockholm, not Paris. “Paris would be a lot more fun though, no?”

I guess I will have to do more traveling and find out for myself 🙂

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!)

A chip off the ol’ journal

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Jan 19th, 2011

The first thing I remember is what a great mood everyone was in on the bus, as we rode from the airport to the property. Everyone had a good laugh over the confusion between the locally known MAMAjuana which the bus driver was trying to recommend to us, and the more internationally known marijuana.


As we reached the resort there was a crush of people trying to get checked in and that process was pretty slow and laborious. We handed out room directories as everyone checked in, so we could keep track of  room numbers. As we started to check-in, the receptionist stopped the process and forwarded us to the Royal Service VIP salon for check-in. As we were getting ushered away we told everyone to meet at the Marketplace buffet for dinner .

We weren’t sure what was going on because we hadn’t paid for Royal Service. Still, we went along with the process happily, and the concierge took us and our luggage via golf cart to our ridiculously upgraded room. After review of the overly awesome room, we thought there may have been a mistake and called the front desk to make sure we wouldn’t get billed big time for the upgrade. We were told it was ‘gratis’ (free!) because we were getting married there!


We had a bit of trouble navigating the resort but eventually found the Marketplace (a bit late). Most had eaten already and were working on second or third or fourth batch of drinks. Brent appeared to be getting a initiation from Dan that involved a lot of heavy drinking of everything in twos. After a drink or two and listening to the cover band, we decided to take the train to the beach.

As we rode the train past the Marketplace, the band started into a rendition of ‘Hey Jude’.  Our group was in the mood to join in, so queue much singing from the back of the train where we were located – and we sang nearly all the way to the beach. I actually heard people in the resort humming Hey Jude the next day!

A bar was just getting set up on the beach, so as we waited for that to be ready the group took pictures and enjoyed a walk on the beach in the full moon. I remember marveling at how 10 hours and 3000 kilometers changed things.

A few of the group came back to our suite after the beach to check it out. While the ladies discussed the changes of marriage and family life on the balcony, the guys discussed the resort, the security business, and got a complaint lodged against us by the next room. Apparently we made a bit too much noise and frightened the lady next door when we jiggled the knob on the adjoining door between suites. Whoops!

Shortly after everyone left our suite, we had a surprise call from Mats, who wasn’t supposed to be checking in until the next day (that one extra night cost him a pretty sum, too). I was pretty full of booze and tired to boot at that point – I’m sure I asked him about 5 times what room number they were in. In any case I managed to relay that we should meet at the marketplace for breakfast the next morning.

(to be continued…)

the internet is for bunga bunga

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there is an east indian and karachi restaurant on 8th street I frequent called Spicy Bite.. they do lunch and dinner buffet as well as menu offerings. they have a honeyed saffroned almonded rice pudding there that kicks ass. I would recommend the restaurant if you’re:

  • in toontown
  • looking for something different than the usual
  • ok with a bit of spicy

I called the german consulate this week… Germany is stereotypically bureaucratic, and struggling with a multitude of EU non-native workers as it is. I expected there to be a lot more hassle and paperwork required to be able to live & work there as a Canadian.. but it doesn’t seem that big a deal based on what I was told. I also found a couple full-immersion type German courses in Hamburg, that place you with a host family. These type of courses would be very intensive and helpful, I may follow up on them regardless of what happens.

my fellow studenten at the german class made and signed a congratulatory wedding card for us, and my boss has scheduled a cake and coffee thing for me at the staff meeting next week. I don’t think I’ve been congratulated so much in my life.

and the pictures did turn out great.. besides the 250+ amateur shots from our guests, at least 10% of the professional shots (of over 1000) are being considered for prints. It’s going to be difficult to narrow it down. I think we will want a big framed picture for the wall in the house, some for our scrapbook,  and some for the guest book we plan to have this summer at our reception.

next entry I think I will blog our travel diary. it will probably job my memory and yours a bit on the week that happened (what seems) so long ago.

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.

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