Before Hyde sends me a message to “gently” remind me that my blog post is due today, I figured that I should get something up here. It isn’t my preferred style to just throw something up here, half-baked or half-thought through, but I realised that I’m on the “verge” of everything that is a hot topic right now: refugees, Karneval and the American election. Regarding the election back home, I’m not touching that one just yet. Otherwise politically engaged, I find myself wanting to plug my ears while screaming, “Make it stop!!”
Representing Miss Identified at Karneval in Düsseldorf 2016 PHOTO: Jane Park
I did talk about the refugee situation last year and how I was trying to find my way towards helping beyond donating winter coats and towels. Here I am on the verge. I’ll be meeting with the mentor coordinator of our neighborhood charity for refugees next week who will introduce me to my mentee and the person I will be sharing the Patenschaft or mentorship with. I am excited to be able to write about this experience in a future post. But I can’t just yet.
And the last topic is Karneval. My wallet is sticky from sampling Berliners at the bakery today, and I’ve already procured a bat costume, dug out a Wonder Woman costume snagged on sale two years ago, and researched and ordered a mermaid costume for my three kids. My younger adult self always wanted to celebrate the fifth season just as I wanted to check off Oktoberfest, the spas in Baden-Baden, and visiting the Beethoven House from my “while living in Germany” bucket list. (You might be scratching your head about the Beethoven House but it is just that I was thwarted twice from getting inside in the course of ten years which has only made me more determined.) My husband, my assumed partner in crime, has never been a big Karneval fan despite having grown up in the Rheinland. His extent of participating is to just remember to wear an icky tie on Weiberfastnacht. So I have never participated in Karneval in any vague sense of the word. (In Germany that is.) Continue reading →
It seems that every year, as I am doing the last minute prepping for our upcoming move back to Europe (Hamburg, Germany this time around), I get that same sad, longing feeling. Over the years of my on-again-off-again expat life, I have grown ever more fond of my home country, Canada, making leaving it each summer for the next hockey season, harder and harder. This is not to say that I am not also in love with life in Germany and Switzerland, but more so that being an expat has really made me appreciate being Canadian.
For most of my first year in Germany I didn’t drive. I come from a small Canadian city with no major highways, and so the thought of the autobahn seriously freaked me out. I was, and remain, very surprised at how easy it was for my husband to simply turn in his Canadian license for a German one (which appears never to expire), to be handed a company car, and to then just be on his way.
Sure, GPS is a miracle for those of us who need to navigate to work that first day, or to the nearest food market for the first time, but such technology has yet to explain to me what the yellow diamond sign means, what the white squiggly line on the road means, and what I am supposed to do when someone is riding a horse in front of me. Many expats, like my husband, cope with various expat situations, like driving, by relying on observation, common sense, and hoping for the best. I offer a cautionary tale however, of common sense, and how it may not always be your most reliable guide.
I would say I learned the hard way, that attitudes regarding alcohol are quite different in Germany than in Canada. As a twenty-something living in Düsseldorf, (home to the world’s longest bar top if all were placed one after the other, as the legend goes) I very much enjoyed the nightlife. It wasn’t the easiest adjustment however, from Canadian clubs and bars to European-style discos and pubs. Where I am from all local watering holes, nightclubs, restaurants etc., must close by 2:00 am, by law. So my first night out on the town in Düsseldorf’s pub-filled Altstadt, I was not prepared for the long night ahead of me. I was caught up in the dancing and cheering, the Ballerman-style music, and in the sea of decadent dark Altbier. Every now and again I would stop and ponder though, how amazing it was that it wasn’t yet 2:00 am. Really though, 2:00 am had come and gone, and by the time the chairs were being put up on the tables, the sun was out. Lesson learned.
The first time I had ever heard of “Swiss German” was when I was preparing to move from Düsseldorf, Germany to Rapperswil, Switzerland. My German neighbors had me over for a farewell barbecue and they said to me: “Whatever you do, don’t come back and visit us speaking that Swiss German.” I was aware that the Germans had a somewhat love/hate relationship with their southern neighbors, but I had no idea the Swiss spoke some different form of their common language. In fact, I was quite confident with the German that I had picked up over my three years in Düsseldorf, and I figured it would be quite an easy transition from one country to the other. I was wrong.
Tess the spaniel with Willy Wonka and Bean PHOTO: JessicaL
Kaiserswerth, Germany, a small village just outside of Düsseldorf, is a dog haven.There are vast green farmers’ fields for miles, very little traffic, and the shore of the Rhine offers many interesting things to smell and discover. Dogs in Kaiserswerth are always off-leash. They never bark. They greet each other so politely, you expect them to shake paws. They sit silently under tables in restaurants and cafes, and stand calmly as children pat them. They even wait at pedestrian lights as dutifully as the Germans themselves.
Enter my seven-year-old cocker spaniel, the former stray, Tess. Tess really doesn’t like other dogs. Tess barked at kids. Tess never sat still.
Tess, relaxing under the restaurant table like a pro. PHOTO: JessicaL
I first moved to Kaiserswerth in 2007 with my then very-new-boyfriend, and my dog. On one of my first outings in this new land I was floored at the sight of a golden retriever lying ever so comfortably under a table at a neighbourhood pub. Continue reading →