Since our family is still affected by the dreaded Kurzarbeit (Germany’s solution to the recession provides an alternative to laying people off. They cut down on the amount of hours employees are supposed to be working and the Arbeitsamt makes up 2/3 of the difference in pay), we were not planning a vacation at all this year. I would have loved to go home for Pfingsten, which is two weeks this year, but flying six people to Detroit is not on the cards for now.
But after a couple of days of school holidays with four bored kids at home and a lot of rain, and a meeting with friends who had gotten a deal on a Ferienwohnung (vacation cottage) from a website called www.fewo-direkt.de, we decided to see if we could find anything affordable last minute. Since there are a lot of us, it isn’t easy to find a hotel or any sort of all-inclusive cheapy vacation anymore. We’d been to Greece and Spain a couple of times, but never vacationed in Germany. I was always afraid that a Ferienwohnung would not include much relaxing for me, because we still needed to cook and clean and pick up after everyone. But since my husband learned to cook before Olivia was born 3 years ago, my opinions have changed slightly. I can say that it isn’t exactly relaxing, but at least we got outta Dodge and are not at home!
We found an apartment with enough room for all of us that was still free for six nights for a remarkable €203 per week. It looked nice on the website and the ratings from previous customers were good, so I wrote the owner directly and reserved it for the week. It was all easy and informal. She wanted our address and that was it.
After a five hour drive and a few adventures with foreign objects in tires and car dealers beforehand, we made it to the Nordsee by 9pm on Friday night. Noah, who is almost two, slept from 5 to 6pm, so he was awake when we got near our home for the week. He was highly impressed with the number of cows in every field, saying “Cows, mehr cows” every 30 seconds. The scenery up here is very different from what I am used to in southern Germany. Somehow it reminds me of Northern Michigan. Everything is very flat and green. The cows have room to roam (no factory farms up here) and the houses are all brick, which is something you rarely see in the south. There is much more space and much less traffic.
The whole area along the sea here in the Jadebusen (Jade Estuary) is bordered by dikes. You can’t see the sea from the road, but you can smell it. The dikes are covered with grazing sheep of all shapes, colors and sizes. During ebb tide, you can walk through the Watt, which is something my daughter described to me when she went to Amrum last year with her school class, and I still didn’t understand until I saw it. In English, the Watt is called tidal flats or mud flats. The mudflat area around the Nordsee is called the Waddensee. The mud comes when the tide goes out and this is the perfect time for a Wattenwanderung, or as WIkipedia calls it, “the sport of mudflat hiking”.
It is most definitely a beautiful area, and so different from what I am used to that it feels like another country. People are taller and friendlier, in my experience, but the friendliness could also be due to us being in the middle of nowhere. We still found our Aldi, albeit Aldi-Nord, which I have to say was not as well-stocked as Aldi-Süd, especially in the Bio department. There is lots of fresh fish available and the sea is supposed to be good for people with allergies and bronchitis, which I do appreciate.
But back to the Ferienwohnung idea. I am really enjoying the whole concept. Of course I am still cooking and chasing kids and doing the usual things I do at home, but it feels like I am playing house in someone else’s place. The kitchen is pretty well stocked with equipment, but it isn’t easy to cook without your pantry. We didn’t think about things like salad dressing (no vinegar) or not having a supply of onions or garlic. But a couple of trips to Aldi and the local markets solved that problem. The only thing we have to figure out now is how to eat it all or try to cram it back into our overloaded station wagon for the trip home (think 4 kids, two of who are in car seats, suncream, a small stroller, clothes for 6 days and 2 pre-teen girls and you get what I mean.) One kid had to sit with her knees almost up to her ears so that we could fit the cooler in. Olivia complained for the whole last hour, not about “Are we there yet?”, but about the “Tüte, die mich ärgert!”. Sorry, darling, there is NO where else to put that bag that is annoying you! I can say one thing though, I am no longer entertaining thoughts of a Ferienwohnung in Spain, which entails a 14+ hour drive, at this point. Five hours was just enough, even with iPods and sleeping babies. Fourteen would rob me of my sanity. Happy Pfingstferien!