Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Surviving my first year in Germany.

Well. Today is my 365th day in Germany. The past year can only be described as a rollercoaster. There was the fun in getting here, finding an apartment, settling into said apartment. Then there was the 3 month hassle of plumbing issues with said apartment.

And though it’s been a rollercoaster ride and at times it felt like those fun stand up ones and others one that takes you thru the loops backwards, I don’t regret my decision to upheave my Vancouver life for the lands of Bavaria one bit.

Things I’m glad I enjoyed

- My dog having the time of her life living in Germany. Seriously. It’s like doggy paradise. She gets to go everywhere from restaurants to electronic shopping. Watching her adjust to being a German city dog has entertained me for hours on end. After a year, she’s even figured out that the automatic escalator is not akin to the gas chamber!

- Having an amazing, and I mean AMAZING social circle. In a year’s time, I have no shortage of friends or social activities to choose from. Without them, I’d be curled up into a ball under my bed afraid to expose myself to the big bad german world

- Exploring anything within 500km of me. Coming from Canada, where if you drive 500km, you’re still in the same province, I enjoy the fact that if I drive 500km East, West or South I can be in several different countries. And by several, it’s probably like 8 or 9.

- I have the BEST and I mean best hairdresser. I’ve never loved my hair so much. And to think, it’s only taken me 38 and 11/12 years! (it’s the small things we have to appreciate)

Things that have pushed me to the edge

- German bureaucracy. Seriously. I don’t know where this country got the myth of efficiency, but it couldn't be further from the truth.

- The Franconian mentality. I live in a part of Bavaria that’s called Franconia. The best I can surmise it is a region that wanted to be it’s own region, but instead is part of another. In Canada, the closest we have is Quebec. They don’t want to be part of Canada, but grudgingly accept it. Franconia is like that, except 1/100th of the size and they (arguably) speak the same language. Even Germans call the Franconians cold and unfriendly. Most of my neighbors appear to be from Franconia because

- As an auslander (foreigner), I MUST be responsible for all of what’s wrong in Germany. And I’m lucky. At least I’m not a visible minority! And as long as I don’t open my mouth, I could be from around here. But as the only auslander in my building, I’m responsible for all that goes wrong. Storage locker break in and bike stolen? It must somehow lead back to me. Animal waste in the garden? Again, my fault (well, at least my dog’s, I like indoor plumbing too much). Those 5 cats that troll the garden? They’re franconian and would NEVER shit in the garden.

- “not my fault, not my problem, not my job” seriously. If there was ever a motto for Germany, it would be that. It’s amazing the deflection and shirking of responsibility that happens around here. I never considered myself a die hard capitalist, but I’m convinced this attitude is a remnant of socialism.

So, after a year can I say I “like” living in Germany? That’s a loaded question. I like 6 weeks vacation, I like living in Europe, I like that I can almost add a 4th language to my repertoire, I like my friends and I love that I can buy a bottle of prosecco for 1 euro. However, I despise the shirking of responsibility, the figuring out which hoops to jump thru (which, even if you know the language is a hassle), being verbally assaulted by people’s opinions because they’re having a bad day and even though you understand 90% of what they say, there’s no way you can verbalize a sarcastic, witty response back. I’m starting to learn there’s a REASON prosecco is 1 euro a bottle (because it helps after a bad day and considering the amount of bad days….)

A year ago, people would ask me “so, how long do you plan to stay in german” and my standard response was “well, indefinitely!”. After each month that passes, I now find myself saying “well, who knows, there are other places I’d like to try living and the sooner, the better!”

Even though the past year has been far tougher than I could ever bargain for, it’s given me a lot to be thankful for. Like the fact that I have a much tougher skin. A few weeks ago someone called me “a bloody cow” for daring to open my car door on the street. I smiled at them, gave them the finger and went on my merry way while they steamed off.

A friend of mine inspired me this morning and wrote me an email saying how she just listened to the Christina Aguilera song “fighter” and if she replaced one of the words to Germany, it was a perfect analogy. I completely concur. So thank you Germany.

'Cause GERMANY makes me that much stronger

Makes me work a little bit harder

GERMANY makes me that much wiser

So thanks for making me a fighter

Made me learn a little bit faster

Made my skin a little bit thicker

Makes me that much smarter

So thanks, GERMANY, for making me a fighter

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When the transit system is called “vag” the possibilities are endless…

A van with instructions to "service vag"

Nurnberg has a reasonably good transportation system. There are trams, subways and buses to zip you all around the city. The system is called VAG. I didn’t think anything about it until a friend said it out loud. Like all good things, I like to have fun with it. My dearest friend B and I would exchange texts whenever one of us was on the vag. Highlights include:

“there’s a crazy man riding the vag today”

“the vag is hot and sweaty today”

“the vag is difficult to operate”

As you can imagine, the possibilities are really endless. I really think they should hire me to help them with their ad campaigns. For instance, for the nightliner bus, I might use “no matter how much you’ve had to drink, the vag goes all night long” or “after your night at the bar, ride in the comfort of the vag”.

Obviously English speakers find the double meaning hilarious, but what’s unintentionally hysterical is that ‘v’ in german is actually pronounced like ‘f’ which means it’s pronounced “fag” in German and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities!

The vag website (vag.de) even has a merchandise shop available where they have a t-shirt that with a print that says “Ich Liebe Vag” (I love vag) unfortunately, they only have children’s sizes.

The best part is now, that I’ve shared my vag jokes and stories, more friends are getting into it! Just the other day, one of my girlfriends took a photo of a “vag service” van with a guy smoking. (Once you service the vag, you need a cigarette) It adds humor to an otherwise grey and dull day where humour is low. So thank you B & C (you can arm wrestle in Portland as to who came up with “vag” first) for introducing me to the vag. I promise, I’ll make you proud and keep the vag flame burning!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Camels and Christmas Markets

The firepit and quaintness of the medieval market
Last month, the mothership landed for a 3 week visit. One of the many places we went was to a Christmas market. Well, by the end of 3 weeks, it would up being like 15 christmas markets.

One of the first Christmas markets we went to was a medieval one at a castle. Only things that were historically relevant were sold. So basically, you could buy pelts and chainmail outfits. I have to say though, it was quite quaint. There were little firepits to keep warm, handmade candy, large chunks of meat grilled on a stick and flute music. Oh, and camels.

Where the camels come in, I’m not quite sure. Last time I saw a camel it was in Israel and that seemed reasonably appropriate since it was near a desert. What camels were doing at a Christmas market in Germany is beyond me, but there they were! And for a few euros a ride, you could ride one. Because I grew up as a city girl, I’m greatly fascinated by animals. So I just had to ride a camel! The first time I met a camel, I found him rather stinky and the second time confirmed it. He was rather warm beneath my thighs though (god, that sounds so dirty…)

My ride!
After my ride, I posed for a photo op with said camel. My mom wasn’t as excited by the camel as I was and she certainly wasn’t up for riding one. Nonetheless, I got her to pose with one. Now, when I posed with the camel, I got all up next to him and hugged him. My mom wasn’t feeling it. She had heard all about how camels spit so she didn’t trust him one bit. I should also mention she’s hesitant to approach the camel because he well… just urinated and missed her feet by inches. Nonetheless, I’m egging her on to approach the camel for a photo op. She’s cautiously approaching him when I realize that the entire area where we’re standing has just turned into a medieval German theatre production complete with actors and lights. And at that exact moment, I snap the picture. And what a picture it is. After taking the picture, I realize that my mom and the camel are giving each other what can only be described as the BEST side eye! The way they appear to both be sizing each other up is just priceless.

My ride and I (note the smile on both of our faces...)

The Mothership, on stage, side eyeing the camel (complete with cigarette in hand and camel onlooker!)

Monday, January 02, 2012

The fireworks war zone

Happy New Year!  This past month has been a flurry of activity. The mothership landed for a 3 week visit and I was busy whisking her around to Paris, Austria and Prague. I definitely have a backload of stories, but first, my story of how I brought in 2012!

I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s eve. All those hopped up expectations of the year ahead, overpriced drinks, too much drunkenness and Auld Lang Syne. Seriously. Is there a more depressing song? I blame that song and too much alcohol for almost always crying on new years eve (what? I’m a girl. It’s what we do)

So this year, when trying to firm up New Year’s eve plans, I wanted to avoid anything that would involve that atrocious song with the atrocious lyrics of “let old friends be forgot”, smoochy couples and anything that would remind me of how could life “can” be if you live somewhere normal. So I went to Berlin with my (only) single girlfriend.

All I knew about New Year’s eve in Berlin is that it’s big. As in biggest party in Europe big. I’m not a fan of clubs on New Years eve and I’m even less of a fan of crowds. But I didn’t have any expectations. If living in Germany for the past year has taught me anything, it’s to roll with the punches (preferably repeatedly)

The celebration in Berlin gathers around the Brandenburg gate. One of the gates that separated East Berlin from the West during the Cold War. It then extends a couple of kilometers in what’s called the “party mile” C and I went early on New Year’s eve to figure out the best strategy of how to approach said mile. We thought we had a solid plan but it involved walking, a subway, a massively confusing transfer at the Berlin main train station, another train and another subway (all this and the distance was only 2km from our hotel) So we decided to walk there from our hotel. However, our plans were thwarted since we couldn’t access any of the entrance gates from our side of Berlin. So we improvised.

We ended up at what’s normally a little cafe. They hired a dj and were selling inexpensive prosecco. How can you go wrong?

Coming from Canada, the land of over alcohol regulation, I’m constantly amazed at the fact that public drinking is not only not frowned upon but totally ok and expected. I’m learning that at any such large festivities, bars , restaurants and cafes have drinks/alcohol you can buy “to go”. Also, I’m familiar with the New Year’s tradition of launching fireworks. Though “safety first” is not exactly my middle name, I feel like the excessive public drinking, fireworks and confined spaces is not a good combination. Call me crazy.

At the risk of sounding offensive, I honestly felt like I was in a war zone. There was shrapnel everywhere and the noise was amazingly loud. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d be inclined to think I was reincarnated from a soldier killed in battle, I was that petrified/paranoid of the close proximity to the fireworks. I was convinced I was going to get one in the eye or a lit one land on my head (and since it’s taken me 38 years to learn to like my hair, I didn’t want to risk a Michael Jackson-Pepsi commercial incident).

Thankfully, there were plenty of souvenirs selling hats. Because subtlety and I aren’t acquainted, I went for the most suitable option: a metal replica army helmet. Excessive to some, yes, but, it was perfect for the task at hand. In more ways than one.

Did people laugh at me? Hell yeah. Was I protected against fire and shrapnel? An even bigger hell yeah! There were a few things I wasn’t prepared for though with my choice of headwear. The annoyingly loud noise of people knocking on my helmet and the fact it could be considered a weapon.

At one point in the evening, a man in the crowded cafe made a beeline for me and said “I love your hat! It brings back such memories, I’m a fighter!” me “a fighter? A fighter of what” him “A Libyan freedom fighter” and then he attempted to kiss me on the lips. And knocked his head on the metal brim of my protective headwear. Helmet bonus points: keeping strange men from kissing you on the lips unexpectedly.

I quickly learned that the metal brim of my headwear was coming in handy. Though I seemed to miss the actual bell of midnight (there was no countdown and fireworks had been going all night) I realized it was midnight when random people came up to kiss me. Or rather, try to kiss me. I’m pretty sure there are a dozen people out there with a cut across the brim of their nose from the metal edge of my headwear. What? Celebrate 2012 with a bang and a few scars I say!

Looking back, the complete disregard for safety of the fireworks shouldn’t have surprised me. Sure, it’s taboo to jay walk, but driving on the autobahn 200+ km/h is fine. But I was honestly in awe of the absolute shit show the streets were. I mean you have more than two million people crowded in the streets of Berlin and the things were going off every meter. On sidewalks, streets, top of cars, you name it. Usually they were launched out of bottles. So that’s an extra safety feature, flying glass on top of rockets. Also, what’s ironic is that given the surroundings, you’d think that people would be a little sensitive to noises that pretty much simulates bombs. Yeah I know the war ended more than a half century ago, but the fact that bombs likely landed within meters of the celebrations wasn’t lost on me. Thankfully, I felt safe in my headwear.