Category Archives: December 2011

These Things Can Only Happen Here

When I went to the gym today, it occurred to me that I’ve had a few extra things to smile about lately because of Germany. It all started with a “Don’t Hassle the Hoff” t-shirt I spotted on another woman who was working out. Although he still has some devoted fans here, most Germans roll their eyes if asked about their country’s brief fling with David Hasselhoff around the time the Berlin Wall came down. Now I don’t want to pile on the mean remarks about him because he actually seems to be a good sport about his public persona. And, I’m not going to run out and buy the t-shirt but, Hoff, here’s a salute to your enduring fame, prost!

My thoughts then wandered to a something that had to be seen to be believed. When I picked up Jack from his Kindergarten the other day I saw two boys in one of the playrooms, busily working with a saw, and sledge hammer with nails. No, not toys, the real thing all scaled down to child-size. Mind you, German Kindergarten is from age 3-6. These 3 and 4 year old boys looked like Santa’s busiest elves as they sawed wood and pounded nails into it. No adult was nervously hovering over their work or offering advice. In fact, the teacher was on the other side of the room, working on a craft project. To Germans, this is nothing unusual but in America this is unbelievable that dangerous tools would be in a classroom. Rather than being alarmed by it, I actually think it’s great they let kids do interesting things and parents aren’t threatening lawsuits. It was also nice to see that all their little fingers weren’t sawed off.

Speaking of the Kindergarten, it’s old news that Jack is fluent in German. He corrects my German often. But, he is also speaking quite a bit of Korean and, now also Italian. This is because two of his best friends arrived from their home countries without a word of German in their heads, much like Jack when he started Kindergarten. So, he takes it upon himself to show the new kids the ropes. In return, my little Renaissance man is learning their languages and shouting things like “molto bene” from the bathtub. It’s hard to keep up with him though and I’m pretty sure the lessons begin with “let’s play” and move along to identifying all the terms for the butt.

And that is a perfect segue to a current issue I have at the Kindergarten. One morning at drop-off, I felt a smack on my rear end. I turned to see the culprit who is one of Jack’s buddies. We all got a good laugh at it. Then another morning, I felt it again. I turned around and it was the same little imp laughing and pointing at me. Amusing. But, since then, he’s done it at least a dozen more times. Now I just want revenge. But, it’s actually quite difficult to think of creative yet harmless payback to a 5-year-old. If you think of something, let me know.

Food has been another delight, living here in Germany. No, I’m not a big fan of schnitzel and spƤtzle. It’s other specialties from the Expat community that now seem commonplace, such as, every school party has homemade sushi. It all looks very professional and tastes amazing. I also look forward to things like homemade anzac cookies from the Australians. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for one of my favorite foods, peanut butter. Several of Nora’s friends from other countries have asked to try it at our house. The taste-testing usually goes like this: excitement, take a bite, surprise, revulsion, then I pass a napkin over and they spit it out.


7 Fishes and a Silvester

During the Christmas break from school, most Expat families go home, go skiing, or someplace warm. But, this year is different for us in that we are staying in Germany for the holidays. 6 of my friends have also decided to stay here so our parties are planned for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Our friend Maria is hosting the crew Christmas Eve with a Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, something I’ve never heard of but is traditional in her home. Maria comes from the part of America where the fictional Sopranos lived. Just ask her to say “coffee” and “tournament” and you will adore her.

I volunteered to host New Year’s Eve and am wondering if we should just roll up the carpets and paint Delta Tau Chi on the outside. There will be 18 adults (including some grandparents) and 12 children and lots of fireworks. New Year’s Eve, known as “Silvester” in Germany, is a huge celebration here. It is the only day of the year where fireworks are allowed, technically only from midnight to 1:00am. But, when we were here two years ago, the fireworks continued until past 2:00am. Our friend Charlene’s house provided a great view of the enormous glow stretching across Frankfurt.

Another memorable moment from that New Year’s included the craziest Jack Russell Terrior I’ve ever seen. He lives across the street from Charlene and around the corner from us. We started shooting off fireworks in the street around 9 pm, thinking the children would all fall asleep before midnight. Naturally, they all stayed up the whole night. Anyway, out comes an angry lady and her Jack Russell. She pointed out we were breaking the rules by shooting off fireworks before midnight. We did our best to politely ignore her but she and her dog wouldn’t hear of it. The dog started attacking the fireworks as soon as they were lit. Then, when he chomped down and ran away with one of those loud, glowing, spinning ones, the lady shrieked but somehow the Jack Russell survived the explosion intact. And now he has moved on to bigger things. Last Spring, he killed a baby deer in another neighbors garden. I love dogs but this one just might have an M80 with his name on it.

Keeping the Magic

As I type, there is a shoe laid out for each one of us near the fireplace, awaiting tonight’s arrival of Sankt Nikolaus, according to Jack, and Sinter Klaus, according to Nora. There are also cookies, apple slices, and a shotglass full of milk (Nora’s touch.) And, there is one more thing….an elaborately gift-wrapped cactus. It has been Nora’s cactus and he is named Freddy. Nora’s note to Sinter Klaus comes complete with cactus care instructions and a plea at the end to “please keep Freddy!”

And, so it goes, yet another challenge this year to keep the spirit of Christmas alive with an ever-inquisitive, maturing 8 year old. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do about this cactus. I have visions of running down the street at midnight tonight, chucking it into a neighbor’s garbage bin, and likely setting off someone’s alarm system. I HAVE actually set off a neighbor’s alarm here before, while they were on holiday no less. Maybe I’ll tell that story some other time.

We are staying in Germany for Christmas this year which is far easier to handle than going back to America, which we did last year. I have presents hidden all over this house, camouflaged to fool little detectives. Letters to Santa are written and posted. Nora has high hopes for an American Girl doll and Jack wants a Harry Potter wand “that really works.” He already has a Harry Potter wand which he sleeps with along with a Nerf gun, and 3 swords. And, his bunny, of course.

Nora is right at that age where the magic could disappear in an instant and I want to delay that as long as possible. She is suspicious because the tooth fairy forgot one time. And, she notices that Santa’s gifts all come with brand names like The Gap, Apple, and Disney. “Does Santa just go around stealing this stuff from stores?” she recently asked me. So then I launched into an impromptu explanation about how Santa and the elves have an extensive network of toy-making partners and now that Steve Jobs is dead he’ll ride around with Santa in his sleigh. Is that so wrong?

Anyway, that is a much better image of Santa than I got the other day while at the shopping mall, Main Taunus Zentrum. I was hurrying from the parking garage, trying to squeeze in 3 errands in 30 minutes, when I saw him, Methadone Santa. His frame was gaunt, no jolly belly under the red and white suit. A long grey ponytail hung out from under his white wig. He hung close to the wall, taking slow, ambling steps, stopping on occasion. I slowed down and tried to make eye contact but he looked away quickly. He was clutching something in his arms and I looked closer–and what before my wondering eyes should appear? A brochure for large kitchen knives. Naturally. Then he scurried away to who knows where and I remain forever haunted.

Keeping the Magic (Part Deux)

Every morning for the last several, I’ve listened for the rain before I opened my eyes. The sound is still there, day after day. Someone, somewhere in Germany must be building an Ark.

But this past weekend, I was determined to make it festive no matter what the weather. Gary was in the midst of an India-Singapore business trip but I had the weekend nicely packed with activities: Our village Christmas market one day and a backwoods Christmas tree-cutting party the next. I love Christmas here in Germany and couldn’t wait to get started.

On Saturday, we mucked our way down into the village and made our way along the rather lonely wooden vendor booths. The rain was relentless but Jack still wanted to ride on the carousel. He was the only one on there and Nora and I had to stand a few feet away so we weren’t splashed by the turning wheel on top. Somehow we made a couple hours of it at the market and slopped our way home.

That night I attended a beautiful good-bye dinner for my friend Donna and her husband Wes who are returning to Australia. It was a great evening but since I will miss my friend dearly and the rain still didn’t cease, a little melancholy set in by the time I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of rain but I was set on making it a good day. A recruiting company that Gary uses here in Frankfurt was hosting a Christmas party in the woods. Now that may sound awful but, from experience, I know that if Germans are going to host a party in the woods, it’s going to be good.

We were going to be in a higher altitude so I packed all the cold and wet weather gear I could find and the three of us took off. And, I drove and drove, higher and higher until we reached a tiny, ancient half-timber village. I parked the car and someone pointed us in the right direction. So, we walked and walked up the mountain (old mountains like Virginia and West Virginia) and it rained and rained. Then it started raining sideways and I had to move the umbrella to brace against it. In my head I was chanting, why oh why do I do these things? I hate breaking a commitment and I know that Germans take it even more to heart. So we trudged on, at least 2 kilometers. Then, finally, an oasis. Someone was belting out “Tequila Sunrise” from a karaoke machine and we entered a paradise in the forest.

An Old World Santa strolled the grounds with a sack full of goodies in one hand and a rute in the other. The rute is a small branch from a tree or bush and is used on the naughty ones. This is Germany, after all. Fortunately, this Santa was all good cheer. Unfortunately it was expected that we were all supposed to saw down our own Christmas tree. But the Polish gentlemen bundling the trees took pity on me and sawed ours down. After bratwursts, gluewein (for me), and lots of cookies, we roasted bread over an open fire. It was basically a croissant on a stick and really good. And, the Karaoke rolled on.

As we started walking down the road back to the car, a fog rolled in and it started getting dark. No one else was around and, by the way, it was still raining. A few minutes into our trek, the world’s oldest VW Golf pulled up beside us. It was the Polish guys who helped with our tree (which was waiting at the bottom of the hill/mountain). We piled in the car and shortly later picked up another guest making his way down. Then we got really lost, taking a wrong turn or two. I hope they don’t regret picking us up!!

When we finally reached our cars, the other hitchhiker helped me stuff our tree into the car. In his seat, Jack was overcome by the tree but I put a blanket on him and plied him with some chocolate. On the drive home, Nora declared this “the best weekend ever” and I nearly drove off the road in shock. I’m glad to have made the effort and, finally today, it stopped raining and started snowing. Then the sun came out.