Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen, Germany!

Today is my last day in Germany. Appropriately, it is raining -- but I did have some beautiful warm fall weather during my 2.5 week stay. I'll be sad to leave, especially since I don't get to see my parents and siblings very often, but I'm also happy to be heading back to Alaska. I miss my husband and kids, and even the cold (they have 5" of snow already).

I'm going to miss speaking German.
I'll miss the food, especially breads and cakes (but I'll be eating healthier at home).
I won't miss the crowds of people.
I'll miss the cultural opportunities, especially classical music.
I won't miss German toilets.
I'll miss hearing the large variety of dialects and languages spoken.
I won't miss how little space there is here: streets, parking spots, kitchens, etc.
I'll miss how environmentally conscious the typical German is; at least compared to the average Americans.
I'll miss the fact that one can get most anywhere by public transport or bicycle.
I'll miss the food (I already said that), and the wine and beer!

Most of all, I will miss my German family!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Where the witches dance

Every morning here in Germany I head into the forest behind my parents' home and take a brisk walk. I love being alone in the woods, inhaling the scent of decaying fall foliage, (as opposed to the car exhausts on the streets and Autobahn) . As I walk/jog along, I pass several old bomb craters from WW2 and remains of old bunkers, a reminder of the many battles fought along the German-French border.

There are lots of different paths in these woods, but they all lead to a clearing called the "Hexentanzplatz" (where the witches dance), which also features an old stone monument from the time of the Romans. I' m amazed at all the history I'm surrounded by -- every piece of ground here has been inhabited, and probably fought over, for thousands of years.
An American who lives here told me this story: A German was telling her about a building that was very old, bragging "This is older than your country!". She jokingly retorted something along the line of "What if I don't care?". The German responded with "See, that right there is the problem with you Americans!"

Well, I am in awe of all the history that surrounds me here in Germany -- but I can also see how history/tradition/religion/culture can be used as an excuse for not changing, for hanging on to old prejudices. When I recently spoke with a cousin who is rather unconventional, she quibbed "During the Middle Ages they would have burned me as a witch!" I thought that was a strange thing to say, not something that I give much thought to in my daily life. On a tour of a nearby town the next day she pointed out a basket suspended above the river that was used to dunk witches or other dissenters until they drowned (if they survived it was considered proof of sorcery, and if they didn't, o well!).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taking care of friendships

There is a German expression: "Freudschaften pflegen" which translates loosely to taking care of friendships. But the word pflegen (=caring) implies a level of care that is more along the line of nursing or even healing. And indeed, Germans do treat friendships very differently from mere acquaintances ("Bekanntschaft" in German).
Blogger Amiexpat wrote recently about making friends in Germany, and I found the discussion very interesting. Americans are quick to make friends while Germans take it very slow and steady -- it often takes years before they decide to use first names and use "Du" instead of the formal "Sie". It is also true in both countries that as we get older we have a more difficult time making friends -- for some people in both the US and Germany, the only close friendships are those made in school/university years. I think that is sad: especially given how much more mobile society is becoming, many become lonelier as friends move away or pass on.

I have not always been good in the "Freundschaft pflegen" department: not only have I moved a lot, but have not been the best at correspondence or picking up the phone. Facebook has helped me (and many others) reconnect with old friends who we've lost touch with -- but Facebook per se is no substitute for friendships, but only a first step in re-connecting.
Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day with an old highschool friend from the Philippines. We had found each other on Facebook after some 30-odd years, and since she lives in Belgium now, we we able to meet up during my Germany visit. It was GREAT-- we found that we had a great deal in common (besides our gray hair we both refuse to dye). Sometimes old friends grow apart over time (becoming fundamentalist Christians, greedy businessmen/women, or even Tea Party Republicans) -- but luckily my friend is none of those!
And now I've got some serious Belgian chocolate to haul back in my suitcase. Thanks Meg!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dirndls: old, new and recycled

Yesterday my "Tante" and I went into downtown Munich to go Dirndl-shopping.

What's a dirndl, you may ask. Originally, the word "Dirn" referred to a young girl, but eventually "Dirndl" became the name of the traditional dress worn by girls in the Alps, Southern Germany and Austria. The dress traditionally consists of a blouse, bodice, skirt and apron. How the apron is tied has important symbolism: tied on the front on the wearer's right means she is "taken" (married or engaged), whereas tied on the left means she's available. Somewhere I heard that when tied on the back, the wearer is widowed -- so make sure you don't get this important fashion detail wrong!

My eldest daughter went to Oktoberfest with my sister's family last year when she visited Munich. This October, I dug out my old dirnlds for our Alaskan Oktoberfest (see photos here), and Eldest had so much fun wearing my old dirndl that she asked me to bring her back a dirndl from this Germany trip. But not one that modestly buttons way up to the collar -- no, siree! Rather, Eldest wants a traditional dirndl that displays the goods, where tying the apron strings on the left will bring the desired results!

A genuine dirndl can be pricey. My sister had found a lovely dirndl at a second-hand store called "Resales", and that's where my Tante and I went on my last day in Munich. And we did find a lovely silk dirndl for Eldest (new, but reduced to 79 Euros).

Then we started looking for a dirndl for me! First I tried on some dresses that made me look like a good matronly German Hausfrau! But then we did find a used dirnld for 19 Euros that made even me look sexy -- all I need now is a proper bra to let this dirndl shine in its full glory -- I'm sure the bra will cost more than the dirndl!

Lastly I need to tell you a German wartime story: My grandmother, who fled from the Russians invading Berlin with 5 small children, did manage to bring along her sewing machine. After the war, she took apart a Nazi flag (red background, white circle and black swastika), and sewed dirndl for her 3 girls from the material!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Munich with my favorite aunt

The last couple of days I spent in the Bavarian capital, München: my sister lives here with her family. After a whirlwind get-together with her family, they've flown the coop, and now it's just my "Tante" and I. As is so often the case with my extended German family, it's been well over a decade since I've seen her, as she lives way up North in Hamburg. It was great to spend quality time with her -- the kind you get only during long walks or car rides, or in the evening after everybody else has gone to bed!

My Tante and I are having a wonderful time. She's my mother's youngest sister: energetic, eccentric, funny but also very insightful. She and I drove to the Altmühltal where one of my many cousins lives on a farm. I promise I'll post pictures and write about that visit at a later point -- a sweet great-niece (nearly 3 years old), pigs, horses, mother-in-law stories -- it was a great visit!
Today we returned to Munich (and only got lost once on the Autobahn), and then got together for "Kaffeetrinken" with a blogging pal of mine, Honeypiehorse of Our Feet are the Same. This is only the 2nd time I've met a blogging acquaintance, and once again, it was really fun!

Honeypiehorse (HPH for short) is a literal translation of "Honigkuchenpferd" -- something that only a German would understand! HPH is American (Californian) and lives in Munich with her German (Bavarian) husband and 2.7 children. I found her blog when I started blogging a few years ago, and it is definitely one of my favorites! She's an amazing woman: I admire anybody who can learn not only our crazy language (which she speaks "ausgezeichnet"), but our culture as well. I'm so glad we met, and that my Tante from Hamburg was willing to venture driving Munich's "Mittlere Ring" during rush hour. DANKESCHÖN.

Frühsport with Yodeling

Every morning my father and I took a brisk walk in the forested hill behind my parent's house.
Our last morning together before his trip there was a dense fog in the whole valley, and we kept climbing higher and higher through the beech-oak forest to get above the fog. The sun was shining by the time we got to the top, the Schwarzenburger Turm. We climbed the tower and had a wonderful view of the surroundings -- you'll have to wait until I get back home and download the pictures to see!
On our way back down the stairs we passed an elderly gentleman and said "Guten Morgen!". We had nearly gotten to the entrance when we heard him yodeling at the top -- an amazing sound with all the echos of the tower's stairwell.
And the Saarland is not anywhere near the Alps -- but the tower worked perfectly!