Sunday, December 17, 2006

My island home

Alright I admit it- I got teary when the Sydney skyline came into view. But after a thirty hour plus journey surrounded by young families I think a tear in the eye is more than understandable. It was amazing though, to fly in, the sun over the wing, the sky looking like nothing more than every perfect summer's day from my idealised childhood memories.

I left Kiel and Simon also with a tear in my eye, because the weather was dreadful and it was already getting dark at three pm and I knew I wouldn't have Simon's voice in my ear for another whole month. Perhaps it's just leaving though, leaving and coming back which makes me emotional. Luckily on the plane I was sitting next to English people who are used to pretending emotions don't exist so politely ignored my stifled weeping.

Everything is the same- the pedestrian unfrienldy streets, the slight grottiness of a big city, the cafes, the miles of suburbia stretched out for, well, miles. The incredible friendliness of everyone is so relaxing, from the Qantas staff to the lady in the cafe, everyone is pretty damn chilled out. It's like walking into a parallel universe from the cramped everyday nastiness of Europe.

Although I'm deranged from tiredness I'm going to try and stay awake until at least 10pm so that I don't

Saturday, December 09, 2006


It's Friday evening, finally, and I'm at the end of a long week. This morning in my first session talking to an overworked, highly paid banker who has no private life (but was kind enough to give me xmas biscuits) who is paid at least eight times as much as me I thought: today is going to be a long day. This afternoon while looking at a diagram of a militay machine being presented by a student of mine I thought: I can't believe this is my life. Being here for so long is taking its toll, I feel exhausted from fittting in, from daily banging up against difference, from the bruises and bumps I carry around all the time. It's been such a long time since I've heard my old voice, telling a story to a group of friends in a way I used to know. I think it's time to go home for a while.

I thought as I was walking to my bike this morning how much being here has brought me, living in this narrow world of work and weekend has taught me so much about the way I react in situations I never imagined finding myself in. When I'm snubbed in shops, talked around at work, totally over my head, it's all become mundane. Not easy, but predictable.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

It's that time again, my second autumn in Europe. Kiel is beautiful this time of year, albeit in a all-the-joy-and-beauty-is-rapidly-dying kind of way. It's the time to read lots of books, watch films on the laptop and eat rice pudding with berries. I'm celebrating in my usual way, by catching a head cold and spending three days reading crime novels. Ah autumn.

Last weekend we went to Hamburg and spent a night with a friend of Simon's watching the German version of The Office, called Stromberg. It's fantastic, he's almost as hideous as David Brent but in a teutonic kind of way. I couldn't help noticing that even on television, however, the Germans have more worker's rights.

Tonight my cousin rang me to get her lover's cigarillo slogan translated into English. Apparently he has a shop. It ran: The best product in the last two years, with a great design. She wanted better adjectives. The best I could do was outstanding product and magnificant design. She wasn't too impressed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

At the immigration office

Getting working permission in Germany is a simple process which begins at the Immigration Office. The Kiel immigration office is a fairly typical German administrative building, with a friendly atmosphere and an easy to find location. You simply turn off the main street and go down a small alleyway opposite an Italian restaurant. There you will find a number of driveways with trucks being loaded. Go past these driveways, watching out for cars which lurch out of them at regular intervals, and you will find a driveway with no marking on it. Turn into it and you will see a small door on your right with the words Administrative Offices Schleswig-Holstein on the glass door in white. Go straight in, if it is between 8:30am and 1pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. If it is a Wednesday or any other time you will have to come back later.

On the first floor you will see a building plan that is indecipherable, a small lift and a flight of stairs. Finding the office you need is no problem, simply take the stairs to the second floor and go into the door marked Found Property. This takes you past the lost property office to a waiting area where a group of individuals from other countries are staring at screen showing the numbers of those being served in red, and a pair of double doors. Go to the machine, which has seven buttons with various letters of the alphabet on them. Choose yours and sit down. Letters such as X,Y and Z are located together, which is a slight disadvantage for those of Chinese or Japanese background but the machine was made for Germans by Germans and it is simply not logical to have a special machine for foreigners (my name begins with T, which is a common German letter to start a name, so I often get in before those unfortunate enough to have names that begin with less popular German letters; this always makes the atmosphere in the waiting room especially interesting).

After about half an hour to an hour you will be called into the double doors by a flashing red number. Once you are in the office, you will be greeted by a typical German bureaucrat, with the flexibility and adeptness which they are so famous for. No matter what language you speak to them in, be it English, German, Turkish or anything else, they will always reply to you in German, demonstrating little understanding of what you have said. No matter what you think you are there for they will unfailingly make it clear that you are wrong. After repeated visits to the office and waiting periods of different lengths you will find that, after all, you are there for the right reason and will be given your piece of paper, or your stamp. You may or may not have to pay depending on who serves you. All processes which take place in order for you to get your stamp are out of the control of the person you are talking to. All necessary papers to get your work permission or whatever else you may be requesting, are available at a different office in another building with different opening times.

The best way to greet a worker in this office is therefore to say nothing and hand over your papers. Answer any questions they ask you with as little information as possible. The more information they have, the longer the possible waiting time for it to be processed. Don't smile in your passport photo. Above all, don't tell them how to do their job. You may think you know why it is you are there and what you need, you don't. Their job is some other quite different thing of which you have no idea.

Once your request has been delivered to the relevant authorities by mail, which can take up to ten days, they will process it. If they don't process it you will discover this because nothing will happen. It may be that nothing is happening productively, that is, they are processing it, or it may be that they are not. Once you have visited the Immigration Office three or four times to check, each time pulling your name from the German machine and waiting in the friendly waiting room and waiting for a different bureaucrat to look at your file and ask you why you are there if your application is being processed by the relevant authority which they have nothing to do with, it will become clear if it is being processed or not. If not, a quick phone call from the Immigration Office will remind them. Then it may take up to weeks for your application to be considered. The main question is, naturally, are you taking the job of a German?

Then it becomes the task of the Employment Office to look at your case. They send a number of emails to your employer asking, for example, why a German cannot be an English teacher as is the case in their school system. The issue of your qualifications may be raised and you may have to provide them to the Employment Office. Surprisingly, they are not required to be translated, possibly because no-one realizes they are in English because no-one looks at them, they are simply filed into a drawer. So there is no need to pay for a translation. Then you may have to provide a job description so that the job can be advertised to the local community at the Employment Office. The question of particular qualifications which may only be available to foreigners may be raised. In my case the term 'native speaker' proved a sticking point but after a mere week of emailing and telephoning and a meeting with the case worker and my boss the issue was resolved nicely, with both sides agreeing that although there may be such a thing as a 'native speaker', we were certainly not going to stop that getting in the way of the bureaucratic process of advertising the job to the German population.

Once you have then waited a few weeks to see if any German native speakers of English (for example) would turn up and take your job you then receive no word from anyone for a further three weeks. Then, a wonderful letter turns up from the Immigration Office telling you to bring A) this letter and B) your passport to the Office between 8:30am and 1pm Monday to Friday (but not Wednesday) to pick up your stamp. Then it is simply a matter of going into the Office one or two times in order to find a worker who will bother to look into your file rather than just photocopying your passport and telling you to come back another time and you have your stamp. It's as easy as that. In twelve months, you simply need to renew it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hanseatic Lübeck

An hour and a half from Kiel on the train; a city with medieval buildings, little narrow alleyways, nineteenth century facades and nightlife. It's moments like these that I realise just how crowded Europe is. Lübeck is lovely, charming and interesting, with a sense of the past and the future which Kiel lacks.

Yesterday Mum and I went to the Thomas Mann house and saw an exhibition about his children, all six of them. It was really the first time I've read about Germans who renounced theircitizenshipp and actively helped the Americans and British in WWW2. Erika Mann was a warcorrespondentt and one of her brothers served in the army. She wrote and article about how the reason there were no anti-Nazi spies in Germany was because their were none- anti-Nazis that is. Her articles all had beginnings like: It takes a German to understand the Germans: Returning from six months at the front the daughter of ex-German writer Thomas Mann explains the German soldier. You have to put the forties voiceover on it to get the full effect. Knowing what was happening at the time made reading her chipper, we're in it for the boys type articles even more creepy.

On a lighter note, one of the other daughters, Elizabeth Mann, who lived the longest, had a dogtypewriterr and samples of the script her dog had written. It was mostly nonsense with the occasional bad cat and good dog slipped in. The audio guide also had a recording of her singing and her dog playing on his dog piano. There's a play in that somewhere.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's a baaaaaabbbbby!

Baby with his oma and his first koala, exported by my Mum

So Mum's here, and we're staying with my uncle and aunt, who are new grandparents. We went over to my cousin's place last night to pay a visit to the new parents and I asked my aunt how she felt being a nana. She shrugged and mumbled something about not seeing them very often (the baby is eight weeks old). I turned to my uncle who agreed, and said something about them living far away (they live about a forty minute drive away, in the same city). So I thought, ok, the only one who is going to go gaga for my gorgeous cousin is my Mum, who hasn't met him before. Ha.

So we get there and my cousins's wife greets us at the door with the baby and suddenly my aunt is grabbing for him and talking to him in nonsense German (note that she is Czech, I didn't even know she knew baby speak in German) and my uncle has a camera in his hand which I didn't even notice him bringing and is snapping away at a hundred miles a minute and my cousin is organising lighting and a backdrop and then my other cousin, who is pregnant, is holding the baby and being photographed and my mother and I are sitting in a corner and looking at our previously sane relations, and suddenly I feel that my mum is a very balanced and calm woman. Which is not something which often occurs to me.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Birdy days

Birthday drinks Hanna and Simon style: Manuela rang to ask when she should come and I said, whenever. Slightly perplexing for German sensibility.

The day before my birthday I got two packages in the post, and a few days before that I got two more. A mountain of presents for me, me, me! (to quote that Jones woman) Among them a DVD of much merriment, a gorgeous wallet, not one but two cds, three books, a digital camera, much wine and a lovely, lovely night. Oh and some tasty olive oil. Did I mention the digital camera?! Amazing. Manuela gave me some excellent Norwegian gloves for riding my bike in winter, Maren gave me an enormous bag of Chai. I'm not sure I deserved quite so many things.

Today is the day of German unity (sorry, I mean ze DAY OF GERMAN UNITY) and Kiel is the chosen city. The Chancellor is here and all sorts of important digntaries, so let's hope that the train bomber they arrested last month doesn't have any keen friends. Last night we went and checked out the scene, it's pretty much the usual thing sausages, expensive beer, loud music and oompah bands. It was pretty though, the lights on the water and the flags from the ships fluttering in the wind. If only I'd remembered my new camera.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sporty spice

After a series of not very hilarious mishaps, including back problems and an improbable summer cold, I've started doing tkd again at another school. It's a family school, run by a bloke and his brother in law, and most of the students seem to be related which at least solves the problem I had at the other school of the trainer shagging the students. I hope.

The best part about it is that it's full of kids, German kids obviously, who seem to be somewhat different to the ones I'm used to. Firstly they aren't afraid of being cheeky to adults, one kid told me I had a big bum without us even being introduced. Another looked at me in shock when I turned up with my black belt and asked incredulously: how long have you had that? Conversely they seem to love orders and are actually pretty good at hitting the targets, unlike me. They also don't seem to understand that although my German is good, it's not good enough to understand a ten year old with a sqeaky voice making what they consider to be small talk. I just nod and smile and hope they're not saying anything about my bottom.

The other thing about it is that after not having done any sport regularly for about six months, I'm utterly exhausted after two weeks of training three times a week. Today I could barely keep my eyes open while my students were talking about a data quality managment and non-reurning loans. Although actually reading that sentence again I'm a little worried that this is not the normal state of affairs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Handy German expressions

A list of things that you can say with one verb in German:

fill your car with petrol tanken
get to know someone kennenlernen
take the piss verarschen
change a nappy windeln
crack onto someone anmachen
drink to get drunk saufen
go out/ have a party feiern
get dressed anziehen
bitch and moan zicken (literally: act like a female goat)
go in the wrong direction verfahren

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Danish delights

The exit of Christiniania, where EU and Danish laws don't apply, a wonderful place full of American tourists, happy hippies, big dogs and the occasional police raid.

Two happy tourists on a boat trip.

A church and fountain near Mary's- I mean the Danish royal family's- palace.

Our groovy Copenhagen apartment.

The church from the other side, it backed onto a moat around the world's oldest still used military fortress.

A photo exhibition around town: Images of the Middle East.

Hanging out after a stint of frisbee in the park.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Our last day in Copenhagen; heading back to a new house and job (officially) in Kiel. Just read this piece in the SMH; I loved it. I agree utterly about hope and the role of government being there to provide it, at least foster it. I look around the streets of Copenhagen; hope is what you see on the faces of the smiling, happy, healthy people. The belief that it will get better, not worse. A group of older Asian people drinking in the square, looking happy and hopeful rather than the bitterness I see on the faces of many Germans (but that's changing too- what was the joy in the World Cup if not hope?).

Yesterday we saw two men fighting drunkenly on the street, one calls the other a Muslim cock-sucker, tries to beat him with his belt. The other lifts his crutch to fight back. People stopped to watch. I wondered why, what's the point? But it's better to watch than not, just watching shows you expect something to change, to at least witness the worst rather than run away in fear of it. It's hope again, that in watching you will help, somehow. The fight broke up pretty quickly after that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

C for coincidence?

It just occurred to me that one interesting thing has happened to me since I've been wallowing in Copenhagen's delights. Perhaps it's just because I watched V for Vendetta and am in the throes of, admittedly pretty justified, paranoia but I don't think so.

The day before yesterday I went into a random bookshop, desperately attempting to do something with my mind, or at least try to convince myself to. After about ten seconds we both got bored and my mind, clearly trying to assert itself through the fog of decadence, grabbed a book from a display and so I bought it. The book, which was shortlisted for The Orange Prize, is called A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka. I loved it, it's funny and sad and well-written, and quite exciting in a family drama kind of way. All that aside, because this is a book about family secrets they mention the war. And a labour camp in Germany, where Ukranians were sent.

The camp was called Drachensee. In Kiel.

I couldn't quite believe it when I came across the name. Mum told me there was one there, and I meant to follow it up and I didn't. It made me think: why didn't I follow it up? Why haven't any Kielers (people from Kiel) mentioned this to me? And even more importantly, if I am living in Germany, I need to confront this. I need to understand more than just the beautiful side of Schleswig-Holstein. Because if I don't it's a betrayal of myself.

So we'll see where that takes me.

Danish dreams

Take one designer flat. Add two Aussies, a laptop and a fridge. What do you get? Sloth.

We've been in Copenhagen for one week and seen a total of zero museums, been to no famous landmarks (apart from sailing past them on a canal tour) and even fewer famous restaurants. In short we've been utterly lazy and spent a lot of time sleeping, eating and playing frisbee. This could be a sign of Europe fatige.

Copenhagen, on the little that I've managed to pick up, seems to be the coolest city I've been to so far, although this is pure speculation. I think if I could speak Danish I'd get more out of it. That being said, everyone, from the guy at the bakery to the random helpful at the train station, seems to speak perfect English. If everyone in Germany was this billingual I'd be out of a job in no time- and it's no wonder the Germans are embarrassed. The Danes are damn good.

The city is easy to get around, a bikers paradise, full of trendy little shops and cafes (and *sigh* museums) and happy, smiling, good-looking people. There seems to be a lot of multiculturalism, I've seen girls in veils on bikes, which I'm pretty sure I haven't seen anywhere else.

The other aspect which I find quite charming is the fairy tale heritage; they really seem to take it seriously and a lot of buildings, public art and space seems to be influenced by fairy tales. Yesterday we stumbled on a gorgeous park in the middle of the city, long avenues and fountains and sculptures everywhere. The old stock market has a tower of four dragons with their tails intertwined.

And of course the one place we did manage to visit is Christiania, the squat community tunred tourist attraction full of peace, love and mungbeans and a lot of lovely hippie housing on the side of a canal in the middle of the city. The kind of place every big city needs.

Today is our last day and I'm pretty sure we have a full plan of riding our bikes, playing frisbee and maybe, just maybe, seeing the last sights of lovely Copenhagen.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Working my way... somewhere

I have my own office. I have my own office. I feel slightly ashamed of the fact that the thing that is the most exciting for me about this new job is a white and grey room of about sixteen square metres. I guess it's the thrill of feeling like I have power over something, after years of being at the bottom of whatever ladder I happened to be on, even if it is just which pictures I have on the wall.

Today I bought two plants (my power is ever-increasing- who knows what I will do next... first pictures, now plants, next the world!) and they are making this space seem a tiny little bit less corporate. I look at them and feel the rising panic dim.

It turns out that having responsibilty is slighty queasy-making, even if your boss is very relaxed and there's really no-one to check up on you. At any time there are five or six things I should be doing running through my head and it's going to take a while before that feels like normal background noise.

A normal day for me seems to be: I come into the office, say hello to the walls, sit down and check my email. Halfway through doing that I realise I need to check something from one of my classes, get up to find it, notice a job I didn't finish from yesterday sticking out of the large piles of paper on my desk, pick it up, go to the photocopier to copy something, get back at my desk, check to find an email I should answer, get up to answer the bell, speak to a confused German about something I have no idea about, tell them I'll do something about it, sit down again and realise I don't know where the document I just picked up is, get up to look for it, find it, look at my watch to realise I have a class in an hour and should prepare, get a phone call about a translation and have no idea where my boss is or when he'll be back, sit down to my desk, get a call from my boss who is in the office next door (since when?), discuss something fruitlessly with him for half an hour, scrape something together for my class and then arrive with thirty seconds to spare realising I've forgotten my folder and my presentation cards and have to make up a lesson on the spot.

But as you can tell, I'm coping with the chaos quite well. It'll only be a matter of time before I manage to get at least one thing done each day.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Kiel is somewhere

Well my first month of being an acting Director of Studies is almost over and it hasn't gone too badly. This is mainly because I've only been teaching about ten hours a week, which makes it a lot easier to do other things like hire new people, reorganise the library and throw away about four years of accumulated paperwork and dead plants. The two people I interviewed on the phone appear not be axe-murders, drug addicts or maniacs of any other kind. This is hopeful.

It could all go pear-shaped very quickly, however, because the secretary has gone on holidays and I have always suspected she ran the school. Unfortunately she is not being replaced so our customers will have to deal with my boss, who's often teaching, or me, who knows nothing. This is in the fine tradition of temporary staff, who inevitably can't help you with what you need, don't know what you're talking about and will have to refer you to X, who is on holiday.

This weekend I'm in Berlin- as usual I love it, love it, love it- and on the train on the way here I gave myself a treat and bought an English paper. I was enjoying understanding more than headlines and keywords when I came across an article that stopped me in my tracks. It was about a German/Turkish writer who has done very well and was doing a book reading in Berlin. Not so thrilling? But wait. I start reading the article about what it was like for him, being the son of Turkish immigrants in Germany, and how in his home town of Kiel... what?! I almost fell off my plush inter-city train seat. The man is from Kiel? And is now famous? And rich? Hurrah! I left the train with the sense of arriving in one literary capital after leaving another. I knew there was more to Kiel than the suit-wearing, seasonal-vegetable eating, non-jay-walking crowd I know and love.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'll have some torshy thanks

Apparently torshy is another word for pickles in Arabic. Who knew. And how did we survive wihout Wikipedia?

The end of a rather small era

Can you tell we're in northern Europe...?

Too cool for school (not me)

Last week I officially finished my short teaching job at the vocational school and it was very sad. Things I'll miss: students who are younger than me and who I could make blush, the very polite secretaries, calling myself Frau T*rsh, shaking hands with everyone in the mornings, working at a big school and being able to play games in class. Things I won't miss: being eyed by every male student as I walked down the corridors, having to trek upstairs to get the damn dictionaries and then to put them back again, having to remember all my colleagues by both names, watching my favorite students get paid out by their mates for stuffing up their English and being called Frau T*rsh by everyone else.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Summertime I get around

Summer in Kiel.

It is thirty degrees- that's why Germany lost the match, according to one commentator. It was the same excuse the lady at the bank gave me as to why the printer wasn't working- too hot. The queues at the ice-cream shop are enormous and rising by the day, it opens at eleven and as I rode past this morning there were forty people standing outside it at twenty to. And three groups of teenagers making their way towards it, I heard one yell to the other group, the ice-cream shop is closed! Groans from everyone.

I am the only person in Kiel wearing a hat, apart from Arianne, another Aussie friend of Simon's, and a punk wearing a cap, probably for the freak value. Road workers turn and stare, children point. I ride on, knowing I won't get skin cancer.

The gummy bears Arianne bought are melting, the posters are falling off the walls at work, the chocolate in the stores is mush. Not many companies are air-conditioned, this morning I went to the bank I teach at and the student's office was heating only, no cooling. The only shops which have cold drinks are some major supermarkets and the petrol stations.

Today I have bought a singlet in Germany for the first time ever, and a natty pair of knickerbockers. It is hot.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Berlin! Berlin!

Oh thank god, the Germans won. The national mood has never been this good, and I don't have to listen to all my students complaining all week. Hurray!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A thousand words

Paul and Alex in Hamburg watching a game.

Schanzenviertel, Hamburg, World Cup fever

Some crazy fans after the Australian: Japan game.

Paul and I being tourists in front of the Town Hall in Hamburg.

Paul stuck in a revolving door.

The coolest siblings in the world.

The helpful notice at the railway stations in Hamburg and Kiel... and the reason I have a job.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Kiel Week poisoning

I can't wait until the Kiel Week has been the refrain from every single person I have met in Kiel so far, oh you'll love the Kiel Week they said, irritatingly adding an uneccesary definite article wantonly, even the English speakers (I have even caught myself doing it), it's great, it's international, it's the only time of the year when the city is really full of life and there's lots happening.

Ha. So on Friday night I go to the International Market at the Town Hall Square, which boasted many admittedly quite cool stands from countries like Finnland, the Czech Republic, Mexico and so on, but which also has an Australian stand which sold Fosters, barbeques prawns on a stick, strawberries and cream and some little sandwiches which looked decidedly Danish to me. Oh, and Akubras and Blunstone boots, as well as many hilarious road signs like beware crocodile, world's best nan and so on. And I bought a crepe, my second of the week actually, and I'm pretty sure it made me sick. My feeling has been confirmed by all the people who have said, oh yeah that often happens, by the way we forgot to tell you don't eat anything at the Kiel Week. Especially near the end. Ha.

The upshot of all this whinging is that I got to watch Australia lose, lying on my coayh feeling like I was going to vomit. Strangely though, I feel kind of relieved (not about wanting to vomit). Being ardently nationalistic felt a little like watching myself through glass, it just didn't feel right. Especially when the last game I watched was with a bunch of other Aussie screaming abuse at the screen everytime anything didn't go their way. It was a bit of an eye-opener. Sure, I'm more sypathetic to sports fans now, but I'm still pretty sure I don't want to be one. Not more than once every four years anyway.

It's actually a week of goodbyes this week. Patricia left yesterday for a new job in Munich and Mat's leaving on Thursday. It's terribly sad. I can't quite believe I've been here with him for just under a year. I look back on my first weeks here and it seems like a million years away.

Mat and I went on a last bike ride and found this cool pond in the middle of a big park not twenty minutes from here. There were hundreds of people jogging (alright, maybe twenty), people riding horses and the sound of aircraft overhead but it was still nice and peaceful. I just hope I can keep my adventuring spirit alive when he's gone.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What a lovely way to burn

I got yelled at for crossing on the red today. A nasty old man called me the equivalent of a bloody idiot as I was rushing across the road to grab Paul from a bus as he got off at the main train station. He was about to leave after hanging out with me for a week, I hadn't slept well, it was hot and sticky, Australia lost against Brazil, it was a highly emotional moment and I was not in the mood in the slightest. I told the grumpy old bastard I didn't understand and I was sorry (why do I persist in this annoying anglo habit. I'm not bloody sorry and I'd do it again) and he cut me off and called me nasty names. So I snapped thank you in German in an extremely pissed off voice and he was so surpised he shut up. Honestly. Although it's kind of lame that even when I'm being rude it's just saying a nice word in a nasty way.

Awwww it was nice to have my little brother here for a week. Despite the unseasonal heatwave, the lack of privacy and the craziness of the World Cup and Kiel Week and the resulting sleeplessness, it was lovely. I only wish we could have done more together. Next time.

I have finally made a decision and agreed to the job at my dodgy company and thrown caution to the winds. Who needs it. Especially when I can always bludge off Simon who looks like he has a lot of work up his sleeve, while I won't have much for another two months. Which is great, because it's finally really summer here and all I feel like doing is lying around, possibly trying to do some exercise and enjoying a little time for me. Maybe I'll think about doing some cheap travelling. All I want now is to sleep for a week but unfortunately I still have some work to do this week, along with a few very important games to watch, and of course some time consuming large amounts of beer, bread and (sigh) cheese.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Summer breeze

Did I mention that it's finally summer in north Germany? Yesterday was the first day you could go swimming in the pool in Hamburg, and Kiel too, and last week I didn't see the darkness for seven days straight- it's just light all the time. The twillight goes for about an hour and begins at ten. Everyone says it could last a week, it could last for only days, so I should enjoy it. But the weirdest thing is how much it reminds me of home, without all the insects, and how much Germany doesn't seem that different when you don't have to put on ten layers of clothing and you can walk around in thongs. The biggest difference is how mad everyone goes when the sun comes out, which I now completely understand, and how everyone wants to be brown so wears their bikins at the park. Oh, and how when you say, but skin cancer...? everyone looks at you as though you are out of your mind. Which is fair enough.


I have to say it- I'm enjoying the soccer. I went overseas to try to escape the sport-mad, ignore everything else vibe that we've got going and I end up screaming and pumping my fist in the air when Australia comes back from the dead with three goals in the last eight minutes. Call it the German disease, call it homesickness, I can't resist. It's just too damn exciting.

The game yesterday was just fantastic- I'd just met up with Paul and Alex and was pretty wound-up about seeing them and then the game looked like it was going to be all over for Australia. Actually, up until then I hadn't really cared much either way, and was sure the Aussies were going to lose, but then my students made a few smart remarks about losers and for some reason I got a little defensive... I didn't say anything of course but I have to admit that when Australia won a little voice in my head said: hah!

We were sitting in a tent in a big park in Hamburg with about eight die-hard German men sitting behind us, who were thrilled whenever anything was happening, and who I think were more annoyed with us than anything else when we spent most of the game chatting. Martin, my cousin, was biting his knuckles in frustration (in a show of family loyalty he was supporting Australia) and when the first goal got through he was devestated. It all looked pretty bleak.

But then, just as the coverage was starting to show footage of the Australian crowd looking utterly unimpressed, it all began to happen, and I found myself swept up in this incredible rush of joy and, weirdly enough, pride. Now I understand why people watch sport, it really is a substitute for an emotional life. When the siren went we were all overcome. It was beautiful.

Then the Czech Republic beat the US and my perfect soccer day with my brother was complete.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Piccies for Mum

A recent weekend to Berlin, a visit to the new Jewish Memorial, me drinking a Berliner Weisser and a cool building Matt liked enough to photograph.

And me steering a sailing ship of a colleague from the technical school. I was so seasick afterwards.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A spring wedding

Torshy, 27, witness.

The glamorous couple

My lovely cousin once removed, Tomas, father of the groom.

In the rain, unfortunately, but that wasn't going to stop me getting excited about being a witness and putting up my hair. We got on the train at eight in the morning and caught the train back at ten thirty at night- I had forgotten how weddings are so exhausting- and spent most of the day ducking between shelter and the rain, the parents of the couple met for the first time and the registery office was strangely formal and preoccupied with paper but despite all that the couple themselves spent the day beaming, entertaining their guests with incredible graciousness and generally making us all reach for the bucket.

One odd thing for me was that there were no speeches or anything about the people themselves and the parents weren't very involved, but since I'm not intending to get married at all I have to say they were more involved than mine ever will be. At least they got a wedding out of it all. Also the vibe was a bit stiff, I introduced myself to Friederike's brother and he looked at me like I was mad. Nice kids though.

There were kids everywhere (Simon was disappointed that they were quite well-behaved and not wiling to play with him and destroy the house) and not much drunkenness to be seen. Understandable from Friederike's point of view since she's up the duff, but on the whole kind of odd. Not sure if it was the sobriety or the well-behaved children which freaked me out- could there be some kind of link there?

Family family. What an odd thing it all is. My hair looked nice though, which is something.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It's a mad world

Random crazy new life moment- doing ski gymnastics at the Uni yesterday to the I-want-to-kill-myself track, It's a mad world, from the film Donnie Darko. Me and fifty Germans rotating our pelvises to lines like "The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had".

On the weekend we had our sharehouse party and it was surprisingly fun. I managed to stay up all night which was good, given that we had two DJs pumping incredibly loud music from two rooms away and sleep was pretty much out of the question. The whole flat filled up by about half-past twelve- they like to do things later here- and Andy was trying to kick out the last guests at six in the morning, when the police arrived. Apparently they were quite pleasant and offered to help. The girls from my old flat came and it was lovely to see them and feel like I had friends. Matt's flatmate Judith also came, who is lovely too, so all in all we weren't the sad flatmates without guests we thought we'd be. Some of Simon's new workmates came too, one of whom was hilariously uptight. She told me, while her German boyfriend was sitting next to her, that the continental Europeans simply couldn't be sensitive and were starting, slowly, to learn how to respect other cultures. Uh huh.

Yesterday I met our new English colleague for the first time- totally intense guy with a life drama situtation to rival the best of them. While chugging as much wine into himself as he could, he told me all about his awful marriage break up and his various successes and failures- including an MBA at a prestigious university and being bankrupt. He's only here for his son, which is sad and also kind of beautiful. Talking to him was so intense I almost had to go and have a cry afterwards, it was all so ghastly. Can't wait for September, when I get to manage him.

This Friday is Martin's wedding and the weaher is looking a bit dubious- grey and kind of wet. Hopefully some miracle will occur and the sun will burst out and bless the day. Now I kind of wish I had an alternative cold weather outfit, damn it.

Life is like, sooo hard.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Being a teacher is fun

A lovely morning class at the technical school- although I haven't left yet so there's still a good chance I'll be verbally sexually harrassed on the way out. Actually that's only hapened once but given that it's spring, ninety percent of the students here are males between the ages of sixteen and thirty and I'm now wearing short sleeves, the staring and not so whispered comments have started to become a pretty frequent occurance. And also the whole building smells like BO.

I really like teaching the students here sometimes- it's fantastic to work with young people who think everything you tell them is cool and interesting, even if it's just 'in Australia it's really hot in December' and they just soak up the language in a way adults just can't, really. Also they've got that young persons's enthusiasm for activites, which is to say that sometimes they look at you like you're the most boring thing they're even seen and sometimes they have so much fun they forget they're learning at all.

Today I had the brainwave to mix up the groups so they were not sitting with their usual friends and asked them to tell the group how to do something, even something simple. Just the right thing to say to a German... I also told them that anyone speaking German in the ten minutes would have to buy me an ice-cream- in Spring they become the national currency- and amazingly, it worked. Even those who are reluctant to speak spoke, and some who are slow speakers but enthusiastic had the chance to speak with no-one interrupting them.

One group were laughing so hard, presumably at one member's attempts to get around my 'keep it above the belt rule'- totally ineffective I might add- that I almost didn't recognise them from the surly students I had last week. Another student called me Miss T*rsh, at which I told him off, and then he asked me heaps of questions, calling me Hanna. I think it's just so exotic to them to be able to call teachers by their first name- crazy kids.

One of my pre-reading activites was to write down four words connected with a country. Two samples of words for America:

Area 51, white house, war, Bush

highways, big country, Statue of Liberty, freedom

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I have proof

A lovely weekend talking to people at home and lying in the sun on our roof. I even have photos to prove that it was sunny.

Simon and I went to the market and Saturday and spent a small fortune on fresh fruit and vegetables that were actually tasty as opposed to the even more overpriced crap you get in the supermarkets here. We made asparagus with butter, roasted beetroot salad and pan-friend mushroom in bear-garlic- very popular here. Washed down with a lot of white wine. It was fantastic.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Budapest, Prague and Dresden pics

So glad to be on holiday- our first evening in Budapest.

The gorgeous old Synagogue in Pest.

Inside the Synagogue.

The flooding Danube.

In Prague with my lovely Czech student from Sydney who took us out for a night on the town.

Matt after eating a pig's knee in Prague.

Drinking the world's best beer in Prague.

Exhausted but cool in Dresden.

Sunny days

Yesterday I was invited to a colleague's house from the technical college in Gaarden (not a misspelling) and I was so knackered from the weekend I almost didn't go. But since it's almost a criminal offence to waste a long weekend I decided to drag myself off the bed and trek out to a village an hour away from Kiel.

The day started off like a typical Sydney day- at least as far as I can remember- sunny, a light wind and about twenty degrees. It was so lovely to sit on the train with the shafts of sunlight across my face, watching the green fields rolling off into the distance and the cows grazing. I don't think I've ever noticed that there were any cows up here.

Anyway then I got onto a bus which meandered its way through Neumünster and off to the little village where Monica lives. It had bus stop names like 'church' and 'school', as well as rolling past a traditional Mayday beer and sausage gathering (we call that a barbeque right?) sponsored by the CDU- the Christian Democrats in the town square.

When I got to their cosy house, a two storey semi-detached with a garden and a big living area, a nice change from pokey little apartments, I was immediately presented with a glass of champagne and given the tour. It has been so long since I've been in a house filled with books and art that it was like returning home. I was given a wonderful lunch, plied with wine and told all about the wildlife around here, which apparently includes wild boars and deer, both of which are on the increase. It was a whole other Germany and I really liked it. Especially the intelligent conversation with two very clever and interested people- such a relief not to have to be cool.

I arived home very chilled, quite drunk and in a great mood to face the week, which has so far been great, accompanied by sun sun sun and my new clothes which always cheers me up. Although some shoes for the wedding would be great...

There are swans in the lake in the centre of the city, called the Little Kiel, and dafodills on every street corner. People are wearing t-shirts and looking relaxed, there are cherry trees in blossom and I can't quite believe it is the same town.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Weekend in Hamburg

The sun is shining, we just got back from a weekend in Hamburg hanging out with my lovely cousins in their glamorous apartments and I am exhausted- too much fun and travelling in a group always makes me exhausted. As usual, being in Hamburg makes me question why I'm in Kiel- and why I've now agreed to stay another year or so.

Hamburg is so chic- I might as well be in Sydney really- and Kiel really is a small town with all that goes with it. I guess that's someting I find kind of interesting, how different it is from my previous experience. Although if I were living in a bigger city maybe people who come to Europe might visit me...

It's overwhelming today- the choices that life offer- and I wonder if I will spend every weekend of my life feeling like this. A little lost, a little aimless and disoriented. It's the Sunday blues every time- that feeling of stretched out tension that goes with work and life. I don't like it much but I seem to constantly put myself in a position where I feel it. Perhaps because the positive side is that feeling of satisfaction that comes with work, of being spent and tired but knowing that you did your best, you put your all into something.

Weekend self-help. That should be a new section in the bookshops.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Brief moments of joy

Well it happened- the sun came out in Kiel. Right now, of course, it is raining but yesterday it was almost twenty degrees. And I´m ashamed to say I was really too hot. It was lovely, the whole city came alive, cafes sprouted up from places I'd never noticed before and people were drinking beer outside, rowing on the fjord, jogging, fishing, you name it.

On the bus today a German lady tapped me politely on the shoulder and said something to me I couldn't hear because my headphones were on. I said "Sorry?" "Is that your scarf?" she said, using the polite form of you. I looked down and there was my Italian nonna umbrella I bought at the Vatican with its lovely blueflowers on a pink background sitting beneath my foot. I was so amazed at the act of courtesy I just said "That is my umbrella. Thank you." I guess I should have expected my umbrella to be too out there for Kiel.

I went for a jog on the weekend (lasted about ten horrible minutes) and had a lovely moment when I ran past a very fat grey goose waddling past me. There is something I have never experienced before. Every day here I see a new kind of bird, hopefully minus bird flu.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


This is why I really hate being here sometimes:

I have had to pay, to date, including keys for Simon, over one hundred dollars for keys to houses which I am only living in temporarily. Not only did I have to pay, but I had to wait two weeks to pick one of them up and get a special permission slip from the housemaster (!) for the other one.

To renew my library membership I need to show my passport plus proof of address. To renew it.

I can´t make small talk in German, I just can´t. And that is because they don´t make it up here, in the north. I am so sick of going into shops and saying something like, nice weather we´re having and getting stared at like I´m a freak.

I forget, pretty much every single bloody time, to weigh my fruit and vegtables before I take them to the counter. Which means I can´t buy them without lining up all over again. Yesterday I went to the shops specifically to buy an apple, lined up for twenty minutes then realised I had forgotten to weigh it.

I can never remember the names for my bike parts, so every time I go into a bike shop I just have to point.

Everything is closed on Sunday, and most shops close at midday on Saturday. Nothing is open past eight o´clock ever. I am in the sticks, I know, but this is a town of two hundred and fifty thousand people!

No-one ever smiles at you in the street. Except for babies, who haven´t learnt not to yet. And the occasional dog.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Decisions decisions

It´s just not my forte, making decisions. I have been umming and ahhing for almost two months about whether or not to use my ticket to go home. I´ve finally decided (almost... no I really have... but I can take it back!) not to take it and to stay in Europe for the summer. Not only is it a terrible thing to waste the untransferable, unextendable ticket but I was really, really looking forward to seeing everyone. But it doesn´t make sense, I can travel then and I´ve got an assurance out of my bossess that it´ll be possible to take three weeks off in December to come home. So I think I´ll do that instead and enjoy it even more. Argh.

Being in Kiel is just the same, kind of stifling and boring but also good if I´m in the right zone to deal with it all. My flatmates just had a house meeting about various issues, including a house party and the argument arose about whether or not a drum and base DJ was necessary to create the right party atmosphere on the dance floor. Dance floor. I felt like I was observing an alien mating ritual on the planet Zargon. Then it was suggested that we should buy about ten to twenty cases of beer, and put all the furniture upstairs in another apartment. It boggles the mind.

But just proving that all student cultures are the same, there was the inevitable argument about whether or not to have an invitation. Some things never change.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Holyday over

It´s Easter Sunday and we´re recovering from a hangover, as is traditional on the last day of a holiday. Last night Simon turned into Mr Party, as he is sometimes wont to do, and charmed a group of Germans from Erfurt who are down here enjoying the Dresden vibe. We drank some absinthe together and went to a happening Dresden club called Flower Power. It was really interesting talking to some of the group, they seem very aware of the "wall in the head" phenomenon- they brought up the topic of the differences between West and East Germany as though the wall were still there. And I have to say, given one evening with a bunch of "Ossis" all my prejudices about Germans seem to be based on the North-west of the country. These people were open, friendly, almost naively so. Actually they reminded me a bit of Australians, except obviously they know where Poland is. It was quite amazing, and made me think I should spend some time in other parts of Germany so I don´t have a completely skewed and bitter outlook. As I am beginning to have.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Crossing the border

I´m ba- ack. In Germany. It feels weird to be back, my tongue isn´t quite making it round the words and people don´t smile at me any more (except for the Aussie and Amis- I can pick ém cause they look slighty baffled that no-one smiles back) but it´s very cool to finally be in Dresden, even if it´s only for two nights. The German here is slightly softer and less abrupt, we´re on the other end of the Elbe from Hamburg and it kind of feels like another country, even though we´re less far away than Sydney from Brisbane. We´re staying in a very cool youth hostel with a groovy bar, surrounded by even groovier bars and designer clothes shops... very dangerous. It kind of reminds me of Melbourne which I was foolish enough to voice and got ridiculed for by Matt and Simon. I then said that the part by the river reminded me of Brisbane... Maybe I´m more homesick than I thought?

It was great being in Prague this time, after I got over feeling stressed out. I got to see places I´ve never seen before thanks ot being there with Matt, who studied there for a couple of months. It made me want to go back which is nice because the last few times it´s been deep winter and I haven´t done anything except sleep and eat.

Only one more sleep and it´s back to work... but somehow it seems more managable now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Prague blues

So I'm in Prague and it's RAINING. Damn it all. You'd think that bad weather for six months would toughen you up but in my case it's just increased my weather sensitivity to the point where it makes up fifty percent of my conversation and I don't decide what I'm going to do until I look out the window first thing in the morning.

The plus side is that yesterday was lovely and for the first time I sat in the old town square and drank overpriced beer and listened to a bunch of Scottish blokes talk about their wild night at the table next to me. I finally got to see this city in all its spring glory, and understood the appeal. Today, however, and probably for the rest of the week, I will just get flashbacks to all the other time I've been here and holed myself up in the flat because it was too cold or miserable to go outside. It's really no wonder I still don`t really know the city at all.

What's also kind of ruining my holiday is the big decisions I have to make at the moment- whether to sign a contract at work until June 2007 (can I do another winter in Kiel? Will I go on a killing spree?) and whether or not to fork out the money to come home for a month in July, and possiblity miss the only month of summer in a year and a half. I hate making decisions, and I especialy hate making them when I'm on holiday. My mushy, overslept brain just shouldn't be called on to do anything more taxing than decide what to have for breakfast.

Moan moan. Life is just so hard when you're a modern jet-setter.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

City of spasz

Budapest. The Danube is flooding, which was a surprise, although it made more sense than "maybe they just don't want any customers on the boat restaraunts and that's why all the walkways are under water" theory which we flaoted for a few hours on our first night. This is a great city, I feel really comfortable here, although that could be due to the ever-lovely Hungarians who work for the walking tours, pub crawls and our great hostel. Tonight we were too knackered to do anything, so we watched Ocean's Eleven on DVD and were given popcorn... so nice. Almost uncomfortable-making nice actually, given how poor this country is compared to it's rich neighbours like Germany.

We went to the very luxurious city spas today, which, when the tour guide asked us to guess what the building was I guessed a palace, look not unlike a Hapsburg royal residence. They had baths ranging from thirty-eight to twenty degrees, in various sizes, some outside and some inside, most from thermal springs. All of Budapest was there, fat old ladies and men, young wolf-whistling Italians and many, many school groups of various European nationalities. It was absolute decadence, and made our swimming pools look kind of lame.

Today I also met my grandmother's second cousin which was nice and awkward and also a bit sad. Not because of her, she was full of life even thought she is pushing eighty five, and she was correcting my German, but because of the wars that marred her life and killed all the people close to her. And everyone else too. On the tour we went on yesterday we had a fabulous feisty young Hungarian woman who said "I love my country but it's a shit country". Apparently next week there are elections, and she and the pub crawl guide were wearing orange to support the democratic party and oust the "corrupt arselicking ex-Soveit party members". They have only had a democracy for under twenty years and even that has been in name only. Agnes, the pub tour guide, was smiling alot with her mouth but not with her eyes as she told us how only those who had never experienced freedom knew its value. As I meet more and more young Aussies and Americans I begin to believe it.

On the tour last night there were four young American girls- one of whom was a Valley girl "I just can't deal with backpacking- I mean, sharing with other people, ew."- and three young Australian guys, one of whom told me he was going to Turkey and when I asked why he looked at me and said in serious tones, "for Anzac Day". Oh right, yeah. I thought he was going to ask me if I really was Aussie when I then asked when exactly that was. Needless to say the two groups weren't going to result in any romances. And does this mark the second time that I was scared- really scared- to discuss Anzac Day with a young Australian bloke? I have the feeling this is a trend likely to continue. Neither group really seemed to understand freedom, unless it was the freedom to be a fucking moron.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The idiot from Australia

Getting from Hamburg to Budapest should have been easy- it's a two hour flight and we were travelling with Air Berlin who are not so budget they have their terminal in a little village somewhere like Ryan Air or German Wings. It should have been pain free. But it wasn't, mainly because I left my passport in my check in luggage and only realised half an hour before take off.

My excuse isn't so great either- I left my swiss army knife in my toiletries bag, which I then decided at the last minute to put in my backpack, which meant I had to re-check it in, which meant I had to take my valuables out and I forgot to take out my passport.

So then it got exciting. While I sweated like a drug smuggler the Air Berlin check in guy called eight different numbers while an increasingly annoyed queue of travellers waited behind me. Then I sprinted down to the arrivals and waited and waited for my bag to appear. No-one down there had any idea what I was talking about and I was beginning to think I would be trapped in Kiel and never see the sun again when my bag arrived. I pretty much threw the knife at the guards and sprinted to the departure gate- thank god Hamburg airport is so small. We made the plane with about four minutes to spare. As we touched down it was an incredible twenty degrees and it all seemed worth it, although I do kind of feel like if I ever see another check-in counter it will be too soon.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spring sprung

It´s true- there really are seasons in Europe. One day I´m walking around in a thick winter jacket with four layers of clothing underneath it, keeping my head down to avoid the snow which constantly falls and riding home in the dark at four pm and literally the next day the sun is shining, the birds are chasing each other around the park for lascivious reasons and it´s almost ten degrees. Boiling. The sun has been waking me up in the morning and it´s a wonderful thing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Soccer soccer soccer

It´s begun. I´m sitting in my room listening to my flatmate and his friends shouting at the TV screen while Germany plays the US. The World Cup is sooo not going to
be fun. Can´t wait for that one.

Today the weather was amazing- I was riding back from work when it began to snow- but the sun was still out so the snowflakes were spinning in shafts of sunlight. It was incredible. It´s moments like that which keep me here- the feeling of experiencing a whole new world of fundamentals- weather, language, diet, body language. Like being a child again but with the benefits of a full-grown body and brain.

I just hope Germany loses so I´ll be able to get some sleep...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sun worship

Last weekend it was actually sunny and we have proof. Every parent in Kiel was sledding with their children- it was so cute to see these rosy cheeked things wrapped up in layers of clothing being dragged up hills by ever patient parents.