Friday, December 14, 2007

Grand tour part 1

As I write this, I'm sitting in a gorgeous hostel in Rome, in an elegant white entrance hall and I have the computer all to myself. It's been a week and half since we left Kiel and I'm still processing it all, so much so that I haven't really noticed all the places we've been, apart from having to order coffee in Italian. I think perhaps a week doing nothing in Kiel would have been the cheaper option but at least I have enjoyed the Grand Tour element, if only in passing.
We started in Vienna, where we were both so buggered after our move that the first two days we mostly slept, with the occasional trip to the shops for food (that was Simon's doing, I was too busy catching up on what felt like a month of sleep). Then it was another few days of kitsch Christmas markets and apple strudel, before we embarked on an overnight train to Sienna. Terrible idea, don't recommend it in the least.
The only redeeming feature was watching our fellow travellers enact a very funny Italian/Turkish panotmine which began with the Italian man coming into our compartment and placing his jacket lovingly down on the empty seat beside him, stroking it now and then and straightening out the fur collar, or his pants, or polo neck every five seconds or so. Then, at the next stop the Turkish (I'm guessing his nationality I must admit, but it was definitely more emotive and less Teutonic than we've been used to for a while) man launches himself into the ever-smaller compartment, causing Mr Italy to hurridly sweep up his beloved jacket. Mr Turkish ignores them both and begins energetically attempting to pull down the bed, also ignoring his Italian fellow traveller's attempts to illustrate that this was impossible without the conductor's magic key. He then, seemingly spontaneously having come to the idea that the conductor was neccesary, proceeded to fetch him and demand his bed be made available although it was only seven thirty at night. Once the bed was down, being a rather short man, he threw his luggage onto the rack, which only took about five goes and narrow misses of Mr Italy's jacket. The latter meanwhile, was making amazed gestures at me and speaking energetically to the conductor who was making simliar, aren't all foreigners crazy gestures back. Then Mr Italy dissappears for the rest of the night. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Mr Italy: This man almost messed up my jacket!
Conductor: What!? NO, no no! This must not be! Why don't you just pop into one of the completely empty compartments next door?
Mr Italy: Yes, I will do that. These foreigners are crazy!

Funnily enough, once he had settled down and the other bloke had gone away, Mr Turkey was quite friendly and let us watch movies one the laptop all night without bothering us. Maybe he did just object to the jacket.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Saying goodbye

A few shots from a small party we had to commemorate our leaving...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Action shot

Our farewell event with our five flatmates was an evening of skittles, which I've taken to like a duck to water, as you can see from this shot.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A goose a day

On Sunday it was Saint Martin's Day in Germany (possibly in other places as well) so we did the traditional thing and went to eat goose with my family. Or, to be more exact, watched them eat goose, with brussel sprouts, red cabbage and dumplings. Apparently the story comes from the fact that, when the people wanted to make Martin a bishop, he was so shy he hid himself in a goose stall. But the geese kicked up a fit and they found him and made him bishop. Which makes it, in my humble opinion, rather unchristian that you have to eat goose on Martins Day. But there you have it.

Random acts of meanness

In all the recent excitement of telling everyone we're leaving, receiving gifts and guilt galore from students and packing up my life of the last two years, I haven't really taken the time to reminisce about the things I won't miss about the lovely city of Kiel. So here I go:

On the weekend I was running late and jogged across the (deserted) road on the red and two young whippersnappers on bikes yelled at me to the tune of: Oi! Don't you know it's forbidden to cross on the red! Little tykes.

One morning last week riding to work in the early morning darkness with a broken headlight I rode past a lady on a bike who yelled after me once I was safely past her: Where's your light? Lovely way to start the day, I always think.

Mind you, there's a certain smugness one can assume when living in another culture which is much more socially acceptable than being smug about how crap your own culture is that I will also miss. Complaining about how the Germans complain all the time has become a favorite pastime, and it just won't have the same ring to it back home. I may well be faced with the question: well, why did you go there, if it was so bad? Which just misses the point completely.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Winter blues

It's that time again in Kiel, the dark creeps in at four thirty, the days aren't really light and it drizzles all day without stopping. It's enough to make me want to leave. Which is convenient, since I am.
It's quite amazing really, I've been here for two years, met different people, taught numerous students, travelled around (not enough of course), sprained my ankle twice, lived in three houses and now I'm heading off home. Incredible how much you can experience in a small town on the Baltic Sea.
The reaction among my students has been shock and disbelief, and I've been asked what it would take to make me stay. If I knew the answer to that question I'd be sitting on a mountain somewhere, dolling out wisdom. But I don't say that, I say that it's time to reconnect, it's time to be in Australia and see my people. Maybe that's the real answer after all.
I will miss lots of things, the transient lifestyle of living with other people's furniture and cookware, the excitement of fulfilling the most mundane task (I rang the real estate agent!), the fresh bread available everywhere, the changing of the seasons from winter iciness to spring flowers to lazy summer to the colours of autumn. I'll miss speaking another language, learning new words and expressions, discussing cultural differences endlessly. I`ll miss dressing up. I`ll miss riding my bike to work, and everywhere else. I`ll miss the cheese and the beer.
But this is life after all, changing, moving on. The Sydney I go back to is not the town I left, and neither will Kiel be the same if I ever come back for a visit. Nothing stays the same, everything changes. Not even the most powerful people on the planet can change that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I heart Autumn

At Laboe...

...the only beach I know to have a submarine for tourists to go in on it.

This weekend has been glorious - sunny and still with the blue skies contrasting nicely with the red, orange and brown leaves which meander gently to the ground all over the city. We went to the beach yesterday and enjoyed what will certainly be the last rays of sun in Kiel this year (prove me wrong Kiel, prove me wrong)...

Techno haze

I used to be good at computers. I can still remember a certain boss I had when I was sixteen saying behind my back "Hanna'll probably have a few problems with the new computer system" and the feeling of satisfaction I got at proving him vey wrong - in fact I was much better at it than he was, having grown up with computers.

At uni I used Word to write and format essays, and Excel to calculate and present my biology stats. I made graphs, tables, added whole pages worth of footnotes without any problems. When I edited the uni magazine I learnt the basics of photoshop and front page. I arranged pages, edited photos, flipped between programs, dealt with a cranky old network and crappy printers. No worries.

Then, somewhere along the line, I got stuck. It has taken me this long to work out Windows XP, and they've just released Vista. The other day I couldn't get my internet to work and was ready to throw the laptop out the window when Simon and my flatmate both said: "Check the antenae." What bloody antenae? Simon clicked a button on the edge of my laptop I'd never noticed before and voila, the internet is working.

This is not an isolated incident. At work my computer wasn't playing sound flies and my boss asked me: "Are all the latest updates there?" Huh? He changed a few settings and again, problem solved.

I would like to know when are these people learning this stuff? Do they read the whole manual or what? Or am I just missing some underlying social knowledge that others pick up effortlessly? Since when are these things common knowledge and why wasn't I informed? And also... how do I upload pictures from my camera through bluetooth?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thai tips

In January we're going to Thailand for two weeks - and as yet I have no idea where. Tips and recommendations urgently needed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Mountains of strüdel

Well I'm 29 and after a very long day of going to two social events with my lovely swiss cousin, who knows how to enjoy an evening well beyond the point it actually is evening, as well as flying back to Kiel, I feel it. But it's a nice feeling.
We spent the last week in Vienna and Zürich, establishing beyond doubt that German sounds stranger the more southerly you go, and adding kilos to the waistline with strüdel, chocolate and ,mmmmm, swiss cheese.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sweet peas

One of the great things about living in a pokey little city of about 200 thousand people is that everything is next door to everything else. Right around the corner from my flat is a square, which still has quite a few elegant apartment bocks surrounding it and was obviously a bit of a civic centre in centuries past. These days it houses a car park and a playground, as well as being flanked by the usual collection of German shops; a chemist, a doctor’s surgery, two bakeries, a bookstore, a luxury tea shop, an ice creamery, a newsagent and a supermarket. On Sunday the bakeries are only open until midday and the queues stretch out the door. I imagine the entire neighborhood sitting down to fresh bread rolls and pastries for a Sunday brunch, chuckling about scoring the last poppy seed roll.
The nicest thing about my square, however, is that twice a week there’s a grower’s market there. Literally fifty metres from my house I can buy fresh produce, cheeses, olives, flowers and bread, as well as the occasional handicrafts. It doesn’t matter how much money I take to the market, I inevitable spend it all.
Yesterday was typical, I intended to buy myself some flowers and maybe some stone fruit. Unfortunately, the moment I wandered in I was caught by the idea of buying some Gouda for Simon, since it’s usually him who buys the cheese. A the cheese stand I tasted some family cheese and two kinds of Gouda, one of which was described as caramel/walnut and which was exactly that, an odd combination of cheese and caramel tastes. Then I was entranced by the cream cheeses on offer, some with tomatoes and herbs, others with chives. I got about eight euros worth of 12 month old Gouda and a container of cream cheese with bear leek, a kind of garlicky chive which I love.
With my wallet feeling a little empty I went back to the flower stand I had spotted on my way in, where I thought I had seen something interesting. I was right, sweet peas and plenty of them, in all sorts of incredible colours. I had never seen sweet peas at the market before, and since they’re one of my favourite flowers I had to get them, hang the expense. At first the lady didn’t want to bargain with me, but after I hung around pathetically for a few minutes she gave me a euro off and I got three beautiful colours for a measly five euros. Then I asked her what they were called: Wicken. A rather harsh name for such a pretty flower. I told her in English they were called sweet peas and she couldn’t quite believe it, telling the boss: hey boss, these are called sweet peas in English! What! He grunted, Sweet peas! What do you know! He told me that these particular colours only grow in the “four lands”, that is the area just south of Hamburg. The reason I’d never seen them before is that there’s only one grower, who has four greenhouses just filled with sweet peas.
After that it was two pineapples from Ecuador and I had no money left, a full basket and the knowledge I had bought nothing very useful but had enjoyed it thoroughly anyway. Can’t wait for next week.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Deer and scuba diving

Last weekend was another a normal weekend in Kiel. I checked out some deer and wild pigs that live in a park up the road and went for my first open water dive. Just the usual.

The place where we went diving.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Stormy weather

The view from my window. Note the lack of blue sky. In fact, it's pissing down but, as I have just discovered, the rain doesn't photograph so well.

So much for four seasons, this year I think I've only had two so far: drizzly winter and slightly warmer autumn. This is now the fourth consecutive week where it has rained at least four times in one day almost every single day. I now have full sympathy for the insane drop-everything-and-have-a-barbeque behaviour of people in the north when the sun comes out - I didn't think it was possible to have an entire summer with no sun. It turns out it is.

Luckily I have a ready collection of melancholy music, most of my music being already quite melencholy. At the moment I'm listening to the dulcit tones of Holly Throsby, earlier I had some Staring Girl, a band from Kiel that my flatmate put me onto, and next shall be the Howling Bells and some Jolie Holland. If I'm still here and don't have to go to work Kasey Chambers'll be next. With a cup of tea in my hand I could be back in Sydney at the this time of year.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hanging with the Czech ladies

Last week I had the glorious pleasure of accompanying my two cousins to their grandmother's holiday house near the German border, in the Czech Republic. We drove for seven hours across Germany with a four month-old baby in the back seat, his devoted mother breastfeeding him every two hours or so, and the three of us (or rather four) singing maniacally to a CD of English children's songs I brought back from London. If I ever have to hear "If you're happy and you know it" again my head is going to start spinning. We arrived at a little wooden hut facing a lake, surrounded by other wooden huts, to an enthusiastic welcome from the Czech-only speaking auntie, twelve year old baby crazy cousin and grandmother, as well as their mum who had arrived a week previously. And fruit-filled dumplings, hot, with powdered sugar. And a hammock, which became my second home for the week while the four adults (I don't count myself) discussed their lives in Czech, only to occasionally ask me a question through my cousins, about my plans, my family, my eating habits, my ankle.
Actually not speaking Czech was a really strange experience - having to nod and smile with half the inhabitants of a very small house was a little stressful at first. But by the last day Eva was talking at me in Czech in the kitchen and I was happily not comprehending anything she had to say. At first it was weird though, especially when the grandma asked me within the first five minutes why I wasn't married and why I was a vegetarian. But obviously there were also benefits - she couldn't ask me directly for example.
It was so lovely to spend time with all these energetic and positive women, as well as a cute baby. I came back to Kiel with so much good energy - it's lovely.

The spa town near to the hut we stayed in, Fransensbad in German. Gorgeous yellow and white buildings, in the style of the Austro-Hugarian empire, surrounded by parks, fountains and the springs themselves.

One of the springs, I'm not actually filling up the bottle because my cousin said she'd throw up if she had to smell it. It did smell a bit like a year eight science room.

My aunt goaded all young women of childbearing age without children into touching this statue, which is supposed to increase your fertility.

The view from the hut.

Susie and Junus looking lovely.

Little Junus looks like his granddad.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Adult content

I've been an ESL teacher for a few years now and I've heard some pretty funny things. One of my favorites is the German tendency to confuse wife with woman so you end up with sentences like: me and my woman went to the football (mind you I still confuse the words humid and gay in German to everyone's amusement, so I'm not one to talk). Japanese and Korean students had many other errors which were odd, or interesting, or bizarrely sexual. However, the best mistake I've heard yet was made by my 18 year old elementray student today.

The background is this: we were doing an activity where we had to guess what each other does at particular times of the day. As in: at two o'clock you work, at ten o'clock you sleep etc. In German the words for eat and food are the same, so you say I cook eat. The word for cook is kochen, pronounced with a soft ch in the back of the throat. So the activity is going very well and we're almost finished when my student has to guess what I do at seven in the evening.

My student: you eat c*ck at seven.
Me: (best poker face you ever saw) Nooooo... I think you mean cook?
Him: Yes, c*ck.
Me: COOK. C-OO-K. I cook my food for dinner.
Him: You c*ck your dinner.

And so it went on. I'm looking forward to the other teacher tomorrow being asked about her nighttime activites. If his English wasn't so bad I'd almost suspect him of knowing what he was saying.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wrong, wrong, wrong

For avid readers: I asked some students about the whole du/Sie thing (see blog entry from last week) and surprise, surprise, I got it completely wrong. Apparently the random stranger was doing me a favour by calling me du, and inclduing me in her special club. Silly me. What ?!


Last week I posted off an application to renew my driver's license, which as a lucky citizen of NSW, is possible as long as you're not away for longer than five years and your license hasn't been expired for too long. Yesterday I got an email saying that, unfortunately, they couldn't renew my license because I had an outstanding fine which had gone to the state debt recovery service (didn't know we had one) and my license was suspended until I paid it. This was all very confusing given that a) I've been out of the country for two years and b) I don't own a car.
Anyway I sent off an email to the nice folks at the SDRS and they got back to me pronto telling me I had a fine because I... wait for it... didn't vote in the 2005 State by-election for Marrickville. So, to summarise, I can't get my license renewed because I didn't vote in a by-election. I'm torn between being really impressed with the speed with which I got this information, as well as the depth of state control in NSW and really, really frightened that Australia has TURNED INTO GERMANY.

Anyway the next step in this whole ridiculous process was to email the NSW Electoral Service telling them I was out of the country, which I just did. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

High tea

Currently in my, for want of a better word, larder I have the following teas: rosegarden (containing whole rose buds), ginger chai, Lübeck marzipan, Niederegger Marzipan tea (black), digestion tea, black current leaf tea and a clove and cinammon tea I picked up at the chemist.

Overall a rather girly collection. Perhaps I need to get more of the sort of tea which puts hair on your chest. Sailors' tea? Tea for men who drink too much?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The curse of missing words

My friend Judith when I was complaining about not having the word I needed in a shop:
"Because you have a good accent you don't sound foreign, you just sound stupid."

You and you

I've made quite good progress in German since the days I was too scared to open my mouth in conversation class at university. These days I'm more likely to talk too much, or too familiarly so that the other person thinks I'm either rude or ignorant. My accent is not strong and if I'm really lucky and the person I'm speaking to is a little absent-minded or busy they might even think I'm a native German speaker. But I always give myself away when it comes to saying you.
German isn't as complicated as some language when it comes to the polite forms. On paper it's simple: with strangers, superiors, university professors or anyone else you want to show respect to use Sie. With friends, close colleagues, children or people you meet at parties and other cool and relaxed places use du. If only it were that simple.
To give you a good idea of the complexity of the Sie/du divide here is a recent scenario. At the bank where I work a department has a new board member. He insists on the du form for everyone, regardless if secretary or manager. All of my students mention this fact when I asked them about him. Their opinions, however, on the relative merit of this radical move were vastly different.
Some felt it was a great break with the past of the bank and the rigid hierarchy which led to some colleagues being dutzt and some Sietzt. They thought it showed an appreciation of all members in the department, regardless of how closely they worked with the boss. Sounds good to me.
But wait. Others felt very differently. This shows disrespect for the traditions of the bank, they said. It's an unrealistic and insincere intimacy. And above all, it's an emotionally charged act, to require everyone to use the more familiar term. For those who aren't used to it, it makes them very uncomfortable. Is this a good first move?
I was left fairly baffled by the whole thing. I could appreciate the logic of both arguments but thought it was placing a lot of emotional value on to one little word. Surely, I thought, they can realise that objectively it's not that important? That it means the same thing in the end, if you say Would you be so kind (Sie)or Do it (du)?

And then, this morning someone called for my boss while the secretary was out so I answered the call. It was all going well when out of the blue this complete stranger calls me du. She must have thought I was a lowly secretary or just very young, because I obviously didn't know the rules of phone etiquette (but why? I'll never know) and so wasn't worthy of the respectful term. I was outraged. It seems I have picked it up after all. Now if I could only remember to use the appropriate verb form which follows...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Go Bonnie go!

It's Kiel Week. This, in case you don't already know, is the biggest sailing festival in Northern Europe. This small, provincal town fills up with drunken Poms, Scandinavians looking for cheap alcholol, sailors in ridiculous costumes from the other side of the Baltic, Isreali jewellers, English fudge purveyors, the Dutch, the French, even the Aussies have a stand at the international food market, decked with Fosters umbrellas and selling prawns on a stick. On every street corner there's a stage, a bunch of badly dressed over-fifties and a man selling sausages and beer. Oh and then there's the huge techno parties and cocktail stands selling caiprinhas for five Euros a pop.

So last night was the official opening of this great event and I celebrated it by going to see the highlight on the main stage near the town hall... Bonnie Tyler. Man did she rock. Not only did she look about thirty (but was that a wig? We'll never know) she bagged Axel Rose, name-dropped like it was going out of style and croaked her way through all her friends's hits as well as her own. I have to admit though, when Total eclipse of the heart came on I loved every minute of it. It made me feel like I was eight years old all over again.