April Rhythms

The apartment is done, the jobs have been started, a favourite local döner established. (The cafes and restaurants are still in the process of being sampled.) The baby’s out of the bag, a new doctor has been found and probably The Hospital scouted. Good. After feeling so stagnant down south, while we waited to find out when we were moving, then the frenzy of finding a new place, packing up the old one, and burrowing through piles of paper to make it all official, as is the German way, a new sort of rhythm is slowly emerging. It takes time, it always does, to stretch into a new space and make it familiar. Of course, in a few months this rhythm will be disrupted in the most enormous way, and there will be a whole new space to stretch out and fill – but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. (Relative) calm before the storm and all of that.

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Housewarming flowers.

Housewarming flowers. Warming the house and hinting at a glorious Spring.

April – I know, I know, er macht was er will – is being its usual mischievous self, flinging all four seasons into one day and laughing uproariously as we all get blown around, drenched, and then flock to the sun when it makes its sporadic appearances. But when it makes its sporadic appearances, the world lights up and it feels like truly great things are on the way. I think April knows how dependent we are on the weather, how sick everyone is of the grey and of boots and jackets. I think April definitely knows how desperate I am to get into maxi skirts and dresses. I think April is a bit of a sadist. Oh and the pollen, my God, the pollen. Our street is lined on one side with a series of beautiful trees that are joyfully blossoming, right outside the window of my favourite spot in the entire apartment. April is egging them on, reminding the trees of how mild winter was, of how safe it is to bloom and bloom hard. And I am horrifically allergic to them, in the snottiest, most eye-watering, chest-wheezing kind of way.

But then again, this was Kiel this time last year:

snow22So, I suppose, one must be thankful for small mercies. At least it isn’t snowing.

 

Begin

A six week trip to the other side of the world, a family wedding on a tiny island, moving across the country, a handful of interesting opportunities brought on by the book - the months of this year (how is it only three of them?) have scrambled by, each desperate to show off why it’s special, memorable, why it shines brighter than the last. And so we find ourselves, almost suddenly, in a new home, seven hours away from the old one, with the feeling that something is very much about to begin.

Because all of this time, for nearly six months now, someone has been quietly growing, hitting the most fundamental of biological milestones. Through weddings and road trips and book fairs and packing boxes, someone has been going about their business, taking and doing what they need to prepare for their first and grandest entry of all.

She’s due early August, a half Australian, half German summer baby.

Yes, something new is very much about to begin.

Fresh

Aren’t new places exciting? The white walls, the delicious, pervasive smell of new paint. All of that empty space that will soon fill up with the clutter you have accumulated over the years, boxes and boxes of stuff you felt smugly minimalist about ruthlessly streamlining pre-move only to find bags of clothes and bits and pieces need to bite the dust during the move-in as well.

So we made it to Kiel, as did the contents of our house, and now we’re sucking in that salty air and shivering in classic north German spring weather; grey, drizzly and chilly during the day, with the occasional dazzling afternoon of big blue skies. But Lord, it’s good to be back, good to crack the spine of this next part, get acquainted with our new neighbourhood and its cafes and restaurants and book shops. There are no hourly church bells here, no glimpse of forests when you look out the bedroom window. We’re back in the land of the bouncy northern accent, where ‘moin’ covers all greetings, ‘bitte’ is ‘bidder’ and ‘yo’ peppers conversations liberally. And breakfast features at least three different types of tiny crabs or shrimps in dill sauce.

I’ve been offline for the week, so apologies for the radio silence, although I have been popping up slyly elsewhere on the internet; here with a story in The Local – Germany’s News in English on the porn industry and right-wing politics, and here in an interview in the Kieler Nachrichten. Thanks to all of you who stay in touch with me over on Facebook, I love having that platform to talk with you all.

I shall be back next week with missives from the north, and some exciting news on an upcoming interview concerning What I Know About Germans.

A Gluttonous Goodbye

One general rule of thumb that has served me well over the past few years, is there is no better way to farewell a place, than an eating tour. Take a week, or a weekend (or if you live in some sort of culinary paradise, space it out over a fortnight) and perform a solid, dedicated round-up of your favourite restaurants. Here, we have approximately three favourite restaurants; a Ratskeller, a ridiculous Bavarian novelty restaurant, and a Greek. Two have featured on our (modest) farewell eating tour.

It is my belief – and what are we without our beliefs – that wherever you live, it is wise to have a good local Greek restaurant. We sussed a Greek place out down here pretty early on, and to be honest it has been one of the top Greek restaurants I’ve come across in my time here. In Germany, or certainly the places I have lived, I have come to discover most Greek restaurants have been, justifiably, Germanised. This means cheese. The gigantic gyros plates come smothered in cheese and baked. Submerged in the cheese, there are an absurd amount of fries, and on the side, the ubiquitous Weißkrautsalat features often. But forget about the giant gyros teller, as weirdly delicious as it may seem, and machen mezze. You can always tell the mettle of your local Greek by its tzatziki and taramasalata, and Weiden Pallas serves a mean taramas.

Another local one must have, particularly if you live in Germany, is a good schnitzel joint. This is generally easily achieved if you live in a southern state beginning with B. During our time here, we’ve had two excellent schnitzel houses within reach; the local Ratskeller which has a schnitzel menu the precise length of an A4 page (and apparently serves a Haxe worth raving about) and the world’s weirdest restaurant, Schinderhannes, which is in a very small village about twenty minutes drive from here.

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Named for Schinderhannes himself, one of Germany’s most famed outlaws, the restaurant is usually jam-packed by 5pm by an assortment of Oberpfälzers and American military families, all sitting down to immense portions, watched over by a touch of taxidermy and other various bits of eccentric/Bavarian decor. You can’t book a table, so you either have to be there on the dot of 5, or be prepared to share with someone.

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Here, a half litre of Helles beer, goes for 2€. A giant currywurst and pommes will set you back 2.90€. Some part of the pig with a basketball sized Knödel and boat of sauce, bread and cheese, half a chicken, mountains of fries or great ladles of Kartoffelsalat … none of it soars above 10€. Why, just last night I believe a sour pig’s heart was going for around 4€, a Saturday night special. The expansive menu is a riot of unintelligible Bayerisch, enough to bring on feelings of flailing around in a sudden and terrifying fugue state.

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But the real star of the show is the Schinderhannes crumbed schnitzel. It comes falling off the plate, pushed off by a tidy pile of crinkle cut chips or a (generous) dollop of Kartoffelsalat, and a completely redundant slice of decorative capsicum. Preceding its arrival, is a small bowl of cucumber and Weißkrautsalat, a polite nod to health. But it’s fooling no one.

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And then, bäm. Schnitzel.

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Bäm. Beer.

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And the sensation you will never eat, or breathe properly, again.

Of Corners & Vulnerable Apartments

It’s funny what suddenly clicks when a place you have been wanting to leave, becomes a place you will leave very soon. It’s as if, up until that moment, you weren’t quite permitted to feel too much affection for it, so focused were you on getting out of it. Now that I know we’re getting out, this apartment, this home, feels strangely vulnerable, like I need to give it a hug and assure it that we did love it, we do, even though we’re packing it up and doing all we can to leave it.

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Our apartment looks particularly vulnerable at the moment, stripped of its paintings and posters, the shelves completely – and somewhat embarrassed about it – empty, standing there apologetically. The fresh white paint is so white, and the moving boxes are their usual ugly and bottomless selves. Do you always pack them and then think, ‘everything I own cannot possibly be in those boxes …’ at the same time as thinking, ‘surely I don’t need or use all of this stuff.’?

We’ll never live here again – and I can say that with the confidence of living with a north German who will do everything in his power to never live in the south again. And, while this has been an important and significant experience for me in my own German adventure, I won’t be living here again out of choice either. It is a beautiful, historical corner of the world, Bavaria, but it isn’t my corner. I know that now.

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I’m not sure what I’ll miss about living down here – yet. I’ll probably manage to gather a whole list of things as we drive out of here in just a week’s time. And if it isn’t things I miss about this place, that will jolt some sort of thought, it will be the very real knowledge that this time of my life that is coming to a close, in due time for what lies ahead. A lot happened down here, for me, for us, it is a period of time that holds an awful lot of memories and this place, for all the faults we found with it, has kept them all safe and sound, even when we were struggling with living here, even when we were planning to leave. This place, as a name, represents something bigger than our actual affection for it, which is a curious thing.

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So we’ll keep packing up our naked little flat, keep moving towards getting out of here. And these funny little things will keep clicking as the days count down to leaving this corner of the country.

 

How to Do Good Weather Like a German

And suddenly, the sun is out. It’s bright and sparkling, and it hurts your wintry little eyes. The sky that has been a lovely shade of chalk for months, is suddenly so, so blue. People around you are scuttling about wearing as assortment of outfits – a few have cottoned on to the sun early and have dressed accordingly. Most went the safest route with a decent jacket and a pair of boots and look both out of place and as if they know something that you, in your canvas slip-ons, don’t. It’s like someone switched on the light and caught everyone out doing what they’d normally do in the dark – it’s both illuminating and weird, and takes some adjusting to. Particularly when someone switches on the light early. I mean, yesterday was the first day of Spring, but first days of seasons (namely warm ones) mean nada over here.

This was April last year. April.

This was April last year. April.

So how does one fit in with the Germans, when the sun comes out? Or, more pertinently, how does one avoid being stared at when the sun comes out and the entire population of your city finds itself outside and face to face with each other, as opposed to staring at the icy ground so as to avoid slipping on it? (Germans, my sweet loves, you stare. You may not know it, or indeed realise it, but you do. It’s okay. It’s a social trait of yours, it’s part of who you are. Own it. But please stop staring at my feet if I’m in ballet flats before 90% of the population deems it appropriate to wear them.) Apart from keeping a keen eye on the state of Spargel in your nearest supermarket, here are some surefire tips on how to do the year’s first warm weather like a German.

- Flock to the nearest cafe with outdoor seating. But none of our cafes have outdoor seating, I hear you bleat. Look again! Rub your eyes, if you must. Magic, isn’t it? Each and every cafe will suddenly have forty chairs crammed into their portion of front pavement, all facing the sun, and if you are like lightning, you will be able to squeeze yourself into one of them – and indeed the conversations of everyone around you, because you’ll be nice and close to each other.

- Once seated, shrug off your jacket. It’s okay if others around you remain bundled up, you won’t get sick. In fact, you’ll probably keel over from heat if you don’t divest yourself of your safety blanket (which is what, after 4 months of daily wear, a winter jacket becomes). Smile around at others as you do this, share the wonder of outdoor divesting of jackets.

- Tip your face to the sun. Leave it there, no matter what.

- Order a beer.

- If you live in a town or city that is near water, make sure you do all of the above as close to the bank of said body of water, as possible.

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Don’t feel like going to a cafe with a million people, or indeed simply cannot find a seat? You have but one other option.

- Source out your nearest ice cream shop. There will be at least four per ten-person town. The most popular will have a queue snaking back about a hundred people, but you’ll deem to worthwhile waiting for. Join the queue.

- Order an enormous cone, because ice cream in Germany is wondrously cheap and generally delicious. Or, go all out, and get some sort of monstrous Sundae concoction. There will be a generous menu to choose from. Don’t hold back.

- If you’re feeling particularly brave, go for the Spaghetti Eis. It’s a bit of a thing here.

- A banana split usually does the trick, and doesn’t contain any ice cream in noodle form.

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After a while, when you feel it’s appropriate, begin to gently murmur about how perhaps it is a little too warm. Perhaps two or three degrees less would be just right

 

A Short Guide to Volunteering in Germany

There are plenty of things you can do in Germany, as a foreigner wanting to live here. Sure, it’s easier if you’re an EU citizen – less paperwork, no visa renewing, indeed no visa at all, I think? – but us non-EU citizens also have options too. Germany generally sets the hurdles relatively low (lower than Australia, anyway) as long as you’re within reach of an industrial photocopier to make sure you have ten copies of every single document pertaining to your German stay.

This week I’ve written a piece for Young Germany on volunteering in Deutschland. Last week I wrote about the Voluntary Social Year and Voluntary Ecological Year that can be undertaken  for 12-18 months by German citizens, EU citizens and non-EU citizens, who are under 27.

(But that) of course begs the questions – what if my reasons for volunteering are not solely to find a vocation? What if I’m over 27? What if I want to volunteer for a period of time that exceeds eighteen months? Perhaps you’re after something more flexible, or part time, or in positions outside of the social and environmental sectors. Options abound for those looking to volunteer in Germany, both as a German citizen, EU citizen, or non-EU citizen, through a variety of organisations. You just need to know where to look.

Does it matter if I don’t speak German? How do I find organisations in my city? Read on to learn more about your options when it comes to volunteering in Germany.

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