Sunday Ausflug: Eckenförde

A truncated nap, a Sunday afternoon stretching ahead of us with two snotty kids, and rain that followed through on its threat the moment we stepped out of the apartment building. What’s a family to do? Well, firstly, hit a bakery. The Sunday queue will ensure the rain has time to stop by the time you emerge with a Rosinenbrötchen for the toddler and something starchy and filling for the adults. Starchy and filling is precisely what the crispness in the air calls for, come Autumn (and Autumn has come. Leider.).

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Despite the break in the rain, we needed the baby to sleep and it was a bit too fresh to do an hour-long trek with die Lüdde’s nose, so we got in the car. He yelled until we hit the Autobahn and then, with no clear destination in mind, but a determination to keep him asleep, SG took a couple of turns and we headed out to Eckenförde.

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Eckenförde is one of those lovely harbour towns with cobbled, stony lanes and hot Fischbrötchen wherever you look. More importantly, to my mind, the shops are open on a Sunday. So we released the toddler in the warm confines of the bookshop while we found some new reads for all of us. She contented herself trotting up and down a small ramp. (The longer I spend with toddlers, the more I realise what very little it takes to keep them occupied. New parent: forget the expensive toys. Give them an empty shoe box and a baby wipe. Or unlimited access to one of the drawers in the study. Or a bowl of water.)

The harbour was stormy and blowy and precisely what we wanted to avoid with the kids, so after the bookshop, we wove through the lanes a little bit, looking at the tiny, old houses.

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The cool breeze had clearly taken a few people by surprise, possibly those wanting to hold onto the idea of that glorious Spätsommer. There were a lot of shorts and sandals out and about, when I would have been expecting at least a pashmina. That being said, I definitely got some pointed looks at der Lüdde’s hatless head which was peeking out from the carrier. (Like any good, practical German, I ended up fashioning a hat out of the head cover attached to his carrier and he was a piece of toast the whole time.)

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We headed home, mission accomplished. The baby slept, we avoided the rain, and a nippy, wet Sunday afternoon didn’t feel so interminably long. And we got new books.

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Spätsommer

Buying gumboots for die Lüdde last weekend, I lamented, as one does when making effective small talk, the state of the weather outside. It was a bit rainy, a bit grey, a bit redolent of November but plus about 15 degrees. The sales assistant assured me the weather would improve. I said a Spätsommer would be super (and SG later said at that moment, when he heard me say that, I sounded tremendously German) and lo and behold – a Spätsommer is upon us.

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Spätsommer is making up for no-show-summer in July. Spätsommer means people are hitting the beach in September, or whipping their kit off in the park and soaking up the sun in their undies (to be fair, some people do wear swimmers to sunbake in, but others find a secluded spot and bite the bullet in an act of admirable couldn’t care less-ness). The apple trees are full to bursting, but the temps are still sitting at 25 degrees. The daily ice cream is still going strong (double scoop, base scoop always Joghurt Natur). Some enthusiastic Autumn-lovers are determined to bang on about FALL AND PUMPKINS AND ANKLE BOOTS and to that I say, ‘Go. Away. Far, far away. With your ankle boots and your pumpkins.’

Why, why hasten the cold? It will come, and yes, with its the golden leaves and crisp evenings and you can cup your hot cocoa and curl up with your cinammon candles and all of that. But that time is not quite now. Now is the time to catch the sun before it disappears for the next six months. Now is the time to choose the table in the sun and squint through your Kaffee und Kuchen. Now is the time zu tanken.

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These warm Spätsommer evenings, call for an appropriate drink. Hugos and Aperol Spritzes may suit midsummer, even early summer, but Spätsommer calls for FederweißerA fizzy, sweet gem of a drink, it hints at an impending golden autumn but hasn’t quite let go of the lightness of summer.

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Friday afternoons in Spätsommer call for treats at the park, and for pushing your luck with a grumpy toddler by extending your walk down to the water. Water which will soon be chilly and grey with a wind whipping in off it that could sweep the hair off your head. But let’s not think about that quite yet.

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Mostly, these beautiful Spätsommer days call for utter appreciation. The cold is being kept at bay a little while longer. Enjoy it.

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Blue

I’ve been in a relationship with north Germany since 2011. I think I first came up here in February 2011 and it was ferociously cold. I walked along the Linie for 10 metres, drank a hot chocolate in a cafe, and ate a lot of Joeys Pizza. A month later I was back, and SG took me to the beach. I remember getting a coffee order completely wrong and being called a ‘cute tourist’ and getting into the car with three awful filter coffees, two of which SG had to drink. We wound down the windows and watched the temperature climb. Spring was on her way, and the young (and he was young) man sitting next to me, joked that ‘next year’ we would have a convertible and drive to the beach with the roof down. I distinctly recall thinking how far ahead he was looking, how confident he must have been in our new relationhip. We didn’t get a convertible, but we did have two kids, and end up living down the road from that bakery I got the coffees from.

Anyway. Where was I. Ah yes. So, despite having lived here for more than two years now, and despite our lengthening history, I still get surprised that Germany can look like this – 

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And that, on a sunny, 30 degree day, I can climb this slope:

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and plant my feet into white sand. Set up my towel-camp metres from blue, blue water. Water full of swimmers and sail boats and kite surfers.

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The weather last week was, as promised, glorious and we took full advantage of it. We went to Brazil first, one of my favourites. The water was three shades of blue and coldly clear. I didn’t swim (der Lüdde wanted to eat a lot, but mostly … that water was a touch too fresh) but my daughter hit those mini Baltic waves with her Dad and we couldn’t get her out. She is a true Kielerin-Aussie and I couldn’t be prouder.

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On the second day of 30 degrees, we went to a closer beach, the very one SG took me to five and a bit years ago. It is the go-to beach when you want to stick your toes in the sand, but don’t want to drive more than ten minutes to do it. The kiosk is always busy, the staff as slow as snails, and is as much an icon as the lighthouse that rises from the shore. In went die Lüdde again, throwing stones and splashing and shrieking. The Colour Line sailed out to Norway, past the Naval Memorial in Laboe. The white sail boats bobbed around, as ferries puttered to and fro, taking and bringing people from both sides of the fjord, and everything felt just right in my little corner of this country.

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Heatwaves & Forecasts

I listen to Aussie radio of a morning, while preparing die Lüdde’s breakfast. Like a good immigrant, I find ways to sneak my own culture into my home through artwork, classic children’s books, food and music. And really, really average breakfast radio. (It also has the added bonus of putting der Lüdde to sleep, which I would otherwise pay handsomely for.)

Anyway, one thing I have noticed over the past couple of weeks is the weather forecasts in Sydney correlate exactly, sometimes to the degree, with the weather forecasts in Kiel. There is talk of ‘rainy, chilly mornings’ and ‘evening showers’ and ‘tops of 20 degrees.’ Sometimes I have to stop making my coffee and check I am listening to a Sydney station, and have not slipped into some bizarre zone in which an Australian reads out the weather for Kiel. It seems, however, Sydney is having a rather summery winter. Or we are having a rather wintry summer. Or Sydney is having its normal August and we are having an absolute shocker.

The good news is, a Hitzewelle is coming. The bad news is, it’s two months too late. Summer, despite some truly love days, has been a bit of a bust. May held such promise, with some gloriously hot days. June was just lovely. July I am truly thankful I missed. And now here we are cracking out the sodding pashminas.

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We have 9 days left of August, which means we have 9 days left until people start banging on about gemütlichkeit and changing leaves and ankle boots. The very thought makes me want to weep. I am not ready for gemütlichkeit and chilli hot chocolates and vowing to actually wear one of the numerous pairs of stockings I own. I am not ready for layering and my Übergangsjacke (actually, that reminds me, I need a new one) and I am certainly not ready for ankle boots. Or dark evenings. Or darker mornings. I pray the Hitzewelle is a cracker – long and relentless and hot. I want to feel like I am melting, I want the sand to be too hot to walk on, I want to eat ice blocks for dinner. And I want to let die Lüdde go nuts at a water pump in the playground just one more time. Then we can talk about changing bloody leaves.

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With all of that being said, Sunday morning was just beautiful. Warm and sunny and fresh and filled with possibility. The possibility, as it turned out, of intermittent rain, thunderous skies, and some delightfully heavy evening showers. But we weren’t to know that when we skipped outside, exclaiming at the morning light. (Nor were we to know Monday would be a complete dud. I am sitting beside the window right now, glaring beadily outside.) So we went down to the water, wound up through the park, and generally felt really smug as That Family Who Take Really Long Sunday Morning Walks Wearing Sneakers. Obviously, later that afternoon, we were the family who arrives at the animal park and realises they have forgotten the pram, so decides not to disembark but leave the sleeping baby and drive to the beach, only to have the rain begin pissing down upon parking.

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Bring on the Hitzewelle.

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2

It is not lost on me, that these precious years I will forever remember, are years you will later discount. Years you will have no memory of. Years you will describe as, ‘but I was only 2, so it doesn’t really count.’ Oh, but they count to me. These early days in which your voice is so high and light. These mornings and afternoons with which I try to carefully create a safe place, a loving place, an anchored place you can always return to as life gets bigger and harder. As you get bigger and harder. You won’t remember our easy mornings or afternoons spent at the playground, you won’t remember drawing Nana and Pa, or arguments over the TV, or how every single word you ever learnt was cheered by the proudest parents who believed completely in your evident genius. And kindness. And beauty. And uniqueness. You won’t remember how many times I checked you when you started sleeping in your own bedroom, or how many times your Dad got up to soothe you when you woke. But we will remember, until our dying days, how you smelt, the look on your face when you saw a plane (a helicopter, a hot air balloon, anything!) in the sky, your funny little words, and how you always said goodbye to the moon.

These years are ones that have changed me and your Dad, cracked everything wide open. You were a hand grenade we threw into the middle of a relationship, an apartment, a life, and as you grew, with frightening quickness, you pulled us along with you – are pulling us along with you, and you will never stop. No, it is not lost on me, that a time in my life that will always be so very, deeply significant, is a time of yours that you will know of only through photos and stories. A time that perhaps won’t feel as if it fully belongs to you, but instead was a time of your life you shared with us – with lucky, lucky us.

But that is okay. These years, these memories, they are are ours, Mummy and Daddy’s. They are for us to treasure, to fill, to round out. They are for us to use, so that we may learn how best to help you grow. My hope is simply that, during these early years, in which you are giving us so much joy, we are setting you up for the years that you will remember. And that they, too, will be filled with joy.

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To Give a Little Colour

At some point during trips away, usually in the latter third, I begin to feel a sense of refreshment in regards to home. Home as in where-I-lay-my-weary-head home. The one I have a key for. Something about being away from where you spend your run-of-the-mill days doesn’t just up the comforting familiarity factor when you return (your own bed etc), but gives it a new shine. It sort of feels new again, at the same time, I suppose, as reassuringly old. I find being exposed to a constant stream of different aesthetics seems to reaffirm your own preferences. Any ideas I have for giving the apartment a quick spit and polish, that have hitherto been floating somewhere on a to-do list, seem to solidify while I am walking down a foreign street, and upon arriving home, jetlag provides an energy injection that has been known to deliver me to the aisles of Ikea 24 hours after landing. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose, and perhaps also the urge to feather the nest for when you next nestle within it.

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Likewise, the first shop after a spate away is always a good one. I love grocery shopping at the most normal of times, even when die Lüdde is putting pet food into a mini trolly, despite us not having a pet, or demanding ‘tea’ from the drink aisle. To be quite candid, part of my love of grocery shopping lies in the weekly surprises Aldi serves up in those wire baskets in between the frozen fish and müsli aisles. Plus, each shop, I make it my mission to try a new treat in the unending world of German treats. But a post-trip shop is always a special kind of satisfying. Pre-trip, I empty our fridge and give all suitable products to a friend (so as not to be wasteful) so we have not a crumb upon returning home. (Note to self; start leaving a milk in the freezer so you can at least have a coffee or a cup of tea upon getting home.) Thus, post-trip, I hit that supermarket with zero limits on what we need, and piling that trolley with everything results in one of life’s simplest, most cockle-warming pleasures; filling the cupboards. (On a similar cockle-warming level, is that first coffee after you wake up after the first night in your own bed. Always lovely.)

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There are other delights about coming home, that ease the innate sorrow of leaving an excellent holiday, or a special window of time spent with dearly missed people. Pre-children, one of these for me was laundry. Oh the smell of softener, the snap as you unfurl a freshly-washed tee shirt with a flick, before hanging it on the line. The feeling of immense satisfaction when your whites, darks, and colours are all evenly matched piles. Post-children, I am beyond glad we did almost all of our laundry at Mum’s before flying home.

And, as much as I deride the rain, the cooler days, it is nice to have a change in weather after the humidity and sweat of the tropics. The clear air, the blue sky, even an afternoon or two of rain. It all gives life a little scrub, a refreshing douse of change, that finishes the job a holiday sets out to do – give a little colour to whatever was starting to fade.

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Golden Moments

The reason we hopped a plane four weeks after I gave birth, was to attend my sister’s wedding in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. There are few other things that could have propelled us onto a long distance flight with a not-quite-two-year-old and a four-week-old; the promise of half a million dollars on the other side, perhaps, or a lifetime’s supply of truly excellent donuts. Although, reflecting on the flight back to Singapore from Vietnam, I am not quite sure there is anything that would make that worthwhile. Not even donuts. And I love donuts.

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We drove through the humid sprawl of Ho Chi Minh city to get to our accommodation, unable to stop a relentless commentary on the sheer lunacy of what is quite possibly the city’s defining feature; scooter traffic. Good Lord. As SG said, it is hard to know if they are the best drivers in the world, or the worst. To the naked eye, there seemed to be neither ryhme nor reason to the way the scooters blended with cars and busses and each other, gliding in and out of seeming mortal danger, to the soundtrack of endless horns. But they all seemed to know what they were doing – it was only our Germanic understanding of Ordnung that bore any affront.

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To be frank, we didn’t leave our resort for the 5 days we were in Ho Chi Minh. Instead, we spent time with family, and it was glorious. Der Lüdde met his Great Nana who had made the trek from Sydney to Vietnam at the sprightly age of 86, almost all of his Great Aunts and Uncles, and second cousins. Watching my Nana holding her newest great grandchild was one of those moments in life in which one suddenly feels very close to the fundamental. In fact, those days in Vietnam were full of such moments, like watching my sister walking down the aisle, my Dad puffed with pride, my Mum crying. Giving die Lüdde over to her Nana and Great Aunt so I could drink a beer. My cousin asking how to hold der Lüdde and keeping him calm for a solid ten minutes, my brother horsing around with his delighted niece. We didn’t see the city, but we can always go back. But you can’t always go back to these moments, these golden moments. My children won’t be small forever, my grandparents won’t be around forever, and living on the other side of the world to my family, I feel all of this so very keenly.

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It is always worthwhile, the time and the money and the inflight meltdowns, the overtired toddlers and jetlagged days, when family is waiting on the other end. We crossed paths for a few days, in sweaty heat, to welcome a new brother and son, to celebrate my sister, and to remind each other of how very lucky we are.