Rows and Rows

Two things, both independent of each other, and often working in cahoots, make you get out and about more in your own neighbourhood; visitors and good weather. April and May gave us the former in abundance and the latter in just enough quantity to be of assurance the sun does indeed exist and it can, when it feels like it, smile upon northern Germany. Ergo, the last couple of weeks – while we’ve waited on internet technicians and key locksmiths and hassled incompetent moving companies – we have been getting out and about to sightsee with Kiel first timers, and to check out more of what surrounds us. Checking out what surrounds us, it must be admitted, found a logical extension in adding scenic, pram-friendly routes to the ‘stroll list’ for when we are no longer two, but three.

My cousin was with us for last week and he was, as many are when they journey to Germany, keen to see some historical war sites. Kiel has several of its own memorials and sites of interest tucked away, but its main association with WW2 still exists today; Kiel’s port was a major naval base and where the war ships and submarines were built. Consequently, it was bombed heavily and largely rebuilt after the war. A walk to the water today will take you to the once-more significant naval base and ship and submarine building yards which remain central to the sailing city’s industry and economy.

Unsure of what else to show my cousin beyond Laboe, where the Naval Memorial and UBoot-995 lies, I asked SG’S Mum about some other historical war sites we could visit. She suggested the British Commonwealth War Cemetery, the final resting place of nearly one thousand WW2 soldiers from Great Britian, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Poland. Turns out the cemetery, which is part of the Nordfriedhof (Kiel has two beautiful cemeteries, one in the north and one in the south) is about a 900m walk from our place. So on a suitably grey and grizzly day, my cousin and I set out to find it, via my favourite cafe for a warming drink.

I love cemeteries and this one is beautiful. Huge trees crane over the headstones, and drip onto the wide paths. Everything is green and quiet.

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With no one about and quite unsure if we were allowed to do so (one can never be sure) we went off the muddy path and pushed through the little gate into the British Commonwealth Cemetery.

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Row and row of headstones, with names and ages rarely over 29. Some headstones had no names, some bore a sentence of two of Godly sacrifice and gratitude, some families had been able to engrave a few words. We wound our way quietly through the rows.

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To the Sea

We’re moving again. The Bavarian chapter is coming to a close, and we’re heading back up north. We don’t know exactly when, but it will be soon after returning from Australia, and just over two years since we moved here in 2012. How was 2012 two years ago? Isn’t it still 2012? How old am I?

Wie die Zeit vergeht. 

Bavaria, particularly the little pocket of it we have inhabited, has played a really important part in all of this, this being the German Adventure (for lack of a better, catchier name). To be perfectly frank, it hasn’t been somewhere we have adored living, indeed it was a transition the both of us found very difficult, culturally, socially, personally. But we drew a lot from our time here, of that I am certain. I feel that, had I not been given the chance to live here, my perceptions of this country and its people would be, naturally, narrower. I certainly wouldn’t know as much about bloody dialects and beer as I do now. As it stands, Weiden in der Oberpfalz offered an entirely different experience to the one I had in Münster, and was on the other end of the comparison scale when it came to life up in Kiel. If I had stuck to the north and the ‘mid-west’ of Germany, I wouldn’t have learnt as much as I have about the country I live in. I would likely have a different understanding of Germany as a whole (which is a very difficult picture to get a hold of, this country is so proudly regional, its people so very much connected to their patches of home).

And, of course, I have also learnt an awful lot about myself, living here. The places we set up camp in, for however long, reveal things about us, about our needs and wants. I will always remember someone telling me each place you live in, peels away a layer, shows you something different about yourself. What you can do, and indeed what you can’t. What you want from a home, what you don’t. What you need in life, in order to find your balance and purpose. As I move through this life, I’m finding the relationships with places are like the ones we have with people. Weiden hasn’t been perfect, at times it has been downright difficult, but it has been important. I will always believe that.

For me, Kiel feels like home here in Germany. I get Kiel and it gets me. It has been like that from the beginning, when I first caught a train up there to meet SG’s home town and Kiel and I connected in the freezing Baltic air. I feel right there, I feel good. I like the northerners, their openness and directness. I like the summers of beaches and strawberries stands everywhere you look. There is a freshness to Kiel, an openness – there’s that word again. I don’t feel contained, hemmed in, like I do down here. As I have learnt, I am not one for landlocked towns, for mountains and hills and lakes. I am one for the sea, and there I have it. Where I have the sea, everything is okay.

We have a magnet on our fridge:20140116_145303

Shall do.

The Seaside and a Submarine

The best thing about visits to Kiel – quite apart from SG’s lovely family and his mother’s extraordinary smelling towels – is being by the sea. The sound of gulls, the smell of salt and that pervasive sense of calm the ocean brings with it.

The first time I went to Kiel it was too cold to breathe and after a three second stroll down the promenade, I begged to be taken inside for a coffee. The second time I visited Kiel, Germany was coming out of a revolting winter (2010/2011) and on a day that cracked 14 degrees, SG took me to the beach. I have never forgotten it. It was the first time I had stood on sand since moving to Germany and I collected shells and breathed in the bracing, salty freshness of it all.   Since then, each time we have come up North, we have made a point of going to the water, namely so we can stand on the sand and breathe in the salty freshness of it all. For SG, it is home. For me, it is a little bit of home in this part of the world.

Yesterday, the day before we were due to fly back to landlocked Weiden, the sun finally came out. Sort of. It waged a tense battle against belligerent, smothering  clouds and triumphed enough to warm one’s back and make the Spring flowers seem that little bit brighter. Already determined to hit the seaside, regardless of weather, the sun’s weak-tea rays were an added bonus.

SG drove us somewhere new this time, to a little holiday village called Laboe. It is on the other side of the water, directly opposite the beach we have been known to patronise, the bitter East Sea wind in our hair. Laboe is about a 25 minute drive out of Kiel and sits quietly on the always refreshing Baltic Sea coast. Here boats are moored, souvenir stands sell kitsch mugs and picture frames with shells stuck on and fish and chip shops abound.

We headed straight for the sand, in all its seaweed and broken-shell covered glory. The lighter skies and absence of drizzle had driven others to the beach, in their puffy jackets and scarves. The water was flat and clear, the colours of north German seaside so different to those I am used to, but no less soothing, no less refreshing. The wicker seats you can hire were all closed up like clams, the weather not quite warm enough for hours spent by the sea.

From the sand we made our way past shrieking children, their enthusiasm for playing in the sand undampened by the clouds (I should really take a leaf out of their book) to a restaurant by the boats. The seats outside all faced the water and came with, as is customary here, blankets for cold knees. It was just warm enough to eat outside and just cool enough to huddle by the heater, blanket wrapped around legs. We ordered Backfisch, something we both devoured as children, during summers by the sea, and it came with a huge pool of tartar sauce.

It tasted unbelievable.

As it turns out, Laboe is not only home to enormous servings of fried fish, but also German submarine U-995, the last surviving submarine of its type. Type VII submarines, as I learned, were standard submarines used by the German forces in the Battle of Atlantic 1939-1945. During World War II, about 60% were lost in battle, with the remaining submarines either given to the Allies or scuttled by their own crew. The U-995, stationed in Norway at the time of Germany’s defeat, was handed over to the British and then to Norway in 1948. She was decommissioned in 1962 and, in a gesture of ‘regained friendship’ between Germany and Norway, following the German occupation of 1940-1945, given back to Germany. In 1965 she was transferred to Kiel where she now sits as a beautifully maintained museum. That’s something I love about Germany – history is everywhere, even in day trips to the beach. On a whim, we bought a gold token and pushed through the turnstile.

Nearby the U-995, stands The German Naval Memorial. Originally built as a memorial for German sailors killed in WWI, following WWII, it became a monument to peace. We bought a gold token for it too. What once was a symbol of German marine power and pride now exists simply to remember and honour those who fell foul of a ghastly battle for supremacy. Inside are flags, flowers and wreaths, tributes to those who now rest at sea. You can climb 341 steps (or catch an elevator) to the very top and, from the dizzying height of 72m, look out across the sea, at the passing ships, back towards Kiel itself. These ships, the information brochure informed me, to this day, dip their flags on passing the memorial, to honour those who died at sea.

It was one of my favourite days.

Delightful Damp

The DB and me being in one of our ‘on’ phases, I zoomed up to my beloved nearly-Scandinavian, sea-breeze-enriched Kiel this weekend on a fuss-free, 3.5 hour trip. On this remarkably smooth trip, I read a few detective stories and gazed out the window. I also watched some sort of slapstick skit that unfolded when an unwitting passenger kept putting his scarf on the  overhead shelf, not realising the shelf had slats through which the scarf kept slipping – onto the woman in front’s head etc, etc. When the DB is in fine form, it is in fine form. Consequently, so are we.

Kiel welcomed me with its usual fresh, icy hug and, highlight of highlights, a delicious Australian red wine – a Shiraz made in South East Australia,  imported and branded by German company, Käfer. Germs, keep an eye out for it.

Today, with temps dipping below zero in the morning (Winter is on its way) we set out for Damp, a beachside town north-east of Kiel. There we found seagulls, sand and sugar-coated apfelschnecke pastries. The sun was out, the usual biting wind was non-existent and Damp proved to be anything but. In fact it was notably dry and rather delightful.

Eckenfoerde - en route to Damp

Chilling in Damp

A (Weekend) Seachange

The last time I was in Kiel, it was March. Coming out of a long, hard Winter, I distinctly remember watching the temperature gauge on the dashboard of Significant German’s car and cheering loudly when it hit 14 degrees. I think I yelled something like, ‘suck it Winter, Spring is here.’ It was a high point. A yearned for light at the end of a cheek-bitingly, nose snappingly cold tunnel.

Kiel, at that time, looked a little like this:

We ended up, because we’re so spontaneous and free spirited, taking a little trip across the border to the lovely Danish seaside town of Sønderborg. It was fucking freezing. I ate a hotdog, lost feeling in my face and felt suitably Spring-like.  Sønderborg looked a little like this:

This time around, the city of sailors gave us three solid days of bright, clear, Scandinavian-esque sunshine. It was the sun’s last hurrah before it disappears down-under to give my hemisphere brethren their most famed season. The daily temperatures were in the single digits – apart from the occasional midday peak of 10/11 degrees – and the nights were somewhat crisp. Bracing, some may say. This time, Kiel looked a little like this:

As you can see, I was celebrating in much drearier surrounds earlier this year. One’s mind is a funny thing.

We did the trendy thing of getting a coffee at a Campus Suite, where the Kielers who care to see and be seen, go to sip their brews. It was abysmal, burnt and bitter and I mistook cinammon and sugar for brown sugar, which rendered the entire beverage essentially undrinkable. We drifted down Kiel’s ridiculously long main shopping street (that has the bizarre honour of being the second-longest in Germany or something equally as unnecessary) brunched on the water and strolled down a pier, jutting out into the frosty water. The wind rolling off the North Sea was like  a slap of mouthwash to the face. Because I am a wimp, I  lasted about 4 minutes before I started begging to go back to the car with its highly effective in-built bottom warmers.

But mostly, like each time I have been in Kiel, I just enjoyed being by the water. Hearing the seagulls and watching them wheel out over that huge, comforting, blue blanket. And I enjoyed being amongst the people. The water does something to those who live by it and the Kielers are cheerful, friendly people who pepper their conversations with strange words like ‘moin’ and ‘yo!’ In Kiel, you’re walking upon Germany’s last bastion before Scandinavia, in all its frosty beauty, takes hold. There’s a different vibe in the sea air, and I always feel refreshed when I DB out of there and strangely, as if I am leaving something familiar and comforting behind, sad.

Tschüss Winter

I went to a beach on the weekend. I was up north (way up north, 40-minutes-from-the-Danish-border-north) in the seaside city of Kiel and Sunday dawned 14 degrees. What’s a German to do when it crashes through the double digits for the first time in months? Unwind the pashmina, get in the car, and head to the water. I wasn’t in Muenster, but I suspect the harbour and lake were pumping on Sunday and, similarly, the beach at Kiel was full of revellers. Some had even cracked out a grill on the beach and were barbecuing. Once upon a time I would have scoffed, ‘premature my friends, premature.’ Once upon a time, 14 degrees was considered a normal winter’s day, one that warranted complaining and bitching about the need to wear a scarf. Once upon a time, flat surf and a teeny strip of sand would have garnered an eye-roll from my inner beach snob.

But, no longer.

On Sunday, European Liv shunned the scarf and partially unzipped her plastic bag jacket. She cheered on the barbecuers. She relished prancing along the pier. She didn’t make one  comment about the flat surf … fine, she made one comment, but it was in the interest of geographical conversation. Because European Liv has learnt to appreciate good weather in a way she never has before.

Australian Liv is spoilt and takes the sun for granted. She has made a habit of following it around the world.  She has turned up her nose at winter fashion, riding out Sydney’s 2 months of coolness by hibernating in leggings and jumpers. Australian Liv complains at anything below 15 degrees.

But European Liv now rejoices at anything above 6. She skips when it hits 9. She chanted all through February, ‘as long as it isn’t snowing.’ She lives on and verbally charts the climbing temperatures to anyone in ear-shot.  On Sunday, European Liv tipped her pale face to the sky and thanked Zeus himself that Winter.Is.Over.

(Next step … slyly pick daffodils off the path without anyone noticing. There is a great crop on my walk the bus stop, but it’s right near a school and I just know I will be spotted.)