The Slow, Well-Lit Crawl

There isn’t much that is extreme about Kiel’s weather. It doesn’t get extremely hot during summer, nor extremely cold during winter. We don’t get extreme amounts of snow – although it does get extraordinarily windy, so there’s that. But what is rather novel, and a little closer than not to the ‘extreme’ end of the spectrum, is how much light we get here, during the warmer months.

As we begin the crawl towards midsummer, which always comes far too quickly for my liking, the days get longer and longer, the light hanging around until 10, 10.30, heck even 11. In the mornings, after months of making coffee in the pitch black, you suddenly find yourself ready to start the day at about 5 o’clock. At least, the birds do. (Ah, the birds. Have I told you they have come out and are singing these days? Magical. And the bulbs are bursting out too, daffodils and crocuses and Schneeglöckchen.)

As the days lengthen and the temps move like a drunk snail towards solid double digits (sliding forwards, slipping back, inching forwards once more), the urge to be outside as much as possible has taken over. It is almost compulsive. This is the time of year you actually bother to get out of the house before naptime. The hustle of boots and jackets and hats is worth it, because you will be outdoors for longer than a quick ten minute walk around the block.

On the weekend we were out for hours. Hours. Do you know what it feels like to be out for hours, after months of ducking in and out of heating, hands shoved in pockets, jumping up and down on the balls of your feet muttering ‘fuck it’s cold’ until it really is unbearable to spend a minute longer outside, and running back inside, where you have been all day slowly going mad? I shall tell you. It feels utterly rejuvenating. It feels well-earned and jubilant. It feels joyful, after months of staving off cabin fever with hot drinks and sweet treats and trips to Ikea instead of the park. It feels like the whole city has collectively exhaled.

We hit the Kieler Umschlag, we hit the park, the playground, the bakery for mini Spritzkuchen for breakfast. And just as well … because Monday brought with her a cruel wind and I found myself back at the playground jumping up and down on the balls of my feet muttering, ‘fuck it’s cold.’


Home Stretch (?)

Yesterday we awoke to the most glorious sunshine. It fizzed through the apartment and zipped into our moods like Tinkerbell on speed. We were all so bright. The morning flew by in a sun-drenched whirl of breakfast and snacks and games and repeated, penetrating requests for ‘BV’ and my heart soared at the notion of a lovely, long sunny walk in the afternoon.


What actually happened was the clouds rolled in as I trotted to the bakery on the corner to get some Kuchen for a planned Kaffee und Kuchen with the kids’ Oma and Großtante. As I ordered two slices of Bienenstich and two Zitronentaler there was a muted roar outside and a belch of wind rushed down the street, blowing the bakery’s sign over. As I handed over my 5.10€, the snow came in a jittery rash, tiny little ice balls dancing all over the pavement, as if the clouds couldn’t even be bothered to summon actual snow.

Actual snow did, however, fall for a few minutes and as it did, I said to SG, ‘the sun will come out later.’ The sky grumbled a little longer, clearing its bowels of the last of the ice, and as we ate the last of the Kuchen, out the sun did indeed come. The blue returned. The apartment flooded with golden afternoon light. We rugged up and grabbed the Bobby Car and hit a Spielplatz and it was absolutely Arschkalt and bitingly windy.

But the Arschkalt-ness and the cruel wind didn’t matter. What mattered was, at least yesterday, the sun won. We are almost, sort of, just, possibly … on the home stretch.


There is the Sky Grey, the Street Grey and the Naked Branches Grey.

The Light Grey of Mid Mornings that dulls to Dark Afternoon Grey, a particularly heavy shade that warrants a hot drink and a lamp or candle on. Anything that makes you feel all hygge or gemütlich, anything that takes the focus off the fact another whole day has passed without sunlight.

There is Rain Grey (and within Rain Grey, there is It’s Pissing Down Grey and Only Drizzling Grey) and Puddle Grey and Fjord Reflecting the Sky Grey. Occasionally there is Slush Grey, and there is a particularly special, rather popular shade I like to call Rainy Sunday Grey.

There is Trendy Scandinavian Flooring Grey that you find in cafes with candles and flowers planted in the middle of the table. This grey blends effortlessly with General Surroundings Grey.

There is Fog Grey and Misty Morning Grey and Cloud Grey. Although Cloud Grey often gets lost in Sky Grey; one must really squint to discern the shades.

This is the sky.

There is Endless Autobahn Grey as you take to a roadtrip to break the cabin fever. Endless Autobahn is beautifully offset by Strange Gun Metal Grey Trees.

There is Seagull Grey and Pigeon Grey and Seagulls and Pigeons Splashing in Puddles Grey.

There is Face Grey, the colour we all go after being deprived of sunlight and vitamin D for months on end. And there is Mood Grey, the collective state of us as February drones on and on.

And on.


Peruvian Mangoes & Needle Rain

And so we have arrived, cold, pale-skinned and severely Vitamin D deprived, in my most hated month of the Northern Hemisphere year; February. Ooh she is a cruel mistress, February. And oh how I have so very often bemoaned her cold, grey ways. She does it to me every year, drives me up the walls of the apartment she forces us to hunker down in as the rain falls and the temperature hovers at a number germs and viruses thrive in, and all the way back down again. Every year. Every damn year.

Der Lüdde and I went out to the markets yesterday, for a coffee that was cold within minutes, and a stroll with a friend. The cold at the moment is wet, wet and biting, of course if you are a baby wrapped in a lamb’s wool-lined suit, that doesn’t really matter. Oh to be a baby wrapped in lamb’s wool and marvellously ignorant of Schietwetter. The markets this time of year are quieter, less colourful. Loads of pale,  knotty root veggies blinking in the light. That being said, in amongst the stalls of turnips and woodfired bread and tiny organic leeks, was a rainbow fruit stall, selling Peruvian mangoes for 6.50€ a piece. Quite apart from not being desperate enough  to pay 6.50€ for a single mango, yet, I have become accustomed to eating more seasonally, and the idea of a mango in February felt wrong. It seems a touch of the German sense of Ordnung has indeed got under my skin. (Now, the idea of a mango in February in Australia, well that is quite simply enormously right.) But, look, I have to say … I picked up a mango and smelled it, looking like a real loon, but it begged me to, with its sunset skin and sweet, sweet smell … maybe I am closer to paying 6.50€ for a Peruvian mango than I thought. This is what February in this part of the world does to you. Robs you of reason.

On the way home from picking die Lüdde up from her playgroup, the needle rain started and before long we were all dripping, cheeks red, eyelashes wet. Die Lüdde clung determinedly to a soggy rice cake, a gift from her little mate. The rain didn’t let up for most of the rest of the day, so we resigned ourselves to another day of puzzles and drawing and Kneate and fossicking around the apartment to find things we could turn into games (‘look, an old tin full of biros that may or may not work – why don’t you go through each and every one of them and test them out!’). This time of year is tricky with kids – it is too cold or too wet or too miserable to haunt a Spielplatz, or one of them is nursing just enough of a cough to not make standing in the damp cold for a few minutes of slippery dip fun quite worth it. So you build up craft boxes, grabbing glitter pens and sticker whenever you see them, dropping 12€ at Tiger on anything colourful that can be glued to paper. You crack out the puzzles you cleverly bought months back and put away for a rainy day (ie: the entire season of winter) and you read a lot of books. A lot. No wonder Germany is das Land der Dichter und Denker. The weather means one has not much else to do except sit inside and think and perhaps jot a poem or two down about how god awful the weather is and consequently, how dark one’s soul is.

Tja. February. You test me every time.


As time passes and I find my answer to ‘seit wann sind Sie in Deutschland?’ changing to a number of years that seems heavy to me, a strange, uncomfortable thing is happening; I feel, sometimes, as if an erosion of my Australianess is taking place. It is slow and for the most part so incremental as to be almost unnoticeable, like the smallest leak in a very large bucket. But it is there, this sense of being washed away, this sense of, on difficult days, loss.

Loss, of course, occurs naturally with age. I have, rather unfortunately, lost the body I had as a 25 year old and lost the very blonde hair I had when I lived in a country with plenty of sun to help the sporadic dye jobs. I have lost the thirst, the uncertainty, the unending desire to prove oneself, that accompanies one throughout their twenties. I have lost patience for many things, interest in others. I have lost sleep, or rather, it has been stolen by the two little people I have gained in its place. None of that is bad. All of those things most probably would have occurred whether I had stayed in Australia or not (except the hair). But, alongside the things I am shedding as I grow older and further into my skin, are these intangible pieces of self, and they are disappearing not because I am growing older, but because of where I am growing older.

Recently, I went to the first English playgroup I have come across since having my first baby here two and a half years ago. I don’t seek out English-centred activities for my children, although I will as they get older and most of their days are spent speaking German with teachers and classmates. And I will always feel the need to defend doing English-centred activities with them because I heard these words so often when I first moved here, they hang around my neck like a chain; ‘you live in Germany now, you must speak German.’ And as immigrants, we are naturally defensive of passing on our culture and our language. Defensive and yet proud. Obstinate, irritatingly so, but only because we fear being lost in our children.

So there we were, a disparate bunch, a Kiwi who had married a Dutch woman who herself had grown up in Kiel. An American who had married a German, a German who had married an Englishman, a British-American born in Germany, raised in London, who had married a German and returned to the country of his birth, if not his citizenship and so on, so forth. Our kids had accents and mixed their vocabs and it was a warm and easy meeting of like minds. I was asked where I was from, and when I said, ‘Australia’, the response was one I hear often, but this time, this time it stuck with me; ‘oh, you can barely hear it.’

I know that accents often come and go, exist in a constant state of flux. They come back with a vengeance when you are with family and friends, they pop out when you are angry or excited. And they drift off when they haven’t heard themselves for a while, and you find yourself mirroring another person’s vowels, or over-annunciating some words to be better understood, or inserting quirks of the language you are learning, into your mother tongue. But your accent reveals your heritage, warns others of where you come from, singles you out in a roomful of people. And mine, albeit never particularly strong in the first place, is fading. So I try and hang onto the way we speak. I hated shortening words when I lived at home, words like ‘arvo’ for afternoon, but I say it all the time now. Almost deliberately. Definitely deliberately. For the same reason we have hung the paintings of Australian birds, bright and colourful and heart-warmingly distinct, around our apartment, my husband and I throw flat Aussie vowels at each other, use expressions I grew up hearing from my parents, and it helps.

My formative years, of course, indeed my first 25 years, were spent in the country of my birth and my citizenship. I grew up there, was educated there, voted there, worked there; I come from, I am. And yet, I have never rented an apartment in Australia. I have never had a baby there. I have never bought a house there. All three of those things, those so very adult, life-defining things, I have done here. There have been three Prime Ministers – I think –  since I left the only country in which I am legally allowed to vote.  I see what angers my people, and it angers me too. I celebrate our victories. I will always support the green and gold. But I do it all from afar, without the immediacy of being there, without the context of having been there as things take place. And of course, I lot of it passes me by. A lot of names, I don’t recognise, a lot of things happen and I come to them late; a lot of problem are not my own, or rather, they are my own but they are occurring in a different system, in another language.

Strangely, I do not feel like the slow erosion of my Australianness correlates with a deepening of my Germanness. I do not feel any more German than I did six years ago, freshly arrived and floundering. I understand the Germans and German far, far more. I love them and this country in a manner achievable only through being a part of it. But I do not feel a part of my cultural identity is German. I feel a part of my cultural identity is being foreign within Germany, but not German. And from where I stand, in a position of terrific privilege, I – even I – can see, how immigrants isolate. Isolate and insulate. Because as an immigrant, you are never not what you came from, but you are also never what where you are. This tension can be a wonderful thing. Fascinating and eternally educational. But it can also be disengaging, a slippery slope to disenchantment, an easy reason to cling to what you left behind in defiance of a culture you do not feel a part of.

And yet, and yet. There is another way of looking at this, for I also know that a part of me was always seeking something different, a tension, a suspension, otherwise I would never have left Australia. Otherwise I would not be sitting here, looking out on a cold, grey north German winter’s day, while my half German son gums a rattle on the floor. And that same part of me knows that there is another way of looking at this sense of erosion, this fear I am being painted over as life barrels on and further away from both what I knew and what I thought it would look like; rather than being taken away from, I am being added to. I have lost nothing, but instead gained abundantly.

Quiet & Slow

Temperatures plunged, the roads turned icy, and any lingering resolve I may have had to go outside disappeared over the weekend. On Saturday we postponed plans with family because the Feuerwehr advised against driving and, as I get older, and my children weigh heavily on my heart, I make almost all decisions based on variations of the ‘those parents’ question: in this case, ‘do we want to be those parents who go driving, have an accident and get asked by the police why we were driving in the first place?’ Having cancelled our plans, I set out on foot to buy nappies, or something equally as urgent, and nearly fell on my arse, twice. I turned back and handed the job to SG. I am in no mood, at this time of year, to fall on my arse carrying nappies and cast about wildly for someone’s hand to assist in heaving my Christmas-fattened body back on its feet. I am in no mood to do much at all, mid January, except eat, watch my jeans tighten, and plan imaginary holidays to Greece.

(Actually, on the note of planning imaginary holidays, I thought about exploring the possibility of a little long weekend break in Denmark. So I hopped online, looked at houses, and over the course of doing about ten minutes of research, my subconscious spun through the logistics of an easy breezy weekend with a baby and a toddler – travel cots and baby food, and a toddler who is very much wedded to the idea of sleeping exclusively in her own bed, toys for indoor play, snow suits and boots for freezing outdoor adventures, groceries … And I stopped. I closed every window I had opened and went and made myself a coffee. I think I’ll wait a bit for easy breezy weekends away to become a thing again.)

But, there is beauty in the cold air. And each day brings us closer to Spring, even though I am sure there is snow waiting in February’s wings.  I almost hope there is, because die Lüdde is completely obsessed with it. If and when it falls, I hope there is enough for a snowman, or a sledding situation with Papa. Perhaps, quite like the spell they cast on Christmas, children can make winter a little more magical too.

Januaries are always quiet and huddled, here. it almost feels like the volume gets turned down. Many of my non-German friends fly home for the weeks over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, cleverly skipping the grey, post-Christmas letdown. The past couple of years we escaped too, but not this time. And that’s okay. We can huddle too, play with Christmas presents, drink tea and brave drizzly morning walks to playgroup, the air wet and cold. With each winter I spend in this part of the world, it gets a tiny bit easier, the hibernation a little more restorative. And there is something quite nice about being forced to stay inside and laze about without feeling guilty about it. I mean, if the Feuerwehr say ‘don’t drive anywhere’, it is a very small step to reach ‘stay in your pyjamas all day and watch Netflix until Netflix itself asks you if you are sure you are still watching.’ Very small.

That being said, come February, I will be singing a very different, far whinier tune.

The Sick Season

I used to think the most intolerable part of a north German winter was the grey. The grey sky, the grey trees, the grey water, the grey air. Days of no colour that bled into one another, January indiscernible from February. Second to the grey was the wet, the needle rain, the Schietwetter, the drizzle, the downpours. Oh, and the cold, of course – the thigh-numbing wind, the ducking and darting from overheated shop to overheated shop. (I am used to the cold now, it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Although I dream, I dream, of beaches.)

But now I know that the most intolerable part of winter is actually the fact that, for months on end, everyone is sick. Dastardly colds, the flu, the stomach flu, they cycle through the general populous, knocking cities out like dominoes. As you stagger to the finish line of three days of efficiently throwing up, efficient because you have to be while your kid projectiles all over every piece of spare bed linen you own, someone in the family starts coughing threateningly. A week later you are all hoiking up vast amounts of phlegm and splashing seriously weak eucalyptus oil over every piece of spare bed linen you own. Your toddler develops a Honigfenchel addiction and considers it part of bedtime routine.  You use the word ‘Schleim‘ about three thousand time over the course of th day. After about a week, you stagger out of that cold, thrilled the baby can now breathe without a litre of Otriven being pumped into his nose every night, and then the toddler’s nose starts streaming. Again. Your throat closes up. You genuinely start drinking Erkältungstee because you are that desperate and when you are desperate you start to think like a German, and thinking like a German means believing a bag of dried unhelpfulness dipped in boiling water will cure all that ails you.

We are crawling out of a fortnight of sickness (when I say ‘we’, I mean the kids are crawling out, I appear to be crawling in …) which began precisely a fortnight after die Lüdde got over a cough/runny nose combo. I have come to realise, through sheer positive thinking, Netflix, enough chocolate and wine, and a good coat, I can do grey, I can do cold, I can do wet, I can do days on end finding ways to entertain a toddler while the Spielplätze outside are off limits … But I don’t know if I can do the sickness. The constant, hoiking, coughing, sniffing, vomiting sickness. That sense of never quite feeling well.

I had a chat with a couple of other immigrant ladies the other night, about why the sickness season in Germany is so dire (and dire squared when one has children). Dire in that, when a bug goes around it is both vicious and so widespread it knocks out the country. Dire in that, there is a period of health that lasts about a month, before the next bug barges in.  And we were a varied bunch theorising: a few Americans, an Australian and a Finn. I have always theorised it is a combination of no sun, low light, low vitamin levels, and the completely unhealthy overheating of indoor areas which means you go from freezing outside, to overheating and sweating inside, about four times a day. An American tossed in her theories of population density and lower levels of hand-washing. I then began relentlessly questioning SG as to whether he believes Germans are less hygienic and whether or not his colleagues wash their hands enough.

Anyway. We’re surviving, if not thriving over here, and the end of this latest bout is in sight. It is a fresh, new, shiny year and I love fresh, new shiny years. Let’s clink Erkältungstee cups and drink to good health, even if only for a couple of weeks.

The Darkest Day

It is the shortest, darkest day of the year today. Winter solstice. And yet, there is blue sky, and the sun keeps pushing through the clouds, undeterred. There is a metaphor in there somewhere, for the state of the world right now, where there is so much darkness, so much insidious darkness.

From here, the days will begin to lengthen. The sun will rise earlier in the morning. There will be more light. The tiny kernel of promise, the little flame of light, that seems so small during these dark days, will grow and grow, until it is almost all we can see. The darkness never disappears, but it never triumphs either.

Last week, family blew in from all corners of the globe, from Sydney and London and Amsterdam, and it was wonderful. We had a long weekend of German Christmas treats and coffees and vegemite Brötchen and catch ups. The kids were fussed over and die Lüdde ate way too many Zimtsterne. It was a big dose of familial cheer and carried us almost all the way to Heilige Abend’s front door.

Holy Evening. Christmas Eve. I don’t believe in a God, but I respect your right to. I believe, though, in the sanctity of family, however that family is formed. I believe in the faith we place in each other, in community. And I believe that this time of year is a time to draw close and celebrate each other and that which binds us as family, as community.

So Merry Christmas to all of you. Draw close. Let the light in.


It has become apparent that, at this stage of the proceedings, I am essentially existing off Stollen. I was inclined to ignore it myself, but as I ferried in another plate of it into the living room at around the lunchtime hour, SG idly mentioned it seemed Stollen was replacing meals. I thought back to breakfast … Stollen with a side of Knusperhaus. I looked ahead to the afternoon, and saw Christmas Market treats. Momentarily, the poorness of my diet loomed large. Then I shrugged. ‘It’s Christmas.’


And Christmas it indeed is. The most magical and, in a way, most bittersweet time of year. There is always, and will always be, one eye so very firmly fixed on Australia during this season. Sure, there is the nostalgia associated with my childhood Christmasses, that seeps into adulthood, even more so now I have children of my own. There is the keen awareness of the passing of time that the end of year brings, and the knowledge that time has once again passed without certain people in it; it begins to weigh heavily on my conscience, a strange type of guilt. And then there is the simple fact that I miss home, I miss my family, I miss my friends. The dull, ever-present pull of Heimweh is more acute at this time of year than at any other.


But what luck I have, how rich I am, to have family and friends in good health on both sides of the globe. And how wonderful it is to peer into the bittersweetness of December, with its light and chocolate and carousel rides, its post boxes and Skype calls and story-telling, and see that richness, that luck. There is a part of being foreign, the part that sees your family living so far away, that sometimes wonders when that luck will run out, that awaits the time a flight home will not be for a happy reunion, or a hot Christmas. It sits alongside that aforementioned type of guilt, that you put roots down so far away from those who love you. It is an odd confection, emigration, and mine was in the most privileged circumstances, that I am all too aware of.


St Nicholas came last night and left some little treats in die Lüdde’s slightly muddy gumboot. We will get our tree today and dress it with ornaments new and old. I’ll cut another slice of Stollen and we’ll risk a late afternoon visit to the Weihnachtsmarkt with a toddler and a baby a few more times yet. It is always worth it for the delighted cry of ‘Lights! Lights! Mama look!’ and the steaming hot Glühwein. And the Poffertjes. The most wonderful time of the year it most certainly is, the most bittersweet time of year it will always be.


One of my aunties emigrated from Switzerland to Australia in the 70s, drawn there by my uncle (who she met when her father gave him a job as a shepherd in Switzerland) and his tumbling blonde locks and form-fitting flares. She was around the same age I was, when I moved to Germany. Out in Oz, she added English to her stockpile of languages, including the key phrase at the petrol station, ‘fill ‘er up, mate’, and had two kids, a girl first, and then a boy. (Strangely, I always thought of my auntie as Italian, because I was told she could speak it, and then my cousins learnt it, and as a child, I had little to no concept of Switzerland, with its various official languages and ethnicities. I was also suitably impressed by the fact she could speak Italian, yet had no idea she could speak German until an embarrassing amount of years later. I think in many ways, she was just a very exotic European to my young eyes.)

Since I emigrated from Australia to Germany, there have been so many times I have thought of my auntie, doing the reverse of what I have done, decades earlier. The culture shock, the language barriers, the Heimweh. Now that I have kids, first a girl and then a boy, I have started wondering how she navigated the playgroups and playgrounds and giving her children the culture and language she grew up with. I also wonder how she managed to keep in touch with anyone without the internet.

One way my auntie brought her Swiss-ness to us Aussies, was through food. Every Christmas she would arrive with a huge platter of her famous biscuits. (That is genuinely what they were called.) Chewy, spicy little stars, glazed hearts, jam filled discs. They were the way we finished off every Christmas lunch, and if we were lucky, we would have some leftover for the next few days of idle gluttony.

Those biscuits, I came to learn a couple of years ago, were Plätzchen, special Christmas biscuits this part of the world bakes and consumes by the ton come November and December. They were Zimtsterne and Plätzchen mit Erdbeermarmelade, little bites of tradition that were part of my Australian Christmasses because my auntie was there and now, of course, my German ones, because I am here.

The first Christmas after die Lüdde was born, one of my then-new mum friends invited us round to bake Plätzchen and drink Glühwein. We did it again this year, this time with sticky toddler hands ‘helping’ and eating the decorations. We’ll do it again next year, with more sticky toddler hands and a hell of a lot more Glühwein. Our Plätzchen will take a while to reach the polished, nigh on professional heights of my auntie’s, but we’re working on it. I even had a crack of (packet mix) Vanillekipferl a week or so ago, and they weren’t half bad.

In this time of life, and particularly at this time of year, I am so aware of family traditions, both making new ones and continuing those of old. And I am also so aware of how the traditions we make for our children will and should fuse two hemispheres, two countries, two cultures. Somehow, through the twists and turns of fate, baking Plätzchen does just that.

Isn’t life funny.