Newness Knocking

April is out of control. Someone needs to have a word with her. Two days ago, it snowed, it really snowed. Big, fluffy, wet, cold flakes. Now, this is nothing new, and I know you are all saying ‘but Liv, April April, er macht was er will’ and I know but … come on. We are days away from May, and temps are under 5 degrees. Every second day, a black cloud screeches in, hovers over the city, and dumps a bellyful of rain and hail. Some days, the wind is so strong, I worry it will sweep me off the pavement (unless I am weighted by the stroller, the big baby in it, and the toddler riding on the attached kiddy board … then I am immovable). It feels like April is taking the piss a bit, to be honest.

Trotzdem, the sun gets a look in most days and, oddly, I find myself quite cheerful. Perhaps because in April I know that whatever Schietwetter the month wants to throw at me, it will soon end. It has to. One cannot be so cheerful in, say, January, because then one is looking down the barrel of February, March and April being utter rubbish. But just days away from May, I have faith the switch will flick and I can finally retire die Lüdde’s blasted snow suit that she has pretty much outgrown. (How? How has she outgrown a snowsuit that was swimming on her at the beginning of the season? Why must they grow so quickly?)

The apartment is a jumble of moxing boxes and empty shelves, and the new house a scene of non-stop work; pain-spattered plastic and partially-finished floors and invaluable friends donating their time and sharing in the excitement of it all. A new month, and with it, and a new era is knocking and it feels right.

The adventure continues.

 

Easter & the Common German

We tend to do our weekly shop on a Thursday afternoon. It is a pocket of time during which things generally aren’t too chaotic; the older citizens of Kiel aren’t out in as much force as they are on a Friday morning and the panic of a Saturday doesn’t hang thick in the air, as people buy three packets of oven-ready bread rolls to survive the shops being closed on a Sunday. There are the usual queue-jumpers, who bolt like startled deer from the back of the line when a new Kasse opens, but the bolters are simply part of the grocery shopping experience.

Last week, though, Thursday happened to be the day before Karfreitag, Good Friday. The day before a public holiday. The day before the shops are closed for a day. And I didn’t realise it, until I had finished scribbling quite a substantial shopping list, including but not limited to, 25kg of chocolate. Now, there is something that exists within the common German that I suppose could be described as an inner … pushiness. It is the same pushiness that gets them served first, that gets them on the train first, on the bus first, that gets them sole ownership of that tiny round table at the Christmas Markets that you and six other (non German) people have managed to civilly share for half an hour. On days before public holidays, this pushiness marries another trait to be found lurking in the common German, a type of ever-ready panic that they might run out of coffee cream while enjoying a Kaffee und Kuchen session over the long weekend. So what happens is this pushiness marries with the ever-present panic and, come the day before a long weekend, they stampede into the supermarkets and while they are there furiously stocking up on coffee and coffee cream, they throw in several packs of toilet paper and a bag of dirt from the Aldi weekly Angebote in case they want to do some gardening, and about three cartons of yoghurt pots. Their trolleys become perilously full, and they push them at a clip directly at other people who might have been, for example, debating over whether they need a jug that dispenses small amounts of pancake mixture with a no drip feature (it turns out, I did need a pancake mixture portioning jug and it revolutionised breakfast). Occasionally, a scuffle breaks out, as someone breathes down the neck of someone else who is heaving great buckets of ready-made potato salad into their trolley, and you hear a, ‘Hey! Was soll das?’ ring out, competing with the bell that the cashiers are desperately pushing to try and get a colleague to come and open up another line.

It is the most horrific experience.

But we got our 25kg of chocolate, and we breezed into the Easter long weekend with well-stocked cupboards and a repulsive amount of chocolate ostensibly for die Lüdde and family gifts, but really for me to eat on the couch at night because for some reason Easter chocolate tastes so much better than normal chocolate.

April is proving to be as temperamental and unpredictable as every year, but spring is fighting hard. The tulips have dropped in price, the strawberries are slowly popping up in the shops, the trees are green and the footpaths are once again lined with flowers. And the magnolias, the magnolias are just beautiful.

A little rain and hail can’t hide the fact that warmer days are on their way.

Moving

Where did March go? It slipped by in a rush of going back to work, and getting out into the sunshine, and succumbing to winter’s parting gifts of tedious, low grade viruses. And now here we are in April. April. We are careering towards Easter and after that it won’t be long until der Lüdde’s first birthday. But first, but first, another change looms, and if it isn’t the perfect season for change.

We’re moving. We found a little house with a little garden in a not-too-little village 12 minutes out of the city. Übergabe is fast approaching, and I have started packing, boxes stacked in our bedroom, completely in the way and a constant reminder of what we are lurching towards. I remember when we moved from Weiden to Kiel in 2014, thus ending a series of moves as we sought to find a city we would make ours, I said I never wanted to move again. We had been in Australia, where I had finished sorting out the last of my things I hadn’t yet shipped, and I was six months pregnant and the moving company were appalling and I figured I would rather stay put in this wonderful apartment for the rest of my life than ever lay eyes on another moving carton again.

But that was three years and two kids ago. The baby we brought home to this apartment in that hot summer of 2014 has long hair and longer legs and says things like ‘Mama on boat! Da oben!’. The baby we brought home to this apartment in the sunny spring of 2016 turns one soon and even though he may not think it, the little koala, he will love having his own room soon enough.

Of course, the usual nostalgia has crept in, wrapped itself around this apartment and this corner of the city I love. Of course, those pesky questions are bubbling around in the background; ‘but why change? Everything is fine! Keep living as you are you silly fool, why shake things up?’ Those questions, though, they bubble at the merest mention of change. I know them well, they have followed me around through countries and apartments and babies. They are the jerkiest of knees and they disappear the moment the new arrives. Besides, as much as I have loved the lifestyle living in the centre of a typical mid-sized German city (such a easy, car-less lifestyle) I know we have outgrown this apartment. And I want a garden, where I can grow herbs and flowers and release the kids without having to schlep them and all of their things down three flights of stairs and out to a playground. It will be so nice to stretch a little more, to barbecue out the back, to have those somewhat elusive of things here in Germany, a laundry room.

Ach ja, life continues apace. As much as I want to beg it to slow down, there is a time for that and it doesn’t seem to be my early thirties with two kids under 3. And that’s okay. I take the fleeting quiet moments for what they are – rare and lovely and just enough to keep the engine ticking.

For now, the boxes are waiting, the walls need a lick of paint, we completely forgot to make a Spermüll appointment in time and I have a Kellar to clear out.

The next chapter is here.

 

 

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.’

 

How it All Began

In honour of Heimat now being available in ebook form, I thought I would share an excerpt of it with you all. This is taken from the introduction essay, previously unpublished, ‘How it All Began’. This essay summarises how the hell I came to be where I am. Somtimes I have to reread it to remind myself.

***

What drove an Australian without a lick of German, who had never owned a ‘proper winter coat’ in her life, into the rainy, snowy, rule-loving, meaty arms of Deutschland? Good question. Excellent question.  I still, to this day, can’t really answer it because I don’t know if we ever really know what we’re doing in our early 20s, no matter how convinced we are that we do. But I can try and explain. For one thing, Germany isn’t London. For another, as a – very young and very inexperienced – writer, I was looking for stories. I needed a big, unexpected, unusual plot twist in an otherwise very lovely, rather uninteresting life. I wanted things to write about and I thought that by digging out my roots and dragging them, coiled and dirty, into a soil entirely different to that which had nourished them for 25 years, I would find precisely that. Tales and morals and lessons learnt, characters and tragedies I could put onto paper, weave into a narrative. And I had two added benefits; I didn’t really know precisely what I was doing – oh what we can do when we don’t know what we’re doing – and I had a warm, solid, unconditional home to return to, should my little body grow aweary of the great world.

Moving to Europe after my studies was a foregone conclusion – I come, after all, both from the generation of nimble feet and instant gratification, and from a country of people who turn up with broad grins and a cold beer in every corner of the world. I had, of course, done my six month ‘backpacking’ (without, admittedly, a backpack) stint around Europe and the States following university, and soon after lived and worked for a summer on a Greek island. I wanted more. I was ripe for a grand gesture, something more interesting, more daunting. A bigger shock to the system. The UK, London specifically, as an English speaking European country that had disgorged my ancestors on Sydney’s shores all those years ago, was the most obvious, but I ruled it out almost immediately on the basis it was already chock full of Australians, many of them old school friends. ‘I live in London’ had become, and indeed remains, interchangeable with ‘I come from Australia’. I needed something more, something European, still, and thus conducive to weekend jaunts across borders, but something a touch more daring. So, you know, I went with Germany.

While my family’s connections with Germany go back 160 odd years to a minuscule town in Baden Württemberg, a more recent one laid the foundations for what has become a lifelong relationship with the country – an exchange student. Hailing from Münster, he slotted into our family like my parents’ long-lost son and over a decade, our families went back and forth, visiting each other. During my backpacking stint, I spent two months in Münster drinking Jägermeister and being terrified on the Autobahn. And so it was Münster that I returned to in the autumn of 2010 after another mercurial summer spent working on the island of Santorini, making cheap cocktails for cheap backpackers. The old North Rhine-Westphalian city of churches, with its grand old palace turned university, cobbled Altstadt, and millions of bicycles ridden by the immaculately groomed Münsteranians, was the first setting of the grand gesture, the plot twist.

I thought it would be so easy. So seamless. Uni degrees and Working Holiday Visa in hand, I was anxious to set sail, ready to be on the move again. I had a few wonderful friends there, one in particular I would flat with on a big, leafy tree-lined boulevard. I even had prior knowledge of the town I was moving to, knowledge albeit somewhat eviscerated by nights out on Liquor 44 and milk. All that was left was to become fluent in the language, land a wonderful job and become, overnight, a bilingual ingénue tapping out a cult blog and a bestseller simultaneously in cafes on cobbled streets.

Read more …

Heimat as e-book – 3.99€

Heimat softcover – 12€

Heimat hardback – 20€

Heimat on Amazon

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.

LOL.

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.

Grey

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.