Friday, February 27, 2009

Back to Berlin

We had such a good time when we visited Adrienne and Ilarion in November that we were anxious to go back. It is nice to spend time with some other Americans who are experiencing some of the same challenges, and of course there is so much to see in the city.

Our goal this time was to take in a few of the many, many museums. On Saturday afternoon, we went to the Altes Museum where we saw a big display of Egyptian artifacts. The showpiece is Queen Nefertiti's bust statue- quite breathtaking! I am always astounded to see how advanced some civilizations were five thousand years ago! The artwork and culture, technology and science-wow!

Saturday evening we had a different "cultural experience" in attending a birthday party for one of Ilarion's colleagues. He works at an international research center so there were people from Australia, Indonesia and Great Britain. We even got to try the famous Australian Vegemite- blech! I guess you have to be raised on it to enjoy it. It tasted like salty tar to me!

On Sunday we went to the German Technical Museum. None of us had an idea what we were in for. We arrived between 12:00 and 1:00 and got kicked out five hours later at closing time without seeing everything. There were planes, trains, ships, TVs, radios, old computers that filled an entire room... There was even a historical brewery that we didn't quite get to see (but at least we got this photo of us standing in front of the beer bottles).

So we hit two museums and a couple new restaurants. I wonder how many visits we'll have to make to Berlin to see everything we want to see. I wonder how many times we can visit before our friends get sick of us! :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Outdone... again!

Germans seem to take their parties very seriously! Aaron and I attended his boss's birthday party on Friday night, at our local cafe-bar. It started at 8:00 PM with a champagne toast, bottles of red wine and a light buffet. As is often the case, it was nice but a little stiff in the beginning. There were about 20 people, all colleagues and spouses. But as soon as the karaoke came out, things got more lively. Neither Aaron nor I had ever done karaoke but felt that this was the time to shine! Next thing you know, we were crowding around the two microphones, arms linked around Aaron's coworkers singing bad tunes from the 80's and 90's, in both English and German! Aaron sang "Love Shack" by the B-52s with a co-worker who had never heard the song before- it was a shame! Aaron and I did a duet to "Pump Up the Jam." Aaron also did a duet to a German song whose name translates to "Cheese Bread" and whose lyrics include "Super Sexy Cheese Bread!" I told you they have a thing about bread here! There was lots of hugging and dancing and laughing.

Just before 2:00 AM we headed for home, leaving the party in full swing! We had plans to drive to Berlin on Saturday morning at 8:00 AM so we were a little anxious to get some sleep. But once again, we failed to see the end of a German party!

Friday, February 20, 2009

First Flowers!

These are the "dog" days of winter when I long for warm sunshine and green -leafed trees and they still seem so far away.
But these delicate little flowers push up through autumn's dead leaves and through winter's snow to bring us the promise of spring. Every year it seems like a miracle to me. And I am so grateful!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

English School?

It looks like they've turned the tables on us. While Aaron and I can now carry on basic conversation in German, we have certainly not mastered the language. We still use the present tense whenever possible, struggle with complex sentences and have horrid grammar and pronunciation. So, Aaron's colleagues have decided to exploit the only asset we actually have- we speak English!

Last Friday Aaron had his second tutoring lesson with Philip, the 12-year-old son of Thomas. Philip doesn't like to study his English lessons and won't let his parents help him (despite at least one of them being fluent in the language). But he has been very interested in Aaron since they met last June and Aaron accepted his soccer challenge. So, Thomas pleaded with Aaron to help. In exchange for a bottle of wine, Aaron spent 90 minutes quizzing Philip on his vocabulary words and sentence structure. Philip was happy because we gave him Coca-Cola!

Today was my first session with Mercedes, who is the 10-year-old daughter of Aaron's boss (no pressure there)! She is in her first year of learning English in school so she doesn't know many words and is not comfortable with it. And she's a little shy! Her parents want her to understand that English is a useful language, not just something that you have to learn in school. So they just want her to "hang out" with me and for me to talk to her in English. Today we talked mostly in German (stretching my limited vocabulary) but I thought it was important to find out her favorite color-red, subject in school- art, food- candy and her best friend's name- Teresa. We baked chocolate chip cookies- her dad also wants her to be exposed to American culture.

Truly, we are honored to be trusted with people's children. It is a fun opportunity to make a difference, something I feel I've been missing since being here. Once we get over our language jitters, which should be easier to do with kids, I hope we'll all get something out of the experience. I fully expect to learn as much as I teach!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

For a second there, I thought it was spring...

Last week, Aaron and I were walking on a foot path in town and saw flowers blooming! I am terrible at learning and remembering plant names but I think one type was snow drops. The other had bright yellow petals with a ring of dark green leaves around the base. No idea what they are. But I hoped they meant spring! I know it's early but it hasn't been a very hard winter here and I have learned not to apply my understanding of Midwest climate patterns to northern Germany. July should be hot, sunny and fairly dry, not sixty-five degrees with three straight weeks of rain. So maybe there's a yin and yang to things and spring arrives the first week of February...

I guess not. At 7:00 yesterday morning it started snowing. They were big wet flakes being flung to the earth by strong wind. It snowed the entire day and was still doing so last night at 9:00. It must have been four or five inches of really wet heavy stuff. We happily left our snow shovels in Kalamazoo for the new owner of our house (and I do believe he's needed them this winter). So, I was out with a garden shovel scraping a path for Aaron to get to the door! Ha! I took this picture this morning and I can hear the snow melting off the roof so it won't last long. But maybe I better not hold my breath for spring just yet!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A thousand things a picture doesn't say

So many times I have lamented that my photos don't seem capture what I see. I know there are many better photographers out there (really I'm just a tourist with a camera) but maybe there is no way to really encapsulate an experience in an image. If pictures were as good as the real thing, why would any of us be compelled to travel?

As Ben and I climbed Storsteinen mountain to overlook the island of Tromsø the views were breathtaking. It was close to noon and the sunshine was streaking across the island. I could imagine people in their homes and offices turning their faces to that long-unseen light. The mountains beyond looked like pink icing and the cloudless sky was so many shades of blue. These are things you can glimpse in the picture. But it was also the air, cold and fresh in my lungs as I climbed. It was the sound of crunching snow under our boots and the stillness of being alone on a mountainside. It was my nose, cold and tingly, and my heart, beating solidly as I pushed my self upward. And it was the exhilaration of standing at the top of a mountain, knowing that I had accomplished something both basic and profound and feeling like a world with such beauty must still be full of possibility. A thousand photos can't convey the experience, a fact that both frustrates and astounds me!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dark days and colorful buildings

Whoever lives in this home sees spectacular sunsets everyday!
See the cross-country ski rack next to the door?
Kids actually ski to school!
Shops in the city center

Brightly painted houses are characteristic of Scandinavia and I loved seeing them. The warm colors make ordinary buildings look so interesting and inviting. All the photos above were taken in the middle of the day- between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM- under pretty clear skies. I can imagine that when the dark hours are long and the landscape is all white, everyone really appreciates a splash of color. But I don't know why we don't all use more color! Who wants to live life amidst shades of white and taupe and brown and gray? Watch out! I may start a "color movement" when I come back to the U.S.- you might hope I'm not your neighbor!