The German Chronicles
Boxes and suitcases everywhere. This is my current reality. Those boxes we’re not shipping to Canada are full of stuff for charity. It’s a minefield.
The clutter makes me anxious. It’s a combination of excitement and being totally overwhelmed, so every now and then I find myself disengaging to regain some semblance of focus. I do this sometimes. Browse the internet, read a book (and I’m beta reading a FANTASTIC ONE at the moment), or do a watercolour. Or, in today’s reality, write a blog post.
Fair warning – this is a long post.
After Friday’s big news, we’ve had a lot of good wishes, emails and questions. I thought I’d address some of those today.
Most people were surprised that we’re so unhappy in Germany, especially considering how happy all of our photo diary posts look. I talked about this briefly on Friday, but one of the main things I’ve learned while living abroad is that you can’t judge people’s lives on an hour Skype session every now and then, or on the photos or blog entries they post online.
As a teenager, I dreamed of moving to Hollywood. At first, I wanted to act. Who doesn’t? But then, one fateful day, I saw the work of my first idol, Steven Spielberg. More than anything, I wanted to follow in his footsteps and make films. I wrote many brilliant screenplays (they were Oscar winners one and all 😛 ) and the lands over the ocean beckoned.
Little did I know back then that I would end up immigrating, but to a totally different part of the world. Germany. And today is the two-year anniversary of that move.
We’ve been playing house in Germany for almost two years, but friends and loved ones still ask how living here differs from living in South Africa. The first ‘differences’ post was uploaded within the first two months since we moved to Germany, then I told you about some of the strange differences, like the German toilet, and the recent what I love post rounded off the selection of posts on the topic.
Or so I thought.
Have you noticed that people tend to share their bad experiences online, especially in groups on social media? Well, this topic led to the post you’re about to read. A friend of mine read some really negative stuff about immigration on Facebook and I told her not to believe everything she read online. People love to rant on Facebook, after all.
I realised that I’ve been doing the same, even on my blog. I’ve shared the differences between South Africa and Germany, the oddities we’ve encountered here, and even some of the bad experiences we’ve had, but I’ve never talked about what I love.
So, here we are.
Towards the end of April, we visited Grugapark one day. We found ourselves suddenly alone after our fabulous vacation, and needed some TLC. Hence, the visit to the park. We’ve been to Gruga a few times before, but we’d never seen it covered in tulips. Being nature-folk, you can imagine how much we enjoyed this trip!
Last week, I bombarded you with images of snow. This week, it’s ice. You see a theme here? This winter has been more than a smidge colder than last, but the weather brings many new experiences for those of us originally from warmer parts.
We live close to the River Ruhr, but we also have other water in our area – fountains galore. Having said that, all of these fountains are usually turned off to dry when the daylight savings kick in and the cold starts. This means we’ve never seen water freeze over in the winter. Until this weekend, that is.
Yes, this is a German Chronicles post on a Friday. My week has been kind of topsy-turvy.
For the first time in a long time, I have a FAQ that I want to answer. Why isn’t Kayla in a preschool/nursery school/kindergarten?
The short answer is because Germany. I’m guessing that’s not what you want, though.
We’ve been ogling this castle for a looooong time. You know how I feel about castles to begin with, but this one was kind of special, and not just because it’s the template for the Disney castle. Imagine this place, with its majestic spires and pristine white bricks, keeping its vigil on the side of a snow-covered mountain, rising above a thin veil of mist. It’s the kind of thing fairytales are born of.
Even if you ignore the incredible imagery that the area has to offer, the history of Neuschwanstein is really interesting – a fairytale backstory in itself. The castle was commissioned by a mad king, who was so indebted to his people because of his obsession with building this castle, that he was taken into custody. While under arrest, he was mysteriously killed while strolling with his psychiatrist, and both bodies were found in a lake. To this day, nobody knows what happened or who killed them. Read more on Wiki.
Hello, all you lovely folks. Hope you had a good weekend.
As I mentioned on Friday, our trip to Munich ended in a zoo, because of a three-year-old’s heartfelt request. For this reason, we braved the cold, ignored the patches of snow on the ground, and went to see some animals.
The highlight of the zoo trip was the aquarium, because it took us out of the cold (win!) and Kayla ADORES fish. Might have mentioned that before.
This zoo was interesting in that it has a lot of indoor areas, built to simulate the climate of the natural habitats the animals would typically live in. With this came the plants, birds etc that would be grouped in each area. Zoo visitors can enter each of these spaces and observe the animals through massive glass panes.
So, the time of year is officially here, as I mentioned the other day. Today I want to talk about the markets in depth, and maybe give some advice to first-time market-goers, because this stuff can be a little overwhelming.
The markets are a pretty amazing part of the German Christmas experience, even if you don’t like Christmas. Or the cold. Or crowds, for that matter.
We seldom think about our unique English dialect. Or at least, we didn’t think much about how we spoke in the past. Then we moved to Germany.
It was first brought to my attention that we have a quirky way of speaking, due to the word shame. Of course I’d known that South Africans say things with their own flair, but that was the first time this uniqueness was brought to my attention. Because what was a shame?
Yes, folks, it’s officially that time of year. Oktoberfest is in full swing and ends on Sunday.
Now, I’m not a beer drinker, but I would love to go over to Bavaria and experience this festival at least once. Until then, I’ll write about it.
Going on with the theme from last week’s post, here are some weird and wonderful facts about Oktoberfest.
So, Oberhausen has a schloss (this word can be used to describe anything from a castle to a manor house – in this case, it’s a manor house) and a park, but we’ve been putting off going there. First of all, the schloss is not that impressive (in our opinions) and we had no idea that Kaiser Park existed, because it doesn’t have a website. Secondly, when we have so many cool places to visit in and around Germany, why would we go to the local spots?
Yeah. We were idiots.
Kaiser Park is amazing and Schloss Oberhausen is quaint. Yes, that’s the word I’m going with. The locals call it the schweinchen schloss – schweinchen being ‘piglet’ – because the schloss is pink. Oink. OK, fine, ‘whimsical’ may have been the better word choice.
Kaiser Park has a free petting farm (we’ve been finding these all over), beautiful river views and hiking trails, and a nice kiosk next to the schloss. There’s also a restaurant and beer garden, if that would tickle your fancy. We’ll go visit the schloss art gallery sometime.
We had a lot of fun here, but nobody loves seeing and feeding the animals as much as Kayla. And then riding in a fire truck trumps all.
I said this last week somewhere and I’ll say it again – I feel as if a train ran over my head, realised it was on the wrong course and then reversed. I’ve been unable to stay fully awake at any given time for about 8 days solid. Hello, Monday.
This weekend was a pretty packed one.
My German lessons usually fall on Friday late mornings, but my teacher was on vacation last week, so I had the day off. This meant getting acrylics up to our elbows. Kayla and I both adore art and painting, so this change in schedule fit both our needs perfectly.
It’s difficult to believe, while it feels much longer at the same time. We’ve finally passed the year mark.
I’ve been turning this post around in my head for weeks now, but I still don’t really know what to say. I’m late in posting as it is. 🙂 Tomorrow we’re already at a year and two weeks.
This immigration-thing has been a strange and wonderful journey.
Year one was the perfect example of a proverbial emotional roller coaster. And the truth of it is, the ride isn’t over yet. I think the emotional part is something that will differ from person to person, because it’s certainly hit me a lot harder than the hubs. People deal in different ways.
Most of the advice we got from other immigrants was that the first *insert time here* is the most difficult. Many of them used the year mark as that point of reference. I’ve learned that this is another thing that will differ according to personal perspective.
This title is probably a little misleading, because everyday is ‘girl’s day’ in my house. You know, because I stay at home with Kayla and all that. The difference is that we don’t usually have girl’s days on weekends when Jan is home.
Last week from Thursday to Sunday was Gamescom in Cologne and, being the calibre of geek that we are, Jan and I really wanted to go. Unfortunately, they don’t allow kids under the age of three, so Jan went on Saturday, leaving me and the Kayster to our own devices.
And… as always, I’m getting ahead of myself.
This second instalment of castle hopping reached over two countries. So exciting. 🙂 You can see day one here, if you haven’t yet.
Maastricht in the Netherlands was our first destination. This is a pretty amazing place, with cobbled streets and beautiful old buildings. You must be getting tired of the words ‘cobbled streets’ and ‘old buildings’. I’m sorry, but I absolutely live for the architecture (specifically Baroque and Gothic, but all of antique Europe makes me hyperventilate). And then, castles and or churches / cathedrals. But you already know that and I’m getting ahead of myself again.
This is what happens when I tell Jan he never smiles for selfies:
Since discovering Schloss Styrum, it’s been one of our favourite hangout spots. And of course we had to go see the little aquarium they have there, especially considering we have a kid who is CRAZY about fish.
This little aquarium is open on Sundays and is free to view. So obviously, we’ve been there twice. 😛
It’s much different from zoos in South Africa, but it was still a pretty cool experience. In SA, the zoos are bigger and tend to have a greater variety of animals. It makes sense, because a lot of the animals are native to Africa.
Don’t get me wrong, Duisburg zoo still had a good variety of animals. What I liked most is that the enclosures tend to be more open, so you can see the animals easily. The lemur enclosure is completely open, so the animals can run in the trees over your head. Instead of fences, the predatory animals are kept behind glass panels, so you don’t have to strain to see through wire.
Japan Day is a big thing in Düsseldorf every year. Massive crowds of people dressed as their favourite anime / manga characters (or even some characters that don’t fall into that category), good food, fireworks and a lot of fun is to be expected. It’s a highlight on the calendar! But then, going out to Düsseldorf is a highlight on its own. You know how I feel about that city if you’ve been around my blog before.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The most of my weekend was spent writing. Yes, I’m still not done, but I’m getting there. If all goes according to plan (and it had better), I should be done by the end of next week at the latest. So then stuff on the blog should go back to normal again, I promise.
On Ascension Day, we hopped a train to Werden. This picturesque place is a suburb of Essen and is seriously gorgeous. The buildings are still in the old style and there’s almost a fantasy-type vibe to the old taverns turned cafés. Walking through those cobblestone ways certainly piqued my creative flow.
Then, there’s the parks and greenery. I could tell you how brilliantly green the grass is, or how amazing the trees look. I could tell you how warm the sun was and how tranquil the flow of the river made me feel. But then, I’ve recently been instructed to ‘show, don’t tell’, and you know what they say about pictures and words. 🙂 So, have a look!
We’ve been living in Germany for seven months. Can you believe that?
It’s been interesting. We’ve been adapting. There are still better days and worse days, but overall, we’re finding our feet. Jan is starting with German classes soon, and our landlady has undertaken to teach me too. Once he learns, I’m sure my own learning will accelerate. Honestly, I’ve been so caught up in my book, that I haven’t focussed on learning German like I used to. It’s my fault, I know. I just have divided priorities between my kid and hubs, my writing and keeping house. Being a work at home mom is difficult enough without adding learning a language to that. 😛 But as soon as the book is in for round two of edits, I’ll throw myself at learning German again.
OK. Obligatory update out of the way. (If you want a more detailed update, let me know.)
So spring in Germany. I mean, WOW.
This weekend was a sunny one. After the rainiest two months of my life, we’ve been extra thankful for every ray of sunlight coming our way. Hopefully, that statement didn’t jinx it…
Anyway, all of the sunshine means a lot of outdoors activities, even if it’s still chilly out. This weekend, we went walking a lot and we went to Carnival.
Now Carnival, or ‘Karneval’, is usually around Rosenmontag in February. Of course, I mentioned the rain in the first paragraph, and that meant that the main event for Karneval had to be postponed. Sunday was the big day for the carnival to take place, and we headed to Düsseldorf with some friends to see it unfold.
Yesterday, we chatted about things you could do to make the immigration process easier before you actually get on the plane. Today, we’re going to chat about things you can do to adapt more seamlessly once you get there. This is obviously going to be different for every person, but these are the things that worked for us, or things I now wish we had done.
If you’re planning to move to another country, you’re pretty stressed and anxious especially in the weeks before you leave. Personally, this was amplified by the fact that my husband had to leave before my kid and I could, so that made me freak out more than a little. I had a horrible flight experience, which gave me super saiyan mode anxiety on its own. You kind of expect to have just as much stress in the first few days after you arrive, right?
For me, this wasn’t the case. Upon arriving, I felt amazing (when the airsickness let up and I’d eaten/slept). For the first few weeks, everything was rosy. The weather was fabulous, sightseeing was great and it all felt like an amazing vacation in a new country. Along with that, domestic life just went on. Okay, so it felt like the kind of holiday where you hubs still works and you still have to cook and clean. Haha. But I mean, we were just soaking up new experiences and relaxing as much as we could after the drama and tons of things that needed to be done before we left.
Then reality sunk in. We had left everything we’d ever known. This is how we survived and are still surviving.
Can you fathom this: Jan’s officially been in Germany for 6 months, and Kayla and I will have made the 6-month mark on the 25th of Feb. Mind. Blown. I bet I’ll say this with every milestone, but I can’t comprehend that it’s been ONLY six months. It feels like we’ve been here forever.
Obviously, the people in South Africa (and some who read the blog) want to know how we found this first chunk of time. How did we survive? Do we have tips? Would we do anything differently? So, after thinking about it for a bit, I came up with some things that made our life easier and some things that could have.
I also bet that this post contains some helpful tips for tourists, so, if you’re planning a vacay in some other country, there may be something in here for you. Because I have so much to say on the subject, I’m splitting the post into two parts. Today we’ll talk about what to consider before you leave and next time will focus on what to do once you get there.
Let’s get started.
Coming from Johannesburg, I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t seen real snow before in my life. Sure, there were two occasions, but I’ve never seen enough of it to cover the ground. This is why moving to Europe had me hopeful for some snow this winter.
Of course, it doesn’t really snow in our part of Germany. According to all of the people we know who have lived here all of their lives, it only snows here once every three or four years, and then never for more than three days at a time. This year, the forecasts for snow were few and far between, and the locals never believed it would really snow.
Until one fateful morning.
This post is to show you all of the vacation photos that didn’t make it into other blog posts. Because if you know my family at all, you’ll know that very little is ever done without cellphones or cameras in the air, clicking away. Pictures or it didn’t happen, right?
So here are some of the ones that you haven’t seen already. Enjoy.
We used to live in a country where fireworks are illegal. So imagine our surprise when we first saw different kinds of fireworks for sale in basically any shop you can imagine in Germany. Here, it’s a massive tradition to shoot fireworks on New Year’s eve (more than anywhere else I’ve ever heard of). The people believe that they’re shooting all the bad stuff from the last year away, so they can start the New Year on a clean slate. This means that millions of Euro’s are shot into the air, in one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I’ve seen in my life.
Being as crazy about animals as I am, it did freak me out more than a little that they were firing so many crackers and fireworks, while so many people have pets here. I bet they pay just as much in animal sedatives as they spend on the actual fireworks.
Before Kayla went to bed, we took her outside and lit some sparklers for her. She slept through the firework display by some miracle. I still have no idea how.
Everybody who knows me is aware of my absolute fascination and obsession with castles. There is something mystical and magical about castles and the age they were constructed in. I often find myself at the base of one of these structures and I wonder how it’s even possible that they exist. How did those people with their ancient technology manage to build these massive, MASSIVE buildings and have them survive the passing of time.
Schloss (German word for castle) Burg was the first castle I’ve seen in its particular style. Unfortunately, the larger part of the castle was destroyed in a siege and was left to decay for a long time after that. It was restored in the 1920’s and is now a museum and tourist attraction. More on the history of it here.
We chose one of the coldest days of the vacation to visit this incredible place, but though our fingers were freezing, we had a blast. Painted ceilings, suits of armour, potsherds and ancient weapons fill the interior spaces. And once we were done exploring, we had a lovely waffle at the Wafflehouse.
While my folks were here, we spent a day in Amsterdam. The last time I was there, the place absolutely stole my heart. I mean, it’s not only beautiful, but the people were incredibly warm towards us and understood when we spoke Afrikaans. I loved the sights there.
This time was no different. I still love the vibe in Amsterdam, the amazing beauty of the place and the friendly people. What got me down was the sheer amount of people. 😛 With the holidays around the corner at that stage, Amsterdam was packed to overflowing. In fact, I remarked on more than one occasion that the entire population of Amsterdam (almost 800 000 people) were in the city plain at the exact same moment. It felt that way for sure.
The other difference between my first and second visits to Amsterdam was the weather. The last time we were there it was all sunshine and warmth. This time it was pretty much freezing. Did that take away from the experience? No.
Aachen is a beautiful town in Germany on the border with Belgium. It’s one of those typical European places, with the most beautiful building style and cobbled streets. The Aachener Dom is a picturesque cathedral, though not nearly as magnificent as the Cologne Cathedral. It’s still pretty though. It was being renovated on our visit, so we hope to go back one day when the renovations are complete.
Aachen is famous for the printen biscuits. It’s a type of soft Lebkuchen (gingerbread), sweetened with honey or syrup and often covered in chocolate or marzipan. Some varieties are decorated with various fruits and nuts. This stuff? Amazing. Like seriously, amazing. I’m not a gingerbread fan overall, except where my mother in law’s gingerbread cookies are concerned, and then I only want them on a good day. But the printen biscuits are seriously yummy. We got ours from the prettiest bakery you’ll every lay your eyes on, the Nobis Bakery near the cathedral.
To round off our visit in Aachen, we made a stop at the Lindt factory.
It’s probably about time I give you an update on how things have been here in Germany. It’s been almost three months now (we’ll reach the official 3 mark month on the 25th of November) and a lot has happened in that time.
First of all, we’re going to stay in the furnished short-term rental for a while longer. I’ve mentioned that finding a permanent place has been a struggle and this is still the case. But at this point in time, I don’t mind. We’ve settled in here and we like it. The neighbours are amazing people, we’re close to shops and the train station, and there are some pretty great parks in the area too. With the idea that we’re staying here, the knot in my stomach has loosened. It’s less stressful when you’re not constantly worrying about where you’re going to move to next.
Overall, we’re adapting.
This wasn’t some overnight, half-baked scheme. Oh no. Years went into this endeavour of ours. Years.
You see, my brother in law left South Africa in the year Jan and I got married (2008). He quit his job and set out to London a month later, just following his gut. I’ve always admired him for just doing it and not looking back. It isn’t an easy thing, just packing up and leaving, but he did it and made it work.
About a year after we got married, Jan and I decided that we wanted to go too. There are various reasons for this decision now, but at the time, it was a general kind of thing. There was some political turbulence around that time and it scared us. (Africa is always in a state of political turbulence, no matter which side of the Equator you look, known fact. :P) Make no mistake, we love South Africa. We grew up there, we speak two of the 11 languages, we knew how things worked. The people are our people. The food and traditions are our food and traditions. This was our entire circle of reference.
The question I get asked most at the moment is “How different is living in Germany from living in South Africa?”
The answer is, it’s different. But seeing as so many people don’t like the vagueness of that statement, I thought I’d quickly highlight the basics. Or at least the things that stand out to me.
1.) The Obvious Things.
This includes the language (see #2), the weather, the building style, culture. The weather, for example, is like a toddler here, fluctuating between an array of possible moods (if I can call weather moody). It can be sunny one moment and rain the next, just before the wind rolls in and blows away all of the clouds in minutes. In half an hour, it might rain again.
Un. Pre. Dict. Able.
Wow. Here we are, aren’t we? Last week this time, I was getting ready to get on a plane. I was a bundle of nerves mixed with insane excitement. Since then, a lot of people have asked how we are and if we’re adapting.
The answer is good and yes. But I’ll get there.
The flight was interesting. First of all, Kayla apparently likes flying about as much as I do. This means not a bit. It also means she was crying and moaning basically constantly, didn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time and was soaked with sweat for the entire flight. Also, a lot of things went wrong.
For example, I had to handle Kayla and two hand luggage bags, as well as Barney (where could any parent of a toddler possibly dare to go without a Barney toy?) on my own at all of the airports where we landed. Both of us were airsick, so I skipped breakfast. Not a smart move, as I’d later discover. At Frankfurt airport, I had to be patted down at passport control, because Kayla refused to let go of me for an instant to be scanned. This meant stripping down and having my shoes and things scanned too. It also made me late for my flight.
Now, at this point, both Kay and I were exhausted. Neither of us had slept on the flight and I was still nauseous. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Jan had taken a train to meet us at Frankfurt and fly the last part with us to Dusseldorf. I clung to this, knowing everything would be OK once we were together again. I promised Kayla over and over again that she’d see her daddy there.
This was the post I typed for you yesterday :… Read More »Update Version 2.0 (The German Chronicles)
I’ve been without a computer for a while now and I’ve barely switched on my laptop. It’s been so hectic here that I’ve only visited social media sites maybe three times in the last week and a half. I would say I’m sorry, but I haven’t had time to be sorry since we moved into my in-law’s place on the 2nd.
I wanted to update you on the German-move, which is why I’m popping in today.
Last night, my husband got on a plane without me and Kayla. While his visa is obviously ready and currently in use, mine and Kay’s isn’t. We have no indication of how long it will be, because the allotted time-span they initially gave us has now been lengthened greatly.
People want to know how I feel and what I think at the moment. As in “Is it difficult to pack up and leave?” or “What’s going through your mind?” or “Aren’t you sentimental about the stuff you’re leaving behind?” One I get a lot is “I’m too attached to my family to leave them behind.”
Because what you’re basically saying is that I’m not attached to the people we’re leaving in South Africa. You’re wrong.
But let’s start at the beginning. My mind is an explosion at the moment. It’s a stormy and weird place, with things moving around like a whirlpool. On the whole (AKA non-moving, normal Yolandie), I’m borderline mad. Add the stress, the goodbyes, packing up what we own and still having to be a mom to an almost-two-year-old, plus day-to-day life, and it gets… well… chaotic. I feel like a lunatic at the moment.
If you didn’t pick up on it in the title, I’m going to call the posts relating to our move to Germany ‘The German Chronicles’. Hope you like it. 🙂
Obviously, one of the first things you do when you go to a new country is to get a visa. Or not, depending on what country you’re coming from. In South Africa specifically, the visa thing is required. It’s also one of the most difficult countries to get a visa. Believe me.
We were forewarned that the German Embassy is very effective, but very strict. “If you have only one page missing, they turn you away,” we were told. Before this, we had been to the English and French Embassies, so we had a little something to compare it to.