Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brussels Smells Like....

Just got back from our trip to Brussels. I sort of expected the capital city of the European Union to be at least a little impressive. Its not that bad, don't get me wrong, but really a downer compared to other European capitals. Even former Warsaw Pact Budapest was more posh. Heide told us upon return "Yeah, its the trash bin of Europe."

We did have a nice time, and it was wonderful to see all of Ryan's classmates from the past year. His Master's Thesis presentation went well and his post-presentation questions weren't too difficult. It wasn't a bad city to host this sort of event seeing as there isn't much sight seeing to do, but thousands of beers to try. And try we did! The Guiness World Record holder for bar with the most beers is Delirium in old Brussels. They even had beers for me who hates beer! The key word for girlie drinkers is "Framboise." Its French for raspberry and that's what it tastes like. We also tried all the notorious foods: mussels, french fries with mayonnaise, and the best waffles I've ever eaten. (It doesn't hurt that they're covered in melted chocolate)

But other than beer and a few nice buildings in the center, Brussels is not very impressive. The metro is really confusing and stinky, and the city is very dirty. The above photo is of the famous Mannekin-Pis statue, which I think is a very appropriate mascot for this town!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Home for the Holidays?

We were disappointed to find out that our dream apartment in Berlin was snatched up before we even applied. But I got back on the internet and managed to found a flat next door with the same layout. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to take it, even though we haven't viewed it apart from photos.

So now we're rounding up our paperwork. We applied for the mysterious "Schufa" a German credit check, which probably won't turn up anything seeing as we've only had a German bank account for 2 months or so. Ryan's coworker helped him with the application and explained "you sign this application then take it to the post office. They have to see that you are a real person, because in Germany only real people can have bank accounts."

I'm very excited about this place, its situated on a beautiful square with cafes and bakeries nearby. There's also a courtyard and lots of trees around, which definitely helps this Montana girl. The best part of the description is that it has an "American" kitchen. Heide and I pondered what this could mean and decided it probably means a refrigerator bigger than a shoe box. Oh the things you take for granted.

So cross your fingers for us, we may have a place to move to after Christmas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Berlin take 2

So far we have only been to Berlin and Paris in either July or December. While both cities are astonishing in themselves, the weather is extreme. But what's the use whinging about the weather? We went to Berlin this weekend to find an apartment.

Berlin is comprised of 12 boroughs which are made up of dozens of smaller neighborhoods. Ryan's future job will be in the extreme southeast (Adlershof). So our first dilemma was either choosing a place close to Ryan's work but out of the action, or going in town along a train route that would give him quicker access to work. This is important as it can take over an hour on the S-bahn (Schnell bahn or "fast train") to get across massive Berlin.

The first two apartments we viewed were in Koepenick, in the southeast and sandwiched between the intersection of the Spree and Dahme rivers and a huge park with a lake called "Mueggelsee." One apartment was dodgey, but the other one was right by a foot bridge into the old medieval part of town. It had a stellar view and the old town is quite adorable. We walked through the local Christkindlmarkt for some mulled wine and bratwurst lunch.

Then we attempted to head back to town center (Friedrichshain to be exact) but got on the wrong tram and missed our next open house. We walked as fast as we could, hoping to catch some stragglers at the flat, but it was locked up. Upon walking the street we decided it was a good thing we missed that appointment. There was some sort of strange pirate fortress (see photo) which was cool, but also the sidewalks and buildings were coated in graffiti, dog shit, and dead rats. That may have been good enough for us 6 months ago, but now we're moving up in the world!

We saw three more apartments in Friedrichshain, one of which was perfect. It was a roof apartment on a quiet square. It was cozy and well-appointed, and the walls weren't stark white which is quite unusual for Germany. We were excited to apply for it, but alas we found out this morning that its already taken! So now we'll mull over one of the Friedrichshain apartments we saw which is new, or the one with the view in Koepenick. Decisions, decisions.

In related news, we spent the whole weekend conversing in German and did pretty well between the two of us. There were definitely awkward moments. At our first apartment the lady sat us down to talk about the application process. She mentioned that she needs a "Schufe." She knew less English than we do German, and tried to describe it to no avail. We got to the point of randomly substituting German words we know that sound like it "Schule?" Ryan asked. Later we learned she meant "credit check" but spent the rest of the weekend saying "Schule? Schuhe? Hausschuhe?" (School? Shoes? Slippers?) Yes, we're pretty entertaining.

On the train ride home I recalled moving out of my dorm freshman year. Ryan and I had been dating about a month and I called him practically hysterical because I couldn't find anymore boxes and I'd spent all day packing. He came over and helped and must've thought I was completely insane. I reminded him of this and asked "When you saw me in my house dress with my hair in all directions, did you plot then to marry me and make me move every 4-6 months?"
"Yes," he replied, "for I am a sadist."

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Yesterday was my 24th birthday. So, I'm officially in my mid-twenties now, which is inching towards 30, which is an age I've never imagined myself to be. What should a 24-year old be doing in her life? Climbing the corporate ladder?

Instead we are heading to Berlin this weekend to find a flat. Its exciting that we'll be able to afford something nice for once, though it may take a while to actually furnish it. Ryan will be graduated soon and we'll be like real grown ups. Very strange.

Heide and Armin got me a box of chocolates and some delicious German gingerbread, and took us out for Bavarian food. Ryan got me a gift card for a big department store, and promised that if I waited until January I could use more than the 20 Euros its issued for. I am excitedly anticipating a package from my parents, which hopefully won't be difficult going through customs.

The 23rd birthday felt like a triumph, having survived my first few months abroad. This birthday is more like waiting. Soon we'll move again, and we'll "settle down" for the first time in our married lives. I still feel like a fraudulent adult, as if some mystical age police will appear to card me while I'm cooking dinner and send me back to high school. It seems by the time I'm used to being in my 20s they'll be over. Well, here's to six more years.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


After last year's surprisingly successful Thanksgiving, I thought we'd take on an even more ambitious double Thanksgiving this year. Meaning YD was hosting a dinner Friday night and I wanted to make one on Saturday for our German family as well. Let's get cooking!

The Young Democrats Abroad has officially disbanded into some American expats hanging out. I volunteered us to bring sweet potatoes and pecan pie, two dishes requiring PECANS which I didn't realize until the day-of weren't "Mandeln." Mandeln are almonds, and one of 3 types of nuts commercially available in Germany. Heide (German host mom) and I even went to Metro the fancy German-version of Costco on a hunt, but alack, it was destined to be almond pie. Ryan was dismayed, but it was still pretty good.

Our friends Brian and Christian offered up there place for the dinner and laid a beautiful table. We met another married couple who's half German half American. They actually got married the day before us. But the high point of the evening was definitely the food. I sat next to Sonia and we both ate so much that we had to lie on the couch with our pants unbuttoned before the dessert course. But of course we had to eat dessert. Ryan wussed out of dessert, which he will never live down, as I won't ever live down confusing almonds and pecans. Oh well.

Saturday I was still feeling full, and regretting back-to-back Thanksgiving meals. (Will my digestive system ever forgive me?) Ryan was furiously revising his master's thesis (due Monday) as I took charge of the cooking. Everything went according to plan except the cranberries. Apparently small boxes with pictures of jello on them aren't actually jello. We served the cranberries anyway, even though they were rather liquid.

Our friend Gwendolyn came over to help with last-minute prep, the kids ran in the kitchen and wanted to play, and our turkey legs appeared underdone! Things were getting hectic and we were still waiting for our final guests to arrive. They were 20 minutes late, which led to a frenzy of taking food out of the oven, then shoving it back in, then worrying it would by dry. But finally we all assembled around the table and dug in. Our German guests, Robbie and Erica, were oddly fascinated by the stuffing. Some people even liked the cranberries. And the turkey was perfect. I paced myself better this time and we all enjoyed our pie with Schnapps, and later Rum. German people really like liquor.

As I look back at last year, it seems a million years away. We were living in an awful house in the middle of England. I worked in a fruit and veg stand and was so homesick all the time. I feel like a completely different person today. And even though its had rough spots, I'm really thankful for everything that happened in the last year. I've learned so much and feel really lucky :)

-A, my 2-year old charge, is learning Denglish (Deutsch+English) and one of his favorite words is "Dank you." Add to that the few incorrect German words I've taught him and I think my work is done here.
-"Metro" the German Costco also has free samples. But they don't have anyone supervising them, nor any takers. I almost cruised for a 2nd brownie, but Heide warned me there was a store employee spying on me across the aisle. Spooky! It was comforting to see suitcase-sized tubs of laundry detergent and cheese blocks the size of pillows again.