Friday, February 27, 2009


A young man walks down the street. Standing inside the door of the bank is his wife. She smiles as she sees his approach. She gathers her folder of documents and opens the door to him.
"I brought you some chocolates." The man smiles meekly. His wife's eyes bulge, her voice drops to a whisper.
"What has happened?"
"Didn't you say you always wanted to live in Frankfurt?"
"WHAT?!" She exclaims too loudly. Others in the bank turn to see the commotion.

That was yesterday evening. Our appointment to switch to Berliner Volksbank was rendered instantly moot. Ryan's company has decided in their infinite wisdom, to move our entire branch to Frankfurt this summer. Keep in mind, some of the Berlin employees haven't even moved in yet! We have been in our apartment for 4 weeks, and had furniture for 1 week. This whole thing is totally bizarre. It was explained as having to do with an argument between the regional manager (whose family is in Frankfurt) and a recently-fired CFO who set us up in Berlin. And so everyone gets to move or be out of a job. For us there is no choice, although we love Berlin and partly chose this position because of its location. But our visas are tied to Ryan's job. Great.

The place we are moving is not even IN Frankfurt, but about 30 minutes southeast by car, which we don't have. Needless to say, we are all pretty pissed. Can I hope for a branch-wide mutiny?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Silly Days for Serious People

In Germany "silly" is synonymous with "stupid" and people maintain dignity at all times. So you can imagine my surprise when we were invited to a Karneval party on Saturday night and met with a night of Germans gone wild.

We had planned to meet up with our friends Simon & Sarah. They decided we must go to a Karneval party. With only an hour or so's notice we scoured the closet and came up with a costume of "American Tourists." We donned our most athletic sneakers, white tube socks, money belts on top of our clothes, sunglasses, and Obama pins. Ryan tucked in a polo shirt and I wore a scarf proclaiming "Paris, France." We looked pretty dumb and I really hoped that we weren't having a prank pulled on us.

But when we got to the party people were dressed much weirder than us, wearing bizarre hats shaped like cakes, flower pots, etc. Faces were painted green, or wearing Elton John-like sunglasses. Some people were dressed like cowboys, but most costumes weren't so literal. And unlike Halloween there weren't any sexy costumes.

The music was very loud and very oompa-pa. Ryan and I didn't know how to dance it; it was more like marching music. But everyone else was going crazy! Simon explained to us that this is the once a year when Germans can dance without worrying about looking undignified. Most of the songs were traditional Karneval songs from Köln (Cologne) and in a very thick dialect. The DJ did play "Country Roads" and "Summer of '69." I was excited to hear a song I knew, and some drunk old business man did a weird dance with me. The dance basically consisted of slow-motion high-fiving. Then the DJ got really excited and took off his pants. His shirt was past his bum, thankfully, because he wasn't wearing any underwear.

Later on we were forcibly abducted into a conga line, I drank too much, and on the way out of the bathroom Sarah and I were hit on by some guys who said they didn't care that we are married. Sarah asked if they would buy drinks for our husbands too, and I almost thought it would work. It was too much for one night, and when I woke up the next morning I decided it was good that Lent started soon.

But one more thing. They played a funny song called "20 Centimeter" which is about, um, male anatomical bragging. Its very catching, and here's a link if you dare. Email me if you want a translation.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The great Strange Financial Crisis of 2009 has finally been resolved. It turns out the problem was someone dumb in the HR department, not the bank. In the meantime, beer, groceries, washing machine, and IKEA. Oh yes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Week of Perpetual Incompetence

Two Sundays ago we were invited to a nice dinner with a family and another couple from church. We were all Americans save for one German, and we got on the subject of German professionalism. I complemented the country, pointing out how seriously people take their jobs, and with such pride. German products are generally known for their high quality, which I attribute to the fact that Germans generally have one career for life. There is no waitressing to pay for tuition, no second job to make ends meet. If you are a bank teller or a garbage man, its because you chose that career, trained for it, and will have it for the rest of your life. There is an incentive to be good at what you do.

But that teaches me for stereotyping, even in a positive sense. Ryan and I have been battling a variety of companies this last week who display a stunning array of incompetencies.

Friday we were due a visit from Deutsche Telekom, the company that owns all the internet connections in the country. Although we have our internet from Vodafone, DT has to come and set up the connection. We had to wait 16 days for this appointment, and after the technician left, it didn't work. Several phone calls later, I was given the answer "maybe it will just start working over the weekend." Right. I love it when electronic gadgets fix themselves.

Surprise surprise, still broken on Monday. And meanwhile Ryan's company still hadn't gotten our reimbursements back to us and our bank account was dwindling quickly. Monday Ryan set out to tackle that problem while I spent more time on the phone to Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, each of whom denied the internet problem was their fault. After going back and forth with them for several hours, I was told to wait until noon on Tuesday, then maybe it would work. The logic here is stunning.

Tuesday afternoon I ring Vodafone again and they promise to send a Vodafone technician...tomorrow. I explain that I've been waiting since Friday and before that for two weeks, but "nothing can be done today." Ryan managed to get the email of his HR person's supervisor in Canada who is very apologetic about his expense report and promises to send the money herself immediately. Then surprisingly, a Vodafone technician shows up at 6pm. He tells me Deutsche Telekom has made a mistake and he will get another technician out tomorrow. He also fixes one of my electrical sockets, which was nice of him.

Wednesday morning the internet miraculously works. HR tells Ryan the money should be in our account today. All is right in the universe!? Not quite. Deutsche Telekom still wants to send a technician out and I spend a few phone calls explaining we don't need a technician anymore. And the money doesn't show up in our bank account. Ryan investigates further and comes to discover that Deutsche Bank has mysteriously removed his name from our account, and that's why we can't receive his salary. I spend some time on the phone with Deutsche Bank, then rush down to the nearest branch (3 subway stops away) and they have just closed, because its Wednesday, and that's the day it arbitrarily closes 2 hours early. Blech.

So today I'm off to correct that situation, as soon as the bank opens at the lazy hour of 10. Its been a bit of a stressful week to say the least, but I'm hoping that these things won't be a problem in the future. I'll probably get a new bank account since this isn't the first time that Deutsche Bank has screwed up our account. And luckily we won't have to deal with Deutsche Telekom or Vodafone much in the future since we are now installed. That is a good incentive not to move. There has been a big row in the finance department at Ryan's company's headquarters over the expense report and that situation has been worked out. So there is hope that our experience with German companies will go back to being smooth and delightful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bank Balance Blues

My mother used to get up and make us breakfast every morning. Pancakes, omelets, grits, and oatmeal (not the microwave kind), anything we wanted. Except junk cereal. So that became all we wanted. Sleepovers were paradise if there were Fruity Pebbles, Cookie crisp, or any other cereal composed of mostly of marshmallows or named after a candy.

My family, while not wealthy, was better off than many of my classmates. We bought our school clothes at JC Penny's or L.L. Bean, or any other place where my mother was assured of quality. My classmates shopped at K-Mart, and that was all I wanted.

And so growing up I felt a bit distant from my peers, with their blue-collar parents, conversations about Hamburger Helper and TV dinners; it was a world I was completely ignorant of. In a contest for toughness or street cred I clearly lost.

The funny thing about adulthood is that in so many ways you get what you ask for. For the last year and a half I've worked minimum wage, counted every penny, sought cost over quality, brainstormed creative things to do with ground beef; and I quickly realized the allure of these things was all in my childish imagination.

But don't think I'm really blue collar, or that I've earned any street cred. I won't be poor forever, just for another few days.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


" 'Mr. Wilson I've never so much as even seen a Nazi before.'
'You might without you actually realizing it. They look like other people and act like other people- when its to their benefit.' "
-Orson Wells, Date with Destiny

In the American mythos the Nazi is the ultimate monster. In every Indiana Jones movie, many spy movies, who could personify evil better than a Nazi? They are ugly, cold, inhumane, incapable of love. Their accents are harsh and barked. This exaggerated picture of a Nazi lurks in the back of Americans' minds and is entangled with their pictures of Germany and Germans. Its not uncommon to hear foreigners make Nazi jokes when the slightest mention of Germany is brought up.

What Americans at large don't know or understand is the national struggle of Germany to come to terms with their terrible history. Germany is not alone in having a history of genocide, America and many other nations have a legacy of unjustified slaughter of innocent people. But the Germans are perhaps most remembered for their bloody deeds. There are many reasons for this, the recentness of World War 2, the scope and efficiency of the genocide, but perhaps mostly because of the documentation. Genocides currently happen in Africa, but where are the newsreels? Is it because Germany and the Axis powers were a direct threat to western Europe and America that the images and stories are so widespread?

Ryan and I were discussing "The Reader" a brilliant book by Bernhard Schlink which has been made into a movie with Kate Winslett. The book skillfully illustrates a post-war Germany coming to terms with the previous generation's actions, or lack there of, during the war and holocaust. In one part the author discusses the sixties, which were for America and Britain a time of protests, drugs, and free love. In Germany the hippie movement culminated with young people demanding to know every grim detail of Germany's doings during Hitler's time. Some young people went as far as disowning their parents after discovering the truth. Bernhard Schlink deals brilliantly with the question "how can you love someone who has done something so evil?"

The main ethical problem seems to be "how could this have gone so far?" We can understand that there were a group of evil people who masterminded and enforced evil plans, and a small group of resistors, the good guys, but what about the general population? How could so many people be blind to the terrible suffering and death of so many people? Some claim they didn't know, and to an extent that seems likely. It was a shock to the world when the death camps were liberated, and its likely that the average citizen didn't know the full extent. But there were many signs. When Jews and other groups were marked, persecuted, run out of school and business, and then secreted away, it doesn't take a great leap to figure they were being killed. There are further implications for those living close to these camps. Many are located in Poland and other rural eastern, conquered countries, but Dachau, for example, is near the edge of a village. People must have seen it, seen the many going in, many more than could live in such a small enclosure. And in other camps we know the large ovens' smoke was visible for miles.

Once you realize that people are being slaughtered, you are morally obligated to act. As we discussed the book, Ryan argued that most people were in denial to avoid this action. I think that people living in such a dictator state probably kept their heads down to avoid losing them. With secret police and death camps nearby, speaking against the Nazis was certainly risking the lives of yourself and your family.

Ultimately we cannot know how much people knew or how complicit they were. It is not for us to judge. People are fond of saying "In that situation, I would've done X." But how can you really know? I don't think Germany is or was a place full of evil people. The Holocaust could've happened in any country, but the circumstances came together here. The preserved concentration camps are a powerful reminder of the evil that all humans are capable of, and how we must be vigilant against prejudice and hatred.

But in the process of remembering, it isn't fair to condemn the innocent. Our friend Heide complained (I'm paraphrasing here) "If I could chose my nationality, I would choose anything other than German, because of our history...the guilt of the Holocaust is on the head of every child born German." Nazism is part of German history, but that's not who Germans are. We must seperate the fact from fiction and see that even Nazis were ordinary people, albeit ordinary people who committed heinous acts. We must beware that we become so busy judging others that we become blind to the evil creeping in to our own culture.

Monday, February 9, 2009


We have been busy attending to the various paperworks and appointments that come with immigrating, and especially immigrating to Germany. This paper must be obtained before this paper, but that cannot be had without doing this. It amounts to a few wasted appointments, come back when you have this and whatnot.

The easiest, surprisingly, was health insurance. This is especially good news considering the killer ear infection Ryan had, which thankfully seems to be ebbing. We went to their offices, a lady filled out our application for us in English, and our coverage is retroactive to the date Ryan started working, so his previous doctor visits are covered. Our deductible is 10 euros a quarter and we don't have to pay out of pocket for prescriptions. Socialized medicine anyone?

The health insurance people even gave us a free booklet about moving to Germany, which is obvious in many ways and in other ways helpful. I feel really embarrassed if an English-speaker moves to Germany without knowing how to say "Guten Tag" (page 93). Other parts do offer good insight into the political system and other mysterious areas.

But the best part is the holidays section. Firstly, leaving Bavaria means a serious reduction in holidays. Damn Protestants. But as Berliners we can look forward to riots and protests on the May 1st Worker's Holiday! Oh well, at least this section made me laugh:

"Mother's Day: Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mothers are given flowers and presents by their children.

Father's Day: Ascension Day is also known as 'Vatertag' or 'Herrentag' in German. Unlike Mother's Day gifts are not normally given. Many adult men drive through the streets and woods in carts, drinking alcohol."

I guess that's how they celebrate? They need to let off steam from the stress of raising children, and as Germans, the stress of filling out all the paperwork that comes with each change in life's circumstances? Once Ryan and I are fully immigrated, I'm sure we will drink. I'll have to consider the cart, though.

P.S. went to dinner with some folks from the American Church of Berlin last night and asked a German fellow about this Father's Day tradition. He said his brother is expecting his first child next summer, but has "celebrated" Father's Day for the last 3 years, and has a wooden cart in his garage.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

No furniture? No problem!

Yesterday I was feeling very sorry for myself. Mostly because we don't have any chairs. We have a mattress from IKEA, which is quite nice. And we have some furniture generously given to us by Heide and Armin: a wardrobe, a small cabinet, and a giant heavy table which is in our cellar at the moment. During the original move-in I was so exhausted I couldn't physically carry this massive table top up the stairs, so I convinced Ryan to leave it by the dumpster. But our Hausmeister caught us, so we had to take it and put it in the cellar.

But anyway, we don't have any chairs and I was feeling sorry for myself because I have a very boney butt and it often goes numb sitting on the floor. I have folded up some blankets and pillows to sit on, but its not quite as good as a real chair. So I was sad because it will be at least a month until we get some more furniture, as Ryan's pay isn't due until March 1st.

This wouldn't be a problem in the US, at least not in the Missoula I was raised in. Drive downtown for a few blocks and you can find any number of mostly not disgusting furniture items curbside. But Germans don't toss stuff out like Americans do. And even the giant 4-story 2nd hand shop on the corner has very minimal furniture and offers it at IKEA prices. This is no Value Village where you can buy a futon for $5.00 and get a ride home/delivery from a total stranger.

I'm trying to look on the bright side. For the first time in my life I own a large rectangular room with hardwood floors. That's right, its time to bust out that bellydancing DVD I bought to get in shape for the wedding! This room is big enough to host a whole aerobics class, really. Maybe I should work on that.

But what really cheered me up was going through my old blogs about living in Loughborough.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Update: Has Ryan Been Killed by his Ear Infection?

No, thankfully.

I did tell him yesterday that he was a pain in the ass, and he responded with "Ha! This has all been a test to see how long you can care for another human being. The answer is four days. No babies for you!" So his sense of humor is back to normal, which I take as a good sign.

Went back to his original doctor yesterday, who supplied him with new antibiotics, weird drops that are supposed to be pain relieving, and told us to buy an infrared lamp. I wonder about a culture that holds alternative medicine on the same level as scientifically-tested medicine. But I bought it, and Ryan and I took turns sitting underneath it to gage its effect on our "health and beauties." I can tell you it makes you hot. I think thats about all.

Baby Me!

Ryan’s mom will tell you he has a talent for getting sick on vacation. Before my time was impetigo in Hawaii, immobilizing hives in California, and a host of other bizarre illnesses, always popping up in the middle of beach day. But since we’ve been married he’s never really been sick. He’ll occasionally get a small cold, and has vomited once or twice, but I don’t think he’s missed a day of work. It’s annoying when I’m huddled in a ball on the couch, green in the face, and he’s standing there fit as a fiddle, practically gloating over his superior immune system. I should have been thankful for his indestructibility while it lasted.

He has developed the ear ache from hell. After a doctor’s visit Thursday, an apparent recovery Friday, and then moaning all last night (not the good kind of moaning either) I dragged him to the ER. It was mostly full of old people on gurneys and young hungover people sullenly watching their IVs drip. We were seen in just under an hour by a young bushy-eyebrowed doctor. He asked the standard questions, told Ryan to take off his shirt, and then proceeded to karate chop him several times in the ribs. What this is supposed to test, I have no idea. Then he snapped in Ryan’s ears. “Can you hear this? No? This?” It looked more like ways to annoy your brother than a doctor’s exam. Then he gave him some painkillers, but nothing good, just some extra strength ibuprofen.

So Ryan is still sick and pitiful. He has a follow-up appointment with Dr. A on Monday. So hopefully either she will give him some useful medicine, or Ryan’s super immune system will decide to start working. I guess the third option is that this earache will actually kill him. It seems unlikely that a fit 24 year old man could be killed by an ear infection, but I will keep you updated. In the meantime I’m attempting to make him better by playing mommy.

This Little Light of Mine

The plan was to buy lighting fixtures at IKEA and Ryan would put them up that night. It’s good to be married to an electrical engineer at times like this, right? Wandering around IKEA at 9:00 we were seized by laughter at our current situation. We decided to give up and live in the IKEA. When that wore off we decided that instead of ceiling fixtures we would each buy a reading lamp, and a few spares for guests, and just carry them around the flat, plugging them in as needed. They were cheap. Then Ryan stopped laughing and suggested floor lamps.

I told him I hate floor lamps. I do. When pressed I can’t really explain. They are convenient, sure, but I don’t like cleaning around them. I don’t like that they take up floor space when they could just dangle above us. But Ryan’s fancy use of logic won out and we bought the second cheapest one. The first cheapest had a small reading-lamp light extension about midway up that bent to various angles. I was admiring it when Ryan said “You like the erection lamp?” After that there was no way I could look at it without giggling. What can I say? I’m very immature. So we bought the other model, sans erection.

It was a good thing we did, because at that late hour neither of us could bear the idea of trying to decipher the IKEA picto-instructions. Tuesday I discovered that none of our furniture, no matter how it was dangerously stacked, could reach our high ceilings. Wednesday was spent in a state of despair that we would never have lighting, and would lug our floor lamp from room to room for all eternity. Ryan suggested that I call the Hausmeister and ask him to do it. Herr Kube offered to drop off a ladder the next day, but didn’t volunteer any further help. As Ryan left for work Thursday morning he hollered something about the circuit breaker, and I asked him what the hell he was talking about. He looked incredulous, how have I survived this long without knowing about ground wires and circuit breakers? He gave me a quick spiel and told me not to electrocute myself.

It took me about 40 minutes to figure out the first fixture, during which time I got an eye full of plaster dust and almost fell off the ladder, but after that they got progressively easier. And as long as we don’t have an earthquake, they’ll probably stay in the ceiling just fine. But just in case don’t stand directly underneath them.

Tentative Moving Schedule, 23-26 January.

Friday: Ryan drives back from business trip in Vancouver. Picks up Katy at SeaTac (from Missoula) at 7:30 pm. Stay up all night frantically packing, weighing, unpacking, and repacking suitcases.

Saturday: 5:30 am back to SeaTac, fly to Atlanta then to Munich.

Sunday: 8:00 am (German time) arrive in Munich having slept about 4 hours since Thursday night. Have ATM card seized by ATM at Munich Airport. Curse into cell phone in front children’s marching band. Children are ushered away from crazy lady with too many bags and no ATM card.
9:30 am arrive at Heide and Armin’s house, eat a second breakfast. Play “Peter Pan” with F. for several hours while staving off sleep-deprived delirium. Give in and take a nap around 5pm, even though Rick Steves warns this will only prolong jet lag.
6:30 lovely dinner with the family and meet their new Manny (male nanny) a hilarious fellow from Australia, and his German girlfriend. Drink two glasses of wine and almost fall asleep on the table.

Monday: 7:30 am Armin offers to drive us to pick up the rental car. We get lost. Finally find it and realize we have rented a van the size of a school bus. Ryan nervously drives it to Heide and Armin’s house.
8:30 I run (literally) to the bank to explain the ATM situation. Order a new card. Meanwhile, Armin, Ryan, the Manny, and Heide load van full of our suitcases and a few donated furniture items. This takes up about 1/4 of total van space.
9:30am hit the road. Get lost getting out of Munich. Decide to put off lunch until we have a ¼ tank left, as we only have 6 hours to get to Berlin.
3:30 arrive in Berlin with 30 minutes to get to the flat where we must meet the agent and the landlord. Get lost. Call the agent, we’ll be 15 minutes late. He’s already there. Get stuck in traffic. The agent calls back, where are we?
4:45 finally arrive, apologize profusely. Are shown around the apartment in the dark (German apartments come without lighting fixtures!) Sign lots of papers. Start unloading the van, taking 50 pound bags and furniture through 2 hallways, 2 courtyards, and up 5 flights of stairs. Feel like I’m going to have a heart attack. Give up on massively heavy table top from Heide and Armin, leave it by the dumpster. Finish unloading, head to IKEA. Buy lighting fixtures, shower curtain, and mattress.
9:30pm Ryan misses a turn light and almost hits a tram. Get pulled over. Hyperventilate. Show American driver’s license and get off with a warning. Take van back to rental agency. Take U-bahn back to apartment. Collapse onto newly-purchased mattress.