Art and Gardens in Berlin

Urban and suburban evenings.

Advertisements

We are excited to find out about the Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of Museums), a yearly event that invites everyone to explore the multitude of museums here in Berlin. There are several shuttle lines and pages of descriptions to pour through to plan. The events begin at 18:00 (6 pm) and continue past midnight.
Purchase tickets online. Check. Pick shuttle route. Check. Map a route to the beginning of the route. Check.

IMG_5582Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut

We notice the  Ibero-American Institute also known as IAI, on our approach to Kulturforum.  The IAI is the largest specialized European library with a focus on Latin America, Spain, Portugal and the Caribbean. It collects and preserves all types of materials including belles-lettres, humanities, social sciences, economics, jurisprudence, and geological, agricultural and environmental sciences.

We arrive at Kulturforum .The Kulturforum is a postwar collection of cultural buildings in West Berlin erected after many cultural icons were walled off by the Berlin Wall.  The buildings are designed by famous German modernist architects Hans Scharoun and Mies van der Rohe. We stop briefly at the St. Matthäus-Kirche church in search for our shuttle stop.

IMG_5583Sculpture across from St. Matthäus-Kirche church at Kulturforum

1st stop German Cinematheque – German film from silent films to today.
Across the street, we happen upon a star for Marlene Dietrich, a beloved German and US film star.

IMG_5587

We enter the exhibit through a winding walkway of photos, metal and mirrors. The sign at the entrance tells a brief history of German cinema, noting “The stars of early German cinema are women.” This theme follows us throughout the exhibits.

Fern Andra is one of the stars. Her monumental career in film dates back to 1913. Andra moved into the film industry from a career in the circus as an American tightrope artist. After several successful films, she also started her own production company. She produced and directed films about the circus, and was a master of public relations. Her daring onscreen stunts and off-screen personal life antics attracted lots of free publicity from German newspapers.

Metropolis, the pioneering silent German sci-fi film, made in 1927,  is one of the featured exhibits.  Just last week, a restored version was shown at the UFA film festival here in Berlin.

And then, Dietrich. Here is the temple to Dietrich’s costumes from Sailor to Diva:

IMG_5626 (1)

The film museum references a postwar divided Berlin. The Russian (Russich) district became East Berlin and part of East Germany, the GDR – German Democratic Republic – communist not democratic, despite its name.

IMG_5638

We head to stop 2,  Museum for Communication (Museum für Kommunikation):

The Communications Museum has a wide range of exhibits. The building is lovely, neo-Baroque architecture. Originally founded in 1872 as a postal museum, this museum boasts the oldest collection of stamps, along with other communication tools. There is a  “Wells Fargoesque” stagecoach hanging from the ceiling in one rooms, walls of phones in another, and drawers full of interesting maps, along with a display of the Preußisches (Prussian) telegrafenalphabet signal pole. The telegrafenalphabet was used along railroad lines to send messages from station to station.  In the museum atrium, a DJ played American music from the 1950s with a few couples dancing in vintage outfits. The German Elvis is scheduled to appear later in the evening.

We continue on the tour, Stop 3 is to be Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, but somehow we never arrive at our stop. After about 45 minutes, instead we arrive at the German Museum of Technology – Ladestraße, a stop we had planned to miss?

Here the museum is mainly filled with vehicles, most motorized. Las Chicas wander through with little attention for the exhibits. The swing dancing reminds us of Lindy Hop in Plaza Virriena in Barcelona, but we pass and continue on. One exhibit catches our eye, the hybrid car, Fiat 500 Elektro-Hybrid, 1962/1968. Remarkable that this technology was around so many years before it became available to the public.

IMG_5663

Berlin Botanical Gardens (Botanischer Garten)

Mary comes across a summer concert series at the botanical gardens, so on Friday we head there after work, but Frau Ticket Booth says the event is sold out! Instead we listen to the Cuban music sitting on the grass with  picnicking locals, just outside of the concert area.

IMG_5747

The gardens are a vast expanse of forest, plants, meadows, grasses and massive glass greenhouses. We drink in nature (curated, planted, trimmed), listening to the birds and roaming the grounds.

An odd exhibit of two bicycles welded together is outside the cafe. It appears that one person must pedal backwards, if the bike is to go in one direction. We don’t quite understand the purpose, except that the cyclists will be protected from the rain.

IMG_5771

We come across some type of shade-hardy grass experiment,

IMG_5740

and visit the “crystal palace,” a gargantuan tropical greenhouse, about 4 stories high, filled with rainforest plants and flowers.

IMG_5779

Dusk settles in and we head back to the train, strolling down a shady avenue of mansions. The mansions turn out to be embassies, like the Jordanian Embassy. We also pass the Iranian Embassy with its extra security: police phone booth and two guards in front.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2017

 

 

 

 

Berlin by Bike

We love bicycles.

City biking, commuting by bike, recreational cycling, sight-seeing, road riding—Las Chicas do it all on two wheels.

Week 1:

Tech-savvy Lisa suggests Next Bike, Berlin’s bike share, to test ride her bike commute to school. We use Next Bike because our Tucson bikes remain in boxes because . . .hey! we just got here!

We choose the non-cobbled route to school which takes us past the hand-standing swimmer in front of a corner café:

IMG_5424

 

After about 15 minutes, we arrive at school:

IMG_5302

Critical bike accessories acquired: super strong bike locks and inclement weather seat cover from the home improvement mega store:

IMG_8606

Week 1.5:

On our Tucson bikes, we explore Grunewald (Green Forest!). This shady place of paved and dirt roads is only a ten-minute ride from our apartment. We approach the forest at a sobering stone monument to the Holocaust and Gleis 17 (Track 17), where the Nazis loaded over 50,000 Jewish citizens  into train cars destined for concentration camps. Weirdly, the interpretive sign on the street names all the famous Germans who once lived in the neighborhood (Max Planck, Isadora Duncan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Engelbert Humperdinck, etc.)  then toward the end mentions Gleis 17.

IMG_5429Monument to Gleis 17

IMG_5428

Tunnel beneath the train station

After this pause for history, we walk our bikes through the tunnel beneath the train tracks then head out on the paved road next to the forest.

All kinds of people use this shady road: bike tourists loaded down with panniers, cyclists on training rides (as the Brits say: MAMILs=Middle Aged Men in Lycra), parents and kids, roller bladers, and even man on on roller skis.

BikeTourists

Bike touring in Grunewald Forest.

Week 2:

Mary explores the outer suburbs of Berlin, successfully following her old school, hand-written directions because she refuses to pay for digital data/maps on her American cell phone.

IMG_8586

Who needs GPS?

Here’s a one-minute video of her favorite ride so far to Wansee and Potsdam complete with extra cobbled streets because Mary takes a wrong turn that eventually leads to a staircase! Apparently, GPS would be beneficial. Also featured: Astana super fan, Havel River, and Gleinicker Palace which is one of a few Prussian Palaces in the area.

On her way home, Mary faces the bane of all cyclists: cars in the bike lane! Three cars in two blocks, so she whips out her phone and takes pictures of them imagining the drivers will be watching, and threatened by such citizen activism because Mary just might post them to the Berlin police twitter, if there even is such a thing. And Berlin police actually tow cars out of bike lanes! True fact.

IMG_8664

Berlin has been named a Top Ten city for cycling in the world, in spite of wide American-style roads that make it easy for cars to speed. Some streets have bike lanes, and some bike lanes are bricked into the sidewalks and safely separated from vehicles, but with the added challenge of dodging pedestrians.

Despite the challenges, most Berlin cyclists don’t wear helmets and parents feel perfectly safe pedaling their bike boxes of children down the street.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2017

 

Expat Life: From Possible to Practical

Work begins and the gentle pace of acclimation fades quickly.

Day 1: Figure out transportation to work, because bike is in the shop getting its fenders put on. One does not ride around Berlin most times of year without fenders, lest a damp bottom upon arrival.IMG_5306

So the bus it is. It is only 2 blocks away from our flat and runs frequently. We rarely ride buses in the US, unless in a large city, as they are usually not convenient or timely. This is not the case here. There are many choices with two train lines, U-Bahn and S lines, and many buses. Las Chicas ride together to take care of some business today.

110 bus

It’s a pleasure to not be locked in a car driving everywhere. A definite highlight here.

IMG_5305

We arrive at BIS and after a brief “Meet and Great”, things quickly get more real. Health insurance is the first topic. An absolute requirement in Germany, and quite expensive. No private healthcare option, for 80 euros monthly for both chicas, like in Spain. Instead Lisa’s age is front and center. In fact, she receives a special email the night before from the school director alerting her about some challenges related to her coverage. Remember pre-ACA in the US, when companies could refuse you coverage or make you pay large sums to be covered? Berlin has been inundated with newcomers, expats and refugees in recent months and years which are taxing the public systems, hence the closer scrutiny of each individual upon arrival.

We are escorted to a separate room to discuss coverage. Mary breezes through with her EU passport in hand. I am not so lucky, and listen to a pessimistic presentation from the insurance frau with comments like, “…if I can find someone to insure you…”. It’s a new experience and one that is not easily resolved. Patience and positive attitude. The uncertainty hangs over the day.

Next onto the Bürgeramt Zehlendorf , “Citizens offices”, in the Town Hall for me. Mary heads off on a bike ride, before settling into her split shift work day.

Step 1, we need to register our residence, before we can: get a local phone number (even a prepaid number requires your passport), bank account and certainly before any further steps with immigration.

Bürgeramt Zehlendorf bear

The place is more similar to immigration appointments in Barcelona, not like the quick walk-in service in Sarría, Barcelona, where we registered our address. Luckily appointments are scheduled ahead of time, so we pass by the long line waiting at the Information Desk. (But Mary will not be so lucky later in the week when she has to return to sign additional paperwork.)

Having an employer, who supports you in this process is a HUGE advantage when moving to another country. I am very thankful for my teaching credentials at these moments.

IMG_8659

Mary waits with others for the Information Desk to open

We watch the digital cue for our number to appear, in a large room filled with people of all ages from around the world. Lisa’s number is the first in the group.  She proceeds to a desk, with her German translator from school, to show passports and the official letter from the landlord proving we have an address here in Berlin. The process is quick and efficient, and similar to BCN there is a 13 euro charge for processing the paperwork. Success. Then we wait for the other 5 teachers to finish. Waiting is a regular part of the expat life, especially early in your stay.

IMG_8661

Digital cue with many colors and types of numbers.

It takes about 2 hours and we still have to wait for our next appointment, as we are early. Our group arrives at the bank and is greeted by bankers who take us in pairs to different offices and offer us refreshment.

IMG_8657

Mary is tempted by the Nespresso machine in the bank lobby later in the week.

Setting up an account is similar to setting up an account in the US, but it takes 3 times longer, does not require any money be deposited (perhaps because we will have direct deposit from our work), and there are volumes of paperwork. Apparently Germany is noted for their continued love of paperwork vs. digital processing.

And so we sit patiently. Luckily Dominic, the cute young banker, does mine first. Craig, the other teacher, gets to sit through the 45 minutes it takes for mine and then begin his process. He too is practicing patience as his Chinese wife is yet to secure a visa. We are most fortunate.

The work day ends at the bank and I board the bus home, with 2 of 3 tasks complete. The health insurance saga will continue through the week. The Director assures me we will find a viable solution. Meanwhile I get an email from the insurance frau. She has found a policy for 981 euros a month (this is 3 times what I expected to pay), with a 900 euro deductible and lots of other language I can not read in German, and 8 lengthy forms attached, including the forms for a physical and dental exam. My heart sinks a bit.

There are additional sessions at school this week, what you might expect of an orientation: overview of the school resources, handbook, tour of the school, and a speaker on transition. We also had a similar presentation about transition or “culture shock” when we moved to Barcelona. It is common that people go through some sort of cycle similar to the one below. Beginning with a “honeymoon period” and then meeting difficult challenges, sometimes with anger, other times with overwhelm, we finally emerge with some level of “integration”. So far the initial steps have gone a little more easily than our transition to Spain, but beware, this still might be the honeymoon period.

transition -W-Curve

There are several more official steps and paperwork to complete throughout the week. Later in the week, Lisa is relieved when the Director finds a way, with help of creative team members, to include her in the state healthcare system offered to the rest of the teachers. The representative from school is able to get our tax numbers. Note: We will pay substantial taxes here in Germany. But like Spain, Germany has a tax treaty with the US that allows the retirement portion of these funds to transfer and be included in one’s social security payments. It is unclear about the remainder of the taxes and if we will receive any refund at the end of the year. A calculated risk.

Sometime during the week we receive a much needed, heartwarming photo of our cat, left behind in the US, but clearly doing well. Hello Mr. Gray, we miss you!

IMG_5535

We also take a break to meet some new friends for dinner in Kreuzberg at the Marheineke Markthalle. We met them the week before, during our visit to Schöneberg. Originally from the US, they too are new to Berlin, although they have lived in Munich for four years. We purchase food from different vendors, Lisa from the Greek stand and the others from the vegetarian restaurant.

IMG_5290

Outside of school we are also becoming experts at Google maps, including the “details” feature that shows each and every stop on transit, …

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 6.18.56 PM

and Google Translate. We comment, way too often, “How did people do this before…”. We especially love the camera option, as all the manuals are in German. The camera option allows you to scan the document with your camera as it translates, about 50% of the words. It’s amazing how much you can understand knowing at least 50% of the content. Keep that in mind teachers!

Fancy German dishwasher instructions to be translated

We awake every morning knowing it’s a new day, and preparing ourselves to embrace the unknown once again. The speaker on transition mentioned that sleeping is generally not a problem for new arrivals in these early days, weeks and months, as the process can be quite exhausting. Hear, hear!

We are slowly, word by word, beginning to build some vocabulary in German. It’s amazing to see what you can understand when you know the context.

Kicher Erbsen = chickpeas, Baby Spinat = baby spinach

Now you are learning German too!

©2017 Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds

 

Schöneberg Scenes and History

Schöneberg history from a few different angles.

Las Chicas venture to different parts of Berlin. Today we visit Schöneberg. Schöneberg dates back to the 13th century, with a rich history of politics, destruction and renovation, peace and reconciliation.

We arrive at Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station, the oldest station dating back to 1902.

fullsizeoutput_442c

Classic advertising posters decorate the tile walls, and the building represents the German take on Art Nouveau. Grenander, a well-known architect, designed it in 1913.

 

Upon stepping out of the station, we are in Wittenbergplatz square, to the right is KaDeWe ( Kaufhaus des Westens department store, the largest department store in Berlin) and Tauentzienstraße, one of Berlin’s busy shopping streets, and to the left is the Buddy Bears Art Project.

The Buddy Bear Art Project began in 2001, with nearly 100 bears exhibited around the city of Berlin. Each bear sculpture represents a country recognized by the United Nations, and was designed by an artist of that country. The bear is the symbol of Berlin, and is also meant to bring a message of “peaceful coexistence”. We are fortunate to enjoy this temporary exhibit on Wittenbergplatz before it ends on 14 August 2017.

Today we pose with the bears and enjoy this warm and welcoming exhibit.

IMG_8522

IMG_8526

This is our second visit to Schöneberg. During our first visit, we took a walking tour of Gay and Lesbian Berlin in the Mitte and Schöneberg. The tour group had people from Australia, the UK, US and Romania, a film maker, students, tourists and us.

IMG_5349

Schöneberg is the gay epicenter of Berlin and boasts a history rich with famous people and celebrities who have lived there including Albert Einstein, Marlena Dietrich, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

The tour guide has his PhD in queer history. We learn about the people, events and places that shaped gay and lesbian history dating back to the early 1900s. We view the site of the first gay bar in the world from 1916, the El Dorado, shut down by Nazis in the 1930’s and now a grocery store.

IMG_5350

We learn about Magnus Hirschfeld a German Jewish physician and one of the earliest advocates of gay and transgender rights in the early 1900s.  (Yes, not a new issue.) And we see the home of Christopher Isherwood, whose stories were the basis for Cabaret.

IMG_5357

Today we head to Schöneberg with one of Lisa’s colleagues from school, Jess.  The purpose of this trip is to search for difficult items to find in Europe, American-style flat sheets, at KaDaWe. But before we head in, we take another spin around the Buddy Bears.

The trip to KaDeWe is short. Let’s just say it’s no El Corte Inglés (Barcelona super department store), given we rarely find a price on any item that is less than double what we might spend elsewhere.

Lisa is intrigued by the bombed our church in the distance. So we head in that direction to learn a little more about Berlin’s history. A photo op on the way.

Sculpture by Brigitte Machinsky titled Berlin, 1986

IMG_5486

We arrive at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The church has been renovated around the west tower, bombed out during WWII, and left as an anti-war memorial to peace and reconciliation.

Inside there are lovely mosaics and sections of the ceiling of bare brick.

There is also an information center where we see photos of before and after. The photos are haunting. One shows the shelled church standing and everything else around it flattened to rubble. It demands you to pause and reflect.

One panel tells about Deutsche Christens, a movement within the German Evangelical Church beginning around 1931, that supported antisemitism and Führerprinzip, the ideological principles of Nazism. The panel details the movement’s goal to align German Protestantism with Führerprinzip. Their strategy was to use the church to help win elections. Seems pretty similar to trends we see currently in the United States. A bit chilling at this moment…

Throughout the 1930s and the war, Kaiser Wilhelm church leaders and congregation stood firmly against the Nazis and Führerprinzip.

Heading back to the train we enjoy the diversion of some non-historic sites,

IMG_8602

IMG_8604

IMG_5518

Heading home now, but we will be back again soon to visit another historic place in Schöneberg: John F. Kennedy Platz where President Kennedy gave his famous, “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2017

 

Living the Expat life: Barcelona to Berlin

Job, home, and food tips for Americans moving abroad.

People often ask us how we do this. So on our second time around, we thought we’d share some information and tips.

The dream to live and work abroad began back in the 1990s for Lisa and took more than a decade to bring to fruition, but it happened.  Knowing where to start is part of the challenge.

When it came down to it, we had to think very carefully about where we’d actually like to live. Being outdoor chicas, climate was at the top of our list. We also thought about food, affordability and proximity to people we knew.  We decided we preferred to have at least one job in the destination country, and the security and safety net that provided. So Lisa pursued a teaching job in an international school.

After much consideration, map exploring and discussions, we set our sights on Barcelona, Spain, for our first destination abroad. From there things moved quickly. We set up a visit to check out the city, and Lisa arranged informal interviews at two international schools.

Barcelona sight-seeing

The process for Berlin was a little different. The job opportunity presented itself, and then we evaluated if Berlin was a fit for us. We had visited friends here in 2015 before our first move back to the states, so we had an idea of the city. After securing a contract, Mary was able to visit again and scout out our new digs while here for a work conference.

Berlin highlights from 2015 visit

Not in education? Try other pathways like: Indeed.com, Monster, or US Jobs. You’d be surprised at what is out there for people of all ages and skills. Depending where you want to go in the world, you could also volunteer with an organization like the Peace Corps, or study abroad, and with some preparation, teach English as a Second Language.

Once you’ve decided where you’re going, the hard work starts. Living in other parts of the world sounds magical and romantic. But be prepared, there’s a lot of hard work to make it happen, before, during your time abroad and upon departure.

Preparation is a beast. For those who don’t have many possessions, or responsibilities to maintain at home, it may be easier. But more and more people of all ages are seeking out these opportunities, even in retirement. It was a great way to clean out and decide what is really most important to us. We also found someone to look after our cat at home. We miss him, but it’s the best for all of us.

House, bike, packing preparations for Barcelona move

Visas are another essential part of relocating somewhere else in the world. In both Berlin and Barcelona, the schools helped us with the necessary information and steps, but there was still a lot of documentation and preparation on our side.

For our move to Barcelona it took a total of 4 visits to the Spanish consulate in Los Angeles before we even arrived in Spain. Berlin has been a different experience and most of the visa preparation is happening on this side of the pond.

IMG_1318

Mary waits at Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles, 2013

It also takes a certain amount of money to make this all happen. What helped us? The school reimburses us for work related expenses. We save up for months ahead of our departure. Credit cards that give you frequent flyer miles can be very helpful, but must be paid off ahead of time. It’s best not to have debt to worry about, as it also limits the adventures you can take in and around your new home.

With visas and temporary visas in hand we head across the ocean. Arrival can be as overwhelming as the preparation and departure. We arrive with at least 4 very large suitcases, 2 carry-ons and two bikes. Getting around is not so easy, but in both Barcelona and Berlin, there are taxis waiting and able to accommodate us at the airport.

965415_10200352773525537_712943237_o

Arrival in Barcelona, 2013

For both destinations, we rented a flat ahead of our arrival. The schools in Barcelona and Berlin were both helpful with relocation support, although we are totally responsible for all the costs. This gives us a certain peace of mind during the transition, especially if there is someone on the ground to take a look at the place.

If you’re not fortunate to have this support it’s best to try and find some good contacts to see what’s available. There are lots of blogs that write about this. Here are a few: Barcelona Adventuring — our blog from our time in Barcelona! tips for European travel too; ExBerliner – expats in Berlin, news, jobs; Vegan Nom Noms — not just for vegans, general expat advice for Berlin.  You can also use a search engine using “expat [city name here].”

From travel companies to expat blogs, you can find a lot of information about what’s available, reasonable prices and what to avoid.

Arrival is not just about a place to land; quickly all your basic needs come to the forefront.  You need to figure out food, communications, transportation, local customs and safety, to name a few. Here are some tips of resources we’ve found to be very useful, at least in Western Europe:

Food: many of the big cities we visit have a wide range of foods and restaurants from around the world. We found Greek, French, Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern foods in restaurants, markets, stores and street food.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out our post on Thai food in the park, a great surprise for us here in Berlin.

IMG_5376

Communications : We often reflect on how fortunate we are to be adventuring at this moment in time. There are so many resources that make communications easy. Here are a few we depend on:

  • We begin our international travel with setting up temporary international calling on our cell phones in the US. This guarantees us both calling and data access, until we are able to access wifi and set up a phone account.
  • Wifi is top of the list. We’ve found it to be much more affordable than in the US, and relatively easy to get set up. Our flat in Berlin has provided us wifi and included it in the rent. Even if it’s not in your flat, there are many cafes you can visit and access the wifi for free.
  • Skype has also been very important with family in the US. We purchased a Skype phone number so parents can call us at a local number in the US, and leave us a message, if we are not available. Skype video calls are free.
  • Whatsapp is also amazing. From free international text messages via wifi to international calling to others who also have the app. A similar feature also available on Facebook.
  • Once we are able to set up a bank account, which requires having an address, we then can set up some type of cell phone service, which we have found to be much more affordable than in the states.

I think back to my cousin who went to Africa in the 70’s and can’t imagine what communication was like. I imagine they only had letters and telegrams (when necessary) for communication, or perhaps a very expensive phone call on occasion.

Language differences is also an important thing to consider in moving abroad. We both spoke and understood basic Spanish when we moved to Spain. Even though the primary language in Barcelona is Catalan, we could usually get by with Spanish. But neither of us speak German yet. So we rely heavily on Google translate, the phone app comes handy, especially with its audio features. We have also found many people understand basic English in Berlin, even if they don’t like to admit it.

Transportation: Transportation is usually at our fingertips with bikes, buses, metros, taxis (when needed). It’s actually a bit of a relief from the all-pervasive American car. We are happy to be walking and walking and walking each day, whether for a meal, or to a train, or just enjoying the sights around us.

Safety: It’s difficult to evaluate safety in these times. There are issues and incidents everywhere around the world. But we certainly think about this in the process of getting settled. First we research  where we want to live. It’s helpful to get a sense about the city, what are common tourists locations (not always the safest, as they can be targets for thieves). This takes some work and it’s helpful to find people who are living in a place to gather information. Common sense is important, along with being aware of your environment. Buildings commonly have front security doors, and it’s important that your flat has a solid locking mechanism. Know the emergency numbers you might need. In Europe, you call 112 instead of 911.

And then there are places like IKEA, that collect many euros via  expat purchases in cities across Europe. Las Chicas visit there only once, if possible, to pick up items we can’t easily find in other locations around the city.  Here’s a little glimpse of our Berlin IKEA  trip  including tiny elevator welfie with under-the-bed storage containers and more.

So there you have it, a little window into Las Chicas’ adventures moving abroad. Of course, this is only a sliver of our experience. We are just beginning our newest journey and look forward to developing new friendships, visiting again with the friends we made in Spain, and extending our understanding of the world from this different place.

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2017

 

Thai Park in Berlin

Thai food around the corner in Berlin.

Pad Thai, Dim Sum, Mango Lassis, Mojitos and a lot of tarps create the feast that is “Thai Park” every summer Saturday in Berlin. We join friends Monica and Gernat in Preussen Park, a 15-minute walk through our neighborhood for a picnic lunch. Like other Thai Parkers, we take a lap through the tents, umbrellas and tarps, overwhelmed by the bounty of fresh street food.

IMG_5373

IMG_5376

IMG_5377

Lisa senses Mary is about to faint, and quickly revives her with chicken satay.  Gernat follows suit. Indecision abounds for the main course, but we spy made-to-order Pad Thai:

IMG_8529

Then it starts to drizzle, sprinkle and even rain. Las Chicas don our rain jackets and Gernat says, “that’s a good idea,” but being hearty Berliners who warmed up by biking to the park, Monica and Gernat didn’t bring jackets or umbrellas.

IMG_8531Fortunately, we have an umbrella to share with Monica. It offers minimal protection from the rain as we wait for our Pad Thai. Mit Garnele (with shrimp) for Las Chicas, and Mit Hähnchen (with chicken) for M and G. Gernat eschews the Mango lassi because it’s fruit, but the girls drink up!

We find a small sitting area behind the chefs and beneath the tarps where we huddle out of the rain on a striped mat. If it was 30 degrees warmer, perhaps one would be transported to southeast Asia during the rainy season. Our view from the mat:

IMG_8532But it is a typical Berlinisher day, cloudy with a chance of rain. Las Chicas are cold and the food warms our souls. When Lisa asks Monica if the rain is intermittent like this in the winter, Monica says with resignation, that comes from an Arizonan who spent the last three years in Germany: “It will rain more.”

Vendors sell a range of adult beverages, and machetes carve coconuts to drink from:

Eventually, the rain ends and we lounge on the grass. A man comes by with drinks on a tray, but we decline. Another woman sells flower leis to other picnickers:

IMG_8540

Before we depart we pick up a few spring rolls for later.

IMG_8248

We exit the park past a sign listing all the activities that are Verboten in the park. The sign targets speakers of the following languages: German, Thai, English. Here is part of the English version:

IMG_5382

On the way back from the park, Las Chicas realize it’s Saturday afternoon! All the stores will be closed tomorrow! We must purchase fruit! So we stop at a corner market with a strange name and select apples and cherries from boxes outside. Inside, the shelves are stuffed with liquor bottles and potato chips and a few cans of this and that. A poster for Russian Scouts (like Boy Scouts), hangs on the wall above the cash register and we realize it’s a market for Russian expatriates.  That explains Mary’s Chekhovian impulse for cherries and the battered teardrop cabbage for sale:

IMG_8541IMG_8542

The giant Russian nesting doll sign, which we somehow missed on the way in, bids us do svidaniya. We walk past the Malawi Embassy, the transit offices, the Indian restaurant and the Black & Red bar. Chilled from the rain, we’re happy our apartment remains warm and cozy from the morning’s sun.

© 2017 by Mary Reynolds and Lisa Howells

Arrival in Berlin

Three tests of commitment and our first 24 hours in Berlin.

Las Chicas return to Europe.IMG_8337

But first, we have to get out of Tucson, where we face three tests of commitment.

First, the strength test. This involves many awkward lifts of suitcases onto and off of bathroom scale of questionable accuracy. For example, the scale shouts that Mary has gained two pounds after eating five ounces of chocolate coconut ice cream. We err on the side of caution so bags weigh 48 pounds instead of 50, the legal limit for our airline. There is also lifting of 45 to 50 pound packed bike boxes, from bike shop to car, then back into car to return to bike shop to correct a packing problem,  then back in the car to home, etc.

Second, the friendship test. Do we have a friend willing to wait for us in the sweltering sun of a July day while we complete last minute packing? Help us load luggage?  Then drive us to the airport in his truck? Yes and yes and yes, thank you Lee Blackwell! Do we also have a friend willing to go to our house, and pick up the important plastic travel bag we forgot, and deliver it to the airport? Yes–thank you Lynn Wilson!

Third, the resiliency test.  Good news, all our luggage is within the weight limit! Bad news, at airport check-in, the agent considers not allowing Lisa to fly out because her return ticket is more than 90 days away. (Mary is OK because she returns in September for a work commitment.) Americans are allowed to stay in Europe for 90 days every 6 months, without a special visa. We do not have the special visa yet, but Lisa has her work contract! Having lived through Spanish bureaucracy, Lisa is prepared to prove anything and everything–work, marriage, Mary’s Irish citizenship. The agent calls over her supervisor who asks the same questions of us, then they both go back to the supervisor’s supervisor, behind the wall, or the big boss. They stay behind that wall for a longish time. Finally, agent and supervisor emerge from behind the wall. Success! All is well, all is clear, alles ist clar (German!) It takes 30 minutes to check in, and Las Chicas are rewarded for their resiliency; we pass the three tests and commence our long journey across the pond.

Yes, we make it to Berlin after traveling with a crying toddler from Dallas to London, and the same unhappy toddler from London to Berlin. The luggage trolleys are too small for our 6 bags and 2 bike boxes. But we find help from the sternest of faces. The passport check Polizei help us get our bike boxes from the luggage area to the main hall at Tegel airport, and Mary makes them smile by saying “we are like Marcel Kittel.” He is superstar German cyclist.

We meet Ilona, or Frau Kleiner as we learn to say her name properly with respect, at our apartment. She provides us with the keys. Frau Kleiner works for the school foundation and helped us with the apartment search.

IMG_8480

Las Chicas and Frau Kleiner on our balcony.

Off to explore the neighborhood and soak in afternoon sun to offset jetlag.  Fruit and veggie shops abound, so we find the makings for dinner–fruit, veggies, eggs.  Post-dinner, we struggle to stay awake until our 7 pm meeting with Leif, our landlord’s representative. Upon arrival, Leif doesn’t want to shake hands as his hands are sweaty from biking. An elfin librarian, Lief answers questions and we learn important German words printed on the washing machine. Schleudern = spin! He promises the dishwasher will be fixed soon.

IMG_8486

Instructions taped inside the cabinet for the broken dishwasher.

The next morning, we wake bleary-eyed and not quite ready for the day of home preparation ahead.

IMG_5285

Mary appreciates espresso left by previous tenant.

IMG_8497

Sleepy Lisa asks Mary how many euros we need.

IMG_8488

Walking to Bau Haus, the German equivalent of Home Depot.

IMG_8491

On the way to look at table lamps and fans, Las Chicas pass this display. We see a lighter side of German commercialism.

IMG_8499

Fan success! The living room is much cooler now.

Moving to a new country is never easy, but our first day in Berlin seems a bit smoother than the same day in Barcelona four years ago. We know what apartment questions to ask Leif. Thanks to the advice of local friends, we find the natural food stores, the drogerie (combo Target/CVS but no drugs), the ReWe grocery store. On our own, we discover several bakeries for Mary to test and EuroShop (Dollar Store equivalent).  Our day is not error-free: we exit the wrong way from the U-station and in her haste, Mary accidentally purchases Greek Yogurt focusing on the word Greek, not on the image of the sheep and the word “sheep” in 6 languages:

yogurt.jpg

But it tasted great on her German muesli the following day!

©2017 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.