3 More Years in Berlin?

So today I got my sponsored work visa to stay in Germany. My youth working holiday visa finished at the start of September (because I am no longer a youth – I am 31 and old according to governments the world over) and the kindergarten that I work for offered to sponsor me so that I could continue working for them.

It was a strange moment when the woman at the Auslanderbehörde (Foreigner’s Registration Office) handed me my passport with the new visa inside. Not least of all because she decided to speak English to me, and I had been pretty certain, up to this point, that all German bureaucrats had to speak German to everyone at all times because they are:

a) working in Germany for the German government and

b) could mistranslate something and then give someone the wrong information and then get the government into a lot of trouble.

That’s a reasonable sounding rationale I made up in my head to explain why everyone in Berlin speaks perfect English except the people in bureaucracy, and especially the people who might need to actually speak a language other than German (for example, at the Foreigner’s Registration Office).

Nevertheless, the strangest thing about getting my visa today was opening up my passport and seeing that, as long as I kept working at the same kindergarten and did nothing else, I could stay in Germany until August 2018.

3 more years.

That seems like a really long time.

Of course, it’s not. The years are going by faster and faster these days (and yet, I still don’t seem to be able to get anything useful done – how did I ever have time to graduate high school and also watch daily episodes of Neighbours and The Simpsons?) and I even have friends with children older than 3 years (which is, incidentally, terrifying) and just next year we’ll have another Australian federal election (though it sometimes seems we have changes of government even more regularly…)

However, for the past 5 years, I’ve been living visa to visa and every time I’ve made a move, it’s for a limited amount of time, usually under 2 years. Ireland was meant to be a year and I stayed for a year and a bit. My UK visa was for 2 years and I stayed for just under that. My original German visa was for a year. And in between times, I’ve had all sorts of other plans that never came to fruition. At some point I was considering moving to Canada for a year. For a couple of months near the end of my UK visa I was coming to terms with the idea that I would have to move back to Australia and deciding what kind of life that was going to be. At the start of my Irish visa I was going to live and work in Cork for 6 months, then hike the whole island of Ireland and some of the UK and then travel home to Australia via the Trans-Mongolian railway (some day, my friends, some day).

This slightly nomadic existence hasn’t always seemed entirely of my own choosing. Once I started I was unable to stop. I collected countries and youth visas the way that children used to collect Pokemon. There was a strange compulsion to the country hopping. Sure there were always reasons for the next country (not least of all because the visa in the last one had run out), but at no point did it seem to enter my head that I could just stop. Go home. Be still and quiet and nest for a while. There was a time limit to the visas I was on (the 30 year limit), which perhaps created the whiff of desperation. There was also a reluctance to return to Australia once I’d gotten out here. Not because Australia is horrible, but because… Australia is far away. And once I’d gotten far away, it seemed like a lot of effort to go back. And to go back to… what, exactly? Yes, my family is there and friends still, but there wasn’t exactly a life that I left behind. I had no job, no career, no house, no pets. I knew I didn’t want to live in Sydney anymore, I probably didn’t want to move back to Newcastle, but there was nothing that said I had to come home. There seemed no reason to end the ‘adventure’.

With a 3 year visa in my hand, the nomadic existence seems to be at an end. I’m not exactly sad. But I’m also not exactly certain about the place that I’ve landed. I came mainly because another visa was at an end. For the first few months I resented being here and that coloured a lot of my initial impressions of the place. My lack of German makes working in a German environment hard – not because I can’t understand instructions or what’s going on around me. But because it makes me feel like a different person – a quiet one, an introspective one, a boring one, someone who sits on the edge of conversations and barely keeps up, instead of someone who actively, happily participates. I’m aware that I want to do *something else* but whether or not that *something else* (whatever it is) is possible in Germany without qualifications or proper German is also up for debate. The German government has opened it’s arms to me, warmly, strangely, unexpectedly, in a way that the Irish and British governments never did, would never do, and yet all I can say is, ‘uh…. I dunno… let me get back to you.’

Obviously just because I have a 3 year visa doesn’t mean I have to stay here. I’m not exactly certain if the constant moving is really at an end. Maybe A. and I will go back to Cambridge in a year (though we also said that a year ago when we first moved to Berlin). Maybe we will move back to Australia so that A. can get acquainted with the poisonous snakes and I can remember all the good things about my home. Maybe I’ll start writing racy historical bodice rippers for the self-publishing arm of Amazon and I can buy A. a run-down Irish castle, who knows? But wherever I end up, this new visa is the end of an era. The youth visas are over. From now on my choices of country will have to be more deliberate and more permanent.

I suppose there’s a comfort in that feeling of permanence, of stability, of knowing where you live and who you live there with and what that place is like, of knowing that things will happen at certain times in certain places, of knowing how to tip and how to buy a travel card, of where to get a good breakfast and where to get a good dinner, on knowing the exact phrasing and intonation on public transport announcements, on having supermarket preferences. The dull bits of life I got bored of in Australia are the things I am now most loathe to lose the next time (if there is a next time) that we move. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old. Or maybe it’s because I’ve worked out what I actually want. Or, maybe it just is what it is and there is no deeper meaning.

I went out looking for adventure and found my ordinary life.

Foreigner Registration Office in Berlin (seriously. This is the place where you go to get visas here. Can you picture this in Australia? Or the UK?)

Foreigner Registration Office in Berlin (seriously. This is the place where you go to get visas here. Can you picture this in Australia? Or the UK?)

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Filed under Introspection, travel

On Speaking the Language

A few weeks ago I wrote a self-deprecating, whiny post about the fact that I hadn’t learnt German yet and that barmen still switch to English even if I’ve managed to get through ‘One big Radler and one big Dunkels beer’ in German without stumbling over my tongue. A few people at the time (possibly sick of my whiny, self-deprecating writing style) reminded me that I was still doing pretty ok with my rudimentary restaurant German and at least had a head start on all those monolinguists out there.

In all honesty, that didn’t encourage me to be easier on myself, but after another barman switched to english in a busy bar last week and as I mentally and verbally kicked myself out the door and down the street and on to the U-Bahn, A. finally snapped and reminded me that I still, at most, only had 12 months of pretty scrappy language learning behind me and was contending with people who had been learning English for, if not all their lives, most of their lives and, in the nicest possible way, could I please just give it a rest for the trip home, it was quite late and we’d drunk a lot of beer. Ignoring his tone, I realised that he was right and have subsequently put my rose-tinted glasses back on and think only happy thoughts about my German. I’ve also started trying to practice more, which I had stopped doing, on the grounds that I was no good and therefore there was no point in trying to learn anything. It made sense at the time.

Furthermore, I also had a very amusing conversation with a fellow ex-pat and he told me a story about one of his friends who had visited him in Germany. The poor girl had scraped together all of her high school German and attempted to order a beer, in German, to which the barman had replied by glaring at her and then demanding (in English), ‘Why is it MY job to teach you German? Just SPEAK ENGLISH. It’s EASIER.’ Which is harsh, but I can see his point. If you’re in a busy bar and you’ve got a stuttering, mumbling ex-pat in front of you and a disgruntled queue of people waiting for drinks behind, yeah, just SPEAK ENGLISH. It’s easier.

Nevertheless, haters aside, I have been trying to practice more. I went to Frankfurt to meet an old friend from my au-pairing days and as she is German, I attempted to speak some German to her, which was… slow and painful and embarrassing but I got more confident as the days went by. Mainly I just annoyed her with lots of questions in English like, ‘So, how do you say the ‘o’ with the little dots on top properly?’ And ‘Is it true about the difference between the two German past tenses?’ and just a lot of ‘What’s that in German? And that? And what’s that in German? Right, cool. What about that?’ I basically treated her the way my pupils treat me.

She did teach me lots of awesome German phrases. Some of these I had seen/heard before, but she let me say them over and over to her until I was pretty certain I had them right. I present them to you now, because they are absolutely awesome, especially if you translate them directly into English:

Ich glaube ich spinne (literal translation: ‘I believe I spider.’ Meaning: ‘I think I’m saying the wrong thing.’)

Jetzt haben wir den Salat! (literal translation: ‘NOW we have the salad!’ Meaning: ‘We did all that and tried so hard, and THESE are the results???’)

Bring mich nicht in Teufel’s Küche! (literal translation: ‘Don’t take me into the Devil’s Kitchen!’ Meaning: ‘Don’t get me in trouble!’)

Mal nicht den Teufel an der Wand (literal translation: ‘Don’t paint the Devil on the wall.’ Meaning: ‘Don’t jump to the worst conclusion’)

Du gehts mir tierische auf den Keks! (literal translation: ‘You go me animally on the cookie!’ Meaning: ‘You make me crazy!’)

Du bist auf den Holzweg (literal translation: ‘You are on the wood way’ Meaning: ‘You’ve got it wrong’)

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof (literal translation: ‘I only understand train station’ Meaning: ‘I don’t understand anything’)

Ende gut, alles gut (All’s well that ends well)

Das ist mir Würst (literal translation: ‘That is, to me, sausage’ Meaning: ‘It’s the same to me’)

And if that has whet your appetite (or you’d like to hear some of the above phrases spoken, at speed, by actual Germans) watch this hilarious video.

I’ve been practicing them ever since, muttering them under my breath as I fall asleep, exclaiming them out loud when A. least expects it, hoping that passerbys will think I am genuinely German (A. thinks I sound like I’m in some terrible ’90s sitcom and there should be a laugh track played every time I say one, like a character on TV show who has an annoying catchphrase). I think of them as good German exercises for my poor English tongue and that maybe practicing them and getting them perfect will make me not only appear to be German to passerbys, but sound German when the time comes to create sentences of my own.

No, but, seriously, I went into an incredibly intimidating German couture wedding dress shop today (just to see what it was like, just to see if they’d kick me out before I opened my mouth, just to see if all the precious white dresses would explode in my face like some kind of fancy alarm system if I touched them the wrong way) and I spoke entirely to the woman in German. And she spoke German to me. THE WHOLE TIME. And I understood everything! And it was complicated! And she kept speaking German even though she could tell I wasn’t German and she kept speaking German even when I told her I was from Australia because I UNDERSTOOD! And she UNDERSTOOD that I UNDERSTOOD!

Of course, the wedding dresses were ridiculously expensive and I don’t think I’ll be going back again, but the main point here is, I spoke German! And I made sense! Oh happy day!

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Filed under Berlin, expats, German, German language, German phrases, Germany, learning, speaking, teaching, translation, wedding dress

The Dress

If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you’ll know that A. and I recently made a pretty big life decision, one which involves at least one ring, but does not concern the fate of Middle Earth.

(As a side note, FB friends probably also know A.’s real name and realise how boring a moniker I’ve given him (you may notice it’s boringness even without being a FB friend). He’s actually demanded a new one, something along the lines of Lord-High-and-Mighty-the-Intelligent- Handsome-and-Great, but it’s too late now, I didn’t know at the time (sometime last year) how potentially important he might be in the story of this blog, and he has his boring moniker and I’m sticking to it.)

Anyways, getting back to the point, as a consequence of this major life decision, which we will refrain from naming by name (and not because we are scared of it – though we are scared of the targeted advertising, which is somehow yet to find us), I have been searching for a dress. No, wait, not just, ‘a’ dress.

THE Dress. The Dress of My Lifetime. The Dress of My Dreams. The Only Dress That Ever Was and Will Ever Be.

See, I thought I was just buying a nice dress to wear on a nice day of my life. But that is WRONG. There is a ‘Cult of The Dress’ out there, and they have RULES. RULES THAT MUST BE OBEYED. Perhaps even more disturbingly is how many of these rules I have internalised and am sub-consciously attempting to fulfil when looking for my own dress. GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, HIVE MIND!


When you put on ‘The Dress’ you will start to cry. Your friends and family (who you have, of course, brought along for this momentous moment) will start to cry. The sales assistants in the shop will start to cry. EVERYONE THAT CATCHES THE SMALLEST GLIMPSE OF YOU IN ‘THE DRESS’ , INCLUDING STRANGERS AND STRAY CITY PIGEONS PECKING AT LEFTOVER CHICKEN OUTSIDE THE SHOP WINDOW, MUST IMMEDIATELY START TO CRY, OR IT IS NOT ‘THE DRESS’. Look, basically, if everyone in the world isn’t being swept away on a sea of tears, brought into existence simply by the beauty of you in your dress, then you can take off the gown comfortable in the knowledge that whatever boring, everyday taffeta nightmare you just tried on was not ‘THE DRESS’. If the bridal store doesn’t look like that water scene from Alice in Wonderland, then take off the dress. It’s not for you. Maybe it’s for someone else. But not for you.

How your bridal store should look. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

How your bridal store should look. Less animals, possibly. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/


Wedding dresses are white. Or creme. Or pearl. Or beige, biscuit, sand, mushroom, eggshell, taupe, off-white, fawn, neutral or whatever other synonym you can come up with that means ‘sort of white’. Otherwise, how does anyone know you are getting married? How do YOU know you are getting married? What if you turned up to the church/temple/mosque/town hall and SUDDENLY FORGOT what you were there for and went home again without getting married??? HOW DREADFUL WOULD THAT BE???? Best get a shade of white just to make sure everyone, most of all you, knows what is happening.


Wedding dresses are special. It’s a special day. You’ll know it’s a wedding dress because the price tag will incorporate it’s specialness. The size of the dress should also indicate it’s specialness and the bizarre shape, practical for no useful activity (such as breathing, eating or walking) should indicate it’s specialness and, of course, the number of diamantes you’ve managed to squish on the bodice will indicate it’s specialness. It should be so special that you’ll never, ever be able to wear it ever again without having interactions that start: ‘Hey, isn’t that a wedding dress? Oh, no, I’m not judging, it’s just, well…. it’s nice and all, but why exactly did you decide to wear it for a mountain bike ride?’ This dress SHOULD be the most expensive and most impractical dress you have ever, and will ever buy, and if that way of thinking ends up with you, on your special day looking like one of those dolls that sat on top of your grandmother’s toilet rolls, then SO BE IT. REVEL in your specialness! REVEL in your obscene amounts of taffeta! REVEL!


Who are you? What would you say your personality is? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Romantic? Modern-Woman? Girl Next Door? I’ll wait here while you go do some Buzzfeed personality quizzes, if you like. Worked it out? Great. Now, I want you to describe that personality to me AS A DRESS. Do you have a tea-length personality? Or are you more of a ‘dramatic train’ kinda gal? If you don’t know what your personality is, was, and always will be, then I can’t help you buy a dress. Don’t forget. There’s only ever ONE dress for ONE woman and if you can’t sum up your entire life history, personality, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams into that one, single dress, then nobody is going to cry, or even really care, when you say ‘I do’. I guarantee it (don’t think you’ll get out of this question by having a reception dress as well as a ceremony dress – that’s just cheating and everyone knows you’re a weird fence-sitter and possibly sociopath who can’t make up their mind about their own personality. MAKE UP YOUR MIND)


Will it look good in the photos? Will you look thin in the photos? Will you have a nice bum in the photos? Will you have good cleavage in the photos whilst also still looking thin? Will you look both sexy and demure in the photos? Will you like the photos when you look back at them in a year’s time? 5 year’s time? 60 year’s time? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE PHOTOS??


Don’t get married out of context. If you’re getting married on a beach, you can’t ALSO have a ball gown. Like, obviously. I mean, you wear pink on Wednesdays but you can only wear track pants on Friday. Don’t confuse people! If you were wearing pink tracksuits on a Tuesday, people would be like, ‘Oh, god, wait! What day is it? What’s happening? Who am I? I seem to be in some sort of extended Mean Girls metaphor! Quick, get me out!’ That’s how people will feel at your wedding if you get married in a ball gown on the beach. The space-time continuum will collapse and life as we know it will disappear. It’s pretty simple: you work out your personality and then you work out your theme and then you work out your dress. Otherwise you’ll be like that girl I saw on the second-hand dress website who had to sell her unworn, $6000 wedding dress because it ‘no longer fit the theme of her wedding.’ Amateur.

Oh, pink! It’s Wednesday then. Phew. Now I understand. Found at: http://allmyroads.com/tag/we-wear-pink-gifs/


All women on their special day must feel like and/or be treated like and/or be a princess. Never wanted to be a princess? Too bad. Should have thought of that before you decided to get married. Whilst this is definitely a rule, it seems a little amorphous, to be honest. Maybe I’ll understand it more after my big day. Should everyone stop referring to you by your first name and only address you as ‘Your Highness’ for the duration of the ceremony? Does everyone need to curtesy whenever they see you? Should you develop a sudden and passionate interest in polo matches and ridiculous hats just for your wedding? Perhaps you have to incorporate some kind of coronation for your mother and father during your wedding ceremony just to ensure the legalities of being a princess are all in order and up to scratch?


As I’m sure you can tell, I’m coping really well with the search for the dress and am in no way stressed or overreacting or hyperbolising. And I most definitely did not go into a Vintage Store on Monday, hide my engagement ring in my wallet, and then tell the woman in the store that I was looking for a dress to wear to my friend’s wedding just because I couldn’t handle her possibly bringing up all rules of the dress and force me out of the store wearing this:

With that facial expression, also.

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Filed under Berlin, Random, Wedding

Pepper Spray and Swimming with Ducks

A. and I are sometimes a boring little empire of two-dom. As I’ve mentioned before, moving to a new country as a two-some can encourage this disgustingly couple-ly behaviour. Hanging out with your other half is certainly easier than making new friends and it’s also less risky. You pretty much know they’re never going to come out and express a previously hidden admiration for Tony Abbott’s immigration policies. Whereas, new people. Well, it’s never even guaranteed that they’ll be able to speak English to you. Sheesh.

But we also get stuck in patterns of behaviour. I don’t know why it’s happening more in Berlin than in London, but it seem like every Saturday we get up late and get the same food from the same food stall at the same market as last week. And, at first it makes you feel charmingly local and eventually it makes you feel like the only thing you know about Berlin is how to buy spinach and cheese gozleme from the same salt-and-pepper Turkish man on a Saturday morning.

Again, it’s about ease. Coming up with new ideas of what to do is hard. Especially when most things are advertised in a language of which you only have a basic understanding.

Anyway, last weekend, we struck out for something new. I’m a member of a few English-language expat groups on FB and a month or two ago an Australian woman advertised a jams, pickles and chutney course she was teaching from her home. It seemed appealingly quaint and homely, so I insisted that this was something A. was interested in doing with me and we signed up.

For those of you not based in Berlin, last weekend was a scorcher. So, we were a little bit worried about how comfortable it would be to stand over a hot stove stirring stewing fruit for several hours. But it ended up being delightful. The nice thing about the altbau (old building) houses in Berlin is that they are deliciously cool. Indoors turned out to be the best place to be. Alex and I made a little cooking team and we made strawberry, apple and rosewater jam, pickled cucumbers and tomato kasundi chutney. The chutney is especially excellent because no-one in Germany believes in chilis and the food available here is spiced accordingly (we’ve since discovered that there is a little note at the bottom of some Indian restaurant menus that tells you if you would like to experience the food with traditional ‘Indian spices’, all you need to do is tell the waiter. Presumably, some of that tradition includes chili). The chutney, however, contains 8 chilis and extra chili powder, so I’ve been happily burning my mouth out all week. Ah, the strange things you miss when you move overseas.

Of course, me being me, it was not possible to have an excellent day out without me doing something idiotic. We were just winding down for the afternoon, we’d put the chutney on the simmer and had nothing else to do except sit down and relax for a bit. There were no seats in the kitchen, so we moved into the living room to relax. The other cooking team was making onion jam in there and the spiciness of the onions went straight into my eyes, making them itch. Without stopping to think, I put my fingers deep into my eye sockets and gave them both a good old rub. Of course, I had been the one who had cut up all those spicy little chilis for our chutney, and hadn’t bothered to use gloves or give my hands more than a cursory wash in the sink when I was done. My eyes immediately began to burn with the fire of a thousand suns and as much as I tried to open them up, they would quickly fill with tears and obscure everything. I ran into the bathroom and started splashing water on my face, which would help for maybe 2 seconds at a time. Of course, everyone was panicking, but trying to keep calm so that I didn’t panic more, and I was panicking, but trying to stay calm so that everyone else didn’t panic more. They attempted to manoeuvre me over the bathtub with my head back and then run water from the shower head over my eyes, but this only made me panic more because the water was going up my nose and I thought I was going to drown. Also, the water was making my eyes feel nice, but the top of my head was like ice, so I had two different burning sensations going on in different parts of my head.

After 10 minutes or so of this I had resigned myself to never being able to see again and my eyes being eaten away from the inside by tiny little red chili men (similar, in my mind to pacmen). At least, I thought, if I can’t see anymore, I won’t have to go to work on Monday. But, then, A. used is internet smarts to look up the answer on his phone. Milk was the answer, he told us. After what seemed a lifetime (apparently pain screws up your time perception, which explains why my head was screaming, ‘NOTHING WILL EVER BE NORMAL AND GOOD AGAIN. EVERYTHING IS WRONG AND IT WILL NEVER BE FIXED. OH, I HAVE FELT THIS PAIN FOR THE ENTIRETY OF MY EXISTENCE’), A. got me over the bathtub and poured the milk over my eyes. Being a liquid, the milk then went everywhere; my eyebrows, my nose, my neck, my dress, my bra (and milk-soaked clothing is precisely what you want on a 35 degree day). Almost immediately, I could open my eyes again and the burning had stopped. The milk seemed to have moved the chili oil around my face as my eyebrows and nose were now burning, but it was much more bearable than being in my eyes. A. tells me this experience is exactly like being pepper sprayed, so at least now I’ll have a first-hand experience if I ever want to write a story in which someone gets pepper sprayed. Yay, silver linings. The worst thing though is that the woman who was taking the course had mentioned, not half an hour before I rubbed my eyes with chilis, how someone from her course a week or two ago had rubbed her eyes just after chopping chilis and it was terrible. I had shook my head with a rueful smile. ‘Oh, how silly some people can be’, I said, or words/sentiments to that effect. Look, now, how the prideful have fallen.

Sunday was almost as hot, so we decided to go swimming in a lake. Swimming in lakes in Berlin is the German equivalent of going to a beach in Sydney. There are so many different lakes around, each has it’s own character and everyone has their opinion of which is the best to go to. Because we took so long getting up, we headed towards a ‘Freibad’ on a small like in Jungfernheide, Charlottenburg, under the mistaken belief that a ‘Free Bath’ (literal translation) would be free. Ah, not so, little Grasshopper. After walking many minutes through the forest, we discovered that not only was the lake bathing area full to bursting, they were asking for 5 Euro to get in. However, the pay area was only a small part of the large lake, so, we walked back through the woods to find the section of the lake where all the cheapskates were swimming and went there instead. It did worry me, I have to admit, as if swimming outside the pay area with all it’s fences, was the equivalent of swimming outside the Yellow and Red flags, or outside the shark net or something. Even though I could see that the pay area and the free area of the lake were connected (indeed, they were the same lake), something in my brain was convinced that the paid area was safe and the free area was full of sharks and jellyfish, dangerous rips, chemical dumps, or at the very least, giardia. Presumably your 5 Euro went towards building the underwater concrete wall that kept the two bodies of water separate and the pay one clean and the free one dirty.

Anywho, it was hot, so despite my misgivings, we found a spot and got in the water gingerly. I’m not sure the colour of the water did much to allay my fears, or the fact that once I was ankle deep, I could no longer see my toes, but seeing how my limbs didn’t immediately drop off or start stinging or burning, I continued to venture in. Our spot on the lake included a tree which had fallen into the water, allowing us to edge out into the middle of the lake, without ever having to put our feet onto the unknown and unknowable lake bed. And, indeed, during an hour and a half of swimming, I never once allowed my feet to touch the ground. I know it’s weird. But I just can’t help feeling that if I put my feet on the ground, I’d find that it wasn’t sand, or rocks, but a writhing carpet of slimy eels. Perhaps other people would call these slimy eels pond weed or something similar. But it wouldn’t matter. If I can’t see it and it’s slimy and seemingly moving against my legs of it’s own accord, then it’s an eel, which is practically a snake, which definitely wants to eat me from the toes up. Urgh.

The water was actually a lovely temperature, and providing I kept my mouth shut and didn’t think too hard about the fact that the charming group of ducks floating past me definitely shat in the water I was swimming in, all was well. We did a few laps of the lake, did a few elegant dive bombs into the lake from the tree, got nibbled on by some curious fish (eek! eek! eek!) and then were so starving hungry that we had to get out. It was a delightful afternoon. Also, A. took a photo of me looking like that Venus woman in the shells with the angels and things. Except, you know, standing on a fallen tree, with no angels and with pond water hair and not naked. Which, I feel is a much more accurate and un-photoshopped version of how Venus would have been birthed.

Birth of Venus

See? So much more realistic.

See? So much more realistic.

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In Defence of Children

I’ve noticed something strange when I meet new people recently.

When I used to tell people I was an actor/writer, they would look reasonably interested. Despite the fact that I was unemployed, had had very little success, was depressed and/or constantly struggling with eating disorders (or maybe because of this), people seemed to find a strange glamour, or at least slight interest, to me when I described myself as an actor/writer. And this was even after assuring them I had never been on ‘Home and Away’. Not to brag, but a boy I met at an online dating site, who was gainfully (and happily) employed as a teacher decided, after 3 dates with me, to chuck it all in and audition for NIDA. There’s a power and fascination to the ‘following-your-dream’ trope, no matter how dreadfully or unsuccessfully you are following that elusive dream.

However, now when people ask me what I do for a living and I say kindergarten teacher, people’s eyes tend to glaze over. There are no follow-up questions. If I attempt to speak about something amusing, or interesting, that happened at school, I look back at my dinner companions and find them staring at their plates, the wall, the floor, the door, calculating how long exactly before they can make their excuses and get away from the Woman Who Won’t Stop Talking About (Her) Children.

A. tells me the problem is that I don’t know how to filter between interesting/funny/horrific stories that hold their own and ‘Cute Kid Did Cute Thing.’ Stories in the latter category are as if I attempted to describe to you a video in which a child makes a hilarious expression after eating a lemon. Sure, it may be hilarious, but it kind of loses something in the telling.

My problem is that I find the children all-consumingly fascinating. It’s not just because they’re adorable (though, believe me, they are freaking adorable), and it’s not just that they smell good (but, Good God they smell good – sure the poop stinks, but the tops of their heads? it’s like the poop of angels and unicorns and fairies, which is to say THERE IS NOTHING ELSE ON EARTH THAT SMELLS THAT GOOD) and it’s not just that I’m probably the teensiest, tiniest, weeniest bit clucky myself (KEEP IT ON THE DOWN LOW PEOPLE, I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD AND AM NOT READY TO GIVE UP MY STUNTED, RESPONSIBILITY-FREE ADULTHOOD JUST YET). Those things help, as do the constant cuddles, and the enthusiastic way they great you in the morning (why don’t we all greet each other by yelping with joy and then throwing our arms around the legs of our friend and not letting them in the door because we’re JUST SO DARN PLEASED TO SEE THEM?) and the fact that they think I’m a combination of cool/hilarious/talented/highly-skilled at everything as well as all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful.

But aside from all of that nice, fun, gooey, cutesy, sweet stuff, I find being around the children so interesting that I can’t help running off my mouth at dinner parties, even when I can see everyone else checking their watches. I’ve tried to break it down for you.

1) At the risk of sounding like an overly proud first-time mother, watching them learn every day and make little discoveries is both funny and fascinating. I’m not trying to convince you that my kids are any more special than any other group of kids – they’re not baby geniuses and they’re just doing what they’re programmed to do. But, I think it’s almost like watching a long-form documentary called ‘The Origin of Adults’. We all had to go through this at some point. We all had to learn how to walk, to speak, to eat, to make little hand movements, to make big body movements. We all went about it in our own idiosyncratic ways, we all had our own little stories and challenges. And let me tell you, all of this was much harder than you think it is now. It’s amazing we got here at all. We should all feel a lot more impressive for being able to thread a bead on a necklace. Or, open a yoghurt container. Or cross our arm across our body in a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ dance move. You are skilled, Adult. Never forget it (even if you’ve forgotten how you ended up getting there).

2) Watching them explore the world around them is hilarious. Adults spend most of their lives trying to look like they’ve seen it all, and done it all. If they don’t know how to use a thing, they will ask a trusted someone, who is guaranteed not to laugh at them, in private, in hushed tones, whilst hiding their face in shame. Or they’ll google it, which, I guess is kind of the same thing. Kids, however, are just like, ‘What is this thing? Will I shake it? Cuddle it? Scrunch it up? Push it off the table? Should I put it in my mouth? Or my ear? My nose? Perhaps all at once? Is that possible?’ If they’ve decided something goes in their mouth, then there is no stopping them, and, what’s more, they don’t care who sees them! That towel/key/plastic strawberry/misshapen and dirty rock is GOING IN THEIR MOUTH and they’ll very happily show you the results. It means they come up with a variety of inventive new uses for toys, as well as making toys out of previously dull objects and creating much more fun for all involved.

3) Kids are basically all emotion all day long. They swing from one pendulum extreme to another with barely a breath in between. It is sometimes exhausting to be in the middle of this kind of behaviour. But, from the sidelines, it can be highly educational. Most adults have learnt to control their emotions and to shape their behaviour so that it’s socially acceptable. So, even if they are feeling like bawling their eyes out on the U-Bahn because someone yelled at them in German, and they kind of understood it, and they kind of didn’t, and that kind of made it worse ’cause then they started filling in the gaps with the worst things they could think of (for example), they don’t do it and make everyone else in the carriage feel uncomfortable, they go to the cinema, buy a ticket for the saddest movie they can find and then cry silently in the dark for 2 hours over some stale popcorn and flat, fake Diet Coke. But, kids! Oh, the sweet, joyful honesty of the expression of children’s emotions! Kid doesn’t like another kid? Unliked kid gets pushed. Kid likes another kid? Kid kisses other kid. Kid stretches favourite elastic necklace until the elastic snaps and the cheap beads explode all over the room? Kid cries in horror at surprising unfairness of the world. I have a theory that the emotions we feel as adults are no more complex or interesting than the ones the kids feel every day, it’s just we dress them up more fancy. We come up with fancier explanations for what we’re feeling, and fancier reasons for why we’re feeling that way, and often do the fanciest of fancy, self-defeating, roundabout behaviours to attempt to address said feelings in socially acceptable ways, but in the end the feelings are the same. Of course, we (usually) factor in complicated, abstract things like empathy (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries = not good’) and reason (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries, kid tells mum, kid’s mum tells my mum, I get in trouble = not good’) and modify our behaviour accordingly. I spend most of my day attempting to convince the children to deal with their emotions in different ways, for social reasons or for empathy/reason reasons but I still can’t help enjoying it when they do things the way they want to do them (as long as it doesn’t involve them killing each other). Kid wants toy train another kid is playing with. So, kid takes train. I can see the logic.

4) Their enthusiasm for very basic things is awesome. Today, a kid got excited because I cut up his potato with a spoon in front of him. The amazed sounds he made would have made you think I had cut a woman in half and then put her back together. Yes, ok, so life is new to them, and so it’s easy to get excited by banal things, and, sure it could also be seen as exhausting or boring, but, no. No, I choose ‘awesome’. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like someone getting excited by you cutting up their potato in front of them to make you think, ‘You know what? You’re right. Potatoes are awesome. Spoons are awesome. Life is ok.’ And, no, I’m not saying there aren’t terrible things happening in the world, and, no, I’m not forgetting my privilege to live in a safe, happy city, or the privilege of the kids I’m working with to have spoons and potatoes, but, still. I think we could all stand to occasionally take a moment out from all the scary stuff to acknowledge how cool it is that you can make big things smaller by using a metal implement with no sharp edges and some gently applied force. Besides, kids get excited about silly, little things that adults get excited about every day, but no-one tells the adults they’re boring or exhausting or stupid, do they? Trains, new dresses, going on holidays, bicycles, babies, cake, ice-cream, Minions… these are just a few of the things the kids got excited about over the past week and which regularly grace the status updates of my fully-grown, highly intelligent and extremely classy Facebook friends.

I think, in the end, I don’t see the children as wild animals, or as needy, greedy crying machines, or as stupid humans, I just see them as what they are. Tiny people who haven’t grown up yet. It’s a weird thing to try and explain. But I often see them playing or talking or laughing or just generally hanging out and an expression will cross their face and you’ll think, ‘Yes. Yes, I can completely see what you’ll be like in 20 years time, because you’ll be exactly the same. You’re already exactly who you are.’

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Anxious, Anxious, Anxious

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve been very worked up for seemingly no reason at all. Looking back over what I’ve been up to for the past little while, certainly nothing warrants the amount of anxiety I have been exhibiting. Get up, have breakfast, go to work on lovely bike ride, look after children, read them stories, sing them songs, put them to bed, wake them up, read them more stories, sing them more songs, go home on even nicer bike ride, eat nice dinner, possibly go to movies or go to gym or see friends or drink nice wine or maybe all of them, go to bed. And, in case you’re wondering, no I haven’t accidentally missed out details of our daily drone attack or, you know, the recent enemy army invasion or, basically anything really that would warrant some kind of freak out and the low-level, general uneasiness and angst I have been experiencing for the last few weeks.

I’ve never been very good at noticing when I’m feeling anxious, which conversely means I’m not very good at figuring out how to make it better. I am getting better at noticing the bodily signs that indicate I’m experiencing a higher level of stress than normal. Unfortunately, by the time you’re thinking, ‘oh, shooting pains in my belly so bad I have to lie down, oh, I wonder if I’m worried about something’, or ‘huh, it’s 3:30am and I’m still not able to go to sleep, perhaps it’s something to do with the racing, mindless, repetitive self-critical thoughts I’ve been having for the past 5 hours, I wonder what to do about that’, it’s usually past the point of quick and easy answers, like, ‘just trying breathing in for 10 and out for 10 a few times’ (‘but my stomach hurts so much I think I might be sick, it’s kind of difficult to count to ten at the moment’). At 3am this morning I googled ‘insomnia’ and found out all the wonderful, useful things I should have done 9 hours previously to prevent myself from being awake at 3am, which felt good in a self-punishment kind of way, but certainly didn’t help the insomnia any.

Also, I don’t really know what to do with the anxiety, because I can’t really understand what it’s about. There is no logical reason for me to be anxious. I live in a safe city that is fun and cheap and easy to be in. I have a job that I enjoy and am good at and the people there seem to like me. I have my lovely A. and am getting more and more friends in Berlin. I can speak enough German to get by at a restaurant and it’s getting better all the time. But it doesn’t matter how many times I repeat this to myself, it doesn’t seem to make anything better.


Maybe it’s a phase and it’ll all blow over eventually and suddenly I’ll remember how good life is and I’ll be able to sleep again. Or, maybe I’ll never sleep again and I can be one of those geniuses that only ever takes cat-naps and then, like, won the war or wrote 10 literary masterpieces and still had time to be a witty alcoholic. Or something.

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A Berlin Summer Bucket List

Summer is here. It’s been here a while. Or, at least, I’ve been acting like it’s been here for a while, walking around in summer dresses and big hats and sunglasses, fanning myself with my hand and sweating and complaining about the heat all the while trying not to acknowledge that it’s really only 19 degrees. Back in May, I insisted that A. and I sit in the park with beers after work one day, because, ‘this is what people do in Berlin in summer’, which is true, except that it was also true that whilst it had been a sunny 20 degrees at work at 4pm, by 7pm in the ‘Park-of-No-Sun’, it had dipped to a chilly 14 – 16 degrees and my summer evening made my hands go purple. A. pointed out that, except the people in shorts playing football, everyone else in the park was wearing winter jackets and perhaps I should have paid more attention to them. Smug bastard.

Anywho, it genuinely is summer now (I’ve been sunburnt, really, it’s here) and I’ve been so excited about it for so long, I’m now worried that it’s going too quickly and I’m wasting it and it will be miserable winter again before I know it.

As such, I thought I would write down the most important things I want to do in Berlin in summer before the weather turns.

1) Drink beers in the park until the sun goes down at 10pm (and not get purple hands)

2) Drink beers in a beanbag and/or hammock at a bar on the Spree

3) Despite viscous rumours that there may be eels, I want to go swimming at Wannsee or Nikolasee or any of the various other Sees surrounding Berlin.

4) Go on a bike tour to the outside of Berlin and eat strawberries by the side of the road.

5) Cycle to Leipzig

6) Walk around Strausberg

7) Do all 20 Green Hikes advertised on the Berlin.de website (one completed, nineteen to go)

8) Go kayaking at Wannsee

9) Go kayaking at Treptower

10) Go rollerblading at Templehof

11) Have a proper BBQ at one of the smokey, hazy, congested Grillplatzes scattered across the parks of Berlin

12) Go to the open-air cinema

13) Spend a day reading/writing at the very tops of the giant climbing frame behind Yorckstrasse (and chasing away every single child that dares trespass on my reverie). Staying there until the stars come out.

14) Paddleboat!

15) Go to Spandau (and do some ballet?)

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Also, eating much ice-cream and laying in the sun (with sunscreen on) and generally being blissful and peaceful and stuff.

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