Jan 292012
Witch and Gingerbread boy built
by the Creature Shop for the
Houston Opera’s Hansel and Gretel

Skipped a week.  That is because I needed a week off!  So, lets call this a patchwork sort of  catch-up blog and go from there.  First up:

The Muppets- Woot Woot!
Last week the latest Muppet movie finally made it to our area, so, of course we had to go!  I am a Muppephile.  I have always been a Muppephile.  Sesame Street started the year I was born.  Grover was My Monster!  When the Muppet Show came on the air, I became a card-carrying member of the Muppet Show Fan Club.  Jim Henson was the closest thing I have had to a living Hero.  Muppets, as a rule, make me happy.  It was sad to see their decline after Jim Henson’s death.  And, their neglect under Disney rankled.  But, watching their recent resurgence through The Interwebs has been a pleasure.  Even the aspiest among our clan understands and supports my Muppet Fandom.  So, it was with cautious hope that we approached the European Release of The Muppets.

Our local theater had been advertising movies in the original language. But, we could not figure out when they were playing, so we just headed on down there to give it a shot.  Unlike the art house where we saw Hugo in France, this is a large, modern theater much like those in the states.  They do serve beer and wine, though.  And, to our surprise, they have assigned seating!  Unfortunately, the film was not being shown in English and, more disturbingly, the staff seemed to have no clue when Original Language showings were scheduled!  But, what the heck.  It is the Muppets!  So, we bought a few treats (Commemorative Kermit Cup!  And, whoops, sweet popcorn…  Forgot about that possible.  Got lured by the smell and the promise of salty goodness.  The kids loved it, though.  Just like Kettle Corn, they said.  Very, very expensive kettle corn, thought I!)

They give you a little closeable cup in which to
put your candies after you open the bag.

Given the family-geared level of dialogue, I was able to follow along happily and fully understand about 1/2 of it.  Everyone else got more and it was pretty cute watching the kids translating back and forth for each other.  But, I did wish the Powers That Be had left the songs in English.  I would have loved to see Chris Cooper do that rap!  And, I admit, some of the more subtle humor was lost through my poor translation skills (“I’m a very manly Muppet!”- I didn’t get until I heard the song online). Whatever the case, the audience had a good time and our whole family smiled for quite a while.  Hooray for the Muppets!  Welcome Back!  And, a tip of the hat to Mr. Segel for championing the cause!

Challenges of an immigrant: What do you do when stuff doesn’t go smoothly?
So, the nice thing about moving to Germany is that they are known for their excellent structure.  Most machines work.  Most processes go smoothly.  Paperwork generally winds up in the right place.  Etc.  But, Germans are still humans and machines are still machines.  Entropy still exists.  Sh*t still happens.  And when it does, that is the time when not speaking the language, not having cultural knowledge, and basically being an outsider really start to get in the way.   Many of the techniques we might use to handle things in the states are just not options here- or are much more complicated.  Calls to service centers, which would be annoying in the US, become extremely daunting here.  Trips to the mechanic become a crap shoot not over whether they will try to cheat us, but over whether we will be able to express the issue at all.  And, governmental paperwork snafus become occasions for having the HR director for David’s work walk us through town to intercede on our behalf!  Plus, of course, all of this has to happen over the 6 days of the week things are open- during work hours!

Poor David is beginning to downright dread his frequent off-putting German petitions for assistance.  He calls these his “Hello, I am retarded, could you please help me?” conversations.  And, the truth is, we are very retarded, in the true sense of the word!  We are 40+yo adults with the social-structure knowledge of maybe a 10 year old, and the language skills of.. well, in my case a toddler!  The result is that every issue takes a lot longer to knock from the list.  And the list grows and grows.

Stuck on Stage 2

Here is a partial accounting of the issues we are currently working.  It doesn’t include things that just aren’t enough nuisance to deal with (e.g. the stove burner that only 1/2 heats):

  • David bought me a car radio for Christmas.  We plugged it in as directed, got a red light that shows it has power, but none of the controls or displays will light up.  He tried going to the store where he bought it and the salesman told him to RTFM.  That did not help.
  • There is a new squeak coming from near the wheels in the car.  And, we need an oil change.  Snow tires have been postponed because the locals told David that they only buy/use them on years when, you know, there is actually snow.  Apparently the two measly snow days we have had have not qualified, so we watch and monitor.
  • DD’s cell phone doesn’t work (much) in France.  We need to find some way to get her a phone that can call from France to Germany and back.  Right now she has to use the land lines at the school, which poses a problem if, say, the school is closed and she needs to reach us!  In France, this is a very real possibility.
  • DS’s computer freezes out frequently and becomes unusable for periods of time each day.  It does not seem to be overheating.  On the plus side, similar issues with my computer were solved by cleaning the heat sink- so one off the list, woot!
  • The television has stopped picking up cable signal.  It can play videos and video games fine, but the cable content gives errors and tells us t check cables- all of which seem plugged in fine.  Our internet is through the same cable boxes and is (knock wood) unaffected.  But, for now, no actual TV.
  • After paying the fees for our Drivers Licenses and providing all the required paperwork, we received a notice that we would soon be receiving instructions on what to do next.  Those never arrived.  Presumably we need to take the tests next, but, we aren’t even sure who we need to talk with.  And, we have still been unable to track down any copies of the German driving rules in English, though we are told they do exist.  We still have a lot of leg work to do on this one- and we have been working it for months.
  • I burned out the motor- or tripped a fuse- on my Kitchenaid mixer through an improperly installed converter.  I suspect it can be fixed- and possibly even rewired for use in Europe.  But, who the heck do you call for something like that and how do you explain what you want using the vocabulary of a 5 year old? 

Even simple things like doctor and dental appointments take more energy to get going.  And, mistakes are trickier to track down.  DH made two appointments for DD this month: glasses and dental/orthodontist consultation.  We dragged her out of school early, keeping her from a planned field trip, picked David up from work so he could be our main translator and headed over to the dental office.  Only to discover that her appointment wasn’t until the 30th!  The receptionist gave us the “you are such idiots” look and wrote down our appointment on a card.  The 30th was when we thought DD had her eye appointment.  That one had been really difficult to set up, so we panicked and figured we had managed to somehow switch the dates on the two appointments.  We RAN across town to the eye doctor.  Only to have the receptionist tell us that we were, in fact, more thoroughly complete idiots, and DD’s eye appointment also wasn’t until the 30th.  Since DD can’t manage two medical appointments in one day, we then, of course, had to change the dental- for a month later.  Thus, one non-missed appointment succeeded in garnering us *3* shaken heads of idiocy!  I think that may be a personal best for our family so far :)

I say “we” but poor David is the one who gets the brunt of it.  Since he is the most German-fluent of us, these sorts of things generally fall on him- and they would not in the US.  Nor is he accustomed to being thought of as anything but supremely competent.  So, this range of experience is outside his comfort zone in a whole variety of ways!


Speaking of competency, this week I had the horrible realization that I did not inform agencies like the Franchise Tax Board, the IRS, the California Employment Development folks, the DMV, our ex-mortgage company, or pretty much any other of the folks we will need tax documents from that we were moving to Germany.  I have a feeling this may cause me a fair number of headaches going forward.  Here’s hoping that most of the updates can be done online!  And, yeah, taxes this year may be a bit challenging.

Speed Dating for Conferences

Hogwarts had their teacher conferences about a week ago.  DD’s teacher called it the “speed dating” of teacher conferences, and that seems like a relatively apt description.  The timing was terrible, so we wound up with two kids and me in the car while David went to the parents-only conference session.  The Headmaster spoke for an hour, then parents queued up to speak with all the teachers.  David only managed to talk with 3/11 of them I think, but it still meant the kids and I were stuck in the car for 1.5 hours.  The good news is that her grades were better than we expected.  And, she is doing well in her core courses (English, Math, Science, and even her French-speaking Social Studies class).  Oddly, though, her French Art and Music teachers haven’t a clue what to do with her, and her French Language really needs to improve before next year.   

In the Swabian areas of Germany they have what they term “the 5th season of the year”.  This is Fastnacht.  Think of it as a combination of Carnival and Halloween.  The idea is that it is the time of year when the evil spirits are out and about roaming the hills and villages.  So, people dress up in costumes to scare them away, have big bonfires, have costume balls, have huge parades, and generally combine a ton of Christian and Pagan traditions from the ages.  Most of Germany celebrates Fashing, which is more the traditional Carnival. Some areas have a special Women’s Day where ladies travel the towns kissing men and cutting off their ties!  Oh my!

I pulled this from the web.  All the towns nearby are
decorated in motley like this fellow right now.

But, the Swabish put a whole different spin on it, and get far more into than other areas, I am told.  The kids even have an extra week and a half of vacation.  In fact, DS gets this vacation, while other villages nearby do not!

Technically, the season starts on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th minute of the 11th hour (11:11 on November 11th- in 2011!).  But, the “hot season” all takes place just prior to and after Ash Wednesday.  Every town has their own traditions.  There are Fool Jumping and Pretzel Blessings in one village.  Most have costume parties.  The kids do a form of trick-or-treating that is not necessarily limited to one day.  Parades may last for hours.

We are told that in Offenburg the themes have mostly to do with Witches.  They take a witch doll and baptize it.  Then over the coming days they “feed it beans”.  This causes it to grow into a huge effigy of a witch which they burn at a big bonfire!  Boggle.  First they baptize it, then they feed it, then they burn it at the stake.  I am not sure I want to follow the psychology there!

There is also a tradition where the “witches” feed the people.  They used to travel around the town bringing food to everyone- rolls and blood sausages are traditional, we are told.  But, when France took over the area after WWII they didn’t like the idea of masked people traveling the countryside.  So, instead, the “witches” now stand in windows in the Town Center and lower food down to the people below.

This should all be happening over the next several weeks, so we will try to get out to as many events as we can to report back!

Jugend Forscht

Their project is about whether plastic inhibits mold growth

Over the same period, DS will be having a little adventure of his own.  His science project for Jugend Forscht (Kid Research) will take him and his team to the regional event in Freiburg, about an hour away.  They will be staying 2 nights in a youth hostel and engaging in various activities that have to do with science- and bowling, apparently :)  I get nervous about it, but we like and trust his advising teacher.  And, as my mom likes to remind me, when I was 11 I went on a 2 week trip as an exchange student to Mexico.  So, we are looking forward to tales of his adventures!


DS has lost 3 teeth in the last 3 weeks!

Amusingly, also on DS’s Adventure File for this month: Square Dancing.  His Music class has decided that they need to learn American Style Square Dance.  Alamand Left, Promenade your partner, Swing to the Right and Do-Si-Do.  And, like my own experience in the US 30-ehem years ago, the girls apparently do NOT like touching the boys.  DS even brought gloves to school to help alleviate the problem, but, the teacher decided that the kids could pick their own partners that day, so the boys danced with boys and the girls with girls!  Silly stuff.

Jan 152012

A few photos from our walk today.

It is getting down to the 20’s over night right now, so the frost is lingering well into the afternoons wherever there is no direct sun.  DS was impressed by how hard the ground had frozen.

Frost on plant tips

Whatever the opposite of “Hot Seat” is.  (I have never seen our neighbor ride this moped, but it is always out there- the spiders loved it during the warmer seasons)

We walked along a path that follows the fields behind the apartment.  We were surprised to discover this Pieta just sort of plopped out there.  There is no plaque or any attribution.  I think it must just have been someone’s personal project.

Closer view of Christ’s face.  When I looked up other Pietas I was surprised to note that almost all of them have Christ’s head on the left of the image, while this one has it to the right.  I am sure there is symbolic significance, but I am not sure what it is.  I will research it when I have time!
The path emerges by the large TESA (like 3M) factory that borders the neighborhood. This building is enormous- and completely window-free, as we were able to confirm as our walk took us around the three sides not visible from our apartment.

Vines make a valiant effort to cover the building.
But, on the other side, they are being cleared.  I wonder how often this cycle repeats.

As we walked by, this crane swooped down and landed about 20 meters away.  In case you are wondering, a crane swooping over your head looks HUGE.

Is this ad campaign in the US, too?  Marlboro has signs all over that say things like this, or, more typically “MAYBE” with the May crossed out.  I guess they want you to commit to their brand?  Whatever the case, they are eye-catching, but boggling- and always in English.
Here is a photo I got off the interweb.  These are plastered everywhere.  Still not sure how it is meant to make people buy cigarettes- though, ineffectual cigarette ads are hardly a problem for me!

This is a hill near our house.  We have never figured out what the wooden barriers are for.  Any guesses?

Despite the fact that it is only one month into Winter and the ground is getting more frozen- not less- our courtyard trees seem determined to usher in Spring!
Jan 082012
I cannot overemphasize how much I love looking out a window and seeing this.

New Years Reflections

New Year is as good a time as any to reflect and evaluate where you are, and from whence you have come. Most folks, we are told,  need to do that from time to time- I suppose I might as well give it a shot!

We have been in Germany a bit over 7 months now- David a few weeks more. He and I were talking the other day about our experience so far and we both agreed that this has not at all been what we pictured in our minds before coming.  But,  it has been an incredibly valuable and mind-altering enterprise.  We simply didn’t know what we didn’t know.    

Things I Love and Things I Miss


DS with a New Year Bretzel
  • the practicality and unvarnished nature of German people, 
  • assumptions of responsibility–  stuff isn’t set up to protect you from yourself, or to protect others from your complete stupidity
  • feeling of trust– similarly, there is no expectation that people will do the wrong things.  People regularly leave items on the back of their bikes, just setting out in public places. And, they often leave bikes setting out in a public place, too.  Locks aren’t unheard of, but, there is a sense that they are just a smart precaution, not a necessity
  • a seemingly more healthy relationship with sex and the human body– Unlike in the US, most ads are not about sex. But, what sexuality there is doesn’t feel the need to hide.  Sex shops are just shops, like any other on Main Street.  Nudity is not especially featured or ignore, it is just mixed in. People in practical shoes mix with people in 5 inch stilettos, and from what I can tell, eyebrows aren’t raised at either. People on TV are not all supermodels.  In fact, some of the news presenters are downright unattractive.  I love that!
  • dogs in markets and restaurants, definitely cool
  • bretzeln, scheuffele, German Coffee,  non-frozen toaster waffles, and German butter
  • seeing older people on bikes, 
  • seeing disabled people commonly out and about
  • picturesque villages
  • orderly drivers,
  • good, easy, inexpensive healthcare
  • access to Europe (gonna take advantage of that more this year!)
  • buildings with solid construction and blast shields for all the windows.
  • old buildings are common… And by “old” I mean older than anything in North America not built by Pueblo tribes 
  • I also love having weather, seasons, and space around me
  • green trees, green hills, green fields, green mindset 
  • I love learning about the local culture and customs, exploring completely new places, and the ability to pick any direction and know that if I am feeling brave that day, there is something over there I have never seen or experienced before.
This year’s blessing.  It says 20 * C + M + B + 12

Heck, I love that sometimes I don’t even have to leave our front door to experience something completely new.  Case in point-  Friday was the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day.  I usually look up local holidays when I think of it, but this time I failed.  So, we were caught completely off guard when the door buzzer rang repeatedly and the group of colorfully attired kids shown above this section greeted us.  They launched into a song in German that I am told describes the role of the Magi in bringing gifts to Baby Jesus.  They are called the Sternsinger, or Star Singers and are organized jointly by local Lutheran and Catholic churches. Apparently we were supposed to given them goodies when they were done (like for Halloween)- but we didn’t know that.  We did applaud and put money in the jar they were carrying in support of hunger relief in Nicaragua.  Then they wrote a blessing above the door.  We had seen similar blessings around town, but never knew what they meant.  I had always thought they had something to do with a building code!


  • Well, people, of course!  Skype and email and facebook make it easier.  But, yeah, it is rough not being able to see the vast majority of our friends and family without a trans-continental flight and severe bout of Jet Lag!  
  • Convenience– Very little about Germany is convenient- and what little there is, we still aren’t sure we know how to access properly! I miss being able to hop in the car, drive to a store or mall, park for free, go in, find what I want and leave- no matter what day of the week it is.  I miss receiving a delivery without having to be present to sign for it- or, worse, having to drive down to the customs office 20 minutes away.  I miss never having to go to the bank because I could pay for everything with the ATM card.  And I miss having a refrigerator large enough that I could shop once a week and be pretty well stocked should a football team drop by!
  • That sense of Competence and Self-assuredness that comes from knowing your environment.  It is odd how many cultural assumptions go into day to day life.  Sure, we all may need to shop, eat, get to and from work and have a warm place to live.  But, the specifics about how to get all that accomplished varies wildly.  We have said many times before that it is hard to feel like a full-fledged adult while living here.  Honestly, these days I am feeling adult enough (downright old some days).  But, I definitely feel like an incompetent adult!  I suppose the up side to this is that you are pretty much forced to ‘get over yourself’.  Getting through the day is a legitimate accomplishment! 
  • FOODS– Donuts, Asian Food, Crab and, of course Bagels.  I can make these things, of course (except Crab which is just not available).  But, it is not quite the same as getting them at locations in the States.  In fact, I did brave the Bagel Making process this weekend to pretty good result, if I do say so myself (see above).  I brought my own diastatic and non-diastatic malt from the US for just such an occasion. 
  • Access to fruits and veggies out of season.  I guess they don’t ship things up from Africa here the way we do from South America in the States.  Produce is pretty rigidly seasonal.
  • Stop lights on the far side of the intersection.  This seems like a piddling complaint, but it can have serious consequences.  The signals here are all on the close end of intersections.  So, if you pull up to the line, you can’t see the light!  It is right above you, not in line of sight at all!  Some signals have a little mini-signal to help with this problem.  But, mostly, you just have to crane your neck a lot and hope you get it right.  Not fun. 
  • Pets.   

Not exactly a pet, but Charlie, our tiny Christmas Tree, had a growth spurt.
So, we moved him into his new digs.  Hopefully he will be happy here until next December!

    Things I miss less than I expected:

    • English Language TV.  Maybe it is just a time-issue, but I just don’t find many moments when I think “Now is a great time for the Boob Tube!”  Perhaps if we had a set in our bedroom.  But, typically there is no time to do much watching until the kids are in bed.  And, in this tiny apartment I always feel like I will keep them up even with super-low volume.  So, I mostly read and log on.  Sometimes I read the TV Without Pity synopses of shows I used to watch- just to keep slightly in the loop.  And, there are still shows I would like to see.  But, I figure I can catch them on DVD later- or Online if Germany ever lets me!  Lifestyle-wise it just doesn’t fit right now, and that is OK.
    • The News.  Ok, maybe this doesn’t surprise me too much.   I have gone through various phases of being rather a News Junkie- especially during elections and the like.  I would listen to the News Radio on every trip, watch wall-to-wall coverage of every Disaster or Trial, and check out multiple channels’ and papers’ coverage of even vaguely interesting stories.  But, I find that a quick glance at the international headlines, maybe a Front Page read of the LA Times and an infrequent dose of The Daily Show is about all I can tolerate right now!  I don’t miss the constant radio/TV coverage of every prurient tale they could dig up for each 24 hour news cycle.  If there are high-speed car chases anywhere nearby, I am blissfully unaware of them.  And any local celebs getting divorces are pretty much out of my viewing line on a day to day basis.  Honestly, my own life is just too full.  I don’t care to take on frustrations I can’t do anything about.  Seems rather healthy, really!
    • Convenience.  Ok, yeah, I miss it.  A lot, sometimes.  But, I also acknowledge that there is some value in walking more and driving less.  In having stores close at earlier times so that workers can be home with their families.  In having the same workers work the same hours each week instead of being forced to take rotating shifts to cover more hours.  In expecting people to take vacations.  In shopping more frequently to ensure a fresher supply of foods.  In carefully recycling.  In having higher standards for drivers.  And so on and so forth..  There is a different mindset that goes with the less-convenient set-up.  A slower, more reasoned pace.  It doesn’t always fit us, yet.  But I am growing to understand it a bit better.  At some point the refreshing practicality of it will fall into balance with the dauntingly-work-intensive aspects and I will let you know how I feel about the system as a whole.
    • A larger car.  Our Euro-Rabbit ‘Golf’ is tiny by American standards and would drive us nuts in the States.  But, here it is just right.  The roads are narrower and there are fewer large cars around to tower over you.  Most store-items are sold with the understanding that you will only be able to fit a certain size into your car.  So, it really isn’t so bad.  Plus, fuel efficiency is essential!
    • Less state-involved-Religion.  Ok, that comes out a bit stilted, but basically I am saying that I am surprised that living somewhere without a separation of Church and State doesn’t bother me more.  Most of Germany, we are told, is pretty secular.  But, we are in the equivalent of the Bible Belt of Germany.  Here, though, that seems to pose far less of a problem for us than it would if we were to be living in the Bible Belt of the US.  As a non-religious family, we had some apprehensions about DS having religion classes in school, for instance.  But, somehow it doesn’t feel as repressive here.  I think that is for two reasons.  First, it is easy to justify every bit of it as learning about a foreign culture.  But, more important is the fact that I haven’t really ever felt religiously pressured or disapproved of.  Sometimes people react with mild surprise when we say that we are neither Catholic nor Protestant. That is the question asked here, by the way, not “what religion are you” but “are you Catholic or Protestant”! But, unlike in the US, there doesn’t seem to be much judgement that goes along with that.  Perhaps Religion, like sex, is just more healthily accepted  Or, maybe after WWII they learned a lesson on tolerance.  Or, maybe they just mask well.  Whatever the case, the overt political overtones definitely are lacking.  We were talking with Tom, my PT, about this issue the other day.  As he put it, “It is like your politicians are expected to be perfect in the States.  Here, our last president had had 4 wives.  No one cared.  They said ‘ go ahead and have 4 wives if you want to, just do a good job for us!'”  I think we all agreed that since it is impossible to be perfect, perhaps it is better to just be good at your job and honest about your imperfections- or about the ways you are different from the people you serve.  I am going to need to have a few more conversations with people about religion to get a better idea about the views.  But, for now not having it be a glaring issue is good enough for me!

    Biggest Surprise:

    I think for me, the biggest surprise is that such a rigidly structured society can also feel so relaxed.  First off, Germany really is a structured society.  Germans seem to have a mindset that there is a time and place for everything and they stick to it.  No loud work on Sundays.  Food offerings are distinctly seasonal.  Don’t park here.  Keep this door closed.  Tonight at midnight you set off fireworks.  Next Friday you eat orange spice bread and give money to charity.  And, of course, paperwork is amazingly thorough for a non-litigious society!

    However, and it could just be my own ignorance, but I find that the people rarely seem stressed-out.  Folks are generally OK with waiting in lines, walking long distances, standing in the rain.  I have rarely heard anyone raise their voice- in anger or excitement!  Overall, people just seem to take it as it comes and prepare for what may be.  I don’t think that the stereotype of a German is “quiet, industrious, practical and tolerant” but, that is the German character we have encountered most.

    When people do get agitated, it seems often seems to be the result of their structure being challenged in some way- or worse, some unexpected way- and they dig in.  For example, the unpleasant lady at the Auslander Bureau who just kept repeating that “That is the Rule” when we asked her about language classes, or the snarly fish man who started to lose his composure when I couldn’t understand him.  But, overall folks seem to be pretty good-natured as they work through their daily dose of inconvenience.

    Other opinions:

    I asked David, and he said that the biggest surprise for him has been the smallness and lower-tech feeling of our area.  Perhaps it is just because we are in a smaller town.  But, even the nearby autobahn is only a few lanes wide.  And, many of the modern conveniences and higher-tech infrastructure things we took for granted in the US are just not present.  He does really like being employed, though!  And, the proliferation of bakeries is definitely a plus in his mind.

    DS has been shocked at how difficult German is and how different the food offerings are. He, too, misses bagels! DH pointed out that Germans may have lost most of their local bagel makers 75 years ago or so…..hmmm. DS was also surprised how long one could live without furniture. 😉  He finds himself liking the wide assortment of noodles, much of the food available in France, snow (of course!) and the fact that he gets to play soccer most days at school.

    DD is surprised at how difficult French is compared to German in her mind!  And, she finds her ‘crazy international school’ to be far different than any of the US schools she has attended.  She really loves the fact that there are trees and other non-dead plants.  And, she says she is just pleased not to be in Santa Clarita anymore.

    Latest Furniture Building Project- DS’s dresser.

      Jan 012012
      We hope 2012 brings times of prosperity, fulfillment, healing and joy to everyone!  I think our whole family will have to agree that 2011 was one of the most memorable years we have ever had.

      Obviously, this is our first New Year celebration in our New Country.  As such, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Earlier this week we went to the local Home Supply Store and discovered a startlingly large supply of fireworks.  First- fireworks at the home supply store?  Apparently so, in Germany!  Second… given the sorts of celebrations I had seen in the States, these are the sorts of snarky thoughts I was having:

      “Care for some fireworks with that drunken celebration?

      How about a “pyro joker” pack?”
      “Or would a Shreck Party Pack be more your speed?  Nothing bespeaks ‘Safe and Sane Fireworks’ like knockoff merchandise aimed at children!”

      David took one look at the amassed pile of offerings and walked the other way.  He quickly decided that he had no clue what the rules for such things might be in these parts.  In France earlier in the day we saw folks just out on the streets throwing around firecrackers.  But, he suspected the orderly Germans might have guidelines for use that we would simply be beyond our feeble language skillz and cultural ken.  “Well, everyone knows you can use sparklers on balconies but not on the lawn- DUH!”  As a Californian, I had a rather a horrified fascination with the sheer number of available black-powder delivery devices… though the meter long bottle rocket thing with the metal launcher did sort of look like fun!  As it turns out, neither he nor I needed to worry.  But, that part of the story comes later.

      A Mild Adventure
      Today I was feeling a bit claustrophobic and stuck.  Too many days in a row sitting at a computer for work and play.  So, we did some research and found an English Language movie showing at a reasonable time in Strasbourg.  This is somewhat unusual because for unknown reasons many of the English Language child-friendly films tend to play at completely non-child-friendly times…. like 10 PM or Midnight!  But, this one was on at 1:45 PM.  Completely within our abilities to attend.  We piled in the car and headed out to the Star Saint Exupéry Cinema.  Which is located on Rue du 22-Novembre.  As you might guess, that means,  22nd of November Street.  I checked the web and was unable to find anything French that trumps Kennedy’s assassination (though on this side of the border, Angela Merkel was apparently elected on that day in 2005), so I guess it is just a nice gesture on the part of the city of Strasbourg.  

      In any case, returning to the story, we hopped in the car and drove to France.  Garmin got us there OK.  And, we even found nearby parking in a narrow, many-story pay lot with only one ramp for going both up and down.  We dodged the usual Scary French Drivers (TM)- including the one impatient guy who wanted to whip around us as we stopped to allow a driver from the opposite direction to pass on the single-width ramp in the parking structure.  Yeesh!  We then took the elevator down 6 stories to the ground- where there was a fancy hair salon…. in the middle of the parking lot… Hmmm.  Ok!  France can be a bit odd.

      Quick trip around the corner to the line at the theater where the nice lady hand wrote out tickets for us.  Their computer was broken, so scratch paper and a human scrawl worked fine.  This was a small, art-house operation. The concession stand consisted of vending machines.  One with sodas.  Another with candy.  And, a third small box proclaiming 2 flavors of popcorn- sweet and salty.  The salty one was empty.  The sweet looked decidedly stale.  We passed on all of the above and went to the theater.  Where, as soon as we sat down- the movie started!  No previews!  No ads at all!  Just a lovely film.

      We saw Hugo- which here is called Hugo Cabret (perhaps to better distinguish it from Victor?).  The irony of watching a film that ostensibly takes place in Paris acted by an English cast with French translations at the bottom was not entirely lost on me.  But, mostly it was just nice to 1) see a movie in a theater.  And, 2) see the French subtitles, to shake some of the cobwebs off my French.   

      Back in Offenburg,
      I cooked yet another scheuffele and we settled in to relax and await the New Year.  I didn’t really expect it to be much different than in the US.  But, I was delighted to discover I was wrong.  How do the orderly Germans celebrate the New Year?

        Please watch the video with the volume on.

      With semi-orderly chaos!  Just after midnight we noticed our neighbors with friends and families in tow making their way outside.  Many were carrying packages of fireworks like the ones we saw at the Bauhaus.  Already, there was some pop pop popping.  And, soon the ubiquitous church bells joined in the tumult. But, that was all about to becomes exponentially louder.  

      Within a couple minutes, the entire night sky was alight with hundreds of individual fireworks shows!  Remember those packets I showed up top?  They were only a few EU a piece.  And people apparently bought them in bulk!  I would say that just about 1/3-1/2 of all the houses visible were having their own little fireworks displays.  All simultaneously at Midnight!  And by “little” I mean… well, what you saw in that video!  Think of your crazy neighbor in the states who went down to Mexico to stock up, then came back to put on his own show for the neighborhood.  Only, every house is doing that.  And, unlike on the 4th of July, where displays may linger for hours after dark, and so are somewhat diluted over time, all the fireworks were set off over the course of about one hour.  Rockets and roman candles and sparklers were more popular than firecrackers.  The idea seemed to be to light the German sky as much as possible.  And, judging from the local efforts, I have to say, 2012 ring-in must be considered successful on that front!  Unfortunately, my camera was not entirely up to the task of capturing the array.  But, here are a couple of my better photos that give at least some idea of what it was like.

      Looking out our kitchen window at Bühl- you can count about 6 individual houses putting on displays across the dozen or so houses visible

      I think this is looking East toward the suburb of Bohlsbach, similar to Bühl.

      Every other house looked like this!
      Looking directly up from under one of the balconies in our apartment complex
      To be accurate…
      This did not seem at all to be a drunken wild party.  All the celebrations within our viewing range were being carried out in relatively family-friendly fashion with reasonable precautions.  And, the dampness from recent rain (and even a little drizzle while we were out) added a layer of comfort in keeping things fire-resistant.  Though, being a newb, I didn’t realize that a box on the ground was actually a launching pad and almost blundered into a mishap!  And, just as we were walking back into the building, a shower of large live sparks landed on the ground a meter or so behind DD.  There were, of course, some giddy teenagers about, but everything remained pleasant- and very encompassing- for about an hour.  Then things petered off and folks, presumably, wandered off to bed.

      Not that there wasn’t some bubbly involved!
      If the hardware store was well-stocked with fireworks the week before the holiday, the grocers were all very well stocked with sparkling wines!  There were French Champagnes, Prosecco from Italy, Spanish, American, and, of course, German wines, too.  We tried to find our traditional Sparking Apple Cider, but failed.  So, when in Germany…..

      We bought selections of what seemed to be the more common and area-centric options.  One bottle of Prosecco, with enticingly rustic string bindings.

      And one bottle of Sekt mit Hollunderblüte -which translates to Champagne with Elderberry blossoms!  

      I really enjoyed the Prosecco we had with Kim et al in Switzerland, but, Sekt mit Hollunderblüte just seemed way too Germanically intriguing, so, we went with that!  Pleasant, light and slightly sweet.  Good choice!  The kids had a couple sips, and got to clang cups together.  David and I kissed.  Then, the outside celebrations erupted, so we all threw on shoes and jackets (over jammies in DS’s case) and hustled out to see the show. 

      As a side note- we completely failed to find whatever the German equivalent of New Years Rockin’ Eve or whatever might be.  I flipped around the channels for a good 10 minutes, but nothing seemed to be doing a countdown or showing international celebrations- or even playing much music (other than the standard music video channels).  I was left wondering whether that sort of thing is just completely unnecessary here.  Everyone seemed to be out and about having their own celebrations.  Maybe television would be considered redundant?

      So, there you have it.  Our first New Year’s Celebration in a New Country.  I haven’t really had time to process the Greater Issues of this particular New Year.  But, there will be time for that.  Right now it is just sort of a relief to have made it to this Timespace landmark.  How did you spend your celebration?  Any particular plans for the New Year?