Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009


Looking upward to 2010



Now that was a crazy year. I was unsure of how to write about 2009—I could easily complain about all the crap that we went through in Germany, or I could write about all the great stuff we have done, how much we have learned. I think the best way to sum up the year would be to give a little of both sides.

There is no doubt this has been the hardest year for me and Jenna in our 15 years together. It is strange to say that, because one of my long time goals and dreams came true this year—living in Germany. But that is the root of the problem, it was MY goal, and sure, of course, Jenna wanted to come along and experience it, but we diverged from helping get her closer to her goals, instead moving further away from them. We spent way too much money and time trying to adjust to life over here, and in the process we discovered that it was not the place for us.

I had envisioned that Germany would lead us closer to where we wanted to be in our lives—a more relaxed society, where people take public transport, and shop locally, and are aware of the outside world, and appreciate and value non-working time more. Basically, we would experience a better quality of life and live like a European. I dreamed of us being comfortable here, settling in, and staying for multiple years, maybe even long enough to get a passport-- the greatest gift we could ever give to Mayzie. I thought I was more European than American.

I was wrong. In the process of discovering the errors of my ways, I have hurt us financially, and certainly emotionally. In hindsight, I pushed too hard getting us here, pushing too hard to get us out of our comfort zone, and this is what happens when you force change upon yourself, rather than going with the flow. My need for travel and “excitement” has evolved from a passion, to an obsession, and the result has been not thoroughly thinking through important decisions. We are now in debt, have no money to travel like we wanted to do (actually, the main reason we wanted to live in Germany), and are not living in the present…we are looking forward to getting home to Portland, so that we can get back on track in all ways.

But, as readers of the blog, you know that it wasn’t all that bad. Without this being a recap of the last year…I am grateful for the chance to learn a new language, meet people that have never met Americans before, and live in 2 completely different German cities. I am grateful for the bike riding opportunities, the busses, the trains, the autobahn, the cheap beer, and the amazing and atmospheric architecture surrounding us on all sides. I am most proud of this opportunity for Mayzie—she really has grown to be a smart, observant, and confident little girl. The way she interacts with her German classmates and teachers is precious. I am very thankful for learning and integrating into a culture I thought I knew before, but really had no clue whatsoever about. It has opened our eyes to what we want in our lives and how to get there more efficiently.

Lots of things surprised us about Germany…the people, the language, the bureaucracy, the working environment, the attitudes. There are some great things about Germany and some things that irritate me so much I don’t even want to think about them. Same as everywhere, I suppose.

I am worried about going home. Its earlier than I hoped, and I am concerned that we won’t find the quality of schooling around our area for Mayzie, as we have in Hamburg. I am concerned about working too much and not having any vacation time. About getting into a rut. But I have always worried about these things, and this is the part I need to realize…these things will never happen to me, no matter where I live. For us right now, the benefits of going home outweigh these silly negatives. My neurosis are the only things holding us back. Friends and family are more important to me than I ever realized.

So we are coming back to Portland, to our house, in spring 2010. No plane tickets booked yet, but very soon. Of course, the blog will continue, so I hope I can keep some of you as readers about the goings on of We Three Wusz… (but it wont be nearly as exciting haha).  

We have no regrets, we tried our best to make this work, but I would certainly do some things differently next time.

2009 was interesting to say the least. I am stoked that we have 4 more months over here and then we will re- group, re-focus, and move on with our lives…who knows where or when or what will happen. That’s the best part. Prost!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The German DMV





The US DMV is a complicated place full of disgruntled employees and impatient people. The German one is not much different at all. We visited the LBV (Landesbetrieb Verkehr) today to update our license plates on our car to Hamburg plates (we still had the Stuttgart ones on there). Every time you move to a new county you need to get new plates. It was a pretty efficient place. First step is take a number and wait...we waited 10 minutes or so. Then we were called up, presented all the paperwork necessary (any missing documents and you would be told to come back...we had to show house registration, car registration, proof of insurance, some weird car documents, the emission documents), showed them our old plates (which we had to take off our car and present to the lady), pay her for the registration fee (28 euros), she gave us our new license plate number, and she charaded to us (no english, and we dont speak car German), where to go next...to get the new plates. There are 4 or 5 businesses surrounding the DMV buildings that make your plates for you. We chose one at random (are they any different to eachother???), and got our new plates made...(20 euro for front and back plates). Little feeder businesses. So, new plates in hand, back into the main building. This was the strangest part. After asking a few strangers what to do, we were told we needed to take our old plates to 2 table drills sitting in the corner. There, you take your old plates and use the power drill to scratch and drill at the plate, so that the old registration is taken off the plate. This is so that someone cannot use your plate again, since it was still valid. Felt very strange to be using power tools in a government building like this....I took the picture while Jenna risked metal shards in her arm haha...


With our demarked plates and our new plates, we marched back up to another window upstairs and the lady inspected our drill job and put new stickers on the new plates. And we were done. Took about 1 hour total. Not bad.

While we were at the license plate makers, I had them make another plate for me....

Stolpersteine

When walking around Hamburg, chances are pretty good that you will come across little square gold blocks. It is easy to miss them, but once I figured out what they were, we started seeing them all over. These are called Stolpersteine (I had to google this, its an expression meaning stumbling blocks, or obstacles), and are the work of a German artisit. Each block commemorates a Jewish person that lived at a house, or what used to be a house, in front of the block during WWII. The one I took a picture of shows that a family named Bezen lived here, and when they were born, when they were deported from Germany, where they ended up (Lodz was a concentration camp in Poland), and what happened to them ("murdered"). Crazy.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Frohe Weihnachten

Hope you all have some good holidays. The streets are quiet, and all is dark, time to sit around and eat some food!








BONUS!!!! For your listening pleasure, I present you with 2 very limited and special offerings from the Nick and Mayzie Wusz Experience christmas album entitled "Morning Star? What the Heck is That?" First up, is the long lasting holiday favorite Jingle Bells....



And next up is a German favorite, which Mayzie calls "Tanya Baum"...



Look for our CD release sometime in the next decade...

Love Nick, Jenna, Mayzie, and good ol Oskar!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in Hamburg

I am off work now until January 5...feels good to relax and sleep in. No plans for the next two weeks, just some day trips and hanging out around Hamburg. It is very very cold today, and snowing non-stop...I think it was -1deg F and the wind is blowing, too...so any adventures outside are short lived. We still have managed Christmas markets and playing in the park. Oskar the dog cant handle the snow, he ends up shivering uncontrollably after a few minutes, poor little guy. So he poops and pees RIGHT OUTSIDE the door and books it back in. The atmosphere and non-commercialization of christmas is a relief, although for my Polish workmate, he was complaining about how consumerism is thrown in your face over here, but I was quick to tell him this is nothing compared to the US. That is interesting. The outdoor markets, alcohol in the street, smell of fresh roasted nuts, and walkability of the city all make it for a unique experience. Although it gets dark at 4:30, I really think this is the best season to visit Germany...though it is hard to justify a cold place for vacation when we live in a cold place at home, but still.

For proof that we are off our rockers and into this christmas more than any other (maybe this also has to do with Mayzie's first awareness of the holiday)...here are some pics of our flat, plus some others from around town.


Our lil xmas tree



Advent wreath...you light a candle for each week before xmas (please forgive me if this is super obvious to most of you, I am a xmas decorating amateur)



Jenna bought this wooden man from a xmas market...after placing a incense cone in his lower half, the smoke travels up and out through his mouth.



Can you see the smoke?



My polish friend Tomas.



Hamburg Rathaus in the snow...



Jenna with her favorite xmas drink, the Feuerzangenbowle.



Curry wurst and ice, what a combo.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hamburg Christmas Markets: Ganzemarkt



This market is great, just outside the center of town....smaller, less crowded, and they had Feuerzangenbowle....a gluhwein drink that has rum added, which has been filtered through a big chunk of sugar. It is served in ceramic, handle-less mugs. A more traditional drink, it is much smoother than gluhwein, and tastes perfect on cold, wet nights like we have been having. A perfect accompaniment to the drink are some Schmalzkuchen...basically fresh, hot powdered donuts. Oh man.







Friday, December 11, 2009

German "Efficiency"



Sure, the trains run on time, everything is orderly, but people here are used to waiting for things to get done, which is fine, but it seems that the their threshold for waiting times far exceeds my threshold. Is patience really a virtue? Also, this attitude is inconsistent. I am still confused, so this post might make no sense at all.

At work, at the Arbeitsamt (work permit office), at the Auslandsamt (foreigners office), bank, post office, things take a ridiculous amount of time. Processing, obtaining a receipt, paying, and book keeping are all done with annoying meticulous-ness. You would think that people would be more pissed off, but it is me, the "mellow American" that gets mad and frustrated, while the German throws up his hands, shakes his head, and says, "well, thats just the way it is" when things do not go smoothly. But, on the other hand, you have people huffing and puffing in line behind you, as you are doing a very normal transaction on an ATM, or glancing nervously at their watch if the train is 1 minute late, or yelling at you if you cross the street on on a red. See---it is confusing!

Here is an example of the "thats just the way it is" mentality. At work, we need to do some online training for a new software package being introduced at the beginning of next year. The training is supposed to take place Dec 10. Of course, you need a login and password to access the training materials. According to Airbus, it should take up to 3 days to be granted access. Knowing that 3 Airbus days is more like 21 real days, I applied 3 weeks in advance. A week before the training course, I emailed the password people, and they said all is in order, you will have the login in the next few days. OK, so I wait a few days, and then I email back..."I need the login access by Thursday". The reply back--"If you dont have access by friday, then let us know." Thanks for that! So Dec 10 came and went, no access. Just waiting. Perfectly normal!?!

I think that people over here think they have no control over government and beuracracy, so thats where the "thats just the way it is" attitude comes from. But in their own personal life, on the street, on the train, in the bus, they try and maintain control, which is not always possible. This leads to becoming laughably upset over the slightest detour in their plans, and being wary of any slight sponteneity that may occur. In the US, if we dont like something, we become vocal, we complain about it, even if its with the government, or at the bank--places where we are not in control. It feels like maybe our vocalizations will change something, and sometimes it does (maybe that is an illusion of freedom? To think we have control ...ie the government, when really, we don't?)---you might get re-imburesed at the bank for some crazy charges. But this wont happen over here. You are on your own when it comes to beauracracy, because the Germans have put faith that someone smarter, higher up, has figured it out for you. So its your fault if something goes wrong. Or they are seemingly not caring about your problem, assuming that it is you that screwed up, Not them. "Thats just the way it is". Suck it up, weakling!

I wouldnt survive the beuracracy in an island nation, or in Cambodia, or in Egypt, where, from experience, things REALLY happen slowly...my blood would boil over day one. I guess if you are an expat in these countries, there is someone, a local, who takes care of all the business stuff for you. Or maybe I am fragile. Luckily alcohol, pretzels, and candy are cheap over here...I can forget about all this stuff very easily...German distractions :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wusz Archives: What was it like before HER

Jenna came across this today. I wrote this in February 2006, after having Mayzie for only a few months...a good read, and everything in there is still relavent...nice to know I havent changed ONE LITTLE BIT in almost 4 years! Sad but true :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hamburg Christmas Markets: Luneburg





Thirty minutes by train, is the old medieval town of Luneburg. We took a day trip out here in August sometime, when it was pouring rain, but this time we timed it right with a beautiful winters day. This whole town is basically a Christmas market. In the beautiful medieval town square is where the main market is, but along the narrow side streets are other small markets, gluhwein stalls, and small, animated Fairy tale displays for kids. By the time it got dark, it truly was a magical place, something like you think Old Germany must have been like. Car free, atmosphere every corner, beautiful colored lights, churches and town squares shining, like something you would imagine in Brothers Grimm stories. Pauline Tomlinson was with us, and I am glad to have experienced this with her...we almost talked ourselves out of going out here, since we were tired and the forecast was rain.


We had some gluhweins, an obscene amount of christmas goodies (a nutella filled waffle pocket, roasted nuts, gummy coins etc etc etc), and the ladies enjoyed hot cocoa and coffee, while I had a beer at a local brewery. We also tried the Eier Punsch (egg nog with rum of course), but none of us could drink that...too rich and thick and chewy and sweet...uugggh....EGGS.















Hamburg Christmas Markets: Jungfersteig

Just around the corner from the Rathaus is another Christmas market, at Jungfersteig, which is the area right along the Alster lake in central Hamburg. The market is more modern, with modern tents instead of wooden sheds holding all the stalls. There is less crowds here, and more room to spread out. Right now, this city at night is when it is at its most beautiful. Most main streets are lit up and inviting, which is important in the cold, dreary, rainy days we have been having. Feels good to be here at this time of year, and after a few more gluhweins down the gullet(you tired of me talking about this yet?), I really appreciate Hamburg.











Hamburg Christmas Markets: Rathaus


The markets have all opened now, and we are thoroughly enjoying them. The atmosphere at the markets is quite remarkable, even I can get into Christmas like this. Wreath-decorated stalls selling everything from wooden craft toys, glassware, decorations, candy, holiday treats, sausages, and of course gluhwein, the staple of German christmas--hot spiced red wine.  All of this under the shadow of medieval buildings and above the cobblestone of the market square. The Rathaus (town hall) is the most classic of the Christmas markets around here, with workers dressed up in their traditional garb, spreading their holiday cheer by taking your money. There are carollers, and huge christmas trees, and rides for the kids. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, especially after a few gluhweins.