The night we moved to Berlin we drove around in a snowstorm desperately trying to find a restaurant with a kitchen still open at 10pm on a Tuesday evening. Not knowing the neighbourhood, we dashed into the first warmly lit place we saw, hoping not to slip on the thick crusts of ice covering the pavement. What luck – it was a vegetarian restaurant, and they were still serving! My memory may be skewed by the simple relief of satiating my hunger on that bleak night, but the meal has stayed with me as some of the most delicious I have ever eaten. With both of us vegetarian, that the whole menu was meatless certainly helped. In due course, it became our favourite local restaurant; the surefire go to place when we had friends to stay. Such was the quality of the food and the subtlety of the flavours that we knew even the most committed meat-eaters would enjoy it. READ MORE »
Posts tagged Chloe
The friends we left behind in London all had one thing in common – their desire to get themselves on the property ladder. Had we stayed I suspect we would have started hunting around for somewhere to buy in just the same way. It is simply what you do when you’re a young professional in the UK and if you don’t you worry you’re going to be left behind, you’ve not made it, that you’re destined to be one of those unsuccessful people who only ever rents a flat.
What a surprise then to move to Germany where being ‘only’ tenants instead of homeowners does not come with such class associations. That Germany has the lowest rate of homeownership in the EU has been written about elsewhere on this blog. What I am interested in here, is how this phenomenon effects the experience as an expat of first finding a flat to rent and then living in a rented flat in Germany in contrast to the experience in the UK. READ MORE »
We toy sometimes with the idea of returning to the UK (by that we really mean London). For our careers and old friends and family, it can seem very tempting. Very tempting indeed, until we start talking about childcare. Berlin’s plentiful offering of affordable places for children to spend their time is almost unbeatable and it is one aspect, amongst many, which ties us firmly here for now.
Our children have attended KiTa (Kindertagesstätte - nursery school for pre-school children) since they were eighteen months old. They could have started younger – many children in Berlin are sent at 12 months from 9am to 4pm – but for us that seemed too soon. So we were slower: at first, it was only for a couple of hours each morning, and then progressively more, until we found a rhythm that works for them and for our working patterns: three days a week from 9am to 3pm and two days a week from 9am to 12.15pm. They could stay for longer but we are happy to have them at home as much as work allows. READ MORE »
It is very cold in Berlin; that sort of startlingly cold that seeps into your bones immediately on being outside and stays there for hours. This being my fourth winter in Berlin, I half-expected on that first frost glistening morning to be acclimatised – not so. For North Americans and many Continental Europeans, my complaints will fall on unsympathetic ears. It’s only minus 6C, they will say mockingly. But being a sensitive English rose, I find the cold makes going outside feel like an arctic mission rather than a free and easy, pleasurable way to break up the day, and this troubles me each year.
Of course, we had snow in my childhood, but it was that mild, wet, English snow which stays only fleetingly on the ground for no more than a day or so – and falls biannually at most. Instead those English winters consisted of short, dark, grey days, smattered with chilly rain and the odd early morning frost. A woollen jacket and closed shoes were guaranteed to see you through winter’s mildest and chilliest moments. And though I do miss those days, for all my chilblains and chapped lips, these real Berlin winters have been an educational experience, making me both wiser, and in a funny way, possibly a more considerate mother. READ MORE »
“It’s the Christmas Man,” my two-and-a-half-year-old son cheered, pointing to the large inflatable red-clad figure bobbing in the wind outside a men’s clothes shop. In these first unseasonably barmy days of early December, we were yet to talk about the intricacies of Christmas, beyond the odd explanation of holly-bedecked shop windows and the singing reindeer-head installed outside our local shopping centre. The name of the man who would bring presents had certainly not been discussed. So how did he know about Father Christmas, and what was this name the “Christmas Man”?
One of the joys of living in another country and having your children grow up in a bilingual environment spending half, if not more, of their time speaking a language that is not your own is that they are constantly learning things you could not possibly have taught them. The Christmas Man (I should mention at this point that Germans refer to Father Christmas as the Weihnachtsmann – it’s direct translation being, therefore, the Christmas Man) was just one example in a list of many, which includes animals, nursery rhymes, foods and songs. Mostly, these instances delight and intrigue me. My German is good enough to understand the meaning, whilst still being enriched with a whole new level of childhood vocabulary one cannot learn sitting down with a grammar book, or spending a year here as a carefree exchange student. And beyond the words, I am constantly fascinated by my (and all) children’s outstanding capacity to absorb and manipulate new information minute by minute. READ MORE »
It was during our second winter in Berlin that I first became aware of Laternenfeste (lantern festivals). We had little twin babies and, despite early heavy snows, I spent much of my time traipsing icy streets pushing the pram whilst they slept. There was a period in early winter when afternoon after afternoon I saw lines of young children – pre-school age – muffled up against the cold, swinging pretty coloured lanterns and singing in shrill juvenile voices. I was intrigued, but not enough to find out what it all meant. My reaction was more one of ‘oh, that’s ever so sweet, it must be some sort of German tradition’ and then to forget all about it, as you do when you can’t imagine your own booty-wearing, rattle-shaking babes ever being old enough or robust enough to march the streets wearing boots and singing songs.
But since then, the unimaginable has happened and our children are now old enough and robust enough for their own winter boots and to attend a local nursery pre-school (KiTa). And last week, for the first time, they too joined the lines of young children piping out songs about lanterns and swinging their own homemade contributions. Off we trudged on an almost chilly November afternoon in the gathering gloom, through the streets, round the park and up to the top of a nearby hill, to find a big bonfire waiting and cups of warming Glühwein (mulled wine). Once there, we sang more songs about lanterns, watched sparks leap from the fire, and ran around in the dark until our hands were too cold and it was time to go home. READ MORE »
I am struck, watching my two small children grow up in Berlin, how different their childhood is from mine in England’s industrial north in the 1980s. We are very integrated here – most of our friends are German. the nursery the children go to is German, and the places we frequent are almost completely German. Instinctively, my children say “guck guck“ instead of “peepo” and “Aua!“ instead of “ouch!”. They drink fruit tea with their afternoon snack and heavy dark bread is nothing unusual. Yes, for now, it would seem that my children are German, with only a streak of English.
I don’t really mind this, though I sometimes feel nostalgic for the things they can’t know: the jangling bells of the ice-cream van on a long summer’s evening; the feeling of a school uniform tie tight around a buttoned up shirt neck; grubbing around the back garden in a private kingdom. They will be city children, who remember going to public spaces to play out their fantasy games (parks and playgrounds), who slouch around grandiose nineteenth century city school buildings in jeans and the latest trainers, and only think of ice-cream as being from the organic ice-cream parlour across the road – if we stay here, that is. READ MORE »
“Can we bring you anything that you can’t get there?” is a common question our visitors from the UK ask. We usually spend a good ten minutes, both of us running through supermarket shelves in our minds’ eye, but almost always to no avail. Aside from the odd big pack of Yorkshire Tea bags, it would seem we want for nothing.
Does this mean we have become so acclimatised that we no longer dream about products from home? It is true that our habits have altered somewhat over the three years of living here, adapting to local trends and tastes: Nivea creams and cleansers fill our bathroom shelves; quark has become a family staple and these days a potato salad just isn’t quite right without a good share of gherkins. But I’m not sure that is really it: rather, being able to reel off such a short list of these examples seems to me testament to the fact that the vast majority of our consumption – edible and beyond – has remained pretty much the same. Our limited demands have less to do with acclimatisation and far more with globalisation and the ubiquity of internet shopping. READ MORE »
“It’s like being interviewed for a shared flat,” my German friend, the freelance TV producer, says to me one Wednesday morning over one of those pungent Berlin coffees. Having left our laptops gently purring on our dining table desks, we are now sitting outside a local cafe reinvigorating our brains with caffeine and a vitamin-C-laden fruit salad. After three years working from home, the washing machine peeps have interrupted the flow of my friend’s creative juices one time too many and she has finally decided to find herself a real desk in a co-working space.
She is not alone: approximately 80,000 people worldwide are currently using co-working spaces, and Berlin is one of the capitals for it. In the post-financial-crisis digital age, swathes of ambitious young people are shunning traditional careers and looking instead to freelance projects or setting up their own business as alternative paths to professional greatness. And it turns out that not all of these digital nomads are happy to work surrounded by last night’s dirty dishes or with the ever-alluring TV in the corner telling them it really is alright to watching two hours of N-TV (the German new channel) every lunchtime because its ‘educational’. READ MORE »
It is a perfect Northern European midsummer’s evening, the sky a delicate swirl of gentle pastels and the soft air just cool enough for a cardigan: we have our window open. Then, quite suddenly, outside a tremendous roar erupts. Men, women and children let out shouts and whoops of joy which ring in the street below. To us, inside, the noises are not so surprising, for we too are watching football (soccer). A German striker has just pounded the ball into the back of the opposition’s net. A goal! Across the city, fireworks pop and crack in the dusky sky.
In our street at least three cafes have erected large screens on the pavement for the occasion of the European Cup – and this is not unusual. Throughout Berlin, and indeed Germany, these screens (called ‘public viewings’) have become the focus for large crowds – from dozens to the hundreds of thousands, depending on the venue – to gather round and share the tribulations and elations of their fellow countrymen in each Germany match. READ MORE »