Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Heilige Abend and Christmas Morning

We can't believe that we pulled it off, but we had Christmas in Germany! I really didn't know if we were going to make it to this point. On Christmas Eve day, we went to church and participated in the program. Rob and I both sang in the choir, and Rob had a solo and gave a talk. It was a great talk, like Garrison Keillor's about all the adventures that baby Jesus goes on from the creche, and how he got lost for several years from the McFarland family, and then his niece Jessie found the baby Jesus because of her child's eye view. It was well-received, but we established beyond a doubt that our children are not ready to go parent-free in Sacrament Meeting.
The ward made a big fuss over us since it was our last week here, and you know they are sincere, because we're taking one of the only families and a third of the Primary with us on that plane!
And we heard The Longest Prayer In The History Of The World. Ever. I kept thinking "I didn't understand and she's giving a talk. I'll open my eyes and everyone else will be listening . . ." But, no, it was a prayer. Partway through Sebastian said to Rob "Wir steigen aus hier?" which is what he always says on the bus or train ("are we getting off here?"). A few minutes later he said "Papa, Ich will steigen aus!" ("Papa, I want to get off!") I think perhaps Sister Scheffield didn't pray for absolutely everything, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of something she forgot.

OK, she didn't pray for the goose thawing in our sink. That's right, it's not enough to celebrate in a foreign land, Rob wanted a culinary challenge and decided to fix a goose. It turned out well, though I don't have any other geese to compare it with. Dinner was nice and easy; the Christmas program was short; the kids were in bed early because they were worried that Santa would pass them by and it had been dark for hours by seven 'o clock.

This meant that Maddie and Will were up at 5:30am, frisking around and waiting for Sebastian to wake up. He didn't until almost 7:00, but then we went out and saw what Santa had brought. He did well this year by both children and parents (who have only packing on the brain now).

We went through most of the presents and had a good time. Maddie got a doll from Santa and books and clothes from parents. Will got more LeapPad books and ExoForce Legos that have japanime hair. Sebastian got a fun red dragon, two Trabant cars to play with, and a zuffy zapper (a flashlight that my brother, John, used to check under beds and in closets to scare away monsters that were 'big and zuffy all over'). Sebastian calls it his shoot gun and proceeded to scare away any cookie monsters in our house, and stick it in everyone's faces too.

Then the missionaries came over. We had Sister Nelson, Sister Ellsworth, Elder Merritt and Elder Hurd. We had breakfast, took naps, got shot with the shoot gun, and sat around the ruins of Christmas morning.

Then we brought out all of the strange things that we've acquired while we've been here, and let the elders and sisters go shopping. They got everything from our mixer and bakeware to towels, duct tape and immodium. It was a great load off for us, and hopefully it will help them too. For anyone who hasn't seen the inside of a missionary apartment recently, they are not well-stocked. No one ever puts any love into them because they don't have time and don't have money. Though the apartments Rob had sound pretty good compared to mine, and mine were great compared to Jeff's . . .

In the afternoon the McFarlands went to the Nutcracker at the State Opera House. It was a lavish production with incredible costumes and some interesting takes on the plot. Rob and I agreed that we'd never seen so many people performing it and the music was never better (they actually had the live voices during the snowflake dance -- I've never heard those except on a Balanchine video). It was a very memorable Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays!

This is a picture of Will today. He looks sick, and if you said that he had the flu you wouldn't be wrong, you would just be a few days late. In grand McFarland holiday tradition, Will and Madeline and I all came down with the flu in a few hours of each other. But thankfully we're over it now in time for Christmas.

But here Will is showing that he's sad to be leaving all of the kids in his class, who signed this card for him. He has been regaling us with tales of the heretofore unexplained recess activities of Will and His Boys. Evidently Will is the chief, but he has a bodyguard, a money man, and an attacker who help him out. We'll delve more deeply into this, and in the meantime I'm going to teach the kid how to play foursquare or jacks or something.

Perhaps Will isn't looking too good because he just finished eating the liverwurst sandwich Rob made him for lunch. There is a brand here which makes processed meat products and caters to young customers by packaging them in teddy bear shapes. I am troubled by a culture that wants its children to eat mortadella and liverwurst at such a young age. Nevertheless, I don't intervene because I remember that I used to eat liverwurst sandwiches when my father made them for me. But I don't partake now, because as Sarah puts it: "I don't eat filters."

Today Rob went grocery shopping for Christmas, took the kids to the playground, and went to see a play tonight (Mother Courage and Her Children). I packed and did laundry. Our children were the saddest kids I've ever seen at the beginning of Christmas break. The boys couldn't be in the same room together without someone crying (which is no problem when you have half a dozen rooms to split them up into, but when you have three children and only three rooms, it gets trickier).

This is Sebastian playing in the elevator. Rob notes that though we have no trampoline here, we do have an elevator, which the kids will sorely miss once we go back to our flat rambler.

Last Day of School

Here is Maddie with her classmate Sabrina. Maddie got a book from her class and presents from some of her friends. Thankfully, she has addresses and e-mail for some of them, so that she can keep in touch with them. I asked last night if they'd rather come back to Vienna or Berlin, and it was unanimous that they wanted to come back to Berlin (though perhaps it isn't a fair vote when you're in Berlin).
The kids with Frau Half who was an aide in Will's class, choir director, and "one of the nicest people ever". While Maddie was having a party and Will was on a field trip, Rob, Sebi and I walked down Ku'damm (the west's old posh shopping boulevard) and then had the 'business lunch' at the 12 Apostles pizzeria while Sebastian napped. We've had to work in a date where we can now that Sarah is gone!

This is the inside of a building designed by the same guy who did the Brandenburg Gate. This place was an ampitheater for scientific lectures and dissections, etc. Only one side of it has been restored and they're casting about for more funding. It will cost 500 thousand euros just to fix the cupola.

So you're thinking to yourself "Why is it that the Brandenburg Gate has been renovated to the tune of several million euros and has 'anti-terrorism protection' and this place is being forgotten and left to moulder?" I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's because more people still walk through gates than attend dissection lectures. Just a thought.

Rob was prowling around on Friday taking pictures when a large car drove up and some guy got out. He asked Rob why he was interested in it, and when Rob showed what he knew about it, Important Guy turned out to be from the equivalent of the Historical Trust Society and he gave Rob a tour of it for half an hour or so.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cookies, Snowballs, Teeth and a Hurdy Gurdy

This is Lena, Maddie's best friend here. She came over today for a playdate. They worked their way through all the toys of interest, colored and cut out paper dolls, and then we made cookies (which I am proud of not only for the end product which was edible and recognizable as a ginger snap, but also because I had to explain the whole thing auf Deutsch). She's a smart, quiet girl and very creative. I like kids who can make up games.
So I didn't pick the picture with goodWill in it. But next we all went to the Opera Palais Weihnachtsmarkt with Anni. Rob and I were agreeing that this one is our favorite. I don't know if it's the crowd (not too highbrow or lowbrow) or the stalls (fun, handmade things), or the fact that there are only two rides and they're way at the back and for little kids. Ours rode both the carousel and the ferris wheel. I thought they'd be terrified, especially after their Funkturm experience, but Sebastian came off yelling "Dat was wary COOL!".
Will bought a snowball from this antique truck. It is sort of like a fortune cookie dough that's been squashed into a ball, then filled with one flavor (e.g. nougat) and dipped in chocolate. It's huge, and now that I think about it, he never did eat it. It's in Rob's backpack. I don't know how he or Maddie would eat it, because the two of them keep losing teeth so fast. Maddie just lost a bicuspid and Will has a lower front tooth that's nearly sideways it's so loose.
There was also a hurdy gurdy man that Sebastian loved. His sign said Uncle Jou and Sebastian kept running up to drop money in his cup.
And we had kinderpunsch of the wassail variety. The kids are connoisseurs now, and they each blew their own and proclaimed it 'wary good'. The stall actually had a sign saying that they would accept payment in Deutsch Marks which have been out of circulation for four years now. I'll have to find out from Rob what in they world they do with them!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stars Were Shining, Kids Weren't Whining

This is a picture of my favorite Christmas lights. It is a building which was rebuilt as some company's corporate headquarters, but replicating the original which was designed by . . . anyone? Anyone? Schinkel! The building and the stars are all white by day, but I think they look great this way too. The stars are just for Christmas, and they are everywhere -- on tops of trees and market stalls, and hanging from windows, churches and street lamps.
There is a folded paper version with 16 points which Maddie and I learned to make last Friday.

Here is Frau Gabler, Maddie's homeroom teacher with her. It all happened just as Rob said it would' we told the kids we were going home soon and Will said "I don't want to leave Lietzensee Grundschule!". Granted he was mourning the loss of the five-hour school day (Westridge has them for seven hours a day), but he has really gotten acclimated and had a good time.

Not only does he have a best friend (Roman) and a girlfriend (Stefani), but one of the Turkish kids taught him how to fold his pants for sport class and has started trading things with Will (I don't understand his name -- Will says "Trazdem" which sounds like a relative of Trogdor).

And Maddie is in with a great crowd here too. Fanny and Jessica and Lena and all of her friends are nice girls. When Rob picked her up from Lena's yesterday, Lena's father kept saying "It's such a shame you're leaving! They get along so well!".

The same goes for the kids at church. I hate to be the one to bust the myth, but the church is not the same the world over. Anyone who has been there knows that there is more leg room in the Vienna 2nd ward. Similarly, Sebastian would tell you that there is just no comparison between the 21 toddlers and 5 adults in his Utah nursery and the 3 kids/1 adult in his Berlin ward. Today she took them to a playground near the church and they all came back with pink cheeks. He actually asks us when he gets to go to church here!

We also remembered as we were going out the door that Will had a talk today in Primary. So we asked what the theme was when we got there and Rob wrote it out during Sacrament meeting (one of many reasons why having sacrament meeting first is the way that God intended it). It was "God fulfilled his promise to send us a savior" or something like that, so Will talked all about his Lego advent calendar and how it is all a countdown to Jesus' birthday.

I should here recant all of that ranting about assembling the Playmobil calendars. All three of them have been a hit and were well worth it. Maddie gets some princess/unicorn piece, Will gets construction signs and luggage security checkpoints, and Sebastian gets horses and guinea pigs daily, and they all start off every day happy. I wish that I could find year-long advent calendars. Sometimes you need to feel rewarded just for getting up in the morning and opening that little door.

After church Maddie and her friend Maraly watched their younger siblings so that we parents could attend choir practice. Rob is going to sing a solo and give a talk next week, so we had to put in some time. All three of the kids have people from Primary they are really going to miss, but at least they've now got their e-mail accounts up and running so that they can keep in contact and have German penpals.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

You Win Some, and Well, You Know . . .

Yesterday we decided that we needed to go see our neighborhood tower, the Funkturm or the radio transmitter. We can see it out our window now that all the leaves are gone, and it is lit up all night and until the kids leave for school in the morning.
We wanted to go up in the daytime and yesterday was clear, so we rode the two bus stops and paid our money and went up. It is a much smaller deal than the TV tower in the east, and felt less secure going up in the elevator. Maddie started to get anxious on the way up, and she was at a fine pitch by the time we got out.

Here is the view back to our house. It is the third house to the right of the green lawn on the lake. Then I started to notice that things weren't staying put when I looked at them. I felt a little nauseous and I wondered if I had vertigo. But when you are at the top of a metal structure on a windy day, there is some movement -- whoo! I'm getting dizzy now just remembering it!

Maddie was panicked, so I agreed to take her down after I went once around the tower and saw the view. Then Will got scared and he wanted to come down. Sebastian wants to do whatever Will does (like get all of his hair shorn like the Turkish rappers . . . ) so Sebi came too. Rob stayed up at the top and took pictures, but the rest of us stayed for less than ten minutes.
It wasn't the most successful sightseeing trip we've had. So we decided to ride our usual bus to the end of the line, just to see where it goes. It goes way, way out. The further out it went, the higher and higher the average age of the passengers climbed. We finally got out at Alt Pichelsdorf which is a green suburb just past the Havel River. We found a nice park with a lake and a playground, which is the one essential in any of our outings.

Sebi sitting on one of wild boar piglets in the park. Or whatever a baby boar is called -- boarlet?

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Brewery in the Backyard

Yesterday Sebi and Rob and I went on another 'expotition' in the morning. This time we were checking out an area for Rob's latest research. It used to be infamous for its living conditions and Hobrecht-era tenements. These piled people on top of each other in buildings with up to six courtyards, meaning that some apartments looked out on the garbage cans, coal sheds and livestock kept there. The court (or hof) was also the playground and yard of the kids who lived there. It was also common to put apartments on the street and businesses in the courtyard like this one, which used to be a brewery. We also saw a pump plant, forge, and a coal shed behind the streetside apartments, and Rob even knows of a dairy that was kept in an urban courtyard. I'm trying to imagine my kids ever going to sleep with the sounds and smells of a herd of cows kept in our building! This building was restored about ten years ago and now houses some nice offices.
This is the building we were after, and I'm showing you its better side. The front of it is painted two-tone purple and is in sad shape. I'm afraid that traipsing around in dark dirty stairwells just reminded me to0 much of some places on my mission. But we saw it and got pictures, including one where I had to climb on Rob's back to take it. He said it was my own fault for marrying a professional trespasser. The resident smoking out his window thought we were pretty entertaining.
We also managed to visit three playgrounds, two markets, a church, a pricey kids' boutique that I love, and a Vietnamese corner store. This is one of my favorite playground attractions: the 'basket of sliders' swing. I always think the kids are going to go flying out of it, but they never do and they love it. It would never happen in the U.S. because of liability.
And this was brilliant! It is a replica of the Berlin Wall (same height and shape), but it's wavy and it's a rock climbing wall for kids. I love it! But pointy-toes shoes are not the best for rock climbing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Prettiest Shepherd and More

So I always feel wistful at this point in the trip because I realize that I'm not going to see everything I wanted to. It makes me want to stay home I get so depressed about it. But there are a few things that are keeping me going.
The first one is Lift apfelschorle. I think I'm addicted to the stuff. It is like dry apple beer and it has just the right amount of bubbles and it is my pick-me-up (or maybe it's just that the name is "Lift"?). I'm really going to miss it.
The second one is this nondescript chocolate in a cellophane bag that Rob brought home from the grocery store. HOLY COW! It is so good! It says that it is quick-melting praline flavor, but I think it is Prozac Praline. MmmmHmmmm.
The third thing that gets me out of the door is Sebastian, who just has to get out and about. Here he is looking out the S-bahn window as he is wont to do. His latest and greatest lines are "I hear crabby" when the other kids are shouting and "OH! Dat'd be PERfect!" about any idea I float.

For those of you who are incredulous that we are over here spending Christmas, I just want you to know that we now have a Christmas tree, complete with star, lights, decorations, Fisher-Price nativity scene and Thomas the Tank Engine running around the bottom. We bought a used tree stand for 8 euros that I'm in love with. It is cast iron and has elves and reindeer on it and would cost $65 at Smith and Hawken. It is unlikely that I'll be able to bring it home, though, since it weighs about 20 pounds! One of our latest shenanigans is to send home Rob's clothes so that he can carry all of the research copies he's made here in our luggage. The things we do for the love of obscure German women!
And here is Maddie Lou as the shepherdess in the middle. Last night was the school Christmas program and she was one of the Three Rhyming Shepherdpersons. She knew all of her lines and she really was the most beautiful one up there. There was also a cello solo, a piano solo, and recorder choirs strutting their stuff. All the kids take recorder in the third grade here, though there is an option for conscientious objectors to learn the glockenspiel instead. It was lots of fun and I especially enjoyed the rough edges that are missing at Westridge: uncombed hair, angels wearing their mother's satin pjs or karate costumes, kids poking their heads out of the curtains, etc.

One thing, though, gives me pause about the whole charming event. It was a Christmas concert and there was a nativity and Christmas trees and carols about Santa and an advent wreath in the entry hall and all the trimmings. This is true of much of my experience here in Berlin: there's a light up Santa outside the hauptbahnhof and Christmas trees in apartment buildings on our street and everything says Frohes Weihnachten and I just wonder what it feels like to be Jewish or Muslim here. Am I out of my gourd or is this less politically (religiously) correct than in the states? It has made me think hard about where I fall on the prayer-in-school issue and the headscarves-in-schools issue.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Two Markets and a Ward Christmas Party

On Saturday Rob took off just after 8:00am to deliver all of the stuff we had to bring to the ward Christmas party. He took two huge IKEA bags full of decorations and wrapping paper and zucchini bread and brownies. I have learned to bake a few things here that turn out reasonably well. The secret is to bring American baking soda/powder and look for recipes without brown sugar.
Once again Rob stuck it all in the stroller, and once again he managed to confuse some poor person who thought he had a baby in there with all that stuff. He said the busses were already completely berzerk even at that hour. The bus was full when they pulled away, but at the next stop there were 40 japanese tourists waiting to get on. At the next there were 10 italians who all needed to buy tickets, and so on. I guess we missed high tourist season here in the summer, so it surprises us now.
Next we took Jenny and Ben to a couple of Christmas markets. They are the children of Monika, whom Rob taught when he was here as a missionary ages ago. Now Jenny is the nursery leader and Sebastian loves her.
Here I am with Jenny and Maddie at the Sophienstrasse environmentally-friendly market. It had lots of cool things like felted scarves and earthy pottery and educational books on butterflies and birds. There was even a stall called Senfsalon (Mustard Salon). The kids were nonplussed.

We did find a great playground which not only had slides and swings but even rocks on springs. Yup, you heard it here first, rocking rocks. The kids had a great time jumping and climbing on them.

We left Hackesher Markt and walked across Unter den Linden where there was an anti-hunting demonstration. Complete with an anti-hunting rap. In German.
Then we walked to the Schlossplatz market, which is at the other end of the Weihnachtsmarkt spectrum. Each market has a slightly different emphasis, and this one was definitely the carnival. The kids rode on this sort of rocket/dumbo ride, and then went with Ben and Jenny on the Wilde Maus which was a small roller coaster. They thought that it was The One True Christmas Market.
Then we ran across town to the stake center so we could decorate for the ward Christmas party. Ben entertained the kids by sword fighting with wrapping paper rolls. Ah, nothing better than a place outside to run and scream. Rob and I set up tables and chairs and arranged centerpieces. Thank you to IKEA for decking out the ward party and our family tree in one fell swoop.
Ah, the ward Christmas party. It's an event that can be counted on to bring me much misery and this one was no exception. The last one I actually enjoyed was the one before Maddie could walk, and it has been downhill ever since (though the year that we all had to dress up in bathrobes and sandals in the snow and sit on the cultural hall floor in the dark and eat ham and cheese aram wraps like the Hebrews (?!) was a particular low point). Rob was the emcee at this event and so I wrangled the kids who ducked out and ran around (Sebi), cried (Will), and stuck the centerpiece on her head (Maddie).

Then the Weihnachtsman came and the Primary sat up there and were called to account by name. I guess it's a tradition to tell him a story or a poem when you talk to him, which would be a great thing to be working on during December. My favorite was Ryan, a bespectacled nursery colleague of Sebi's, who recited a poem about a baked apple that exploded.

I decided that ward Christmas parties are not for my demographic. They are for the kids to get all sugared up and scream and cry at Santa Claus. They are for some of the older folks to see hyper kids and remember that time of their lives with fondness. I'll bet they're not remembering the part where their children were wearing the table decorations and crying and running and screaming around the church.

Gendarmenmarkt Weihnachtsmarkt

Lots of stuff happening. Went to my first German funeral on Tuesday night with the graveside service Wednesday morning. Similar in most respects to ours. They do have these cool electric candles where the bulbs wobble back and forth and they look like the real deal, but you invent these things when your country is full of castles and palaces that you don't want to burn down. It was very sad and mercifully short (the service, not the candle-lights). They don't have viewings normally.
Rob sang at the graveside service and did wonderfully, especially because he was able to sing the whole song without a plane flying overhead. The cemetery is rather close to Tegel airport (which is going to be moved in a few years) and so there were deafening roars every two to three minutes (and then Sebi yelling "dewrs anoddoh aiwrplane!"). They do put the casket in the ground then throw flowers and petals down. That was different for us, but gives you a little more sense of closure.

On Thursday Will had to get his five blue stitches out. He whined a lot about this, but I told him it needed to happen or his superhero name would be The Blue Eyebrow. He survived it and his neat pink scar is looking very good.

He brought home a broken eraser for me to glue back together. Evidently Sonia had broken Stefani's eraser and she gave it to Will to fix. I asked him if Stefani is his girlfriend and he said "Uh, I think, um hmmm." I hope so because Will described Stefani as 'the girl who always says thank you when she borrows my pencils' and I'm all in favor of gratitude.
So after school and the stitches, we came here to the Gendarmenmarkt Weihnachtsmarkt. It is the most upscale of the markets we've seen. They had entertainment and whole restaurants set up and the shopping was fun too, though it was very crowded for a stroller. The kids were manic, but we all got food and more kinderpunsch. We've had several kinds now. One is like hot Hawaiian Punch; another is a lot like wassail; there was an elderberryblossom drink that was too much like Theraflu for me, though the elderberry juice version was good; my favorite was the hot cherry juice. Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Perusing Prenzlauerberg

Rob and Sebastian and I explored Prenzlauerberg yesterday morning. The neighborhood has one of the highest birthrates in all of Europe and has become the place to have kids in Berlin. It was in the former East and parts of it are still gritty, but other parts have great shopping districts and a playground around every corner.
Like this one. Sebi and I found it while Rob was talking to a sculptor at Sussholz about his trips to Poland to make rubbings of gravestones in cemeteries. Evidently the Jewish cemeteries there are being torn down for several different purposes, but this guy goes over to take down as much information as he can before it's lost. Rob asked him if he wanted an intern to go with him. So Sebi and I played on the pirate ship. We also found cool boutiques for toys and decorations and clothes and bags.
This is a gargoyle on one of the pumps in the park. From here we raced down Kastanienallee to try to find "W" the imbiss which is an anti-McDonalds establishment. We found it just when we should have been getting onto the S-bahn to pick up the kids. But we waited for two naan bread pizzas and then tried to figure out how to get back from deepest east to Lietzensee.
It was amazing. First we caught a tram. Then we nabbed a passing s-bahn and transferred to another. Finally we raced across the street to catch a bus, and we arrived 15 minutes early to get the kids. So we ate our naan bread pizzas (artichoke and sun-dried tomato on the one and avocado and arugula on the other) and decided that we have to go back there again.
Oh! And Rob bought me the coolest Christmas present ever! I'd tell you about it, but it's a surprise!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Advent Calendars, Pyramids, and Persimmons

I splurged and bought each of the kids their own advent calendar this year. Maddie and Sebastian got Playmobil calendars and Will got Lego (my theory was that not everything has to be sugar, and they'll get enough of it elsewhere this season, and why start the day off with chocolate at the breakfast table). This is Sebastian's calendar, and it has 24 wee boxes which were lovingly assembled and filled by very tired parents on the night of November 30.
Will's Lego calendar was already assembled and each Lego man was waiting behind its proper door. Bless those great Danes! Will gets things like a jackhammer and a man-who-waves-in-planes-with-two-flashlights and other symbols of the season.
After you open up your wee box, there is even a place to set it out. This shows the six piece bird cage that Maddie got on December 1st and the $#>?%&*! rose planter that she got today. A pox on Playmobil for bringing the some-assembly-required part of Christmas early to unsuspecting parents.
Last Friday Rob took Maddie and Will shopping for a pyramid at the antique shops in our neighborhood. They were very discriminating and they chose this one, which, as you can see, entrances all the kids, and is as compelling as pesto.

Yesterday we celebrated first advent, and we had Kurt and Anni over to help us. They brought an advent story to read and we sang songs and lit plenty of things afire and ate lots and lots of goodies with chocolate and marzipan and lebkuchen and stollen and tea . . . and after the kids went to bed we entertained ourselves for a long time by spelling words on a calculator. German is a good language for this because there are so many words with "i" and "e" in them.

Finally, I need to note here that all of the fruit stands are selling persimmons. They are called Kakis, and Rob and I are tickled, because they're spelled the same way as my cousin's nickname is spelled. I had no idea that a Kaki was a persimmon, but it makes the name even more fitting since she (my cousin) has lovely red hair. We never buy them at home because they look so foreign and forlorn in the supermarket, but they are everywhere here and we love them. Maddie and Will were suspicious until they tried them, but now they love them too.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Samstag in Berlin

Our Saturday morning meeting got cancelled, so we decided to go out. We started at the Reichstag, because nothing starts your day off like cutting in front of a few hundred people. They were lined up past the bus stop, but we just went in our wheelchair/stroller entrance, and we were up at the top in a jiffy. We ran up the ramp and slid around on the top and watched the pigeons fly in and out. If you ever come to Berlin, you really must bring a stroller for this express purpose. It all makes you feel like the government is doing something right when the capitol building is so efficiently and cheerfully run.
Here is a manhole cover. Maddie's foot is on the Victory Column, mine is the Brandenburg Gate, Will's is the TV tower, Rob's is the Reichstag, and Sebastian's stroller wheel is between the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church and probably the red Rathaus. It is fun, though I'm still partial to the ones in downtown Budapest. Beautifully designed.
Then we stopped by the Brandenburg Gate which was full. There was a wild man walking by shouting things, a group of uniformed people who disappeared into the French Embassy who appeared to be having some kind of emergency drill because they were carrying a neon dummy. There may have been a Russian ceremony/reenactment or it may have been a fur hat vendor with a dramatic flair. And there is a huge Christmas tree on Pariser Platz which has modern decorations on it like angels, moons, and stars with restroom insignia on them (?).

After that, it was payback time. We told the kids if they let us drag them around, that we'd take them to McDonalds. But for anyone who has been down Unter den Linden, you will know that it is a little upscale for McDonalds. So we caught the S-bahn down a station where there was a Burger King which mollified Will once he found out that they do, in fact, sell french fries there.

Then we rushed back over to the church for primary activity day. Here Will and Esra are building things out of cookies and candy. Will made a house, a candle, and a scooter, which he gave to me. Maddie also made a Santa Claus out of toilet paper rolls. The entire primary seems to be run by three women, none of them above twenty five.

From thence, Maddie and I ran to get her to a friend's birthday party. It was quite a trek because, being the first Saturday that the Weihnachtsmarkts are open, the entire city was beset with people from out of town. The busses were all full and tilting to the side. We finally got on one and ran her to Lena's house. Lena lives in the gabled attic of an apartment building overlooking the lake. The apartment is like a big glorious half-timbered rumpus room, painted oxblood and yellow. Maddie got to make marzipan. Now that is a birthday party!

Rob and the boys had gotten rejected by three full busses, and finally walked from church back to Breitscheidplatz where there is another Weihnachtsmarkt. Will and Sebi rode on the rocket ride and drank some Kinderpunsch (like hot fruit punch). Rob and I have decided that the Christkindlmarkts are basically to replace the cafe culture in the winter.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Spandauer Weihnachtsmarkt

On Thursday night, we took the kids to their first Weihnachtsmarkt. These are outdoor markets that open for the month of December with stalls of food, decorations and gifts. It is a great reason to go outside in the dark (which is about 2/3 of the day by now -- there is daylight from 8:00 to 4:00 and even that is halfhearted with the sun barely rising above the tops of the buildings).
Here Maddie and Will are standing on a fountain which they enjoyed running up and down on until Maddie fell in.
Here is a stall with wooden decorations that we stopped at. This is (in Rob's humble opinion) the best and only place to buy Christmas decorations. These days, there are some less traditional offerings too, like handknit Bolivian hats and new age lights.
At the entrance was the Rummel, which is filled with loud carnival rides like carousels, slides, and a fun house. This keeps the teenagers busy and Will begging during the whole trip. At the other end was a life sized creche with live donkeys and sheep next to the church. It was lovely and quiet at that end, except for the sheep nibbling on the low branches of the trees and Will yowling about how he wanted to ride on the big, blue slide. We let him ride, and his sister too, and to his credit, he liked it and he didn't ask for anything else. Sebastian rode on a carousel.

We also stopped in for hot chocolate and Thuringian bratwursts. The traditional foods here are candied almonds, lebkuchen, marzipan, heart-shaped cookies, and gluhwein (a hot alcoholic wassail sort of drink). Sebastian is a big fan of the candied nuts, served in paper cones, still warm. He's begun to sniff them out of my pockets.

There are several Weihnachtsmarkts in Berlin and surrounding areas. Each one has a little different emphasis to it. The one on Schlossplatz has more carnival rides; the Opernpalais market specializes in handiwork; the Gendarmenmarkt is more traditional. We could probably attend a different one every night between now and Christmas!