Friday, September 29, 2006

Of Beggars, Robbers, and Strollers

The Monument to the Murdered Jews in Europe. I can't really explain this, and the picture shows only one part of it, but it is pretty amazing. Both the students and the kids loved it for different reasons (the students, for the symbolism and the kids because they could run through it and get lost). If you're ever here, you need to see it just to understand how hard it is to explain. We also saw the spot where Hitler's bunker was, which is now marked by a sign -- it is an example of another way of dealing with Third Reich history, and that is the book that we're all reading called Ghosts of Berlin.
Reichstag (where the German legislative body meets). Once I understood the history, I didn't think that Christos was so crazy for wrapping it. It was a good PR stunt for a building that needed attention. Now it's nice and new and has a wonderful dome on top that you can run up and down on. See?
This is where we ran up and down. One of Will's favorite sites.

On Saturday we decided to go out and see something. And to kill two birds with one stone, we did a dry run of the tour Rob was taking students on through sites in the downtown.

We started at the part we knew well: the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, where we had gone with the Isaaks to run up and down the ramps on top. This is still one of my favorite things to do in Berlin, if only to watch the pleasant efficiency of the security workers there.

Then we hopped a bus and went to see Hitler's bunker (or the dirt under which it is buried) and the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Finally, we headed down to Kreuzberg to see Schinkel's monument called the National Denkmal. It looks like a church steeple without a church, and on top of it is an Iron Cross, which is where the military medal came from. It is on top of a hill in a very pretty park with a waterfall and petting zoo. Rob used to do missionary work there. He says that once they were teaching a discussion to a younger guy and in about principle four, two beings of wondrous whiteness appeared on the hill above them and proceeded to strip down to nothing and sunbathe, thereby effectively ending said discussion.

In Kreuzberg, our stroller died. One half of it started to fold while we were pushing it. We made it home by babying it, but that was the end of our family transportation in Berlin.

We didn't worry about it too much on Sunday, but on Monday we tried to take it to IKEA with us, and it just wasn't going to happen. So we left it by a dumpster and took the train to IKEA and hiked with Sebi on our shoulders. We had a great time buying things for the apartment like dishtowels and plastic cups and ice cube trays, and we were amazed that IKEA actually has free refills on their drinks. And they have one special drink dispenser that keeps things warmer than the others for Germans who don't like cold drinks (this is a cultural thing that has been changing over the years as Rob has visited -- now you can actually buy some drinks cold). So we had a nice lunch there and then had to carry Sebastian and all of the purchases home on the shuttle and two trains.

By Tuesday, it was evident that the stroller was a crisis and Rob gallantly took off across Berlin to the Wal-mart (yup. you heard right. We stopped some people and asked them where they bought their stroller because we weren't prepared to pay 400 Euros for a stroller for three months. They said "Vahlmarkt" and Rob said "What?" and Mary Ann said "Wal-mart!" and they said "Ja."). He said it was crazy and ghetto and they had everything we needed. So now we have a new Turkish-style stroller and Sebastian can't touch the ground in it. Hurrah!

Rob and I also went to see the Three Penny Opera performed at the Admiral Palace. It was a good production to see because they played it pretty strait (it wasn't set underwater or as modern gangsters or something). I had read a synopsis in English on by a Harvard student who couldn't spell, so I knew what was going on even though I only understood words here and there. Bertold Brecht wrote it to be a story that people wouldn't like about characters they wouldn't identify with, and the music by Kurt Weill was supposed to distance them as well -- so of course it became a huge hit and people would throw beggar parties and everyone would come in costume. Rob maintains that like Upton Sinclair, Brecht was trying to hit people in the heart, and instead he hit them in the dancing shoe. It was the first time Rob has seen this performed, though he's directed it twice now at BYU.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Our Berlin Digs

Lietzensee and some surrounding buildings, though not ours.
The living room. I haven't decided if this floor or the wide plank is creakier.
The slow and willful washer/dryer. Though I must concede that it is the first European dryer that I've had, and it still has my favorite 'cookwash' setting that nearly boils our whites.
The balcony, view, and a glimpse of the great double windows and doors.

We are staying in an apartment building overlooking Lietzensee, a small green pond shaped like the number eight, in Charlottenburg, which is a part of the city by Charlottenburg palace. Rob served in Charlottenburg while here on his mission, and he used to come through the parks around the lake almost daily. He said he always loved this part of Berlin and would never have believed it if you'd told him then that he would come back and live overlooking the lake. One of the men that he taught was contacted in this park and was most recently in the Bishopbric here. So it has lots of memories. Yesterday, we picked up the kids from school and let them play in one of the playgrounds. Rob took a nap in one of the hammocks and when he woke up I asked him how it was to live his dream. Not bad, we think.
The apartment has three rooms, and we've rearranged the furniture so that the kids don't have to sleep in the dining room. It actually has a powder room, which is an incredible luxury around here, but we are really glad to have 1 1/2 bathrooms. It is owned by a German film producer/stunt coordinator and he's had it decorated with paintings, sculpture, and lots of knickknacks which we've had to put away. There isn't really a place for the kids to play, so Rob put a bunch of cushions down in the laundry room and it is now the clubhouse (which stays nice and warm -- I think it will be very in demand once it turns colder). It is in a gorgeous old building and has high ceilings (maybe 12 feet?) with coved ceilings and flowers and designs in relief. The hardwood floors are wide plank and very creaky. But my favorite part by far are the huge double windows in all the rooms. When they did double windows, they were actually double, with three inches between them and lots of great brass hardware on all of them. There is even a bit of waverly glass!

The kitchen is nice with tile and a full-sized dishwasher (no more of these mini things called 'familie') but it is made for someone on a liquid diet: there are more glasses and mugs and coffee makers and tea makers and coffee pots and tea pots than I know what to do with, but nothing to bake with, and barely any plates. I have had an ongoing argument with my combination washer dryer ever since we moved in. I put in two towels and some washcloths, and when I said I wanted it to wash AND dry them, it said'great. that will be 257 minutes.' WHAT?! More than four hours for two towels?! I have since found the 'time saving' setting, which means that it only takes three hours and a bit, but mostly I make sure that I start one load every morning.

We really enjoy the place, though we enjoy it more now that we've made it ours by rearranging the rooms and buying some things of our own like kid bedding and ice cube trays.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Because I Can't Blog

I intended to post these pictures in my last post, but I forgot that I can't just type away. I have to load the pictures first. Ah well, I'm learning. And I see that some of you are learning too. Thanks for the comments! It is fun to get on and hear from friends and family about our wacky exploits.
The McFarlands at the Nuremburg castle (and MA wearing her not-so-wrinkly shirt. YAY!).
Maddie matchets the geraniums (gerania?) at the Nuremburg fortress.
Playing Playmobil on the stairs by the castle. Then we stopped for the typical Nuremburger wursts which were smaller than your thumb and came three to a bun.
This was Will, taking a break from walking by having a seat in Sebastian's stroller.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Winners and Losers

Now that we have had a week to recover after our big treck across German-speaking Europe, I thought I would write down some of the things that did and didn't work for us. Here, in no particular order, are the winners and losers of the trip:

1. Pottery Barn Kids suitcases. They were the right size, the kids could roll them, and their inline skate wheels were nice and quiet on cobblestones. Thanks to Karen for buying those in January!

2. Eddie Bauer wrinkle resistant shirts. I rolled them up in the suitcase, shook them out, and wore them constantly. Students kept asking me how I always looked pressed, which was nothing short of amazing. They were not always clean, but they always looked ironed!

3. Travel bibs. Katie and I can attest that these came in handy a lot. Even if your kids were climbing up the walls, if you had a sippy cup and a disposable bib, it looked like you knew what you were doing.

4. Tide travel bottle for 4 loads. This worked better on our trip than sink packets (though we did use those) and the stain pen (which I had to have a student explain to me -- they may yet become useful). We never did try the Shout wipes, but I may have to use them on the couches if we continue to buy Nutella . . .

5. two video iPods. I thought we were nuts, and we are, but not for having two video iPods. They both connect to the same computer and have all the same contents so that there is no fighting about wanting the white one vs. the black one. Four pairs of earphones and two splitter jacks complete the picture.

6. Band-aids. Had them. Used them. A lot. I should have unpacked the liquid Band-aid too -- that would have been very useful on the trip because Sebastian decided that he hates Band-aids.

7. the weather. From the moment that we left Dorfgastein, the weather has been uniformly perfect. We didn't have a single day of dragging suitcases in the rain, through puddles and mud. It is still beautiful weather here in Berlin, but it is getting cooler, and we know that soon our indian summer will be long gone.

8. Playmobile figurines. The kids each got one in Melk and another one in Nuremburg and they managed to play with those for hours and hours. The best part was when Maddie cast them all as characters in High School Musical (sort of an updated, squeaky clean Grease that is all the rage with tweens right now). The mermaid was Gabriella and the knight was Troy . . .

9. Friends who understand you

1. Rob's backpack. It was Will's last year, and it was too small for Rob's things and the bottom was broken, and we ended up buying a new suitcase in Fuessen.

2. Bonn bahnhof. This was the black hole that took the Isaaks' CD player and all their music, Kelsey's purse, and our camera. None of them have surfaced (coincidence? I think not . . .).

3. Sebastian's stroller: he outgrew it, and throughout the trip, he would stand up in it, wearing it like a turtle shell, or put his feet down and try to brake like Fred Flintstone. The alignment was also too loose, so that you had to compensate for his movements by pushing more on one side or the other. It was a real pain.

4. my right hip. It started acting up and has given me a lot of trouble. I was worried that I was developing the same thing Karen had, but I think it is just stress, and carrying lots of luggage, because it is much better after a week of sitting around Berlin. Rob is trying to find me a yoga class here in Charlottenburg.

5. European wireless networks. They were hard to find and unreliable and slow. Still are!

A Fiaker Ride in Salzburg

So I'm killing time until we have a way to upload our pictures since Bonn. We have been taking them, but they are not PC compatible yet. In the meantime, I thought I'd put these up, which I have wanted to do since September 1st when we took them. I'll see what other treasures I've missed in the mad dash to the internet with my flash drive in hand.
Will could not have been more excited to ride up front. This also shows Stefan, our driver, and he looks like some American actor, but I don't know who. Does anyone know? I would have guessed that he was an American actor, going incognito in Salzburg, but I saw his teeth, and that particular dentition does not make it onto screens in America, large or small. Nonetheless, he gave us a nice tour of downtown Salzburg and made the kids happier for 20 minutes than they'd been most of the day. Maddie Lou got to ride up front first. She was the one who campaigned the hardest to ride the horses. She is a horselover of boundless proportions, as all eight-year-old girls should be.
Sebastian was afraid of the horses. To be honest, I was too, once I saw that their eyes were practically clear. They looked to be just this side of albino.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Stake Conference, FHE & Isaaks

So we arrived on Friday and haven't done many touristy things since. We went out wandering with the Isaaks on Saturday night and took them to the Brandenburg Gate (which once again, looks completely different than the last time we came -- they keep switching things around; that's why they say that the mortar never dries in Berlin). The American Embassy is going in just to the south of it, after much prancing and lots of taxpayer dollars, and they are putting in an U-bahn line too, so there was plenty of construction. Still the gate looks good after an 80 M Euro renovation which allegedly even gave it an anti-terrorism coating (I thought that was the two inch plexiglass windows down at the KFC by Grand Lake in Oakland).

After that, we wandered over to the Reichstag as it was getting dark. Tania Rands had told us about the secret stroller entrance which got us out of lugging the strollers up the steps and out of the long lines. Once again, the security people were fast, efficient, and friendly and should be cloned for airports everywhere. They lured Sebi through the metal detector with a little Bundestag pin with the prussian eagle on it (which Berliners call 'the fat hen') and we all rode the elevator up. Going to the Reichstag was actually Will's idea, and he loves it. What other legislative building can you ride elevators in and then run around in circles on top of? He had a great time. Sebastian was past his bedtime and it was starting to show, but I'm glad now that we've been back for a nighttime visit, because it has a completely different feel to it. Next, I want to see if we can go when it is actually in session, so you can see down into the room and watch the people at work.

Sunday, we went to church and it was stake conference. Rob had served in two of the wards here, and most of the people his age are now in the stake leadership positions. We sat in the nursery and I talked to an American family who has three kids, same genders as ours, only all a year younger. They had lived in the Caribbean, South Africa, and here.

Sunday night, we took the Isaaks to see Nymphenburg palace, though it was too dark to see the pond where Will fell into the lilypads last year.

On Monday, Rob went to the hospital with our student Jordan to translate and fill out papers before he had surgery. Jordan had an infection that had flared up on our trip, and thankfully we were able to make it here to have it treated. He has been such a trooper and so upbeat. The surgery lasted two hours and they decided to keep him overnight, but he has come back to our house to recuperate, because he isn't supposed to do stairs, and he lives on a fifth floor walkup.

In the meantime, Katie and I took the kids to the Berlin Zoo. We liked the seals this time (Sebi said "I weara Nemo? [swim diaper] I wango swimmin") and the hippos and I was particularly fond of something called Erdmaennchen (little earth men) that looked like prairie dogs. They all stood at the window of their cage with their hands on their hips looking at us as if we were the ones in the zoo.

We had FHE over at our house Monday night, where we ate Berliners (jelly donuts) and said goodbye to the Isaaks. Sebi and Tomas gave each other a hug, but I was telling Sebi as he was going to bed that Tomas was going back to Utah, and he said "I see him? I wanplay cars wuh Tomas". I don't know what we'll do without them!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Burg Eltz on the Mosel River

This is Burg Eltz which has been owned by the Eltz family for 33 generations. It was formerly occupied by three different branches of the family and the operated like an early condominium association. It was never taken, though there was one long siege, so most everything is intact and the tour was amazing. The countess loves flowers and has huge arrangements put out in every room on the tour. The kids liked wading in the stream below and having ice cream afterward.


So this is where we stayed in Bonn -- a palace called the Annaberg which is being held together entirely by moss and cobwebs. As Rob pointed out, it was a really fun place to be unless you were trying to sleep. We had a Bonnfire in the backyard, the kids played, we had two pianos and some great salons at our disposal, and we got to light this amazing chandelier with candles for our cocoa and kuchen evening. Will's favorite part of Bonn was riding this green tractor (you can see that we are getting to beyond pretending that he's getting anything out of this anymore, no?). Katie and I agree that the saddest thing about the Annaberg is that it was a beautiful building which is going to be gone in 50 years or so, having collapsed under the strong Latvian smells and poor upkeep.

Rhine Cruise

I think I failed to mention earlier that in addition to a lot of senior citizens and a really bad soundtrack (try Lawrence Welk meets "Home on the Range" and I'm not even joking) the boat had a slide and some playthings. Which the kids used a lot. It isn't usually what you think of when you imagine a Rhine Cruise, but it sure made the time fly for the kids.

Travel is Hard

Here are a few pictures I snapped to show some of the dark side of traveling. It isn't all castles and chocolate, right? It is a lot of dragging and waiting around dirty train stations too.

Nuremburg out of Order

I knew I was forgetting something in Nuremburg! To get Will to leave our great hotel room, Rob took him on a Nuremburg treasure hunt. He and Sebastian had to find a beautiful fountain (Schonnerbrunnen), a metal boat (sculpture called Ship of Fools) and three kinds of bridges (metal, wood and stone). The boys were very into it. Meanwhile, MA and Katie took Maddie and Liam to the Albrecht Durer house which was great in terms of its size and exhibits for third graders. Both of them were struck by the things used to mix paint, and Maddie decided that paintings are worth a lot of money because you put precious things into them, like lapis lazuli and stuff. Afterward, we all went out to lunch with students at this restaurant over the river, which served us sauerbraten and rotkohl (which will make Curtis and Karen and Liesl happy for us and the rest of you say, so what?). Even Will ended up liking Nuremburg (though the hotel hot tub made it into his top three . . .).

Burg Stahleck in Bacharach on the Rhine

Here are a few pictures of us in the castle where we spent the night. The gothic ruin is exactly that, and lies down the hill from the castle. The Isaaks are in the dining room which made us a lovely turkey curry for dinner on Sunday night. Will is pointing to our tower and Maddie is in the courtyard and then showing you how she can touch the ceiling by doing a headstand on her bunkbed, which really sealed the experience for her. The faraway shot shows you our tower, and the big building where we had dinner and breakfast, and lets you know how great our students were who climbed up there with all their luggage (including one who did it in her sunday dress and kitten heels).

Frankfurt in Twenty Minutes

Here is a door for Mom and a bridge that I quite liked (who but Germany would bother to plant geraniums in window boxes on a bridge?). It was one of those places that I thought I'd just have to come back and see again sometime. Better not to do everything this time, right?

The Castle in Nuremburg

We ran into these performers who were all in costume up on top of the castle in Nuremburg. They were very obliging and took a break from their smokes to pose with our kids and various arms. The only child who didn't get a picture taken with them was Sebastian, and that is because he was terror-stricken by the men in tights. We went back in the morning and got to play in the museum (Will is trying to put the castle together the way it belongs, and it isn't intuitive), go on a tour, and see the Incredibly Deep Well (sounds silly, but it's a great attraction).

On the Weissensee

In the morning, we had just enough time between checkout and getting into our big ice cream wagon of a van to paddle out on the lake in paddle boats. There is also a picture of Rachel and Sarah Denzer rowing back to shore. It was beautiful and Rob decided to jump in to celebrate. He found it was all recently snowpack when he did.