Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bunter Teller, Buntes Auge, Buntes Haar

This week we're feeling tired and down.
On Monday, our friend Heidi died after battling cancer for a year and a half. It was her birthday. She leaves behind her husband Kurt (whom Rob baptized), her son Sven, and her daughters Jasmine (above) and AnnLuise. We are missing her quick Berlinish wit, her great cooking, and the fuss that she made over all of us.
Anni came with us and spent the morning with us. She helped to pick out an advent wreath for our family and stayed at our house until friends and family were around to be with her.
Monday night all of our students came over for the last FHE of Study Abroad. Rob made Bunte Tellers (colorful plates), which are arranged plates of Christmas goodies and explained what advent was all about with the wreath Anni had picked out for us. He explained the symbolism in the wreath with the evergreen, the circular shape, the candles that are lit sequentially, and the way that it combines both the pagan and the Christian traditions.
And we made them turn in 150 pages apiece. Just in case you don't have a calculator on hand, that would be 3600 pages to read in three days so that we could turn them back and not have to carry them home with us.

On Tuesday we got a call from school that Will had fallen and cut his eye. Rob ran down and took him to the emergency room. He got four stitches, an orange Fanta, a bravery certificate from the clinic, and a Playmobil knight.

He was worried at bedtime that it would hurt to get the stitches taken out, so we called Uncle Jeff in Boston to ask him about his experience running into the railing at the Stake Center.

The doctor saw him the next day and said that the only thing that could have gone better would be if he hadn't fallen at all (um, yeah. even we knew that much). No concussion, no infection.

On Wednesday no one had died or gotten stitches, so we let Maddie dye her hair Cassis purple with Matt Reed (Sarah's husband). It is really quite a stunning shade. I wonder what they'll think of it in the Christmas play in two weeks?
On Thursday Will's eye had turned pretty colors.
And on Thursday, we had our last meeting with the students. They take off for all sorts of places from here: California, Philadelphia, Stuttgart, London, Prague, and Istanbul to name a few. We gave them back their work (and yes, we did read them -- with some help from our friends) and they gave us tickets to Aida in two weeks. We may be ready to do something by then.

In the meantime, Aunt Kiecoo sent us a package that arrived today. It contains the Carsdamoofie DVD. I think that is just our speed.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Weekend

Here Will shows off his latest smile. He's always happy about exchanging teeth for cold, hard cash, and the tooth fairy didn't disappoint this time: he got a two euro piece for one front tooth!
Here is one of Maddie's latest poems:
One leaf goes tumbling down
and says "it's fun on the ground."
Six decide that they are brave
and they fall into a cave.
But the rest they say "my oh me"
and as they're pushed, they say "whee!"

Friday afternoon, we had the Gruse kids over. We lived in the back half of their grandparents' apartment when we came in 1998 with Maddie. Their mom and dad are the backbone of our ward here, and are in the middle of moving. So Esra, Maraly, Noomi, and Teresia came to play while their parents picked out tile for the kitchen in their new place (typically you move your whole kitchen when you move apartments, but they are leaving theirs and buying a new one that will fit the new house better). We ordered internet pizza and played multiplex: in theater one we showed the Unglaublichen (the Incredibles), in theater two we had Cinderella II playing auf Deutsch, in theater three we had Little Einsteins going in English.
This morning we went to the flea market at Tiergarten and ran into Cecil and John Schultz. Both Rob and I noted that it is more organized than the one in Vienna, which Rob attributes to its Prussian location and clientele. They had two stalls of vintage buttons, one of crazy hats, one for jackets, etc. I really wanted some salvaged door handles, but Sebastian was adamant that he be allowed to whine instead (I didn't think these were mutually exclusive . . . ).
So we left the flea market and walked through the Tiergarten. We happened to run into the Streetlamp Museum! It felt kind of C.S. Lewis in that there were random streetlamps from all over just stuck in the ground. Everyone liked this big one the best except me. I found one from Weserkirche that was my favorite with art nouveau butterflies and tulips on it.

We decided to ignore the umwelt for a minute and feed the birds some milchbrot. Sebastian was so into it that he'd shout every time he threw a piece and the birds would jump back. It was probably smart, because we've heard that swans can be vicious.

Then it started raining, we walked by the Rosa Luxemburg memorial, jumped the 200 bus and came home to put that Sebastian to bed!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ein Tscherman Tanksgiving

So here we are at Thanksgiving dinner for 35, complete with three turkeys, yams, cranberries, and the basketball standard. The bishop graciously allowed us to use the church, which was nice, because we didn't have enough chairs, tables, plates, forks or knives at our house. Rob roasted two of the turkeys and made the gravy. I brought decorations and three kids. The students brought everything else, and they did a bang up job.
This is Tony, exulting in the aroma of Thanksgiving. We were grateful that the kitchen here is a bonafide kitchen, and not one of those ridiculous "serving areas". It's practical to carry everything from home when you live 5 minutes away and have a car. It's a different story altogether when it is half an hour on two busses. Rob packed the turkeys into pots in the stroller and then got on the first bus. He nearly had a heart attack when there was a huge dog waiting at the next bus stop, thinking that his gravy didn't have a chance against such a beast, but the dog was waiting for a different bus. Phew!
Here Cheryl is passing out napkins/awards before dinner. Everyone got one suited to their personality. Will was puzzled that he won Most Likely To Blow People Up. I asked him what he made when we were baking bread. He grinned and said "a bomb!" His grin is quite a sight. He's lost both front teeth now and I told him he'd probably be on a strict diet of mashed potatoes and gravy which isn't a sacrifice -- they're his favorite. Maddie was Most Likely To Become The First Female President; Sebi was Most Excited About The FHE Song; I was The Rock of Study Abroad; Rob was Berlin's #1 Fan. Boy, it's a good thing we didn't have to eat Cheryl back on that mountain in August!
After dinner, the students took shifts cleaning up every dish and surface. Rob had a member come and inspect so that no one would talk about "those Americans" and how they left the place. He said it looked clean, which Rob says means that you can perform surgery on the stove.
Finally, we came home and ate the pumpkin pie that three of our students had made and given to us under the table. They actually brought a can of Libby's and foil pie pans over in their bags. What foresight! It was a good pie, too!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Spandauer Zitadelle

Yesterday Sebastian and I met up with our friends Sarah and Gretchen to go visit the Spandauer Zitadelle. This is a medieval fortress whose oldest parts are from the 1100's. The tower there on the left is the Juliusturm where reparations for the Franco-Prussian war were kept for some decades in the form of over a million gold marks. Thousands of bats roost in the basement where preservationists study them and tours are given in the summer. Thankfully, we missed the Fledermauskeller this time around.
We let Sebastian dictate our exploration. First he got excited about these ducks who were eating something here, but we never could tell what.
Next he got excited about the cannons; then the tunnel and the bridge; and every time a plane went over he would shout "dewrs anoddoh plane!". We were close to Tegel airport, so there was a plane every two minutes or so. He charmed Sarah with his German words, and Gretchen charmed Sebastian with her bags of mini gummi bears.
This is Pavel from Poland on the left, Lara from France in the middle, and Eddie from New York on the right. Yesterday was also the last day of my German course, and it was sort of politically fraught. We learned about events leading up to the fall of the wall. Angelika was defensive about Moscow and wanted to know "why did they all want to leave?"
Ho got up and explained how much longer, deeper, and higher the wall separating North and South Korea is. I would characterize Ho's German as confident, but incomprehensible. This may explain why I didn't understand until yesterday that Ho is from North Korea. You could see our teacher's gears moving as she started adding up North Korea+scientist+studying in Germany . . . or maybe I've just read Cobweb.
But we got our test scores back and I was pleased. The oral test was very depressing and I felt that we should just not be allowed to speak German -- any of us! But the written test was very similar to the intake test, and I realized how much more I understand. I have picked up a lot of verbs, adjectives, and even new nouns, and I have a rudimentary knowledge of the cases (though that doesn't help me much unless I know the gender of the words I want to use).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Foodball, FHE, and Friedrichshain

Monday night we sent the students off on a digital scavenger hunt. They ran around a section of Berlin snapping pictures of famous, obnoxious and obscure items ( three churches in the Brick Gothic style, having someone teach you the lyrics to the "Heidi" theme song, a chocolate Reichstag, etc.).
While they did that, Rob and I had our own scavenger hunt for their prizes. We ducked into FoodBall because we decided we had to eat there after Cindy Brewer sent us an article where it appeared in the New York Times. We ate some hacky sacks and had some organic fresh-pressed juice. The food was good, the apple-ginger juice was fantastic, but the air was a bit thick with super ego for me.
There was a demonstration in the neighborhood, we found our prizes, the kids played poker at home with Sarah, and afterward the teams all downloaded their pictures and we had brownies which I had baked Monday morning. They weren't half bad.

This morning, Rob Sebastian and I met up with John and Cecil Schultz to go on a walking tour of Friedrichshain. John is our facilitator (meaning he did all the cool graphics for this trip and made the advertisement) and Friedrichshain was one of his areas on his mission. It is the easternmost piece of the Berlin pie, and as such, it's one of the places Rob doesn't really know. Rob went into raptures over the Schinkel-esque buildings on Karl-Marx Allee which were actually built in the 1950's, but were throwbacks to the decorative Wiener werkstatt/Art Nouveau period.
This picture is for Darren Breen. We saw this house and both thought of him, because he works with alternative angels for lack of a better term. Also reminded me of Felix the Wall Artist in Mixed Nuts (it's now that time of year again, and if you haven't seen it yet, watch it once and then let it sink in -- you'll be hooked). Felix and all of his friends have come to Friedrichshain and are having a ball. There used to be punk squatters who would take over whole apartment buildings (which were vacated after the wall came down -- people left their apartments intact and took off for the west). Punk houses are mostly gone now, and there are more sedate occupants who like having electricity and running water

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Will's Sixth Birthday

Today Will turned six. He's had a big week, and the the nadir of the week was a nasty ear infection. But the doctor took one look at him and said "do you know amoxicillin?" and Rob told him that they had a wing named in our honor at the Amoxicillin Hall of Fame. The entire experience was worth it for the conversation they had on the way home.

Will wanted to know what a building by our house was for and Rob explained that it was a radio station where rock bands come to record their songs. Will said he wanted to have a rock band, and decided to call it either "North Gothic Tractors" or "Bumzookas". Right on track developmentally, no?
On Saturday we went to the zoo and brought Will's friend Roman with us. Roman was funny and delightful and just like Will, only German. They chased each other around yelling for each other, and so if we lost them, we'd listen above the barking seals for Roman's calls of "Villiam! Villiam! Wo bist Du?" Here the kids are in the petting zoo with a small goat. Going to the Berlin Zoo for your birthday is getting to be a family tradition. Maddie has had two birthdays there, and now Will's had one.
The zoo continues to get high marks for well-adjusted animals. With the colder weather, a lot of them had come inside, and others were more active. The monkeys were all eating and swinging and having food fights, the lions and leopards were pacing, and the seals were swimming all over and barking. Nobody was more personable than these two river otters. They saw us and came right up to the edge to say hello and squeak, frisked around and threw a pebble up in the air.
We had lunch at the restaurant. When we asked what the kids wanted to eat, Will said "bratwurst with pommes!" and Roman and Maddie said "bratwurst with pommes!" and Sebastian said "bratwurst with Thomas!"
Sunday afternoon we had cake and ice cream and opened presents. Now we are all sugared up.

Will got clothes and books and a DVD and a LeapPad with some workbooks. Now he is playing and Sebastian is crying (but what else is a sibling's birthday for?).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mitte at Night

I think that we have one of the prettiest views in Berlin. This is out our bedroom window. It is also ridiculously good weather here again, even in mid-November, but I'm not going to complain. Yesterday the Cafe am Lietzensee was open and Rob and the kids all went to drink apfelschorle and hang out. The cafe is normally only open until Halloween, but who could resist a day like yesterday?
After I went to class and Rob went to the doctor's office (Maddie has swimmer's ear), we met up at Hackescher Markt and had a great paella at this spanish place. Rob thinks we need a tent like this on our patio. I was fond of the dry ice in the fountain.
We walked around Mitte and down Oranienburger strasse. On the right is a neon palm tree, in the middle is the TV tower (Fernsehnturm), and on the left you might be able to make out the golden top of the New Synagogue. This is a hip street with lots of restaurants and clubs and a place called Tacheles. This was once a tony store which had fallen into disrepair. When developers finally got around to it to knock it down, a militant artists colony had moved in and refused to budge. They live mostly in campers out in the back and project movies onto a wall behind them, knock the heads off the statues and replace them with horse heads, etc. It is sort of what would happen if the green marble I. Magnin building on Broadway in Oakland had been taken over by Sid from Toy Story. I think it says a lot about Berlin that 1. it's permitted and 2. this place is listed on maps.
Here we are on the S-bahn. Rob's latest bid is to take pictures of the things we do every day. We ride the S-bahn every day and now you know what it looks like inside. I was more fond of the busses in Vienna, but I concede that in Berlin, the S-bahn is the way to go. It gets me across town in 15 minutes where the bus takes nearly an hour.

And here is your quiz for the day. This is a different S-bahn interior with various Berlin landmarks in silhouette. How many of them can you recognize? How many have you been to?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

This Week's Top Ten

So I'm surprised that we're still standing. We have not had even one day without a crisis of some sort. Miraculously, we do the bare minimum each day and try to show up for the next one. Here are the top ten for the week:

1. Berlin. First off, thanks for another unseasonably perfect day so that we could take group pictures before Jordan flew home. We would have done it anyway, but it would have been a lot harder in the rain. Second, we appreciate you extending all of our visas until New Years. It makes us feel welcome here, rather than having to hide out as illegal aliens. Finally, thanks for pioneering the 24-hour Christmas shopping. At the rate we're going, Rob and I are going to take advantage of it with tag-team all-nighters.

2. Will. It rained on Monday when Rob was bringing the kids home from school. Will wanted to jump in a puddle, and Rob said "Tell you what: I'll let you jump in a puddle in the next block when we're closer to home." Will said "NO! By then I'll know better!"

3. Sebi. He's started speaking German all of a sudden. In full sentences. Rob asked him if he was tired and he said "Nein, Papa, ich bin lustig!" (No, Papa, I'm silly!). We think he was looking for 'glucklich' which is happy, because he thinks that the opposite of tired is happy.

4. Maddie. She has had a fever and an ear infection since Tuesday night. She said "my heartbeat is louder and everything else is muffled. It feels like there are constriction workers in my heart."

5. Our neighborhood grocery store, Kaiser's, which has your run-of-the-mill fabulous cheese aisle, carries our favorite mustard and peanut butter for the kids, and actually weighs your produce for you (generally, you weigh and price it yourself over here, and put a sticker on it, like you have to at the health food store in the bulk section). Rob thinks it's a lovefest.

OK, it's such a lovefest that I put the picture in twice and I can't take it out without upgrading my software. Which isn't going to happen today, or even next week (see above and below).

6. Anti-stress boots for sale at Leiser. Gonna get me some of those . . .

7. Rob, who has picked up kids from school, done homework with them, and put dinner on the table every night so that I can go off and get confused about German grammar this month. On Monday, he worked intensively with Will on his ears for 45 minutes which included, but was not limited to nose drops, popping ears, drinking, lying down, and chewing five pieces of Hubba Bubba at once. That night Will shouted "WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING INTO A MICROPHONE!?" I think he's on the right track.

8. Vance and Lindsay's unlikely combinations FHE activity, the Not-Newlyweds game. It included questions like "What piece of cutlery/dish/servingware would your partner be on an elegantly set talble" and "What felony would you use to describe Dr. McFarland?"

9. My teacher, Frau Brauninger, who brought in her dollhouse furniture to help us understand Akkusativ vs. Dativ case and who gave me two smiley faces on my first test.

10. Lillian Krokant, Urban Milkware and Chocolate boutique on Wilmersdorferstrasse.

Bottom three:

1. Classmates who live up to their national stereotypes. Angelika from the Ukraine (probably spelled RnjelIka) seems to have "future James Bond vixen" tattooed on her backside.

2. Thanksgiving. Not interested in it; don't want to find pumpkin pie mix; don't want to have thirty people over for dinner. But it's happening next Thursday.

3. Erotic Advent Calendars. Blech!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wild, Wild East

This morning we took off for the other side of the city. It was cold, so we wore our down jackets, but as soon as we arrived, it began to rain. We are learning that it is essential to check the weather here; not just a nicety. First we wanted to see this bridge, the Oberbaumbrucke, which straddled the Spree river and the East and West sides of Berlin while the wall was up (it crosses the border from Friedrichshain (east) to Kreuzberg (west). Neo-gothic, towers were blown up and mere stumps after the war, useless while the wall was up, and now renovated and working (another microcosm of Berlin history). We have it on good authority now that once a year during the summer, the people of both districts have a huge water fight on the bridge (in the gothic arcade below). It would be a great place for a water fight in the summer, but we were expending plenty of energy fighting the water ourselves today.
Next we walked down some of the East Side Gallery - -the world's longest art gallery and one of the longest intact pieces of the Berlin Wall. The debate over what to do with the remains of the Wall has been an interesting one because it is such a significant piece of history and such an emotionally fraught one. Most of the Wall has been chipped away at and is now on bookshelves all over the world (my dear husband's included). Much of it has been disassembled to make way for reunification and progress. This section lies along the river and they are now planning a riverside park which includes the wall in it. Berlin does a good job of coming up with creative solutions to problematic public spaces -- they have had plenty of experiences with it.
Oh, and the picture here painted on the Wall is a depiction of the Brandenburg Gate when the Berlin Wall was up; the gate was stuck in the middle of it in the "death strip".
Lastly, we went downriver to see the Molecule Men. This is an immense sculpture (30 meters high, whatever that is) which is actually in the river Spree. It was commissioned for the building complex in the background (Allianz corp.) and is one more landmark that is making this district hip. Currently there is a huge construction project on the other side of the river: the future headquarters of MTV and Nickelodeon in Berlin. You know the sort of place this is -- former industrial port/warehouse district, now selling funky lofts for living and working spaces to young, well-dressed professionals. It's only just moving now from edgy to mainstream. It will be lousy with popular restaurants and bars in another ten years.
Today is also St. Martin's day, and I'm happy to report that last night, Rob took the kids to another laterne walk where they learned all about St. Martin (seemed to have Jonah syndrome and tried to hide from his calling) and they sang the lantern song that we know. So the kids got to participate in two: the neighborhood religious celebration, and the Prenzlauerberg version sponsored by the communist party. It is also traditional to eat a Pfannekuchen on St. Martin's day. A Pfannekuchen in Berlin is called a Berliner in the rest of Germany (like JFK and his "Ich bin ein Berliner") and a Krapfen in Austria, and a jelly donut in the US. I don't know what it has to do with St. Martin. Perhaps he is the saint of jelly donuts? of hidden fillings?

Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before

Here is our student, Jordan, back in St. Hedwig's hospital in Berlin. He had a second surgery to drain an infected cyst on Monday night. The hospital is beautiful, but if you're a patient there, you don't really get to see that. Jordan had to share his room with two other men for three days.
We brought him back to our house on Thursday night and tried to get him to rest and eat for a while. He's back in his apartment now with his doting hausfrau Yvonne, and his roommate Michael, who is going to try an entice him to eat with a casserole if he can put his hands on some cream of mushroom soup (Jordan likes casseroles; Michael is a good southern cook). We're really hoping that Jordan gets better this time; his last recovery was long and painful. We'd prefer to have him see an American doctor, but he can't manage the flight home in the shape he's in.

Will's Religious Intolerance

This is Lietzensee Grundschule. This is the kids school. Maddie and Will go to class here from 8:00am - 1:30pm. They learn Math, German, English Religion, Music and Sport.
Here is Maddie in her classroom. She is in class! She is talking with friends. Maddie is happy at school. Go, Maddie, go!
Here is Will. Will is playing in the free time room. Will is not in class. Will is a punk. Will told his religion teacher that his papa doesn't want him in religion any more. Will is a big fibber. Will's religion teacher wrote papa a long note to find out what she did wrong. She only did one thing wrong: she had Will in her class! Turkey, turkey Will. Will had to write a long apology in German to his religion teacher. Maybe Will should be demoted from religion class to ethics class, no?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Technological Museum

On Saturday all seven of us went to the Technological Museum. There are about five buildings currently, and we still haven't seen them all, even after three visits! We started here in the train section, housed in a bonafide roundhouse where Sebastian reprised his role as dewrs-anoddoh-twain!-man. This picture is of Will and Maddie who were trying to push-pull a cart to understand child labor in a mine.
Here Maddie tries to figure out the sails and rigging on a model sailboat. I personally like the beanbags next to it where you can sit and figure out how to tie several knots.
Sebastian tries out life on a barge. When we had had enough trains, the girls went over to the jewelry making display which was really fun. It showed several different kinds of jewelry, like stamping, rolling, tubes, and even a step-by-step Faberge egg. We also checked out the textile displays on silk flowers, hats, and cotton and wool felting.
One of the Berlin Airlift planes hangs off the corner of the museum. They had a comprehensive display on the Tempelhof airport, the airlift, and the candy bombers (aka Operation Little Vittles, Rosinenpflieger, Uncle Wiggle Wings etc.). I am really thrilled that the man who was the first candy bomber was a Mormon. Gail S. Halvorsen came up with the idea and I'll just put in two quotes here from him as he explains how it began for him, and how it was received:

"I got involved with children in Berlin that led to 23 tons of candy being dropped not just by myself, but by all the members of my squadron. I began the operation because the children I met in Berlin didn't beg for gum or chocolate. When I met them they said "we don't have to have enough to eat. Just give us a little." "Some day we'll have enough to eat. But if we lose our freedom, we'll never get it back." They had no gum and no candy and very thin rations, but not one of these 30 children would be a beggar for something so extravagant as chocolate or gum."

"There was an extraordinary response to the candy bombing in raising morale. A little boy, who I met now as a 60-year-old man this summer in Berlin, explained it. He said he was 10 years old during the blockade, going to school. The clouds were low, and suddenly from the cloud came a parachute and landed at his feet with a fresh Hershey bar from America. He said he was so surprised. But it was not the chocolate that was important. It meant that someone outside this blockaded city knew I was there. It wasn't chocolate. It was hope. He said that applied to everyone in the city. I heard that comment from hundreds in Berlin, as they came through the old C-54 this summer. It was a major morale booster. It was a connection to the outside world. It was hope that someday things would be all right."

Wikipedia notes: "The action may have had a substantial impact on the postwar perception of Americans in Germany, and it is still pointed to as a symbol of German-American relations."

I am so impressed that Halvorsen made great things come to pass with some candy and handkerchiefs. I'd like to find more Mormons who can influence international relations for good by exercising charity. In the meantime, Rob's sister Betsy has actually written and performed a play about the candy bomber with her sixth grade class, and invited Halvorsen (who lives now in Mapleton) to come and see it.

We had lunch in the restaurant which was a delightful surprise. It was one of the first traditional Berlin restaurants we've seen -- Vienna still has them, but Berlin's are almost extinct now, taken over by ethnic restaurants of every kind (albeit great restaurants, just not typical German food). The food was generous and inexpensive and we made good use of it. Sebastian filled up his hollow leg. We sampled apple streudel and rote grutze for dessert, the latter being a warm, thickened bunch of red berries, served with vanilla sauce.

As we went home, we overheard the two older kids playing royalty in the taxi:

Maddie: What shall we talk about now?

Will: Pig lips and belly buttons!

Maddie: We are not amused.