dumpster find of the week: frau dietz and the lost typewriter

The “click clack” in Click Clack Gorilla was born of my love of typewriters, the sounds they make, the way typewritten words look on a piece of paper. While they don’t fit well with the writing processes I have developed via computer use (ie writing a bunch and then doing a hundred rounds of tiny edits that would involve endless retyping on a typewriter), I love to use them for letters, mix cd track lists, labels, and anything in need of a little personality and a pleasant font.

During my first year in Germany I bought an old typewriter at the flea market for way too much money/20 euros. I carried his big grey bones around for hours afterwards, and he even got a ride in a grocery cart with the rest of my week’s rations before being taken home to my little au pair room. I named him Herman, and I wrote a lot of letters on him before eventually selling him at another flea market last year for a few euros. By that time I’d accumulated six typewriters, all found nestled lonely among piles of trash waiting for pick up on the street. And since six typewriters is too many for a tiny little house, I got rid of all but one—a tiny beige number with a full ink ribbon and no broken keys.

Fast forward to December 2011. I took the train over to Wiesbaden to meet up with expat-blogger Frau Dietz for sushi. I was sitting at the bar watching little ships of sushi float past me on a tiny river when she arrived. “Hope you haven’t been waiting long,” she said. “I was standing in front of this typewriter that somebody left on the street trying to decide if I should take it home or not.” (For the sake of accuracy, she probably didn’t say that exactly, but she said something very like it.)

Then she showed me this picture. If I wasn’t pregnant and totally averse to walking further than I had to and/or carrying anything unnessecary while walking, I would have gone and gotten it right then and there. Despite the fact that I really don’t need to start another typewriter collection. Despite everything.

Frau Dietz contemplated taking it on the way home, we discussed the usefulness of some sort of online “awesome big trash looking for a home” mapping program, and our attention turned to sushi boats and expat gossip. She didn’t end up taking it, so I guess we’ll never know if it found a good home or landed among the refuse. I like to think it’s sitting on the desk of someone’s attic apartment right now, clacking away.

Wednesday February 29th 2012, 9:00 am 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan

left and leaving, the first

This is part two of a series about how, in another life, I was an au pair. You can read part one here. An index of the whole series lives here. It was originally published on December 28, 2009.


I spent my last week in America painting rooms in the house that my mother had bought that summer. During my sophomore year of college she had moved to upstate New York, and I hadn’t been back to my hometown since. Who was left there to visit? My former piano teacher, but was he still alive? My ex-non-step siblings? There must be someone left there who I once knew, but who?

My college friends went home for the summer at the end of each school year. I went to visit my mom in New York and my dad in New Jersey, but home had already become a relative concept. Home was where my books were, where ever I was, in whatever apartment I was staying in at the time. There was an apartment-above-the-garage outside of Saratoga Springs where I spent a summer working as a live-in part-time babysitter for three sweet, dull accountant’s children. There was an apartment-above-the-garage in Vermont with my freshman-year roommate and her family. There was a series of boxy white-walled rooms in college dormitories.

My senior year of college, I had moved into an apartment downtown with two friends. The bedrooms were barely bigger than the mattresses on their floors, but the kitchen, dining room, and living room were spacious, high-ceilinged. Our landlady was an eccentric junk-sculptor who spent the summers in Saratoga and the winters somewhere in New Jersey. During the summer the scent of her chain-smoked cigarettes seeped through the wall I shared with the one-room shanty she had tacked onto the back of the house.

During the winter we had peace and the junkman sculpture looming quietly from her little porch. We also had the “jungle” mural she’d painted on every wall of the smallest bedroom. Green streaks smeared the walls, flames (or parrots?) adorned their crowns. A monkey sprawled directly above the bed, arms reaching, eye sockets two empty brown gouges in the plaster ceiling.

Now I was moving to Germany where I would live with the family I’d be working for. A dangerous arrangement no matter what the job. But I didn’t think about what I was doing. I painted, and at 3 am the night before my flight I packed: clothing and supplies laid out on the bed and hastily thrown into two suitcases. I wasn’t leaving home. I was taking it with me. When the concept of home stopped being a static, unmovable place, I got to know it as something flexible and moving: something I could have as much of as I needed as long as I didn’t try to nail it down.

We drove out to Newark, I got on the red-eye flight to Frankfurt, one-way ticket in hand, and I woke up in Frankfurt am Main.

Friday February 24th 2012, 9:00 am 2 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies,expat life

success! (and a large deviation from the plan)

Madame Pickles (as Uncle Sprinkles has so often dubbed her and as I’ve decided to call her from henceforth on this blog in the name of not giving away all her internet privacy before she’s even had a chance to have any) arrived on Saturday at 3:30 pm. House birth turned hospital birth turned c-section.  (About which I will write in much more detail later, once I have mastered the art of one-handed typing.) But all is well in the house of Stewart (I think—as I’m still in the hospital I can’t say for sure), and I should be able to go home tomorrow.

Sweet, sweet success.  HUGE GRIN.  Cue new chapter.

Wednesday February 22nd 2012, 10:20 am 42 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,gorilla parent (pregnancy)

once upon a time in a faraway land

Welcome to the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main.  This is the first in the series.  You can find an index of the rest of the posts here.

I was a proofreader. Every morning I biked to work. Every day I read custom health publications (that’s newspeak for advertisements for the health insurance industry), searching out missing commas and misspelled words, red pen in hand. Every day I went to the gym to exhaust my remaining will to live, and after dinner I went to bed with a book and fell asleep early.

I can usually judge the state of my life through the quality of my dreams. Dreams about day to day banalities come when my life is interesting and engaging. But when my life is dull, my dreams become vivid action-adventure stories as my subconscious compensates for the lack of stimulation in my waking life. When I was a proofreader I dreamed of international espionage, high-speed chases, and the open mouths of crocodiles.

After a little less than a year several things happened. My boyfriend at the time announced that he was moving to Australia and that, no, he didn’t want me to come with him; I finished paying off my college loans; and I found myself in one of the office’s gray and windowless conference rooms crying into the color proofs. Something had to give, and there was no longer much to tie me to a particular time or place.

Before graduating from college I had considered au pairing or moving to the Marshall Islands to teach English, but the proofreading job that would help me pay off my loans came between me and tropical hermit-dom (some of the Marshall Islands are no bigger than a city block).

Once again, I started hounding the internet for editorial employment abroad, but the few I found involved working for the government. I seriously considered them. Anything that would allow me to travel and pay me to do it. Then I came across another au pair placement agency website, and I registered almost as a joke. It would take me abroad but did I really want to become a full-time nanny? In a matter of days my inbox was full of letters from families in Germany keen on an English-speaking au pair, and in a few weeks I had a job waiting for me with a family in Germany and my resignation on the desk of my boss. I had been a lousy proofreader anyway.

No one was surprised, and before I left my editor pulled me aside to tell me he’d seen this coming the day they had hired me. I was flattered. If there were people who looked like they were born to correct punctuation errors, I didn’t want to be one of them.

Monday February 20th 2012, 9:00 am 11 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies

still 39 weeks pregnant: home birth prep and the loss of all remaining patience

I think I can best illustrate the level of my desire to not be pregnant anymore with an anecdote.  Imagine it’s been a bad day.  It’s been hurting your hips to walk for months now, but today the pain has brought you to a new level of hobbling.  You consider never leaving the house again, but make plans to go out to dinner with friends instead because once the baby comes who knows how soon you’ll find the time/energy again.  But!  One of your friends really wants to cook something!  So you skip the restaurant and go to his house and eat some snacks and chat.  But!  The chicken for the soup isn’t cooperating and needs a lot longer to cook than anyone thought it would!  Your blood sugar drops and you feel like death and are getting pretty tired on top of it since you know, it’s already 10 pm (gasp!) and it’s kind of a miracle that you’re even still upright at this hour.  So you say goodbye you need to go home right now, hobble to the very cold bus stop, and manage to keep it together—despite the raging hormones that want you to cry at every opportunity and the fact that hunger has always made you feel surly and hysterical—until you make it home, sit down on your bed, and try to take off your pants.  It is with them around your knees that you realize that you can’t get them off by yourself.  Commence weeping and blubbering.

I’ve been praying for rain ever since.  (And by praying I mean shaking my fist threateningly at the sky.  And by rain I mean contractions.)  But no luck.  We made it to our last birth prep class.  My due date is two days off, and the reality is that she has to come soon because that’s how this works.  But I can’t believe it—I’ve even managed to convince myself that it is my very desire to get her out that is keeping her in.  This doesn’t make sense, I realize.  But pessimism comes easily to me.

I know, I know.  Wah wah wah.  Complain complain complain.  A hell of a lot of people have had a hell of a lot more reason to be pissed at being pregnant at the end of their terms.  But the thought doesn’t really improve the situation for any of us.  And I’ve never been one to try to coat everything with a layer of rosy frosting.

THE GOOD NEWS IS: We are so ready.  So ready!  And not just mentally (though I think the Beard is already pumping with the good adrenaline—I call him to tell him something banal and he comes running with this giddy look on his face, thinking labor might be starting and he keeps dropping things).  We’ve got a couple of bags of stuff—candles, extra sheets, snacks, et al—waiting in the corner of the Wagen for their moment in the sun and below you can witness my “it’s almost over!” / “bring on the contractions” hoppity dance.  (I hope that the fact that I am doing said dance in front of our altar of whiskey counts for something with some god or goddess with influence over my uterus out there somewhere.  Bacchus?  Aphrodite?  Anybody?)   Even though I’m mostly feeling complainy, I promise that I actually spend most of my time attempting to make light of what has become a rather annoying state of affairs.

for those of you who are interested in the nitty gritty details of this sort of thing…

If you ask my midwife, which we did, all you really need for a birth in a pinch is a pair of scissors and a clamp so that she can deal with the umbilical chord after the birth.  She’d managed with nothing more than safety scissors and a chip clip, she told us, when she once upon a time went to do a prenatal check on a woman who had been planning a hospital birth and arrived to find that the baby had already dropped in.

If you have a little more time, I’d say the bare necessities (for a low-risk home birth with no medical complications along the way) probably also include a comfortable nest, a supportive birth partner, and an experienced midwife.  Funny how a lot of people are always trying to tell you about things you should buy to prepare for this sort of thing (because even birth has to be about consumption these days).  But we did buy a few things.  We just didn’t have that many pairs of dark colored sheets.

my midwife’s home birth check list as applied to a Wagen birth

This is the prep list my midwife gave us last week, translated for your convenience.  (The bolding is hers.)

1. Build a nest!  Accessible bed with pillows and light blanket. (Check and check.  Our bed is the coziest nest EVER, and I can’t wait to give birth in it.  All of our pillows and blankets and duvet covers came from the trash across the street.  Thank you, wasteful students, for providing us with an amazing nest.)

2. Enough space in front of the “nest” for a birth on a birthing stool.  (My midwife may or may not be bringing this along.  When we tried it in class I asked her about it, and she said maybe, though she had doubts about us having enough space.  I told her that if we had room for a birth ball, which we do, we have room for a birthing stool.  She said she’d see if it fit in the car that day.)

3. Source of warmth—a radiator, heat lamp, or hot fan.  (This is where the wood stove comes in.)

4. A lamp or flashlight. (Check.  Now that I think about it, both of our lamps are also from the dumpster across the street.)

5. An exact clock. (Not so much check.  Our cell phones are our clocks.  Need to find something with a second hand to borrow.)

6. Water-tight tarp or sheet. (The Beard bought a thin painter’s tarp at the building supply store while I was laying in bed.  So I have no idea how much it cost.)

7. One to two bed sheets.  (We’ve got four, but that’s because our “king size mattress” is actually two mattresses jimmied together.  Two we had, and then we bought one black, one red for 4,99 each.  I wanted dark colors to avoid staining, though I have heard that all the home birth juices wash right out.)

8. A large trash can or trash bag. (Check.  Had this already.)

9. Bowl or bag for the placenta. (Planning on freezing it and burying it beneath a newly planted tree or bush in the spring.  Have a large metal bowl at the ready for initial catch.)

10. Four to five mid-sized towels. (Thank you flea market and dumpster across the street.)

11. Possibly a hot water bottle. (Check.)

12. Ice packs. (Thank you one euro store.)

13. Thermos full of strong, hot coffee.

14. Post partum pads. (Donated by a friend who didn’t use all of hers.)

15. Mutterpaß.  (The little book you get in Germany for doctor’s to record all your pregnancy health info.)

16. Clothing for the baby.  (If you saw the pictures of the fold down changing table/baby-stuff storage shelves that I built, you already know we have a shit ton of baby clothes.  All gifted or flea marketed.)

17. A bag packed for at least a one day’s stay in the hospital in case of emergency.  (We have the stuff the midwife wanted us to pack and the stuff for the baby packed into the car seat, but I haven’t packed anything for myself yet, and I have my fingers crossed we won’t need our back-up bag anyway.  Cross your fingers for us to if you think of it.)

18.  Food and drinks for the birth team.  (Orange juice and red berry juice with extra iron have already been squirreled away under the bed.  For snacks we have a bag full of fruit energy bars and yogurt.  Want to make some hard boiled eggs to have on hand as well.)

We also have a birth ball (which I am still struggling to figure out how to blow up), massage oil, a massage ball, various heating pads (ie the kind filled with beans or cherry pits that you can heat up in the microwave or oven), candles, and about six different playlists for all the different moods I anticipate being in.  There’s the relaxing playlist (a no brainer), the good mood playlist (for pushing and/or general desperation), the sing along playlist (all songs that I love to sing along to, in case singing through contractions turns out to be my thing), the shake your hips playlist (in case I need to do some gyrating to get the baby moving down), the ocean sounds playlist (I have a feeling that visualizing the contractions as ocean waves might be a huge meditative help), and the Wolves in the Throne Room playlist (slow, intense doomy forest metal strikes me as being something that could be the perfect birth soundtrack).  Then again I might just go into a trance and be annoyed by any noise and skip the music all together.

My “birth team” consists of my midwife, the Beard (main birth partner), Frau Doktor (relief birth partner and general runner-arounder, retriever of all things needed, taker of photos, and tender of the wood stove), and me.  Not to mention the hoard of Platz-mates who may be outside pacing and chain smoking in anticipation of that first cry and could also be called on to help us out in a pinch.

I hope that the next time I write you it’s to tell you that Peanut is finally here.  My fingers and eyes are firmly crossed.

Friday February 17th 2012, 11:00 am 18 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,gorilla parent (pregnancy)

ladies, sharpen your scissors

And so another week of Fastnacht (aka Karnival aka Fasching aka German Mardi Gras) begins.  Today is what folks ’round here call “Altweiber” which literally means “old woman” but refers to one of the opening Fastnacht celebrations.  Basically if you’re a lady you’re allowed to cut off the tie of anyone you find wearing one.  And as much as I don’t really get into this holiday, that sounds like fun to me.  (Note to self: get some wild hoard of activists together to storm a tie-heavy office full of people doing evil things next Altweiber.)

Usually I avoid the city like it’s been infested by plague victims when Fastnacht comes around.  As a holiday, its main focus is getting huge crowds together to listen to bad music in cheap costumes while consuming as much beer as possible.  Many aspects of this are appealing.  But not the crowds, dear cod, not the crowds, who are, depending on your timing, in various shades of really fucking drunk.  I don’t like big crowds, and I like them even less when they are drunken and dressed as circus clowns.  A lot of people really really like this combination, however.  Which I guess explains why you get the crowds in the first place.  It also explains why nine months later, there’s usually a little baby boom.

Fastnacht, like pretty much every holiday I have ever heard of, has roots in some sort of pagan-y celebration of something or other.  I can’t remember what (the Beard told me this morning) and having just spent the morning researching this exact subject for work, I can’t be bothered now, on my time off, to actually look into the facts.  In Mainz the event also has a strong “fuck you French occupiers” tradition, which means that the government gets mocked a lot during Fastnacht (and another point for the holiday!).  Oh and Mainz is one of Germany’s three Fastnacht capitals (the others being Cologne and Düsseldorf), which means that if you live down town and are a Fastnacht Grinch, you are totally fucked.

Rose Monday (also known as Peanut’s due date, and dear sweet cod do not let her be a Rose Monday baby) is another big day in the festivities.  There’s a parade that I’ve never seen, and an even bigger crowd than the one I encountered this afternoon around the Fastnachtsbrunnen (the Fastnacht Fountain—that’s how much Mainz loves this holiday) when I—against my better judgement—went into town to take a few pictures for a blog for work (some of which you are seeing on this post, others of which you can view there).

Up on the hill where our community is located, you could go an entire Fastnacht without realizing that the holiday is even taking place.  (For this I am thankful.)  On the bus that took me down into the center of town, there was a lone fool in a colorful hat (no bells gracing its peak, but a disco ball).  I began to worry that there might be nothing around to photograph, which makes me the biggest Fastnacht fool of all.  Off the bus I began to see more wigs, more hats, more painted faces.  And by the time I had gotten to Schillerplatz and the fountain, I was surrounded by lady bugs and cookie monsters and monks and witches and pirates and clowns and every animal in the encyclopedia.  Mario and Luigi were there, as well as a woman wearing a model of the Mainzer Dom (cathedral) on her head.

Several hundred people were packed in between a large stage and city hall, singing along to the Fastnacht songs being played (lip synced?) on stage.  But the crowd was manageable (not like it will be on Rose Monday or any evening this weekend), perfect for costume watching.  From my perch on the crowd’s rim I watched a group of bears smoking cigarettes while a walking barrel and a large bird stood with heads close together in heated discussion.

Thursday February 16th 2012, 10:02 pm 8 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany

tall bike!

I have been wondering for two days what I would want to write about today.  But I can’t think about a fucking thing besides being pregnant and about hopefully not being pregnant anymore very, very soon.  I read things about babies and pregnancy all day (newly in love with The Feminist Breeder, by the way), and I hope the baby is about to come the fuck out of there already all night.  But I don’t want this blog to only be about kids and pregnancy.  I want it to be about tiny hosues and Wagens and travel and dumpster diving and weird recycling and everything else that intersects with my life too.  But there is nothing left in me except for this baby, and until she comes out, I’m not sure what else will get past and onto these pages.

So, behold!  My tallbike!

Looking at that picture is like a big serving of summer nostalgia.  The tank tops!  The need for sunglasses!  The rides aboard my purple giraffe!  Ahhhh.  Summer couldn’t come back into my life soon enough.

The tallbike I built myself, with a lot of help from some awesome folks in Frankfurt.  We spent a weekend building about eleven of them.  Which we then happily paraded around the city like the little kids we all still are inside.  If you have never been on a tall bike, I am here to tell you they are smile-manufacturing machines.  You ride down the street and people stare in awe, they smile, they gasp, they take pictures, and little kids jump up and down and point.  And everyone wanting to know: “How do you get off of it?”  A question which, once answered, always results in another: “But how do you get back on?”  Both of which I am usually happy to demonstrate.  You don’t take a tall bike if you have to get somewhere in a hurry.

If you want to learn how to build your own tall bike, I’ve got detailed instructions up right here.

Wednesday February 15th 2012, 6:21 pm 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,diy

39 weeks pregnant: pregnancy and body image

We interrupt your regularly schedule gorilla pregnancy ramblings to inform you that Click Clack Gorilla is being featured on one of her favorite parenting websites today, Offbeat Mama.  *Waves at anyone visiting from over there.*  You’ll recognize the article they’ve posted there from this post but if you go over and check it out you can join in the conversation about aliens and pooping during labor over there.  In celebration of that, I’m posting another prego update post today instead of later in the week as I had originally planned.  Besides, Peanut could be here by the end of the week. (!!!!)  (I hope.)  (!!!!!!!)  For any of you just joining up from Offbeat Mama, scroll down to the end of the post for an index of more prego-related posts, from my decision to do a “house” birth in our trailer to prego acupuncturing to how we found our awesome midwife.

The pressure has always been there, ever since I was old enough to notice bodies or to read Teen magazine (who is that younger version of myself who actually had a subscription to that magazine? 2012 Nikki can barely recognize her).  It was the pressure to be a certain kind of pretty, to wear make-up, to do my hair a certain way, to have certain clothes, and to be skinny like all the models whose bones played the role of hanger to each month’s trends.

I studied those magazines like they were bibles, and I went to insane lengths to meet their standards.  I showered every single morning.  Every morning I straightened my naturally wavy hair before caking on a layer of foundation/eyeliner/eye shadow/et al.  I felt wrong leaving the house without straight hair, wouldn’t have dreamt of going out without make up.  But the biggest pressure of all was always the pressure to be skinny, horrifyingly, “perfectly” skinny.  Like the hanger women in the magazines.

And yet I’ve always been skinny myself.  As luck would have it, I happen to be genetically programed for the kind of skinny-ness that has been popular in my lifetime; I come from a long line of paperclip-shaped women.  Yet there has still always been the pressure: to be skinnier, to stay skinny.  What if I gained weight?  What if I wasn’t skinny enough?  People would comment on my skinny-ness all the time: they wanted to know how I stayed so thin, they wished they could be so thin, they were worried that maybe I wasn’t eating enough.  (While I was busy envying them their curves and their cup sizes and eating like a I had hollow legs.  The grass, greener, etc.)  Through the constant mention, my skinny-ness started to become a part of my identity.  Which only made the pressure worse because it felt like gaining weight would mean losing a part of who I was.

Even though I have long given up the values that used to compel me to put on make up every morning or wear deodorant or straighten my hair, I’ve never been able to think myself out of the skinny pressure.  Even with a partner who loves me no matter what I look like or how round my belly becomes, I’d never found a way to accept my belly no matter how round it became because I’d never found a way to stop the skinny voices.  Even though I no longer read beauty magazines or watch television or expose myself to the media pressure to look a certain way, it remains, it refuses to leave me in peace.

I’m largely ok with my body these days, and I’m not looking for any sort of pity in mentioning this.  This is not a serious problem, but I think it is a pretty common one.  Thing is, the voices telling me that I need a flatter stomach or less thigh, no matter how often I intellectualize them away, regardless of the fact that I have at least managed to stop letting them influence how I live my life, just wouldn’t shut the fuck up.  And I think a majority of women—though with the dawning of so many men’s beauty magazines, probably most men at this point too—hear the skinny voices too.

That is, until I got pregnant.

Once I was pregnant the pressure disappeared.  Instantly.  There was a big echoing space where it had been, and I was stunned.  I hadn’t believed that it was possible.  I had thought I would have to deal with the skinny voices for the rest of my life, futilely trying to talk myself out of hearing them in some sort of body image purgatory and never finding a gag big enough to stuff their big traps.

But suddenly nobody expected anything from my body anymore, most of all me.  I didn’t need to work to be conventionally sexy, I just was.  Everything my body did was perfect.  Every pound I gained was part of the life of the little sea worm swimming in my stomach.  Every pound I gained made me even sexier because being pregnant is as sexy as it gets, is the embodiment of sex itself.  I began to understand how miraculous and powerful my body was.  It could build a human with a complex nervous system and a brain!  It could create the milk needed to feed another human!  It could adapt to having all its organs pushed out of their usual places!  My body could do no wrong, and the pressure was gone!  The pressure was gone!

There are a lot of ladies who don’t feel like this during pregnancy.  There are ladies that feel ugly and fat and terrible.  (I wish they didn’t because I think they look great.  Contrary to my weird-o expectations for myself, I think women with lots of curves are fucking gorgeous.)  But for them the pressure to look a certain way doesn’t stop; the magic doesn’t work for everyone.  I don’t want to make those women feel bad for feeling that way, during pregnancy or ever.  But I want them and every other woman who has ever heard the skinny voices telling her she looks all wrong every time she looks in the mirror to know it is possible.  It is possible to turn off the skinny voices!  And if they can be silenced during pregnancy, then maybe they can be silenced outside of it.  Maybe there is a gag big enough to shut them up after all.

How did you feel about your body during your pregnancy? And for those who have never been pregnant, how do you deal with the skinny voices?  (If you hear them at all.  And if you don’t hear them, I want to know how you managed that too.)


Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy?  Check out these posts…  (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)

singing during pregnancy (wherein I lament having to vomit onstage at 37 weeks)

38 weeks pregnant: acupuncture and the labor dance

diy pregnancy: the fold-down changing table

birth, pregnancy, and everyday magic

what i read while i was pregnant

why disney women suck

midwives and home births in germany


Tuesday February 14th 2012, 9:00 am 11 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,gorilla parent (pregnancy)

peter lustig: germany’s most famous tiny house dweller

So you moved to Germany. It took you a while, but you mastered the language. You understand all the words that your friends are saying, but you still don’t understand half of what they say; because you didn’t grow up in Germany, when people start talking pop culture nostalgia, you don’t have a fucking clue.  When you were a kid (you being me, growing up in the United States) you watched Sesame Street, The Smurfs, and Rainbow Bright.  And so did they.  (Though they called them Sesam Straße, Die Schlümpfe, and Regina Regenbogen.)  But they also watched Sandmännchen, Sendung mit der Maus, and Löwenzahn.  (Say what?)  Which brings us to Peter Lustig.

Peter Lustig is probably Germany’s most famous (fictional) Bauwagen dweller, made famous by his role as moderator on the children’s show Löwenzahn, an educational number where Peter, more or less, explains how the world works in 25 years of episodes.  He’s Germany’s answer to America’s Mr. Rogers.

In the very first episode (which you can watch in three parts, here, here and here) Peter trades in his house for a Bauwagen (being pissed at the noise caused by a new airport and after discovering that the usual travel trailers are inflexible, too small, and too expensive), which he buys from a building company, parks in his friend’s Schrebergarten—a rented garden plot, where, I might add, it is actually illegal to live full time, though I do know some people who do it—then fixes up using scavenged materials.  As if that didn’t make the show interesting enough, Lustig ends every episode with a direct look in the camera and instructions for kids to turn off their televisions and go outside.  Even the opening sequence is full of radical imagery: a dandelion (dandelion=löwenzahn) growing up through a crack in the pavement, a saw cutting into a television.

Of course, for the English speakers reading, the most interesting thing about Peter Lustig is probably his Bauwagen.  Which is why I wanted to share a few pictures of it with you here.  It is currently sitting in the Babelsberg Film Studio Lot, where folks touring the studios can get a good look.  I love the old-chair stairs (visible in the photo above), and I’ve had fantasies about a similar roof terrace as well.  I haven’t watched much of the show myself, but what I have seen has been full of interesting ideas for re-purposing household objects for Bauwagen and tiny house living.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Lustig was personally responsible for the existence of a large number of Bauwagen-dwelling adults in Germany today.

Episode two, Ein neues Zuhause (A New Home), finds Peter trying to figure out how to make such a tiny living space work for him.  The neighborhood kids come by to tell him his house is too small, and he tells them about all the folks around the world who live in tiny houses.  (Watch it here.)  If they can do it, so can he.  (And this in the early 80s, long before the “tiny house movement” began to roll.)  If you want a tour of his Wagen, almost finished, as of the second episode, click here and start at 0:45.  You’ll see the chair steps, a toilet in an armoir, a carpet used as an awning, a glass cabinet as a bay window, and a number of other “lustig” innovations (hardeeharharhar, “lustig” means “funny” in German, fyi).

Funnier yet is what the Beard told me about Peter Lustig this morning.  At the end of his 25-year career as moderator for the popular children’s show (today the show has a new moderator), Lustig admitted to interviewers that he can’t actually stand children.  Fans everywhere were horrified.  “Children should watch the show and have their fun, but I don’t like having them around me.  Like all adults, I am of the opinion that children are sticky or disruptive or loud.  I’m no fan of children, that’s a misunderstanding.”  I was amused.  What irony!  You can’t expect an actor playing a part to be the part he’s playing in real life, after all.  But whatever he thinks about children, at least he had a pretty neat Wagen.

Photos (cc) static_view (top) and honma (bottom)

Monday February 13th 2012, 9:00 am 11 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,tiny house livin',wagenplatz

singing during pregnancy

I debated whether or not I should share this story on the internet for a while, but finally decided that I should.  For the pregnant singers who might be searching the internet for solidarity right now.  I had the debate at all because the story is a bit…icky.  So if you have a puke-story aversion, go read this instead (it’s about moving to Dresden), and I’ll see you on Monday for more of the usual CCG non-ewww, non-pregnancy ramblings. 

At 37 weeks pregnant, we played our last concert pre-baby.  I didn’t want to travel far from home during the month when labor could be anywhere from weeks to minutes away.  Week 37 would be cutting it close, but with the venue just a few blocks from our place, I figured going into labor on stage wouldn’t be a big deal.  If it happened, I’d squeakily explain to the audience between contractions, and then we’d walk home, call the midwife, and get on with it.  The concert organizer was ok with the risk that we might have to cancel the show last minute or mid-song, so we gathered up our instruments and headed down to Baron for an evening of music.

I was excited.  Home-town concerts usually mean a good crowd of good people, and sometimes even some singing along.  There is nothing more flattering than standing in front of a room full of drunken, smiling people who are singing along to—having actually memorized!—a bunch of words you wrote.  As a writer, as a singer, as a person.  We’d be taking February and March off from playing shows so the Beard and I would have time to get used to life with baby, and I wanted to go out with a bang, or at least with that happy glowy feeling that comes of having made music on a stage with a fun crowd.  Good moods abounded, and the dinner we got as part of our payment for the evening was delicious.  Mmm.

So far singing during pregnancy hadn’t given me many problems.  We went on a ten-day tour about three weeks in, all of which I spent puking, trying not to puke, and sleeping in the van.  It wasn’t pleasant, but I never had a problem with my voice, never once had to run off stage to have a good toss between songs.  Of course, considering the fact that we play a lot of punk venues, doing so may have actually earned me some kind of punk rock merit badge from the audience, but I didn’t want to find out, and I fought off the nausea on-stage whenever it started to rear it’s hideous visage.

I had expected to have problems breathing.  You see, when a baby grows in your stomach, it squishes all your other organs out of it’s way like they’re so many useless pillows piled up on the bed.  (It is really fucking amazing that the human body is capable of this.)  Your stomach, squished up under your ribs, can’t hold as much food, and your lungs can’t hold as much air.  But I never found myself lacking the air to finish out a note.  (Though apparently there was a period when I was a lot quieter.)  After the tour there were several outdoor practices during which singing itself would bring up the chunks, and I would have to run around the corner to puke in the bushes between verses.  But for the most part, I was fine, my voice was fine, and we carried on with our musical activities as usual.  We even recorded an album during week 35.

Fast forward up to Baron, where I’m in a good mood, and we’re on stage in front of a packed room playing and strumming and plucking and twanging and warbling.  We made it a little over halfway through the set before it happened, before my voice suddenly cut out in favor of a cough/cookie toss.  Cough cough, hand over mouth, turn, swallow.  Cough, puke, swallow, cough cough, repeat.  Turn bright red.  Eye fellow bandmates with bulgy eyes.  Tell them to keep stalling between songs so I have the time to recover.  Eventually I did, and we played another handful of songs before it happened again, at the very end of Crow’s Nest.  Nothing came out of my mouth as I tried to sing the last verse, and then came another bout of hack, turn, puke, hack, turn, puke.  Except this time I didn’t manage to swallow in time and left a little puddle in front of the bassist’s feet.  Yum!

Not wanting my voice to cut out even earlier in the next number, I signaled to the others that I was fucking done, we played a few instrumental numbers to wrap things up, and I retired to a chair in the back of the room while they played an encore without me.  I was glad to be off the stage.  Not exactly the bang I’d been imagining going out with, but a bang none-the-less I supposed.  Certainly something to remember.  Ugh.

The best past was that no one in the audience had noticed.  Afterwards I asked friends who had been standing in various parts of the room if they had realized what was going on.  But even those who had been in the front row had thought that I had just been coughing, even someone who had unwittingly gotten a photo of me mid-toss.  So at least there’s that.  Stage face maintained.  Puking in front of strangers getting their first impression of our band averted.  But it’s still not a lot of fun to sit on stage regurgitating your cud.

So what went wrong?  It could have been the singing itself.  Since being pregnant, I’ve noticed that I have to burp a lot (A LOT) when I sing.  On stage I probably put even more grunt into it, and whatever it is that causes the burps could have caused the puking with the added pressure/air exchange/whatever.  My only other theory is that I reacted poorly to the iced tea I was drinking.  Though I’ve been told that it is perfectly fine for me to drink one coffee or black tea a day while pregnant, I’ve rarely done so (had to give up coffee a while before the pregnancy because it was fucking up my stomach, so we’re talking black tea here) as it had started making me feel weird (usually a few hours after).  But would that be enough for a puke fest?  I really don’t know.  But I find myself relieved that I won’t need to get onstage again until I’m thoroughly un-pregnant.

Any of you had a similar singing/pregnancy experience or heard of someone else who has?

Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy? Check out these posts… (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)

38 weeks pregnant: acupuncture and the labor dance

diy pregnancy: the fold-down changing table

birth, pregnancy, and everyday magic

what i read while i was pregnant

why disney women suck

midwives and home births in germany

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