bike hulk says: baby bike trailers win all the awards

Sometimes I forget how great being on a bike can make you feel.  How exhilarating it can be.  Like, for example, when you don’t ride a bike for two years because you’re pregnant (and then too nauseous and then too spacey and then too enormous and keep kneeing yourself in the belly when you try to peddle) and then because your freshly squeezed newborn doesn’t do anything but scream when you try to use the bike trailer.  I forgot then.

But Pickles doesn’t hate the bike trailer anymore.  Now she tolerates it for up to two hours at a time.  Now it almost always puts her to sleep for a 40 minute nap that she wouldn’t have taken at home (which, much to my surprise, seems to be resulting in better and more sleep nights, weird).  Glory glory hallelujah, I am no longer a slave to the Deutsche Bahn.

Not that I don’t like the Deutsche Bahn.  I love the Deutsche Bahn.  Public transportation in Germany wins all the awards from me.  But it can still be a hassle.  And it still costs more money than I’d like to be spending on something I could be doing for free (2.60 a pop, 6.somethingorother for a day pass, 9.80 for a group day pass).  Because of the lay of the tracks and the waiting and the walking time, I am actually faster than the train when it comes to going into the city.  (A sentence that makes me feel like the bike hulk.  Heh.)

Now I go out of my way to find reasons to go for a ride, places to journey out to.  Like today, when I was here:

The ride took me to a village to the north of Frankfurt, and the way was almost entirely through fields that looked like this, on paved bike paths where I met the occasional walker, dog, or fellow cyclist.  The weather looked mean (it was faking), so only a handful of people had braved the backsides of their doors.  And the city lurked off in the background, far away from us.

Judging from the kilometer count, it should have taken me 30-40 minutes to find my way to my friend’s apartment this morning.  But it turned out that Google maps had invented a path, and I did a lot of backtracking and stopping to check the map.  In the end I was almost 2 hours in getting there.  But it was a lovely ride.


Monday May 20th 2013, 9:20 pm 11 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,expat life,germany,gorilla parent (year two)

white american gets german visa

Now there’s breaking news.  (Cough.)  Look, people who come from countries that aren’t wealthy, who maybe aren’t a shade of Swiss cheese, who might actually need to get into Germany to save their fucking lives often have a hard time getting visas.  They sometimes get deported.

I am an American, and my skin is the color of Swiss cheese.  I  have married a German and have produced a Swiss-cheese-colored baby for the shrinking German population.  (Jawohl!)  I can prove that I have a job and insurance and stability and a place to live.  But what about the people who cannot prove these things?  What about the people for whom staying here is the difference between having a chance at a fairly normal life and being shot or bombed or oppressed or or or?  I don’t know where the immigrations people draw the line (are they more surly if you can’t speak German or if you can’t prove you have insurance, a job, and a rental contract?), but there are lines being drawn.  I doubt anyone is being given an armband and sent away solely because of the color of their skin, but I do know that the people being sent away are largely people whose skin more closely resembles hazelnuts than cheese.

According to this article, Germany deports 50,000 immigrants annually.  And before they deport them, they put them in special little deportation jails.  Ick.

Today, any foreigner residing in Germany without legal immigration status can be arrested and placed in detention pending deportation. This includes refugees who are refused asylum, civil war refugees whose right to remain has not been extended, and immigrants in the broadest sense, who either entered Germany without a valid visa or whose residence permit has expired.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the law has allowed the detention of such people, in order to procure passports or travel documents before deporting them. Those affected are in a desperate situation lacking any recourse. The reason for their arrest is not any criminal offence they have committed, but restrictive German laws that turn them into “illegal immigrants.” Moreover, deportation detention can drag on for up to 18 months. …

According to the Initiative, over 50,000 migrants and asylum-seekers are deported from Germany each year, most of them by plane. Each day, 130 to 140 are returned to the conditions from which they fled—civil war, political persecution, dire economic hardship and regimes that suppress ethnic minorities and women.

Deportees are frequently accompanied by the paramilitary German Border Police or private security agents, who are prepared to use force. Those who resist are beaten, restrained and injected with drugs. A number have already been killed, but the culprits and the authorities responsible have so far escaped prosecution. The dead and abused refugees and immigrants are consciously accepted as the price of a brutal deportation practice.

Since 1993, 99 people have taken their own lives or died trying to avoid deportation, 45 while in detention.

Knowledge is power.  So what are we going to do about it?  Why are borders so important?  Why is keeping people out more important than keeping people alive?  Dog eat dog, survival of the fittest?  Nope, just an accident of birth.  I was born here and you were born there, so you better stay the fuck on your side of the line in the sand.  You were born into war and I was born into wealth?  Well, I must deserve it.  Or something.  Say it with me now…ICK.

It is a scenario that comes up over and over again in the apocalyptic books that I like reading so much.  And in a life-or-death situation, I can understand turning people away from your group.  If the choice is starving together or surviving a lone asshole, I know my instinct would urge me to survive as an asshole.  But guess what: Germany is not turning people away because if it doesn’t, all the Germans will starve to death.  We are not living in a post-apocalyptic scenario.  Germany is turning people away because it makes sense within this government-controled, border-patroled world.  Sad.

Meanwhile, back in the bubble of white privilege…I applied for what I think of as my “eternal German visa” a few weeks ago, or as the Americans call it, a Green Card.  Once it is approved (the paperwork is floating around in Berlin somewhere as I type) I will be allowed to stay here forever—though to my disappointment I will have to return to renew every time I get a new passport, ie once every ten years.  This is the award for three years of marriage.

I will be allowed to work any job, any time.  (Bet you a dollar that I’m still not going to be allowed on the state health insurance plan though.)  What a relief.  Not that there was ever any serious question of it being denied, which is where my priviledge in this situation lies: All of my visas have been fairly easy to obtain.  First there was a one-year au pairing visa.  Then a three-year English teacher visa.  Then I got married to a German, which gets you a pass for at least three years.  Though after seven years in Germany I could have applied for the same visa independently of the Beard, getting married made everything a lot easier.  Dual citizenship, however, is verboten.  I guess I am as close to being German as I’m ever going to get.

Wednesday April 03rd 2013, 8:00 am 8 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany

music and language, language in music

This post is reincarnated from this post.  (Because breaking down how various German punk songs helped me learn the language doesn’t fly as well with the work audience.) NOTE: Sorry to anyone who read this earlier in the day.  For some reason the YouTube embeds just disappeared.

Year Zero.  Frankfurt am Main, Germany.  It was the year of the au pair.  The year of graffiti appreciation.  The year of loneliness and mad cap plans and then finding and bikes and more, but very different, mad cap plans.  It was the year of much trail-by-fire, DIY, bluff-your-way-through it language learning.  I took classes.  They helped.  But what helped even more was music.

In my former life, German music was a field that belonged exclusively to Kraftwerk, Rammstein, Nena, Bach, Beethoven, and a whole lot of techno.  I didn’t love any of it.  (Confession: I listened to Kraftwerk for the first time one month ago.)  But I knew there must be more, knew there must be punks singing in German, and I asked around until I ended up with three CDs in my hands: Die Kassierer, Hass, and Quetschenpaua.  If you have ever heard of any of those bands you can say it with me: oh my.

It is an easy mistake to make, and how could I have known?  Say “Deutsch Punk” to someone who knows what they are talking about and you won’t end up with German Punk Music, General.  You will end up inside a genre so specific that most of the population has never heard of it.  Die Kassierer and Hass belong to this genre.  At its best it is dirty, underproduced four-chord punk music with a most excellent sense of humor (though Die Kassierer and Hass got too big to still qualify for “underproduced.”  At its worst it is completely unlistenable garbled garbage.  My personal Deutsch Punk heroes are a now-defunct band called Ultrapunk, but they were too disorganized and (probably) drunk to ever get around to getting themselves on youtube.  Too bad.  Their lyrics are pure gold.  They would have been very helpful when I was translating songs to improve my German.  Instead I was listening to this (I like the Kassierer’s version more, but it isn’t on youtube either):

But hell, either way you look at it, a love song that starts outside of a library wins at least a handful of points.

Then there was Hass.  I never quite warmed up to their sound, though their anti-fascism is endearing.

It was Quetschenpaua that I ended up listening to the most.  Folk punk with an accordion.  Songs about anarchists and demos and penguins and pirates and revolution and Berlin.  It was right up my alley.  Particularly then, when I was still all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about just about everything.

I sang the lines about the penguin who lives in Berlin with my au pairing charges.  I learned what Labello and Captain Igloo were (chapstick and a fishsticks brand, respectively).  I heard the expression “Unter dem Pflaster liegt der Strand” (Beneath the pavement, the beach) for the first time.  I got the chorus stuck in my head constantly.

If you’ve ever gotten a song stuck in your head, you know how pervasive, how invasive music can be.  Which is ideal when it comes to memorizing vocabulary in a new language.  You want those words reverberating inside your head, unable to escape, and complete with an easy-to-remember context.  Music does that without you having to do anything more than press “play.”

And look.  Science agrees!

“In the 1970s, extensive research was carried out into the powers of music in the learning process, by the Bulgarian physician Georgi Lozanov. He revealed that music puts listeners into a state of relaxed alertness, the ‘alpha state,’ the ideal state of consciousness for learning, and his tests were conclusive.

“More recently, in the March 2005 issue of the journal ‘Nature’ researchers at Dartmouth College in the US reported that they had pinpointed the region of the brain where ‘ earworms ‘ or catchy tunes reside, the auditory cortex. They found that the sounds and words that have actually been heard can be readily recalled from the auditory cortex where the brain can listen to them ‘virtually’ again and again. Music it seems is the ideal catalyst to the memorisation of words.”  (source)

Another study has also pointed to the possibility that “the extra information provided in music can facilitate language learning.”

To this day I still remember the words of one of the pirate songs that my au pair charges liked to listen to.  Robbi der Seeräuber segelt an der Wind.  Robbi der Seeräuber tut nur das was ihm gefällt.  Robbi der Seeräuber segelt an der Wind!  Und wir segeln mit ihm weil wir auch Piraten sind!  Cha-cha-cha!

Have you used music as a foreign language-learning crutch?  What did you listen to?
Monday March 18th 2013, 6:00 pm 6 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,germany,music

neigh neigh neigh

This just in…

Germany is in the throes of another meat scandal.  First information surfaced that there was horse meat in some frozen lasagna, burgers, and the like.  Then information surfaced that horse meat had even made it into the sacred (cough) orbs of Ikea meatballs.  People are very, very upset.

Some are claiming that the issue here is labeling, that the question here is “can we trust anything we read on labels anymore?”  Which is certainly part of the problem.  But labeling was an issue before (labelling for genetically modified foods, anyone?) and very few people were yelling about it.  And that leads me to suspect that the real issue here isn’t the labeling.  The issue here is that a lot of people feel uncomfortable eating horses, an animal most people in the western world think of as a pet, as a friendly pink illustration on the Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper they had in third grade, as the stars of books marketed at young girls, as the talking wonder that was Mr. Ed.  If some chicken had accidentally gotten into the frozen hamburger, would anyone be freaking out?

Of course nobody likes being tricked into eating animals they didn’t consent to consume.  (SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!)  When my friends, who spend every summer working in Switzerland (a country where it is totally normal to eat horse, fyi), brought a little package of sliced stallion back with them I felt mildly uncomfortable about trying it.  (But I did, just a tiny bite, and it tasted just fine.)  I have been through the conditioning, and I get the instinctive puky response that our minds force on our bodies when we realize we have broken a dietary taboo.  Yet, simultaneously, it all feels kind of silly.

There are a hell of a lot of people on planet earth who do eat horse, and who are probably shaking their heads in disbelief and amusement at the media response to the German horse meat scandal.  According to wikipedia the top eight horse-eating countries “consume about 4.7 million horses a year.”  Reading further, I was intrigued to discover that many of these taboos also have roots in Christian imperialism and classism. Once again, according to wikipedia, “In 732 A.D., Pope Gregory III began a concerted effort to stop the ritual consumption of horse meat in pagan practice. In some countries, the effects of this prohibition by the Roman Catholic Church have lingered and horse meat prejudices have progressed from taboos, to avoidance, to abhorrence. In other parts of the world, horse meat has the stigma of being something poor people eat and is seen as a cheap substitute for other meats, such as pork and beef.”

When you look at the issue from a culturally neutral perspective, there is no issue.  When considering the consumption of horse meat, I can’t help but think of Game of Thrones.  And if horse meat is good enough for the Dothraki, then it is good enough for me.

Thursday February 28th 2013, 9:00 am 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,germany

winter, fried food, and sudden visits

Living so far from the place where I grew up, I had long ago given up on the possibility of a chance meeting with a so-and-so from a whenever-a-long-time-ago.  I like chance meetings.  I like finding out what has become of people I knew when we were kids.  Character development.  It’s fascinating.  But I like living in Germany more, so down the drain with chance meetings, I figured.  The closest I’ve come, will probably ever come, was a few weeks ago.

I’m coming to Frankfurt for work tomorrow! the email said.  Whoa! I said.  We met, after years and years of not seeing each other, of not even talking, two people who once called each other best friends.  Life is funny like that.  And so we went to the Christmas market, freshly opened, home of deep-fried everythings that had been silently begging me to come pay them homage from across the city (or was that my stomach?).  As annoying as the winter holiday season can be, it sure is delicious.

We strolled through the crowd—a small one, we were lucky—until we found a good-looking mulled wine stand.  We ordered and found a little table to lean against while we raced the cold air to the bottom of our mugs, comparing politics in the countries where we live, about Obama’s universal health care and the election and New York City.  More tables crowded around us and more mulled wine drinkers around them, a little rock in a stream of shoppers pushing by on their way to fill their bags and empty their wallets.

When I was a vegan, the Christmas Market held no power over me, but now that I am again an omnivore, the temptation to pull out my wallet and bury my snout in another puddle of frying fat is large.  When hunger arrived, we decided on langoes, a friend potato bread topped with cheese and garlic sauce, and it was tasty, if not overpriced in that way that seasonal, touristy attractions always are, and we left without ordering one of everything from everywhere.  Though I do vaguely regret not having purchased any of these chocolate tools, my favorite discovery of the evening:

I thought they were real for almost an entire minute and couldn’t figure out why someone was selling rusty old tools at the Christmas market.  Yum.

On a sidenote, tomorrow is the winter solstice, and while it is a holiday I would like to be celebrating, I have yet to establish a tradition for the day, overshadowed as it is by the habit of Christmas. Will any of you be celebrating? Happy winter!

Thursday December 20th 2012, 1:41 pm 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany

the old woman and the sea (of paperwork) or, advanced parenting in germany

Every since Baby Pickles arrived I have felt like I’m being buried alive.  Letters, forms, papers, confirmations, more forms, more forms, and more fucking forms.  Welcome to parenthood in Germany.  Not so pleased to meet you, but thanks for the mad cash that you keep telling us we will someday get for working on your shrinking population problem.  (“Problem.”)

I suck at paperwork.  Though I vaguely enjoy filling out forms in a sort of obsessive compulsive way, I have trouble filling them out and getting them to the post office on time because at the end of the day I just don’t care.  Taxes, registering my address, getting visas—how do people manage to give enough fucks to get this shit done before the very last second?  At least some of Pickles’ paperwork will result in money in the bank, but still, paperwork is paperwork is hell, and I always procrastinate getting to the post office for as long as possible, and I am very, very good at forgetting things.

The paperstorm began immediately after Pickles’ was born.  Her birth certificates could be picked up at the Standesamt, we had been told.  We were supposed to pick them up right away, but I could barely walk because I’d just had fucking abdominal surgery you assholes, and duh, we were pretty fucking busy just trying to stay alive those first weeks.  When I finally made it there, they told me that I needed to “order” the birth certificates, and I could pick them up later.  Futile trip to the ugliest building in town!  Thanks Standesamt!

A few weeks later I finally had the honor of taking home a handful of certificates claiming that the Beard and I were, in fact, Pickles’ parents.  (They do this at the hospital in the United States, don’t they?)  A few copies were free, the rest—and you need them for all the other paperwork you are going to have to fill out for your baby and they have to be originals—were ten euros a pop.  Why it costs ten euros to have someone print out and sign a sheet of paper that they were printing a few of at the moment anyway is beyond me.  And the system grinds on. Cha-ching!

Quadruplicates of the birth certificates in hand, we started filling out forms for the health insurance company, which went surprisingly smoothly and resulted in a little pickled insurance card and no further hassles.  Then I filled out the novel of pages of paperwork for her American citizenship, passport, and social security card applications. (None of which we have been able to afford to actually get yet, ho hum.)  The Kindergeld and Elterngeld paperwork, however, (which we really should have filled out months before and sent in the minute Pickles was born, and no I am not kidding) are still coming back to haunt us.

First, let me explain.  Kindergeld is money that the government gives everyone who has a German baby.  So if you have a German baby and live in Germany, you will receive 185 euros per month until said baby is 25 or graduates from college.  After you’ve had a couple kids (each of which will result in an additional 185-euro-per-month check), they raise the bar and you get 205 euros a month and on and on.  Elterngeld is money that the government gives people who are raising German babies so that staying home with a baby is a little less financially daunting.  There is a minimum of 300 euros per month, or you can fill out even more paperwork and get a percent of your previous salary for one year.

These would have been the forms to not procrastinate filling out. Cough cough, shuffle shuffle, blush.  Around month seven I finally got them all in the mail.  Done! I thought.  Soon we’ll have that financial help, I think.  Wohoo! I thought.  And so began the avalanche of letters and further paperwork that I am sitting in as I type this.

We made a few mistakes on the Elterngeld paperwork, only two of which were found initially (another one was found after we sent back the first round of corrections), but at least that only involved a few more checks and a few more signatures.  The Kindergeld people, however, have just written to tell me that I need something called a Haushaltsbescheinigung, aka a paper that has been stamped and signed by the people at the Bürgeramt.  What that means in plain English is that I have to go to an office in Mainz to have a stranger sign a paper saying that, yes, the Beard, Baby Pickles and I all live in the same house.  Couldn’t we just send them one of the other hundreds of pieces of paper we have had to fill out to prove that we live at the same address (which we had to provide for my visa after our marriage)?  Without the extra trip to one of their rings of hell?  Couldn’t the fucking German bureaucrats just pick up the fucking phone and communicate with each other—or better yet, have a computer system do it for them? As usual in my encounters with German public offices, I find myself tearing at my hair.*

The positive side of all this is that we might really be another few days closer to getting our monthly “thank you for breeding” money, which we could really use right now.  I really appreciate that the country tries to support parents, particularly since they changed the laws so that both mamas or papas could apply for Elterngeld for taking on the majority of the kid responsibility.  Still, I do wish it was all a little easier.  If everyone is entitled to Kindergeld, then why don’t they automate the process through the reports of birth, send parents something to sign in confirmation, and cut a bunch of people who are struggling with one of the busiest, most chaotic events in their lives a fucking break from all the forms?  Have you ever tried filling out paperwork with a baby on your lap?  I have.  And while I was annoyed at having to get a new set of forms, I have to admit that I understood why she wanted to rip them all to shreds.

*Yesterday I was informed that the reason that these offices don’t communicate is actually one of data protection.  It is illegal, for example, for the police to just go to all these offices and get all the info they have on you there without your permission.  Good call.  Though in this case I wish I could just sign something allowing them to do it in this situation.

Also: All the paperwork is done and sent in!  Now to wait and see what we’ve fucked up on it this time…

Thursday December 06th 2012, 9:00 am 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,gorilla parent (year one)

ribbet ribbet: on tour with the froggy mountain boys

I have to chuckle when I think of it now: in the time it would take me to drive across New Jersey, I could be in Holland.  Shit, in a plane, in about the time it takes to watch an episode of Dexter, I could be just about fucking anywhere.  Well, not in Brazil, but, you know.  There is so much to see within such a short distance these days, and, me, I barely go anywhere.  Good thing there’s tour to kick my ass out of the house and into a few other cities (and countries).

Every time we are on tour—even when it is just for a couple of days—I am never quite certain.  Do I love it?  Do I hate it?  You’d think those wouldn’t be two emotions that were so hard to tell apart.  At the beginning the new rhythm is uncomfortable: Less sleep, constant newness and moving and resettling, mustering up lots of stage energy at exactly the time when I would usually be putting on sweatpants and falling into bed, little time to write or read.  But after a few days the rhythm starts to feel familiar, and it starts to feel like we must have always been on the road, that there never was anything else except days in vans and people cooking you amazing dinners and breakfasts and venues and music and stages.  For the first time since Baby Pickles was born, I haven’t done laundry in five days.  Or cooked anything.  How bad can it really be?  Travel is awesome, right?

And yet, music-making travel is vastly different from any other kind of traveling I have ever done.  In the usual sense, travel is a way of expanding your world.  You meet new people, wander foreign streets, eat things you’ve never even heard of before.  You absorb the life of the world around you, and you become bigger for all the newness forcing its way inside your head.  Band touring has its elements of expansion as well—new people and food and places are still a part of the deal—and yet you find your world shrinking.  Instead of digesting new worlds, you find yourself in a microcosm.  There is the inside of the van, the venue, and the place where you will sleep.  There are cities outside of the van window, and you might even take a walk around the neighborhood where you will be playing.  But more often you don’t, more often you lay down on a couch in the venue so that you can keep it together on less sleep later, and you find that your world has shrunk to the size of the venue, the space around your seat in the car, and the stage you find yourself on each night.

With a world the size of a van seat and a music venue, the atmosphere in each becomes hugely important.  Though I can’t recall ever playing a venue I hated, there have been nights that felt less comfortable than others.  But this trip around I felt good at every stop we made.  Of course, I also left early every night to get the babe and I into bed in time to avoid complete sleep-deprivation-zombie-melt-down, but besides a very small turn out in Karlsruhe, every night went pretty damn well.

In Frankfurt we played Cafe ExZess, a versatile autonomous space with an infoladen/lending library, bar, and theater with a tap dancing trio.  In Mainz we played an on-campus restaurant called Baron with some very fine pizza and my favorite alcohol-free beer (Erdinger!  Mmmm).  In Solingen—another city I had never visited before and that was absolutely gorgeous with slate-sided houses in the middle of a lot of forest—we played a tiny, adorable Irish pub called Tom Bombadil.  Not only did they serve Guinness (oh sweet sweet victory), but I got to meet Moonwaves!  Wohoo!  In Holland we met up with old friends at Baklust in the Hague (organic, vegetarian cafe that I demand you visit immediately if you are in town) and Vrankrijk in Amsterdam (one of the oldest squats in Holland, rumor has it).

This tour was one of the smoothest we’ve been on yet.  The venues were all pleasant, the drives were all short, the sleeping arrangements were all fantastic (people take really good care of you when you are traveling with a baby), and the food was all fucking amazing.  During our last tour, I was newly pregnant and dealing with a fuck-all case of morning sickness.  I was constantly hungry, but could barely eat.  Not that it mattered much, since all but one show organizer had served us chili, the last thing you want to eat when your stomach is a wreck and you’re going to be spending all day in an enclosed space with four other people who’ve got a pile of tomatoes and beans in their digestive tracks too.  When I did manage to eat, I would jokingly tell my food, “I’ll see you again later.”  Though I am still too traumatized to ever want chili again, the lack of both puking and chili made me really fucking happy this time around.

And of course, The Froggy Mountain Boys.  Being on tour with another band, particularly a band who are really fucking good, is loads of fun.  Spending seven days with five people who you’ve never met, well, that sounded like a potential disaster.  But we all got along just fine, and a few of the Froggies were really good with Baby Pickles, which was helpful since we didn’t have any room in the van for an extra babysitter.  (I’m going to go on about touring with a baby in more detail on Monday.)  We tend to get put on a lot of punk bills (not that our music remotely fits in that context, but our attitude and message do) or play with local singer/songwriters.  It was fucking brilliant to know that every night would end with a swinging Froggy performance.  I have woken up with a song of theirs stuck in my head every night since we left.  Encore encore!

All of the pictures in this post were taken in Baklust in the Hague, Holland. The first two are © Bertus Gerssen fotografie 2012, the second two (cc) Click Clack Gorilla. The art visible on the wall in the final picture is Unfinished Business.  I’m thinking about getting one of the pictures on the left there tattooed on my arm.  Huzzah!

Friday October 12th 2012, 1:10 pm 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,germany,gorilla travel,music,The Battenkill Ramblers

gorilla parent: the bilingual baby experiment

So we live in Germany. I am American. The Beard is German. Watching a little person learn two languages at once is one of the things I have looked most forward to when it comes to baby making and raising. And here we are.

From the very beginning, from Baby Pickles’ very first minute outside of my belly, I spoke English with (to) her. The Beard speaks German with (to) her. This is what linguists call the one parent, one language style of bilingualism. Some people do one language at home, one language outside. Some people do one language in one country, one language in another. There are about as many styles to bilingual parenting as there is sugar in Willy Wonka’s candy landscape.

However, the Beard and I speak German to each other, and we will continue to do so. Theoretically, when Baby Pickles joins in and speaks German in these conversations, I will answer in English. Then again, some folks propose a “whoever starts the conversation choses the language used” principle, but as I don’t really like speaking English with the Beard I can’t imagine implementing that. It all sounds very complicated, not to mention the fact that I am not very good at constant language switching (though I am a bit better at it already, after seven months of practice).  Who knows. I think the key, like everything else when it comes to parenting, is to remain flexible.

As the only person in Pickles’ direct surroundings who speaks English, I’m figuring on having a lot of work to do to make the language interesting. I don’t want it to someday just be some stupid language that mommy speaks. So I’m looking for English-speaking play groups, and you don’t even want to know how many kids books we already have (in part because I love to collect beautiful kids books, which I of course do in English). Not to mention the fact that we almost only watch movies in English. I figure the more people she meets who speak English, the more situations in which it is useful to her, the more the language will come to mean to her. If she has English-speaking friends, then the language’s value to her will become more acute. And of course there will be trips to the States. What I really, really don’t want is for us to visit and for her to be incapable of communicating with any of her American family.

I’m already bracing myself for the fact that Pickles’ strongest language is not going to be English. I mean, maybe she’ll be great at it, but with the resounding influences in her life in German, with German schools and German neighbors and, well, Germany everywhere around her, I expect that she’ll excel in that language more so than in English. And it totally blows my mind. How could I create a child that doesn’t even speak my native language? Immigrant parenting is a whole new mine field of wonder.

Are any of your raising bilingual kids? What has it been like for you so far?

Tuesday October 02nd 2012, 12:39 pm 13 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,germany,gorilla parent (year one)

squat mainz !!!!

There is a new squat in Mainz.  I feel like that sentence almost needs an entire paragraph all to itself, just to let it sink in.  A new squat in Mainz!  Wow.  These times we live in aren’t so friendly to squatters.  Even Holland, promised land of squatters for years, has illegalized squatting.  And now there is a new squat in Mainz!  Hells yeah. Let’s all collectively cross our fingers and toes that it sticks.

Overnight, Mainz has become at least three thousand times more interesting.  People are excited about the new project, and some of that energy is reflecting back into our own once-squatted, now-tolerated house.   This evening, should you fancy, you can come by and see the Beard and I playing a two-headed Battenkill Ramblers set (Mr. Bass didn’t have time, but we wanted to put something together to show our support all the same), as well as Mainz singer/songwriter Plus.

For more information on their doings (events calendar, photos, updates), check out the project’s website or facebook.  The above photo is via the group’s facebook page.

Thursday August 09th 2012, 2:39 pm Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,germany

frankfurt’s sachsenhausen: welcome to the monkey house

Left: The Frankfurt skyline. Sachsenhausen is a part of the banking capital. Photo (cc) flickr user Moe_

THIS is part 18 in a series about the year I spent au pairing in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. If you’d like to catch up on the rest of the series, check out the index here.

Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen is a curious place. Though the moniker technically applies to an entire city section—residents, shopping, and everything in between—when you hear people talking about Frankfurt Sachsenhausen, they’re usually talking about the pub district, a concentrated city block of often touristy bars and clubs, a micro city with no permanent residents. It is a place full of trays of bright green shots and hair gel and fake tan, full of spilled apple wine and loud conversation and lost earrings. It is the kind of place you go knowing you’re going to be doing the walk of shame home later/aren’t going to remember most of the evening.

Among the people I know now, the mention of it elicits groans. But then, before Britta had returned to America and I had traded my job au pairing for one teaching English, it was also one of a large group of American and Brittish au pairs’ favorite haunts. To its credit, the Irish pub did give out free pints of Guinness on Tuesday nights whenever a U2 song came on the stereo.

Sachsenhausen was never really my sort of place, but it did have its merits. My favorite of those was a small bar without sign or name, a dark, crooked little anachronism jammed between two more modern architectural concoctions. Barely the width of three doors, it looked like the home of a wrinkled old city witch, the kind of building only visible to inhabitants of London Below. It was the kind of place that got around the law that pubs had to close between certain wee hours of the night by locking visitors in behind blackened windows. It was sordid, it was seedy, and I only ever went inside once. For better or for worse, I don’t remember much of that night. It was bound to have been a disappointment, and I’m sure it was. I’m glad that no memories of banal drunken conversation have replaced my musings of the more magical happenings that could be playing out between its black-bricked walls.

It’s other merit, though a far less romantic one, was Das Bett, a music venue on one of the pub-city’s outer edges. At the mid-sized music club that favored indie music, another American au pair friend, this one from New Orleans, and I watched skinny white boys in nerd glasses make music with a Nintendo Game Boy.

Frau Rauscher Brunnen. Photo (cc) flcikr user Chris Pirillo

I’ve heard rumor that Das Bett has moved house, but the “Frau Rauscher-Brunnen” (pictured right) remains, a statue that provides an excellent stage for people watching should you find yourself unwillingly pulled into what the Frankfurter Allgemein has so appropriately called “Ein Ort zum Fremdschämen” (translation: a place for feeling embarrassed for other people, note: English could really use a concise version of the word fremdschämen). Madame Rauscher does what you, someone who maybe doesn’t want to be drunk out of her mind or hassled by another bachelor party group, wish you could: she spits water randomly out onto the street. Unfortunately I’ve never seen her hit a moving target.

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Friday July 27th 2012, 9:00 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies,expat life,germany