Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barfay Breakfast

It seems to be a common pastime in Frankfurt to attend a buffet breakfast on a Saturday or Sunday morning (or both mornings, of course). They usually run from about 10 until 2 and the aim is to sit there for as much of this time as possible, chatting with your friends, reviewing the week etc. Mads and Thieu are both huge fans of a buffet breakfast (Mads calls them a 'barfay breakfast') and I'm not adverse to them either, yet somehow it took us almost three months to get to one. We chose the perfect day though - rainy, dreary and nothing much on so why not spend the day eating?

It was 16 euros per adult and the guy behind the bar looked at Mads and said 'just 8 euros for her.' Sucker! I thought, as Mads made a bee line for the smoked salmon. So we filled our plates and settled in to sip coffee and champagne and discuss our week - the things we'd learnt, interesting things we'd seen or heard.

'I discovered that you can lose a German raffle before a single number has been drawn,' I said. On Saturday we went to a 'family fun day' at Mads' kinder. There was a 'tombola' where you picked your tightly rolled-up ticket(s) out of a hat. I bought three tickets and one of them had writing on it instead of a number. Someone looked at it and said 'that means 'too bad, you're not going to win with this ticket.'I was incensed. I mean, I never expected to win the raffle but to tell me that I didn't even stand a chance seemed unneccessarily unkind.

Then Thieu related a conversation he'd had with a German collegue.'It's complicated, being German,' the collegue had said. 'We were taught at school that we could not be proud to be German. Patriotism of any kind was frowned upon. I once wanted to take a German flag to the tennis to show my support of Boris Becker and I couldn't find one anywhere. In the end I had to get a tailor to make me one specially.'

The other big event last week was that Thieu taught his first student - with a fully-qualified instrutor adding comments over his shoulder of course, but still, it went well. So well, in fact, that the instructor came up to Thieu's office and presented him with his own instructor's pointer. It is telescopic which means that it folds down to the size (and shape) of a pen. It even has the clippy bit so that you can wear it in your breast pocket.

I inspected it. It had a white plastic knob on the end, presumably so you wouldn't take anyone's eye out. 'Was there a choice of knob-colour?' I wanted to know. White seemed a little dull. 'Well,' said Thieu, 'the instructor's pointer did have a chrome knob, but he said he'd had it for 20 years.' A chrome knob. Now that sounded impressive. 'Maybe it's something you work up to,' I suggested. 'You start with white and then as you train more students you get to replace the colour of your knob until finally, you get a chrome one. Or even gold maybe.' Thieu gave me that look. 'It's possible,' he said.

We guzzled and sipped and the day meandered by nicely. On the way home we saw a man pull a portable dog bowl out his backpack. It was a plastic tray thing that was attached to a water bottle and neatly folded out, providing a drink for dogs too high and mighty to drink out of a puddle. I've never seen one before.

This Friday we're going to London for a Birthay party. I am planning to luxuriate in the English language - doing lots of eaves-dropping and asking complicated questions in shops. Mads is going to ask an entire playground full of kids to play with her, just for the sheer joy of being understood. I wonder if she'll freak out when they all sound a bit like Charlie and Lola?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Ever woken up in the morning and felt like you would really like to ride on a giant mushroom? If so, then Erlebnispark Steinau is the place to head (watch out for the talking donkey on that link. It gave me a heart-attack the first time). Our upstairs neighbour, L, took us there on Sunday with her son and some of their friends. It's about an hours drive from Frankfurt and definitely worth the drive. There were bbq facilities (naturlich) and there were fun things to play on - like a luge-type arrangement called a Sommenrodelbahn. There were trampolines on masse and there were weird rolling rides shaped like storks that you pedalled across an elevated platform. Mads and I rode on one together and Thieu rode the one behind us on his own. Half way through the ride, Thieu's friend Strutts Thieu from Australia called. 'Hey Strutts!' said Thieu. 'Twenty bucks if you can you guess where I am?' Strutts didn't guess.

There was so much to admire. I loved the slightly scary, slightly battered old-school rides:

And the strange Grimm Brothers-themed chairs in the cafe:

We heartily embraced every cheesy photo opportunity:

And oh, to have this wonderful fart-predicting machine for our very own!

I even loved the toilet paper dispensers...

...and the sanitary disposal bag dispenser (although this kind of freaked me out too.)

But most of all I loved the little carts that the locals had which seemed to be especially designed for ferrying your stuff from the car to your picnic location:

The one in this photo is actually kind of inferior because it doesn't have solid sides. I saw some much better ones, but I started to feel a bit self-conscious photographing peoples' stuff as they wheeled efficently past me. These trollies are so useful, so solid and so very German. They look like something my dad would make, although he isn't German. But perhaps he is at heart?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cosy Names and the H word

Here are some shots of our local park. Mads and I have had a few dark moments here - not understanding anyone, not understanding why no one understands us. The other day Mads tried chatting to a group of girls and they looked at her, noses wrinkled and said 'Was? Was?. Mads angrily shouted back 'What are you 'wassing' about?' Then today she was happily playing in some bushes when a mother came over and said, 'that's where the children pee.' Awesome. I wanted to say 'there is a toilet. Have the children considered using that?' but perhaps it's not a toilet. Perhaps it's a cubby. Who knows?

Notice the headstones in the second photo? The park used to be a graveyard, but it was almost entirely destroyed during...you know, the War, and I guess they decided it was easier to just turn it into a play area.

Ah, the War. When Thieu did his 'cultural sensitivity' briefing when we first arrived here, the advice was a. 'never give a German person a boquet with an odd number of flowers in it' and b. 'don't mention The War.' We haven't mentioned it, but people keep mentioning it to us. And it's a hard topic to avoid because even now, 60 years later or whatever it is, there's evidence of it everywhere. We met our upstairs neighbour in the park one day and she pointed to the streetscape and said 'have you noticed the holes where the bombs fell?' I thought at first she meant little chunks out of the buildings, but she actually meant the way in which there will be three older style houses in a row, then suddenly, starkly, a modern one, built where an older one used to be before it was bombed.

Then today, I went to have my 'German lesson' with a very kind mother from Mads' kindergarten, which always just ends up with us chatting in English. Today we started talking about childrens' books. There's a character I keep seeing here called Straw Peter and I asked her about it. She said he's from a famous German kids' book - one of those old style books with heavy, scary morals ('Bob refused to keep his hands off the table. So a monster came and bit them off.' That kind of thing).

I was musing on what would make parents think this was a good thing to read to their kids and she said; 'There was a very terrible man here once called Hitler.' I paused for a moment, then said, cautiously, 'Yes. I've heard of him.' We ended up having a very interesting discussion and what was the most striking thing for me was the terrible guilt and shame she seemed to carry, as a 28 year old, for something that had happened so long before she was born. It was like she'd inherited the awful burden of it. She was near tears when she told me about how, when she used to work for an airline, she would sometimes come across older people who would refuse to speak to her because she was German. And I found myself telling her about the terrible attrocities that the early settlers in Australia did to the indigenous population, as if it would somehow make us more even. As if you could ever been even with something like that.

And now next week, after that conversation, how can I possibly go back to my faltering German and start constructing clunky sentences about how 'I like to read books and travel'?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Give and Take

Remember the finger that was jammed in the door the other week? It was quite obvious it was going to fall off, and Mads has been stressing about the impendig event for some time. Eventually, out of desperation I told her about the Fingernail Fairy, who collects up fallen fingernails (whole ones, not clippings) and will leave a gift in return by way of thanks. But what, Mads wanted to know, does the Fingernail Fairy do with all those fingernails? Well, she gives them to children who have no fingernails. Of course.

When the fingernail finally dropped off last week the Fingernail Fairy made good her promise. She whisked the nail away (although I pity the poor child who will receive it) and left a present. As luck would have it, the Fingernail Fairy discovered a present that we didn't end up giving to Mads for Christmas - a keyboard - and she thought, well, it is a little large for such a tiny nail, but there was considerable pain involved in the losing of it, so why not.

Unfortunately, another fairy visited that night too - the Conjunctivitis Fairy, or, for fans of polysyllabic German words, the Bindehautenzundung Fairy. So it was back to the childrens' doctor for us. Oh well.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


So, we caught the Very Fast Train to Paris and this, on the whole, was very good. There was much more room than on a plane and we sat near a friendly German family who chatted to us and gave us kids books. I plugged Mads into the ipod and drank a beer. Then we hopped out at Gare L'est, straight into a taxi and were at our hotel half an hour later, rather than having to deal with the monstrousness of an airport.

First stop the next morning was a nearby cafe called Cafe Madeleine (d'accord...) for croissants and coffee.

Then Mads wanted to see the Eiffel Tower **(her 'must do' list for Paris was based on entirely on the Madeline books and the Eiffel Tower was number one on the list). We hadn't really decided what we would do once we got there, and the long queues nearly made us run away, but Mads was dead keen to go up, so in the end we compromised and went up half way. I'm glad we did. It's pretty amazing. My favourite bit was all the nets they have under each viewing platform to collect all the cameras and phones that fall from sweaty tourist hands before they plummet to the ground and clonk someone on the head. Do you think you'd ever get your phone back again?

We discovered a few things about Paris this time that we hadn't noticed on previous trips, sans Small Person. Like, there is a decided lack of playgrounds, although we've since been assured that they are there, you just need to know where to look. I found the 'no walking on the grass' signs very annoying last time, but they're completely infuriating when you've got a kid with you. Queues are even less appealing, especially when the kid is probably not going to be excited by the interior of the gothic church you are asking her to wait patiently to see. But luckily ice-cream is everywhere, and everywhere ice-cream is good. We also felt strangely articulate being in France after two months in Germany. My French was never good and it is extremely rusty now, but it's still far better to my German. Thieu felt the same. We were able to construct entire sentences and be understood. Pretty much.

We spent two nights in Paris, and then went to visit S and L and their two boys who live in a fantastic old farm house just outside Paris. The elder boy shared Mads' love of Spiderman, Tin Tin and dressing up. And Madeleine discovered a new character to dress up as - a super hero from a French show called Sam Sam which I'd never heard of before. Mads hadn't either, but she instantly recognised that the costume was a cracker.

We particularly like the eyebrows. I'm now in charge of trying to track down a Sam Sam costume for her.

(** I've been instructed that I'm not allowed to post the pictures of Thieu being a model on the Eiffel Tower because then his Superhero identity will be revealed. Sorry.)