Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Strangest Hotel in the World

A couple of weeks ago Thieu had to go to a training thing in a nearby city called Karlruhe. There's an air traffic control centre there, an operational one rather than a training one, so Thieu and his collegues were sent to have a look. Mads and I joined him for the second half of the week. When Thieu rang after he arrived he kept saying 'You're going to love this hotel. It's the weirdest place. I think it's been designed by an insane person.'

When we arrived I saw what he meant. If a building could ever be described as a 'stream of consciousness' than this hotel was such a thing. And the stream of consciousness would sound something like this: 'We'll make a big clown face and each section of the face could be a separate room. The eye room. The nose room. The mouth room. And there will be other rooms, equally as weird, with weird decorations and strange, out of place objects in them, just to keep people guessing. And there will be a labyrinth of underground tunnels, so that the guests will continually doubt the strutural integrity of the rooms they're sleeping in.'

Here is a shot of inside our room:

Yes. The artwork is hanging upside down. I felt like I was back at art school viewing someone's end of year installation. Here's another shot:

So strange. But our room was positively conservative compared to the one given to one of Thieu's collegues and his family. This one had a waterbed (which is weird in itself as far as I'm concerned) and a coffin-like sauna in the children's room:

Here is a shot of one of the children's beds:

That's a sunlamp. What a lovely, homely touch. Give the children cancer while they sleep.

Despite the weirdness (because of it?) we had a great time. It was the kind of place children love as it had all kinds of weird (and possibly dangerous) objects everywhere and great places to hide. And it had a full German barf-ay breakfast, which, as I've previously mentioned, Mads is hugely in favour of. She wept when we left, but I suspect this was largely due to being separated from the other children.

Then we went to Munich. Munich was rainy. Torrentially so. We headed for the Deutches Museum on Saturday morning, along with everyone else, just to be somewhere dry. The queue was 45 minutes long. Happily, this provided me with an excellent eaves-dropping opportunity, as the American couple behind us had fallen into that travellers' trap of assuming that no one around you understands what you're saying, so you can speak with impunity. Hooray! Here's what I heard:

She: I'm not going to do it any more, Peter. I'm not going to starve myself.
He: Robin, please. Listen to me.
She: I'm not going to starve myself or gorge myself. I'm sick of it.
He: Robin. You're a beautiful woman. Beautiful! Why won't you listen to me?

Sadly, it all came to an end when Mads blew my cover by breaking into the chorus of 'Emily Rude'. Then there was an awkward moment where we all exchanged tight smiles and said 'how about the rain?' Then Peter said 'your daughter is so sweet. We have a daughter just like her,' and Robin said, 'well, not quite like her, Peter,' and I thought 'should I tell them she was just singing a song about her favourite kitchen implement?' I decided against it and recommended they go to the high voltage electricity display which we saw last time we were there. They seemed like the kind of couple who would enjoy it.

Friday, July 24, 2009


We were in the park yesterday, between bouts of rain and I noticed this little boy straight away. He was the one stomping on other kids' sandcastles and throwing rocks at the toddlers. Nice kid. His grandfather sat on a bench in the sun, reading the newspaper and paying no attention to his vile progeny's doings.

Then Mads whacked her head on a piece of equipment and the delightful lad rushed over, climbed up the tower she was standing on, and stood in front of her laughing. I can't tell you how close I came to pushing him over the edge.

As we left the park a little later I saw the boy near the basketball ring, bawling his eyes out. 'Look Mads, I said, 'that mean boy is crying. He looks like he hurt himself.' Mads looked at me sternly. 'Mummy,' she said. 'He's not a mean boy. What he did was mean.'

I rolled my eyes. 'Yeah, whatever,' I said. 'Now, run over there and laugh in his face.'

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My inner German

There are many ways in which I feel that I am already quite German. A love of sensible footwear? I've been wearing Birkenstocks for years. A reluctance to drop in on people unannounced? Makes perfect sense to me. A passion for carbohydrates that borders on the evangelical? Yes, oh yes. A hatred of plastic bags? We'd been here for a month before I even realised that our local supermarket was bag-free because I had always brought my own bag anyway. In my opinion, the concept of the beer garden borders on genius, especially those with a well-equipped playground (nothing like setting a good example to those future drinkers). So there are lots of things about being in Frankfurt that make me feel like I belong.

Yet there are some things that confuse me. I don't understand the German love of smoking - everyone here is so sensible that the local fixation with smoking puzzles me deeply. I've seen people smoking while eating, smoking holding their babies, kissing someone else's babies, while jogging. Well, maybe not quite. But almost. The same goes for the lack of bike helmets. I don't understand it. And after having heard C's story of being knocked off her bike, sans helmet and ending up in a coma for three days, plus losing her sense of smell for an entire year, I'm a committed wearer of the helmet. And if there was anywhere in the world I expected to see others who felt the same way it was here. But no. So Thieu and I are the only big old dorky mushroom-heads riding around. Well, we will be, once we locate our helmets.

Then there's this, which I simply refuse to understand:

It is called 'spaghetti eis' and every ice-cream shop offers it. Why anyone would want to eat something that looks like spaghetti bolognese for dessert is beyond me. I feel nauseous whenever I see one. So I say nein to spaghetti eis. NEIN NEIN NEIN!(The picture came from wikipedia by the way, so that's not my spaghetti eis or my boob either).

I am not sure about this either:

It is a pub on wheels. One person sits in the front and steers and the other twelve people sit along the sides, peddling and drinking beer. I don't get it. Why would you want to ride a bike and drink beer simultaneously? It sounds simply awful to me. Yet all weekend we see the bier bike trundling up and down outside our window. Not a single bike helmet to be seen, either. Maybe it's for tourists. That would make more sense to me. And maybe once they've finished cycling and drinking they seek out the nearest ice-cream parlour and down a couple of spaghetti eises.

We are going to Munich this weekend. And then it's less than a month before Mads and I return to Melbourne for a visit. Talk about time flying.

New Books

Whenever I receive the advanced copies of a book I'm always reminded of the period of time in which I wrote them. So these latest ones - 'Beach Break' and 'Keeping Secrets' instantly made me think of the time when we finally committed to moving to Germany, then the subsequent stress of packing up our house, the terrible insomnia I went through during this period, the sadness of saying goodbye to everyone and even just making myself believe that 'yes, we're really going.'

Still, it was quite wonderful receiving them in the mail the other day. And now they are sitting on my bookshelf, all shiny and pretty and utterly, unquestionably finished, that all the effort and pain feels worth it. Which is something I have to remind myself as I struggle through the writing of Tweenie Genie 2.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


On Monday night we returned to Frankfurt after ten days away - 2 nights in London then the rest in Italy. I managed to fulfill a few of my aims in London, but not all of them. One important aim I failed at dismally was catching up with everyone I wanted to see. I realise now I was way too ambitious about what could be achieved, especially with a small person in tow. But I did manage to tick one important thing off my list early on - eaves-dropping. As a committed sticky-beak it has been driving me crazy not being able to understand what people are talking about in Frankfurt. So when we boarded the Tube I carefully positioned myself next to two young women and started listening.

'So have you decided on the dress?' said one. 'Is it the one in the photo you sent?' The other woman nodded. 'Yes.' There was a pause. 'Are you doing your own hair?' 'No, Louise is doing it for me.' 'What about your make up?' 'I'm doing that myself.'

Perhaps it wasn't the most exciting conversation to listen in on, but that wasn't the point. I could understand it. All of it. I was equally enthusiastic about reading things. 'Warning: Contents may be hot.' 'No pedestrian access.' 'This weekend only: 50 percent off.' I felt so intelligent.

Another one of my aims was to find some English-speaking kids for Mads to play with. I was concerned she was losing her friend-making skills so we took her to a museum that had a kids play area in it (the place we were staying had no local park). There was one other kid there - a slightly older boy, and I was suddenly concerned that the whole exercise would turn into a huge disaster, but Mads was enthusiastic to try. She came running up to me after less than a minute, her face shining and said 'I asked him what his name was and he told me. It's Christopher. And he wants to be my friend.' It was lovely to watch, but it also made my heart ache. It's not that Mads is friendless in Frankfurt - she has a couple of really great mates, but it reminded me of how much easier it is to make new aquaintances when you share a language. Not surprisingly there were tears when we had to say goodbye to Christopher.

Then on Monday I was propelled back into stupid muteness. Mads and I went to Italy on our own (Thieu joined us on Friday) to meet our friends Trish and Ol in Castel Gandolfo, which is where the Pope chooses to summer. I seem to have this naive idea that everything in Europe is incredibly close and that the longest trip you'll have to do is maybe going as far as Mt Eliza or something. But that's really not the case. It took us all day to get to Castel Gandolfo and the journey tried the patience of both mother and daughter.

To be fair, the German leg of the trip was fine (we left from Frankfurt) but the moment we arrived in Italy, Chaos rose up and consumed us. I had done some intensive study on how to get Mads and me from Rome to Castel Gandolfo - there was a bus, costing a very reasonable 4 euros that went from Termini to the small, regional airport where we were to meet our friends. It all seemed easy enough. In theory.

After some effort I found the bus station at Termini and entered the office. Once inside I almost left instantly, as I assumed I had stumbled into a production of some kind of complicated Italian farce. A femle customer was shouting at the top of her lungs at the girl selling tickets and only left after she'd kicked over an over-flowing bin. The girl in the ticket office was shouting back. Then another customer (with an impressive and clearly quite new scratch on his neck) leant into the office and scratched the ticket girl's arm. She shrieked, grabbed her bag, locked up the office and departed. Mads watched all this, open-mouthed. I could tell what she was thinkiing. We have arrived in Tantrum Land. I shall be happy here.

I really had no idea what was going on. A kindly French woman said to me, eventually, 'we have to go and queue. The bus leaves in only an hour and there is no guarantee that we'll get a seat.' I thought at first that I hadn't understood her properly. But no. We were expected to stand in a queue for an hour (me with a grumpy three year old) for a bus (already there, but locked up) that we may or may not get a seat on. Trish's plane was due in 40 minutes and if we didn't connect wih her I had no idea how I was going to get to the appartment she'd rented.

So that's when I decided a taxi was a better option. I found one and the driver and I agreed on a horrifically expensive fare (at this stage I would've paid anything) and once inside, Mads promptly fell asleep. I was thankful for this, because the taxi went so fast (I stopped watching when the speedo was pointing to 150 kms) that I consoled myself by thinking 'at least she'll be asleep when we crash and die.'

But we didn't crash, and we didn't die, and even the fact that Trish's plane ended up being an hour late failed to concern me, or the thunder storm that commenced just as we all left the airport together, as it was just so lovely to be there. Or perhaps I'd plateau-ed with the stress.

And once we arrived at the appartment and opened some wine and admired the view of the volcanic lago from our balcony and the dome of the Bernini-designed church in front of Il Papo's summer residence the pain of the trip quickly receded.

So for the next week, things went something like this: Long breakfast followed by coffees in the piazza. Lunch. Swim in the lago. Gelati (Mads discovered a new favourite green flavour which she referred to as moustachio). Some dancing to the Wiggles. Wine and pasta. Kids in bed. DVD. Rinse and repeat. We did go into Rome one day, which was a whole other test of endurance, although quite wonderful in its own way.

It was a great, crazy, fun, exhausting holiday, and I'd do it again in a flash, but next time I'm going to hitch a lift in the Papal helicopter. Or something.