Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Me und Kaiser Karl

Here is a photo of Kaiser Karl (der Grosse, 742 - 814), known to his mates as Charlemagne.

If you think "Grosse" sounds pretty insulting, just keep in mind that his father was apparently known as King Pippin the Short, which is infinitely worse, I reckon.

Me and Kaiser Karl have become mates of late, largely because his stony likeness is positioned beside a pile of rocks which Madeleine finds irresistable. We can't walk by without her spending a good twenty minutes scrabbling about on them. And, you know, it's not like I've got a whole lot of pressing engagements right now. So I sit beside Kaiser Karl and watch the world pass by.

Last week I ended up spending even more time than usual sitting beside Karl because Madeleine was busy working on the theme song for a new character she's invented called 'Emily Rude'. The song went:
'Emily Rude
Emily Rude
Emily Rude
That's me!'
and was accompanied by a complex dance routine which, apparently, could only be performed on the rocks surrounding Kaiser Karl.

So to kill the time while Mads worked I decided to embark on a photographic project I've been planning for some time about footwear in Frankfurt. I'll admit straight up that I was hoping for knee high socks and sandals. So I got my camera out and tried to take some surreptitious photos of the people walking by. Having a small child is a good cover for exercises like this. For one thing, no one suspects a bored-looking mother of taking photos of people's feet. And for another, having a three year old singing about Emily Rude at the top of her lungs is a great diversion.

But my photographic exercise totally bombed. For one thing I kept taking photos of my lap, and not in an amusing, titilating way, just in a boring, close up of fabric, 'what the hell is that?' kind of way. Secondly, the footwear that passed me by was very conventional. Runners mostly. And sensible, but unremarkable walking shoes. No knee-high socks at all.

And then, of course, then I noticed that by far the most impressive examples of German footwear I'd spotted all days were those worn by none other than Madeleine and myself. Oh, the irony! And how predictable. In fact, there is probably some multi-syllabic German word that exactly describes this situation. I had on some birkenstocks and Mads was wearing some brand new red and orange German runners, paired with purple socks. Because really, what other socks would you wear with red and orange runners?

So here is a shot of Kaiser Karl (der Grosse)'s foot next to the foot of Madeleine Pearl (die kleine)'s:

Kaiser Karl's shoes are rather nice, don't you think? They remind me a little of these:

These are 'indoor only' shoes made by Elephant and Chickpea. Not German, but quite lovely. Perhaps I will buy myself some (once the shop reopens), seeming as how I'm a Haus Frau these days. I rather fancy swishing around on the floorboards in these. At the moment my indoor shoes are, well, socks. Kaiser Karl would not approve.

Then last night, I was cooking dinner (in my socks) and Madeleine came in and pulled something out of the kitchen drawer. 'Mummy,' she said. 'This is what Emily Rude looks like':

Friday, April 24, 2009


Before you read this, just remember, you know we are hopeless. So no eye-rolling, ok?

When we were packing to leave, we knew that some of our stuff could be sent air-freight and the rest would come by sea. Back then, all those weeks ago, I was keen to shed as much stuff as possible. 'We won't be taking anything,' I declared. 'Maybe just a single face-washer and a change of underpants.' So I didn't really take the airfreight stuff seriously. 'I'll just decide on the day,' I thought. Like I said. Hopeless.

So of course the moving day was frenzied and foul and Thieu and I ran around giving incoherent instructions to the removalists ('All the books with orange spines are being shipped. The white spines are staying. The forks are coming, but just leave the splades.' The removalists just rolled their eyes and shoved stuff in boxes. I was in charge of sorting out the stuff for air freight, so I had to make some very quick decisions about what to pack into the five boxes we'd been alloted. I had to isolate those items which would be of the greatest use to us once we arrived. The things that would make our life in Frankfurt complete and comfortable.

Well, yesterday our much anticipated five boxes of air freight arrived:

I have been dreaming about these boxes for the last week. It felt like Christmas, but better, because it was suff I knew I really needed (even though I couldn't exactly remember what it was). When I opened up the boxes yesterday afternoon, however, I thought 'What mad person decided that this junk was vital?' Some of the highlights included my winter clothes (and it's like, totally spring over here), a backpack, an ancient camera, a themometer. What was I thinking? Where were the sheets? The towels? The baby panadol? Madeleine's toys, for heaven's sake? Even a dvd or too would've been nice. But no. How about a finger puppet shaped like a panda and some stripy, knee-high socks?

It reminded of those stories you read about people who flee their burning houses, grabbing random objects on the way out. A salt cellar. The phonebook. At first I felt cross at my three-week-ago self for being so stupid. And then I remembered how hideously stressful the day was, and I (begrudgingly) forgave myself. Just this once.

The thing I felt worst about was the lack of toys for Mads, especially as I'd been promising her a bounty of goodness once The Boxes arrived. But then I remembered something important. For Mads, the best toy of all is a box, and now we had five.

So, with the aid of a marker pen and a stanley knife, we quickly turned one of the excellent boxes that Heidi gave us (thanks again for that, Heidi) into a submarine. Or U-Boot as they call them here.

And the bit we cut out for the porthole we turned into a pizza. (Smoked salmon with capers, because Mads likes a little salt.) Perfect.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vapour Trails

Here is a genuine Frankfurt vapour-trail, heading for the Henninger Beer tower that we can see from our balcony. Thieu took the shot. He is a fan of the digital zoom, which I maintain makes the pictures look all furry. He denies it. You decide for yourself:

The sky above Frankfurt is covered with vapour trails. There isn't a moment of the day when you can't see five or more of them criss-crossing the sky. And, because I'm not very good at spacial stuff, there is a time every day that I stand stock still, staring up in horror at what appears to be two planes heading straight for each other. And then the vapour-trails neatly intersect and the planes keep flying and I realise that one plane is teeny-tiny and the other is really quite large and probably quite close and I breathe again. I don't recall seeing vapour-trails like this in Australia. I'm sure I've only really seen them when some telecommunication company is trying to convince people to switch mobile phone plans.

Mads did an hour's orientation at kinder today. I was a little trepidatious but she literally flung herself into the room of children, with the joyus expression of someone presented with a table laden with food after having starved for several weeks. When I picked her up, her teacher, Frau Richter, said 'Madeleine sang a song and did a dance routine for us shortly after arriving.'

Which will come as no surprise to those who know her. Just wait till all her dress-up costumes arrive.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Frankfurt Food

So, food in Frankfurt. There are sausages everywhere, of course. Breakfast sausages. Lunchtime sausages. 'Quick! I need a sausage!' sausages. There are sausage-sellers roaming the streets and everywhere you look, at any time of day, someone is tucking into one. There's lots of processed meats around, too. I'm not quite sure how these differ to sausages, other than they are more, well, floppy-looking. Some are pink, but mostly they are a dead-ish beige. I saw some in the local supermarket where some pink processed meat bits had been inserted into beige circles to make a processed meat-face. Friendly and fun.

Frankfurt is known for a couple of culinary traditions. One is a green sauce (that's grun soss in German, but with dots and that funny letter that looks like a B but is actually a double s). Green sauce is made, I think, from cream (or possibly yoghurt?) and the green-ness comes from various green herbs that are added during the cooking process. The locals seem to have green sauce with everything - salad, crackers, on schnitzels. With sausages, of course. It looks like it'd make a nice smoothie, too. It's actually very tasty. Even Maddles liked it. Here is a photo of her dinner the night we first had it. The green sauce is hard to see in the green container, but believe me, it's a very pretty colour and Maddls enjoyed dipping everything into it:

Our upstairs neighbour is going to give us a lesson in how to make it. Or maybe I've just decided that she is. I can't quite remember.

The local drink is apple wine, which everyone tells us is NOT cider. But it tastes like cider. Just a bit flatter. But don't tell the Frankfurters I told you that.

And finally, there's sweet stuff, which Germany does very well. All the supermarkets sell chocolate covered with labels proclaiming the stuff to be bio-dynamic and fairtrade and 70 percent cocoa etc so you actually feel a bit guilty if you leave the shop without a block or two. Like you'd be letting down your family and the planet.

For those less concerned with purity, there is a vast array of delights too. Thieu returned from the supermarket the other day with these:

They are chocolate on the outside, marshmallow inside. And they are huge. 'There were mini dickmanns,' explained Thieu, a little sheepishly. 'But I couldn't bring myself to buy those.'

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


When you are three and a half, and you're told you're being taken to see a castle, you expect something like this:

It's something of a shock then, when after a long train trip, what you arrive at is this:

Poor Mads discovered how disappointing real castles can be when we went on our first train trip outside of Frankfurt this weekend to see the castle at Konigstein. (Please note that there should be two dots over the 'o' in Konigstein but I haven't worked out how to do that, or even if it's possible on my computer). Where were the ballrooms? The sumptuous feasts? The roof? There was great consternation, and only an ice cream, hastily applied, could console her. It reminded me of how disappointed my sister was when she was taken to see the fairy penguins at Phillip Island as a child and discovered that they weren't dressed up with wings, tutus and wands.

Konigstein was, incidentally, the site of our first public tantrum in Germany(when the afore-mentioned ice-cream was not applied quite hastily enough). A crowd quickly gathered around us as the tantrum unfolded, awe-inspired by our off-spring's noise-making abilities and the speed with which her limbs can flail. Perhaps they were wondering if such impressive energy could be harnessed to power a small to medium sized generator. It was then that I realised that German kids do not have tantrums. Or even cry much. There's quite a bit of shoving, but it all seems to be done silently, almost like a mime. Mads' wailing seemed to reverberate off the nearby Taunus mountain range. A couple of heavy blocks toppled from the ancient castle walls. The crowd parted as we scooped up our thrashing child and headed determindedly towards the ruins.

Kinder, which supposedly starts this week, is going to be interesting.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Frohe Ostern in der Schrebergarten

So, no hot cross buns for breakfast this morning, but thankfully plenty of chocolate. And also a strange cakey-thing that looked like a sphinx covered in chocolate, but which was apparently a chocolate-covered lamb cake, which in itself is a pretty weird idea. Mads was less disturbed by it than I was, and happily ripped its head off and shoved it in her mouth, before dashing off in search of further chocolatey goodness. Eggs turned up in the strangest of places (shoes etc) but I was impressed by Mads' thoroughness when she carefully checked both toilets.

Mid-morning we joined our upstairs neighbour, L and her son V for a picnic in the private garden they share with some friends. This is quite a common thing to do in Frankfurt, apparently. You put your name down at the local council and after a year or so you are matched up with a garden that suits your needs. They are called Schrebergartens - although no one today seemed to know what 'Schreber' means exactly, and if they don't know, being Germans, I can't possibly be expected to know either.

It was a very nice spot - sort of like a large backyard with no house, designed for people who live in flats, like most people do here, it seems. This particular schrebergarten was fairly wild and loose (perfect for Easter egg hunting) but apparently there are some gardens which are only rented out on the condition that they are maintained precisely. Very precisely. One third of the garden is for vegetables, one third for flowers, one third purely for grass. 'Yeah, and if you mess it up, the garden nazis come and get you,' one of the German guests explained. Thieu and I tittered nervously. Are we allowed to laugh at nazi jokes so soon after arriving? We really weren't sure.

It's a public holiday tomorrow, of course, and we don't have any milk. I asked a few people if they thought there'd be anywhere I could get some. There were a few suggestions, but no one seemed very confident. I really need to do some stocking up.

There were two Indian mums at the bbq today too, and they told me how their daughters eat nothing and I told them how mine eats everything, even strange-looking chocolate sphinx-lambs. Then the three of us ran around, basting our kids in suncreme, while the German mothers looked at us in mild confusion.

All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend our first Easter here. Then later in the evening, as I was making Mads' dinner, the doorbell rang. One of the parents from the bbq had brought us around some milk. I only wished I had some chocolate lamb left to offer him as thanks.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Frankfurt: The Arrival

Our flight from Singapore left at 11.30, so we had an arvo nap and then somehow managed to keep Mads awake until take-off. Luckily, there was a small play area at the airport, and lots of excited kids (surrounded by tired parents). Then five minutes after take-off, she was asleep. And stayed asleep for ten of the twelve hours! It was incredible. I didn't sleep at all, but I wasn't expecting to. I don't understand how anyone actually can sleep on a plane (in economy at least, which has been my only experience of flying). A couple of times I started nodding off, but as my head would fall forward I'd instantly, and horribly, wake up. Is my head heavier than normal peoples' heads? Do other people have some technique that keeps their heads in position? I don't get it. It's like those earbud things. I cannot keep them in my ears, especially my right ear. Is my ear deformed? The only way I can make them stay in place is if I stay very still and tilt my head back slightly. No one else seems to need to do this. It's all coming back to me having a weirdly shaped head. Oh well. At least I had ten hours to stare at my slumbering daughter in delighted amazement, occasionally muttering 'das ist fantastich' to myself.

Everything continued to go smoothly after we landed. Customs, no probs. Bags all arrived in one piece. Taxi, no worries. When we arrived at the flat (which did actually exist - hooray!) our upstairs neighbour was there, as planned, awake and ready to let us in. She'd even bought us some basic supplies and made us a card, which was very, very kind. Mads was very excited to see her son, Vicco. She shouted 'do you want to go and play in my room Vicco?' Vicco doesn't speak English yet, but smiled politely and then hid behind his mother, just a little. Later they brought down some lego for Mads. So freaking nice!

The flat is lovely and light (and warm) and close to all the important things (supermarket, park, train station, library, trink-halle). It is very strange to be here and I keep reflecting on the incredible good fortune we had in getting this flat in the first place.

We are going to need some German lessons, and soon, because although a lot of people speak English of course, it sucks not understanding what people are saying, especially for people as nosey and Thieu and me. And Mads really needs to be able to talk to kids in the park or she'll go nuts. I did have a loose plan that Mads would learn fluent German at kinder and then we'd just get her to do everything (buy the groceries, speak with the immigration department, the bank etc) but perhaps this is a bit much to expect. My ambition has always been to acquire enough German to hold my own in conversation with a four year old so that I won't embarrass Mads in front of her friends, but I'm realising now that this is perhaps aiming too high. Maybe I should aim to understand a slow-speaking 3 year old. We have been watching German kids TV to try and pick some words up from that. Mads' approach is to just make up words that sound vaguely German and use those.

Here are some things I've noticed so far:

- the pedestrian traffic lights are silent and we keep missing them because we're waiting for the 'BEEUW!tok-tok-tok-tok-tok' noise.

-they don't have hot cross buns. But they do have bun-shaped-bunnies, which look a little cross (at least, the one-eared one I bought for Mads this morning looked slightly peeved).

-Germans are confused about the notion of a de-facto relationship. We met someone from Matt's work yesterday who said 'What? After ten years you still haven't decided if you want to get married or not?'

-Frankfurt is a lot prettier than everyone led me to believe. Hooray for low expectations!

-you can buy vegetables in Germany. I will take some photographs to prove it.

Next post's topic is: German toilet design and what does this say about the German personality?

Monday, April 6, 2009

We're here. (Bodily, at least)

Sorry about crying at the airport. That was inevitable, I guess, but I didn't intend to do it. But I think I started crying sometime on Tuesday and it felt kind of good, so I just kept going. Inevitably, the plane was delayed (partly because of the crazy stormy weather, but partly also because of some stupid seat malfunction in business class. As we boarded two very grumpy-looking women were standing in that kind of weird kitcheny-space they have on planes. A steward asked them if they'd like a champagne and one said, snappily, 'Yes, but not while I'm standing here.' I wonder if she relented during the 45 minutes it took them to fix whatever the problem was? No one was offering the shleppers down in eco class if they'd like a drink. I would've happily taken theirs for them.

So the flight was kind of crap, because Qantas is like that - food was bad, the in flight entertainment inexplicably stopped working half-way through the flight etc etc. And I had a cold that got worse and worse until I seriously thought my eardrum was going to pop. But we made it, and my ear doesn't seem to have popped.

I picked the hotel from the plethora on the internet based purely on the fact that it had a glass lift featured in its profile, and Mads liked the glass lift in Cairns so much that I decided that was enough of a selling point for me. It was a pretty amazing lift. Singapore seems to be mostly shopping and eating, is that right? We did a reasonable amount of eating, but there was no way we felt like shopping after all the stuff we had to deal with during the move. It was actually good - I didn't feel even slightly tempted to shop. Actually, on Sat, I didn't really feel like doing much more than laying in a darkened bed, nursing my sore head, which is basically what I did.

The stop in Singapore was definitely the right to do. About two hours into the flight Mads started saying 'When are we going to get there? This is taking forever etc' and I was so relieved that we only had five hours ahead of us instead of seventeen.

Have to go. The slumberers are stirring. Maybe I should see how long I can go without sleep? Luckily, I'm not capable of actually calculating how many hours I've been awake already, but I do I think I'm starting to hallucinate. I keep having this weird sensation that I quit my job and moved to a country where I don't speak the language or know anyone. Strange....