Friday, November 11, 2005

Americans need a holiday like this!

Today is November 11, Veterans Day in America but St. Martin's Day in Germany. The day has Catholic and pagan meaning, but in effect it is the beginning of Carnival celebrations, which kick into overdrive around Lent (think Mardi Gras.)

St. Martin's Day is primarily celebrated in Rhineland area, so I was pleasantly surprised when my office paused at 11:11am this morning to celebrate. The head of the department proudly declared "it's an honor to be a Bonner." My mentor recalled a story of a colleague who used to bring a grill into his office on Nov. 11 and grill for his colleagues! He also starting singing a song about crawling in a trash can and not coming out until it is full on Rosenmontag (the day before Fat Tuesday.) Craziness!! Philadephia has the Mummers Day Parade, but I think America needs a holiday like this!

To see pictures and a live video stream from Cologne, click here.

My first memory of the day is actually from high school. We celebrated by making lanterns and parading around the classroom with glow sticks in the lanterns singing a traditional St Martin's day song (click on the words "St. Martin's Day" above to see the text.)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What were you doing 16 years ago today?

As I emerged from the subway this morning, I saw the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaenkniskirche (Church of Remembrance,) a Berlin landmark that I look at every day on my way to work. Bombed by the allies in 1943, the church stands in ruin as a memorial. Seeing the church often makes me think about German history, but this morning was different.

I thought about what I must have been doing 16 years ago today-- a 4th grader at Brewster Elementary School in Rochester, Michigan. I was probably watching Jem, puffing my bangs to give myself mall hair, and wondering whether Emily Johnston and I would be wearing the same outfit at school. Though I was already an avid news watcher at the age of 9, foreign news to me was what happened across the river in Canada. I was certainly not focused on Germany, a country I knew about only because my Papa had been there once and brought back lederhosen that were now in the dress-up box at my grandma's house.

I also found myself thinking about all the people who emerged from the Wittenbergplatz subway station 16 years ago today, to begin a "normal" work day. And I thought about the million or so East Berliners who also got up this morning 16 years ago, having never seen the Church as a memorial and unknowingly being just hours away from having the opportunity.

November 9, 1989, is of course the day the Berlin Wall began to fall, which brought about the reunification of Germany and the eventual end of the Cold War.

As I walked down the street this morning, I must admit that I got a little choked up thinking about what today means. Did I walk past a former East Berliner who never dreamed that in 2005 he would be working in the West? Did I walk past a German who 16 years ago tonight was reunited with a family member she hadn't seen in decades? Did I walk past someone who has lost his job because reunification has been harder than expected?

I don't know that enough attention is paid to what actually began to happen 16 years ago tonight. Citizens literally and figuratively tore down a wall! That is truly incredible! Amid double-digit unemployment, I have read many articles saying that German spirits are low and concern about the future is high. It is my hope that somehow people can remember the spirit and determination with which, on this night 16 years ago, they tumbled a wall. The world is a better place because of their actions.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Washing Machines

If you are anything like me, you don't give much thought to your washing machine. Your clothes are dirty, you load them in the (top) of the washer, add some soap from your ten-pound bottle of detergent, turn the machine on and your clothes are washed and ready for the dryer in about 30 minutes.

Lo and behold things are different here! Washers in Germany are front-loaders. The soap goes into a little drawer at the top of the machine and you definitely cannot buy a 10-pound bottle of anything at my grocery store! It is also advisable to add fabric softener because you probably will not have a dryer. Washing takes a good hour and the spin cycle sounds like an Airbus is taking off in my hallway.

The point of this entry is to share with you the small victory I had over the weekend... I finally figured out where the fabric softener goes! Okay, I am sure some people are shaking their heads at this very minute that I couldn't figure out where the fabric softener goes-- "she's a few glasses short of a full liter of beer!" But honestly, there are lots of little holes in the soap drawer of the machine, none of which are labeled, and all of which I have put fabric softener in in the last month!

Long story short, I now have soft clothes and you now know about German washing machines.

Let it never be said that I don't appreciate the small things in life:-)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Friday Night At Potsdamer Platz

Every time I visit Potsdamer Platz, I expect George Jetson to wiz by in his flying car. Built in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz and the Sony Center is a futuristic mix of office buildings, shops, restaurants, movie theaters and apartments. I never know what I am going to see when I visit, and Friday night was no exception!

Emerging from the subway station, I was greeted by snow. That’s right snow, schnee, the white stuff that falls from the sky. Austria (Germany’s Canada) is currently holding a festival to encourage winter tourism. As part of the festivities, a ski slope has been built at the entrance to the train station, complete with snow! Though I can’t wait to see the real stuff fall, it was fun to see Berlin’s first “snow” of the season.

The next cool thing I saw was a sign advertising that you can switch your Deutschmarks into Euros over the weekend at the mall. Too bad my old Marks are in Newtown collecting dust!

Finally, as I headed to the movie theater to see Pride and Prejudice, I noticed lots of people gathered in the Sony Center near the entrance to the theater. While I thought maybe the red carpet was being rolled out just for me ☺, it turned out that the movie “In Her Shoes” was premiering in Berlin on Friday. The red carpet was actually for Cameron Diaz, who was also in town to be a guest on a well-known German variety/talk show! My guess is that, like me, many of the people standing on the rope line had no idea what was going on but were willing to stand there because there were television cameras and people walking around pretending to be important. My movie started before any of the stars arrived, but the party that was set up inside the theater looked cool!

As a side note, I only recommend seeing the new Pride and Prejudice if you: a.) are not a diehard BBC P&P fan, b.) believe that men other than Colin Firth (ahh) can play Mark Darcy and c.) can watch a Kira Knightly movie without being super critical!