Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Our First Christmas Tree

This is the first tree Asmus decorated on his own and the first one for me, too. I kinda like creating my own design. I knew I would.

I went from my mother's house to s
haring apartments with various roommates. I followed orders as a child. As an adult I never had a Christmas tree. With a roommate I would have to listen to her demands. Plus, I never had a place to put the decorations. The hallways was already full with my bike. Boxes marked "Christmas Stuff" would be tacky.

This photograph does not do the tree justice. It has white lights, glass angels and a few pale gold ornaments. The camera only
picked up the gold. Trust me. The tree that Asmus and I created is a sight to behold.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And the Winner is . . .

In the match between the Torhaus and the Ahrensburg Schloss to decide which site would serve as the location for the wedding of Asmus and I, it wasn't even close. It was a unanimous knockout.

On March 14, I will walk down an aisle [Sorry German friends, we will not recite vows from a desk
.] at:

Ahrensburg Schloss

A reception will follow at Tio Pepe near our home in the
Volksdorf section of Hamburg. We will have the entire Spanish restaurant for seven hours of fun. Even children can have enjoy themselves. They can play kegel [a German variation on bowling that is usually played by kids].

Thanks for voting!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Going to the Torhaus . . .

Here is the other option for a ceremony that Asmus and I looked at last weekend. The Torhaus, a historical house in northern Hamburg.

The auditorium where a ceremony could take place.

This is a fuzzy view of the exterior of the Torhaus.

Going to the Castle . . .

I am getting ready to tie the knot. Asmus is going to make an honest woman out of me soon. Last weekend we inspected various locations for the ceremony and the reception. Here are photographs of my options, Ahrensburg Castle, which is located across the northeastern border of Hamburg.

Garden Salon, where a ceremony could occur.

The Cellar, where a reception could take place

The Ahrensburg Castle at night with a light rain coming down

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Giving Thanks the Deutsch Way

I just spent my first Thanksgiving in Germany. It was different. For the eight years that I lived in Brooklyn, Thanksgiving meant fighting the ugliest holiday traffic. I eventually developed various strategies to cope.

At first, I would purchase an Amtrak ticket on the Monday before Thanksgiving. On the following Wednesday, I would catch the subway from Brooklyn to the train station in Manhattan, push through the throng of people trudging through the station, and wait for the train from the secret spot one level below the main floor. One year, I economized and took the bus. I paid economically and psychologically for that decision. The bus never showed up and there was no one in the waiting area who would help, so I hopped a cab to the train station. After those struggles, I would then arrive in downtown Philadelphia. I would either take a lovely commuter train to a neighborhood near my mother’s house and wait for the XH bus that never adhered to the schedule or brave the gross City Hall Station on the subway that took me to the prompt 6 bus.

I eventually tired of that mess and started arriving on Thanksgiving day, about two hours before dinner was served. No travel mess. Just a big, delicious meal with family. There was the traditional post-dinner rounds of embarrassing stories, but once that ended, the movie marathon began.

This year, I was not going to experience any of the Thanksgiving traditions because I was not in the United States. I wanted to miss it but I did not. I didn’t miss it until we made the decision not to mark the occasion at all. Then I missed endless talk show segments on how to create an innovative turkey dinner; the talk show segments that demonstrated how to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal; the thrill of not working on Thursday and Friday; listening to all my co-workers’ and friends’ stories of family fun; the continuous flow of sale ads for Black Friday; the horrible travel; and the general thrill that surrounds Thanksgiving.

As I prepared to teach English Thursday afternoon, everything just seemed so inadequate. No family. No food. No embarrassing stories. No movie marathon. Just soup that I picked up on my way home from German class.

Asmus called me in the midst of my preparations and demanded to go to Thanksgiving dinner. I protested a little, because he had not been feeling well. When he said that he felt fine, then I happily surrendered.

The Hamburg Marriott did not have my nephew but it did have my Asmus. With our first plate of food in front of us [I was determined to follow the American tradition of eating too much on the fourth Thursday in November.], we both listed something that we were thankful for. Fortunately, I was thankful for his entrance into my life and he was thankful for my being in his life. He also said my monologue was too long. Oh well, it seems that one of us is just more grateful than the other.

The cooks at Speicher 52 did a respectable job in replicating the American Thanksgiving dinner. There was an unbelievably-moist turkey, dressing with way too much celery, delicious potatoes au gratin, and sweet potato puree. The other items were delicious but misplaced. Autumn in Germany features lots of fresh corn and that was in abundance on the buffet. There was also various salads. My family eats many things on Thanksgiving but salad is not one of them. However, my favorite salad in the world sat on a table and I had to dig in. I went from full to bursting with a nice helping of Cobb salad. It was so worth it. I trudged from bursting to real problem with the ingestion of pecan pie and creme brulee. I took the pain happily.

The only problem was the lack of couch at the hotel. Usually I would lie until the pain of gluttony passes but we were in the middle of major hotel. I did not want to weather the stares that would naturally follow a Black woman moaning and splayed across a couch in the lobby.
We went home and I tried to sleep with too much good food in my stomach. It was a nice facsimile of the American holiday.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'm an Alien. I'm a Legal Alien.

Yesterday, I became a legal immigrant.

Before my change in status, I was a tourist. Without a visa, Americans can stay in Germany for 90 days. Now I am a resident. I was a tourist without a place to live in another country but I was in Germany as a tourist.

The United States is one of six countries whose citizens do not have to secure a visa known as a residence card before they arrive in Germany. Officials at the New York consulate said it would take three months to get a residence card from there and a month to get one from Germany. My Mama didn't raise no fool, so I made the leap of faith that I would be granted a visa in Germany and moved. Yesterday I officially found out that I was correct.

With my residence card I am now eligible for government-sponsored German lessons. The government sponsors them because the government makes you take them. What I must take is actually called integration courses, which are mostly German lessons and some lessons on Germany culture. One must pass language and cultural tests in order to get a settlement card when the residence card expires.

I am actually excited about the language lessons. I have wanted to learn the language for about the last year, but it has been a choice between $500 German lessons or a plane ticket to Germany. I always chose the plane ticket. Now I get lessons that cost one euro for each session. Soon I will know what people are saying to me and what signs say.

With my new legal immigrant status, I can work. OK, that is good but what jobs can an American who speaks no German do in Germany? Teach English, of course! That is not my only option. I could also clean bathrooms and offices. And if push came to shove, I would. But push and shove are no where near each other, so I am teaching English. I started training on October 17. My first lesson is on the 21st. It will be nice to have money coming in, instead of going out.

As a child growing up, I assumed some things about my life as an adult. That list did not include the word “immigrant”. But now look at me, I’m a legal immigrant.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Vacation at Home

Asmus and I have had a pretty domestic courtship and relationship. I traveled to his house and hung out or he traveled to my house and hung out. We would leave for boat trips and meals and promptly return. With my move to Hamburg, I decided to make a field trip. However, he is out of the house about 12 hours a day going to work in a town about 100 miles away, so there is no way to sneak in a long weekend in Paris. I suggested that we spend the weekend in a hotel in downtown Hamburg and he said, Sure.

Then he said, what about going to Lubeck. When I asked what is there to do in Lubeck, he said nothing. Asmus admits that was a useless suggestion.

I hit the Internet. Hard. I came up with Le Royal Meridien Hamburg. It’s a sister property of New York’s Parker Meridien Hotel. That’s where guests of Live With Regis & Kelly stay. It’s uptown but not uptight. (That hotel is also the home of the world’s most over-rated hamburger.) For 169 euros we got a hot tub, sauna, steam room, a rooftop bar, a location on the Alster Lakes, and contemporary art in every unoccupied space. Best of all, I get to sleep in a BED. Each night I fall asleep on a 6-inch mattress that sits on top of a platform that hangs about a foot off the floor. I hate my middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks. I am half awake and struggling to the full extension of my 5’8” frame. This weekend, I would simply unbend my knees!

Saturday afternoon, Asmus and I were Out. Not In. We packed suitcases. We were Downtown people, not villagers from northern Hamburg. We walked to restaurants and bars. We experienced the nightly drunken parade of the Reeperbahn until 4 am because there was no need to leave the fun before we collapsed from exhaustion. We were sleeping a few minutes away.

I spent more time in the hot tub than a normal person should. We checked in at 5 pm and ate lunch of gourmet sandwiches (Camembert, cranberries and ham. Warmed. Yes!). We washed the croques down with the free bottle of water that greeted us in our room. Right after the sandwiches, I was in the hot tub. Unfortunately, so was a family of four. They were German, so they said nothing to me. I hit the Jacuzzi a half hour before it closed Saturday night. There was no one there, so I got a nice quiet soak. The cherry on top of our massages was a visit to the Jacuzzi. Two hours before checkout Monday morning, I was there again.

Asmus is addicted to the art of massage now. He had his first one on Sunday and is now trying to decide how many he can enjoy on a regular basis.

At first glance, our hotel room seemed nice. It was a mix of white, mint green and blond wood.

But then you flip a switch, a purple light glowed from behind the ironing board. A switch lit up the headboard that covered one wall.

Another flip illuminated the hanging bar in the closet. Another switch made two photographs set into a wooden panel glow.

The bland room was full of interesting design and artistic features.

Sunday night was our last night in the Hotel and it was a little sad. We would return to real life in about 12 hours. We sat in the rooftop bar. Facing Hamburg, we talked. It was good to be with each other outside of the house. We now have Memories.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What to do Today?

Some may wonder how I fill my day. Each day, I wonder the same thing.

I really like doing whatever I want, when I want to do it. However, often that means that I do nothing. But I am very much OK with that.

The first week I was in Hamburg, I was very sick. I filled my day with sleeping. Last week was the first week of activity. I filled it with shopping. Asmus was a fabulous bachelor. He had plates, flatware and just about nothing else. One day, I bought a pitcher. I decided to create a theme night. He has a weakness for Cuba Libres and I had some ripe avocados, so last Thursday we had Fiesta Latina. I believe that variety is the spice of life, so I made sangria. My plans were almost thwarted by a lack of pitcher. On my way to buy, oh yes, groceries, I stopped off at a department store called Galleria Kaufhof. Fortunately, the housewares department is a few feet away from Rewe store. I bought the cutest pitcher for 4.50 euros. While I was there, I also picked up two black pot holders. I was tired of burning my hands while pulling a pizza out of the oven.

The evening we had steak for dinner, I bought four steak knives and a bread knife.

During my first trips to the grocery store, we bought vinegar, garlic powder, mayonnaise and mustard.

When I made hamburgers on Monday, I purchased ketchup.

We expect guests next weekend, so I am planning a trip to Ikea to buy six wine glasses and six drinking glasses.
Here is the barware that Asmus owns.

I am not much better than Asmus. I just received my beloved glasses.

This single girl has two of each style. I have several styles but not more than two of each [A good friend gave me a set of four glasses.]. Suddenly I am hosting more than one friend at a time. I must upgrade!

Shopping only takes up two hours or so. The biggest chunk of my day is devoted to Howard Stern. Through the magic of the Internet, I listen to the entire show and the Wrap-Up Show daily. Because of the time difference and my lack of obligation to anything, I can listen without breaks. Officially the Howard Stern Show starts at 6 am on the East Coast and 6 am on the West Coast. The show starts at noon and ends at 5 pm here [the Wrap-Up Show, in which they dissect the show that just ended, is actually more interesting than the name suggests. That starts as soon as the Howard Stern Show ends and lasts about an hour.] The parts that I missed when I was at the store can be heard when the Howard Stern Show starts over again immediately after the Wrap-Up Show on the East Coast or during the West Coast Feed. Joining in the West Coast Feed requires a little bit of math [If I stopped listening at 2 pm, that is 8 am on the East Coast, so that means the show had been on for two hours. If I get back in at 6 pm, then that means that it is noon on the East Coast and 9 am on the West Coast. The show is about to start all over again on the East Coast and it has been on for three hours on the West Coast. I choose the West Coast.

[My computer’s clock is tuned to East Coast time. It makes things easier when trying to call people at home or planning things with them.]

I listen to Howard while I lie in bed, get dressed, cook dinner, do laundry, eat lunch. He and the Gang keep me company throughout the day. I get to hear English spoken throughout the day and that makes me feel happy.

Before I devoted my afternoon to Howard, I would watch American sitcoms dubbed into German. I have watched Home Improvement, Roseanne, The Real World, Scrubs, Malcolm in the Middle, According to Jim, The Simpsons and Family Guy im Deutsch. I regularly watched those shows in English, so I can figure out what is going on. I have passed by the Cosby Show, Private Practice, a flavor of Law & Order, Judging Amy, The Hills, Camp Rock, and My Wife and Kids in German.

More evidence of the power of television. On Tuesday, I met a salesman at the Fossil store on Möckenbergstraße [ß = ss in German] who said he spent two magical weeks this summer in Orange County, California. He went because of Laguna Beach. He said it was better than he thought it would be.

The Internet has played a larger role in my German life. I start the day by watching the previous day’s Host Chat from Live Regis and Kelly online. Then I stop by Ross the Intern’s site for the latest Talky Blog. Then I read the New York Times, the New York Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, People, TV Guide and The Local [an English-language news site] online.

If the feeling is right, I write. I am not legally allowed to work in Germany until I get a residence card, which is a visa that allows me to live in Germany for two years. However, I can continue my freelance writing career. I pitched an article or two. But a big chunk of my life is emailing people. I am getting much better email since I left the United States of America. I read and reply back-to-back.

I spent most of yesterday with Asmus’ mother. A lovely woman comes every two weeks to clean the apartment, Brigitte. Yesterday was her day to improve our lives. I needed a place to go for three or four hours. As much as I love the mall, I don’t need to be there for that long. Asmus' mother was kind of enough to entertain me. I speak tourist-level German [I would like a beer, please. I don’t speak German. One cookie, please.] and she is a step away from conversational English. We shared the German-English dictionary like the three witches in Macbeth. Despite the communication handicaps, she said she enjoyed my visit. I know so little about his family that I am always open to talking. His father was not feeling well, so he stayed in his study. I earned stars for my thorough job of washing potatoes [kartoffeln] and chopping carrots [karotten]. We went into her large garden and she clipped fresh sage, parsley and mint for the vegetables. She told me where to buy a basket for hauling groceries [I complained about the frequency of shopping and she shared that she shopped Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There will be no shopping on Sundays but I am not sure if she had to go to the market on Monday and Tuesday.]. She told me about her years demonstrating against various causes into her 50s and detailed her various careers. I just ate her food and drank her tea. She seemed to enjoy my enjoyment of her food.

Today, I refuse to go to the grocery store. On Fridays, Howard plays the best clips of the week. I decided to get a pedicure. The search for a reasonably-price pedicure took up way too much of my life. Few German salons have websites, so it took lots of work to find one. Sorta. After a long Internet search, I am going to a place next to the mall I find myself at three times a week. This means that I will have to report about the differences between American pedicure and German pedicure.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A New Life in Germany

Welcome to my new life.

I just left the country where I spent my entire life and moved to Germany. I arrived in Hamburg 13 days ago. Things are very different here than they are in New York but I feel like I am at home.

This has been a crazy summer. My former roommate, Tanisha L. Grant, made several agreements to pay off debts to the landlord. She defaulted on every agreement. About 6 minutes after I came home from visiting my boyfriend in Hamburg, Germany in June, Tanisha said she had the worse thing in the world to tell me. I was ready for anything. Or so I thought. I learned that we had until June 30 to give the landlord $2,100, the amount covered by a rubber check, or we would be evicted.

On July 1, Tanisha said everything was “fine” with the rent. She had a subletter to pay for her half of the rent for two months, because she was supposedly at a directing workshop in Los Angeles. I was relieved to be done with Tanisha’s craziness. On August 6, I received an eviction notice. Karen, the woman who sublet for Tanisha, and I had six business days to leave the apartment.

With three vacation days for the year, I decided in June that I would move to Germany in October. With the eviction looming, I had a decision to make. Do I find a place to live for one month, do I move to my childhood home in Philadelphia and commute between there and New York five days a week, or do I just move up my departure date to Germany?

Asmus extended an invitation, so I bought a plane ticket. Despite my purchase, I was not mentally ready to move to Germany. I wanted to visit my friend Mori in Chicago. I wanted to eat two or three more cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. I hoped to hang out with my nephew for a few weekends. I needed to get mentally ready to leave the place that I called home for my entire life.

I moved out of the apartment a day earlier than usual because Tanisha allegedly stole several things from me. I came home two days before the eviction date to find several large items of mine stolen. Karen lost nothing, even though her bedroom was closer to the apartment door than mine. My computer. Gone. A small teapot and two petite tea cups. Gone. A glass cake plate. Gone. An unopened box of pots and pans. Gone. Karen’s laptop computer was not moved an inch but my teapot was stolen. This was not the work of a thief in search of quick money. Plus, the apartment had no forced entry.

When I discovered the robbery, I was immediately ready to move to Deutschland.

While Asmus and I only met 10 months ago, I had no fear about moving in with him. I was worried my reception by the rest of Germany.

I had this feeling that I would be the loudest person in the republic. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that I am.

I have been visiting Germany since 2000, so I know what to expect. But it is one thing to squash your personality for 5 days and another to alter it forever. I considered becoming less. Less emotional. Less loud. Less intense. Just less overall. After several rounds of thought, I decided to maintain my normal personality. If something is funny, I will laugh my normal, over-the-top guffaw. I get some stares but neither sticks nor stones. I live on buses and subway-like trains with people devoid of any emotion on their faces. It creates a weird sensation but I don’t let it stop me from sharing stupid stories and a loud laugh with Asmus.

One of the more startling changes for me is the frequency of grocery shopping. Most American refrigerators can eat up a German refrigerator and have room leftover for a German washing machine [more on that later]. Everything you need cannot fit in the refrigerator at once, so I am dropping by grocery stores about three times a week. In my previous life, I used to hit the local Pathmark about once a month and just replenish the produce once a week or so. Asmus has one of the biggest refrigerators that I have seen here and the freezer section is about 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide. The refrigerator section reaches about 18 inches.

Hamburg grocery stores are much smaller than their American cousins. The average German store covers 10,800 square feet and the typical American store is about 47,000 square feet. At the best store I have found here, I get to choose from two types of lettuce, one specie of potatoes, two varieties of steaks and an aisle of beers. I am actually confused by the lack of diversity of poultry. I have only seen chicken breasts in the butcher section. I really want to know where thighs, legs and wings that were once attached to the breasts are. I have not even seen a whole chicken. Asmus has a theory that all the wings are shipped to the United States and American poultry farmers are sending all the breasts here.

Some things about grocery stores are mysteries to me. None of the salad dressing flavors are familiar to me. I am afraid to try American dressing for fear that it is simply a combination of sugar and bacon fat. I gathered up my courage and bought French dressing. It is not awful but it does not have that familiar “French dressing” taste. It is creamy but filled with dill.

Rewe, my favorite store, has this American Sector. I found Hershey’s chocolate bars, Parade brand macaroni & cheese in a box, Heinz relish [Didn’t know that relish was American? Neither did I. Asmus and his friends had never heard of it before I questioned them.] and Paul Newman’s salad dressing. I think I will treat myself to some Paul Newman’s for Thanksgiving. Products in the American Sector are quite expensive. Paul Newman’s potion costs about 5.50 euros. I am not worthy of expensive dressing without an occasion.

Despite these small wacky things, I am enjoying my time here. Thanks to the Allied Forces destruction of Germany during World War II much of this country’s infrastructure is new. I live in a cozy apartment in northern Hamburg that was built about four decades ago and renovated in 1998.

After life in Brooklyn, it is nice not to live with roaches and mice. The smell of urine does not waft up from the stairway to the basement. There are no outdoor trash cans overflowing with household trash. I haven’t bumped into a homeless man throwing around items put out for recycling in a search for aluminum cans. Not one of my neighbors blast music from Friday night until Sunday afternoon.

Before the Walddörfer corporation installed houses, schools and shopping centers here, there were only trees and grass. With scalpel-like precision, the company placed buildings around wilderness. While there is an excellent mall about 3 miles and a little shopping area 1 mile away, I am surrounded by wilderness in the Bergstedt section of Hamburg.

I do not like to go outside much but I do like being engulfed by trees and grass. I look out the window and I see all kinds of colorful birds. It is crazy to see birds with electric green crests while sitting at my computer typing.

I ain’t in New York anymore.

OK, no one smiles here but no one is assaulting me with their fists or reggaeton.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Why scale invariant? Do I need a reason for everything?

Actually I'm registering this blog for my lovely girlfriend (how we met is an interesting story, stay tuned) , so I hope she will embrace the name. Of course she tries to force me to also write some articles, but surely she will realize soon which one of us has the talent.

So everybody have fun and enjoy