Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today is my anniversary.

One year ago today, I got on a plane and I left my life.

I met a boy. I met a wonderful boy. In his own words, “an exotic Teutonic boy toy.”

As an American, all expectations are that he would come to me. Who doesn’t want to come to America? People fight sharks; pay thousands of dollars that they don’t have to shady figures and work for years to pay the debt; or stowaway in the well of airplane tires to get here.

Asmus helped run a company and looks in his parents. I was a happy employee of a major publishing house. His folks are about 20 years older than mine. Mine go to work every day and his haven’t worked since the ‘80s. So I decided to make the move.

It was easy but not. I am a logical being. It made sense for me to go. However, I wondered if I was acting like one of those women who sacrifice everything for their husbands and then 10 years later, they hate themselves. I told Asmus this and he thought the same thing. He pushed moving to the U.S. I was the one who pushed for me to immigrate. I had quiet moments and thought about it and thought about it. It just made sense to me and I felt good with the decisions. I asked my best friends and they said it made sense, too. So there.

The point was driven home a week or two after this decision. I was evicted from my apartment. My degenerate roommate allegedly was in California [her subletter and I wonder if she was really in California because she visit New York several times] and left without paying back rent and upcoming rent. She made payment plans with the city of New York that she didn’t tell me about and then renegged on it. So, we were evicted.

I got the notice early August.

I planned to come to Germany in October. Here I am two months before that -- homeless.

The first thing I did after I found out that I was officially homeless was call Asmus. The first thing he said was, “Come to me.”

Problem solved.

All my belongings sitting in Asmus' living room

I skipped trying to find a place to live for two months and asked a friend Jennie if I could crash at her place for two weeks. She said yes and I started giving my belongings.

My year in Germany has been an adventure. I have experienced life as an immigrant. It sucks. I got to live my best friend. It is wonderful. I discovered who my Americans real friends are. Thank you Mori, Marie, Jennie, Thomas, Tim, Ginger. They are the ones who send me news-filled emails and overcome several time zones to call me with chit chat. I made new friends. Thank you Anne, Konrad, Lunghei, Tanje, Toby. At 37, it is just about impossible to find people who will spend time with you. These people [except for South African Lunghei] hang out with me in a foreign language.

More importantly, across the distance I have become closer to my family. My older sister, Lorie, and I are on polar opposite side of the political spectrum [I am on the correct side. (Hah! Just joking, Lorie.)]. But we speak constantly. I “talk” to her more now than I ever did when we were 200 miles apart. Throughout the day, emails bounce between Kiel and Baltimore. She is preparing for her airplane flight to visit me. My mother and I joke via email. That is pretty impossible in person for us. Don’t know why. Plus, in print, she is a bit mushy. She misses me. I know this because she writes this to me. She also thinks I drink too much alcohol. I know this because she writes this to me.

Plus, I have doubled my family. I love Asmus’ family. His mother is so sweet. You feel better when you are in her presence. His father is an interesting person. Asmus’ older brother, Christian, officiated at our wedding. Asmus and I helped his wife and two sons cheer him on when he ran a marathon in Mainz.

Life is intense in Germany but it is always interesting. My new life is different than the one I left behind in New York and that is fine with me.

Home sweet home.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Viva Kiel Week!

Because of its seaside location, Kiel is a popular tourist spot.

Tourists flood this town every summer.

I know why.

Of course, there are the beaches [I guess that is why. I have never been to them. I cannot find the fun in sitting in dirt for hours at a time.] but the city programs events all the time.

There were outdoor concerts every weekend.

A few hours ago, I grabbed lunch at a flea market that had taken over all of downtown. I am not one for picking over other people's garbage but I have a weakness for cool drinking glasses, interesting dishes and fun purses. I looked around and saw all these things that I wanted and decided that I had to leave.

A family of jugglers came to town.

"The Little Prince" was staged.

Yesterday was the open house for the Kiel Opera. There were performances inside and outside the opera house.

The biggest event of them all is Kieler Woche ["Kiel Week"']. For seven days at the end of August, there were major and minor musical acts on stages scattered throughout the city. Some are on their way up. Stefanie Heinzmann won one of Germany's televised talent contests and played. Madcon, a Swedish hiphop group that made a hit with Frankie Valli's "Beggin'", played the night after Stefanie. There are some acts on their way down. Paul Carrack was playing one night as I walked alone. The voice was familiar but the name was not. He had some moderate success alone in the 80s and he was one of the lead singers of Mike + the Mechanics and Squeeze.

There was also a lot of stuff with boats. I saw none of it. Because of its location on the water, regattas are a big deal. We had four friends come visit from Hamburg. They were going to sail on the ship of the father of one of our guests. I get incredibly seasick, so I dropped out at the last second.

The best part for me was the International Food Show. A block away from our house was food from around the world. Germans are not the most adventurous people but for some reason, they open their culinary minds up for one week and taste everything. I had food from Czech Republic, Rwanda, Argentina, Nepal, Poland and India. I never had Rwandan food but it had similar ingredients to cuisines found in the Caribbean. Like, I definitely tasted yucca and I know there were plaintains.

A meal from "Nepal"

I even had some Norwegian wine. I am sorry to say that sucked. But the Guinness at the Irish tent was as good as it was in Dublin. The Malbec from the Argentinean kiosk was wondrous.

The crowd outside the ersatz Ireland. Throughout the day, musicians played, like the tent was a pub along the Liffy and not thrust against a German opera house.

According to Kiel tourism officials, more than 3 million people came for Kiel Week. Perhaps they are counting some of us a few times. I was "there" every day a few times a day. But I ain't hating on them.

Downtown Girl

I have finally become a Downtown Girl. I live in the midst of all that is happening . . . in Kiel, Germany.

Asmus got some IT work for a bank in the town of Kiel, so we moved last March. Sorta. We still have the Hamburg apartment but we also rent an apartment in Kiel.

Before I arrived, I was a bit frightened. Everyone. By "everyone," I mean every person to whom I said the word "Kiel." Everyone said Kiel was ugly and boring. Asmus lived here for months before and he said it was boring and ugly.

I wasn't sure if something was wrong with me but when I came to scope out an apartment in March, I found Kiel to be your average-looking town. It was not Paris but it was not Gary, Indiana. I suspect people are remembering an old incarnation of the town or repeating what their parents' said.

I scooped up an apartment in the heart of Kiel. We walk everywhere. To restaurants, to the sea, to the train station, to the gym, to the grocery store, to bars. I love living in the middle of everything. I grew up on the edge of Philadelphia. My first apartment was in Northern Liberties. That rocked. I was next to the fun but in the middle of the noise. But Germany is not as fun or as loud as Philadelphia, so it is great to be in the middle of everything.

I am a block away from two ponds -- the Kleiner Kiel and the Grosser Kiel. The Kleiner [smaller] is closest to me. In the middle of the summer, landscapers mowed the lawn and let the clippings flow into the water. The two Kiels have not looked good since then.

Since May, a fountain spray water from the Kleiner Kiel back into the Kleiner Kiel. The clumps of algae or whatever float on top. The spire of the old Rathaus [German for "City Hall" pokes up behind the Kiel Opernhaus [Opera house].

That is the ugliest thing about this city of 280,000 that sits on the Baltic Sea [that's the East Sea to Germans].

A lazy summer day in the park next to the Kleiner Kiel

Honeymoon Part VI - Villa Borghese & the Departure

Fortunately, we had a late return flight to Germany. That meant that we had a day to kill.

Of course, there was the breakfast buffet to conquer but then what.

After racking our brain for something interesting but not too strenuous, we decided to see Villa Borghese. Don"t let the name fool you. It is not a building. Villa Borghese is a large area that includes museums, several gardens, a few ponds and some other attractions.

A manicured garden at Villa Borghese

We would see what we could see and then come back to the hotel and sit in the spa one last time.

Because we made the decision to come to Rome at the last moment, we didn't have many requirements for the hotel. One that immediately came to mind and stayed at the top of our list was a spa. I introduced Asmus to massage last November and he has not been the same since. The man loves his rubdowns. Plus, he is great at giving them. After days walking through tombs, sculpture halls and shopping malls, collectively we have had full-body massage, food massage and head massage. Either before or after, we have been in water. I spent too much time in a hot tub, which actually wasn't all that hot, and Asmus swam many, many laps in the pool.

Neither Asmus nor I can start the day early. There is no get a jump on the day for us. The day will be there for a long time, why kill yourself to reach it. We reached the top of the steps at the Spagna stop on the Metro at lunch time. We bumped into a trattoria and stayed.

I am the queen of planning. This trip to Rome was such a departure for me. But without much time, I had to be spontaneous. Because Rome is so rich with treasures, everything worked out. We only had one bad meal. That restaurant was right across from the Pantheon; food near tourist traps are rarely good.

We didn't get to the restaurant at lunch. We got there at the tail end of lunch. Our choices were limited but they were all good. Ready for action. We turned the corner and was greeted by a crowd of people milling outside a great stone arch. We were not the only ones with this idea.

A view of the arch from inside Villa Borghese

Because the grounds were so large, we did not feel crowded. We just walked around and watched people and the surroundings. You could rent a "pedalo," a pedal-powered carriage but we just ambled about for a few hours.

Our time in the park was a bit sad for me. The honeymoon was almost over. The trip to paradise was about to end. In a few hours, we would be living our normal lives, not eating, drinking and being care free.

Rome was special for some pretty selfish reasons, too. It was so cool hearing English (Because Rome is such a tourist city, English is spoken everywhere.) I was also going to miss the Fox Italy channel. I watched American reruns in English in the afternoon. In addition to missing communication, I will miss the beauty and the history of Rome. Italians have passion. Things are fast and loud. Germany does not have that.

I miss Rome.

My and Asmus' shadows on a pond at Villa Borghese. That is me on the left.