Berlin has the poopiest sidewalks ever
. But the up side is that this also means that Berlin is filled with friendly pooches to send my girls into paroxysms of delight. Joerg and I have been betting each other over whether Frankie will quit screaming "DOGGIE! DOGGIE! DOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGGGGIIIIIIIIEEEEE! DOGGIE! DOGGIE! DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGIE!" every blessed time she spots a dog before we leave or not. We're both kind of leaning toward not
. Berliners are not such a crusty bunch of city-dwellers that Frankie's noisy little joy sessions are not met with a smile or two.
Actually, everyone here is exceedingly friendly, and not just Joerg's friends, either, who are already predisposed to be kind to us noisy folk. I was really very curious what the reaction to us, as Americans, would be here in post-Iraq, post-Bush-reelection Europe. So far I've not noticed any real difference. Of course, I do my best to blend in around here. I packed all my best scarves, which go a long way in my efforts at camouflage. You can bet I colored my hair before we left - which I actually meant to look natural, but you know those at-home jobs always end up looking a bit Fifth Element
- and I told Julia that she could make my hair hausfrau-funky at my appointment a few weeks ago. I also discovered that the only item I forgot to pack was my favorite color of lipstick, a very low-key brownish shade that's more lip-balm than really lipstick. So all I have is my "experimental" shades, which means that I've just gone all-out and been wearing eyeliner, too. Wild! And we didn't pack any baseball caps. Even though Anni is incredibly cute in them:
Annika's been making her own fashion statements, though:
So I don't really think we stick out as American
. Not, at least, until I open my mouth, which has yet to utter much German at all. As Malke put it when I refused to answer in German, "Feigling!" (chicken!) There is a conversational German course here tomorrow night, which I might just attend to practice my German in the safety of similarly challenged speakers. Poor Joerg is in a full-blown linguistic crisis, often speaking sentences half-German, half-English. And occasionally finding himself unable to think of a word in either language. I'm beginning to understand why he decided not to speak German at home when he comes back from the university at night. It's quite a mental task to switch between 2 languages for different audiences. Still, Anni's interest in learning German has certainly been stoked by this trip. She's finally convinced that German is not just silly noises that Joerg makes into the phone on Sunday mornings, his friends and family calling time. The fact that everyone
speaks German here has impressed her no small amount, and she has been listening carefully and soaking it all up, often interrupting to ask what a word means. Frankie, too, has added "Danke" and "Tschuess" to her vocabulary. So we'll be looking at Muzzy
when we get back home. (Anyone know how to get it cheaper? Ouch.)
I've really been enjoying our streamlined existence here in our miniaturized abode. Actually we have plenty of room to live very comfortably, with 3 bedrooms for the 4 of us. Anni and Frankie enjoy sleeping with each other, and they have a play space just outside their room. The toys out there are limited to the contents of one banana box and one bookshelf, plus one desk with art supplies. This means that clean-up at night is a breeze, and is not so overwhelming that a 4-year-old and a very helpful 19-month-old can't accomplish it easily in 5 minutes. Heaven. The spare bedroom is used as a study, keeping it safely away from the ambitiously imperial pen of Frankie (is there any surface that she does not feel the need to mark? We seem to have convinced her that paper is the only appropriate space for pen marks, but that doesn't do anything to protect Joerg's lecture notes or my address book printout.) We have 2 weeks worth of clothes for each of us: more than half warm-weather, and the rest for cooler days, which means there's no digging through all those clothes that I haven't been able to wear in years to find something to wear in the morning. And Annika can safely choose her own outfit without falling in love with something wildly inappropriate. The refrigerator is just slightly larger than the one I had in my dorm room as an undergraduate, which means that I'm not likely to lose any left-overs in there, undiscovered until one day an odd smell forces me into an unpleasant expedition. We shop nearly everyday for that day's meal, rather than storing a lot of food in the apartment that we somehow change our minds about eating. I do miss the dishwasher, but the rhythm of doing the dishes after every meal is oddly comforting (but ask me again at the end of the month). Somehow it's like living a simpler life. Like we've gone off to Walden Pond, rather than a large and bustling city.
We've met a couple of American families here. Actually our neighbors are American, also with a German father, with a child nearly Anni's age. They are from Massachusetts, but when I enthused that Anni would love to hang out with a child who speaks English, her mom replied, "Oh, well, she mostly speaks German." And there was an obvious feeling that it was strange that we were raising a monolingual child when one of her parents was German. I decided not to reply something along the lines of, "Oh, well, we were too busy her first year tearing out our hair with insane worry while she waited for a liver transplant to save her life. And then the second year we were a little occupied with the news that she needed a second transplant and its subsequent long recovery. Then the third year we thought we might concentrate on getting her to roll over, then crawl, and, (what the hell!) walk! Plus there was the matter of her stubborn refusal to talk to us, in English or any other language. Hey, then we got just a tad busy with a post-transplant cancer scare and a 4-month-long rejection episode, all while tending to a newborn. But I'm sure we'll get to it eventually." Instead, I just said, "Well, I bet Annika would love to play with her, anyway." After nearly a year of living in Europe, the mom didn't even bother replying with the American's enthusiastic, yet completely insincere, "Sure thing!" * Instead, she quickly found that she needed to be elsewhere. Immediately. Alrighty then.
* Or is that only a midwestern thing? And I'm certainly not saying that the insincerely polite thing is the way to go. I can't tell you how often I've been surprised when a fellow mom who seemed quite enthusiastic at the time to set up a play date with Anni ignored my calls. Did they pull the old fake-number trick?
Tonight, though, we met another family, from Michigan this time, who were quite sincerely pleased to meet up. Annika and their youngest daughter hit it off pretty much right away, and the mom and I chatted about being academic-types who somehow found themselves at home and surprisingly happy, aside from those bad days when the kids seem like little alien creatures sent to conduct strange mental torture experiments on unsuspecting humans.
And speaking of the kids:
Yesterday, Frankie said, "I love you, Mommy" clear as day. It was one of those miracle moments, like the first time Annika gazed into my eyes and then gave me a big kiss on the cheek. Today, Frankie said, clear as day, "I love you." To her cookie. Well, she is awfully impressed with German food.
Annika saw some mannequins in the window of a clothes shop. "Look at those fashion heads!" she said. Later she insisted on trying on shoes at Karstadt, and fell in love with some bright and well-constructed shoes with a 68 Euro price tag. You don't want to know how much that is in dollars. And tonight in the bath her dinosaurs were doing their usual interrogation routine of each other ("What's your name? How old are you? Where do you live? etc.) Several of the dinosaurs gave "The Mall" as their address. Oh, je. As the Germans would say. I think.
Tomorrow we go for another play date with Milena and Tim, children of an old friend of Joerg's, Karin. Annika is pretty smitten with both, and has been practicing what she will say in German to Milena. Somehow I doubt she will actually remember any of it when her German skills are actually on the line. All in good time, little Anni.