Saturday, 5 June 2010

Final thoughts

When I left for Cologne, Germany, I knew very little about the place and was pretty nervous about what was to come. However, I reckoned that even if I didn't have a good time, at least the experience would be 'character-building'.

Luckily I've enjoyed many good times. There have been the bad times too, but I think/hope they have shaped a stronger 'me'.

Here are just a few things I learned about the country and myself through my expat adventure, in no particular order of importance...

Things I have learned about Germany:
  • It is perfectly okay for dogs to peruse the counters of department stores (Read more...)
  • There's more rubbish on the streets than I expected, but there are a lot of bin men and road sweepers 
  • There is a surprising amount of beret wearing amongst men of a certain age. It's not just for the French you know
  • Lederhosen isn't that popular, unless it's carnival time or Oktoberfest
  • Customer service in shops could score higher and some banks and post offices close over lunchtime, which is just when you need them 
  • The health service is very good and doctors seem to have the resources they need
  • People are very environmentally aware and it is the norm to take your own bags to the supermarket
  • There are some lovely customs such as St Martin's Zug and May Day love tokens
  • It is a land of bread-lovers: bread comes in a huge number of varieties (Wikipedia reckons on around 600 types) and you're never far from a bakery
Things I have learned about myself:
  • Maybe I need to be a bit, just a teensy bit, less controlling
  • I am an optimist, not a pessimist (unless things are going wrong...) 
  • I am not too old to try new things and I am not too old to learn new things
  • Even though I might not enjoy it, I can tolerate a high level of embarrassment
  • Although I am not great at languages, I am not as bad as I thought when I was a teenager, learning GCSE French. So, on that note, 'Auf Wiedersehen!'

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


I've been home a week and am just about unpacked and am slowly settling in. I'm staying at my parents' while we work out what we're doing next - and where we're going to do it. As my folks live in a leafy suburb I am now adjusting to being woken up by wood pigeons instead of sirens.

The last week has been eventful.

On the Monday we were due to leave we went to the Cologne town hall to deregister (it's compulsory to 'sign out' if you're leaving Germany and you're not native). We were a bit crestfallen on arrival when we found that about fifty people were ahead of us in the queue. However, we were only there five minutes when Alexander managed to fall over in the 'soft play area' and cut his head. Interestingly, when I ran to the front desk to ask for help, we were whisked to the front of the queue to complete the de-registration forms. Taking our bleeding son (using the medical sense rather than cussing you understand) to the hospital seemed to be a secondary consideration. The staff were kind though, and ordered a taxi to the hospital after they'd seen all the blood. Alexander was treated immediately at the hospital and luckily only needed to have the wound glued together. He was soon running around as though nothing had happened.

Simon's colleague didn't need a lift in the end - he chose to stay a bit longer. Now travel seems to have returned to normal so I assume he's home now.

Luckily we got our ferry okay. We were interviewed on the boat by the BBC travel expert Simon Calder - he was making a video piece about travel via Norfolk Line ferries for a business conference. He asked us what we consider are the benefits of travelling from Dunkirk and we could only really think it's cheap and punctual (which are pretty good reasons), but I suspect he was angling for more.

On Sunday April turned three. It was great to be able to celebrate her birthday with all grandparents, aunts and uncles as that was never possible before. She even got two chocolate birthday cakes as both Nanas baked: so one for elevenses and one for afternoon tea!

I am still in a bit of a headspin at the moment and it will take some time to mull over the relevance of the last three and a half years spent as an English lady abroad. I plan to write one more post, giving a round up of thoughts and comments. Auf Wiedersehen!

Sunday, 18 April 2010


In Germany it is quite normal for a rented apartment to come without a kitchen and in that case it is the tenant's responsibility to fit one on arrival and then remove it on leaving. We have no need of a kitchen where we are going so we managed to find a willing buyer who came to pick it up today.

In a strange twist the buyer for the kitchen works for the European Aviation Safety Agency which has just moved to Cologne. Given the current ban on flying over Europe due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland, I cannot help wondering how busy he is right now.

One of Simon's English colleagues and friends is currently stranded in Cologne due to the volcano. As he was at a loose end he helped us to deconstruct our kitchen yesterday. In return we're going to squeeze him into our car tomorrow and drop him at Lille, where he can catch the Eurostar. Our small car will be rammed with three crumpled adults and two little people. Goodness knows what the pressure build up is going to be like inside and how long before one of us explodes.

Last night we popped round our neighbours' place for a drink. We'd just arrived and started on the prosecco when we heard fireworks so we watched the impressive display from their large balcony. A perfect and unplanned moment.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Last Friday

It's my last Friday here.

Just so you know, I did cry on Wednesday when I said goodbye to my friend and her family. It's hard when you meet wonderful people and the path you want your life to take is different from theirs. It is hard for my friend too, as she has made a life here and has seen so many of her expat friends come and go.

April and Alexander leave their playgroup today. I pick them up in half an hour. April has been going twice a week for nearly two years - a long time. I think I am set for another emotional goodbye so I'll take some tissues just in case.