Monday, 29 January 2007

Masculine, feminine or neuter?

This question is weighing on my mind just now. Two reasons:

1) Our baby is due in the Spring and I don't know what it is going to be. At the last scan it was impossible to tell the sex as the baby decided to draw its limbs up into its body in an act of extreme coyness.

If only I knew I'd start planning its Spring/Summer '07 wardrobe and perhaps I could create a mood board for the nursery based on rose or aqua hues... Then, there is the tricky issue of names. We currently have three names for girls to one name for a boy on our very short shortlist. To be honest, we haven't put too much effort in yet. Maybe we'll just get to the hospital and ask for suggestions in the delivery room? That way we could end up with a 'Helmut' or a 'Velma'. Would that be a case of irresponsible parenting?

2) We had our first German lesson last week - in which we were told that nouns can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. Neuter is a new one on me. Having done French at school I thought remembering two genders was enough of a burden. Now I find I have come to a country where there are masculine nouns, feminine nouns and inbetweeny nouns.

I do hope our baby decides to stick to the French system.

Friday, 26 January 2007

A wintry walk - with shopping and culture

This morning I went on a long expedition into town. I was in search of a variety of exotic food stuffs for a dinner party - gruyère cheese, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs, filo pastry, etc - which I knew I could get from a fantastic department store in town. They do that here - have posh food halls in the basements of large department stores. I like that a lot.

Once said ingredients had been purchased I then decided I'd search for the fabled M&S of Cologne. It's apparently a Mecca for expats like me, as it provides a little fix of the UK. An hour later, having walked round and round and round, I gave up looking. And I was so looking forward to fixing myself a proper British bacon butty for my lunch. Next time I shall take a map. And perhaps a man to read it for me. (Joke.)

On the way back I passed this great church: St Aposteln. It was started in around 1201, making it even older than the Dom. It's one of twelve Romanesque churches which survive in Cologne, which are of worldwide importance. I'll probably explore this topic another time, when I have been able to visit some more of them. In the meantime, for those of an archictectural bent, you might like to find out more:

It snowed - light fluffy snow like in films. Not the sleet-y stuff that you get in the UK most of the time, which causes one's hair to puff out (which I like not).

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The Twilight Zone

I am composing this at 3 in the morning. Lots of crazy niggles are going round in my head. They are variously to do with all the German forms we need to translate and complete in order to settle in; plus worries about whether we'll ever be ready to be parents...

Of all the things churning round and round my brain are three bizarre things that happened yesterday:

1. Nuclear eggs
Yesterday I got quite a shock when I cracked open an egg to reveal a yolk which was an E-Number orange. Odd, I thought to myself. A bit worrying to make scrambled eggs that look like they have been painted by a two year old. A bit of web investigation reveals that some German farmers add carotenoids to chicken feed to encourage the production of brighter yolks, which their customers apparently prefer. Carotenoids being the chemicals that give carrots their distinctive orange colour.

2. iWash
Confident of my abilities with the washing machine on the 'Pflegeleicht' (combined fabrics) programme, I loaded up and pressed the start button. Slightly less confident an hour later when I pulled out the washing and some tangled iPod headphones. I was very surprised that a few hours later, once dry, they still worked!

3. Lost in translation
I am trying to find out from the German and British authorities what I need to do to register a birth around here and what documents I must bring. The British consular staff have told us to deal directly with the German authorities. All very well, but I don't speak the lingo, let alone to advanced bureaucratic level. All I can do is rely on Google to translate the pages of the local registry office for me, in order to get the gist. A bold venture, for which one might not be awarded any further insight into the topic, but one might develop new ways of looking at a subject. For example, on the subject of providing proof that the parents of a new baby are married, Google's translation tool advises:

'According to the Personenstand of parents and/or nut/mother the collecting main of different documents is necessary:
married nut/mother:
Family album or authenticated copy from the family album; with marriage abroad the marriage certificate with German translation' Google thinks that 'a married nut' and 'a mother' are interchangeable. At this point, having eaten my nuclear eggs and washed some micro-electronics on a 40 degree cycle, I can see how that might work...

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Look Herr - we'd like a car please

Imagine if you went into any car showroom in the UK and asked: 'Do you speak German?'. I don't know about your level of optimism/ability to deny the truth about the quality of UK citizens' ability to speak other languages, but I reckon you'd be met with a mixture of confusion and panic, or perhaps a referral to head office...

Yet we had the cheek to go into several car showrooms today and asked, 'Do you speak English?' To which, the most disappointing was, 'A little' and the best, 'Yes, I will try'. Then of course we went into discussions in English where the vocabulary was varied and technical. Revealing that, what Germans dismiss as a poor level of English, is the kind of language level I can only aspire to at this stage.

Some context here: Simon has been borrowing a pool car from work but now we have to give it back in a merely a week.

Of course, when faced with purchasing a car we have a series of restraints: time, language (I am very restrained with the German language just now...), money, and did I mention that we now have to think about baby restraints? (Sorry Simon, but it has to be a sensible 5 door...)

I'll keep you updated as to what happens.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

A fortuituous meeting...

Serendipity. I thought that only happened in Hollywood movies. But I was wrong...

On Tuesday night we visited a local hospital which had been recommended to us by several German and English people as THE PLACE to give birth in Cologne. The hospital holds an open evening every Tuesday.

The event began with an hour-long talk by a midwife - all in German. Before she started we asked if we might see an English speaker, just to run through our concerns and she agreed that we could see the doctor afterwards. So we sat through the talk. I recognised some words. I also understood her gesticulations and indications to various parts of her body. I also 'got it' when she was mentioning a tricky part of the birthing process - as the German speakers winced or laughed nervously.

About 45 minutes into this talk, another couple turned up, apologising profusely for their lateness. The midwife gave them a little ticking off in front of the rest of the group. They joined the group just at the point where the midwife had called for any questions. The lady of the couple apologised and said her German was not good. So, the midwife said they could join us afterwards, in seeing the doctor.

And that was the most useful chance encounter. We talked with the couple as we were given a tour of the wards. We shared concerns with the doctor. We talked more as we were leaving the hospital. We swapped contact details. It turns out that she is due the same time as me. It is very reassuring to have found people in the same boat. They are both very lovely and we're going to meet up again.


Sunday, 14 January 2007

Being weekend tourists

Had a very pleasant weekend.

Last night (Saturday) we went to a bar with a gang of German and expat people Simon knows through work. It was the kind of bar with a drag show (three guys in tutus, dancing on stage). For all that, it was still relaxing and we managed to hang around until half one chatting away. I relish these moments as 1) When baby comes I imagine that kind of time in the morning I'll be doing night feeds, rather than hanging in bars and 2) Not having a job, I'm pretty limited in my social interactions at this point - well, at least until I get out and about more.

Today, tired and weary, Simon and I went into the old part of town to do some sightseeing. We visited the cathedral (known as the 'Dom') and then strolled down to the banks of the Rhine. We were accompanied by Dom's bells which were ringing out over the city. I used the opportunity to try my hand at some reportage style interviewing (see movie). Having watched it back, I think my technique needs some work. We ate at very lovely lunch in a genteel cafe with a full on view of the cathedral. It was a very old fashioned kind of cafe with a real ambience of Austria and sacher torte.

When we are out and about at the weekends I still feel like we are on holiday here. Very bizarre to then get a train back to our flat and be reminded that we are actually LIVING HERE!

Friday, 12 January 2007


Today we have received a letter from our relocation agents (a company helping us with the practicalities of moving). It simply states:

Dear Simon and Victoria,
Please find attached your confirmation of freedom of movement.

It amused me to think that we would need permission...and in writing.


I've been making cushions and wall hangings from some lovely, loud, fabric we bought. You can see them in this video of our lounge diner. It's the first time I've attempted cushions and I am now feeling quite smug. Also, at long last I have used the sewing machine Simon bought me for a birthday a few years ago - when I asked for it I promised I'd used it loads. Yeah right.

Perhaps I need more cushions?

Am I 'nesting'??

Thursday, 11 January 2007

And lo...there was the internet...and she saw that it was good

Praise be! I have the internet working! (Hence the religious delirium.) The telecoms engineer came on Monday night and concluded that the problem stemmed from the modem, not the line. So, on Tuesday we put in a request for a new router and it came today. All instructions were in German and the diagrams incomprehensible. But, after 6 hours spent moving cables between different sockets, time spent with a German dictionary and some time being tired and emotional (I currently have a v good excuse to be irrational when faced with technology and I’m going to use it) I got the net to work.

The main problem now is that the net provider did not send a wireless receiver, so the computer cannot be located far from the phone socket. I can only access the internet by sitting on the floor, in the hall. Next stop: buy a wireless receiver.

Mmm…now I am going to look up stuff on the net. How novel!

Saturday, 6 January 2007

We have a kitchen!

Well, the kitchen was fitted on Friday and the guy worked like a trooper, finishing around 6pm. You can see what it looks like from the video. It doesn't win any prizes for size, but I love it because it exists. We’ve had a weekend marvelling at the fact that we can wash up, cook and take cold things from the fridge! We celebrated the launch of our kitchen with a little bit of fizzy plonk.

No internet…yet! An engineer is due to look at the problem in the next few hours. Though I won’t hold my breath.

Today I went to my local shop in search of cheddar. Didn’t find it there, though I did find all manner of German, Swiss, French and Italian cheeses (what's wrong with English may I ask?). I may need to widen my search further. Perhaps a visit to the specialist English shop in the centre of town? My craving is quite strong, so I am prepared to go far to find this holy grail of food stuffs. Perhaps I am going to give birth to a mouse?

Friday, 5 January 2007

In Cologne once more

A new year dawns and we are back in Germany after a Christmas break in England. Got back last night, a bit sleepy, but feeling more optimistic.

On the journey we stopped at a McDonalds in Holland in order to use the loos. I liked the fact that the chicken burger is called ‘Chicken Mythic’ there. Also, that they provide biscuits and water for dogs near the door – and sure enough someone turned up with a little dog just to prove the need.

Pleased to see that Knight Rider was on TV – the urban myth about the German adoration of the Hoff could still be true. Amusing to watch in German – adds to the cartoon element of the acting.

Kitchen fitters arrived at 9am – two hours late. I am annoyed that I got up early to catch them but they didn’t get here until much later. However, I am relieved that they are here at all. Let’s hope they have been supplied with all the bits so they can get the job done today!

Also hoping beyond hope that we get the internet sorted today.