Monday, 30 June 2008

Enjoying the east

I was greatly in need of a little break. I wanted a bit of culture, but also to get away from it all. A German friend suggested an area south of Berlin known as the 'Spreewald'. It is an area of beautiful lakes and canals, but conveniently only an hour's drive from the capital. So, we packed and headed east.

It's a bit of a drive to get there as Germany is such a vast country. Still, the amazing thing about this country is the autobahn system. We travelled almost from one side of the country to the other, experiencing mostly free-flowing (and fast!) traffic. Regular users of the M25 would be green with jealousy.

We stayed in a holiday park by the Scharmuetzelsee lake. Our apartment was constructed in the alpine style and as an authentic touch even included its own sauna. As I've never had access to a private sauna it was with some regret that I remembered that pregnant women shouldn't take saunas because they are too risky. I doubt that kind of private sauna opportunity comes knocking twice in a lifetime.

sauna rulesAnyway, I was able to get some amusement from the sauna - via this handy 20 step programme for its correct use. This could just be Germans playing up to their stereotype of being sticklers for the rules. I don't know. It made me chuckle whatever the intent.

deer parkOn the holiday there were plenty of chances to engage with the wildlife and the scenery.

We visited a wild deer park on one occasion. It was in the middle of nowhere - in that it wasn't on any road known by our navigation system. Luckily a passing postwoman was able to provide directions. When we arrived at the park we were the only people there. I expect everyone else gave up trying to find it. The park's relative isolation meant we were able to get up really close to the animals.

Simon standing by a piece of the wallWe took a couple of trips to Berlin itself. I really enjoyed the city and would love to return as there were so many sights we didn't get time to squeeze in.

Here is Simon standing by one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall on Potsdamer Platz. He was standing on the side which used to be in the east. Several chunks of wall have been preserved as a memorial.

If you look carefully there is a map on Simon's right - and on it someone has scribbled the score of the previous night's Germany versus Turkey Euro 2008 semi-final - a spectacular 3:2 win to Deustchland. These pieces of wall are regularly 'tagged' by tourists saying 'Franz woz ere' or the like. Though a football score is a bit more unusual.

Berlin Wall signThis photo, also from Potsdamer Platz shows the line where the Berlin Wall ran.

The line taken by the wall is described in the city by means of slightly different coloured stones and plaques like this one.Brandenburg Gate

No trip to Berlin would be complete without a peek at the Brandenburg Gate. However, when we went the gate was bedecked with Coca Cola and Carlsberg livery. Was there ever such a harsh juxtaposition of global brands and a city's leading monument?

The reason we couldn't see the gate for all its branding is that it was the focus point of an area designated for football fans to enjoy Euro 2008. Kindly Coca Cola and Carlsberg had provided a 'fan mile' - a huge promenade featuring a stage with performers, refreshment tents and even a big wheel.

Another thing we did was visit the Bauhaus Archive - the museum to the Bauhaus art school (1919-1933) that was so influential in modern design. The school's philosophy was to bring together art and technology to create beautiful, but easy to mass produce pieces - something we take for granted now, but which was quite a radical aim at the time. Unfortunately April chose this time to have a bit of a tantrum. We clearly have some work to do if we want to get her to appreciate good design heritage.

Thursday, 19 June 2008


Here are some signs and street furniture from my neighbourhood. In a train-spotterish kind of way, I thought it would be interesting to document them.

When I first came here they were very alien. Now, they are my normality.

I'm hoping that when I am eventually back in England and browsing through my Cologne photos, they'll make me feel nostalgic.

signs in Cologne

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Medicinal compounds

April has been suffering from a cough for a few days so this morning I took her to see a doctor. This being Germany, she doesn't go to my doctor. No: she has a specialist Kinder Arzt (children's doctor). So, off we went to see Dr Kinder Arzt.

(As an aside, when we first met this Kinder Artz he reminded us of Art Garfunkel, because his hair stood several centimetres proud of his scalp, held up by its frizzy texture. For this reason he is always referred to as Arzt Garfunkel in our household.
I was therefore slightly disappointed to find that he has recently cut his trademark hair. We are sticking with the nickname though.)

Anyway, after examining April, Arzt Garfunkel declared that she did, indeed, have a cough. No surprise to me. I hoped for a prescription for a simple-to-administer medicinal compound. What I got was a prescription for five different homeopathic medicines. The instructions for ingestion were far from simple:

• 1 cough medicine to be taken 3 times a day
• 2 medicines in pill form to be taken - 3 of each - at 7 am and again at 3 pm
• 2 different medicines in pill form to be taken - 3 of each - at 11 am and again at 7 pm

Arzt Garfunkel had to write all this down for me, to avoid confusion (and, let's face it, my brain is too busy making another baby for me to be able to remember all these rules).

Goodness knows what April is going to think of this regime. When she is ill she doesn't approve of any interference to her plans: she gets annoyed if I simply change her pants. What is she going to be like when I try to keep her still to administer all these medicines?

After all that effort, I hope the medicines work!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Monkey magic

baboonsWe already have a 'little monkey', who goes by the name of 'April'. However, we suddenly had an urge to see some simian primates.

Simon's parents came to stay for the weekend so we took them to Cologne Zoo. Plenty of monkeys there.

The zoo has an island colony of around 150 baboons. We took lots of photos. Unfortunately, because baboons like to take every possible opportunity to display their large pink bottoms, most of those photos will never see the light of day. I have managed to salvage this cute photo of a mother and baby, by cropping out some bottoms that were placed on either side.

unusual birdWe saw lots of other fascinating birds and animals.

Here is a bird who had such remarkably long eyelashes that he could have taken on a career as a pantomine dame.

He was making the most of his beauty - an artist was there painting his portrait and he was standing helpfully still. Showing his best side. I bet he was glad he'd booked that eyelash tint last week. Sadly I didn't get his name.

meerkats - where'd he go?There were also many meerkats in residence.

This grouping amuses me because it looks like they've lost someone and are trying to decide which is the best direction to go in which to find him.

He went that-a-way!