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.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Last week in Cologne

I will be leaving Cologne and Germany next Monday and returning to my home town. I've been here nearly 3 and a half years!

We spent a lovely weekend with Simon's best man and his family, doing all the tourist highlights: the cathedral, the Roman Museum, the Museum Ludwig, the zoo and the Rhine. Without visitors we probably wouldn't have taken this much needed pause to soak up some of the atmosphere of this great city.

When we were standing by the west door of the cathedral the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cologne came out, leading a procession. Seeing what she thought of as a parade, April did what any toddler might do - and clapped. This caught His Eminence's attention so he came over to bless each of us in turn. It turns out that the Archbishop is a bit cheeky though - as he was leaving we heard him muttering to his attendants that we were 'quite normal for English'. Hmm.

This week has been very busy so far and it's only going to get busier. We're saying goodbye to good friends we have made, tying up loose ends and frantically packing. (Nb packing is not easy when you have a baby and a toddler who like to inspect everything as it's boxed up.)

Today April had her three year check up at the doctor's, but she wasn't in the mood. She was mute for the entire time. Questions like, 'What can you see on this chart?' and, 'Tell me what this animal is,' were met with stony silence. The doctor asked if April could jump to which I said yes - but of course April refused to show us. So the doctor could not perform a sight test; ascertain April's language ability; or check her gymnastic skills. I tried not to be mortified by the experience. On the way home April chatted noisily, jumping along the road like a kangaroo.

This afternoon we are off to say 'Auf Weidersehen' to a dear friend and her family. There is a very real chance that I will cry.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Frohe Ostern...

...or 'Happy Easter'!

It is thought that the 'Easter Bunny' tradition - where a magical rabbit leaves eggs for children who have been good - emerged in Germany and Alsace.

So it's no surprise that Easter eggs are a serious business here. As well as the usual array of chocolate eggs on sale, you can also buy dyed hard-boiled eggs known as 'Bunte Eier' (colourful eggs).

We bought these ones but were too chicken (ahem) to eat them.

More about the Easter Bunny...

Friday, 2 April 2010


My street is called 'Weyerstrasse' and it is where I have lived all the time I have been in Germany.

Weyerstrasse is in the Griechenmarkt ('Greek Market') quarter of Cologne (although there's sadly no longer a Greek market here - I am sure it would have been interesting to see). It's near the centre of student nightlife and also a short walk from the town high street. It's a funny mix of residential, offices, bars and shops.

Facilities here range from the sublime to the ridiculous:
  • A jazz club which has been going since the 60s and which describes itself as 'interjazzional' (mmm, nice)
  • The oldest pub in Cologne
  • A centre for Rosicrucian study/worship (don't know what this is, but given that I have never seen anyone enter or leave, maybe nobody else does either)
  • A leather corset emporium
  • Water bed shop
  • Vegan supplies shop
  • Further Education college
  • An alternative hairdresser's which has scary Goth dolls hanging by their necks from the window
  • A club for expat Brits which is never open
  • A club for expat Russians which is never closed
  • Portuguese restaurant
  • And your usual run of takeaways, bakeries, grocery shops and a very nice florist
The people that I have encountered walking up and down the street are always friendly and keen to say 'hallo' and engage the children in conversation. Cologne is a diverse and absorbing place with many facets - and nowhere is this more evident than in our little corner of the city.