At the Beach

After looking at the forecast earlier in the week we saw that Sunday was going to be quite warm, 85 degrees, so we decided to go to the lake. There are actually a few lakes not far from Berlin and we decided to go to the most popular Wannsee. It took us about an hour to get there via public transportation which wasn’t too bad. Asha was super excited. That girl loves the beach!

When we arrived there was a line to get in. You have to pay to go to the beach here, but it was very clean. The line moved quickly despite a few Germans cutting the line, as they often do. Asha grabbed the sand toys and Karina made a beeline for the water. Thankfully the water was not freezing cold and remained shallow for quite some distance which made it easy for the kids to play.

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You all may be wondering, was there a nude beach? The answer is yes. Here it is called the FKK Strand. FKK stands for Freikörperkultur, which translates to Free Body Culture. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would we be walking around and bump into some butt naked dude drinking a beer? Turns out no. The FKK beach is clearly marked and there is a privacy fence, so they can be free from the judgy eyes of those in swimsuits. That is unless you are walking on the boardwalk trying to find a shower to clean the sand off your toddler. You see the boardwalk is slightly elevated and while I could not see much detail I saw enough. I can say the nude beach is not sexy. It is not Victoria Secret and Calvin Klein underwear models. Just everyday folks who want to let it all hang out. Now I have no issues with them going nude as long as we aren’t right next to each other, but I still don’t understand why for 2 reasons. 1. Sand. I mean I wear a swimsuit to the beach and I am covered in sand. How do you manage that whole situation? 2. Sun Burn. I hope those people are regularly lathering on the sun screen because ouch. Sun burn on my back and shoulders hurts bad enough. I can’t imagine “other” places.

While there were no nude adults next to us on the beach there were nude children. I wondered if this might happen as I had been warned that Germans let their kids play nude at the playground in the summer, but I didn’t know. There were several kids not more than 3 feet away from us with nothing on. Well one girl had floaties. It was very uncomfortable. I realize that they are just kids, probably about 4 or a little older, but it just felt wrong. I was also worried that Karina might get a little handsy and I really did not want to deal with that. I think it just felt strange because in the US to see a stranger’s child naked usually means you are engaging in inappropriate, likely perverse behavior. Here a naked body is not sexualized it’s just natural. Asha didn’t even seem to notice as she asked no questions about it and we weren’t going to bring it up. I did caution Sanjay to make sure he didn’t get any naked kids in his photos.

We headed home on the hot train then on to a hot tram back to our hot apartment. I know this is very American of me, but AC people please! Even with the windows open it was uncomfortably hot. Maybe that’s really why everyone is running around naked. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the backyard drinking rosé while the kids played. It was a nice relaxing day after all the traveling we’ve been doing.

Hope it starting to get summer-like back home!

Tchüss,

Karla

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Where Are Your Parents?

I think that some Americans would have a bit of a panic attack as they walked around Berlin and noticed all the children walking the streets or riding their bikes without their parents. I don’t mean the parents are a block behind them. I mean there is literally no one in sight that knows these children. This is German parenting, “free range” as we would label it in the US.

I mentioned in an earlier post that German parents do not hover over their children at the park. Well it doesn’t end there. German parents don’t hover as a general rule. Kids are allowed to walk or ride bikes to and from school, to the park, or to the store and no one bats an eye. They place a high value on learning to be independent and allowing children some freedom.

Today we were walking next to a girl maybe 8 years old who appeared to be walking from school. She was looking around and appeared aware of her surroundings. When she got to the street she came to a full stop and looked both ways before crossing the street. This is also an important part of German parenting. They teach their children early on how to be aware and safe, so that they can do things independently when they are older. I have noticed this when watching German parents with younger children. They allow them to ride bikes or walk beside them, but they make sure that they know to follow traffic signals, look for cars, and watch out for others on the side walk. They give them some freedom, but remain close enough to teach them the rules. Generally in the US when I see a child far from his/her parents riding a bike or scooter I cringe because I have been run into at least twice by said children only to have their parents laugh when they become aware of what happened. This has not happened once in Germany and anytime a child has a lapse in attention and blocks someones path the parents give a “schuldigen,” (excuse me) and remind the child to watch where he/she is going.

Now I don’t want to get into parenting philosophies. As long as you aren’t causing harm to your child or someone else, you do you. I think a big difference is freedom. I hypothesize that I’ve been run into by kids in Chicago because they are only getting small tastes of freedom and feel that they need to take full advantage of every opportunity they get. Which means riding that bike or scooter like a bat out of hell and paying no attention to anyone else. Obviously this is not the whole picture, but I think it is a piece. If you are regularly given freedom and independence then it doesn’t feel like a special privilege, it’s just natural. Now I do think that in order for this to work you do have to be diligent about teaching the “rules” and how to stay safe. You still have to parent.

I like to think that I am somewhere in between hovering and free range. Unfortunately, I tend to lean a little more toward hovering because I worry. I worry about things I can not and never will be able to control. Why? I’m afraid. I think that fear in a big problem in America. Fear mongering is everywhere. You turn on the news and every story is about something negative, you listen to politicians talk about which people pose the biggest threat, you travel to Europe and people ask if you are concerned about a terrorist attack, etc. The media has learned that fear sells and they keep pushing it and we seem to buy it. Myself included.

I want to try and be a little more “free range.” To not give in so much to fear because whether I like it or not things happen. My kids will fall and get hurt even if I am right there trying to prevent it and if I’m always right there I think I’m teaching them to be afraid. I want Asha and Karina to be strong and independent, but for them to get there they are going to have to fail and learn from their failures and mistakes. They need to take some risks and not live in fear. I hope that I can learn a little bit from the German parenting style. That I can give my kids a good foundation and then trust them to be independent, at least to a certain degree. My mom once told me that parenting is learning the art of letting go. It’s a difficult dance, but I really think she is right.

So I’ll be trying to “let go” a little more. Please don’t call DCFS on me! I promise I will do my due diligence before sending my kids off on their own.

Tchüss,

Karla

Budapest

I must admit I was a little reluctant to go to Budapest. It was never a place I had really thought about visiting when I thought of European cities, but I’m so glad we went. It is a beautiful city and the people are very friendly. It isn’t huge so you can see most everything in a couple days. If you want to go I would suggest adding a couple other nearby cities to round out your itinerary.

Anyway we took an early flight on Friday morning and had most of the day there. We decided to go to lunch at Great Market Hall. The first floor is all various produce, bakery, meat, and cheese stands and the second floor has some restaurants and souvenir type items. We had lunch upstairs and sampled some authentic Hungarian cuisine, which was delicious. I am not a huge sausage person, but I think both Sanjay and I agreed that the Hungarian sausages were the best we’ve had since being here. After lunch we went over to Buda. Side note: Budapest was once two cities, Buda and Pest. Buda is the hillier side and Pest is flat. They are separated by the Danube. Moving on. After doing a little research it seemed that we should go to the top of Gellert Hill to get the best view of the city. They fail to mention that it is quite a trek, particularly if you have a stroller, and there are stairs. We pressed on. Karina slept most of the way up and Asha was a real trooper. She climbed all the way up without being carried. She was rewarded with a popsicle at the top. The views were amazing, as promised, so it was worth the haul. Next we walked over to Castle Hill, which was a good 1.5 miles away and involved more stairs, but it was a lovely little area. It reminded me a little of a Tuscan hill town. This is where St. Matthais Church is located. It is a gorgeous church with a color titled roof. There are several buildings in Budapest with these colorful mosaic roofs and they are very pretty. We did get rained on while there, but we made the best of it. We walked back to our hotel and crossed Chain Bridge. We opted to take a cab to dinner after all that walking.

The next day we stayed on the Pest side. We started out at City Park where we had planned to see some of the famous Budapest baths, but as we were walking around we happened upon an old medieval castle that we did not realize was part of the park. There were some people dressed in period attire and some playing traditional folk music. It was very cool, but near the end of the little festival area there appeared to be a carnival, not wanted to get sucked in we quickly turned around. We made our way to the baths and looked around. It was interesting to see, but this particular bath did not seem all that impressive. It was like a giant pool and couple of hot tubs in a beautiful building. We also walked through Heroes Square which has some pretty impressive statues. Next we went to the House of Terror. No this is not a MGM ride. It is a museum showing Hungary’s role in WWII and their subsequent control by the Soviet Union. It was really quite interesting. It didn’t really mean much to the kids, but Sanjay and I enjoyed it. We then went back to our hotel for brunch. We had a reservation in the “Kid’s Corner”. This was the greatest brunch ever! The “Kid’s Corner” was not just activities for the kids, but supervised activities. I actually got to eat a meal and have a real conversation. Amazing! The food was really great too and all the drinks were included. I think it worked out to be about $40 per person and the kids were free! After taking full advantage of the 3 hr brunch, Asha did every single craft available, we went a boat tour. I spent most of the tour walking up and down the back of the boat with Karina, but it was beautiful. The Danube by Budapest is so nice and they have done a great job of building up the waterfront. Most of the well known buildings can all be seen from the river. When we got back we walked over to take a closer look at the parliament building and then went to a “ruin” bar for a quick dinner. We went back to the hotel and grabbed a little dessert in the executive lounge, mostly for the view. The lounge was almost on the top floor and had a large outdoor terrace with fantastic views of the city.

Again I’m very glad we decided to go. I think this goes without saying, but traveling with little kids is a whole different ballgame. These trips we’ve taken here have really been the first sightseeing type vacations we’ve taken with the girls. We have gone to the lake or the beach, but those are much more relaxed. These trips while fun are also tiring and not without tantrums and whining. I have missed the ability to go to a nice dinner and enjoy the nightlife a little, but Sanjay and I will just have to take some solo trips. There is also something to be said for experiencing these things with kids. They have so much excitement and they see things through different eyes. Also we are taking the adventure together, the good, beautiful, bad, and ugly. I know that they won’t really remember doing this, but I will. While I will remember some of the epic tantrums I’ll be able to laugh about them. Mostly I will think about all the time we got to spend together and the amazing things we saw. Even though they will not remember I think it will instill in them a desire to travel and take adventures. I know that having done all of these things we will be less apprehensive about traveling with them in the future. I believe this is the being of a lifetime of exploring the world together and making great memories.

As much fun as it’s been we are taking a little break this weekend because it is tiring. We’ll just be hanging out here in Berlin and taking it easy 😉

Tchüss,

Karla

“I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me”

There are a lot of great things about Germany: easy public transportation, lots of outdoor eating, interesting history, beer gardens, beautiful parks, etc., but there is one thing that drives me crazy, staring. German people stare at you and it is uncomfortable.

I started noticing it during the first week we were here. I initially thought we must just look out of place and that my kids are crazy. Then I noticed it even when we weren’t doing anything that seemed out of the ordinary. I kept thinking “what are we doing?” When I mentioned it to Sanjay he thought I was just being self conscious, but then he started to notice it too. On the train, walking down the street, sitting at a meal people will stare at you. When we were in Vienna, not Germany obviously but similar, a woman continued to blatantly stare at the girls and me while eating breakfast. Again nothing unusual no screaming or throwing food just eating like normal people. Yet she continued to completely turn her head to watch us.

Many times when I notice it the kids are acting out in someway, a tantrum or just excessive talking. I get it, this is not something the Germans seem to approve of, but it is still not alright to stare. Also do you think that staring will somehow magically make them behave? If it did don’t you think I’d be staring them down too? It’s not like I’m trying to win a contest for most questions answered within 3o seconds or that my favorite sound is a child screaming “mama” at the top of her lungs on a crowded train.

I decided to research this a little to see if anyone else had noticed the staring and came across many blog posts from expats commenting on this behavior. I doubt you would really notice it as a tourist because you are too busy doing other things and not going through a more daily routine. All of the expats were either from the US or UK. In these countries children are taught that staring is rude. If you are caught staring you quickly avert your gaze and try to go unnoticed. Even if someone is doing something interesting you are not supposed to stare.

From my research I have learned that this is something Germans are not taught. They are also not trying to stare. They are observing and view others as merely part of the landscape. Ok. I guess that is fine. Every culture is different, but unless I see a crazy looking tree or an animal doing something neat I don’t even really stare at the landscape. Sure we all space out from time to time, but that is definitely not what is happening here. The other thing that makes it weird is they don’t stop when you catch them staring. Nor do they smile back or acknowledge you in anyway when you attempt to acknowledge them. I am notorious for getting involved in unwanted conversations on public transportation for smiling at people who make eye contact with me. I’m just trying to be polite, but here there is not reaction just to keep staring. Please, make it more awkward people. At least give me something. Tell me to keep my kid quiet, or you don’t like what we’re doing. Something. Anything. Please don’t just stare at me!

I don’t think this is something I would ever be comfortable with, but I’m learning to just accept it as part of their culture. Though I still think staring is rude. Sometimes I just stare back or I give a smile even if it’s not returned. Sometimes the staring, while clearly judgy is helpful. Today for example while on the tram, an older woman was staring at Karina while she was sitting in her stroller facing away from me. I noticed her staring and just ignored it until she started to make a disgusted face. I thought maybe I should see what was happening and Karina was putting a small toy in her mouth. Not sure this warranted the woman’s expression considering Karina often attempts to eat rocks and sand, but thank you staring lady for preventing my child from choking.

You should really google “German stare,” I promise I’m not crazy. It’s a thing.

Tchüss,

Karla

“Vienna Waits for You”

We just got back from Vienna last night and I must say I loved that city! I have always been drawn to Vienna because of its rich musical history. In fact the very first thing we did was take a tour of the Vienna State Opera. The building itself is magnificent! I loved walking through and just thinking about the world’s greatest composers walking in that same space. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go on stage because they were setting up for the performance of Turnadot that evening. We tried to get tickets, but they only had standing room left. We then went to the Haus der Musik, a music and sound museum, which had some interactive exhibits that the kids, mostly Asha, enjoyed. Then we went to the house Mozart lived in during his time in Vienna. They had a whole exhibit in the basement dedicated to “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco. That was pretty entertaining.

The next day we went to the Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial summer palace. It was crazy huge and crazy busy. We spent the first at least 1.5 hrs there in line or getting to a line. By the time we got our tickets it was a 3 hr wait to enter the palace. We decided to go to the children’s museum and zoo first. The children’s museum was pretty cool. They had a bunch of costumes from the period when the palace was used for both children and adults to dress up in. I think Asha would have stayed there all day if we let her. The rest of the museum was divided into different areas of daily life and most of the exhibits were interactive. Next we walked through the beautiful palace gardens, there is also a labyrinth we didn’t do, to get to the zoo. The Vienna zoo is the world’s oldest zoo. I think because of this I was expecting it to be kind of run down, but it was very nice and actually pretty big.

On our last full day we started at Naschmarkt. This is an outdoor market in the city center. There are restaurants there as well as other food merchants. Then as you get towards the back it turns into more of a flea market. I’m glad we went because we really enjoy checking out local markets, but it was a real pain to get around there. The walk way is very narrow and if anyone stops to make a purchase it is almost impossible to get through. Now we were there on a Saturday morning, so I’m sure it was a heavy traffic time. It may be a little easier on a weekday. In the afternoon we went to Prater, a park with an amusement park in it. We went on the ferris wheel. It was incredibly slow, which is not good when you don’t like heights, but the view was great! Asha was so excited and wanted to ride all the rides. She rode on her first real rollercoaster. I’m sure in the US she would have never been allowed to ride, but in Austria, no problem. She got off and told me it was “totally great!” Sanjay said it was also super shady. It had no seat belts just a bar that came down. The ride operator told him to just hold on to Asha and she’d been fine. Which clearly she was, but I was glad to learn this information after the fact. We had dinner by the Danube River, which was a let down. I was expecting it to be very beautiful, but it was brown and kind of dingy. Then we went back to the city center and took a carriage ride. It was more expensive than we expected, but the girls loved it, so it was worth it 🙂

I don’t want to see a schnitzel again for a long time, but if you get the chance I highly recommend going to Vienna. It is just beautiful! Around every turn there is a magnificent building, beautiful fountain, or grand statue. Sanjay and I both agreed that we would like to go back someday without the kids to enjoy the city at night for the food and music.

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure 🙂

 

 

 

There is another European holiday this coming Monday, so we are heading to Budapest for the weekend. Gotta love all the holidays here!

Tchüss,

Karla

At the Gym

Those of you that know me well, know that I love the gym. Working out makes me happy and keeps me sane. One of the first things I made sure to research when we found our apartment in Berlin were gyms. I found one that seemed similar to what I’m used to and most importantly provided child care. Now I’ve already shared some of the locker room differences, i.e. no towels, lots of nudity, and community showers, but there are a few other things worth noting.

Equipment: Ok so the equipment is really pretty much the same. The biggest challenge is figuring out how much to lift and how fast to run. Oh and if you want to input your vitals you need to figure out how many kilos you weigh. I’ve gotten much better at figuring out kilometers per hour and it actually helps me to run faster since I really have no concept of km per hour the high numbers are less intimidating. It’s a little more challenging figuring out how much to lift. One kilogram is about 2.2 pounds so none of the free weights equate exactly to free weights measured in pounds.

Attire: This can be interesting. Lululemon does not seem to have really taken off here yet and for the most part it seems that people aren’t too concerned about what they are wearing. It is common and perfectly acceptable to wear a baggy t-shirt and sweat pants or a jumper. Yes I said jumper and not a tight fitted one, which is apparently some new trend. Have fun going to the bathroom in that! Anyway, the point is anything goes. You do not have to look your best and I have yet to see one woman applying pre-workout makeup, unlike in the US. It also appears that shoes are optional when lifting weights as I have seen many men lifting heavy in their socks.

Fitness Classes: Obviously these are all in German so I have to make sure I can clearly see what is happening. I also hope that the instructor doesn’t try to correct my form or engage in any type of discussion with me as I have no clue what’s being said. For the most part it’s easy, just watch and repeat. Now I have taken a few different classes and so far one thing has been consistent, the warm-up is straight out of the eighties. I’m talking marching in place, wide marching, step touch, grapevine, and today, the pony. All with the appropriate hand movements of course. I didn’t even know this was still a thing and the instructors are all around my age or younger. After the warm-up we return to modern times, but this is what a warm-up looks like minus the awesome ensembles. I’m really not exaggerating.

There isn’t much else I can say after that gem. We leave for Vienna in the morning so I should really get to bed!

Tchüss,

Karla