“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

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“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

A Little Venting

I apologize in advance and if you don’t want to hear a little complaining you should just stop reading now. This post is half about German culture, but more about general pet peeve of mine. You see, since being here in Berlin we have been taking public transportation a lot. Whenever we have to take a train it requires taking an elevator up or down to the platform because we always have a stroller. There have only been a handful of times when no elevator was available, or at least I couldn’t find it. What I have encountered regularly is an inability to get on the elevator because it is full of seemingly able bodied people.

I have no other option than to take the elevator. You are not supposed to put a stroller on an escalator for safety reasons and while I have done it, taking the stroller up or down stairs alone is no easy feat. I need the elevator and unless you truly have to take it due to a a medical issue, age, or a lot of baggage please kindly take the stairs or escalator because I can’t. Now I realize that one cannot always tell by appearance if someone is able to take the stairs, so we have to operate on the honor system. If you really need to take the elevator too that’s totally cool, but otherwise don’t. At the very least let those that have to take the elevator on first and then wait for the next one if there is no room. Most of the time the alternative to the elevator is an escalator and in this situation I really don’t get the desire to take the elevator. You have to wait for it and it is often cramped. Plus it really requires no more effort to ride the escalator. You can even set your bag down on the stair while you ride. I wish I could take the escalator.

Now here is the part that is more about German culture. Even if you need to take the elevator if there is a line you get in line and wait your turn. Despite the Germans’ apparent love of rules and order they don’t really do lines, unless it is a clearly marked off one. It’s a free for all. Even if a line is formed people have no problem going in front of others and getting on an elevator or placing an order at the butcher stand. It drives me crazy. In the US we respect the line. Line cutting is considered rude.

This afternoon the elevator at the train station was unusually busy, so an informal line of mostly people with strollers was formed at the entrance. Everyone was respecting the line until one woman came up and tried to push her stroller in front of everyone. The line was about 5 strollers deep. I really had enough so I positioned my self in such a way that it prevented her from cutting everyone else off. When the elevator arrived I motioned the woman who had been waiting the longest to enter and almost everyone in the line made it on the elevator and the other woman had to wait. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but it just seemed so inconsiderate and I didn’t like the idea of this person pushing everyone around. I don’t understand why Germans don’t respect the line and in some situations it doesn’t bother me as much, but in this case it was really not alright.

Sorry, I needed to get that off my chest. In closing please remember that some people have to take the elevator and thank you America for respecting the line!

Tomorrow we are heading to Dresden for the day. Asha is super excited to ride the train. I’m sure we’ll get some great photos 🙂

Tchüss,

Karla

Keep It Clean

I got the impression that Germans like things to be neat and tidy and after visiting Italy I really think it’s true. First, I have only been in one public restroom, so far, in  Germany that was not so clean. It was a “city toilet,” you pay 0.50€ and the doors open to a toilet and sink, in an area apparently frequented by junkies. At least this was the information relayed to Sanjay by a stranger who was concerned about Karina finding a needle while she was running around waiting for Asha to finish using the bathroom. Given this info, and assuming it’s true, a kind of dirty bathroom is not surprising. Now in Italy it was a different story, public bathrooms were very hit and miss. Some didn’t even have toilet seats, I’m still not sure why. I have also noticed that many bathrooms in Germany have toilet seat cleaner next to them. I don’t recall seeing this at all in Italy.

The public transportation here is also very clean. I’m sure it’s germy, which is really unavoidable due to the number of people that come on board. I have yet to step in a train care that smelled like urine or had a seat with a stain of indiscernible origin, though most times ignorance in this case is bliss. The CTA has a no eating rule, but as most Chicagoans know this is often ignored. I once got on a train in which someone left a half eaten can of tuna fish. The same rule exists here in Germany, but as Germans are big rule followers, they actually adhere to this policy.

Another interesting thing is that servers here feel compelled to clean up after Karina while she is eating. We have eaten outside the majority of the time, but the handful of times we were indoors the server kept coming by to clean the floor under her. I realize she makes quite a mess, but it’s also pretty futile to clean up until she is totally finished. Maybe German kids aren’t messy or their parents just don’t take them to restaurants until they can eat with minimal droppage. I’m not really sure. We always try to clean up as much as we can before we leave a restaurant, even in the US because I feel bad that someone else has to clean all that up. However; it’s really a waste of time until the very end. Good thing so many places have outdoor patios. The constant during meal cleaning makes me a little uncomfortable.

Berlin itself is also pretty clean for a big city, especially compared to Rome. It is not very hard to find a garbage can while walking down the street. There are however, cigarette butts everywhere, but not much litter. They also seem to hide their dumpsters. I’m not really sure how, but I can’t remember seeing one since we’ve been here. In Rome I saw several. Now I’m very curious about where the Germans are hiding all their trash…

Here’s hoping this idea of cleanliness, particularly while eating, rubs off on our kids!

Tchüss,

Karla

Back to Berlin

We left Rome on Sunday morning after a breakfast of pastries and Nutella. Sweets are big here. We had troubling logging into our flight online, but couldn’t figure out what the problem was. We were finally able to do it, but didn’t get a boarding pass for Karina. We have run into issues flying with her before. You see after much research I decided that we should really purchase a seat for her and bring her car seat on the plane. Since she is under two this always seems to through things off a little bit. Anyway we proceeded to the check in counter to get her boarding pass and realized that somehow they had booked us as having an infant in a seat and a lap infant. We had to wait for a manager to come down and resolve the issue, which took a little while but seemed easy to fix. We were flying on Vueling airlines, which is a low cost airline affiliated with Iberia. We mentioned several times that we were taking her car seat on the plane. A car seat that she was seating in at the time thanks the Brica Roll ‘n Go, highly recommend. It didn’t seem to be an issue. We made it through security and Asha and I went to grab some food as our plane was boarding soon.

It seemed to take forever to get the food and when we met Sanjay at the gate he said they were about to board. I packed up our food and we headed to the boarding line. We asked about priority boarding for families, no problem. Then we started to board and everything changed. When we got to the front the gate agent told us we couldn’t take the car seat on the plane. We explained that we purchased a seat for her. We also noted that the airline’s website states that you can buy a seat for your child and put them in a car seat. She told us that we had to notify them 24 hours ahead of time if we wanted to do that because they needed to have a special belt for the carseat. This made no sense to me at all. We have flown on at least 4 different airlines with Karina in a car seat. Unless this was some plane with crazy seats I did not understand what the problem was. They had us step to the side so they could check to see if we could bring the car seat on board. Eventually the gate agent told us we could board and the crew would help. We made it down the walk way and were might by the flight crew who once again told us we could not bring on the car seat. We started to explain everything once again and some one from the boarding area came down and talked to them. We were then told they had to consult with the pilot to see if it was ok. It was really unbelievable and made zero sense. The flight attendant returned and we were given permission to bring the car seat on board. However, one of us had to hold her during take off and landing. You know the riskiest parts of the flight. I still have no idea what happened. The whole thing was incredibly bizarre. If you do any research on flying safely with infants and children it is highly recommended that you put them in car seats on the plane. The FAA has even considered making it a requirement and no longer allowing lap infants. I mean to each his own. I’m not judging anyone, but I prefer to fly with Karina in a car seat. It also makes it easier because we have more room.

Now normally Karina falls asleep in her car seat before or during take off, but she had to sit on Sanjay’s lap with a seat belt extender, the special belt they were referring too which had nothing to do with the car seat. Instead of falling asleep she began screaming for me because she could now see me in the next aisle over. To avoid a screaming child for the whole flight I had Sanjay pass her over to me. We attempted to put her back in the car seat, but that caused more screaming. She wasn’t going back in there now that she got to sit with “mommy.” Sanjay ended up moving to the empty aisle seat in our row while the empty car seat sat in the lovely window seat we purchased. To say we were unhappy would be an understatement. We paid for that seat. We wanted to travel safely with our child. We followed the instructions on the airline’s website. Yet we sat cramped together with a lap infant. Not cool Vueling. Really not cool.

Despite all the drama we made it back safely. Since it is Sunday, everything in Berlin is closed except for restaurants, so groceries will have to wait until tomorrow. We enjoyed some dumplings at a restaurant down the street, put the kids to bed, and now get to relax a bit. I’m so happy to be done traveling for the day!

Tchüss,

Karla

 

Arrivederci

The last few days here in Italy have been pretty low key, which is very nice. We visited the church of St. Francis in Assisi and went to the small hill town Corotona. We did some wine tastings and had a little picnic with beautiful views. Italy does not disappoint when it comes to scenery.

We have also eaten a lot, but the last night was by far the best meal we have had. When we booked our rental house through Air BnB we decided to ask the home owner, Marco, about having a traditional Tuscan dinner at the house because the grounds looked so beautiful. He was happy to do this, but what we didn’t realize at the time was that he and his wife would be preparing the meal for us. This was an experience you could not get at a hotel. We talked to them as they prepared the food and insisted they at least join us for drinks and dessert. Which by the way was a delicious cake that his wife got up at 6am to make before she went to work! It was nice to learn about them and their family. At times we had to use phones for translation, but smiles and laughter are universal. It was an experience I know none of else will ever forgot and worth every Euro to get to experience the culture and Tuscan life in that way.

We packed up and headed back toward Rome. On the way we decided to take a little detour and stop by the Mediterranean Sea. It was beautiful of course!  Unfortunately we are leaving the sunshine behind. The weather in Berlin is cold and rainy, but oh well!

If you are ever planning a trip to Siena I highly recommend renting a house. I would also be happy to give you the info on the one we rented. The house is beautiful and the people stupendo!

We are incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful friends who are really family. I’m grateful that we were able to take this trip and spend to time together. By the end we were all pretty beat, but it was worth it. So far it seems we only lost one thing, our portable crib. How do you lose something so big you ask? Well none of us are really sure, but we think it may have fallen out of the car. You see on the way to Siena from Rome we stopped in Orvieto and as we were leaving someone honked at us. We were driving away with our trunk open. Oops! A causality of a great vacation I guess.

Ciao,

Karla