Pizza and puppies

Leaving Düsseldorf was a hard thing to do. After nearly three years, it had really become home. We loved our neighborhood, and we had a great group of friends. The kind you can call up and spontaneously meet for Mexican in 20 minutes. My personal training business was booming, and my Zumba classes were up and running.

But change is what keeps life interesting, so we dislocated an entire clan of dust bunnies, had a bittersweet last pizza at our favorite Italian place, and moved to Frankfurt.

Our apartment, while smaller than the one we had in Düsseldorf, is getting quite cozy. The many windows let in every ray of sun the sky gives us, although I am acutely aware of the fact that we will need a window cleaner to come by one of these days. The balcony is gloriously large and finally allowed us to put our American grill to good use over the warm summer we had. Our various trappings of life have slowly found their places again.

The neighborhood is still lacking as far as human connection goes. Frankfurt is a much bigger and more international city than Düsseldorf. Many of the neighbors are reticent to even say hello, and much of the staff at the restaurants we’ve tried don’t bother hiding their indifference. Although, we have found an Italian place, an Austrian place, and a coffee house that are very promising. I’m hoping that if nothing else works, me wandering around with a stroller when December comes will melt all their hearts. And if not, we’ll just have to get a puppy.

Little Things

This is the actual sign in front of the kiosk in the Underground station that sells newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and, I guess, ‘real wieners.’ Giggle, giggle.

“I’m a real one… 22 cm long, 200 g heavy, and recently increased in price to 2,70.”

a real wiener

Why all this talk about sunshine

As the dreary post-Christmas winter settles upon us here in Düsseldorf, I’m sure I will start complaining about the weather again. While I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to ride my bike in the rain in a while, my biggest point of contention is still the lack of sunshine for what feels like days (and sometimes weeks) on end.

Nice people who can’t fully fathom my climate-related distress are always trying to pep me up with statements like, “but it’s so nice to be inside and cozy and warm while it’s gray outside,” or “cloudy days make you appreciate the sunny ones that much more” (see more here). Oh, you poor people, I always say…

To put my obsession with sunshine and generally good weather into perspective, I grew up in the second sunniest place on the face of the planet, really. www.currentresults.com says so.

And, while researching sunshine stats, I also ran across this on weatherspark.com: “The median cloud cover [in Düsseldorf] is 85% (mostly cloudy) and does not vary substantially over the course of the year. On June 17, the clearest day of the year, the sky is clear, mostly clear, or partly cloudy 17% of the time, and overcast or mostly cloudy 40% of the time.”

Numbers don’t lie. I’m not crazy after all.

And a final word, for all you pepper-uppers, “Düsseldorf has…no dry season.” (weatherspark.com)

Average hours of sunshine for the ten sunniest places on earth
Country Place Year Day
United States Yuma, Arizona 4015 11.0
United States Phoenix, Arizona 3872 10.6
Egypt Asswan 3863 10.6
United States Las Vegas, Nevada 3825 10.5
Sudan Dongola 3814 10.4
United States Tucson, Arizona 3806 10.4
Chad Faya-Largeau 3792 10.4
Egypt Kharga 3791 10.4
Sudan Abu Hamed 3763 10.3
United States El Paso, Texas 3763 10.3

Sunny Sunday

Germany is a nation of walkers. Sure, in general, people travel by foot way more here than other places I’ve lived. But spazieren gehen, to stroll or to go for a walk, merely for the walking itself, is an actual pastime, a way to actively enjoy your free time. ‘Hey, want to go spazieren?’

There doesn’t necessarily have to be a destination in mind or even a set amount of time to be spent walking. You just go and see what happens. Maybe you meet some friends, maybe you stop for a coffee, maybe you just sit on a bench and watch the people passing by. The idea is to just be out in the fresh air.

Yesterday was the perfect combination of sunny and Sunday, so Toby and I headed out for a two-hour Spaziergang, walk, along the Rhine in the afternoon sun. We certainly weren’t the only ones! Here are some impressions:

20140105 01 Spazieren

20140105 02 Spazieren

20140105 03 Spazieren

Adjectives

People are always asking how a girl from Arizona ends up working at a fitness club in Düsseldorf, and why I speak such good German, albeit with a funny accent. So I tell them about my Austrian parents who fell in love with Arizona and decided to have a family there. About growing up with German workbooks, Austrian Christmas trees, and Wienerschnitzel. About the Phoenix Oktoberfest where I met Toby, my German husband. About our decision to move to Germany together, which gave me the opportunity to make the career leap that might otherwise have been left for ‘some day.’

The reaction is almost always the same – wow, you’re mutig. Translated that means something like brave, courageous, ballsy.

Funny. Most days those aren’t the words I would use to describe myself. Maybe confused, worried, overwhelmed. And sometimes lonely, lazy, useless. There’s always a little crazy sprinkled in. Some days I even feel hopeful, curious, inspired.

But ballsy? Me?

Big city Berlin

For our big city adventure, A and I chose Berlin. Neither of us had ever been, and it seems like one of those places you should go, especially if you’re already this close. So we packed ourselves into a train and arrived in Germany’s vibrant capital a little over four hours later.

We spent our first afternoon getting to know the city on a Fat Tire Bike Tour. This is a great way to explore a new place – not only do you cover a lot of ground, but you also hear its stories from a person passionate enough to want to lead tourists around on bikes all day. The pace was very relaxed as we cruised from point to point, always learning more about the 1871 German Empire, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, East Germany, and the reunified Germany. We saw places like Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, and Brandenburg Gate; Red City Hall and the Reichstag building (Parliament); Checkpoint Charlie, parts of the Berlin wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe; Berlin’s Cathedral, Museum Island, and Humboldt University; and a beer garden in the Tiergarten.

What left a lasting impression on me was how the face of Berlin had changed over the course of its recent history. Sure, like many other European cities in the 20th century, many buildings had been bombed or burned down, either in full or part. But it was interesting to learn that some of them had been exactly rebuilt, but in a different location, or that parts of buildings had been kept and integrated into new buildings. Kind of like a way for the city to remember pieces of its history while still moving forward.

A bike tour can make you hungry, so we settled into a cafe on Gendarmenmarkt for dinner. We enjoyed an open-air jazz concert that ended with an impressive show of fireworks followed immediately by a crazy downpour. We were outside but under the roof and had the perfect vantage point from which to watch the concert-goers scrambling for cover. The rain gave us a good excuse to stay a little longer with some hot beverages. It was a nice way to spend our only evening in Berlin.

On our last day we explored on our own. We started with a visit to the Ritter Sport chocolate store. We’re girls. That’s what we do. Our second visit to Checkpoint Charlie provided a great photo opportunity with its popsicle-eating ‘guards.’ We ate what must be the best waffle on the face of the planet as we wandered past old Trabant cars repurposed into tour cars. We read our way through Topography of Terror (a free museum about the history of repression under the Nazis). We took a short subway ride to Charlottenburg Palace to see a different part of Berlin and treated ourselves to afternoon coffee and hot chocolate in the palace gardens. And then it was time to head back to the train station.

It was a fun two days for the traveling sisters!

The German flip-flop

I’ve discovered that shoes are an interesting matter when living in Düsseldorf. Regardless of winter or “summer” (or whatever they call it here), the key is to keep your feet dry. In winter, the obvious choice is boots. Any style, any shape, and any color will do. I made friends with tall, flat boots paired with skinny jeans.

What was funny was when I started trying to wear my sandals once the temperatures warmed up a bit. For this Arizona girl, summer equals sandals, specifically flip-flops. Trip to the grocery store? Put on your flip-flops. Happy hour? Bust out your flip-flops. Saturday afternoon at the coffee house? You got it – flip-flops. There was no real danger in baring your toes (unless you were moving too fast, flipped one too hard, and ended up on the hot asphalt – but only beginners do that).

Imagine my surprise when I left the apartment one morning, in my flip-flops, only to have totally wet feet a few hours later because the sunny blue skies had turned to rain-producing cloudy skies. Because this sudden change in weather can occur on any given day, I learned from the locals and started wearing ballerinas (close-toed flats). A German girl’s answer to flip-flops. Lighter and cooler than a boot while providing almost as much wetness protection (sounds like an antiperspirant ad…).

Since boot cut jeans drag too close to the ground and run the risk of getting wet, ballerinas are still best paired with skinny jeans. The end result – my summer outfits are the same as my winter outfits, with a few less layers on top.

And I always said I’d never wear those carrot-shaped skinny jeans. Never say never…

Escape

We all need an escape from the everyday world. For the past decade (wow, that sounds old), the wilderness of southern Utah, with its red rocks, blue skies, and endless vistas, was my place of solace. There’s nothing like carrying your own food and water around all day and then camping out of the back of your car to help you regain some perspective on what you really need to be happy. I loved everything about those trips – the planning, the prep, the drive, the companionship, the sweat and dust, the pictures and stories. It was finally time to find my (our – Toby has also learned to love a good hiking/camping trip) southern Utah of Germany, or at least get away from the city life for a little bit.

Hiking opportunities in Germany are plenty. I decided on Eifel National Park, a two-hour drive from Düsseldorf that takes you past the historic Nürburgring (a highlight on its own).

The two days of hiking were thoroughly enjoyable, and the fresh air was good for us, but the phrase ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ kept running through my head. First of all, there’s way more green than I’m used to. While the desert is also green, it’s of a very different quality – leaves are often smaller, with a grayish hue or are covered in tiny hairs. The green here is so intense. It even smells different; there are more layers to it. Desert air is simple and crisp. And warm and dry. We hiked with beanies and rain gear just in case the gray clouds dancing overhead dropped their load (only a few drops ever came down).

The sights along our trails were also of a different quality. In the desert you have wide open vistas of a landscape etched by water and rimmed by buttes and mesas. Here it’s like looking out over the green section of the big Crayola box. Sometimes, for a real euro feel, there’s even a castle or a fort, or ruins thereof.

Which highlights another difference.  Deep in the deserts of the Southwest, it’s you and nature. You might not see another person for hours and miles. In Germany, you’re never far from civilization. Along with said castles and forts, some trails take you through entire towns. And it’s not totally unusual to find a Hütte (German for cabin) along the trail where you can buy a beer and some lunch or a coffee and a piece of cake – quite a nice addition to our wilderness experiences.

While it was an overnight trip, there was no camping for us. I wasn’t ready to be that adventurous – there’s too much rain and probably lots of weird bugs in all that green. Instead, we found a hotel in nearby Koblenz and enjoyed Italian food and gelato. If only there were a way to combine gelato with a long day of desert hiking….