28 February 2010

What I am reading: February 2010

  1. away from you by Melanie Finn: A really good book. Which I was not expecting because it's been sitting on my shelf as an unread ARC for some time. A debut novel, perhaps a bit autobiographical, as a woman returns to Africa to discover the abusive, alcoholic father whom she and her mother had fled from. Lyrical and moving and tragic descriptions of Africa as it was and is.
  2. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain: I usually avoid serial killer books, but I read Sweetheart some time ago and enjoyed that. Really well written stories. I am just plowing through my TBR pile:).
  3. I do not come to you by chance by : My book clubs are really choosing books that I am enjoying reading this year. If the title sounds familiar to you, it is because it's the classic opener for a Nigerian 409 scam and Nigeria and its society and the role of individuals who are such scammers are what this debut novel by a Nigerian is about. I enjoyed it very much and the tone and vocabulary and color of the writing brought me into the story and really made the people and the setting live for me.
  4. The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson: This was a rough book. The violence was difficult to read and I put the book down and picked it up again several times. But it's a progression in the development of Blomkvist and Salander that is vital: in this book I grew to really like Blomkvist where in the last I did not. The characters grow and evolve. I really think it shows that this "trilogy" was written originally as a single very large manuscript. In these cases the second book is alwayd problematic (cf The Two Towers). I need to take some time off, I think, before reading the last book. First, because it is the last and I will be very sorry to see the last of these characters, where Larsson had originally envisioned a 10 book arc. Second, because I need surcease from the violence and specifically the discussion of violence against women.
Not very many books this month. Between moving into the new apartment (and out of the old), renovating the new apartment (and the old) and then getting the old apartment in better shape than it was when we moved in in order to turn it back to the landlord, it's been exhausting. I'm just trying to keep current with the NYT and a few magazines.

21 February 2010

This is a personal Blog.

Since November. the velocity of my blogging has been extremely low.

I looked around again this year and saw Germany celebrating the day the wall opened without a nod at the real history of the day: that it's the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

As I saw blogger after blogger and newstory after newstory fail to mention the coincident dates (which were the reason that official German Reunification day was instead set in October), I became depressed.

To that I added the overwhelming rape apologism that I saw surrounding Roman Polanski's much-delayed arrest, including his support by people who I actually admired (at least one of whom, when shown facts, recanted that support).

I started reading books more. And I liked them more.

This is a personal blog. It's used as a vehicle for conveying information and pictures to my friends and family and to act as a diary (I have a notoriously bad memory and am awful at keeping print diaries). It's also an open hand to meet people in a strange land and people who have some of the same experiences that I do:
  • Working professional who is now SAHM,
  • Stranger in a strange land,
  • Older person attempting to learn a new language, from necessity rather than desire
  • New mom dealing with the ups and downs of having children in a strange land
  • Negotiating the shoals of a school system unlike my own in a foreign language
  • Missing my homeland and seeing my new and old home through foreign eyes
  • Being Jewish in a country which was the architect and hands of the will to murder my people, and which succeeded to a vast extent in doing so and exploring my religion and its tradition and rituals as my family grows
  • Living in Germany as the child of an Auschwitz survivor and the mother of German Jewish children and needing, at an age I feel too young, to explain these issues to them in the least traumatic way possible
  • Living, on a daily basis, with the visible symbol of the antisemitism of Europe: the high walls and bulletproof gates of the schools, community gathering places and synagogues I frequent and the 24 hour police guard they require
  • Being a woman and dealing with the intrinsic sexism and misogyny of Western culture, where white male privilege is so pervasive that a white Christian male can tell a Jewish female that her views on sexism and racism are just hysteria and in her mind
  • Being the the parent of two small girls who are growing up in this society and how to strengthen them against it and prepare them for individuals who will tell them that their beliefs and experiences are invalid.
This is not a political blog nor an economics blog nor a literary blog. It is not a feminist blog nor a conservation blog nor a mommy blog.

This is my personal blog and I talk about all those things because they are part of who am I am. Don't read and don't comment if these issues don't speak to you. I have reached a place in my life- a place of calmness- where the ad hominem attack hits the wastebasket and the individual who launches it is removed from my sphere of acquaintances. And that is how it should be.

I am not dependent physically, emotionally or financially on those strangers or acquaintances who pass through my blog gates. I enjoy meeting others, but it's a voluntary activity on both parts.

This is my safe space and I will keep it that way.

*(And for those who care, this is a wonderfully succinct link to Feminism 101 FAQ over at Shakesville).

20 February 2010


Getting the pantry up and filled... great.

Unpacking 132 of 140 boxes.... great.

Cleaning out the old apartment.... great.

Having the landlord from the apartment we really loved, who turned us down "because you have children" call to ask if we would like the apartment.... priceless.

16 February 2010

We've moved.

(Hmm. I'm going to try writing on our little Eee PC netbook, so that I can watch TV on my Mac at the same time. Our move finished Friday night, but the telephone/internet was only hooked up today (5 days later) and we weren't able to get the computer/TV interface hooked up before the German went back to Munich. I'm still not certain how we are going to set the intricate layout up, since the relatively frequent crashes require handy side sofa access, but that's not an easy commodity in our current set-up.)

The move was... exhausting.I am tremendously grateful that we went with one of the two companies with the ground-to-balcony lift rather than one of the two estimates from companies operating solely with back-power. Even though it cost twice as much, theoretically, I think the move would have taken two days without the lift, rather than one, and therefore the price would have been the same but with a tremendous amount of damage to our possessions and with our new neighbors hating us passionately for making their lives heck for two days. Although our old building was relatively modern, with a large elevator (requiring only that the furniture on our second level becarried downstairs to elevator access), our new building is a real Altbau, with a flight of stairs up to an elevator that can fit our family (two adults, two small children) only when we are feeling affectionate. Even if one would have wished to use the elevator for moving, it couldn't be done: it's terribly slow, very small, and the button for use can't be pressed until the door closes, so a person would ahve to ride with the (small) boxes. In addition, the stairway is winding enough and we are high enough (third floor European, 4th floor American) that it would be physically impossible for teams to pass each other. Long story short: we made the right decision.

I was sorry I missed the car being towed (driver felt those big signs forbidding parking between them was optional, I guess) while driving the kids to school. Amusingly, others on the street were moving the next day and while we were over there cleaning up on Saturday, another car was being towed. While here, when the truck arrived to unload, the driver blocking the way was alert enough to move before the tow truck arrived. In each of these three observed cases a policeman was there the entire time. I thought it was as 1. a defense against charges of damage to the twoed vehicle, 2. because these are public streets, not private property, and 3. in case the owner became violent. The German thought they should have been able to use the Ordungsamt instead, but I think the prior reasons are why they could not.

It's also clear why people just don't move that often: the expense is too great. Another Berlin blogger mentioned that she sees other friends moving annually in Berlin: I assume that they must either have their moves paid for by work or that they own no possessions. We used to move all the time in the US, both as singles and as a couple with no kids.We moved ourselves, with the help of U-Haul and an occasional friend. That's just not possible anymore, for us,without elevators. Moving a couch, dining room table, bookcases and desks, beds and wardrobes: this is not something anyone would do on an annual basis. That's not even thinking of moving a kitchen, as most real Germans do. We did move our refrigerator (purchased to be delivered here in time to be brought up by lift), our freezer, our washing machine and dryer. As well as lots of boxes of books and children's toys and some boxes of clothes.

We had gotten an estimate on painting and putting in a floor in the bedroom (although we were very lucky in that most of the apartment is floored and that there is a kitchen, the apartment desperately needed painting and there was no floor in one bedroom) but although I had gotten it from the husband of a friend, the estimate was so high that we didn't even bother to go back to him to discuss it: perhaps that's the American in us, but I think it's just an insult to be so far away from reality. We decided that we would have Bauhaus do the floor (as that's where we would have gotten the laminate anyway) and the total was significantly less than X's estimate for doing so.

So, in addition to professional movers (if one owns furniture, heavy stuff), there's :
  • the provision of 2.38 months (or provisionfrei, if lucky),
  • renovations on the old apartment and perhaps the new,
  • the three months standard new security,
  • the legal right of the prior landlord to keep their three month's security for up to 1 year (and hope one doesn't need legal insurance to actually get it back),
  • the cost of moving phone/cable (because contracts aren't breakable due to moves and they charge you for flipping that switch),
  • the cost of forwarding mail and packages (not free in Germany)
  • the overlap in apartments (hard to get out of, since landlords often won't show until the apartment is empty)
  • moving the old kitchen (if it will fit in the new apartment) or changing it to fit
  • moving all lights
I can't imagine being able to afford to move, as a family, frequently.

We also picked out colors (yeah, colors!) and bought our paintand then googled around and looked for the equivalent of Campus Paint pros. We found them, but we also found a handyman who did painting and minor electrical and handywork (such as curtains, etc) for an hourly wage. We hired a babysitter and then I taped the kids' room and painted the lower third): I'm painting it as a Finding Nemo room, like I last did in NY, and the bottom third is Ocean Blue, while the upper 2/3 is sky blue. When I get the energy after unpacking everything, I need to use a template and paint a wave on top of the ocean, then add Nemo stickers and artwork, with a large dark blue bathmat for the floor.

After I went home, the German and A. spent the next two days painting the place and it looks amazing.

The living room and office (connected as a Berliner room) are celadon. The hall and bathroom are white, the kids' room as above, and our room is lilac. We have gorgeous plaster details on the ceiling in the office and our bedroom (all the ceilings, trim and above what I think is the picture hanging line, is white) and we haven't figured out yet what to do for lights, so we are using our torchieres. The kitchen still isn't finished- we will do it on Friday, but we ran out of paint last week (the coverage was strangely short, even after a primer coat)- but it will be a medium-light chocolate. That's a real departure for me, because I'm not an earth tone person. But the floor and the cabinets are Buche and the wall tiles are institutional (puke) green (as was the previous paint job) and according to the theory, those "colors" go with brown. It's true: they do. It even makes the Buche less hideous.

I'm interested to see how immediately happy I (and the kids) am here: Oma and Opa were surprised that the children were glad to be in their new room. They aren't used to children being able to take change in stride. I think a large part of it is finally getting some color on the wall. This has been the longest time I have ever lived without painting my walls: even in university, moving every year, I always painted. In all, since leaving my parents' home, I have lived in 16 different houses/apartments and only in the last two years in Germany have I not painted the walls within a month. Even without curtains it feels homey.

04 February 2010

What's been happening recently? Or, Moving Again.

(It's actually a bit painful to pull myself away from the Amazon-Macmillan (perhaps now HarperCollins) spat, but since it has simmered down, I'm going to relegate it again to the post that's not up yet about my Kindle.)

So, moving again, you wonder?

Yep. Since it looks like we will be here for at least another few years and since we have made the decision to stay in Berlin rather than go to Munich (and with the last few weeks only being 60% travel, rather than 100%), we decided we weren't stressed enough so we should move again.

Our current apartment has pluses (we live here already, huge amounts of light, very central, unbelievable view-especially of fireworks) but it also has minuses:
  • two floors, with the bedrooms separated by a winding tile staircase ,
  • the hideous and always dirty-looking terra-cotta tile (when we moved in, looking at the floor made my stomach queasy),
  • the thirty foot ceiling without proper ventilation so that the heat benefits nothing and goes out the skylights,
  • the enormous amount of heat required to keep me always in a state of constant bronchial distress,
  • the water-pressure issues the landlord keeps fixing but which result in the bathroom with the bathtub always being freezing,
  • the 155 qm of which we actually use only 100 because of the terrible lay-out, but for which the nebenkosten are terribly high. Then the nebenkosten went up amazingly this year, although we did nothing.
  • The neighbors who don't separate their trash and for whom the entire building (based on qm) pays the fines... and so on.
So we decided to start looking for an apartment. As German residents are aware, that's not so easy here. One of the only consumer-friendly laws here is that one can always give three months notice (Kundigung) on an apartment, regardless of any lease terms. On the other had, German landlords generally won't show apartments until they are empty because what if they rented it and the prior tenant was not out in time? (Easy because there are no penalties for that written into the lease and because it's, as I will show, so hard to move here.) Therefore, most apartments that one sees are available immediately. That's true even when they have no kitchens (they all have no lights, because the German Way is to leave wires dangling from the ceilings: tenants provide and install lights and therefore take them with them). That can also make seeing apartments difficult, as they must be viewed in daylight (a scarce commodity in Berlin in November and December).

It's been a hard two months looking, with our move-out date (three months after the Kundigung) approaching. We were looking for a relatively large apartment (the goal was smaller than our current apartment but better laid out) and Germans don't move very often. In particular, we were looking in the middle of the winter, when even fewer Germans (and everyone else) move. And we constrained our search into a large area in a circle around our current apartment because the German needs to remain on our current U-line in order to make his commute to the airport every week a reasonably short one with public transport.

We found several we liked, within our constraints (including cost) and off we went. The first we wanted was already under contract by the time we got home and called the broker (makler) back. Why waste our time showing it, one might ask? The second one was even cheaper than we had expected, so the 2.38 months commission wouldn't hurt too much- but they didn't like the industry my husband works in (the same as that of the owner's brother-in-law), according to the broker. The next one was supposed to " need a bit of renovation": by which they meant we would need to replace the bathroom, build a kitchen and re-do the walls and floors. They would negotiate free rent in lieu... according to the broker, the owner had no money after the purchase. Our estimate was over 25,000 Euros to make it decent. No thanks.

Then another one- the address wasn't listed on-line and when we arrived for the appointment the street was so busy we didn't bother to look: the German told the owner it was too unsafe for the kids. She took us off to look at another of her apartments in Schoneberg which was larger, cheaper and had a private playground. The tenant wasn't around but after we went back to look around inside we decided that the lay-out was terrible (although large!) and the distance from the kids' school great enough that the benefits did not outweigh the cons.

Off to a wonderful address (and a gorgeous Art Nouveau building) by the Lietzinsee. Another terrible layout (kitchen down a very, very long corridor, walking through one room to reach onother, not a single item newer than 1945 (I have never even seen a washing machine that old!) and the owner felt it was worth top price. I don't think he'll get it: it was previously utilized by students who camped out in sleeping bags on the floor and while it would be a great apartment to buy (at a reasonable price!) and completely renovate, in its current condition it would need 6+ months free rent to make it worthwhile.

Then we saw a wonderful Altbau, across the street from us (truly, although perhaps more accurately across the avenue). We fell in love. Not as much sun, the kitchen was well-cared for but a bit decrepit, but bookshelves! Built-ins from floor to Altbau height ceiling. And charming details. The owner was offering to rip everything out and we said that we would love to keep them. We gave our application and details in immediately (here in Germany, one walks about with document folders with all one's details in multiple copies).

Then we waited.

And waited.

And called. The owner liked us- but his other tenants are older (the current occupant of the apartment we looked at is retiring to a Senior home) and he feels that, with our having children, we might be too noisy. He said he was sorry, that our application was the first and the best, but that for the sake of the other tenants, he didn't want a family with young children. As I said to the German- what are the odds of anyone moving into a 4+ room in this area without children? This is a family neighborhood with good schools! I'm not certain why he feels that our two girls, out at school all day then tucked into bed at 19:30 after ballet, would not be preferable to a new-born, but hey- his choice. What really amazed me was the total comfort with disclosing illegal discrimination: in Germany it is illegal to discriminate against families with children. But why should I be surprised? I recently hear an excerpt from a documentary on the news wherein German landlords blatantly and openly discuss their discriminatory rental and employment policies.

We had one other apartment on the back-burner , which we had seen before this, and we waited to hear (we had learned our lesson and sent our application in on that apartment before we had seen the Altbau). I had liked it very much (also Altbau, well-laid out, better kitchen, some nice plaster ceiling details) but the across the street location of the second had seduced me.

When we sent our application in, we asked for a reduction in the base rent (after looking at the publicly disclosed average area rent) and for a month's free kaltmiete, as the apartment would be turned over unrenovated (not painted and with one bedroom having no floor). I think they were hoping to get a full offer, but they wound up meeting us in the middle on the rent and we signed the contract and got the keys on the 1st.

For the first time ever, we will have an actual overlapping period in our move and I am very grateful. What with the German still being out of town it will be a real luxury.

Tune in to hear how we progress with our list:
  1. Dishwasher
  2. Refrigerator
  3. Painting the apartment
  4. Putting a floor in the bedroom
  5. Setting up utilities
  6. Getting beds for the kids (1 himmelbett, 1 hochbett)
  7. Medicine cabinet with bathroom light
  8. Curtains (and shower curtain)
  9. Quarter rounds, all round:)
  10. Moving. First time we have used professionals, but I'm still packing the whole apartment by myself, with one day of help from the German on Thursday this week (the movers come Friday).
  11. Taking the lights from the old apartment and installing them in the new
  12. Renovating the old apartment for turn over to landlord
It will be exciting! Or, more accurately, extremely stressful.

Also, we changed T1's school today. Perhaps in another post.