28 February 2011

What I am reading: February 2011

  1. Dead and Berried by Karen MacInerney (2007): I thought the name sounded familiar— turns out the author started a paranormal werewolf series after this book came out, one of which I've read and enjoyed. She's a fluid author. This mystery (with the faintest touch of fantasy) takes place in Maine, where the protagonist is pursuing her dream of running an Inn on a small island off the coast. However, her past (faithless fiancee) follows, and stumbling over a body or two doesn't make the law appreciate her. I enjoyed it and will look for the 4th when it comes out soon. I'll probably borrow books 1 and 3 from my mom, if I can:-). (DTM)
  2. Aphrodite's Kiss by Julie Kenner:(M) Cute and fluffy story by the author of the suburban mom demon-slayer series. The "gods" are a parallel race who can interbreed with humans, leading to "demi gods", who can become , sort of, registered super heroes if they pass a test and so desire. I enjoyed it.
  3. Morale by Murray Leinster: (Short Story) Interesting short about an "unstoppable" war machine. (M)
  4. The Hate Disease:(Vile appetite, paras) Calhoun and Murgatroyd in Med Ship(M)
  5. Pariah Planet:(Blue Skins) Calhoun and Murgatroyd in Med Ship: I'm pretty certain these two were included in the collection Med Ship that I read decades ago. I like Murray Leinster's work quite a lot. Very Golden Age.(M)
  6. Moonsinger (Moon of Three Rings and Exiles of the Stars) by Andre Norton:What I really miss in this e-book are the wonderful illustrations that the originals had— I lost my hard covers when there was flooding in my basement. I'm still quite sad about it. What can I say? I adore Norton and she was one of the first authors that I read madly as a child. Her books are timeless.(MB)
  7. Last Dragon Standing by G.A.Aiken:(M) Very funny entry in the series.
  8. Fire Lord's Lover by Kathryn Kennedy:(M) Not as enjoyable as other books I have read by her.
  9. A Taste of Magic by Tracy Madison:(M) It was really funny. Witchcraft and magic come to a woman after she is betrayed by her husband and manifests in her baking. Enjoyed it.
  10. Half Past Dead by Zoe Archer and Bianca D'Arc:(M) Zombie romance. Hmm. Interesting.
  11. Reaper by Rachel Vincent:Free Kindle short in a new series by Vincent (she has written a female Shifter series as well). Interesting, but not enough to entice me to buy the next book.(M)
  12. Benefactor by George H Smith(1958 Fantastic Universe short):(M) Clever short story about the inventor of the robot, how it is received and the result. Very Cold War paranoid.
  13. Chosen for Death by Kate Flora (1994): It's finally happened. After all the times that I have tried to read these mysteries (loaned by my mother), I have actually started to like them, finished the first and am now working on the third (don't have the second borrowed). There are some phrases and infelicities of phrasing in this first book that I find annoying, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt this time around and I see her writing improves in the next that I am reading, and the story is good and I am enjoying the characters this time around. Thea Kozak is a private school consultant, and a young widow with animus to the police. Her home relationships are fraught, as her father accedes to her mother and her mother is controlling, demanding, and ungrateful. Her siblings, one adopted and one full, also have issues. In this first novel, Thea's adopted sister is murdered while seeking her biological parents and Thea's mother demands that she take care of all the difficulties arising therefrom.
  14. Death at the Wheel(1996): I've missed the second novel, where Thea's relationship with Andre Lemieux, the detective who investigated her sister's death, was further developed. In this, her mother meets a "lost soul" who reminds her of her dead daughter, Carrie, and forces Thea to help her with no care to Thea's safety. Carrie is accused of murdering her husband by tampering with a race car being used at a course, but the plot is far more intricate. As is usual for this series (although unusual in mysteries), Andre and Thea's lives continue while they are not with each other and as Thea is endangered through her investigations, Andre also is endangered while performing his job.
  15. An Educated Death(1997): Thea Kozak is evaluating the procedures at a school where a young girl has died, and the problems are deeper and wider than what first appeared to be an accidental death. the student was pregnant and teachers are involved. Someone attempts Thea's life and another member of the faulty is murdered. Thea and Andre's relationship seems to fray under the stress.
I have actually been so busy I forgot to publish this:-).

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

Wien and Corteo

I spent the weekend in Vienna with a friend. It was a quick trip: I had been able to get tickets to Cirque de Soleil for Corteo this weekend and the German could not join me: he needed to stay home and take care of the children.

We used points and cash for the hotel and I got a great flight through AirBerlin (although I find it crazy that, two months in advance, it was cheaper for me to fly to Vienna than it was to use my Bahn50 card and be willing to spend more than 8 hours in a train!
The start to the trip was a bit bumpy, as the AB plane had a bum engine and after an hour on the tarmac we wound up being rejected by maintenance, deplaning and waiting for another plane. Luckily, Wien is a major hub for AirBerlin and they simply flew another plane over, empty, to carry us back. So, although just under 2 hours late (therefore not requiring compensation), I had the same seat. A high point of the flight was chatting with the very interesting musician sitting next to me: a NYer who is working between Berlin and Wien and who lives in a part of Brooklyn that I know. It was the friendliest conversation I have had with a stranger since I was last in NY and he took the three news magazines I read off my hands, always a plus:-).

I got in, went in to Wien Mitte by Cityline (a direct train from the airport to Mitte), picked myself up a 48 hour metro card from the vending machine, and went on my way. Wien is a small city and it was only two more stops to my destination: Oper.

When I got out of the station, I found myself turned around and stopped to asked a woman at a kiosk which direction to get to the number of the hotel I was aiming at: when she said she had no idea, I had a bit of a flashback to the last time I was in Vienna, in 1997, when I found it and Frankfurt to be the unfriendliest cities in Europe. This time however, I spoke bad German rather than the bad French I spoke then and I shamed her into at least agreeing that I was on the correct street, after her having said she did not know what that street was! A lovely woman at the next shop pointed me one block down and I was there in a second.

The hotel was charming and unusually for a Le Meridien, filled with interesting and cutting edge art, which I found humorous after having just visited the Daimler Contemporary. They had a partnership with the Vienna School of Art and there were student exhibits as well as professional exhibits. One was performance art, with the artist dressed as famous individuals.

After getting in and resting a moment or two while enjoying the direct view of the Opera we had, we went to the Nashmarkt for dinner, where we wound up eating at a Thai/sushi place where we also ate the rest of our meals in Vienna (other than an in room snack and a cup of coffee in a coffee shop not far from the markt). It was a few short blocks from the hotel and on the way we passed some charming landmarks. The food was well spiced and I am always happy to eat Vietnamese: it's nice to have the request for spice responded to with chopped fresh hot peppers.

We ate there before the show as well, after walking through the attached flea market (where I picked up a very nice pashmina for 5€ and only wish I had picked up a few more).

Corteo was a charming show, as different from all the other Cirque de Soleils as I have come to expect. It's quiet and beautiful and a bit contemplative, very different than Varrekai, which we saw in Berlin last year which was loud and chaotic and a bit frightening with its mad scientist them. This had angels and wings and a very Venetian look to it. There were lots of children there, so I assume people had read the description and knew that it was child friendly. We were lucky enough to have seats in the 6th row and it was great: it's really true that these shows are even more fun the closer you are. We were also lucky in that our tickets included entrance to the Tapis Rouge tent. I would not have been decadent enough to pay for it, but I really got a chance to see how the elite side lives. Very nice indeed, with our own tent, extremely nice food, unlimited alcoholic beverages (unfortunately wasted on a light weight drinker such as myself), our own vending and goody bags, and meet and greet sessions with the star performers.

I persuaded my friend to take the U-bahn back to our hotel with me (rather than her preferred travel mode of taxi) and I was amazed at how empty the Viennese subway is: that's a town that rolls its sidewalks up early! We grabbed a drink and watched a movie.

The next day D had an earlier flight back home than I did, so I walked her to the Citytrain and put her on board (it's a personal goal to persuade her that trains are faster and more convenient than taxis) than went back to the room to decide what to do. I considered wandering through the palace grounds or looking around in a city I haven't visited since 1997, but instead I took a shower in the amazing detached shower area with the 5 head vertical shower tower, then made myself a pot of tea and luxuriated in a Victorian style footed tub with what appeared to be an unlimited supply of hot water (and I say that as someone who likes my water really hot). The tub was so big I could have actually taken a few strokes in it. I my have also lolled about on the extremely comfortable bed while enjoying the streaming sunlight through the window.

Then off to the U to the train to the plane and home again.

24 February 2011

The Daimler Contemporary

The Daimler Contemporary is a very interesting, very pointed gallery of modern art. It's quite small, at 600 qm meters, and is within Haus Huth, itself a very interesting space which has survived from the Imperial period and is still held in Huth hands.
The contrast between the almost unbearably modern display and the gorgeous early 20th century accessories was startling.

The current exhibit is Minimalism and Applied II: Dialogues of contemporary art with aspects of 20th century design and architecture and it is exactly that— Contemporary artists looking back at architecture and design from the last century and interacting with it in some manner.

To my eye and to my thought, much of what I saw would better be classed as a type of performance art, rather than "real art". More design and graphics than what appeals to my heart. The docent, interesting and literate as all I have heard in Germany, discussed the concept that this form of art is about thought and interaction, that its success is in making one think and struggle rather than in necessarily liking the art or even in believing that it is art. For instance, the first photo you see here was (to me) an interesting display of design and graphics that made a piece of art: the shadows that you see on the "steel" girders, as the curves and shadows that you see on the fabric, are both false, created with artifice.(Rupert Norfolk)
However, the next installation I have pictured was, to me, the peak of "performance art" rather than real art. What you see is a large selection of transformers and adapters powering two nightlights. This was displayed in the home of a woman who had never left her home state in Germany and the "wit" or "art" was in the juxtaposition of the two. I feel that if I need to read about why what I am looking at is art, than perhaps it actually isn't.

Before the guided tour, I had met up with a group from my verein and we had a set lunch at Lutter & Wegner.

When I arrived, I saw that the meal had been set and that both of the options offered included swine. That's an issue, as I don't eat swine and when I spoke to the maitre'd, he said that I should speak to our group leader, who had chosen the options.

So I did. A was a bit surprised, because she doesn't eat pork either. At that point, the manager offered to change up my meal to veal, rather than pork, increasing the cost by 50%. Rather than going into my philosophical issues with eating abused animals (as pate, veal is something I won't eat on moral grounds, rather than religious or taste), I simply said that I would rather not pay that much more and asking if the restaurant did not offer a vegetarian option. At which point I was indeed offered two of the standard vegetarian options and was more than happy to choose one. The maitre'd also told me that he himself did not eat pork, leading me to wonder why, in a city with a population of which more than 10% cannot eat pork, when offering a set meal with two options, one would offer only pork?

When my meal arrived, in a timely fashion, it was absolutely delicious and it was served with a smile.

20 February 2011

The King's Speech

The German and I saw the trailer for this while in London (and watching Harry Potter) and we thought it looked great. Based on the true story of the problem with stuttering that Prince Albert, who became George VI after the unexpected abdication of his "golden" (although Nazi sympathizing) older brother (to marry his divorced American mistress).
So when we finally found a new babysitter (our last opened her own kita and left us forlorn)— and let me recommend kijiji.de for finding a babysitter that allows you to find and interview people based on their PZL— we decided that we would love to see it.
Earlier in the week I had heard an announcer discussing the movie's chances in the Academy Awards (and later it won several, including Best Picture), and they had included a clip: in German. The clip discussed how Albert— or the new George VI— would soon need to discuss war with Germany and it was strangely disassociate to hear it spoken in German (all movies released in Germany are dubbed in German. One of the more interesting careers here is that of being the "voice" of a Hollywood actor— these voices remain the voice of that actor throughout the career of the actor and Germans know only the German voices rather than the actual voices. That can be odd when a German voices two actors who play in the same movie and I am told that in such case, one voice is replaced, which must be very strange to the listening Germans!).
So we decided to see it in OV (original voice), which is always a bit of a hike, and it was a belated Valentine's Day outing, combined with dinner at ( very good fast food Italian) Vapiano.
We both enjoyed the movie very much. Not a "big" movie, but a very warm and interesting one. I can see why the writer also completed this as a play (and it will appear soon), because I can see it operating extremely well in a drawing-room.
I only had a momentary panic attack at the H**ler in Berlin newscast, and the focus was on Prince Albert (Colin Firth) and Logue (Rush). It was wonderful to see their faces (and that of the later Queen Mum, Helena Bonham Carter) as human faces: they looked real and lived in and wrinkled and not plasticised, plastic surgeried or Botoxed.
One of the items I found interesting was that Derek Jacobi played the Archbishop of Canterbury and that of course, one of his most famous roles was as the stuttering Claudius of the wonderful I, Claudius series.
It was also wonderfully humanizing and a bit sad to hear of the treatment of children at that period and to think about how far we have come and yet how some children are still mistreated. The German was a little nonplussed when I pointed out that the young, vibrant woman he saw portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter was the woman he remembers at 90+ as the Queen Mum: what amazing world changes she saw in her life time

18 February 2011

Dreaming of Venice...

In October of 2009, my in-law's gave us the gift of a honeymoon: they watched the children while the German and I were able to take the week and do something I had wanted to do since taking four years of Latin in high school: visit Pompeii. We started in Venice, then took the train to Rome and from there to Pompeii and then back to Rome. It was fabulous all around, but I absolutely fell in love with Venice. the picture above is mine and it is untouched except for some cropping: it it not unbelievably gorgeous? Take out the vaporetto and one could be looking at the actuality of a Canaletto.
We can't expect the in-laws to do it again, so I'm thinking this summer might not be a bad time to introduce the kids to Italy... Pompeii (everything I had dreamed of, but being destroyed by Italy's lack of resolve in restraining tourists) is too far to drive, but northern Italy is not....

15 February 2011

Paper multiplies when allowed respite.

I'm a little sad that I can't post the full bag of papers that we de-cluttered today (they had already been taken to recycling): this is just what I found during the commercial break when I was watching Bones. (Our Valentine's Day was watching TV together— we will try for a movie out next weekend, when it will be easier to get a babysitter.)

It seems that no matter how often we go through the stacked paperwork (which grows on a weekly basis) that after we have dealt with what needs to be dealt with and filed what needs to be filed, we have lots of paperwork to be recycled, shredded and/or discarded.

Sometimes it feels like a Sisyphean task, but today I had a pleasant reminder that we are actually reaching deeper into the piles than we have before, even though they grow weekly: I found a check written to me by a friend in the US two years which she had sent to me here and which I had clearly not sent back to the US to be deposited. So after a quick e-mail conversation, we have plans to meet up again this year in NY, where she can hand me a replacement and save herself the cost of an airmail stamp!:-)

13 February 2011

Zucchini Boats

I was wandering through my favorite expat blogs when I fell upon Heather of Heather in Europe's latest post: zucchini boats. Surprisingly, I had all the ingredients in the fridge (or mostly), including a big block of Irish Cheddar (I buy it by the kilo at Selgros). So I made them:
And they were really good. The kids didn't like them (what can I say- they are tough eaters), but the German scraped the pan.
Here's my version:
  • Grab a few zucchini, cut off the ends, put in a greased pan with drizzles of olive oil at 180C for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, dice an onion and mince 3-4 cloves garlic and toss them in olive oil in a saucepan on the stove.
  • Then dice a carrot and a celery stalk and add them in.
  • Salt, pepper and thyme (can you believe it- all my spices and I have no sage! I wonder if it would have tasted better with that?).
  • Remove the zucchini, use a grapefruit spoon to scrape them out, add the contents to pan, stir for a minute or two with some grated cheddar then put back into the hollow zucchini and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, add panko and a bit more salt, pepper and grated cheddar and cook for 10 more minutes.
  • Remove and eat. Yum!

12 February 2011

Culture at the Irish Embassy

(An older work by the artist, painted on aluminum. I liked it very much.)
I was very excited to have the opportunity to attend the opening of an art exhibit at the Irish Embassy last week, through the good offices of a fellow book club member.
Helen Steele „Beautiful Chaos“ 8 February – 25 March: The Irish Embassy, in cooperation with HF Contemporary Art Berlin is delighted to host a solo exhibition by Irish artist Helen Steele from 8 February to 25 March. Helen who is also showing in early 2011 in Dubai and at London Fashion Week describes her work as “reaching a point of total immersion where the conscious, subconscious, physical action, passion and flow naturally unite to create balance, colour, purity and coherency” The exhibition is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 14.30-16.30.

The artist was introduced by the Irish Ambassador, Dan Mulhall, who did a nice job in German as well as in English and then by the curator of the show, Helga Fox. Ms Fox has galleries in both London and Berlin.
Afterward, Ms. Steele spoke a little about her work and we were able to chat with her a bit about the changes you see from the earlier work to her latest work, which is fascinating and very much performance art as well as physical: you can see some video on her web site.

I really appreciated the opportunity to look at extremely modern art after having spent the last several weeks visiting the birth of Modern Art in various museums here in Berlin: it made me feel like we are really living in a fascinating and art loving city. Of course we are, but generally we don't see it, being home with the kids. Perhaps I should add visiting a gallery at least once a month to the New Year's resolutions?

08 February 2011

Yick. Life in the City.

As the snow is melting, and debris comes to light, this is what I saw when parking in the center of
Otto-Sur-Allee, when about to run into the Rathaus to take my language course. Not the most appetizing sight to see, while juggling my coffee,roll, and books! At least it wasn't my tire that had squashed it flat! Looks like Rattus Norwegicus to me, although strangely small compared to the ones I am used to in New York City. Perhaps a baby?

06 February 2011


Holiday camp included a day at the Planetarium and another day at the movies, but this day's activity was baking. It was a type of Lebkuchen, so it was inedible, but T1 enjoyed making, cutting out, and decorating them.

(Unfortunately, even though Lebkuchen sound great on paper, we have never had one that tasted any good. I know they must be out there, somewhere. And no recipes that I have seen actually include either ginger or molasses, so I don't know how they can be called "gingerbread".)

The Pergamon Museum and the 'Tell Halaf Adventure'

Pergamonmuseum (Eingang), Museumsinsel Berlin-Mitte
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Foto: Maximilian Meisse

The Pergamon Museum is another of the Berlin State Museums. This collection of museums is just inspiring. Continuing on my quest to explore more of Berlin, we chose to visit the Pergamon
Museum (this Wikipedia link is out dated,it looks to be from 2006— sorry).

I took the quick tour with the audio guide (a bit over 30 minutes), which hit most of the major highlights: the Pergamon Altar, the Miletus Market Gate, and the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way (entering Babylon). The photos you see here are my own if not otherwise credited but they aren't as good as the ones you can see at some of these links. The huge architectural elements were overwhelmingly impressive. In particular, as I walked the processional way, which was actually only a fraction of the size that the real entryway to Babylon was (the real layout would not have fit within the Museum). As I waked along the Processional way, realizing that the larger second gate was still in storage and that the majority of the artifacts were actually either in storage or dispersed in other museums, I was still in absolute awe. No wonder that Psalm 137:1 "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion." Being brought, enslaved , into Babylon must have been the beginning of the process of mental destruction as agrarian herders were enslaved and
brought into what was an immeasurably more advanced (Bible Map) civilization.

After spending time wandering in awe through these monuments, and hearing (through my audio guide) about the damage inflicted due to structural damage to the museum in the war- (particularly to the Market Gate, whose glass roof was destroyed, leaving the gate, which had been hollowed out for display, open to the elements), we were ready to proceed to the main exhibit: the Tell Halaf Adventure.

Tell Halaf was "discovered" by Baron Max von Oppenheim, the scion of a banking family who had no desire to enter the family business. Instead, he entered the German Foreign Service and was enamored of all things Middle Eastern. In 1899, he discovered Tell Half, adrift in the sands,
and reserved a digging permit with the authorities. Interesingly, the exhibit makes it clear that he eventually reached an end point in his career because of his Jewish background and turned instead to his true love: a search for knowledge and understanding.
The on-line link says instead:
Ten years after the discovery of the tell the Ottoman authorities urged von Oppenheim to start exploring the site as French and British parties were now signaling their interest as well. Consequently in November of 1910 Max von Oppenheim handed in his letter of resignation to the Foreign Office in
order to prepare the task that was ahead of him.
Not quite the same connotation.

In any case, the project is wonderfully detailed in German, English and French here
and well worth reading about. Baron von Oppenheim could have been Indiana Jones, except that he was an ethical and extremely methodical archeologist, not a hit and run exploiter looking for a profit. In fact, his doting parents and the Oppenheim bank funded his work, while he painstakingly recorded the flora and fauna and native songs of the area, as well as worked with professionals at the highest level of science at that time.
Oppenheim worked with the government and his share of the excavations were brought back to Berlin, where he exhibited them at an iron foundry. There are wonderful photos and video of the actual exhibits. However, in 1943, the foundry was bombed. The combination of extremely high temperatures and the water from the fire trucks made the basalt statues explode into thousands of pieces and the pieces were tossed in the basement of the Pergamon and other storage areas until after the fall of the Wall, when they were once again accessible and thought was turned to the possibility of reconstruction.
It's just sad how things that remained unbroken for 4500 years were destroyed and amazing how they have been reconstructed (where possible). It's not just the exhibited statues that are so interesting, but also the story, as we know it, that is so fascinating. Do check the project itself out.

(In a fascinating side note, the goddess statue that you see above is on loan, for the first time, from Syria. Because as they were assembling the fragments in Berlin, 60 years after the destruction, they discovered that some of the fragments which had originally been brought to Germany by van Oppenheim in the original separation of the findings, as per agreement,were part of statues that were partially assembled in Syria! After being re-shipped to Syria, this statue was able to be completely reassembled for the first time.)

04 February 2011

Where should unwanted books go?

16 by 13.5 by 14 (inches, because I can't find my metric tape measure), holding 54 books.
I've been trying to figure out what to do with the books that I don't want to keep for ages. I have an innate inability to discard books that I think are worth reading (and perhaps even some with not so much intrinsic value). I also have a lot of books. At home, I would donate them to libraries, give them away, take them to my local hospital (my favorite), trade them at used book stores, offer them to friends.
Here, where I am generally wandering about on foot, I tried calling a few charitable stores such as Oxfam and Humana to see if they wanted my books. I was told to "bring them in and we will look at them".

Well, books are heavy— I don't want to have them rejected and then have to carry them home. I asked a used book store that specializes in English books as well and they told me the same thing. But really— I don't need to trade them in for store credit. At the moment I have too many dead tree books floating around: my shelves are overflowing. I listed them on Amazon and sold about a book a week for the last two months: it's been driving us crazy having this box full and overflowing for months.

So today, while the German was here to provide the muscle, I called a library, made an appointment, and ran them over. The woman we had spoken to said that they would need to examine them first to decide whether they would want them, but she took all 54 and seemed very happy to have them: the German says that he thinks that she was very surprised at the condition they were in (near perfect) and that he thinks people attempt to donate books in terrible condition.

And Monday I dropped two bags of clothes off at Oxfam, so at least some things are leaving the house and I hope to good homes!

03 February 2011

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Every day as we enter and leave our apartment building, we step over what is called a "stumbling stone". This is a continuing and growing work of art by Gunter Demnig, a Berlin artist living in Cologne. This reminder of those taken and murdered by the Nazis began in 1990 with the trail of 100 Sinti and Roma taken and now is in multiple countries and continues to grow: So that none may be forgotten. Although I know her name, and repeat it, I have blurred it out here as it would identify our doorstep. But every day I see her name and know that she was taken from her apartment in my building to be murdered.

On the 27th of January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I returned from running the children to school and saw these flowers upon the step, with a tea light that had probably been lit the evening before. The sheet of paper that you see is the story of this woman, of how she was taken, of how those friends who had moved in with her after their own apartments had been bombed were then dispersed when this building was damaged in a bombing and how they then, each in turn, were taken and murdered in separate death camps by the NSDP.

Every day I live here, every day I live in Germany, this is something I know and that I remember.

(I asked someone else in the building who had left the memorial and they did not know. I can't imagine living here for years and not knowing. I'll ask at the Rathaus after school vacation. It mkes me feel better knowing that there are people who care to remember.)

02 February 2011

Life in the City: Karl Friedrich Strasse

The parking meter outside the VHS where I take my German lessons. I guess that someone really needed some change.
February 2nd.

01 February 2011

Raising "multi-cultural" children

Over at American Expat in Deutschland, Christina raised some thought provoking questions about what it means to raise one's children as an expat, or in a multi-cultural environment:

If you were raised in a multicultural environment:
  1. Describe, briefly, your upbringing.-- When I grew up, there was no such thing as a "multi-cultural environment". What there was, was life. My dad was a Shoah survivor, my mom was the child of refugees from the Russian empire and its pogroms. I was raised as an American, but always knowing that America was a melting pot.
  2. What do you think your parents did well?--- They created a life out of nothing, they showed me how it is possible to be rootless and to succeed, they gave me a solid foundation of love to use as a ground. The ensured that my siblings and I knew, to our very deepest souls, that we were American and that we were Jewish and that there were no contradictions at all between those two. My father, especially, coming from a world where there was no equity or justice, raised us to believe in a morality and equity that he was not raised with.
  3. What do you think your parents could have done better?--- I regret every day that I grew up with parents who spoke, between them, 9 languages, yet I only learned English. I think they should have made more of an effort to ensure that I spoke at least yiddish, if not Hebrew or Russian or Czech, or any of the languages that would have allowed me to feel more deeply rooted in a past that had already been destroyed by external forces, and to connect to the still remaining far flung pieces of my family. But they lived in a time when this was not considered appropriate for Americans, especially when Eastern European languages were considered to be "lower class", and they did what they thought was best for their children.
  4. What would you do differently given the same situation?--- How can I say what I would have done? Living at that time and from their backgrounds, I hope that I would have attempted to build a stronger social network, to root myself in neighborhood more. But here I am, in a foreign country where I am not a native speaker, and my roots are only in the topsoil. I am ensuring that my children are fluent in the language of both their parents, we have moved to ensure that they form a strong bond with a large part of their family, and they are solidly implanted in a school that will nurture their identity and allow them to feel more strongly their heritage.

If you are raising your children in a multicultural environment:

  1. What parts of your culture do you most want passed on to your children, or are you happy raising them only in the dominant culture?---I think that I am not necessarily the average expat parent at whom these questions are aimed, because as a Jewish American I am an alien in every culture, including my home culture. Although we made a point of putting the children in a German school, they are in a German Jewish school, so they will never sing along with the "Drei Königen" songs, and probably not have any memories of St. Martin's Day Lanterns, Öster Häse, St. Nikolaus, or other German traditions that are Christian-based. The decision we made to not put them in the German-American school but rather in the German-Jewish was a difficult one and we will need to ensure that the kids have more exposure to America and the American way of thought as they grow older because we made that decision. We would not have raised them in "the dominant culture" in the US either, although as the American culture is not religiously based, they would have absorbed it in every interaction and experience.
  2. What are you doing differently than parents in the dominant culture?--- I don't live within the dominant culture, so I'm not certain what those parents do. I see so many different ways to "handle" children, just by those Germans that I know. I'm comfortable saying that I seem to listen to my children more, allow them to make decisions on what I consider minor issues but which they consider important more, and am less didactic. But that could simply be a function of who my kids are and who I am. I do know that my children appear to be more open and friendly than German children in the "dominant culture", but that is also probably a function of our frequent moves and modeling: I'm pretty free and easy at chatting with strangers, compared to the general German.
It was interesting to think about these questions and it will be interesting to see if my thinking changes in the future. Thanks, Christina.