November 11, 2014

Mauerfall - 25 years to the fall of the Berlin wall

On Sunday we decided to take a break from all the fun of figuring out the little things like where to live and what school to send the kids to and instead participate in helping the people of Berlin celebrate 25 years to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
We've been watching them get prepared all week:

It was one of those moments where innate cynicism clashes with the desire to be there, and in the end what made us leave the house and brave the crowds and the (very low) temperatures was the fact that, well, cynicism or not, a person only gets a definite number of once-in-a-lifetime-events to participate in, and seeing how we had a chance to celebrate the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, we should be really close to the end of our allotment. And besides, saying no to celebrating one of the greatest moments in history is not something you do lightly. Especially when they said you could buy a tiny light-ball as memorabilia.
We decided to start the day at Check-point Charlie (which evidently is not named after a specific Charlie, just because it's the word they use to signify "C") and take it from there. I know, always a good plan to leave it all to "let's see where we go from there", and then we saw a Starbucks. And you have to stop at a Starbucks, especially since it wasn't crowded, and also because they started selling the Christmas drinks, and I love the Christmas drinks.
Unfortunately things did not go as planned from that point onwards - apparently Starbucks have decided to take away my favourite Eggnog Latte, Yon spilled his hot chocolate all over his shirt, scarf and coat, we were late for the guided tour, the camera wasn't focusing, and it was colder than I remembered it could be...
Camera with no focus
It took us a while to clean Yon, fix the camera, figure out where to buy tickets to the tour, and eat lunch so we'll get the feeling back in all body areas, but two hours later we've manage to restart the day, and then the fun began.

We planned to take a short walk around Checkpoint Charlie and go back home until the evening. In the end we ended up walking most of the light-wall (Lichtgrenze) and didn't make it back until after 9pm...
So, this is going to be more of a photo-post than a writing post, but it was quite the photo-op day...

We got a family photo out of it. This very nice lady offered to take our picture, but then started directed us - where to stand, what to do, etc. She was not happy about the result, but gave up...
Around Check-point Charlie 
I found it so amusing, the check-point, the McDonalds, and all the Americans walking around
The balloons
They actually charge you 2Euros to get your photo taken with a pretend solider. Capitalism at its best.
So we took a photo of the back. Where it's free. 
I was checking the focus of the camera

The entrance to the Museum at Check point Charlie. They charge you an extra 2 Euros to take photos. And 30 Euros for entrance.

We took lots of pictures in the museum. To justify the 2 Euros.
Our guide in the guided tour, explaining the structure of the wall on the east side. 
This is where the wall used to stand. They have these kind of reminders all over the city. I find it amazing.
Ron is standing on the wall 

I still am not sure what these bears are all about, but there are plenty of them around the city 
This is the real wall, and the light-wall.
They put on these screens and showed snippets of stories, and news-flashes, and films all day long. Honestly most of it was just too sad for me.
A fake Russian solider 
This is around 5pm

Without planning to, we ended up at the main event 
And at the Reichstag
And then we walked along the lights back to the north part 

And we got to Mauerpark, where we stopped 
And watched the balloons being released

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November 6, 2014

First days in Berlin

We arrived in Berlin on Friday afternoon and we are now going through the labor pains of our new lives. I always think about moving countries in the same terms as having a child. It somehow seems fitting, after all it is two major changes in life, ones that change everything. So we've been through the trying to get pregnant stage (the months of deciding if we want to move, the decision where to, the waiting for the go), and we've been through the pregnancy (getting everything ready for the move, and living on excitement and boxes and the closing-down-your-life bureaucracy) and then on Thursday it happened - the movers came around quarter to 10 in the morning, and by half past four in the afternoon our home was completely empty except for 8 suitcases and two kids.
This is what happened when I asked the kids to decide what they wanted to take with them
The kids didn't let the movers disturb their iPhone games.
Suitcases and kids
We left the keys with the guy who did our checkout process (sometimes this life really do feel like you are moving from one hotel to the next, where the only question is for how long you are staying this time) and loaded all our worldly possessions on the taxi, who, after stopping at the post office so we could send a letter to HMRC (who announced when I tried to talk to them on the phone that I did not pass the security questions, which were my name, address and date of birth) took two and a half hours to get to Gatwick (it was supposed to be an hour. But traffic, you know...) and gave us a chance to say a proper goodbye to London as we drove through most of it.
We decided to spent one night at the Premier Inn in Gatwick so we won't be stressed about how long it takes the movers. An excellent idea, and we even managed to get some food, a shower and a few hours of sleep before our very uneventful two hours flight to Berlin (actually I have no idea if the flight was uneventful or not, since because we are 4 people we have to split up and I, as a known hater of flying get to sit in the front row with my book while Hidai got to sit in the second row with the kids. I was told everything was fine).
The kids have no problems with flying, as long as they can watch a movie and eat snacks.
And here we are, in our two weeks Airbnb apartment, which is located in Prenzlauer Berg (7 minutes from Hidai's work and the area in which we want to live in) on the fourth floor of an old building with no lift. Which means we had to carry 8 suitcases with a collective weight of 100kg up here, and which means we'll have to get them down, but which also means you try to minimise the amounts of times per day you leave the flat, and only get in and out once a day.
In the four days we've been here we saw 11 flats and 4 schools, shopped in 4 different supermarkets, found the famous pudding from the "pudding protest", heard more Hebrew on the street than in all our years living out of Israel, visited Alexanderplatz, ate in McDonalds twice, sat in Starbucks, bought Dunkin Donuts walked about 10,000 km, and asked ourselves about ten times a day - do you think we've made the worst decision of our lives in moving here?
This is the pudding. It really is that cheap, we really did buy it, and we didn't try it yet...
It's not the German. You think it will be the language, but it is not. We all have some (very) basic German, and so many people around have more than basic English, and in some regards it reminds me most of all of Gibraltar, where the locals speak English and Spanish, and where we lived quite happily and spoke no Spanish at all. Funnily enough now every time I open my mouth to say Hello I end up saying Hola!...
I guess, it is, like in childbirth, the last moment before the baby is born and your life change forever. You can't go back (as if three days ago you could), you have no idea what comes next, and you are terrified that it will turn out to be the biggest mistake of your life. It's that moment before the foetus becomes a baby, before everything becomes defined and real and tangible. It is the moment you've been waiting for for so long, and you don't want to be in, and you forget after you've gone through. It's the moment when you tell yourself - never again.
Until next time.
Life right now is all one big unknown - no flat, no stuff, no school - so we tried clinging to the familiar, we bought the kids food they recognise, we tried to organised all of it "like home", we try to have as much of the same routine as possible (though how much routine can you have when you keep running from one school to another flat?) and we took them to McDonalds and Starbucks to feel at home.
But it is not home. Not yet anyway. Everything here is a little different - the McDonalds here has a tendency to put Mayonnaise on everything and offer you soured cream sauce with your American fries (which are not like regular fries, or the ones they had in Gibraltar), and the Starbucks here (which is intended solely for American tourists and lost souls like us) has not moved from autumn to winter, and got stuck on Pumpkin Spiced Latte, at least on the poster, because they didn't even have that in the store, and carries different juices and food. At least they had Yon's favourite chocolate muffin. I think he would have just up and leave us there if they didn't.
And this is how you find yourself sitting in Starbucks, on a gorgeous Sunday morning, with your Caramel Macchiato and a double chocolate muffin (extremely good by the way) trying to figure out why you aren't happy. Why, even though you are completely sure you made the right decision, you feel like you made a huge mistake. Why, even though the food is great and the autumn is amazing, all you want to do is cry.
We didn't do a proper Halloween this year, because we were so tired and weren't sure where to go;
Kids having fun with some stick-lights in our temporary flat
We still can't seem to crack the public transportation system and every time we get on a train (of any kind) we end up either lost or riding without paying;
a Tram in Alexanderplatz
We haven't eaten a home-cooked meal in almost a week;
We have two kids who are on a constant emotional roller coaster and tend to cry for no reason and have bouts of extra-weirdness;
We can't go outside without using the CityMapper;
It took us three days to figure out how to buy a pay as you go sim-card and credit;
We still can't find bowls for the kids' morning cereals and they eat out of weird plastic ones;
The kids are not used to eating cereals like that & didn't believe that how we used to eat in the olden days
We can't find a school that actually understand why you would want to meet them before enrolling your kids there;

But then,
The autumn is amazing and we've been having amazing weather - no rain, not even cloudy, and not so cold (around 15 degrees);
The food is great. The sweets and baked goods are even better;
Donuts! And they even had my favourite Boston Cream
Hot chocolate with Marshmallows 
They take Christmas very seriously, and especially Christmas sweets. The amount of lebkuchens I've seen (ok ate) in the past four days is... Ahmmm... quite large. I also bought a tiny ceramic reindeer. Just because it was wearing a sweater;
Not really clear, but Yon is eating a Lebkuchen
Yesterday we managed to pay the correct amount of money for the tram on time. Twice;
I actually pre-prepared money for two directions, in two different bags. And then the machine wouldn't accept my 2 Euro coins. Of course.
I managed to do laundry on a machine where everything is written in German;
We've managed to get to Alexanderplatz even after our bus got into an accident and dropped us off somewhere unknown;

We managed to crack the renting system here and have three or four flats waiting for us to decide;
We managed to open a bank account and are just waiting for the documents;
I took the kids alone to the shopping centre to buy food and a toy in their now favourite store - Spielzeugland. And we managed to buy, pay, and get back home;
That's actually from a different store, but hey - we got there and back as well!
We've managed to communicate with everyone with our barely-existent German, while talking Hebrew among ourselves and English with the kids;

And we've managed to survive almost a first week in Berlin.
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