Sunday, July 29, 2007

Royale with Cheese...

The other day when Marina and her friends mentioned that they had never seen so many smokers as they've seen here, it occurred to me that after six months in Germany I've grown accustomed to many of the things that used to seem foreign. This epiphany inspired me share with you some of these little, mildly interesting differences before I lose all awareness of them.

Here's a pretty basic difference: Almost all windows in Germany can be opened like a door and tilted in at the top. Turning the handle up allows you to tilt the window in. Turning it parallel to the floor allows you to open it from hinges on the side while pointing the handle toward the floor locks it. I must admit this relatively complex engineering for such a common object confused me when I first checked into a German hotel in September of last year. I also haven't seen screens on the windows here.
Something else that surprised me is that alarm clocks display 24-hour time. I had read this format was used for official purposes, but for whatever reason didn't expect it to be "baked in" to normal (non-DoD) clocks. Another difference that I complained about in one of the first posts in this blog is the size of the refrigerators. While American-sized refrigerators are available here, they are quite expensive and, as far as I can tell, not that common. Although we have second refrigerator due to the size of our family and our die-hard American fondness of excess, I have the impression that many Germans live with these dorm-sized fridges without thinking twice about it.
I also mentioned while we were still in our temporary apartment that (apparently) many buildings are constructed without vents for dryers. The solution? Dryers that get really, really hot so that the water evaporates and condenses in a "drawer" that must be emptied every other load or so. I (only somewhat) affectionately call this the "Jack Daniels" approach in deference to the similarities with distillation. I haven't yet seen one made with copper tubing though.
Ever-obsessed with conserving their (our?) national resources, see below the big flush/little flush "buttons" common on many toilettes in Germany. Enough said on this one.
One last thing: Some unexpected things are identical to their counterparts in the States. See below the "STOP" sign outside our apartment. I've been told this word is used as part of the effort to standardize street signs across the European Union, although I'd like to think it's a simple gesture on the part of the Kirchheim mayor's office to make us feel more at home.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Back to Baden-Baden

We got off to a slow start today. First of all, I didn't get out of bed until 11:00 or so -- an extremely rare occurrence. B was already up but wasn't feeling well. By noon, I had decided to take the girls (Marina and friends) and the kids to Baden-Baden. The idea was to spend the afternoon there and then leave the girls in Mannheim where Pink will give a free concert tonight. As usual, the kids were mesmerized by a movie during the 45 minute trip South of Heidelberg.

As soon as we arrived in Baden-Baden it started to rain. We decided to have lunch at a pizzeria and wait the weather out. Pizzeria Roma has the best pizza I've had since I've been in Germany: thin crust with great ingredients. We ordered three pizzas for everyone but Emily, who is on a spaghetti kick.Those with an eagle eye for fashion will notice the license Emily took before we left the house when I told her to put on her shoes. It was only when she descended from the mini-bus in Baden-Baden that I noticed she had donned a pair of designer Disney plastic pumps normally reserved for dress-up in the playhouse. I can't imagine that those who know Emily are any more surprised than I was. To her credit, she pulled the look off, bruised shins notwithstanding. By the time lunch was over, the sun was shining. We walked around in this beautiful city a bit until we passed the playground near the river.Unfortunately, within 20 minutes or so we were fleeing from a torrential downpour. After nursing a Coke in a restaurant for about 20 minutes, we decided to hightail it home once the rain let up a bit. After a few wrong turns here and there, I got the girls close to the concert in Mannheim. As far as I can tell, they loved Baden-Baden.

Finally, while I've always though Emily was photogenic, there's something about Baden-Baden that brings out her "good side". The picture above with the flowers in her hair is really something else in high resolution. The picture below is a wonder as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sechs Jahre Part II...

As I mentioned in a previous post, Marina, B's 16 year old sister, is visiting us from Brazil with two friends, Johanna and Barbara. The kids are in heaven with three tias (aunts) to cater to their every whim. Judging by the time they arrive home at night, the girls seem to be enjoying Heidelberg.

Since they had gone to Madrid to visit a friend during Emily's first birthday party, B scheduled a second, smaller affair here at the compound. Beyond Marina and company and our family, the kids' babysitter Melanie and the Volmerings were on hand (Thomas, Luciana, João and Joana). The party was marked by much Brazilian funk music, Brazilian-style hotdogs (served in tomato sauce and topped with corn and potato strings) and lots of cake and candy. There was also a huge mess afterward (of course).
As far as I know, there are no more birthday parties planned for Emily. If one should spontaneously erupt, rest assured you'll hear about it here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And the award for "Most Global Product of the Year" goes to...

this carton of peach ice tea. The ingredients are provided in 21 languages.I wrote an e-mail to the company to complain that they omitted Pig Latin. Man, I hope they can read Pig Latin.

Anyway... while I'm here, thought I'd include a couple of gratuitous shots of the kids.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chill'n poolside...
Today we went to Thermal-schwimmbad again, an outdoor heated pool about 10 minutes from our house in Heidelberg. In another post, I mentioned how we spent a good part of American Father's Day there. Today I took my camera to capture the splendor.
Once again, the place had enough folks to not feel empty, but was far from being crowded. B thinks it might be because Germans find it a bit expensive relative to other pools. We paid a little over 15 Euros for the five of us -- a steal in my book (especially as I look at Emily and Sophia, completely wiped out and asleep on our bed). Thermal-schwimmbad comprises two large pools, one for swimming laps and the other for playing. The latter has a large slide that the kids absolutely love. The pools are only slightly heated, which takes some of the edge off jumping into the water, but you don't feel like you're going to boil alive (it is summer here after all). Toward the back of the property, separated by a fence from the Neckar river, is a kiddie wading pool. All this is surrounded by beautiful grassy areas where one can hang out for hours and hours. We got there at about 15:00 and left at 19:30 or so. I was disappointed we hadn't gotten there earlier.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sechs Jahre...

On Friday Emily turned six! As is the tradition for Brazilians, she started out the day opening her presents. As usual, B made her annual contribution to Mattel, purchasing yet another Barbie (this time the bridal version).
As you can see below, Robert was having trouble getting into gear. Sophia slept through the entire "event".
After a bit of convincing on B's part, Emily decided to have her party on Saturday at JumpInn, the indoor playhouse full of inflatable fun. She invited most of her Brazilian friends as well as several kids from her kindergarten class, about 18 in all. As usual, B's decorating shocked the locals. With B, less is clearly not more.
B (of course) waited until the night before the party to bake the cake (heart-shaped with a pan Marina brought with her from Brazil). Everything looked great until she started to put the icing on. Things went very wrong very quickly. At 1:00 or so, B came to bed depressed and defeated. By 9:00 on Saturday, she was out pounding the pavement looking for a cake. After visiting four "normal" bakeries unsuccessfully, she remembered seeing someone making a cake at a bakery inside a kind of "super store" near our house (Familia Center). The baker there took pity on her and whipped a cake together in no time.
B's best friend's mom, Regina, who runs a chocolate business, sent the usual chocolate masterpieces from Brazil.
B was afraid the kids' parents might be nervous about leaving them with a couple that doesn't speak German, but the promise of unloading their kids for a few hours proved compelling. We also invited the kids' babysitter, who speaks German, to do a bit of translating here and there. As far as I can tell, much fun was had by all.
For those scoring at home, the final Barbie count was 4, putting the entire collection somewhere in the low hundreds (or so it seems anyway).

Finally, Robert may have a future as a surreal artist. The Spider-man and dollar floating in the sealed container makes a profound statement; we just haven't figure out what it is yet.