Sunday, August 21, 2011

A very long post, catching up...

I still don't have internet at my flat, but I am over at friends, who are allowing me to hook into their wi-fi.  This goes back to when I first left the States to head over here.

July 31
Nashville to Toronto to Frankfurt to Leipzig. 
It was a pretty easy change in Toronto, although there weren't nearly enough plugs for people who wanted to plug in their phones and computers.  I didn't like Frankfurt any better this time than I did when I was there last time.  Miles and miles to walk to get from  here to there and though the people were helpful, the system and set-up there isn't.   
August 1
I was picked up in Leipzig by Leslie and her new husband, Stefan.  I looked like a refugee, carrying everything I had in a couple of suitcases.  Though the weather was cool, the hotel room was stuffy.  I slept 7 straight hours, got some supper, then went back to bed.  
August 2
My first real day as a resident of Leipzig
I woke up at the hotel and ate a breakfast more American than German (link to a description  of a typical German breakfast) at the hotel's breakfast buffet.  Leslie met me at the hotel and we ordered a taxi to to take us to the school with my mounds of luggage.  We went to the school where Marianne had my bags from my week here a month ago and the keys to my flat.  We loaded up Marianne's car with my bags and drove the half mile to Oeserstrasse.   
The flat is perfect.  The new fridge isn't in yet, but we're checking on that tomorrow.  After getting the bags in, we went back to the school, where I met up with Leslie.  Leslie and I went out to look at shops so I could get an idea of what's what.  A great little shop called Xeno's that has all kinds of stuff you might need around the house or for school.  Then, treasure of treasures, a craft shop.  It has all the main stuff that I would want except fabric.  Then we went to look at curtain rods for my new windows.  I got a small lamp, bathroom cleaner and sponges, but no curtain rods.  I forgot to measure the windows.  

The view from my "balcony"
Once I get the place set up, I'll do a video tour and post it.  
All the new teachers meet Thursday at school and will be taken to get our work visas, a couple of other things and then go to Ikea.  I need a bed frame, sofa, light for the bedroom, and a wardrobe or dresser.  
Once I get my fridge and shipment, I can start some real grocery shopping.  Today was just a couple of rolls of toilet paper and a bottle of some kind of soda.
Except for the whole language barrier, it feels very natural to be here.  It feels good.  And I think the job is going to be great.
One day last week I was walking down the street after spending some time in Starbucks, drinking a chai latte for the sake of internet access, when I heard a bit of Handel floating down the street, coming from the direction of Nikolaikirche.  I like Handel.  So I hum along and continue on until I see a 5 piece brass band playing in front of the church in the street.  So very cool.  I stop and listen.   After Handel, they go into the Schubert's Ave Maria and then, though it was the middle of the day, we get to hear Eine Kleine Nacht Musik.  They are Neva Brass, from Saint Petersburg (Russia, not Florida!).  I liked them, so I decided to buy one of their cds.  They had the baroque/classic, a jazz cd and one of Russian traditional music.  I chose the baroque/classic.  

I love this town!
Earlier today, on my way into the school, I stopped in a little shop and got a small pastry, a brotchen and some cheese.  I learned how to ask for slices of cheese (I knew the word for cheese, but not slice, but I do now: scheibe).  I also learned how to say have a good day, but I didn't get it written down quickly enough, so I don't remember it.  I think it was a colloquialism, not quite the thing I could find on google translate.  I'll get it tomorrow or the next day.
Anyway, I hit a bigger jackpot today in the city center than I planned.  I was walking down the street when I saw it.  Black back, dark tan head and legs!  A bit small.  Really small, in fact.  A Welshie!  I walked over calmly (mad American woman dashing toward one's dog can't look good and can't be explained easily with my German).   I asked, "Welsh Terrier?" while pointing to the dog.  The woman looked at me oddly and said, correcting me, "Velsh."  Ah, yes.  I'm in Germany, after all.  V-v-v, not W-w-w.  I again asked, "ich kann...?" and gestured petting the dog.  She let me and I squatted down and got Velshie kisses.  I scratched him behind those ears and rubbed that wiry head.  It was gooood.  
But the Terrier gods had more in store for me today.  Later on, while walking through the market, I got the grand prize.  I saw tan wiry legs...was it the "Velshie" again?  No.  Too tall.  A closer look, peering through the human legs, I saw...I saw...could it be?  Yes, it was!  It was!  An Airedale!  Oh joy of all joys!   I walked up to the holder of the leash, a man this time, and said, "Airedale."  The man nodded.  I told him, in the most butchered of German, "ich habt Airedales alles meine Leben.  Meggie tod im Marz.  Zwolf jahren alt.  Aber Ginger!  Sechszehn jahren alt!"  That got the man's attention.  "16 jahren alt?"  "Ja"  Again I asked and gestured if I could pet his Airedale and got a yes answer.  I knelt down and got a true Airedale greeting, lots of kisses, happy dancing, paws on the shoulder,  The man smiled and apologized half heartedly (which I brushed off).  I had what I've been craving for a long time.  That dog knew I loved Airedales; he knew I was an Airedale person.  Better than the Welshie, better than almost anything was playing with that Airedale.  I haven't seen or petted an Airedale since I lost Meggie.  "Danke!  Ich bin ...frohliche" and I put my hand on my heart.  He said, in English, "your heart is full of"...but then his English let him down as my German did me.  But we each knew what the other meant, because we were talking Airedale.  

It was a very terrier day! 
A poster of a rattie that was in the foyer at the bank.  Ok, it's not really about the rat, it's about an art exhibition for Matthias Weischer.  But for me, it's a rat poster.  
August 12
It's been a very busy week!  Orientation, navigating the maze of German bureaucracy.  Our American systems don't have a thing on the Germans when it comes to papers and forms and stamps.  Sometimes, you need a stamp just to show that you don't need a stamp!  We registered our addresses with the Bergeramt, something all residents of Germany must do, citizens and aliens.   We registered with the tax office and the office where we get our work visa.  
In the evenings we got together a various local restaurants and got to know each other better and meet some of our colleagues, teachers from Australia, England, the Philippines, Columbia, the US, all over the place.  
Today we got our bank accounts set up so are now able to order internet and cell phone.  Soon, no more Starbucks for internet!  Yea!  Those chai lattes are far too expensive.
I haven't had a chance to do as much exploring as I would like, but while we were walking back from one of the restaurants, the Glashaus, which is located in the park by my flat, we walked home through the park. 
Now, when I say park, I am using the term pretty loosely.  Clara Zetkin Park is a huge park that is part park, part woods.  Mostly woods.  As we walked through those woods on a path in the dark (really, really dark), I thought about being in the woods, in German woods, where big bad wolves and all those other critters from Grimms' märchen exist and, you know? it was a little creepy.  If I hadn't been with the group, it would have been terribly creepy and maybe a little bit scary.  I intend to go back into those woods, that park, but in the daytime.

June 10, 1989
A memorial/information placard for a street music festival which was banned by the authorities in the GDR describing the courage and determination of the people who were in Leipzig reaching and fighting for their freedom. 

My view as I walk out of my building and head to school each morning

This is the way towards the main road, where the trams run and my school is located.  My school is about half a mile away.  I walk there.

Rounding the corner and heading towards school.

Laundrymat.  I hate this place.  I can't wait to get my own washer.

I pass most of the everyday conveniences on my way to and from work.  The laundry mat, a couple of fruit and veggie shops, bakeries and so on.  I can get everything I need on my way home.

My produce place
Look at those blackberries!
She knows me now, though her English and my German are rough.
(I do a lousy job at the self-portrait!)

 A bakery/coffee shop.  They also have salads and sandwiches for lunch.  AND pitchers of waters with large glasses!!!

You often see dogs outside of shops waiting for their owners.

The Konsum.  A grocery store, very close to the school.
Notice all the bikes in front.  Bikes are everywhere
and I will be getting one soon.

August 20
I have no idea what I did to deserve this.
There is nothing good enough I could have done to deserve this life.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; I could complain about.
I really miss free glass, large glasses of water at restaurants.  
I miss a/c.  It doesn’t get terribly hot here, but when it’s warm outside, it can get awfully stuffy inside and the air doesn’t move.  No a/c and not a ceiling fan in sight.
I miss the individual crystal lite packets for my water bottle.
I get frustrated when I can’t express myself in German, which is most of the time.  
Still, I love it here.
Take tonight, for instance.
We had a school community gathering at school so new families could meet some of the staff and I went to that, so we finished up around 6:30 or so.  I walked home and straightened up and got hungry around 8.  I thought I’d go out to the Greek restaurant.  I walked to the restaurant, which was about 2/3 of a mile away and located on a river (which looks like canal to most of us, but is still lovely) and got there and seated about 8:30.   The evening was beautifully cool, people were canoeing on the was beautiful.  Great food, complimentary ouzo (I don’t really like ouzo, but I drank it anyway) and I left around 9:45.  I walked home on the darkened streets, listening to the families behind the windows of the flats with a great air of contentment.  I was perfectly happy.  I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
I haven’t had any German food yet, but I have had all kinds of ethnic food.  There’s a Thai place that is very good that I’ve been to with friends here, the Turkish bistro (really Iraqi) Bistro Ischtar, where the proprietor knows what I get and how I like it (Döner mit Falafel), the Greek place, and many others.  Have mentioned that there are ice cream places everywhere?  Ice cream is very popular, and as many of you know, is my “drug of choice”.  
I walk pretty much everywhere and if it’s further than a mile or so, I take the tram or a bus.  It’s a very dog friendly place and you constantly see people with their dogs on the streets.
And then there is the job.  I like the school, it’s philosophy and the people.  I get to build the counseling program from the ground up, which is a school counselor’s dream.  School started Wednesday and I’ve already been in a 12th grade class and a 7th grade class.  The kids are great and I got to talk to a several of them at the tram stop outside of school the other day, which demonstrated to me that kids are pretty much the same the world over.   I will be offering a storytelling club/class after school for secondary students and am terribly excited about that.  I’ve begun work on my first bi-lingual story, which is a lot of fun, since I am using a German poem I’ve known for a long time.  
The people I work with are equally wonderful.  Friendly, helpful, fun.
I figure the glow will wear off to some extent as time wears on but at this point, I haven’t had a single, solitary moment where I’ve questioned this move.  
I have no idea what I’ve done to deserve this.  It’s all a gift.

There is still so much more, but I have been sitting on the sofa here at my friends house, absorbed in the my computer and uncommunicative long enough.  I will keep you posted on life here in Leipzig, taking pictures and as soon as my stuff is shipped and delivered, I will do a video tour of my flat and post it.  I went to Ikea yesterday with some folks and bought a few things and spent the rest of the day and most of the morning putting furniture together.  I now have a bed frame, a small desk, a sofa (sofa bed! so get those passports current!) and a wardrobe.  They are all put together, too.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Packing and moving

My house is in a state of ordered chaos (or is that chaotic order?) as I move boxes of books from here to there and get everything ready for the movers on Tuesday.  The last of the furniture will be picked up by the Salvation Army on Wednesday and I will have a couple of days to play before I head up to Tennessee to spend some time with my mother before heading off to my little flat in Leipzig and my new life.

My friend, Lianne, is helping me.  I have known Lianne for ...gosh... since my sister got married back in 1985.  But she and I have been friends since she moved to Central Florida about 20 years ago.  We have been through thick and thin together, losing touch when we both moved from Orlando, she to the coast and me up to Jacksonville.   It took me leaving the country for us to reconnect.  It was one of those magical friendships where after years of little contact, we picked up as if we had just seen each other yesterday.  I can't describe some of our escapades because I believe there may still be some outstanding warrants out there and the statutes of limitations may still be in effect on others.  Feel free to speculate.

In a bit over two weeks the prelude concludes and the first movement begins.
Look for pictures of my flat in the next couple of weeks.  I sound so European, don't I?  "My flat".  My new home.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nikolaikirche. (pic)

Faust's lucky shoe (pic)

The Devil with Faust (pic)

Augustusplatz (pic)

Cold and wet in Leipzig

I thought a lot about my father today.
I went back to Augustusplatz, walking to the tram stop, waiting for the tram and hopping on it like a native this morning. I walked around there for hours, buying a couple pairs of socks (I forgot to bring any socks), an umbrella (rained lightly all day), looking at the weinstube where Goethe spent his time, the statues of Faust and the Devil. If you rub his shoe, they say you will have good luck. Faust's that is. And his show is bright and shiny. And yes, I gave it a surreptitious rub. I spent the day just soaking it all in. Later on I got a curry and then went to an organ concert in Nikolaikirche. Bach in that magnificent church. Wow.
It amazes me that this is now MY city.
Dad arranged for me to take German lessons from a lady in the neighborhood when I was in 5th grade. We worked from a 3rd/4th grade reading book. I'm not sure how much I actually learned of grammar and such, but enough interest stuck to have me taking loads of German in college. Because of all that German, Dad also bought me some sort of commemorative plate that had a picture of Rumpelstilchen. For some reason, all these years I thought it was Rapunzel, but when I pulled it out of the closet a few weeks back to show the niece, it was a short little man spinning gold from straw. Wrong story, right idea. I think my Dad would be very proud of both my storytelling and this move.

The ubiquitous golden arches. (pic)

They are everywhere!!!!! With so many other places to eat, I should be shipped home in a pine box if I step foot in this place.

Next door to Pension Piano Forte (pic)

Pension Piano Forte, my room (pic)

In Old Town. (pic)

Nikolaikirche, Old Town. (pic)

Walk on Green! (pic)

St. Alexi's Russian Memorial Church (pic)

On Interacting in German, or Rather, in What I have Learned is Called "Denglish"

1 July, 2011
I really like this city.  
Leipzig has a population of about half a million, brilliant public transportation (I have a week's pass to take full advantage) and what seems to be about three-fourths of all the people here on bicycles.  There are bicycles everywhere.  I was planning on getting a bike but the people here don't just ride bikes, they drive their bikes on the roads the way we drive our cars on the interstates when we are running late.  It's terrifying, yet beautiful to watch.  I don't know if my bike riding is up to it.  

I got up at a more reasonable time today, ate my fruit for breakfast and hit the streets.  I used the Leipzig transit system's website ( to see how to get to the Russian Orthodox Church and then successfully made my way there.  I got a bit thrown off when I had to change trams at Augustusplatz and couldn't find my connection, but a bit of wandering around and a chance glance showed me where I should be.  

I got to the church, which is where the Battle of Nations took place in 1813, a wee bit of a disagreement with Napoleon and the rest of Europe.  [].  I spend quite a bit of time talking with the lady there, who had no English.  She was patient, kind, encouraging and invited me back for Liturgy on Sunday.  If I understood correctly, it is in both Russian and German.  I found myself remembering some of my German and she reminded me of more.  

I returned by way of Augustusplatz and the tram and wandered around there for a bit and took a few pictures.  Seems to be the city centre and old town.  I saw a few used bookstores and despite the language barrier, both verbal and written, bought a children's copy of Grimm's Hausmärchen.  Yes, Grimm's.  Perhaps before too terribly long I'll graduate to an adult version of the German Grimm's but I figure if I have to learn to read in German, I may as well read something I like and have a bit of a jump on.  (Hush up, some of you nasty people.  That is not what I mean by "adult".)  While ringing me up, the man showed me a very nice, very old copy of Grimm's for €200.  "Später", I told him, with a grin.  Later.  He knew I was buying a children's version because of my baby German.

I bought a Bratwurst mit Brötchen and a coke at a street stand, where the vendor was a bit impatient until I apologized.  "Entschuldigen, Ich kann kein Deutsch.  Amerikanerin. Ich bin langsam.".  Then he smiled even though he didn't want to, so either I said something funny when I didn't mean to, or I said exactly what I meant to.  I then met up with an Irish Terrier and her owners and spoke the universal language of "I admire your dog because she is a terrier and terriers are great!"  The owners seemed impressed that I knew she was an Irish until I pointed to myself and said "Airedales".  The Irish sensed a kindred spirit and got hyper and friendly.  The owners must also have been true terrier people because they didn't seem surprised, bothered or taken aback by any of this.

Tram back to Sudvorstadt, and I meandered down the opposite side of the street than the one I've been walking on.  I befriended a shopkeeper in a small market where I bought cheese, wonderful German bread and butter.  Her English is pretty good, far, far better than my German.  We talked and she showed me some sort of memorial to Heinrich Heine in the park behind her shop.  I spent some time in a Turkish sandwich shop for early supper and chatted for a while with the owner and some other people in a mix of English and tattered German.  I was also given a free dessert and cup of tea there.  I'll be going back.

Looked at a flat this evening, but the lady isn't moving out until mid September, so that's no good.  Looking at 5 next Monday and Tuesday; one of them will be it.

It was a good day and I am very excited about living here.  I'm also feeling pretty good about getting my German back.  I'm able to pick out words, even if I don't always understand them, have found people to be very nice, very patient with me as I struggle to make myself understood and have made, if not friends, then friendly contact.  Good people.  It's looking like this was the right thing for me to do.

I know this is all me me me, but right now, it is all me me me. I posted some pictures that show some of what I saw today.

First Day

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 6:59pm
Got up later than I meant to and am tired now. I'm staying at a wonderful little pension in the trendy section of town. Yeah, Right. It was rainy and cold and it felt wonderful. I made my way via tram to the Hauptbahnhof and got a week's ticket so I can co me and go as I please on the trams and buses. As I walked to the tram stop' I passed a pet shop and saw a book on Ratten. Rats! So I went in and saw rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice but no ratties. So, in my baby German, I went up and asked, Haben Sie Ratten? Ja. She took me back and showed me the rats, 2 males who were under a wooden igloo in their cage. She and I talked a bit and t turns out that she has rats, too. When she asked, English? I said, Amerikanerin. She said, "Ahhh, alles ist klar. I got that a lot after admitting that I wasn't German. Or maybe it was "Alles klar." Either works.
I got to the school and met folks there and got a tour of the building to saw my office. I fell in love with that room (see my mobile uploads for today). I also got a little bit more of an idea of how things run. A lot to learn, but I know how to work with kids and to be a counselor. The rest is just adapting it to a new setting and culture.
I can't get in to see any flats until Monday, which is disappointing. But I will spend tomorrow roaming the neighborhood around the school and getting to know it. I might it the zoo Saturday or the old town.
I got back to the pension just fine and picked up some supper and some fruit for tomorrow morning. The tricky part is making sure I have food for Sunday, since everything closes down. The school sec'y is having me over for dinner Sunday night, though, so I won't starve.


Back around my birthday, in January, I begin looking for something to kick start things. As some of you may know, the last year has been...quite dreadful. A great deal of hurt, disillusionment and betrayal. Yet through all of that, I discovered that I am surrounded by some of the most caring, loving and downright wonderful people. People who love me more than I can ever deserve and gave me the care and encouragement I needed to get through the nightmare I found myself in. Some of these people came from the most unexpected quarters and some have been here all along. Without those people and without my church.  I don't know how I would have gotten through this horrible, horrible year. They gave me the strength to look at my dreams, hopes and goals and take this step.

I looked for jobs in school counseling overseas, applied for all 5 and had two top choices: Vienna, because it's, well, Vienna. And this one, because it had a killer job description. A counseling position that is student focussed, not program focussed, not data focussed, not managing all the myriad details that are more administrative than counseling. Counseling wouldn't be squeezed in between setting up MRT or CELLA testing or gifted screenings or any of that. It would be a lot like what I did back in my Orlando days. I interviewed and was offered the job. I snapped it like a duck on a Junebug.
I began frantically disposing of things I owned, packing up some of it to take, some to store. My contract is for 2 years, but if I like them and they like me, I'll stay.

And so I begin anew...

The flight over for this scouting trip for a flat (thank you, Mom, for the frequent flyer points and the free flight!) was long and tedious. Luft Hansa was not my friend. I got to Amsterdam and found that my connection to Frankfurt was delayed just exactly long enough to cause me to miss my connection to Leipzig. They were supposed to have someone meet me to whisk me to the Leipzig plane but they took us to a different gate at a different terminal!! No one was there. The first rep I spoke to was absolutely horrible. There was no line, no crowd of people around her, just me asking standard questions. She was awful. I was discouraged, didn't know how to let the folks at the school know I would be hours late (and they would have to pick me up at nearly 11pm) exhausted, starving and my ankles were starting to swell from too many hours on the plane. Oh, lovely. I made my way back to the correct terminal, got to the Luft Hansa desk and found a short line that became a hugely long line after I got in it. I would not want to be working for Luft Hansa in Frankfurt these days. Though people were upset and impatient, they didn't lose their temper, they stayed polite, gave me a meal voucher and helped me make the call to the school. They did have to get tough with the man next to me who kept saying F this and F that all over the place, but I don't blame them for that. I was getting tired of him, too.

I did eventually get to Leipzig and was picked up by the headmaster, himself who drove me to my wonderful little pension. I was so tired that I was a bit loopy by then and it was all a haze.