Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seasons change and so do we: On Autumn, Bulgaria, and Kiddos

      I have to apologize yet again for taking so long to post, but I'll say that with the admission that probably this will be a more frequent rate. Life isn't interesting enough to merit a post every three days (even when it is, probably no one would read all of them anyway, so I'll keep things modest). But life's good here!

      As I've said before, because I find it very witty (though I've yet to meet anyone who agrees with me. Fortunately my reservoir of self-confidence is full enough that I manage to cope with such lack of support for my humor.), if Spring sprung, then here in Germany, Fall definitely fell. I'm becoming accustomed to the typical Autumn temperatures (in case you were wondering, the term "fall" is basically obsolete as a name for this season everywhere except North America), those being generally between 35 and 50 degrees on a given day. A month ago those numbers would have totally terrified me, but I'm managing to stay plenty warm and enjoying discovering the amusing style choices that go along with consistently chilly weather. (These include nylons under jeans, undershirts, boots over jeans, and wooly socks. Soon I will probably also manage a bommel hat (picture the knitted hats with huge pom-poms on the top. So excited.))

      All's been going well here. I continue with babysitting, language class, singing in the Palestrina choir, and meeting new people. I had Mexican food last week. Never thought a Corona would taste so good! Biggest excitement of recent time was my trip to Bulgaria over the weekend to stay with Nate and get my first taste of Eastern Europe (and all that those capital letters imply). 

     Of course the knowledge I was going to see Nate made last week draaaaaaaaaaaag, but thankfully made it through and woke up at 4 AM Friday morning to catch a bus and a train to make my 7 o'clock flight to Vienna and on to Sofia. (Bear in mind it was about 25 degrees out whilst waiting for this 4:25 AM bus. Burrrrrr.)  Five fairly uneventful travel hours later (aside from the brief amusement of having to be shuttled out to the plane in Vienna as a Chinese jet refused to move from its parking spot at our gate...), I arrived in Sofia Airport and was greeted enthusiastically by my loving boyfriend (who will kill me for having said that). Nate has a great apartment (once you get past the terrifying entry-way, replete with quite a few horror movie locations. I'm pretty sure it's where they shot the video in The Ring. Thankfully the door locked.) right down the street from the university and the beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. We spent a good weekend with a lot of food (Mediterranean, traditional Bulgarian качамак  (I don't know how to pronounce that but it's delicious--basically hot polenta with feta cheese and sauce on it), amazing Indian food, and even some homemade imitation pasta primavera, accompanied by delicious Bulgarian wine) and a lot of sightseeing. Only in Eastern Europe do some of the main attractions include graffiti. We finished the weekend with drinks with some of Nate's Fulbrighter and Bulgarian friends, and then I headed back to Deutschland in the wee, wee hours of Monday morning (though a taxi ride to the airport was only 10 leva, aka 5 euros, aka CHEAP. Bulgaria's super cool that way. My apologies for taking advantage of their sad economy, but hey, girl's gotta eat.)

      I've never been in a country before where I have literally zero comprehension of the language. Though I'll be the first to admit my French is horrid, my Dutch almost non-existent, and my Italian laughable, I can fake a good please-thank you-where's the bathroom with the best of them, and at least make a reasonable stab at pronouncing street names/shops/menu items. Bulgaria was really a humbling experience, language-wise. The one word I had at my disposal (other than "snimki" (photos) and "kolka"(how much), which are all I picked up during four months of Nate's learning Bulgarian) was merci (thank you, obviously), which I generally said with a head-duck and abashed expression.  At one point I was asked what a restaurant we'd been to was, and I, excited to know the answer to something, spelled it out, only to be informed that what I'd just spelled was the word for Apotheke (literally, apothecary, like a drug store), which had been next door to the restaurant. Oops? It was incredibly nice to find, on returning to Vienna, that I actually understood the language around me. I know my German isn't perfect, but it's really improved a lot in the nearly two months I've been here, and it was fun to realize that.

Ridiculous statue in Yuzhen Park. Built in 1981to commemorate 1300 years of...something, it was apparently so shoddily constructed it started falling apart within a year, and instead of spending the money to tear it down (and thus admitting defeat), they just put up a wall to prevent anyone being decapitated by falling pieces of statue.
National Palace of Culture. And Nate. 
Mt. Vitosha 
Gorgeous little Orthodox church of St. George, dating from the 4th century. 4TH CENTURY. They were reciting mass in Church Slavonic while we looked around. So cool.
Changing of the guards. Not quite as impressive as Buckingham palace, but they kick while they walk! Funsies.
I don't remember what this is? National Theater, I think.

Because I can.
      Me being depressing. Feel free to skip: The only downside to such a wonderful weekend is, of course, having it end, so I've been moping around since I've been back.  It's becoming less of a foreign country here and more of just another place I'm living, so it takes a little more to pull me out of a funk than it would have, say, a month and a half ago. It's tough not being able to talk to people, and tougher still to realize I'm no longer an important part of the lives people are living back in the states. Seeing my boyfriend only once a month for a weekend is incredibly hard for me. But I'm living the dream here! I just forget it every now and then. But I really do love it here: I love the family I'm with, I adore the people I've met, I cherish the beer, and I really do love Germany. But I mean it when I say I miss you all!

      Also, realization has hit that I leave for the states (and Katie Ascani's wedding!) in T-23 days, so that's really a landmark time coming up! 

      Kids continue to narrowly walk the line between adorable/sweet/super fun and incredibly obnoxious/whiny, but that's the story with kids in general, I suppose. Kilian decided today my new name was to be "Gorga Lisping Lily Toilet," and he called me that without fail at the end of every sentence. For about three hours. Oy. I also roundly got my butt kicked at "Kennst du Rechnen?" (Can you add?), which apparently I can't. Ouch. Conversation topics tend to be pretty limited; our half-hour walk home usually bounces between what kind of cars we're passing (Ich lieb BMV! Ich lieb Audi! Ich will Porsche! (that's I love, I love, I want)), that the leaves have fallen (die Blätter haben runtergefallen!), who was first/who won, and that Cliona is not a baby anymore (Ich bin kein Baby! Ich bin ein großes Mädchen! (I'm not a baby! I'm a big girl!))  

      I tell you, spending so much time with kids really gives me appreciation for parents. Especially mine. Given the four or so hours I spend per day with the kids, I cannot fathom being a stay-at-home mother. I think I would go insane. Not that being an au pair is turning me against the idea of having children (okay, some days it does), but it has definitely furthered my resolve to wait until I am good and ready.  Being an au pair is a type of Mommy-practice, I guess, but I sure appreciate that I get to hand them back to their parents at the end of the day. I suppose motherhood doesn't include weekends off, now does it?  I'm still amused at the circumstances that have led me, a self-professed non-child lover, to commit to a year looking after children. 

      Also, wherever I got the idea that kids forget things so whatever you do is okay, definitely not a good source. I am constantly being reminded of things I haven't done. Kilian disapprovingly told me today I forgot to give him a plaster (Band-Aid, for those not familiar with British-isms) when he fell on his bike. Last Monday. Sorry? Never say something you can't follow through on, seriously.

      And that's basically all! Went to a cool little local festival last week called the Auer Dult, which was basically a huge swap meet/antique fair/trade show with some rides and lots of food, but ended up being good fun. Here're some photos, stolen from the wonderful Leigh Stephenson:

L-R: Jessica, Sophie's boyfriend, Sophie, ME, Leah, and Taylor

On the awesome and never-ending swings! 
Rickety-looking Ferris wheel

      And weekend before last, I finally paid the 1,50 to climb the steps to the top of the tower in Alterpeter, the church in the city center. A lot of very steep and tiring steps later, I had an amazing, albeit chilly, view of the entire city. 

Frauenkirche in background

Marienplatz from above
      To wrap up, I'll say again (and really can't say enough) how much I appreciate your readership! It really warms my heart. Please come visit me. All of you. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A day in the life of an au pair

     For starters, I apologize for AGAIN not updating for way too long. There's no excuse. I know things are getting bad when my dear mother, who has been known to chide me about not updating TOO frequently ("Don't you have better things to be doing, Laura?") asks me when I'm going to write another blog. Oops.

     Instead of my usual mishmash of things I've been doing (that will come at the end, so don't fret now!), today I'll give you more of a specific run-down of how I spend my day: this idea inspired by occasional such entries in my baby book. I should probably just dedicate this whole entry to my mother. Hi, Gecko!

     So here goes. Times are in German format. Don't whine.

Thursday, 13.10.11

06.50: My alarm isn't set to go off until 7.50, but on days when I have to get up "early" (I hear my parents laughing at me. And everyone else that actually works for a living. I'm 22. Shh.), I leave my earplugs out so I wake up more gradually, usually from the dulcet tones wafting down into my cellar room of children screaming and hollering. Good morning, Germany.

06.50-07.40: My slow wake-up process has served me well. Ten minutes early, I start my day officially by checking my email and my Facebook. Yes, I am a child of the 21st century.

07.50: Alarm goes off. Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why," because it's the most innocuous thing I could find on my phone to use as an alarm. I check the weather (again) and put on the clothes I had laid out the night before: jeans, turtleneck, sweater, scarf, and knee-high boots. (It's pouring outside, if you couldn't tell by the outfit. The Indian Summer of my last entry is long gone and it's officially fall. And freaking freezing (almost literally) to prove it.) Throw on a teensy bit of makeup and quickly braid my hair, gather my notebook/papers/textbook, and upstairs. Breakfast is, as usual when I'm in a hurry (and quite often when I'm not) is a slice of bread with a piece of cheese on it.
      Bread in Germany is not the packaged slices you'd find at any typical American home. It's a loaf of hearty bread, baked at a bakery, usually with pumpkin or sunflower seeds in it, and you slice a piece off with a monstrous knife. My jaw gets sore from chewing this bread, it's that hearty. (And there's no way for that to be a viable that's-what-she-said, so please don't even try.) The cheese, in the same vein, is...I don't even know what cheese it is. It's called Scheibenkäse, and it's cheese. Cheese-flavored cheese. I can't explain it any further.

08.10: While chewing my bread and cheese, I quickly (and sloppily) put the morning's dishes in the dishwasher. My only every-day chore is to clean up the breakfast mess: rinse and put dishes in dishwasher, wipe off counters, sweep floor of breakfast-y debris. Thursday the Putzfrau (cleaning lady) comes, so all I have to do is put dishes away.

08.18: Throw on my coat and rush out the door to catch my bus, realizing as I dash off that it's pouring rain and my umbrella has disappeared from its spot on the front step. Crap. Bus comes at 8.23 though, so I'm doing well.

08.21: While waiting for the signal to change, I see the bus coming. When buses are early and I'm on them it's one thing, but when I'm on the wrong side of the street it's another. I wade nervously through across the traffic-y street (illegally, I might add, but missing that bus makes me 15 minutes late for class).

08.29: Bus arrives at Neuperlach Zentrum, the nearest U-Bahn (subway train) station to my house. (Only seven stops away--quite convenient). The bus was packed as it always is in the rain. I was out of change too, but fortunately had a ticket from a couple of days ago I'd forgotten to validate, so used that instead. Not that I ever get checked, anyway. I head into the train station with masses of other people, almost falling on the slippery moving sidewalk (I was wondering why everyone was taking the stairs...).

08.33: The U-5 train comes in and I grab a seat and doze most of the way into the city. The stop for my class is Karlsplatz Stachus, eight stops from where I got on. The U-Bahn is packed as well and I avoid looking at anyone too long for fear an old person will yell at me for not giving up my seat. (I know this is courtesy, but it scares me. What if they're not actually old? What if they get mad for my assuming their infirmity?)

08.47: Train arrives at Karlsplatz. I head the right direction this time (the whole station is a huge underground web and by going the right way I come up from underground about two meters from where my class is. Last week I went the wrong way. Much longer walk.). Pause for about 45 seconds in front of the bakery, pondering a cappuccino. Realize the line will take probably five minutes and by this point it's 08.56, and my class starts at 9.

08.59: Walk into my class. Never say I don't know how to be punctual. (I just occasionally choose not to be.)

09.00: German class, officially from 9-12:15, is a lot of talking about homework, discussing various topics, doing some group work, typical stuff like that. Today we threw around a ball for a while from person to person as a verb practice exercise: ball comes to you, you name the präterium and partizip (perfect form and participle). Talked a lot about differing ideas of poverty in different countries. I learned the the Ukraine is apparently the poorest country in Europe and that it's only in the US when not having a car means you're poor. I pride myself on having the best accent in the class (which, not to brag, I do), but was sufficiently humbled when the Ukrainian girl I was sitting with told me that German is her fifth language: she's basically fluent in Russian, Ukrainian, English, and Spanish as well. At least I have something going for me. There is something so wrong in the way the US treats foreign language study.

10.40-11.00: Our kaffeepause (coffee break). I head downstairs to the bakery next door and buy a cappuccino and a chocolate muffin and talk with a Romanian girl in the class about how her au pair family makes her clean their toilets.

11.00: Continue with our language class. Read a short version of "Der Rattenfänger aus Hameln," of which I was surprisingly the only one who knew it. (The American version is known as "The Pied Piper of Hamelin." The Ukrainian group has to be frequently chided for speaking in Russian, but the rest of us, not sharing a common language, do pretty well.

12.15: Head back down into the Stachus passagen to catch my train back home.  Karlzplatz is just a short walk from Marienplatz, the city center, and I contemplate going in to at least go to the bookstore or something, but I have stuff to do at home, so off I go.

12.52: Get back to the house. The house cleaner is there, so I head into my room in the cellar to stay out of her way and do my ironing. I had some shirts returned yesterday because I didn't do them well enough (uh-oh...), so I really set my mind to the task today. Fortunately Nate was online, so we Skyped until about 2:30, which made my ironing much more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.

Woodsy walk back from the bus stop. Picture doesn't do justice to how cold and wet it was.
14.33: Almost dash out the door, realize I'm starving and I've forgotten Kilian's violin, so I slice myself another piece of bread-with-cheese, grab the violin, and take off. Kilian's lesson is at 3, it takes just over 15 minutes to walk to the kindergarten, so I'm running a tad behind, but I figure I'll just walk quickly.

14.52: Get to kindergarten. When the kids are playing outside it's really hard to just get Kilian to come. Somehow all the kids know who I am and when they see me they yell to Kilian and Cliona. Last week Cliona saw me and was heartbroken when I told her she had to stay at the kindergarten while we went to violin. It was traumatic. Seriously. Luckily they were inside today due to the weather, so it was fine.

14.55: Chide Kilian for the fifth time to put on his shoes. He's crawling around on the floor next to them talking to his friend. Fortunately the music school is just across the street.

15.00-15.30: Read my book while sitting in on Kilian's violin lesson. Much to my disappointment, they've decided not to continue with violin after this four-week trial period. He likes it, but I think is disappointed he isn't playing like Little Amadeus yet, so hopefully they'll try again in a year?

15.30: Head back over to the kindergarten to collect Cliona. I have to convince Kilian not to take his shoes back off and start playing again. Bundle Cliona into her pram and head out. Kilian's whining about not having his bike, so I tell him we'll take the bus. Unfortunately for both of us, the walk to the bus station is about equal to walking halfway home, and it takes us a good 20 minutes. It takes a lot of encouraging to get Kilian to keep walking, but we finally make it. Cliona throws a mini-temper tantrum on the bus because she doesn't get to sit next to the window. I'm sure the rest of the riders were sick of hearing her scream "Fenster, fenster (Window, window)!" over and over again, but fortunately it's only two stops.

16.00: Home, thank goodness. Men are supposed to come at 4:30 to install the mirror in my bathroom, so I'm glad we make it home for that.  Kilian immediately starts crying because Cliona took the "best" toy (a little green Hot Wheels car) and there was nothing else to play with. Right. Ever the compromiser, Kilian explains to Cliona his view of the situation: "Cliona, either Kilian and Cliona play together with the toy, or only Kilian plays with the toy." Yes, he does refer to himself in the third person.  I briefly suggest the idea of sharing but let it go. I'm too tired. We play (mostly) peaceably with a new game in the living room for about half an hour. Cliona's third birthday was yesterday so the house is filled with new toys to play with. Kilian has a brief moment of anger when Cliona dares to sing along with him, "Meine Tasche, meine Tasche (my bag, my bag)." Not a real song, he was playing. For some reason her involvement infuriates him and he starts screaming at her that she doesn't have a bag. I try to explain she's playing and he needs to not be mean about it. "But Laura she doesn't have a bag!!!!" Oi.

17.20: Get dinner for the kids. I'm lazy tonight, so dinner is leftover Spätzle and Soße from last night (basically egg noodles with beef bouillon sauce, a Bavarian specialty).  For once both kids finish all their food without (much) whining. Men with the mirror finally show up during dinner and they head downstairs to install.

17.45: Back to the living room. Cliona's pretty fussy by this time, but we play around a little, and then settle down to read a story. Kilian preemptively calls his spot on my lap, causing Cliona to burst into howls and sobs, but she settles down after a few minutes and we read the ever-so-thrilling narrative about a ship, Mein Freund, er ist Kapitän (My Friend is a Captain). Cliona takes to wandering around the living room calling, "Mama, Mama"(does that ever work?). I distract them for awhile with the Photobooth feature on my computer.

18.20: Anne arrives home. Cliona starts wailing immediately at the top of her lungs and won't stop. Anne rushes her to bed forty minutes early without teeth-brushing or a story; I'm not sure what's causing her hysteria but it's quite frustrating. Kilian, Anne and I eat leftover chocolate cake from Cliona's birthday. Kilian heads off into the living room to watch Tom and Jerry cartoons. I heat up some leftover pasta and pesto and eat with orange juice. What a carb-y day.

19.00: Head downstairs to my room. Finish the ironing I should've done earlier, as well as ironing my own clothes. Contemplate heading to the weekly Thursday drinks night with the English speaking group, but decide against it. And here I am, writing you a blog!

Cozy little room
That took a lot longer than I anticipated. I probably go into way too much detail, don't I. Don't answer that.

I won't say a whole lot more, but I'll summarize two items of interest since I last posted.

Die Prinzen concert:
    For those who don't know them, Die Prinzen is a German pop-rock group with some limited popularity in America (by limited popularity I mean only people who've ever taken a German class in public education), most famous for songs like Deutschland and Millionär. They're in their mid-late 40s by now, but just came out with their 20-year anniversary CD, and are touring to promote it.  The group is based around four guys who sang in the Thomanerchor together as children, a very famous boys' choir at the St. Thomas Kirche in Leipzig. Much of their music is based off of a capella four-part harmony kind of singing.
      Anyway, their concert in Munich was last Friday night. I'd seen a poster for it and looked up the tour on a whim, but the tickets were more than I'd want to pay so I didn't do anything about it. Until I mentioned to my parents they were playing and they VERY kindly told me they'd pay for me ticket! So off I went into the cold Friday night to see this concert, all by my lonesome.
      The concert was in a sort of sketchy clubbing district behind the east train station, but I found it with little trouble, getting in the door about two minutes before the music started. I checked my coat and scarf, bought a 3,50 beer, and spent the next two hours rocking out to some Die Prinzen. It was really a ton of fun. I knew 75% of the songs, understood 90% of the banter, and knew 0% of the people there--and it was perfect. I danced around, snuck up close to see them (it was a standing-room only venue), sang loudly and waved my arms around, and enjoyed the fact no one there knew who I was.

Here's one of their most well-known songs for you: Deutschland.  A satirical yet loving song making fun of Germany, it's really a lot of fun, and was actually the final non-encore song they played (introduced by the lead singer as "a sweet love ballad for you").  Here's a verse, to give you the idea:

Wir lieben unsere Autos mehr als unsere Frauen               We love our cars more than our wives
Denn deutschen Autos können wir vertrauen                         Because German cars we can trust
Gott hat die Erde nur einmal geküsst                                               God kissed the earth only one time
Genau an dieser Stelle wo jetzt Deutschland ist                       Exactly in the place where Germany is now
Wir sind überall die besten, natürlich auch im Bett             We are overall the best, naturally also in bed
Und zu Hunden und Katzen besonders nett.                              And we are especially nice to dogs and cats.

Das alles ist Deutschland - das alles sind wir                                    All that is Germany - all that we are
Das gibt es nirgendwo anders - nur hier, nur hier                     That is nowhere else - only here, only here
Das alles ist Deutschland - das alles sind wir                                     All that is Germany - all that we are
Wir leben und wir sterben hier                                                               We live and we die here

     Yeah. So basically, it was freaking awesome. There were probably only about 300 people there, and it was a great experience. Made it home safely without being accosted by any drunken crazies, and all was a successful night.

The one picture I managed of the concert

Palestrina Choir http://www.palestrina-ensemble.de/:
      I finally found a choir to sing in! I met a girl who graduated from Manhattan School of Music last week at a bar (sounds so sketchy, right?) and she told me about this group she sings with and gave me the info, so I emailed the director and he invited me to come sing with him and attend rehearsal last night.    I showed up pretty nervous at the time he'd told me: not because of the singing, but what if I didn't understand anything he said? Vice versa? Seemingly simple interactions suddenly seem really hard in a different language. But all went well. The director, Herr Venanz Schubert, is a nice, very genteel fellow of probably around 70, and I spoke almost perfect German to him (the only hairy moment was when he told me he was glad I'd found it okay and I responded with "You too." I was expecting a nice to meet you, I think).  I sang for him in the chapel where rehearsal was, a small tiled room with so much reverb it was impossible not to sound angelic, and he welcomed me to the choir! Don't worry, voice people, yes it's a lot of straight tone Renaissance style, but I'm singing alto, so breathe easy. We worked for the two hours on a Gabrieli mass and Palestrina's Sicut lilium inter spinas and wow, it was so nice to sing choral music again! There are three people on a part and it really was just a lot of fun.  It was also my first experience with a choral rehearsal entirely in German, and I did fine. Honestly, choral directors all speak the same language as far as what they're looking for, so it wasn't a problem really at all.
       After the rehearsal ended, I expected people to go their separate ways, but Herr Schubert looked at me when I hesitated and said, "Kommen Sie, wir trinken! (Come on, we're drinking!) The choir, as a whole, headed downstairs to a small cafeteria/social area and pulled tons of beer out of the fridge, which everyone took, and we toasted as a whole to music! It was almost like the rehearsal was three hours long and the third hour was beer social hour. Choir would be so much more popular in the US if this happened there as well. Maybe I'll bring it back with me.

     That's about all of note right now! Tomorrow I head back to the Ausländerbehörde (Immigration office) to (hopefully) pick up my Visa, and then it's the weekend! Lows in the high 20s and low 30s, but it's supposed to be sunny, so I imagine 'twill be nice. Happy almost-weekend, everyone!

     Also, a special shoutout to whoever reads my blog in Russia. Blogger has a statistics section where you can see the countries of your readers, and Russia is my third highest country of the month. Do I know anyone in Russia? Whatever. You're cool. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Summer's Last Hurrah

      This last week has been what the Germans refer to as Altweibersommer: Indian summer. The temperature has averaged about 75 F (24 C I should be saying; I'm awful at thinking in celsius). It's been clear, incredibly blue skies with just a touch of a breeze, and the leaves on the trees are just starting to turn into the colors of fall. The slant of light makes it clear it isn't summer anymore, but it really felt like it this week! I confess I'm really looking forward to my first genuine fall. California does changing leaves pretty well, but the weather sort of just goes from hot-hot-hot to grey and boring winter weather, skipping the fall altogether. I think this desire for a real autumn comes from a Theodore Roethke poem, but I'm excited nonetheless.
      I tried to take full advantage of the weather while it was here: learning from the Germans! Unlike us spoiled Californians, the Europeans don't take their good weather for granted: their weather is unpredictable and unreliable, so when its nice, they drop everything to hike, sunbathe, and barbecue.

      The week was pretty straightforward. Notable things include Kilian's violin lessons, which will have their third installment this Thursday, Kilian's football, and Cliona's dancing. To briefly summarize:

  •       Kilian has been dying to play violin based off of his love for a popular children's TV show called "Little Amadeus," about Mozart's adventures as a kid. It has naturally about .1% basis in fact, but includes a lot of instrument playing and incorporates a lot of Mozart compositions. Lessons so far consist of identifying parts of the violin and being able to pluck the strings, but he seems to be having a lot of fun, even if most of the noises emanating from his practice sessions make my ears hurt. I take him to these lessons and he's too shy to go in by himself so I get to sit in and read/watch.
  •       After his disastrous first week at fußball, things have looked up immensely. He was talked in to going a second week to give it the old college try at the very least, and ended up loving it, so looks like he's in it to win it now. I think this Friday will be week 4, but he's at least figuring out how things work!
  •       Cliona started a dance class two weeks ago, led by one of the ladies at her kindergruppe. I can tell you that if you ever need some entertainment, go to a dance class of 2- and 3-year-olds. It is HILARIOUS. On our way this week we somehow lost her tights out of the pram, so she did her half hour session in an undershirt, pink tutu, and pink underwear (at least it matched!). She also has the skinniest little chicken legs ever and I spent the session just waiting for her underwear to fall off as she rain around, but thankfully we made it through. Anyway, the half an hour of "dance" consists mainly of these ten little girls running in not-very graceful-like-a-bird circles, arms flapping and shrieking with excitement. Everytime one would head over to her mom, all the others would take advantage of the idea and do the same, so during that half hour I think Cliona ran back to me about 15 times, to get a drink, laugh, be cool like the other kids, et cetera. It was hilarious.

     Saturday was a gorgeous day (as indeed the whole weekend was), so I headed out to Neubiberg for the afternoon. Neubiberg is the nearest little suburb to Waldperlach, though it's technically a town of its own, being just on the other side of the city limits from us. Kilian goes to a playgroup down there so I know the area a bit, so I took a couple books and rode the bus down to the Rathausplatz, the city hall plaza. The city hall is a gorgeous old building in a lovely plaza with trees, fountains, benches, cobblestoned paths, and other old buildings, and it was lovely to sit there and read without children screaming around! A few pictures: 

Neubiberg Rathaus
Plaza outside the Rathaus

      After a couple hours and a couple books (One Day and The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, in case you were wondering. I know. You weren't.), I headed down to the main road to get some ice cream. Germany has what are known as Eiscafes, ice cream cafes, which serve--you guessed it--ice cream. Nothing similar to a Cold Stone or anything like that, they're actually genuine cafes with menus that have tons and tons of ice cream options, from ice cream sundaes to banana splits to soda floats to fruit ice cream assortments to crazy inventions like these (thanks, Google):
Eis Pizza

Eis spaghetti

      I don't know why the US hasn't caught on to these. Though I suppose another way to get everyone obese isn't really necessary. But really, these cafes are lovely. You can also get normal pizza or pasta if you're so inclined/so boring. Anyway, I sat down with a Eisschokolade (basically a hot-fudge sundae without the hot) and a cappuccino and continued reading, until I heard little, vaguely familiar voices screaming, "Laura, Laura!" Anne and Michael had bribed the kids with ice cream to get them to go to the Baumarkt (building store, where you'd buy paint or carpentry things) with them, so they all sat down with me and had our ice cream in the hot afternoon sun. Upon heading home, I discovered the bus back to my house came only once an hour on weekends, and I'd missed it by about three minutes. It's only about 2 and a half kilometers back to my house, but my shoes were giving me blisters. Luckily for someone of my awesomeness (read: weirdness), the sidewalks where I live are pretty wide and well-paved, so I read the whole way home. Yes, while walking. It was lovely. I recommend the second book I mentioned, by the way. Look it up.

      Sunday I basically read in the sun all day. It was lovely. The family came home early afternoon and we barbecued for dinner. This generally consists of grilled vegetables, wurst (sausages) for the kids, lamb or steak for Anne and Michael, and fish for me. Sometimes there's a nice, well-cut salmon filet or something, but quite often it's an entire fish. I say this not to shock you portion-wise (it's trout, so pretty small), but that it's a whole fish. As in, with eyes and fins and tail and skeleton and eww. I'm still working on quelling my nausea as I quickly decapitate said fish after grilling and hide its head (and accusatory eyes therein) under the aluminum foil. I'm such an American. 

      Monday was the Tag der Deutschen Einheit, and thus a holiday! This holiday is similar to our 4th of July, celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. Sort of a dull day, but the reason they chose this as their freedom celebration is because the anniversary of the wall falling, November 9, is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, not really a day anyone wants to be celebrating. Though similar in purpose to our independence day, there aren't celebrations like ours: no fireworks or anything like that. There's a huge parade every year in the capital city of the German state presiding over the Bundesrat (the constitutional body representing the states), though this year it defied tradition and took place in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, instead of in Düsseldorf, the actual capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia. In Munich, however, the only evidence of the holiday was that all the stores were closed and there were people out sunbathing everywhere. 
      I headed to the English Gardens to read and enjoy the sun for a few hours. It was gorgeous out, so definitely more naked men (and even a few women!) than usual. Some photos: 

Temple to Diana in the Hofgarten
View of the temple with pillars of Theatinerkirche in the background
Isar River in the English Gardens
Sunbathers in the Gardens; temple to Apollo in background
Guy tightrope-walking across the river...why, I don't know
      The gardens are really wonderful. The bulk of the Isar runs elsewhere; it's small channels that are funneled into the gardens, making manageable, four-feet-deep-and-ten-feet-wide little streams that run throughout the park, with just enough current you can float along peacefully (or drunkenly, if that's your preference) downstream. 
      At about 3:30 I headed back into the main square to meet a couple of friends to go check out the last day of Oktoberfest. We only stayed about three hours, but managed to drink some beer and get a lot of pictures. I went last week, of course, but I wanted to see it in the daylight so I could get a better perspective on it. Some more photos (a photo-heavy entry, I'm afraid, so hope that's a good thing?):

Famous Olympic Rings rollercoaster

      And with that, Oktoberfest is over for another year. To finish off the night, we headed off to an Indian food restaurant near Odeonsplatz and ate way too much delicious Indian food. Perfect ending to a holiday weekend. 

Yes, I know I look about 15 in this photo. There's no such thing as underage drinking in Europe so it doesn't matter. Ha!

BLOGS ARE SO LONG! If you've kept up to this point, I salute you! I swear I'm almost caught up. 

      I had my first language class today, which really ended up being a lot of fun. The class is 9-12:15 Tuesdays and Thursdays from now until December 1, so really a pretty significant amount of time for the measly 140 it costs (not that I pay for it anyway--love being an au pair!). I take this class through the Munich Volkshochschule (community college, basically). The class meets near Karlsplatz, one of the main U-Bahn/S-Bahn stations. Interlude--Karlsplatz is what is called an Einkaufspassage (shopping passage). On street level you see a lovely fountain and a lot of streets, but underground is basically a mall. So weird. I'm sure New Yorkers are unimpressed, but California could never figure something like that out. Anyway, I found the bulding where my class was at about 8:49 (victory!), realized I really had to use the restroom, and had to head back into the passage to find a bathroom, putting me back at the class at about 8:59:50. So much for being early. Anyone who knows me is chuckling at another Laura-really-has-to-use-the-bathroom story...shh. 
       To my surprise, I was not only the only American in the class, I was the only native-English speaker and the only North American! My class consists of twelve girls/women, nine of whom are au pairs (myself included). Four come from the Ukraine, two from Russia, one from Poland, one from Romania, one from Italy, one from Argentina, and one from Japan. I've never been in a foreign language class (or any class, for that matter) in which the students don't share a language. In any language class in the states, if people don't understand a word/concept, the teacher will eventually, best intentions aside, switch back to English to explain. Not so in this class. It's 100% German, even when explaining unfamiliar concepts, which is so much better for thinking in the language. The three-hour class went quite fast, with a lot of introduction activities and discussions. I will say that it's tremendously hard to understand German spoken with an Italian accent (so many vowels! Everywhere!) as well as Ukrainian, but we'll see how I do. I certainly held my own in the basic speaking, and several of the girls were astonished I was from the USA; they'd thought I was a native speaker (with a five-year-old's education, I guess; maybe it was an insult?)
       We had a twenty-minute break for coffee/snack (the class is located conveniently above a bakery/coffee house). I talked with the Romanian girl and the Polish woman during the break, both of whom wanted to speak English with me to practice. I understand the desire, but I'm there to learn German! I don't want to practice my English! My English is plenty good without talking to other people in it. I'll work on being more firm about that. Oddly enough, I feel sort of good about having homework to do for Thursday. (I am, at my core, a perpetual student.)

       The rest of the day was grocery shopping, cleaning out the fridge, hanging up laundry, and playing with kiddos. Two more days of my Indian summer (is that politically incorrect now? Probably) remain, then this weekend the temperature sinks into the low 40s and about a solid week of rain is forecast, so I'll soak up the sun while I can! I'll leave you with a silly kid photo, as is becoming the norm. Have a great week, everyone! Hard to believe tomorrow marks the end of my fifth week here. I so appreciate your readership and support--I'm having a blast here but I miss everyone back at home and would love to hear from all of you!