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May 21, 2023

At the end of January, we had an extra winter school break called “Winterferien” – not to be confused with Christmas vacation – and we decided this would be a great time to go to Norway.

We spent a day and a half in Oslo before heading north for some cross-country skiing. Of course we went to the Polar Exploration Museum, known also as the Fram after the actual boat that is inside it. There are two boats actually, that carried Norwegian polar expeditions to the north and south poles around the turn of the 20th century. I realized that the combination of boats PLUS snowy cold is kind of Peter’s idea of heaven…

Other Oslo adventures included Ekebergparken sculpture park, a very expensive beer (not pictured), and other entertaining city finds.

But we actually came here to go skiing so we took the train to Lillehammer and then stayed in a small town called Nordseter, where we could ski out the back door. Many good days of XC touring were had. Also some good ping pong.

As we got back into the rhythm of XC, we went farther – if we had known how well-groomed it all was we could have just skiied from town to town! But the place we stayed was very cozy and we enjoyed trying out things we found at the local grocery store.

We also went out at night to play under the full moon. Not great conditions for the aurora, we’ll have to come back another time for that, but really cool moonshadows.

We got in one last short ski before heading back to Lillehammer, taking the train back to Oslo, eating a fancy dinner out, and staying in an unremarkable airport hotel before our flight back home. We all really enjoyed Norway – except the prices – definitely on the list of places we’d like to visit again, including in summer. Tak, Norwegen!!


Partei Time

February 19, 2023

Last Sunday, February 12, was an election day in Berlin – a “do-over” of the fall 2021 city elections that were declared invalid by the courts due to several errors. Peter got to vote! As a non-voting spectator, most of my interaction with the election was trying to understand the signs that, in early January, sprouted on almost every telephone pole.

Berlin is a Stadtstaat – both a city (Stadt) and a state (Bundesstaat). The parliamentary elections work similarly to how national elections work for the Bundestag (directly-elected house of Congress). Voters select a party, and then based on the distribution of votes, the parties get a certain number of seats. The Mayor, like the national Chancellor, is chosen by the majority party – or, really, coalition, as there are many parties and it’s extremely rare for any single party to win 50% of the vote. So each party has a candidate for Mayor but voters don’t vote for the candidates directly. One more detail: if a party doesn’t get a minimum of 5% of the vote, no seats. This is a guardrail against minority takeover, aka, what happened with the Nazis in the 1930s.

From my bicycle, I was very interested in the signs and what they might be saying. The biggest signs were from the FDP, Freie Demokratische Partei, and this one is very pro-car. This is the libertarian party, other signs included slogans like “We’ll get business out of the wastebasket” and so on. I would have thought from the size and abundance of these signs that the FDP was competitive, and they are part of the national majority coalition, but they did not hit the 5% threshold in Berlin.

“Transportation politics without a blind spot” – aka, too much focus on transit and biking. Hmm.

We were partial to the Green Party (Die Grünen) not just because of our politics, but because the mayoral candidate’s last name was just one letter off from our family name. Jarasch is the current head of transportation in Berlin, and has prioritized climate-friendly policies, so the pro-car signs were directly pointing to her. The current governing coalition is “red-green” – the Greens together with the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei) – but the SPD won more votes last election so they are the “senior” coalition party, so to speak, and therefore the current Mayor is from the SPD.

I didn’t photograph any SPD or CDU signs – they are the center-left and center-right parties, respectively, and their signs were less interesting. SPD had a lot of photos of the current Mayor trying to look responsible and accessible. The CDU, or Christliche Demokratische Union, had more pro-car slogans that were less clever than the FDP. To my (shallow, uninformed) eye, the CDU candidates all looked like investment bankers, in comparison to the more “natural” look of the Green candidates, the “entrepreneur” look of the FDP candidate, and what I would call an academic look to the SPD.

I did take some photos of a couple of less popular parties’ signs. This one I thought was from Die Linke (“the Left”) but on closer look it’s not, it’s more of a general anti-fascist sign.

“Voting on the Right is so 1933” – the use of Fraktur font drives the point home

The AFD (Alternative Für Deutschland) are the far-right anti-immigration, pro-German purity party. (Remember the Reichsburger coup plot from December? One of the strategists was a former member of parliament, representing AFD.) Their signs were dog-whistling (“For our Berlin, for our city”) when not openly bigoted (I will not repeat their anti-trans sign). Also on the right seem to be the Basis party. From a distance they looked like a pro-family party because the stock photos were of smiling blonde moms and kids, but closer up the slogans were primarily anti-vaxxer.

“Self-decision instead of vaccination”

Most amusing to me is the Pirate Party (Piraten Partei) that I believe started as an internet freedom/semi-spoof party, that had up signs about the EU working together. The policy of the modern pirate is now intergovernmental cooperation? I don’t disagree, but not very pirate-y.

In the end, the CDU won the largest share of the votes, with the power coming from more suburban parts of the city, including where we live in the southwest. (One data point – a local parent friend shared that they had NEVER voted CDU, always SPD or Green, but felt that the inner-city Green voters were hypocritical – living in “edge” Kreutzberg and talking big about climate, but owning two cars and sending their kids to private school. So that’s interesting.)

Inside the S-Bahn ring, the Greens were the winners. But the SPD must have been in second place in both areas because their overall share of the vote was the same as the Greens. No one got 50% so we’re waiting to see what will happen with the coalition negotiations – no one will ally with the AFD (9%! Ugh!) but it’s unclear whether the 3 groups on the left have enough votes to form a winning coalition without the CDU.

Graphic of geographic spread of votes (screenshot from the Tagesspiegel)

One thing I appreciate out of all of this is, unlike in the US, the parties have to work together to be in power. There are many choices and none of them feel like all-or-nothing. I am sure many Berlinners would disagree, but in comparison to the US, it does feel so…functional. We’ll see what comes, if it is Zeit Für Jarasch or not!

Other things from January

February 19, 2023

January started off a little rocky. On January 1, we pedaled to the Grunewaldturm to check it out. Someone (I won’t say who) complained the whole way there, leaving me in a very grumpy mood. Then when we arrived, I discovered I had forgotten both my bike lock and my phone. So I couldn’t go in, and I didn’t have anything to do while I waited for everyone else to come back out. Thankfully the cafe loaned us some locks so we all went to the top, and then got cake, which always helps. But I still didn’t have my phone, so there’s just these two photos that Peter took.

January 2 was not much better. I (mistakenly) thought that the big Weihnachtsmarkt by the Gedächtniskirche was open past New Year’s, and I had saved it for last. Alas. We arrived at Zoo to find wooden stalls in various stages of deconstruction and not a Waffel to be found. Worse, the Gedächtniskirche itself was closed due to water damage, so we couldn’t even have a moment of historical education. I hope it reopens before we leave, it is one of the monuments that I find most moving and the kids are now old enough to understand it, at least a little.

So instead we walked along the Ku’damm a bit, and found a giant M&Ms store, and wandered into KaDeWe to get a fancy snack but were too overwhelmed to stay. It wasn’t bad, but…no Glühwein.

Peter started working through a new cookbook he received for Christmas, which is quite good: Deutschland Vegetarisch. He also bought himself a Spaetzle grater, and the results are so good that we cannot remember to pause and take a photo before starting to gobble it down, yum yum!

A few leftover things from the holidays – sushi restaurant gift, fancy chocolates from Santa Barbara, and the cutest jar of Nutella ever (that I didn’t notice until January, because I eat less Nutella than the others).

Also on delayed fulfillment was Schatzi’s birthday outing to see a real live pig. Knirpsenfarm had quite the menagerie and was not at all busy on a rainy Sunday, so we received some special attention from the staff – personal introductions to the sheep and goats, and background on the Minischweine (miniature pigs), named Paul and Paula.

Our other outing to see the oldest tree in Berlin was not as well received…

Finally, Schatzi had a ballet recital/demonstration where she got to wear a fancy costume! She has been enjoying dance classes and working on her splits.

After the recital, we went home, changed, and left for the airport to start Winterferien in Norway (!) which will be the focus of another post.

Weihnachten und mehr

February 5, 2023
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It’s been a while but here are the photos from our holiday visit to southern Germany and Austria – it wouldn’t be Christmas without family and mountains and (when we’re lucky) snow! First, some geography, courtesy of this table-top map on Deutsche Bahn. After we took the ICE from Berlin to Munich, we took a regional train from Munich to Weilheim where Peter’s cousin Christoph and family live.

We were last here in the summer of 2018 and it was kind of paradise – kids to play with, lakes to swim in, a very cute Innenstadt to visit, mountains for hiking nearby. This time we had just missed the snow, but it was still chilly, so we spent more time inside. And there was a cat, Jimy, whose grumpiness we were warned about, but he seemed to like us?

On Christmas Eve, we went to the Lutheran service where one of the kid-cousins was performing in a creative Nativity play that had been written by the youth group – the plot was more Grinch than Jesus – and then came home for dinner and celebration. I have heard about putting real candles on the tree, but this was the first time I’ve actually gotten to experience it. The candles were so bright! And Schatzi didn’t mind being the youngest because she got to open the first gift.

On the 25th, the extended family came from other parts of the Munich area to have dinner out and spend the afternoon together.

On our last day in Weilheim, we went for a hike through a farm/swamp area with interactive art, sound devices, and other interesting trail finds.

From there, we headed further south into Austria to try to find some snow. Unfortunately, the climate is not on our side here, so the cross-country skiing valley where we stayed was lush and green looking. Instead of XC, we spent a few days at a downhill resort where at the bottom of the mountain, the runs were white pathways through green fields. It was really fun – but surprisingly, our kids requested that we find someplace to XC soon! Not what I expected.

On New Year’s Eve we took the train back home to Berlin and brought with us some “Wunderkerzen” (sparklers) to wave about in the street, as is tradition. We thought it would be fun to wake up at 6am and watch the ball fall in New York, but then we slept in instead. A good start to 2023!

O Du Fröliche

January 1, 2023

I love the holidays, and I have been looking forward to spending a Christmas season in Germany for a long time. After our disappointing first Weinachtsmarkt, I was determined to do better. Thankfully, this year there were *four* full weekends of Advent before Christmas so I had a lot of chances. But with over 60 Weinachtsmärkte in Berlin, it was hard to know which would be fun and which would not be!

2. Advent

The first weekend of December was the second of Advent and as it so happened, I crashed a friend’s work trip in Paris – so I got to go to markets in two countries. Also I had never been to France, so I walked up the first two platforms of the Eiffel Tower. (It was too rainy for it to be worth the ticket for the top. Also I wish you could walk all the way up to the top!)

On my return, I went directly from the airport to Alexanderplatz to meet up with Peter & kids with the hopes of ice skating at the Rotes Rathaus. Sadly, the Eisbahn line was a mile long, they were underdressed for the cold, and they had already been to a concert that morning – so we decided not to wait for the next skating session. Instead, we rode on the ferris wheel and the swings and bought more sugary food and Glühwein. It was fun but some of us were still not fully satisfied by the experience due to lack of ice time.


The next morning was St. Nikolaus Day, when children shine their shoes (or their biggest boots) and leave them out for the magical Bishop to fill with treats. Their boots are getting so big!! What is cool here, is that you can get a chocolate Nikolaus that is distinct from a chocolate Weinachtsman (Santa) – Nikolaus was a Catholic Bishop and wears a robe, different from the US version of St. Nick where they are conflated.

3. Advent

For the third weekend of Advent, we had to do some baking for the third grade. Schatzi’s class was doing an Advent calendar of daily treats, and Schatzi signed up to bring cookies on Tuesday. Then her birthday was on Thursday, for which we were on the hook to bring another treat for the whole class AND provide a birthday cake for her party in the afternoon. This got even more fun when Peter forgot to add sugar to the cake batter. At least we got the cookies done! And then we went to Schloss Charlottenburg, another fancy royal palace, which also had a Weinachtsmarkt in front of it. I didn’t take a lot of photos of the market but we had a nice time touring the palace and consuming more sugar.


Schatzi’s birthday is just far enough away from Christmas to be separate and not during the vacation time. She wanted to decorate her chocolate cake with lots of sprinkles and have a scavenger hunt prepared by her big sister, and that’s what we did. We also asked friends from far away to send cards so that she’d have a lot of mail on her birthday, and it worked! Thank you! She had a fantastic 9th birthday.

Family Brewery

Another outing to fit into the December schedule was a trip out to Flessa Braü, the microbrewery of a distant family member on Peter’s mother’s side of the family. Peter and I took our bikes into Prenzlauer Berg to track down some beer and merchandise for ourselves and for gifts. Best IPA I’ve had on this continent – fermentation is in the family DNA!

4. Advent

For our final weekend of Advent we tried out the eco-market at Domäne Dahlem, a farm museum not too far away. Highlights: They have live pigs! There was a fire show! There was a brass quartet! Also delicious Bio-Glühwein and crepes, and lots of beautiful handcrafted gifts. I found a pair of legwarmers to complete my urban winter gear, the kids made (more) ornaments at a free kid crafting station, and we all had a good time. Then we watched the World Cup final, which was exciting but not heart-wrenching.

Bonus outing: Ice skating redemption

After the last day of school, I took the kids back to Alexanderplatz to see if we could get out on the Eisbahn. I figured Wednesday afternoon would not be as crowded as a weekend, but it was still good that we got in line 30 minutes early. It was quite magical to be on the ice at the end of the shortest day of the year (sunset: 3:54pm local time) and skate underneath the lights and the Fernsehturm, with cheesy pop music blasting.

And this is now so long, that I will have to put *actual* Christmas into another post…until soon!

November recap

December 10, 2022

Here’s a look back at the rest of November in photos…starting with Schatzi getting proper attire for ballet classes!

Schatzi in new ballet gear
She is really loving dance!

Peter and I rode out to the northeastern part of the city for our Covid boosters and there was a lot to see. On the way there, climate activists had superglued themselves to the street in a large intersection and a choir was singing as the police unglued them. On the way back, we rode past many major sights of the city, including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which I realized is visible from the Reichstag (capitol building).

That weekend, Fruitbat had her first swim meet, which happened to be a big international affair and the first meet since pandemic for many age group swimmers. It was held in the big swimming complex that Berlin built in their failed bid for the 2000 Olympics and the simulcasting was pretty fancy! She swam free, back, and breast events.

Coach spelled her name wrong, alas.

I got a long-desired bike basket and now the Bananabike is even more ridiculously yellow.

The downside to a bright yellow bike: it shows the dirt.

We got our first dusting of snow!

Just a wee bit of accumulation – ground was not yet cold enough for it to really stick.

Peter and I continued our Friday museum outings at the Humboldt Forum, where we only got partway through a cool exhibit about many different aspects of Berlin. One section included a recreation of an installation piece “Rent Grave” that an artist had embedded in the sidewalk, to mourn the rising housing costs. So familiar.

The large bouquet is from AirBnB, “We will rent you out” instead of “we will remember you.”

We all went to the Reichstag for a guided tour.

Afterwards I demanded a photo at the Brandburger Tor, which I require every time we go to Germany. Here’s the comparison with our last trip in 2018.

Not long after, I woke up for an early run to a real snowfall!

We had a relaxed American Thanksgiving weekend…

…followed by the first of Advent and the beginning of holiday season!

Welcome, December! More about that next time.


November 20, 2022

School closed for two weeks, so we took the opportunity to head south to Greece during a not-sweltering time of year. I took too many photos, so I’m going to try to sum it up in 10 images. Interested parties can look through the whole album here.

1. Ferry to Crete

We spent the first week on the island of Crete, based in Iraklio on the northern coast. We took an overnight ferry to get there – I had a dream of sailing between islands but that was kind of impractical for the amount of time we had. So, we got a cabin with a window and slept our way to Crete, home of the myth of the Minotaur and as we soon learned, a lot more!

2. Cats

Upon arrival at our rental place, the two most striking things were the gorgeous view of the Mediterranean and the pack of feral cats that immediately started hanging out with us. Of course this was not a problem for our poor, pet-deprived children, who spent hours hanging out with the cats. I was kind of worried that the kitten pictured here was going to come home with us. (Fun fact: one of the cats I grew up with was captured as a kitten from a feral cat pack in Old Lyme, CT, so I have some nostalgia for street kitties.) Everywhere we went, there were cats – the beach, the ruins, the cafes, etc. As a result, this is the first time I have ever bought cat food on vacation. Fruitbat made a whole photo album of “Cretan Cats” that is available on request.

3. Ruins

Of course the initial draw to Greece was driven by Fruitbat and my interest in mythology, and Crete in particular to go to Knossos, where the mythical King Minos had housed the Minotaur. Knossos was neat, but later in the week we went to Phaestos on the south side of the island, and that was even more impressive to us. This is a photo of one of the three great plazas in the middle of this palace complex, which has a view of Mt. Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island. Certain members of our party were not impressed, but generally we followed ruins with beach time and that helped.

4. Hiking

Did you know that the longest gorge in Europe is on Crete? This is Samaria Gorge, a national park with an 18km hike from the head of the gorge south to the sea. We joined a tour bus to be able to do the one-way as a day trip, but after the first few kilometers we had a lot of trail to ourselves. It kind of felt like being in Yosemite. Normally the park closes down mid-October, but thanks to the drought, it was open longer this year. There are so many other cool gorge hikes – we did one other short one – and then mountains to climb that we didn’t even attempt – I don’t know if I’ll ever get back here but I could easily spend several vacations hiking here. Just not in summer!

5. Beaches

We swam in the Mediterranean Sea! After a rough start that involved surprising contact with a defensive (we think) octopus, we found swimmable places that were free from invertebrate hugs. This shot is from our last day on Crete, in the Libyan Sea on the south shore. Despite warnings from locals that “you can’t swim, it’s winter” we found the climate – air temps in the high 70s and water temps in the low 70s – to be quite hospitable. I was extra nervous of wildlife after our octopus encounter so I only got in one real open water swim, but again, I could spend weeks swimming around here. Even moreso in the summer!

6. Food

We are not usually restaurant people when traveling, but we had a fancy meal at a Cretan-cuisine restaurant that was amazing. And we splurged on a cooking class that ended up being private for just our family. We made two stews, cheese pies, and the dessert above, called Loukomades, which are deep fried dough balls coated in honey. Yum! And on our way to our return ferry, Google sent us to a really un-fancy but delicious neighborhood restaurant where we discovered that our picky eater Schatzi will gladly eat Tsatsiki, although her avowed goal for the two-week trip was to eat ice cream 5 times. (She succeeded.) Also, everywhere we ate, whether we ordered dessert or not, we were served dessert and shots of Raki, the Cretan distilled liquor. It felt like we were not allowed to refuse dessert! So, even if we were stuffed, we ate the dessert. And I liked the Raki so I brought a bottle home as my souvenir – although I think maybe what I really liked was the ritual of it?

7. Athens

After a week in island adventureland, we returned to Athens and landed in the Thesio neighborhood just north of the Acropolis. Urban Athens by foot was a very different experience from Crete, with street art (above: modernist Medusa) and narrow old streets and fancy coffee places and abstract paintings to see…but the themes of our visit remained the same…

8. More ruins

There were more ruins than we could visit – such as the Roman Agora above, at dawn with the Acropolis behind it, that I jogged by on a morning run – and basically every time we left our rental place we had a view of the Parthenon. I thought this was awesome but the kids were less impressed, especially since we couldn’t just zip to a beach after every forced historical experience. Finally, on our last day, I figured out that I could play an audiotour on my phone for them as we walked through the Ancient Agora, and that made a huge difference. Thank you Rick Steves!! Unfortunately, that was only after they complained their way through the Parthenon, the Temple of Poseidon at Soucio, and other world heritage sites. Now I know.

9. More cats

The cats of Athens were just as numerous as on Crete, if not more – but definitely not as cuddly. So after a few days of failed attempts to pet the street cats, the kids started counting cats. I think they counted over 70 on our last day out and about. Peter and I were most amused by the cats lounging on scooter seats.

10. More food

Food in Athens was harder to suss out since we were in the heart of central, aka tourist, Athens. We tried a place recommended by Lonely Planet that turned out to be mostly grilled meat – which worked for Fruitbat, but not as much for the rest of us – and then on our last day just went to one of the places down the street from where were staying. Jackpot! I do not know what they did to those mushrooms, but they were incredible, and the fava dip was also a surprise hit. Eating a large midday meal is still odd to me, but this one I was glad to enjoy twice in the same day. Athens restaurants did not, however, provide gratis dessert or after-meal liquor, which was probably healthier for us but after Crete I was spoiled. Luckily we were a few blocks from a fantastic bakery so we tried a bunch of sweets from there instead, in addition to meeting Schatzi’s ice cream quota. (Okay, maybe it was good we didn’t get free dessert everywhere.)

Bonus heritage photo

While enjoying ice cream cone #4 or #5 (I can’t remember – we definitely hit six), we noticed that we were on Flessa street. Flessa is Peter’s mom’s family’s surname. While they’re not entirely sure, one possible origin story is that their family name comes from a Greek immigrant to Germany. Also, the letter Φ (phi) is one of my favorite Greek letters. So, here is evidence of the possibility of a Flessa connection to Greece.

That concludes my recap of Greece. It is nice to remember the warmth of Cretan winter, now that Berlin winter has started in earnest…but more on that in another post.


October 16, 2022

There are over 50 lakes within the Berlin city limits, and where we live, there are several right near by! Berlin is actually the first place our kids experienced a “summer” beach, after growing up near the churning, cold waves of the northern California coast. I will always feel a bit sheepish about their astonishment upon first visiting Wannsee Strandbad – “The water is SO WARM, Mama!” – although the ice cream stand also probably helped make that one a fave.

Last spring I read “Turning” by Jessica Lee, in which the author swims in a different lake each week for a whole year. Inspiration!

Due to back injury and pandemic pool closures, we have increasingly become a beach/swimming family over the past few years. The kiddos barely hesitate before launching themselves into San Francisco Bay or a cold mountain lake. And their swimming skills are much stronger since they each worked their way onto a swim team over the past 18 months.

So when we arrived this August, and the waters had been warmed by a combination of drought and heat wave, we started going swimming almost every day! Our closest lake, the Schlachtensee, was basically a grand swimming pool for the neighborhood. Any time we went, there were water shoes at our get-in spot and people walking and running the perimeter. It is sort of like Lake Merritt, only with more trees and less gunk. The water temperature was a lovely 75 F! Fruitbat was the only one to brave the rope swing…

Peter and I brought our swim buoys and started also swimming fitness laps in the Schlachtensee. Dodging rental rowboats and paddleboards, as well as the other swimmers, was a bit challenging. 95% of swimmers here seem to do exclusively heads-up breaststroke, gliding casually along, often in conversation with a friend. Our weirdly focused crawl stroke does not fit in.

We also made several outings to other lakes in the area. The girls’ favorite, which we did twice, was to take the ferry to Alt Kladow, stop at the pirate-themed playground “Räuberland” for the fantastic zipline, then bike to Große Glienecker See and swim, before heading back to the ferry. We did not make it into other lakes on my list (Teufelsee, Sacrower See, Griebnitzsee) but there will be time for those (I hope!).

Groß Glienecker See – another not-sunny swim, lake all to ourselves

During the week, I started heading to the Schlachtensee as soon as the kids left for school in the morning. It was really lovely to swim daily in a gorgeous lake, but challenging to not have my swim buddies to pace with. To keep myself motivated, I set a goal of training up to swim the length of the lake and back, which I estimated as 5000m. There is a cafe right on the edge of the far end of the lake so I figured I should start and end there, where the distance to hot beverages was minimal. I also did one excursion to Krumme Lanke, the next lake past the Schlachtensee, where I had a good swim after I negotiated entry with the swans!

I do not have bread for you, birds.

Almost immediately on September 1, the weather started to feel cooler and the lake temperature began to drop. Still not SF Bay temps but also I left my wetsuit behind…my days were numbered. On September 12, I went for it, and made the round-trip swim in about 90 minutes. I was warm enough afterwards to bike to Butter Lindner – the fancy bakery a little ways from the lake – for my reward, hot cocoa and cake.

That week I had a trip back to California and got in a few Bay swims – so salty! When I returned, the Schlachtensee was too cold for me. So it was time to get acquainted with the pool.

While I was away, Peter got Fruitbat hooked up with the Z88 swim team and Schatzi into their lessons (that are too easy, but we didn’t know what Bronze – Silver – Gold levels meant, oops). Fruitbat’s team is the right skill level, but a higher commitment level than we want. Five practices a week, with Tuesday and Sunday off, and kids are expected to regularly attend four days. Two days a week they have land training in addition to pool time, for a total of 2.5 hours of workout. This is a lot for sixth grade! But she is really happy with it so we’re trying to do the four days.

The pool is unfortunately not super close – a 35 minute bike ride, or about 25 minutes by transit or car. The upshot is that Fruitbat is building independence by taking transit alone. So far it’s going pretty well, although we all get a kick out of the repeated very stern reminders to wear a warm hat and not go outside with wet hair, or you’ll catch cold. “Even just walking from the pool to the car is long enough to catch a cold!” warned one recent email. I will have to consult with my trusted pediatrician friends, but we are pretty sure that viruses and people, not wet hair or being outside, are the main vectors for colds.

My swim window remains in the morning – and there are apparently no swim teams with morning practice here – so I am going to lap swim and trying to entertain myself. Six things that are notable to this foreign swimmer in Berlin:

  1. You are required to take off your shoes at the door. There is a “shoe removal zone” with cubbies, and I’m sure I would be scolded if I tried to wear my street shoes into the locker room.
  2. The locker room is not gender segregated. The showers and bathrooms are, but outside of those areas naked people mingle unconcernedly.
  3. I have to pass through many, many doors to get to the pool. Entry to the locker room is through changing stalls – one door to enter, go out the door on the other side to exit. Then a door into the showers. Then a door to the pool. If you need to use the restroom, that’s two more doors (one to the bathrooms and another for the stall). It just feels like a lot of doors!
  4. In the pool, no one yields. There are always two double-wide lanes – full of people doing heads-up breaststroke at a glacial pace – and slower swimmers do not move over to let you pass, they do not stop at the end of the lane when you are on their heels. They just ignore you.
  5. If you need to pass, you just pass. There is no communication, and no problem with buzzing someone as long as you don’t hit them. It’s all “you do you” and it kind of works! (Except for that one day when I ended up in a regular single-wide lane with a dude doing snow angel arms for his freestyle stroke…that was treacherous. But I survived.)
  6. You need your ticket to leave as well as enter. I don’t know if that’s an extra prevention measure for freeloaders? It seems excessive to have to clock in *and* out of the pool. Unless it gives them data that no one is left in the locker room at closing time? I don’t know, but I don’t like having to keep track of my ticket for the way out.

The pool itself is gorgeous, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows through which I can see autumn leaves and sunshine. So far I’ve only been there when it’s set up for long course – lanes are 50m – and that is lovely for rhythm and also for not passing folks as often. We learned that the pool was built in 1937-38 as a training facility for SS soldiers, which is NOT lovely, and I thought about finding another pool. But given that it’s now a fully public pool that hosts school swim classes daily and is home to 2-3 swim clubs, I think that it’s been reclaimed for good.

Finally – we could not swim yesterday because the pool was closed for a competition. I scoured the web for info – what kind of competition? Could I sign up? But nothing, and the people working at the pool on Friday also did not know. So the overall swim scene remains a mystery to me. I missed a big open water swim in August and I have no idea how to find out about others – it would be a big loss, not to participate in some open water event before we leave here – but in the meantime, I just wish I could join the adult swim group to have someone to work out with! I guess I could take up tennis instead?


September 30, 2022

Six weeks into the school year we have learned a lot about German schools – or at least our school in Berlin, Dreilinden Grundschule.

The school logo in tiles on the front of the building

First, we got a very long and detailed list of school supplies from both teachers. We had quite a shopping spree at the Schreibwarenladen (writing wares shop), which maybe wasn’t the most cost-effective place to go, but the proprietor was extremely helpful and friendly in explaining new vocabulary and directing us to the proper items. Everything from magazine holders to store workbooks in the classroom, to fountain pens (with blue ink), to half a dozen different sizes of paintbrushes, to specific notebook colors and line spacing sizes for each subject. If my kids were not organized before (they weren’t really) – they are now! Also coming from urban US public schools where art class is maybe paid for by PTA fundraising, the many different art supplies signaled serious art class offerings and that was exciting for our kids. Woohoo! We don’t really do back-to-school shopping usually, so this was a fun splurgey thing to do.

Here they are on the first day of school, holding their art folders (size A3 as stipulated on the list):


The next thing that was different was school lunch. At home, even after pandemic relief funding resulted in free school lunch for all kids in all of California, our kids rejected school lunch and we kept on packing them their midday meal. Here, the hot lunch is so attractive that they have started printing the weekly schedule and posting it by the door.

The weekly schedule, with added highlights
(because the school materials list required multiple colors of highlighters and they must therefore be put to use!)

Friday always includes salmon, I think because fish on Fridays? The meal is served on real plates, and the water dispenser offers a choice of still, medium-strength, and full-strength fizzy water. There is great excitement about all of this. The one odd thing (to the kids) is the flooding of many dishes with sauce. As Fruitbat describes: “They put the meat in the dish, then the potatoes, then – whoomp! They cover the whole thing with so much sauce.” This is hilarious to them, and they say the sauce is good.

Instead of packing full lunches, we have now acquired Brotdosen, literally “bread cans,” to pack a sandwich and fruit for snack time. This the kids pack themselves, which is a nice break for Peter, the parent usually on lunch duty. We are also not using any plastic bags, which is a nice break for me, the parent who usually washes out the plastic bags for reuse. We are definitely bringing these suckers back to CA:

Okay, then there’s the school part of school. Both kids have very structured schedules, although school ends at different times on different days, and it’s not the same for both of them. This means that three days a week, we get Schatzi home from school 90 minutes earlier than Fruitbat. I am very glad they can walk themselves to school!

And grading…very different from our experience in Oakland! Sixth grade is serious, because this is the final year of elementary school, and kids have to apply to the next level of schooling, which is tracked. Third grade is also serious, because it’s the first year of grading, and they are trying to teach kids and parents alike how it works. The grades are 1 through 6 (instead of A through F) but distributed differently – to get a 1 is like an A+, you need to score 97% or higher. Our kids are used to being above grade level, but not having much specific numerical feedback. I think it’s good practice for them to get grades, but it’s also less pressure than other kids (especially for Fruitbat’s level) because we are going home again after this year.

We cannot, cannot, cannot be more grateful to Kita on Kains and Kinderstube and BAKS+ for all the German language support that our kids received in California. A shout-out also to Oma for ensuring a steady stream of German children’s books over the years!! They aren’t used to doing dictations or having as many tests as they have here, but their German is strong enough that they’re both completely at home speaking with their teachers and classmates, and for schoolwork they are doing just fine overall. Both of them have some catch-up to do on capitalization and spelling in German – one day a week is still not quite the same as full time school. And both of them find English class to be a riot, as it is entirely too easy and also focused on British English. “Why do you say ‘I have got a sister’? That’s not necessary, just say ‘I have a sister,'” complains an exasperated/amused Fruitbat. I don’t know, but you better get all 1’s in English, girl!!

All in all, the school part of this adventure – the main reason we’re here! – is going really well. The independence of strolling around the block to school is fantastic for all of us. Both kids have made friends, and Schatzi has already been to two birthday parties, which alleviates my anxieties about whether they’d fit in or be miserable outcasts (mom fears). We didn’t realize we could opt out of Religion class, so that’s been interesting – we are not religious – but we hope that some familiarity with the Bible will be useful in future literature classes. And Herbstferien (fall break) is right around the corner…

Hallo again!

August 21, 2022

Well, it’s been a minute since I posted anything here. Many things have changed since May 2013, including the size of our family, my job, the POTUS (and then again, thank goodness), the climate (and still changing, y’all), and most recently, our location. We are spending this school year in Berlin, Germany, primarily to strengthen our kids’ language skills and cultural ties. And also to have a little adventure!

Here’s Peter & the Fruitbat (now 11) in Frankfurt, where we had a surprise 8-hour layover en route to Berlin:

Peter and Fruitbat in Frankfurt

And here’s the “newest” addition to the family, who I’ll call Schatzi and is 8.5 years old (and who is the real fruit eater, but we didn’t know that when we chose her big sister’s in utero name):

Schatzi at Duppel

Here is where we are living for the next year, in an apartment that belongs to Peter’s family. It’s on the edge of Berlin, so there are lots of trees and yards and it’s really quiet. One of my running routes is along the Mauerweg, where the Berlin Wall once sliced through the nearby forest. But we can also walk to a train station that takes us downtown in about 25 minutes and there are people on bicycles, everywhere.

We’ve been enjoying summer days and slowly getting ourselves set up in the city. But school starts tomorrow…