Sunday, November 27, 2005

November 27

Today I've started a new blog ... a diary of life in Germany.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Indecision ...

Yesterday we rented a temporary apartment in the Belgian Quarter very near the center of town. We also submitted an application for an apartment in Sulz, where we hope to be living shortly after the first of the year. The process of getting the apartment will include an interview with the owner some time in the next few weeks, so it isn’t a done deal by any means. We will therefore continue to look at alternative spaces.
We like the Sulz area very much and had pretty much decided that is was our first choice for a neighborhood – that is until we decided to take a look at Nippes. Early in the day yesterday we met an owner, a man who was showing us another temporary space in Koln. He mentioned that he also had space in Nippes, in an old house, and we were intrigued. We decided to take a look. We drove to the area and parked the car. We were early so we stepped into a little café/wine bar just a few doors down from our appointment. We were met by the cool blue eyes of the young woman tending bar. She greeted us warmly and suggested a particularly tasty glass of Burgundy. As we sat chatting with her about why she loved the neighborhood, one of her friends came in and we began chatting with him about his take on Nippes. Eventually our circle widened to include an American ex-pat from Detroit who had been living in Nippes for the last 20 years and another German man who joined the conversation near the end. It was as if the community had opened its arms to us and invited us in – quite literally. This café was clearly the favored watering spot for this crowd and we just happened in at the right time of day to catch them all gathered at the bar. Now we were genuinely confused and dreaded indecision began to creep in. To make matters more complicated, the apartment was lovely – modern appliances and fixtures in a late 19th century building, one of the few spared the devastating Allied bombings during World War II. The price was a little high and it had one less bedroom than we wanted so we weren’t that tempted to take it – but we were certainly taken with the area and in the coming days we will be searching very hard to see if there is a space that calls to us as clearly as the neighborhood already has.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Day

Thursday, November 24, 2005

In the back of my mind I knew Thanksgiving was near. I’m not yet so removed from my former routine to forget such an important day. That said, it wasn’t something I was thinking about, nor did it have its usual significance. I’m not cooking today for example, and haven’t been shopping for ingredients the past week or searching through the old Fannie Farmer for recipes my New England grandmother used on Thanksgiving Day meals long ago. Tonight I will probably make pork chops and although I might say a few words to mark the day, they will mean little to the group assembled. Only His Holiness and I were born in America and he doesn’t yet have any awareness of the Holiday – or of any other Holiday for that matter. One day I will begin to tell him the stories I was told as a young boy, about our ancestors, the ones who came over on small wooden boats many hundreds of years ago and settled on the rocky coast of Massachusetts. We have lived continuously in the same small town and on the same piece of land for over four hundred years. One crusty old Uncle still lives in the house his father gave him almost seventy years ago, just off the side yard from the building in which he was born very near the beginning of the last century. His Holiness carries one of Pilgrim names in his, as I do in mine, the poor kid has a name as long as your arm because I never expected him to be in my life and I am quite sure there will never be another like him, so he got them all, all the family names, and he will have to carry them around for at least a decade or two. When he’s older he may chose to discard them, but by that point I will have told him what each of them signifies, and his decision will be an informed one. Today when we sit together for our evening meal we will give thanks for our safe arrival in this new land, where this wayward wing of the family is making a new home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

First Impressions ...

November 23, 2005

Yesterday we spent the day looking at neighborhoods in Cologne and my perspective on this move began to take shape with actual places and textures and colors and smells to work with instead of the imagined contexts I’ve been rambling through for the last few months. All of my senses came into play, and almost immediately I smelled the difference. Outside the air was scented with a bit too much automobile exhaust and there is a hint of coal dust in the background, while indoors the overwhelming smell is cigarette smoke, something I had forgotten was a possibility, because in both Los Angeles and Manhattan, two of the cities I’ve lived in during the last ten years in America, smoking indoors has been banned completely. Well, yesterday I got a face full of it – everywhere, in every café and restaurant. His Holiness didn’t mind and took it in stride, bouncing around and babbling, “Café … Café” … he loves going out for coffee or lunch or dinner in a restaurant and since we were looking at apartments from 10 in the morning until 7 at night, he had lunch, dinner and two coffee breaks worth – he was in heaven. I, on the other hand, was sniffing my new coat at the end of the day, recalling earlier years, and nights spent in smoky rooms … I just hope I don’t start smoking cigarettes again!

We had a chance to look at all the neighborhoods on our list; Lindenthal, Sulz, Belgian Quarter, Klettenberg, Nippes & Braunsfeld. Sulz was the clear favorite with Belgian Quarter and Lindenthal runners up in that order. In Sulz we found a small Platz with a playground and no through traffic. In two days we will see an apartment overlooking the playground and we hope it works – we really like the area. There were two mothers in the playground looking after their children and we spoke with them about the area. They agreed that it was a very desirable spot – good for children, safe, quiet. There is a bar/café on the corner with a pretty good menu and a BIO store just down the street with every imaginable organic food product, a handful of bright bakeries, a nice second-hand bookstore (which to me is a clear sign of a keeper neighborhood), lot’s of coffee shops, Italian and Turkish restaurants, a dry cleaner, tailor and an Aldi! All of this and a large public Park in easy walking distance from the prospective apartment. Finally, the mass transit connections are ideal. Ok, so our hopes are way too high that we will both like and be somehow able to snag this apartment on Friday. We will not be the first people to see it – which we have been promised will not compromise our application. In true New York fashion I tried to be first in line to see the space and was prepared with a deposit check before we even had a chance to look at the inside of the space – the location being more than ideal – it is dreamlike. I will try to temper my expectations and allow fate and karma to do their thing…

We also looked at Lindenthal – which wasn’t bad – but felt a bit stuffy and disconnected. The first thing I noticed when crossing the boundary between Sulz and Lindenthal was fewer smiles and it was too tidy for my taste. I don’t like trashy (that’s not entirely true either) but Lindenthal felt like a place where I would feel obliged to pick up the crumbs from the sidewalk if my roll fell apart … In fact, I don’t think I would even feel comfortable strolling through Lindenthal with a crusty roll in hand.

The Belgian Quarter is the other location we are considering, a completely different feeling from Sulz, more urbane, intense, grown-up. We saw a wonderful apartment there in an old building, high ceilings, lot’s of architectural detail, hardwood floors … But it was just a little too small and it was a four-floor walkup – one story more than comfortable – not Oma-friendly enough. The neighborhood on the other hand was interesting. We had dinner in a terrific little café called Ticino, met the owner and had a good, albeit brief, meal. There was also a wine shop with a good selection of German and other European wines – I bought a recommended German Pinto Noir for later. There were elegant clothing stores and internet cafes and the vibe reminded me somewhat of Manhattan, while Sulz felt like Brooklyn Heights or Cobble Hill or the Upper West Side … If His Holiness wasn’t with us (perish the thought) the Belgian Quarter would probably be a first choice – it sounded like home, it hummed.
None of the other neighborhoods felt even remotely right – and at one point in the waning light of late afternoon, on one particular stretch of street, I had a revelation – more like a waking nightmare. As his energy flagged and his diaper needed changing, His Holiness began repeating, “Go home, New York City” and the realization of what I had done, the magnitude of the change in lifestyle that we had put into motion – hit me smack in the face. My heart rate picked up and I felt a small current of anxiety pulse through my belly … What are we doing here? What was I thinking? How could I possibly leave the bright lights of New York for this? I have made a terrible mistake and we are going to be miserable for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dear Mom

November 22, 2005

Dear Mom:

We have arrived safely – the flight over was quite nice, and for a charter airline, LTU was wonderful, very good service and friendly from start to finish.

Yesterday we went into the town hall in Nideggen and registered ourselves as residents of Germany. I had heard all sorts of horror stories about how difficult this process could be, but in fact we had two very friendly folks who took care with us and the entire process went without a hitch. It helped that U. was very well prepared with all of the needed forms and documents, but our first experience with the dreaded German beurocracy was a positive one.

His Holiness met his cousins J. and M. on Sunday and fell in love with M., the younger one. They played together all day and he awoke yesterday asking for her … I expect they will be fast friends.

This morning we go into Cologne to look at neighborhoods and an apartment we might rent on a temporary basis until we find something permanent. Already we have been shown photos of a possible long-term apartment by an agent who was referred to us by a friend in the states. The apartment is just what we are looking for – with an extra bedroom for guests, a decent sized kitchen, dining room and living room and a long entrance hallway for His Holiness to run and play in during the inevitable cold, wet days of the German winter.
We will send pictures when we make a decision …

We are well and happy here and looking forward to getting on with life … don’t worry about us – but send your positive thoughts our way – as we send love in your direction.

Your son,


Monday, November 21, 2005

November 21

Nideggen-Rath, Germany

The first day of the first week of a new chapter in a long life … His Holiness is sleeping with Mama in the room down the hall. As usual, I have been up for hours padding around this still unfamiliar, rambling old farmhouse where Mama grew up, nestled in the gentle hills of the Eifel in Western Germany. It’s very quiet here and very clean.

Later this morning we will venture into Cologne for our first look at potential neighborhoods. It is all becoming real, but slowly. In between: having neither ended the process of saying good bye to New York nor begun the process of admitting that I live in Germany, but I can feel something happening, a well of emotions churning. There are things unsettled back in the states that I would have preferred to have behind me but which remain stubbornly unfinished. I hope soon to be able to let go … but letting go is … well, what much of this is about.
At the same time I feel some relief at being here, as if I have shed a skin that had grown heavy and worn and now have the rare opportunity to grow a new one, even if my capacity to renew is somewhat diminished. Turning points such as this are an opportunity to take a fresh look. So I choose today to view the world from thirty-six inches above the ground, to both lead and follow His Holiness as we explore life together in the coming years.

November 21

Good morning …

Well, we made it. I will write about the trip at length in the coming days – but suffice to say it was a good trip and we are safely home at Oma’s farmhouse in the Eifel … with cows and horses and green fields out the window. This morning we venture into Cologne to start the process of locating a new place to live. We are very excited.

A word to all of my blogger friends – thank you. Thank you for your greetings and advice and support. I sincerely appreciate it …

I am not going to stay too long this morning because I am online at Oma’s and paying a fortune in local dial-up costs …

More anon …

Friday, November 18, 2005

Travel Day

We leave in four hours.

I can't really believe it.

It's a clear cold morning, I can see the sun rising behind the pine trees.

Ok ... I'm outa here!