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.


Blogger piu piu said...

o! it must be weird for all of you. but this is cool. hey if u don't like it after a yr move back, and the little boy will still have learnt german and had a great experience at a really young age.

he will grow up to really appreciate your efforts to mkae him appreciate more than one culture

11:43 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Wow, your emotions are all over the place!

That one neighbourhood sounds ideal - if that apartment doesn't work out, maybe another one will. Ask your wife what the word "pingelig" means. That's what you would use to describe the neighbourhood you didn't care for. Some people really WILL watch your every move and even comment if they think you're doing something wrong.

As for the cigarette smoke - there's no way to get away from it except to stay home. :-) German smokers are not especially considerate and may not even ask if you mind if they smoke in their presence. Oh well. There are worse thing, I suppose.

As Piu Piu says, give it some time and see what you think. Your little guy may go through a rough time missing all the things he was used to in his young life, but he'll forget those soon and adapt well, I'm sure.

One more thing - if you are planning to put him into some kind of kindergarten (pre-school) when he's 3, now's the time to register him. Waiting lists can be long.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...


I can identify with what you are feeling as I am about 6 weeks behind you in the process. It seems to be just a normal part of the process that at times you feel like things are manageable and can focus on the task at hand and at others there are almost moments of shock/panic. My nerves hit me the hardest in the early AM - the whole thing seems surreal and I have to regroup and retrace how I got to where I am and remember its completely normal to have mixed feelings.

I hope you are going to find that there are more moments of calm and manageability than sheer panic and regret but as Christina and piu piu said give it some time and if not you can always come back.

Hang in there!

5:24 PM  
Blogger jen said...

you know, a bit of trepidation is a good thing. Take it slow and easy. It might not ever be like NYC, but it will become home.

I can't remember how long it took before I lost the before germany/after germany differentiation of events, but it did happen. Now when I go back, I slip into Cali like an old pair of jeans, but its no longer home. My present is here now. Yours will be too eventually.

His Holiness is so much better off being from two worlds rather than one, regardless of how spectacular your life in NY was. He'll be bilingual, you've opened his world in a way 99% of parents can't or choose not to.

Is Dusseldorf too far from Oma? I like it way better than Köln. Less coal.

5:26 PM  
Blogger mama jens said...

Hi Richard! First, welcome to Germany! Wow! I can totally imagine all the excitement and emotion and moments of regret all mixed together. You will settle soon though. Having a place to call your own will make all the difference, especially for your little one. You must feel a sense of relief that you are finally here though, or? Good luck apartment hunting!

9:11 PM  

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