What it's like in general - first impressions

Wo ist die nächste Fischhandkung
"Where's the nearest Fishmonger?"

I live in the laid back, almost-Disney-perfect setting of where Bad Godesberg and Plittersdorf meet -- two villages that lie just outside of Bonn. I doubt there is any area quite like Bad Godesberg or Plittersdorf, even in Germany. It's all a living picture postcard, it has so much charm, the atmosphere congenial, everything is lush and green and picturesque, with lots of trees and beautiful, traditional German estates... more worldly people don't seem to like it, actually. There's no driving pulse here, nothing cosmopolitan like Berlin or even downtown Bonn. The streets of this area in the daytime are filled only with elderly people, 30-somethings with small children, occassional young lovers, all impecibly dressed and obviously well-off. Lots and lots of money here! At night, the streets are almost completely empty.

Many of my colleagues at work complain about the area, its lack of excitement and spontinaity, its mellow feel, how everything closes early. These people have lived all over the world, from places like New York City and Madrid and Amsterdam and Havana and Rio and Tokyo, to very primitive environments in Africa, Asia and Central America. I love to visit big cities, and I'm dieing to visit some big foreign cities, as well as some remote and exotic locations, and you know how I love to go camping and rough it for a weekend. Maybe I wouldn't like Bad Godesberg if I were 10 years younger. But I must be getting old. I like it here. I find it charming and comfortable. It's not where I'm going to spend the rest of my life, and it's certainly not anywhere as "fun" as Austin, but this city is about my speed for living abroad -- any more excitement and unpredictability and I would find it overwhelming and unmanageable and be terrified all of the time. I really dont mind that I'm probably a wimp to my co-workers. I've roughed it more than most people I know -- maybe not as much as my co-workers, but enough for me.

Anyway, during the weekdays, I get up around 7 a.m., walk the dogs in the little park between us and the Rhein and pray we don't come across any other dogs (particularly off-leash). Then I get ready to go to work, and I either walk or ride my fabulous new red bike along the Rhein (it's about a mile) or weave my way through the streets of Plittersdorf to run an errand along the way.

I work from 9 a.m. (2 a.m. for you U.S. Central time folks) to 6 or 6:30 p.m., then walk or ride back along the Rhein or through Plittersdorf. The dogs greet me the same way they did in Austin -- they are very happy to see me, and Buster usually runs and gets a toy and parades around with it. I walk them again, feed them, and listen to music, read, maybe try to find something on TV in English other than news (I'm surprised how often I can do this -- saw "War Games" most recently) or something interesting in German. As soon as I get Internet access at home, more of this time will be spent on the computer.

I take the dogs out again between 9:30 and 11 p.m. for the long walk along the Rhein. There I am, walking with Buster and Wiley along one of the most famous rivers in the world. The dogs LOVE it. When I was here in August, I never, ever pictured this. Not once. It was during our first walk together on the Rhein that I realized, fully, where I was. Had yet another tearful moment... my life has been a cry fest for a while... I'm just so happy to be here.

As for German people -- they are so much more warm and sweet than I have been lead to believe, particularly the older people. They open doors for me when my hands are full, they talk to the dogs, they say "Morgen" (morning) when you pass on the street, they really try to be helpful, and they smile periodically. Maybe it's just a Bad Godesberg thing, because it used to be the nation's capitol. I'm sure not all German communities are the same. But I was really expecting people who were profoundly distant and cold. That hasn't been the case at all. This is definitely a more friendly place than, say, Connecticut or Massachusetts.

One dapper older gentleman in my apartment complex is so nice to me, talking to me about the dogs. I don't understand one word, but he obviously likes them. I tried to buy a bike on the second Saturday I was here, and the shop didn't take American credit cards. So the guy LET ME HAVE IT ANYWAY, and I'll pay him on Tuesday (Monday, Feb. 24 is a holiday). Most people don't return smiles, but some do, always warmly. My bike fell with all of my groceries, and I was surrounded by people helping me and making sure I was okay. A German co-worker says it's because it's the Rheinland -- the rest of Germany isn't this way, according to him ("And zey are not as funny anyvere else in Germany as vee are here in de Rheinland. But, remember, Germany funny is not as funny as udder countries.").

It's hard to figure out the whole celsius thing, to remember that there is a HUGE difference in 3 degrees versus 6 degrees (the first is almost freezing, the second is more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit). My gloves and my hooded jacket are getting a big workout. What I wish I had -- and what I NEVER see people wearing -- are ear muffs!

Grocery shopping is an adventure, because more than half the time, I'm just totally guessing as to what I am buying. My reading packages for preparation suggestions is pretty funny too. But so far, I haven't burned anything or under-cooked anything too much.

Every Saturday morning, I get on my cute three-speed red bike with my big black basket on the front and ride to Bad Godesberg with my empty cloth grocery bags and do my shopping. The streets are filled with musicians -- accordion players, violin players, even Latin American pipes performer. There's a large farmer's market with lots of fresh veggies and flowers. The older women are often in fur coats, hats and gloves. Everyone is well dressed. Even when it's freezing cold, this is all so much nicer to experience than any mall. I love how pedestrian and bike-friendly Germany is, and how they BUILD streets and shopping centers to be this way. This is one thing I really do wish the U.S. would follow Germany's lead on.

On my first day here, the secretary for my landlord showed me where the laundry room was, but I was so jet lagged, so drained, and the labyrinth of blank white doors and hallways was endless down in the basement... It's a lot like "Brazil" down there. I went down almost every day after that, trying to find it again. For a while, I just found a lot of other stuff -- where I could park my bike instead of in my apartment, my own storage space, two different ways to go into the underground parking garage... but no laundry! It took more than two weeks to find it again (actually, I found it because I smelled it -- someone was doing laundry as I was walking by the door).

I had read on the 'net that German washing machines were tiny and incredibly hard to operate. Good god, both were an understatement. And not only that, but when I finally attempted to do my first load, I couldn't open the damn door when the wash was done! It was down there for several hours before I finally found someone to show me how to open it. I still don't operate the washing machines correctly -- at this point, the machines just kinda get my clothes rinsed out for a few minutes. I'm sure I'll figure out how to make it actually CLEAN my clothes soon.

Because Germany uses most of the same letters and all the same numbers as the English-speaking world, navigating the city really isn't that hard. It's made me realize, however, just how brave people are to move to, say, Russia or the Orient or an Arab state, where none of the letters and numbers are the same. Wow. I could never do that. I just don't have the instincts for that.

My office offers free lessons in Spanish and French... but not German. I may take the Spanish classes anyway, but I've got to find German classes somewhere. A week after I got here, I made a list of all of the German words I could recognize. That list was 11 words long. I made a new list at the end of my second week. It was at 32 words. Now, I think I'm hitting 50. I really am trying to learn. I occassionally watch movies or TV shows that are in German (caught "Thelma and Louise" the other night), because a friend said that will help. And the learning-German CDs that my former co-workers bought me should be on it's way any time now. But I really do need classes.

I watch a lot of BBC International and CNN International. I like getting so much truly WORLD news. The big stories so far have been the floods in Mozambique, foot and mouth disease in Britain (and spreading), the destruction by the Taliban of the ancient Buddhist statues and pre-Islamic artwork in Afganistan, the horrible train wreck in Britain, and all the stuff in Iraq and Israel. All of these stories are sad, but that statue thing just has me all depressed. There's a show on CNN International devoted entirely to the United Nations. It's called Diplomatic License. I have no idea if it's on in the U.S. It's hilarious. Well, the host is anyway - like ESPN covering world events. BBC International weather people need SERIOUS fashion help.

Walking down the hallway at my office, I hear the same sounds as the inside of the canteen on Tatooine, but without the laser blasts. I love all the languages and accents around me! And, hey, a couple of people do kinda look like aliens... My third floor office overlooks the parking lot of the former American club (where American diplomats and staff hung out), but I do have a bit of the Rhein in view. I'm on a Dell computer (yuck), and haven't had too much trouble re-adjusting back to the IBM/Clone PC world... but once I get my phone adapter, I'll be taking my iBook in and using it as well. A guy in the office next to me has an iBook as well.

The second week I was here was "Carnival". Germans really get into it in their own special way. Nothing like Brazil or New Orleans, but still, very interesting. It began on Thursday -- the day that women kiss any men that they wish, and they cut men's ties. In the middle of a formal meeting that day, a woman came in, dressed as a clown, blowing a whistle, and cut off my boss's tie, kissed him, and left. I thought the Nigerian guy that just started working as well was going to run out of the office screaming. He looked terrified.

The dogs really are happy here, although they've become quite demanding about going out for walks -- they really dig it, ever so much more than just visiting the back yard in Austin. They are both asleep here on my couch with me right now -- Wiley is laying up against me, and Buster is over on the other end, using my purse as a pillow.

Everyone warned me about experiencing an intense initial loneliness, even to the point of despair. It hasn't happened yet, however. I think it's because I brought the dogs with me, because I had Internet access from work right off the bat, because this place came with a TV and a CD player and a full kitchen, because I brought a ton of CDs with me, and because the folks at my office are so social and supportive. Were I sitting here all alone in a completely unfurnished apartment with no way to even prepare food and trying to figure out ways to find places to buy and move cabinets and a stove and a fridge and a TV and a bed and all this other stuff -- yeah, I'd despair big time.

Okay, that's my world.


More later . . .

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