Archive for the 'Cities' Category

Reverse culture shock, or rockin’ the suburbs

I’m struggling quite a bit with the new life lately. To quote a blogging friend of mine, I have a Leipzig-shaped “hole in my heart”. I know I complained quite a bit about the language barrier, the climate, the homesickness and the lack of Tim Tams, but in truth there was much about life in Germany that has spoiled me. I’ve been doing lots of thinking and I’ve decided my maladjustment has less to do with moving from Germany to Australia and more with moving from city to suburbs. 

Leipzig is a city in the truest sense. Apart from the lovely streets lined with Gründerzeit buildings, the first thing I noticed was how compact it is. One can drive across the city in a matter of minutes, no suburbs clamoring around it, no feeling of endless sprawl. Living in a proper city was a whole new experience for me. I could walk to the city center, enjoy its markets, museums and wonderfully inexpensive cafes. Living in a small flat (like everyone else), we by necessity had less stuff. A car was unnecessary thanks to public transport that would make any Sydneysider sigh, but whether you’re eight weeks or eighty years old, the way to travel in Leipzig is by bike. Another aspect of city life I loved was parks. Not CBD parks, where joggers and businessmen mingle, or suburban parks where a few kids play on the Astroturf. I mean parks that are the garden of the city. On a warm day in summer, everyone is there. Communal spaces are necessary when everyone lives in a flat.

Coming back to suburban Australia has been just a little deflating. It seems a strange, unnatural life. Firstly, there’s the temptation to have stuff. Suburbia is perfectly designed to turn us all into little consumers. We don’t share things. Instead, we all buy our own. We are left to imagine what life is like on the other side of the fence and we try to keep up with the Jones’. We drive to get around. We commute to work.  We love the idea of farmers’ markets and local economies, but the capitalist system drives us towards the cheapest option: the shopping centers and supermarkets.

Suburbia can be a very lonely place for full time mum in a new town. While I do love the freedom of a patch of grass to play on and a Hills Hoist in the sun, the price can seem quite high, sometimes. Of course, the answer lies in finding ways around the isolating, consumer-oriented ways of the suburbs. Stay tuned.

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Slipping Away

Just days now until we leave Germany. My time is almost up. It’s a bit painful to dwell on here, so I won’t. Funnily enough, winter has arrived to bid us farewell. After months of unseasonable warmth that bore no comparison to the extremes of last year, the weekend brought a thick white blanket of snow and a sudden plunge in temperatures. I ventured out with my camera during the week, hoping to find a way to capture it all before it’s too late, terrified of forgetting what this time of our lives has been like. Sadly I only managed three photos before my crew reached their limit and the project had to be abandoned. Shame, though it was -10c.

But then, unexpectedly, I managed to get out on my own. True it was for a dentist appointment, to make every last use of our German health insurance as all of us (who have teeth) have done this week. Nonetheless I managed a few photos of this city I love so much, before the light faded, and my breastfeeding mama deadline was up.

I’ll miss you, beautiful Leipzig.

Prague

Lichtfest Leipzig

In September 1989 I was five years old. I was probably learning to write my name or count. A long way away, a group of people were gathering on Monday evenings at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig. They prayed for an end to the control and intimidation that governed their daily lives and expressed their wishes for a democratically elected government. By September several thousand people were attending these gatherings. Many were arrested and violence was used. Leipzig newspapers raised the possibility of a “Chinese solution” to the Monday demonstrations. Threats were made.

On Monday October 9th, 1989 Leipzig was hosting one of its historic trade fairs, western media had been allowed to enter for the occasion. Beds had been prepared in hospitals. Thousands of armed agents took up their places on Leipzig’s streets, waiting for the command to suppress the protest by force. Violence and fear are powerful weapons, but this time they failed to stop 70 000 people from gathering together, vigilant in their determination to remain peaceful and have their voices heard. As the demonstrators moved along the ring road with candles in their hands, the police refrained from using their heavy armoury. The message was out, the damage was done, the days of the GDR were numbered.

On Saturday night our little party joined 40 000 Leipzigers in this same place for the “Festival of Lights”, a time for Leipzig to stop and remember the events of October 9th 1989. Though the speeches were beyond our limited German, the music and lights were lovely to behold. As the laser beams danced around the buildings and candles burned in people’s hands, I had time to reflect on what an enormous risk the citizens of Leipzig took in leaving their homes that evening, trusting that their cause was just and their peaceful actions could be powerful. I can’t help but wonder, would I have gone to pray that night? Would I have taken my child as many of them did to show their peaceful intentions? Would I have been as brave as they?

Twenty-two hours in Berlin

Goodbye Stuttgart, hallo Leipzig

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.

This is how Dodie Smith began I Capture the Castle. I’m not in the kitchen sink. In fact, I only wish I had a kitchen sink. I’m on the living room floor. After nearly two weeks in a strange sort of limbo, we’ve arrived in beautiful Leipzig to a lovely (though empty) apartment. We arrived in the dark to a house with no light fittings, furniture or kitchen. Mercifully, some kind friends greeted us with shepherds’ pie, a small desk lamp and a survival pack of groceries. Very slowly the remaining pieces are falling into place.

As you may have noticed, things have been a little quiet on the posting front here lately. I make it a blogging rule not to apologise for infrequent posting; I’m not so narcissistic as to imagine that you can’t get by without my musings and I must obviously live life as well as blog about it. That said, I’m eagerly anticipating a return to the blogosphere now that the upheaval of the past few weeks is subsiding. I hope to show you our lovely new apartment, our street and Leipzig itself once the boxes are unpacked. It’s all so beautiful, I can’t wait to share it. In the meantime, I’ll start looking for my camera.

Strasbourg

In all the ups and downs of this week there was a trade off: I made it Strasbourg after all. My lovely friend Floriane agreed to come along and we made it over the Rhine and back just in time for the tooth issue to escalate. Floriane and her husband Mathieu (also a physicist at Max Planck) live directly above us with their beautiful new son Théodore, also called “Dee-door”. Being French, they’ve been known to make trips over the border to stock up on cheese, wine and other much missed delicacies. Flo and I have spent many happy hours laughing over the stranger aspects of German life, comparing our hometowns on Google Earth and shrugging our shoulders over the world of condensed matter physics.

The day of our trip to Strasbourg dawned clear and bright. Flammkuche and Kugelhopf were the order of the day, and having my own personal translator made the whole experience that little bit more authentic. The small Wednesday flea market yielded a few treasures including a traditional kugelhopf basin, now safely in Leipzig. But the find of the day was a beautiful rug for our new living room floor. The seller gave a lengthy and impassioned speech about quality, the evils of Ikea and the unwillingness of customers to pay a modest price for an authentic item. I was completely convinced by this tirade (as translated by Floriane), much to her amusement. I immediately handed over my cash and the rug was promptly loaded onto a pram. Strasbourg is incredibly beautiful, with a stunning cathedral and Alsatian architecture. Its buildings seem to tell the very story of its strange French/German history. Théodore and Rose expressed their mutual fatigue and displeasure with vigor on our return journey, but somehow we made it home with two prams, plenty of cheese and one very authentic rug. C’est Bon!



About Me

A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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