Swapping Homes Anybody?

NOW THAT WE'VE WALKED THE WALK, WE CAN GIVE YOU THE STRAIGHT TALK ON HOME SWAPPING. (Season 6)

Here's the famous gate that divided the West and Eastern block for decades since the end of WW II!

Monday, June 27, 2016

See Berlin by Boat

The best way to get a good overall impression of Berlin is to go on a bus or a boat tour. We'd done a bus tour before and were hoping for a bit of a breeze on the water in this hot weather. There are many boat rides of the "hop on and hop off "kind. They will take you along the two rivers, Spree and Havel, and even on the canal if you so choose.
It was an extensive trip of 3 and a half hours. We saw the most famous parts of Berlin, the government buildings, a few remnants of the wall, new fancy apartment buildings built in what used to be the former East; 1 million plus apartments without a kitchen because the logical thinking is that their clients work all day and go out for meals.
We learned that Berlin has more bridges (969) than Paris or even Venice (410). I just learned that Hamburg has even more :2485.
This is the famous and beautiful Oberbaumbruecke where in the 1800s citizens threw felled trees and logs into the water to make boats pay a tariff on their passage over the river. Only after paying did they remove the obstacles and let the boats through.
Bildergebnis für oberbaumbrücke berlin
Other bridges were not architecturally important, but noteworthy in their surroundings. With this one you had to remain seated and duck down as it was so low.
Bildergebnis für bruecken berlin
Romantic or at least picturesque corners everywhere, especially on the canal.
Bildergebnis für landwehrkanal berlin
Locks always make for interesting viewing. Here there was a man who was inside the restaurant watching the boat being heaved by more than 1 m to the higher level. He started to close the windows of the restuarant until his wife explained to him that it was not the water that was rising...

Bildergebnis für Schleusen berlin
If you're into sailing, you're spoilt for choice because Berlin is surrounded by a myriad of lakes; also by many forests which can be explored by bike and on foot as well. More about that another time.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

In the Heart of Europe


Today we are on the Gendarmenmarkt (Gendarmes Market from " Gens des armes"), in the center of Berlin and Berlin is situated in the middle of Europe.It's considered one of the most beautiful markets. It started as market for fresh country wares where soldiers also paraded their horses, musicians played and tight rope walkers showed off their skills.
The first building that was erected was a church for Huguenots in 1705 by Friedrich I. Three years later, opposite the square the German Church was built. For good measure so that the arts weren't given short shrift, in between a French comedy theater was built. Thus faith, spirituality and physical well being were all looked after.
Around the market place, homes are being built as well as cafes and restaurants where journalists and literati met. The theater burnt down and was rebuilt in 1841 by the famous German architect Schinkel. After falling to ruins during the Second World War, it's now standing in its full glory again.
This part of Berlin fell into Russian hands and belonged to the GDR where the Alexander-Ensemble sang their melancholic Russian melodies until the wall fell.It's only in short walking distance of the building of the former Nazi central command.
When the wall came down, Leonard Bernstein directed Beethoven's 9th here, or the Ode to Joy. He modified the words of the German text from "Freude schoener Goetterfunken"  to "Freiheit schoener Goetterfunken", ie.Freedom to Joy.
And of course, the before mentioned biggest chocolatery is just around the corner.
The wall came down at the end of 1989. The city and country have been unified since then and Berlin has become the German capital again. Friends of my generation, however, still call it "the East" and don't even like "going to the East"...although it is a resplendent part of town with so much to see (Humboldt University, German Dome etc...)



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Perfume in the Air

A wonderful jasmine scent is in the air. Since we arrived jasmine bushes have been in full bloom with their intoxicating fragrance. 

In our beautiful neighborhood many houses have mature shrubs like this, but all over Berlin you get a whiff of it. The American Confederate Jasmine has a strong perfume too, but is a climber and a different shrub.




Another evening spent watching football. Two matches kept our attention: Hungary against Portugal:3-3; unexpected with megastar Rinaldo not being able to take it home for his team.Then, I wasn't expecting much after their loss earlier in the week, Ireland almost in the last minute beat Italy, one of the champions.The atmosphere in the Lille Stade in France was ecstatic. The trophy for jeering their team clearly went to Northern Ireland who didn't win but never stopped their chants in total support of this underdog. So we have a 4-islan-quartet through to the qualifying round: England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Writing about football as if I really cared....Just my patriotic streak making me watch all these matches.





Monday, June 20, 2016

Ode to Joy

Euro 2016 is going on. Berlin like all of Germany has got the football fever. Arrived back to the capital last night after a week in Ireland, retracing my steps in my old haunts with my daughter. More about that later: A trip down memory lane.
Today, glorious sunshine and fresh air around 20 C awaited us; very welcome after the wet and cold in Ireland.The weather there hasn't changed that much: cold and wet--14-18 C max and a lot of rain.
So today I did a special favor to hubby who had looked after himself in Berlin and held the fort while I was away...watering plants etc.
I took him to the biggest Chocolaterie (chocolate factory/maker in the world) called Fassbender & Rausch, situated on the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt. That is an area which belonged to the former GDR (German Democratic/Socialist Republic ) until Reunification in 1990.
I was there once before and remembered the amazing sculptures they had in the window, purely made out of chocolate.Now the football theme prevailed.

Livesize! The original sized balls will set yo back by about $100. Having watched last night's match between France and Switzerland, we were surprised to see that a football can burst during a match. Maybe they should try the chocolate ones.
Other items of interest were for example the Titanic or the Brandenburg Gate. See the exact specifications for how much weight of chocolate went into it, how long it took to build etc.
And here the specs. Feel like biting into it?
Maybe you'd rather bite into the scrumptious cheek of a Cherub?
With the EuroCup 2016 taking place in France or anywhere else outside Germany, real soccer fans always can get together and celebrate in a public spot which in Berlin is called the fan mile.Here's a good view of it and the adjacent ferry wheel within the mile. Given the current political dangers, I don't have any appetite to watch a match there as we avoid big crowds.

And the second view from further away...They expect over 100,000 people there for future matches.

The official song for the Euro 2016, btw, is Beethoven's Ode to Joy.I was livid that Irish commentators (and Iranian TV as I heard) falsely named our national anthem as Deutschland ueber alles....Composed by Joseph Haydn in 1796 and the lyrics written by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, only the third verse is being sung since 1952 and become the correct version, named correctly " Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit"  which means Unity and Justice and Liberty.. So much for knowledge about European co-member states!
Here is the correct text:
"Unity, justice, and liberty
For the Fatherland!
Let us all strive for that
In brotherhood with heart and hand! 
Unity, justice, and liberty
Are the foundation for happiness; 
Bloom in the radiance of this happiness,
Flourish, 'O Fatherland!"
So far there has not been much to celebrate about our German team, the former World Champions from 2014. No Ode to Joy so far!


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

We are Berliners now!

It took me 3 days to adjust to the climate and getting over jet lag so that I'm only starting this year's exchange experience here today. Hubby slept it off for almost 36 hours.
The weather is only beautiful, around 80 degrees with a welcome breeze. We had a few little adventures already in between our napping bouts, but here's about the apartment first.

 It's in a very nice area on the high-end outskirts in Berlin, a maisonette --which should have forewarned me that steps are involved. Not a problem; they keep you fit and all that. But dragging about 250 pounds of luggage up 46 steps almost broke our backs. As I learned on my latest trip to Germany recently, taxi drivers aren't obliged to lift your bags in or out of the car anymore. Must be new union regulations. And our female taxi driver certainly had no inkling to help. She clutched her card machine for payment while hubby and lifted the bags out of the huge van. Then we saw the steps. Somehow I had not realized we were on the 4th floor.
The circular stair case to the upper floor that has a wrap around terrace the size of most Irish flats totally took the wind out of us. No wonder we collapsed. We wonder can you hire a man to carry suitcases up or down the stairs into a car for you? There should be an app for that!


We haven't unpacked yet.
Two nice terraces with lovely views await us for breakfast and other meals.Mega parties could be and were hosted here, I'm sure.
Computer is giving me a tough time rotating the pics. Sorry about that! I'm working on it.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Are You Packed yet?

No!
Hairdresser, car wash, laundry, shopping groceries for our exchange partners on their first night.
The list seems endless, I should say seemed endless.Now there is an end in sight: Tomorrow is the due date. By then, by hook or by crook, we have to get out of here. The lawn men came early enough to get us jump into action.

Where does this expression come from:Are you packed yet? Obviously, I won't be packed myself but our stuff. As a native German I'm asking: Shouldn't it be "Have you packed yet?" grammatically? And why does this question annoy me every time? Maybe because of a guilty feeling? But we're entering philosophical territory here and you are looking for nice pictures and anecdotes; even the nitty gritty, be honest- some juicy tidbits of what goes wrong. Or am I wrong?

Germany, here we come! No more rain and flooding, please!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Seven Days and Counting...

It's the usual race to the finish line of getting the house ready. Why do we never seem to finish on time in a leisurely way considering we’ve done swaps for 5 years running already? The To Do List gets longer instead of shorter.
In case you’re wondering what I’m on about: We do spruce up the house each year for our guests, i.e. exchange partners from overseas. Hubby, in fact, has several lists:
TO DO
1. Well before
2. A couple of weeks before
3. Last minute


With only 7 days left, one would hope to have passed the second hurdle. Whenever I hear the word project coming from himself, my neck muscles get very tight and I have visions of more stuff that needs doing. I’m all for painting the bathroom before we leave. There is a lot to be said for a freshly painted bathroom; but why can’t the tools be put away as soon as the painting as such has been done? Oh, because caulking is necessary? Only after that the shower curtain can get back into place? Right!
So when I saw him ponder over a beam outside the front door yesterday which is rotting at the base, I knew I was in for another “project”. Hopefully not that lengthy, because we still have the remainder of the list points 1 and 2 to finish. Then my heart almost missed a beat: the scaffolding he put in place to hold the beam! He means business!  After several trips to the Homedepot he had all necessary materials at hand and the beam went up quickly indeed. Now, just some finishing touches like painting which I can do.
I tried a new strategy this year and warned him I wouldn’t go on our annual home exchange tour if he kept this up. But I couldn’t win him over: Then I will never finish my projects if you don’t give me a deadline.

Just got a text from our first home swappers in Berlin: “Thank goodness, the workmen left and the balcony is done…only needs pressure washing now. If it wasn’t for these swaps, these things never got done.”