Monday, September 15, 2008
The other day my friend and I crashed a live mummy exhibit.
It was the music that drew us. My friend Rick was visiting from the States, and he was sitting with my husband and me over dinner, when we became aware of music competing with the CD we were listening to. When the CD ended, we had no choice but to listen. We heard operatic music, identifying it as the theme every Italian would know - the choral anthem from "Nabucco". Rick loves Italy and adores opera. We had no choice but to follow the music. You probably know the piece, that thrilling chorus from the opera about the Hebrews slaving under Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. I don't know if you'd hear classical music in America blazing from outside somewhere, but it is conceivable here in Germany, especially in convivial Cologne, where there is lots of noise. So Rick and I rushed outside to find out what this was all about. I thought, maybe there is a village festival going on that I knew nothing about. Maybe there will be fireworks! So we followed the sound, walking around the block until we came upon an ancient half-timbered house with torches and candles blazing in the garden, and loud music blaring for half of Cologne to hear.
Germany has ordinances about just about every aspect of life. For instance, you aren't allowed to wash your car, and you can't mow your lawn on a Sunday. You also can't make a peep after 10 pm. Here we had a clear infraction of the the right to peace and quiet. But no one was complaining! In fact, there seemed to be a crowd gathering around this house. I, eager to please my guest, ventured to ask the nearest person I could find what was going on. "It's a mummy exhibit!" He explained. "A mummy exhibit?" "Of course! Don't you see the sign here?!" And there it was in black and white, a sign with an arrow pointing to the garden for the mummy exhibit. He went on to say that someone was celebrating his fiftieth birthday, hence he qualified as a mummy. Since the sign was hanging on the wall for all to see, he explained, we had the right to venture in and have a look. So we did.
We discovered a huge party going on in the garden, with candle-lit pagodas, hanging colored lanterns, and torches planted in the ground. It was quite romantic. There must have been a hundred people there talking, laughing and filling plates from tables in pagodas where food was being served, and grabbing drinks from a table with bartenders. Over on our right we were stunned to see a group of solemn, pompous-looking people dressed in turquoise and gold, with turquoise headdresses and painted eyes. I believe we must have walked into a time warp, Americans in Germany, suddenly finding ourselves in a jumble of Egyptian Pharaos, and listening to Italian music about Jews in Babylon!
We heard a speech in German about the mummy celebrating his birthday, welcoming his guests to this historic event. The music started again and the Pharaos solemnly marched away from the garden, carrying a six-foot tray with long silver handles. I leaned to see what was on the tray - nothing but a hundred little tea candles! Was this how they preserved mummies?
Like the Pied Piper's little children, we followed the Pharaos out of the garden onto the street. One by one the headdresses came off, revealing modern-day men and women of Cologne, thirsty for a beer. They were not disappointed. One of the bartenders rushed to them with his much smaller tray filled with slender Kölsch beer glasses, losing no time in quenching their thirst.
Somehow, they must have forgotten us party crashers, so we left the mummies, walking back into the 21st century.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Twice a month I walk four easy minutes to my local tram stop, hop on the tram and disembark fifteen minutes later at Ebertplatz, from where I walk just five minutes to join the other women in my writing group. Getting there is usually so easy, I don’t even think about it. During the past summer, however, tram and subway service to this station, which turns out to one of the nuts and bolts of
Last week I had the opportunity to discover first-hand what it means to get around a city as a disabled person. We had my friends
Even while planning their trip over from
Charging the battery proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. I figured we’d just let them park outside our building near the laundry room, and I would put an extension cord through the window. But the parking spot there is allocated to someone else. So Andrew parked his car underneath our apartment in an available parking spot, and we started improvising. It was a little like letting Rapunzel’s hair down. One extension cord down the window, clanking on its way down on the neighbor’s window. Fears of damaging the window. The cord was not long enough. Up went the cord, and we added another to it. It worked! But the question arose, what if it rains? The extension cord is not waterproof. Back up the window again. We looked in the dark in our outdoor balcony storage area, using our flashlight until we found the all-weather extension cord. Finally we had a system which would work, and Andrew’s scooter could be charged all night, even if it should rain.
The next morning we were all set to go. Andrew painfully walked the twenty steps to street level, and we all climbed into his car, off to the Cologne Cathedral. It was awesome to see how cheerful he was, as long as he could drive his own car – or mobility scooter.
Off we drove, chatting amiably while anticipating handicapped parking underneath the cathedral, which we surmised to be the most popular parking garage in
We gamely rolled out of the garage, forcing the car behind us to wait, only to land on a huge construction zone and no sidewalks! We had to roll on down a road and even onto gravel, which the scooter doesn’t take well to. We eventually got onto a sidewalk. Now the problem was to get to the cathedral, which is uphill from the parking garage. I knew about steps from the street to the plaza level. The question was, could we find a way there without steps? We did! The long way around. But no matter. We made it into the cathedral, and were able to move around there at liberty. As the resident of
Our adventure continued. We found an outdoor café/brewery near the cathedral where we could park Andrew’s scooter. He managed, with a few pained groans, to climb out onto a chair. We enjoyed the afternoon sun and a delicious Kölsch with our lunch. After lunch, our courage fortified, we continued our adventure, heading over to a two-story music store where
We continued on down the main shopping street, stopping for an ice cream cone. We noticed that Andrew’s was the only scooter amongst thousands of pedestrians. Where were all the handicapped people of
On another trip to
Another time we went out on the Rhine, driving with the scooter in the back of the car to a town near the vineyards where glorious
Since seeing first-hand what life for a disabled person is like, I now seem to always find myself looking for other people on wheelchairs or scooters, and I discover myself constantly checking to see whether public areas are disabled-friendly. Every time the tram stops at the zoo, I hope this stop will be the next one to be demolished. I will cheer, not grumble. I also look forward to the day when the sidewalks, car parks and trams are crowded, packed with tourists and shoppers on mobility scooters! I will happily put up with the congestion.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
This is original work by German students of mine. It is so good, I thought I'd include it for you to read. I asked them to write something that rhymes. Here is the result:
When spring comes over fields and hlls
with crocus gold and daffodils
with leaves of green and colors bright
with sunshine warm and light
when the birds come back and sing
the butterflies dance with their colorful wings
you can smell the flowers and trees
and see the diligent bees
then our mood will be light, because we are able to see
how beautiful the earth can be.
Rain and storm rage against the ship
Like a crack of a whip
A thunderclap you hear,
Flash of lightning's very bright here
Illuminate the ghostly scene
Staggering through the churning sea
Not a star you can see
Only darkness and thick fog
No harbour, no protected dock
For the old ship which moans and groans
In the storm like a cockleshell
Dancing in devil's hell
Falling in a deep hole
Not a mast or sail was left whole
The trembling fishing boat emerges
Through giant waves, under full sail
A pale man at the rail,
A sail boat scratches by
And crosses the fishing boat's way. -
Flying Dutchman! - God save your soul!
Suddenly storm and wind die down
The fishing boat alone
In the sun on calm seas -
In depressing silence and peace
The fisher thinks of cruel fate.
Pretty good, eh? When you think that these people are not native speakers, that they make lots of mistakes when they speak English. There's something about creative writing that brings out the best, and the most creative.
If you live in or near Cologne, you can hear more creative writing in English at a reading of original writing. It will be held on June 9, 2008 at the Bechstein Centrum in the Opernpassage at 7.30 pm. It will be good, and totally creative. One of our members is a pianist and will also be playing original pieces as well as reading original writing. The reading will be followed by wine and cheese.
Friday, May 9, 2008
So today, I asked him how his new job is coming along. "Fine," he said tiredly, "but there is so much stress involved!"
"Oh, really! Tell me about it!"
Arno is responsible for communication between colleagues involved in controlling in
Arno and all his colleagues have been instructed to work from a 1,000+ page online book of guidelines - in English. The language is so specialized and complex that even I, the English teacher, have difficulty understanding it. If they were to ask the management of their company to explain the differences between the new English guidelines and the old German ones, they would be laughed out of the office.
I live in
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Standing alone, arms outstretched,
aching for the relief of relaxation,
barely able to hold her arms anymore
against the window crack, after
years of ticking hours,
pushing with all she is
to keep the waters from
her from the floor,
lifting her up from the muck
out the door.
Whoosh! she would swoop
away, lifted to rush
past junk and debris.
She hates her vigil there,
too tired to cry,
no strength left to feel,
she fears more the source,
and tales she has heard of its force.
Whoosh! she would swoop
away, lifted to rush
to spaces unknown.
Her strength spent, she sits
emptied, she waits.
Before her a sound,
behind her a song
pierces a crack in her soul.
"Come, rest awhile,
you need not fear.
I'll take you from here
to the home of your heart."
Not daring to trust,
too weary to balk,
she listens and hears
the sound of her heart,
the warm trickle of drops
dripping, slowly, to ease her way
through the door,
strengthened for the journey.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I am also an immigrant. An expat. At some point along the way, my status changed from tourist to expat to immigrant. As my fellow Americans in the American Women's Club say, I am a "lifer" - here to stay. That has profound consequences for understanding who I am and what you read on my blog.
Some of my fellow expats and I have formed a writers' group, which we are calling "Writing Women". Last night was our first gathering in our new home. It is a veritable "imi's " heaven. Here, we fit right in - with the Turks, Greeks, Eritreans, gays, children, senior citizens and artists. We are meeting in the old firehouse, a building that was meant to be demolished, but was amazingly saved from destruction in the nick of time.
Most of Germany is modern, clean and very efficient. The old firehouse is antiquated, with rusting radiators, lumpy old furniture, and a bit grimy and disorganized. I'd rather come here to this rusty haven than meet anywhere else. Nowhere have we met such a welcome. We were told that we would have to pay €18 for our room last evening. Then, when we wanted to pay, they said, "Oh, that's OK. You can pay next time!" Later, when I asked again about payment, they said, "You don't have to pay the €18 - we'll give you a monthly fee. That way, you'll get a €5 reduction." Here, in this nirvana, it seems that German regulation has been exorcised. Rather than give us a list of what we are NOT allowed to do, they tell us that we can decide on the amount of rent we want to pay, that we don't have to eat at the restaurant across the courtyard (which is very appealing, offering a buffet of food from a different country every week, all you can eat for €9, complete with candlelight and a server!), that we are invited to cook our own meals if we don't want to bother with the restaurant, that we can come and go more or less as we please. It gives our writer souls wings to be granted such freedom in a country where the saying goes, "Nothing is allowed unless it is expressly written as such by law".
Long live the old firehouse! May we writing "imi" women thrive there!