Where We Live

DSC01304[“If the truth is too feeble to stick up for itself, then it must go on the attack.”] – Bertolt Brecht, street art found in our neighborhood

We live in the city of Halle (pronounced like holla), on the Saale River, in Eastern Germany — 30 mins by train to Leipzig and about 90 mins to Berlin. It’s a university town, home to Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. Our housing is between campus buildings but feels very different than a typical American college campus. It’s hard to explain how it’s different. It feels more serious, I guess. I saw some college girls giggling and running with each other the other day and my first thought was “they must speak English!”. I then realized it was just a behavior I haven’t seen much around here. It sounded so familiar!

One of the first things we noticed upon moving here is that graffiti/street art is everywhere here. This store selling speciality spray paint is just a few steps down our street. I do see the art in “street-art” and think it’s great when people want to paint their own property to express themselves but I am very sad when it looks like previously beautiful historic buildings have been vandalized. I’m not sure how the German people feel about it. I’m guessing it’s generational.

DSC01308There are also a lot of abandoned buildings here. The older groundskeeper in our building has lived here since before the wall went down. He said that in it’s prime Halle had a population of 500,000 but has since dropped by almost half. It is still thriving but just in a smaller way.

IMG_8142An abandoned building across from our apartment.

DSC01316Even the playgrounds are not immune to graffiti.

IMG_8473IMG_9053DSC01407 2No one has explained this to me but it appears that there is a lot of tagging being done to mark areas as “Antifa” or antifacist. There are often references to Nazis and sometimes dates which makes me think there are specific events that prompt these tags.

DSC01335DSC01285DSC00103IMG_9051An old abandoned communist building.

DSC01292I think this says, “Through Work comes Happiness”.

IMG_8574Processed with VSCOcam with s3 presetIMG_7376IMG_8813DSC01351There is also a big movement to welcome refugees and we see signs, graffiti and stickers all over the city. Protests are also common. We have started to notice, just this week actually, the presence of what appear to be refugees. I’m hoping I can volunteer to help in some way while we’re here.

IMG_7560IMG_7382IMG_8866There are many lovely parts to Halle. The marktplatz in the center of the city is a 10 minute walk from our home and there is a daily market with bread, meat, flowers, cheese, fish and ready-made food. I love it. I need to learn all the names for the speciality meat and fish because right now its super intimidating. I stick to the flower and produce stands mostly.

IMG_8842It seems that almost every weekend there is a festival of some kind with carnival rides, food stands and little shops selling everything from animal fur to holographic art.

The marktpatz during the Salz Fest (Salt Festival).

IMG_8492Our walk on the way to the marktplatz. It’s normally quite crowded. I’m surprised there are so few people in this picture — it was probably a Sunday when stores are closed.

IMG_7757IMG_9078Halle was the birthplace and hometown of the composer, Händel.

DSC00085Lovely little fountains everywhere we go.

IMG_8415IMG_8569 IMG_7280IMG_9156The coolest historic buildings and beautiful side streets.

DSC01301 DSC01278IMG_8888IMG_9006Halle-Neustadt, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Halle, has a very different feel due to the residential block apartments built in the 1960’s. It was a planned city during the DDR period when people flooded the area to work in the factories. They actually separated from Halle for a time and called themselves “The City of Chemical Workers” but have since rejoined the city.

IMG_9326A mural installed in the heart of the communist years depicting workers with Karl Marx and other themes from 1972.

IMG_9327A fun little zoo.

DSC00318 This was taken one of our first nights here. We went to a traditional German restaurant. We toasted to this amazing opportunity and pledged to do our best to balance work, travel and togetherness. So far, so good!

Their beer is better than ours. I’m normally a beer drinker with little taste for hops (or whatever else you people like). I normally prefer something light and mild but their beer has more flavor and still goes down so smooth.

DSC00090We were blown away at how accommodating they are to babies, especially in restaurants — including a changing table with stuffed animals, wipes, diapers, baby powder and more. We thought it might be just one restaurant but its pretty universal.

DSC00089DSC01218DSC01886The German people are very accommodating to children and give out gummies or candies to kids all the time. Apparently they are not as concerned with choking here since they give little toddlers like James hard candies, sausages and gummies with no concern (it seems). I would never want James to choke so I, very kindly, eat his candy. Also — anytime we try to buy milk for him in a cafe while traveling within Germany they always give it to us for free when they hear its for a child. It’s a little thing — but it makes such a kind impression!

This is at the Frankesche Stiftungen where Mark does his research. It a beautiful campus with a very interesting history. It has retained a lot of charm from its beginning and the design elements feel very unique. I encourage you to read more if you’re interested!

IMG_7296The Halle Opera House is just a couple blocks away from our apartment. We are longing to go but haven’t found a babysitter yet.

DSC01287Their version of a post office. I’m still confused by the system. My understanding is that they don’t have a government run post office so a handful of different companies deliver mail. I’m not a fan so far. USPS for life!

DSC01297The University campus.

DSC01331DSC01333There is so much history in this cemetery. It appears at some point long ago they rebuilt a stone wall at the entrance and used broken pieces of old tombstones. You can see words and dates peeking out in a few spots. That sort of thing is SO interesting to me. I want to know — did they do it by accident? Did they do it because they didn’t have any other resources? Are there unmarked graves? So many questions.

DSC01384The Kunstmuseam Moritzburg is a stunning monument and I can’t believe we took so long to visit. The dichotomy between old and new architecture is breathtaking. They left the ruins as is and built these dark glass walls hugging the inside frame. It is truly stunning. The castle was originally a residence for an archbishop in the 1500’s, with additions in 1900. It’s now an art museum. There is still a Lutheran chapel in use (that we plan to attend soon) and a cute little cafe too — with a play corner for the kids, of course.

DSC01847DSC01870DSC01878DSC01879A Beatles Museum that we haven’t been to yet. Funny location for one, isn’t it?

IMG_8811These nutria that live on the river sure are tame! I love their tiny furry babies and how they swim in harmony with the ducks. This is one of James and I’s favorite spots.

IMG_7515IMG_8233DSC01387This pond is also a favorite. This boy can never quack at enough ducks or find enough sticks!

IMG_8426IMG_9005Halle was an important Reformation landmark. Luther often preached during stops in Halle and his original death mask is found in the Market Church.

IMG_8528The Pauluskirche is stunning and in a beautiful neighborhood. I walk this direction every chance I get.

IMG_8598 IMG_8583A lovely little botanical garden that we visited one of the first weeks. James loved the open space and we enjoyed chasing him around in the beautiful garden.

IMG_8582IMG_8516The public library is small and they have only a handful of English language books but it’s still a nice escape when we need to change things up a bit. And now that we finally have our residence permit we can actually check out some books! We have some German and some English books at home but they get old quickly.  Of course James always asks for the German, which is not fun for me because I don’t know where to put the emphasis or how to pronounce everything…I’m learning with him! He says pilze instead of mushroom, blatt instead of leaf, wolf with a v-sound, katze/hund/tschoos/danke/bitte/du/hallo/oma/opa — I’m sure there’s more but those are the basics. It’s fun to hear him speak both English and German so much already!

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Our time in Halle, in a nutshell, over the last two months.

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Taking a little outing to Leipzig tomorrow. Excited to see “the Brooklyn of Germany”. More soon!

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Moving to Germany

Look at that cheesy grin. I think he likes it here!IMG_7615This has been a long time coming, seeing as we’ve lived in Germany for two months already. Apologies! We were quite busy the first month traveling to Marburg for Fulbright orientation, Munich for Oktoberfest and Paris for a conference. The second month we got our routine down and completed some important bureaucratic business.

Can you see the nervous energy? We were giving it!

IMG_7258Our parents giving us a joyous sendoff.

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Since we flew from Minnesota, our trip here was a long 10 hours of airtime plus many hours of airport and transport time. I was dreading the flight because I had no idea how we were going to get James to sleep or keep him asleep. And if he isn’t sleeping I assumed he would most likely be screaming. They didn’t end up turning off the cabin lights until around 11pm. Before that time he was so distracted by all the people and activities happening around him he didn’t even fuss. He fell asleep in my arms around 11:30pm and I was able to lay him on me or in the seat next to me for the rest of the journey. We were seated around a handful of other babies and toddlers so if one of them woke up, they all did. Luckily it wasn’t nearly as hard as I was imagining (although I didn’t sleep).

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After 14+ hours of travel we arrived to the Halle/Leipzig Airport where we soon learned that our luggage was lost. Five bags, a travel crib, and a stroller – all our belongings for the entire year. I think we were both so tired we didn’t even really react. We just gave them our address and took a (fast!!) taxi on the autobahn to our new home. Luckily, our university housing had a crib — it just needed to be assembled. I will never be as impressed with my husband as when he put together that crib as fast as he did, after traveling all night without sleep, reading the instructions in German and with a crying baby waiting. He’s a keeper, that one.

We live in Eastern Germany, in a town called Halle, on the Saale River. Here’s the wikipedia entry if you are interested. We live in the Georg Forster Haus, international university housing, in a modern two bedroom apartment. We have a shared kitchen down the hall from our apartment but they were nice enough to assign us to one of the smaller ones and gave us all the food storage so no one else really uses it. We are very comfortable in our new home and make the best of the little challenges. Most of the other visiting researchers in our buliding are single and often not staying for longer than a couple months. There is one other family, from Brazil, with a four-year old girl who James likes quite a bit. He loves to sing her name, “Luna”, at random times throughout the day. I think he’s missing his friends back home.

IMG_7517Our bedroom window overlooking the University printing press. 

DSC01200 The side yard even has a little playground!

DSC01320There isn’t a tub so we just plug the drain in the shower every night and reuse glass jars for everything.

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DSC01325Our kitchen overlooking the library.

DSC01327The oven was also, weirdly, a challenge. There are so many options for baking! Thanks to google, I think we’re about 60% sure we know what were doing.

IMG_8796Our locked refrigerator doors.

DSC01328The “music” room/play room.

DSC01323They wash our towels and sheets for us and clean the kitchen. It feels very luxurious.

We are loving our new life. A normal day involves breakfast together as a family, then Mark goes off to work while James and I leave the house for usually some combination of errands and playground time. Then we return for lunch, usually with Mark, then James naps and I get some alone time. Lately its been close to dark when James wakes up so we usually walk to get food and play in our apartment until dinner. Mark has German class from 6-8pm two days a week so we eat late and James doesn’t go to sleep until after 9pm.

The elevator in our building is a favorite play place. I can’t decide if he thinks the James in the mirror is another kid or he just thinks its super fun to make faces at himself. Either way, its easy entertainment.

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German playgrounds are AMAZING. They all have themes, don’t have as many safety precautions (this is a good thing) and are usually way more creative than their American counterparts. I mean, look at this fairytale!

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DSC01421 2The biergartens with playgrounds are even better.

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DSC00160Sometimes they even have puppet shows.

IMG_8531Halle also has a handful of kindercafes which are just what they sound like — cafe’s with play areas for children that serve food and drinks. Solea is our favorite because it has multiple levels and the best toys.

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DSC01348And cafe’s with dedicated baby/parent time for community building and play.

IMG_8808Stay at home parents are rare so during the day the playgrounds are often empty and the cafes can be too. Usually if the parents are at home it’s because they had a baby and are on their [extremely long] maternity or paternity leave. I have met some very lovely English-speaking people here already (American, German, Canadian) and they have been so generous with their invitations and willingness to help with any questions I’ve had. Like, where do I buy fabric to make a Halloween costume, what detergent gets out toddler stains and how do I know which pediatrician to pick? You know, the basics :)

If we’re not playing, we’re most likely shopping, since our refrigerator is so small and we came with little. Things like English children’s books (cherished but hard to find outside Amazon), clothes for the continually growing boy and food are usually highest on the list. We walk or take the tram everywhere — which we LOVE. My dream. Grocery shopping, on the other hand, is a nightmare and makes me want to cry every time I go. The first time I did cry big actual tears. Its rough. I’m learning. There is so much missing and I’m continually wondering what the German’s eat. Where is the cheddar cheese, vanilla extract, leafy greens, gallons of milk, ricotta, ground turkey, chicken/vegetable stock? I could go on. They don’t give bags (unless you want to pay), they don’t bag for you and going through the line feels a little like a relay handoff. They pile your stuff on top of other peoples stuff. Using a credit card is like a step back in time. When they hand you the receipt to sign they point at the amount, say the amount, then point at the line to sign, then watch you sign and actually check (very carefully) for a matching signature. I have had to redo my signature twice because it wasn’t a close enough match. Everyone here seems to pay in cash, even for big things. Usually the cashiers don’t speak English and I am slowly learning German, so you can see how this would be a little rocky at times. Sometimes James is crying too, because if something is stressful our babies always know how to help — amiright?

As expected, some great, some not-so-great aspect of living abroad. Of course, the days are numbered and we are enjoying every aspect that we can while were here. The good highly outweighs the bad! Next I’ll show you the town and talk a little bit more about culture shock (oye).