A German Halloween & Reformationstag

Note: It feels wrong to write this post on our untouched, joyful lives with so much sadness and pain elsewhere in the world. I know the suffering is not new with the recent attacks on Paris and people in many parts of the world have been struggling long before last weekend. I also know that it does nothing productive to dwell in the sadness. We have to be present in our lives while we’re here and the best thing we can do is spread love, serve our neighbors and raise children with the hope to make this world a better place. I am inspired to do more. If nothing else, I hope this blog makes our love one’s smile seeing our happy adventures captured in time.

DSC01463DSC01466DSC01473I absolutely LOVE Halloween. It makes me feel like a kid and I never get to do it big enough. I want to do it BIGGGG. One day we’re going to throw a proper Halloween party. You can all come! Last Halloween James was only 7 months and we dressed him up as a Princeton Tiger for a total of about an hour and a half just to go to a little party. I worked the night shift then so Mark put James to bed and I went to work in my Rosie the Riveter hair and “We Can Do It” sign pinned to my scrubs.

This Halloween I wanted to do something more. So I made James a lamb costume from a hoodie, cotton balls and some felt. I was very proud of my thrifty little costume, although as the night went on our little lamb started molting quite a bit. We are still trying to get the fluff off his winter coat! Being in Germany, we couldn’t quite do it like we would at home but we did the best we could. They are just starting to really celebrate Halloween here over the last few years and I don’t think they do trick or treating outside the big cities. So, we did what everyone else in town seemed to be doing and went to Zoo Halloween. It was fun and they had some interesting shows but there was a big difference — they only do it scary. No funny or cute costumes. Only evil! Witches, masked men, pirates, vampires, devils. People truly stopped and laughed at the little lamb toddling off in the middle of a bunch of devils and zombies. We giggled about it all night.

IMG_9221 (1)DSC01518IMG_9224 (1)DSC01534DSC01538IMG_9245 (1)IMG_9241 (1)DSC01547DSC01563IMG_9248 (1)I haven’t really talked about it much here yet but culture shock couldn’t help but push me little bit for this one. I hate the term culture shock – it sounds so traumatic. I wish it were called “culture gumbles” or something a little less like a diagnosis from the DSM-5. None-the-less, I did want to scream at people — “we do fun, beautiful, creative, funny AND scary costumes where I’m from and its better!”  Culture shock is this awful thing where you are constantly feeling “how can everyone here be okay doing it this way, don’t they understand how silly it is to do it differently?! Why isn’t anyone else outraged at this?!” This does not just apply to something big like the difference in holiday celebrations but also to something simple like crossing the street. Oh, that one is the hardest for me. Anytime this creeps up I get frustrated and confused and I almost always feel a little sad after it happens because I know how ridiculous I’m being. It’s very normal, I know… I can’t imagine what people must go through when there are even more blatant differences in their old life to their new one and when they don’t look like the other people in their new surroundings. And they aren’t welcome (ahem). How awful! We actually have it easy in that regard and in many other ways too. It’s getting better for me everyday, which I think means I am just adapting to their way or feeling less like an outsider – probably both. Now I wait and cross the street with the green walk sign like everyone else. I didn’t want to be lectured and stared at anymore, if I ‘gasp! cross the street when no cars are coming but there’s a red ‘don’t walk’ sign!”. I’m not even exaggerating when I tell you, there will be ten people waiting at a small street with a ‘don’t walk’ sign and not a car in sight. It baffles me. Apparently Mark is immune to culture shock or maybe he’s just a gentler soul. It doesn’t bother him. Other differences that get to me: there are no rules for standing in line (people cut and make their own lines — this one drives me bonkers), pizza doesn’t come cut (what?!), smoking is so much more common – especially among young people, customer service (it is not), you can be scolded by anyone for anything, there is graffiti everywhere, everything is closed on Sundays, shopping carts are chained together and you have to give a Euro to use one, and I already told you how fun it is to try and scoop up your groceries and pay before they start dumping the next person’s stuff on top of yours. This is a tangent. I’m sorry. It me not you, okay Germany?

Otherwise it’s great — wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just wanted to keep this blog real, you know? Some awesome things about Germany, just so that you don’t think I only see the challenging ones: beer & bratwurts (!!!), percentages are on their ingredients listed on food containers (why doesn’t the US do this?!), almost all windows open two ways so you can have an open window without rain coming in (!), the playgrounds and general baby-friendliness, public transportation, Glühwine, beautiful & historic architecture, and I think as we’re soon-to-learn, The Christmas Markets. Most important, people are quite friendly once you get talking and very generous.

With all the said, Halloween was still great even while being different because we got to dress James up and watch him experience this [his] version of Halloween. Plus he got to see some animals at the Zoo. What could be better!

That was Friday. On Saturday we took a quick hour and a half long train to Wittenberg for Reformationstag. What a Lutheran spectacle it was! You can read more about it here.

DSC01736DSC01604DSC01606 DSC01609DSC01610Wall to wall people for much of the experience. If I didn’t think it was weird when we ran into people Mark knew on a hike in the middle of Alaska or on the street in the middle of Manhattan, it sure was weird when ran into the librarian from Luther Seminary here at the festival in the middle of Germany.

DSC01614 DSC01617 DSC01620 DSC01621Schlosskirche and it’s door where Luther nailed his ninety-five theses and started the Reformation.

DSC01622DSC01625 DSC01630 DSC01637I was nervous to let him do this since they aren’t buckled in but the woman cranking the wheel was so sweet and James LOVED it!

DSC01643DSC01669An actual blacksmith forging actual metal. The process was mesmerizing to watch! I duuuug it. A lot.

DSC01667DSC01671 DSC01675 DSC01681 DSC01683 DSC01684 DSC01689A community door of theses from 2015. Of course Mark added one too.

DSC01698Luther everything! Hard candy given to James and confiscated by me — again.

DSC01705 DSC01710 DSC01711DSC01712 DSC01713 DSC01715 DSC01737DSC01739DSC01740DSC01742We quickly walked through Lutherhaus before catching our train home. The largest Reformation museum in the world is inside! Jim & Donna, I think that should be on our list for when you come visit.

DSC01743DSC01744DSC01745DSC01754DSC01757DSC01760DSC01762This off-duty jester playing on his iPhone made us laugh.

DSC01763DSC01764DSC01768DSC01774I love this wizard guy with his bare feet and the woman spinning yarn.

DSC01775The clacking of the train sure is lulling after a long day.

IMG_9280That night we organized a little trick or treating in our building by giving our international neighbors candy ahead of time and asking them if they wouldn’t mind giving them out to the kids. I’m not sure who ended up having more fun. First trick or treating for everyone!

DSC01805DSC01794DSC01812What toddler wears his costume all night long? Definitely not this guy. He defaulted to a ballet dancer halfway through.

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I hope next year we can throw the amazing Halloween party I’ve been dreaming of, but if it still isn’t in the cards, it’s nice to know watching your kid dress up and build community with the neighbors is still pretty darn great.

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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!