to Köln we go
Travel days are never my favorite. Today we went from Freiburg to Cologne. This is usually a 3.5 hour ride on one train. However, a maintenance mishap on a tunnel back in August has thrown Deutsche Bahn out of whack. Instead of one train, we took three and a bus. It was not the easiest journey, and it rained on our walk to the Cologne apartment.
But, there were some highlights. On the first train, a man asked Errol if he could borrow his phone charger. He told us he was a Serbian gypsy--a music man. We couldn’t find seats on this train so some of the kids and I were sitting on the floor. Near the end of the ride, he played his guitar for us.
On the second to last train, we sat in an enclosed family cabin. For some reason, we only had five out of the six seats reserved, but it was still nice to sit together.
On the last train, Deutsche Bahn offered a complimentary childcare service. Our three littles played games and made crafts with nice German ladies instead of sitting with their tired and impatient parents. Many thanks, DB.
Class field Trip
My intensive German class ended today. It met from 9.15-12.45 everyday the last four weeks. Our teacher Ingrid is lovely. She’s 64, divorced, and is always telling us where to go during our free time. She advises to get out of the city as much as we can. Go on hikes and visit villages. Don’t waste your money. She has held several jobs and last night I asked her what was her favorite.
“All of them. Whenever I stop loving it, I get a new one.”
She teaches beginning German to university students, refugees, and prisoners. Between class sessions, she travels. She leaves on Saturday for a two-week hiking holiday in Greece.
Last night she took our class on a hiking/dining adventure to Ihringen. We took a train to the village and hiked on narrow paths through vineyards and waved at mountains in France. The views were spectacular. Our destination was the restaurant Martinshof-Schenke. We were greeted by grazing turkeys and friendly wait staff.
Ingrid had gone the weekend before and borrowed a menu so we could study it and practice ordering our dishes in class. We bought liters of wine and passed around our plates of schnitzel and Kürbispfanne. Ryan’s gravy was the highlight.
I’m glad I didn’t dismiss the 10-15 year age difference with my classmates. Imagine if Ian would have back in 2003 (*shudder*). It’s been fun getting to know these 90s babies, and I’m going to miss them.
Thom finally has a bike. It was a process. I was counting on the existence of some kind of Tiger Trade or Craigslist website and never found one. Bike shops are plentiful, but we didn’t want to spend hundreds of euros on a new one.
My teacher tipped me off on a good used bike store. Thom and I went and found one he liked. We tried to buy it, but they only accepted cash.
“Who just carries 120€ with them?” I asked Errol at home, feeling rather discouraged.
“Germans,” he answered.
Germans do seem to prefer cash transactions and be weary of credit cards. I am always taken aback when everyone else in the line pays for groceries with cash. I’ve been told that most restaurants in Freiburg don’t even accept cards.
It ended up being alright that our first try didn’t pan out. Bikes aren’t allowed on trams so we would have had to walk it back to our flat, almost three miles away. Thom would not have been happy about this.
The story has a happy ending. I found a closer store that sold both new and used bikes. Thom picked one out, we forked over the cash, and had a sunny afternoon for the 30 minute walk home.
Thom was thrilled to try out his new set of wheels. A month out of the saddle resulted in a bruised ego and a skinned knee, but we’re all happy the task is complete.
The next box to check is Thom and Vinnie riding their bikes to the tram stop. Hoping by Thanksgiving!
Last week, the second 90 minutes of my German class was held at the outdoor market in the Münsterplatz. We were there to practice everyday phrases:
“Wie viel kostet das?”
“Ich hätte gern zwei kilo Äpfel, bitte.”
It was fun, and our instructor treated us to wine from her one liter plastic container she had filled at the market.
A few of them were going to Munich for Oktoberfest over the weekend. On the walk to the market, I heard my classmate Eric mention he was staying at a place called The Tent.
“I’ stayed there fourteen years ago!”
As we walked, I told them about Munich with Marcelo and my adventures in Venice, trying to find him.
“Did you end up marrying Marcelo?” Olivia asked.
“No, I married a white boy from Arizona.”
Today during our break I checked in with Eric to hear about Munich. Unsurprisingly, they had a great time. Eric asked me where I went to college.
“What do you mean?”
“The one in Arizona, right?”
“Seems like you had a lot of fun in your youth.”
I did have a lot of fun at ASU and on my backpacking trip, but I thought it strange to classify these as events of my youth.
Youth is lost for most but not always at the same point in life.
Pferde im Seepark
Galloping in Günterstal
Today we took a trip a few stops down the tram line to the village of Günterstal. We came for the playground, but the kids had more fun in the large field beside it. It was perfect for galloping. This weekend they’ve been playing a game where they have imaginary horses. Most of the details are unknown to me, but Thom has one named Mercy and Vinnie’s are Gus and Lemon. While I was brushing Neddy’s teeth this morning, I told him that I wanted a real horse when I was a kid. I loved riding my friends’ horses, but Ama and Papa never bought one. Ned seemed bewildered at the idea of his grandparents not granting a request.
Why we stopped?
It was a bit of an adventure to get to Oberlin last night for their version of Back to School Night. I was standing at Bertoldsbrunnen, waiting for the 1 tram, and I heard a crowd roar. It got louder and louder, and then I saw people marching in the street.
It was the kind of scene that I would have loved to stumble upon with little Vinnie before the twins were born.
“What do you think that noise is?”
“Why are some of those people wearing funny outfits?”
“What’s the Care Revolution?”
“Why do they want to stop the trams?”
“Is this going to make me miss the meeting?”
Sometimes it’s nice to have a little pal to vocalize the questions everyone has inside. It makes you feel a little less powerless in a situation. Every once in awhile, they give cute responses.
Instead, I was alone, trying to figure out what to do. No matter what they tell you in middle school, sometimes it’s best to follow the crowd. There was a man wearing a rucksack that looked particularly sure of himself--something in his gait. I followed him to Stadttheater and got on another 1 tram. It took awhile, but it eventually got going.
We all miss the ten minute walk to school we had in Princeton, but nothing like this would ever happen on Southern Way.
This afternoon we made our second visit to the Carl Schurz Haus Bibliothek. Thom needed to replenish his Hardy Boys supply. We’re very lucky to have an English library here.
My bit on Bikes
We rode our bikes in town about once year. Besides Christmas, it was probably the best day of the year for Thomsen kids. It was always a summer night--usually after a good rain. Dad would load our bikes in the back of his pick-up, and we’d drive into town.
A lot of times we’d stop for our cousin Susan on the way. Five kids squeezed into the cab of a dirty farm pickup. Chris and I were usually sitting on laps, and I remember having the radio controls inches from my face. How I wanted to change the station from Power 99! Straying from our parents’ beloved oldies radio was forbidden. Today I wonder if all those songs about falling in love with pretty girls would feel as childish if they weren’t the soundtrack of my childhood.
We’d spend a lot of the evening riding through the cemetery. Dad loves cemeteries. He tells us stories of local tragedies and people long dead, from the old country.
It was a special treat if our grandparents were sitting on their porch when we rode by. They’d wave, and we’d wave back excitedly, knowing that we’d finish the night there with cookies and Kool-Aid.
When riding through town, we’d take up the whole street. Crossing Brown Ave (the main drag), was the only time we felt any “I hope I don’t get hit by a car” anxiety.
This is all to say, riding bikes in town once a summer did nothing to prepare me for actually riding a bike on a real street in a town larger than three thousand people.
My attempts at riding in Tempe, Lincoln, and Princeton were not that successful. It wasn’t fun, and I was unsure of the rules and where I belonged.
When Teddy, Thom, and Phoebe were little, Kate and I concluded that completing a task efficiently was no longer a priority. “You’ve got to do something to get through the day!” we’d say to each other.
It didn’t matter that walking to town took much longer than driving or biking. When you have little kids, and you’re with them all the time, your task becomes filling the day. You make your outings last as long as possible. It’s the opposite of normal adults, rushing from place to place, squeezing in as many errands during their lunch hour.
My kids are now older, and they all go to school each morning. I’ve become a normal adult, feeling the need to get to everywhere in a hurry.
I ride a bike.
Freiburg is extremely bike-friendly. They’re everywhere. Bikes ride with traffic alongside the trams and are treated with respect as a moving vehicle. I thought I wouldn’t feel comfortable, but I do.
I enjoy riding a bike here. My favorite is riding home from the gym, in the dark, listening to music. Last night I was feeling so free, jamming to Selena Gomez, that I did two things I usually would never do.
It seems riding a bike around Freiburg is my Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde formula.
Hausfrau on foot, but, on two wheels, rebel without a cause.
Hot liquids and I don’t get on. Never have. I still have the food temperature tolerance of an average preschooler. When the twins were born, I started to drink coffee. I prefer it cold and black.
Freiburg coffee shops don’t have iced coffee on their menus. Even Starbucks was confused when I ordered it in our first days here.
My new signature drink is “ein espresso bitte.” The cup is so small that it cools down fairly quickly, and it comes with a darling spoon. The little shop across from my classroom serves them with a tiny cookie.
Anne Thomsen lord
Writings on our year abroad.