Monday, 12 March 2012

Bits and Bobs

This post has a little bit of everything, from the weather to 'what's different', and some news. . .
Das Wetter – The weather
In Germany, people love to talk about the weather, and I fit in just perfectly in that respect, because I do too.  This month has seen the start of Spring – horray!  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos yet of flowers blooming. But they are certainly on their way; lots of trees have buds on them. Yesterday we drove past a field covered in beautiful yellow tulips.  Having left SA in Winter last year, we didn’t get to experience a Spring in 2011, so I am very excited about it now.  I can’t actually believe we made it through our first Winter here and it wasn’t even too bad.  Well, we did manage to escape the really cold spell by heading to a sunny destination.  
We went to Phuket for 12 days at the end of January to get some much-needed sunshine.  There were loads of other people there from Germany, Austria and Scandinavia, all with the same idea. It seems to be the thing to do to get through that last winter stretch, when the days are grey and dull.  The day after we arrived in Phuket, the temperatures back home plummeted to -14°C for 2 weeks!  I was very relieved, and very grateful, that we only had one day of that cold on our return home; it’s definitely not something I am used to.  A big Thank You to our kind neighbours who empited our post box while we were away, dropped and fetched us from the airport, and turned on our heating system two days before our return.
Sunny Phuket, only a distant memory
With spring in the air we are currently experiencing a few more sunny days and temperatures averaging highs of about 11°C during the day, going up to 15 later in the week. Funny to think that these were my cold winter days in Johannesburg! 
We went for a Sunday afternoon walk a couple of weekends ago.  It's quite popular to go for after-lunch walks here :-) Anyway, the sun was out, but we saw some dark grey clouds looming in the distance. Desperate to get out the house we thought we'd make it in time to miss the rain.  Huh - the rain! Not a chance, they were snow clouds. About 5 minutes after we'd just left the house we got caught in a snow storm. It was fun, but we headed home; it was coming down pretty hard, and horizontally into our faces.  
 By the time we got home it looked really pretty. It didn't last long and melted soon afterwards. 

 Doing things differently
In my previous post I mentioned that I’d write about some of the things that we do differently now.  So, here are just a few (of the many) things.  In no particular order:
1.     Shopping Trolleys
When I go shopping I keep 1€ with me to get a shopping trolley.  
 Simply insert the coin into the slot and it releases your trolley.  
I think it’s a way of making sure people take their trolleys back to the correct place.  When I take my trolley back, I get my 1€ back.  Back in SA we had guys who collected the trolleys, and shoppers (including me, I have to admit) who would leave their trolleys at random in the parking lot.  Not because I was lazy, but usually because I couldn't see the trolley “parking place”.    
The other thing about the trolleys here, is that they have a mind of their own. They just don’t steer the way you want them to go. It’s a real ab-and-leg workout just to get the trolley to drive in a straight line. Someone told me it’s because they are four-wheel drives. Not even joking! Because all the wheels turn, not just the front, it’s supposed to be better to maneuver. Well, I still haven’t seen the benefit. Sometimes I feel like I’m on candid camera and someone is having a laugh at how I’m trying to steer my trolley through the aisles without knocking over this week’s specials, or wheeling into someone’s heels.
2.     The plugs!
Yip, all the appliances we brought over needed new plugs.
Old SA plugs
New European plug to be fitted to old appliance
The plug points on the walls are also different -  they have no on/off switch.  
This was a little daunting for me at first.  Anyone who’s had an electric shock from pulling out a plug before switching it off at the wall, can surely relate.  I was always taught to (hear a parent’s voice here) “switch off the plug at the wall before you take it out”.  I’ve had a few shocks in my life, clearly not deadly, but horrible anyway.  So on arrival I had a bit of fear for the plug points. Arne has assured me on many occasion that they are perfectly safe.  There are also plug points in the bathrooms, for shavers and hairdryers etc. Hairdryers! This too was drummed into me as a child to be an electrical shock hazard; or was that just toasters...? Hmm, I’ve watched one too many movies.  Just to be safe, I don’t use the bathroom plugs :-)
3.     The Rubbish
We now have 4 different bins, plus a crate for glass, and a box for plastic bottles. 
The brown bin is the Bio bin, for biodegradable stuff, including food, fruit and veg peels, kitchen paper towel, tea bags, coffee grinds etc.  We have a small bin the kitchen for this, and when it’s full it goes into the big brown bin.  Garden refuse can also go in this bin.
Bio bin
The blue bin is for paper.  And boy do they love paper here - everything comes by post! It’s not too bad because the postal service is ultra quick, but such a waste of paper when it could be emailed.  We also get a ton of advertising in our postbox, and free local newspapers.  We could put a sticker on our box saying “no advertising please”, but for now I quite like to see what’s happening in the shops and where to get certain things.  We have a small box in the house to collect the paper, including empty toilet rolls holders etc. for recycling, and when that’s full we put it into the big blue bin.
We have a yellow sack for packaging that goes for recycling. Everything from plastic to tin foil can go in here. We decided to put our yellow bag in a standing frame near the kitchen, because we use it so often.  These bags get collected on certain days.
Yellow sack
We keep glass bottles and other glass in a separate crate, and Arne takes it to the recycling place up the road every few weeks.  Most the plastic bottles, for mineral water or soft drinks, have a special recycling symbol on them. This means that they are refundable – to encourage people not to throw them in the trash. So we keep these and once a month we take them to the grocery store (any) which has a special machine that you feed the bottles into. The machine reads the symbol and crushes the bottle. After all the bottles have been fed in, a slip comes out with an amount that’s been refunded.  You can use this ‘voucher’ when you do your shopping.
The black bin is for Restmüll – other rubbish. We have a small bin in the kitchen, which, interestingly, is the smallest of our household bins, and when it’s full be put it in the black bin.   
Paper and Restmüll bins
We have a schedule (below) of which bin gets emptied when. There are certain days of the week for the various bins, including the yellow sack.   

We have missed the collection day once or twice because we didn’t read the schedule correctly, but we are getting the hang of it now.
4.     Winter driving
Yip, back to the weather again. No, not quite. But here are a few things we had to get for my car to get through the winter.  I’ve already mentioned that I have steering wheel and seat heating, which I love! Arne says the heated steering wheel is a real “girl thing”, but I love it anyway.  
We have to have 2 sets of tyres, including rims, here - Winter tyres and summer tyres. The winter tyres have to be fitted from November, and I’m not 100% sure when they come off.  These tyres are supposed to be better for driving on icy roads.  So Arne keeps his summer tyres in the garage, and I keep mine in the cellar. Lucky for us we have enough space. 
My summer tyres
But there are actually people who make money from people who don’t have space, or who don’t have the energy to store their second set of tyres. So I could store my summer tyres at a warehouse, and when they are due to be put on, simply drive there, have the tyres changed, and store the winter ones there until November again. I’d have to pay a storage fee of course. But it beats carrying the heavy things from the street down into the cellar, and back up again, and then changing all the tyres.  I thought it would be easy, but once again, being the “girl” that I am, Arne helped me – thank you :-)
Here are a few items I used to get the ice off my windows in the mornings.  Now, there’s ice, and then there’s ice. And the ice I was used to back in SA could be easily scraped off, or I would pour some water on and wash it off in no time.  Here the water re-freezes as you pour, so that’s not an option. And the scraping can take ages if you don’t have the right ‘tools’ for the job.  We decided to keep Arne's car in the garage as he uses his car in the mornings, and usually dropped me at the train station. My car parks on the road and hence I needed some essential items.
Here is a scraper with a warm mitten around it. The inside has handle to guide the scraper...


This is a scraper with a brush at the end to brush off the snow and ice from the windscreen and away from the windscreen wipers.

This is a clever invention.  It's about 30cm long, with a waterproof bottom. In winter one often has wet shoes when getting into the car, and moisture causes misting up. This bag absorbs moisture from inside the car to help prevent the windows from misting up.  It has some form of activated coal inside.  I leave it in the car.
 5.     Housewarming – a lovely tradition
Although this photo is from a few months ago, I forgot to add it in previously.  Here Gregor and Irene, our German friends, are giving us Bread and Salt as a housewarming gift.  It’s a tradition that I had not heard of before.  It symbolizes wealth and prosperity – to never go hungry and to be prosperous in your new home.  We loved this, thank you Irene and Gregor. 
Irene, Gregor and little Jonathan
Our bread and salt

And now for the News
I passed my German level B1 exam – yippee, no more lectures, no more studying! This is the level of exam I needed to one day apply for my German passport. 
Feeling very proud with my "Zertifikat Deutsch"
It’s also the level one would need to get a working visa under certain circumstances. Fortunately I already have permission to work, but now I have no excuse not to get out there and find a job :-)  But more importantly, I’m really glad I did the course so that I can interact with people here in German. I still have a lot to learn and am aware of my mistakes, but “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.    
Being called Frau Bier instead of Leanne is still taking some getting used to. I took a photo of the timetable at my language school, where they had booked the room for me to do my exam in.  Check out Raum (room) 310 @ 11.00 . . .

Speaking of finding a job, I am now officially on the hunt. I had my first interview last week. The kindergarten advertised for a native English-speaking teacher (a rare find, I’ve been told) and then proceeded to conduct the interview in German! Good practice for me, but frustrating none the less.  Anyway, it wasn’t a place I could see myself working, it’s not a Montessori school, and that’s where my passion lies, so I am exploring further.  I have two meetings set up at other (real) Montessori Kindergartens this week and next – one is German-speaking (brave me) and the other in an international English-speaking Montessori.  Both are looking for substitute teachers, but hey, it’s a start.  Hold thumbs, and I’ll keep you posted.    I have to keep practicing (is this with an s or a c?) my German otherwise I tend to forget what I’ve learned. But the problem is it’s messing with the English side of my brain. I’ve started spelling nouns with capital letters, like in German, and I’ve been forgetting crucial words and grammar in English. How do I practice both now! The other day I said to Arne when I wanted to pump up my exercise ball, “Do we still have that thing that pumps things?” Arne: “Yes, it’s called a pump!” Oops. 
We also finally got our German driver’s licenses, aka Führerschein, so we are now driving legally; we had 6 months since arrival to convert from our SA license. 
Older news, but news anyway – In December, Arne and I celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary, and decided to explore a local sight in Eppstein, the Kaiser Temple.  There are beautiful views of Bremthal, our town, and a cosy Italian Restaurant where we had lunch.  The history of the Kaiser Temple dates back to 1892-94, and if you’re interested in the story behind it, please visit this webpage, and then copy the paragraph called Geschichte into Google translate (I thought this would be easier than retyping the entire page).

Funny pics
When we went for a walk in Autumn, that’s our Autumn last November, and I forgot I’d taken these pics.  I found this sign post to be hilarious.  It’s supposed to show that there’s walking path through the forest.  There’s a beautiful forest up the road from us o go walking in, and we haven’t quite made the most of it yet because of the cold weather.   
Walking in the forest in Autumn - Gregor, Irene, Arne & Jonathan
 Anyway, upon entering the area they have this sign:

 Until next time...

Coming up this later month we have Arne’s birthday! We will have a little celebration at our house for his special day :-) 
Arne is constantly doing some form of DIY to keep the house in order - Thank you :-)

And on the last Sunday in March we turn our clocks forward one hour to revert back to summer times. So we will once again be on the same time zone as SA.
I will also have some Springtime photos of the flowers in our garden to share with you. I can see the shoots coming out of the ground, and am eagerly awaiting the buds and flowers – Tulips planted by the previous owner of the house.

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