Man oh man!

21 May

Dedicated readers (hi Mum) will have noticed my prolonged absence from the blog-waves. But after a five month hiatus I thought it time to churn a few well-pondered thoughts on to figurative paper- otherwise known as venting. It’s amazing how much of your creativity the proverbial “man” can sap from you during the hours of 9 to 5 (or 6 as in Germany, or 12:30am as in my recent workdays).

After spending the majority of the past few months im Büro it came as a great relief to me to welcome Mai (May), aka the month of endless public holidays in Germany. Unlike Australia and the UK where the public holidays are tagged on to the end of a weekend, Germany celebrates on the actual date the holiday falls on.

The first of May is of course Tag der Arbeit, which is shared by many countries all over the world as Labor Day. Nothing new there- just a few of the annual riots from the far left-wing hosted by Hamburg, paradoxically held in the hipster part of the city called “the Schanze”.

However, come the third Thursday of May it is time to celebrate Ascension Day, the day that Jesus apparently flew up in to Heaven. But as I took a look around at the groups of men drinking beer and pulling along wagons loaded with booze, I thought to myself: “Perhaps there was a Sunday school class I missed, which critically mentioned that over-consumption of beer was encouraged and revered”.

At last a religion that I could finally find something in common with, a symbol of hope, a sense of peace that the past 15 years of my life nursing Sunday hangovers was not time wasted, but could be instead considered “Churching from home” or “home chapel”. Perhaps God had heard my hangover prayers after all: “Oh God, please make this feeling stop and I will never drink again.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as some may know that my drinking habits need no encouragement), my realisations were soon brought back down to Earth (some ascension, huh?), and I was informed that Ascension Day doubles as Männertag, or  literally “Man Day”.

Outrage. A holiday to celebrate men?? No one gave me the memo about Women’s day and taking a day off on account of it! Ok ok, so it is supposed to be “Father’s Day” not simply Man Day, but I promise you that the majority of “men” I witnessed boozing around the streets were certainly not all fathers or with their fathers. Further research soon revealed that traditionally men of all ages gather with a wagon full of booze and go for a hike to complain about women and bond over aforementioned wagon-full. The women are to stay at home with the children, cook, clean and not contact the booze-infused male counterparts

Of course, the traditional hike has been replaced by more of a pub crawl these days, which I only found out after letting my “Man” out of the house, thinking that a hike would do him good.

Still, the men seem to have pulled off a good deal here, holiday, (booze) and all. Given the fact that we celebrated Mother’s Day only last Sunday, 13 May, why should there not be a separate weekday holiday designated to the same? A day off work to do as we please without the men?

Enter, AMD – Anti-man Day. A Carolina Robinson initiative in the name of equal(-drinking) rights for women.

The first AMD was celebrated in 2011 with great success. Held on the same day as Männertag, three women waved goodbye to their men and gathered in a sunny garden to paint their nails. Mud masked, they downed a litre of Bombay Sapphire, received noise complaints, and blasphemed conversed about men of the past, present and future.

They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day (certainly not on anyMännertag equivalent)  but even after experiencing my first Männertag, it took me less than a day to build a following for AMD. Surely Angela Merkel would be prepared to take this initiative national?

In the time that I have spent in Germany I have observed its sense of empowerment of women. Be it the fact that a woman is Chancellor of the country, or that noticeably more women are openly gay than men (who are overly closeted due to cultural norms), or simply that German men obviously view women as equals – by the simple fact that women are not invited to board the train first or exit elevators first.

Furthermore, in Germany men receive the equal amount of paid parental leave as women, an unprecedented 12 to 14 months with 65% of their normal pay (capped at a generous 1800€ per month). As for unpaid parental leave, a whopping 156 weeks (yes, that is 3 years for the mathematicians amongst us!) can be shared between mother and father.

My conclusion of what I have observed thus far: If men are given the same rights as women to this great extent in Germany (despite the fact that their bodies aren’t bent out of shape for 9 months along the way), what could they possibly have to complain about that warrants a holiday?

AMD 2013 anyone?

The AMD contingent

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Bahn Yarns – Scenes from the tracks

23 Dec

As I embarked on my last daily commute for the year, I wrote down a few stories from the tracks that have made it all worthwhile me smile.

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Lost in Transportation

20 Nov

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, so I take it I’m forgiven for my recent hiatus from the blogwaves. In fact I bet you’ve been wondering exactly what’s been missing from your life (money? Sex? Chocolate?) Nope.

Don’t you worry your little hearts too much though, I’ve been busy getting to work, in every sense of the phrase.

For you see, I thought from herein it was Hamburg, but being the non-Deutsch-speaking beggar that I am, when the offer (singular) came rolling in it hollered all the way from Berlin, and one option equals one choice.

Note to self, must change blog name.  Sheiße.

And so, not only have I “gotten to work” for the first time in three months, but I have literally been “getting-to-(and from)-work” and making and breaking the daily commute from HH to Berlin.

For those of you who don’t know, the distance between Germany’s two largest cities is approximately 250 kilometres. And while the speedy ICE Train can cover the distance in a relatively smooth 1 hour 40 minutes, there is the matter of getting from home (Eimsbüttel) to the HH Haupbahnhof, and the Berlin Haupbahnhof to work at Friedrichstraße. This takes the one-way door-to-door commute to a whopping 2.5 hours.

In fact, there is the matter of getting out of bed in the cold, dark morning in the first place. And for you Aussie readers out there, I must mention that the European winter mornings are on the opposite side of the spectrum from your definition of cold!

Now now, get back in your seats and save your standing ovations.  Put your hats back on heads but yes I will take to the podium. And let it be known that 2.5 hours sounds like a breeze after coping with delays that meant the journey home crept up to a mammoth 4 hours last week.

But hey, if it gives me an argument against German efficiency, I will cop the delays with a knowing smile beneath my rolling-eyed façade and impatient demeanour.

I have quickly learned to fill my time in transit catching up on old films, current series, Deutsch lernen, train songs, books, and people watching and listening. And carry my trusty thermos with me everywhere (so you’d almost mistake me for a German, but I’m not carrying maps in a ziplock bag as yet).

Time aside, let’s talk money. In order to get me from ‘HH’ to B, I have moved in to the elite class of the Bahncard 100. This is the maximum bracket of transportation subscription available and allows me to travel on any train in Germany at any time, for the monthly fee of 350euros. Sure, it sounds steep, but let me tell you, it’s worth the glory every time I flash my little black Bahncard to the ticket inspectors. Because the Bahncard 100 commands a certain respect amongst those in the know, a telltale sign that you own these tracks.

Working in Berlin has always been a dream of mine, from the first time I visited the city four years ago and the many times back since then. So for the first month it was quite a thrill, being right in the thick of the vibrant capital. But it’s funny how the lustre of something can be lost once one finds another precious gem.

Perhaps I found my pearl in Hamburg – it is a harbour after all – as it is the quieter, mature, more refined sibling city-state, offering the charms that one in her later 20s now seeks unknowingly, not the bustle and vibe of a Berghain-Berlin. Though I’m pretty sure there’s also the allure of meine Liebe, which makes the journey home all the more worthwhile.

Yes I’m going the distance, and I try not to tell myself that it’s the same time spent as getting from my old abode London to HH, except on a daily basis. I learned the lesson of absence making the heart fonder down the tricky and sometimes turbulent path of a long distance relationship. So once you find it, home is where the heart is and mine lies in HH.

I found a pearl in Hamburg harbour

Seeing (double) red..

15 Oct

If you wander the leafy Straßen of Hamburg, inevitably you will need to cross a road or two. Before you go thinking that I’m going to tell you to look left then right then left again, make sure you do look both ways, and be sure, be very sure, be 110% sure, to make sure the green man is illuminated and telling you to go.

Jaywalkers (like me) or ‘jaycyclists’ (like me) are shunned in this city, and I get a severe guilt trip from the curb crowd when I do break free prematurely. The boys in blue are also known to slap you with a fine, but that is a rarity.

Hamburg hails cyclists and pedestrians the respective kings and queens of the streets. Drivers are ever-wary when turning, slowing down and checking for cyclists in the bike lanes and pedestrians on crossings.

But let me tell you, it’s a two-way street.

For on your stroll about town, you will notice that at any crossing, albeit on the outskirts of town, with not a car in sight – until the green man says ‘go’ the Hamburgers will stay put on the curb.

And, just to make sure they don’t get any “crrrrazy” ideas to cross prior, there is not one red man, but two!

Was one red man not enough for the rule-abiding Hamburgers? Did all hell break loose before they brought in the reserves?

Hamburg is the only city that I have seen the double red man pedestrian lights, though apparently the Scandinavians are on to it too. So, why is it so?

No amount of Googling or asking residents could give me the answer, so I took it upon myself (during my recent unemployment spell) to go to the source that is Hamburg Tourism.

Dear Mrs. Robinson,

thank you for your enquiry.

The reason is for the case that one light fails the other light works.

Thank you very much,

Yours sincerely

HAMBURG Tourismus GmbH

Hmm.  Nope, I’m not buying that. If this was the logic behind installing a second light, then they would surely insist on backup for every traffic light in town, and more so for the vehicle traffic which has a greater chance of doing damage.

The other explanation I heard from a Hamburger was that the council just decided to use the same triple light frames that they use for vehicle traffic. Nope, not buying that either.  The rest of us figured out a way to make it work, and we aren’t the brightest bulbs of the bunch!

The Germans pride themselves on their ingenuity and logic, but whichever way I look at when they thought of this idea this was most certainly not a ‘light-bulb moment.’

Strike 1: A second red man light = double the light bulbs and double the energy to power them

Strike 2: Hamburg is the only city in Germany that I know of that enlists the second red man.

Strike 3: I’m a believer in two heads being better than one, but not necessarily when they are attached to two men.   A red-headed-woman? Now we’re talking (one guess as to the colour of this writer’s mane..)

So I responded to Hamburg Tourism, thanking them for their prompt response (less than 24 hours from a public body!), and asked for further information. No reply.

However, you’ll be pleased to know I have now found what I believe to be the answer to my nagging query.  Studies in Copenhagen found that people were less likely to jaywalk when there was a second red man light ‘enforcing’ the road rules, therefore decreasing the number of pedestrian accidents. According to this psychology, if they took the second man away now, there would be chaos on the Hamburg streets. This theory was my initial thought, but really, are we such a simple species? Apparently so.

The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

And here’s to you, Frau Robinson

8 Sep

Recently my Amerikaner booked me a ticket in Germany, and I baulked when I received it translated in the name of ‘Mrs Robinson’.

Connotations came to the forefront of my mind, (think, The Graduate) and I objected to the notion of being a ‘Mrs’ before my time, let alone a ‘Mrs Robinson’ (though ask me again in 20 years and perhaps I’ll have done a 180).

You see, it’s a funny thing in Germany, but generally speaking, when you fill out any sort of form you will only get a choice of two boxes to tick when it comes to title: Herr or Frau.

In English we have Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss and occasionally Master, to differentiate our marital status.

I’m told that the Germans keep the options to a minimum for the sake of equality.  It’s true, for why do men always get to go by Mr regardless of being unmarried, married or divorced, whereas women go from Miss to Mrs to Ms in the same sequence of events?

Further investigation in to titles lead me to the discovery that in Germany, a couple have three options when it comes to name taking and swapping after marriage.

1. They both keep their former surnames (Nachnamen)

2. They both adopt either the husband or the wife’s surname (the latter option being the rarer case)

3. One (and only one!) partner can combine both husband and wife’s surnames with a hyphen (Doppelname) and the children take on the surname common to both parties – it is strictly forbidden (by law!) to give children a Doppelname.

I find this not in the ‘name’ of equality at all. That only one partner is allowed to take the hyphenated name, and that the children are also not allowed the right to carry both names seems a little heavy-handed.

Sure, I can see the argument that if two people with Doppelnamen were to marry, strictly speaking they might choose to take on all four surnames which leads to lengthy problems for future generations.  But in other countries that do not have a preventative ‘anti-hypenated-name-law’, common sense prevails at some point.

On top of all that, I’ve just learned that you have to get approval from the German government when naming your child, yes, we’re talking first names too! I suppose this has it’s advantages, saving kids from being tormented by their peers for being called “Jesus” or “Apfel” or something of the sort.

It seems the German government can’t trust its citizens to name themselves sensibly, let alone cross the road!  When will common sense prevail in a culture that is based on logic?

"Jesus" loves you more than you will know..but he now goes by the government-approved-name "Jens"

Whatever the weather, ‘das Wetter’ is wetter in HH

30 Aug

I hate to say it, but I’ve become one of ‘those’ people. You know the ones.  They talk about the weather, and not much else.

After living in Europe for four years, I know what to expect when it comes to the four seasons.  I’ve made the choice to stick around, knowing that a winter’s day in my hometown Brisbane will rival that of a summer’s day in Europe.

This year I didn’t get the chance to make the comparison.  Why?  Because I swear to you that HH did not have a summer.

That is, of course, unless the characteristics of summer were redefined recently, unbeknown to me, to the likes of frequent showers (that coincidentally occur when one steps out the door), strong winds and maximums of 17 °C.  If you’re not breaking 20°C consistently (and I’m being very generous here), you can’t call that summer.

They say that HH has a maritime, continental climate, thanks to its proximity to the North Sea and the jet streams.  This translates to wind, rain, and cool oceanic air.  Often. Have I sold you on the place yet?

Proof that summer in HH is 'Wetter' - at Dockville Festival 2011

All credit to the Hamburgers though, for at the first sign of sunshine you can bet they’re in bikinis sunbathing in the local park, or taking portable bbqs down to the ‘beach’ (a later post to come on the German definition of a beach) to make the most of every last ray.

One thing they got right, was the word for weather, which is ‘Wetter.’  No joke.

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Me, myself and “ich”

15 Aug

I have a week’s worth of German classes under my belt, and hence thought it time to share some advice on the most basic of German pronunciations.

Ich.

For those of us unfamiliar with the language, we are more inclined to pronounce this word like the “ick” in “pick” or various other four letter words with the same ending. Continue reading