Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How To Be 2

Oh, my goodness.  You have to check out this short video of a day in the life of a two year old.  It is SO adorable.  Original link here, or watch it below.

Seriously, how adorable is that?!  My favorite part is when she's drinking milk and tilts her head all the way back and she has a little dribble down her chin.

I'm in no rush for Pippa to grow up, but I am looking forward to when she does all sorts of cute things like this.

P.S. The title reminds me of a book my mom gave me / Pippa called "How to Be a Baby" for someday in the distant future when Pippa is a big sister.  It's a pretty hilarious book.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Friday, the day after we arrived in Berlin, T's work had set up an appointment for us to get registered in Berlin.  We ate breakfast at the hotel (18 euros a person!) then headed out.  Our hotel was about 1kilometer away from T's work so we walked over.  (Confession: I always want to shorten kilometer to kilo.  I know that if I actually ever did say kilo instead of kilometer everyone would think I was dumb so I'll never say it out loud, but I still think it almost every time.) It was cold and we were glad that we had the carseat cover in addition to the zip up thing from my brother to keep Pippa warm in her stroller.  As we had notice on the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel, we were very close to a lot of major tourist attractions and we saw a lot of them on our walk to T's work.

I'm not exactly sure what this one is.  I just liked it.  Bears are everywhere in Berlin - they are the unofficial city emblem.

The Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) and the Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower)
We didn't actually have time to ever go into these two places... We wanted to go to the top of the TV tower because the view is supposed to be amazing, but it was cloudy / foggy our two tourist days and we didn't think it would be worth it.

The entrance to one of the Museums on Museum Island.  We didn't go to any of these museums either. I love me some art / history museums, and while art and old things are cool, we had already seen a bunch of that in London and DC and we wanted to see things specific to Berlin in our limited tourist time.

Back to the registration appointment on our first full day in Berlin:  The HR girl took us to the appointment via U-bahn (subway) and it was very helpful to see how to buy tickets and such.  All of the registration / visa stuff was pretty confusing and I am SO glad that the company's HR took care of pretty much everything so all we had to was show up.  Basically, and this is just how I understand things so it might not be quite right, everyone who lives in Germany regardless of nationality has to register at the local registry office (Einwohnermeldamt).    Every time you change addresses (even within the same city) you have to re-register in person with the registration office in that area and sometimes when you leave a city you have to de-register (also in person).  The registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung) is pretty important and you need it to do pretty much anything official in Germany (get a library card, or a visa, or open a bank account).

The HR girl set up this appointment for us in advance so we didn't have to wait in line, which apparently takes a long time.  We had to bring birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, and T's employment contract.  We weren't actually living in Berlin, but we needed the registration certificate to get the visa so we were allowed to use T's company's address.  I'm also very glad that the HR girl was there to translate because I had no idea what was going on.  A side note: the building was so dark and cold.  The atrium was open to the sky and even the room where our appointment actually took place was so dark that from the outside the building looked closed.  Maybe they are just trying to be energy efficient?

After the appointment we headed back to the office where I fed Pippa and T took care of some more HR stuff.  We decided to have dinner at an "American Diner" that we saw on our way back to the office.  They had Mexican food on the menu and that is what I ordered because i wasn't sure the next time I would have that option (remember in London when all I wanted was a taco and there were NO Mexican food restaurants to be found?!).  T had a burger but as soon as our food arrived Pippa was fussy and wouldn't be consoled.  So we had two bites and got the rest to go.  By they way, most German restaurants don't won't box up the remains of your meal - it's just not done.  Another German restaurant tip: when you order a drink know that it doesn't come with free refills.  And don't ask for tap water.  Apparently the translation is equal to "plumbing" water so ask for mineral water instead.  (They also have bubbly water (carbonated water) but why anyone would want that is beyond me.)

We had our visa appointment lined up for Monday so that gave us Saturday and Sunday to do tourist-y things.  I don't know if you know this, but you can't really do 12 hour tourist days with a baby so we were pretty picky about what we went to see.

Saturday we left the hotel and grabbed breakfast at a McDonald's on our way to our first tourist stop.  It was a nice McDonald's!

The easy order touch screen had an English option so we didn't have to worry about translation issues.  And those things in the background are iPads for customers to browse on.  You know, check your email or maps while you eat.  Pretty rocking.  And we did actually use the map to find our stop which was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.  It's a church that was completely destroyed in WWII except for the bell tower and has been intentionally left in that condition.

(photo from here)

You would think that would be easy to spot except it turns out the bell tower was surrounded by scaffolding!  They were doing maintenance work on it so we didn't even see it!  We did go inside and see the ruined gilded mosaics though.  The new building surrounding the bell tower is a new church so we checked that out, too.  This is a panorama shot of the inside.
We had just stepped inside when the organ started playing crazy loud.  It made me jump and I was certain it woke Pippa up, but we checked and she was fast asleep.

After that we headed to The Story of Berlin Museum.  You can probably  imagine what the museum is about.  The first floor wasn't very well laid out and was kinda boring.  Halfway through I fed Pippa in the bathroom (I've been doing a lot of that lately.  I'm not sure what the German attitude is towards breastfeeding and I don't want to offend, so bathrooms it is.  If I ever spy another mom feeding in public I would be more inclined to do the same.)  Anyway, after feeding Pippa we went on the tour of the fallout shelter.  This was built during the Cold War and could still be used today.  Most of it is just rows and rows of these triple bunk beds.

It would only fit about 2,500 people and apparently the shelter is only for three weeks' stay – after that, you run out of food, have to go outside, and then die. Cold War planning at its finest!

Here we are in front of a huge chunk of the Berlin Wall at the museum.

I know the flash is harsh in this one, but the others I took without flash were blurry - it's hard to take a steady photo when you're wearing a baby who likes to reach and kick!

After that Pippa had had enough and we headed home.  She fell asleep in the stroller (nice job, baby!).  While in Berlin we stayed at the Cosmo Hotel and it was very posh.  It was literally across the street from the U-bahn (subway).  We stayed on the top floor in a corner room so we had a ton of windows and pretty great views.  One of our views was this Coke sign on top of an apartment building.
Something interesting about his hotel is that we had drapes, but we also had blinds   And they were on the outside of the building and you used switches inside the room to pull them up or down.  Another interesting thing - if Berlin were still separated the hotel would have been in East Berlin aka the Soviet side.

Here's some of Pippa giggling on the bed at the Hotel.

Sunday we went to the Government District.  First up the Reichstag (Parliament Building):

The building is very old and has been burned / ruined / rebuilt several times but the glass dome was added in 1999.  From the dome you can look down into the Parliament chamber symbolizing transparency in government.    We wanted to go on a tour of the building, but we didn't get register our names and birth-dates to get tickets online far enough in advance. (Because we had just decided the day before that we wanted to see it!  With all the planning an international move we didn't really plan out any tourist things in advance!)

Up close at the Reichstag you can't see the dome.

Then we moseyed past part of the Tiergarten (the Berlin version of Central Park) to the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate).

Please note the little green crossing guy and the red stop guy in the photos below.  These are unique to Berlin and originally started in East Berlin when it was part of the GDR (Soviet side of divided Germany).

These little stop and walk guys (Ampelmännchen) are found throughout Berlin now, but mostly still on the east side.  They are also everywhere in gift shops.

This photo is looking down the Berlin equivalent of the National Mall.

The Brandenburg Gate is the only remaining gate of 14 built in the late 1700's.  The top chariot portion was destroyed during WWII but the original molds were discovered in the 1950's and a new chariot was cast.  When Berlin was divided the Gate was on the Soviet East Side.

When JFK visited Berlin (and gave his "Ich Bin ein Berliner" speech) he stood on a platform in West Berlin overlooking the wall towards the Brandenburg Gate.  The Soviets hung red fabric from the Gate to prevent him from looking into the East.  (Pretty cool photo of that here.)

I promise Pippa is with us in all of these photos.  She just happens to be bundled up in the carseat like this.
It will be great to hold this over her head someday.  "What do you mean you want to go somewhere cool on vacation?!  You've already been all over Europe!  What more could you want?!

Literally next door to the Gate is the American Embassy.  America for the win!

T told me that when they were building the new embassy originally the U.S. wanted the building's perimeter to be secured 200 yards out.  Yeah, the Brandenburg Gate would have fallen within that ring.  Not gonna happen.

This is around on the other side of the American Embassy.  Like I said before, the bear is Berlin's unofficial mascot.  The Buddy Bear with his hands up like this can be found throughout the city painted in various ways. (Wyoming has something similar with cowboy boots, Utah has buffalos, LA has angels - lots of places do this sort of thing and I think it is pretty fabulous.)  I LOVE that this one is done up like the Statue of Liberty.  The giant black and white star artwork inside looks pretty cool, too!

Across the street from the American Embassy is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It's very abstract and has columns of different heights and the path between them is laid out straight but there are hills and valleys.  Apparently the designer of the memorial did not use any symbolism.  Kinda different.  

Here T is in the middle.  You can kind of tell that the path in front of him is full of small hills.  There is a information center about the Memorial underground that holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust vicitms, but we didn't have time to visit it.

We wanted to find something to eat and you would think that around these major tourist attractions we could find something, but most shops (even souvenir shops!) and restaurants were closed because it was Sunday.  We ended up getting snacks from Dunkin' Donuts and paying 50 cents to use a WC to change Pippa's diaper.  More about that in an upcoming post about different things in Germany.

Then we headed to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which was very not disabled accessable.  Luckily, we had already planned for me to carry Pippa in the K'tan around this museum because it was inside (aka not freezing) and we thought she could use a break from the stroller.  Oh, I fed Pippa in a bathroom here, too.

The Museum was cool but poorly laid out - I honestly had no idea if we even saw all the rooms because there wasn't any flow to the place at all.  Also, there was just SO. MUCH. writing.  Part of is was because each sign was in German, English, Russian, AND French (the allies who occupied Germany after WWII), but also there were just a million signs.

Looking down at the actual Checkpoint Charlie from the Museum.  From this room journalists used to watch for people escaping from the East side to the West side of Berlin.

There was a giant room dedicated to Reagan. And you know we love Reagan over here! (In these photos you can see what I'm talking about with so much writing!)

We're Reagan-ing!  Pippa already looks up to Reagan.
(You can see all four languages used on each sign here.)

One of the original signs.

My favorite part of the museum was seeing the different ways people escaped from East Berlin to West Berlin.  There were some pretty incredible stories and ingenious plans.  

We grabbed some late lunch at the McDonalds across from Checkpoint Charlie (they also had the easy order touch screens) and also grabbed some pizza from a Turkish place to eat later that night for dinner. Not surprisingly, cold Turkish pizza isn't that great.  

On Monday, T went to work and Pippa and I met him there later in the day to go to our visa appointment.  I didn't get lost or even have to look at the map to get there.  Ta-da!  (In case you didn't know I have a terrible sense of direction and usually have to go somewhere the exact same way five times before I have it down.)

The HR girl, T, and Pippa with her carseat and stroller all piled in a taxi and we headed somewhere to get our visas.  I'm not actually sure where we went in terms of location or government department.  Our visas were fast and easy to get because T already had a job and the company set up the appointment ahead of time.  Still glad the HR girl was there because I didn't understand at all what was going on.  A short wait and €250 later and we had our visas.  

I asked T to snap a photo of these colorful apartments across from the visa place.  

We ate lunch at an Italian place - well I scarfed mine down then left T to pay the bill while I went back to the company's office to feed Pippa.  Then Pippa and I headed back to the hotel while T finished up the day at work.  It was a cold walk home.  This photo from the elevator doesn't show it especially well but my cheeks were bright red.

Not an especially great photo, but I just love that we're both in it and smiling.

The next morning we had to fit everything back into our 5 checked bags and 4 carry ons (don't forget we had the carseat / stroller combo, too!) for our flight from Berlin to Munich.  It was a short flight (just over an hour) if we were to drive it would have been about 6 hours.  The ride to the airport was about €25 and we got there plenty early.  Again, the Berlin airport is just terrible.  T says he wouldn't be surprised if it was built by the Soviets and has never changed.

There was another baby on our flight and Pippa started sympathy crying with him when we were boarding.  The Munich airport was much nicer and more what I expected.  We gathered up all of our luggage and headed out to get a taxi.  The ride into Munich was MUCH more expensive -  around €65!  We didn't realize the airport was so far out from the city!  Good thing we the taxis are reimbursable with our moving money!

Up next:  the first bit of Munich

Oh, a few of my thoughts about Berlin:  I really felt like I saw everything I wanted to in Berlin.  Berlin is a clean city except for the graffiti which is everywhere.  It's even in the extremely nice parts of town.  Berliners are pretty liberal in terms of dress, hair color and style, and piercings.  The overall vibe I got was that Berlin is for younger people who are "artists."  I hope you can hear the giant eye roll in my voice when I say "artists."  If the Germany assignment for T's company had been for Berlin, I don't think we would have taken it.