Tag Archives: Deutschland

Death, Dying and Impermanence: An American Expat and His German Wife Tackle Life’s Biggest Questions

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“What does it all mean, mein Schatz?” — Image Credit: Cristina L. F. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/xanetia/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic copyright.

Not too long ago, I had a birthday which pushed me closer to 40 years old than 30. I took a close look in the mirror, saw a few more gray hairs on my head, and even a few new ones in my eyebrows. In my goddamn eyebrows. Now, if you’re over 40, you’re probably rolling your eyes about now — ready to tell me all about the horrors of life at your advanced age — but you don’t need to; I’ve been worrying about aging and mortality since I was 6 years old.

It all started in the first grade, on the very first day of science class. The teacher held up a rotating model of the solar system, spun the planets around and said:

“These are the planets, and this little guy right here is Earth. See it? That’s us. We orbit this big yellow ball in the middle, called the Sun. The Sun is a star, and like all stars, it is going to swell up someday and become a Red Giant — engulfing the Earth and all the rest of the planets in the solar system — and then it will explode.”

After taking a moment to appreciate the horrified looks upon our adorable little faces, the teacher added:

“But don’t worry… this won’t happen for billions of years. You’ll all be dead long before that happens.”

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“Don’t touch the big one, kids. It’s hot.” — Image Credit: Image Editor (https://www.flickr.com/photos/11304375@N07/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic copyright.

Time and emotional scarring have no doubt clouded my memory of what our teacher actually said, but I do know the scientific facts presented were lost upon me entirely. Instead, what I learned that day was a deeper, darker truth: I am going to die.

I spent the rest of that afternoon sprawled out on the floor of my classroom, pretending to write numbers for some kind of math lesson or another, when what I was actually doing was staring at the floor, tracing its dusty, pockmarked tiles with my newly hollowed gaze, thinking to myself, I am going to die someday. My Dad is even older than me, so he’ll probably die first. And my Mom is going to die too. But even if we all lived forever, the Sun would just grow really big and burn us all to death anyway. Oh my God, it’s gonna to hurt so bad… And I literally pictured a burning yellow ball of unimaginable scale pressing up against my face, frying the skin off my skull while crushing everything and everyone I’d ever loved into a swelling crescendo of horror and agony.

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“Bye Mom! Bye Dad! Thanks for all the popsicles!” — Image Credit: Maxwell Hamilton (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mualphachi/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic copyright.

Although I’m all grown up now, I’ve never forgotten that particular day. Not just because of the brutally honest lesson in astronomy, or the long hours of painful realization and introspection afterward, but because it marked my first awareness of impermanence; that ceaseless metronome ticking away the seconds for all of us. You. Me. The plants and animals. Hell, even the Great Pyramids of Egypt. We’re all dying and eroding back into the stardust from whence we came. And when viewed upon a long enough timeline, absolutely nothing remains the same forever. So if fluctuation is the natural state of things, what is the point of life? Why do we struggle so hard to create things when nothing we make — organic or inorganic — can possibly last longer than a microsecond in the blind, uncaring eyes of the universe?

This is the part where you might suggest I find some religion or seek help for my obvious depression / anxiety disorder, but I don’t need any of those things; I’ve got a German wife. She is pragmatic and down-to-earth, and when she is presented with the big questions regarding life and death, she will restore the warmth to my heart by asking very simply:

“Why does our time on earth have to be limitated?”

If you would like to read another classic Denglish quote, check this one out: My German Wife Explains the Optimal Weather Conditions for Seasonal Allergy Attacks

Moving from an Apartment to a House in Hannover, Germany: My Wife Exemplifies the Classiest Exit Strategy Possible

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…upgrading our living conditions SO hard. — Photo Credit: Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon (https://www.flickr.com/photos/payitforwardphotos/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright

As you know, my wife and I live in Hannover, Germany. She is a native German citizen — bright, beautiful and freakishly enthusiastic about her work as a Gymnasium teacher — and I am an American expat; dark and introverted, spinning graphic design projects from my home office like a funnel-web spider tending to its silken trip-lines: “Oh yes, my pretties… come closer. Let me sink my venomous logo into your fledgling business enterprise…”

So normally I’m the hateful side of our little German-American relationship, and my wife is the loving side; she genuinely enjoys people and always looks for the good in them. But after living in a questionable apartment building with psychotic inhabitants and an apathetic management company for two years (See: Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane), even she was ready to burn the place to the ground and piss on the ashes.

She checked the house rental listings every night for months until finally she found the perfect opening: A little house in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, still close enough to commute to work, but far enough away we wouldn’t be tempted to climb on top of our new roof and pick off our former neighbors like a couple of wildly underqualified Marine snipers.

We got the news our rental application had been approved, and then we started packing like mad. We boxed everything up, hired a moving company and got the hell out of that apartment. As we drove away, gazing at the building as it receded from view, my wife stuck her hands out the window — both middle fingers held high in the air — and shouted, “Adios Amigos!”

Of course, with her adorable German accent, what actually came out was:

“Ahh-Dee-Yahs, Ahh-Mee-Gahs!”

If you would like to read another classic Denglish quote, check this one out: My German Wife Is A Huge Fan of HBO’s A Game of Thrones

The German Accent: Ain’t No Place for the English “T-H”

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“You just put your lips together and… blow.” — Image Credit: tiffany terry (https://www.flickr.com/photos/35168673@N03/) — Subject to CC Generic 2.0 Copyright.

I love my wife’s accent. It’s cute — sort of ambiguously European — with a rare subtlety which likely stems from so much time spent in the United States and her years of being married to me; an American book nerd who experiences heart palpitations whenever someone misuses the homophones “there” and “their.”

But who doesn’t enjoy a good foreign accent? They sound cool and unique. More attractive, even. (Except for that God-awful Cockney English accent. Holy shit.) So I cherish what precious little remains of my wife’s German accent, and record it whenever she lets fly with a real zinger. Yes, her mispronunciations make me laugh out loud, but I do not mean to mock her; I truly enjoy the linguistic differences. (And this road goes both ways, I’ll have you know: My wife laughs her sweet ass off whenever I try to say “ice cubes” in German. The word is “Eiswürfel,” pronounced, “Ice-vuhr-fell,” but I can’t stop saying “Ice-TZWUHR-fell.” Makes her lose her shit every time.)

One remnant of my wife’s accent is still going strong, however, and that is her total disregard for the English <th> sound, as in “theater,” “weather” or “Thor, God of Thunder.” (And yes, I am a comic book dork, as well as a fantasy nerd and sci-fi geek. I loved the movie Prometheus. It rocked so hard I’ve been hassling my wife to watch it with me since 2012.) So it was with much glee that I wrote down my wife’s quote the other day, after she came home from a particularly arduous day at work and demanded immediate relaxation, saying:

“I want to watch a movie so hard. We could even watch a sci-fi. We could even watch your ‘Pro-mee-toys.’ “

If you would like to read another classic mispronunciation post, check this one out: My German Wife Gets Stuck in Traffic, Struggles Adorably to Pronounce the English Letter ‘J’

Culture Shock in Germany: An American Expat Is Horrified by His Discovery of German ‘Schreber Gardens’

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“And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod…” — Photo Credit: Patrik Tschudin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/patsch/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright.

Dear Germany,

I have a confession to make.

When I first arrived at the Hannover airport back in 2012, my wife met me at the security gate, we picked up my luggage and boarded the S5 train on our way toward our new home. About a mile or two outside the city, I saw a vast wasteland of the most depressing houses on earth; tiny little shacks — too small even to hold a car — complete with miniature windows, flagpoles, chain-link fences, yards and gardens.

“My God,” I whispered to my wife, barely containing the tear which threatened to spill from my eye, “those poor, poor people…”

I marveled at the thought of living in such a confined space. Would the toilet be right next to your head as you slept at night? What about running water? A kitchen? Heat during winter? Holy Christ, are people raising children in those things?

I was disgusted by the idea a city like Hannover could thrive within spitting distance of such wretched slums. What sort of mayor allows a cesspool of humanity like this to decay in his own back yard? A sick one, that’s who. And then I took a closer look at these little nightmare shanties, all huddled together for warmth like derelicts around a burning car tire…

“You know, for a bunch of filthy untouchables, these Germans bums sure decorate the shit out of their huts.”

And it was true: Each little house was manicured with tender, loving care. Like dollhouses for God’s sullied children. They were freshly painted, complete with trim and decorations on the front door. They even had tiny chimneys and gutters. The yards were immaculate and the gardens were actually growing real, live, fruits and vegetables. I even saw a miniature trellis supporting a beautiful red climbing rose… like a single wish of hope in an otherwise hellish quagmire of despair.

“These are the best hobos ever!” I declared loudly, not only for my wife, but for the rest of the train car to hear as well.

“Those are Schreber gardens,” said my wife. “We call them ‘Schrebergärten.’ People who live in the city rent them so they can garden on the weekends. When I was a kid, I used to have sleepovers with my friend in her family’s Schreber garden.”

She was right. Apparently, the “Schreber Movement” started in Leipzig, Germany, in 1864. European industrialization in the 19th century brought tons of people into German cities, and most of them were very poor. As a way to improve their lives and put more food on the table, they used these little plots of land outside the city to garden, work outside in the fresh air and have a place for their children to play. These days, Schreber gardens are more of a hobby than a necessity, and though I’m sure there are some young people who continue to enjoy them, all I’ve seen are super old people with their hands in the dirt and their asses to the sky.

And so, Dear Germany, I must apologize; I am sorry for assuming so many of your citizens were living in abject squalor. I just didn’t know! I mean, I own a house in the States and I hate yard work — I couldn’t imagine paying someone for the chance to weed my own vegetable garden. That’s just crazy talk. But you go ahead and do your thing, Germany.

Do it real good.

 


 

If you would like to read another post regarding my adjustment to life in a new country, check this one out: American Expat Receives Terrifying Haircut at Turkish Hairdresser in Germany

Pruney Fingers: My German Wife Explains Why You Should Get Out of the Bathtub Right Now

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“Dear God in heaven, what does it MEAN??” — Photo Credit: SuperFantastic (https://www.flickr.com/photos/superfantastic/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright.

Generally speaking, I am an environmentally conscious individual: I ride a bike; I recycle my garbage; I try not to set rubber tires on fire. You know, the usual. My one destructive vice, however, is wasting water.

I love long showers and baths. As a kid, I used to take showers with the drain plugged so the tub would fill halfway with water. I would then lay down on my back and let the droplets rain down on me with just my eyes and nose sticking up out of the water, like a little pink alligator. I called these my, “Swamp Baths,” and they played hell with our water bill.

Even now, I’m the very last one out of the shower at my local gym here in Hannover, Germany. Not even the stupid 15-second timer on the showers can stop me from wasting enough water to revive the Mojave Wasteland. I don’t even know why I do it; something about the heat and the water soothes me to my core. Makes me docile and slow-witted, like a cow on its way to the slaughterhouse: “Jesus, Betsy just dropped dead right in front of me. Oh well, better keep shuffling toward those men with the bloodstained aprons…”

So I’ve never really understood why people think it’s time to get out of the shower, pool or bathtub just because their skin is starting to prune. Are wrinkled fingertips truly the klaxon alarm to end bathtime? Maybe parents made this shit up so their horrible little children would stop robbing future generations of potable water. Some people think pruney skin occurs because the outer layers absorb warm water, causing the cells to expand and fold over on themselves. Others explain it as a vestige of evolution, which gave our extremities better grip in wet conditions. Personally, I think it’s a random, ugly little phenomenon which cannot be explained, much like yawning, orgasm toe and piss shivers.

All I know is I’m gonna stay in the tub until I’m goddamn good and ready to get out. My German wife, however, will end bathtime long before I do, explaining:

“It is time to get out. My fingers are getting schrinkled.”*

*I suspect this may have come from the combination of the English word ‘wrinkled,’ and the German word ‘schrumpfen,’ meaning ‘to shrink.’

If you would like to read another classic quote from The Wife, check this one out: My German Wife Offers the Perfect Alternative to Traditional Childbirth

A Writer’s Dream Fulfilled: The Day I Met Patrick Rothfuss at the Leipzig Book Fair

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The man. The myth. The sweaty legend.

Patrick Rothfuss is my personal hero. He wrote a book called The Name of the Wind, which is by far the most beautiful fantasy novel I have ever read. He revised it 400 times and spent a decade bringing it to perfection before it was even published. The god damn thing reads so smoothly it’s like printed velvet. The ideas contained within are so clever you’ll wonder how you managed to live your entire life without licking a light socket. And you know what Rothfuss did once his book hit the shelves and went supernova? He started a charity. It’s called World Builders, and it feeds money into Heifer International.

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Oh yes. I am a HUGE nerd.

I’ve been blabbing at my German wife about Patrick Rothfuss for years, and not even in a healthy, admiring sort of way — but in a totally creepy, dilated pupils, gay as hell sort of way. So as my last birthday was approaching, I casually mentioned Rothfuss would be, “in Leipzig for some kind of book thingie,” and my wife went to work planning the greatest birthday gift ever: the chance to meet my idol and have him sign my copy of The Name of the Wind.

The event was called the Leipzig Book Fair (or Leipziger Buchmesse) — an annual convention in the city of Leipzig, just shy of 3 hours by train southeast of our home in Hannover, Germany — and my wife handled everything: the train tickets, event tickets and all of the logistics. She only made one mistake, and that was taking me out for drinks the night before.

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This sign is like a siren song for my eyeballs.

We went to our favorite pub, Bavarium, and drank an inhuman amount of pilsner, then woke up the next day at 5:00 in the morning. What followed was the longest train ride of my life. We were crammed into a tiny cabin and it was freezing cold — probably because the greasy nerd next to the window was blocking the heater with one of his gargantuan thighs. There was another nerd, this one a college professor straight out of the 70s, who kept snapping his newspaper open and closed — refolding it so loudly no one in the cabin could sleep. Then there was the fact that I had the trots so bad I was sure I would load my shorts. It was like trying to staunch a biblical flood with nothing but blind faith and my tiny, puckering anus. I could not solve the problem, however, because I am physically incapable of dropping trow anywhere but in the comfort of my own bathroom at home. (I’m the kind of guy who likes to sit there for at least 20 minutes — or until both my legs fall asleep. Whichever happens first.)

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Also, I sometimes wear white socks with dark shoes and jeans. You’re not better than me!

So we finally rolled into Leipzig, but to be honest with you, I have no idea what the city really looks like; it was a very rainy, very gray sort of day, so everything looked scary to me. Like, former DDR, Soviet Bloc scary. We got off the train and walked to the convention center, quickly finding ourselves lost in a sea of Manga costumes. Apparently, one entire hall of the fair was dedicated to Japanese comic books, and German teenagers from across the country were flocking there to out-nerd one another (and show off a whole lot of shockingly, snow-blindingly white skin).

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Main entrance to the Messe. This is why you want to purchase tickets ahead of time.

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So many nerds… their perspiration literally fogged up the windows.

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In situations like these, unoccupied chairs become an unbelievable luxury.

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My wife is a teacher, so of course we had to stop by the education hall too. Ugh. Just the sight of so many text books made me itchy.

We navigated to the main entrance, found the hall where all the Fantasy writers were, and discovered an insanely long line of people waiting for signatures from Patrick Rothfuss. (Seriously, the line doubled back on itself twice, with an anticipated wait time of 2 hours.) Still, we joined the queue and the countdown began.

I was so nervous my palms started sweating and my wife had to hold my book so my salty nerd filth wouldn’t destroy it. Now, please understand, I don’t normally feel starstruck; I once met James Avery, who played Will Smith’s dad on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. I shook the late Jerome Kersey’s hand at a fundraising event in Portland, Oregon. And I’m about 85% sure I saw Lily Tomlin walking past a cheese store in Beverly Hills. What I’m saying here is, when it comes to spotting celebrities, I’m generally not impressed. They’re either so egotistical they look right past me when I meet them (I call this the, “You-Are-but-an-Insect-to-Me, Is-there-Anyone-More-Important-Here?” gaze), or they’re so accustomed to blind adoration they have lost touch with reality and gone completely, 100%, batshit insane. But this was not the case with Rothfuss; when I finally saw him, I completely lost my shit. I felt nauseous, giddy, lightheaded and completely overwhelmed — like I was staring into the holy glow of a chubby, bearded angel.

He was wearing his trusty black Serenity t-shirt and signing books with Teutonic efficiency. He had the system down, man. One assistant was selling new books, the next one was checking fan books to make sure they had Post-it notes inside showing the intended recipient’s name, and then the books were handed over to Rothfuss for signing. You had about 10 seconds to stand in front of him before the next ravenous nerd gave you an elbow to the kidneys.

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10… 9… 8…

Suddenly the path was clear and I stepped in front of my favorite author in the world. My heart was pounding and I desperately needed to fart. Here’s how our “conversation” went, word for word:

ME: “Hi, I’m from Portland, Oregon, and I’m a big fan of yours.”

ROTHFUSS: *Looking down, saying nothing, signing my book.*

ME: *Starting to panic, thinking, Obviously the man is trying not to screw up your name as he writes it. He has to sign like a thousand books today. But maybe he just didn’t hear me? Keep the line moving, weirdo. Stop talking now.*
“Uh, have you ever done a signing at Powell’s Books?”

ROTHFUSS: *Glancing up at me.* “Oh yeah. Portland is a great town.”

ME: *Meeting his gaze and suddenly feeling like I’m either going to burst into tears or throw up violently.*
“Well, you’re my absolute favorite author and I really admire your work with World Builders.”

ROTHFUSS: “Oh, thank you.”

ME: “Thank you! Have a great day!”

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At the moment this picture was taken, Pat was looking me RIGHT in the eyes. Eeeep!

And that was it. I slid one of my Oh God, My Wife Is German business cards next to the pile of other fan gifts and picked up my book. My wife told me to hold still for the camera but he was already signing books for the next person in line. (The picture was epic though: it’s all blurry and I was in mid-blink, so it looks like I’m about to pass out in front of a thoroughly uncaring Patrick Rothfuss.)

As my wife and I walked over to a nearby wall to rearrange our things, the adrenalin wore off and I started shaking like a drug addict. Like, visibly quaking. My wife even held my hands so she could feel it. Man, I could hardly string two coherent words together, so I just focused on drinking my probiotic yogurt smoothie and trying not to black out.

Hours later, after the fair was over, my wife and I took the S-Bahn to the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. This is the conversation we had as we waited for the train back to Hannover:

ME: *Asking for the thousandth time…* “What do you think Pat is doing right now?”

THE WIFE: “Probably eating dinner.”

ME: “Yeah… I bet he’s at some fancy restaurant with one of the organizers of the book fair. Maybe some of the other famous authors too…”

THE WIFE: “I think he’s eating a cheeseburger in his hotel room.”


 

If you would like to read another one of my adventures as an American expat in Germany, check this one out: The Top 10 Worst Things about Joining a Gym in Germany

What It’s Like for an American Expat to Watch “Das Perfekte Dinner” with His German Wife

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“How do you say, ‘food snob’ in German?” — Image Credit: vmiramontes (https://www.flickr.com/photos/vmiramontes/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright.

Have you ever seen Das Perfekte Dinner? It’s a German reality TV show — stolen directly from its creators in the UK — in which 4 or 5 people take turns cooking and hosting dinners in their own homes, then rate one another on a point scale from 1 to 10. The person who scores the most total points wins €1,500 euros. My German wife loves this show and watches it almost every day. I used to watch it with her, until I realized I don’t give one dried piece of flying donkey shit about cooking.

Look, I’m from Portland, Oregon — a town full of foodies and hipsters of every flavor — so by all rights I should be all about this sort of culinary snobbery. I’m just not; to me, cooking is but a series of annoying gestures standing between me and the bacon cheeseburger which should already be crammed in my mouth. My wife, however, is a classy European lady. She has great taste in everything, from fashion to food, and absolutely zero tolerance for anything unrefined.

So as we were watching this one episode of Das Perfekte Dinner, she began mocking one of the contestant for having no idea what “seared ahi” was. (Forget the dish itself: this poor fool seemed not to know the difference between tuna fish and a can of spray paint.) My wife rolled her eyes like a stone cold aristocrat, saying:

“It is pearls for the pigs.”

*Translated directly from the German expression, “Perlen vor die Säue werfen.”

If you would like to read another classic Denglish post, check this one out: My German Wife Shops for American Baby Gifts