Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blomberg Blast

While we had lovely views of the South China Sea in Hong Kong, we also have great views here in Munich. Now we enjoy the Alps in the distant, typically with Lake Starnberg in the foreground. If you really strain, you can see the Alps from our house’s upper most balcony. And the view from the kids’ school always stops me in tracks, despite the busy rush to get to after school activities. Right above the sports field, a range of snow topped mountains sits tantalizingly close.
In our first days here, we managed to get to the closest mountains (about 40 minutes away) for a bit of skiing. The skiing however was always a bit fraught, as the kids rented equipment and negotiated the  all German language ski lessons. Our “best” winter alpine adventure was with so-called rodelbahn, which is essentially taking a ski lift up and then tobogganing down a long course. It was fun but harrowing. When we found out we could do it again without the snow, we decided to give it another try.
To get to the mountains, we drove to Bad Tolz, an area of Bavaria just south from us. Bad Tolz has been populated since the Ice Age. With its green valley, gently undulating stream, placid lake and snow topped peaks, it is easy to see why. Bad Tolz was a market center in the 14th and 15th centuries, destroyed by the Thirty Years War and revitalized again in the 19th century with the discovery of a natural spring. Bad Tolz now is known for its medieval town center, churches, and spa culture. But we saw none of that. We had eyes only for Blomberg, the rodelbahn hill, at least this time.
At Blomberg, we took a ski lift up the mountain and then had a pleasant short hike to a small restaurant. Unfortunately, the meal there was very Bavarian (meat and potatoes). We came up short on all of our entrees but supplemented with pretzels and ice cream. From there, we hiked another hour or so up to the top of the mountain. The peak was marked with a cross, reminding us of Romanian mountain tops. We lounged on the top and thought about bursting into The Sounds of Music but mostly refrained.
To get down the mountain, we hiked and eventually reached the sommerodelbahn. Basically, this was a toboggan with wheels and one lever to either speed up or slow down the whole thing. Sadly, it did not seem that much safer than the winter version. Again, there were no helmets but we were only one person on each rodelbahn, whereas in the snow version we had an adult and a child on one, which added to the speed. The kids were exhausted after all that. On the car ride home, they feel asleep listening to 80’s music over the radio. Music from the 80’s still rules the airwaves here. Just the other day Royce was singing along to “we built that city on rock and roll” to herself. The soundtrack to the Sound of Music is getting more and more appealing with every passing car trip.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nine is Divine

In a blur of swords, blue cupcakes and presents, the twins turned nine. Both requested Percy Jackson parties this year. One twin (and parents) wanted a combined party but the other twin wanted a separate party. In the crazed spirit of compromise, we ended up having two Percy Jackson parties with one of those parties extending into a Percy Jackson sleep-over. Luckily, we had the twins’ godmother in town to help keep everyone entertained and to boost morale during the mid-parties lull.
Since moving to Germany, the kids have gotten into the Percy Jackson series….perhaps looking everywhere for a Harry Potter replacement. The books are about Percy, a boy born to one Olympian and one mortal parent, and the many quests he undertakes to fulfill his destiny. I like the books as they really drill home the Greek myths. Our kids can argue about who is a major and minor Greek god persuasively. And the books are packed with adventure. Hence, the sword fighting and shield making during the twins’ parties. The blue food is another Percy insider joke, something Percy’s mother always made for him on his birthday. We had sword play. We searched for the missing Golden Fleece. We had more sword play. And we survived.
It was a relief to look around at both birthday parties and to realize that yes, the kids survived not only the party but the year. There were too many moves in the past year. A new country, a new culture, a new language but thankfully new friends as well.  As the twins’ new friends chatted, we learned that a number of them would be moving this year or next. While I felt a pang of sadness that the new friend was already leaving, none of the kids seemed fazed, and especially not our kids. One girl said she would live in Munich another year, then America one year, and then South Korea. The old adage of a door opening and a door closing came into my mind. An old friend leaves, a new friend comes. It is a little crazy, a little new world economy, a little global nomads but at least today they all left with party bags, stuffed with blue candy.

Monday, May 07, 2012

May Day

While our family mainly thinks about the twins’ birthday celebrations in May, there is more to celebrate in Germany. Over the course of the next month, the kids have four weeks of only four days at school. We will try to learn about all these holidays starting with the one that we just celebrated, May Day. May first was on a Tuesday this year and we all had the Tuesday off, right there in the middle of the week and not linked up with the weekend. Royce was trying to get her mind around the day off and finally asked if it was a public holiday, a term used in Hong Kong. We said yes and she started to enjoy it.
What we know of May Day is International Worker’s Day from our Ukraine days and also the Occupy DC movement from more recent times. But kids told us what they learned at German class and that seemed to fit with what we saw as we walked and biked around during the Mai Fest. They told us that May Day was an ancient celebration to welcome spring and drive away evil spirits. The night before is called witches night with bonfires and teenagers doing pranks throughout the night. The kids talked a lot about the prank bit, explaining that different villages tried to steal each other’s may poles. The successful prank playing village wins the right to a party hosted by the village they took the may pole from. Adam said the party was to include “lots of pork.” Royce agreed. They are in the same German class after all.
We had a beautiful spring day on May first and took the opportunity to ride to our local beer garden, sort of a communal picnic ground with a playground, food and of course, beer. The ride is a short one through the forest and we, for the first time ever, let Tori sprint ahead on her bike. Once we got to our beer garden, we panicked when we saw a crowd of hundreds of people. An entire field was opened up as a run-off parking lot for bikes and at least three bands were marching through the grounds playing polka music. We found her quickly but couldn’t shake off the feeling that May Day was bigger than we anticipated. In the end, we didn’t t see a real wooden just chopped down may pole either. The nearby town of Stockdorf was to raise their pole at the beer garden. Tori surmised it must have been stolen and Stockdorf now needed to stockpile some pork.