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Last weekend, I went up to Berlin to visit my boyfriend, David. We’ve lived in Germany (he in Berlin, I in Munich) for over seven months now, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit Berlin frequently and have gotten to know the city well enough to feel at home whenever I’m there.

To clarify, Berlin and Munich lie on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Munich is lovely, pristine, and orderly. Berlin is grungy, dirty, and a little weird. David’s host dad described it perfectly: “Munich is beautiful, Berlin is sexy.”

It’s not uncommon to see an entire block of buildings covered from top to bottom in graffiti. Perhaps Münchners consider this to be vandalism, but to Berliners, this is art. And to me, it is beautiful. The art of tagging in Berlin is a culture all its own, consisting of many accomplished artists who display their work for the public to admire. Some have their own trademark, where they leave the same picture in various locations throughout the city. Others are completely random, a little graphic, and at times offensive, but so outrageously creative that I can’t help but to admire these anonymous artists anyway. To me, this “vandalism” is what gives Berlin its character, its personality, and this personality is why I love this place so much.

It is a massive city and is a melting pot of numerous cultures from around the world. This is another reason I adore this city: its diversity. Here, there is no normal. Everything and everyone is so different that being more abnormal is the norm, if that makes sense. Berlin makes weird cool (think Portland, OR, but with more graffiti, more grunge, and less hipster).

One of my favorite areas of Berlin is the Turkish district – it’s by far one of the most eclectic spots, full of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants, including Santa Maria, the best (and only) good Mexican place we’ve found (thanks to a rec from my Berlin-native host mom) in all of Europe. Berlin likes vegetarians, too, so in return I like Berlin even more. I’m surprised by how many vegetarian options are available in such a *stereotypically* meat-loving culture.

Berlin also offers a fantastic range of museums, from renaissance art to Check-Point Charlie. Near Berlin’s Museum Island (it’s exactly what it sounds like) is a flea market that mostly sells leftover junk from estate sales. However, if you’re lucky, you can make an awesome find, such as this vintage 1930s camera I picked up this past weekend. Of course it’s not in working condition anymore, but for 30 euro I couldn’t pass it up. Among these estate sale leftovers are local artists selling their handmade work, ranging from photography, to paintings, to jewelry, to pottery.

So what about the nightlife? Just to name a few, there’s the death metal bar, a place called Cake, or Havana, which is where David and I ended up last Friday night. The draw for us was the Salsa room.  Havana is made up of multiple dance floors – electro, top charts, hip-hop, salsa – so there’s something for everyone.

Berlin may not be the city I decided to call home when I moved to Germany, but over time it has given Munich a run for its money. Berlin has nothing on the Englischer Garten and Bavarian beer, though, and Oktoberfest wins Munich some major brownie points. And where else can you see a man walking down the street wearing Lederhosen in the middle of the day.

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Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest with David, Kaleena, and our new friends!

Time to play catchup. Let’s start with September, September 17th to be exact, the first day of Oktoberfest. Throughout the 17-day festival, I consumed way too much Festbier (the tasty brew that’s only served at Oktoberfest) than my liver should be able to handle, while donning my traditional dirndl and befriending the equally intoxicated Germans at my table. Needless to say, I miraculously came out alive by the end of it all with some priceless memories in tow.

I also began my first Deutsch language course. I knew going into it that German was not the easiest language to pick up, but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was. Everything from the spelling, to the pronunciation, to the grammar, oh goodness, the grammar, the words that are spelled the same but mean different things depending on the context and the pronunciation. Basically, German equaled one big fat headache for the first few weeks. But then, like magic, everything suddenly fit into place.

More Oktoberfest...

My German still sucks, of course, but at least I now have a better understanding of the structure of the language and usually can comprehend what people are saying; forming a correct sentence in response is still another story. Now that I’ve formally broken up with the idea that I could actually be fluent by the end of the year, my goal is to be able to comfortably hold a conversation without needing to immediately cry “Langsam bitte!” (“Slow please!”). Luckily, the kids I work with are ages 2 and 5, and while the 5 year old frequently corrects my German, I can, for the most part, comfortably communicate with them in their mother tongue.

It’s now been six months since I moved to Munich – and it took long enough, but I can finally say that I’m starting to feel at home here. These negative degree temperatures are currently turning me into a hermit, though, and has me seeking out every opportunity to hide under a blanket or to drink something hot and frothy, while anxiously waiting for Germany to defrost.

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“There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.” One of the most clichéd sayings of all time – when the going gets rough, you can count on someone to recite these words in hope of providing thoughts of optimism. But let’s be honest, when you’re stuck in that dark tunnel, there seems like there will never be a way out; there will never be a resolution from this bottomless pit you’ve found yourself in. Hitting rock bottom. That is when the tunnel is the longest and the darkest – and the hardest to crawl out of.

I’ve been M.I.A. for the past five months. My dear blog has been neglected; but I assure you, there is a reason. You know when things seem too good to be true? When everything is running so smoothly that you can’t help but anticipate that everything will crumble in due time; it’s only a matter of when. Why is it sometimes so hard to appreciate the good in life? Instead of being consumed by pessimism, thinking that it will never last?

Well, I succumbed to this miserable state of pessimism, only to find myself trapped in that dark tunnel with no end in sight. In the shortest and most descriptive of words, I turned Emo. Listening to those sad songs, wallowing in my homesickness; unproductivity became my new hobbie. Studying Deutsch? Forget it. Writing my blog? Took too much time. Especially when I could be laying in bed watching a movie instead. Working my hardest at my editing job? Pshh. Too much effort. I needed to concentrate my energy on how miserable I felt.

Yeah, I became pretty pathetic. But I couldn’t possibly let anyone in on my little secret, so my skype dates with friends and family consisted of “Everything’s great, Munich is so pretty,” or “I’m just excited to travel – this will be such an awesome experience!” No mention of “This kinda sucks, I want to come home,” because, after all, I’m living in one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited – I’m in freaking Europe – I have the world at my feet; people would kill for this opportunity. Yet all I want is to go home? I know what you’re thinking, and trust me, I’m just as embarrassed and disappointed as you are.

You know those movies where the main character is a complete screw-up, their life sucks, everything is going wrong? Maybe there’s a good reason as to why this is, or maybe there’s no reason at all. Either way, the climax of the movie is when the character finally wakes up and decides to do something about the shit-hole he or she has found him or herself in. They discover what needs to be done, and they come out ahead of the game.

Okay, this stuff does happen in the real world – the true story behind the movie The Pursuit of Happyness pops into my head as a perfect example – but it’s not as common or as easy as Hollywood makes it out to be.

I would picture myself as one of these characters, imagining how I would find this underlying strength and make everything okay again. But, it’s easier to imagine all of this  than to actually make it happen. Weeks went by, and I just couldn’t find the strength I needed to pick myself up.

....this is how I felt.

Then I hit bottom, and I mean the lowest of the low. No going back, everything fell to pieces.

But in the midst of it all, something in me changed – I remember looking in the mirror and telling myself, “Ok buddy, enough is enough. Pull yourself together!” I decided I needed to make a move and do something…and I actually meant it this time.

I wish I had some kind of explanation as to why I felt this spark of hope, strength, and optimism. It’s almost as if I woke up one day as a different person – that I told my current self to suck it and welcomed back the old me. There’s only so much time that can be spent watching sappy movies and feeling sorry for myself – and I was well over that limit.

So, I started being active again. Exercising, eating better, reading. I became dedicated to my job as an editor, and as an Au Pair. I was reintroduced to this phenomenon known as productivity. And suddenly, the sun shone a little brighter, my beer was a little tastier, my smile got a little bigger. I started experiencing life again. I was like a newborn babe!

So, to all of you wondering why my blog, in the words of the kiddos I look after, went kaputt, this is your answer. A long, drawn out, potentially a little too honest, answer.

“What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.” Alexander Graham Bell


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cartoon pictures from hyberboleandahalf

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Has it really been over a month since I stepped on that plane and waved auf wiedersehen

The View from My Favorite Patio at the Marbella House

to my life in Eugene? As I stare off into the distance, admiring the breathtaking view of palm trees, tropical flowers, and the Mediterranean here in Spain, I ponder everything that’s changed these past four weeks. I’ve said goodbye to my friends and family, immersed myself in a new culture, embraced a new language, and started a new job. I have been adapting to a long distance relationship, and to calling an entirely new and different place home.

I remember the weeks leading up to this transition – not wanting to admit it, but I began to question my decision to move. I allowed my fear to tell me I was making the wrong decision, that I wasn’t ready to leave everything that was familiar, behind.

But I’m so incredibly grateful that I didn’t let that fear get in the way of one of the most

The Harbor at Night - Marbella, Spain

incredible experiences I have ever had the opportunity to pursue. In these past four short weeks, not only have I settled into Munich, I have visited Memmingen with my host family, Berlin to see David, and currently, Marbella, Spain to stay at Claudia’s parent’s beautiful vacation home.

The Marbella Vacation Home

The Marbella Vacation Home

one of the outdoor patios

And “beautiful” is an understatement when describing this home. I mean, I have never seen a house so gorgeous, let alone been able to stay there as a guest. Colorful flowers and graceful palm trees border a view that extends deep into the Mediterranean Sea, revealing glimpses of Africa in the distance on a sparkling, clear day. But if one is too lazy to make his or her way down to the beach, why not take a swim in the home’s large pool that hangs over the Mediterranean, offering a view that leads you to believe you are in the crystal waters of the Sea. If the sun is too hot, hang out in the relaxing shade of one of the outdoor patios or courtyards (my favorite one overlooks the pool and the Mediterranean). Don’t even get me started on the interior, what with the gorgeous entry way offering a balcony that surrounds the room, allowing those on the second floor to peer below, or my large bedroom that encompasses

Entryway

Entryway

an area larger than my living room back home, not including my private balcony and bathroom. Our time here in Spain has allowed for all of us to relax together: for the kids to play and to feel more comfortable with me around, and for me to continue to get to know Claudia and Sven, as well as Claudia’s parents who are also here for part of our stay. A day

Through the streets of Old Town, Marbella

trip to Seville is coming up on the agenda, as well as lovely dinners down by the harbor and strolls through Old Town and along the beach. While I do love Germany, Spain has been a refreshing and welcome change, what with the sunshine and warm breeze that surrounds my body as I relax with a favorite book in hand.

Upon our return to Munich, I begin

A Spanish Sunset

language school and assume my duties as an Au Pair. Up to this point, I have been treated more as part of the family than as an employee, which has allowed me to adjust and feel comfortable with my surroundings before beginning my new job. Thus, I am mindfully enjoying this last week of relaxation, warmth, and sunshine – but I am equally excited to finally begin the routine that I came here to do. Also, Oktoberfest begins the week after our return, which I must admit isn’t too shabby of a welcome home and an introduction back into the real world…

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The Theatinerkirche

This weekend, I decided to take advantage of the long anticipated and unfortunately short lived summer weather to do some overdue exploring of the city. My tour began at Odeonsplatz, home of Feldherrnhalle, the Theatinerkirche, and the Hofgarten, just to name a few. Freshly off the u-bahn, my ears perked up to live classical music playing in the distance. I followed these sounds until I stumbled upon an outdoor concert in the Hofgarten, complete with grand piano, string bass, cello, and violin. They were playing selections from The Phantom of the Opera. This gave me the opportunity to nerd-out in full force, as I have always had a particular love for classical music. I sat in the grass, eyeing the beautiful surroundings as I listened to the music. This is one thing I especially love about Europe – classical music is everywhere. It is appreciated in a way I haven’t experienced in the States.

Makeshift Orchestra Concert

The concert concluded, so I began to wander aimlessly, open to whatever I came across next. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon yet another musical showcase, except for this time it was an orchestra rehearsal taking place outdoors in the courtyard of the Munich Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs. Chairs were set up, so I took a seat in the back and listened in pure enjoyment and fascination.

Hofgarten

My curiosity led me next to a small, bustling street full of shops and bakeries. Snapping photos and exploring the area, a feeling of contentedness engrossed me as I reminded myself that this beautiful place is now my home.

Next on the tour was Marienplatz, located in the heart of Munich and home to the famous Glockenspiel. Also a famously overcrowded tourist hot-spot, my time here was short lived as the crowds became distracting and annoying.

Hofgarten

So far, my favorite location in Munich is the Englisch Garten. If you ever get a chance to visit Munich, this should be one of your first stops! Devote at least a few hours to touring the area; it’s absolutely enormous and an easy place to get lost – which is part of the fun, in my opinion. Every inch will feed your visual appetite, so you won’t be disappointed if you make a wrong turn.

I took a leisurely bike ride through the garden, stopping along the way to read for a few hours and soak up some sun. I was surrounded by others who were reading, sketching, napping, playing sports, chatting, and simply enjoying the weather. Rain or shine, I’ve decided that this will be a place I visit regularly, either by bike, on a jog, or by just walking through and appreciating my surroundings.

Nektar Beach

That evening, I joined my host family at Nektar Beach. When I spoke to Sven on the phone and he told me where to meet, I pictured some kind of beach area by the river where people could swim and lay out. In actuality, Nektar Beach is a swanky manmade “beach bar” that is also a restaurant and a nightclub. The ground of the outdoor area is entirely made of sand, except for the wooden walkways leading to the indoor club. I arrived to the family

My host family and I - at Nektar Beach

relaxing on reclining couches atop the sand, the parents enjoying drinks with a family friend, and the kids running around playing with the other children there. I plopped down on one of the couches and ordered a beer – this one was actually half beer and half limeade – a refreshing reward after my 4 hour bike ride.

The following day, the weather proved itself to truly be summer. Sven, Claudia, Tristan, Jolina, Bailey (the dog), and I gratefully piled into the car and headed to a lake

Lunch on the lake

about 40 minutes outside of Munich, anxious to enjoy the rare summer day. When we arrived, we had lunch at a restaurant located right by the lake, offering gorgeous views of our surroundings. The afternoon was spent enjoying the water and sun – although our time at the lake was cut short as the kids grew restless. Jolina considered this lake to be the ocean – “the

To swim, or not to swim...

ocean isn’t heated like the pool” and “I don’t want to swim because of the whales and sharks in the water.” We all plopped back in the car and instead spent the rest of the afternoon at the sports club pool, which is located down the street from the house.

That evening, Sven put me in touch with a student that used to work for his company. As she is around my age, we ended up meeting for a drink. One of her friends joined us a bit later. I’ve loved everything about Munich so far, but one big thing that has been missing is friends and spending time with people my age. As I don’t start at the language school for another month, it’s been difficult to meet other people, so it was great to be introduced to some people my own age. It seems like things are slowly starting to come together in this new world of mine, and as time goes on, I feel that I am finally starting to build a life here.

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This morning, I braved the roads of Munich for the first time. My host family scheduled me a driving lesson which I am extremely grateful for, especially in relation to one special word: Autobahn. While the advised speed limit is 130 kilometers per hour (81 mph), drivers have been known to reach speeds as high as 322 km/h, or 200 mph.

I’m off to a good start, impressing my driving instructor with my parallel parking abilities and managing to heed each new driving regulation with success. I’m feeling confident, until my instructor utters the word “Autobahn.”

“It’s time to try the autobahn,” he says with a slight smirk. I look over, managing an apprehensive smile in return. Okay, I can do this.

The Autobahn - Munich

And I do, with flying colors actually. I think the idea of the autobahn is scarier than it is in reality. Many drivers are going at reasonable speeds, with only a few maniacs flying past us here and there. One key thing to remember on the autobahn is to check the mirrors, then physically turn to look, then recheck, before changing lanes. Many cars may come shooting out of nowhere at high speeds much too fast to brake in time if another car cuts in front. For now, I plan on driving in the slow lane and staying put.

Following my driving lesson, Claudia, Sven and I make our way to the kids’ preschool for their final performance/party before the summer holiday. Jolina, who is almost five, performs with her classmates – they are all dressed up as various safari animals – dancing and singing for their parents. Their program commences and its time for a potluck lunch.

Luckily, today is the first summer day we’ve had in a while. The past few days, Munich has been dim and gloomy, rain occupying most of the day, partnered with grey clouds looming above. But today, the sun is shining and the air is warm. I decide to take the kids to the neighborhood park for the afternoon. Jolina and I go down the slide and around to the top again enough to make me dizzy. Tristan mostly watches, giggling at Jolina and I as we run past. We all soon tire and head home. Sven arrives home from work minutes later, so we are off to dinner by bike.

The sun is setting in the distance, casting a stunning array of golden yellows and light pinks above us. We are in good company on our journey, as the street is overrun with other bikers and pedestrians enjoying the brilliant evening. We arrive at Riva, an Italian Restaurant nearby our neighborhood, where we eat on the outdoor patio and relax. An excellent conclusion to a lovely day.

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Today is already my 14th day in Germany. Let’s recap, as I’ve been ever so neglectful of my dear blog for the past two weeks.

The Englischer Garten

On my first full day, Claudia took me on a bike tour of the city as the kids would be at school until 4pm. The famous Englischer Garten is only footsteps away from our neighborhood, so we finished the tour with a pleasant ride through my new, glorious “backyard,” which happens to be one of the world’s largest urban public parks.  It stretches farther than New York’s Central Park, although it is smaller than London’s Richmond Park. Decorated with beautiful trees and flowers, large bike and walking paths, multiple biergartens, and a lake which offers paddle boats and row boats for rent, it is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon with family and friends. Not to mention, it is a choice location for people watching, and my favorite, dog watching. The Englischer Garten offers an area that is legal for dogs to run off of their leashes, which dog owners frequently take advantage of.

Dog watching – my favorite spotted dog

The following day was Sven’s birthday, and as a birthday treat I made the family pancakes for breakfast – one of Sven’s favorites. Although making pancakes is no glorious culinary accomplishment, I felt nervous preparing them as I have never been a natural when it comes to the kitchen. My boyfriend, David, who loves to cook and is quite good at it, will be the first to attest to this. Luckily, they tasted rather good and no one got sick – so overall the experience was successful.

That night I met Sven’s parents, his sister, and her daughter. We went to a traditional biergarten outside of the city limits. This was my first traditional German meal, and being able to experience it outside of a tourist trap such as the Hofbrauhaus made it all the better. Hours later, we were still there talking and drinking – a refreshing change to my usual rushed dinners in the States.

It was a lovely evening that would lead into a lovely weekend, as I was to be reunited with David for the first time since the first week of July.

At the Biergarten

He had been living in Berlin as an Au Pair for a family with two boys, but they were spending two weeks in Salzburg for a classical music festival which the family attends each year. As Salzburg is only a short train ride away from Munich, David was able to come visit for the weekend. I hadn’t had much time to explore the city yet, so we set out on this venture together. Our first stop: A biergarten, naturally.

After downing two beers each and David refueled himself with food, we wandered the Englischer Garten, admiring the gorgeous scenery and large population of dogs running about. The following day, we returned to the Englischer Garten as the weather presented itself with perfect conditions. Another biergarten was our first stop, where we ate incredibly overpriced food and drank overpriced beers. The biergarten sits right next to a lake, offering a spectacular view, which essentially was what we were paying for.

At this lake, boats can be rented for a small fee – we decided to rent an old fashioned row boat to tour the lake, take in the scenery, and enjoy the weather. As only one person could row, I kindly let David take charge while I sat back and took pictures.

That evening, a BBQ was held at home for Sven’s birthday. Here I was introduced to many of the family’s closest friends, as well as five or six little ones that ran around with Tristan and Jolina. I will admit, having that many kids in a small space, combined with meeting a large group of people I don’t know, was a bit stressful. Things finally calmed down once dinner was served and we were all able to kick back a little and relax.

The rest of the weekend was consumed with wandering the streets of Munich as tourists,

The Glockenspiel – Marienplatz

taking in the sights and snapping photos. Among our travels, we visited the Deutsch Museum and Marienplatz. And last but not least, we went shopping for lederhosen and a dirdnl – David being completely successful while I will have to search somewhere else another day… It’s a little over a month until the start of Oktoberfest – David will be returning to Munich, lederhosen and all, and by that time I will hopefully be adorned in a traditional dirdnl and ready to experience the festivities.

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