Tag Archives: Germany

A few more pics of the European whirlwind tour

18 Jul

It was a long day of driving today, marred by wrong exits (adding 40 minutes to our itinerary!) and bad traffic around cities, but we ended up in the Pyranees and the last hour of driving was absolutely spectacular. It also started off with a delightful visit to Michael’s ancestral home of Lusignan, also home of the legend of Mélusine… but before I get into that, I’m going to take you further backwards on our trip…

Our last night in my Oma’s home was also the final World Cup game. I’m generally not a watcher of sports, but it was very exciting to be in Germany, watching the Germany team win the gold. I was impressed that my Oma knew such a lot about the individual players and about the rules of soccer — pardon me, I mean football. I guess because I grew up with my dad being so indifferent to team sports, I assumed that was the attitude of the whole Fritzen clan.20140718-073105-27065938.jpg

Oma’s cupboard of mugs is a cupboard of childhood memories. Each of her grandchildren was allowed to pick his or her own mug from the local store called Hettig, and that was forever his or her cup to be used at Oma’s house. We often had hot chocolate from them in the mornings. I still remember that Heidi’s was the blue one with the sun and birds (or did that one belong to Johannes?), Victor had the rhinoceros, my sister had colourful balloons… Mine is the one with the multicoloured umbrellas.20140718-073106-27066779.jpg

Our first stop on our first day of driving was Bremen. It was fun telling the girls the tale of the Bremen Town Musicians as we drew close to the city. We impulsively stopped in the town centre since it was close to lunchtime and sought out this carillon concert (“Haus des Glockenspiels”), which Michael remembered from our visit here in 2001.20140718-073108-27068555.jpg

As you can see, the girls were captivated.20140718-073107-27067670.jpg

After lunch, the girls were delighted to see how many times they could spot the Bremen Town Musicians as we walked around town. (They are everywhere!!!!)

20140718-073239-27159625.jpg

The Schnoorviertel is a touristy area full of shops and the girls were nearly in fits with all the things they wanted to take home. Despite that, it really is a delightful and charming place to wander, with some impossibly narrow streets (still with shops in them!) that make you feel as though you’ve discovered a secret passageway. This wasn’t even the smallest street here…

20140718-073238-27158719.jpg

Our final destination on our first day was “Sneek” (pronounced “snake”) in the Netherlands. Beautiful architecture and canals abound, along with the singular sight of sailboats making their way across a farmer’s field (although, of course, in reality there’s a canal there, just where you can’t see it). It felt strange to me to be in a land where I couldn’t read the street signs, although Dutch is often just close enough to German (and at other times to English!) that I can figure stuff out. This jug at the restaurant De Lachende Koe (where all things are decorated with a laughing cow) made me laugh. I’ve always teased Michael that his Saskatchewan accent makes him pronounce certain words oddly. For example, he says “melk”, not “milk”. Perhaps he actually has Dutch roots?20140718-073240-27160499.jpg

The highlight of our brief stay in Sneek was visiting the sand-sculpting competition. This is an annual event and Michael and I both wondered how the sculptures could stay so well-preserved against the elements of wind and rain, as they evidently are viewable for a couple of months. This year’s theme was Hollywood. Halia’s favourite sculpture was this depiction of “Toy Story”.20140718-073241-27161371.jpg

And then the girls got to make their own sculpture!20140718-073352-27232193.jpg

There, now I think we are mostly caught up…

Except I haven’t shown you a thing from today, of course, and we saw some amazing sights. But now it is closing in on midnight. I am sitting on a comfortable bed in a perfectly charming bed and breakfast perched on the mountainside, with a five-year-old softly sleeping and waiting for me to join her. Outside, a rainstorm broke out minutes after we arrived, so we are soothed by the sound of raindrops on cobblestone, the rumble of thunder, and the soft, cool breeze that is a balm after two days of sweltering weather. I believe I shall sleep well tonight!

 

Singing garbage

17 Mar

My dad recently had a birthday and happened to be in China for it. Check out this story he told me when I asked him about his birthday.

Some friends brought a birthday cake with a typical Chinese gizmo — a flower-shaped candle holder, where you light one candle in the middle, which then results in the entire gizmo opening up like a lotus flower, auto-lighting more candles and squeaking an electronic Happy Birthday tune in a continuous loop sequence. Trouble is, it does not come with instructions on how to turn that tune off. We could not figure it out and ended up throwing it in the public garbage pail on the floor, where it merrily continued squeaking loud enough that I could hear it around one corner in the aisle and the thick metal door of the apartment. So, I am sure, could the neighbours. This device was obviously inexhaustible, as it was still squeaking happily away this morning, but by now from a garbage bag all tied up and waiting to be collected.

Most likely, the garbage truck driver or the staff at the dump are still enjoying the merry tune this very moment. If this were not happy, noisy China but Germany, the police would likely have come in the middle of the night on a noise complaint.

Remembrance

11 Nov

Halia, whose name means “in remembrance of a loved one” holds a poppy from our garden (2010)

I have a bit of a complicated relationship with Remembrance Day. Growing up, there were ceremonies at school every year. The focus always seemed to be on World War II.  (In fact, I seem to remember feeling that war was a thing of the past.) I remember classmates talking in class about grandfathers or other relatives who had been at war, who had died, or who hadn’t.  I felt painfully awkward…because the side of my family I know best is my dad’s side. The German side. No one ever said anything, but as a child I always had this sense that my family was on the wrong side.

I know very little of my German family’s experience of World War II. When I visited my Oma and Opa, I saw the rusted old bike leaning against the fence on one side of the yard, obscured by weeds; every autumn it became increasingly buried in the fallen leaves of the giant chestnut tree. That bicycle wasn’t to be moved because, rumour had it, it had saved Opa’s life more than once during the war.

I really don’t know what role Opa played in the war effort in Germany. I have a vague notion that it was his language skills that were used, since he was multi-lingual. (I grew up believing he spoke seven languages, but my dad made a joke once that Opa’s languages are a bit like a fishing story, growing with each retelling. So, really, I have no idea how many languages he spoke.) (But wherever did he learn Chinese in the first place?)

My Oma would sometimes tell a story of the years following the war. She lived in Berlin with her two sons, my uncles; food was not plentiful and certainly not very exotic. I think perhaps it was my uncle Diethelm (but perhaps it was Friedhard?) who figures in the story, seeing an orange for the first time around the age of five and thinking it was a ball, having never seen an orange before.

I always felt it was taboo to ask my family about their experiences during the war years, so I never asked.  I don’t think I felt this way just because they are German. I know Michael has said that his Grandpa wouldn’t talk about his war experiences, either. And, though unable to fully imagine the horror of fighting in a war, I can imagine why none of them would want to talk about it.

On the other side of the world, what was the war like for my family in Taiwan? At the beginning of the Second World War, Taiwan had been occupied by Japan for 44 years. I have only a few stories about what life was like. How my grandmother was one of only a handful of non-Japanese students who made high enough marks to make it into a prestigious school. How her pierced ears made her a target for mockery, being called a barbarian because piercing was not a Japanese custom. How my grandfather’s brother went off to fight (in what war?) and never came home again. How my grandfather himself studied medicine and became a doctor in Japan. That the Japanese ran horrific prisoner of war camps. Tidbits, really.

And so, for many years, the not talking and not asking aspect of Remembrance Day left me feeling, more than anything, ignorant.  Like there are things I can’t honour and pay my respects to, because I don’t know a thing about them.

This is not to say that I feel nothing on Remembrance Day. The speeches and ceremony never fail to get me right in the gut, never fail to highlight the great cost of the sacrifice made by those who fought, and the price paid by the families they left behind.

And of course I now know that World War II is not the only war of significance to remember, nor is war a thing of the past. I haven’t had a chance to participate in a Remembrance Day ceremony in many years, but today Jade accompanied Michael to the ceremony here in Whitehorse. I hope, as my kids grow up, I can help fill in some of the blanks I didn’t have the courage to ask about while I was growing up.  So they can know what it is they are remembering and what they are honouring.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers