Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ernstes Leben and Kassel Bike Share - A Brief Farm Break

While our lives really have taken a turn for the pastoral, and if I was to write a post about what we're up to on a daily basis it would not involve city bike infrastructure, I cannot resist talking about the fun that is the bike share program in Kassel. We took out a couple of these trusty steeds when we visited my cousins for a few days. My cousin's daughter had her first day of school last week - at the same school my cousin went to all those years ago (ha!).

First day of school in Germany is a big deal. All the kids get a Schultüte, a giant cone full of goodies, when they start school and there was much humorous talk of the beginning of the "ernstes Leben" (serious life). First grade! Serious! So here's a photo of my little cousin Nathalia hiding behind Joshua, who is holding her ginormous Schultüte. Ernstes Leben!

cousin Raimund making cute face at Joshua

she absolutely did not want to take a family photo, but I got one with both Ray and Stephania

somebody has attitude, wonder where she got it
(hint: dad is German and mom is Brazilian)

But back to bikes... we used the Kassel bike share program called Konrad. The word for bicycle in German is Fahrrad, and often words that are related to bikes have the word 'rad' in place of the whole noun. So a Radler is a beer mixed with fizzy lemon-lime soda, and is somehow associated with cycling. Because if you're riding bikes and you want to drink a lot, as you do, it's best to water it down a bit. And so refreshing.

So Konrad is probably a bit of a play on words; unfortunately I don't get it. If it were blended with the Spanish "con" (with), I'd get it - with rad, with bike. This is how many of our German translation attempts go; any language we can pull from gets incorporated and then, well, we don't quite get it. Anyone understand Konrad?

Okay, honestly, who cares about the name!? Look at those hot bikes! 

We were in Paris last year, where Velib is booming and the bikes are everywhere, but we didn't have a card with a chip (US credit cards = behind the times?), so no Velib for us. In Hamburg they also have bike share, but we had our own bikes. You can rent bikes all over Europe with a cell phone and a credit card, but for a long time we had no cell phone. BUT we now have a SIM card and we buy minutes from time to time. And we have German bank accounts, which means German cards, which means chips!

So we rode Konrad.

obligatory photo of my face with Joshua sticking out his tongue in the background

maybe I should be watching the road

And the specs on these babies - wow. Huge tires so you can comfortably cruise down cobblestoned streets and never worry about getting a flat. Totally upright, step through, with quick-release seat posts, chain guard to keep your clean clothes grease free, integrated head and tail lights (dynamo) and - wait for it - hub shifting the likes of which we have never experienced before. Shifts so smooth, you don't even know it's changing gears. No clang, no rub, no drop. It just gets easier or harder, depending on whether you make the little guy go up hills or ride on flat ground.

when the bike riding is easy and you want to go faster, turn the shifter so the man looks like this

when the bike riding gets too hard, turn the shifter until the man looks like this

Fahrradklingel (turn it like the shifter and it brrrrings!)

good questions (Documenta inspired, I'm sure)

rear hub, tire, lights, the doo-hickey that locks it up (computer?), etc etc etc

Indestructible from wheel to wheel. And of course there's a bucket on the rear rack for your scarf, purse, and blazer. This bike has everything you need. We took them to go to the bank, we rode them to the Fridericianum to see the Documenta fun, we rode them home again, we took a couple to the train station as we were leaving town. All in all, for both bikes, it cost us €5. Somebody is getting ripped off and it is not me. Why would I own my own bike when I can use one of these and never worry about it being stolen or broken? I guess if you have style you might have some objections, but I think everybody who rides one of these looks great.

Documenta was cool too. We only saw what was in the Fridericianum, which was a lot. Joshua was terrified and claims art is dangerous, but I convinced him that it would be criminal not to take the risk and see this once-every-ten-years art event. His favorite piece was the big white room that had lovely cool air blowing through it, the art being the air that gently encourages the viewer to move through the gallery. He said, "I can understand that! I get the meaning - and I will remember it!" So there you go - meaningful, memorable art: a breeze blowing through a room. I liked the giant door mats with Italian phrases on them. You could walk all over them! Good art. And we both absolutely tripped out on some paintings viewed in dark rooms that had incredible perspective due to the 3D aspects and some very clever, skilled painting. They gave me vertigo, as did the giant canvasses painted in lines made out of tiny dots - Australian aboriginal art - and when you look at them sideways they also looked 3 dimensional.

Of course, the real pleasure was seeing Nathalia goofing off on her first day of school. There was a show that all parents, grandparents, neighbors, cousins were also invited to see. The teacher in charge of the new class welcomed them and then welcomed all the families - then honored the grandma of one of the new students by pointing her out and saying that she had graduated from that school in 1938.

The new 1st graders sat at the front just below the stage and the 2nd graders sang songs and acted out plays about what it meant to start their ernstes Leben. Big sister couldn't prepare the girl starting her first day of school, mom couldn't prepare her, dad couldn't prepare her, but then she went to school and did all the cool stuff - raising hands when the teacher asks a question, reading, writing, math, eating snacks and lunch. Everybody watching was crying. Then the bigger kids sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and we snuck out to go catch our train back to the farm.

Monday, August 6, 2012

German Farm Life

From Hamburg and our adventures setting ourselves up with residency, we took a train to Dresden and then to a tiny little town that is more like a cluster of small farms. We are very close to the Polish border to the east and to the south lies the Czech Republic. Deep in former East Germany. Before we get into that, check out the bike seatbelt and space on the tiny local train that took us out here to the boondocks.

Pretty sweet, right? Can you see the sticker on the bottom of the seat that shows how you're supposed to secure your bike? Just don't let your bike block the pathway to the bathroom, okay?

We were warmly welcomed into a very busy household. This family numbers 6, plus they had a guy helping out through Workaway International. Big busy meals, kids running around all the time, and plenty of noise. The kids are 4, 6, 8, and 10. And they are laughing all the time. In fact, it feels like people here are laughing more often than anywhere we've ever been. Life is joyous, I suppose. 

The house and the coming thunderstorm, day 1

The farm also has a number of ducks, geese, and chickens as well as a handful of sheep and 11 goats.  The garden loves weeding and bean picking, there's land to be cleared, and there's grass and stinging nettles to scythe and feed to the goats. 

The kids stayed with their grandparents for the first couple of nights, so we adults finished the roof on the new goat barn and busted off for a swim before the thunderstorm came. There's so much water around here. And in some spots that means wonderful lakes.

Just before they left us to handle things on our own, we had a Sunday funday that included a 2km bike ride to the next town over, then a 5k walk to the next town from there - where we ate big ol'ice creams - then the 5k walk and 2k ride back home.

Bike team

First town, where we ditched the bikes

Down to the river

Joshua in the tree with a couple other monkeys

The littlest wanted to go, too, so mama had to adventure along

Joshua cooling his feet. It was hot and mosquito-filled on the way there.

Great bridge over the river

Town hall

Just after turning around to head back, it started to rain a bit. And then we got soaked by a big, fast summer storm. It was dramatic with thunder and lightning, and incredibly wet. Joshua and I ran back most of the way with the two boys. It feels good to be able to just run for 10 minutes if we want to. There are fields and woods to run through around here, so we've been working towards 10k, in between feeding animals, carrying water buckets, weeding the garden, picking blackberries, and eating as many eggs as we can. There is no way we'll keep up with these chickens... 9 eggs a day. And they are such good eggs. Somebody around here needs to learn how to bake cakes like the Germans do. This family eats cake... often. And definitely on Sundays.

Now the family is on vacation, they drove up to Sweden and then will rent a cabin for a week. Afterwards they'll all go bike riding around together. All of them. They'll be gone for about 3 weeks altogether. 

Already, the grandparents came by on Saturday to bring us some cake, lest we go without one on Sunday.