Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Surreal

Certain moments of my life stand out beyond easy description. Moments of joy, sorrow, beauty, dispair. The day Peter & I decided to marry. The day I decided to get divorced. The view from the top of the Grand Tetons. The view from the central court yard at Dachau.

During our last visit to Germany, we spent some tourist-time in Berlin. It was a pleasant opportunity for our friends to see things they normally wouldn’t (Pergamon Museum) or or hadn’t (Hohenschönhausen).

This last location is a notorious Stasi prison. It was the one location where I didn’t feel as though I was imposing my tourist wishes, since none of our group had been there before. It had recently opened to the public. This is like Dick Chayney’s house: it was never put on any maps, and no one publically acknowledged it. Yet - if the Stasi took you away in the middle of the night ... this is where you’d arrive.

At the time, Michael was 3-1/2 and Gregor was 6 months old. About 10 minutes into the tour (conducted in German), Michael couldn’t keep still. This isn’t Neuschwannstein, where my tolerance for pediatric noise would have been much higher.

So, I was the obvious choice (not my country's heritage; heavy Berlin accent) to depart with the boys. I apologized to the tour guide, and left.

Surreal point #1: walking through an infamous Stasi prison alone. Hoping I wouldn’t get lost on the way back to the entrance. My 2 small children were the only sound. I even stopped and listened ... not a sound.

I took the boys out to the visitor’s center to wait for our friends & Peter.

It was a broiling 90-95 degrees, humid, and painfully bright sunshine. There was no water (Germany=no water fountains). Every single thing in the visitor center/shop was in German (no English=no distraction). Michael wanted water. Michael wanted food. Michael wanted Papa. Gregor wanted to eat; that at least I could accommodate.

The center of the prison was this sun-parched area with not a single living thing, other than my children & me. It was 15 minutes past when I expected our group. It was 20 minutes past.

What should I do? my mind wailed. I was bored out of my skull. There was nothing to do. I was physically miserable. I was sitting in the middle of some god-awful prison. I couldn't get out since I had no car keys. I was sitting in the middle of a gigantic memorial to human misery.

It really is difficult to keep in mind the suffering of others when you're miserable yourself. Afterall, my family knew where I was; no one was going to take me back into the cells and torture me; I wasn't worried about dying. It wasn't surreal, but it was an unpleasant personal epiphany that I couldn't put aside my own discomfort, comparing it to the suffering of others. I'd like to think I could have, if confronted with the reality of it in front of my face. I'd like to ...

All Michael wanted was to run around and play.

I’m not German. I’m a tourist. This can't possibly have the emotional impact for me that it might have for my husband and friends. God help me, I’m an American tourist; not a group generally renowned for its cultural sensitivity. How could I explain to a 3 year old that this was an important part of his history as a German? (This was the first time I ever sincerely considered the fact that my child is also not-American.)

I was so bored and trying to be respectful of this place that is really serious. I finally lost my mind & told Michael that he was welcome to run around all he wanted, as long as I could see him. It's not as if he could have hidden in that wasteland of broiling sunshine. I decided that if anyone complained about it, I would inform them in no uncertain terms that they would just have to put up with it until the tour was over. As part of this plan, I decided to keep open the option of breaking down into tears. It worked once with Lufthansa staff in Frankfurt.

Finally Michael was happy; hot, but happy. Gregor was asleep. I was sitting on the steps inside a prison and wishing it was under 80 degrees.

The small building sitting in the interior of the prison opened, and an older man stepped out. As he strode across the courtyard toward me, I braced myself. He looked at Michael and offered a very paternal smile. He asked if Michael was bored, offering his sympathy when I said we were waiting for my husband & the tour. He smiled again as he passed by.

Surreal point #2: Sitting inside a Stasi interrogation/detention prison watching my 3 year old son running around laughing in total enjoyment on a sunny Summer afternoon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Night of Music - and what a night it was ...

Our friend, Dr.Nuke - a.k.a. Joachim - was the first person I ever met named Joachim. Not so surprising, since I'm American. Now I can't seem to get away from them. Some child who attends the same after-school group with Jr.Gopher#1 has a father named Joachim. I often see the last name before mine is Joachim-something. Some artwork I admired was from some other German guy named Joachim. And now, Joachim Neugart, the conductor for the Neuss Chamber Orchestra/Kammerorchestra.

He (and they) performed last night at the Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul. We attended. All 4 of us.

The St. Paul German-immersion pre-school is located on the property; the Institute opened it for the evening to allow parents like us to be able to attend something spiffy and not hire a baby sitter. Not really out of any warm-fuzzy hearted feelings, but more since some of the German School's students were performing, and in order to get *their* parents to come, some incentivization was required.

The Jr. Gophers had the opportunity to attend something cultural that children generally don't - the evening chamber orchestra with hors d'oeuvres and getting 'dressed up'. The evening started right about when we're usually telling the boys to put on their pyjamas. This was Michael's first exposure to life classical music, not just the radio in Papa's car.

Gregor departed fairly early to the child-care group. After winning the hearts and minds of every woman over the age of 50, i.e., most of the women there. He looked really handsome (sweetly adorable) in a white oxford shirt & slacks. I, on the other hand, took the opportunity again to wear my new elegant high heels, even if I'm quite certain none of these women noticed.

Michael lasted through the first piece: two movements from Haydn's Symphony No. 1 in D; his attention disappeared during something in Hawai'ian by a local choral group. He then went out to the children's enclave.

Peter & I had a lovely evening listening to lovely music - okay, so I liked Holst better and Peter liked Haydn. The conductor made a point that the St. Paul's Suite wasn't written for anyone in Minnesota.

The program was called "Ein Nacht voller Muzik" A night full of music ... Yes, opening at the GAI with
Twin Cities' German Immersion School student string group
Neuss City Chamber Orchestra playing Haydn (Symp. 1 D) & Holst (St. Paul Suite),
Rose Ensemble singing in Hawai'ian,
the chamber orchestra again, playing with the school children
and then in the car on the way home The Wailin' Jennies: Water from a Deeper Well
while Gregor belted out "Laterne Laterne Sonne Mond und Sterne, brenne ...." (currently his favorite song), then the boys wanted for bed-time songs the ABC-song, and Froggie went a-courtin'.

Let's hear it for eclectic music.

On the ride home, we asked Michael what his favorite part of the evening was, if he enjoyed the (grown up) musicians. He said yes, in a rather non-assertive manner, and then waxed poetic about the huge pretzels ...

Saturday's bed time lights out was 10 p.m. Central Standard time, or rather 11 p.m. Central Daylight Savings' Time.
Ein Morgen(morning) voller Muzik was neither advertised nor occurred. The Tobias men stayed in bed this morning while the Tobias woman went to St. Albert's and did *not* listen to music; unless you consider the wailin' 15-mo. old boy's 45 min cry to be music. It was our turn for during-Mass-child-care. At least one person from the German school noted that someone failed to consider Daylight Savings switch as part of the children's schedule. Although, serendipitously, the wailing boy's parents tried to buy tickets to the GAI concert, which was sold out... Maybe if they'd gone, the boy would have been home in bed, like mine.

Friday, March 12, 2010

good ... or not?

SPIEGEL: Polls don't interest you at all?

Merkel: I acknowledge them, but they do not determine my actions.

I'm torn ... is this good that she doesn't run her government based upon someone's limited statistically biased question surveys? Or does this mean she ignores the population?,1518,726433,00.html

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

never thought I'd say it

I never thought I would say it ... but I want to buy the more expensive one because it's prettier.

I have an innate ability to look at a collection of things for sale, pick out the one I like best - and it is almost without fail the most expensive one. But that is picking what I like without considering the price; which means I usually wind up buying it because it has more features that I like better.

The external hard drive ...? I just like the blue better. It's prettier.

No, no, Mr.Gopher - you need not fear - I'm getting the ugliest because when it comes to computer parts, pretty really doesn't matter to me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cleaning Cat

Only the first 20 seconds or so is really worthwhile