What is this Hell that is German Television?

So after spending the last decade mostly tv-less, I started watching the boob tube again on the regular. And boy is that name a most appropriate synonym for the idiot box in Germany.

There are two big reasons for the return of the squawk box:

1. I’m a single mom and an immigrant, which means I have zero idea of the pop culture references my kid comes home from kindergarten with and when her friends start talking about Yakari and Ritter Trank, I don’t want her to feel as much an outcast as I did once MTV launched and my parents couldn’t afford basic cable. So my ban on any television that isn’t Sesame Street has been lifted. For thirty minutes a day, max. Except for days when I’m too tired to wake up at the crack of dawn. So, basically every day but Tuesdays.

and 2. My doctors told me I need to chill the fuck out and there is no more mind-numbingly better way to spend your time than by watching television in a foreign language.

Also, did I mention a friend of mine gave me her television because I could never in my life fathom spending money on one and I got really tired of fighting my kid for my iphone so I actually took it? I guess that makes three big reasons.

Also, a producer friend of mine keeps asking me to pitch a tv series to her and I figured, you know, I’ll research the market while I’m chilling the fuck out. The only research I’ve been able to do these last years was from the tv on the treadmill at the gym and there, I usually turned it to the sports channel and hoped the football players would take off their shirts because the pensioners toiling away on the ellipticals nearby weren’t about to bless me with a flash of their six-pack abs and crazy tatts while I was zoned out mid-run. Btw, can anyone please tell me what the fuck is up with calf tattoos all the muki-bros are sporting? What is that awfulness? I digress.

Anyway, I started watching tv for the first time since moving to Germany eight years ago and you know what? I haven’t been missing a thing. It’s horrible. Forget the terrible voice-overs of crap American sitcoms that not a single person in the US would ever watch. Like The King of Queens or How I Met Your Mother. NO ONE in the US watches those shows. But Germans love Doogie Howser and that fat misogynist dude.

Forget the English-language 24-hour news channels, which make me full of rage which goes against doctor’s orders to numb my mind. Forget the sports channel which shows ski jumping on repeat even in July and forget Viva, which is a horrid mix of music videos and the badly-dubbed shit cartoons like American Guy. Forget, too, the German news shows, which seemed to be solely comprised of the day’s stupidest scandal in German politics and some footage from something going on in the US that affects absolutely no one in Europe, like cold weather, and is only on at noon and 8 p.m..

Forget all that and there isn’t much left. Arte’s okay but only if you like documentaries (not mind-numbing enough, thanks). There’s that one channel that always has black and white footage of something having to do with World War II (not mind-numbing enough either). There’s RTL, aka, the Idiot Sendung which gets public funds and instead of using them on several really great low-budget films or series, blows it on films that include helicopter stuntwork and exploding volcanoes and then buys the rest of their slots from the US. There’s a local channel that seems to be non-stop Carneval warm-up parties.

And then there’s Kika, the kids channel, where we learn about how the post office works and why our boogers are sometimes black. Genau richtig for our purposes. The kid and I have, in the last months, become Kika-addicts. Not because it’s good per se.  But because the quality of German television is sheer and utter crap. I’d say something similar about television everywhere but even the Germans I know who work in television here admit that the quality for the money is sub-par. Even Kika, which I don’t mind supporting with my GEZ fees, is terrible after dark.

It’s so bad that I tried out streaming options for my laptop — Watchever, which had movies in English but very very limited selection and Love Film, which has an awesome selection of dubbed movies but virtually zero in German and if I’m going to waste two hours of my life watching Bridget Jones’ Diary for the millionth time, you’d better believe I’m doing it in English. Besides, streaming is totally against the point. I’m supposed to be getting off my computer — i.e., chilling the fuck out — and at this point, my stress levels are so high that if my laptop is on, you’d better believe it’s because I’m procrastinating writing that god damned advertorial that’s due tomorrow and not to watch Til Schweiger try and get into some blondine’s panties.

So I’m back where I started: watching Die Kleine Prinzessin with the kid and the Muppets auf Deutsch on a Saturday night. Chilling out.

But enough about me. What do you think I should be wasting my time watching?

A Change of Wallpaper: On Travel

One of the things that used to drive me fucking insane about my ex-husband was his complete and utter apathy, his disinterest bordering on disdain, for the art of travel. Given that my first trip to Chicago — a two-hour drive from my parents’ house — took place when I was 18, you would think that I’d have been the one to never want to set foot in a foreign country. But I got my first passport as a result of his interest in returning to the Vaterland that he hadn’t seen in nearly a decade and right after I graduated college, my ass and his spent a summer on numerous trains across Europe. I decided then that I could not stay in Small Town, U.S.A. any longer and started doing everything I could to get the fuck out. Not just moving, mind you, though I’ve certainly done enough of that in the last decade and a half. Traveling.

There’s a reason my to-do list every year includes the statement, “Get out of town at least once a month,” and that reason is simple: I believe firmly in the healing powers that a new location can bring. The incredible goodness that can come from, as the Germans would say, a change of wallpaper (a phrase which always reminds me of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which always then makes me think of travel as an antidote to insanity). I experienced it most recently in Copenhagen, but I have also recently seen the exact opposite of that experience on other trips. I spent a weekend in Berlin this summer that, although fine in theory, really did nothing for me. I was there instead of here but everything felt the same, just with different wallpaper that I still felt like ripping from the walls.

My trip to Lake Tahoe over the winter was even worse. I quickly got myself into a cycle of hating everything about where I was, which was not only unusual, it was frustrating. I was in the most beautiful place I have ever been to, with people who love me, and instead all I wanted to do was to go home. A home, I’ll have you know, that I’m in due to circumstances beyond my control. A place that I wouldn’t have naturally chosen but I’ve come to simultaneously appreciate and loathe. I chose to go to Lake Tahoe, to stay as long as I could, and I hated nearly every second of it.

Instead of looking at and adoring views like these:

TahoeI was dreaming of going home to a place where the sun didn’t shine for nearly 300 days straight, where the main selling point to my apartment was the fact that there was one single tree planted on the corner, where the only nearby trail I can run is famously packed to brimming every Sunday because it’s one of the only areas in the south of the city where you can see green if you want to run more than 1k at a time.

But it wasn’t the scenery that was making me miss home. It was the familiarity I’ve come to know here. The routines my daughter and I have put into place. My friends. The unfriendly bastards I bump shoulders with out on the streets. The knowledge of how everything here works.

It might sound a bit like reverse culture shock that I’m experiencing, but I’m getting these feelings in other German cities, too. When I went to a “wellness hotel” (ha ha ha, a fucking rich word for a normal hotel with a pool that they want to charge 3x the money for despite its location in the middle of nowhere) last April, I felt it, too.

What this is, I’m afraid, is age. I’m getting older and more curmudgeonly in my old age. I want everything just fucking so, and when the goddamned pencils are not sharpened to my liking, or the towels are a bit too stiff, or the soup too salty, I’m less flexible than I used to be about it. I want to unlock my door, slip off my muddy sneakers right there in the foyer and leave them there for days, not scrub them down so I can slip them back in my suitcase so they can see a new trail in a new city. Which is a shame, given how much I actually do like traveling. It’s just getting so damned hard. So I’m taking a few months off. We’ll see how long it is before I start tearing this here wallpaper down.

Gaining Perspective

It’s been a while, I realize this.

The three readers I have who I know in real life keep asking when I’m going to write again and though there are words in this post, they don’t count. They’re a start — a way to get myself back onto this blog on a regular basis because lord knows I could really use an outlet for all the fucks I want to use and can’t in my every day, thanks to corporate censors and a parroting potty-mouthed toddler. But this post isn’t going to amount to much because it’s a spot of navel-gazing and if there’s anything I hate worse than people who take themselves too seriously, it’s reading blogposts by those assholes.

But.

It’s been a rough couple of months.

I won’t go into detail here because life is on the upswing again and I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but life sometimes is just all sorts of ugh. And the biggest lesson I can take from all this ugh is that perspective is everything. Everything.

I have a pretty nice life. If I were religious, I might say I’m blessed but that’s just bullshit. I had a lot of advantages in my life by being born blonde-haired and blue-eyed in the wealthiest country in the world (at the time) and maybe some deity played a role in that, but I worked my ass off, too. At no time have I worked my ass off more than these last two years and so I have to appreciate that even when life isn’t easy, it’s still pretty good. That doesn’t stop it from sucking sometimes, but you can’t let the suckiness drag you down — hence the need for perspective. I’m nowhere near where I want to be in life, but I am a million times removed from where I thought I’d be when I turned 36, so … perspective. I can focus on what’s not working or focus on what has gone right.

So what do you do to get that perspective?

fireplaceFor me, that perspective came (back) after a four-day weekend in Copenhagen. Cuddled up next to this cozy fireplace with a ridiculously awesome couple, watching Californication and reading Kierkegaard and just generally taking a step back to see what in the fuck had been happening in my life that made it feel so horrible. And you know what?

It was just a feeling.

As Denmark’s most famous philosopher himself would say, “There is nothing everyone is so afraid of as being told how vastly much he is capable of. You are capable of – do you want to know? – you are capable of living in poverty; you are capable of standing almost any kind of maltreatment, abuse, etc. But you do not wish to know about it, isn’t that so? You would be furious with him who told you so, and only call that person your friend who bolsters you in saying: ‘No, this I cannot bear, this is beyond my strength, etc.”

 

The Great Lake Escape

In case you haven’t heard, it’s hot hot hot here in the Fatherland. I’m not complaining. I lived in southern Florida for a white hot second one summer and I really do love the heat, especially without air conditioning. Especially when I can spend all my time in the water.

Since I have the luxury of ditching work — which this week included rifling through pictures of babes in bikinis from Fashion Week Swim out of Miami that made me sweat more than the sun — we headed to the lake when the thermostat began to rise.

Me and another Mama packed up the kids and the sand toys in the station wagon and headed north to the Moehnesee in the Ruhrgebiet. We could’ve stayed in Cologne, where there’s a lot of lovely little beaches, both at public pools and at nearby lakes, but what’s the fun in that? I can look at shirtless tattooed meatheads at my gym (and boy do I!) and the kid can get assaulted by other rugrats over her shovel just as easily at our home playground (and boy does she!). Time for a change of scenery.

Finding a place to stay was a near-disaster because, you know, Germans. They plan their vacations at least a year in advance (seriously, a friend just asked me what I’m doing in March. March? Uh, can I get through July first?) and this equals a housing shortage for anyone not willing to take a vacation even when the weather sucks. Because really, who books a seaside vacation before they know the forecast? What’s there to do in the Ruhrgebiet if it rains? Visit the coal mining museum? No thanks.

After about a million phone calls with amazingly nice people who repeatedly told me I should’ve booked ages ago, I finally got us a little (and I mean tiny — 31 m2) holiday apartment with a swimming pool and a nice view of the lake from the balcony.

moehnenseeI’d link to the place but the owner was such a jerky perv, I don’t want to give him any more business. Initially, he didn’t want to rent to us because we had the kids with and he said it was too small, but since my bathing suit cover-up was transparent and he made no bones about staring at my chest the whole time, and he knew that we were city folk, he extorted a bit of extra money out of us (it was still a third the price of a seaside cottage (read: mobile home in a trailer park) in Holland) and that was that.

Having the pool was really nice because, despite the fact that this little old lake seems to have a no motor-boat policy and a couple of public beaches, the water was a little brown and the bottom a bit rocky for my liking. I don’t come from the land of 10,000 lakes, but I am pretty spoiled by the quantity and quality of the water I grew up near. If there’s a wake, I don’t care that I can’t see my feet, but if the water’s calm and all I can see is weeds, eek. Heaven forbid something actually brush my leg while in the water.

We paid to hit the private beach next to the Strand Hotel (where I would totally stay if I visited again) one day and though the weeds were less prevalent there, it was still a bit murky-bottomed and the water cold. The Diva didn’t care, but I guess with water wings and Crocs, you don’t much care about the goo under your feet. I really didn’t want to turn into my mother, standing on the shore grumbling about not being able to see my toes every time the kid begged me to go in, so at one point, I made it out to my waist and realized the lake is actually pretty deep for its small size. Rumor has it some people even do Scuba training there. Next time….

Monday there was a full moon so the tweenie daughter of my friend and I hit up a full moon paddleboard excursion around the lake. Neither of us had done it before and though fear is contagious and she was freaked by the idea, we both survived the trip totally dry. A woman and her teenaged daughters joined us for a birthday celebration that included a pretty awesome bridge-jumping expedition, but I stayed dry so we could get home to relieve the other Mama before Diva and Co. had a pre-bedtime breakdown. Sometimes, life in 30 m2 can be too much, even for someone under 3 feet tall.

In any case, it was a gorgeous way to spend a few days during this heat wave, even if it did mean I’ve spent the entire weekend and many a late night catching up on my work. Highly, highly recommend it. It was also really great for my body image. Although I won’t post any of the paddleboarding pictures because both tweenie and I are in our bathing suits (privacy, imagine that in today’s day and age!), we both figured out pretty early on during our visit to the beach that Fraus here are heavy into the concept that all bodies fit in bikinis. And if there’s no bikini in sight, a bra will do. What a bizarre, strange thing for us Americans to have to see. You can see now why I might actually like my adopted homeland, even if its lakes just aren’t the same. Curious to see just what the swimwear over in the States is like when we get there next week. And to do more paddleboarding. Fun fun fun in the sun!

**Once again, this is not a sponsored post. I wish.