Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tax Payer Remembrance Day

Yesterday was July 18, Germany's "Steuerzahler Gedenktag" – basically Tax Payer Remembrance day.

What does that mean? On average, every Euro people earned in Germany went to the government tax collector from January 1-July 17. That's right. Over half the year.

Starting on July 18, your paycheck goes to you.

Amazing, right? Horrifying even?

Not exactly.

I'll be honest, I've whined about taxes before. Of course I have.

But the more news I see from back home in the US, the more I'm happy to pay these taxes, for socialized health insurance, etc. Things aren't perfect here, but I have never once seen a GoFundMe for a German trying to afford surgery or dental care. I've never heard of anyone here losing their house because they had to pay enormous hospital bills. People here don't have tens of thousands of dollars in debt (or more!) when they get their college degree. They don't work until a day before a baby's due. And child care is subsidized, so you don't end up working for almost nothing just to keep your job.

So would I like to pay less taxes? Sure.

But would I want less taxes enough give up what my German taxes are used for? Not a chance. Because even if I was rich enough to not have to worry about all that stuff for me (which I'm not), I just don't know how you live knowing your neighbors might wonder how they'll make it through the month.

Monday, May 7, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, I booked my first trip to the US in three years. And I've been scared to admit it, but for the very first time, I have mixed feelings.

I really, really want to see my family! It's been far too long!

I can't wait to revel in the Enchanted Mitten that is Michigan, with all its breathtakingly beautiful lakes. 

Look at how beautiful!

I even look forward to eating all those (terrible, wonderful) things you can't get here in Germany, like Twizzlers, Cheetos, and Ranch Dressing. (I'm so classy.)

However . . .

American politics.

One option is to just not talk about our different opinions and hope we'll all get along. But political developments are not just conversation topics. Decisions made are real things that impact real lives.

Removing protections for transgender people, for example those stipulating that a doctor must treat transgender people, will seriously affect one of my loved ones. Could even be life threatening.

Taking away the ACA would mean a good friend, with a pre-existing condition they can do nothing about, can no longer afford health insurance, would no longer be able to afford the medicine that keeps them able to work.  

30 million dollars for a ridiculous military parade, and racism-fueled spending to build a wall to Mexico that experts say wouldn't help anyway will use up money that could be spent on things that could make a real difference. Better pay for teachers like one in my family. Better education for all children (and not only those in private schools). De-escalation Training and Racial Sensitivity Training instead of increased police brutality more likely to affect friends who are people of color.

The name calling, lying, and loss of dignity in government. The resulting loss of respect throughout the world that I see on a daily basis as an expat.

And of course, my home country has the loosest gun controls in the developed world, which lead to more gun-related deaths per capita than any other country. It makes me wonder, makes me fear, that we could be next in the statistics. In case you're wondering, as of May 1, 2018, it's been 4685 people who have died of gun violence in the US this year alone. People with families, friends, colleagues. Not to mention over 8000 injured. People in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could just as we hit one of us.

You may think my view of things is too simplistic. It's not money for the wall vs money for education because one's at a federal and the other at a state level. I don't want to get into the nitty gritty details right now. The point is it shows the priorities of our country right now. Priorities that honestly sicken me.

So do I look forward to going back home after so long. Most definitely.

But with a heart that's tattered and torn and praying the country will be able to bounce back from the dangerous direction it's headed.

picture by me

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Taipei Connection

I spent last week in Taipei, Taiwan on business. Since my company had actually sent me there to work, the amount of time for sightseeing was severely limited, but I wanted to tell you about one especially amazing evening.

My colleagues and I—each from a different country—left our hotel in search of a restaurant for dinner. On the way, we found the stunning Hsing Tian Kong temple and went inside.

The temple was crowded, with the scent of incense in the mild evening air, people praying, and a soft clacking as people cast moon blocks onto the stone floor for divination. One of the temple disciples saw we were foreigners who were obviously curious but worried about disturbing everyone. She gave us a pamphlet in English and pulled us through the crowd to let us see.

We eventually left the temple, and after a dinner of noodle soup, we wandered around the streets of Taipei...and got kind of turned around. The map we had only partially helped, and when we saw brilliant, colorful lights shining at the end of a dark alley, we decided we couldn't get any more lost than we were and followed them. Was it a wedding? A concert?

The alley was packed with tables, families eating and drinking. A couple of older men waved us forward and explained that it was a community celebration to honor the birth of a god. They pulled us right up to the altar, gave each of us three incense sticks and showed us, step by step, where and how to pray. 

When the praying was done, they poured us beer (I'm not a big beer fan, but I thought it tasted pretty good). They asked where we were from, and when we said we lived in Germany, one of the (tipsy) men hummed the German national anthem. Thank you to the World Cup, I assume. ;)

Before we could leave, the men passed out ice cream (I am a big ice cream fan, and it was yummy). A warm rain began pattering down. It was getting late and we had to work the next morning, so I pulled out the hotel card and asked them to point us in the right direction, which they did.

It was such an amazing, lovely, spontaneous connection—a group of people eager to share a bit of their culture with strangers, and the three of us, nervous about what we might be getting ourselves into, but truly touched that we could try it out.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Vacation Signs

I already gave a little travel report about our summer vacation, but there's one aspect I saved for a separate post.

The signs.

If you've read some of my other posts you might have realized I really like signs. I've described warnings of dangerous trees in the Bavarian Forest and showed some really beautiful signs in my own town before.

So now for some vacation signs.

While driving through the German state of Hessen, I was tickled to see their construction signs. It seriously made the construction zone easier to take because I kept wondering what the next sign would look like.

We saw this sign on the path leading down to the lake and warning of the steep slope. AKA "Beware of out-of-control inline skaters!"

This sign is posted next to a tiny little stream, and seems to be warning about a tsunami.

I mentioned in my other vacation post that our campground's swimming area had been drained to remove the muck and silt at the bottom of the lake. :( This sign warned us not to try to walk on the instable lakebed.

A fancy chain took over this older hotel in Meschede and turned it into a swanky, expensive place to stay. You can still see the original building on the left, the new one on the right. For historic purposes, they left the original sign next to the staff driveway. Looks like the beginning of a 1950s horror movie, doesn't it?

Finally, this isn't technically a sign, but it is a sign. One of the most unique things about where we vacationed was how popular it was with Dutch tourists. Our campground was located in Germany but filled with about 75% Dutch people. These flags were on a lake cruise we took. Notice how the Dutch flag is bigger than the German one?

I hope you enjoyed these signs like I did. I think I'll end with a bonus picture: a sign of a silly dog ;)

All pictures by me or my family.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Vacation Time - Sauerland and Hennesee!

Pretty river landscape in Meschede, Germany

My family and I spent this summer vacation in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. We stayed in an area called Sauerland at a campground right on the lake Hennesee. Being from Michigan, and living in a lakeless area of Germany, I was really excited to be on the water for a whole week.

Turns out, the advertising was a little misleading. A main road separated the campground from the lake. And there was a bigger, more important difference.

The lake was man-made, created from a dammed up river. It turns out they were cleaning this portion of the lake, removing truckloads of muck and silt. So the below picture shows the "swimming area" for our campground. 

In case the lack of water didn't make it clear, the security tape encourages you not to dive in.

Disappointing, but the rest of the lake was still full of water, and we enjoyed a nice boat ride. The temps were pretty low, but the kids even managed to get in some swimming at a stony beach down the road, at least until they came out with teeth chattering.

My kids (and dog) making a rare, but still anonymous appearance on the blog :)

I love the way it looks like these rocks are growing up out of the ground on shore
We also got to walk on the dam itself.

The area is extremely hilly, and a long, long, long stairway was built so you can walk up to the top of the dam from the other side. Seriously, once on these stairs was enough.

Looking down
Looking up the Himmelstreppe or Stairway to the Sky

The region is known for its slate mining, and many houses were covered in it, giving them a dark but really unique appearance.

House in Meschede
House in Eversberg. It's built into the hill so this side only shows the upper floors.

Being a reader, I liked the buildings in the village of Eversberg even better. They had phrases painted on them. My favorite house reminded kids to keep their bedrooms clean!

The phrases are in the horizontal timbers.

In Eversberg, we hiked up to the ruins of a fortress built in 1242 for a lovely view.

View from the top

Something I wouldn't have noticed on my own, but my husband did, is how all of the roofs are dark slate, compared to the red tiles in Franconia, where we live.

As for whether I'd recommend this area for a vacation...let's just say there were some nice aspects, but it was generally less suitable for sightseeing that most of the places we've vacationed in Germany recently. But we enjoyed our relaxing time there nonetheless.

Bonus pic: I had to prove I actually visited the ruins, didn't I?

All pictures by me or my family.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Laughing Eye and A Crying Eye

In Germany, when people make a big change, like moving to a new job or a new city, they often say they do it "with a laughing eye and a crying eye," meaning they're looking forward to the new thing coming but will miss what they're leaving behind.

Today is the last day of the school year here in Bavaria (I know, I know, so late!). For us, it's an even bigger "last"—it's the last day any of our kids will be in elementary school. *sniff*
Class T-shirt

I've written before about aspects of the educational system here in Germany I don't like (the sorting of kids after fourth grade). And I've written about parts I think are absolutely wonderful, like the rite of passage of starting first grade.

For the most part, we've been really happy with the elementary school. And now we're facing another milestone: the end of elementary school.

After fourth grade, kids are split into tracks: college prep, vocational and a middle route that could lead to either one. That means the kids--friends and neighbors--are more or less torn apart and sent to different schools. *sniff*

So on to "the end." There was a school assembly, to which parents are invited. The kids put on two plays, sang songs, danced. The fourth graders received little presents made by the first graders they'd mentored this year (another idea I love!).

Like every year on the last day, the tall, soft-spoken, less-than-one-year-until-retirement principal assigned the kids three important pieces of homework for summer break:
  1. Play, every day!
  2. Sleep in, every day!
  3. See your friends, every day!
The kids cheered like it was a rock concert, and my heart swelled, knowing we'd never be there for that again.

And then the assembly ended with everyone waving and singing a goodbye/good luck song to the fourth graders. 

Some kids cried.
Some parents cried (stop looking at me).
Some teachers cried.

If that's not a sign of the wonderful community in our elementary school, I don't know what is.

I'm sure next year will be great, but I know from experience that things in the upper schools are a bit different. The student bodies are bigger and more anonymous; there's less involvement by the families.

But nothing can take the mostly lovely elementary school memories from my kids or from me. I'm so glad I got the chance to be a part of this community.

All pictures taken by me.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Felsenlabyrinth (The Rock Labyrinth)

On Friday afternoon, one of my kids and I took a spur-of-the-moment jaunt with some neighbors out to Wunsiedel to the Felsenlabyrinth (Rock Labyrinth). 

It's basically a hike through a labyrinth of immense boulders. We weaved around them, climbed over them, and sometimes even crouch-walked under piles of them that would crush us in a second with the slightest shift of the ground.

The boulders are made of granite, formed by erosion. The locals recognized the uniqueness of the area and began setting up paths to turn it into a tourist attraction in the late 1700s. Goethe, for example, visited in 1785.

Many boulders are carved with quotes from the early 1800s. This rock, as big as a two-story house, had a longer text. I only photographed the last couple of lines, carved in August 1817.

"Lebe recht, Wanderer! Träume glücklich und stirb ruhig. Du verlierst deinen Traum, und gewinnst Ruhe!" – Live well, wayfarer! Have good dreams and die peacefully. You lose your dream, and gain tranquility*.

The entire area is now a nature reserve. One surprise was the rare bioluminescent moss we happened upon.

In some spots, it felt like we'd stumbled onto a movie set. Lord of The Rings, anyone?

This is clearly an Ent bending over to shove the boulder, right?
I'd highly recommend a hike through the Felsenlabyrinth if you're ever out that way.

There's also an amphiheater for the Luisenburg Festspiele right next to the Felsenlabyrinth, and they incorporated the landscape into the stage. We got to see Cats, and my ten-year-old has been humming the songs ever since.

Luisenburg Festspiele stage
For more professional pictures of the Felsenlabyrinth, see this link.

Had to prove I was there, didn't I?

*Translation by me. Feel free to comment if you think I translated incorrectly. ;-)
All pictures by me.