Doing Dresden (Part two)

After bidding farewell to the new Mrs Miserychopsski, I hit the pretty streets of Dresden again.

20150214_142008[1]

More "wow"
More “wow”

You may have heard of Dresden as the birthplace of PEGIDA, and yes, this is true. However, I did see something along my way that gave me hope that at least some people there are a little more open-minded.

20150214_142233[1]It was just a shame there were only around six of them…

Next on the list of must-sees in Dresden is the Frauenkirche. Unfortunately, the interior was closed to the public on that particular afternoon, but the exterior was pretty impressive. Built in the 18th century, the church was completely destroyed in World War Two (like pretty much everything else in Dresden). However, that didn’t stop the Germans and they rebuilt it after the reunification of Germany. Again, I think they did rather a nice job…

Not bad, eh?
Not bad, eh?

Shiny happy Germans were out in droves. That’s the nice thing about the Germans – even if it’s freezing, as soon as the sun comes out, they’re instantly out and about. I guess this is what keeps the wolf from Jack Wolfskin’s door.

Bubbly Germans
Bubbly Germans

However, much as I admire the Germans’ hardiness, I’m just an Irish pussy at the end of the day, and my hair was starting to resemble that of those trolls you used to stick on the end of your pencils. That meant one thing – it was time for tea and cake. Indoors. I found a nice café and ordered my typical black tea with milk and a Dresdener Eierschecke, which Google helpfully translates as an egg “spotted bull”.

20150214_150803Despite being a little bland, it filled a gap, and after all…

20150214_163345[1]This gave me enough energy for a final stroll just as the sun was about to set over Dresden.

I made my way over the bridge and back into new town as it was definitely wine o’clock at this stage. I found a cute little bar called “Bottoms Up” and had a couple of glasses of wine before heading back to the apartment for a nap. I set my alarm for 8pm and in spite of the high-pitched singing of my host and the incessant bird music she was playing, I managed to fall into a deep sleep. A little too deep. When I opened my eyes again, it was 1.57am. I briefly toyed with the idea of going out anyway, but for once, common sense won out and I slept again until 9am the next morning. I must be getting old.

I could hear the sound of birdsong in the next room but wasn’t really in the mood for conversation, so I sent the bird lady a quick text to see if it was OK to leave my stuff in the room for the day.

“Of cornelia it is OK.”, which shows that even Germans fall foul of predictive text once in a while.

I really wanted to do a boat tour, but unfortunately, I was early – by a month. So I hopped on the sightseeing bus tour instead as I had to get to the Blaues Wunder bridge but had no idea how to get there. (This time I’d asked Dietmar – Mr Germany – about what I should see BEFORE I went…)

The tour was quite interesting even though I’d already walked a lot of where we visited the day before. Still, it was good to get some more facts and figures, information about the total destruction of the city, the beauty of its rebuilding and news of upcoming festivals and celebrations. On a whim, I decided to jump off at Großer Garten, a baroque style park. There had been a wall around it at one point, in a bid to stop any “common hussy” from wandering in, but that was gone now so this common hussy made the most of it.

20150215_130823[1]Although everything was a little bleak-looking at this time of year, there were some definite signs that spring is on the way.

20150215_131048[1]20150215_132311[1]The park is home to the Dresden Zoo, the children’s railway and the Botanical Gardens, but I only had to time have a walk around the Summer Palace and lake.

Apart from the random rollerblader who chose that moment to stop and check her phone, I was very impressed. And I could only imagine how much more beautiful it is in summer.

After another half hour or so on the bus, we finally pulled up at the Blaues Wunder bridge – “Blue Wonder”, but maybe they should have called it “Blue Steel”? While I’ve seen prettier bridges, the surroundings were absolutely lovely. Three palaces on a hill overlook the Elbe as it flows under the Blue Wonder, and this suburb of Dresden had more than a little fairy tale feel about it as well.

See what I mean?

Cute or creepy?
Cute or creepy?

All too soon, however, it was time for a final glass of wine before getting the bus back to Berlin. Unfortunately, the sun never did come out the second day, but I’m looking forward to visiting again in summer. Unless they rebuild the “common hussy” wall, that is.

 

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Doing Dresden (Part one)

The first thing that has to be said about Dresden, is that this city is just ludicrously beautiful. I mean, if Dresden were a person, it would be Zoolander – it’s that really, really ridiculously good-looking. I can’t remember the last time I was this wowed by a city; I basically spent two days walking around grinning idiotically at how lovely everything was. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

20150214_155232[1]This time round, I actually made my bus on the intended day. I boarded and unfortunately sat opposite a woman with the mother of all colds, who had no qualms about blowing her nose at a window-shattering decibel level. I was rather relieved when we pulled into Dresden a couple of hours later and I got to leave Foghorn Helghorn behind.

I’d managed to find a room online for just €50 for two nights so I headed off in the direction I expected it to be in. After a couple of wrong turns and a few helpful Germans, I eventually arrived. At a yoga studio. Hmm. I called the number on the booking form and was told that yes, I was in the right place but that the owner wasn’t home right now. Why hadn’t I answered her text?

What text? I cast my mind back and remembered an odd message from the night before. “Lindau. When you will arrive my flat?” I’d just assumed that I’d given my number to some randomer in a bar and made some plan that I had no intention of keeping. For once, I hadn’t. This was of small comfort to me now though, as I had to wait for half an hour for the lady of the house to get back.

So, I did what any self-respecting German would do – grabbed a beer and drank it while I waited outside the building. A classy start to the weekend. Finally, a little slip of a woman of about 70 showed up and let me in. With a steely look in her eye, she non-jokingly told me she’d prefer it if I took my shoes off. Great, I was going to be staying with the female equivalent of Hermann for two days…

But the room was lovely, with its own balcony, and as nobody else was there that weekend, I’d have the bathroom and kitchenette to myself. There was even a comforting picture of a bear who’d ripped a young girl to pieces to help me settle in.

Not bad for €25 a night.
Not bad for €25 a night.
?
?

I freshened up a bit, and went out in search of sausage. I found it in the lovely Gänsedieb, a restaurant located right in front of Kreuzkirche, where the booming of the bells made my head throb. I opened the menu and the first thing that caught my eye was “Cup of goose fat to go” – what new sort of German madness was this? I decided against cups of fat, and went for some Merlot and a sausage – this had never let me down before, and it didn’t now.

One sausage to rule them all...
One sausage to rule them all…

After a second cheeky glass of Merlot – for the cold – I set off in search of a bar. My original plan had been to stick to the old part of the city for the first night, but it was more restaurant-y so I hopped across a bridge to the new part of town. This actually took quite a while as I kept on stopping to look back at the view.

Wow
Wow

I hit a couple of bars on Alaun Straße, but the ease with which I get talking to people in Berlin was nowhere to be found. People nodded or smiled politely, but there was no more contact than that. So, in keeping with the theme of sausage, I decided to visit the gay bar, where at least I knew the music they were playing.

I sat at the bar and almost immediately got chatting to a friendly Dresdener who asked me if I knew this was a gay bar. I glanced around at the guys gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and the drag queens starting an impromptu karaoke session on stage, and said that yes, I had an inkling. It turned out my new buddy worked for a brewery so we had plenty to talk about. He gave me some pointers for the next night as well, and it was 7am by the time I got back to my room.

I was up at the crack of eleven, feeling a little groggy, but otherwise not too bad. I grabbed a cheese roll and a cup of tea on the way into town and then headed for the old part of the city. As it turned out, I’d unwittingly chosen the 70th anniversary of the Dresden bombings so the police were out in droves, obviously expecting trouble. Putting a slight feeling of unease to one side, I walked on – and then repeatedly stopped to pick my jaw up off the ground.

20150214_134748[1] 20150214_135156[1]It was a stunning day, and I made very slow progress as I walked around, stopping every few seconds to take yet another photo. I eventually made my way to Zwinger Palace, which instantly took my breath away. The truly incredible thing is that 70 years ago, all of this was razed to the ground – 15 square kilometres were wiped out in Allied bombing raids, the city burned for five days and between 20,000 and 25,000 people lost their lives. Zwinger Palace was among the first buildings to be reconstructed and I think the Germans did rather a fine job of it.

Of course, some people were easily distracted by other things…

Boys will be boys
Boys will be boys

I was soon, however, distracted by the most miserable-looking bride on earth. The weather was perfect, her husband looked alright, she was having her photo taken in the middle of a fairy tale – what on earth was the matter? Ah, she was Russian. Her husband should probably get used to that face.

Why so glum, chum?
Why so glum, chum?

Stay tuned for part two…

Dresden Tourism website

Berlin LO’G

My teaching hours have dropped rather dramatically recently. All of the groups that started in September or October came to a rather abrupt end in January. There also doesn’t seem to be much demand out there for English lessons at the moment.

All by myself...
All by myself…

While this is a little worrying, it is also part and parcel of being a freelancer, and instead of falling into a massive funk, I’ve been trying to find some more productive things to do in order to fill my current abundance of free time. (OK, there has been a little bit of funking and panicking, as well.)

One of these things was responding to an ad I saw on Craigslist, which was looking for writers for a new website called Berlin Logs, an online publication about, you guessed it, Berlin. After all, what better way to spend my free time than gallivanting around the city I love and then writing about it?

Writing in Berlin
Writing in Berlin

I got an email a couple of days later inviting me to a meet-up in a café, along with around ten other people who had responded to the ad. I arrived first (as usual) and met Daniyal, the man responsible for setting up the site. Tea was on the house which made me instantly warm to him.

Other people started arriving in dribs and drabs and soon we’d taken over most of the café. It was an interesting mix of people – Irish, English, American, Australian, German – all of whom were in Berlin for various reasons. Everyone introduced themselves and gave a little background information. (I talked about how it’s possible to almost get yourself lynched in Latvia.) Then Daniyal explained why we were all there.

Berlin Logs had actually started life as a German website but he couldn’t find enough German writers to keep it going – crazy Germans… So he’d decided to switch it to English. Good for me as I can write about four words in German and keep forgetting what the shortcut keys to the special characters are.

A lot of the current content had been translated from the original German site, but now we would have a team of English-speaking writers who would write about all sorts of topics, from the perspective of people who actually live here and really know the city – or are, at least, trying to get to know it. I thought it sounded like a great concept so I immediately committed to writing an article a week.

Me, hard at it.
Me, hard at it.

So far, it’s been absolutely wunderbar. It’s a fantastic excuse to go out and explore the city a little more and go to events that I otherwise might not have attended. This has led me to Grüne Woche (an international food and agricultural expo), a creepy abandoned water park, and the “could it be any more hipster?” Berlin Village Market.

New articles are going up every day and readership is growing. All of the writers have their own tone of voice and write about the things that interest them so I think it’s got a nice fresh feel. I, for one, am very happy to be part of it, and I’m hoping for great things in the future.

Below is an extract from my article on the derelict water park. To read all of it, just click on the link.

BLUB: From Rat Haven to Home-owner Heaven?

 

…As we walked along, Florian helpfully pointed out spots that would be useful for burying bodies, so very soon, we were both jumping at every cracked twig and crunch of broken glass. The silence was eerie, and the haze of falling snow didn’t do much to quell our giggly unease. However, the only sign of life we saw was a guy practising his BMX skills in a large derelict building, and he nervously scarpered when he saw us nervously peering at him through a hole in the wall. Although we didn’t see them, it was clear that some people had set up home in a couple of the smaller buildings. Opening a door and seeing a makeshift bed and some personal belongings felt like an invasion of privacy, so we quickly closed it again and moved on…

To read the full article, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your health is your wealth

After you’ve found somewhere to live in Germany, registered your address, opened your bank account, applied for a tax number and left your religion, the next thing you’ll have to contend with is the health insurance issue.

Having health insurance is compulsory in Germany. While I think this is a nice idea in theory, as someone who goes to the doctor maybe once a year, it can also feel like you’re sitzpinkelling your money away.

Still, you really have no choice on this one. Even if you decide to be a rebel, and don’t take out health insurance for a few years, Germany will eventually send the Gerichtsvollzieher (bailiffs) after you and you will owe the full amount of health insurance premiums since you moved here, plus 1% interest. And that probably is as scary as it sounds.

After the bailiffs have been round
After the bailiffs have been round

If you’re in full-time employment, your employer has to cover 50% of your health insurance. If, however, you’re a freelancer (like me), you have to take the whole hit yourself. Although there is a lot of information about German health insurance online, I decided to save time and just ask some people I knew who they were with. TK Insurance won the poll, so I looked up their website.

Here’s the general gist – your contribution is calculated as a percentage of your gross salary. Currently, this is 14.6 percent (general contribution rate) plus a TK-specific additional contribution rate of 0.8 percent. Yikes. There was also this rather confusing section on the application form…

Um...
Um…

What if I earn between €450 and €4,575 a month?

I decided to stop faffing about online and just call an actual person. When I’d hung up, I decided I probably would need health insurance after all, as the information had given me a minor coronary. Even if you don’t earn anywhere near €4,575 a month (which I don’t), they’ll assume that the absolute minimum amount you’re earning is €2,100 and calculate your contribution based on that figure – whether you’re actually earning that much or not. This would have made my monthly contribution €314.69 – and would have meant that I would be moving into a doctor’s surgery to try to get my money’s worth.

Fortunately, I’m a firm believer in ranting so that’s exactly what I proceeded to do when I got to the staff room the next day. As luck would have it, one of the other teachers had just sorted out his health insurance that morning, for the princely sum of €75 a month. This sounded more like it.

I went home and looked up Mawista. It really does exist and is an insurance company dedicated exclusively to covering foreigners living in Germany, for up to five years. Their “Employee Flexible” package costs just €75 a month and covers medical treatment, dental treatment, temporary stays outside Germany, and even massages (though probably not the kind with the happy ending). Essentially, it covers almost everything TK does, but at less than a quarter of the price. Sign me up.

I filled in the ridiculously simple online application form and was informed that my application was being sent for processing and I would have my documents shortly. This was at 11.38. I went and took my washing out of the washing machine and was just hanging it up when I glanced at my laptop. It was 11.43 and my documents had arrived. I was covered.

I haven’t needed to go to the doctor or dentist yet, but hey, I think I might just start going once a month anyway. I may as well try to get some use out of the €75 a month that I would otherwise be spending on wine and cake…

Delicious tooth decay
Delicious tooth decay

 

Useful information for foreigners living in Germany can be found here

 

 

 

 

Let loose in Leipzig (Part two)

Next on the list was the St. Thomas Church – place of “faith, spirit and music”. I hid my horns under my hood and walked in.

Thomaskirche
Thomaskirche

While the church itself, built in 1212, is very impressive, there’s more than a little history behind this building. Martin Luther preached here in 1539, bringing the Reformation to Leipzig…

Not to be confused with Martin Luther King
Not to be confused with Martin Luther King

Bach was Cantor here from 1723 to 1750, Mozart played the organ here in 1789, Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of Bach’s “St Matthew Passion” after the latter’s death, and Richard Wagner was baptised here in 1813. Not bad, eh? It’s also the final resting place of Bach, whose grave was moved here in 1950.

In addition, there’s a prayer cross which I thought was a really nice idea. It started out as a prayer board in 1989, when unrest in the GDR was at its peak, and reflected people’s thoughts, hopes and fears, and was replaced by this prayer cross in 2001.

20150125_140739[1]I didn’t leave a prayer as I’m a heathen now, but I did drop a few euro in the donation box on the way out. Money is money, after all. I then spent another €0.70 on visiting the ladies’ toilet. I used a lot of soap afterwards to feel like I was getting my money’s worth.

After walking around a little more, I decided that it was time for more refreshments, and found a cosy little place that fit the bill.

20150125_154923[1]

I had planned on getting a nice cup of tea, but when I saw that they had Glühwein, that plan went out the window. I flicked to the cakes section. While the first item on the menu caught my eye, it didn’t sound terribly appealing, so instead I opted for the Apfelstrudel.

Shame they didn't call me before this went to print
Shame they didn’t call me before this went to print

It turned out that they didn’t actually have Glühwein either so the menu lied to me. Instead I chose an alcoholic hot chocolate with Jaegermeister in it. While I’m not normally a fan of Jaeger, this was really quite delicious – and very warming.

The couple in front of me looked a little startled when my flash went off. I think maybe they thought I was trying to take a photo of their baby. Seriously. Why would anyone want to take a photo of a baby when they have lovely, photogenic cake on their table?

Feeling ready to face the world, and the rapidly dropping temperatures again, I continued walking around for another while, snapping a few pictures of eye-catching buildings as I went – not babies – until my face started to feel numb and I made my way back to the history museum (or “Das Stadtgeschichtliche Museum”, as it’s known in German).

This was really the highlight of the day. I hadn’t known that much about Leipzig before visiting, but after spending some time in this museum, you get a fantastic picture of the city, from its origins in the middle ages right up to the present day. The only downside was a “phantom farter”, who seemed to be one room ahead of me all the time, dropping little bombs for my olfactory pleasure.

Little Leipzig
Little Leipzig

When you see what the city looked like after the war, it really is remarkable to see it now.

Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0002629_002_Trümmerbeseitigung

You can also sit and listen to Bach’s music, while looking at the only known original portrait of him. Previously, whenever I thought of J.S. Bach, images of Sister Roisin banging away on the school piano invaded my brain. Now I feel that I will have much more positive associations .

The man himself
The man himself

With the museum closing soon and my bus due in around an hour and a half, it was time to get a drink for the road. Having tried and failed to find a proper German Kneipe (bar), I came across an Irish pub, hidden away down a side street close to where the bus stop was. Disappointingly, there were only around four other people in the bar but I still managed to while away an hour or so, reading my book and mixing grape and grain.

A few days later, I met Dietmar for a few drinks.

Me: I was in Leipzig on Sunday. 

Dietmar: Did you see the Monument to Freedom and Unity?

Me: Um, no…

Dietmar: Then you have not been in Leipzig.

Me: Sigh. 

Next time, before I go anywhere, I’ll ask a German what to see and do instead of asking the internet. Stupid internet.

 

Useful links: 

http://meinfernbus.de/ – bus tickets from Berlin to Leipzig from €8

http://www.stadtgeschichtliches-museum-leipzig.de/index_en.php

http://www.cafewaldi.de/

https://www.thomaskirche.org/