On the Neckarwiese

The peacocks prance in too short shorts while the muscle men gleam in tight vests.

The joggers sweat,  their steps an uneven backdrop competing with indesiferable chatter.

Lovers cuddle, not quite subtly enough, on blankets and under trees, ignoring the rest of the world.

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Boat tours glide past, their guests sipping drinks and taking in the swarm of people on picnic blankets, each group its own space claimed for the day,  each group believing they have the perfect spot.

Circles get wider,  bigger, louder as friends and friends of friends gather creating complex Venn diagrams of connection, no one sure who knows whom. Introductions are made as couples and their colleagues, friends, neighbours and visitors meet to pass some time, to enjoy the tranquility with hundreds of others.

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And parents push prams and dads carry tired-legged little ones on shoulders.

Cyclist cling their bells at idle strollers who wander aimlessly, taking up too much of the path.

And no one minds at all. It’s easy and it’s carefree. It’s a public holiday and the sun is shining. Under the castle’s watchful gaze, we sit and we sun. We chat and we snooze. We be.
Because today, being is the only thing we need do.

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On the Neckarweise

The peacocks prance in too short shorts while the muscle men gleam in tight vests.

The joggers sweat,  their steps an uneven backdrop competing with indesiferable chatter.

Lovers cuddle, not quite subtly enough, on blankets and under trees, ignoring the rest of the world.

image

Boat tours glide past, their guests sipping drinks and taking in the swarm of people on picnic blankets, each group its own space claimed for the day,  each group believing they have the perfect spot.

Circles get wider,  bigger, louder as friends and friends of friends gather creating complex Venn diagrams of connection, no one sure who knows whom. Introductions are made as couples and their colleagues, friends, neighbours and visitors meet to pass some time, to enjoy the tranquility with hundreds of others.

image

And parents push prams and dads carry tired-legged little ones on shoulders.

Cyclist cling their bells at idle strollers who wander aimlessly, taking up too much of the path.

And no one minds at all. It’s easy and it’s carefree. It’s a public holiday and the sun is shining. Under the castle’s watchful gaze, we sit and we sun. We chat and we snooze. We be.
Because today, being is the only thing we need do.

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Who’s That Girl?

 

She looks familiar, doesn’t she? There’s something about the dimples and the slightly awkward way the hair is lying. In fact, forget the hair, just the general awkward pose strikes a cord. It’s like that of a tourist having a photo taken next to something deemed important, but that no one can name. But of course, she was a tourist back then. Four years ago. So long ago. Just like a moment ago.

Yes, I definitely know that girl. I recognise the smile, the attempt at putting an outfit together that’s not quite right, and that look in the eyes behind the glasses, that hope that she’s doing it right. Whatever it is. She’s come a long way, that’s for sure.

Oh yes, she’s definitely come along way. Not just a few hundred miles of distance from one home to another. There have been other alterations too. The itchy, eczema-covered hands she arrived with – evidence of a life taken too seriously – have smoothed; where once there were the makings of an intricate dot-to-dot, there now sits painted nails and even skin. The outward signs of the troubles she left behind are long gone. Look inwards and you’ll find improvement too.

Other external changes are merely cosmetic: a hair cut or two, new glasses, a new coat –  none of the things that really matter, except in so much as they represent a braver few steps, an attempt at finding that ever elusive self.

Four years. Four years since packing and unpacking a life into five boxes. Four years of newness and adventure, of finding a new home and missing an old one, and of striving and often failing to find a balance between home and away, the two blurring gradually. Four years of never quite learning a language and never quite mastering a culture. Four years of friendships and of goodbyes. Four years and lots of the new and some of the old. It’s shaped her, this passage of time, like no other era before.

Yes, I remember that girl, but I am more familiar with the person she is now:  A new job, not unlike the old.  A marriage, the reason for the move underwritten by love and law. An emerging confidence, new, so completely new that it’s still unsure, like a child just off training wheels. However, still the old worries, more of the same, but better. At least most of the time.

Who’s that girl? Have you seen her? She’s changed a little and adapted a lot. From many angles unrecognisable and from some angles exactly the same.

 

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Another List: Liebe Deutschland

Germany has been my home for three years now. I mean, England is still home, but Germany has been the place I lay my hat for long enough and happily enough that I don’t mind awarding it the home label. Last week I wrote a list celebrating all the things I love and miss about England. This week, I am going to celebrate Germany and all the things that, while not particularly important, make it a special place.

1. It is beautiful

With it’s defined seasons, green forests and wide rivers it is beautiful in spring and summer, golden in autumn and (potentially) magical in winter. wpid-20150620_181419.jpg 2. Sundays

Sundays are valued, shops are closed and people enjoy a day off. It doesn’t really matter that it’s Sunday, the fact that one day a week is valued as time for family, friends and relaxing is such a treat. Yes, it’s annoying if you forgot to buy milk at the supermarket on Saturday, but forget about it, head out and enjoy the town without being distracted by shops and spending.

3. Cafe culture, beer brewing and relaxed attitudes

You can go to the same place for breakfast, lunch, coffee and cake, dinner and a midnight beer. You can buy a beer and drink it peacefully by the river whilst having a picnic. You can take two hours over one cup of coffee and no one will ask you to move. Time for simple pleasures is never frowned upon, it’s encouragedwpid-20150318_183210.jpg 4. Brezels Or pretzels to you and me. Cost less than a Euro, are salty and delicious. The perfect snack.

5. …Zeit

There is a season for everything. Winefest season, Christmas markets, harvest festivals. Even asparagus! Spargelzeit tells you spring and summer are well on the way and makes a pound of white stalks and sauce sound like the best thing since sliced bread!

6. Christmas Markets Sweet smells, mulled wine and pretty things you don’t need all packaged in festive spirit and cold toes.

7. Bikes IMG_1004 You can cycle everywhere and it is often faster than the car or public transport. I am the worst kind of person, admittedly – on my bike I hate all pedestrians and vice-versa. But I love getting to work in less than ten minutes and getting my own little lanes on pavements.

8. The Environment

You can recycle almost everything. Bottles have a deposit encouraging a culture of recycling and taking away your rubbish after picnics and festivals. Simple, effective, and simple just a good way of going things.

So Germany got 8 to England’s 7. Well at least it didn’t go to penalties. And Germany gets a minus point for not realising the worth of marmite. The conclusion? Having two great places to feel at home is lucky, enriching and something for which to always be grateful.

We Could Cycle to Ladenburg…

There are always things that you could do, many more things you should do, but today is not about that. It’s not about the garage you would eventually like to clean out, the box under the bed you could organise, or the paperwork you should file. It’s about those things you know you could do, things that you would probably enjoy, but never quite get around to.

Yes, it’s easy to say you should travel more, but time, commitments, and finances, mean it’s not always that simple. But what about the world that is right there on your doorstep, cheap, if not exactly free, and ready to be explored? Being a tourist in your own backyard is so easy, but also easily forgotten.

Ever since moving to Heidelberg, we’ve been quite good about exploring far afield, trying to make the most of this new place around us. There have been a number of city trips, a larger number of Weinfests and a few boat tours. A running joke has always been my idea to cycle to the nearby town of Ladenburg. Every public holiday, of which there are many in April and May, we’ll sit down and go through the possibilities. City Break? Yeah, but shops etc are closed. Boat trip? Hmm, but we’ve been up and down the Neckar three times already. Cycle to Ladenburg? We could, but…

And there’s always been a reason to not go. That reason has tended to be a hearty mixture of a laziness, rickety bikes, and not enough of a pull. I mean, what’s even there? What if we get there and it’s boring?

Well today, when train services interrupted our original plan, we decided it was time to oil the bikes, pack the camera, a spanner and a bike pump, and hit the bike trail.

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Maybe it’s obvious where this is going, it’s not a great epiphany or anything but our effort to leave the house, coupled with 45 minutes of cycling paid off and left me wondering why we hadn’t done this sooner. The ride itself was fun – beautiful scenery enjoyed nervously with the sound of my husband’s bike’s gear changes protesting against the work and threatening to give up. We were able to ride side by side most of the time, just enjoying being out. It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that the destination was irrelevant when the journey was so much fun.

But we needn’t have worried, as bike track became road, we wound gently into this quaint and welcoming town not 12 km from our front door. Our efforts were rewarded:

We were amused by a drainpipe wearing a scarf..,

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we were enchanted by a pizzeria in a cave..,

IMG_0989and charmed by this lovely little town.IMG_0997Spending two hours doing something nice nearby may not be life changing  or mind altering, but now I’m home, I’m ready to make a list of all the other things we could do locally, the places we should visit.

No, scratch that. All the other things we’re going to do locally with the aid of some bicycle oil, a spanner and a bit of get-up-and-go!

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If These Walls Could Talk – Memories in a Childhood Bedroom

There are new curtains and a change of wallpaper. It’s plainer now, more neutral, but cared for just the same. Odd ornaments remain,  but they’re selected to decorate, not the mismatch items picked out by a teenage girl. (Or perhaps these were the only ones that I left behind when I moved out.)

The drawers are filled with unfamiliar clothes and the side is stacked with mail and tit-bits that don’t belong to me. The wardrobe, once filled with toys and books houses beer, old paperwork and whatever bits and pieces that are without an alternative home.

Some things, however, remain, like old photos, faded in the frame because no one ever thought to change them. The faces are still familiar, old friends and family, changed with time, the altered faces of those long grown up or moved away.

There are other things too, accumulated over a decade of moving away and coming home: jewellery, a sugar bowl that’s always been too awkward to pack, comfy sweaters to rely on during weekend visits,  weekends home.

Other things are more significant, and one day they’ll make it into a box and to wherever I finally settle: my wedding dress,  pressed and clean, will go into my loft for future  reminiscent moments. The left over centre piece and silk flowers from that special day will decorate my own house, my marital, not childhood, room.

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If these walls could talk, they’d have some tales to tell. They’ve witnessed the sobs of a baby and a child, the tears of a girl and a woman. These walls have been a nursery, playroom, bedroom, guest room and, more recently, a spare room.

But it’s remained constantly Helen’s room. A room that is always tidy when I return to it, with fresh sheets and a familiar smell. The heating, off for the weeks and months when it is empty, warms the room again. The shelves are clean and dusted. This room has not been properly lived in for over 10 years, but it remains a constant in my life, in a world where constants are hard to come by.

A bedroom is just bricks and mortar. It’s a box to keep your things in. But it’s also a place to hide from prying eyes. A place of peace and quiet. A place that’s seen you grow, laugh and cry.

If these walls could talk, they’d tell you a life story. The good, the bad and the ugly. If these walls go on looking, who knows what they’ll see. More secrets and more laughs, I’m sure. Late-night diary writing. Visitors and extended family.And of course me, home and returned to these safe and familiar four walls.

Leaving Home to Come Home

I’ve been thinking about the word home. I hope it’s okay to have more than one…

What a treat and a pleasure to have two homes. Two places where you feel happy and content and loved and safe. I just got back from a week in England where I did lots of visiting and spent time with my family. It’s always so pleasantly familiar at my parents’ place; from the smell of my bedding to knowing the knives, forks, and spoons are in a different order to they are in my own house. I know there will be biscuits, peanuts, and cereal with the raisins picked out. I know, to within 10 minutes, what time my dad’ll walk through the door and who’ll do the washing up and when.

Slotting back in to the rhythm of home and all its idiosyncrasies is always easy. And that is why it’ll always be home. But home is also the place I live. In Germany. With my husband, job, things, life. And I am so happy there. I miss it terribly when I am happy and comfortable at home.

So is home really where your heart is? Maybe. But I think it’s perhaps better to say that home is where you feel yourself. Where you know you’re loved and know you’re okay. Home is not having to ask if you can make a cuppa. Home is smells, sights, and sounds. My home is here in Germany. My home is the house I grew up in. I’m lucky to be able to say that I’m leaving home to go home.

Where is home for you?