So the month of September has drawn to a close and my ‘year in Germany’ is halfway through. Except that it will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I’m having such fun I am planning to stay an additional six months – to have Summer 2015 in Germany as well. This works well with my husband who is hoping to do a six week or more sailing trip over the summer holidays. I was already beginning to feel that one year would not be enough so it’s great to have a bit of a time extension. More time for cycling in Niederrhein – and for cake!
Just a note for regular readers, this post is a bit shorter than usual as I’ve had a rather busy month with work (yes, I do occasionally work!) which has cut into blog-writing time. A short blog post will be a relief to some of you – yes, Clive Banks, I am looking at you!!!
So what’s happened this month?
Firstly, here’s the map of all the cycle rides I’ve done this month in Germany (I also rode a bit in the UK on my visit back there but have not included those, plus I haven’t included the Vennbahnradweg as that was elsewhere).
And here are the cycling statistics for the month:
I keep a record of all my rides on MyCyclingLog (which provides me with a target and tells me if I am ahead or behind, etc). I also tag people with whom I ride, which bike I use and that kind of thing. I’ve done a lot of group riding since arriving in Germany and so this report, from 1st April to 30 September (i.e. 6 months) is interesting as it shows just how many miles I have done in company rather than on my own.
People I have met
An HP Velotechnik Scorpion in Escheln
I was walking out of my front door and on the way to my car (oh, the shame!) to head to the supermarket when I saw a recumbent trike flash past the end of the driveway. I hollered ‘trike!!!!!’ and the person stopped. I went to chat to him – it was a chap with a smart-looking orange Scorpion that I think I’ve seen before around these roads. I had a conversation with the rider who said he had come from Süchteln and had done 30km so he was having a good ride. He had cerebral palsy so clearly the trike was a good option for him as he looked like he might have balance issues – brilliant to see him out and about and I guess I’ll bump into him sometime when I am on Alfie. I did say that I also had a trike but I was heading to my car at the time which made me look rather lazy (I was going to buy milk and toilet rolls so needed the boot space – a poor excuse I know!)
Ken the Minister
Ken the minister from my church in the UK visited me here in May on the way back from a holiday in Berlin. He had a second trip to Berlin in September so popped in again for a slice of cake in Café Poeth in St Hubert. He was also persuaded to record his contribution to this month’s special blog feature – more below!
Sound of Joy Choir
I’ve mentioned in this blog that I sing in two different choirs, the Willicher Musikprojekt (which will be performing Beethoven’s Mass in C in November) and also the Da Capo Choir in St Hubert, loosely affiliated with the Evangelische Kirche there.
I was invited by friend Claudia to a concert in Süchteln by the choir that she sings in, Sound of Joy, so went along to hear various gospel songs (“Lean On Me”, that kind of thing) and it was great fun. The choir was looking for more members and it was more the sort of music that I liked so I decided to try out for that choir and went along to a practice which was really good. They practice on Wednesday evenings, the same evening as the Da Capo choir, so I’ve had to stop going to that one, but I think Sound Of Joy will suit me better music-wise. It’s also a 50km cycle ride to get there and back which is a bonus!
A whole lot of people on my German course
Before I moved to Kempen I chose three things I would like to do in my year here. They were to visit all the churches in Kreis Viersen, to join a choir and to join a language school.
The language school has now started – I am studying German at level B2.2 at the VHS (Volkshochschule, a local adult education centre) on Tuesday evenings in Viersen, a nice 50km round trip.
So far I have had 3 lessons and it’s working out really well – the teacher is excellent, easy for me to hear (and I sit at the front which helps) and she also seems to teach in a way that works well for me. Less interactive/working with your partner, more just explaining things to us. But it’s a teaching style I like.
The class is fairly large with me, an American lady, three Brazilians, a lady from Pakistan and then about 15 Eastern Europeans of various nationalities. The language level seems quite varied but our strengths and weaknesses are quite different I suppose. I learned some new things in the first lessons so am looking forward to improving further – and the course must be subsidised as it was a very cheap 63€ for 14 weeks of 3 hours per week. Bargain!
Life in Germany
As I spend longer in Germany I seem to assimilate more into the lifestyle – mixing up the verbs ‘ride’ and ‘drive’ when talking about bikes and cars, being a bit laxer about queuing, not being quite so polite. But occasionally things still surprise me.
Cycling in the dark
One such thing was the response I got from several people when I mentioned that I am cycling in the dark home from the VHS course. Now I have always cycled in the dark when in the UK – in the winter you have to if you are going anywhere in the late afternoon or evening – and didn’t think anything of it really. My trike has excellent lights, I wear reflective clothing in the dark and it’s quite good fun riding at night anyway. But I discovered that a couple of friends were a bit worried about me riding home from the VHS at 9pm and asked me to text when I got home. Which I duly did.
So I decided to ask around a few other German friends about what they thought of night riding. The two ladies I spoke to both said they don’t do it, you never know who is waiting to jump out of the bushes and carry you off. Although one then commented that if I am in the velomobile I am probably too fast for them.
This was all a bit of a surprise to me so I posted a question about this on a UK cycling forum. The overwhelming response was that riding in the dark is fine, it’s way safer than standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus, and that people are unlikely to lie in wait for me on some of the country roads I use, especially as I tend to vary my route and time. So I remain very happy to ride at night (and always really enjoy it) but am also trying to text people when I leave the VHS and when I get home again just in case.
Hit by a white van
I’ve lived in Germany for six months now and have got pretty used to cycling around. However it has been rather strange to discover that my accident-free cycling record has been blemished – now twice! I think I mentioned that about four months ago a HGV bumped into the back of me in Alfie whilst I was waiting to cross a road. All that was damaged was the salad spinner I had bought and a couple of bananas.
But on my second visit to the VHS in Viersen I was also in another accident, also in Alfie. This one was even more surprising. I was waiting at red traffic lights behind a white van and he suddenly decided to reverse and backed straight into me. The central underneath part of his bumper fell off (it crashed into Alfie’s chainring guard). The man got out, was super-apologetic and asked if I was OK (I was) and if the bike was OK (it was, just a small addition of white paint to the chainring guard, which you can just see on the photo below)
The man asked if I wanted him to call the police. I said no because I was OK but he gave me his card and told me to call him the next morning if I felt dodgy. The woman in the car behind me got out and added her two penn’orth to say that my bike was rather hard to see. I guess this was partly true (a high window in the back of the van) but you don’t generally expect people to reverse when waiting at traffic lights. I have no idea what he thought he was doing. Still, Alfie came off better as the bumper was damaged.
It’s strange, though, that in my six years of cycling in the UK (65,000km or so) I haven’t had an accident despite mixing it with dodgy motorists on the road, but in safe-for-cycling Germany I have now had two. I think it must just be coincidence.
Penelope gets in a scrape
It’s been a dangerous month for my bikes though as Penelope also sustained some paintwork scratches when a friend was riding her and had to take evasive action when a car failed to stop at a junction – Penelope ended up on her side. Her higher centre of gravity than normal trikes was obviously a factor here. Anyway, these things ‘appen (as they say in Yorkshire) and there’s nothing wrong with her apart from a few cosmetic blemishes. Wish I could say the same for myself!
Another visit to England
September is the month when work has a sales meeting which it’s useful for me to attend so I arranged my visiting England schedule around this and had a week back in Blighty – a great chance to see my husband, of course, but also to meet up with friends and family.
My schedule was packed as it was a chance to meet up with lots of friends and family and it also conveniently coincided with a couple of special events held by friends (a golden wedding lunch and a 60th birthday afternoon tea) so I had a chance to see and chat to loads of friends and eat lots of nice cakes. Photos of the cakes follow at the end of this post!
I also had two days in Eastbourne for work for the sales conference as well. It’s always good fun to visit the seaside and chat with my colleagues.
I also had rather more boring jobs like visiting the dentist and getting my car MOTed.
I had a list of things to buy for friends in Germany, of course, so went round a couple of supermarkets. I was pleased to see how many different boxes of Tetley were on offer in Morrisons, Eastbourne.
And, a random bit of googling rewarded me with the most suitable cycling jersey for me ever – which I ordered. Here I am modelling it:
And it was amusing to discover that Tesco in Colchester imports Crunchips crisps (which are a brand you find in Germany) to England, that home of excellent crisp varieties!
Here’s a sample of the English food I ate whilst back in Blighty.
With regard to the food in the UK, it’s interesting how I immediately slipped back into my UK eating habits (which equal rather a lot of biscuits) when I arrived. In the last two months in Germany I had become more assimilated to the German food ways which included eating the main meal at lunchtime, having much more fresh fruit and lots more salads. You don’t tend to find low-fat options of everything so I am on normal spreadable butter and semi-skimmed milk instead of skimmed, but you also don’t get much junk food.
Anyway, when I arrived in the UK I was struck by how many people commented how healthy I looked. Maybe this was partly because of my cyclist tan, but I think it was probably more than that (as my face is usually tanned in summer). I think around eight people individually commented that I look really healthy – one neighbour said that I looked the healthiest I had ever done. The lady in the fish and chip shop said I looked somewhat continental (despite wearing UK clothing – perhaps this was because of my German haircut), and the dental receptionist today made the ‘you look really well’ comment as well. So it seems as though life in Germany is agreeing with me (it certainly feels like it!)
I was very pleased, when cycling to the dentist, to spot some roadkill onions which I of course picked up.
In previous years I have managed to get a year’s supply of onions by spotting when the fields are harvested and following the tractors.
On this visit to England I also did what most British expats in Germany do on their visits – I spent some money in Marks & Spencer on underwear. You just can’t find the right stuff in Germany!
More on language
The longer I am here the more used I get to hearing German the whole time (and Poppy seems to have picked it up well). I don’t yet dream in German but I do find myself not really notice which language is being spoken some of the time – you just reply in whatever language someone addresses you in without actually thinking about it. Which is cool.
My general understanding of German
So after six months in Niederrhein have I improved my German?
It’s hard to say. I’m not sure my spoken German has particularly changed (although my vocabulary is wider) but I have noticed a definite improvement in my understanding of general chitchat around me (assuming I can hear it). I also noticed at the choir practice this evening that I was able to understand everything the choir director was saying without really having to concentrate on it, and this was very encouraging. I still find that I do have to concentrate when talking to some people and also when, for example, listening to a sermon in the church in St Hubert. When people are talking German about something I know about then I can follow it all (for example, reporting on a group cycle ride I attended), but if people are telling me about something with which I am unfamiliar I can still get a bit lost.
Still, improvement sometimes is hard to measure and I certainly find myself able to deal with most situations I find myself in in Germany.
This French word is used by Brits to describe a phrase which has a second, usually rude, meaning. I hadn’t realised quite how many of these there are in English but have discovered there are thousands of ’em. Germans say a sentence to me which sounds perfectly innocent, and is meant innocently, but it has an alternative saucy meaning. My friend Charlotte and I always used to spot these when people were talking and said a quiet “said the actress to the bishop” to each other… I find myself saying that to myself quite a lot these days!!
The Shipping Forecast
I have mentioned before that I love listening to this as I go to bed – Radio 4’s weather forecast for shipping, broadcasted three times per day. It has a lovely rhythmic sound and the place names are great. Here’s a map of them all.
After my success in recording Germans saying ‘squirrel’ I decided to ask various friends to record the Shipping Forecast and I would splice various sections together with different voices.
German – Anja, Frank (in a noisy environment, sorry!), Gudula, Jochen, Klaus, Lara E, Lara R
Dutch – Alex
English – James
Scottish – Ken, Raymond
I didn’t give anyone except Lara E any hints on how to pronounce the words so we got some amusing variations.
Here is the SoundCloud option:
If that doesn’t work for you then click here to listen to the forecast as an MP3 (should play in your browser window)
The full text of the Forecast is here:
The shipping forecast issued by the Met Office, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, on Wednesday 03 September 2014 at 0405 UTC
There are warnings of gales in South-east Iceland.
The General synopsis at midday
Low Fitzroy 1012 slow-moving, deepening 1011 by midnight tonight. High Latvia 1029 low-moving, intensifying 1031 by same time.
The area forecasts for the next 24 hours
Viking, North Utsire
Southerly 4 or 5, occasionally 6 in north. Slight or moderate. Drizzle at times. Good, occasionally poor.
Southerly or southeasterly 3 or 4. Slight. Fair. Good, occasionally moderate.
Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger
South or southeast, 3 or 4, occasionally 5 except in Tyne and Dogger. Slight, occasionally moderate except in Tyne and Dogger. Drizzle at times, fog patches developing. Moderate or good, occasionally very poor.
Fisher, German Bight
East or southeast 3 or 4, occasionally 5 in German Bight. Slight, occasionally moderate in German Bight. Mainly fair. Good, occasionally poor.
East or northeast, 3 or 4, increasing 5 at times. Slight. Mainly fair. Good, occasionally moderate
Thames, Dover, Wight
East or northeast, 3 or 4, increasing 5 at times. Slight, occasionally moderate. Mainly fair. Good, occasionally poor.
East or northeast 4, increasing 5 or 6 for a time. SLight or moderate. Fair. Good, occasionally poor.
East or northeast 4 or 5. Slight or moderate. Fog patches. Moderate or good, occasionally very poor.
Easterly or northeasterly, 4 or 5, becoming variable 3 later in southwest. Moderate or rough becoming moderate. Showers. Good, occasionally poor in north.
Variable mainly westerly 3 or 4, becoming northwesterly 4 or 5 later in southeast. Moderate. Showers. Moderate or good.
Easterly 5 or 6 veering southeasterly 4 or 5. Moderate or rough, becoming moderate. Thundery showers. Good, occasionally poor.
Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon
East or southeast 3 or 4, increasing 5 at times. Moderate in Sole and Shannon, otherwise slight or moderate. Showers in Sole and Shannon, otherwise fair. Moderate or good, occasionally poor later.
Rockall, Malin, Hebrides
South or southwest, 4 or 5, occasionally 6 except in Malin. Rough becoming moderate. Occasional rain later, except in Malin. Moderate or good
Southerly or southwesterly 5 or 6 but mainly 4 in northwest. Rough becoming moderate. Rain. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.
Southwesterly backing southerly 4 or 5, occasionally 6 at first in west. Moderate or rough at first in west, otherwise slight or moderate. Drizzle at times. Moderate or good.
Southwest 5 to 7, occasionally 4 later. Rough becoming moderate. Rain at times. Good, occasionally poor.
Southwesterly 6 to gale 8 becoming variable 3 or 4. Rough becoming moderate. Showers. Good, occasionally poor.
Thanks to everyone for allowing me to record you – I was amused by the pronunciation of ‘hebrides’ (heb-ri-deez) as ‘he-brides’ by the Germans – because apparently that’s how you say it in German, and also the fact that no-one really knew how to say Utsire. Fair enough, it’s not how you would expect.
Alex sent me a link to the Dutch water levels report which used to be broadcast daily at noon. You can hear here:
Poppy the dog has made lots of friends here in Germany. She has also pulled – Lars (son of the household) decided to start calling her his girlfriend which generated the following message on the blackboard in the downstairs hallway when I took Poppy out for the afternoon and evening:
Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen
I do enjoy these rides, generally because they seem to be organised by friends Hartmut and Jochen who produce excellent routes and know a lot about the general area too.
September’s ride was on Sunday 28 September leaving from Breyell (near Lobberich), so I headed over there on Alfie, meeting a small group of cyclists at the historic church tower.
We were joined by a few more, including Frank and Gudula (my landlord and landlady, who came by car).
The tour was billed as one which would visit various water towers in Kreis Viersen. This was interesting to me as my next plan, after I have visited all the churches, is to visit all the water and windmills, so this was a chance to see where a few of them are.
Here is the track of my day’s ride which included an extra visit to Hofcafé Alt Bruch and then to Viersen.
We set off towards Lobberich and soon found ourselves at the water tower which is often visible on the skyline.
It was built in 1898.
We continued along, enjoying cycling at a faster pace than some of these rides (fewer people makes for slightly smoother riding), and using lanes that I have now ridden many times. I am beginning to get quite familiar with even the further reaches of Kreis Viersen.
In due course we arrived at the Dülken water tower.
From underneath it looks a bit like a mushroom.
After this we headed into the Altstadt of Dülken for lunch at a surprisingly large and good value restaurant. I had an onion schnitzel, cup of tea and glass of orange juice for 8,80€.
The plan was to meet up with Klaus, Claudia and Lara at Hofcafé Alt Bruch after the ride so when we got back to Breyell I headed off directly to Kaldenkirchen – with Hartmut, Gudula and Frank in tow (always worth going for cake).
Here are Hartmut and Frank.
The café was incredibly busy – so much so that we had to sit inside. They still had plenty of cake though – so I had an Erdbeer Sahne slice, except I only managed to eat half!
No-one else in our group of seven was able to eat a whole cake on their own. I must learn to bring a doggy bag with me!
We headed off back to Viersen, Hartmut coming along for the extra mileage. Here he is leading the way with Lara behind him – I was teaching her the English tongue-twister “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppercorns.”
After we got to Viersen I headed back to Escheln with Hartmut and Klaus which brought my day’s riding total to 105km. It was good to stretch my legs with a long ride after a week in England of food with only 30km cycled in the whole time. I did feel that I had slightly lost my fitness but hopefully it will return again soon!
Cakes this month
Yes, it’s the now-traditional cakes round-up.
Having received many comments from friends in England about how many cakes I am consuming, I wish to reiterate that I don’t eat all of the cakes pictured, I am just in their vicinity when they are consumed. I eat some of them, of course, but some are eaten by my companions. Just wanted to get that straight!
And then the next day our neighbour celebrated his 60th birthday which included sandwiches and cakes provided by Sweet Success Catering (also neighbours). Look at this wonderful cake/scone selection!!
And finally, a chocolate and cherry cake made today (30 September) by Lara. Very yummy!
The first six months
So the first six months of my life in Germany have now passed – and what a great time I’ve had! I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met and I have made some really great friendships already. I’ve settled in very well too – helped by the world’s best landlord/landlady.
So I’m looking forward to another year here, experiencing the changing seasons (the cold winter? – but I have a warm velomobile) and hopefully improving my German some more. And writing some more blog posts. Thanks for reading!