Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Now here's a good word. Though I've heard of the Starbucks scandal that inspired and encountered many a weird look while nursing in the U.S., I had never heard the word "Lactivism" until yesterday while at a going-away-party for a friend. About two-thirds of the women present were lactating, which obviously means we were discussing breasts, breast milk, nipple shape, nipple elasticity, breast size before and after nursing, etc., etc. Then someone started talking about lactivism, and of course we all bought the idea and immediately joined the ranks of lactivists around the world (though only in the U.S. would this be an issue anyways).

It was an appropriate brunch conversation to have after my walk there, when I noticed that I had two circle-shaped milk stains on my shirt - one over each breast. I thought of running home to change, but then I decided that a.) no one where I was going would notice, and if they did, they wouldn't care because they probably had them too and b.) the number of lactating women in this district must be simply staggering. If we were to have a city-wide crisis and there was suddenly no food, then we'd all be in good shape for awhile. But I am sure that those of you reading don't want to think about things like that.

For those of you who are curious, however, I will venture off on one more little tangent in that direction. I once read a news story about a group of people trying to get from Mexico to Florida in a boat. Something went wrong and they were lost at sea for a very long time. No one died, however, because one woman on the boat was lactating and gave everyone a couple of drops each day. Good vitamins, I tell you.

Anyways, back to Lactivism. I found this article in the New York Times;

'Lactivists' Taking Their Cause, and Their Babies, to the Streets

Published: June 7, 2005

The calls for a "nurse-in" began on the Internet mere moments after Barbara Walters uttered a negative remark about public breast-feeding on her ABC talk show, "The View."

The protest, inspired by similar events organized by a growing group of unlikely activists nationwide in the last year, brought about 200 women to ABC's headquarters yesterday. They stood nursing their babies in the unmistakably public venue of Columbus Avenue and West 67th Street. They held signs reading, "Shame on View," and "Babies are born to be breastfed." Ms. Walters, who remarked a few weeks ago on the show that the sight of a woman breast-feeding on an airplane next to her had made her uncomfortable, said through a spokesman that "it was a particular circumstance and we are surprised that it warrants a protest."

But the rally at ABC is only the most visible example of a recent wave of "lactivism." Prodded by mothers who say they are tired of being asked to adjourn to the bathroom while nursing in a public space, six states have recently passed laws giving a woman the right to breast-feed wherever she "is otherwise authorized to be."

An Ohio bill saying a woman is "entitled to breast-feed her baby in any place of public accommodation" passed last month over the objection of one representative who wanted to exempt businesses from liability for accidents caused by "spillage."

"I really don't know any women who 'spill,' " said Lisa Wilson, the mother of a 4-month-old in Fairview Park, Ohio, who helped organize a nurse-in at a local deli to support the bill.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, held a nurse-in on the Capitol's Cannon Terrace last month as she reintroduced federal legislation to amend the Civil Rights Act to protect women from employment discrimination for using a breast pump or feeding their babies during breaks.

Nursing mothers are pressuring businesses, too. Burger King has declared that mothers are welcome to nurse. Starbucks - the target of a letter-writing campaign that asked "What's more natural than coffee and milk?" - has, too.

The moves come as the number of American mothers who choose to breast-feed has climbed to about 70 percent in 2003, the last year for which information was available, from about 50 percent in 1990. Many otherwise apolitical women say they found themselves unexpectedly transformed into lactivists after fielding a nasty comment or being asked to stop nursing in public.

"We're all told that breast-feeding is the best, healthiest thing you can do for your child," said Lorig Charkoudian, 32, who started the Web site after being asked to use the bathroom to nurse at her local Starbucks. "And then we're made to feel ashamed to do it without being locked in our homes."

But Ms. Walters is not the only one who might prefer not to be confronted with breast-feeding at close quarters. Legislators, business owners and family members are debating how to reconcile the health benefits of nursing with the prevailing cultural squeamishness toward nursing in public.

In interviews and Internet discussions, hundreds of women recount being asked to stop nursing in public spots, including the Children's Museum in Huntsville, Ala.; a knitting store in the East Village; a Radisson Hotel lobby in Virginia; a public bus in Los Angeles; and a city commission meeting in Miami Beach.

"It's nothing against breast-feeding, it's about exposing yourself for people who don't want to see it," said Scotty Stroup, the owner of a restaurant in Round Rock, Tex., where a nursing mother was refused service last fall.

But the new generation of lactivists compare discomfort with seeing breast-feeding in public to discomfort with seeing interracial couples or gays holding hands.

"It's like any other prejudice. They have to get used to it," said Rebecca Odes, co-founder of "The New Mom" blog, who attended the ABC protest. "People don't want to see it because they feel uncomfortable with it, and they feel uncomfortable with it because they don't see it."

Whether to breast-feed in public, many nursing mothers say, is not simply a matter of being respectful of another person's sensibilities. They cite research by the Food and Drug Administration showing that the degree of embarrassment a mother feels about breast-feeding plays a bigger role in determining whether she is likely to do so than household income, length of maternity leave or employment status.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges women to feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months, and continue breast-feeding for at least an additional six months. If its recommendations were followed, the group estimates that Americans would save $3.6 billion in annual health care costs because breast-fed babies tend to require less medical care. But while more women are breast-feeding for the first few weeks, fewer than one-third are still nursing after six months. Some doctors attribute the decline to self-consciousness and the difficulties of finding spaces where nursing seems acceptable.

"To many mothers, breast-feeding runs up against sexual attitudes toward the breast," said Dr. Lawrence Gartner, who leads the academy's research on breast-feeding. "That reduces the prevalence of breast-feeding, which is a bad situation because duration of breast-feeding is an important factor in children's health."

Even mothers who are committed to nursing say they are shaken when confronted with the hostility or consternation of strangers observing them.

"People make you feel like you're doing something dirty, almost," said Rene Harrell, 26, of Chantilly, Va., who said she was recently asked to leave a Delta airport lounge in Atlanta as she nursed her 8-month-old son, Elijah.

Once on the plane awaiting takeoff, she said, a man across the aisle complained loudly about her into his cellphone as she continued to nurse.

The scene, said Ms. Harrell, reminded her of the one Ms. Walters described, which she read about on an Internet discussion board.

"It's just, where would you like me to go so I don't bother you by being here?" Ms. Harrell said. "He was not on solids. It's not like I could have given him something to tide him over. He needed to eat."

Marilyn Yalom, the author of "History of the Breast," says Americans' views of the breast has changed over time, and could change again. More than in other countries, she said, the breast is seen here as a sexual object.

"We live in a very mechanistic society and almost anything that doesn't come out of a package is somehow suspect," Ms. Yalom said. "So milk that comes out of a real human breast, we're not very comfortable with, it brings us too close to our animal nature."

The nurse-in at ABC was perhaps the largest of the dozen or so held around the country over the last year.

"I have the right to breast-feed my child without getting nasty looks," said Patricia Lechuga, 32, who said she watches "The View" every morning while breast-feeding her 10-month-old daughter before her nap. "So many people watch the show, I was just so disappointed in them."

On the Upper West Side, it was hard to find anyone to disagree with her.

"Are there people who are against breast-feeding?" asked Rich Flisher, 39, a neighborhood resident passing by the nurse-in. "I do prefer it if you're discreet, but hey, I'm behind you. Go go go."

Crazy stuff, eh? But here is one area in which I truly appreciate Germany. I have never had a problem or felt weird about breastfeeding in public here. In the states, however (and my German friends are always shocked by this), it always seems to be an issue. Feeling like you have to go into hiding to nurse your child is incredibly degrading. I repect that some people are just not into seeing big breasts hanging out of a woman's shirt, but, hey, its nature man. We gotta feed our babies. And if a woman is being discreet and not letting her breasts actually get in anyone's way, then what's the problem here?

A little side note to the nursing mamas though: Don't forget to put your breast away after nursing. Nursing women are often so oblivious to any sexualization of their breasts that this is actually easier to do than one would think. I was once at a dinner party when my little one was only a couple of weeks old. Now this is a time of life when I think one's breasts are actually bigger than one's brain. Thank god it doesn't stay that way (or does it?). Anyways, I was nursing my little miracle on the couch and after she was finished I held her up high and oogled at her for a minute before striking up a conversation with a man on the adjacent couch. Well, unbenownst to me, my breast was staring the poor guy right in the face. I was just having a conversation, very polite and interested, until I noticed what he noticed. I acted all calm and cool like it happens all the time, and tucked my little friend back into her hiding place.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Monday Morning Germs

Haven't written anything here in a few days. One child was sick, so I was in Mama Overdrive. She had a fever and glassy eyes for about three days, with no other real symptoms to speak of. We think it may have been too much sun. Isn't that totally insane? Here we are months on end without real, warm sun...and when it comes it makes us ill because we aren't used to it. That has happened with her before. The other, more likely possibility is that she picked up a little something from the little kiddie pool in Weinsberg Park. I have a neighbor who said she took four kids there and three of them got sick. Eww. But then another friend of mine swears they clean it every morning. Just the thought of all the pee stewing in the afternoon heat is enough to make me never go back.

Though I won't go back to the kiddie pool, I will definitely go back to Nola - the cafe perched at the top of the hill facing the park and a group of beautiful trees which hide aesthetically unpleasing Tor Str. I would love to have a living room like their interior, and they serve up an American breakfast there - Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Pancakes, and a Bagel with Lachs and Cream Cheese. Yahoo! They also have Belgian Waffles with Powdered Sugar and Syrup! They rock!

If it were breakfast time for me right now, like it is for the rest of the people in this time zone, all this would make me hungry. But, seeing as how I've been up since 5:30 with my bright-eyed, clapping, dough ball, it is more like lunch for me. And this is how I have rationalized the fact that I just had a piece of chocolate cake from the porno-star baker, even though its only 9 am. I always have dessert after lunch.

But back to the 5:30 wake up call. Partly because of the dizziness and hallucinations reminiscent of my college days and partly because of the brightness of the sunlight, I find this time of day magical. Its almost as if I'm dreaming when I walk around the house at this time, changing a diaper here, making coffee there...hmmm.... Its so quiet, and the sun is so bright, its almost white. There are very few people out and the air smells like a nice mixture of fresh morning dew and all the city trash being rolled in their dumpsters to the curb for miles and miles around. I like Berlin at this time of the day.

And now back to germs in city spaces. My husband has this weird thing for flip flops. He believes they should only be worn on a beach or in the shower area of a public swimming pool, where all I think from the moment I walk in the changing room until the moment I step foot in the chlorine is fussenpils, fussenpils, naked people, fussenpils, etc... He thinks the flip flop in the city thing is really unhealthy fashion statement, and he went into a lengthy lecture about hookworms with me the other day as we took a walk down to (eek!) Alexander Platz. If I hadn't been wearing flip flops and if we hadn't been heading to one of the most unpleasant places on earth, then the worm stuff wouldn't have made me so squirmy. AHHH! Squirmy wormy. Squrimy wormy. Yuck! Fuck! So that night, as I slumbered, I dreamt of hookworms and lice and whatever else there might be lurking in that kiddie pool. I woke up infested and freaked out. And this is one of the cleanier cities I've seen...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Monbijou Park

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon at the Kinder Schwimmbad in Monbijou Park. Apart from the beardy-man lifeguard who had a beard down to his belly button (no joke) telling us we couldn't take pictures there, we had a lovely time, especially before 4 PM, when the sugar-psycho masses from kindergartens descended upon us. They have a little kiddie pool for the non-swimmers and a bigger pool for the older children. There is also a very nice, green area with plenty of shade from beautiful, massive, old oak trees (Just kidding about the oak part. I am not nature mama so I haven't the foggiest clue what kind of trees they were).

For the children, it can't get much better - water, ice cream, grass, sun, sandbox. For me, I was happy because I wasn't at home so I couldn't clean the house, and while one swam and the other slept, I was actually able to do a little writing. And my husband, well, he was happy because there were plenty of breasts to look at. There are lot of mamas with nice breasts, I tell you.

And on that note, I will take you on a little trip down memory lane. It was a lovely summer day in Wiesbaden. We were young, free, and poor (we're still poor). We went to this awesome 1920's swimming pool - the Neroberg - I think it was called. It was this long, beautiful, rectangular pool overlooking the city. Gorgeous. We were sitting on the grass watching people swim in the cold water (the water is always cold in Germany...the sun and heat are never around long enough to properly heat it all up) I, shyly, but flattered nonetheless, agreed to let my husband take a few pictures of me in my bikini. Well, when we got the prints back, here were these pictures with a teeny bit of me in the upper right-hand corner and a background filled with sun-drenched bosom. Clever, eh?

But back to Monbijou. It was great. I think we'll go again today, since to do anything else on one of the 5 days of the year that the weather is nice, would be pretty sinful.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Parks and Poo (of the Dog Variety)

I spent an entire afternoon in the park a couple of days ago. The weather was beautiful and the children had a great time. We were there so long and encountered so many kinds of insects that I actually felt like nature mama a little by the time we left to drive two blocks home in our car like good gas-guzzling Americans. (I don't normally do that by the way, the driving two blocks that is)

The little green area on Kollwitz Platz is a nice alternative to the two playgrounds there, which, on a nice day, are so intensely crawling with children that any conversation I might be having with another mama friend devolves to "uh huh, uh huh, yeah, uh huh..." I start to get a nice soft mixture of panic and the desire to rock back and forth and say some kind of affirmation over and over again. Its hardcore. This isn't to mention the fact that I actually have to keep track of my children during this mental breakdown.

So, the green area. It is good. It is calm. But it has a few piles of dog shit, so watch out. Which brings me to my little peaceful tirade this evening: If you own a dog, kindly pick up after it. I cannot tell you how many conversations during walks with my older daughter have been wasted on the subject of dog poop. Instead of discussing the kinds of trees we are passing, how fluffy the clouds look, or what she did at school today, we keep our heads low and focused, warning each other - sometimes even in synch - that we are about to pass by a huge pile of dog shit. Isn't that just wonderful?

A couple of days ago I found myself pushing my stroller behind one of those shit mobiles. I don't know if that's what they call them Paris, I know they are called "Chiracs" after Jacques Chirac, who, in the 1980's, set these poop mobiles loose on the streets of Paris to deal with the 20 tons-a-day (no shit!) of doggy doo doo. Amazing. Anyways, we have them here too. They look like a cross between a golf cart and a smart car with a huge vaccuum nozzle hanging off the side like an elephant trunk. I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing more disgusting than watching poop being sucked up through a vaccuum nozzle. Ho-ly Shit!

But back to my tirade: PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG!!! Take a plastic bag with you on your walk and spare us all the details of your sweet little cuddly puppy's bowels. Its gross, dirty, unsanitary, unpleasant to look at, smelly, and just plain revolting.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Acts of Kindness in the Porno Bakery

Most bakeries around these days don't make anything themselves on site. All the bread is sort of pre-made and then they finish baking it. Bakeries that do bake their own stuff usually say so on their signs. Well, I came across a new one, just around the corner on Prenzlauer Allee. You would never imagine from looking at this lady that she is such an awesome baker. She is a thirty something brunette the size of a toothpick (she clearly doesn't sample her wares) and looks like she's straight out of a 1970's German porn film. And she must do it (baking, that is) 24-7 considering the volume of and variation in her selection. She makes the most incredible walnut bread (we've eaten a loaf a day, three days in a row) and chocolate cake with almonds and chocolate chips (yahoo!) inside. Yesterday, when I got home and unwrapped the package with the cake, I saw that she had put a carefully crafted, multi-layered chocolate cookie in there as well! This cookie got me thinking about a couple of things:

1. This was a real, live, random act of kindness - something that happens rarely.

2. This was something for free - a concept that has become a part of my consciousness primarily because getting something for free seems to be such a huge issue here. I am not sure if this is cultural or if it is a sign of the economic times. All I know is that if there is a free meal, most of the people I know are there and that weirds me out, I have to say.

3. In some contexts, this would be considered a sample, disguised in the form of a sweet surprize she sneaked into my cake bag for later discovery. It is capitalism. It is American. It made me happy.

Going on pure intuition here, I'd say the actual intention behind the cookie was closest to number 1 above. The effect that it had on me, however, was closer to number 3: I went back today and bought another loaf of walnut bread and more pastries. When I got home, I unwrapped the pastries all excited, like Charlie in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when he opens the bar of chocolate and finds a golden ticket. And, sure enough, another random act of kindness - this time oatmeal. I want to hug her, even though she totally looks like a porn star.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


My tip of the day for a nice summer playground is the large open playground/park space on Marienburgerstr. between Prenzlauer Allee and Winsstr. There are two playgrounds and a large green area, and its basically all fenced in so you can let your little ones roam more or less freely. The best part is that there is an ice cream shop there as well - Eis Prinzessin - which is open all year long, unlike most ice cream shops that become sock stores or something equally unappetizing, during the winter. If it starts to rain unexpectedly, as it often does here, you can move the playing inside the cafe where there is a small play area for children. A little sterile, but nice nonetheless.

Today, I was there with a friend of mine and her son. She had a Bionade Soda (great by the way) that she needed to open. She went over to a group of women and asked for a bottle opener. No one had one, but one of the woman offered to open the soda with her teeth instead. Crazy, right? A little while later, my friend's son asked for another bottle of Bionade. She gave it to him and told him to bring it over to the can opener lady. He did, and she opened it, and my friend and the lady exchanged a thumbs-up from a distance. Amazing and disturbing at the same time.

The new coldplay album is really starting to grow on me. As I am usually so busy chasing all these children around, I can only listen to music with about 3% of my attention. Therefore, I only really start to become aware of it after about 30 listens. Does that sound about right, mathematically? No idea.

Today, I realized the craziness that is breakfast (and all meals for that matter). Baby daughter gets some kind of grain with fruit. Boil water to make formula to mix with grain (that has already been cooked) and fruit (that has also been cooked in some cases) mix all together and puree in my handy dandy aforementioned mini-food processor. Bib, wet towel, highchair, go! Second daughter: Heat milk to mix with oats add sugar and cinnamon toast bread add butter and jam find spoon she likes wash it find cup she likes wash it fill it with rice milk, go! Me: Make coffee add some of heated milk from oatmeal that I set aside before adding oatmeal add sugar toast 2 slices of bread put butter and cheese on one put butter and jam on the other, go! Put all the stuff away and clean up. Total time: about 45 minutes. My life in a run on sentence. Now that I think about it, my life is a run on sentence.

Gotta go to the doctor tomorrow. I have been so dizzy the past couple of days. Not good. Reading books really sends me flying. Whoa.

Monday, June 13, 2005


I seriously wonder if anyone reads this. Its funny how carefree the writing is when you think no one is looking. The moment that becomes a possibility, however, a consciousness descends.

Good way to piss off some locals: Take a group of kids into a small place (Napolinaska - Kastanienallee) for ice cream. Make sure one of the kids is having a tantrum. Make sure another is ordering his own ice cream at the counter while no one is watching and then leaves it there to melt. Ask a young couple having cake and coffee if they wouldn't mind moving to another table so that your whole group can sit together. Ask two of the kids to start making spitting noises at each other. Take photographs of the scene (with flash).

The sun is shining today.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Kinder Tanz

One of my daughters takes a Kinder Tanz course at a nearby dance school. The class is pretty freestyle, lacking the discipline and structure of hardcore ballet. The school has the vibe of a proper dance school, with a cafe where mamas and papas can drink a coffee while the little ones get some energy out. The teacher, a sort of fairy to the children (and me too), combines movement with rhythm in beautiful imaginary contexts. She's incredible.

There's a great bonus to the place too. My husband, not especially known for his punctuality, occasionally shows up there at precisely 5:45. Why, you ask? To get a good 15 minutes of watching the women get dressed for their adult ballet class which takes place right after our daughter's class. Men are not subtle, my friends. These women, let me tell you, usually don't have any underwear on. They just slip off their clothes, right there in the freakin' parent waiting area, flash their beaves to the universe, and then slip on their dance clothes. Amazing, right? My husband definitely thinks so.

I digress. Anyways, my daughter goes to this dance school. And today, they had a performance. I was so impressed that the teachers of the two classes in the performance were able to organize so many young kids to do what they did. It was truly inspiring. The background (floor and curtains surrounding the stage) were all white, and the children - coming from openings in the curtains all the around the stage - were in bright colored costumes. First, a few girls came out in just white, with shockingly dramatic expressions for five year olds I must add. Then another group, all in bright red came out. There were costume changes, then blue, and yellow, and orange. Each group was choreographed differently and the music and lights set a pace and mood for the performance. Again, we were so impressed with the complexity of the show, especially considering it was a group of such young children. I later asked my daughter how she remembered all the parts, and she said they remembered it by the color they were wearing (they had several outift changes). When they were wearing blue, they did the "blue dance," when wearing orange, "the orange dance," etc. Amazing.

My daughter was so understandably proud to be part of something like that. And, to see her performing what she has worked so hard on over time made me really aware of the fact that she is really growing up. I'll save the really sappy stuff for my personal journal now.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Hell and Hersheys

I just had a piece of Marmor Kuchen and it had that distinct Deutsche Bahn flavor. As a teenager, I took the train a couple of times from Giessen to Berlin. The conductors/waiters/stewards would come down the aisles with a rattling, metal tray and say, "Coffee, Tea, Marble Cake..." Of course they must have said it in German, but its one of those things where if you tell a story enough in your own way, in your own language, you remember it as you told it, not how it actually happened. Anyways, my brother and I always wanted the marble cake, which tasted vaguely of chocolate, but mostly of plastic.

And speaking of cake, since it is basically fall right now, I feel like baking, but my oven is broken. Its one of those ovens where the heat comes from the top and the bottom if you set the dial on the notch with two horizontal lines. Well, the lower part of the oven isn't heating up, which means everything I have been baking is cooked on the top, but not on the bottom. This is kind of like one of my versions of hell.

Another one of my versions of hell: The stretch of SBahn track between SBahn stations Prenzlauer Allee and Schonhauser Allee.

Which brings me to my next thought. I've been thinking about what links I should post on my blog. After some contemplation, the most important and informative website that comes to mind is: Nice. Very nice. Now wish the totally computer unsavvy, breast-feeding bird brain luck on trying to get the link posted.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

German Omas (Again) and Mini Food Processors

These barking Omas are such an unfortunately consistent part of my reality, that I am considering dedicating a daily space for them in my blog. Yesterday, I was waiting for the elevator to go down into the subway with both daughters and my older daughter's friend. There was a German Oma standing with us. For entertainment, while waiting for the elevator, I was watching her eyes dart from one child to the next and then to me, doing her German Oma scanning to figure out what she was going to criticize. The elevator doors opened, but before the children could get on, they started to close again. We pushed the button and the doors reopened, and the German Oma (missing one arm, severely overweight, and walking with a cane) looked at me and yelled "Schnell Doch!" Not wanting my children to see me in a fight with a old, one-armed woman, I, of course, contained myself. What she didn't realize was that she was the only one at that point standing outside the elevator. I should have pressed the close-door button, but I decided to fight back with friendly energy and kept them open instead, inviting the German Oma to a few more pleasant moments with us as we descended down to the subway tracks.

On a happier note, I've acquired a much needed mini food processor to make my own baby food. I am sure the baby food in the jars is just fine, but I am always skeptical of it, mainly because it never quite tastes like whatever is on the label. It also occurred to me that a couple of carrots at the organic food store are only about 15 cents, whereas a jar of baby food is about 1,15 euros. If your child puts it away like mine does, you can see the savings potential here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Du Arschloch!

Not the title you would expect from a mama blog, but, hey, whatever. The other day, I heard a couple of young'uns yelling "Du Arschloch!" at each other. Being the uptight mama that I am, I said to my daughter, "Oh, I can't believe those boys are talking like that!" That started the ball rolling...

"What did they say, Mama?" I was stuck now.
"Arschloch. Its not a nice word," I replied matter-of-factly.
"Arschloch?" I shivered when she said it.
"Yeah, it isn't a nice thing to say," I drilled again.
"Arschloch, Arschloch...what does it mean?" I could see her little translating wheels turning.
"Well, nothing, nevermind..." But there was no way I was getting out of this one.
"Ash - hole? That's funny! Ash hole! Why is that a bad word, Mama?"
Not wanting her to go around saying the incorrect, "Ash hole," I had to level with her: "Well, it actually translates to 'asshole' which is not a nice name to call someone."

Monday, June 06, 2005

Rain Rain Go Away

Here it is, June, and its cold and rainy. There are the optimists, who say things like, "Oh, its a particularly bad year," but c'mon, let's face it, every year here is a bad year, weather wise. There are only a couple of days of warm sun each year, and they aren't necessarily consecutive, which means when you have a nice warm, flip flop day, you can't just assume summer is here and put all your cold weather clothes away, because, I promise you, you'll be pulling things back out less than a week later.

Which brings me to my next point: kinder cafes. Before they started cropping up all over Prenzlauer Berg, we were desperate for a change of venue for our little one. Hanging out at the playground when it is cold and rainy, even if we are properly dressed, is just unpleasant, and after awhile, staying inside makes everyone crazy. So we would go to Ikea, and check our daughter into their super awesome play area, which she totally loved. The children can do a craft with one of the caretakers or play in the super enormous ball pool. The problem for us was that we were then in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to do but walk through Ikea, and, as you probably know, this can be pretty expensive. We'd leave with a cute little fan our daughter made in the play area, as well as a couch, two new end tables, and a set of dishes. Another one of our brilliant ideas, was to bring her to the ball pool at McDonalds, but only to play, not to eat, of course. But soon, no matter how strong our nutritional principles seemed to be, we gave way to happy meals, big macs, and large orders of fries. This was all a few years ago.

Now, there are these little kindercafes everywhere. They please everyone, and are perfect destinations on a rainy or cold (or both) day. I've visited several, but by far the best I've come across is Onkle Albert on Zionskirche Strasse between Zionskirche Platz and Teutoberger Platz. Its built on three floors, with a few other levels for the children to explore. It is intimate, friendly, and totally relaxed. There are toys appropriate for children up to about 6. The prices are good, the coffee great, they have a fresh homemade cake everyday, and they even sell second hand childrens' clothes. The best part about it is that it isn't totally sterile and new like a lot of these kindercafe places and the women who run it are totally friendly and laid back. Check it out!

Friday, June 03, 2005

German Omas

Neither my mother nor my partner's mother live nearby, so we have no Omas around to help us chase our little ones. The closest I have come is when I took my rueckbildungs course at Gold's Gym (which kicked my ass, by the way) - where they have two old ladies watching all the babies while the mamas sweat off all that cake they've been eating because their breastfeeding bodies are craving it more strongly than the non-lactating public could ever fathom. These old ladies were so sweet and grandmotherly, that by the end of the 8 week long course, I was sure I was going to the class only to have these ladies ooh and aah over how sweet my little princess is. These kinds of Omas are great.

Then there is the other kind of Oma. This is the old woman who glares at young mothers with this you-are-doing-it-all-wrong-you-young-bitch eyes. That kind of Oma infuriates me to no end. The other day, I zipped across the street to the bank, my little princess in the tragertuch (carry wrap thing). The weather in Berlin changes about as suddenly and often as a manic depressive changes moods, so, as usual we were not dressed appropriately. But, instead of going back inside, taking off the wrap, changing all the baby's clothes, putting her back in the wrap, and finding a sweater and jacket for myself, I decided that a two minute trip to the bank in slightly chilly weather wouldn't kill either of us. Well, I was just plain asking for it, wasn't I? Sure enough, the first old lady I passed, stopped, glared at me, and barked "KALT!" I always imagine doing some freaky hand gestures up close in their faces or yelling, "Mind your own business, you twerp!" but I always remain calm, composed, and considerate.

Just what gives these ladies, especially worse in packs, the feeling that they can stare, glare, and worst of all, comment, on how cold, hot, hungry, tired, and snotty my child is?

Thursday, June 02, 2005


The Bugaboo Frog Stroller:

Heidi Klum has one. Gwyneth Paltrow has one. And now, every fourth mama in Prenzlauer Berg has one. These little fuckers are selling like hotcakes around here, and I am sure designer, Max Barenbrug, is laughing all the way to the bank!

Available in cool colors like black, red, tan, construction-site-warning orange, and even denim (which costs more), the Bugaboo Frog converts in all kinds of crazy ways - something you'll often see mamas showing other mamas on the street. It is just so hard to resist. Like the other day, a British woman approached me and said, "Excuse me, is that one of those Bugaloos?" After trying to mentally recover from the fact that she said "Bugaloo" as opposed to "Bugaboo," I started converting. The handle can go this way or that way there's a bassinette then a seat, and the seat can be positioned here, here, or here, and its lightweight and you can use it until your child is four and you can stroll it on the beach even and and and...

Despite all the ergonomic holistic designistic beauty-meets-functionality craziness, I can't help but feel a sense of embarrassment when walking around with my bugaloo these days. It was cool when it was one-of-a-kind and those queer little front wheels would turn eyes and pique interest, but now its getting a little surreal. They are everywhere, and at nearly 700 euros a pop, it is pretty amazing. But fads just sort of wash over the public around here...thats the homogeneity I was talking about. I got really weirded out the other day while standing at a crosswalk light. I look over, and next to me is a woman with the same color Bugaboo, in the same position, with a baby approximately the same age as mine, wearing the same kind of skirt, flip flops, and sunglasses as me. Fur-reaky!

Okay, it is a cool stroller, but not 700 euros cool. My advice: Unless you are independently wealthy and seriously have nothing better to do other than spend a lot of money, I would consider buying the small, sleek, Chicco umbrella stroller at the cost of about 69 euros once your baby is about 6 or 7 months old and can basically sit up. It would be easier to fit in your car, to get in and out of the subway, and to maneuver in general through the city. And with the remaining 630 euros, you could do one of the following:

1. make a couple of monthly payments on your student loan.
2. take a vacation
3. go out to dinner about 15 times with your family
4. drink about 200 coffees
5. pay rent

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Time for a Mama Outlet

This is a perfect medium. I've been keeping all sorts of journals over the years...why not one more in this new format? Greetings. I am a sleep-deprived, breast-feeding, sugar-addicted mama living in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. If you know anything about this neighborhood, you know that there are hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of me. There are so many freakin' kids, mamas, papas, and pregnant ladies in this district...the highest birth rate in Europe I tell you. I imagine it must be somewhat surreal to outsiders or newcomers, especially childless ones. We are talkin' kids everywhere - on sidewalks, in parks, in trees, in playgrounds, in lines at ice cream stands...and with the kids comes the paraphernalia - strollers, scooters, bikes, bobby cars, car seats, bike seats, etc., etc. Kollwitz Platz and Helmholtz Platz are plain scary on a sunny day - you have to see it to believe it. Being among those guilty of reproducing on Prenzlauer Berg soil, I must say that its a pretty nice place to raise children, apart from the sometimes disturbing and annoying homogeneity of it all. I'll get more into that later. Time to breastfeed.