In the US I am a proud member of an Artist Collective called Trashy Women. We are a collective of nine women artists who all have our own artistic specialties. There are painters, ceramicists, jewelers, sculptors, glass workers and some of us work in all these mediums. When we meet as a collective and show together, we make art out of found objects and trash. Some people called it upcycling which is a useful step up from recycling.
In March the Trashy Women will be having a show at the Gibby Center for the Arts in Middletown, Delaware. I really wanted to participate in this show but I’m almost 4,000 miles away in Bremerhaven Germany this year. Bremerhaven has no shortage of garbage, but my tools and art supplies are in the States in my studio. So, what can I create for this show? I had collected a pile of beach glass from the Weser-Strandbad and some broken shards from the street but I wasn’t sure how I was going to put it together without my stained-glass supplies.
I walked to the hardware store for inspiration and found some wire in the gardening section. I figured I could wrap the glass with the wire and create an image from there. An insane, time-consuming undertaking, but what are sabbaticals for if not for projects like this?
I started with a piece of paper equaling the dimensions of the mailing box I picked up from the post office. I wasn’t taking any chances with shipping. Ha ha.
Then I drew an image on the paper and placed the glass on the image using colors and shapes that I felt were appropriate. Once the image was realized I proceeded to wrap each piece with wire and then connected the pieces together. Connecting the pieces was tricky, especially on the first window. I developed a method of “sewing” them together with the wire.
By the third one I was a pro. Like all things I make they are over engineered and extra strong. Probably much stronger than they need to be.
I then had to figure out how to hang them. I didn’t see any chain around that I liked, so I used some left-over yarn from a scarf I knitted for my sister-in-law and double knitted some rope. In Diez I found key rings to hang them from hooks in the show.
So yeah, they’re weird and very different from what I would have created in my comfort zone at home. I’m happy with how they turned out and they’re very interesting in the sunlight. The wave has sold already from a social media posting and I’m hoping the other two find good homes at the show. After my painting show at Art Impressions Gallery in Bremerhaven on April 27th, I’m hoping to make more.
There are a few things about being on sabbatical in a country where I don’t speak the language that have been particularly hard on me. One, I don’t like doing a lot on my own that involves interacting with other people, and two, the lack of empathy that my native speaking German husband has about number one.
Yes, I know a few German words and some people here speak a little bit of English, but it’s awkward and tiring for both sides. I don’t stay home all day, I go out for walks and pick up whatever shopping the apartment may need. However, one thing that I haven’t felt like doing is going out to eat by myself. My reasons are I can only translate small bits of the menu, I don’t understand the waiters, they don’t understand me and I feel that it’s boring and lonely to eat alone. My husband thinks my reluctance is due to a lack of confidence. He doesn’t see the “big deal” with any of these reasons. He, the confident, native speaking male goes out for lunch or coffee at whim.
Two weeks ago, this came to a head when I was sick and suggested that we go out for burgers and fries. I had had a craving. He didn’t want to eat those things and said no. At the end of the week he made a reservation at a restaurant he knew for sure didn’t have these things to punish my “lack of confidence.” In his mind I should have gone to a restaurant on my own if I wanted a burger or fries. You can imagine how well that went over.
Anyway, it made me think that maybe I should try to go out to lunch on my own. There are a few restaurants in town that I’ve been asking him to visit with me since July. I decided to give each one a try and see how the experience goes. If it goes well, great, I’ll start going out more by myself and if the experience isn’t good at least I tried and he can stop being a jerk about it.
Monday, day one: Milchbar Cafe’.
Ok, Milchbar Cafe’ was a success. I admit I started with something easy. It’s a 50’s style American themed restaurant. Ha ha. Most of the menu is in English. Is that cheating? I don’t care. I had a beautiful burger. It looked like a photo in a menu. You know how the food is always beautiful in the menu photos but then a disappointment in real life? This burger did not disappoint. Good fries too, and a coke bottled in Berlin. I was the only one in the restaurant. The waitress knew as soon as I opened my American mouth that not much German was going to come out of it. She apologized saying her English was terrible. I apologized back saying my German was terrible. We figured out my order anyway.
After my food arrived two women and a man came in for milkshakes. The man absentmindedly whistled under his breath to the juke box’s Rock around the Clock and Tequila while the women checked their phones.
So, day one, pretty good. A little boring and lonely but not horrible because the busy road outside the window was pretty entertaining. I’m ready for day two.
Tuesday, day two: Pier 6
I’ve been asking to go to Pier 6 restaurant since we received a recommendation from Andreas’ co-worker last summer. So today was a big day. Pier 6 is a pretty nice restaurant by the harbor and I read that they have a Snack Karte or menu in the middle of the afternoon. So, I went for a long walk that ended at the restaurant. I asked the waitress if the table I had chosen was OK and she said yes, but that they’re only serving drinks. I said, no Snack Karte? She said no, the chef called out sick and there wouldn’t be any food until the evening shift came in. So, out I go.
I walked around the harbor to the Übersee Bistro. I asked for a coffee and sat down to look at the menu. The waitress said they weren’t serving food until six so I had coffee for lunch. I was the only one in the place. The waitress had a nice tattoo on her forearm. I commented on it and showed her a little bit of the one on my arm. She then proceeded to show me other tattoos pulling her shirt up, down and all around. Nice girl, I tipped her half the price of the coffee for the tattoo show.
Wednesday, day three: The Strom
The Strom Restaurant is located on the bottom floor of the Atlantic Hotel. The hotel is shaped like a sail and is in the background of most of my Bremerhaven photos as well as every postcard you can buy here. It’s located on the Weser River at the top of the dike. I walk past it a few times a week and have been curious. The inside of the restaurant was a surprise. The beams on the ceiling radiate out from a main breakfast bar area in a sun pattern. The room is painted in different oranges hues and I picked a sunny day so the place was glowing. I sat next to a heater by the window which was very cozy. Much warmer than our apartment.
The waitress was mildly distressed that English was being spoken but she did well and I threw in as much German as I knew to try to help her out. I passed up on the Essence of Water Buffalo with vegetables and herbs for Hähnchenbrustfilet. Google translate choked on this word so I’ll tell you it means chicken something or other. I ordered chicken because we never eat it a home. Andreas doesn’t like it and I hate to cook it. So, Hähnchenbrustfilet with curry pear savoy vegetables (sounds better than it was) and dumplings. The dumplings looked and tasted suspiciously like potato pancakes. Lunch was artfully placed on a plate that was struggling to be just as artsy. It was good. I brought my book with me for company.
Thursday, day four: Der Wasserschout
Der Wasserschout is a little building built in 1897 as a Lock Keeper’s house by the old harbor. The website said that they didn’t open until three, which was fine for a late lunch. I walked across town to the restaurant to find out that yes, it was open at three but they didn’t serve food until five. The waitress was pretty annoyed to have to tell me this in English. Did it say something on the website in German or was there a sign posted? Yes, If I had bothered to translate the website before I left the apartment, I would have noticed that. So, back home and no lunch today.
Friday, day five: Casper, David & Co.
Casper, David is located across from the tiny Modern Art Museum. It has a bar so I can sit by myself without feeling like I’m hogging a whole table.
I went for Hähnchenbrustfilet again because I learned the word on Wednesday. I didn’t have to pronounce it because it was in the “Casper Sandwich.” Ha ha! I cheat! Anyway, I gave my whole order today in German, thank you very much. The waitress was nice and even though she raised an eyebrow at my pronunciation she didn’t look annoyed.
The coffee was the best so far and I had a pretty good time reading my book and munching pommes. An older man came up to the counter to pick up take out and started chatting with me. I have no idea what he said, but he seemed nice too. I like Casper, David and I’ll visit again.
My experiment has ended. Will I continue to eat out every day? No, of course not. I just wanted to jump into the pool with both feet and no noodle. I may go out more often though, and be a little less sad about Andreas not wanting to join me. I have to thank him for giving me a push out the door.
Next stop on the Christmas train was Bremerhaven, Germany. We hoped that a couple of days in Bremerhaven at our apartment might be a relaxing place for Christmas.
We arrived on the 23rd, checked brother and sister-in-law into their hotel by the river and then got the kids settled in at our place. On Christmas Eve morning Andreas and my brother bicycled to the outdoor market in Geestemünde and then to the fish market. I can’t believe how much food they carried back on bikes for the six of us.
Andreas created a wonderful vegetable soup while shorter nephew and I went to the zoo down the street. That’s the first time I have been to a zoo on Christmas Eve. We also stopped by a few playgrounds.
The others napped here and there and we washed many loads of laundry. Laundry involved careful timing because we don’t have a dryer, so we hung the clothes all over our apartment. My sister-in-law bought clothes line at Woolworths to hang up socks in her hotel room. She said, “My mother told me to bring a clothes line and I didn’t listen.” I would never think to travel with one, but I might now.
In the evening Andreas began to teach the German card game Skat which he plays every week with friends at home. I’m glad I wasn’t involved, there seems to be a pile of rules, what a bore. My sister-in-law and I were happy to knit and ignore. Taller nephew was absorbed in the book 1984.
Christmas morning arrived with a pickle hiding in the tiny tree, (My family says it’s a German thing?) and a few new games for the nephews.
We ate Andreas’ famous pancakes for breakfast and then settled in for more naps, laundry and games. Shorter nephew and I discovered a zip line at a local park and then he and Uncle went for a bicycle ride around town.
Andreas made a giant quantity of potato salad (which he finally finished eating Jan. 3rd) and we ate smoked fish from the fish market. I tried smoked eel for the first time. It looks scary, but it’s delicious. My wonderful husband took off the skin and deboned it for me, otherwise yuck forget it.
Coming “home” for a family holiday was in fact a good plan. We were rested, had clean skivvies and were ready to catch our next train on the 26th.
The best time to visit a coastal town is in the winter: frosty cold, deserted streets, gray skies, sleepy shops, and empty beaches for miles. Neustadt in Holstein on the Baltic Sea in Germany did not disappoint as a beautiful, quiet getaway.
Andreas and I traveled there to visit his parents for a few days. We had a wonderful stay in a “French” shabby chic Airbnb in town. The rooms were full of knickknacks and EVERYTHING was painted white so it all sort of blended together. Not my thing and not Andreas’ thing either especially after he cut his finger and no band aid. Poor thing fell asleep with his hand wrapped in toilet paper hoping he would not bleed on any of the thousand white objects in the room. I’d love to share a photo but the proprietor asks that no photos of the establishment are shared.
We had a lovely visit with his parents sharing fancy coffees at their apartment and a nice dinner by the water. We also had a wonderful German breakfast and I ate my first soft-boiled egg after a sad, sloppy job of breaking the top of the shell, rookie mistake.
We took advantage of the gray, cold weather by walking a few miles along the Baltic following a sculpture trail towards the family campsite.
Neustadt also has a horrifically sad story to tell from the end of WWII on this coast. The Neuengamme Concentration Camp near Hamburg was emptied and the prisoners were put on decommissioned ships in the Bay of Lübeck to prevent them from being liberated alive by rapidly advancing British troops the last days of the war. The prisoners were put below decks without food and water, and survival gear was replaced with dynamite charges to sink the ship. Barges of women and children from Stutthof and Mittelbau-Dora camps were also sent to the ships already holding 9000 prisoners, but they were turned away because the ships were full. Their SS guards sailed the barges to the beach where they shot women and children aboard with machine guns. The ships were then mistakenly bombed by the British Royal Air Force. The few survivors able to reach the beaches from the ships were shot on the beach. When the British Army arrived later in the day, they found empty camps, burning ships, and corpses of the murdered on the beach. We visited a mass grave and a marker along the path. There is, of course, much more to this story.
Bremerhaven is the best city I’ve ever lived in for bicyclists, even though I’m told that the local bike club considers the city to still be in the middle ages for German bicycling. There are separate bike paths on most sidewalks that share a wide space with pedestrians. This means the rider is a curb above and away from traffic. The lanes and riders are respected by most, but once in a while you’ll get stuck behind a grumpy old dude in a jazzy chair or a family of six with a pram.
Bicycle parking at the train station. Beyond the bikes you see here are little bike boxes that you can lock your bikes in that I call veal huts. Beyond that is a large caged area for maybe long term parking?
I like bikes and support bike culture but I haven’t been a daily rider since 1993. Andreas, on the other hand, has been commuting by bicycle almost as long as I’ve been alive. He is bike culture. The other day he said, “Riding a bicycle is as easy and as enjoyable as drinking a glass of wine.”
Andreas the biker at the Fischmarket.
This is wonderful for him, and for me when we run out of something and he happily rides off to the store. A fun time for Andreas involves a long bike ride to get there. He will laugh at that statement because a long ride for him is very different than my idea of a long ride. Over the past few weeks he has been “pushing” me to ride further and further each day to build up my endurance. This is not appreciated at all. I’m a walker, not a biker. My biking muscles went away with my last mohawk.
Andreas puts up with a lot of grumbling and dirty looks from me. Especially when he changes route to go to the familiar places. “What’s down this road, he asks, let’s go check it out.” “No, I say, you can check it out I’ll find my way home.” I’ve blamed frustrated, tired tears on wind and sunscreen in my eyes more than once. COBBLESTONES, oh my God, cobblestones…try keeping up with Speedy Gon German on cobblestones. No, really, I challenge you.
Lately he has decided that riding behind me so I set the pace is a better idea. This is a horrible idea. I feel like a fat, snail loser making him ride so slow, which for some reason makes me mad and then the sunscreen tears pop up. Grrr, also, I don’t know where the hell I’m going.
Me in the bike lane on my chunk of a coaster brake bike. The brand is Stevens. I call it Stevezie after Bill Murray’s character in the Life Aquatic. Photo by Andreas Muenchow
Now, all whining and complaining aside, I love that my boyfriend, almost a decade my senior, is super fit and happy. I’m sure that after my year here I’ll be more fit too. I can tell that I’m very very slowly getting a little stronger every day. I have also seen some cool things and been to some beautiful places that I never would have discovered on foot.
Andreas very happy after a bike ride to one of his favorite places.A mural we discovered after turning down a new street.
Andreas looks longingly at the couples that pass us loaded down with traveling saddle bags on their way to other countries with hilly terrains. If our relationship survives this “training period” imagine the adventures we’ll have.
P.S. * Andreas wouldn’t be caught dead in Spandex, or with a helmet, Camelback or lights on his bike. (I think lights are required by law here)
The author at the Fischmarket preparing for a long ride home.