The Kuraoka Family Weekly Journal
Germany 2004

Us: John, Ondine, Leo (2), Roy (4)

Friday, 20 August 2004

Back to a sort-of regular schedule of updates. Posting photos here made for a long day of uploading and writing, so we have most of the photos on our Mülheim page. If you haven’t seen it lately, check it out – there are video clips up now too.

Last weekend John went to a fußball game (FC Schalke 04) mit Ilka (Ilka’s husband, Hendrix, drove us to the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, but he does not care for fußball). Schalke won, 2 goals to 1. Sunday, we went to the Forum in the stadtmitte to walk around, and ended up sampling some fine cuisine for lunch. Later, we had Guido und Michaela over for kaffee trinken.

Monday we took a railroad trip to Köln! We decided, somewhat reluctantly and after discussion, to give up our plan to take a long-ish rail trip. We had considered going to Breugge for a few days in the middle of the week, but we realized that the boys would both rather go to the matsch-spielplatz than any beautiful place for grown-up tastes. It’s a big priority for us to make sure they make good memories of Germany – and they talk about the matsch almost every day. Köln is a must-see since we’re practically a stone’s throw away.

We used our rail passes. We had bought them before we left the States, and had purchased extra days worth of travel, for a total of six days of rail travel. The days don’t have to be consecutive, and you can go anywhere in the 24-hour period. So, for instance, our trip to Köln used one day’s worth of travel, but we could have gone all the way to Munich and back. The cost of the six-day pass was $342 for the whole family. The cost of a one-way ticket to Köln from Duisburg was about 20 to 28 Euro for the family, or roughly $30, or about $60 round-trip. If you do the math, we came out a bit ahead with the pass, assuming we use all our allotted travel days. But, really, it’s designed for longer trips than from Duisburg to Köln, which is only about two or three stops down the line.

Anyway, we bought the pass for peace-of-mind, too. A few months ago, we weren’t sure at all if we’d be able to handle driving here. We seriously thought that the rail pass might be the only way we’d get out at all. Of course, we adapted quickly to the Autobahn and the stick shift, so we can look back at our caution with a little bit of a smirk. Just a little one, though, because emotional insurance is a good thing to have.

We drove to Duisburg Hauptbahnhof, and found a parking spot on the street. It cost us 4.50 Euro for a 24-hour parking slip. By contrast, Guido told us that in Köln, parking runs 1 Euro per half-hour. Wow!

We got lucky – our train to Köln was an ICE, the fast kind. The boys enjoyed the ride.
Leo on the ICE Roy on the ICE

We got to Köln and walked maybe 100 yards to the cafes, where we had a bit of lunch. Then, we went into the Dom, the big cathedral. The boys were unimpressed by the stained-glass and the soaring arches, but were fascinated by the mosaics on the floor. However, there was a constant stream of people going through, most looking up, and a small child fingering the floor was at risk of being stepped on or rolled over. Anyway, at about the 20th floor mosaic that brought both boys to a sudden stop-and-drop, we started having to pull them away.
Looking way, way up at the Dom
Click here to see a short video clip of street entertainers in front of the Dom. (1.33 MB)

Outside the Dom, several musicians were playing music. The boys really enjoyed that. Leo practically fell asleep to the music.

We deliberately made it a short trip, and came home in the early afternoon. When we came in, we hear the tell-tale peep of the dryer in the cellar below. Hey, someone was doing laundry on our day!

Leo mit die Hocevars
The Hocevars, our downstairs neighbors, invited us in for kaffee trinken. They are very nice people, who assured us that they aren’t bothered at all by the ruckus our boys make right over their heads. In fact, they told us that they’d be sad if we told the boys to be quiet on their account. Leo liked Frau Hocevar immediately, and hopped right up into her lap, a very rare thing. The Hocevars gave Leo and Roy stuffed moose. Leo really loves his, and sleeps with it. It is now named Hocevar Moose, which Leo pronounces carefully and earnestly “I want Hocevar Moose,” he says.

It turned out that it was Herr Hocevar doing laundry! He no doubt saw us packing up for the day and figured it was safe to throw in a load. We came home early, though, and busted him! Ha! No, seriously, sharing a laundry room has been no big deal. We’re glad he was able to put the open machines to use.

Tuesday Ondine, Roy, and Leo went with Jonas and his Mom, Gabi, to a shopping area in nearby Essen, to buy water shoes. Gabi fit all the car seats into her Peugeot 406 station wagon, so John had the Passat to himself. He took advantage of the free back seat to take all our pfand (deposit) bottles back to the getrankeschafft (drink store) in Real. It filled the trunk and the back seat. This was John’s very first solo trip in the car, by the way. He bought water, vitaminesaft, and mineralwasser. He made a quick shopping run through Real as well, pausing to look at shoes for himself (one pair of New Balance shoes he bought on eBay turned out to be counterfeits, and the soles have completely disintegrated). He also peeked into the clothing store next to Real, but the best thing he found was an exercise ball for 2.99 Euro. And, he did about seven loads of laundry.

In the early evening, Ondine went for a bike ride with Patricia. Around 8:00, it started raining! It was a good thing Ondine had John’s rain jacket. She stayed out until about 11:00. Konni Klauss called, and when Ondine got back she phoned back.

Wednesday morning, Roy and Leo and Ondine went back to the matsch spielplatz with Patricia and Veronica! Roy and Leo love the matsch. They stayed there for some time. Later Veronica scampered up a tree; she is a very good tree-climber as well as a strong swimmer. Roy followed, and went up higher than you’d think for a first-time tree-climber.

John worked on projects for MADD, Money Mailer, Rhino Linings, and Red Army Vodka.

Thursday was quite windy. In fact, when Ondine went to Real, the grocery store, she saw Gregor pulling in, and Gregor looked at her as if somewhat alarmed. John, at home with Roy, later took a call from Patricia, who was worried about Ondine being out in such windy weather. There had been, some weeks ago, an actual tornado in the area, the first in recent memory. So, when the wind kicks up like that, the locals know enough to worry.

When Ondine and Leo came back, she returned Patricia’s call. Patricia warned us not to go walking in the wald, because branches and entire trees could come down on us. We assured her that we were having a quiet at-home day, and that’s what we did. Later in the evening, John and Roy went for a walk to the local spielplatz.

Friday was drizzly but not cold. John had work to do, so he tried to do that.

In the afternoon, Barbara and Bill took the train from Hamburg to Duisburg. Roy and Leo, meanwhile, had a class. So, Ondine dropped off John, Roy, und Leo at class in Saarne, and then went off to shuttle Barbara und Bill from the Duisburg Hauptbahnhof to the Hotel Sassenhof in Mülheim, then went back to Saarne to pick up her guys.

The teacher’s name was Ralf. Ralf told John that last week, there was only one child in class. He seemed happy to see the three of us, and even happier when, later, a little girl (Annie) came in with her mom. The experiment of the day concerned weights – heavy things and light things, The boys played on the play equipment. Ralf brought a surprise in the “light” box: waffles! He asked us what waffles were in English, and we replied, “waffles.” One of the many words that are very close, if not shared. Waffles in German is pronounced “vaffls.”

We decided not to tell Roy and Leo and Barbara and Bill are here. We’re saving it for a surprise tomorrow. Barbara and Bill will walk here from their hotel … boy, will that be a big and happy moment for the boys!

One of the things Barbara and Bill brought from home, was John’s camera and a brick of film! Assembling what to bring was quite an achievement, requiring Barbara and Bill and Dax and Jürgen to sort through John’s photo gear. What is even more amazing, is that even though they went through the wrong box (the one with John’s dad’s Nikon F), they still managed to bring everything John asked for and then some, all in somewhat different forms. That shows how persistent they were. And, how much photo gear John owns! They brought an autofocus 24/2.8, a manual-focus 85/1.8, and John’s father’s 50mm f/1.4. So, the key piece (other than film) was the camera body, John’s F3/T, the only body he owns that would deliver autoexposure with a medley of lenses spanning about 45 years. He is thrilled to have some real photo gear with him now, and resolved never again to leave home without it. The digital is great, especially for web updates, but you just can’t beat a transparency for putting you back in a time and place. They had quite the adventure bringing the photo gear through inspections in New York and Paris, especially since they tried to hand-check the film!

Today Dax und Jürgen embark on phase two of the U.S. vacation! And we are just past the half-way point here. We feel very connected to Mülheim and all the wonderful people we have been privileged to meet. We’ve certainly had full days and weeks! At times, we felt like we’ve tried to do too much. But, without all that activity it would have been easy to hang out here at the flat. Also, we knew going in that we wouldn’t do a lot of touristy stuff. Roy and Leo are just four and two, and they like the security of returning to the places they enjoy. That’s why we’re making a special effort to get back to the matsch spielplatz as often as we can. Also, the little neighborhood spielplatz, which they love, perhaps because it is already familiar. We’ll go back to Köln next week, too, with Barbara and Bill.

The main thing, is that what we wanted to achieve, we by and large have – living a few weeks as locals in an adopted country, thanks to Dax und Jürgen and all their work on our behalf. We hope their stay in the States is as enjoyable and fulfilling as ours here in Germany!

Random Thoughts Department

Stick shifts are second nature now. We don’t even think about it, which means driving around town is so much easier than it was when we first got here! Parallel parking? Piece of cake. Going after coming to a full stop on a hill? We don’t even think about it any more.

Cellars are very nice things to have. We piled in several cases of water and drinks, and they stay quite cool down there, unlike our garage in San Diego, which is inhospitable even for canned goods.

The boys have been real troopers through this whole trip. Even though they get on our nerves at times, they get on our nerves at times at home too! They do play with each other more, and have their own conversations and rituals. One ritual that Roy shared with us, is that every night, after we turn out the lights in the bedroom they share, Leo turns to him and asks him one question. It’s “Roy, are you going now?” This has become their own little running joke.

Peugeots, Citroens, und Renaults are uncommon cars in the States but very common here. Nice looking cars (with the startling exception of the Renault Megane hatchback), and quite popular. German cars are also very common: VW, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, und Opel. Ford is the most-common U.S.-based brand, about as common as cars by Fiat. We see a few Nissans, Toyotas, and Mazdas around, but not many. Hyundai and Kia are represented in small quantities. There are a surprising number of Jaguars and Rovers. And, Skoda seems to be growing from a joke to a real player. The tiny smart car is either common or distinctive enough to appear common because you really notice it. The smart is a tiny two-seater; the smart forfour is a four-door, four-seat version. We have seen one or two Jeeps, one Ford Explorer (which we believe is a local car because we always see the same one), and very few cars more than seven or eight years old. We see a fair number of silver Passats, but we can tell Jürgen’s by the rear spoiler. Leo knows it’s Dax und Jürgen’s car. “This is Dax and Jürgen’s car,” he says. He really bonded with Jürgen, perhaps from those first nights when it was Jürgen who went in to help him calm down because we, his parents, slept right through his cries. He’ll probably always feel connected to Jürgen.

Photos now posted on our Mülheim page. And, previous journals from this trip can be found on our Archive page.

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