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December 5, 2008

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Christmas Market near Alexander Platz and Marienkirche, Berlin
Christmas Market near Alexander Platz and Marienkirche, Berlin

The Merry-Go-Round goes faster and faster the older we get. We've been in Berlin just over three months and can hardly believe it: where did the time go? And we aren't really on a Merry-Go-Round, or at least we don't ride them when the opportunity presents itself. Age has brought a sort of stability where there is less seeking of excitement and less excitement and more contentment.

Our biggest news is that we are likely to stay in or around Berlin all of the time until May 31, 2009. When we originally signed our lease for nine months we expected to leave Berlin and the Schengen zone twice because Gerry's visa, as a non-EU passport holder, was good for only 90 days. But because it was required and seemed like a good idea we registered our address here and that lead us to learning that Gerry had a chance of getting a long-term visa. We went to the visa office (Auslaenderbehoerde) and, much to our pleasure, learned in his/our cirumstance things were almost automatic. We would have walked away that day with the visa except that we didn't have proof of our marriage. By the time we had retrieved it (from Long Island, New York) German Civil servants (Verdi) were on strike; that caused a great backlog and now we have an appointment for December 23, which we hope will regulate things and end up granting Gerry a three-year visa.

As fall slipped into winter we tried to keep up our bicyle riding, but it became harder. The weather was just too cold and wet for us to want to go out everyday. Nonetheless we did make some fun outings. Jan kept riding the 4 km (each way) to her Russian conversation class, taking the metro only once. We even managed to pick up some additional bicycle equipment: on the web Jan saw a saddle bag for sale and one day — again in partial rain &mdash we rode across town and bought it. We're hoping it will be useful for longer day outings next spring. We also added a bell to Jan's bike. Even with dedicated bike paths, conflicts with pedestrias tend to happen. We've been out twice this week in light drizzles, going as far as Kurfurstendamm to visit the Institut Francais.

Since September Jan has had two new projects to add to her "Let's relearn Russian by reading": Russian conversation and German-to-English translation. Early in the Autumn she signed up for a night-school class of Russian conversation once a week. It has really helped her. In class the 6-9 people who show up spend two hours answering questions like "How are things?" or "What did you do this week that was interesting?" in Russian, learning a bit of grammar, and discussing the homework text. Sometimes we do some role-playing, which turns out to be quite a bit of fun. Most of the other students are of course Germans which poses its own problems when teacher and or students suddenly switch from one of Jan's foreign languages (Russian) to another (German)!. The beginning and end of class in particular are tough as she desperately tries to transition from one to the other.

Through an old posting on the Web Jan was asked in August/September of this year to do some translation from German to English for a German company that sells a tool for making Windows-based PC's more efficient. The company is now upgrading its help, etc; Jan (and others who she has met only via email) are getting the German original into English. She has a love-hate relationship with the work: it is interesting to learn about the program itself; the work helps improve her German, and of course brings in money that is nice to have. On the other hand it constrains us — we can't always go out when we want — and takes time from the things we came to do in Berlin. And that, of course, is because the work is always super urgent. Nothing can be planned in advance.

Gerry's big November projects were to continue his work on restoring our web and to study more German. Our website now has 1300 pages or so. Maybe 1/3 are empty shells waiting for text and photos. Gerry worked on updating the HTML, getting colors better, etc. He also worked on learning all the ins-and-outs of our two ISPs: One.Com and Godaddy.Com. As usual, although we are or used to be computer experts, nothing is easy. The manuals are always confusing. (Jan can testify to that about the one's she is translating.) He has managed to not only get this site, ChandlerBates.Net back online but to do the same for and (our sites) and (a friend's site).

Throughout the year we followed the US Election closely, supporting McBush, not because we thought he was perfect, but because his ideas and plans were closer to what we want than were Obaminton's. We stayed up a good part of Election night (it is six hours later on the clock here than in New York and nine hours later than California) and got confirmation of what just about the whole world expected: Barack Obama won. There was no fairy godmother who rescued us. Now we wait to see what he'll actually do. It seemed to us during the campaign that he could not be pinned down. Post-campaign Newsweek has published a book that about says that; they had reporters embedded with the Obama campaign who went to key meetings etc; the Newsweek people say that a key strategy was to offend no one and to that end to fudge Obama's policies. We should add that like most Americans, we are happy that his election has confirmed that the American voter is pretty much color-blind.

Just a few days after the US elections came a series of commemorative days very important to Europe and Germany. November 9 was the 19th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall fell. German television was filled in the days before and after with history programs and reminiscences and we watched a good part of them. Our apartment is only about 100 meters from the former wall and our neighborhood has one of the largest remaining sections; it also has several recent commemorative sites. At one of them the man who was Berlin's mayor in 1989 held a memorial service and we went over and caught the tail-end of it.

November 9 was also the 60th anniversary of "Kristallnacht" or "The Night of Broken Glass", the night when Hitler's thugs destroyed most Jewish synagogues and businesses in Germany. There were moving ceremonies which most of the bigwigs of Germany attended. To our east about a km is one of the most important Synagogues in Germany; we watched on TV the service there which was attended by Chancellor Merkel. We would have liked to attend but really had no chance of getting in.

Two days later was an anniversary the entire world celebrates: the end of the bloody massacre called World War I. All our participation was via television; we watched a lot because we feel a lot of connections to it. One of them is Gerry's uncle for whom he is named and who died on a battle field in northern France. (His uncle is buried outside Queant, a village 19 kilometres south-east of Arras, and 60 km south of Lille.) On TV we saw the French ceremonies held at Douaumont, close to Verdun. The princple speaker was French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Just an hour later Sarkozy was at the German ceremonies, held nearby. Both Germany and France want to show they are reconciled but there are still too many living memories for people to be able to treat the subject without embarrasment. We also saw on TV the British ceremonies in London at the Cenotaph and the Australian ceremonies in Canberra. In 2006 we were at the Australian Sydney ceremonies and in 2007 at the Melbourne Ceremonies. It's cultural predjudice on our part but we think that Anglos know better how to put on a public event than either the French or Germans.

The end of November was American Thanksgiving. As we usually do when we are outside the USA, which includes 9 of the last 10 years, we had a quiet, simple meal together and gave our own thanks for the bountiful lives we lead.

In November we considerably stepped up our museum goings. We had already bought an annual admission card to the SMB (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) museums and we really started to take advantage of it. Our original idea had been that with the card we could pop into a museum for an hour or two, see some part of it at leisure, and then come again another day. Thus, for us, a typical museum day was to leave home around 10:00, go off to a museum, after two hours leave for lunch, and — perhaps — come back for more in the afternoon. That way we made two trips to the Pergamon Museum, once to see the "Babylon" exhibit (which had been at the Louvre when we were in Paris but we didn't see it) just before it closed and another to see the "Return of the Gods". (We have to blush a bit about that: in the museum we misread the signs and spent all of our time at another exhibit, the Dionysos exhibit; since they are both Greek-related it is not as embarrassing as it seems at first glance.) Next door on Museum Island we went to the Bode Museum three times. We'd completely missed it in 2005 because it was closed then for restoration; the restoration is wonderful. There we saw fine Christian art to equal what we'd seen in Paris. Another new museum for us is the Schinkel-designed Friedrichswerderschekirche sculpture museum. This is much smaller than the others and can be seen in its entirety in an hour but it is a jewel.

And that about brings you up to date with what's happening in our own Lake Woebegone. Looking ahead we've bought tickets to several Russian events and three Berlin Opera performances spread over the next six months. At the end of the month we'll be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary by going up to the heights of the Berlin Television Tower for a meal. And, sooner or later, we'll get out our annual letter, and probably later, we'll get our taxes done. Of course in 2009 for the first time since Hong Kong, we have to do two sets of tax returns: one for Germany and one for the US. Oh the joys of international living.

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