More German than the Germans

I opened the bathroom waste basket to retrieve the garbage bag and was appalled by the contents. The offense was so high on the list of no nos, I gasped when I saw it. I know your minds are racing through a number of possible faux pas. None of those. 

Our bathroom garbage can has two receptacles. The left for garbage and the right compartment for recycling waste made of paper and plastic.  

Poking out amongst the mascara covered cotton pads and ear wax covered cotton swabs (I know, please don’t lecture me all you wannabe ENT doctors, and actual ENT doctors too- I’ve seen the Q-Tip ads: nothing smaller than an elbow in your ear) stood a shampoo bottle.  

“Are you (insert favored profanity) kidding me!” I screamed. 

I grabbed the bottle and stomped down the stairs into the living room where my family peacefully ate breakfast. 

“Do you know what this is?” I shrieked, holding up the offensive item like a guillotine master would a severed head.

“Your shampoo bottle?” our son, always eager to help, asked.

“Yes, but would you tell me where I found it?” I seethed.

“I chucked it in the garbage,” my husband replied between spoonfuls of yogurt and Müsli.

“Exactly!” I yelled, “In the garbage! That’s where it was!” I paused to catch up to my ragged breathing.

“Was it still full?” our daughter asked, clearly wanting to gather further information before committing to a side.

“No,” I said with a sneer in my husband’s direction, “it was empty.”  

“Uh oh,” my daughter said, now understanding the severity of the situation. 

“You yelled at me last time for keeping empty bottles in the shower,” my husband blandly replied.

True. He almost had me there. 

 I continued in my rage.

“Where do empty shampoo bottles go?” I asked raising my voice and leaning towards my husband’s ear.

“In the garbage,” he said lifting his shoulders in a shrug.

The children covered their mouths in horror.

My eyes widened from the shock and I clutched my throat as if in pain.

“No! Not in the garbage! For thirteen years you’ve made me separate thin plastic, thick plastic, paper, batteries, food scraps, aluminum, green glass, brown glass, clear glass, broken electrical equipment, clothing and shoes. And YOU throw away a shampoo bottle?”  

“Papa, it goes in the white garbage can behind the kitchen door,” our daughter stated.

“Yes, Papa, in the yellow bag in the white garbage can,” our son added.

“Exactly, children. If I see this happen again, I’m taking away privileges. That means YOU,” I said to my husband.

The result of my being more German than the Germans is that nothing is thrown away. At least not immediately. Of course garbage and food scraps are pitched, we’re not gross. Papers stack on tables to be sorted and eventually thrown in the blue recycling bin. Glasses, jars and aluminum cans rest in bags on top of the crates of water and juice bottles waiting for the next trip to the canister collection stations. Let’s not forget about the yellow bags filled to the brim with plastics stored in my basement until the next recycling truck makes its monthly pick up.  

These are not the signs of a hoarder in the making.  

I’m just waiting for my next trip to the recycling center. 


Driving Lessons: Part Two

Photo (c) Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart, 2017

This photo arrived in the mail. Not my best side, I admit. I’d post the entire document but I don’t know the rules about that as it’s from a speeding ticket. I remember the moment well, I was navigating through Stuttgart construction trying to find the zoo while my mom carried a running dialogue next to me, the kids kicked each other in the back seat, and an ambulance followed by a police car (no lights on, therefore no emergency) tailed me. No pressure… Seeing my portrait reminded me of a visit from the police 8 years ago:

 The door buzzer hummed. 

 I jumped up from the sofa, startling my infant son who had fallen asleep nursing. My daughter followed me to the door.

 I pressed the intercom handset to my ear.

 “Yes?” I asked.

 “Mrs. Tolan?” a gruff voice inquired.

 “Yes?” I replied.

 “This is the police. May we come up?”

 My heart leapt in my chest. Was my husband okay? He had walked to work this morning, just right across the street. 

 I opened the door and waited for the officers to reach our second-story flat. One was older with a salt-and-pepper mustache, and the other younger. Both were wearing matching forest green sweaters and had guns in their holsters. 

 The senior officer showed me a black and white photo. 

 “Do you recognize this person?” He asked.

 I leaned in, pulling the baby closer to my chest. It was a small, 5 x 5 cm black and white photo, but not small enough to not see who was in it. 

 It depicted my husband, wearing his bug shaped, mirrored sunglasses, driving my car the day we got “blitz” (German for flash) photographed going through a speed trap in a construction site on the A8. We were on our way to the mountains and I told him he was going too fast.

 I KNEW he had been speeding.

 “Yes. That’s my husband,” I answered in my ‘talking to police officers’ voice.

 He glanced at his colleague.

 “You’re sure?” he asked me. 

 “Of course. It’s my husband. He’s driving my car.”

 “License plate number VV CT 24?”

 “Yes,” I confirmed.

  “Where is he right now?”

 “At work. Across the street. Is he in trouble?”

 “Would you please give us the address?”

 All I really needed to do was point, but of course, I obliged. This was the police! They had guns! My daughter forgot her hunger and whining and followed them with her wide eyes.

 They left with a polite thank you.

 “YOU DID WHAT?” was my husband’s response when I informed him of his imminent visitors. “YOU sent them to my work?”

 “What else was I supposed to do?”

 What I was supposed to do was what his mother did some 15 years ago when the police showed up at her work with such a photo that captured him speeding in her car. 

She took a quick glance and said, “I’ve never seen that person in my life. Now I need to get back to my patients.” 

 And she shooed them out the door. 

 Apparently there is a rule allowing you to either say that you don’t know, or you can state, “I don’t want to say anything,” essentially “pleading the Fifth” in American terms. 

 Of course, that leaves the question quite open as to who exactly the speeding Mystery Man in your car is. Did he steal your car, speed around, then return it? Did you just forget that you loaned the car to someone else that day? 

The Blitzer Police, the team of officers employed to set up speed traps (“Blitzer” being German slang for speed trap, not to be confused with ingesting copious amounts of alcohol), love to decorate the Autobahn. The A8 Autobahn is notorious for its traffic jams, this being one of few routes to the mountains and lakes south of Munich. There is a patch where major freeways merge into the A8, and if you start out too late, you will find yourself trapped for hours, as we learned while also in the middle of the construction zone with a speed limit of 30 km/hr. Whenever a gap appeared, my husband attempted to bust through the zone and pass the stationary vehicles, utilizing his up to 20 km/hr over rule. POOF! went the red light of a blitzer, the red light flashing like the diffused light of a professional photographer in the studio, and in my mind, this is the sound it makes.  

 “Maybe there’s no film in the camera, “my husband commented.

 It did. The speeding ticket came in the mail, and unknown to me, he had contested the ticket and requested proof of the blitzer photo. 

 The police gladly acquiesced, and came to our home with the photo in hand as requested. There had been film in the camera. With excellent resolution.

  My husband was furious with me for turning him in to the police. That would be the last rule for his driving catalog: If the police come to the house with a photo from a blitzer speeding ticket, then you are to say, “I don’t know and if I did know I wouldn’t say anything anyway because I got hit by a plank that day and had amnesia and I could have handed my keys over to a Mystery Man but I can’t say.”

 Again, maybe that’s another rule I missed by not studying for and taking the German driving license exam. 

 Perhaps it’s time to enroll in German driving school.

Crossing the Horizon          by Laurie Notaro

 CROSSING THE HORIZON – A NOVEL, Laurie Notaro’s first historical novel, is a delightful read. Set in the 1920s after Charles Lindbergh’s inaugural crossing of the Atlantic by airplane, three women attempt to follow in his flight pattern and fight to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.  

 CROSSING THE HORIZON provides three strong, female role models, unbending in their determination as they strive to achieve their dreams. The reader follows the willful adventures of Elise Mackay, the English daughter of an Earl and talented pilot in her own right; Mabel Boll, a feisty, American widow millionairess; and Ruth Elder, an Alabama girl from a humble background who entered beauty pageants to earn prize money to fund her flying lessons and secure her pilot’s license. 

Laurie Notaro whisks her readers away to an era of flappers and fashion on two continents in addition to the freedom of flying high above the clouds. Prepare to be inspired by the courage, motivation and determination of these three outstanding women.   

 Brace yourself to be entertained by Laurie Notaro’s clever and engaging accounts of the Atlantic crossing attempts of Elise, Mabel and Ruth. Ms. Notaro wows her readers with her meticulous, in-depth research, attention to details and spot-on recapturing of the time period in her vivid descriptions, use of language of the time for sparkling conversations, and animated narrative voice.   
 I highly recommend CROSSING THE HORIZON as a fun, beautifully written, historical novel with strong female role models. CROSSING THE HORIZON is motivating, inspiring, and an enchanting read.

Peter Lindbergh –  – Kunsthalle München

Kate Moss, Paris, 2014, Vogue Italia (c) Peter Lindbergh

Peter Lindbergh “From Fashion to Reality” Kunsthalle München – until August 27th, 2017
As a teenager living in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, I dreamed of living in a world like Christy, Cindy, Linda and Naomi. They lived the life of glamour I’d read about in Cosmopolitan like “How to Apply Mascara in a Taxi Without Poking Your Eye Out” (only apply at stoplights).  

 I knew theirs was a world of designer clothes, the perfect high heeled shoe, photographers, celebrities, writers, actors and models.  

 I sought a world where people attended gallery openings, museum exhibitions, an artistic community that made art and fashion and influenced the world of beauty and expression. 

Fashion magazines transported me into this world. I saved my babysitting money to buy coveted clothes from The Limited. I also regularly purchased my other favorite indulgence, Vogue Magazine. I anxiously waited until mid August for the September Issue, the manual for the Fall season. I carried the two inch thick volume to the pool with me, careful not to splash water on its glossy pages, and studied each page, mentally noting which colors, shoulder cuts, skirt and sleeve lengths were highlighted for the upcoming season.

Peter Lindbergh’s photographs graced many of these pages. Walking into his exhibition at the Kunsthalle München was like greeting dear, old friends at a party. Here were the ladies who captured my attention on the pages of Vogue. I especially remember the ‘Wild Ones’, with the models wearing Versace biker outfits, lined up on a Brooklyn street with the Manhattan Bridge in the background.  

 Mr. Lindbergh’s images are not just photos of women modeling clothing. They are portraits, searching into the soul of the individuals before his camera. He references Dorothea Lange and August Sander, photojournalistic portrait artists of the 1920s and 1930s.  


Mr. Lindbergh’s work also serve as documents of his subjects, in capturing their emotions, inner lives, what they are thinking at that precise moment their guard is down and their true being revealed and captured on film.
 The models were no longer nameless figures wearing designer clothes, but rather became recognized by their names, and first names at that. Mr. Lindbergh helped make the supermodels.  

 The exhibition at the Kunsthalle München transported me back to the Ohio girl inside me, memorizing the designers, labels, clothing and accessories displayed in Vogue, like walking through a portal of beauty, style and elegance.  

 I reflected that years after studying Vogue by the pool in the suburbs of Columbus, would be that woman in a taxi rushing to a client to check the condition of a valuable photograph that had been damaged in transport. was the woman retouching my Rouge Noir lipstick before pulling up to the client’s Midtown skyscraper.

I love the knowledge that fashion continues to produce and inspire, with geniuses like Mr. Lindbergh documenting, preserving and leading the way.

Have to Have It

I came across a connect the dots book in the euro store the other day (the German equivalent of a dollar store). What caught my attention was the cartoon, dot to dot version of the Mona Lisa on the cover. For two euros, this learned art historian had to have it. I hoped that other would reveal themselves before my eyes under my steady hand.  
 I couldn’t flip thought the book because my arms held name brand window spray and toilet cleaner (half price!), a ream of copier paper, stereo cables, a phone charger for the car, resealable sandwich bags, paper towels, and an industrial pack of glue sticks. Basically the usual for the euro store. Of course I didn’t opt for a basket as I was just going in to buy one thing.
 I grasped the dot to dot book with my pinky finger and struggled to the cash register followed by my daughter, her arms just as laden with goods as mine. We spilled the must have items onto the band and shook out our cramped arms.  
 The cashier scanned our items until he came to the Mona Lisa book. He attempted to scan. Instead of the usual peeping noise, the machine grunted. The man furrowed his brow and tried again. Groan. He zapped the bar code with the hand held scanner, and again a disgruntled cash register noise.  

 “It says I’m not allowed to sell you this,” he said.

 “Excuse me?” I said.

 “The register says ‘not for sale’.”

 “But it was on the shelf,” I stated.

 I young lady in hijab appeared, her straight posture, efficient steps and keyring weighted down by metal, revealing her elevated status in the euro store.

 “Was this item alone?” she asked me.

 “I don’t know. I just grabbed it from the top of the pile,” I said. 

 “There was a huge pile of them,” my loyal daughter confirmed.

 “Sometimes it happens that items aren’t entered in the system,” she explained. “I’ll read you the numbers,” she directed her colleague.

 I didn’t care about the 2 euro book, but I admit I was fascinated by why they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it to me. I wanted to stick around and get to the bottom of this.

 She dictated the numbers as the cashier pecked at the keyboard.

 Rejected again.

 “Item not for sale,” she read off the screen.

 She called out to the store manager, “The book comes up ‘not for sale’, can I override?” “No. Then it’s not for sale,” he stated.

 Now I really wanted the connect the dots book. There must be mysteries held within its pages, I thought.

 “Can’t I just give you two euros?” I asked.

 “I’m not authorized to do that,” the manager said, “we get daily updates which items are not for sale and we need to take them off the shelves.”

 “I’ll pay you double,” I said.

 “No, I can’t do that. There’s a reason it’s not for sale. I’m not saying it’s toxic with poisonous dyes, but we’re not allowed to sell it.”

 “Toxic? Poisonous?” I repeated, wondering if the dyes could have seeped into my skin yet.

 “Maybe some of the numbers are out of sequence or something,” he volunteered.

 “Or maybe it’s DDR code,” the cashier snickered.

 “Ok,” I said, worried for our safety, and just wanting to leave the store, “it’s not important.”
 I tried to make eye contact with my daughter to get her to slide the book under the copier paper, but she was engrossed in the pages of her mandala coloring book.
 I considered snatching the dot to dot from the cashier’s hands and making a run for it, but my daughter wouldn’t be able to keep up with her armload of art supplies. I also wasn’t willing to get caught stealing a two euro connect the dots book. The Village is smaller than one thinks and reputations stick.  
 I paid for the remaining items and we turned to leave the store. I glanced back one last time at the cartoon Mona Lisa blandly gazing at me. I made eye contact with her lifeless eyes and promised I’d return and try to rescue her from the madness. Unless some other unauthorized item caught my eye.    


Mother’s Day

My requests for Mother’s Day are simple: let me sleep as long as I like, until my eyes naturally open at a decent (after 7am) hour; allow me to enjoy a long, hot bath without interruptions of “Where is my Lego Ninjago™ Sensai Wu head?”, “Where is my turquoise fineliner that I left on the kitchen table last week?”, or “Where is my favorite Tshirt from the 80s with the huge holes in the armpits that I haven’t seen in ages?”; and if I dare to be bold, a meal in a restaurant so I don’t have to cook or wash the dishes, and where we all chat nicely to each other without playing on anything that has batteries or needs to be charged.  

 Fairly low maintenance, I think.
Unfortunately, the past Mother’s Days haven’t panned out as such. The children usually injure each other on purpose and my husband yells at them to let me have peace and quiet. When I suggested I go alone to the coffee shop in The Village to read a book in peace for an hour, I was guilted into staying because “On Mother’s Day the mother should want to be with her family.” 
Until the big kahuna of Mother’s Days past, Mother’s Day 2015.

 Two weeks prior to the Mother’s Day that took the cake, my husband bragged that this year the fighting and frustration of Mother’s Days past would be erased.

 “But I don’t want or need a present,” I said, “I just want peace and quiet and maybe a nice brunch out.”

 “Oh, this is something you’re going to love. Something you’ve been dreaming about.”

 “Really?” I asked, “A weekend away at an organic spa with a pile of books?”

 “No. Something with four wheels.”

 Four wheels? He bought me a car? That was extravagant for Mother’s Day, I thought. But with my husband, youngtimer auto collector and prone to making spontaneous automotive purchases, this wouldn’t be so out of the ordinary. He surfs car websites like I do shoe and golf catalogs, always looking for the next great deal, buying low, investing as little money as possible, and selling at a profit.

 I was happy with my Audi A6 station wagon with the perfect amount of horsepower (239) and a 3.0 tdi diesel engine with more torque. It was a used car, so the kids could eat and drink in the back without me worrying about destroying the original condition of the interior.  

 There was one car I dreamt of though. The Mercedes G Model, a rectangular box on high wheels. I love this model and sigh every time one passes. My husband rejected the idea of buying one because it was too heavy and wouldn’t have enough horsepower for the sporty drive I like. The models with more horsepower were also too pricey for everyday Mom’s taxi use. However, that was the only four-wheeled item I had my eye on. Could he have found one in our price range? Was this my Mother’s Day present? I decided he had purchased a toy replica of the G Model for my nightstand. 


 Mother’s Day Sunday arrived. The kids, in their excitement, checked repeatedly if I was awake. I gave up on sleeping in and called them to bring me my “surprise” breakfast in bed. Cuddling my cuties, my husband came in beaming, kissed me, and presented me a plastic sleeve with papers inside. 

 I opened the file, my heart beating faster in anticipation.  
 It was not a toy model or photo of a toy.
 It was not a Mercedes G Model.
   It was a photo and specifications for a 1978 Renault Alpine in metallic green.

 “I don’t understand,” I said.
 Then it clicked. Several months ago, while I read in bed, my husband perused used car websites on the laptop next to me.  

 “What do you think of this?” he asked, turning the screen towards me.  

 “What is that?” I asked while wrinkling my nose at the sight.

 “The car I always wanted in my youth. A Renault Alpine. Only 8,000 pieces made of that model. And I doubt many were made in that color.”

 “How much?” I asked.

 He rattled off a 5 figure sum, ridiculous for a French wannabe Trans Am.

 Yes, car fans, call me a heathen, but my Mother’s Day was ruined. This car wasn’t for me. This was for him. He tried to pass it off as a Mother’s Day gift.  

 “This is bullshit,” I said.

 “What? I thought you’d like it.”

 “You showed me that car before and I said it wasn’t worth the money, especially when we need to fly to The States for summer.”

 “We’re still going to The States. We have enough time to save up.”

 “You used the plane ticket money for that car?” I was shouting now, “Our holiday is two months away and we still don’t have tickets because you said they are too expensive at the moment, but you can buy this monstrosity?”

 “I promised you we’re flying to The States, and we will. The car was kind of an accident.”

 “How do you buy a car on accident?”

 “It was an online auction and I typed in what I would be willing to pay.”

 “So you’ve never seen the car in person?” I asked.


 “Never driven it?”


 “Does it even drive? What kind of condition is it in?” I began shouting again.

 “The guy from the auction house assured me…”

 “Of course he did! He’s a salesman! Auctions are caveat emptor! Once you buy it, you’re screwed!”

 “I know. That’s why I couldn’t tell you. Max said I should make it a present and maybe you’d fall in love with it and not be mad.”

 “I need some fresh air. You’ve ruined my Mother’s Day. I’m going to the coffee shop.”
 In the civilized, auction-house-car-free-zone of the coffee shop, I collected myself. I’d use this to my advantage. He’d buy the plane tickets immediately if he wanted to set this right. The car would be stored out of my sight until he found a buyer. I wasn’t about to set foot in that vehicle on principle. I would boycott Renault Alpine and the Formula 1 Renault team (sorry Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer – it’s nothing personal).  

 I returned home and discussed the terms of our truce. No, I would not be his second driver to collect the Renault Alpine in Berlin. I would have nothing to do with the car, and it would be sold as soon as possible.

 “Sure, you can sell it,” my husband said, “it’s your car.” 

  “That car is dead to me,” I said.

 My husband convinced his buddy to drive to Berlin with him on a Saturday and collect the green monster. To my surprise, the car made the journey back to The Village without problems.  

 My husband’s evaluation of the car was, “It doesn’t drive like I thought it would. It’s also not in the best condition, certainly not worth the money.”

 I don’t need to type my answer. 

 My son, car freak in the making, sided with my husband, “Wow! What a cool car!”

 My daughter, brutally honest and loyal, said, “Mama, it’s not nice. The inside is old and smells, the seats are cracked and some animals are living in the front.”

 “Animals?” I laughed.

 “Yes,” my husband confirmed, “mice made a nest in the footwell.”

 Buyer beware indeed.
 The car needed more repairs than my husband was willing to invest. He posted it on an international automobile website, and got a bite from a clothing mogul in Australia with a serious car collection. This would probably be the only Renault Alpine in Australia, he figured, at least the only one in this color.  

 “Did you tell him about the mouse family?” I asked.

 “He knows everything. But the mice are no longer living there,” he added.

 The car eventually made its way down under by ship in a climate controlled, padded crate.

 I waited for the phone call from an irate Crocodile Dundee shouting down the phone that my husband sent him a crap car with a nest of mice carcasses.

 Radio silence. 

 With the Renault Alpine now on another continent, life returned to the status quo.  

 I asked my family for no more Mother’s Day surprises.
 This Mother’s Day I’ll be celebrating with a mommy friend at an art exhibition followed by lunch in Munich’s pedestrian zone – without a Renault Alpine or car of any kind in sight. 

May Day

Today is May 1st, May Day, the day for the workers, equivalent to Labor Day in the United States. 

Walking to my butcher shop two days ago, I noticed this sight (see photo above).     Someone had sawed off The Village’s Maypole.  A maypole should look like the title image for this blog.  

 A maypole is the blue and white striped pole at the entrance to most Bavarian villages, displaying wooden figures and placards from its arms, listing the services found in the villages. It served as the Yellow Pages before such a service existed, and my theory is it was implemented before people could read, or for people who forgot to wear their distance eyeglasses.  

Maypoles are not erected every year, but rather every other year or every four years, or as decided by the volunteer firemen and their junior squad, or the youth group of the village in charge of maypole duties. The men go out into the Bavarian woods, pick the largest, sturdiest tree, chop it down and keep it hidden at someone’s farm to prepare and decorate. 

Neighboring fire departments or youth groups will scout out maypole hiding places in order to kidnap the maypoles in preparation. Or as in the my photo, they chop, saw off or completely remove the existing maypole. 

I once had a volunteer fireman in a business English class I taught. He was an engineer by day and volunteer fireman by night.
 “You look tired today, all ok?” I asked him one class. “Did you have a fire in the night?”

 “No, I was on maypole watch. We couldn’t let those bastards steal our pole.”

 “What do they do with them?” I asked.

 “Ach, we wait for the ransom note. They usually want loads of beer or a feast buffet. A party.”

 May Day is a huge deal for the firemen and youth groups. They erect the pole by hooking up a firetruck or tractor pulley and cranking the tree into position. The entire village is invited and everyone arrives in tracht, the women in dirndl with breast shelves and cleavage finally exposed to sunlight after a harsh winter. Firemen and male civilians arrive in lederhosen, calf wraps and checked shirts covered with cable sweaters or wool janker jackets. Material pulls tight across flat, strong backs as the men pound wood slats into the ground with strongman competition wooden mallets. 

Beer benches and tables cover the entire square, and traffic shuts down for a two block radius. The local Wirt, Bavarian restaurant, serves regional dishes of warmerl (pork belly sandwiches), pig roast, potato dumplings, and the beloved sauerkraut with cumin. Beer is aplenty and usually the local wheat beer brew. Women drink alcohol-free wheat beer or wine spritzers and the kids apfelschorle, apple juice spritzers. 

This is too big of a celebration to host every year, and the villages alternate. It also spares the trees and gives them time to grow. The junior firemen in The Village erected a beautiful, new maypole last year which now looks like a chomped off blue and white candy cane. We will be passing this sad sight for the next year. At least someone now has a fancy garden ornament.