Simons Adventure

On the road, there's adventure waiting every day.

In pandemic mode May

By the time it came to be mid May, I had setup the office for a soft re-opening, which really meant blocking half the desks so that there would be sufficient space, and ensuring that all the extra hygiene requirements, such as masks and disinfectant, were in place. By this point we’d been in home office for about 2 months and this would give people the option of returning to the office once in a while if this was more convenient.

On the way home I dropped past the shops, to a new phenomena: As of now, there was a limited number of people allowed in shops, and security guards made people stand in line and ensure they were wearing masks on entry. It was kind of strange to be waiting to go in, but at least there was plenty of stock of all essentials again. For a while during this crisis all sorts of things had been out, besides the worldwide toilet paper shortages, we also had delivery issues with yeast and flour, for example.

As we couldn’t get together with people to play games, that Friday night we played pandemic with Katrin and Killian virtually. It was not perfectly stable, but we made it work! We were on a roll with this whole pizza thing, so we made pizza from fresh dough for dinner too – Yum!

On Saturday we decided to check out Falkensee, as there is a house there we were considering in the area. It’s quite a nice suburb, so we decided to make an appointment to see the house. After that we dropped past Ilkas place to water the garden and feed her cats for her, while she was on holiday.

On Sunday we did yet another bike tour, this time deciding to visit Gabi in the process. She’d invited us over for some seasonal fresh white asparagus and homemade hollandaise sauce. We spent the whole evening there, by the time we left it was getting dark. Rather than ride all the way back, we just rode to the train station and caught the train back.

On Sunday we spent the day at home, and I spent the morning playing board games online with Glen and Johan. It was great to get together again; I really do miss the board games nights with the gang!

The following week we had an appointment to go to our first house inspection. Yes – in Germany you need an appointment to view a house, they don’t just have open houses the way they do in Australia. To be honest, the whole real estate website in Australia is soooo good. You don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone sometimes.  Anyway, just after we jumped onto the tram there was a loud ringing of a bell and a massive “THUD” as the tram lurched to a halt. Manja and I were both startled as the doors sprang open. Turns out the tram hit a car which had stupidly turned in front of it. The driver, a mother, was temporarily distracted by her kids in a bad moment. Luckily the damage was only to the car and tram, no one was hurt at all.

The house wasn’t bad, but we decided not to make an offer. The property was being subdivided and a house put into the front part of it. The back property had an awesome view of a field, Buuuut: There was another vacant lot between the house and the field. If anyone ever builds there, we’d be completely closed in.

A bit later that day we had another appointment – this time to consider building a place.  Manja had found an agent who connected vacant properties and purchasers. As we waited for the bus, it decided to drive right past the stop without stopping… We called the agent to let him know we’d be about 30 minutes late and he also just said he’d swing by to pick us up. “Look for an old American car” he said. A bit later a white 1980’s Chevy limousine pulled up. Turns out the guy spent some time in America and fell in love with the cars. When he moved back, he imported and restored one.
He took us to the lot where the house would get built, and found that it had a really old wooden house on it. It would get torn down in the process but would have almost been worth restoring – I can only imagine how nice it would have been before the city sprawled around it. Unfortunately in the last few years it had squatters in it, so it was definitely rundown. We left with some idea on prices and options on what could be built there.

On the weekend it was mums 60th birthday, as well as Gabys. As we couldn’t be there to celebrate with Mum, we decided to at least surprise Gaby – including a gift from mum: A purple hat. Now that will not make sense to most of you, but it’s related to this story. Basically it’s about a woman who looks into the mirror at different ages, cumulating at 80 where it says “At 80, she no longer looks into the mirror. She just puts on her purple hat and goes out to have fun – perhaps we should all put on the purple hat a bit sooner?”

But it begs the question: Where does one get a purple hat at short notice, especially during Corona times? The answer was more obvious to me than to Manja, at a costume shop. But where is there a costume shop, asks Manja. Across the road from the Board games shop, says I, the newcomer to Berlin. I guess one remembers what’s important 😂

So we headed down the road by Tram, picking up a card game as a gift from us, some flowers and the purple hat, as well as some “60” Balloons. All from the same corner.

When we returned, it was time to call Australia to wish Mum a happy birthday – they were celebrating into her Birthday from Windy point. The restaurant was only doing takeaway because of Corona, so they improvised: Trestle tables in the carpark where the view of the city was spectacular.

On the 17th we were on a mission. Gaby had invited us for dinner, but we were going to be there a fair bit earlier: Midnight Australian time, with my Mother on Skype. We inflated the balloons on the bus ride to Gabys and walked in perfectly on time. One small catch with surprises: Sometimes people are not home 😅.
So we setup in her backyard and waited for Gaby to return. Eventually she did return and was thrilled to have us waiting there for her, and to chat to my mum a bit.
Gaby had invited a few more people and we had a lovely dinner chatting the evening away together. Oh! And I made a greek-yoghurt orange cake, topped with roasted pistachios and honey. With a few fresh strawberries, it ended up being really nice!

The following week we found a place which was a couple of houses down from Ilkas place. We went there one evening, it was a really good deal for the area, but the house itself was just too small. That and the proximity to the traintracks made us decide against it in the end.

We also had an extra day off on the 21st. We made use of the awesome weather to explore Potsdam a bit by bike. Potsdam is the next largest city near Berlin and the capital of Brandenbug – the state surrounding Berlin. There were many nice moments, but one of the highlights was a creek we crossed which had a massive amount of frogs just croaking away. We also saw something else move slowly on the shore, but we could not see what it was. Even when I went down for a closer inspection of the moving leaves, it managed to stay hidden.

Friday night we went off to see another two houses. One was under heritage protection and would have needed to have the foundations redone – something out of scope for me as a handyman. But the place had an awesome 1900’s charm. The second place was a really odd house: It was basically super high-tech in the 1930’s with all sorts of odd little quirks, including a hidden doorway. I SO wanted to buy the place, but Manja and I both agreed it was too remote. Travel to Berlin for work would have only been possible by car, which is something we both don’t really want.

On the weekend we spent some time refining our ideas on what we actually want to buy. Being the nerds we are, we built a complex spreadsheet with what is important to Manja and what is important to me. We gave it some weighted averages, and included transit times to various places we are likely to visit regularly. We then added financial and renovation factors. Based on over 50 criteria, it would bring it down to a single score.  Yes. We are nerds 🤓

On Sunday I chatted to Oma in the morning. It was her birthday the next day and I knew I wouldn’t get to talk to her much then. So we chatted and the next day I just briefly called to wish a happy birthday.

Wednesday evening it was time to check out the next house. This time we missed our connecting train and ran about 30 minutes late. The real estate agent actually came and picked us up from the trainstation – we felt both thankful and embarrassed at the same time. Turns out we were the last people to view the house that day, so everyone was relaxed. The seller was an older lady who was selling her nice little house in a perfect location. 20 minutes by train to the city center, with a nice sized garden. Her husband passed away after a longer illness, and she had moved to Germany 50 years ago from England. We really loved the garden and the location, but the house was poorly cut for our purposes. That would have still been okay because the house had a cellar. Unfortunately the ceiling height in the cellar was only about 1,9m. Too low to really make use of it; one just felt a bit claustrophobic down there.

On Saturday we headed over to a local plant center, which had an awesome sign “Entry only with wheelbarrow”. Instead of shopping trolleys, they had just arranged wheelbarrows 🤪. In the afternoon we checked out yet another house – this time near Gabys place. The location was about a 20 minute bike ride from the nearest trainstation,  but it had a nice property. The House itself was from the 1950’s and the property included a concrete barn. I would have loved to renovate the place for the next 20 years, but Manja rightfully said that it’s not much fun living on a construction site. So we decided against this one too.

On Sunday we inspected another place – this one was nice, but a bit pricey for its location. The owners were selling directly though, without a realestate agent, which makes things about 7% cheaper for the buyer.  They were selling as they were moving to Turkey. The place really was nice, but the one bathroom it had was just too small. It was squeezed underneath the stairs.  We thought about it for the next week, but decided against it in the end. After the inspection we headed to Ilkas place for her Birthday. We had great company, rhubarb cake and a fantastic BBQ.

 

Home time during Corona

As we started looking for a house, we needed to explore areas of Berlin a bit. Given the whole pandemic thing, we didn’t really want to take public transport, so decided to do another big bike tour. This time “only” 70km. I guess we could use this corona time to get fit if we keep doing this 😉

Anyway, today our tour took us into the area of Spandau, and we even rode through the Spandauer Forst a bit – a public forest where I spent a lot of time as a kid. I really enjoyed the day, and we really need to come back here at some point to just wander through the forest!

On Sunday we headed over to Ilkas garden, where we had a surprisingly buggy day 🕷🦗

On the 24th of April 2020,  it was time for a final farewell to Opa, as his ashes were scattered from a Jetty in Adelaide. The whole family came together and, except for some small technical issues (which he would have loved), it was a lovely farewell. Niko did a fantastic job at taking me along too. I’m deeply thankful that the technology to make this possible exists now, and that we have the skills, resources and care to utilise it.

Vale Opa. May you rest in peace, I’ll come and visit you by the sea when I can visit next time.

The following weekend I spent a bunch of time on Skype with the family and also a lot of time getting Alexa working for Oma. Well, after making a cheerful breakfast anyway 😁.  If we could have, we would have left to visit Australia today, but Corona forced us to remain here. To commiserate we made ourselves a comfort-food dinner. First we went shopping – now with masks – and even found a whole pallet of toilet paper – something which had temporarily become rare as people went crazy.  We decided on a nice pumpkin and potato soup, with nice rye bread, with a nice white wine. After dinner we watched a movie  and  treated ourselves to some Pringles in Tzatziki – one of my mums specialties from when I was a kid.

The next weekend was one of the many long weekends of this time. Unfortunately we really couldn’t do all that much with it, as everything was in lockdown. So we made some home-made pizza and granola for the week and cleaned up some of our IT infrastructure, including setting myself up a windows option for gaming with Australian friends in the future. That future came the next day, where Glen, Johan and I played Wingspan via a virtual tabletop game.

 

On the last day of the long weekend we headed over to Bernau, just to check out the area and get a feel for how far away it would be for us. Turns out the train ride was quite comfortable, and the town is just my kind of thing. It’s basically an old medieval town – city wall and everything – where they also have a massive medieval fair each year. Now that I know about it, we’ll definitely be at the next one!!!

Tough start in April

We started April with a day in Ilkas garden where we re-claimed a bit of the front yard from the Hops. It was hard work, but it was nice to be out and about working away in the sun.

Unfortunately the weekend before easter my grandfather passed away. He was in hospital still the previous day and had just returned home. He died peacefully with my grandmother at his side. In case you don’t know, we have a very tight knit family, and although this wasn’t unexpected, it hit me pretty hard causing me a few days of uncaring numbness. Manja was a godsend walking through it with me and helping me cope. This was the first time I really struggled being so far away – but with the coronavirus going on it would have been extremely difficult for me to support terribly much anyway.  Most of all, though, I’m sad that I did not get to see him again after leaving Australia.

The easter weekend held a lot of sadness and doubts for me as I adjusted to this reality. Manja and I went for a 80 km ride, which actually really helped. Just having time to exert physically. We also spent the evening playing some online games with friends, which was a fantastic distraction. On Sunday I also made “Oster Zopf” a traditional sweet yeast bread…. It may have turned out a bit larger than intended 😅

Monday was easter Monday, and as we couldn’t do family things thanks to Corona, I had setup a video call to chat with Amy for a bit. One of my highlights was virtually meeting her daughter Paisley 🥰

I spent the remainder of Monday putting together a slideshow of Opas life – of the photos I could get my hands on anyway.

On Thursday was his funeral – which my family arranged specifically late in the afternoon so I could join by Skype. So it was that I was at the funeral on my couch, at 10 am my time. It was a short service, but many, many of the moments moved me to tears. After the funeral we walked around the park a bit and chatted to my family.

You’ll have to bear with me here, as I write sort of a eulogy of what he meant to me.

My Opa taught me early not to take life too seriously. It took a long time for me to really learn it, and be able to relax, accept my faults and just enjoy life anyway. His guiding voice allowed me to get there. He was truly inspirational to me in how he talked about his flaws and mistakes openly to us. He explained difficult situations and decisions he faced in life and what had happened. Opa didn’t hide lifes messy twists and turns, wanting us to be able to learn from his mistakes . He was always so thankful that Oma stuck through everything with him, and was totally devoted to her. He taught me to hold a hammer properly, and to not be afraid of power tools.  Opa saw my leadership traits before anyone else, and reminded me early to keep my feet on the ground. He let me make the mistakes I needed to but was always there to counsel me by way of stories of his life. Each had a moral, usually “be humble” “trust people” “love unconditionally” and “believe in yourself”. I will miss his insights when I find myself at a crossroad.

But for every wisdom that he presented, he was always the jester. He could tell you stories of his youth, unable to deal with authority. If I were his boss, I thought many a time, I would have fired him for that. It took a long time to understand that people who are truly excellent at what they do don’t need strict rules; just the freedom to do what they need to. The moment I truly understood that was as he was telling me a story about jumping onto a workbench and yelling like a gorilla first thing in the morning just to scare his up-tight boss. Then he went on to fix the thing that no one else could fix a shot time later. And in that moment my potential as a leader doubled, and my career took off all on its own.

I’ve always said that my family forged me into the Man I am today, and I learned a great deal from each and every one of them. I am so very thankful to have every single one of them in my life, and Opas passing will leave a massive Opa-shaped hole in my heart. It can never be filled, and should never be. The sorrow I feel, though, means that I got to love him and be loved so unconditionally. I will forever be grateful, and hope to one day inspire someone else as he inspired me.

… and when my overbearing arrogant self comes to the front next time, and he will, I will hear his voice telling me to “lower my nose” and to always give everyone understanding and compassion rather than judgement.

Thank you Opa. I will miss you, and will carry you in my heart forever.

Urban ruins and Entering into lockdown

March started with a Jazz Brunch with Gaby and Mathias, to which Gabi had invited us. Mathias is the head of a Rowing club in Berlin and this was one of their fundraisers. While there we talked to some older people, one of whom was a photographer in London his whole life, specialised in American sized passport photos. It was a fascinating conversation, as you can imagine he photographed all sorts of celebrities over the years!

After the event we decided to go for a bit of a walk along the river, when we stumbled across this massive abandoned building.
Now, anyone that knows me knows that I’m not one to break rules. You could put a sign up saying “please only stand on one leg here” and I would probably do it. Manja on the other hand is fabulously rascal-spirited and sees things like “Don’t enter” as though it says “Enter here”. If there isn’t a big razor-wired fence to re-enforce the point, they are probably not serious.

As we walked across a fallen construction fence, I said “Funny, the facade reminds me of the old BLUB”, which was like a massive waterpark in the center of Berlin as I grew up. That was all it took for Manja to drag me into the building. I may or may not have squeaked.

As we entered, it became clear that it actually was the place. It was amazing to walk through it, and on the way back we checked out the history.  Turns out the place had a problem with a rat-plague, which infested the whole waterpark from a nearby river causing it to close down initially. They were not able to get it under control on the lower floors, but re-opened the upper floors as a modern spa for a few years before running out of money. It stood empty for quite a while until eventually a fire started inside, collapsing the roof of the largest pool hall. I would have NEVER done this on my own, and I am so thankful that I got to see this.

The following weekend started to get a bit more quiet as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived in Berlin. On Saturday we spent some time outside and attempted to go shopping – with that weird feeling of shelves cleared out by people hoarding. So we did what any responsible person would do, we baked a plum strudel.

On Sunday we headed over to Ilkas for the afternoon. On the train Manja randomly found a snail, and took it back to the garden for a second chance in life.  We cut back a tree and Manja spent more time  in the garden while Ilka and I played guitar inside where it was warm 😅

We actually wanted to do gardening more regularly again in March; every Sunday in fact. But that was not to be. By the second weekend we started to self-isolate, spending the time sorting out the cellar and storage instead. By week three we were spending the whole week in Home Office, leaving only for grocery shopping and the occasional walk in the park in the afternoon.

As everyone caught on eventually, Germany went into lockdown with Coronavirus. Over here this meant that we spent most of our time at home and that we moved all of our social gatherings online.  We did occasionally visit Ilka in her garden and go for a bike ride to various areas just to get out and get a bit of exercise. We also got some surprise snow a few times – Odin was not impressed.

Out and about in February

And so it was February already!

On Friday night we headed over to a Games night at Butzi friends place. The evening was fun, but we did play one very bad version of Cards against humanity in German… Which dragged on and really was more offensive than funny – not quite my game, but hey, learning something new! I also got to try “Berliner Luft” which translates to “Berlin Air” – a Mint-flavoured liquor. Eventually we got to codenames, which I felt rescued the night and was good fun. I even managed to introduce Werewords, which we played for two rounds before grabbing a train home around midnight.

Saturday we enjoyed some time outside in the sun while chatting to Amy via WhatsApp, and enjoying the early spring sun for a bit.

On the way home we stopped by the storage unit to bring some more order to it before catching up for dinner with Vincent and Diana. It was a fantastic night, we chatted away the whole evening over delicious pasta. New favourite Italian restaurant found – they even make truffle pasta in a cheese wheel!

Sunday morning I spent some time chatting to Gabe in Australia before heading out to the storage Unit once more. Yes, we spent a lot of time sorting everything! The sorting was interrupted when we headed out to to play Squash…  I managed to win the second game this time, but Manja got the third, winning  2:1 once more, but it was close this time!

The work week was busy, with either Manja or myself having an event each and every night. I started meeting some of our colleagues from our parent company whom we went to dinner with, and we had a Game night at work that week too.  We played plenty of Werewolf, which I absolutely loved hosting for!

By Friday it was Valentines day, and we were exhausted. We agreed that we would have a quite night in and I would just make a nice burger dinner for Manja… and we would clean up because we would have visitors on the weekend!

On Saturday we picked Hagen and Henri up from the trainstation and headed to the Futurium – a permanent museum exhibition showing how technology might advance, and life might change. It is free and REALLY well done. I loved it! We still had some time left when we got out, so we grabbed some Burgers for lunch before heading to the Interactive Museum for technology, which had not significantly changed since I was a kid! I remembered many of the exhibits, and loved the trip down memory lane.

In the evening we wanted to go bowling, but all the bowling alleys were already booked out. But! Simons game obsession to the rescue! We spent the evening playing Mysterium, which was such a hit that Hagen bought it for Henry the next day 😁. That’s what I call being a good influence 😇
We played two rounds, only interrupting for some Chinese take-away. In the process we discovered a REALLY good Chinese place. Will have to order there again!

On Sunday we had breakfast all together – Simons Poached eggs on avocado with Salmon – before I dropped Hagen and Henri off to the trainstation.

By the time I got back Manja had packed everything and cleaned up, and we were off to her Christmas present: A Wellness “weekend” away. We chose the Sunday and Monday because it would be less crowded and about half the price 😃
We grabbed a smart, drove down and settled in before hitting the Saunas. I have to say that there is something much more relaxing about a Sauna in Winter. We even headed outside to the lake, but I could only make myself dip in my legs – it was significantly too cold to jump in entirely.

We really only interrupted our relaxation time for some cake and eventually for dinner. When we headed over for a reasonably early dinner, we got upgraded to the premium spot! The service staff were fantastic and dinner was really nice too. We both chose the chefs selection, which was definitely the right choice!

Relaxed and happy we dropped into bed early, so that we could use the Spa area again in the morning before heading back home.

And so we did – we got up early and had a massive buffet breakfast.