Friday, 29 January 2016

Arriving in Canada

Blog 5

When Ingo and I arrived in Toronto in the afternoon of April 21, 1995, we were greeted to a landscape which looked more or less the same like the one we had left at the beginning of January. While the spring flowers were already past their bloom in Germany, there was hardly any sign of the approaching spring visible in Toronto; It was depressing.

However, we were greeted warmly by Ingo’s family who tried hard to make me feel welcome. Nevertheless, the transition was very difficult. I got homesick very fast. Except for a six month stay in the Stuttgart area where I was doing a practicum in preparation of studies of fashion design, I had always lived close to my parents and friends. This time, I knew that I would not see them again for six months. Technology was not as advanced as today. Almost no one had Internet access. The only ways to keep in contact were the phone or mail.

The telephone rates were still comparatively high, and due to the time difference of six hours it was not always possible to reach my parents. I wrote lots of letters but had to wait weeks for a response. By then, so much more had happened.

Having been used to living in my own apartment, it was difficult to adjust to living with people who were very friendly but still strangers to me. I felt totally out of place. They had their own routine and I felt like an extra, standing in their way. It was hard that there was no place to retreat except for a crowded bedroom.

I hated that we had to ask to borrow a car if we wanted to do something, and was quite relieved when we finally found a silver Ford Escort. However, I was not able to drive it as it was an automatic. I had always driven a standard, except for the one driving lesson when I tried driving an automatic, and almost drove it into a tree because it started moving forward all by itself. While I managed to drive the car pretty quickly, I felt overcome with the sheer amount of traffic, my lack of orientation, and was nervous that I would miss the traffic lights which are mounted on the opposite side of the street instead of right next to the stop line. This makes it actually a lot easier to see them once you are used to it.

To get out of the house, Ingo and I checked out the local gyms. We had actually met at a gym, and I liked working out with weights as well as doing Aerobics. However, what we saw was not what we were used to from Germany where the gym was designed for everyday people. The gyms in Mississauga looked either like muscle men's training areas or were very upscale with separate areas for women and men. That was not what we were looking for. We were happy when Ingo’s parents gave a tandem as an engagement gift.

Another very disappointing undertaking was the search for a dance school. I had been very active in a dance school in Germany, going dancing twice a week, and even assisting the instructor. Every weekend, they had dance parties to practice the dance moves we learned during the classes. When we came to a dance school in Mississauga, it was more like a restaurant with a dance floor. Instead of young people there were some old couples sitting on a table looking rather bored. That was the last time we set a foot into a dance school.

While almost all teenagers visit a dance school in Germany to learn the basic standard and Latin dances, it is a shame that hardly anyone learns to dance here in Canada.

It was not long until we could demonstrate our dance skills at my first social event here in Canada: the wedding of one of Ingo’s friends. I will tell you all about this experience next week.

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Friday, 22 January 2016

What does it mean to leave your “Heimat”?

Odenwald, Germany, 20" x 24" acrylic painting

Blog 4

When I put together my blog schedule for the year 2016, I decided to write about the question “What does it mean to leave your “Heimat”? As I did not know the English translation for “Heimat”, I checked online and was surprised when I found many articles on the subject. I never considered how much interest and interpretation the term has caused.

The translation suggestions were home, homeland, native land, home country, native country. However, these are only one part of the term “Heimat”. For me, “Heimat” is so much more than the place of birth. It describes more a feeling than a place. “Heimat” is not only a reference to a person’s ancestry, and the place of birth, but also includes the mother tongue, traditions and attraction to a certain community which influenced a person’s identity. The word contains a deep sense of belonging, a feeling of security, familiarity, comfort, and carefreeness of childhood. If you have a strong bond to your “Heimat”, you can even get home-sick when you are away because you miss it very much. A move to new territory (not only in the sense of location) might even be the first time you sense how deep your longing for your “Heimat” is. As with many things, we take it for granted and only really appreciate it when it is not in reach.

Many Germans are still reluctant to show their pride for their country due to the Second World War. The word “Heimat” got really tarnished because Hitler and the National Socialists used the feeling of love and attachment to their homeland to create an ideology which rejected anything foreign as a treat to a the survival of a superior German society and economic prosperity.

Many also cringe when they think about the tacky side of “Heimat” which is related to the images related to the very popular “Heimatfilme” which appeared in large numbers after the second world war to satisfy the longing for simpler times. The plot took part in rural areas with healthy forests, and big mountains, where the idyllic perfect world was still preserved. The main characters are young handsome men who held court for desirable young women. There were always hurdles to overcome but in the end the good side won. These movies were meant as a distraction from the difficult post-war years.

Today, with terror and ecological threats, people are yearning for the good old times, and are trying even harder to recreate their “Heimat” by holding on even tighter to traditions. It is no surprise that the interest in traditional dresses (Trachten) and customs has increased. Every society is looking for a place of safety without acts of terrorism, economical, ecological threats and natural disasters.

In Germany, this revival was also due to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when Germany was faced with the integration of 16 million East Germans which came from a very different cultural background. It was important to concentrate on the common heritage and values to bridge the gap.

After all this research, the best word to “Heimat” is probably the word home. I felt this sense when I just saw the musical “The Wizard of Oz” with my daughter. I feel that Dorothy sums it up after all their adventures when she says "there's no place like home... ".

If you leave your community, you have to build up your life again. In the case of the move to a different country, there are even more hurdles. You have to get settled in a new city, a new apartment or house, find a job, make new friends, get used to different customs and a different climate. Everyone is a stranger, and you cannot even express yourself properly due to the language barrier. 

When I came to Canada, I already spoke English, I even was a certified foreign language correspondent for English and Spanish. Nevertheless, putting it all into practice is a very different story. With a country like Canada which has residents from all over the world, people have different accents, plus you learn a specific vocabulary, in my case it was quite business oriented. Suddenly, you are in all kinds of situations where you completely lack the words.

I found it very difficult at the beginning to follow a conversation of multiple people and felt intimidated because I was (and still am in some areas) not able to express myself as I could have in my mother tongue. However, after living all these in Canada, there are now also situations where I am lacking the German vocabulary due to the fact that I never was in situation where I needed the German words (e. g. less common illnesses, toys, and technical terms).

For me personally, the hardest part about leaving my “Heimat” is not related to moving away from a certain location. What I truly miss are my family and friends. I still have strong ties to them because these relationships are very important to me. Through a monthly newsletter that I started in 2002, phone calls, emails, and social media I stay in contact. However, I have missed out on most of the bigger events like Christmas, weddings, birthdays, reunions, and funerals. You might wonder about my inclusion of funerals, as they are a very sad occasion. As my children and even my husband hardly know the people who have already been a steady part of the first 30 years of my life, they cannot relate to my missing out. They never had the opportunity to connect except on our short visits. When my uncle died last year, I was all alone with my grief while my family members in Germany were able to support each other in this difficult time.

They problem is, that after more than 20 years in Canada, I would also miss my Canadian friends if I ever went back. I wish I could just commute more frequently between Canada and Germany. I am certainly looking forward to my March trip to Germany.

What is your “Heimat”? Is it a certain place or do you feel that “home is where your heart is”?

Friday, 15 January 2016

Getting Ready for the Big Adventure

Hay Fields in Nauheim, Germany,  acrylic, 18" x 24"

Blog 3

Last week, I wrote about my first visit to Canada in December 1994. This time, I write about my actual move to Canada on April 21,1995.

It had never really occurred to me to move to a different country, even though I had occasionally dreamed about the possibility of moving to Spain, my favourite European country. It was only when I met my later husband Ingo, who was raised in Canada, that this thought became soon a reality.

I had a good life in Germany. I owned an apartment with a garden, a car, I had a nice circle of friends and a good relationship with my parents, grandmother, and sister who lived in the neighbouring communities.

I was not happy with my job even though I had a good position as well as very lucrative job offer from another bank. I remember that the headhunter even called at home to ask Ingo how he could justify his action to take me to Canada, which would make me exchange this fantastic opportunity for an uncertain future.

As I was the head of the administration department in the big American company I worked at, I had a six month period of notice. Therefore, I had given my resignation already in October 1995 but had my last day of work just at the end of March. It was a bittersweet farewell. I had a really nice team, and also a very good relationship with my sales representatives.

We decided to keep my apartment in case we would change our mind. However, to have some income, we wanted to rent it out. As there was a strong possibility that we had to organize the move from abroad, everything had to be packed securely and was stored in the basement so that a moving company could just come in and load everything in a container to ship it to Canada.

Although I had moved quite a bit during my childhood years, we had always kept our permanent apartment. The only real move was when my family moved to our own house in the early 70s. I was seven at the time and do not remember anything about the packing and unpacking. I am sure my sister and I spent the time of the move at my grandmother’s house to be out of the way.

So this was the first move where I had to pack and organize everything. Ingo had lived in a furnished apartment before he moved in with me, and hardly possessed anything. He only had to sell his boy toys: his car and motorcycle.

You only realize how much stuff you have, once you have to pack your belongings. During the first couple of weeks, it felt like I hardly made a dent. The sales of furniture and vehicles were slow which caused us a lot of headaches.

While I finally sold my bedroom furniture, I wanted to keep my piano and my late grandmother’s armoire as well as a brand new designer couch group. Storing the furniture was not a problem. The real pain was all the stuff that needed to be sorted and packed or discarded. As an avid knitter and reader, I had lots of wool and books to pack, not to mention my extensive collection of teddy bears.

Aside from the packing, many bureaucratic errands had to be made which took a lot more time than I had anticipated. Then there were all the farewell meetings with family and friends. At the end, Ingo and I were still cleaning out the rest of the apartment until 2 am the day of our flight. I was totally exhausted.

All this busyness prevented me from questioning our decision too much. I was looking forward to the exciting turn my life would take. To tell you the truth, I always went the safe way. Now, at the age of just 30, I was in love and wanted some adventure, to do something no one else in my family or among my friends had done or had expected me to do.

There was only one occasion when I wanted to throw in the bucket: when Ingo and some friends moved my furniture into the basement, one of the glass doors of the cabinet broke. I totally lost it. All my doubts erupted and I just left in tears to see my mother. I was questioning what I was doing and did not want to go through with the move. However, once I calmed down, I convinced myself that I should just make the best out of the next six months. I had a return ticket and an amazing adventure was in front of me.

Standing Proud, 16" x 20" acrylic painting
It was not an easy path. As a German proverb says, you should not transplant a mature tree. The roots are so deep that you will damage them in your effort. As a result the tree will suffer or even die. This analogy is most often used in connection with old people but can also be a reverence to people who have strong social roots in a certain community, region, or culture. Looking back, I was an old tree who did not like the big change of location.

To follow my story about my immigration to Canada and how art found a way back into my life, please check back in the next weeks. If you would like to get this blog delivered directly to your inbox please subscribe at the bottom of this page.

Friday, 8 January 2016

First Impressions of Canada

Blog 2

This year I would like to start my blogs on a very personal note. With all the news about the Syrian refugees coming to Canada, it made me go back to my first days in Canada. While my situation was very different as I came from a wealthy and peaceful country where I had a very comfortable life, other issues I faced were similar to those the new refugees are facing.

The first time I came to Canada was in December 1994 when my later husband wanted me to meet his family for the first time. My husband is also German but had immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 10 years old. I met him in Germany while he was working there right after university.

When we met he told me about his plans to go back to Canada. Nevertheless, we fell in love and decided that we would go to Canada together. He promised me a land with a richness of nature, fantastic fall colours and white Christmases.

I was very excited to see this new world. I lived in a small town close to Frankfurt where the climate is more like the one in Vancouver. We usually have a lot of rain and dark days in the winter, which is rather depressing. If there is snow, it is usually not staying for more than a couple of days.

However, when we landed in Canada on December 21, there was no snow. Everything looked rather dried out and brown. We did not even have a white Christmas. The first snow came on January 1 and transformed the whole landscape into a winter wonderland. It was breathtaking.

Thomson'sTree, acrylic, 20" x 16'

Ingo and his family showed me as much as possible of their world. We had a wonderful outing to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection Gallery in Kleinburg, where I had my first encounter with Canadian art, and especially the powerful pieces of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. We visited Toronto with its CN Tower from which we had an unbelievable view even though there was a haze dome above the city despite the bright sunshine.

Although, I worked in Frankfurt at the time, I found the size of so many things just overbearing. Everything seemed to be supersized. There were those huge shopping malls, like the Eaton Centre and Square One, in which you could get lost, the big cars and monster houses. It was intimidating. There was a huge choice of products but if you did not have money - and we were saving ours to move to Canada the following year - this was not an advantage. However, I liked that you could go shopping until 9 pm.

At that time, the stores in Germany usually closed around 6 pm. It happened regularly to me that I was unable to get my groceries because I did not make it out of the office in time. Luckily, Ingo worked in a small town and was able to do the grocery shopping. In smaller communities, the stores and banks were also closed Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. All the stores except for the little convenience hubs at the gas station were closed Sundays. Most hairdressers did not open their business on Mondays.

I got my first impressions of the vastness of the land and the force of nature, when we visited the family cottage in Muskoka. While we could see the inside of the very rustic cottage, which was barred for the winter, we could admire the snow covered landscape and the partially frozen lake. It was so beautiful and peaceful. I could imagine why the family loved this space so much.

Another point on the sightseeing programme was Niagara Falls where we saw the impressive falls. The whole vegetation around the river was frozen under a thick layer of ice. It looked magical. However, the main street of the city resembled more a small Las Vegas with all the glitter and Kitsch.

Very different was my impression of the landscape on our drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake where huge parks and the deep turquoise water of the Niagara river gave a glimpse into the beauty of the region in spring when the trees are full bloom.

After my visit I was unsure of our decision. I feared that I would miss my family and friends too much as well as my independence. The big distances made it impossible to get from point A to B in Mississauga without a car, especially due to a lack of sufficient public transportation. Everything was available but in this supersized nation, I missed the small town intimacy. People seemed to live very anonymously. We hardly met any people in the neighbourhood, except if they had a dog.

However, I liked Ingo’s family and wanted to spent the rest of my life with Ingo so I decided despite my first reluctance to go ahead with the move the following April. I convinced myself that the beautiful nature that would awaken from this deep sleep would mesmerize me. I also had lots of ideas how to make sure I would stay independent.

If you enjoyed this blog and would like to find out more about my impressions and adventures after I immigrated to Canada, I would like to invite you to follow my blog again next week. I will add photos and images of my paintings that relate to the situations or places I am describing.

I would like to hear from you if you are an immigrant either to Canada or another country and would like to share your experiences.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 Review - Part 2

 Blog 1

Happy New Year to all of you! May the new year be full of opportunities and happiness. While I am enjoying time with my family - and you hopefully too - I would like to share with you the second part of my advent calendar. The first 12 paintings were published in last Friday's blog.

Day 13:
My oil painting "Parc des Amoureux" was done during the Plein Air Ensemble trip to Val David, Quebec in April 2015. It was not only a popular spot for our group of painters but also for some locals smoking pot. While I was painting undisturbed at an isolated spot, my friend Janis had to pack it in after a while because she could not stand the smell anymore.

Day 14:

I painted my 5" x 7" oil painting "Pink Roses" on cradled wood. The painting was started on the painting trip to Kamouraska in September 2014. I was almost finished when the wind and the chilly humid air forced me to packed in my gear because I was so cold and my fingers got stiff. It was an easy painting to finish because I only had to do some touch-ups.

Day 15:

"Rock Solid" is a 14" x 11" oil painting I started last fall in Kamouraska. It is a painting of "our" monadnock. Our KAM7 group has painted this location many times. When we scouted the surroundings of Kamouraska for painting spots for the first time, we came across this monadnock at the end of a small street. Over the years, the owners of this private monadnock build a house on top of the rocks. However, during the first years, this beautiful place was the hot spot for gay couples. We had to safe the only male member of our group once from an admirer, which is definitely a story we will not forget.

Day 16:

I created my 12" x 16" acrylic painting "Blushing Sunset"last year during the painting demonstration at the Arteast table during Baz'Art. I only used painting knives. Sunsets are one of my favourite subjects, and I just love the intense colours of this one.

Day 17:
My 8" x 8" acrylic painting "Orange Lilies" also started out as a demonstration for my students. I had planned to paint the flowers for months but when December came, I was not ready for the cold. I wanted to hold on to the memories of summer just a little bit longer. The vibrant colours of the flowers definitely bring summer back into every house.

The painting is part of Arteast's Holiday Mix at the St. Laurent Complex, 525 Coté St, Ottawa, ON K1K 0Z8. The exhibition of small paintings runs until January 15, 2016.

Day 18:
I started my 8" x 10" oil painting "Along the St. Laurent River"
on September 9, 2014 during the trip to Kamouraska. In the afternoon, Janis and I had driven to Rivière-Ouelle and painted from the “Pointe aux Orignaux” the view towards Kamouraska.

Day 19:
I painted "Spring Greens", an 10" x 8" oil painting at the shore of the Ottawa River in the Whitewater region at the beginning of May. After I had spent the morning near the chutes, I was very happy with this quite spot for the afternoon.

 Day 20:
"The Little Chapel at Lac Beauchamp" is a 10" x 8" painting from the Plein Air Ensemble Painting trip to Val-David in April. It had taken Janis and I a long time to find a view over a lake that was not completely obscured by big mansions.The little chapel seemed to be part of a Christian camp. Luckily, I was almost finished with my painting when Janis, who painted further down the road, came to let me know that big machinery was approaching quickly to grate the road. I had to hurry to stow everything back in the car before they reached me.

Day 21:
I love my studies of apples. This 6" x 6" acrylic painting "An Apple A Day VI" was a demonstration at a student's house. It was a challenge to get the right colours because the space I was working in hardly had any light. However, my experience of mixing colours really helped me out with this painting.

Day 22:
This is one of my favourite paintings of this year: Star Tree (Swamp at Opeongo Resort, Lake Clear, Eganville) is an 11” x 14” oil painting which I worked on for one full day. After a great abstract sketch the painting went from bad to worse until I was finally able to pull it back together. This painting will stay in my private collection as a reminder of the great trip.

Day 23:
My 14" x 11" oil painting "Winter at Petrie Island" was a painting that got forgotten in my studio. I started it in March 2012 but was not too happy with the foreground. I finally picked it up again at the beginning of this year. At the end I just took some of the red branches in the front out and made the ochre of the grass a little brighter.

Day 24:
“Winter Glow” is a 36” x 24” acrylic knife painting which I created with a reference photo I took last winter at sunset. I just love the brilliant sky.

I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. Next week, I will start a brand new series of blogs. 

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