Friday, 30 December 2016

The Final Chapter

Blog 53

After the return from our wedding in Germany, we did not have much time to settle into a daily routine before my friend Britta came for a visit. I enjoyed her company very much because we have been friends since elementary school. We talked about everything without any language barriers.

The relationships with my school friends are still different than all the friendships I have made in my adult years. We share the same roots, and we can remember our childhood or early adulthood together. Even when we do not hear from each other for months, it is still as if we have seen each other just yesterday every time we meet.

After Britta left, I was sad because I felt quite isolated again. However, I was also craving some alone-time to digest the events of the past two months. I did not have time to fall into a deep hole, because less than seven weeks later my friend Bettina came for a visit, followed by our friends Marion and Chris. I enjoyed all these visits and showing our German guests our new home and the Ottawa sights. However, I needed to connect with others and make friends to feel at home in our new environment.

My early friendships in Canada were based on the same mother tongue. However, often we drifted apart before we even got to know each other better because we realized early on that coming from the same country was not sufficient as a foundation for a friendship.

My first real friendships developed once we had our first child. They started out as playgroup meetings to socialize with other new mothers and find playmates for our kids. Over the years, our kids built their own circle of friends outside of the group, but I am still friends with some of the other mothers.

My deepest friendships developed, however, once I spent time with other painters, about ten years later. Being invited to a paint-out of a group of painters from the Orleans/Cumberland area was a turning point. They were just all very welcoming, even to a novice plein air painter like me at the time. The dynamic was very different from my previous friendships. Until this point in my life, I had always been the oldest, whether it was in my family or in my circle of friends.

Suddenly, among the other painters, many of them in early retirement, I was the youngest by many years. I felt that the others looked out for me while accepting me as an equal. The friendships with some of my early painting buddies have deepened and we have each other's backs not only in the tough business of art but also when life is challenging. We also celebrate our successes and highlights together.

With the prospect of being accepted as a landed immigrant, I had to study for my driver's licence. Fourteen years after I had passed my driving test in Germany, I had to start all over again as my German licence was only valid for a couple of months as a tourist. We extended this time span by leaving the country a couple of times. However, once I became a landed immigrant I needed an Ontario driver's licence. This was very strange because in Germany, I had to take many months of theoretical and practical training before I could register for the test while here people just needed to pass the written test to sit behind a wheel.

At the time, I had to take the written test and then the road test to receive a full G licence. I drove myself to the drive test office. There, they almost did not allow me to do the test because my passport still showed my maiden name. However, once this was settled, one employee was very helpful when I had some problems to understand the questions. I passed with 100% and got my G1.

After the test, I drove myself home, which was legally a bit of a grey area. I still had my German driver’s licence but after receiving the G1 licence, usually one is only allowed to drive when accompanied by a driver with four years of driving experience. The next step was the road test for the full G licence. I had a hard time to book the road test. I was devastated because the next appointment in Ottawa was only available in November. I called all around, until I finally could book a test in Cornwall for September 5 which I passed without problem.

The day after my G1 test, I finally became a landed immigrant. However, this was only the beginning of more running around. Next, I had to apply for the Ontario Health Insurance Program. Ahead, there were the prospects of more documents to fill out and more waiting around. I was quite frustrated. Three months later, I was finally insured.

As it turns out, the paperwork does not seem to end. As a German citizen and permanent resident to Canada there is double the paperwork to deal with as both my passport as well as my permanent resident card have to be valid to enable me to travel abroad and return to Canada. Since July 2015, the German embassy in Ottawa does not offer any consular services anymore, which means that my family and I have to travel to Toronto to have our passport renewed.

Looking back on my more than 20 years in Canada, I am now at a point in my life where it would be as hard to leave my Canadian friends behind as it was to leave my German friends behind when I moved to Canada. The move has challenged me in ways I never considered and brought me unexpected blessings. I feel content as an artist and instructor. This is a passion I would probably never have fully developed if I had stayed in Germany, where I most likely would have continued in the financial business field.

A Turkish friend of mine once said to me that he neither felt fully at home in Germany nor in Turkey. I now know exactly what he meant. I will always be torn between the two countries.

Winter Glow, Acrylic, 36" x 24"
Thank you for following me throughout the first chapters of my life in Canada. I hope you got a glimpse of the challenges immigrants face, and also learned some new facts about life in Germany.

I would like to wish all of you all the best for a happy and successful 2017. I will do my best to keep you entertained with my blogs which will be more art oriented again in the new year.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The German Wedding

Blog 52

In today’s blog we are finally reaching the wedding week. We started the celebration with the “Polterabend” on June 5. We still had lots of last minute errands to run. My grandmother needed a ride home from the hospital; I had some runs to the registry office to get a new copy of my birth certificate; we had to get the last groceries, drop the veil off at the florist's, and I also had a dentist appointment. As I was still a tourist in Canada with only emergency health care, this was my chance to get my checkup done. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law arrived in the afternoon by train, and they had to be picked up at different train stations.

However, the weather was fantastic with temperatures above 30 degrees. I was nervous to see who would come, and I hoped to see some of my school friends as well as former colleagues. People started to show up slowly, so that my mother was already worried that we would have much too much food, but in the end more than 100 people came to celebrate with us, some of whom I had not seen in years. We had a fantastic evening.

As Ingo’s and my family did not know each other, we had a relaxed get-together the evening before our wedding in my parents’ garden. A meeting between the two families is often not arranged before the actual wedding. I guess there was no necessity for it as even up to the generation of my grandparents many people stayed in their community so that everyone knew each other.

While I heard that it is customary in Canada to hold a wedding rehearsal and a rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding ceremony, this is a concept that is totally unknown in Germany. All Ingo and I had to do before the wedding was to talk with the pastor I had picked. It was the pastor who led our congregation during my confirmation years. When we got married, he was already retired but agreed to hold the service. He did not know Ingo. Therefore, our meeting was to get to know Ingo, and to go through the course of the ceremony. Neither Ingo nor anyone beside my immediate family had been inside the church before our wedding.

Our wedding day, June 8, was a beautiful summer day with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.
We had decided to have the wedding photos taken before the church ceremony. However, we never thought about the fact that Ingo’s parents and siblings would meet us only at the church. Therefore, all the official wedding photos are only with our witnesses as well as my parents, sister, and grandmother. We have wonderful photos from the reception but not one single shot that shows us with Ingo’s parents, his siblings, and grandmothers.

It was so hot that we were already sweating during the photo shoot. Luckily, one of my father’s clients, the owner of a car dealership, had offered us one of his cabrios for the wedding. Therefore, the ride to the church and later to the hotel were quite pleasant. The old church building was also quite comfortable. The pastor even invited the two accompanying dogs into the church.

During the church ceremony both the German pastor as well as the pastor from the congregation in Mississauga took turns, which was very festive. However, I was too excited and nervous to follow the service.

When we left the church, we stepped directly into the “Brunnenfest”, a festival around the old fountain that was situated next to the church in front of the historic city hall building. The mayor served everyone beer, and water for the two dogs. When Lisa, my aunt’s Golden Retriever, left the church, she even gave a paw to the pastor. Too bad nobody captured that moment.

We were all so hot and looking forward to the air-conditioned hotel. Unfortunately, even though it was a newer hotel, it did not have air-conditioning. What was even worse was that Ingo and I were sitting with our backs in the full sunlight. After dinner, we went to the big courtyard where a band provided the entertainment for the evening. I was a little disappointed that I had not considered the practicability of my dress for dancing. It was almost impossible, so I limited my dancing to the bridal waltz, a dance with both my father, father-in-law, and the final dance of the evening with Ingo.

A slight letdown was the four-tier wedding cake. It tasted fantastic, but the Marzipan bears that were supposed to top the upper cake looked like pigs. Luckily, pigs are considered a symbol for good luck, and you can never have enough of it. To this day, Marzipan pigs are popular sweets as a gift on New Year’s Eve in Germany.

As a special treat, the hotel had given us a suit for the night. However, we were in for a surprise when we entered the room. Our siblings and witnesses had redecorated the room. The whole bathroom was filled to the ceiling with balloons. Once we had moved them out of the way, we had to find out that the toilet was covered with liquid soap. Very slippery! The light bulbs of the lamps near the bed had been replaced with oranges, and behind the curtains an alarm clock in the shape of a rooster was supposed to wake us, but it already went off before we even reached the room. However, they had made sure that we would receive a wakeup call at 6 and 9am. We were too happy to care.

At the end of today’s blog, I would like to thank you for your continuous interest and feedback. I hope you can leave all your cares and worries behind for a couple of days to enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the birth of Christ.

Next week, I will write one more time about my last couple of weeks before I became a permanent resident of Canada. I hope you will continue to follow my blog.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Final Wedding Preparations

Blog 51

When I arrived in Germany, three weeks before the wedding, I immediately started to tackle the tasks that still had to be dealt with. On the day of my arrival, I ordered the flowers and the four-tier wedding cake. It was no problem at all. This was very different from my Canadian experience. When my future mother-in-law and I went to a florist about six weeks before our Canadian wedding to order a wedding bouquet and one bouquet for the table in the restaurant, the florist was stunned that I had not dealt with this task at least six months before the date. I guess she would have been shocked, if she had known that we had only decided to get married two months before the wedding date.

I also found someone who would iron my wedding dress for the big day. Despite the fact that it was hanging in a special place in the plane, it still needed some smoothing out.

Next was the organization of the “Polterabend”. The Polterabend normally takes place in front of the house of the bride's parents. While the couple announces the occasion, invitations are not sent out. The guests usually do not only include the guests of the wedding party, but instead it is open to the bigger circle of friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

Guests bring and break porcelain to bring luck to the marriage according to the saying “Scherben bringen Glück“ (Shards bring luck). The couple cleans up the pile of shards together as a preparation for their married life when they have to be a team not only in happy times but also work together through difficult situations. Drinks and food are offered, and the celebration often takes place under a tent in a relaxed atmosphere. My parents and I decided to empty the garage and then have the “Polterabend” in the driveway in front of the house. My dad ordered the waste container which we needed for all the porcelain.

A total surprise to me, one which I did not learn until the day of our “Polterabend”, was the tradition of hanging a clothes line in front of the house with babies clothes (in our case my own) to ensure quick child blessings. To make the expectations even clearer to us, my parents set up a Klapperstorch” (a stork that is supposed to bring the babies) carrying a pink bundle of joy. It worked indeed in our case: less than a year later, the stork dropped off a blue bundle at our door, a bouncing baby boy.

My maid of honour came over to look at my wedding dress to see whether the dress she had seen would fit with my dress. In Germany, you only have a maid of honour, a best man and maybe some flower girls. The concept of Bridesmaids is not known in Germany. The maid of honour and the best man pick their own outfit. It was an especially thoughtful gesture that my friend wanted to pick a dress that would look good with my wedding dress.

To get my health insurance issues solved, I also started working at my father’s architecture company. As an employee, I had access to health insurance. I checked tenders, and final invoices.

Despite all I had to do, I felt out of place. I stayed with my parents in their guest room. It was just the same as when I lived with my future in-laws, there was no place where I could retreat. While the house had once been my home, it did not feel like home anymore. My first apartment was transformed into office space.

Then, there was all the stress with my latest apartment, which had its own garden. My tenants had given notice and had not cared for the garden at all during their year-long stay. The garden looked neglected and needed some work before we could rent out the place again. As Ingo and I did not have time to do the garden work, we had to get a gardener which meant unexpected expenses.

As if all this was not stressful enough, my grandmother had to be transported with an emergency doctor in an ambulance to the hospital after her legs were swollen like those of an elephant. She had a blood clot. However, the doctors were optimistic that she would be released within a week.

There was another disaster on the horizon: Jessie had been run over by a car in front of our house the day before, and she was also in the hospital with injuries to her head. Ingo did not even want to tell me about the incident, but it slipped out of his mouth because he was so upset that he had not paid better attention. He was also traumatized because of the drive to the hospital and Jessie's desperate crying when he had to leave her at the hospital. I am just glad I was not there when the accident happened. I would probably been all hysteric. At least Ingo stayed calm on the outside. Jessie bled heavily so that our neighbours and Ingo wrapped her in bedding and raced her to the closest hospital. On the way, she continued to close her eyes. However, she was lucky. She lost a lot of blood, but her gums could be stitched together; her brain wave measurements and the x-rays were normal, so Ingo could pick her up after a day. This was all happening very close to Ingo's own departure two days later. Luckily, Jessie was in good hands with our realtor who had become our friend. However, she was still shaky on her feet and could not lie down by herself when Ingo had to leave her behind which was very hard for him.

Once I know that both my grandmother and puppy would be all right, I could finally enjoy some time with my friends. It felt so good to spent time chatting, to be updated on their lives, finally to feel among friends again who know me and with whom I can talk freely in my mother tongue without limitations.

Thank you for following my story. I hope you will return to my blog next Friday to read all about the big day.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Out of Country Wedding Planner (Part II)

Blog 50

In the early months of 1996, I was slowly adjusting to the new environment. I was a stay at home wife because I was still waiting for the acceptance as a landed immigrant. We adopted a Golden Retriever puppy named Jessie, I started a weekly painting course at the Ottawa School of Art, I continued creating teddy bears, and was planning our church wedding which would take place in June in Germany. This was a major endeavour because I took this task on all by myself.

When I was not painting, I created the place cards, menu cards and decorations for our wedding. Ingo did not get involved in the planning and was happy with the bear theme I had picked. The centrepiece were two teddy bears in wedding attire. To avoid upsetting anyone with regard to the table number, the tables had fruit names and hand painted fruit decorations.

The closer the date of our wedding came, the more I worried about wedding details. For example, I dreamed about problems with my wedding dress that we had ordered the previous fall. Unfortunately, they proved to be true. While my dress had arrived, the lace for my veil had not been ordered. I was just glad that my sister was there to pick another veil with me. When I went to the store to pick up the dress, I was almost in tears when the dress was not pink like the one I had tried on, but a light peach. The clerk in the store told me that the manufacturer would not guarantee for colour deviations, but offered that I could return the dress. It was not really a choice as all dresses had to be ordered. The delivery for the dress they had received had taken about half a year, and my wedding was only two months away.

My sister, who had arrived for an Easter visit, and my sister-in-law assured me that the dress was still beautiful, but I was devastated. It was just not the way I had envisioned my dress. All our table decorations were colour matched with my pink dress. It was too late to make any changes.

Picking a new veil was also a problem because I needed it in a week, when I would come to Mississauga for the last time before my trip to Germany. Usually, the delivery time was 6 – 8 weeks, but in the end the store managed to get the order in within the week. However, I had to attach the headpiece by hand to the veil because there was no time to have it done.

The wedding invitation of one of my good friends from Germany made me feel quite homesick again. Her wedding date was two weeks after our wedding. Unfortunately, I would already be back in Canada at this time. Events like this still get me down. It still makes me sad that I have missed almost all of my friends' and relatives' weddings and special birthdays.

It did not help that I was also disappointed about my sister's visit. While this was her vacation to relax from the daily struggles as a teacher, I wanted to make the most of our time together. I had a hard time to accept that she was more interested in sleeping, her books and her school materials than in any activities I suggested. I felt lonelier than ever. It took until the second week until we finally had a good time. At the end of her visit, we both were sad that she had to leave. However, we knew that we would see each other again in five weeks. I also was very happy that two of my good friends had announced their visits for the summer and fall.

After my sister's visit, I felt quite homesick again. It had been almost half a year since my last visit in Germany. While I had met some women through the Newcomers Club, they all had small children and therefore different priorities. Meeting for a chat or an outing during the day was difficult for them.

On the first anniversary of our immigration to Canada, I noted in my journal that my world had changed drastically. While I did not miss work in my old company at all, I still missed my family and friends badly. I wished I could see them more often, or at least hear from them by phone or letter more frequently. The thought of being able to see them only on a yearly basis seemed unbearable. I hoped this feeling would change once we had children. Little did I realize at the time that this would mean even less trips to Germany.

Our standard of living was definitely higher than in Germany, despite living on only one income. We never could have afforded a house in Germany. Moreover, life was definitely less stressful.

While we lived in Germany, Ingo and I both had a very good salary. Our life in one apartment made it possible for us to have a comfortable life. We had two cars, were able to travel, and did not have to worry about money. However, it also came with a price. Especially since I had to work a lot of overtime hours. It would have been hard to live on one salary if we had decided to raise a family.

If you enjoyed my blog and would like to read all about our German wedding, please return to this blog on Friday, December 16, 2016.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Out of Country Wedding Planner

 Blog 49

When Ingo and I got married in a civil wedding in October 1995, we had already decided that we would have a church wedding with all our relatives and friends in Germany in the spring of 1996.

Planning the wedding from abroad was not that easy because I had to do everything by myself as the coordination with my sister and friends was too difficult. Luckily, my parents undertook the task of finding the reception venue.

However, there were some issues that were not directly related to the wedding that had to be addressed. First, there was the problem of getting health insurance for myself. As I was still only a visitor in Canada, we had to buy travel insurance for myself so that I was at least covered for the basic emergencies during my stay in Canada. The big problem was, however, insurance for my visit to Germany. As I was officially still registered in Germany, I would have been insured under my husband's insurance policy as a stay-at-home wife. However, as my husband was living and employed abroad, in a country where I did not have a residence permit, so I was not insured at all, and could not even buy private insurance. Therefore, we hoped that I would get my landed immigrant status before the trip. At the end of February, however, my file still did not even have a number. It did not look like my file would be processed soon.

It was not until the end of March 1996 that I received a letter informing me of the date of my medical examination which was part of my process to become a landed immigrant. I worried that the doctor would find anything that would prevent me from being accepted. I had to go through a thorough medical examination including blood and urine tests and x-rays. However, during the examination in the middle of April, the doctor and the nurses were all very nice so that I felt less anxious. Everything went fine, and the next step in becoming a landed immigrant was reached.

My trip to Germany was booked for May 16, 1996, two weeks before Ingo's departure. While my earlier departure was fine because I still had lots of errands to run to pull it all together, I was quite dissatisfied with our return flight arrangements. It looked like I would not only travel alone, but I would also fly back to Canada two days before Ingo and his family. This would have been horrible, having to leave behind my family and friends, and then not even being welcomed by a familiar face.

I had hoped for a romantic wedding, but we would not have a honeymoon or at least a romantic wedding night in a nice hotel room. Instead, I would have to travel back alone to our new house in a foreign country that still did not feel like my home.

At the end, Ingo and I were able to fly back together because Air Canada and Lufthansa made it possible when we explained the situation to them that I could switch my ticket with my brother-in-law’s ticket.

As if planning a wedding from out of the country was not already difficult enough, there were the worries for my grandmother who had been sick for a while but did not want to bother anyone. She waited a week to tell my sister who lived in the same apartment building. The doctor diagnosed an acute kidney infection. Luckily, my mother insisted on her hospitalization. While my grandmother was transported to the hospital she had a heart attack. She was taken to ICU. After two operations and a pulmonary embolism, she was finally not in critical condition anymore, but it was still not clear whether she would be able to continue living by herself. I found out about all of this almost a month after my grandmother was hospitalized through a slip of the tongue by my sister.

At the same time, my mother had further problems with her eyes, however, continued to postpone a visit to a specialist.

Then, there was sudden a break in all these gloomy clouds. My sister surprised me with her announcement that she had booked a flight to Canada. She would visit us in less than four weeks.

I had also managed to sell my first teddy bear. My first earning in almost a year. Another sale happened not even two weeks later. I was very excited. Things seemed to be turning around.

Moreover, I also submitted two paintings for the Ottawa School of Arts exhibition. After quite the struggle with one of the paintings which I covered completely three times before I was happy with the result, I felt proud of myself.

When we went to the Ottawa School of Arts open house, Ingo and I were in awe of the fantastic artworks. Some of the sculptures and paintings were so amazing that we would have liked to own them. Suddenly, I did not feel my paintings were that good anymore and wished that I could paint like some of the others. Then, I reminded myself that some of the artists were full-time students while others like myself were just hobbyists. I could definitely see the improvements resulting from my regular painting practices. However, above all I just had so much fun painting.

To read more about my wedding planning challenges, please return next Friday, December 9, to read about the final weeks before the wedding.