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From Bacon to Bratwurst (and a vegan cafe)

My life is about to be turned upside down and inside out and I can hardly contain my excitement. You see, comfort zones bore me and I've been in one for way too long now. We've been in the same city for eleven years, living in the same house for seven years, I've owned my own business for almost six years, and other than two brief stints of maternity leave, I've mostly been a working mom. I'm bored.

So when my partner came home and told me he might have an opportunity to spend a semester in Europe doing research, I didn't need convincing at all. From the moment the idea entered our home, I was sold. In fact, all I wanted to know was when he could turn the "might" to "will", i.e. when would we know for sure. Over time, the details ironed themselves out - a letter of invitation from the university, finding an apartment, purchasing airline tickets...

And now the time has come. Next week, we'll be leaving our home on the outskirts of Ottawa, Canada and heading via France to spend the spring and summer of 2010 in Berlin, Germany.

From one capital city to another capital city, but worlds apart

One of the things that excites me most about this opportunity is how different it will be. Different for us and different for the kids. All the things we don't like about where we live now are going to disappear as we get on that plane, as are all of the things that we love (except each other, of course).

Let me paint you a picture of how different it will be, outside of the obvious language difference. We'll be moving from the rural outskirts of Ottawa (22 people per square kilometre) to the most densely populated part of Berlin (12,800 people per square kilometre.) We'll be going from an area with a median annual family income of $67,000 to one where the average family lives on less than $24,000 a year (and remember that it is cheaper to live in Canada than it is to live in Germany, which just compounds that difference).  We're moving from an area where only 3% of the population are immigrants and more than 90% are at least 3rd generation Canadian to an area where close to 25% of the population and at least 1/3 of the children are immigrants. In other words, we're moving from a rural, middle class, homogeneous neighbourhood to an urban, low income, ethnically diverse neighbourhood.

That only covers the demographics. The differences in our natural, cultural and societal surroundings are going to be profound. We'll go from looking at trees, lakes, deer and ATVs to passing by punks, graffiti, night clubs, and eccentric cafés. We'll go from leaving our neighbourhood to escape nature (damn black flies and mosquitoes), to leaving our neighbourhood to find nature. We'll go from needing a car to get anywhere at all to not having a car and instead relying on walking and public transportation.  Instead of making a special trip to go to a restaurant, we'll have at least 8 of them on our block alone (and even a fun vegan café within easy walking distance) . And thankfully, we'll be going from having only dial-up Internet at home (the downside of living in the woods) to having high speed Internet 24/7 (ahhhhh.....).

For me and my kids, one of the big changes coming on this trip is that instead of Daddy being at home and Mommy going to work, Mommy will be at home and Daddy will be going to work. This will give me a much needed opportunity to come back into the cave and reconnect with my kids.  It will also be an opportunity for us to try new things together. We won't be able to take their play structure, their bicycles, and most of their toys and games with us. So we'll be discovering new things together, like the local kids ceramic workshop, going to the many parks in Berlin, visiting the Farmer's market, going to the Zoo and the museums, playing at the Lego Discovery Centre, attending the Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures), going to the pool, checking out where the Berlin Wall was and much much more.

No place for children?

When I first started doing my research on Kreuzberg, the area of Berlin we will be living in, I came across a post on a Berlin message board. A woman who had attended the Carnival of Cultures in the past and now has a 18 month old child, was planning to move to Berlin and was interested in living in Kreuzberg. She asked people whether it would be an appropriate place to raise a child. The answers she got back were almost unanimous in saying no. They said there is too much night life. Too much riff raff. Too many immigrants in the schools (no one speaks German...the horror). No big backyards where kids can roam freely.

I don't know if I would feel differently if we were moving there forever (possibly I would, because I like nature too much), but all of the things they were listing off as negatives are the things that are drawing me towards Kreuzberg. The opportunity for me, my partner, and our children to see and experience something vastly different from what we see everyday is compelling. I expect it to be extremely rewarding for my children to be exposed to different cultures, different lifestyles, and different socio-economic conditions.  I see this as an opportunity for them to improve their language skills, to see true diversity first hand, and to experience a different culture. I do expect that we will see things that will make us uncomfortable, but I hope to use those as a learning experience rather than recoiling in horror.

Will you join us on our journey?

From next week until my return in early August in time for BlogHer10 in New York, I'll be coming to you from Europe. I hope to write about parenting differences, about the impact on my kids, about the things that we experience, and about social issues of importance. I hope you'll join me as I share the highlights from our journey.

Photo credits:
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Reader Comments (44)

I'm so excited for you Annie! I can't wait to hear about your adventures!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

Bon voyage! I hope that this is an amazing experience for you and your family. What a great opportunity for all of you.

I am smiling a little bit at the difference in the ethnic make-up of your neighbourhood over mine. I live in suburban Vancouver, in a town that could hardly be called edgy. Still, in my daughter's preschool, she is one of only a few children that isn't a visible minority. We're not exactly cosmopolitan (unless you feel that malls are cosmopolitan), but we've got multicultural down for sure.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

How exciting! I'm a little jealous :)

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Have a safe trip! I hope you enjoy Berlin!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKlayre

What an AWESOME opportunity! Enjoy. Can't wait to hear all about it!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Armbruster Bell

I'm so excited for you! I moved from the US to rural Switzerland over 12 years ago. I never thought I'd be here this long. You will have so many new, exciting, fun (and sometimes stressful, scary or annoying) experiences in your life. I've never been to Berlin (I've been dying to go!) but I do speak pretty good German after all these years here. If you need help, give me a shout.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Bergamini

Oh you lucky thing!!! I hope you have a fabulous trip!!! All that is different is going to be so fun to explore!!!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterse7en

I understand being bored by comfort zones all too well. We have been living here in Cote d'Ivoire for over a year (which is a record for us) and I have been longing to move for a while now.
And may I just express my shock of the average income in Canada... WTF? I had no idea!! Is that standard over there? maybe we should move to Canada, then...

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermamapoekie

I'm a Canadian living in Berlin! And Kreuzberg, I think, is an awesome neighborhood - it is a young neighborhood, with a strong community feel (e.g. there is a community garden just starting up), full of artists and software startups and interesting people. Going out is very inexpensive. It is, I guess, being gentrified, which means that it's probably easier to navigate now than its reputation of even five or so years ago. The punks can also be very sweet if you need directions (or can shout and jump at you to see if you flinch, things vary). I hope you have a wonderful time.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJocelyn

Wow - how exciting! I'll look forward to hearing more. ;-)

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDr Sarah

How exciting! I look forward to hearing about your adventures.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

mamapoekie: That is the average family income (not individual income) and due to the excellent government subsidized day care program where I live, two income families are the norm.

For Canada overall, here is the data for individual and family income from the latest census (albeit 5 years ago):

Median earnings of Canadians employed on a full-time basis for a full year changed little during the past quarter century, edging up from $41,348 in 1980 to $41,401 in 2005 (in 2005 constant dollars).
Between 1980 and 2005, the median income of all economic families of two or more people increased 11.1%, from $59,709 in 1980 to $66,343 in 2005 (in 2005 constant dollars).

From: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2006/rt-td/inc-rev-eng.cfm

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Danke Laura! I am fluent in German, so that won't be a problem. I lived in Freiburg for a couple of years and met my partner there. We still speak German at home.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I can't wait! I'm super excited for you!

wow!! what an amazing journey you & your family are blessed to be on! I dream of something like this one day -- I'll be following your adventures for sure!!

Are you renting your corner of paradise while you're gone? other than the damn blackflies and mosquitoes summer at your place must be amazing :)

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie

wowza! another bon voyage to you and yours. have a great time. i loved europe and regret not travelling more therein when in based London. what a great opportunity for you all.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterebbandflo aka pomomama

I lived overseas for 6 years of my life: Tunisia, Mexico, Thailand.

One of the best things I ever did in my life. You'll love it. The problem is, you'll become addicted. Well, if that's a problem.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

Congratulations! I am envious. I lived overseas for 8 years of my life, in Bahrain and Thailand. I also usually move ever 5 years. It's now 5 years. I'm itchy. So I started a blog. In some ways it's like living in a different country.

Bon voyages!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIronic Mom

Have a wonderful time! I'd absolutely love to do something like that one day. Can't wait to read about your adventures!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl

How exciting! Good luck! Do your children already speak German? If not, watching them pick up a second language will be a really cool and enriching part of the adventure. I just had a great conversation with my 3 year old about which language each of his preschool friends speaks at home, and it was fun to see how aware he was of the variation.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

I can't believe you exist on DIAL-UP Internet!!!!

Okay I'm very excited for this adventure for you and your family. =) However I am just totally flabbergasted by dial-up Internet, especially for someone like yourself who has a career around the Internet and also a thriving blog & active Twitter. Do you have an air-card? Okay I know this it totally off-topic.

Looking forward to your posts from Germany!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlina

wow, sounds like an amazing opportunity and I can't wait to hear all about it! Wonderful for children to have exposure to various cultures and to be able to soak it all in!
ps. I am no longer a lurker ;)

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda


We will miss the lake for sure, but we have every other summer of our lives to spend there! We'll have house sitters saying at our place to take care of the house and the four legged creatures that are staying behind.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Alina: I go to an office during the day that has high-speed Internet, but evenings/weekends, I have to live with crappy dial-up.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

What a wonderful opportunity for you and your family. I am a bit envious, but look forward to reading your updates!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFinola

Oh how exciting! I look forward to you sharing your journey!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber Lee

Oo, lucky you! I can;t wait to bring my son back to Scotland to meet his grandparents, and living in another foreign country beyond that would be fab. Enjoy!

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOrodemniades


I already am addicted and suffering from serious withdrawal! :)

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Sounds like so much fun! DH and I have talked about moving from time to time, but unless he gets a transfer it isn't likely to happen. Instead we do what we can to introduce our girls to other cultures and languages. We've recently started talking about taking a trip to Berlin. Also talking about German immersion in school (The school we're zoned for is either German or English) or French. Neither of us are fluent in another language and both wish our parents had given us the opportunity to learn.

Have a wonderful time!

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

What an awesome and amazing opportunity. I would be so excited as well. I am more than a little jealous. I look forward to reading all about your time there.

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemomof3

I know what you mean, both about comfort zones and about the travel bug. Enjoy this great adventure, and whenever you need to broaden your horizons again, think about visiting us in Lesotho.... :)

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

What an amazing adventure. I can't wait to hear about it. My life is going through many changes also but they have felt like they are happening TO me which makes me feel I have no control. Someone I met today told me that 'change is my best friend. I love change'. I would like to choose the changes in my life and cherish them for the excitement and opportunity they present. Thank you for your lovely, adventurous attitude and excitement. I love your perspective!

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

Wow! We did this last year, for the same reason, but from Tucson to Tuscany (Florence). It was brilliant. The one thing that was really tough was having no outdoor space. Have a fabulous time.

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTepary

So exciting! Can't wait to see what topics will be posted from afar. This is just a wonderful opportunity for your children. They should be able to remember for their lifetime. I find it so refreshing how you immediately embraced the idea! Go Annie!

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBirth_Lactation

Gute Reise! I just know you will all have THE most wonderful adventure and will return all the richer for the experience.

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Wow, that's so exciting! I lived overseas in Ireland for four years and it was an amazing experience that taught me so much about culture. I'm looking forward to reading all about your adventures. :)

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Wow sounds fantastic! We live in urban San Francisco, and I think urban areas can be wonderful for kids. Have always wanted to visit berlin, such a history.

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeekymummy

Lucky you - have a great time and enjoy each day! It will be an awesome experience for your kids to see and learn a whole new world!
When I met my now husband, we moved overseas for 3 years... it's been almost 4 years and we now have a little one and expecting another, but in a few years, we will be itching to get out of Toronto and trying a new flavourful country! Or at least somewhere warm all year round!
Have fun!

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Welcome to Europe :)

As for the cultural differences and local discoveries - I enjoyed reading about The Little Travellers adventures in Germany, so may be it's something for you too - http://thelittletravelers.typepad.com/the_little_travelers/a-german-travel-diary/ (and I think their DVD about Germany through the kids eyes is there too).

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLilia

[...] have a McDilemma and I’d like your help. This week we are moving to Berlin for the summer. We are excited  about all of the opportunities this creates for our family, but there is one [...]

I would love to read about your experience in Germany. Enjoy your stay!

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErica

[...] we arrived here in Berlin, our lives have changed in many ways. We’ve moved from the country to the city, from [...]

[...] cultural differences. As my readers know, we are currently spending the spring and summer in Germany. We also traveled here a bit when Julian was 8 months old.  Between those two trips, I’ve [...]

[...] PluginIt seems like just yesterday, I was announcing our upcoming trip to Berlin with my post From Bacon to Bratwurst (and a vegan cafe). Now, 3 months after we arrived in Berlin, we are getting ready to go back home. Having lived in [...]

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