In the rear-view mirror, a journey (part 3)

Of course reality hit us as we headed home to Vienna and saw all the boxes.  We wanted to renovate our city loft before we moved in, but hey ho. We pulled up our sleeves and started to sand, paint, oil and clean. The kids went off to camp for two weeks to help them prepare for school; a programme consisting of early mornings, followed by four hours of maths and German, then horse-riding or rafting, finally homework. A boon for parents.

The kids’ new school is quite interesting. The school is a normal state secondary school but offers a sort of bilingual IB (International Baccalaureate) in modern languages. In most of the lessons there are two teachers, one an English native speaker, and they take it in turn to teach the lesson. How the heck this works we do not know but it was voted the best school in Austria a few years ago. The kids are settling in quite well and managing in German, better than we hoped.

In fact it is Georgina who has the most problems adapting to the Austrian system, lamenting the lack of school teams, choirs and facilities. We both don’t understand the odd lessons in the afternoon, up to four hours after school finished. But they do have hot lunches and a supervised homework club –  now that is nice after Rygaards, the school Maddie and Tristan attended in Hellerup.

After our two-year office sabbatical in Lyngby at the edge of forests, fields, and all forms of water, we realise that we are meant for the city. We love eating out, busy parks, nightlife. We like trams and grand piazzas.  Our loft is near the centre and we have been taking work breaks in street cafés, or tap away on our laptops in the shade of vine trees at our local restaurant. We have been out more in the last two weeks than in the two years before. We came to the painful realisation that we cannot settle in a non-wine producing country with very hard water and so far from the action – so Denmark had to go. Still, we do perceive Vienna differently now.

After Copenhagen we find the city here a bit rough, dirty and positively Eastern European. We miss Scandinavia’s elegant simplicity of dress and style; the perfectly wrapped scarf, razor sharp design, homely hygge (google it. too hard to explain) and municipal neatness. Their national furnishing tones: white, light blue, sand and dove grey are stained on our memory. We have good feelings for Denmark and life in the North.

The life plan is now for Georgina to go back to work in January after she completes her dissertation, while Alex will probably continue consulting (one of the reasons we moved back is that 80% of his clients are Vienna-based). We will finish our flat and perhaps look for a new real estate project. We thought we would miss the dimensions of our previous homes, but in fact we love our unusual loft. There is so much noise from the balconies and streets that we feel part of an urban theatre. The balcony opposite ours frequently sports a set of teenage daughters gauging their singing talent by chanting the latest X-factor stuff in the middle of the night.

Our neighbourhood has also become somewhat more diversified. The families and pensioners in Fortunvænget have been replaced with fin de siècle architecture, grand avenue promenades, coffee bars and pastries, and galleries and theatres and palatial museums. Just next door, there are some of the most peculiar outlets one could imagine: the bandagist, the bristle specialist, the House of Foam, shops selling only juggling equipment or inflatable artifacts… you name it. Further afield, there are, of course, the thermal spas, forest hikes and river tours, not to mention skiing, skating and magical Christmas markets and Heurige.

In summary, we can say that there is a lot to be said about living in the North, we just can’t think about anything right now. Oh no, not true: we will always remember the long Sundays Alex spent mowing our indomitable lawn, the walks in Dyrehavn during which we had very very close encounters with wild deers, then  got lost and had to take 4 1/2 detours to get home, the cycle rides through the forest to the beach, where even in winter people strip naked to dive into holes in the ice.

All in all, it was a blast, but a quiet one.

Signed,

Georgina, Alex, Madelene and Tristan

Letter from Denmark, 8 August 2009

Dear all,

Five weeks in after our exit from Iran, and two weeks into our stay in Denmark, I feel I owe several of you an update on our adventures. I also use the opportunity to apologise for not having answered many individual messages and responses, but we’re still a bit in holiday mood and I can’t push myself too much to write lengthy messages. I’ll try to remedy this over the next weeks, promise. Or will call.

In the past month or so, we have spent two weeks in Israel, several days in Austria, a few days in Munich and Wittenberg (a small town in Eastern Germany, famed notably for Mr Luther having pinned his world-changing theses to the local church there some 500 years ago), and two weeks in Denmark, just two dozen miles north of Copenhagen.

From all of these places, there are individual stories to tell, and I want to do so over the next couple of weeks in a few separate Letters. However, let’s roll up these last days backwards.

We are currently living in a tent on a camp site not far from the Øresund (Ø pronounced like the German or Turkish Õ, if that is of any help for native English speakers), the part of the Baltic sea that abuts the Seeland part of Denmark in the East. The place is called Nivå (Å being pronounced like some sort of hollow A, a mix between O and A, I understand).

We have everything we need – a family-sized tent, electricity, Internet, go-carts, a rented car, and an overpriced shop nearby, not to mention loads of bugs and ever-changing company from the classic nations of camping: the Netherlands, Germany, occasionally France, Sweden and Norway. Spotted some Brits, a Spaniard and an Italian family today as well – but they are traditionally transitory, going further East the next day. And, obviously, it’s full with Danish campers. In fact, they are the majority – it seems, many Danes spend their summers driving from camp site to camp site in their own country, which is a heart-warming thing to witness, because truly: Denmark is beautiful.

If ever we doubted why we came here – and we did, every time we made a purchase and realised that buying a standard Austrian wine costs 4 times as much as “at home”, or when filling up the car could nearly run up to as much as the price of a used car in other countries – we were vindicated by the great Danish country-side. Copenhagen is a relaxed capital city, and it seems that one can have a great time there – but honestly, so far we haven’t really bothered. Rather, we walked the sandy Baltic beaches, jumped into icy-cold lakes, hiked on dark forest paths, and paddled canoes along Mangrove-style water channels that lie so still and quiet that it comes as a beautiful shock when large herons rise from the trees to disappear into the sky, majestically pushing out their wings.

So far to the romantic. All in all, we really like it here, and we are working on mastering the Four Main Perceived Disadvantages as we go along: majestic prices, great taxes, a very special language and a bit of unusual weather. As for the latter, we so far had only one really rainy day, with the remainder warm and sunny, sometimes even hot. We marveled at the fact that it was possible to feel as hot in Denmark at 27C as it was in Israel or Iran at 42C. Must be something about the humidity. We were worried that summer is over here end of July, but so far we have been proven wrong. Remark, one of the main dailies, “Berlingske Tidenden,” ran a headline the other day that climate change was actually benefiting Denmark, what with all the tourism income it could expect. Runs somewhat counter to our declared interest in the country as a forerunner in the fight against climate change and CO2 emissions. Brilliant.

As for other news, we have spent the first two weeks intermittently with the search for accommodation. From Tehran, the options seemed to be endless, and terribly enticing – the pictures shown on the websites offered brick structures with clear and clean Scandinavian design inside, white floor-boarding, large gardens, terraces with fruit trees in abundance – Karen Blixen heaven. However, once we mastered the art of dividing the prices by 7 to get to the “real” Euros – times tables coming in handy here – we were in for a shock.

Having adjusted our expectations somewhat – after all, we’re here to set up a business – we managed to find a house that could be described as Scandinavian Modern, with a lovely large garden, in an area that is in walking distance to a large park, 3 km away from the sea, and in cycling distance to the next larger town to cater for our Vienna-educated caffeine addiction in the form of a local “Kaffeehaus.” The school run is a bit of a challenge – either 7 km by bike through the woods, or changing the bus twice, or going by bike 3 km to the next train station and then straight to the school – but we’ll manage. Copenhagen is a mere 15 minutes away, by a car that we have chosen not to buy for the first year or so. There is even an inexpensive hotel nearby, in case you want to visit – although we will have a guest room, too. The place is called Kongens Lyngby.

The main drawback so far is that we have a) no contract yet – it is being drawn up according to Danish law as we speak (or so they say), and b) we can only move in on 1 September. That leaves us with several options as to where we will be staying in the meantime. Obviously, it is already a very mad idea to move to a different country without any ties to it and live in a tent until finding a house. Add to this the fact that we will need to get registered with the Danish authorities asap, so as to qualify for health insurance and non-international rates at the school the children are to attend as of next Wednesday (a considerable difference in DKK, let it be said). Hence, we are somewhat under pressure to get going. The question is currently unresolved. However, we wanted an adventure, and there you go.

Tristan and Madelene are adapting very well to the new situation. As expected, they love to be by the sea, to paddle a canoe across the lakes, and to move into a house with a garden where they can pull the pears off before they are ripe and bounce on the giant trampoline until they feel sick or bump violently into each other. They are even looking forward to their new school, somewhat. Quotes:

Tristan: “When is school starting again?”
Alex: “Next Wednesday!”
Tristan: “Oh no…. but Madelene, do you know that in year six, you will have swimming classes!?”
Madelene: “Oh no….”

Georgina and myself are trying to relax – not from Iran anymore, but rather from having to parent these two lil’ ones 24/7 for the last 490 hours, night times not included. Relaxing is not exactly our strength, as some of you might know. Quote:

Georgina: “You know, we’ve had a lot to do these last weeks to learn again to just do nothing: look at the sea, marvel at the landscape, enjoy the holidays… not really sure if we are good at it!”
Alex: No Comment.

So far, little thought has gone into what we are going to do next, with reference to our self-employment and the business we are intending to start. Georgina is also under pressure to get going with her distance degree, which has been a bit dormant over the last two months, owing to the big changes. Since we left Israel, I am only sporadically following the news from Iran, which is practically always depressing, as we expected it to be. Occasionally, Iranian colleagues send over messages reflecting the latest events, but all in all I cannot see the larger picture anymore. In Israel, however, I made some interesting observations with regard to Iran and the link – if one can call it a link – between these two countries. These, I will share in a next epistle.

Up to then – farvel!

The Nitzsche Creatures