Tag Archives: Berlin Germany

Needle and thread

needle and thread travel sewing kitWe’ve been here long enough that our clothes are wearing out. We allowed ourselves one suitcase apiece, brought only our favorite clothes, and we packed for all four seasons. But summer ended about a week after we arrived, and the chilly autumn and moderate winter have led us all to return to the same long-sleeved shirts, jeans and socks again and again.

We don’t appear to be doing anything beyond sitting, standing, and walking, yet somehow the frequent wear has caused many articles to fall apart at the seams. Continue reading

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The missing “F”

“You’ve got a much better chance of getting into Harvard than getting your essay into this book.” –Boykin Curry, editor, Essays that Worked: 50 Essays from Successful Applications to the Nation’s Top Colleges

Essays that WorkedSitting on a bus on the way home after a mid-January row on the Wannsee, it occurred to me that I made a wrong turn about 25 years ago. I thought about the MA in English I completed after college, how it should have been an MFA.* I was not close to understanding who I was or what my strengths were, and I did what I thought was the right thing at the time, though it was really a suppression of myself and the work I longed to do.

My college application essay was one of the first personal essays I ever wrote. Bucknell University’s question was innocuous and far-reaching, something to the effect of “Tell us about yourself.” I wrote about the last hour I spent with three children I was babysitting, before I started my first job in a fast-food restaurant in my neighborhood. The youngest child had spina bifida. The father, incidentally, was a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer who would go on to write Black Hawk Down. I wrote about how eager I was to move on to a more substantial work commitment than babysitting, but how in the moments when I said good-bye I realized that this had been real, meaningful work all along.

Unbeknownst to me, my guidance counselor had included my essay in a batch of my class’s college application essays and mailed them off to an editor in response to his query, as had counselors from high schools across the country. I will never forget the afternoon the phone rang in our apartment where my mother, sister and I had recently moved after an abrupt separation from my father. I was wearing my favorite purple turtleneck, faded from constant wear. I took the phone from my mother and listened to the words of the editor, hardly believing him when he said that my essay would appear in his book. I asked if he would send me a copy, but he said I could find it in any bookstore by fall. My mouth hung open in astonishment and a dark stain appeared where I drooled on my shirt. Continue reading

A brush with bureaucracy, Part III

Berlin visa office

Outside Haus A, before the surge

We arrived early, or so we thought, with 10 minutes to spare before the visa office opened its doors last Thursday morning. The outdoor plaza was already teeming with people. There were two separate crowds before each building, Haus A and Haus B. The lines snaked around and were rather unclear where they started or ended. There were baby strollers in the midst of it all, and many anxious looking people trying to press forward to improve their spot in the line.

This, our fourth visit to the Ausländerbehörde, would be our last, we vowed. We had come by car, driven by our German friend, Hanna, who was glad to be of help but also as eager as we were to get this thing settled. (See Part 1, Part 2). Continue reading