Thursday, 31 January 2019

My crowdfunding campaign to publish a book

Writing the book was the easy part. 

Today is day 6 of my crowdfunding campaign. I've written a book, you see, a novel actually and I'm hoping to get it published through crowdfunding. Considering I'm trying to publish a book written in Italian, while living in Germany, and considering that a lot of my friends can't even pronounce bruschetta properly, I haven't done badly. My goal is 200 pre-orders in 100 days and I've reached 31% of the goal so far.

I think my next book is going to be about how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. I wish I'd read this book before I'd started. Well maybe not. I probably wouldn't even have tried if I had known what was lying ahead. It's like when I was pregnant and I was told: "This is the easy part; you wait till the baby is born." I feel the same way about this campaign: writing the book was the easy part!

By the end of the 100 days, I'm either going to love or forever hate social media. Over the past week, I've discovered there is another world out there: it's made of bookbloggers and writers with Instagram accounts and thousands of followers.

There is one very successful self-published author who found me on Instagram and on Twitter. I asked him if he could share some advice. His response was simple: "As you can see, social media." I can see that. He has a friendly but rather determined approach. How did he even find me? Hashtags?

One positive aspect of the campaign is that it's kept me so busy I've barely had the time to worry about Brexit. Do they really believe the EU will renegotiate the deal?

If you would like to support my campaign and practise your Italian, please pre-order a copy of my book. The e-book is a bargain at €5.99!
The book will only be published if I can get 200 pre-orders in 100 days. The clock is ticking (not just for Theresa May). 

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Celebrating the first day of school

Do you remember your first day of school? If you went to school in Germany, the chances are you do, and you probably remember it well. Or at least you will have fond memories of your Schultüte, a giant colourful cone made of cardboard full of sweets and other surprises.

In Germany starting school is a major life milestone and, like all important events, it deserves a proper celebration. There is even a word called Einschulungsfeier, the party to celebrate the first day of school. Feier means party by the way. This is perhaps not so surprising considering there is also a word called Feierabend for when you finish work. Germans like parties after all.

Last Saturday, 34,000 children in Berlin alone celebrated their first day of school at the 400 primary schools or Grundschulen across the German capital. If you happened to walk by a primary school, or had lunch in a restaurant close to one, you probably noticed all the hustle and bustle, unusual for a Saturday when schools are normally closed.

On the morning of this special day, the children starting primary school together with their families (parents, siblings and often also grandparents) gather in the main assembly hall, where they are greeted by the headmistress or headmaster. Each child holds a Schultüte (in some cases it is as tall as the child itself) and carries a school bag, or Schulranzen in German.

The ceremony to welcome the new pupils usually involves a play or performance put on by the older children and a short speech by the headmistress or headmaster. Then each child is called by the teacher and together they walk to their classroom, without the parents. This is when the first class officially begins. After 20-30 minutes the children re-emerge with their teachers in the schoolyard. For some children now is the time to finally find out what their parents have hidden in the cone (usually a combination of sweets and school supplies); others will have to wait until they get home. The party is not over yet though. After taking pictures, the families move on to a restaurant or go back home for lunch.

By Monday morning, once all the excitement has worn off, the children are ready and eager to start school.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

People have the power - a visit to the Stasi headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg

The Wall is one of the most fascinating subjects for visitors and newcomers to Berlin, as you can probably tell by the crowds gathered around the main tourist sights. However, there is one place that seems to be off the tourist radar, perhaps because of its location in not-so-glamorous Lichtenberg. It is the complex of the Stasi headquarters and archives, tucked away behind busy Frankurfter Allee, just outside the underground station of Magdalenenstrasse.   

When I went on a Monday morning in mid-July there were very few people about, although the two local workmen walking past were astonished to see that “Alle diese Leute wollen zum Stasimuseum?!?” (All these people want to go to the Stasi Museum?!?”) They obviously don’t spend much time around Checkpoint Charlie, which by the way looks more like Disneyland these days.

If you want an authentic experience of the GDR (forget the Trabi Safari and the DDR Museum, they’re for Ostalgics, i.e. nostalgics about East Germany), get on the U5 or walk 10 minutes from Frankfurter Allee station. There you will be reminded about how brutal and repressive the East German regime actually was and how the Stasi (the official state security service of the GDR) spied on the East German population.

If the weather is too good and you don’t feel like going inside the building or if you don’t want to pay the €6 entrance fee (€4.50 reduced), make sure you spend some time looking at the free open-air exhibition called “Revolution and the Fall of the Wall”.  It is dedicated to the history of the Peaceful Revolution (Friedliche Revolution in German) that eventually led to the fall of the Wall. The bilingual (German/English) exhibition focuses on the brave citizens who stood up to the communist dictatorship and offers an uplifting message about the strength of people power.

One of my favourite slogans is from a major demonstration at Alexander Platz on 4 November 1989 (the Wall fell on the evening of 9 November after an international press conference about new travel regulations): "Stop lying once and for all! The change came from the people not from the SED party!"  

Monday, 9 July 2018

Berlin with kids

Berlin is a great city to visit with kids. You will find plenty to do whatever the weather. With hundreds of playgrounds, two zoos, two aquariums, leafy parks, lakes and great museums, your kids will not be bored! 


Playgrounds (in German Spielplatz or Spielplätze plural)
Berlin has hundreds of playgrounds scattered around the city.
If your child needs a break from sightseeing or shopping, you will not need to search long to find a playground. Type in Spielplatz into an online map service to find the one closest to you.

Spielplatz am Heinrich-Lassen-Park
Some of the best playgrounds in Berlin are
Hirschhof Spielplatz (Prenzlauer Berg) – close to the Mauerpark.
Spielplatz am Wasserturm (Prenzlauer Berg) – it’s very close to Kollwitzplatz; green and child-friendly neighbourhood with lots of nice cafes.
Spielplatz am Kollwitzplatz (Prenzlauer Berg) – visit the market on a Thursday afternoon or on a Saturday.
Blauer Spielplatz (Mitte) – inside the Weinsberg Park, where you can get a bite to eat of a proper meal at the cafe/restaurant in the middle of the park.
Spielplatz am Monbijoupark (Mitte) – close to Museum Island.
Tiergarten – there are several playgrounds at different ends of the park; you could combine it with a visit to the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, the Zoo or the Aquarium.
Volkspark Friedrichshain (Prenzlauer Berg/Friedrichshain) – there are three playgrounds; this park gets very busy at the weekend.
Gleisdreieck Park (Kreuzberg) head to the Museum of Technology first and the stop off for lunch or dinner at the Brlo Brewery.
Spielplatz am Heinrich-Lassen-Park (Schöneberg) – brand-new playground with a castle. It’s right next to a swimming pool with a small outdoor pool and close to Volkspark Schöneberg-Wilmersdorf. It’s only a short walk from Rathaus Schoeneberg, where John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner speech”. Meanwhile, David Bowie fans might like to head to Hauptstraße 155, where the great artist lived between 1976 and 1978. There is a memorial plaque outside the building.

On a hot day, look for a Wasserspielplatz, a playground with water.

Swimming pools and lakes 
Some of the best outdoor pools (in German Freibad or Sommerbadand lakes are
Kinderbad Monbijou (Mitte) – best for small children.
Sommerbad Pankow (Pankow) – good for all ages: there is a paddling pool for the little ones, a swimming pool for older ones and a leisure pool with slides and diving boards; it can get very crowded on a hot day and at the weekends, but there’s plenty of space on the lawn. 

Freibad Orankesee
Strandbad Weissensee (Weissensee) – good for swimming, sunbathing, having a drink and hanging out with the locals.
Freibad Orankesee (Hohenschönhausen) – good for swimming, sunbathing and avoiding tourists. There is a spacious and shady Biergarten nearby.  
Schlachtensee (Zehlendorf) – beautiful lake surrounded by trees located in the posh area of Berlin. There is a large beer garden and adjacent playground. It gets crowded at the weekends, especially close to the S-Bahn station.

Tiergarten – the city’s green lung. There are plenty of paths and hidden treasures to discover, as well as two nice beer gardens where you can stop off for lunch or a drink: Café am Neuen See and Schleusenkrug.
Volkspark Friedrichshain – large park with playgrounds, cafes and a beer garden but gets very crowded with local Berliners at the weekends.
Gleisdreieck – former wasteland converted into a park. I’ve written about it in the past.
Tempelhof – the old airport runway has been transformed into a huge park; very popular with the locals. Read my previous entry.
Mauerpark – get there early on a Sunday to avoid the crowds and visit the flee market; the karaoke starts at 3pm and will keep your older kids entertained. I’ve also written about this in the past.
Schloss Charlottenburg – visit the castle and/or walk, play, run in the grounds. 

Labyrinth Kindermuseum

Museum für Naturkunde (Natural History Museum)
Don’t miss the dinosaurs! Tristan Otto is the only original skeleton of a T. Rex in Europe to date.

Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology)
The museum has a huge collection of steam engines and is also a great place for plane and boat lovers. Don’t miss the Rosinenbomber on the top terrace!

Spectrum Science Centre
The Science Centre makes science fun for children. It is just across from the Museum of Technology and tickets are valid for same-day visits to both the museum and Spectrum.

Labyrinth Kindermuseum (Wedding) – the former factory has been converted into a spacious children’s museum, with a special focus on diversity. There are different areas and lots of things to discover and to play with. Aspiring chefs will love the large kitchen area.

Kindermuseum MachMit (Prenzlauer Berg) – housed in a former church, the large museum offers endless opportunities for playing, climbing and learning through play. There is also a cinema. The current exhibition, which has been extended to June 2019, focuses on Native American culture.

Legoland – housed in a basement on Potsdamer Platz, it’s noisy and expensive, with only artificial light. Parents hate it, but kids love it. Best to avoid at the weekend.

Zoo it’s one of Berlin’s most popular attractions both with adults and children so it gets very busy, especially at the weekends.

Tierpark – not to be confused with the Tiergarten. The Tierpark is Europe’s biggest animal park and is in the Eastern part of Berlin.

Aquarium – the entrance is next to the Zoo. It’s a good place for the little ones and for fish and/or reptile lovers. Don’t miss the sharks! You can get a combined ticket for the zoo and the aquarium.

Sealife – it’s smaller and narrower than the aquarium. The best part is the lift that takes you into the AquaDom at the end: the massive aquarium inside the Radisson Blu Hotel lobby. It’s cheaper if you buy tickets online.

Berlin boat trip – the one-hour boat trip along the Spree is probably the best option for smaller kids. They tend to get bored after a while!