Webmu 2012 – Blogger meetup in Berlin

The Hauptstadt will never be the same.
Berlin is going to host WEBMU (Whiney Expat Bloggers Meet-Up) this year!
Put September 7-9 in your calendar and get your chance to meet your favorite expat bloggers face to face.
Looking back, we’ve had WEBMU meet-ups so far in Bonn (2006), Dresden (2007), Bremen / pics (2008), Munich pics (2009), Hamburg / pics (2010), and Cologne / pics (2011).
I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of Bremen, Munich & Cologne and found them to be exciting and interesting. I always end up with no voice and new friends… even when I’ve been a bad – ahem, absent – blogger, they still welcome me with open arms. It really is a great group of people.
Finally after hinting at it for years, the group has decided to bring this bunch of craziness to Berlin! Whew, I guess this means I need to find a thinking cap! Mandi of No Apathy Allowed and I will be putting together the details. Thankfully she’s an old hat at this, since she helped put the Hamburg WEBMU together.
If you’re blogging/Tweeting in English while living in Germany, and think it would be fun to hang out with other English-language bloggers talking about the thrills and pitfalls of being an Ausländer in Deutschland – Come to BERLIN!

It isn’t just an event. It is a forum for people just like us. Need to know where to find your Christmas Crackers in Munich? Just ask. Looking for help about how to more easily assimilate into the German world? We’ve been there, done that, and can help you too.
Register yourself for the discussion board and prepare to laugh, talk, make new friends and generally enjoy yourself at WEBMU 2012!!
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What Kind of Fresh Gay Hell is This? (OR Why are you in Germany, Snooker?)

Today I received an email from Democrats Abroad (the overseas branch of the US Democratic Party). In it was a warning that discussed how the consulate services would change for people wanting to bring foreign family with them when they move back to the U.S.

In that letter was a simple text which caught my eye, “We have a long-standing commitment as Democrats Abroad to simplifying the path to citizenship and legal permanent residency for non-American spouses and close family members”.

Uh huh… and gay and lesbian spouses?

I did a little Googling and found not so much as a
news piece on how DA is supporting legislation in the House and Senate right now… the Uniting American Families Act of 2011.  

OK, so I don’t regularly pump money into the DA, but I do support them occasionally. Upon reading this email, I am struck by the notion of  “What have you done for me lately, DA?”

I’ll give DA a break because actually there are relatively few people/organizations who care about my plight. But before I delve deeper into my special situation, perhaps you should know more about it. Let’s go to bullets, shall we?

  • Fell in love with a German girl in 2000
  • She came to visit me in the States often in 2001 and 2002, I also visited her in Berlin during these years
  • Tried to legally have her move to America starting in 2003 with a student visa (no other legal methods available – university is free or cheap in Germany, but we are willing to pay for the education if it means we can be together).
  • Based on the fact that she had entered the country six times in the past two years she was considered a “risk of overstay” and denied a student visa which also cancels her out of the visa waiver program forever… she can’t come to America for at least year because of this denial. 
  • Shortly after the denial she pays more money for the privilege to go to the Consulate – armed with proof that she intends to return to Germany – to appeal the denial of both the student visa and the visa waiver program.
  • She met with the same woman who had denied the original request… you guessed it, denied once again. (K**** ******, if Sweet No ever sees you on the street, she won’t be such a Sweet No anymore.)
  • On the other side of the Atlantic, I tried Lambda Legal Defense who told me that if either she or I had a penis, this would all be really easy… but gays can’t petition to bring their future spouses to America… Sorry Snooker.
  • Found out that the states which have recently been allowing gay marriage have nothing to do with our situation. Immigration is at the federal level, and thanks to the Defence of Marriage Act, (DOMA) the feds (and the other states) don’t have to recognize any homosexual marriage performed in those states, not to mention other countries. Sorry again, Snooker.
  • Tried a shyster immigration lawyer who was happy to take my money and petition “da gubermint” for us, but to no avail.
  • Sweet No goes back to the American Consulate in Berlin after her year banishment from travel to America and meets up with a nice guy who seems to sense her desperation and takes pity on her, issuing her a 10 year “B1/B2 visa”, allowing her to travel to the States again, and with much more lenient travel restrictions (maximum length of stay 6 months instead of the normal 3 months). 
  • Happy Dance… but still, it doesn’t REALLY keep us together.
  • Sweet No wants to work and be a contributing member of society, just coming in for VISITS is simply frustrating. Of course entering and overstaying illegally are not even up for consideration. 
  • In 2004 I got sick and tired of watching my girl walking to airport security through the tears in my eyes and decided to move to Germany to be with her. FuckYouWashington
  • Sold everything, gave up my career, said goodbye to friends and family in preparation to leave.
  • 2005 the cat and I leave the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” to be in Germany which accepts my love of a woman. Germany also allows me to have a “separate, but equal” civil partnership with Sweet No. Immigration is pretty much the only benefit of the Lebenspartnerschaft, but it was a good thing in our case. (Thankfully the Greens keep making another go of equalizing this situation in Germany, maybe some day they will get lucky.)
  • January of 2005 we signed our civil partnership and had our – yes, we share a birthday – birthday on that same day. Great birthday present, no?
  • Because of her special visa we are rather lucky, she isn’t under suspicion as are many others in our situation. If foreign same-sex spouses come to the United States accompanying a U.S. citizen, (even for a short visit of the U.S. citizen’s family), U.S. Immigration might deny visa privileges to the spouse out of fear that they will be tempted to overstay their visa dates to remain in the country with their spouse (perhaps even challenging the anti-gay marriage laws as we are LEGALLY partnered in another country). Thus, gays and lesbians (especially politically active ones) have been known to be turned away at the gates.
  • Wish us luck, that visa expires in just a few years. 

In the end I had to face lots of the same problems as other “love exiles”. I had to give up my career and move far away from my family. This is being felt even more now that my Mother is dealing with declining health and I would like to be there for her. But as it is, if I need to be in the U.S. for a longer period of time, I have to choose between being with my wife or being with my American family. It’s really rather unfair, and it makes me into a second-class citizen… one who STILL needs to pay American taxes even though I don’t live in the country. 

So where are you going with this, Snooker? 
I really don’t know. It is just that something has been awakening in me lately.

Those who came before helped to blaze the trail for me and others like me to be openly gay, often at great

Political cartoon by Darrin Bell

personal sacrifice to themselves. Those pissed off queens turning the tables on police during a scam raid on the Stonewall Inn in the late ’60’s and starting the “Gay Revolution” are a fine example. Barbara Gittings and her friends stood up and said that they wouldn’t take being considered second class citizens – and worse yet, mentally unstable – during the ’60’s (which lead The American Psychiatric Association to officially declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1974 – but it wasn’t until 1992 that the World Health Organisation followed suit). The good people of GLAAD and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have done so much to further the cause. And who could forget Harvey Milk and the work he did for the community before being gunned down himself.

Let’s not forget the organizations working tirelessly on this very topic:
Immigration Equality Action Fund
Love Exiles Foundation

So what are you doing, Snooker? is a question I often ask myself. Yeah, I’m living pretty well, but only because I ran. I am part of a US binational same-sex couple who had the money and ability to simply move away from the situation and now the whole anti-gay thing doesn’t have so much of a grip on me.

This has reminded me of a book I have recently seen advertised, “Torn Apart – United by Love, Divided by Law” by Judy Rickard. Perhaps I should just order it now, proceeds go to organizations working to overcome U.S. immigration denial for same-sex binational couples. (tick, tock… time passes… cue shot to a clock with moving pendulum) OK, the Internet has worked its magic. The book is probably whizzing my way right now. It was even available at Amazon.de.  

But what about the others? What about those folks left behind who would like to have the same rights as the supposed “normal” people in our society? What about those kids right now who are counting on my generation to do our part to further gay civil rights to benefit their generation? UGH, that is a terrible weight to bear. But I say here and now that I will do more towards this goal. I DO still have a vote in American politics (my wallet feels it, even if I sometimes don’t), I DO still have a voice in what happens. Perhaps I just need to raise that voice a bit more often.

Any suggestions how I can do that?
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WEBMU WE-BUM Whatever…

Well, I could spend this whole blog post talking about the Whiny Expat Blogger Meet Up in Hamburg which happened… oh what… 4 weeks ago? But you know what? Others have covered it quite succinctly and may I just say that I assume they remember it better than I do anyway. What I DO remember is the great time I had. I would like to thank our wonderful hosts, Ian from Letters Home, Mandy from No Apathy Allowed, Emily at Transkitten and PapaScott

People ask me why I always have a camera in my hand… it’s because dammit, I want to have SOME recollection of what happened!

Seriously, even Claire of Cheeseburgers and Sauerkraut has hammered out some time to talk about it and the poodle had been AWOL for a long time, you know?

So here is what kept occurring to me while exploring the city of Hamburg with a lovely, noisy, interesting, smart and funny group like this one. If I had met these people in other circumstances, would we have become such fast friends?

I will admit that there are blogs I read regularly, and others that get my time if I have the time. Some of them are classified as “my peeps”, others are people I read because I know that my peeps read them. Does that make sense?

If we were not all sharing this same experience, would we want to get to know each other like we do? Would we really be grasping out for others “like us”?

I’ve come to the realization that my Sweet (German) No is not going to understand the odd American reference. She simply doesn’t get it when I throw something out like, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin“, or “Give it to Mikey, he won’t eat it, he hates everything“, or how my bologna has a first and second name, or “If they take my stapler, then I’ll set the building on fire“. American pop culture references are lost on her as her German cultural references are lost on me. Yes, I know about “Der Struwwelpeter“, (only because I read it in my search for that spark to get me into the German language/culture) no I never heard of the book outside of this country. After 5 years in Germany I know all aboutDinner for one“. But my German friends still don’t seem to understand that just because it is in English does not mean that every English speaker in the world knows it like the Germans do. Why the oft repeated phrase “Same procedure as every year” should be funny was lost on me until December 31, 2005.

Music is another experience which she and I simply don’t share. Since coming here I’ve been exposed to much more of the pop music she grew up with, so yes, I know how to exclaim “Who the fuck is Alice?” at the appropriate moments, or when to jump up and down while dancing to that silly schlager song.

I don’t work with Americans, and although I have a few American friends here in Berlin, I really don’t see them often. So being with this group in Hamburg was an experience for me, as always. Not only am I assailed by so much English around me, but the cultural references grab me and put a smile on my face.

One of my WEBUM roommates (u know who u r) would whistle half a bar of a tune and my ears would pick up on it immediately. This is not to say that I don’t get to hear music, or that the Germans aren’t exposed to lots of American music… just that whistling the tune to 867-5309 in my vicinity kinda makes me jump a bit. I’m not used to someone actually sharing my culture, in fact I find that I really like it in a nostalgic way.

OK, so let’s get back to the topic. Is simply being an expat enough of a basis for a friendship? Is the fact that we have moved to this country from the same country a good reason for us to get buddy buddy? Trust me, I’ve met some expats here in Berlin that I would NEVER hang out with, and certainly wouldn’t have given them the time of day “back home”, but we run in the same circles… thus we bump into each other from time to time. ugh.

At the same time I’ve found that I really enjoy spending time with Yelli, even though in our former lives we probably would have never met up. For one she is a teacher, of science no less. Next division is that she is a mommy of two really cute boys. (gotta mention the scientist hubby is really a great guy and I really enjoy spending time around them both). Although I really don’t feel that it divides us, it should be mentioned that she is straight and of course I’m a lesbo, ya know?

The point is that even if we had lived in the same town in America, it is highly unlikely that we would have become buddies, as we really don’t have so much in common. I’m just not hanging around in many playgrounds or science labs and I seriously doubt that she’s put in a lot of time in gay places or wherever else I would spend my free time. Yet we meet up once in a while and I really enjoy chatting with her. Since she continues to call me for meet-ups, I assume that she’s enjoying our time together as well.

So please, what do you think? Do we American expats become such fast friends because we have the expat thing in common? Are we searching for someone with our own culture as a way of staving off Heimweh (homesickness in German), or is the German stereotype correct when they say is it just the American way… making fast friends and abandoning them when maintaining the relationship is no longer convenient?

Been reading:

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Ahh… we meet again

I am in the last few hours of a visit to the U.S. (Phoenix specifically). In the last week I’ve run into so many little things which are sorely missed as I live out my daily life in Berlin. Being a fat kid… yup, it’s just the way it is… a good percentage of those things which are sorely missed just happen to be food.

Yes, that is Taco Bell. If you were able to actually read the “hot sauce” package you would see, “Ahh, we meet again”. How true is that? Love it!
After I make a “Run for the Border” and come back to the States, it isn’t long before I’m downing a Burrito Supreme. Add to that crab legs and tonight’s prime rib… and a person could get the idea that I just come back to the States for the food.

Oh well, soon I’ll be back in my beloved Berlin meeting up with my good friend, Fresh-Baked Pumpkinseed Roll!

So what is it? What would you have trouble living without if you left your home?

Five years ago today…

Five years ago today I left my adopted hometown and moved to Berlin, Germany.

Five years ago
I awakened to the realization that “This is it”. In a few hours I would be on a plane which would carry me across the Atlantic to live with Sweet No.

Five years ago
I gave Frank a “special pill” which would help him remain calm and hopefully help him hold his bladder for over 15 hours.

Five years ago
I called my mother to let her know that today is the day. I explained that my bed was being moved out of the apartment, the microwave was going to a neighbor, the cat box is in the trash (much to the chagrin of the dumpster-diver who crawled in a few minutes later), and “NO MOM, I’m not out of my cotton-picking mind”.

Five years ago
I shoved Frank in a leather gym-bag-looking thing and told him that it was going to be just like our “dry runs”… that he would be getting out soon. (I just didn’t tell him how long “soon” was.)

Five years ago
I walked away from my father and his wife as they stood in the Wichita airport and waved a bewildered good bye. Later my father confided that he wasn’t sure he would ever see me again. This might explain the watery eyes and his strange insistence that I take a twenty dollar bill, “For the way there. You never know, you might just need it.” (I still have that twenty. It stayed stashed in a special compartment of my wallet for over four years. Now it is on my desk.)

Five years ago
There was no way for me to explain to him that I had enough money, that I wasn’t falling off the face of the Earth, and that I had thought this whole thing through many times. “For pete’s sake Dad, I’ve been planning this a year.”

Five years ago
I sat in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and pondered my situation while the cat loudly expressed his discomfort and irritation at his situation. (Occasionally to amuse myself I closed the flaps on the bag and looked around at other people with interest and curiosity as though I too was trying to find the source of the howl which was at a volume and frequency only a Siamese cat can achieve.)

Five years ago
I was met at the Berlin airport by my Sweet No. For what seemed like an eternity we could only see each other through the glass as I waited in the secure area for my baggage. Eventually no new bags came, and yes as feared, once again Air France had lost one of my bags. GREAT. Now I’m even MORE thankful that I decided to pay the extra dough to keep the cat on the plane as carry on baggage. (The joke was on the guy who later had to deliver my bag – which weighed exactly 50.1 pounds – up four flights of stairs.)

Five years ago
I wheeled a cart out of security which held only one of my bags and a very pissy cat.

Five years ago
I knew the instant No and I hugged for the first time as a true “cohabitating couple” that four years of waiting for this moment was way too long and that my decision to move to be with her had been the right one.

Five years later… I look back on this time spent together and know deep in my heart that I have not regretted any of it, not for a moment.

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Photo Friday – Dawn

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the world
Morning has Broken sung by Bob Dylan
(edit: sung by Cat Stevens) 😉

This week’s Photo Friday theme is “Dawn”.
In my collection I actually have many images of sunrises, warm “golden hour” light, and even some pretty pinkish bubbly clouds. But when I think of sunrise images, I don’t usually like to see the sun itself, the shadows it throws are more interesting to me.

That is why I picked this shot for the “dawn” theme.
Well, that and because I doubt you want to see a picture of an ex of mine who just happened to be named Dawn… OMG! Out of curiosity I just Googled her! She’s actually online (Facebook of course) and she looks like she put on some weight (haven’t we all?), and moved to St. Louis. All I can say is that every lesbian in STL should steer clear!

OKOK, back to the photo!
I caught this image during the Whiney Expat Bloggers Meetup in 2008 in Bremen, Germany. Unfortunately I don’t have a great post about the event, but I do have some pictures. J put out the original call to come.

On this particular Sunday morning I had rolled out of bed early and headed off to get some early-morning pics of what really is an endearing city. I was almost alone on the quiet streets, soaking in the cool, sweet fall air with a hint of fresh-baked bread. It was pretty much me and the bakery people. (Germans must have their bread, Sunday or not)

Meandering along though the “Altstadt” (old town) area I came across J of Germany Doesn’t Suck who was also there for the Expat Meetup. We joined up and walked through the park, enjoying each others company and the lovely dawning of the day as the sleepy city woke up around us.

After some time we began looking for the restaurant Alex which would be the site of more Expat Whineyness. Without knowing it we walked right past the thing, into a lovely courtyard area flanked by fantastic buildings which most certainly age back two hundred years before my ancestors ever dreamed of emigrating to America.

Ahead there was a break in the eastern wall of buildings allowing a through way into the Domshof courtyard. Down the cobblestones of the street was flowing the most lovely river of fresh, morning sunlight. When we walked out of the cool shadow of the courtyard into the sun rays I immediately felt the warmth on my skin overcoming the crisp fall air. Wunderbar!

I looked down at that very moment and saw the view which you see above. Perhaps J thought I was crazy as I crouched down to get the shot. But he stood respectfully nearby and quietly allowed me to figure out the right angle and lighting to make the metal cover glow so gloriously. Thanks for that, J.

Visit Flickr to see the image in its original size.
Or see more of the Bremen shots.

See more entries or participate yourself by visiting Photo Friday.

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