The adventures of a born-and-raised-in-Michigan girl (OK, woman) who's moved to Bavaria with her husband, kids, and dog.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Play Mates, Play Dates

One of my first priorities in getting settled in... besides continuing to unpack boxes (ugh), has been to find new playgroups for Nicholas (and Stephanie, as she approaches her first birthday). The side benefit, of course, is that I meet some local moms and start making friends myself.

Before the trucks arrived in the U.S., I had scoped out a couple of expat groups from the Internet; one reference to the "Ingolstadt Wives Club" yielded a pen pal (pixel pal?), Sharon, whom I still haven't met. She's here with her husband (no kids) for a few years, they're originally from Ireland. A second group, "Munich Mommies" is, well, in Munich... i.e. an hour away.

Before Martin found the house, he rented a room on a family farm south of Ingolstadt. Nice people (Petra and Josef), also with young kids; they invited us all out for coffee and cake one weekend before the holidays. While there, Petra said she would track down a "Mutter und Kinder Spielgruppe" (mother and child playgroup) for me in Etting, our little town within Ingolstadt.

So for the past three Tuesday mornings, we have gone down to the town/church "Pfarrei" (Parish Hall, best I can guess) to use the facilities and toys set up there. It's a really wonderful group of women, I've come to look forward to it quite a bit. We joke that it's not an Etting playgroup but an international playgroup. Since Etting is the closest town to Audi, most of our husbands work there and is no doubt at the heart of little Etting's international subculture.

The group is led by a woman from France who's been here for 20 years (her husband is German). There's also a wonderful woman from southwest Mexico (been here six years), whose English skills have bailed me out when my German and French both fail me. The rest of the group consists of a woman from the former Soviet Union (been here twelve years); a woman from former East Germany (yes, people still differentiate); a couple of Bavarians (one who lives about five houses away from us); and a woman born and raised in the tiny town of Etting.

Activities consist of about 30-45 minutes of group songs; the German version of "The Wheels on the Bus" is the only one I recognize, the rest are new to me. There's one about clocks (grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, town tower clocks), a couple about trains, one about a snail coming out of its shell, and one done piggyback-style about a horse ride.

Then we break for a group snack and chit-chat, the kids eat and wander into free playtime until we intervene for a few closing songs. It goes from 9:30 to 11:30 but we haven't gotten home before noon yet. The kids range from about a year to just turning three; once kids enter Kindergarten (their term for Preschool, starting September after the third birthday), they no longer go to the town playgroup.

After some additional searching and a few emails sent to strangers, I tracked down the main English-speaking playgroup in Ingolstadt (there may be other informal ones, but this is "it" as far as I can tell).

We've been once, it's about eight moms, two of whom actually live in Etting, one (named Catherine!!) is two blocks from here! The chances of this are about like living in Milan and joining a downtown Ann Arbor group and finding other Milanites, for your reference.

This group seems to be entirely made up of Brits -- or people married to Brits trying to raise kids in an English-speaking (or bi- or tri-lingual) household. One woman is from Spain, another from Moscow, one from Israel, one from Scotland and three more from England. The kids are also older; ranging from almost two to five or six. Since it's an afternoon group (Thursdays, 3:30 to 5:30), kids can attend Kindergarten (i.e. mornings) and continue to go to this group.

It's held at a local Montessori school, but they meet at a park when it's summer. I've only been once, and everyone was extremely nice. It was very nice to be among English-speaking moms again, and to find out the answers to burning questions, like, "Is there only one Mexican restaurant in town?", or "Where are the secondhand clothing stores for kids?", but even here, I still felt like a foreigner, being the only American.

Lastly, after having success at my first two playgroup attempts, I decided to try the Munich Mommies group. I went on a Monday morning, to the toddler music and playtime session. Held at a neighborhood sportshall, it was a huge group (over 20 moms) of mostly young, American women; although there were two or three Italian women there too.

Turns out that Munich is nicknamed "Italy's northernmost city," due to the large Italian population. In fact, as the center of Germany's IT industry, Munich draws a large number of foreigners there; 22 percent of Munich residents are "auslanders" (foreigners), according to a Munich Newcomers magazine I read (cover-to-cover, it was very good).

I had a long, very interesting conversation with a woman from northern Indiana whose Swiss husband transferred within Microsoft from Seattle to Munich, for example. The rest of the time was spent with itsy bitsy spiders, smooshed up baby bumblebees, and red light, green light! So, despite the long drive (an hour each way), I enjoyed my little "fix" of American culture. I don't think I'll go there every week, but it was a nice, once-in-awhile kind of thing to do, particularly if I want to also check out a corner of Munich with the kids in tow afterwards... the famous English Gardens or zoo come to mind, in summertime.

I know this post is getting long-winded and there aren't even any photos... but I have to also mention one more new acquaintance. Last week I got a call from Julianne, a woman from Malaysia (husband British), who got my number from Sharon (my Irish pen pal). They've been here two years with their two boys (four and two), and between her German lessons she struggles to find English-speaking moms.

So yesterday we went to the mall (such as it is, two floors of small stores with a grocery store as the anchor, and a slew of big box stores across the street), to browse the shops, run errands, and get to know one another. We had a very nice time, and agreed to meet again next week. We mostly passed the time swapping experiences with German grocery stores, bakeries, and butcher shops, and comparing tips for finding various international food items and restaurants. I can hardly wait to get out and try some of them, and give you a report!