Hello 2017 Berlin; Goodbye 2016 Copenhagen

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Strolling past Berlin Cathedral

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great New Year’s Eve and are looking forward to what 2017 will bring. For us, everything is new.

On 21st December 2016, after three and a half fabulous years of living in wonderful Copenhagen, we left Denmark for good. This was a very hard decision because we all fell in love with the country. Our daughter, Cecelia, was even born there so it will always have a very special place in my heart.

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We got our passports stamped with the date we arrived in Berlin

We spent Christmas back in the UK and arrived in our new home city on 28th December. We are now residents of Berlin, Germany.

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Sophienkirche, Mitte

It’s difficult to write much about this latest adventure as it’s hardly started. But I can tell you that we are living in an apartment in Mitte, a fascinating part of former East Berlin. From our bedroom window I can see the church steeple of Sophienkirche.

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The plaque outside the church, describing Martin Luther King’s sermon in 1964

It’s an historic church that also attracts tourists for another reason. In 1964, the civil rights campaigner, Martin Luther King, preached here. His words seem just as prophetic in 2017; “No man-made barrier can erase the fact that God’s children live on both sides of the Wall.”

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The bullet holes left in our apartment building from WW2. The graffiti is a probably more modern!

Our own apartment building is still littered with the bullet holes from the Second World War.  We are just a stone’s throw away from Museum Island and Berlin Cathedral. This area is steeped in history and I can’t wait to explore it.

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Walking over the bridge to Museum Island, Berlin

Currently we are surrounded by boxes, have hardly any lights in our apartment (like Danes, Germans take the ceiling lights with them when they move), no curtains, no bank account and no wifi.  I can’t find anything and we have quickly realised that we have acquired too much stuff!

But there is a sense of excitement in our household as we enter 2017 and embrace another adventure. (I guess that means I’ll have to change the name of my blog.) So Happy 2017 everyone. I hope it brings us all good health and happiness.

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Berliner Fernsehturm – Berlin’s TV Tower

 

 

 

 

 

Denmark: The Danish family connection that lives on

 

 

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This week I said goodbye to my grandfather, Donald Forrest. He was my father’s father and was just six months away from marking his centenary. He lived a very full and interesting life which included service in the British Royal Navy during World War II.

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Some of the medals awarded to my father, grandfather and great-grandfather

Grandpop was involved in the D-Day landing, supporting Allied troops on Gold Beach just before they went on to take the town of Arromanches in Normandy. It was during D-Day that my grandfather managed to escape serious injury after the boat he was sailing on was blown up by a mine. I feel rather proud of one of his missions that day, which was to take supplies of whisky and gin ashore for the troops!

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Members of the British Royal Legion at Grandpop’s Thanksgiving service in Kemerton

We were all very touched when members of the Royal British Legion and the Sea Cadets came to pay their respects to Grandpop this week, at Kemerton Church near Tewkesbury. The Last Post was a particularly poignant moment.

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My grandmother, Joan Forrest

But what I think was so special about Grandpop was his utter devotion to my grandmother, Joan. In her thirties, she was paralysed down one side of her body. To this day, no-one is quite sure why or how it happened. Granny lived until she was 89, and over that time, my grandfather was by her side every painful step of the way. I think it’s the most incredible story of love and devotion.

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My grandparents, Donald and Joan Forrest, in Denmark in 1953

Among those who also came to say goodbye this week was my grandparents’ niece, Christina, known as Krisi. She’s half Danish because her father (Granny’s brother, Bobby Lowein) married a Danish woman called Karin. In fact, while we were going through some old family photos we stumbled across a picture from the 1950s of my grandparents in Dyrehaven (The Deer Park) near Klampenborg in Denmark. It’s a just a couple of miles away from where my family now lives and it’s a place we regularly visit.

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My great uncle, Bobby Lowein, and Karin, on their engagement in Copenhagen

Sadly my great uncle and aunt’s marriage wasn’t to be, and after three children, including Krisi, it ended in divorce. Karin remarried, but in an avalanche on New Year’s Day in 1979 in Switzerland, she was killed. So too was her son, Nicholas Lowein (Krisi’s brother), Karin’s second husband, Michael de Pret Roose, and the Swiss guide and friend, Ernst Renner. It was a tragedy that completely shook the family and one which is still difficult to comprehend.

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Cousin Krisi Williams with her husband Richard in Copenhagen, 2016

34 years later (2013) and my husband and I find ourselves moving to Denmark. Krisi put us in touch with one of her mother’s sisters, Inga Peetz. Inga has been extremely kind to us. When she visited us in our apartment in Hellerup, she was convinced she’d been there before. She had – decades before, when her uncle owned the entire house!

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Inga with her other sister, Killer, in Denmark, 2013

Inga has also introduced us to members of her family, who I like to claim as distant relatives! Among those are her nieces, Camilla and Rikke, who now babysit for our children and have also become friends.

My biggest regret is that my grandparents were never able to visit us in Denmark and meet the wonderful Danes we have been so fortunate to know. But I like to think that both Granny and Grandpop are looking down on us smiling, delighted at the relationships we have forged with members of their own family.

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My father, Christopher Forrest, sailing in Denmark in the 1970s.

NB I’m very conscious of the fact that this family history would be much easier to write in Danish. Not because I am an expert, but because the Danes have more useful names for family. So my Grandfather Donald – my father’s father – is called Farfar. Isn’t that so much easier to understand? I could really do with a family tree to make it easier for you to see the connections. But I do hope you get the gist!

Baby Cecelia at 6 months old

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Cecelia at 6 months old

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Cece showing off her pilates moves

Today, my daughter is 6 months old. How did that happen? Where has the time gone? Well it certainly hasn’t been wasted, but apologies that it hasn’t been spent blogging! I have missed this therapy of writing and sharing my thoughts (mostly about life in Copenhagen) with you all. So I thought I’d give you a quick update on how beautiful Cecelia, who was born on 9th May in Denmark, is doing.

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Enjoying a moment with smiley Cece

As you can see from the photos she is thriving. She’s a wonderful companion and full of smiles and laughter.

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Charlie and Cece chillaxing!

Her brother, Charlie, who was a little reticent about having a sister, is pretty smitten. And that fact that she finds almost everything he does hilarious, certainly helps.

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Cece swimming at 6 weeks

Cece’s life has been busy. Thanks to my swimming teacher, she had her first lesson when she was just six weeks old. As you can see she was pretty relaxed about it.

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Great-grandpa George (aged 101) with Charlie, Cece and me

She’s not only met both sets of grandparents, but also her 101-year-old great-grandfather and 95-year-old great-grandmother. Very touching moments.

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Cece with Nick (her father), Annabel (her grandmother) and Rene (her great-grandmother)

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Cece with her Granny Celia (my mum)

She’s already appeared in print, in an article that I wrote for Your Danish Life Magazine and on Instagram, thanks to a post from the he English-language book shop in Hellerup, Books and Co.

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Things are getting very busy for us as a family. Next month we will sadly be leaving wonderful Copenhagen and heading off to Berlin. It’s another adventure for us all but a lot of change. Here’s hoping the next six months of Cecelia’s life are as amazing as the first.

Baby Cecelia is born in Denmark

 

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Charlie and Cecelia. Photo: Fun Love Photography

Five weeks ago, our beautiful daughter, Cecelia, was born at Herlev Hospital, outside Copenhagen. Her arrival has been long awaited and we are delighted that our Danish adventure has also brought a new life into the world.

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Charlie meets Cecelia for the first time

She is six years younger than her brother, Charlie. He has been wonderful – despite wanting a brother! It’s lovely watching them together – already she responds to his voice and presence.

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

My experience of giving birth here in Denmark couldn’t be more different from back in London. This time I had a c-section, after a ‘traumatic’ natural birth at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, in 2010. I won’t go into the detail but suffice to say the whole experience was stressful and involved me going back into hospital six weeks later to have an operation under general anaesthetic, followed by countless procedures.

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Cecelia at 8 days old

This time round, there was no hesitation about me having a cesarean. It meant we knew the delivery date and were able to have family out here to look after our son. Once in hospital, my husband and I had our own room in the Patient Hotel, next door to our own bathroom and close to the canteen. We quickly realised that Nick had to stay with me because there simply aren’t enough staff to deal with patients who need help moving and walking. This may be a highly taxed country, but like elsewhere, resources are tight. Anyway, I was very grateful that he was with me throughout.

The delivery itself was extremely professional and very quick. The Danish staff all spoke perfect English and couldn’t have been more pleasant. I was particularly pleased that one of the doctors was called Cecelia. Despite the horrendous pain I suffered following the c-section, it was very straight forward.

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

Like her brother, we quickly realised that Cecelia was tongue tied (which is very painful for breast feeding mothers). Unfortunately doctors at Herlev refuse to perform the simple procedure to snip the frenum that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. So when she was just 18 hours old, my husband bravely left hospital with her, drove to a clinic in another town where they performed the procedure. It was not an ideal situation.

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Cecelia in hospital

Our baby then lost weight and developed jaundice, both of which are very common in newborns. But the staff were worried and we were moved from our room, upstairs into what can only be described as a broom cupboard. We had no window or running water and had to walk through another family’s room to get to ours. My poor husband had to sleep on a padded bench and wasn’t allowed to leave me alone. It was a difficult 48 hours. But thankfully, five days after giving birth, we were finally allowed home.

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On the beach at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør

Danish friends say the second half of our hospital experience is more common in Denmark than you might think. But overall, I found giving birth here much better than in South West London. We’ve also been extremely lucky to have a wonderful health visitor, Kirsten, from Gentofte kommune (our local council) who is always ready to help or offer advice via phone or text. Staff at our local doctors’ surgery have also been supportive.

So now our family of three has become a family of four, and things are noisier in our house (especially at night!). But boy, do we all love our little girl!

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

With thanks to Heather Davidson-Meyn at Fun Love Photography for the great photos.

 

Copenhagen: The Pregnant Mermaid

 

If all goes to plan, two weeks today I will be having a baby here in Denmark. It’s our second child and, to put it mildly, has been a long time coming.

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I think the Bump enjoyed it.

 

Over the past eight months, I have kept up my swimming – averaging between one and two kilometres a week. As the bump has grown, this is the one sport I have felt able to do that hasn’t put too much strain on my body.

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Feeling weightless

 

 

Today, thanks to my Monday swimming group led by an inspirational woman called Sue, I became a mermaid. OK, so I’m not exactly Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, but a Pregnant Mermaid, yes.  The weightlessness of swimming under water with a tail is just magical. Obviously I didn’t try all the moves the other mermaids were perfecting but I gave it a damn good try!

So with just 14 days to go until delivery day, I intend to keep up the swimming. And I hope I will be able to return to the water as soon as I’m allowed. I took my son swimming from just a few weeks old and I hope I can do the same again.

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Charlie the Waterbaby!

** With thanks to Sarah-Jane Elsey and Elisabeth Godin for the photos and video taken today.**

Denmark: Not so happy now

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A few thoughts after being interviewed by RTE (Irish radio, which you can listen to here) about Denmark’s decision to confiscate jewellery and cash worth more than 10,000 Danish Kroner (£1,000) from refugees. Today the Migrant Bill passed through Danish Parliament, despite international opposition. It also means that asylum seekers have to wait three years before they can ask to be reunited with family members.

The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, has described it as the “most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history.”  The argument goes that if unemployed Danes aren’t allowed assets before they seek benefits, why should anyone else. Interestingly, it wasn’t just those on the right who voted yes – even many centre-left Social Democrats agree this is a fair policy. And with 70% of Danes putting immigration as a top concern, there is widespread public support towards efforts to curb immigration.

Outsiders seem shocked that ‘welcoming, liberal’ Denmark can be so tough. But the reality is, they don’t care what others think. Danes say they need to protect their borders and their small country of 5.6 million people. But it’s a far cry from the ‘Happiest Country in the World’ name tag that Denmark has enjoyed for so many years.

Denmark says ‘Nej’ to more EU

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The front page of Danish tabloid, Ekstra Bladet

The Danes have done it before and now they’ve done it again. Just when Brussels was counting on Denmark to vote ‘yes’ in an EU referendum, the country has said ‘no’. Or as one tabloid headline put it rather delicately this morning: “Løkke fik f***-fingeren”, which loosely translates as Denmark gave their prime minister the finger.

So what was at stake here? Well a cross-party group of politicians, lead by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was hoping to persuade Danes to opt-in to EU Justice and Home Affairs rules. These included becoming an official member of the European police service, Europol, the law enforcement body that tackles crime and terrorism. (As you can read here in my previous blog, the UK signed up to some of these rules last December.)

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Leader of the Danish People’s Party (DF) Kristian Thulesen Dahl

But the no campaign, led by the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party (DF), turned the referendum into one about trust. Who do you really believe here – the parties wanting to give away more powers to Brussels, or those of us who want to keep our sovereignty in Denmark? To Brits, it sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Add to the mix, the refugee crisis plus mass confusion about what Danes were really being asked to vote about, and you get this result – 53.1% ‘Nej’ and 46.9% ‘Ja’.

So what happens now? Well to be honest, no-one seems quite sure. Fast forward a couple of years and if David Cameron loses the EU referendum in the UK he’ll surely resign. But that doesn’t seem to be the precedent here in Denmark. Lars Løkke Rasmussen may only preside over a right-of-centre minority government, but he had support on both the left and right.

And what about Denmark’s membership of Europol? The Danish People’s Party had always argued that the country could negotiate a separate agreement to stay in, but no-one is sure whether that will be possible. Prime Minister, Rasmussen, is due to meet EU ministers next week to try to strike a deal. So it looks like more talking and compromise lies ahead.

Ahead of the Brexit referendum, David Cameron and co must be feeling a little hotter under the collar today. Already the British Eurosceptic UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has told Danish media “hopefully our British counterparts will suffer the same fate”.  Afterall if the Danes can do it, what’s to stop the Brits from being next?