The Odyssee

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It is the middle of the afternoon on a Monday and I am sitting in a cafĂ© in a southern part of DĂŒsseldorf I never usually go to. If you think that sounds great
I’m sorry to disappoint you. I am not here because I have a day off and chose to explore the city. I am here because I am supposed to see a specialist.

This is the third one for the same matter so I am already used to agreeing to appointments on any day at any time in any part of the city. Can I drop everything and come at half an hour’s notice? Of course I can.

But this time, that was not enough. There are two specialists for this in DĂŒsseldorf. In all of DĂŒsseldorf. That means two doctors for probably a million people (if you count the surroundings).The first one told me on the phone that she couldn’t give me an appointment before next year. „Um, okay, then I guess I will wait three months. Can you give me something in January?“ I asked ”No, I can’t give out appointments for 2019 before December first this year. You have to call again”. Because I deemed the risk of calling in two months and possibly being told the first appointment available is in March too high, I called my general practitioner. You can call her once a day between 12.30 and 1 pm and you spent 12:31 to 12:59 in the phone queue. I manage eating my lunch while having one ear on the phone. ”You have to literally go to the specialist at 8 before they open and ask them to give you an appointment. I know it’s kind of far to go there but if you stand right before them, chances are they won’t just send you away“. She also gave me a letter from her expressing the specialist should really really see me. (If you are at this point worried that I have a terminal illness – I don’t. Or at least I don’t think so.  A specialist would maybe know for sure.)

So I was gonna travel to the doctor’s office at dawn, armed with letters by two doctors, begging them to give me an appointment. What if they said no? Was I going to throw myself on the floor of the specialist’s practice and throw a tantrum? How do other people get an appointment? I am telling you, this never happens in Grey’s Anatomy and the U.S. health care system’s reputation is worse than the German’s.

This morning, I showed up. The friendly receptionist smiled. She looked at the doctors’ notes. ”You can come back at 2 p.m. We have a walk-in open hour then for new patients. You’ll have to be prepared to wait“. I nodded obidiently and rode the subway 30 minutes back.

I am lucky I have overtime hours to take out and work that I can take with me. It is only therefore I was able to leave work after lunch and head 30 minutes back to the doctor‘s. I was ten minutes early, I was proud. As I walked up to the house, I saw a queue. There must be some apartment viewing. Wow, times keep getting worse if more than 40 people wait to see an apartment in this kind of far off part of town, I thought.

As I came closer, I saw. German cities do not only have a constantly intensifying housing problem. We also seem to have a health care crisis. These 43 people in front of me were queuing for the walk-in at the doctor’s. At first, I was too flabbergasted to do anything but stare with wide eyes. Eventually, I took out my Kindle and started to read. It took me 25 minutes to get inside the practice. It took me an hour until they had registered me. That means I spent an hour in line before even getting an estimate on how long I would have to wait to see a doctor. 70 minutes after my arrival to the scene, the receptionist chirped, „You can go get some fresh air. There’s a nice cafe next door. Come back in 90 minutes“.

Rarely have I been so glad to have my Kindle with great books from the L.A. Public Library (thanks, Emily!) with me. Seldom have I appreciated being able to work remotely this much. Oh, and the cafĂ© is nice. I would know, I’ve been here for a while. I wonder if the doctors get commission.

 

 

 

3 Things I learned in Croatia

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Now we are back from sunny beautiful Croatia in greysih fall Dizzel and my face is very tan with two awkward-looking white circles around my eyes. It was sad to have to leave the beach paradise – but I learned lots of new things! I am now no longer a beginner at packaged holidays but let’s say an experienced amateur.

  1. You dress up for dinner and you use plates only once

I only had a 9-kg-suitcase and was very proud of not bringing lots of stuff. What do you need during a beach holiday, I thought. Swimwear and sandals basically. Little did I know! At night for the buffet dinner, some of the ladies that casually had hung out in their beach dresses before, donned perfect evening looks! Stylish blouses, definitely newly purchased dresses, elegant pants accompanied by pretty hair-dos…and here I was in my regular t-shirt and skirt.

This vacation also meant struggling with my zero waste ambitions. Not only did the bora-wind rob me of a plastic bag and toss it into the sea (A: “You littered!” Me: almost jumped into the sea fully clothed to retrieve the bag), one was also not supposed to use plates twice. So after finishing your starters, you must not take the plate back to the buffet and put your main course on the same plate. I am still not sure if I am being a cretin or an environmentally conscious person for having a hard time with this.

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The most dressed up I got

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for our sundowners

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2. Non-fiction is not a good beach read

Not sure about you but I think of vacations as “finally I can catch up on all the reading I have to do” – and that includes non-fiction. So I packed a work magazine, a book about brain science and Hans Rosling’s super hyped “Factfulness”. I soon realized I was the odd one out on the beach. Departing guests left their books for others in the hotel’s inspiration bar (I guess that is how you say library in a cooler way): Danish crime, German romance, British comedy. After three days, I had made it through the American neuroscience but the Swedish statistics book was really hard. I still haven’t finished it and next time, I will definitely bring something lighter.

 

3. Don’t try stand-up-paddling

…if you intend to walk or even work the day after. Our hotel had a rather extensive work out program and I am still surprised by myself that I actually took advantage of it. (I have never brought work out clothes on a vacation before. Also because my vacations often entail walking 3 million steps a day through a city.) After two days of only moving from buffet to beach to bed, I signed up for aerobics. What I did not know was that the class would be outside next to the beach bar and that I would be the only one. I guess I can put this under the “free personal training with an audience” experience.

The last class I took was “stand up paddling trial”. On our last day, I got up earlier than usual because I really wanted to make myself try stand up paddling that all the cool kids in Hamburg did already three years ago. Did I constantly fall into the cold water as soon as I tried to go from kneeling to standing? Yes. Was it fun nonetheless? Yes. Can I walk the day after? No.

I have had sore muscles before (I mean, I tried ice-skating in March) but this is a whole new level. I had a really hard time sitting down at my desk this morning and I fear it won’t be over by tomorrow. So try stand up paddling but if possible don’t plan anything for the day after that.

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When I still could walk without sore muscles

The Thousand Islands Country

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When I was 12, I hung out in an online forum for fans of the pop group A*Teens a lot. There, in the “discussion board as it was called, I learned most of my English, long-distance collaboration skills and intercultural competence. There, I also learned about a country called Croatia through a forum friend called Miha. He lived in Zagreb so that was mostly my point of reference until seven years ago I applied for a Master’s Degree in Dubrovnik and the fact that there is a Croatian Adria became more known to me. I didn’t do my Master’s in Croatia but since then thought it would be worth visiting.

So when we talked about going way during the fall to get some sunshine, I brought up Croatia. A then went ahead and picked a hotel that makes me alternately feel like I am in a perfect-vacation-commercial (when on the terrace or beach promenade) and a Soviet girl encountering capitalism for the first time (when faced with the breakfast and dinner buffet). I am also fascinated with how travelers are taken care of in this kind of hotels. Everyone speaks German and English (and remamarkbly good German and English), there is an own app that lists all offered activities (step aerobic, stretching, excursion, cooking course, Croatian course, live music anyone?) and upon arrival we got an envelope with a letter from “Iva of Tui” and her phone number to call if any issues should arise at any point. Seriously, I feel more taken care of than when I was 16 and on an exchange semester in the U.S..
“Iva of Tui”, as the receptionist kept calling her as if that was a noble title, also held a welcome session this morning which we missed because I was very busy for an extended period of time marvelling wide-eyed at the 15 different kinds of bread at the breakfast counters. Instead, I signed us up last night for “Facts about Croatia” to which A willingly tagged along. We were greeted by Marko who had two Swedes in tow. There are so many Swedes here (and the occasional Dane), it’s rather bewildering to me. I thought Swedes were kept in Ayia Napa. Marko gave us an excellent presentation that exceeded our expectations. Now I am even more keen on going to the “Croatian Language Course” on Friday.

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We are in Tupeci which means City of Springs

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I think it all looks rather Italian here

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Pomegranate Trees! I have never seen pomegranates growing before.

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On the horizon you see some of the 1000 islands Croatia prides itself for

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Can’t stop looking at the color of the sea

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The first day was very windy

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That wind, we learned, is called Bora. The changeable bora can often be felt all over Montenegrin Littoral, Dalmatia, Istria, Rijeka, the Slovenian Littoral, Trieste, and the rest of the Adriatic east coast. It blows in gusts.

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A Wuppertag

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You might have seen my hashtag #nrwbucketlist. When I live somewhere, I tend to not do the things that the region is known for because “I’ll have time for that”. To avoid getting caught in the “I’ll do it someday” trap, I keep bucket lists. I had one for Stockholm, two actually for different seasons, and last year I wrote one for the federal state I live in now, North-Rhine-Westphalia, commonly shortened in Germany to NRW. Things on the list that I have already crossed off are Xanten, the Lindenstraße set, the Immisitzung, to name a few. Today it was time for a Wuppertag (Wupperday) in Wuppertal.

Wuppertal is one of the cities around here that was artificially made one. It also starts seamlessly when other cities end. I just cannot get over the population density around here. Wuppertal, named after the river Wupper, is regarded average picturesque at best, and today we had the worst possible weather to take a trip. But that did not stop us – I was pretty excited to finally try the Schwebebahn, the suspension railway, that I kept hearing about when growing up, and imagined to be super futuristic. I mean, it’s hovering above the city!

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It turned out it’s more retro-futuristic. (It was built in 1901!) But still so cool: I felt like in a rollercoaster minus the awful loopings I hate. It even swings when you step off! We tootled through all of Wuppertal, above the river, seeing the sights of the city. At the central station we got off to visit one of the places Wuppertal is most known for (next to the Schwebebahn and famous choreographer Pina Bausch): the von-der-Heytd-Museum. It was showing an exhibit about Paula Modersohn-Becker who lived in Bremen, thus elegantly tying together where I come from and where I am now, drawing me in even more. The exhibit was really nice, I learned that many artists studied in DĂŒsseldorf at that time. I also realizedI know little about the artists around Paula. My new favorite is now Hans am Ende, I decided.

Of course, we also stopped for Wupperfika!

A note on my blog post frequency: I now have a brilliant excuse -my space key barely works and it is a strenous effort to type. Also, I now realized my parents adopted Instagram stories, so I broadcast more there.

 

Beyond Nils Holgersson

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I am sitting in a clean, cushioned chair that obviously is part of an interior design concept and around me bell-like female voices sing about the importance of freedom. Did you guess where I am? Yes, at a Swedish university (hint: the cushioned concept chair) at my friend Malin’s choir practice. Her choir is due to perform at the welcome ceremony for the new students tomorrow morning and there is only one other girl in her voice who can be there so she did her duty and attends the practice. And I get to blog to a living testimonial to the choir culture in Sweden.

Yesterday, after more than seven hours of traveling, I made it to Karlstad where Malin lives nowadays. I am actually in Sweden for work, for a conference on Wednesday in Stockholm, but why flew up several times if you can combine trips. Karlstad is the capital of VÀrmland and the largest city in the province with 91,000 inhabitants. I have only been in VÀrmland three times in my life but I have had great times at VÀrmlands nation in Uppsala when I studied so I hold the province in high regard. It is also home to some famous Swedes, among them the founder of Ericsson, singers Zarah Leander and Monica Zetterlund, poets Nils Ferlin and Gustaf Fröding, and I believe most known: the grande dame of Swedish literature, Selma Lagerlöf.

Today, Malin took me to Lagerlöf’s estate MĂ„rbacka for a guided tour. As a preparation, I had even started reading the only book by Lagerlöf that I own, “The Emperor of Portugal”. On the tour of the house we were the only people under 60 but I attributed this to the fact that it was after all a Monday. The estate was impressive – and modern, as she had such things as internal telephone lines installed in the house. Selma Lagerlöf, I learned, was an overall rather avantgarde woman. She took a loan to study to become a teacher when her father denied her an education, she cut her hair super short in 1891 she was the first woman to be awared a Nobel Prize (and the first Swede!), the first woman to be elected as a member of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, she became a very active political influencer (as we would call it today), fighting for women’s right and suffrage. And she dated a woman.

And here we thought she was just that elementary teacher who wrote Nils Holgersson…I am putting some more Lagerlöf classics on my to-read-list.

 

MĂ„rbacka has lots of apple trees and we tasted a tiny apple that was surprisingly delicious.

 

Selma Lagerlöf had a thing for peacocks. There was a sign with a story about how as a child, her leg was paralyzed and meeting a peacock healed her. Peacocks are still around and, as the sign informed me, are called “Sara and Pharao, as tradition demands”. I had no idea that there was a peacock naming tradition but I am glad I know now in case I ever get myself one.

 

 

 

 

Buy local

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When I moved to DĂŒsseldorf, I didn’t know which part of town would be best for me. My co-workers told me, “Move to Flingern, that would suit you”. Okay, I thought, and moved to Flingern. Ever since, I have wondered why my colleagues thought I should live in the hipster part of town where one overpriced furniture boutique is next to each other. I don’t frequent coffee shops, I don’t listen to hipster music, and I don’t own a FjĂ€llrĂ€ven KĂ„nken.

Anyway, last weekend I finally realized why my hood is a good hood. Maybe I even embraced my inner politically correct eco hipster. I went to the bulk goods store – and I loved it! The store is only five minutes from my house and from the farmers’ market. Inspired by Zero Waste blogs, I got my tote bags, coffee tin and mĂŒsli container and felt like a really sustainable person.  The bulk goods store, in German we call it the “non-packaged-store”, is great fun – maybe it’s because it appeals to haptic senses? My friend Maike claims I spent 45 minutes in there (it felt like ten!). I grinded my own coffee (for guests, I don’t drink coffee), I bagged my own mĂŒsli and was surprisingly amazed during the process. Another advantage is that you can buy just as much as you need. I rarely need 200 grams of walnuts if I bake and use them as toppings. At the non-packaged-store, I can get 3 grams if I wish. But the best things is: I didn’t have to takeout my little plastic trash can that day!

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At the market, I bought a new kind of apple I’ve been looking for forever

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Another plus of the hipster hood: the awesome stationery store

Supply and demand

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I like abundance. Scarcity is not really my thing. That’s why I keep wondering if I live in the right country or the right part of the country because battles for space, a scarce ressource, seem to regularily occur in my life. On the train. At restaurants. In the streets. Or, like last Friday, at the movies.

I had already attempted to attend the local open air cinema two weeks ago. We arrived 5 minutes after they had opened the doors, just to find there was no way on earth we would get in. 90 seats, 200 people in line.  And that was half an hour before the movie even started. So I still have not seen “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”. In a way, it feels like back when I lived in a small town and had to wait for films to come out on DVD.

So this time, I was prepared. I told my friend Maike we had to be there early. We walked briskly to the venue, and I was in high spirits. Twenty minutes before the doors opened – surely we’d be among the first 90 ones. We arrived and the line was long, long. But I kept up my courage. Five minutes after admission started, two hipsters walked up to our part of the queue. The hipster girl, wearing a swimsuit and pants with dreadlocks, told us, “We counted and there is 90 people up to here”, pointing to seven people before us. “So I am sorry but you won’t get in. Anyone beyond that point won’t get in”.

The reactions to this verdict would have made great movie material themselves. The ladies behind us were certain that this was a joke and kept questioning the two hipsters in charge. “Are you saying this to make us leave so you two get a seat?” they even wondered, challenging their status as official admission staff. “No, we work here and the regulartory authorities are strict on this”, the male admission hipsters assured them. But to no avail – the 100 people still in line had formed a community of fate. We were not giving up our spots in the line.

As soon as people emerged from the building, voices asked “Are they leaving, are they?” The admission hipsters answered, sighing, “No, they are going to – the – bathroom! The space really is full already”. A man poked his head out from the theatre. “There is a free seat next to me!” he announced. “Someone can sit next to me!” This is pretty much like the lifeboats on the Titanic, I thought. Better get that last seat. Children and women first! The admission hipsters were not having any of it though. “If the seat is still free when the movie starts, we can talk about it. Maybe someone just went to – the – bathroom!” The lady who had already gotten her hopes up for the seat called after the man, “Put your hat on the seat!” Titanic. Lifeboats.

The situation was hopeless, we could have left. It was less our belief to obtain a seat than the highly entertaining scenes in the queue that kept us waiting. In lieu of popcorn, we began eating our melon snack. “Are you a press represenative?” we heard the admission hipster ask a woman. I stole a glance at my friend and said conspiratorial to Maike, “You’re a journalist! Maybe if you get out your press card…” But then the unexpected happened. The swimsuit girl appeared, informing the waiting crowd that it seemed there were four seats left. There was a couple before us and a Japanese girl. But we were two. The suspense was unbearable – how would this play out? Would the girl give up her seat? (After all this waiting, unlikely.) Would Maike sit on my lap? (For the entire 2 hours and 5 minutes? Not feasible.) It felt like a dream, like a very unlikely fantasy when the male hipster reappeared and announced the happy ending of this scarcity ordeal: “There are exactly five seats left now. Get in”.

Oh, and by the way, the movie was great, too.

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