Where I’ve been


You know something is wrong with your blogging routines when your mother says, “You were in Stockholm? I didn’t even know you went to Sweden!”

So, yes – I was in Stockholm for work and our event started at 8 a.m. which meant I had to leave the house before 7. Marita was legitimately impressed with me managing to be up and running at what is a super early time for me otherwise. But – if you start early you can do so much! By mid-afternoon, I had checked off the event and four meetings off my list!

Social media had informed the world that I was in the Capital of Scandinavia which prompted a former co-worker to write to me. “I assume you are already completely overbooked?”, she asked and when I replied I actually was free for several hours on more than one day, I think she secretly thought some alien had taken possession of what used to be Helen. Keeping a somewhat freer schedule (compared to other people it might still have been cramped) was nice though because it gave space to this kind of spontaneity.

Dance like a mother

What also enabled spontaneity was the fact that my host parents, eeh, friends Marita and Fredrik are the most hospitable people on earth. Not only do I always get to live there and feel very much at home (actually, I kind of want to move to their house so I can always have that life), I also get to have spontaneous parties in their apartment. Saturday saw the finals of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish pre-selection for Eurovision which is a huge deal in the country. I asked if we could watch it. Sure! And maybe could William join? Certainly! Now Paul is free, too, and would like to come. That’s not a problem! Evelina can only meet during the evening, how about we invite her too? Go ahead, the more, the merrier! Umm, she’d have to bring her dog. We love dogs! 

You get the idea.

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The songs had rather interesting lyrics: “I’m gonna dance like a mother, you hear my party voice” or “I feel your love coming at me like a train on a track”.

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I don’t even remember how I came up with the idea that I want to test winter sports. Maybe it was something I read about how when you live in Sweden, you have to embrace the winter instead of hating the cold. Or maybe I was worried I wouldn’t get to tag along the next time my friends would plan a ski holiday. In any case, I suggested to go to a friluftsgård and rent equipment to do cross country skiing. Only that when we got there, they didn’t have that kind of skis and instead offered us långfärdskridskor. Living up to my new-found adventuresomeness, I was all like, “Let’s try it!” Långfärdskridskor are a kind of ice skates, just that their blades are longer than normal. Let’s just say this: Marita and Julia were not only much better than me, they were also very supportive. (“Well done, Helen! Look at you, going two metres all by yourself! Hooray!”)


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It does not look like it but I was actually a bit better at sledding than at ice skating

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The muscle soreness from one hour on the ice was, to say the very least, intense for two days



There is an association for people who are extra sensitive to electricity in Sweden. In the church at the ski place, they arrange technology-free concerts and lunches. All electricity is turned off and phones may not be taken inside.


I was very surprised to find that there was close to nothing worth buying this time in the Swedish stores. Some patterns and cuts were made for people either much more or much less boheme than me (depending on the store and item).



Second-hand stores in Stockholm. Look like noble boutiques in Germany.


I strolled through Fältöversten which used to be my local mall. They’ve redone it beautifully and now they put it light therapy lamps and are counting down to equinox,



“Now we’re counting the days until they are longer than the nights”





Small wooden Easter witches to hang up


Something I noticed with great interest was the popping up of very nice restaurants in transit. At the airport, at the central station – bars and restaurants you’d actually want to hang out at.



Not a bar in transit, instead the Stockholm Brunch Club Bianca took me to, adding, “This place is very instagramable!”




Bike Bereavement

It happened last Monday. I stepped out of the house and my bike was gone. My companion and almost exclusive means of transportation in daily life. My carriage to bring home full bags of groceries and the pedals I spent eight hours on each week. My Svarta Faran was taken from me. Stolen. For the second time.

Some people who I hope will have extremely bad karma for the rest of their lives had hijacked my bike. For them, it’s just something they can sell. For me, it resulted a serious emotional response that A had to appease during more than what might be considerably more than the average time for grieving your bike loss.

It’s not just the meanness of taking something else’s bike, and the money, and the difficulty to get around without a bike, it’s also the tremendous annoyance of having to go buy a new one. I spent two evenings after work going through bikes stores experiencing the amazement of bad German customer service and then A and I dedicted an entire Saturday to going around the city trying to find a bike that could replace Svarta Faran. (Really, nothing will be able to replace that one, of course.)

It is not advisable to be tall, I can tell you, because apparently bikes are intended to be for women around 165 cm. Another problem was that I had what A calls “conflicting goals”: I wanted a nice-looking bike that also was good and did not cost 1,000 euros. I finally decided for one and it is nice looking and did not cost 1,000 euros. I am not yet sure whether it’s good. The mechanic who handed it to me cheerfully said, “Stolen bike? Happens all the time! No use getting upset. Just don’t get attached!” Why, thank you very much.


Replacement. It is called Flyke 1949 or something and I still think it’s weird to use the 1940s for marketing in Germany.



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I think my doctor jinxed it. Last Monday when I came to see her for some lab result, she said, “You look splendid!” Less than 48 hours later, I was in bed with a terrible cold, not looking splendid at all anymore.

If you wondered how I spent my 30th birthday, you now know: I sneezed, I coughed, I endured a headache, and yes, I felt a bit sorry for myself. Thankfully, there were factors that alleviated the misery. Like the unexpected flower delivery from Sweden, the fact that A had taken the day off and spent it with me, or the enormous rose bouquet my choir gave me.

The next days I spent actively working on improving my health. I know that a cold takes seven to ten days regardless of what you do (I mean, I’ve had like 4 colds in three months now so I am an experienced sufferer). But I still made ginger shots (without alcohol, obviously), drank hot lemon tea and took a hot bath with eukalyptus. “Until Saturday, I will stick to home remedies”, I informed A. “Because for the weekend, I need to be able to have another level of escalation, a chemical weapon”. He looked at me as if my cold was Kim Jong Un.

But I had to be on my feet on Saturday. Because on Saturday, the party that I had been planning for 18 months would finally happen. The celebration that I had hashtagged #statthochzeit, which means instead of a wedding. The festivity that would bring together nearly 100 guests from all over Europe. The birthday bash that should mark my entering my glorious 30s.

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A helped me get these amazing balloons

It was quite a happening, and I could be part of it thanks to Aspirin Complex. My friends Malin, Michelle, Ingrid and Axel who arrived a day before helped me with all the preparations, blowing up 80 balloons, ordering me to rest and save my energy for the night, transporting rum in a shopping cart and (this was a surprise to me) installing a photo booth.

And then it all happened. You would think as a professional event manager I would be able to visualize 100 people but I kept being amazed when more and more and more guests poured into the party location I had rented. So many friends from all walks of life, my parents, my stepsister, a bunch of “my” juniors, my former intern and my entire maternal family. People I had not seen for years, friends I just made a year ago, and companions that have known me since I was small.

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This is my mom and her sisters. They rewrote the lyrics to “Thank you for the music” and performed a song for and about me. Don’t you wish you had a family like mine?

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These two held a wonderful speech

The brain is, I learned, designed to be able to take in groups of 20 people. Maybe that is why I remember what people said to me but not who said it. Perhaps it’s why I kept feeling I was falling short of actually socializing with everyone who had come all the way to Dizzel for me. But that’s okay because the guests told me afterwards that they had great conversations with each other and how great the music was (thanks to always-amazing DJ Ingrid who never let the dance floor get empty even for just a minute). Upon leaving, more than one requested that I’d have another party like this when I turn 35. (Spoiler alert: I will need to recover from this until I am 50.)

The morning after, we had brunch with those who had travelled from outside of Dizzel. Despite two hours of sleep and a cold, I made it through brunch and through cleaning up the party place (thanks to the help of A, Ingrid and my cousin Felix), but at 6 p.m. I fell asleep.


So. many. presents. And that’s actually not even all of them. Thank you!


I let go of my age by releasing these balloons into the sky. Deep symbolism, eh?




Shops have of course decorated according to Carnival. The grocery store has a section for the “day after” with lots of hangover food.

This morning I thought my bike commute was a little more peaceful: less cars, less people. What happened? I think it’s a Carnival effect! The few people I saw were partly in costume – or actually, with some you never know: does she just wear a weird coat from the Eighties or is dressed up? Is that the regular everyday hat of a Dizzel eccentric or will he shout “Helau!” at any minute? Others are clearly identifiable as Carnival-goers: I saw some animals, a king and two Kermits on the streets today. A lady all in glitter smiled at me.

My biggest integration success must really be my positive attitude towards Carnival. I think it is perfectly acceptable for stores to close today at noon, there is nothing laughable about adults in costumes and obviously the gym cannot be open on Monday, it’s Shrove Monday, the holiest holiday in the Rhineland, hello!


This week, we threw away enormous quantities of paper waste at the office. So liberating! Also this week, I am experiencing the coldest temperatures in Dizzel so far, and despite easily surviving -25 in Stockholm, I am freezing all the time here, not able to shield myself against the cold even if I put on four layers. Tips, anyone?

Wonderful things


Munich, last week, in a most colorful elevator

It’s Friday! In my book at least because I am free tomorrow. Rather wonderful, I know. What’s also rather wonderful is that I came back from a lunch meeting today to find a flower delivery to me in my office! It came all the way from England.

Adding to the list of wonderful things, (major point, actually): I got a nephew on Sunday! My stepsister gave birth to her second child and since her first child is beyond words adorable, so this new baby comes highly recommended, getting from me an early round of applause before I even met him. If he is anything like his sister, he can only be great. Also, I love that we now have a boy in the family. I am all about gender balance.


Yesterday, we hosted an event at Medienhafen which is, I realize this every time I am in that part of town which is too seldom, one of Dizzel’s nicest spots. The event went great and was very popular for being “only” a regional event. We listened to a presentation about the world economic situation 2018 and one slide read, “What to watch out for: President Trump”.


Cycling home from Medienhafen means a lovely route by the river and the Rhine Tower



And as you have guessed, I made it back from Munich in one piece. I met my friend and former co-worker Sarah for drinks at night and she took me to the coolest pop-up hotel where we diligently instagrammed and snapchatted our experience.


I also learned that Munich has a Michael Jackson memorial. I am still baffled by this.

Munich also had some really nice locations. That city’s ratio of seen-locations-suitable-locations is definitely higher than in other cities. Also, the aforementioned stationery store. Let’s just say I contributed a lot to their sales last weekend. When I got home to North-Rhine Westphalia, A and I indulged in lördagsmys, indulgence meaning oranges and chips. So spoiled, right!




Cultured Sunday Night: We went to The English Theater and saw “Educating Rita”. Great actors and a rather entertaining play!

But now, I have to run – choir rehearsal starts and I have committed to singing at the concert this weekend…!

How to find time


Last weekend, I was waiting for A at home, and I actually had time to get bored. I do not remember the last time that happened. (Of course I was not bored for long because there is snapchat with disco bowl filters for my face.) Usually, I am always occupied with something and if chasing one’s to do list was an olympic sport, it would definitely be my discipline.

I don’t really think I had less to do last week. What was different was that last week I tracked my time, every minute of it, both awake and asleep, and snoozing. Now don’t think I’m mad – this is a technique proposed by Laura Vanderkam and I think its effect is so amazing, I have to tell all of you (like, my 23 readers) about it.

For a concise introduction, you can also watch her TED talk:

“Laura Vanderkam shatters the myth that there just isn’t enough time in the week for working professionals to live happy, balanced and productive lives”, her elevator pitch reads. She says you should see your life in weeks, not days, and track exactly what you are spending the 168 hours you get each week on. In a large analysis project, she asked women who have at least one child living at home and earn at least 100,000 dollars to log their hours for her. The findings resulted in her book “I know how she does it”. (Needless to say, in our society, if children are involved, this is more of a women’s problem.)

“Time is highly elastic”, Vanderkam found. “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we need or want to put into it”. Basically she says, saying “I don’t have time” always means “This is not a priority for me”. I agree with the criticsm reviewers have voiced that her philosophy is mostly for well-educated, well-off people that actually can make certain choices. If you are really struggling to put food on the table, maybe you are less free to prioritize. But still, there are some parts of the day not spent working and those, Vanderkam says, should be spent more intentionally. Time tracking helps making more conscious choices: Do I really want to look at the excel sheet next Sunday and see that I spent more hours watching TV shows (that I don’t even remember) than hours that I spent with friends? Am I really at the office 50 hours a week or might I just be overestimating my workload? Do I want to have to fill in “30 minutes snapchat” on my Google document? (The answer here is hell, yeah #discofilter)

I found that I sleep enough and I cycle a lot. While the cycling is essentially commuting, it’s still somewhat good, and the fact that I do sleep enough on average is rather comforting. I spent 5 hours simply talking to A, and intentionally watched 3,5 hours of television, shows that I actually followed and remember. (I told A on Sunday evening that I needed to increase my TV hours tonight. “You’re probably the only person who says she needs to watch more TV”, he said, a little baffled.)

Laura Vanderkam claims that what you fill your hours with should reflect what you want your life to be: “A life is actually lived in hours”. If you want to be a writer, you have to use some time to develop writing skills. If you want to be well-rested, you have to prioritize sleep. If you, like me, get happy from watching drama series set in the 1960s, you can totally allocate time for watching “Call the Midwife”.  It turns out we have more time than we think.


This is not a travel blog


Carneval is upon us!

By now, readers must believe this is a travel blog. I wish to clarify that it is not – it’s just that a) I seem to only ever have time to blog in transit and b) more blogworthy things happen when not leading one’s mundane life. Or actually, that is not true, interesting things happen to me at home as well. Which is a good thing as I have suspended all private travel for the first three months of 2018. (I travel enough for work and it seems that traveling is not idea for my health, see the aftermath of Luxembourg.)
I am writing this on the ICE train (yes, in Germany the superfast trains have that name, must have been some Polar Express fan who came up with that) which nowadays has functioning internet. I cannot stop marveling at this fact! It makes train travel worthwhile especially when travelling for work. Some of my most productive work days might have been spent on trains.
Where am I going then? To Munich to do site inspections. Bavaria is really far away, actually it takes two hours longer to go there than to go to Paris. There are two things I like about Munich: the excellent stationery store on Rosenstraße and the fact that when I come back from Munich, I always feel blessed to be stationed in Düsseldorf.
Speaking of Dizzel, I dedicated last Sunday to preparing for Carnival in Cologne. The season started November 11th and now the Karnevalssitzungen have started. A Karnevalssitzung is a show where everyone is in costume and the people on stage perform a program of songs with satirical or political lyrics, sketches, dances and speeches. There are different types of Karnevalssitzung and as a carnival novice, my friend Maike took me to the one for immigrants. That is actually the name – because in Cologne, anyone who hasn’t lived in the city forever (and three generations of her ancestors or something) is considered an immigrant, affectionately abbreviated as “Immi”. I do think it is a very egalitarian concept: It does not matter if you are from Brazil, Syria, the neighboring city of Düsseldorf or the German capital – everyone is an Immi. On stage as well as next to us in the audience there were Polish ladies, American men and of course some Immi-Germans. It was a very interesting experience and I feel even more integrated into Carnival now.

Much of my time I also spent working. We are a new team at work now, with me being the oldest (!) one around, and so far it’s going splendid. I had the intern start declutter our archives, and our annual national kick off event went off without a hitch. We actually introduced a new little feature, the Mentimeter. I can highly recommend it for adding a fun and creative element to a seminar or a panel. It lets your audience live vote on a topic (it is both free and incredibly easy to use as long as everyone has a smartphone). We asked our audience about their predicition of the future of the EU and got an interesting overview of the mood in the room to start off our panel discussion.