Hustysk Helen svarar: How do I display my affection to a German girl?

It’s finally May,  the sun is out, it’s spring, it’s my favorite season! And: Love is in the air. So Husytsk Helen will answer a crucial question:

“How do I show my love to a German girl?”


If you are strolling on the streets of the Rhineland these days, you will find trees erected at random spots. Lovely birch trees decorated with colorful crepe paper and adorned sometimes with hearts saying, “Nicole” or “Julia”. You thought the reserved German would discreetly declare his love in a text? Privately tell his beloved how great she is? Swipe her right on Tinder?

Oh, no, the Maypole custom is a public display of romantic interest if there ever was one! Everyone on the street knows someone loves you – and goes through the trouble of cutting down a tree for you to put it up in front of your house. So if your girlfriend doesn’t get the hint or is playing hard to get – why not try the German way and confront her with a tree!


P.S.: Because regional differences are a big deal in Germany, Northern Germany follows a slightly different love tree schedule: there, the birches are put out during Pentecost and called Penecost Trees, not Maypoles.

Tread lightly



We all have problem areas. Some are invented by media, some are altered as ideals change. Some are real. Like my feet. I had the same shoe size average grown women wear when I attended primary school. Today, I wear an American size 12 (a UK 9,5 or a German 44). If I am lucky with the brand that is. Sometimes I even need a 13.

Currently I own one single pair of shoes that really fit me. It is also the pair that is falling apart and that is not presentable in professional or fancy contexts. I think I know all the stores, as a teenager my parents would drive hours with me to go to shoe stores specialised on what the German language calls children’s coffins or Elbe boats. Later, online shopping became a thing and I received packages of shoes that took up half of my student room. Needless to say, knowing the predicament of their customers, retailers sell chaussures for bigfoot girls beginning at three-figure-prices. You get the idea, shoe shopping is a sensitive issue.

But when I almost lost my non-fitting ballerinas at dance class for the second time, I knew something needed to happen. It’s really challenging enough to coordinate the steps without worrying about your shoe deserting you at any minute. I was expecting that dancing shoes would not even be made in my size or if they were I would have to travel to some exotic place to acquire them. Imagine my surprise when we googled and found a shop for all things dance literally around the corner of my home that advertises on their website with women’s shoes up to sizes 13.



It must have been one of the fastest and easiest shoe purchases in my feet history.  Instead of the poor selection or ill-fitting styles being the center of attention, the most remarkable thing about this adventure was the 18-year-old who was embarrasssing her mother with her exhibition of ill-bred character (“You have no taste! I want these! I always have a 15 centimeter heel!”) and the overstrained elderly shop assistant. When a third pair of shoe-seekers came in (seriously, how many people buy dancing shoes in one day in Dizzel?), she barked at them, “It’s very crowded as you can see! You will have to wait. I cannot help you right away!” And to me she said when I rejected the first pair of shoes as too tight, “It could be your feet are changed because of your pregnancy”.

Lesson learned: You can say anything to your customer – as long as you sell a ressource so scarce as dance shoes in size 13!

[Disclaimer: Sorry for all of those who have been waiting for me to announce a baby for, what, a decade…Despite anything the shoe sales lady might think, I am not expecting. And I have it on good authority now that my dress is really not that unflattering.]


Saturday otherwise consisted of good food and great encounters: A took me out for breakfast at our favorite cafe, and later we stopped at the market that I always wanted to go to and got fish for lunch. In the afternoon I briefly met my dear friends Michelle and Henrike on the way to Osnabrück where I attended a family gathering and met my bonus siblings.


Anna and I drove by the “Milk Station” where you can buy milk in a machine 24/7.


Anna and Gerrit taught me Doppelkopf. It’s a complicated German card game that I am determined to master.


Family Party

4 Things that are abundant in Dizzelland of Plenty


Since I moved to Düsseldorf more than two (?!) years ago, I’ve been observing the peculiarities of this city. There are some things that are scarce here (unpopulated green areas and sensible drivers) but there are also things that are extraordinarily abundant in Dizzel.

  1. Hairdressers

Given that I struggle with finding a hairdresser that really suits me, you would think maybe there is just not that much choice. But on the contrary, the density of hairdressers in Düssseldorf is absolutely amazing. I have lived in a few places, and also in, let’s say, place where vanity fairs were definitely going on. But never have I noticed so many hairdressers in a city. If I walk 500 metres from my house, I pass 5 hairdressers. By the time I get to work, I probably have seen around 27.

  1. Post boxes

This might not be relevant to the digital native super modern person. But for me who writes letters with real stamps, Düsseldorf is post box heaven. Turn left and walk 2 minutes – there’s your post box. Oh, you’d rather walk right for 4 minutes? Voila your little yellow box that will accept your love letter. In Germany, this is very unsual – usually you have to google before where there could possibly still be a place to leave your letters. Not in Düsseldorf. Here, post box anxiety is not an issue.

  1. Cars

Sometimes I feel like Düsseldorf is stuck in the Fifties. In a time before the green party was a thing, before we realized maybe cities should be for human beings and not only for automobiles. There are so many cars in Düsseldorf, even people who visit me comment on it. Because of a crazy amount of car commuters, the population seems to have completely accepted that traffic jams are God-given. I try to survive between all the steel. But sometimes I can hardly breathe.

  1. Well-dressed people

Germany does not have a particularily high standard when it comes to style and when I rate fashion choices, I compare them to Sweden. The fact that Düsseldorfers manage to regularily rank high in that comparison should say a lot. It is certainly mostly around the inner city and it’s boulevards, but there some people, especially ladies, know how to dress. Sometimes it’s a joy to look at!


Ora et labora et in omnibus glorificetur dominus


“Why on earth would you do that?” and “Oh, I can’t wait to read the blog post on that” were the two reactions I got when I told people no, I couldn’t attend that party, no, I wasn’t going to that event, no, I couldn’t travel to this amazing destination because I was going to spend four days at a nunnery.

My high school was run by nuns and since then, I have had a fondness for sisters. Already back then, after deciding at age 13 that I could not become a nun myself, I resolved that if I ever needed peace and quiet and a place to think, I would knock on the doors of a convent. So I emailed them and asked if I could do the “ora et labora” program, which means you work with the nuns and, if you want to, attend their prayers.

Today’s German nunneries are a bit like retirement homes plus lots of Jesus. Apart from four women, I only met ladies born in the 1930s or 1940s. You think that sounds awfully boring? Think again. These nuns entered the order before Vatican II – the great ecclesiastical council in the 1960s – and could tell me about what changed in their lives afterwards.



Beautiful church windows


I cleaned four large ones

Did you know nuns were not allowed to choose their name but instead were given one? After Vatican II, they were allowed to change back to their maiden name, as they call their Christian name, and today, they get to propose their name themselves. I now know this because my “host nun” was even younger than me and told me.

I now know what a real attitude of gratitude is because there were the two sisters who sat with me during all meals. Over 80 and not able to walk well anymore, one of them unexpectedly sighed at lunch and said, “Isn’t life just beautiful?” and her sister replied, “It sure is.”

I now know nuns don’t just accept every teaching they are presented because there was the nun who, when we discussed the Scripture about God being the good shepherd, said, “Actually, I kind of mind being called a sheep in this metaphor!” And the nun who shook her head about the current quarrel among German bishops whether or not divorcees and protestants may join in communion, and agitatedly said, “Jesus would never have denied them that!”


The little waterfall outside my winow



Bike tour through the nunnery’s surroundings




These fish were very hungry and as soon as one came near, they would come up and hope for food


My evening hangout




Part-time nun strolling through the garden, behind me the nunnery’s guest house

Convents are transformative. From my normal life including getting up at the latest possible, surviving the commute-road-battle, working at a screen for hours, chores and a Netflix episode at night, I went to attending prayer at 6:15 a.m., commuting for 45 seconds in the corridor, cleaning the crypt, reading psalms, and watching the sun go down in the abbey garden, sitting next to the graves of sisters long gone. (“Say hi when you go to the graves!”, my table nun joked.)

Convents also have, I have always found, a particular peaceful atmosphere. Located on the top of a hill in the (surprisingly beautiful!) Sauerland region, one was safe from all bustle. No city noise, no crowds. Just nature and heavenly tranquility. I recommend it.


“And lead us not into temptation”: The nunnery snack bar


The convent is located next to an official bike route that follows the Ruhr river


I decided to bike the first few kilometres home


There was even art on the bike path


Proof that nothing could upset me when I just had left the convent:

The train arrived, lots of people boarded. I got on as the last person with my bike. When I turned around to pick up my baggage that was still on the platform, the automatic doors closed before me. (If you stick your arm in the door, it will crush your arm, not halt.) The train started moving, my suitcase stayed on the platform, my bike and I travelled. So I scrambled through the entire, very crowded train until I reached the train driver and politely with a serenity only the nunnery could’ve given me, explained my situation to him. “Would you please inform someone that my suitcase is not a bomb?” I asked. He told me the schedule was designed that he had 20 seconds (!) to stop at that station (making it nearly impossible for everyone to get onboard, especially for my luggage). Half an hour later, he informed me my suitcase would now travel after me. The little black thing had become an unaccompanied minor! I had to wait an hour longer than planned to secure our reunion but then a cheerful train driver hoisted my precious bag out of his window. Thank God!


90 minutes at the station in the glamorous town of Schwerte – I got to read almost the entirety of magazines in their newspaper store!





On a bright cloud of music

Almost four years ago now, my uncle and godfather celebrated his Silver Wedding. It was a grand celebration, the kind you find in Northern Germany in the countryside. Ball gowns, more than a hundred guests – and ballroom dancing. Tradition demands that the bride and groom open the dance floor with the so called honor dance. Then their parents join in, then their children, and slowly the dance floor is filled with couples elegantly waltzing around the room. When it was time for the honor dance, my cousin, their son, came up to me, asking me if I would do the dance with him. Imagine my glee! And then imagine my terror: I can’t dance. I can’t put myself in the center of a watching crowd and do ballroom dancing. So I turned him down. And that was the night I thought, “One day, I really have to learn this stuff”.


The last time I was doing ballroom dancing, 2002 in school. You can see on my face how much I liked it.

Fast forward to last night: Here I am, in the crammed ballroom of a Düsseldorf dance school. Around me a very young Japanese couple, two best agers who are both equally superslim, several probably soon-to-be-wed ladies and gentlemen, and my friends Anja and Micke. And A – because four years after the Silver Wedding debacle, I am dating a guy who is the exception from the men-don’t-dance-rule: he wants to dance and knows how to do it.

A’s been telling me we should take dancing classes pretty much since he met me and I always replied that it would be agonzing for him to live through the beginner’s course with me when he could do all the fancy stuff with a real dance partner. “True, but I still wanna dance with you“, he replied.

So, remembering that I actually want to know how to dance, I actually want to be able to do that waltz at my godfather’s Golden Wedding, we signed up at the local dance school. Yesterday we had the first of twelve lessons. (“To go to dancing classes as two couples”, the intern commented, “is such an adult thing to do!”)

They say all problems you might have in a relationship come to light on the dance floor. Your troubles manifest on the dance floor. If that’s true, we have only one issue: I love discofox. And he doesn’t.




Solingen’s favorite pastime

Things you would really not expect in urban Germany:

zero degrees in April,

a fully occupied Catholic cathedral,

and dedicated baseball fanbase

Yet, I have experienced all three in the past week!

Last Saturday, A took me out to the ball game. 


Isn’t it very hard on the knees to be squatting like that all the time? #worriedaboutpeoplesjoints

I was entirely unaware that it was at all possible to watch baseball in this country, that this sport, America’s favorite pastime, even had teams in Germany. But, lo and behold!, there is a whole scene out there: The Hamburg Stealers, the Cologne Cardinals, the Mannheim Tornados, the Mainz Athletics and, most relevant, the Solingen Alligators. That’s A’s team and that’s where I got to go. The German baseball teams are divided into the North League and the South League, with the latter being better, A tells me, possibly because South Germany was occupied by the Americans after the war. (Yes, history matters.)

My knowledge about baseball was almost non-existent. I knew that people keep baseball bats at home to defend themselves against burglars. When A started explaining the rules of the game, I immediately linked it to brännboll, only to make unqualified comments such as “Oh, and if he can’t reach the base, he’s burned?”, or to the famous Baseball metaphors for physical intimacy. Sometimes I even accidentally said basketball. (Sorry!)

When we got to the diamond (that’s what the playing field is called. You’re welcome.), I instantly felt transferred to America. The baseball apparel, those light-colored pants, the iconic caps, are so connected in my brain with the U.S. (and Modern Family),  I really had to briefly remind myself that I was not in the Yankee Stadium but in fact in Solingen, a German town of 160.000 inhabitants.

But that did certainly not keep the Solingen Alligators from bringing on the true American spirit: at the “Gator Diner”, you could buy burgers and fries, the players’ girlfriends have shirts saying “Gatorgirl” on them, one German lady (that we nicknamed “Head of Fans”) even shouted every now and then, “One for the books!” in English, and during the Seventh-Inning-Stretch, as tradition demands, someone performed “Take me out to the ball game”. A explained to me what to do during that: between the halves of the seventh inning of a game (an inning is the game unit during which one team bats, with the other team playing defense. Again, you’re welcome.), you are supposed to get up and stretch. When the seventh inning came, I certainly understood the point of that. A game can take hours and you are basically sitting all the time, so the seventh-inning-strech is a brilliant custom. Actually, I would want to put forward a motion to introduce a third and fifth inning stretch.

Baseball is complicated. I mean, with soccer, you just have two teams running after one ball, wanting to get it into one of the two goals. Baseball I still didn’t fully grasp after watching it for four hours. When I felt like I’d just gotten the hang of it, A said, “Did you see what the pitcher just did? That was an exception from the rules”.

“We” were playing the Berlin Flamingos which for me prophesied the result of the match. I mean if alligators and flamingos meet, who eats whom, eh? The German teams consist mostly of German amateurs but each team has some American players who seem to actually live on playing baseball in Germany. When teams meet, they always play two matches on one day to make the travel across Germany worth it.

Baseball has been around for a while with the first reference dating from 1791 and latest after the Civil War, it became the thing in the U.S.. In 1876, they formed a national league and I think their clothing still is still reminiscent of that time. (Which is a good thing because the mid-19th-century was totally fascinating.) Baseball seems to have been, and maybe still is, more of a white man’s sport. The New York team, the Yankees, are the champion of champions – they have won like a gazillion times – and one of the most successful sports clubs in the world.

Now this trip to the ball park has instilled two new wishes in me: I kind of wanna go see the Yankees play. And I am really hoping to encounter a baseball player soon to show off my newly acquired small talk knowledge!

The overcrowded Catholic Cathedral: Apparently, during Easter Night Mass, all existent Catholics in Cologne and its surroundings come out to the cathedral and take up every single of the 1200 seats more than an two hours before mass starts. This relegated me to an awfully cold stone bench next to an UISS (Unidentified Stone Saint). It was so chilly I had to put my pyjamas under myself to avoid serious bladder infection (no, I don’t always carry my sleepwear in my handbag, but I had spent the previous night away). The girls’ choir was uncomparably angelic but otherwise I am sorry to say that the mass did not at all live up to my expectations and no Easter spirit was to be felt. Next year I’ll be back at a little local church.

I still love the supermarket


Remember how much I loved the supermarkets in the U.S.? It is not like I am an avid grocery shopper, actually I buy the exact same things at the same store each week. But I am amazed by a well-sorted grocery store with a pleasant atmosphere. German stores are okay but they are hardly an exciting experience if you are not into the adrenaline rush packing your stuff more quickly than the cashier will throw them at you at the check out.

The answer, ”Only what we have on the shelf“ is often given when you ask for something a little out of the ordinary, in the cheap stores things go out of stock on a Saturday night, and generally, you just want to get the shopping over with.

But now – a new giant supermarket opened in central Düsseldorf. It is not just a supermarket, it is an attraction. For months, maybe years, they have been building it. It was all over the media last week when they opened. They say it takes ten visits before you really know everything that it is in there. Did consume-loving Helen have to go there? Of course!

Luckily, this buyers‘ paradise lies just a short walk from my office so I could use my lunch break for a reconnaissance visit. They advertised their new store as the place where you could find a great variety of everything and also very special things. I had my first real life encounter with aloe vera and yam roots there. They sell everything from ginger-flavored hazelnut crisp bread to quince juice. They have any candy you can ask for, including the nostalgic PEZ thingies, and endless rows of chips. They have an entire counter just for mozzarella and a champagne bar where the most expensive bottle costs 888 euro. Of course, you can buy handmade pasta there, too. This food mecca offers 65.000 products on 10.000 square metres. Needless to say, they offer maps at the entrance.

It is bizarre and gives you a sensory overload, yes. But until I can go back and marvel at an American supermarket, I now have an alternative to look at. And if I ever need to get fresh aloe vera, I now where to go.