Moving tips after move #23



  • Ditch the moving company. They create stress and hectic, break things, at least one of the crew has a bad attitude and they cost you a fortune. Okay, don’t ditch them entirely, but limit their service to carrying the things you or your friends can’t/won’t carry. That is at least my plan for the next move. (In 10 years. Can’t face moving again soon.)
  • Wear something that has pockets (you’ll have all that stuff you need to store somewhere), have a lanyard keychain (the best way to keep track of all the keys, old and new) and keep your sunglasses close (regardless of the weather, these are for shading your eyes in tears as you walk out of what used to be your dear home).
  • Do not move clutter (just don’t!) and when you unpack, re-examine your belongings again. I decluttered half of my books upon arrival. I tell myself that libraries exist.
  • Don’t throw away that empty extra plastic back lying around. You will need it. There is always more to collect (random items, trash, love letters) before you walk out of your old home.
  • Pack a box labeled “FIRST BOX”. If you can have that box in a different color than the others to find it even quicker (are there like red moving boxes?), that’s even better. In that box, put essentials like toilet paper and bed sheets. Don’t put the charger for your phone in there. That item is so important you should keep it close to your body at all times.
  • Speaking of the phone, you will need internet on your phone. Do not use up all your data before your move like I did. You will feel completely handicapped when you can’t navigate the new neighborhood, look up a hardware store, check your bank account or connect to WhatsApp.
  • I unpacked within less than two days. Not because I am a great person but because  I have nothing I don’t need so the whole “I didn’t unpack that box for a year” makes zero sense to me. I unpack because I am frantically looking for something in those boxes all the time. That’s a sure sign you brought non-clutter.
  • Allow yourself several months to settle in and feel at home again. Home is where you make it, but you don’t make it in ten days. (Which sucks, but it’s true!)

Home is where you make it

When I moved to Düsseldorf in 2015, I did not know anything about the city. I wondered how far it is to the other cities, which museums are good and which cinemas are most cozy. Now I know all that and I know it’s a livable city. Home is where you make it.

It says more about my situation then than about Düsseldorf how much I disliked the capital of North-Rhine-Westphalia when I arrived four years ago.

As I leave Düsseldorf now, I look back with gratitude, nostalgia and clemency. I owe you, Dizzel. Thank you

  • for not killing me on your roads without bikes lanes
  • for showing me the immense beauty of the Rhine Valley, and with it, drawing me closer to Germany as a whole
  • for placing me in the center of Europe, letting me explore Belgium, the Netherlands and France
  • for adding the joys of Carnival to my life (that might just have been the most transformative part of it all)
  • for being so small it’s easy to get around but so big that you have the international big city feel
  • for letting me develop so much professionally
  • for finding me someone who is willing to make Midsummer wreaths
  • for restoring my health (overall, I mean. We can disregard my constant colds for a moment.)
  • for my general practitioner, my hairdresser and my seamstress (those alterations were worth a lot)
  • for all the sunny days on my balcony, watching the neighbor kids play
  • for the wonderful apartment that was my home
  • for my hood that had all the cafés, bars, the farmer’s market and the bulk store (but why no cinema? I’ve wondered about this for four years now.)
  • for the local church that with its innovative approaches reintegrated me into Catholicism (more or less)
  • for a workplace that was the Swedish ‘ghetto’ I needed and that gave me fika (every Friday 3 p.m., holy tradition!), new music recommendations (Orup, anyone? GES?) , lots of random new Swedish vocabulary (“gäddvika”, “jungfruben”, it just goes on) and amazing sunset views from the sixth floor
  • for all my lovely interns and great co-workers
  • for the brief Erasmus feeling spring of 2017 with all the parties in the dubious clubs in the Old Town

The Dizzel years became twice as long as I thought and have transformed my rejection into affection. I will always fondly remember you. And I will be back.


Walking into Düsseldorf 2015

Glad Midsommar!


Either I have strayed too far from Sweden or I am too occupied with the move, but this year, I gave much less attention to Midsummer than usual. Or actually that’s not entirely true – I celebrated a Business Midsommar event for work and I attended the Swedish Society’s Midsummer celebrations. But both were a week before the actual Midsummer so that barely counts. Today is the real Midsummer! In Sweden, this is a calendar milestone just like “Easter” or “Christmas”. In my work correspondence, we say, “This needs to be done before Midsummer”. I guess if you tried that with, say, Italians, they’d be like “Huh, when is the middle of summer?!”

I have lots of nice Midsummer memories as my Timehop app always reminds me. One year, I celebrated in my new co-worker’s garden in Stockholm (we had to work the next day), in Hamburg I had picknicks with young expat Swedes, in 2016 I had a hand surgery right before Midsummer, last year I think the soccer game Sweden – Germany was on Midsummer Day. Two years ago, I had a really nice Midsummer gathering in the park behind my house (I think that one so far wins the award for Helen’s best Midsummer). A early on understood the significance of this day. He never questioned whether it was neccessary to get flowers and make a wreath. Actually, he patiently helped me make my krans even this year.

And how am I celebrating tonight? I am honoring Midsummer in the best way while moving house: with a trip to IKEA!


Anja had the best wreath


We competed in the tipspromenad where you had to answer multiple choice questions like “How many Swedes live abroad?”


At the Swedish Society’s Celebration last weekend

Comparative studies of weekly papers in North and West Germany


Collection of problematic stuff today, Friday June 14. It sounds like a psychotherapy thing to me but I guess that’s not what they mean.

When my Anja friend learned Swedish, one of the first complete sentences she said to me was, „Helen är en mycket aktiv pensionär!” (Helen is a very active pensioner.) The reason for her saying this was my delight with the weekly paper and the Aldi store’s broschure in it each Wednesday. She’s right, there is probably no one under 65 but me who reads those papers. A chuckles to himself when he sees me earnestly studying the pages, occasionally informing him on what’s going on in Düsseldorf.

So they won’t be surprised to hear that as soon as I had the keys to the Hamburg apartment (that I am paying for but not moving into until in two weeks), I picked up the Hamburg Weekly Paper that was distributed in the house’s entrance corridor. I took it with me, assuming I could read it through while taking in the new apartment for five minutes. I was in for a surprise! The Hamburg weekly paper (this is not the regular newspaper. This is a paper financed entirely by ads, reporting about very local happenings) has 12 pages full of information. In Düsseldorf, we have four and one is so massively directed at seniors not even I can read it. It took me like an hour to study the Hamburg issue and I felt like I was doing comparative studies of weekly papers. I can conclude the following:

The Hamburg paper does not have an Aldi broschure (problematic, I think) and its writing would probably be referred to as lurid journalism. On the front page there was an article about the wading pool that was out of order because the city decided hygiene standards can’t be met. The headline the paper had? „Was the end planned years ago?“ The quotes were equally dramatic: „Going to the park’s pool instead is intolerable“, „Where am I supposed to go with my children?“ and „If we have to, we are prepared to put on a water demonstration“. Whoa. So much rage because of a wading pool.

Page three featured an article about a tree that was planted 150 years ago when the French-German war ended. Today, nobody pays attending to the tree and nobody pulls out the weeds. The paper’s headline: „The battle for the forgotten tree“. They totally saw the bigger picture writing, „It is important to know where you’re coming from. This tree can help you remember“. I love how history seems to be a thing in my new hood.

I am already looking forward to reading that paper each week. Not only because of the dramatic articles, also because there are so many cool things happening apparently. (I assume it is one of the signs that Hamburg is a really large city. So much going on, it’s overwhelming!) I learned there is a choir workshop with schlager and pop music (I’ll be on vacation, otherwise I’d totally attend), a „word picknick“ in the park where poets and authors read, a Catholic Soccer Cup (reminds me of The Interfaith Softball League in L.A.), a theatre play starring only people who stutter or have other language difficulties, and the campaign „#respectpigeon“ to educate people and counteract the negative image of pigeons.


A baby is welcomed in the paper. They write her name means “hope” and “date palm”. In which culture are date palms the same as hope?