Thirty

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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.

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

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

 

Helau!

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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!

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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

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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.

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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”.

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

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

 

 

Upstairs, downstairs

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“I’ll have to get the blog post done on the train home or I’ll never get around to it”, I told my friend Joraine with whom I spent last weekend in Luxembourg. Well, I did not post anything because already on the trip, my health deterioated (again! still?) and by the time I got home (spoiler alert: you have to take regional trains almost all the way, four hours, to Luxembourg, that, with their commuter train interior, are not beneficial to anyone’s health), I was so sick. The next day the doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to go to work all week in order to spare the co-workers my virus. So my days have been a blur of sleep and going to the pharmacy, starting to clear up somewhat by now – I actually know what day of the week it is today, but I am still coughing like a crazy person.

What can I tell you about Luxembourg?

It’s small. Like, really small. I somehow thought the country’s 600 000 inhabitants mostly lived in the capital, but no. We actually were looking for people all the time and only in the main square we found some while the other streets were deserted at almost all times. Looking for Luxembourgers is generally a difficult game because there are almost none – the population is made up of three thirds foreigners.

It’s high and low. I have never seen a city like this, there’s a upper town and a lower town and I don’t mean this in a socioeconomic way. The difference in altitude is impressive when looking at the whole city and navigating is tricky because Google can’t tell if you are upstairs or downstairs, showing your little blue circle on the same spot even if you just walked 15 minutes uphill. A better way to get up and down is the mountain railway which brings us to:

It has amazing public transportation. I would say I have had a mild interest in public transit even before I met Emily but it is surely due to her enthusiasm that I also got rather excited about getting around in Luxembourg. We used all public transport accessible including the brand new tram with its futuristic light design and a different melody played to announce each stop (however, no written information about the stops was to be found), the elevator, and the mountain railway which we got to use all alone late at night.

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It likes to strictly forbid things. It seems that the dominant language in the country is French. However, when we got to the hotel, I noticed that the prohibition sign was in German. I guess they pick their languages best suited to the desired effect. In Luxembourg, many things are forbidden, judging by the many signs I saw, and it’s not only prohibited, it’s always strictly forbidden. It’s strictly forbidden to play soccer in the yard or not to sort the trash. Lux and Order!

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The national dish? Yeah, not that great.

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Luxembourg is the seat of many EU institutions but it really does not feel as EU as Brussels

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In the MUDAM, the Modern Art Museum

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Maybe my favorite exhibit at the MUDAM, a moving carousel

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Yes, they also exhibit potatoes.

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Kate was in Luxembourg on a visit recently and since she seemed to enjoy the Luxembourg City Museum, we gave it a go too.

Christmas Lowlight

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Not the church we went to, but the one I went to for “Christmas singing” the night before. It was packed, didn’t get a seat or a lyrics leaflet. Luckily, I am an experienced Allsångs-veteran and quickly googled the lyrics each time a song was announced.

My friend Ingrid and I have a habit of texting each other reviews of church services we went to. This morning, I received her verdict on the Catholic Christmas Mass she attended in the U.S. last night. I went to a protestant Christmas service late last night, because he is protestant. We both agreed afterwards that this was a true Christmas lowlight. Not only did the church’s Christmas tree lack every other branch and they ignored the Christmas classic „Tochter Zion“ on their song list.

The service was apparently gauged to the needs and expectations of the people who go to church exactly one time a year. The entire liturgy was trimmed and cut to not indispose visitors. The Creed? Not really neccessary, eh? Confession, it’s not actually essential for Christian faith, is it? The reading was, funny to me, not about Christ’s birth but about the Three Kings getting lost. The pastor managed to steer clear of any sort of spiritual depth when delivering a sermon that barely referred to the Scripture she read. Instead, in the spirit of clientele mass, she read out a story about a family father who feels the Christmas Eve with all his offspring and all these presents – and oh, so much food – is just too much. But when he goes for a walk with his dog, leaving his wife with the dishes and his sons to freely express their populist right wing opinions („he didn’t say anything in response“) – when he finally gets out to the empty streets, the family father feels „that moment of silence that’s Christmas“. Just what Christmas is all about, the annoying family, the presents and the Christmas dinner. „Well, I’ve seen things on Netflix that had considerably more philosophical depth“, A said next to me.

Bättre kan ni“, I thought when we left, „I know you can do better than this“. So when we got home, A pulled out my Bible to re-read the passages, and I downloaded the Swedish Protestant’s Head of Church’s Christmas sermon. And it was all there: the joy, the comfort, the calling.

Don’t worry, the service did by no means spoil our cosy Christmas Eve. But Easter we’re going to a Catholic mass.

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First Christmas at (my own) home

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A got mini dancers for Christmas. Well, and a dancing lesson with me. (No, not as the teacher, obviously.)

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How to know it’s Christmas at the post office

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Christmas Time is meeting friends time, and that’s maybe the best part of Christmas. Tabea and Marita came by to see me, and I had dinner with Michelle in Berlin.

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A look back at Berlin: location scouting took me all different kinds of places…

 

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At Berlin Central Station, they have a Christmas service. IN the very station.

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Can there ever be too much Lucia? Attended Lucia at the Embassy…

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…and the Berlin Cathedral which was filled to the very last seat

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Locations on water…

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…and with a view

Speaking of Berlin! I have been wanting to share with you a recommendation to my friend Annelie’s blog about her life in Berlin, Hemma i Berlin. We met when we both worked in Stockholm and moved to Germany at the same time, but somehow she managed to integrate more quickly and now has a whole German family with two small kids to show for! Chances are you have heard me talk about Annelie so here is your perfect opportunity to follow her:

She started blogging about Berlin a while ago and you should check out her take on the best restaurants, learn about her “Swede of the Month” or read her musings on things typically German (might be my favorite blog entry, esp. the part about Kuchenbehälter).

 

Citatsamlingen lever än…del, let’s say, 38

Du weißt doch, wie mein zweiter Name lautet. – Danger?