What I read

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As a historian, I like to look back, and now is the season of “My Year” reviews. You can let Spotify tell you which songs you listened most to (in my case, I’ve used the app so little outside the gym, I wonder if I should discontinue my subscription), you can see on Instagram which photos were most liked. You can track your time or expenses and review 2018 in that way. I decided, this year, to look back at the books I read.

A convinced me to register at Goodreads last year. At that point, I didn’t really see the point of telling an app what I read. But now I am hooked! It’s a social network so you can see what your friends are reading, you can update your progress (motivational!), by your ratings the algorithm recommends new books for you, and when my mother asks me if I have a good book suggestion, I just look at my Goodreads, and say, “Oh, yes, Americanah!”

I really think Goodreads has spurred my reading. (The fact that I through my Kindle and my amazing friend Emily have access to the Los Angeles Public Library has helped a lot, too.) The automatic Goodreads year review confirms this: I read almost 9,000 pages this year! The longest book was “American Wife” and let me tell you, I savored every minute of it. The most popular one, among other reads, was Eleanor & Park, which I thought was mediocre at most, and pointless in a way. The least popular was Elizabeth II’s biography. Such a great book! I assume it’s “not popular” because it’s German and Goodreads is used by mostly Anglophones.

I read 28 books (and abandoned 10, including some I thought would capture my attention, like “The Buried Giant”, “My brilliant friend”, “The Art of Fielding” and “Main Street”). If anyone is looking for recommendations, these were my favorites:

What Alice forgot, by Liane Moriarty: I realize this is a chickflick, but basic concept of a 40-something-woman losing the last ten years of her memory, is original and the writing is compelling, potentially – maybe depending on your own life situation – leading to deeper thoughts. I read this, almost 500 pages, in a few days on a trip to Luxembourg.

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche: There’s a reason this book is hyped. Everything about this book is awesome, except the end (but that’s okay). Reading “Americanah” opened up my mind to the fact that the world is not just Europe or America.

Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan: This book also follows the “ehm, I am so ignorant to non-Europe” pattern. It’s downright elating to expand one’s knowledge of other cultures – and don’t worry, this book is so popcultural and easy to digest, you will enjoy reading it. Then, you have to go see the movie which came out 2018 – good fun!

Sisterland, American Wife and Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Yes, I went on a Sittenfeld spree. I knew I liked her, but now I know I am a fan. All three books (the only ones available I hadn’t read yet and I read them straight after another) were good. “Eligible” is a modern version of “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sisterland” is a supernatural tale about twins, and “American Wife” is a novel of Laura Bush’s life. It’s so well-written that you start feeling empathy for Republicans.

Jag heter inte Miriam (My name is not Miriam), by Majgull Axelsson: One of the, actually few, Swedish books I’ve read this year (Kindle, L.A., see above). The story is about a Roma woman who survived the concentration camps and came to Sweden, pretending her entire life to be Jewish because Roma were deported in Sweden even in the post-1945-era. A touching book that taught me some facts I didn’t know (e.g. I wasn’t fully aware of how extreme Dr. Mengele’s sadistic experiments were).

Es gibt Dinge, die kann man nicht erzählen, (Some things cannot be told) by Kirsten Boie: This author is the German Astrid Lindgren and anyone who says elsewise doesn’t know anything. For many years, I’ve been a devoted Boie reader. This story collection about children in Africa, that Boie personally knows, made me cry.

One book that had an exciting basic idea (eight scientists living under glass for two years as an experiment – this really happened and Steve Bannon was part of it!), but couldn’t make it on the recommendation list, was The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. I consciously hadn’t read a Boyle in literally 12 years and once again my verdict is: good start and then he just rambles for 250 pages too long. And the award for worst book I’ve read this year goes to Bill Clinton’s “The President is missing”. I don’t even know why I finished it. Sorry, Bill!

Now there are 19 days left in this year. My plan is to finish the two books I am currently reading: Ian McEwan, Nutshell (a murder case told from the perspective of an unborn baby – super weird but now I want to know how it ends) and Elizabeth Strout, Anything is possible (tales from the small town never have been this interesting).

A good book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

(Persian proverb)

Unfortunately, amazon doesn’t pay me anything for posting links to their website, but I am thinking it’s the easiest way for you to find out more about the books.

 

 

High Society

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My work takes me to wondrous places. Tonight, it took me to a pool under a glass ceiling on top of Munich. Swimming, I had a direct view of the most famous landmark, the Frauenkirche church. By the pool, young blond women were sipping champagne. If you keep up with my schedule, you know it’s gala times. This time, the gala is happening at the most prominent and expensive hotel in Munich. And that’s why I stay here for two nights.

I booked no breakfast for our team. They charge a sum for breakfast – champagne breakfast – that covers a month of my regular breakfasts. Isn’t that weird? 

My co-worker and I explored the hotel, from the spa to the roof top bar. It’s zero degrees and they have an open air bar! The staff proudly showed us the blankets to keep warm, “designed for polar expeditions!” (The cocktail prices were also Swedish.)

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The shopping mall next door is very beautiful and has lots of great stuff you don’t really need

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Dinner

 

Traveling East, North and backwards

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Work and friends had me go to Berlin from Wednesday to Sunday. I was travelling from the far West of Germany to the fast East, basically from Holland to Poland. What I didn’t realize was that I was also going from 2018 to 1998. Fashion seems to return every 20 years, but really did anyone believe the ugliest items of the Nineties were to reemerge? I didn’t think wearing pants that are way too short, jeans jackets that are way too big and fanny packs would ever make their comeback. But Berlin people want to be avantgarde-cool at all times even if it looks perfectly ridiculous.

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One of the many nineties people

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I had the opportunity to see the exhibition on the Gurlitt Nazi Art Theft.

My stay included looking at locations from tunnels to tipis, attending a design event at the embassy, visiting a startup lab, and meeting with Ingrid, Michelle, Malin, and my cousin Felix. Malin had come to Berlin for our annual 2MH-weekend and we showed her the German capital for the first time. Even though I hope I will never have to move to Berlin, I will say that their second-hand-shops are really well curated, their hipster streets have the coolest cafés, their markets cater to my needs and they have Dussmann, a stationery and book store (that calls itself a “Culture Shop”) that I would go to every week if I could.

It has become a rule now that if I travel, I will catch a cold. This time was no exception, I returned sick and had less than two days to recuperate before my plane to Stockholm lifted on Tuesday, for work. It was my shortest trip to Sweden ever and one of my sweetest. Short enough to just take in the nice things, to import Västerbottenost (very important), and (more important) to spend some evening hours with my dear friend Bianca. Less than 24 hours after arrival, I returned to Dizzel, feeling like I now had travelled to the Eighties.

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This is where I worked yesterday. Can you guess where?

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Oh, Lidl…

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The Swedish news were all about children names the state refused and parents fighting against it. Who wants to name their kid superfastjellyfish?!

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Already miss this one a lot lot lot

I’ve been in Eighties-Düsseldorf for 19 hours when  I am leaving again, and again to Berlin. How much do you have to be home in order to make renting an apartment worthwhile? Asking for a friend.

Homo Ludens

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I am still learning what the point with board games is. I mean, I get that it is is great for memory formation, cognitive skills, problem solving. It’s just that so far I have always been more inclined to spend my free time in conversation with someone (or on Netflix…) than absorbed with silently contemplating my next strategic move on the board. But A likes to play. So when he suggested going to the world’s (!) largest Board Game Fair in the neighboring city, I was up for broadening my horizons.

I must have been as wide-eyed as I was when I first saw the hotel buffet in Croatia. But the amount of board games offered at the fair easily outnumbered the Croatian food options. 1400 new games were presented – and I believe there were old ones being sold, too. As we walked through the fair halls (there are six. Six giant halls with board games all over), I realized I do know many game publishers. Kosmos, Amigo, Schmitt, Haba, all rang a bell so I must’ve played one or the other board game.

The two things that impressed me the most were the people playing on-site and the themes of the games. (I was also impressed with the prices of the board games…) There were large areas adjacent to the exhibitors’ booths where visitors sat and played. You know how everyone talks about people growing lonely behind their screens, wasting away their creative energy? Not here! Here I saw the joy of play in action. Play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun.

And apparently you can play with almost any theme. Exploding kittens is a big hit right now, I learned, and we contemplated buying either “Fog of Love”, a board game which is “like starring in a romantic comedy” (including expansion packs called “Trouble with the In-Laws” and “Mismatched”) or “Holding on”, in which you are a palliative care team tasked to provide care to a terminally ill person. Then there was also the educational game: Textura, about history, for schools, and with a special edition on Polish-German relations. The historian in me rejoiced: what better way is there to teach history than by becoming a part of it, playing? (Schools and teachers get it for free, by the way!)

We ended up not buying any game, but I borrowed some from the library. Apparently one (about guessing agents names) is a bestseller, it was all over the fair. The good thing with borrowing a game is that you have to play it before your loan expires. (I just have to fit that in with finishing Riverdale and lots of work traveling this month.) Let the games begin!

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Post-game-morning, A took me to our favorite brunch restaurant. Their müsli is out of this world delicious.

 

The Odyssee

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It is the middle of the afternoon on a Monday and I am sitting in a café in a southern part of Düsseldorf 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 Düsseldorf. In all of Düsseldorf. 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 café 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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