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 cafĂ©s, 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 VĂ€sterbottenost (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-DĂŒsseldorf 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 mĂŒsli 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 cafĂ© in a southern part of DĂŒsseldorf 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 DĂŒsseldorf. In all of DĂŒsseldorf. 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 cafĂ© 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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A Wuppertag

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You might have seen my hashtag #nrwbucketlist. When I live somewhere, I tend to not do the things that the region is known for because “I’ll have time for that”. To avoid getting caught in the “I’ll do it someday” trap, I keep bucket lists. I had one for Stockholm, two actually for different seasons, and last year I wrote one for the federal state I live in now, North-Rhine-Westphalia, commonly shortened in Germany to NRW. Things on the list that I have already crossed off are Xanten, the Lindenstraße set, the Immisitzung, to name a few. Today it was time for a Wuppertag (Wupperday) in Wuppertal.

Wuppertal is one of the cities around here that was artificially made one. It also starts seamlessly when other cities end. I just cannot get over the population density around here. Wuppertal, named after the river Wupper, is regarded average picturesque at best, and today we had the worst possible weather to take a trip. But that did not stop us – I was pretty excited to finally try the Schwebebahn, the suspension railway, that I kept hearing about when growing up, and imagined to be super futuristic. I mean, it’s hovering above the city!

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It turned out it’s more retro-futuristic. (It was built in 1901!) But still so cool: I felt like in a rollercoaster minus the awful loopings I hate. It even swings when you step off! We tootled through all of Wuppertal, above the river, seeing the sights of the city. At the central station we got off to visit one of the places Wuppertal is most known for (next to the Schwebebahn and famous choreographer Pina Bausch): the von-der-Heytd-Museum. It was showing an exhibit about Paula Modersohn-Becker who lived in Bremen, thus elegantly tying together where I come from and where I am now, drawing me in even more. The exhibit was really nice, I learned that many artists studied in DĂŒsseldorf at that time. I also realizedI know little about the artists around Paula. My new favorite is now Hans am Ende, I decided.

Of course, we also stopped for Wupperfika!

A note on my blog post frequency: I now have a brilliant excuse -my space key barely works and it is a strenous effort to type. Also, I now realized my parents adopted Instagram stories, so I broadcast more there.

 

Beyond Nils Holgersson

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I am sitting in a clean, cushioned chair that obviously is part of an interior design concept and around me bell-like female voices sing about the importance of freedom. Did you guess where I am? Yes, at a Swedish university (hint: the cushioned concept chair) at my friend Malin’s choir practice. Her choir is due to perform at the welcome ceremony for the new students tomorrow morning and there is only one other girl in her voice who can be there so she did her duty and attends the practice. And I get to blog to a living testimonial to the choir culture in Sweden.

Yesterday, after more than seven hours of traveling, I made it to Karlstad where Malin lives nowadays. I am actually in Sweden for work, for a conference on Wednesday in Stockholm, but why flew up several times if you can combine trips. Karlstad is the capital of VÀrmland and the largest city in the province with 91,000 inhabitants. I have only been in VÀrmland three times in my life but I have had great times at VÀrmlands nation in Uppsala when I studied so I hold the province in high regard. It is also home to some famous Swedes, among them the founder of Ericsson, singers Zarah Leander and Monica Zetterlund, poets Nils Ferlin and Gustaf Fröding, and I believe most known: the grande dame of Swedish literature, Selma Lagerlöf.

Today, Malin took me to Lagerlöf’s estate MĂ„rbacka for a guided tour. As a preparation, I had even started reading the only book by Lagerlöf that I own, “The Emperor of Portugal”. On the tour of the house we were the only people under 60 but I attributed this to the fact that it was after all a Monday. The estate was impressive – and modern, as she had such things as internal telephone lines installed in the house. Selma Lagerlöf, I learned, was an overall rather avantgarde woman. She took a loan to study to become a teacher when her father denied her an education, she cut her hair super short in 1891 she was the first woman to be awared a Nobel Prize (and the first Swede!), the first woman to be elected as a member of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, she became a very active political influencer (as we would call it today), fighting for women’s right and suffrage. And she dated a woman.

And here we thought she was just that elementary teacher who wrote Nils Holgersson…I am putting some more Lagerlöf classics on my to-read-list.

 

MĂ„rbacka has lots of apple trees and we tasted a tiny apple that was surprisingly delicious.

 

Selma Lagerlöf had a thing for peacocks. There was a sign with a story about how as a child, her leg was paralyzed and meeting a peacock healed her. Peacocks are still around and, as the sign informed me, are called “Sara and Pharao, as tradition demands”. I had no idea that there was a peacock naming tradition but I am glad I know now in case I ever get myself one.