Stranded

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It is 8:30 a.m. and I am on the way to work. That isn’t completely unsual (albeit a little earlier than usual). The unusal part is that I won’t be in the office before lunchtime at the earliest. My commute is 4 hours today.

I went up north on Friday to give a speech at the Economic Affairs Council in the city where my aunt lives. So I took the opportunity to pay her a visit. (Which was great! We saw “On the basis of sex” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, highly recommended.) Since I was already halfway to my parents’ place, I travelled further north to see them and be shown the progress on their new house.

At home, I almost obsessively listen to the radio news, A calls me “news addicted”. But when I am away and my routine falters, I eat D├Âner and disregard the news. This wouldn’t be a big problem usually. But it turned out to be yesterday when I had missed an important piece of information: a storm was coming.

I had decided to leave later in the day to be able to see my friend Jonna in Bremen which is en route home. When I got to the station at 5:30 p.m., I learned that no trains were running anymore. Had I left two hours earlier, I probably would’ve caught the last train going south. Now, it was just tons of passengeres stranded on the platforms. The storm had taken down trees and all train connections to North-Rhine-Westphalia had to be suspended for the entire day and night. “Shit’s really hit the fan down there”, the attendant on platform 8 informed me. “You can get to Osnabr├╝ck sometime today, but I don’t know when. What I do know is that you definitely will not get further than that until earliest tomorrow”.

There is no use fighting the weather, I figured. So I turned and got on the train back to my parents’ place. I was very lucky to be able to stay with them, I learned that other passengers with nowhere to go had to stay in the trains. All night!

So now I’m on the way to work again. Currently, I’ve made it as far as yesterday, Bremen. Things are looking better today though, my train has not yet been cancelled. I put “Inget stoppar oss nu” (Nothing’s gonna stop us now”, with the spot-on-line “You can forget Monday morning”) on my Spotify as an omen for me to get to my destination. Inget stoppar oss nu!

The year of couponing

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For my birthday last year, my parents gave me a Luups coupon book for D├╝sseldorf. It’s meant to make you go out and explore your new city. I had lived in D├╝sseldorf for more than two years then but over this past year, I do think it really worked to acquaint myself with more things the city has to offer. Also, I made a point of using the book. Usually, I think, the companies behind these books make money because you pay for the book and then don’t use enough coupons to get your money’s worth. Not with me though, I totally got the most out of it. Here’s a review of the places I went:

Caf├ę Muggel
This restaurant is on the other side of the Rhine and thus a place I have only been three times. Two times because there is a cinema in the basement. Actually, that might be the more intriguing part of Caf├ę Muggel: you have to know it’s down there because there are no signs leading there. Then you have to sneak behind the bar, go down a winding narrow staircase to find the door leading to the tiny cinema room. For me, the whole secrecy feeling is part of the appeal. Also, the fact that they sell drinks and snacks inside the room is something I like. But the coupon was for the Caf├ę itself (its name, Muggel, also gives the place a magical air) and we got to enjoy a free meal that was quite nice. The caf├ę, however, is noisy and the service a little slow.
Spatz up
A lot of non-South-German people have trouble understanding the difference between Swabia and the rest of Southern Germany. To the South Germans, this is a stark difference. You don’t want to call someone a Swabian that is, say, a person born in Heidelberg. I also get substitutionaryly upset when someone calls my stepfamily Swabians. This might be because when I attended elementary school in Baden, that was merged with Swabia into one federal state, we were taught the Baden Anthem, instilling a clear allegiance to Baden, not the nation or the federal state, in us. Still, Swabians have some really good sides: they invented the Sp├Ątzle (and the Maultaschen, for that matter). This pasta is delicious and I do believe that eating it in Swabia, or at least Southern Germany, gives you the better experience than when non-Swabians try to cook them. But the small restaurant Spatz up in downtown D├╝sseldorf now solves this problem! A Swabian opened this eatery to serve real Sp├Ątzle outside of Southern Germany. I had Cheese Sp├Ątzle there. It was really good. It was so good I actually forgot which part was free with the coupon because I was so focused on the food. Which definitely speaks for Spatz up.

Yomaro Frozen Yoghurt
I have very fond memories of going to this place. It was spring, it was unexpectedly warm, and three of my younger cousins were visiting. When we got to the shop, the line was insanely long. The thing is, though, it always is. The only time I went to a Yomaro without waiting was at 9 p.m. in a non-central location. Because I was so excited we would get one frozen yoghurt for free, I convinced my cousins to get in line with me, making a pact that if we had to wait longer than 25 minutes, we’d leave. After 25 minutes, we were inside the store, close enough to see the delicious toppings and giving up was no longer an option. My verdict: it’s overpriced and the lines are too long, but if you have good company with you, it’s kind of worth it.
Covent Garden
This is one of the few places where getting a seat was very easy. I like that. Other than some people, I do not believe overcrowded caf├ęs are a sign of the good quality of the place. Rather, it just annoys me. At Covent Garden, the interior was delightful and the owner was actually British. He was also very kind and gave us the discount from the coupon even though we did not order the coffee on the coupon but a hot lemon drink. I would definitely go there all the time if it was in my part of town, and I’d feel quite British hanging out there.
The cinemas
The coupons for the arthouse cinemas probably excited me the most when I got the book. D├╝sseldorf has five smaller cinemas that show lots of movies I want to see: Bambi, Souterrain (the basement one!), Metropol, atelier and Cinema. I am almost positive I took advantage of the second free admission in each of these. Since a ticket to the movies isn’t that cheap, only with that, I already got back what the book is worth. One time, I went with two friends and we could use my Gildepass (a pass you pay 10 euros for each year and get a two euro discount each time you go to one of the cinemas) and the coupon – we only paid full price for one ticket. (Geez I sound like such a penny pincher. Really, I was just excited to use the book so well.)
Picture People
The book offered a coupon for a photo shoot, you would get the first photo for a very much discounted price. The trouble is, I always let photographers talk me into at least a second photo. I had even brought my friend Anja to help me resist this, but to no avail. Now I have a photo that certainly looks nice but kind of only seems usable on, like, Tinder.
Planetarium
When I started stressing out in December because the book coupons are only valid for one year, I reread the book rules and was relieved to find they have a period of grace for those of us who did not manage to align their life planning and maximum coupon benefit in the set time frame: the last day to use the book is January 31 of the following year. So even when I got sick and we had to reschedule our trip to the planetarium, we could still claim our free ticket within January. Unfortunately, I had booked the wrong show but we nevertheless got the planetarium experience. I am not sure if I thought observing the two 14-year-olds on a date (how cool is it to go on a date in a planetarium as a teenager?) or me taking a photo as an astronaut was the best part of the trip.
While I did feel somewhat of an obligation to make use of the book, and put it very visibly in a place I pass all the time in my apartment, I think it is a great way to nudge yourselves into doing stuff. It gives you an automatic bucket list. It lets you explore new parts of town and gives you reasons to get together with friends (if you are not the kind of lone caf├ę visitor thinking deep thoughts type of person). So am I contemplating getting the Hamburg edition once I live there? I certainly do.

The Grande Dame of Westphalia

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Sometimes it takes the threat of “you can’t do this as easily anymore soon” to get me to finally do stuff I have been planning for a while. When I realized on my birthday that I had a completely free weekend ahead, I decided now is the time to go and visit my friend Julia in M├╝nster.

When I say “planning for a while” in this case, it means for 10 years. My friends Julia and Maike studied in M├╝nster and in all these years, I never made it there. It’s kind of embarassing. But on Sunday, I decided that no laundry and no paperwork was worth postponing the trip any longer. Luckily, Julia was spontaneous too. From D├╝sseldorf, M├╝nster is a mere 1:20 hours on the direct train. From Hamburg, it will be 2:20 hours (see above “not as easily”). The trip felt like a real little vacation, starting on the train. I sat next to a Luxembourgian lady and her French friend who presumed everyone around them spoke French, too. On my other side were two Persians and after eavesdropping for a while (not that I understand anything), I asked them if they spoke Farsi which struck up a very friendly conversation with them.
Julia picked me up from this international train and we walked to her new apartment. After months of desperate apartment hunting, she secured a very lovely place. Since I had lit a candle each Sunday in mass for her apartment search (yeah, I’m Catholic like that), I felt it was especially interesting to see the result. There, the first great thing with M├╝nster struck me: it’s walkable. They call M├╝nster the Grande Dame of Westphalia, but it’s not so grand you can’t walk everywhere it seems. There is nothing wrong with busses, but it’s really nice to be able to just stroll whereever you need to go.

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“Hands in the air!”

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“The best for the youth”, this inscription reads. There used to be a store for toys.

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Which in our case was the inner city. I suppose if a city is called “Monastery” (M├╝nster in German), you can guess it has strong Catholic influence. But I wasn’t prepared for just how many churches there are. I counted over 50 Catholic churches alone. There’s basically no spot in town where you can look up and not see a church tower. There are churches that have cages hanging from them in which they put the non-believers in the Middle Ages. There are churches with organs that seem to float. And the Cathedral’s entrance is called “Paradise Portal”. Occasionally a priest, all capped and gowned, walks by (or was it the Bishop?). Nuns on bikes pass you. Speaking of bikes, M├╝nster is known nationwide for it’s bike-friendliness. When I accidentally stepped on the bike lane, Julia pulled me aside. “Only non-M├╝nster-residents make that mistake”, she informed me. There is even a bike autobahn for cyclists.

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Very interesting bike rack

But apart from his bike fame, M├╝nster is most known for peace. (Or at least I really hope most people know.) After 30 years of bloody war on the European continent that took 8 million lives, it was in M├╝nster (and Osnabr├╝ck) the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. The reason for having two cities was that the Catholics negotiated in M├╝nster while the Protestants came to Osnabr├╝ck, a bidenominational town.
It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of this treaty, but just imagine if everyone is at war with everyone forever and then suddenly they aren’t. The relief! And here I was, getting to step into the very room at M├╝nster Town Hall, looking at the original decor that also Axel Oxenstierna viewed when signing for Sweden that the long war was over. That’s quite something for a regular Sunday afternoon.
In that room they also displayed some artefacts, among them the Golden Chicken. It’s tied to a legend from the Thirty Years War Period but the most interesting part for me was that the chicken is actually a goblet (if you remove the head). A whole bottle of wine can be poured into the chicken. Important people who come to M├╝nster and sign the Golden Guestbook of the city get to drink from the chicken. I believe I just found a new item for my life’s bucket list.

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Peace Town Hall

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Visby is the partner city of M├╝nster!

We continued our walk through town to a burger restaurant. M├╝nster is so pretty and polished. I wonder where all the money comes from but they sure show it in their house facades. The cobble stones and the spring sunlight gave the city an atmosphere that is irresistable – combine that with the young and promising students everywhere and you just want to keep coming back. The burger place was really cool – instead of a seat, I got to sit on a swing. The waitress asked us “Would you like your burger with meat?” instead of the much more common exchange, “Do you have a vegetarian alternative?” Every burger was offered as vegan, too.

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Before I had to leave again, we took the opportunity to see an installation by famous German artist Gerhard Richter. One of the many churches had been profaned and now serves as a unique space for art. There, Richter has put up a 48-kg-pendulum 29-metre-long cable. It is a Foucault pendulum and despite reading the info sheet, I still haven’t understood 100 % how it works. I do see the many levels on which you can view this artwork, though. Foucault’s pendulum was the experiment that proved the earth was moving, something the church denied for a long time. When you sit there, following the pendulum swing eternally, you almost must fall into meditation about the course of time. On both sides of the pendulum, grey giant double mirrors are put up that reflect the pendulum, the visitor and essentially each other. The reflection goes on into eternity like that. Perpetual movement.
I left M├╝nster with a promise to Julia to come back much earlier than 2029. I still have to see the Aa Lake!