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.

 

 

 

 

Buy local

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When I moved to DĂŒsseldorf, I didn’t know which part of town would be best for me. My co-workers told me, “Move to Flingern, that would suit you”. Okay, I thought, and moved to Flingern. Ever since, I have wondered why my colleagues thought I should live in the hipster part of town where one overpriced furniture boutique is next to each other. I don’t frequent coffee shops, I don’t listen to hipster music, and I don’t own a FjĂ€llrĂ€ven KĂ„nken.

Anyway, last weekend I finally realized why my hood is a good hood. Maybe I even embraced my inner politically correct eco hipster. I went to the bulk goods store – and I loved it! The store is only five minutes from my house and from the farmers’ market. Inspired by Zero Waste blogs, I got my tote bags, coffee tin and mĂŒsli container and felt like a really sustainable person.  The bulk goods store, in German we call it the “non-packaged-store”, is great fun – maybe it’s because it appeals to haptic senses? My friend Maike claims I spent 45 minutes in there (it felt like ten!). I grinded my own coffee (for guests, I don’t drink coffee), I bagged my own mĂŒsli and was surprisingly amazed during the process. Another advantage is that you can buy just as much as you need. I rarely need 200 grams of walnuts if I bake and use them as toppings. At the non-packaged-store, I can get 3 grams if I wish. But the best things is: I didn’t have to takeout my little plastic trash can that day!

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At the market, I bought a new kind of apple I’ve been looking for forever

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Another plus of the hipster hood: the awesome stationery store

Supply and demand

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I like abundance. Scarcity is not really my thing. That’s why I keep wondering if I live in the right country or the right part of the country because battles for space, a scarce ressource, seem to regularily occur in my life. On the train. At restaurants. In the streets. Or, like last Friday, at the movies.

I had already attempted to attend the local open air cinema two weeks ago. We arrived 5 minutes after they had opened the doors, just to find there was no way on earth we would get in. 90 seats, 200 people in line.  And that was half an hour before the movie even started. So I still have not seen “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”. In a way, it feels like back when I lived in a small town and had to wait for films to come out on DVD.

So this time, I was prepared. I told my friend Maike we had to be there early. We walked briskly to the venue, and I was in high spirits. Twenty minutes before the doors opened – surely we’d be among the first 90 ones. We arrived and the line was long, long. But I kept up my courage. Five minutes after admission started, two hipsters walked up to our part of the queue. The hipster girl, wearing a swimsuit and pants with dreadlocks, told us, “We counted and there is 90 people up to here”, pointing to seven people before us. “So I am sorry but you won’t get in. Anyone beyond that point won’t get in”.

The reactions to this verdict would have made great movie material themselves. The ladies behind us were certain that this was a joke and kept questioning the two hipsters in charge. “Are you saying this to make us leave so you two get a seat?” they even wondered, challenging their status as official admission staff. “No, we work here and the regulartory authorities are strict on this”, the male admission hipsters assured them. But to no avail – the 100 people still in line had formed a community of fate. We were not giving up our spots in the line.

As soon as people emerged from the building, voices asked “Are they leaving, are they?” The admission hipsters answered, sighing, “No, they are going to – the – bathroom! The space really is full already”. A man poked his head out from the theatre. “There is a free seat next to me!” he announced. “Someone can sit next to me!” This is pretty much like the lifeboats on the Titanic, I thought. Better get that last seat. Children and women first! The admission hipsters were not having any of it though. “If the seat is still free when the movie starts, we can talk about it. Maybe someone just went to – the – bathroom!” The lady who had already gotten her hopes up for the seat called after the man, “Put your hat on the seat!” Titanic. Lifeboats.

The situation was hopeless, we could have left. It was less our belief to obtain a seat than the highly entertaining scenes in the queue that kept us waiting. In lieu of popcorn, we began eating our melon snack. “Are you a press represenative?” we heard the admission hipster ask a woman. I stole a glance at my friend and said conspiratorial to Maike, “You’re a journalist! Maybe if you get out your press card…” But then the unexpected happened. The swimsuit girl appeared, informing the waiting crowd that it seemed there were four seats left. There was a couple before us and a Japanese girl. But we were two. The suspense was unbearable – how would this play out? Would the girl give up her seat? (After all this waiting, unlikely.) Would Maike sit on my lap? (For the entire 2 hours and 5 minutes? Not feasible.) It felt like a dream, like a very unlikely fantasy when the male hipster reappeared and announced the happy ending of this scarcity ordeal: “There are exactly five seats left now. Get in”.

Oh, and by the way, the movie was great, too.

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Humbled and honored

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Little, perfect baby feet, branded with the local bank’s emblem

Today, I became the godmother of the most endearing baby boy known in universe. You probably think I am biased but if you had the privilege (or maybe will have) to meet my new godson, you are very likely to agree. When he wakes up, he does not scream, but lies in bed calmly contemplating his baby existence and when you come to pick him up, he beams at you as if to say, „Life is so awesome!“ I love his attitude. And I am very honored to be his godmother, and his only godparent. (I better pull off a very good Christian godmother performance. Luckily, I have 15 years of experience to draw from with my wonderful goddaughter who, I believe, deems me to be an acceptable godparent, and also has agreed to me taking on another godchild.) I’m so excited to see what kind of person he will grow into and to follow his adventures.

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My first mission was to provide my godson’s baptismal candle. I went with a maritime theme, hoping to instill in him an appreciation for the sea

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I only stayed the short weekend with my godson (and family) because I have to go back to work. The office was 36 degrees last week.

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As the weather cooled down, we experienced a storm. I attempted to close my windows in time but nature’s force outran me. My glass door slammed in front of me, and a thousand piece of broken glass rained down on me. I got a few cuts and my furniture was damaged by glass, but otherwise my action-movie-like experience went without further damage.

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Last Sunday, A and I went to Xanten. It’s a former (like very former, 2000 years ago) Roman village.

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You could even eat Roman food there which of course I had to try. Boiled eggs with fish sauce.

What else I did

You might have thought I got lost at the paradise island. But I haven’t, I’ve just been busy bouncing around Stockholm. What did I do after A went back to Germany? Let’s see:

I visited a friend on a remote island

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Just looked at my scared face…

And when I say remote, I mean remote. First, I travelled 2 hours and 7 minutes by public transport, changing three times. I actually was the only person on the last bus which seemed to delight the bus drivers who dropped me off at a stop that seemed like a place humans hadn’t touched. But they have – and one human picked me up, we drove on gravel paths for ten more minutes and then I was handed a life vest. That’s how remote the island was where my friend has her summer house. No electricity, no water. Just paradiasic nature and calm.

I looked for the blood moon and saw a photo exhibit

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The evening I returned from the island was the night of the lunar eclipse. Together with a former fellow student from my Uppsala times, I walked all through Stockholm’s Old Town to see the so called Blood Moon. We just couldn’t find it! I started doubting myself (I mean who doesn’t find the moon in the sky?!), but later read it was too cloudy in Stockholm.

On Friday, Tabea came from the (for non-Swedish-speakers) unpronouncable town of Skövde that is now her home and we went to Fotografiska together to see the impressive exhibiting “Turning the tide”. Using dramatic and awe-inspiring footage, the exhibit captures endangered oceanic habitats and wildlife, and shines a spotlight on the oceans.

I saw a apocalyptic Swedish movie with Evelina (and ate plankstek)

Marita had told me about a new Swedish movie, “Den blomstertid nu kommer”. It is a film that originally was crowdfounded and is made by a group from the town of Norrköping. In the movie Sweden faces a mysterious attack, complete with poisoned rain, birds falling from the sky and the blowing up of the Swedish parliament. The movie has been reviewed critically because its story is not super deep, but I liked it, not expecting profoundness from an action thriller.

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The apocalyptic atmosphere is Sweden is not only reflected in the movie. Swedes have also received a governement leaflet this spring with detailed information on how to prepare for “When the crisis or the war comes”. Even the book stores display books about prepping and “The Survival Hand Book”.

I went to church, the park and the construction site

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I attended Sunday mass in Hedvig Eleonora (and couldn’t believe they did not pray for rain, considering the raging fires). At that church, they put a “christening drop” into a tree for each new church member that was christened.

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Bianca and I got picknick and sat in Hagaparken, close to Crown Princess Victoria’s house.

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After meeting Magda who walked (!) all the way through Stockholm to see me, I spent some time marvelling at the giant construction site that once was Slussen. (I wonder how many decades it will take to complete that…)

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Paradise Island

Ever since early childhood, I have fought a war against insects. I have been the preferred victim of mosquitos as long as I can remember. This has led to me developing an extreme acoustial alertness to the sound of tiny wings. If there is something flying in my bedroom I cannot sleep. I am in terror! (Will it sting? Will it give me another bite that will bother me for weeks?) So when two flies decided to settle in our room, the night was over for me at 4.22 a.m. A woke as I was battling the two insects who kept attacking my nose and ears, and said sleepily, “The advantage of Helen 1 A Tours is that you also get to partake in Helen’s insomnia”.

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The Fly Incident led to A letting me sleep in (when I finally won against Fly No 1. at 5:57 and Fly No. 2 at 8:12 and fell asleep again) which in its turn led to us taking a later ferry to – the Island. I had told A in advance that we had to go to the archipelago because if I was to sucessfully market Stockholm the islands had to be part of the experience. However, I had also advertised the archipelago as peaceful and deserted, I painted a counterimage of DĂŒsseldorf which bothers me with its density. When we got to Grinda, it seemed everyone else had had the same idea – it was crawling with people which earned me a skeptical look from A. I could only redeem my trustwortiness when I led him to a beach off the beaten track. Okay, more or less of the beaten track, there were 10 other people at first, but we were alone within an hour. While the sun was warming us and the waves were softly washing up to the shore, A said, “Well, you promised me paradise and I was not disappointed.”

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Spot me in the Baltic Sea!

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We stayed in a real hotel (uncommon for the islands)

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The view from the restaurant

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First course of our delicious dinner (such luxury!)

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To perfect the day, a skilled musician performed on the jetty at night

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Upon our return, I insisted showing A the Old Town before he left. We saw it all, including creative window dressings.