What you get

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Photo: kulturhusetstadsteatern.se

#Vafanfårjag is this week’s most popular hashtag in Sweden. Meaning “what the hell do I get”, it refers to a quote by Leif Östling, chairman of Sweden’s largest business federation. Östling was among those mentioned in the Paradise Papers and when interviewed about tax evasion, he critized the Swedish tax system, asking, “If you pay 20-30 million kronor a year – what the hell do I get for the money?” Swedes are now twittering away about benefits of the tax-financed welfare state (of course intertwined with many critical tweets as well) and I have an item to add to the list: public film funding.

Tonight, I went to see a screening of “Sami Blood”, a film nominated for the LUX Prize. Since 2007, the award is given to a European film each year by the European Parliament. The objective of the LUX Prize is to facilitate the diffusion of European films in the union. The winning film is subtitled in all 23 official EU languages, making it available to all Europeans. Last year, the German movie “Toni Erdmann” won the prize. This year, I place all my bets on “Sami Blood” which I have just seen.

The film is a touching portrayal of 14-year-old Elle Marja, a Sámi girl, in the 1930s. Race biology was a big thing in Sweden then and the Sámi were heavily discriminated against. The amazingly headstrong Elle Marja tries to break with her family and heritage to become someone else, a Swede. Impressively showing the pain of cutting off your culture and home, the lead actress, as well as the supporting actors, deliver an exceptional performance. A nuanced story with lots of mood shifts in intense pictures lets the viewer partake in the struggle of Sweden’s indigenous people.

Adding to the appeal for me was that part of the movie is set in the stunning nature of Northern Sweden, the other part in Uppsala, my beautiful student town, where I can identify a place in a scene by only seeing a wall.

Oh, and I got to see it for free. I assume the screening was financed with tax money.

 

 

 

An otterly nice vacation

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One of my less developed skills is relaxing on vacation. Time off work I usually use to bustle around, meet friends and look at things. While that is very nice, too, I decided I needed to learn how to do less on vacation – so we went to Otterndorf. Otterndorf is a 7,000-inhabitant-village half an hour from the closest Autobahn exit. It is located next to places called Krempel (“Junk”) and Fickmühlen (“F…mills”) and its own name means “Village of the Otters”. And we had an otterly wonderful time there! Our hotel completely charmed me because it had such a consistent, sophisticated corporate design with a North Sea theme. I hardly wanted to leave the place because just being in its interiors was so lovely. We did leave though to go to the spa opposite the hotel (so many saunas!), and to the sea (being at the sea makes my heart sing), and to the picturesque little town with its half-timbered houses (a middle-aged man passed us in his car while we looked at the town hall and super randomly gave us a thumbs up).

I had taken 300 pages of unread magazines with me and did not read a single page. Instead, I devoted my time to doing North German things I love: eat Wedding Soup (I did not even realize that was North German until he said he never had it before), listen to Northern German Radio and greet people by saying “Moin”. I already long back.

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Town Hall and Otters

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Romantic Otterndorf Restaurant

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#ShowhimtheNorth

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The tea at the hotel had names. Most of them were Northern, but there was also “Uwe – spicy as the orient” (not pictured).

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On the way to the Village of the Otters, we stopped in Bremen and I showed him my former home town

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As it is appropriate for a city with a leftist reputation, we got into a Communist manifestation celebrating 100 years of October Revolution

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We also stopped at my parents where I got to hang out with my niece. She just keeps getting more awesome.

Everyone’s off to Sweden

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Today was my last day of work! I am officially on vacation for an entire week now, and boy, that’s a much needed vacation. Germany gets an additional holiday next Tuesday because Reformation has its 500th anniversary and the federal state I live in also has a holiday on Wednesday so from an employee’s perspective it’s a very good week to take days off. Two of my cowokers and a friend travelled to Sweden for these days I learned today and noticed, a little surprised, that I am not. But that’s very okay. I started my vacation with dinner indulgence with my friend Henrike at the local restaurant: such a nice evening, fun and inspiring.

Plaisir

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Plaisir? I took that photo this morning on the way from the doctor’s. Because not much plezier here – I was sick for four days, missing out, among other things, on “Shakespare in the Tent” at the Rhine that I had tickets for. Instead, I moved from sofa to bed and back and the only accomplishment we could put on our list that weekend was watching “Groundhog Day”. Which is part of the Western cultural canon, I believe, so that’s not too bad.

October has wooshed by, almost over before I even knew it. I’m busy with a decent amount of work with our gala coming up, and with understanding my new phone. Because, yes, I finally got a new phone! Going from Apple to Android wasn’t at all that bad, and now I actually can take photos because there is storage space – and I was introduced to Snapchat by my younger cousin.

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This month, I gave a lecture on Swedish business in Germany for Swedish students

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October also gave us golden days

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…with 25 degrees!

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My bike broke but I found 15 euros on the street that paid for half of the repairing cost. Also: Do you see how I snapchat here?

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I arranged an event for our juniors where experts explained how to build a career in Germany

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Four weeks to go today!

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Pretty doors of Düsseldorf

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Balcony Jungle, also thriving in the summery fall

 

 

18 years

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I will never forget October 6, 1999. I don’t remember the weather, I don’t remember what we did in school, I don’t remember what we had for dinner. But I still see quite clearly before me a young boy in our kitchen messing around with our kitchen rug, his two-year-old brother toddling around him. „I already know!“, the boy called triumphantly. „The name’s Anna!“

It was Anna’s two big brothers that we watched that day because their parents had gone to hospital where she would be delivered: that little girl that should become the closest I’d ever have to a little sister. Her brother might already have known her name before me but at least I already knew she was coming when her mother told me, over a vegetable lasagna one day in spring. I doubt any of the adults know this to this day but I had overheard a conversation and knew the house would be blessed with another child. From that day at the lunch table, I looked forward to her arrival and today marks the 18th anniversary of the day I got to meet her.

She is one of the few people who I’ve known all their life. When she came home, her parents let me help with taking care of her, teaching me hands-on childcare. The confidence I have today with handling kids comes from having this little girl around. I took her to children’s gymnastics when she was three, we went to the library together where she was mistaken for my daughter and when I moved out, she would visit me in my student apartments.

It’s such a privilege to see her grow up. Today, she is an instructor for the children’s gymnastics class, has read more than a library can hold and impatiently seems to wait for me to actually have a real daughter. It’s been wonderful to see her talents emerge and follow her endearing personality develop.

I have been especially thankful for never having been relegated to the „not cool enough anymore“- rank. On the contrary, she has been the most loyal visitor through all the years. It doesn’t matter what we do together – cooking, watching movies, trying on clothes, going to museums, imitating ABBA, reading Schiller out loud or studying for finals – because simply enjoying her company is such fun.

October 6, eighteen years ago, had one marvellous present in store for the world.

Happy Birthday, Anna!

Hanner!

“Did you grow?” “Has your voice gotten higher?” “You’re like a totally different person?!”

Those were the things my friend Hanna uttered yesterday when she came to Düsseldorf to see me after more than five years. We met when studying in Bremen and instantly connected over the fact that people mispronounced our names (calling her Hanner and me Helln). Then, I moved to Sweden and she moved to Korea. Yesterday, she came all the way to see me: after a 20+ hour-journey, she got on a train through half of Germany to see me for one night. That’s what I call friendship committment!

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We went to Gill’s, the bar where I am kind of a regular (let’s say he still recognizes me though it’s been a while)

She experienced what Ingrid calls a dizzelpointment: After a few minutes in downtown, she asked me, “Shouldn’t Düsseldorf be, ehm, like prettier?” We all wish that but instead of taking her to nice tourist spots, I took her home and served her German Abendbrot, something that only an expat German like Hanna can fully appreciate. It’s difficult to catch up on 5 years in a few hours, but we did our best and had a wonderful night. When she had to leave at 7 a.m. this morning, I was so sad to already see her go. But I myself had to get going too because today I spent in Frankfurt, hosting one of my four biggest annual events.

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This also happened this week: my extra co-worker got a hairdresser to come during lunch hours and she cut half of the office’s hair, including mine.

P.S.: It is Nobel Week! As a Nobel nerd, I loved when someone at my event asked during lunch if the laureate for literature had been announced. And what an announcement: ever since I read “The Remains of the Day” in class 12 years ago, I’ve said that it won’t take too long until Kazuo Ishiguro will be awarded the Nobel Prize. I won my bet today – and I still know the first sentence of that novel by heart.

Koblenz

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“I pity you”, my beloved late grandpa used to say. “You have to travel so far by plane while I can be content with what Germany has to offer within such a short distance of my home”. He would have been proud of me this weekend because I went to Koblenz – two hours from Dizzel. And just like grandpa always preached, you don’t have to go far to see wonderful things.

Koblenz’s name is derived from the Latin Confluentes, referring to the river Rhine and the river Moselle meeting just there, in more than 2000 year old Koblenz. The rivers are surrounded by four low mountain ranges that are adorned with an abundance of castles. Already as a child when we always passed Koblenz on the way to my grandparents, I marvelled at the sight, and when we contemplated places to visit for a weekend getaway, the choice was not difficult.

The town easily took me by storm! I kept saying, “Look at how beautiful it is!” and wanted to photograph every other restaurant because even those are so picturesque. Strolling down the river promenade provides instant holiday feeling and there are actually a good deal of international tourists adding to the flair. Emperor Wilhelm I had his summer residence here and we dined at the restaurant “Augusta” named after his wife. Wilhelm himself is represented as a giant statue at the so called German corner. That’s the name of a headland where the two rivers unite and there, the 16 flags of the federal states of Germany fly – my inner patriot rejoiced pointing at the flags of the states I’ve already lived in. The 16 state flags are joined by the German, European and American flag. Actually, the American flag is there as a memorial to 9/11, “united in friendship with the American people”, it says on the flag pole.

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The German corner could also be called the German triangle

 

 

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Statue of Father Rhine and Mother Moselle

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Wilhelm’s summer residence, not too shabby

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Gates of Koblenz

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The Forum Confluentes and the mall opposite it are just two of several architectural achievements in the city

Something I could not find out was why there are so many rubber ducks in Koblenz. In our hotel bathroom, there was one (no, that’s not customary in Germany) and then in several shops, you could buy rubber ducks of all kinds – I’ve never seen such a wide range of rubber ducks: State of Liberty ducks, Queen Elizabeth ducks, Beethoven ducks, you name it.

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Is the Playmobil figure small or the church it stands in?

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Our room included newspapers so we could be very cosmopolitan reading the NY Times for breakfast

Koblenz is also home to one of the German Train Museums, ideal for our first day that was a little cloudly. As a frequent train traveler and historian, I especially enjoyed meandering between the trains from the 1930s. They had tried to conceal the swastika on the trains (debatable…), but the interiors were impressive. I would not have minded going on a trip in those parlor cars.

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I can’t help but like model railroads – so much to look at!

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German readers, observe the “Ludolfs” sign

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Historical advertisement (two of my favorite things combined): “Safe, fast, comfortable: German Railways”

I can recommend going to Koblenz and if you don’t believe me, trust the German prince of poets, Goethe:

“Until Koblenz we floated calmly and I remember vividly that there I saw the most beautiful image of nature that I might ever have laid eyes on. […] The picture was a magnificient delight”.

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